Wanting What You Can’t Have

Comments 19


Maybe we’re all doomed.

More than half of our marriages fail already. Some of the ones still intact are brimming with misery. Others are ticking time bombs.

The human condition is a real bitch.

Because sometimes we really want things we can’t have, and other times, we lose interest in the things and people we do have.

It’s a condition that creates a perpetual cycle of never feeling satisfied.

A condition that makes people want to have sex with people they shouldn’t.

A condition that causes feelings of boredom in people who have already achieved goals or acquired the things or people they want.

A condition that makes us profoundly unhappy.

Because we lose no matter what.

We either never get what we want. Or we do, and then it’s not as great as we thought it was going to be.

Like the thirsty man who drinks from the sea to quench his thirst. Only to become more and more thirsty. And die.


So much love and beauty. And so much ugliness and savagery.

We feel compelled to acquire or are attracted to things we can’t or shouldn’t have.

Some think it’s in our DNA.

My friend’s wife is cheating on him and he knows it.

While a bunch of cute little kids played in a nearby room the other night, oblivious to the challenges and occasional horrors of adulthood, I sat in a room with several adults, including the cheater, and everyone there knew, but she didn’t know we all knew.

It was more uncomfortable than the time a girl I was sort-of dating for a few months came to my son’s birthday party (because her son and mine are friends), and within 30 minutes of the party ending, receiving text messages from both her and my ex-wife telling me how impolite and unpleasant they both considered the other to be.

At least that was kind of funny.

I know about many instances of people wanting to sleep with (or actually sleeping with) people they shouldn’t.

One time I got an email from a reader because they discovered one of my commenters was engaged in an extramarital affair because they’d written about it on their blog. The concerned reader didn’t think it was cool that this person was commenting on my posts about healthy marriages.

Fair enough, I guess. I try not to judge.

The older I get, the more I learn just how human everyone is. It doesn’t excuse reckless, abhorrent or irresponsible behavior, but I’ve grown to understand it’s all part of the deal.

Once you learn there’s no Santa Claus, it’s a lot easier to see things for what they really are.

Everyone is going to mess up. EVERYONE. No exceptions. And I think the real beauty is with all the people who try really hard, and all the great redemption stories that emerge from the messiness.


Why do we want things we can’t or shouldn’t have?

A bunch of reasons, according to people smarter than me.

A lovely human being from the other side of the world introduced me recently to Dr. Helen Fisher, a biological anthropologist at Rutgers University, considered among the world’s top experts on romantic love. Fisher says that levels of dopamine—the brain chemical that makes us feel happy and sense pleasure—actually increase as we wait for something we want. Essentially scientific proof that anticipation is often greater than the thing we’re looking forward to.

Another big part? Simple curiosity. Psychologist George Lowenstein’s Information-Gap Theory suggests people feel compelled to take action to bridge the gap between what we know and what we want to learn.

An Elite Daily article cites a study published by the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology which I think is pretty telling:

“Women were presented with a photograph of their potential dream man. Half of the women were told their Mr. Right was single; while the other half were told he was in a relationship. The photographs were the same across all participants.

“Though 59 percent were interested in pursuing the single guy, that figured jumped to 90 percent when they were under the impression he was already in a committed relationship.”

Since getting divorced and falling apart and putting most of me back together again, I’ve taken a greater interest in human psychology. I’m fascinated.

Why does politician after politician after politician continue to find himself in a sex scandal?

Why do most criminals tend to already have criminal records?

Why do we procrastinate?

Why are we so afraid to tell people what really goes on under the masks we wear?

We’re all just people. And we all basically want the same things. We want to feel good. We want to feel safe. We want someone to love us. We want to have fun. We want to be able to acquire things and go places. We want to succeed in our individual pursuits.

We get confused a lot. But when you break it all down, all any of us really want is to be happy.

But much of the time we do things that are counter-intuitive to those efforts.

Those politicians don’t want to hurt their families. Or their candidacy. Or disappoint their colleagues. Or friends. Or constituents. They’re just human. That’s the one thing you can always count on people to be.

I think people can be infinitely better at marriage than they are. And I think mindset has almost everything to do with it.

It’s the reason I felt like my house was a prison when I wanted more money and a bigger place, and the reason when I thought I might lose it after my divorce that I’m so grateful to live there now.

It’s the reason I used to spend hours watching television alone or playing online poker while my wife was sitting alone in another room of the house, and the reason all I wanted to do was spend every second with her the minute I realized she didn’t love me or want to be married to me anymore.

We’re a bunch of freaks. I mean, maybe it’s just me. But I really think it’s everyone.

We’re all madly in love. Then we get married. Then we get bored. Then we do a bunch of stupid things to ruin it.

I’ve made lifestyle changes over the past few months to help me look and feel the way I want to look and feel. Healthy eating has been part of that. I don’t eat ice cream and brownies and cake and drink a bunch of beer because I don’t want to gain weight or sabotage my daily workout efforts.

I want to eat Halloween candy. I want to eat lots of it. But I don’t. Because I care about feeling good more than I care about 10 seconds of pleasure.

I think people are smart enough to figure it out if they take a few minutes to mentally walk through it: When you first meet people, you feel attracted. You’d run through walls for them. On your mind constantly. But even as your love grows for them over the years, monotony and boredom and taking them for granted sets in.

