Why am I attracted to men who don't seem attracted to me?
February 25, 2013 10:44 AM   Subscribe

Even when they are guys who I think are amazing, when they show that they're really into me, I'm not attracted to them as much. I still do find them attractive, but just not as much as I would if they weren't. Why do you think this is? I can't figure out the reason myself. Is this some sort of unconscious self-esteem problem (he likes me and everyone who likes me are weird) or what? It sucks because sometimes he's such an amazing guy but just because he's showing an interest in me, points drop a little, and I wish it wouldn't but I don't have control over it (as no one has complete control over their feelings).
posted by sedulous to Human Relations (26 answers total) 14 users marked this as a favorite
Sister, have I ever been there.

I find confidence attractive and neediness unattractive, but I think sometimes my calibration gets a bit off, and I start seeing a totally normal level of interest as neediness. Usually this happens when I have something in my life that I need to focus on more than dating- so I find myself going "oh these guys are too clingy" when what I really mean is "I need time alone to work on my own shit right now."
posted by showbiz_liz at 10:48 AM on February 25, 2013 [6 favorites]

I think it's a matter of low self-esteem. I suffer from the same attraction paradigm, and I think it's a bit of a, "I wouldn't belong to any club that would have me as a member" philosophy.
posted by xingcat at 10:54 AM on February 25, 2013 [7 favorites]

I think it's scarier, in some ways, to be attracted to men who are attracted to you, than those who aren't.

When someone is attracted to you, then it opens to door to all the messy realities of a relationship. When they're not attracted to you, or at least not showing that, you can still focus on your attraction, and not the imperfections and risks of a potential relationship.
posted by mercredi at 10:56 AM on February 25, 2013 [25 favorites]

I agree with mercredi - if it were me, I'd think this has to do with some sort of unresolved uneasiness around being in an actual relationship. Being interested from afar, or (my own former habit) being drawn to people who are definitely unavailable to you, can feel a whole lot safer than having to deal with all the day-to-day ups and downs of actually being "tied" to someone...
posted by DingoMutt at 11:05 AM on February 25, 2013

it could also be the fear that they're setting you up for disappointment because you worry they'll lose interest eventually.
posted by timsneezed at 11:07 AM on February 25, 2013 [1 favorite]

Don't know how old you are; is it possible that over time you've come to find the feeling of unrequited attraction to be, well, "comfortable"? You know how it works, you get to stalk and bemoan and think how unfair life is, but never actually take any sort of gamble?

When things play out the way you describe (you're attracted, he reciprocates, you find him icky) it's usually either a fear of involvement or a self-esteem thing.

If it's more like, "I'm super into X type of guy but they are never ever ever into me," then it's more complicated, and often a case of wanting to be different yourself, and thus being attracted to people who represent your own unrealized ambitions.
posted by like_a_friend at 11:08 AM on February 25, 2013 [5 favorites]

I have found this to be amazingly common in my life. I tend to be a bit over-enthuthiastic when I like someone, and drop my guard down. Gets me every.single.time. Wish I could make someone realize that just because I like them doesn't mean I'm settling or desperate, but ultimately I wish I could play it much cooler than I do.

Anyway, you are by no means alone. I think this is the rule rather than the exception.

I (a guy) feel the same way to an extent. There is an obligation in being liked, and if you are a sensitive person, I think you realize that you have the power to hurt the other person, and that can really upset things as you feel the need to either feel something or let the person off easy. It can strain things. The only thing I would say is that oftentimes the other person (say it was me, for instance) is a big boy. I'd rather you'd give me a chance and not feel obligated to reciprocate, but play it out for all it's worth, than to write me off because you are unsure of your feelings.

It's a toughy though.
posted by mockpuppet at 11:15 AM on February 25, 2013 [7 favorites]

I don't think this has happened to me when I think someone is amazing. It has happened when I think someone is kind of attractive but I'm not totally sure. If they suddenly start coming on really strong it makes me feel like I will get pushed and rushed into something I'm not sure about, and suddenly there will be all these expectations on me and I might get trapped into something I don't know that I want. That pushes me into "shut it down, shut it down naooooo" mode.
posted by cairdeas at 11:22 AM on February 25, 2013 [11 favorites]

I think part of this is that when you first meet someone, all you know about them is how cute they are. So you can make up an amazing back-story in your head.

As you get to know each other, and start to like each other, the movie you've been playing in your head changes, and that causes a dissonance, hence you're not as keen.

I think once you realize that the potential is ALWAYS going to be better than the reality, that you can settle down and actually meet, date and get in relationships with these guys.

We all like our fantom guys better than actual guys. Fantom guys follow our script.

So, don't worry so much about it. Date 'em, sex 'em, get to know them. Soon, you'll find that while the guy you're with may not bring you out of season orchids every Wednesday, or isn't a sexy cancer researcher, that this perfectly good accountant is actually a great match for you.

