Why I’m Attracted to Guys Who Aren’t Good for Me

man and woman in field
An Uber driver explained in one sentence why I consistently date the wrong guys — but the hard work of changing my dating patterns was up to me.

A week or two after beginning my online dating journey, I was matched with “Mel,” who lived about an hour away from me. We started chatting on a dating app in the middle of September. Soon after, we started texting. Then we spoke on the phone. Eventually, Mel was texting me every morning.

On paper, we were a great fit. We shared similar interests. We both loved exercise. We could make each other laugh. We cared about the same social issues. And we both loved God. It was obvious, to me anyway, that Mel and I were a good match.

Yet Mel didn’t seem as eager to get together as I did.

I told myself that his life was full. He had a demanding job. He was committed to spending time with his family. He coached youth sports on weekdays and weekends — which, in my book, was totally adorable.

Three months after our friendship began, Mel and I finally agreed to meet in person. One Saturday morning he squeezed in breakfast with me between two nearby appointments. It wasn’t the fairytale kind of scenario a girl dreams about, but at least we were finally out of the starting blocks.

But were we? Over the next five months, as we continued to communicate frequently, I only saw Mel one time. Several times I had the good sense to end our non-relationship, always saying something to the effect of, “Hey, I think we want different things, so let’s end this.” And then something would make me think of him and I’d get back in touch.

In retrospect, it’s more than a little embarrassing — because I’m not that girl! I’m not the girl who’s attracted to guys who can’t make time for me, or who are married, or are otherwise unavailable, or just want sex, or drink too much, or are abusive.

Except that I am.

Because Mel wasn’t the only guy I’d been attracted to who wasn’t a good choice for me. The guy who lived out of geographic reach? He captured my imagination. The guy who had four beers during our lunch date? I found him magnetic. And the man who was grieving, still loved the wife he’d lost, and was not yet ready for a relationship? Absolutely irresistible.

Margot, you may be thinking. You might be broken. And probably need professional help.

You wouldn’t be wrong. And thankfully — courtesy of God’s gracious healing Spirit, some hard work, and some highly trained professionals — my eyes have been opened to where some of these impulses and attractions are coming from. And while I still experience some of these attractions, I’m no longer bullied by them.

Toward that end, a few months ago God sent me an angel bearing all manner of holy wisdom. Well, Len was actually my Uber driver, but it felt like he was sharing a message from the Almighty. Not long after we left my house for the quick 20-minute trip to the airport, I discovered Len was pursuing his doctorate in relational psychology.

“Len,” I queried from the backseat of his lime green Prius, “have you ever noticed that some women are naturally attracted to guys who are not the best guys for them? I mean, not me of course, but other women?”

Len was nodding in agreement before I’d finished the question.

With authority, he explained, “We are attracted to people who remind us of the parent who gave us the hardest time growing up.”

A cartoon light bulb lit up over my head as he spoke those words. Len was saying that we’re attracted to the qualities of the parent who failed to meet the deep needs of our hearts. To my untrained ear, it sounded solid.

Len continued, “We are especially attracted to that parent’s negative traits because that’s what caused the most emotional damage. Then, when a potential suitor presents those characteristics, we are unconsciously attracted to that person in order to try and get it right this time around —and to get the emotional nutrition we justly deserve.”

That was the moment I was certain Len had been sent by the Lord. Each one of us is trying to receive the emotional nutrition we justly deserve, and we unconsciously believe that we can “get it right this time around.”

Len’s insights resonated in my deep places. After being relinquished for adoption as an infant, I was placed in a home with addiction and violence before my parents divorced and my dad moved across the country for a new job. If Len is right, this could be the reason a gentleman who is geographically, physically, spiritually or emotionally unavailable is wildly attractive to me.

But this impulse isn’t reserved for those of us who endured particularly messy childhood homes. A girlfriend of mine had a good-enough God-fearing dad who was driven to pursue success and power. As Dee’s marriage to a man with many narcissistic tendencies was unraveling, she recognized that she had “ended up” with a man who turned out to be wired very much like her father.

So are we doomed to live as slaves of our unconscious needs and desires? I don’t think we are. In fact, I think that God is gracious to give us what we need to live well.