It seems like a lot of people think that’s happening because they married a shitty person, when most of the time it’s just human nature doing what human nature does.

Before long, while you’re sitting around feeling dissatisfied and unfulfilled in your life and relationships, other people make you feel like your spouse used to. Because they pay attention to you. Because they think you’re smart and funny and attractive. Because they want you.

I wonder why some people think if they go have a long-term relationship with this new person that the cycle won’t continue.

What goes on inside their hearts and minds that makes them believe everything will be different with someone new? Why don’t they know it’s going to wear off? That if they don’t choose to love, they’re always going to feel unfulfilled?

Isn’t having sex with people you’re not supposed to a bit like indulging in Halloween candy while trying to get physically fit?

Yeah. That’s probably not a good analogy.

Maybe we’re all doomed.

19 thoughts on “Wanting What You Can’t Have”

  1. There’s a lot of work to keep a relationship going. If you can stick it out it is well worth the effort.

  2. LOL, let me cheer you up immediately, we ARE all doomed.

    I actually don’t have a whole lot in life but I do have some healthy kids and a great marriage. Marriage, love, romance, are beautiful things, achievable things, but they take a whole lot of work. You don’t hear a lot about successful love and marriage because most people are busy enjoying it. When you have nothing to complain about, you don’t have much to talk about. Angst is what motivates many people to share their drama. The problem is, this tends to give people a distorted and somewhat jaded opinion of those things.

    Our culture has gotten very autonomous, very self absorbed, which are two destructive ideas when it comes to love and marriage. There’s a great deal of sacrifice required, a constant surrendering of pride, a desire to put your needs behind some else’s. It’s not easy and both parties have to be dedicated to actually doing it. You can’t have a marriage of one or a marriage all about me, a selfie marriage. It just doesn’t work and unfortunately that is the direction our culture is going in, which has a whole lot to do with our declining marriage rates.

  3. Human beings are lazy. We neglect to acknowledge the ‘work’ necessary for the success of any relationship.
    Too often human beings succumb to instant gratification. And even more often we refuse to consider the consequences of our actions before acting on them.
    Honesty is always the best policy. But no one seems to buy that anymore. Shame.

    1. In the United States, just 50 years ago, your skin color could determine how people treated you. On buses. At restaurants. At job interviews.

      Less than a hundred years ago, proving men have always been stupid assholes, the 19th Amendment hadn’t yet been passed and women were not allowed to vote.

      Things always change. Sometimes, they change for the better. There’s always hope.

  4. Some things are just human, yes. But some things are character. That’s why. As you point out, most offenders have already got a record. Because there’s those who do, and those who don’t. I’m pretty convinced that a great marriage isn’t the thing that protects you from cheating, it’s mindset. If cheating isn’t an option to you, if you just don’t consider it, then you won’t do it. The active verb is key: it’s not something that “happens”, it’s something people “do” or “do not”.

    1. *nods*

      Fair point. Truly.

      Humans will always be human. But that doesn’t mean we can’t live with greater purpose. That doesn’t mean we have to break things.

      We’re capable of more.

    1. This makes so much sense to me. I found it oddly comforting. I took Philosophy 101 in college and enjoyed it, but I don’t remember Schopenhauer. Maybe he didn’t appeal to my perky college self, but my current forty something midlife crisis self finds him all kinds of relevant. And kind of hilarious in a Marvin from Hitchhiker’s Guide kind of way. Thanks for sharing it.

      1. completelyinthedark

        Guess I was kind of a dark kid when I discovered his “Essays and Aphorisms” as a 20-year old college kid. A fav: “Many a thorn without a rose, but never a rose without a thorn.” OUCH. 😉

  5. Actualy, I find the Halloween candy analogy a pretty good example…

    Take my milk allergy. It took me years to discover that it is actually milk. Before I knew, I just felt bad most of the time and thought that was normal. When I found out that all those symptoms can relate to a milk allergy, I gave it a go and skipped on milk for a while. And I felt so much better. Did I miss food with milk in it? Yes, and how! But after a while I decided that it just isn’t worth it to eat it, because it just made me feel crappy.

    That was about the time when I made a lot of changes in my life. I thought, if this is true for the thing with the milk, maybe it applies on other aspects of my life, too. And guess what? I am living much healthier, now. Regarding food as well as relationships (and I really sucked at having healthy relationships) as well as many other areas in life.

    Meanwhile, I am not missing milk anymore. I found out how to make a lot of milk free things at home and my versions of that kind of food got healthier and healthier. (And it tastes so much better, too!)
    The same applies to relationships as well as the other aspects of my life.

    Hope that makes sense.
    What I am trying to say is: Great post! And no, we’re not doomed. Well, unless we want to be.

    Much love!

  6. Very good analogy–are those few seconds of pleasure worth all of the weight of consequences 🙂 ? Those crazy chemicals in our brain when we see something we want and shouldn’t partake begin to flood our mind so that we are not rational…if we only stopped to think for a minute (ok–10). I just wish we approached relationships in a loving manner and not just for sex. Maybe we are all doomed but I’m tired of sitting at the table and not moving on with life while my cheating ex does. It so sucks… Take care!

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Matt Fray

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