1. Reality can never live up to our imaginations.
We want the people we can’t have because no matter how incredible someone is in reality, they’re never as incredible as we can imagine them to be.
We don’t imagine someone’s flaws. We don’t imagine their shortcomings. We don’t imagine the ways in which we just don’t jive with them – even when we want to so badly. And when we don’t get to be with the people we want, we end up living with an idealized version of them – one we enjoy fantasizing about more than we may actually enjoy being with them if we were given the actual chance.
2. You have a ready-made excuse for why things won’t work out – and it isn’t personal.
When a tangible circumstance is preventing you from being with someone, it provides you with a ready-made reason why things won’t work out. You don’t have to worry about a relationship failing because you’re too flighty or too clingy or they don’t get along with your family or you can’t work out the differences in your personalities.
You get to blame not being together on the situation you’re in. And as much as that sucks, it hurts less than watching a relationship fall apart because the two of you just couldn’t make it work.
3. The pressure of commitment is absent.
No matter how compatible two people are, a relationship just doesn’t work unless they remain equally committed to one another. And when it comes to the people you can’t have, the commitment level’s always at zero – because there’s a specific reason why you can’t be together.
And so this person never offers you less than you’re offering them. There’s never an imbalance of devotion or attention or investment. You’re both equally non-invested and it’s an oddly empowering feeling. It’s refreshing to not have to worry about the equilibrium for once.
4. Every opportunity you get to be with them is a novelty.
The thing about people we can’t fully have is that we never get the chance to be with them fully. Any opportunity we get to spend time around them is exciting. Every chance encounter gets our heart racing.
We don’t have time to grow tired or weary or accustomed to their frustrating habits. We don’t have the chance to expect more from them than they are willing to give us. Any time we get to spend the person we can’t have is a bonus and so we’re always happy to see them. We don’t get to the point in a relationship where we ever start expecting that much more.
5. Your desire for them is never fully satisfied.
When you want someone you can’t fully have, there is always something left to want for. Even if you get to be with them briefly, even if you get to know them intimately, even if the stakes line up 50% in your favor, you will always be left wanting that entire 100%.
Your fantasies about this person stay eternally unfulfilled and so you continue to entertain them. You continue to pine for them. You continue to wonder what it would be like to know every part of them – and that unfulfilled sense of curiosity keeps you endlessly pining.
6. What you can’t have poses a challenge. And let’s be serious, you love a challenge.
At the end of the day, there is a single unifying trait that draws together all people who chase after what they can’t have – they love a challenge. The more unattainable someone is, the greater a test they pose to our abilities. We want to prove that there is no such thing as unattainable. That the limitations do not apply to us. That the rules can always be worked around.
And so we endlessly want what we can’t have – simply to defy the word ‘can’t.’