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Push Me, Pull Me — Or Then Again, Don’t

·530 words·3 mins
Psyched for the Weekend

I think a lot about an old relationship I had in high school. Not because I miss it. Nothing like that. In fact, a lot of the time dating Greg was hell.

But it was, oddly, a hell I couldn’t walk away from.

Part of it I could chalk up to inexperience.

But there was something else about it… because, you see, while Greg had a penchant for treating me like crap a great deal of the time, he had this way about him at other times. Moments when he’d turn on the charm. When he was like that, he was the best partner I’d had up until that point.

Curiously, it always seemed like he would warm to me at the exact moment that I was about to give up on him. When I was right about to walk away from our relationship for good.

That’s when he’d reemerge, warm and attentive. Glowing. Full of compliments. Where he’d been dodging my calls the day before, he suddenly had all the time in the world for me.

Though it was on and off, and we even went through an official two-year breakup with no contact in the middle, Greg and I dated for over a year all told — practically a lifetime in high school time.

And it wasn’t until many years later that I realized why.

Push-Pull, a Vicious Cycle

It wasn’t until I was reading about a little thing called “push-pull” that everything fell into place. Push-pull is a form of psychological manipulation whereby a person repeatedly destroys intimacy in a relationship and then repairs/rebuilds it, seemingly without explanation or cause.

This behavior is often unknowingly perpetuated by individuals with certain personality disorders (e.g., histrionic, antisocial, borderline, obsessive-compulsive, etc.) and is also consciously used by pick-up artists and other people who wish to manipulate a person’s attachment to them. Sometimes push-pull is known colloquially as “flirting for sociopaths.”

Push-pull is typically a very bad sign. Over time, it can wear the person on the receiving end down and make a meaningful relationship, one built on trust and understanding, virtually impossible.

If you meet someone new who is trying to pick you up using push-pull techniques, your best bet is to run the hell away from them.

If you’re doing it to on purpose to land new partners, just stop. Because even if you do manage to land a relationship, you’re damaging it before you even begin. And that’s a pointless self-inflicted wound (and an additional wound you’re dealing to someone else).

And if you catch yourself in the process of uintentionally using push-pull on another person, that should be a wake-up call that there might be other issues there that you need to explore.


This post is part of an ongoing Poly Land feature called Psyched for the Weekend, in which I geek out with brief takes about some of my favorite psychological studies and concepts. For the entire series, please see this link.


My new book is out!

Dealing with Difficult Metamours, the first book devoted solely to metamour relationships, full of strategies to help you get along better with your partners’ other partner(s).


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