Challenging Conversations

Can We Control Who Is Attracted To Us?

Delaney Ruston, MD
February 15, 2022
Attraction rejection illustration of people

Since my kids were little, I let them in on one of life’s unfair and unfortunate truths: “We can’t control who is attracted to us.” When they were younger, I talked about it in the context of friends, and then when they were older, I brought it up in the context of romantic relationships.

We have also had plenty of conversations about the fact that we can't control who we're attracted to — another disappointing aspect of life.

After filming relationship experts John and Julie Gottman one afternoon for Screenagers NEXT CHAPTER, John and I kept talking, and he mentioned the following, 

“In all the years, people have been studying relationships, and we still have no clue as to why some become attracted to certain people and not to others.” 

Our youth have complex social worlds, online and off, particularly now in the ongoing age of COVID, and they are vulnerable to the fact that they can’t control who is attracted to them, nor who they are attracted to.  

Today I’m writing about how to help our kids with the universal human challenge of knowing when to accept what we can’t change in our social lives versus what we can try and change. 

Both of the truisms I mentioned above have bummed me out while I was growing up — whether it was girls I wanted to be close friends with but who had little interest in me or a guy I liked who consistently ignored me. I remember the painful months and months of longing for love from some boy that barely knew my name. Or guys in college that, from a logical perspective, would have been great to be in a romantic relationship with, but my emotional self wouldn’t have it.

Talk about what we humans can’t control

Believe it or not, talking with our kids and teens about this reality of limited control is worth it, even though it seems like an obvious fact. 

It is human nature to feel bad about ourselves when someone does not want to be our friend or romantic partner — we can’t help but take it personally. It has so much to do with unexplained chemistry — (of course, complex social dynamics can play a role as well). I would often say to my kids, “Think of the complete chaos that would ensue if everyone were attracted to everyone equally.” 

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Now, when I talk with my kids about relationships, sometimes they will say, “I know mom, we can’t control who we are attracted to or who is attracted to us.” While sometimes it is said with an eye roll, they’ve told me that recognizing this simple fact has comforted them at times in their lives. 

Let me be clear, this is not about extinguishing all hope — feelings change — people can start to “catch feelings,” but sometimes, coming to terms with what is really happening can be a bit liberating. 

Talk about what we humans can control

This leads me to the fact that actually there are times when we can influence our connections with others by simply reaching out, making the first move.

My kids have grown up hearing me say, “We never know what someone is thinking, so rather than assume the worst, why not make the ultimate gutsy move and ask the person if they want to hang out.” 

I must confess that the earliest gender inequality frustration I can remember feeling was how absurd it was that girls were supposed to wait for guys to ask them out. 

Putting yourself out there to see if someone will spend time with you (and yes, online counts as well) takes courage! It is critical that we validate to our kids that we understand how scary this can feel. As parents, we often fall into the trap of saying, “Hey, just call so and so, I am sure they would love to do something.” To that, therapists and counselors will all say, “If it were so easy, they would have already done it themselves.”

There were plenty of times when my daughter, Tessa, who struggled with prolonged depression, could not muster the emotional strength that was needed to reach out to others. If you are a parent in that boat or know a parent who is, continue reading.

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As a parent, get help  

My first piece of advice is get support if you see your kids struggling socially and you are feeling worried about it. Don’t try to just brush off your feelings because they are bound to come out in someway. Instead, know that it can be incredibly stressful for many of us when we see our kids struggling (boy, do I know this firsthand), and that one of the best things we can do is to call in nurturing and wise people to help us stay calm and keep a broader perspective on things. 

My second piece of advice is to consider making an appointment with your child and their school counselor to go in together. You never know what can come up in the conversation that your child will be open to that they are completely not interested in when you mention it. For instance, the counselor may mention a lunchtime club that pique’s your child’s interest. In addition, you can gain a greater peace of mind knowing the counselor is aware of your child’s situation.

My final piece of advice, is to invite old friends with their kids over for dinner (or dessert) during the week. Remember, one short social evening can go a long way. I know first hand how the little moments of laughter, or remembering old times, would bring a bit of lightness to several ensuing days.  

Ideas to get the conversation started:

  1. Discuss ideas all of you might have regarding what makes people platonically or romantically attracted to some people and not to others.
  2. As a parent, can you share any stories of people you wanted to be friends with growing up that weren’t interested in you?
  3. Similarly, were there people you were romantically interested in, but you were invisible to them?
  4. Can you share when you, despite mild or complete fear, asked someone to hang out?

*These conversations might not get your child to take any actions immediately, but you’ve planted some important seeds.


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Challenging Conversations

Can We Control Who Is Attracted To Us?

Delaney Ruston, MD
February 15, 2022
Attraction rejection illustration of people

Since my kids were little, I let them in on one of life’s unfair and unfortunate truths: “We can’t control who is attracted to us.” When they were younger, I talked about it in the context of friends, and then when they were older, I brought it up in the context of romantic relationships.

We have also had plenty of conversations about the fact that we can't control who we're attracted to — another disappointing aspect of life.

After filming relationship experts John and Julie Gottman one afternoon for Screenagers NEXT CHAPTER, John and I kept talking, and he mentioned the following, 

“In all the years, people have been studying relationships, and we still have no clue as to why some become attracted to certain people and not to others.” 

Our youth have complex social worlds, online and off, particularly now in the ongoing age of COVID, and they are vulnerable to the fact that they can’t control who is attracted to them, nor who they are attracted to.  

Today I’m writing about how to help our kids with the universal human challenge of knowing when to accept what we can’t change in our social lives versus what we can try and change. 

Both of the truisms I mentioned above have bummed me out while I was growing up — whether it was girls I wanted to be close friends with but who had little interest in me or a guy I liked who consistently ignored me. I remember the painful months and months of longing for love from some boy that barely knew my name. Or guys in college that, from a logical perspective, would have been great to be in a romantic relationship with, but my emotional self wouldn’t have it.

Talk about what we humans can’t control

Believe it or not, talking with our kids and teens about this reality of limited control is worth it, even though it seems like an obvious fact. 

It is human nature to feel bad about ourselves when someone does not want to be our friend or romantic partner — we can’t help but take it personally. It has so much to do with unexplained chemistry — (of course, complex social dynamics can play a role as well). I would often say to my kids, “Think of the complete chaos that would ensue if everyone were attracted to everyone equally.” 

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