Life Advice



Erika Ettin: Why we want the person who doesn't want us

Erika Ettin, Tribune News Service on

Published in Dating Advice

You like someone. They like you… maybe. You continue liking this person. This person stops liking you (or never did) and pulls back. You like this person more. This person, feeling smothered, continues to pull back. You continue to obsess more.

Why should a person’s feelings actually grow the less someone is reciprocating those loving feelings?

There are a few theories on this:

1. Overinvestment

Elite Daily describes this theory in detail. It says that a principle on which our minds work is reciprocity. If we do something for someone, even if we haven’t asked for something in return, we subconsciously expect the person to do something in return of about equal value. (Conversely, if someone does something nice for us, many of us will simply want to reciprocate.) These things could range from dinner to something as simple as a text response.

When the person of interest does not reciprocate, however, rather than retreating, we instead tend to invest more in the hopes of the other person responding. And then once we’ve invested more, the amount of reciprocation required in our minds increases. The more we invest, the more we want back.


From Elite Daily: “Annoyingly, investing too much time and energy in someone without the person wanting it will usually push the person away. So, when you want someone whom you simply cannot have, the best thing is to relax, step back and not invest so much into that someone (no matter how difficult that may be).”

2. Perceived value and scarcity

This is my own theory. The less someone responds or reciprocates to advances, the more perceived value the pursuer thinks this person has (“She must be so busy!” “He must be so overcome with options!” “She must have such a high-profile job that she doesn’t have time to reply to my text from six days ago… but who’s counting?”), so we try harder since this person must really be “worth it” if he or she is in such high demand (in other words, this person is a scarce resource).

And often, the higher we perceive this other person’s value, the lower we perceive our own. This person’s lack of response, though, should not imply a higher value. Rather, at its simplest, it should imply a lack of proper communication (“I’m simply not interested”) or just rudeness.


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