Have you ever wondered why the hell do we chase people who don’t want us? Why do we remain in toxic, even abusive, relationships, or move from one unsatisfying partner to another without being able to settle down?
It’s because we don’t fall in love with people for their characters. We fall in love with scripts and concepts.
That is why you can’t feel anything about guys who treat you with respect and kindness but get immediately attached to emotionally unavailable men. That is why you go after women who have repeatedly rejected you and consider those who give you attention boring.
Sounds absurd? Let’s get right into it.
We Don’t Crave Happiness, We Crave Familiarity
Most of us like feeling unhappy in our relationships.
We absolutely relish every miserable, sad moment we spend by the side of our partners.
We also make sure to make these moments last as much as possible by running away from kind, mature, emotionally stable people and ending relationships that make us feel safe and secure.
This seemingly counterintuitive behavior happens for one simple reason: deep down, we don’t crave happiness; we crave familiarity. Our attraction to other people is heavily influenced by the feelings our parents (or primal caregivers) evoked to us during our childhood. Good or bad, positive or negative, these feelings are exactly what we try to re-create in our adult relationships.
As author, philosopher, and founder of The School of Life Alain de Botton writes in his book, The Course of Love:
“We believe we are seeking happiness in love, but what we are really after is familiarity. We are looking to re-create, within our adult relationships, the very feelings we knew so well in childhood and which were rarely limited to just tenderness and care.”
We Don’t Look For Love — We Look For a Person Who Makes Us Feel Comfortable
Familiarity breeds feelings of comfort. Familiarity promotes attraction.
One would think that if you grew up with emotionally unavailable, abusive, careless, judgemental, or alcoholic parents you’d look for the exact opposite characteristics in a partner.
But our brains don’t work that way.
What you’ve learned as a child is your emotional home. It’s what you know. It’s where you feel most comfortable. And your subconscious mind screams “GIVE ME WHAT FEELS COMFORTABLE”.
Even if comfortable means mistreatment, abuse, and hurt.
That’s why your friend chases bad boys and whenever a decent guy is after her tells you “look, he’s a great guy, but I’m just not feeling it”.
In reality, deep down she knows good guys are neither boring nor predictable (at least not all of them. It’s just that being treated well is something that makes her feel weird and uncomfortable.
As stated in this article in Psychology Today:
If you are a woman who grew up with an alcoholic father you may tend to be attracted to men who are alcoholics because you find their behaviour familiar. Even when someone’s behaviour or personality is hurtful, on a subconscious level, some part of us may find comfort in the familiarity of that behaviour. Good or bad, the environment in which we grew up is the only home we’ve ever known.
We Don’t Fall in Love With People. We Fall in Love With (Emotion) Scripts
It’s natural to imagine that what we look for in love is safety, kindness, and security; that we search for people who treat us with respect, warmth, and affection.
No one wants to fall in love with a person who treats them badly, right?
Wrong. We might not realize, understand, or accept it, but deep down, if we spend our childhood in toxic environments that made us suffer emotionally, we’ll seek to re-create those exact emotions, because the opposite ones — those of warmth, love, and affection — will trigger feelings of discomfort and stress.
As Alain de Botton explains in this video:
“(…) we don’t fall in love first and foremost with those who care for us in ideal ways, we fall in love with those who care for us in familiar ways. Adult love emerges from a template of how we should be loved that was created in childhood and is likely to be entwined with a range of problematic compulsions that militate in key ways against our chances of growth.”
Peg Streep writes in her article in Psychology Today:
“A body of psychological research suggests that our earliest relationships, especially with our mother, not only can influence how we are able to connect to others as adults — in romantic and other contexts — but also create internalized scripts or working models of how relationships work.”
In other words, we don’t fall in love with people for their personalities per se, but for the (emotion) scripts they can provide us with, which match our own internalized ones. If our templates of how we should be loved are unhealthy and problematic, we’ll look for scripts that’ll evoke unhealthy and problematic feelings.
Something to Keep In Mind…
As you can see, the dynamics of early attachment, falling in love and internalized scripts of how relationships should work are complicated concepts.
It’s easy to judge someone who stays in an abusive relationship and say “why can’t they just leave”? It’s easy to feel weak and foolish if we ourselves can’t leave a partner who repeatedly mistreats us.
But there’s far more than meets the eye in those situations. Maybe it’s time to end the cycle of judgment and stigma by not viewing relationships — and life — in black and white terms anymore, and learning to sympathize and empathize more.
This post was previously published on medium.com.
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