“I only fancy unobtainable men – my friends’ boyfriends.” Proper Advice from a Psychoanalytic Perspective

I find myself locked in self-destructive patterns of behaviour; I only ever fancy men who are unobtainable. I hate to admit this, but I often find my friends’ partners attractive, although I would never dream of acting on that attraction. I simply don’t fancy the men who like me. I’m in a situation that is depressingly familiar; pursued by a very nice, kind man who wants to date me; meanwhile the boyfriend of a close friend is sending me flirty texts and occupies my every waking thought.

This problem first appeared in the Daily Mail.

My response:

You immediately use the words ‘locked’ and ‘self-destructive’, showing that, although in some ways you make light of what you describe, you are aware that you are trapped and that you are seriously harming yourself. You then say you only fancy men who are unobtainable. Again you seem to know, or almost know, that it is their unobtainability that constitutes the attraction. You make clear that the attraction is not to do with genuine intimacy, a real connection – you use the word ‘fancy’. This word denigrates both you and the men, trivialising the issue and increasing your feelings of loneliness.

You then appear to be making a big confession when you say you ‘hate to admit this’, though you are admitting it fairly freely, so I wonder if there is some element of triumph over your envied friends in this admission. You then say you wouldn’t act on your attraction to the partners of others, but I’m no so sure. You perhaps wouldn’t become physically involved with these men but you are certainly acting something out. You have allowed them to see your attraction to them, invited them to be attracted to you and to discern your potential availability. You have, in fact, seduced them, albeit not physically.

You say you ‘simply don’t fancy’ the men who like you but there is nothing simple about it. You say there are men who actually like you (rather than just fancy, ie. find you only physically attractive) and this is perhaps what puts you off. If you did return the attraction you would have to be intimate with them, have to involve yourself in a real relationship that was not an acting out of betrayal and triumph. A relationship with someone who honestly likes you would not work to banish your deep feelings of envy of women in ordinary relationships.

This seems to be related to the Oedipal scenario. Though this is pure speculation since you don’t refer to your family, I would imagine that you were closer to your father than to your mother. Perhaps your father allowed you to feel special to him, made you believe sometimes (at least in your imagination if not in reality) that he preferred you to your mother. And yet she possessed him so you envied her. When you were angry with your mother or perhaps when you were in the pre-Oedipal stages of early life, his attention made you feel you had triumphed over her and won. However, this triumph came with a lot of guilt. You are attracted to your friends’ partners but you don’t want anything to happen as that might be genuinely terrifying – a real overstepping of boundaries (if these men stand in for your father) that would be accompanied by tremendous guilt (‘I wouldn’t dream of acting on this’) and real fear of retribution from the friends (standing in for your mother).

You say you are now in a ‘depressingly familiar’ situation and, though you throw the comment away, I think you really are depressed and it really is familiar – you have spent your life in this situation. You say a close friend’s boyfriend is sending you flirty texts but I imagine you are replying and that you allowed this to happen – indeed you are consumed by this imaginary relationship. Meanwhile, a real relationship is on offer but it doesn’t have the thrill of overstepping boundaries, of triumphing over an adversary (your mother) and of being taboo, illicit.

There seem to be two things going on. One is the exciting Oedipal scenario I’ve referred to, bound up with feeling like the secretly special one competing with the denigrated spouse. In this set up the idea of being the chosen spouse is unattractive – surely if someone wants to date you then he will soon be texting a far more exciting other? You need to be the ‘other’ in order to have any kind of sexual frisson. However, there is also a sadder and more hidden element to what you say. There is part of you that feels unworthy of stepping into mother’s place and really being the chosen one – the person who really wants you must be without merit because on some level you feel unworthy yourself. Sexual tension, secrets, texting and overstepping boundaries are what you feed on, but you seem to get no real nourishment from genuine intimacy with someone who values you and whom you value (aside from fleeting physical thrills). I suggest that your guilt makes you feel valueless apart from as a sexual object on the side. You are trapped in this role that denigrates both you and your potential partners.

Proper Advice in private via Skype or email: anna@blundy.com

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About Anna Blundy

Honorary psychotherapist with a Masters in Psychoanalytic Theory and another in Psychodynamic Clinical Psychotherapy. Novelist - Author of the Faith Zanetti quintet - The Bad News Bible, Faith Without Doubt, Neat Vodka (US - Vodka Neat), Breaking Faith, My Favourite Poison. Also a memoir of my father, Every Time We Say Goodbye and my most recent thriller - The Oligarch's Wife
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