Chasing vs. Persistence

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How to navigate the twists and turns of seemingly contradictory advice.

Those of us who are single and looking receive more dating advice than we know what to do with. While much of the advice we get stands up to scrutiny, some of it is just counterproductive.

It’s usually easy to ferret out which nuggets of advice you should listen to, and which you should kick to the curb. The difficulty comes when two equally good suggestions seem to point in opposite directions. A prime example is the classic “Be Persistent”/ “Don’t Chase” dyad.

Since we were little, we’ve heard it both ways, but upon first inspection they seem to be completely at odds with each other. Many long-lasting relationships have been developed because one or both parties decided to repeatedly express interest in the other. However, we’ve also had it continually drilled into our brains that no one wants to date someone that shows too much interest. When you’re a young, dorky high schooler, chasing and persistence look oddly similar.

Sadly, some people find it difficult to grow out of that confusion. They’re bombarded by the mixed messages of an unforgiving social system that seems intent on hiding the rules of good relationships and never explicitly stating them to the uninitiated.

For those of you who feel like you’re missing some crucial detail and are too afraid to ask, I’ll try to delineate the important differences between these two dating methods.

At one time or another, we all do a little chasing. It’s not pleasant to watch, and it’s certainly not pleasant to experience, no matter which end of it you’re on. Remember your middle school crush, the one who never gave you the time of day? How did you feel telling yourself, “this is what love is, maybe if I want her a little more and wish a little harder, she’ll feel the same!” Meanwhile, you’re sulking in your room, downing a pint of Ben and Jerry’s with Rick Springfield’s “Jessie’s Girl” set to loop on your iPod.

The mistake comes from thinking that putting yourself through enough mental anguish will somehow be productive, which it never is. Don’t beat yourself up for not knowing this. A life’s worth of romantic comedies has conditioned you to conflate obsession and neediness for love and affection. Unless you’re taking things to the extreme and getting abusive or stalker-y, you have no reason to feel like garbage because culture taught you wrong. But now you’re empowered to go about things in a better way.

So what is persistence? I’ve heard many stories of guys proposing to their girlfriends multiple times before she said yes. Many of those same couples have been married and happy for years. So what’s the difference between them and you asking out the same person multiple times, long after she had made it clear she wasn’t interested?

The difference is in reciprocation. Those married couples could afford to propose a few times because they were in an existing relationship. The affection and interest was flowing in two directions, not some lopsided love vacuum. A loving dynamic of give and take had already been set up, but for whatever reason, one half of the couple just wasn’t quite ready for the commitment of marriage until that last time when they finally said yes.

As a single person, the brutal, but essential truth is that you have to be willing to move on if things don’t work out. We often fall into the trap of thinking that there’s only one person out there who would be perfect for us “If we could just get together.” But that’s a load.

In actuality, there are billions of people with whom you could live a wonderful life if you’re both willing to put in the effort. In the meantime, your job is to look for someone whose psychosis is compatible with your own. Just because that beautiful specimen down the hall didn’t want to be with you, that doesn’t mean you’ll be lonely forever.

Once you’ve reached couplehood, your work isn’t over. That’s where persistence finally comes into play. Now that you have someone, you need to give them their own space, but continually express interest so they know how you feel.

Until then, your persistence should be limited to acting quickly when opportunities present themselves, and giving that special person a couple chances to go out with you. I say a couple chances, because we all have things come up. If they say they can’t go out this week, it could mean that they’re either busy, or that they’re uninterested. If they say they can’t go out two or three times, it means they aren’t willing to make time for you. They’re not trying to hurt you (necessarily,) they just don’t feel the same connection that you do. And that can hurt in the moment, but it ultimately isn’t that big of a deal.

Getting rejected hurts, and it always will. But you have to be willing to occasionally take no for an answer and keep fishing.