How Many Times Do I Have To Say No!

This post is about the ‘obsessive pursuer’ or what is commonly know as the ‘pest.’ Basically, the man or woman who keeps on trying to go out with you even after you’ve said no to him or her over and over again.

On the surface of things, pests are working with the expectation that ‘persistence’ will produce the results they want. In the movies or in a hot novel, the pursuer keeps coming back and the resistant lover finally gives in after a lot of drama and rejection.

I’m afraid in the real world, this scenario is complicated by the fact that most obsessive pursuers are in need of the pursuit more than the object of their pursuit. Simply put, when they get who they have been chasing, they lose interest and move onto another object of pursuit.

I am talking about someone who is really only attracted to the challenge involved. It’s not really personal. If you are lucky enough to give into a person who pursues you (and only you) and you live happily ever after, you can stop reading this post and get back to whatever you were doing. Your lover is not the type of person I am talking about.

If you are unlucky enough to give in to an obsessive pursuer, expect that his or her interest will wane once the resistance and rejection are gone. Now most people I know will want to avoid going through the cycle of pursuit, rejection, more pursuit, more rejection, etc.

The difficult part of course is when the pursuit you are subjected to starts to look and feel a lot like harassment and stalking. Your personal space is repeatedly violated and your ‘no’ is not being respected or accepted. The obsessive pursuer rationalizes his or her pursuit by assuming your ‘no’ really means ‘yes.’

The cure? Welcome to the art and science of ‘limit-setting.’ The first order of business is to make sure you are not sending him or her ambivalent signals. Something like, I said ‘no’ but I look interested at the same time.

Setting a real limit involves turning up the amps on ‘no.’ A big ‘No’ involves no only the absence of ambivalence, meaning you have no interest in the pursuer, but an expectation that you intend to give your message only once.

The importance of this is it takes you out of the emotional equation, so to speak. What is left over is just the motivation of the obsessive pursuer. In most cases, the motivation becomes weak enough to discourage the pursuer from further pursuit.

Chances are, if the pursuer continues to pursue once you’ve made your message clear, he or she is probably reacting to a ‘transfer’ of thoughts and feeling from a hurtful relationship he or she has had in the past. This ‘transference’ accounts for the ‘obsessive’ nature of the pursuit.

Apart from the smaller percentage of more extreme obsessive pursuers who will require a police intervention, these motivated pests usually respond to the practice of ‘indifference.’ This means depriving them of the emotions they are looking for. The fear, the anger, the frustration, the feelings that highlight the challenge of it all.

Of course, the search for a deeper psychological understanding of the obsessive pursuer’s personality will bring us to the question: What do they want? We already know they are drawn to the rigors and challenge of conquest. Why?

These are individuals who crave the hopeful opportunity of converting someone who doesn’t love them into someone who does. This is the great love-life problem most of us have to deal with in one form or another. No one gets all the love they needed in life. Granted some of us are luckier than others. But most of us can declare a disappointment or two going all the way back to the beginning.

Most of us have to cope with this reality by accepting our earlier losses, grieving them, and releasing ourselves into an independent adult life where the sharing of love with another adult human being is good enough. This process is honest and real. The obsessive pursuer tries to circumvent this piece of emotional work by finding substitutes for what was lost, one converted lover at a time.

Unfortunately, it never works to make up for what was lost. We only get one chronologically accurate childhood. But they won’t accept that. So they keep on pursing resistant lovers. Sad and tragic, but true.

Comments? Welcome. Dr. Tom Jordan


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Dr. Jordan

Dr. Thomas Jordan is a clinical psychologist, certified interpersonal psychoanalyst, author, professor, and love life researcher.

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