My father loves to tell me that, when it comes to relationships, I don’t like people who like me. If I’m dating someone who is sweet and available, I’ll claim to be uninterested in them. But toss me someone who doesn’t text back and flakes on plans, and it will become my mission to win them over. I’m not alone in this, either. It’s a common dating trope to be turned off by someone who is “too interested” in you.
But when you try to pinpoint the reason why some people scurry when a potential partner is forthcoming with texts, things can get a little hazy. “So much goes into this idea,” says Jesse Kahn, LCSW, the director and supervisor of The Gender & Sexuality Therapy Collective in NYC. “If someone came into my office [with this question], I’d start by asking them about their ability to tolerate intimacy.”
When someone shows a lot of interest, it signals that the relationship has the ability to progress. The more a relationship progresses, the more intimate things become. “And when a relationship becomes more intimate, it becomes more vulnerable, and [people] can become more easily hurt,” Kahn says. So by pulling away, the person on the receiving end of the attention is protecting themselves from the possibility of being hurt. “In fact, some people can find safety in being rejected, because it’s more normal for them,” Kahn says.
There’s also another reason why we might pull away from a text-happy potential S.O. “That much attention can be perceived as desperation or a lack of independence [on the part of the person showing interest],” says Kelley Johnson, PhD, a clinical sexologist based in North Carolina. “It could mean that they’re a little more codependent than you’d like them to be.” Dr. Johnson also points to the fact that we place high value on those with lives outside of the relationship. “It shows maturity if you hold back a bit,” she says. “And who doesn’t want a mature partner?” (That’s not to say that eager texters are immature, though; It just means that some people interpret this kind of behavior in this particular way.)
One way to figure out why you may be turning away from people who show interest in you (and to possibly change your knee-jerk reaction, if that’s what you want) is to take a look back at past relationships. “Think about what your examples of intimacy and love were in past partnerships and in your family life,” Kahn says. You might be able to connect the dots between how you were treated by a former partner and your desire to bolt every time someone shows overt interest in you. For me, I’ve realized that a few past partners would be distant, and then turn around and shower me with affection, only to go back to withholding their attention. So when people are overly attentive, I tend to question their feelings.
Now, instead of tossing my phone across the room when I get more than three texts in a row (the horror!), I remember Dr. Johnson’s words. “It takes time for a relationship to grow,” she says. “So what might bother you today might not bother you tomorrow.” Even though it can be tough not to cringe when my phone blows up, I try to take a breath and let time run its course. Sometimes a person’s attentiveness keeps up, and other times it doesn’t. But I’m trying to remember that, in the grand scheme of a relationship, a ton of texts aren’t really that big of an issue at all.
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