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Do I Really Like You or Are You Just Not Giving Me Attention?
Izzy Copestake explores why we romanticize rejection in her monthly column, An Ode to a Commitment-phobe.
I am rarely able to pinpoint the exact moment I decide to fancy someone.
Maybe it’s the moment I glimpse The Spice Girls on their recently listened to
on Spotify. Perhaps it’s a more painful cliché: the momentary brush of a hand, grin at a text, eyes meeting across a crowded room…
Truthfully, I can never work it out. What’s much easier to determine is the moment I become obsessed. The grand transformation from a woman with a faint flicker of interest in a guy, to an infatuation-driven creature who will stop at nothing until she’s wifed. Somehow, this conversion doesn’t arise from finding a gorgeous person who is worth becoming a simp for, but a much uglier cause – the sinking feeling that they don’t even like me back.
On a surface level, it doesn’t add up. If I pictured what I wanted a relationship to look like, I would see myself with someone who respects and (utterly) adores me. Yet, when anything remotely close to adoration for me is expressed during the early phases of seeing someone, I just can’t shake an overwhelming wave of nausea.
A ‘good morning beautiful <3’ text becomes a death sentence and the ‘why has it taken you so long to reply? x’ follow up becomes the final nail in the coffin as I fall victim, yet again, to the paradoxical game of chasing what I can’t have.
Soon enough, the mediocre guy I almost have to convince myself to fancy in a final attempt to develop a new plotline in my life as the main character, becomes the apple of my eye as his attention in me starts to falter. No longer is he a music snob with an infuriating habit of explaining the stock market to any girl that will listen, but a gorgeous future-banker with a unique appreciation for the arts that he simply must share.
It boils down to the pedestal I place someone on after I feel rejected. My brain begins to construct a false hierarchy and any lack of attention causes me to romanticize every last bit of them. It’s unhealthy, but it’s certainly not uncommon.
Evie, 20, has recently recognized her issue with committing. “When I come across an amazing person who I actually really want to date, the excitement vanishes. There is definitely a huge part of me that is terrified of having a committed relationship at such an early stage in my life, which is probably why I’ve gone for the wrong people before.”
Alice, 18, agrees: “Maybe it’s because I’m really bored and toxicity can be fun at times. Maybe I’m just trying to self-sabotage.”
Whilst this power-centric chase can be a stimulating dynamic, particularly as the mundanity of lockdown begins to set in, it can often leave us pining after the wrong people, and stems from a much deeper commitment-phobia.
Sally Baker, a sex and relationships expert and therapist behind the new online course Online Dating: How To Become Super Savvy And Have The Love In Your Life You’ve Been Seeking puts this obsession with what we can’t obtain down to a multi-layered narrative of negative thinking.
Baker tells me that the pursuit of emotionally unavailable people can also be an implicit way to avoid what we already have or what is possible to achieve. “If someone wants what they can’t have, they never have to deal with the reality of achieving their goal. This way of thinking can be a form of self-protection but it also comes at a high emotional price.”
However, the damage of this form of self-sabotage can be far greater. By chasing something that will never emotionally fulfil us, we become vulnerable to draining toxicity and the inevitable pain of unrequited attraction.
In situations like this, Baker urges that we allow ourselves to show vulnerability to those who love and appreciate us for who we are. “It takes courage to want what we can have and deal with the ramifications of stepping up and owning the outcome. It’s why unrequited love is often an easier option than a real relationship, even though it comes with pain and heartache.”
So, maybe next time you find yourself utterly infatuated with an emotionally unavailable guy who keeps his socks on during sex, or thinks a degree in Business Studies is a socially acceptable substitute for a personality, take a step back and remind yourself that another person’s lack of taste does not correlate to your own self-worth… no matter how many times they’ve decided to leave you on read.