Adapted from a recent online discussion.
Intense early interest isn't flattering — it's a red flag
San Francisco: I keep finding myself in two- or three-month relationships with men who turn out to have pretty serious emotional problems. I am realizing that I am the common factor here, and it's more than bad luck. How can I figure out why I keep "selecting" these dudes, and stop doing it? I am aware of the issue, but it seems to keep happening nonetheless . . . and each time I get dumped.
Carolyn: Can you describe what you found attractive about all of these men? That will help point to what you're doing/missing.
San Francisco: I would say: extremely smart, engaging/sensitive, and sought me out. Is there anything in that? Or should I keep thinking?
Carolyn: Believe it or not, there's something in that.
You are, I'm guessing, an introvert, hanging back and letting people choose you.
The ones whose advances you accept are charming, charismatic. Charm and charisma are a lot of fun, and they're like a tonic for introverts — they draw you out, engage you, spare you from having to start or sustain conversations, and they help you feel interesting, which you secretly doubt.
Charm and charisma also can (repeat, can) hide a multitude of problems. It takes social skill, for example, to lie well, so smart, charismatic people are some of the more effective liars. Lying is a tried and true form of compensation for emotional problems. You're messed up inside, so you make up an outside that covers the mess, and then you sell it with all your might.
When you spend time with these guys and start to see some of the mess peek out, that becomes part of the charm; they admit their turmoil, invite you in as a trusted confidante. You fall for them; they lose interest.
They may be the trap, but the way out of it (or around it, so you stop getting stuck in the first place) lies entirely within you.
First, you need to push yourself to be more proactive in choosing your friends. Watch people carefully, look for common interests and traits you respect — vs. gut-level attractiveness — and summon the courage to make small first moves toward friendship. Just pushing past your fears will help. If needed, add some activities to your life that permit you to get to know people slowly.
Second, you need to tend to your own sense of self-worth. If you feel good about what you're doing, who you're talking to, what you're wearing, what purpose you're serving, what fears you're facing, then you'll be less vulnerable to the flattery of someone taking an intense interest in you.
Because here's the thing: Attraction is normal, since that's how good friendships and romances start. But intense interest early on is a flag, because at least part of that interest will be about them, not you — simply because a person can't know you well enough to have intense interest yet.
Emotionally healthy people will take a mild or passing interest, wait for you to reciprocate, and the interaction will progress (or not) from there. If you ignore this interest, then the healthy person may try a bit more but then move on, because, well, what does s/he know about you to chase?