How do I stop having crushes on the wrong guys?
March 3, 2019 7:22 AM   Subscribe

I like alpha male nerds (think brogrammers), but they don’t like me. How do I stop having obsessive crushes? Snowflakes inside...

I always crush on guys who are smart (STEM field), ambitious, handsome — but deep down, they are not the nicest. (*The ones that I've met- Not all are like this.*) They usually have a controlling streak that is sneaky and subtle. They make snarky comments aimed to get a reaction and are critical. They’re very manipulative and easily fool people- they can be quite charming, so people like them.

They’re just crushes and luckily I figure it out before anything gets serious, but it scares me that I like guys like this. I know that they’re bad news, so why do I still hope that they’ll change into Mr. Nice?

I also feel insecure- like I’m not good enough for them, but know that they are not the best for me either. I always feel like I have to prove myself, but it gets exhausting. When they go for other women, I think, “Why her and not me?” I wonder if they will treat the other women differently or better than they treat me.

I also think they like to play head games with me because I’m shy and quiet. (I’m loud around my family and friends, but when I feel uncomfortable I clam up.) It seems like these types can smell fear, so they use it to their advantage. I’m pretty introverted and don’t have the best social skills, so I don’t know how to defend myself.

It makes me worried because it seems to be a pattern of liking the same type of guy. I like smart guys, but these guys seem like they would be abusive and very toxic. Again, we don’t go out, but why do I keep obsessing over them? If I know they’re bad, why do I like that?
posted by lawgirl to Human Relations (19 answers total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
Attraction and reason have got nothing to do with each other. They literally run on different circuits.

You might find that you're able to retrain your attraction circuits via intense and deliberate fantasy, but you won't shift them via pure reason.
posted by flabdablet at 7:38 AM on March 3, 2019 [4 favorites]

So while I have some thoughts on picking people who are not good for you (it’s a way to protect yourself, avoid true intimacy, avoid attachment, etc), this is also just not...a simple ask. I bet a bunch of people will give you their experience, and I hope that will be helpful, but what you’ve described seems complex enough that it’s probably something to work out in therapy. No answer you get here will be perfectly suited to your circumstances or particular history or just...who you are, yourself, as an individual, with all the complexity that implies.

It’s an Ask cliché,’s a cliché for a reason. Therapy.
posted by schadenfrau at 7:40 AM on March 3, 2019 [5 favorites]

This seems like a question for therapy - there are multiple things to tease out here: attraction patterns, obsessiveness, insecurity.

I'd want to know more about your personal history before hazarding a guess as to whether this is a legit pattern or why exactly this happens. A lot of things aren't clear here: how often this has happened, how old you are, how you meet these guys (work? school?), whether you have opportunities to meet guys who are more like what you're looking for, whether the crushes are a barrier from noticing and dating more promising potential mates.

It's very promising that you don't wind up going out with them and you do figure out that they aren't good romantic prospects - that alone puts you light years ahead. To me the next step would be figuring out how to manage the crush so that perhaps you can enjoy the little charge you get from it while not obsessing or getting too caught up in it (when you figure that out, please tell me).
posted by bunderful at 7:40 AM on March 3, 2019 [1 favorite]

Something I've been thinking about recently is that "I'm not getting my needs met in this friendship" can feel like a kind of longing or yearning. It turns out what I'm yearning for when I feel that way is kindness and basic decency, not romance or sex. But until I stop and think about what's causing it, the emotion itself is real similar. And it's been helpful to me to stop and ask: "Okay, this longing I'm feeling. Is it because I want a friendship I can be content with, and this one isn't it? Or is it because I am content with the friendship and I want it to be more?"

Relatedly, it turns out if the longing feeling is coming from dissatisfaction with the friendship, there's a real straightforward way to fix it, which is to ask for what I need in the friendship. If I do that and they give me what I need, that longing feeling that I mistook for a crush sometimes just straight-up disappears — because when I'm getting my needs met, there's nothing to long for. (And if they don't/can't/won't, that moves me towards a different solution: saying "Wow, ok, this friendship is not going to work for me" and backing off.)
posted by nebulawindphone at 7:48 AM on March 3, 2019 [27 favorites]

Hello! I recognize your situation. And I do think that therapy will be helpful - it was helpful for me; I don't think I've had an obsessive crush, much less on an unsuitable person, since a few weeks in.

