“If He Wanted to He Would”: Why Our Consolations about Rejection are Usually Unhelpful and Wrong

“If he/she wanted to he/she would” is the most overused and misguided phrase in consolation. By saying it, the person on the other end attempts to provide his friend with tough-love, to say without saying: You need to move on. It’s akin to the saying: She’s just not that into you. Yet, most of the time, she’s just not that into anyone. But the tough-love crowd doesn’t seem to get it.

Romance has a multitude of barriers: income, self-image, fear of criticism from the prospective partner or one’s circle, fear of abandonment, fear of guilt, lack of sexual chemistry (which may be more internal than external), and so on. Yet, we’re keen on reducing rejection to the last barrier on that list and not only that, but to the version of sexual chemistry which implies that you just aren’t doing it for her/him. As you can imagine, this version of tough-love often ends poorly, with the rejected individual feeling worse than before.

So, I thought it would be important to write a blog on why we should stop using that phrase. While the phrase is often true when used, and I want to be clear in saying that I’m not arguing that it usually isn’t, it doesn’t tell the entire story. And that matters! More often than not, people having several, concurrent desires, rather than one obvious one; you can want multiple, even conflicting, things at once. You can even want to be romantically involved with more than one person. The point I’m making is that people find themselves in states of emotional tension, struggling to make good decisions and take responsibility for them. Unfortunately, since they fear vulnerability, in the end, they simply tell us that they’re busy or overworked or not ready, pretty much anything that doesn’t actually reveal their inner-worlds.

When someone is clearly brushing you off and indicating disinterest, the likelihood is that they aren’t interested. (Maybe, they don’t want to date at all.) But, when people use the above phrase, they’re referring to individuals who at least at some point expressed romantic interest. So, the rejected person is left with the question: How could he have seemed so interested and then ended it? The answer lies in that internal conflict. In the realm of relationships, it’s known as a disorganized attachment style, wherein the individual can exhibit intense interest at one end and then complete aloofness on the other. And to say that any of their behaviors are personal would be an overstatement. They are and aren’t. You may be involved and in the midst of their attachment dysfunction, as their behaviors are responses to you, but, in the bigger picture, those behaviors are ubiquitous in all of their current and past relationships; they’re how they deal with the world. It’s unfortunate that you found yourself caught up in their web, but not at fault.

Whether someone is purely avoidant and dismissive of most (if not all) romantic prospects or anxious and constantly searching for evidence of you cheating or the mixture of the two, it’s important to consider the bigger picture, a term I clearly love using, of the other’s personality. It’s difficult for us to seriously consider the thought that we don’t have as much impact on people as we’d like to. However, we truly don’t. Love is a product of chance as much as it’s one of effort. An individual struggling with an insecure attachment style today may feel more secure tomorrow, after you’re long gone. The world is full of people with lots of internal struggles. And the sources of their actions are often more complicated than we think. They owe it to us to be more considerate, but, additionally, we owe it to ourselves to be more curious.


  1. This article covers both myself an anxious attachment style partner and my long term abusive partner of 10 years. So many people have said if he wanted to he would line.. including his own mother telling me Im “ better than that and him” and to move on and I will find someone better. Does she really believe that? Probably not yet he treated his last ex of five years terribly as well up and left her abruptly after promising her the moon and the stars as well. I didn’t know what he really was and the addictions. After years in they started and he confessed he had them with the ex as well.. gambling over drafting his account every paycheck and then a drug issue.. he led me on about marriage and a home.. at the end he had a secret savings he used as down payment on a home since he used me and my family for years living off us.. a man that can’t do his taxes doesn’t understand bills or basics because each woman took care of this gets to just move on and “win” as he thinks he has.. that’s all it really was to him a game to play I’m not sure what was fun about it.. I tried accepting these issues that were going on and he said he wanted therapy.. when I asked the final time after 10 years what was going on are we finally buying a home moving on with our lives and he gave me a bs answer I said I’m leaving he threw a handful of change at my face in response for wanting to leave…. in spite he goes and buys a house.. your final paragraph summed it up perfectly

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