Why Do You Always Want What You Can’t Have?

The guy you’re interested in is perfect, but there’s just one catch: he’s got a girlfriend. You can’t stop thinking about him and wishing for a shot to be his, perhaps even avoiding the dating scene because he’s the only one who interests you. But is the attraction really about him or the fact that he’s unavailable? Here’s why what’s forbidden is sometimes more appealing than what’s in your reach:

  1. You like a challenge. In a study published by the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, women were shown a picture of their potential dream guy. Half were told he was single, while the rest were told he was in a relationship. The results showed that 59 percent of the women wanted the single guy, but this number shot to 90 percent when they discovered Mr. Dreamy was in a committed relationship. There’s something that really makes your blood pump faster at the thought of having — and winning — a challenge. This isn’t high school, so maybe it’s time to let the competitive side go.
  2. You compare yourself to others. You’re of the “grass is always greener on the other side” mentality, but you’re not alone. Researchers from Stetson University in Florida showed that when women engaged with other women who were thin, attractive, and dressed nicely, the participants experienced negativity about their bodies, especially if an attractive man was present. The problem with constantly comparing yourself to others is that you’ll never win the race — there’ll always be someone prettier, better dressed, more intelligent, etc. You’ll just make yourself exhausted and miss out on what you do have, which could very well be something awesome.
  3. You like the idea of the guy, not really him. Sometimes guys seem most attractive when you can’t be with them, and if you do get them, you realize you actually don’t want them. What gives? You were interested in a glamorized idea of a guy and what you thought being with him would be like (sort of like our celebrity obsessions), but then this didn’t measure up in reality. Perhaps it’s time to do away with those unrealistic expectations that are preventing you from finding happiness.
  4. You want to feel wanted. Craving what you can’t have might have more to do with what’s going on with you than the guy. You might need to feel wanted, but the catch is you don’t get those feelings from scoring attention from available guys — that’s too easy. Rather, to feel wanted you’ll have to get attention from the guy who doesn’t give you any at all, the guy who’s the dating version of winning the lottery. It’s like by getting the unavailable guy to like you, you’ll prove to yourself that you are still worthy and desirable. But since when do you need a guy to make you feel that?
  5. You’re afraid of commitment. Always wanting what you can’t have is sometimes a protective measure, preventing you from dealing with what’s really going on: your commitment issue. By wanting what’s just out of reach, you have a viable reason to avoid getting into a committed relationship with all the interesting guys out there who would date you at the drop of a hat. It’s easier than dealing with your fear of intimacy.
  6. You’re bored in your relationship (but not doing anything about it). Sometimes being unfulfilled can make your attention get pulled elsewhere, to what you know you can’t have because it could wreck your committed long-term relationship. So you end up craving what you want even though it can’t be, stuck in an illusion that distracts you from your relationship problems. Instead of focusing on what you don’t have, work on fixing what you do.
  7. You like mystery. Why would there be anything appealing about wanting what you can’t have? It’s all about the mystery. A study by the University of Virginia tested this out by showing college women Facebook profiles of four male students. They were told the men either liked their profiles, liked them a bit or either liked them a lot or a bit (the result was uncertain). The study found that women were most attracted to men who gave them an uncertain result. Not knowing something, like whether or not you can get the guy, can be quite thrilling. Suspense is cool, but let’s be real: after a while, it becomes annoying AF and you just want to know where you stand.
Giulia Simolo is a writer from Johannesburg, South Africa with a degree in English Language and Literature. She has been working as a journalist for more than a decade, writing for sites including AskMen, Native Interiors, and Live Eco. You can find out more about her on Facebook and LinkedIn, or follow her on Twitter @GiuliaSimolo.