For me, there was always a tension between "if this person, who is both very successful and very critical, likes me, that must prove I am Good Enough, or Even The Very Best" and "I need to seek out people who will reassure me that I am not good enough, because feeling not good enough is familiar and safe".

I know and have basically always known that this has a lot to do with my upbringing and school experiences which I was always unconsciously trying to recapitulate.

Therapy didn't so much focus on "why the inappropriate objects" as "how can I develop a more realistic sense of myself so that I can stop repeating this internal drama" and "how can I become more attuned to my feelings so that I can stop seeking out other people as feelings-management-tools". It was pretty effective!

I also found it helpful to sit down and really imagine what a good partner would be like, how they'd act, how we'd talk, etc. I found that focusing on the day to day rather than on the "and I will impress them with my knowledge and wit" helped clarify things. You can't really impress someone with your knowledge and wit when, eg, doing the laundry or having the flu.
posted by Frowner at 7:52 AM on March 3, 2019 [30 favorites]

Yep me too but this is my last one because he was so terrible to me that it has forced me to deal with this awful habit. I projected a character onto him that was not even close to his actual character to the point where I am now forced to sit back and question my behaviour.

You get sick and tired of it. The emotional turmoil is not worth it.

I guess if you are not yet sick and tired then the typical starting point would be to look at the relationship you have with your father. Did he make you feel the same way? How did he raise you to think about men? Mine raised me to feel sorry for men - terrible men like him. People who would not even meet me 1/4 of the way who I had to convince to cooperate with me and who made me feel like I had to work hard to receive fair treatment. I suggest you investigate that relationship with a professional.

You may not "like" your crushes btw. It sounds like you just want approval from bastards. It took me a long time to realise that I never liked a single one of my crushes or boyfriends because they were terrible people. I just wanted them to validate me. It sounds like it might be the same for you.

Someone recently told me that now I have learned that you learn about a person's character over time and then you decide whether or not you want to let them in (chasing and yearning are not involved). Fancy that. Common sense to most people I guess but it certainly was not to me.

I'm not out of the woods yet. It's still pretty painful for me so I can only tell you what I've realised. I can however recommend some books and websites:

Web -
Love Addiction Forums

Baggage Reclaim

Books -
Love Addiction

Six Pillars of Self Esteem

Best of luck to you.
posted by ihaveyourfoot at 7:57 AM on March 3, 2019 [13 favorites]

On the one hand, the fact that these are crushes that don't develop into relationships is maybe a good sign: you see the red flags and flee.

On the other hand, if you crushing on these guys is keeping you from finding more suitable, then that's not great.

I agree with folks who say that this is a lot to untangle. But here's one thought:

I always crush on guys who are smart (STEM field), ambitious, handsome — but deep down, they are not the nicest. (*The ones that I've met- Not all are like this.*) They usually have a controlling streak that is sneaky and subtle. They make snarky comments aimed to get a reaction and are critical. They’re very manipulative and easily fool people- they can be quite charming, so people like them.

I'm wondering if you're somehow drawn to narcissists or people with sociopathic tendencies? Do you have anyone like that in your life, and you're somehow replicating an attraction to them?

As with many things, I do think that a big part of the answer is in your own self-image and self-esteem. It's a bit of a cliche, but you need to love yourself -- which is to say, believe that you are lovable -- before you can really feel love from someone else.
posted by bluedaisy at 8:23 AM on March 3, 2019 [2 favorites]

I think you’d benefit from a serious recalibration on what you think makes someone smart. In my world, brogrammers aren’t considered especially smart.

Maybe try to hang out with some grad students in humanities or the sciences. People who actually pursue scholarship rather than trying to lord it over other people because they can make money slinging code. Heck I’ve known carpenters and mechanics who are smarter than the average tech bro.
posted by SaltySalticid at 8:53 AM on March 3, 2019 [22 favorites]

I am not a clinical psychologist, but what I wonder whenever I have any emotional pattern that keeps repeating is, am I trying to salve my pride by "solving" an earlier problem which, in its earlier incarnation, I wasn't able to solve? Like living-people ghost stories, sort of.

Brief examples: I think this is what is going on for me when I find myself dealing with unrequited infatuation: an obsessive need to "prove" somehow that I wasn't wrong to be attracted in the first place. I also think it shows up in some places with friendship -- some aspects of my relationship with my parents was messed up as a kid in ways that I think I have unconsciously recapitulated in some other relationships.

