Do Guys Really Want What They Can’t Have? A Tinder Experiment.

Denis Bocquet
Denis Bocquet

Do guys ‘want what they can’t have’ or do they tend to back off when encountering a female already in a relationship? My curiosity led me to conduct a social experiment on Tinder.

My boyfriend and I have been dating for a little over 2 years, which is a weird statement to start off with when you’re writing about a Tinder social experiment. It’s an ongoing inside joke in our relationship (I guess writing this makes it no longer an inside joke) that he wears a tin foil hat, paranoid and anxious of all the outside threats just waiting to end our relationship. That’s not to say I’m not on my toes either, because, trust me, I am, but we have all heard of the phrase that people want what they can’t have. Being in a relationship makes you seem more desirable.

However, I’ve also heard and read articles regarding the opposite: guys respect when girls are in a relationship (whether or not that’s out of respect for the girl, the other guy, and/or the relationship as a whole is up for debate).

So, which one is it? Do guys ‘want what they can’t have’ or do they tend to back off when encountering a female already in a relationship?


1. Ask my boyfriend (Henry) if it’s cool with him. Check. (He was actually really okay with it, but Henry’s just always okay with everything.)

2. Set up the rules of the procedure:

  • The experiment will be done in two sets. One set will have pictures of Henry and me while the other set will have the exact same photo, only with it cropped down to just me. 
  • Each set will consist of 100 guys which I will indiscriminately swipe yes to the first 100 I see, hence for a total of 200 random guys.

  • I used the following preferences: distance: 50 miles (if you’re interested, I’m conducting this experiment from New Haven, CT), age: 18-50 years, and show only men. I had no description on my profile for either set.

3. Let the experiment take off.


The idea was to analyze the match rate in the two differing sets (for those unfamiliar with Tinder, I’m defining ‘match’ as when both parties mutually ‘like’ or ‘swipe right’ to each other). From how I see it, the data could go two ways:

1. My match rate for pictures of just me is higher than those with Henry, which would be compatible with the theory that guys are less likely to pursue a girl if she’s already in a relationship.

2. My match rate for pictures with Henry is higher than those with just me, which would be compatible with the theory that being in a relationship makes a person seem more unobtainable, therefore perhaps more desirable.


So, despite my hypotheses, the match rate turned out to be completely useless and not conclusive. 
Match rate of pictures of just me: 100/100
Match rate of pictures of Henry and me: 98/100

Despite the two person difference, these aren’t convincing results. What was interesting were the messages I received:
 Message rate of pictures of just me: 36/100
 Message rate of pictures of Henry and me: 64/100

Of the messages I received, I counted the ones that inquired about Henry, mentioned him in any way, or asked me if I was in a relationship (one guy asked me if I was married!): 30 out of 64 received messages.


My experiment has tons of flaws, so I wanted to note of some discrepancies that I found or some comments I’ve heard from friends whilst telling them about it:

1. This is Tinder, an app created for people that are on the lookout for a hook-up or a relationship or to flirt. Very few people (if any) go on Tinder for strictly platonic reasons. One friend suggested that guys don’t care about my relationship status because by me going on the website, it means that I’m either 1. single or 2. have a boyfriend that I’m willing to cheat on. The argument is that I am consenting because I am on Tinder. I would question this comment by asking why don’t they care? Just because the other person doesn’t care about cheating on their boyfriend doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t.

2. My high match rate suggests that it’s the Tinder guy culture. They basically swipe right for everyone. Therefore, match rate cannot be utilized as an accurate measure.

So, what conclusions can we make from my message rate? Message rate isn’t all too accurate, either. From what I saw, most of the messages I received were cleverly copy & pasted, mass produced pick-up lines. Some were nice enough to have personalized it by including my name. I received 28% more messages in pictures with Henry than with myself. Could this point out that I was more desirable with Henry? What is surprising was that around 46% of guys that sent me a message, asked about my relationship status or the mystery man in all my photos (two were pretty accusatory, asking ‘why are you on Tinder if you have a boyfriend?). Of the 30 out of 64 messages received in the Henry and me picture set, around 3 (10%) messaged me again after their initial message inquiry when I didn’t respond, stating that they didn’t care and that they’re ‘still down’.

Further action or additional experimental steps that could provide more insight is creating a universal response to those that inquire about my relationship and gauging their reaction. For example, for the guys that ask ‘is that your boyfriend?’, I could create a standardized answer such as ‘yes’ and analyze the responses.

So, do guys want what they can’t have? I’m really not sure. The fact that they swiped right, kind of knowing that I had a boyfriend (or at least, I tried to make it as obvious as possible with the pictures that I chose) could mean one thing. I would say the fact that many guys messaging me about Henry at least shows that it makes them curious, but whether or not I’m more or less desirable would require me to respond to them — something I wasn’t yet willing to do. Thought Catalog Logo Mark

More From Thought Catalog