Living well begins when — like my light bulb moment — God’s Spirit opens our eyes to see and our ears to hear. And that can happen in all kinds of ways. Even through Uber drivers. Make a list of the men you’ve been attracted to — whether you even made it to the dating stage — and ask God to open your eyes to notice whether who they are resonates with an earlier experience in your life. If you have a sibling with a grasp on your family’s emotional dynamics, you might share your list and ask, “Any of this feel familiar?” Keep your eyes open.

If you have a counselor or a pastor you trust, and who knows you well, this is a great conversation to have with him or her. Is a girlfriend traveling on the journey with you? Ask her what she’s noticing in your failed relationships. This takes courage! Give her permission to speak freely, and then be brave and just listen. Keep your ears open.

I was recently invited to make a “compatibility” list of what I hoped to find in a partner. I’d done something similar before, so I could have already told you what I hoped to find in a man spiritually, physically, socially and intellectually. What made this new list different than the ones I might have made in earlier seasons of my life was the inclusion of a few extra markers. For example, as absurd as it sounds, I’d never considered prioritizing someone’s communication style. Or how they treated me. I’d certainly never thought to look for someone who was committed to personal growth. But with open eyes I was finally able to identify the kind of man who might not feel familiar, but who was healthy, resourced and available.

If you’ve been attracted to the wrong kinds of men until now, I believe God wants to get all up in your dating life and bless you with healing and hope.

Invite God to open your eyes.

The Holy Spirit wakes us up to what is most real and most true by opening our eyes. Spend some time reviewing old relationships — or even just your natural attractions — and ask God to show you what might be at work inside your heart. Specifically, recall the early emotional needs that your caregivers did not meet, then offer those to God for His gracious healing. Finally, ask God to show you the qualities that do make for a strong lasting relationship.

Invite God to open your ears.

Consider seeking counsel from someone you trust. It may be a professional, such as a trained counselor, who can help you unpack some of your old baggage. Or it might be a mentor or pastor who knows you well and loves you. Processing with these wise ones can help you hear notes and tones you may be missing. Also be open to the ways God might choose to use books, magazines, podcasts or other resources to impart information and insight.

Welcome the support of your community.

If you don’t already have a trusted cohort of girlfriends on this journey with you, loop them in! I entrust the details of my dating life to a squad of advisors that includes women who are single and ones who are married. Each one has my back. If a man was convicted of a misdemeanor Emily is going to sniff it out; if a guy doesn’t exist at all because he’s  sneaky and trying to catfish me, Lizbeth will realize it before I do; and if I text Susan that a man has behaved inappropriately, she’s going to text back all the strong (ahem) words she’d like to say to him. Which I secretly love. Most of these amazing women don’t even know each other, but they know and love me. Open up to the women who love you. They often notice what you miss and see what you can’t see. Note: You may also want to join my Facebook SCWOD (Single Christian Women Online Dating) for additional support.

Listen to your gut.

Finally, pay attention to what your gut is telling you. This practice is something I never considered before in dating. No one in my life ever encouraged me to trust my instincts. But the hesitations, concerns and nudges you notice inside you are valuable. In fact, I’m convinced that this is one of the ways the Spirit guides us. If something feels “off” with someone you’re getting to know, be brave enough to read the signs and move on.

Although it can feel harrowing, the dating journey is actually a great opportunity for emotional and spiritual growth. Whether we were raised in a good home or  we lacked the nurture and protection we deserved, each one of us has emotional and spiritual needs that only God can meet — and dating may  be your entry ramp to allowing God to meet those deep needs.

Beloved, be assured that it is God’s good pleasure to heal your heart so that you can give and receive love freely. As you welcome God’s healing work and invite others to journey with you, you will be prepared to notice and connect with someone who is equipped to love you well.

Copyright 2020 Margot Starbuck. All rights reserved.

About the Author

Margot Starbuck

Margot Starbuck is the author of “The Grown Woman’s Guide to Online Dating: Lessons Learned While Swiping Right, Snapping Selfies, and Analyzing Emojis” (Thomas Nelson, August 2020). Learn more at www.MargotStarbuck.com.

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