‘Attaining the Unattainable: The Psychology Behind The Romantic Chase
Positive Self Help

‘Attaining the Unattainable: The Psychology Behind The Romantic Chase


Have you ever found yourself head over heels for someone? Where the only thing that seemed to matter was getting their attention and winning them over. The process of attainment that sent an exhilarating rush down your spine, but lost all value the second you attained it. The feelings leading up to it were so intense, but the outcome left you feeling nothing at all. What is the reason behind this? Why do we chase people who we perceive as hard to get?

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Dopamine and the Reward System

Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that our body releases when we engage in pleasure-seeking activities (Eske, 2023). The problem arises as dopamine is released for every small pleasurable action we engage in. Successfully getting someone’s number, getting a text back on Instagram, going out on your first date, etc. Dopamine is released with every step you take towards attaining a relationship.

This means that our body’s reward system is activated when we are in the process of attaining something rather than all at once in the final attainment stage (Lewis et al, 2022). Once we get into a relationship with that individual, there are no more dopamine-seeking activities left as we already have what we want. Since you have now fallen into a pattern of seeking dopamine, your body craves it even once the task is completed. This leaves you feeling bored and stuck because the thrill of chasing an individual and releasing dopamine is no longer active or present in your life.

Related: The Psychology Behind Boredom

Ego and Satisfaction

The ego relates to a sense of worth, power, and position of one’s self. According to Freud, the id is a part of the personality that works on the pleasure principle (McLeod, 2023). Here, an individual considers only their pleasure and they tend to dismiss any logic or morality in favour of whatever suits them. Throughout the process of the chase, the id tends to remain active as it dictates decisions.

Moreover, if a task is harder to achieve, the more satisfying it is to achieve it. People develop an inflated sense of worth when they feel like they have achieved something unattainable or difficult to attain. This is exactly where the thrill of the chase comes from. The chase is the process of attaining the unattainable. The closer you get, your perceived sense of self-importance increases. It’s not about the individual but how the individual validates them (Marusic, 2016).

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Perceived Attraction

A study done by researchers from St.Andrews found that if a woman is aware that a man is desired by others, she tends to find him more attractive (Young, 2018). In this scenario, the chase is like a competition where each successful step puts you above another participant and inflates your ego. By getting positive reactions from the desirable individual, one feels like they are closer to getting with them and beating others.

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Hence, perpetuating the idea that they are better than the rest. Getting with someone who is physically desirable tends to validate our self-worth (Laderer, 2019). However, once they get with that individual there are no people left for them to compete with. The all-time high of self-inflation and attaining the unattainable vanishes.

Perceived Value

According to Erika Ettin, the founder of a dating website, the less replies we get from an individual, the higher we perceive their value to be. If someone appears to be busy we assume that they are sought after and that they are taking time out of their busy schedules to talk to us (Dogson, 2018). Intermittent attention is more addictive than if we receive attention all at once.

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The Grass is Greener on the Other Side

We as humans are faced with the task of making decisions every day. Many times, after making a decision we think ourselves into pessimism and prepare for the worst. This is when the “the grass is greener on the other side” approach comes into play. This essentially applies to people who are relentselly seeking more and are unable to stay content with what they get (Jacobson, 2022). This is related to the chase as it is linked to wanting what we can’t or don’t have. We tend to want something more when it belongs to someone else as we are not in that situation.

Related: How Emotions Play an Important Role in Decision-Making

We assume that it would be great to have it. This perpetuates the vicious cycle of the chase where you essentially chase something until you have it. However, once you get it, there is always something new that an individual wants. The next best thing comes to mind. Once you have achieved your goal, you feel more ambitious and want to chase for more.

Anxiety and Attachment Styles

Anxious individuals who may have grown up in an inconsistent environment tend to learn that they need to keep pursuing love (Gillath, 2020). Hence, they get caught up in the chase. Another aspect to look at is the disorganised attachment style that is characterised by childhood neglect, inconsistent parents or neglect.

Furthermore, individuals with disorganised attachment styles tend to go back and forth between love and hate for their partner (Robinson et al, 2023). This aligns with the chase as they appear loving at first, but as their partner reciprocates their behaviour they tend to lose interest and distance themselves. They are accustomed to the inconsistency that the chase initially brings.

Related: Self-regulation Tips for People with Anxious Attachment

To sum up, one can say that the chase is a culmination of biological, social and psychological factors that influence our perception and attraction towards a person of interest. Dopamine influences us biologically while our self-esteem and ego fuel strong feelings towards the process of attaining a relationship rather than eventually being in one.

Pessimistic thoughts, and the need for power, control and validation push us to chase what we think is difficult to get. Moreover, our attachment styles influence the way we love and chase relationships. Hence, psychological, sociological and biological processes are involved in attaining the unattainable.

References +
  • https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/326090
  • https://www.simplypsychology.org/psyche.html
  • https://www.independent.co.uk/life-style/women-men-relationships-more-attractive-dating-romance-university-study-a8185026.html
  • https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC8992377/
  • https://www.womenshealthmag.com/relationships/a19998566/more-in-love-with-chase-relationship/
  • https://www.talkspace.com/blog/why-were-addicted-to-the-dating-chase-and-how-to-stop/
  • https://www.harleytherapy.co.uk/counselling/grass-is-greener-syndrome.htm#:~:text=What%20is%20grass%20is%20greener,negatively%20affects%20your%20daily%20life.
  • https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/all-we-need-is-love/202007/whos-playing-hard-get-who-s-attracted-it-and-why#:~:text=People%20high%20on%20anxiety%20may,they%20are%20their%20relationship%20partners.
  • https://www.helpguide.org/articles/relationships-communication/attachment-and-adult-relationships.htm#:~:text=Disorganized%2Fdisoriented%20attachment%2C%20also%20referred,or%20closeness%20in%20a%20relationship.

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