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Why We Chase People Who Don't Want Us: Romantic Obsession

"Too often, the thing you want most is the one thing you can't have," said Meredith Grey in "Grey's Anatomy." "Desire leaves us heartbroken; it wears us out. Desire can wreck your life."


Why We Chase People Who Don't Want Us: Romantic Obsession

The notion of pursuing someone who doesn't share our feelings is a universal human experience and a recurring theme in literature, film, and music. From literary classics like Shakespeare's "Romeo and Juliet" to modern pop songs like Taylor Swift's "Blank Space," unrequited love remains a prevalent topic. This fascination can be attributed to the allure of the unattainable, the mystique surrounding what we cannot have. Just as Gatsby chased Daisy Buchanan in F. Scott Fitzgerald's "The Great Gatsby," people often become enamored by the idea of conquering the seemingly impossible.



You find yourself glancing at your phone, impatiently awaiting that message or call. You start thinking about what you'll say, where you'll go, and how you'll impress them. When the opportunity arises, you put your best foot forward. Only some things elicit a response, but every now and then, something does. But, just when you think everything is lost, that one sign of importance fills you with euphoria, no matter how small. Soon, all you can think about is this person and winning them over, prompting you to ask yourself an important question: Am I in love with the person? Why We Chase People Who Don't Want Us: Romantic Obsession



You're sure of mutual desire during the first few weeks — clear signs of interest and constant interaction. But, as time passes, that certainty gives way to uncertainty. You can't seem to figure it out, but you know something has changed. Maybe the other person starts responding less frequently. Perhaps the messages become shorter, or when you see them, they don't look at you with the same lustful gaze. In either case, the change drives you insane, but just when you think all hope is lost, they throw you a bone — a clear indication that the spark is still there and hope exists.



Previous research on dating, relationships, and rejection suggests that being rejected can increase yearning and the sensation of being hooked, similar to the thrill of the chase. So the chase goes on because crushes become more "worthwhile" to some people when they are out of reach.

We let people treat us like this because the gratification feels quite satisfying on the rare occasions when we get it, thanks to dopamine. When you meet someone, there is an instant connection. You can tell this will be different the moment you lock your eyes. As you begin to converse, you realize how many things you have in common. The conversation flows easily, you exchange phone numbers, and you agree to meet again. Before your next meeting, butterflies flutter in your stomach, a mix of excitement and nervousness. It's another fantastic interaction, and things are looking up.


We may argue that chasing what we can't have stems from a sense of loss. However, this is only sometimes the case because we never had it in the first place. When we desire something or someone, we often fantasize about it, twisting and bending it into the thing or person we want. We begin to attribute valuable characteristics to the person of interest that he or she may not have. We can be passionately in love with someone who doesn't want us and never does, but the situation can be as painful as someone breaking up with us. Another theory is that we experience anxiety and distress as we wonder why he or she does not want to be with us. It makes us wonder if we are lacking somewhere or not worth their time.


Why are we addicted to the chase?


1. It really is chemical

Chasing someone is a rush that you don't get to enjoy when you're in a stable relationship. Scientifically, having a crush and falling in love causes the release of feel-good hormones such as dopamine and adrenaline.

When you first fall in love, your brain releases dopamine, adrenaline, epinephrine, and norepinephrine. These are natural hormones that cause feelings of happiness and euphoria. We sometimes mistake these chemical feelings for genuine connections. As a result, once the high wears off, so does the relationship for some people.


2. Validation and self-worth

You want validation that you're good enough in all aspects of your life, including dating, subconsciously (or not so subconsciously). Are you appealing enough? Are you intelligent enough? Is it sexy enough? This could explain your desire to pursue the best of the best, even if they are unattainable.

This is exemplified in the character of Ted Mosby from the TV series "How I Met Your Mother," who incessantly chases after his love interest Robin despite her evident lack of romantic interest. Ted's actions reflect the human tendency to seek affirmation of our desirability and worthiness by pursuing those who appear unattainable.


3. Not wanting to commit.

For a lot of people, the chase is addicting because that means they don’t have to settle down, one minute they are obsessed with one person and the next minute they are onto someone else. This could also mean that they aren’t in love with the person but instead the idea of having that person all to themselves, plus it comes with no strings attached.


We've all seen someone fall in love or become obsessed with someone despite not being in a romantic relationship with them. Where everyone else recognizes the lack of reciprocity, they find themselves entangled in a fairy tale, frequently over-analyzing visible cues to persuade their own hearts otherwise. Films like "Twilight" romanticize persistence in the face of rejection, reinforcing the notion that intense pursuit can eventually lead to reciprocated love. From a psychological perspective, the human brain is wired to seek connections and attachments, and when these attachments are severed, we can experience a deep sense of loss. This emotional pain can drive us to chase after someone who no longer wants us as we attempt to restore the emotional connection we once had. Understanding these psychological mechanisms can provide insights into our actions and help us navigate romantic relationships more consciously.

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