Also, attraction subsides and you build up regard, which takes you further and is more enduring than mere attraction.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 11:26 AM on February 25, 2013 [1 favorite]

People instinctively crave familiarity, to the point that they will choose familiar patterns of behavior over new patterns, even if the familiar patterns are unhealthy. This is part of what makes advertising so effective.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy is specifically designed to help you understand these patterns and break out of them.
posted by wolfdreams01 at 11:32 AM on February 25, 2013

After many years on this planet, I'm kind of inclined to think this is a feature and not a bug. See cairdeas' comment above.

If you can stay with the friendship/acquaintance anyway, you can get comfortable enough with the person to the point where you can make a determination on promoting the guy to beau status. Taking things slowly and "friends first" is a good idea. If anyone is trying to hurry you along into a commitment it's a big red flag anyway.

However, if the "feature" weeds out everyone you come in contact with, it makes life kind of difficult. Other commenters have suggested some good ideas there.
posted by Currer Belfry at 11:39 AM on February 25, 2013 [1 favorite]

There is an obligation in being liked, and if you are a sensitive person, I think you realize that you have the power to hurt the other person, and that can really upset things as you feel the need to either feel something or let the person off easy. It can strain things.

Oh goodness yes, also this
posted by showbiz_liz at 11:40 AM on February 25, 2013 [2 favorites]

You absolutely can have control over it. People can change their patterns of behavior (and emotional responses are behaviors) through introspection and/or therapy. "That's just the way I am" is a glue trap.
posted by Sidhedevil at 11:44 AM on February 25, 2013 [2 favorites]

Thank you all for your thoughts and advice!

I don't really do the typical "unrequited attraction" thing.. like watching a guy from far away and being in love with them. I might think a guy is cute, but I don't tend to think of a guy as a potential until they show some attraction towards me. In my case, it's more like, there's this guy I'm dating and he treats me well, but he doesn't really want to commit to me, so he seems more attractive to me. I don't know, maybe it's the fact that it's more fun and exciting when you have to keep guessing, and he seems to be more of a challenge.

It does happen to me even when I think the guy is amazing. I meet a guy who seems to be perfect for me and they let me know that they're really into me right away (even if they're not being clingy, just a normal level of interest), it's just not as fun. Wow, not going to lie, it seems really immature of me now that I write this out.

I feel like this isn't healthy for me at all. Because of this, I've shown disinterest to men who I liked and thought were a good match and regretted it, and stayed with men who didn't want to commit to me longer than I should have.

On top of all this, I find myself doing this myself to other people because I think this will make me seem more attractive, such as telling them I want to take it slow, or that I don't want to commit yet even when I'm head over heels for him. It all comes to bite me in the back. Not healthy at all.
posted by sedulous at 11:46 AM on February 25, 2013

It may be the most cliche ask me answer possible, but I do think therapy is your best option.

I've learned that just being aware of such a behavior (I have my own set of self-destructive relationship behaviors) is not sufficient to change it. The first time I figured out some of what was going on for me I was like: "Oh, well now that I know I can just not do that, problem solved!". But these patterns/behaviors tend to be pretty deeply ingrained and can't just be flicked off like a switch.

That does NOT mean they can't be changed, just that it takes time and effort. And having someone guide you through that who has experience in helping people with it is very useful.
posted by wildcrdj at 12:09 PM on February 25, 2013 [1 favorite]

I am this way. The chase is addictive. People who end the chase early or without subtlety remove the fun in a way that is not too hard to understand if you admit that the pre-dating/pre-comfortable stage is more engaging and interesting and much less scary.

I agree that it sounds immature, but it is also this:
People who are able to navigate the relationship building phase without "trying to hard" or being too earnest or being too forward or whatever sin are displaying a very high level of perceptiveness and independence. These are both good things.

But yeah it can be tedious once you're attraction gets a bit out of whack.
posted by skrozidile at 1:11 PM on February 25, 2013 [1 favorite]

Is this the case always? Or is the hot-o-meter dropping because as you get to know the guy, he isn't as awesome as you initially thought because there are things that turn you off? Your subconscious might be working faster than your conscious and you haven't even figured out why yet, but you are no longer attracted because you have seen XYZ behaviour before and it turned out to be something you didn't want to involve with. Or maybe it's the simple, "you were so cute...and then you started talking..." sort of thing.
posted by Yellow at 1:12 PM on February 25, 2013

I have this problem too. I haven't figured out a solution yet. But reading this helped me get some perspective and do some internalizing to try and make some changes:
“I have a history of making decisions very quickly about men. I have always fallen in love fast and without measuring risks. I have a tendency not only to see the best in everyone, but to assume that everyone is emotionally capable of reaching his highest potential. I have fallen in love more times than I care to count with the highest potential of a man, rather than with the man himself, and I have hung on to the relationship for a long time (sometimes far too long) waiting for the man to ascend to his own greatness. Many times in romance I have been a victim of my own optimism.”

― Elizabeth Gilbert, Eat, Pray, Love
posted by matrushka at 1:23 PM on February 25, 2013 [8 favorites]

I meet a guy who seems to be perfect for me and they let me know that they're really into me right away (even if they're not being clingy, just a normal level of interest), it's just not as fun.