Could you be trying to prove your own worth to yourself by selecting people whose approval seems to be extra hard to win? Could you be trying to "fix" the first of these Bad Idea Crushes by repeating them in the hopes that some day one of them will not actually be a bad idea?

I really think you've done the biggest bit of hard work in reliably identifying these people as Bad Ideas. I hope you're able to solve your problem internally, and that soon you can retrain your focus on people who will be nice to you.
posted by eirias at 8:54 AM on March 3, 2019 [8 favorites]

I swear it was an adage I read on AskMetafilter years ago that I'm unable to locate, but it boiled down to:

When you are good with You, people who are good for you look good to you

In other words, therapy and reflection to unpack any attachment issues and to recognize your patterns, and curiosity and activity to develop interests and build confidence. No one can make you feel bad about yourself if you know your worth.

Once you've worked on yourself, you can start to measure up potential partners (and friends!). The most important trait I value is kindness. If I see a pattern where someone doesn't meet that qualification, I can be pretty sure they will be more work than I have interest in, at least in a close relationship.

Another thing a good friend of mine once said is that nothing is handed to you, you have to become the person you want to date. Identify your core values. Do you like kindness? Courage? Integrity? Be aware that even those traits have downsides- indecisiveness, recklessness, inflexibility, and so on- and learn to understand how much of the inverses you can tolerate.

Lastly, identify your passions- dancing? Building robots? Rock climbing? Knitting?- but be honest with yourself about the reasons why you like them. It takes time and experience and a lot of patience and self-forgiveness to work toward your most True Self, but once you know You, and you're out there doing things you love- volunteerwork, chess, ceramics, hiking, whatever- you'll find likeminded people out there, and with your rubric for character assessment, you'll be able to avoid crushes on people who are not good for you.
posted by Queen of Spreadable Fats at 9:28 AM on March 3, 2019 [18 favorites]

I think what (good)therapy is most useful for, is helping people realize they often have their own answers to their dilemas in the present moment, they're just failing to put key pieces of it together because it's hard to do that for yourself and "see the forest.." when you're standing inside of it.

I always crush on guys who are smart, ambitious, handsome..they can be quite charming, so people like them

You like men with these qualities.

I also feel insecure- like I’m not good enough for them

But you don't feel like you're good enough for them so these types make you feel insecure at first.
You're confusing that insecure feeling with another type of insecure feeling, which I'll go into below.

and easily fool people

These men you have identified appear to have these qualities upfront, but after getting to know them...

luckily I figure it out before anything gets serious

You realize that they're not actually like that. (Instead they are not very nice, critical, manipulative etc.)

This is could be in part because:

I’m shy and quiet. (I’m loud around my family and friends, but when I feel uncomfortable I clam up...  I’m pretty introverted and don’t have the best social skills

You yourself are shy and present upfront very differently than you are after you get comfortable enough to trust someone enough to open up your real personality.
You also may be confusing traits like arrogance with confidence, which is easy to do at first

Why do I still hope that they’ll change into Mr. Nice

You are hoping/assuming these men are like you in that way, that once they get to know you and you "prove yourself" that they will show a different person.
You are not realizing first that they are just like you and who they're presenting as is a very different person than who they really are once comfortable.

But, the good news is that you figure it out before it goes anywhere.
I think you're not giving yourself enough credit here. I mean your instincts are right on the money; you're feeling insecure around these men(but not with family and friends) because these men aren't actually safe to secure an attachment to; which you realize before you do. You're recognizing infatuation for what it is and not confusing it with love. I think you're doing good and on the right path with this.
posted by OnefortheLast at 10:22 AM on March 3, 2019 [5 favorites]

Identifying the pattern is a good first step. It probably feels good to have attention from these charming, manipulative types because it feels like you are they most important person in the world when it happens. They claim to be critical and to identify what is important, which means that their attention means you are valuable. They also may be unkind to you in ways that are testing your boundaries or checking your response to unkindness, they may be vetting you as a potential victim. Manipulative and abusive people sometimes scope out victims for a long time before they pursue them. Of course, they could also just be jerks who are mean to lots of people. It is great that you have not pursued someone who does not treat you well. It may help you to inform yourself about this type of person more in order to understand your attraction to them. I think that Shahidi Arabi has some good writing on these issues.
posted by arachnidette at 10:39 AM on March 3, 2019 [1 favorite]

Sometimes attraction tells us more about what we want for ourselves. I tend to go for men I don't think I deserve - educated, professionally accomplished, etc - in part because of my frustration at not going for an advanced degree or having a more impressive career path.

