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If you’re always attracted to the wrong person, you could be relationship-phobic

PHOTOGRAPHY BY CLAUDIA FISCHER

WORDS BY TAYLOR RICHARDSON

Are you unlucky in love or are you afraid of commitment?

I’ve long been plagued by the notion that my love life is constantly at the mercy of poor timing, certain I’d met the right guy at the wrong time, time and time again. If it wasn’t the timing that was off, there was always something to render my crush off-limits.

Whether it be that my perfect guy was in fact, happily committed in their long-term relationship, or that they were 20 years my senior (and my high-school teacher), when it comes to wanting what you can’t have, I reign supreme.


Craving more personal essays? There’s an abundance in our Life section.


Wanting what, or rather who, we can’t have is a fundamental part of the human experience. It’s in our nature to be attracted to the forbidden fruit, just ask Adam and Eve. A doughnut is never more enticing than ten minutes into a juice cleanse, and hell hath no fury like a pre-teen crushing on a boy-band member who will never know their name. We just absolutely love to love the things that we cannot have.

For this reason, I never really considered what my insistent attraction to the wrong people said about me. It turns out, there’s a psychological reason that I am exclusively drawn to those who are a firm no-go zone, and hold the phone, it seems I may not be unlucky in love, after all. I may be self-sabotaging in the name of commitment-phobia.

If you too, can’t quite shake the feeling that your soulmate is Jim from The Office (back off, he’s mine) or that one guy who’s been breadcrumbing you for months, you could be relationship-phobic. Call it what you will: relationship-phobia or commitment-phobia, when it comes down to it, all paths lead to, you guessed it, a fear of relationships. Mr Big, is that you?

This fear of intimacy and vulnerability within the dynamic of romantic relationships can lead the relationship-phobic to lust after those who don’t present any real threat of intimacy as a means of self-preservation (think taken men, fuckboys, teachers and celebrities). If they’re explicitly unavailable, sign me up for a big ol’ crush on them, followed by a sledgehammer to the heart when I realise that they’ll never be mine.

Our attraction to others is simply a physiological response to attractive stimuli, really, we have no say in the matter. If you’ve ever woken up to a one-night stand or sat through a car crash date and thought: what the fuck am I doing here?

You’ll take comfort in knowing it’s not a conscious decision we make for ourselves. But when you find yourself exclusively attracting those ‘he’s just not into you’ types, or the forbidden fruit, if you will, maybe it’s time to question whether you’re the problem? (Spoiler alert: I am!)

If you’re not sure if you’re a relationship-phobe, or just unlucky in love, it’s worth considering your intentions. For some, falling for the wrong people has nothing to do with self-sabotage and everything to do with misreading signals.

Erika Ettin, the founder of dating website A Little Nudge, says it best: “The less someone responds or reciprocates to one’s advances, the more perceived value the pursuer thinks this person has.” Loosely translated = falling victim to the highs of bread-crumbing.

For others, being attracted to the wrong guy could come down to ‘mate-choice copying’, the biological process in which females are more attracted to men based on the endorsement of a third party (said man’s boo-thang).

In one study, women were presented with a photo of a man that only 59 per cent of women metaphorically swiped right on. Once being informed that the man was in a relationship, that number rose to 90 per cent *drops the mic* This has less to do with self-sabotage and more to do with the pre-approval from a fellow women.

Then, there are the relationship-phobes who attract, and are attracted to, the unavailable for the simple reason that they are unavailable. For many (me, it’s me) the act is a subconscious one made as an act of self-preservation.

Despite the self-sabotage and emotional inaccessibility, a relationship-phobe still craves attention and affection, and will often find a way to skim the surface of intimacy without having to deep dive into a relationship. And what does that look like, you ask? Crushing obsessively on the unattainable to avoid getting hurt. Plot twist: it still hurts.

When I consider my past romantic interests, I can attest that I am the poster child of relationship-phobia. Throughout my life, crushing on the out of reach (usually far too old, and far too much my teacher to date) has left little room for me to entertain the idea of someone showing any real interest in me, and vice versa.

And when they do, I get bored and lose interest faster than you can say commitment-phobe. Maybe bored was too harsh, other choice words include: sweaty, stressed, nauseous. It wasn’t until a guy I’d been quietly hung up on for months (emphasis on ‘quietly’ because we’re not about home-wrecking in this house, bestie) became single that I realised that I was undoubtedly to blame for all my romantic shortcomings.

Just like that, as his relationship status changed to single, he suddenly seemed a little less shiny to me. And when he started to give me the attention I’d been pining after? The thrill of the crush flatlined. And that’s on self-awareness, baby. I despise that like many relationship-phobes before me, I’ve entertained fuckboys and breadcrumbing and in turn, fed into the ‘treat them mean, keep them keen’ mentality. Ick.

But having learnt what little control we have over who we crush on (please circle back to mankind’s aforementioned cave-man like approach to attraction) I feel a little bit better. And in the words of Selena Gomez, the heart wants what it wants. But also, in the words of P!nk, I don’t want to be a stupid girl.

I’m realising that what I once perceived as excitement around the unattainability of my crushes has been anxiety all along, and at the core of it all, relationship-phobes are attracted to those who give them nothing, because they want nothing. But the first step to recovery is admission and recognition, right? And now that I’ve admitted to the internet that love makes me perspire, consider the issue recognised.

I’m done entertaining the idea that love is a losing game not worth participating in – you’ve got to be in it to win it. If you, too, feel like you may be a relationship-phobe ready to conquer your commitment fears I’ll leave you with this flawless, motivational Kendall Jenner quote:

“I think you should experience it. You always say you want to experience things but I don’t think you actually want to experience things because you would experience it if you wanted to experience things” Here’s to experiencing things!

Think you might be relationship-phobic? Try this.

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