Why Are We Such Suckers For The Hard-To-Get?

10 Things I Hate About You / Amazon.com
10 Things I Hate About You / Amazon.com

I feel like the whole Marnie and Ray fling on Girls is inherently unhealthy and based on an almost bipolar-like attraction. The foundation of their relationships is that all-too-familiar hard-to-get game; Ray reeled Marnie in only after he first knocked her down pretty hard, and Marnie seduced Ray with her stern, hard-to-please attitude. Each is equally vexed by the other’s habits and traits, leading to blow-out fights and then make-up sex. Founded on that spark that’s only engendered by what we can’t have, their relationship seems doomed for failure.

It’s easy to want what we can’t have—whether it’s a boyfriend who wants a more sympathetic and emotionally available girlfriend or a girlfriend who wants a fully committed boyfriend. At least it’s easier than noting the glaring truths, leaving your significant other and finding someone who’s right for you. Which is perhaps why we continue to pursue the unpursuable, despite its inevitable and tragic outcome. What’s hard is going out there and finding someone else—someone who you don’t constantly feel like less of a person with—however once you do, it’s always worth it.

It’s odd that we’d choose to spend so much time with someone who isn’t right for us, perpetually hoping that they’ll one day learn how to treat us well. The amount we’ve invested in them changing (an outcome, it should be said, that will never happen) is entirely arbitrary. Why is it that oftentimes our first instinct is to change the person we’re with, rather than accept their poor traits and try to move on? Why is it so hard to comprehend that to want your girlfriend or boyfriend as a changed person is to want something that doesn’t even exist? It’s like being told that if you wake up at 6am, you’ll be able to go back to sleep eventually. Well, by the time you wake up at 6am and start your day, you won’t want to go back to sleep nearly as badly.

But we know this, and yet we also know how hard it is to resist this draw—the draw of wanting what you can’t have. There’s a part of us that thinks it will validate us if we could just change this person and make them realize we were right all along; if we could just force a come-to-Jesus moment on them in which they realize they’re so lucky to have us. But the act of trying to change them, in itself, is a thankless and fruitless one. We’ll never be able to do it, which is why it’s important for us to realize the futility in this early on.

There’s a passage in Clive James’ Cultural Amnesia that comes to mind. Like the serial cheater, for instance, who is convinced he or she has done nothing wrong, “convinced racists think they are healthy: their conscience can’t be appealed to, they have no better self that might repudiate the lesser one, and they bend all the powers of human reason to the unreasonable, without reservation.” In other words, there is no reasoning with them. Like the troubled, conflicted, and frankly immature man who thinks he can convince his cheating wife to change, some of the enslaved musicians in Auschwitz “thought that Schubert’s writing for strings would melt [the sadistic] Dr. Mengele’s heart, as it had always melted theirs.”

Just as it was important for the Jews in Auschwitz not to harbor any hope that these doctors would suddenly turn into saints or that they could change the Nazis’ minds, so too is it just as important for the shattered girlfriend to realize she can’t change her boyfriend. Because, like Dr. Mengele, the unfaithful boyfriend’s inner demons are irrelevant to his girlfriend. He might not fix them at all, but most certainly won’t fix them on her schedule. As James pointedly noted, Schubert’s sonata did melt Dr. Mengele’s heart, “it just didn’t change his mind.” Thought Catalog Logo Mark

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