Wanting what we can’t have is one of the oldest – and most painful – mysteries of the human condition. When it comes to dating, this pain falls on one of two ends of the scale: either you’re completely in love with a guy who is unattainable and treats you like crap, or you’re apathetic to the men who cross your path, and can’t find the smallest spark that seems worth pursuing.
Either situation feels absolutely devastating. And often they’re related – you’ll escape the misery of unrequited love or a destructive relationship, only to find that nobody else you meet seems worthwhile. I’ve been through it, and remember clearly the frustration and despair that can take over for weeks or months.
My first long-ish term boyfriend (who I met at the age of 22) was brilliant, hilariously witty, and extremely attractive in a “charming scoundrel” sort of way. He pursued me passionately but haphazardly, going from 0 to 100 in two seconds flat when we were together, then 100 to 0 as soon as we’d parted ways.
Sometimes I wouldn’t hear from him for days or weeks at a time. He’d often cancel on me at the last minute because he “had to do his laundry” or “took a nap and forgot to set an alarm.” One New Year’s Eve passed without so much as a text from him.
Instead of thinking “What am I doing wasting time on this guy who clearly sucks and doesn’t care much for me?” I thought, “Oh god, what am I doing wrong? How can I fix it? What can I do to make him love me more? I can’t lose him!”
When the relationship inevitably ended – with a phonecall from him, after weeks of evasiveness – I was sure I would never feel the same way about anyone, ever again. And for a few months afterwards, that really did seem to be the case.
Even once I got through the initial shock and devastation of getting dumped, I wasn’t prepared for what the dating world had in store for me. I remember kicking my butt off the couch and getting back out there as soon as I thought I was ready, only to find I had zero interest in any of the guys I was meeting.
Sure, I met some seemingly good guys, had some interesting conversations, and experienced some fun adventures. But the chemistry that I was waiting for just never seemed to be there – so I never accepted a second date.
After a few weeks of this, there were more and more days that I couldn’t peel myself off the couch to fetch a bag of chips, let alone get dressed up and go out on another date. On the worst days, I found myself wondering, “Is it me? Am I doing something wrong? Or is it them? Does every guy suck? Is it all just hopeless?”
Of course, there was nothing wrong with me, and every guy certainly does not suck. The truth was, I needed to spend more time understanding the expectations and habits that were guiding my dating choices. After all, they were the same expectations and habits that had landed me in such a terrible position in the first place.
I started questioning why I was only attracted to guys who didn’t have the same level of interest in me. I was rarely interested in any guy I met until I’d had some time to get to know him. I had a history of “friend-zoning” guys who I later developed intense attraction to, but only after they had firmly friend-zoned me.
This led me to wonder just how many guys I was rejecting after the first date for “lack of chemistry” when the potential for chemistry was actually there, waiting to be uncovered if I could slow down and move at a different pace. I wrote an entire article specifically about chemistry, explaining how you can test whether the potential for chemistry is there – even when it isn’t obvious right away.
Many of my girlfriends had struggled with similar experiences and patterns, so I knew I wasn’t the only one facing this issue. After a great deal of reading, research, and active dating, I realized the crucial mistake I was making:
I was still seeking crushes, not relationships.
Why We Chase the Wrong Guys
The fact of the matter is this: the world is filled with amazing men. Just think about the great men who are in your life already. Men like your dad, brothers, cousins, or guy friends. Men you love and trust, who treat women with respect and kindness.
But for some reason, we often end up dating the not-so-good guys instead – those who take, but never give. The guys who have charisma, confidence, and good looks, but will just as soon ignore you as booty call you.
Some men are here today and gone tomorrow, back again only when they want something from you. And more often than not, we’re ready and waiting – to give, and give, and give, hoping that once we’ve given enough, we’ll have earned their love.
These are the guys we fall for in high school and university. At that age, attraction is so dazzling that we barely notice pesky details like the way a guy treats us. We don’t ask questions, or exercise much judgment, because we’re caught up in the mad rush of hormones and the excruciating ups and downs of a crush.
As a teenager, you might have crushed on the same guy for months or even years without reciprocation. You experienced dizzying highs when he’d chat you up at a party, and crashing lows when he ignored you the next day in the halls. It was a wild cycle of excitement and disappointment, reward and punishment.
These emotions are powerful and addictive, driven by the release of dopamine in your brain at the sight (and even the thought) of your crush. Dopamine is the chemical responsible for fuelling craving and reward systems. It drives addiction to drugs like cocaine, and habits like gambling.
If you progress past the initial stages of the crush, your brain moves on to releasing norepinephrine (the chemical responsible for obsession), and if you sleep together it triggers the release of oxytocin (the chemical responsible for emotional attachment.)
This is a reason that it can take years to move on from crushes when we’re young, especially in “friends with benefits” and “hookup” situations. Hormones and emotions trump logic, especially if we don’t realize what’s going on.
