Why Do People Find Neglect Sexy In Relationships?
Most people have had a relationship–or at the very least, seen their friends in one–in which they’re chasing the other person for their affection, attention, and time. From the outside, these relationships can seem perplexing. But from the inside, people are often strongly hooked in. Why? I sometimes joke with patients that it is because neglect is sexy. While I am being sarcastic because being attracted to neglect can be self-destructive, my point is serious, and that phrase often lands hard because it focuses in on what really hooks people into those relationships.
Why is it that people find neglect so sexy? I think the best way to answer that question is to ask others: What works about that neglectful dynamic? What are people getting from a partner who neglects them?
Neglect Can Feel Both Familiar And Exciting
For many, neglect in a relationship is something they’re used to. Perhaps they experienced some version of this neglect from their parents, and there is some safety in feeling something familiar. This dynamic also allows people to remain hidden without having to reveal parts of themselves as they would in a relationship with more closeness.
There is also the excitement of the chase. Receiving a bit of that much-wanted time or attention from a neglectful partner can feel like a victory. The victor feels special for being chosen to receive their hard-earned nugget.
When Used To Neglect, A Caring Relationship With A Therapist Can Be Intimidating
Finding neglect sexy can also play out more broadly between patients and me in therapy. When a patient is used to hiding and neglect in relationships, our relationship in therapy can feel foreign and intimidating, even though care and attention is the goal they’re actively chasing with a neglectful partner. It can also seem overexposing to have a therapist really see you and want to get close.
This is a prime example of a circumstance in which therapy might help you “be better,” but at least in the immediate moment, doesn’t necessarily feel better when experiencing a new and potentially uncomfortable type of relationship.
A Caring Relationship With A Therapist Can Create Closeness Without Neglect
Therapy can help work out the particulars of what type of neglect is sexy to an individual and why. However, what is perhaps more healing to this tendency to have neglectful relationships is the relationship with the therapist itself. A therapist can be a guide in how to do closeness and receive care in a healthy way.
For example, if I feel someone pulling back, hiding, trying to take care of me, or not seeking me out for care in therapy, I use these observations as tools to show patients how they relate to others. I not only show my patients in real time how they avoid closeness, but also offer ways to embrace that closeness in a healthy way with an understanding of why they avoid it. The therapeutic relationship then becomes a relationship in which patients can have help navigating the discomfort that comes with closeness.