Why We’re Addicted to the “Dating Chase” (and How to Stop)

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For as long as I can remember having interest in boys, I’ve been chasing them. I chase endlessly — the guys who won’t text me back, the guys who I know don’t want a relationship, the guy who barely know I exist. There’s one guy who I literally chased on and off from ages 14 to 23. Seriously. 9 years! And yet when winning someone’s affection is easy, it’s…not as exciting. And I’m probably far from alone in feeling this.

For many people (self included, obviously) being addicted to the dating chase is very much a pattern and a bad habit. We may overlook the good that we have right in front of us because we’re too focused on feeling the rush of the pursuit or moving onto the next new, exciting thing.

We aim for those who are hard to get, and we ourselves are convinced that playing hard to get makes us more desirable. Dating is a game, and we’re told to play it. If we want to win, we have to play it right. Case in point: the notion that we need to wait a certain amount of time before texting somebody back as to appear busy and not desperate.

But what does that say about our dating culture?

The Psychological Lure of the Dating Chase

Of course, there’s some psychological reasoning behind the lure of the dating chase. Talkspace therapist Rachel O’Neill, Ph.D., explains, “There’s certainly an aspect of positive reinforcement that can be related to dating. This reinforcement is on an intermittent schedule (i.e., dating doesn’t always lead to a positive outcome) which can actually make the experience even more reinforcing.”

She adds “Think of this analogy: If every time you played the slot machine you won a dollar, it would be exciting for a while but then, after a bit, it would likely get boring and you would find another slot machine to play — one that might hold the promise of a bigger reward but might carry a bigger risk.”

When you think about it, dating really is a bit like gambling. It’s exciting, the outcome is unknown, there’s a rush, and there’s often risk involved. Going into a date, or even something as simple as sending someone a message on a dating app, you don’t know how the person will respond. They can be totally into you or totally turned off. There isn’t always a guarantee of a reward, and there’s even less guarantee of hitting the jackpot.

O’Neill adds, “For some who date, finding that bigger risk/reward scenario becomes really alluring. In many ways, they may be chasing a high — a high that is associated with the thrill of the chase. Certainly, this is something that could be potentially unhealthy. Especially if this pattern becomes habitual.”

Why We’re Addicted to the Chase

There are several reasons people are addicted to the chase and why it’s hard-to-break habit.

Our chemical romance

Chasing someone is a thrill…one that you probably don’t get to revel in when you’re in a secure relationship. Scientifically, having a crush and falling for someone releases feel-good hormones like dopamine and adrenaline.

Part of the chase is a chase for those brain chemicals, to feel those euphoric feelings again.

It validates our self-worth

Another reason you can’t quit the dating chase may be related to your self esteem. “In some ways, we might be trying to validate our own self-worth through our partner,” O’Neill said, “For example, attempting to date someone who is physically desirable, secure in their career, or extremely self-confident can help us to feel more secure about our self-worth.”

This may explain your desire to chase who you think is the best of the best, even when they’re unattainable. You subconsciously (or not so subconsciously) want validation that you’re good enough, in all aspects of your life — including dating. Are you desirable enough? Smart enough? Sexy enough? Well, landing your ideal partner might be the proof that you need to prove to yourself, and to others, that you are worthy.

Commiting to not committing

Additionally, you might be addicted to the chase because you’re simply not ready to settle down in a committed relationship — which is totally okay. Everybody has different paths and has different lifestyles. If monogamy isn’t for you right now, that’s okay!

Get the chasing out of your system so that maybe one day you’ll be ready to settle down with someone for the long run.

Changing This Behavior (Only if You Want To)

While liking who we like isn’t necessarily something we have too much control over, we can try to be more aware of our patterns and look at the deeper reasons why we may be doing what we do. The first step is to recognize that there’s a problem.

“Once you recognize that it’s the thrill of the chase that you’re focused on, you can start to identify some of the reasons why this is happening,” O’Neill advises. “Is it FOMO? Are you trying to fill a need in your life? Is there a part of you that is looking to have some unmet needs met? Once you identify some of the motivations behind the behavior, you can take steps to meaningfully address these areas.”

Addressing your true motives

So, if you want to stop being addicted to the chase, you’re going to have to dig deep and get in touch with your emotions. Also, identify if you actually want to stop chasing, or if you just think that you should stop chasing and settle down. If you genuinely do want to stop being addicted to the dating chase, you can address your motives as O’Neill advised.

For example, if you’re lacking self-confidence and that’s your reason for the non-stop chase, are there other ways you can build self-esteem? After all, real self-esteem comes from within, and relying on others for a confidence boost can be dangerous because it won’t always work out.

If your reason is that you want the thrill and excitement, you can seek out other ideas for getting your fix like an exciting new hobby. There are plenty of sports perfect for adrenaline junkies, like snowboarding or surfing. Bonus: mastering a new hobby or skill can also boost your self esteem and is a great way to meet new people.

On the other hand, it might take really finding the “right” person to be in a committed long-term relationship with to stop chasing. You might be caught off guard and feel something you’ve never felt before. This is probably a signal that this person is someone you’d want to settle down with. Until then, enjoy the chase!

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