Richard Friedman, a clinical psychiatrist, asks that question in this article in the NY Times. He says: “This syllogism won’t win any prizes in logic, but it accurately describes a curious paradox of human behavior: the allure of unpredictable romantic partners.”
Wondering why it is we’re so often drawn to people whose love is inconstant, Friedman cites a study a colleague conducted that involved giving participants water and juice and watching on an MRI how those drinks affected the reward circuits of their brains. The experiment showed that the water and juice elicited greater activation in the reward circuit when the reward was unanticipated.
Friedman concludes by saying
“These data might explain, in part, the paradox of people who complain constantly about their unreliable lovers, but keep coming back to them, time and again.”
What I find interesting is that sentence right there could very well a description of the God of the Old Testament or, for that matter, the Father of Jesus’ parable, ready to embrace a prodigal who fails to return his father’s love.
Friedman’s contention is that we’re hard-wired to seek out unpredictable love, love that won’t always be returned, love that will surprise us, love that requires us to take risks and risk our own vulnerability because it might not be reciprocal.
That doesn’t make us gluttons for pain or disappointment; we’re addicted to the hidden pleasure of inconstant love.
Friedman’s interested in how our brains make us that way.
What I wonder, theologically speaking, is if our brains make us that way because we’re made in the image of God who himself takes delight in the risk posed by loving us.