Forbidden Fruit: Wanting Someone you Cannot Have

When something is forbidden, it becomes more attractive.

Crushing on Someone You Shouldn’t?

Have you ever found yourself fantasizing about someone you shouldn’t be thinking about in that way? Or maybe you just look forward to the days when you’ll be around a particular person – maybe it’s at meetings with an attractive coworker, dropping off your child at soccer practice and chatting with the coach. You know you shouldn’t like this person as much as you do and you know you won’t act on these feelings, but you still have that little secret hope that your crush feels the same way about you that you do about them. Before you start beating yourself up too badly, take a breath and a step back.

First, it’s important to acknowledge that sexual and romantic attraction are often simply basic and normal physiological responses to attractive stimuli. So you shouldn’t beat yourself up when you realize you’ve developed a crush on someone you shouldn’t have. Research shows that our brains start responding positively to the opposite sex around puberty, while young elementary school kids still associate the opposite sex with the risk of “cooties.” We don’t consciously tell our brains to generate attraction to particular people, it does it on its own. It’s like looking at a decadent dessert and your mouth watering – you can’t stop a natural reaction like that. While it isn’t easy to avoid these instinctual reactions, it is definitely within your control to avoid acting on these reactions. Don’t be hard on yourself for finding someone attractive, but don’t give yourself permission to act on the attraction, either.

It’s Hard to Stop Thinking about What You’re Telling Yourself to Stop Thinking About

The human brain is a funny thing and it turns out that the things that we believe are “forbidden” are things that we typically want even more because of it . . . at least for a while. Studies have been done that show people who are trying to cut back on calories are more likely to think about the high calorie foods they are trying to avoid (Israeli & Stewart, 2001). If time away and time spent thinking about other things is what you need to give yourself a break, then it’s definitely worth trying. If a tempting treat isn’t in your fridge, you’re not going to be able to gobble it down.

Most of the time, though, repeated exposure to a stimulus (the superhot crush) will actually dull your attraction. Novelty wears off and you can begin to see the faults that a crush actually has that are “invisible” during the early stages of attraction.

Why do we Find the “Wrong One” Attractive?

If you find you’re mostly attracted to people who are off-limits, you might first ask yourself whether you’re relationship-phobic and are choosing people who would never really be attainable as partners. If we’re scared of commitment, it is safer not to let your heart crush on potential partners.

It may be that you’re crushing on a specific type of unattainable partner – maybe you’re crushing on “dad types,” the husbands of your friends who are moms and while it’s not so much that you find the guys super attractive, but you really dig the idea of motherhood and are wishing for a partner who would be the kind of dad these guys seem to be. Or maybe you’re a guy and crushing on friends who are new moms because you’re thinking that you’d really like to be a dad right about this point in your life.

Sometimes, the persons who are most attractive to us are those that have qualities that we would actually like to have ourselves. Say you’re always attracted to assertive, but compassionate, people. Maybe you wish you could be more assertive in your own life or a little kinder to others – that would explain why people with these qualities were the ones who caught your attention subconsciously.

If you’re just falling for the same “bad boy” or “bad girl,” even though you’re thirtysomething, your rebellious streak from adolescence may not have run its course and you’re still longing to ride off into the sunset to a Bob Springsteen soundtrack.

Before you “Confess your Crush” to the Wrong Person

Don’t risk your existing relationships by sharing a secret with the wrong person that could potentially do significant damage to the relationships you value. Telling a super close friend you have a crush on your sister’s brother may be okay, but telling your sister is unlikely to be a wise idea. If you talk to a friend, you might get the issue off your chest. If the crush has become an obsession, which can happen when we’re trying hard to “not” think of something, you may benefit from a session or two with a therapist. Often, talking about something makes it a lot easier to handle and it can often be the fix we need.

A lot of times, what we really need from a therapist is someone who be a safe “stranger” to whom we can tell our secrets. When we feel trapped and overwhelmed by an issue – whether it’s a diagnosis of an STI, a prior decisions we made that we wish we hadn’t, or a relationship we regret – opening up about it can actually normalize our feelings and experiences and once this occurs, we often feel much relieved and ready to let go of the burden and move on in life.

Should you ever Take the Risk and Pursue Forbidden Fruit?

If there’s really no taboo in place to keep the relationship from happening – or any workplace rules and regulations that spell out the consequences of workplace romantic relationships – then you should think through the emotional consequences of starting a relationship with that person. If the person was a coworker and the relationship ended badly, would you be able and willing to consider a hunt for a new job to avoid the emotional and personal fallout from a failed office romance? If you began a relationship with an ex’s friend or the ex of a friend, would the collateral relationships be able to survive? For instance, would the ex’s best friend sacrifice their relationship with your ex if you began dating? Would they be okay with losing that friend in order to pursue a relationship with you? Would your friend “bless” a relationship between you and their ex? Or would you be losing a friend in the hopes of a potential romantic relationship with their ex?

No relationship happens in a bubble – there are collateral people and relationships involved. Sometimes the thrill of the crush can turn into a flat line once the “forbidden nature” of it is removed. Think about that high calorie treat – you crave it and long for it, but seconds after swallowing the last bite, you’re already regretting that you gave into temptation and are imagining the damage control (exercise, portion control) that you’ll have to do to undo it. Treat giving in to a “forbidden crush” the same way.



Israeli, A. L., & Stewart, S. H. (2001). Memory bias for forbidden food cues in restrained eaters. Cognitive Therapy and Research, 25(1), 37-47.

Comments are closed.

Login/Sign up