I suspect this would stop if I were to accept and love my life as it is, and/or if I got a job I was more excited about and proud of.

Similarly, maybe you want to be more confident and socially adept and therefore people who have those qualities catch your eye. Plus, highly social people are just more likely to talk to everyone - whereas the less socially dominant types we might have better luck with might be people we have to intentionally look for and connect with.

(Also, my class anxiety REALLY plays into this.)
posted by bunderful at 10:51 AM on March 3, 2019 [3 favorites]

I think a lot of younger people tend to go for people they want to be like themselves and disdain people who have traits that they don't like in themselves (note this has no bearing on if the traits are good or bad!). This is good if you go for someone who balances you out but not good if you're constantly being attracted to people who are jerks because you admire their confidence.

The good news is most people figure this out and outgrow it, like you are. The bad news is that you somehow see other people as "better" than you just because they are different and you should stop that, or at least tone it way back to a healthier level. A good life skill is knowing how to honestly admire someone's talents and personality without wanting to vampire-ise them for yourself. Ask yourself do you admire or envy someone? Do you want to emulate them in some ways or do you want to beat them at their own game and rub their face in it? Do you even know them or is this all in your head? Being an introvert and also competitive can be the worst combination sometimes.
posted by fshgrl at 11:40 AM on March 3, 2019 [5 favorites]

Step number one is to stop putting these guys on a pedestal they don't belong on. People in the STEM field aren't smarter than anyone else. They're just specialized. Just like someone who works in the fashion industry, the food industry, nursing, teaching, carpentry or anything really - they have knowledge and skills in a particular area. They certainly aren't smarter than you, or anyone else, by default.
posted by emd3737 at 12:48 PM on March 3, 2019 [5 favorites]

You're attracted to entitled guys. As others have said, tech-bros aren't any smarter than anyone else, they're just paid a lot more and are fought over by big companies, so they get huge egos and believe they're special, when they're really just assholes with a talent that's in demand.
posted by seanmpuckett at 1:39 PM on March 3, 2019 [3 favorites]

One thing I figured out is that in my teens and twenties I like angry men because *I* was angry but it wasn’t really safe (for family and society reasons) for me to express that. Once I figured that out though, it was a lot easier for me to start working towards what I wanted for myself rather than trying to get it/express it through other people.

Aside from the mean streak, the people you are describing have good things about them. Confidence stood out to me because you describe yourself as shy. Could it be these aren’t crushes so much as roadmaps for things you want to emulate?
posted by CMcG at 3:51 PM on March 3, 2019 [7 favorites]

Oh man fshgrl beat me to it!
posted by CMcG at 3:53 PM on March 3, 2019

What helped me when I was stuck in this sort of tailspin was to adjust my social circle. It started when I was living in New York and running in a social circle full of these types (sometimes in tech, other times in different male-dominated and somewhat high profile fields like finance). It seemed like everyone I met in a dating context had this basic personality type. Then, even after moving cross-country to a new city where this isn't the default male attitude, I found myself SEEKING THEM OUT. Like there was something in my brain that correlated smart, successful people to date with this brand of entitled controlling asshole. It was super toxic and I stopped dating at all, for a while.

Then I started doing comedy. While obviously you can find this kind of dude in comedy (it's another male-dominated activity that attracts cerebral types and has the veneer of a certain sort of success) -- and shit, maybe that's why I went with comedy instead of needlepoint or softball or bird-watching -- I also met a bunch of other people who aren't like that. Which made the people who are this way really stand out as the assholes that they are. It was pretty easy at that point to find folks to socialize with, including people to date, who are well outside that controlling fake-logical engineer's disease/mansplainer personality type. Once my eyes adjusted, so to speak, it actually wasn't that hard to find someone I was attracted to who wasn't like that at all. Best of all, it turned out that not only was that someone not a controlling and selfish prick, he was also smart in exactly the right ways. Now I'm married to a man who can nerd out with me over references to ancient Greek tragedies and Pokemon, but ALSO he is nice to me and there's a baseline of respect and openness between us.

TL;DR: Get a hobby that doesn't necessarily attract this type, or also attracts people who are not like this.
posted by the milkman, the paper boy at 9:26 AM on March 4, 2019 [1 favorite]

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