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Why Nice Guys Finish Last


Why is it that so many women are attracted to the assholes? The unfortunate truth is that we may actually be “programmed” to avoid dating nice guys if we had unfavorable childhood attachment patterns.

If your primary caregiver was dismissive and invalidating towards you, your brain is trained to be attracted to partners who will also be dismissive and invalidating towards you. You will unintentionally pass up nice guys in favor of the bad guys, because your brain will trick you into feeling a “spark” with the guys who will match whatever attachment pattern you acquired as a young child.

However, there is hope for changing your “romantic picking pattern.” It takes awareness, as well as willingness to do some major self-work. We will start with the awareness part by taking a closer look at attachment theory and the neuroscience of attachment. We will then discuss how to work to change your pattern.

Most Widely-Accepted Attachment Theory

Dr. John Bowlby (1907-1990) spent most of his career studying infant-caregiver attachment. His attachment theory is the most widely-accepted theory of attachment today. According to Bowlby, a person develops an internal working model of the social world based on early attachment experiences. In Attachment: Attachment and Loss Vol. 1, he stated that internal working models are the templates on which people base social interaction upon and use to build and maintain relationships in adulthood.

In short, Bowlby’s theory is that people view the social world based on how they were taken care of as young children; and in turn, people unconsciously behave and react according to these early experiences. This can either be positive or negative depending upon the quality of early attachment experiences.

Early Attachment Patterns Affect the Brain

Dr. Allan Schore of UCLA has expanded upon Bowlby’s work by testing his theories in the realm of neuroscience. Schore studies the effects of early attachment experiences on the brain. His research has upheld support for Bowlby’s theories on attachment.

Dr. Allan Schore explains the effects of attachment on brain development in an article that appeared in the Infant Mental Health Journal in 2001. In the abstract of the article, he states, “In this article I detail the neurobiology of a secure attachment, an exemplar of adaptive infant mental health, and focus upon the primary caregiver’s psychobiological regulation of the infant’s maturing limbic system, the brain areas specialized for adapting to a rapidly changing environment. The infant’s early developing right hemisphere has deep connections into the limbic and autonomic nervous systems and is dominant for the human stress response, and in this manner the attachment relationship facilitates the expansion of the child’s coping capacities. This model suggests that adaptive infant mental health can be fundamentally defined as the earliest expression of flexible strategies for coping with the novelty and stress that is inherent in human interactions. This efficient right brain function is a resilience factor for optimal development over the later stages of the life cycle.”

Basically, Schore is saying that a major factor for healthy brain development of the right hemisphere—the area of brain that stores internal working models of attachment relationship—is having secure attachment experiences in infancy. When infants have primary caregivers that are dismissive, rejecting, invalidating, abusive, and/or not emotionally available, their brains will be wired to view this as “normal” in the social world.

This means that people with negative, childhood attachment experiences will unconsciously feel more “instant chemistry” with a dating partner who will treat them poorly, because their brains have been hardwired to view this “abuse/neglect” as the norm. These are situations in which “nice guys finish last.”

Willingness to Work on Self in Order to Change Maladaptive Dating Patterns

Fortunately, we are not doomed to an endless cycle of destructive dating partners. The first step is to recognize that you may have had negative attachment experiences in childhood.

Oftentimes, recognizing this can be difficult without feeling angry towards your primary caregiver. It is perfectly natural and healthy to feel this anger; however, you must learn to handle these feelings appropriately and try to get past the anger. It is helpful to remember that most often primary caregivers gave the most of what they could give at the time. Perhaps they were also products of negative attachment patterns in their childhoods.

The next step is to make a conscious effort to change. Although therapy is not mandatory for this change, most people find it to be the most effective and beneficial route. The therapeutic relationship between you and your therapist can be an amazing example and experience of healthy attachment and eventually re-wire your brain to view healthy attachments as the norm.

Another benefit of partaking in therapy to change your dating patterns is that it can help you to talk about and get past your initial anger towards your primary caregiver. This is all a lot easier said than done, but hard work is always worth it in the long-run!

Works Cited:

1. Bowlby, J. Attachment: Attachment and Loss: Vol. 1. Loss. New York: Basic Books, 1969. Print.
2. Schore, Allan N. “Effects of a secure attachment relationship on right brain development, affect regulation, and infant mental health.” Infant Mental Health Journal 22.1-2 (2001): 7-66. Print.
3. Weber, J. “A perfect match is not always a healthy partner.” Psychology Today. 18 April 2013. Web. 18 April 2013.


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Filed under: Love and Relationships, Research · Tags: caregivers, dating, male/female relationships, nice guys finish last, what women look for in a man

  • Lena

    Very interesting blog, it’s amazing to me how the way you relate to your child in the first year of their life will affect their ability to connect to people for the rest of their lives. As a parent I feel a huge sense of responsibility to try and create that positive attachment with my child. I read another blog on attachment that I found very interesting is operated by Recovery Brands LLC, a subsidiary of American Addiction Centers, Inc.
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