What Chasing the Wrong Guys Will Lead To
As adults, we continue to crave the same emotional rollercoaster of euphoria and pain we recall from our early romantic experiences. This has become our emotional blueprint, and it is what we recognize and respond to – even if has led to pain, over and over again. We dismiss men who don’t immediately provoke an intense emotional response, in favour of those who do, because that is what we are accustomed to doing.
The problem is that what we are pursuing, and what we will find, is the same thing we found as teenagers – superficial crushes, and dissatisfying relationships. If you stop and think about the guys you crushed on in the past, where do you find each path led you? To genuine love? A great relationship? An experience you’d willingly repeat?
Unfortunately, seeking men who provoke the crush-style desire/reward system that captivated you as a teenager will land you in the worst kinds of adult relationships. You’ll find yourself attracted to emotionally unavailable men who are interested in sleeping with you, but not much else. You might find yourself entangled in a reckless and agonizing romance with a man who is married or taken.
Worst of all, you could fall prey to the narcissist – the man who is charming, exciting, hilarious, and sexy, but remorselessly incapable of loving anyone but himself. He’ll consume years of your life without realizing what it has cost you. He’ll take, with no understanding of how to give back. He’ll expect you to be there when he needs you, but will rarely (if ever) be there when you need him.
And you’ll lap it up, because you’ll think you are earning his love. You’ll believe that one day, he will suddenly see you for the amazing woman you are, and finally give it all back.
But that won’t happen, because he isn’t capable of it. He isn’t evil, he just sees what he wants and takes it. If he stops wanting it, he drops it. You are a handy accessory in his life, and he’ll make you feel special for those moments in which it benefits him to do so. Just special enough to make you believe there’s hope for more.
The truth is that our earliest experiences with crushes, dating, and sex shape our expectations and patterns for our adult relationships. And they can have profound and long-lasting repercussions if we aren’t conscious of them.
Each time we get hurt, it cuts a little deeper, and we lose a little more faith in love. We internalize the pain, coming to believe that either there is something fundamentally wrong with us, or something wrong with all the guys out there. We begin to accept the false conclusion that, because we haven’t found what we’re looking for yet, we’re never going to find it. Our secret, darkest fear is that maybe it doesn’t exist for us.
It is so incredibly easy to fall into the trap of believing that the problem is intrinsic – a characteristic of us, or of them, which cannot be changed. But more often than not, the problem lies in our expectations, patterns, and choices. Things that are simple, if not easy, to change.
How to Stop Chasing the Wrong Guys and Start Dating the Right Guys
If you’ve never stopped to reflect on what desires and expectations are driving your choices, now is the time to do so. If you are exclusively attracted to men that don’t value you, prioritize you, or treat you with respect, it is probably because you’re still trying to work with an outdated model that just won’t work in this stage of your life. You must recognize this and act upon it, to change the direction you are going if you want to end up somewhere different from where you’ve been.
The first change that is within your control is to consciously decide on the type of man you’ll let into your life in future, using logic, not just emotion. Decide what you absolutely do want in a man, and what you absolutely won’t stand for. And don’t make “immediate and irresistible physical attraction” the biggest and only requirement on your list.
If you’ve gone so far down the rabbit hole that you’ve legitimately begun to doubt the existence of good guys, let me remind you – they’re out there. And there are so many of them. This article can help you identify great guys and not-so-great guys, so start with this if you aren’t sure where to begin.
Remember that our task while dating is to weed out the ones who show us right away they don’t identify as great guys. The ones who text but don’t show up. The ones who insist they want to see you but never seem to plan for it. The ones who claim they want to be with you, but vanish at the first sign of conflict.
Saying “no” while dating is even more important than saying “yes.” It’s how you protect yourself from getting used or hurt, and how you preserve space for guys who show you they will treat you well. And remember – the men who do earn a “yes” from you will value it that much more because it didn’t come easy.
If a guy shows you he doesn’t value you, it doesn’t matter how amazing the physical chemistry is between you, or how funny/charismatic/beautiful he is. This is not enough to expect of someone who you will invest your time, energy, and affection in, possibly for the rest of your life.
Over time, good looks stop mattering, physical chemistry becomes routine, and you’ll have heard all the funny stories multiple times. If there isn’t something greater to keep you together, such as respect, trust, intimacy, and tenderness, it simply won’t last. So start expecting more from the men you date, and from yourself in terms of what you’ll put up with.
A well-known piece of wisdom, widely credited to Albert Einstein, says this:
“The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, but expecting different results”
So right now, I want you to stop and do some soul-searching. Think deeply about what you’re pursuing, and what you’re expecting – consciously and unconsciously – from the men you are meeting.
Try to identify your patterns: the things you do over and over again that determine the outcome with every man you meet. Pay attention to what drives you towards some men, and away from others. Ask yourself whether you’re making good choices, or simply being driven by habit. Make a decision right now that you’re going to try something different next time, if you want to experience a different outcome.
Not sure what to do differently, or how to go about it? In next week’s post, I will talk specifically about the four things you can do to instantly change your patterns, and start attracting better results. Join the Vixen VIP list below to receive future articles directly in your inbox.