Sometimes we just fall head over heels for the most toxic people. They wreak havoc on our entire existences, but why do we fall in love with toxic people? Why do we love the bad boys and the girls who treat us like crap?
No, there’s nothing wrong with you. It turns out, the mean girls and bad boys have learned to use our biochemistry against us. That’s right, we can understand why we love toxic people using science!
So here’s the straight dope on this: our brains are built to love stuff that isn’t necessarily good for us, but it’s not your brain’s fault! When you eat delicious, fatty foods for instance, your brain loves it because it evolved during a period of time where food wasn’t always plentiful. It tells you, “Heck yeah, do more of that!” It’s the same thing when you meet someone who seems awesome, if a little unstable. Your brain thinks, “This person makes me feel really good! Let’s get attached.” And there are chemical reactions that happen that make it so.
Dopamine loves bad lovers.
Dopamine is a neuotransmitter that is responsible for controlling the pleasure center of our brains. When dopamine is released, during amazing sex, when someone gives you a great gift, when you go on a really great date, it creates reward circuits that generate automatic associations between our survival and that really awesome partner.
Dopamine is at its best when there’s an infrequent reason for it to be released. This is called “intermittent reinforcement.” That means that dopamine is actually released more readily when someone who normally treats you badly does something nice for you. So maybe he yelled at you over nothing, but then he gave you an amazing gift, which reinforces those reward circuits.