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with Tarra Bates-Duford, Ph.D., MFT

Why Do We Want the People We Can’t Have? 9 Reasons

I am sure we can all remember being a child and wanting something our parents said we could not have, yet after being denied, we wanted it even more.

Consider this, you have a teenage daughter and as a parent you really dislike her bad boy boyfriend, however, the more you try to discourage the relationship the more she seems to want to be with him. The same response can occur with adults.

Unfortunately, despite continual discouragement and rejection, some adults cannot seem to get the idea of being with an individual who is not interested in them out of their mind. The more he/she rejects you and the more forcefully he/she indicates that they do not want to be with you, the more desirous you seem to become.

Previous research conducted on dating, relationships, and rejection suggests being rejected can lead to increased yearning and the feeling of being “hooked”, sort of like the thrill of the chase.

Romantic rejection can lead to increased yearning because it stimulates parts of the brain associated with motivation, reward, addiction, and cravings. New research also suggests the reasoning individuals fall for the unavailable may actually be scientific, some people can’t help it. Some people are drawn to the unknown, the unpredictability of dating, or being in a relationship with someone who appears to be different from them.

Most of us are familiar with the nice guy or sweet girl who is always mindful of our feelings, goes above and beyond to make us happy, and as luck would have it, he or she is interested in a relationship with us.

However, they don’t seem to present any excitement for us, actually they are kind of boring – at least to us. Ironically, the bad boy or girl occupies significant time and space in our minds. I would be remiss if I didn’t acknowledge the bad boy and bad girl may not necessarily be bad people, perhaps just not right for us. He or she may have a love-them and leave-them attitude, is in another relationship, is not emotionally available, does not value us or our opinions as we do theirs, is not honest or trustworthy, sends out mixed signals, etc.

Yet, we cannot seem to stop thinking about them.

Some people might argue the reason we pursue what we cannot have is rooted in loss. However, this is not necessarily the case as we never had it to begin with. Often when we want something or someone, we fantasize about it, bending it and twisting it into the thing or person we want. We begin to ascribe characteristics of value that may not be possessed by the person of interest. We can be madly in love with someone who doesn’t want us, and never wanted us, but the situation can sometimes be as painful as someone breaking up with us.

Another theory is that of anxiety and distress as we begin to question why he or she does not want to be with us, what is it that we are lacking?

9 Reason Why We Want What We Cannot Have Include:

  • We are excited about the thrill of the chase
  • We believe if by being accepted by the individual we desire it will add value to us or validate us
  • It will satisfy our ego
  • We struggle with low self-esteem
  • We are attracted to the unknown or unpredictability of the other person
  • We want to fulfill a fantasy
  • We want to prove to ourselves and others we “deserve” to have them
  • We unconsciously placed superhuman characteristics on our object of desire
  • The less the person reciprocates, the more time we tend to invest trying to get the person to reciprocate

So, when you want someone whom you simply cannot have, the best thing to do is relax, step back, and really think about why you want to be with this person that is not interested in you.

Do you want to be with them out of feelings of inadequacy, needing validation, or building your self-esteem? If any of these reasons are the case, you cannot obtain value vicariously through someone else. The only way to add value to yourself is by investing time and energy in yourself.

We must value ourselves and treat ourselves kindly. In order for others to see the value in us. However, even then, the object of our desire may just not be into us.

Why Do We Want the People We Can’t Have? 9 Reasons

Bates-Duford, Ph.D., LMFT

My name is Dr. Tarra Bates-Duford PhD, LMFT, CRS, CMFSW, BCPC I have a PhD in forensic Psychology specializing in familial dysfunctions and traumatic experience. I work with individuals and families struggling with familial dysfunctions, trauma, rape, and incest. I also have a masters in Marriage, Couples, & Family therapy. I am a certified relationship specialist with American Psychotherapy Association (#15221). I have more than 15 years in the field of mental health, relationships, and behavioral sciences.

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APA Reference
Bates-Duford, T. (2018). Why Do We Want the People We Can’t Have? 9 Reasons. Psych Central. Retrieved on September 18, 2020, from


Last updated: 12 Jan 2018
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