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Look out, lovelorn men! Romantic rejection could cost you

She loves me. She loves me not.

Upkeep of the former condition may require the occasional box or chocolates or bouquet of flowers. But the latter can cost much, much more.

According to a new study originated at the University of Washington Foster School of Business, men tend to splurge on luxury items in response to romantic rejection. Women, on the other hand, tend to indulge in opulent treats when they’re in a romantic relationship, not when they are rejected.

The study was led by former Foster doctoral student Eric Levy (now an assistant professor of marketing at the University of Cambridge in the United Kingdom) in partnership with Shailendra Pratap Jain and Mark Forehand, professors of marketing at the Foster School.

Levy explains that when men are rejected romantically, they feel the need to console their bruised egos and make themselves appear more attractive and viable to potential romantic partners. This increases their willingness to pay for conspicuous luxuries such as sports cars.

Women, in contrast, spend on luxuries to signal their successful relationship to their social networks.

“What we think is going on is that romantically rejected men are displaying their quality to potential mates,” Levy says. “And consistent with research just published, we believe that women don’t feel the need to display luxury items to potential male mates, but rather as a notice of their committed relationship, a way of telling other women to back off.”

The cost of unrequited love

For the study, Levy, Jain and Forehand asked men and women to reflect on a time when they wanted to date someone special, and that someone either rejected them or wanted to date them (thus beginning a relationship). Then each was asked to consider how much money they would be prepared to pay for a high-end BMW sports car, as well as a modest table from Ikea.

The men who had been spurned were willing to pay more for the luxury car than the men whose affection had been requited.

Women displayed the opposite. The romantically rejected were willing to pay very little for the luxury car while the romantically accepted were willing to pay a lot more for the car.

There were no differences in anyone’s willingness to pay for the table.

Sexual economics

What’s going on here? Levy explains that his finding may be at least partially explained by “sexual economics theory,” which addresses biological needs dating back to the dawn of man… and woman.

The gist is that women and men face different evolutionary challenges and seek different things in a mate. And because women control access to the forming of romantic relationships, men try to acquire and display conspicuous resources in order to increase their desirability as a mate.

Levy admits that this theory sounds neither romantic, nor particularly modern. “But it does explain some of the behavior we observe,” he says.

What’s unclear, however, is how close to reality are these primal perceptions of what men and women want.

“We know that men believe that women are looking for men with resources. And women believe that men don’t care whether they have resources,” he says. “But the degree to which that’s actually the case, we don’t yet know.”

We may soon. Levy is working on a follow-up study to determine to what degree the urge to display resources to attract a mate is just “in the heads” of males, rather than a strongly held female preference.

“Filling the Void or Showing the Love? How Success vs. Failure in Romantic Relationships Affects Men’s and Women’s Desire for Conspicuous Luxury Products” is the work of Eric Levy, Shailendra Pratap Jain and Mark Forehand.