Have you ever tried letting your potential Mr. Perfects know this?? "Hey Awesome Dude, I think I could be interested in you, but I need more time to get comfortable with the idea. Could we hold off ALL flirtations until I know I'm comfortable moving further in that direction?" (until you're more prepared to receive that attention, basically). Cushion the message with much appreciation for what you're enjoying about him already.

Maybe if you verbalize this and then give him time to demonstrate that in spite of his affections for you, he is able to maintain his composure (show he's a big boy, as mockpuppet said), it will avoid tripping the neediness alarm/shutdown sequence. See if he can be your bud until being buds isn't doing it for you anymore. Maybe that kind of demonstration of "commitment" to mutual respect will help you come out of your shell, at the pace you're ready for, with these guys. At the very least, it'll buy you time to analyze/bypass your initial resistance response.

Obviously if guy consents to this, have an idea of how long you'll need to decide, e.g. a week. Don't leave him hanging on your eventual response too long.
posted by human ecologist at 1:36 PM on February 25, 2013

I'm a dude who's been on both ends of this equation. Part of it, quite frankly, is that a lot of people, myself included, burn through all of their interesting stories in the first couple hours of talking to them, making each conversation with them less interesting than the one before it.

There's also the self-esteem factor, aka "I refuse to join any club that would have me as a member."

But in my experience, the biggest factor is wanting what we don't already have. I recently split with someone who I was getting bored with, but I distinctly remember my nervousness when I asked her out for a second date and the corresponding excitement when she accepted. Once I was confident that she actually liked me I no longer had that tension and excitement; the thrill was gone.

Of course, this state of mind will eventually lead you to both dating and becoming someone whose feelings are opaque and leaves their partner always uncertain.
posted by modernserf at 1:43 PM on February 25, 2013 [2 favorites]

Maybe it's worth getting your excitement elsewhere. I was like this until I started doing a job that was challenging, got a hobby where I meet lots of interesting people, etc.
posted by the young rope-rider at 2:00 PM on February 25, 2013 [5 favorites]

This isn't a problem to be solved, it's normal behavior. Therapy - LOL! This is what drives evolution in the right direction. Everyone tries to find the best mate they can. If the potential other doesn't seem that interested in you, it probably means they are out of your league, or e.g. that they have other persons interested in them and you are not necessarily their number one choice (again, basically out of (or on the edge of) your league). This makes you more interested, as you unconsciously want your progeny to have the best genetic material available.

Pretty straight-forward really.
posted by sero_venientibus_ossa at 2:20 PM on February 25, 2013 [1 favorite]

You absolutely can have control over it. People can change their patterns of behavior (and emotional responses are behaviors) through introspection and/or therapy. "That's just the way I am" is a glue trap.
posted by Sidhedevil at 11:44 AM on February 25 [2 favorites +] [!]

Sorry to derail, but, how's that exactly? You can absolutely change how you ACT, but no amount of therapy or self-talk (and believe me, I've tried lots) has ever, ever had any effect on my emotional response. If I had the OP's problem I would be aware that my behavior was hurtful and stop it. By that I mean, either just don't date, or be very, very careful to let the other person show romantic interest first and only involve them if you still feel attraction then.
posted by Violet Hour at 3:14 PM on February 25, 2013

You can absolutely change how you ACT, but no amount of therapy or self-talk (and believe me, I've tried lots) has ever, ever had any effect on my emotional response

Well, it is definitely possible. I have had CBT/therapy for anxiety and it has had some effect on my immediate responses to stuff. I mean, it hasn't "fully cured" it or whatever, but it has had a noticeable effect on how my body reacts to stuff. And certainly it is designed to: exposure/CBT for phobias is designed to reduce the panic / fear response, not just your actions in response to it.

As for this being normal --- well, sure, it is normal for some people. And if it doesn't bother you, it's not a problem. But OP definitely seems to think it is hurting their dating life, which makes it a problem (lots of behaviors / responses are problems for some and not others).

Personally I think this kind of thinking/response leads to game-playing and reduces the chances of finding someone compatible, but everyone has their own theories on dating and how to find a partner, and really people end up suggesting what has worked for them. I think the reality is there are a ton of different ways that all work, so its more about whether you're happy with how its going / how it makes you feel.
posted by wildcrdj at 3:28 PM on February 25, 2013 [4 favorites]

What wildcrdj said so well, though I would say that the same is true of talk therapy as well, just in a less dramatic timeframe.

To give an example from my own work with my therapist, for many years I had profound feelings of shame and unworthiness whenever I had a story or a book proposal rejected. Now I never have those feelings when that happens---I read the comments from the editor, weigh whether they have useful information for me, and move on. It isn't a question of managing those feelings differently; I simply don't have them anymore.

That was less dramatic than being cured of my visceral phobia of a human physical variation in five or six CBT sessions, but both modalities changed my emotional responses profoundly.
posted by Sidhedevil at 5:46 PM on February 25, 2013 [1 favorite]

I get like this too. I think it's the female equivalent of guys not liking it when women act clingy in the early stages of dating.

(No one suggests that guys seek therapy for this.)
posted by 4bulafia at 12:15 PM on February 26, 2013 [1 favorite]

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