Sudden Revulsion Syndrome

Unhappy couple not speaking to each other on bed at home in the

by Randall S. Frederick

Q: I don’t know how to say this, like what the word for it is, but sometimes I feel depressed when I start seeing someone. I started seeing someone recently and we were having such a good conversation, then we started seeing each other pretty frequently, and then one day like in that first week or so, I woke up and felt dread – like I needed to end this thing immediately. And it’s not just him, it’s like other people I’ve dated too. Is dating always such a chore? Does everyone else feel like this? My parents tell me I need to just keep seeing him and let it past – that everyone feels this way at first. What do you think?

A: Wow, there’s a lot to unpack here and I want to get right to it.

It sounds like you have something called “Sudden Revulsion Syndrome.” There’s not really a clinical name for this, so go with me for a second here. I want to say what I think is happening, then contextualize it.

[Sudden Revulsion Syndrome] is condition many people experience after dating an individual for a short amount of time. The individual is probably polite, nice, and generally pleasant to be around, but one day, you suddenly find yourself disgusted by his or her appearance. You cannot ever see yourself establishing a physical relationship with this individual, and when you imagine it, you vomit in your mouth a little. The consequence of SRS is that you end up feeling as though you must break it off immediately.

This definition comes from Urbandictionary which isn’t exactly a reputable site for knowledgeable, articulate, medical or relational science. It’s more of an anecdotal experience – people know what it is, and have felt this way, but it’s not “real” enough for serious psychological studies right now. Karley Sciortino writes of the experience, “The creepy thing is, my sudden, inexplicable disgust always comes out of nowhere. It’s not triggered by something significant, like cheating or finding out the person is pro-life or whatever. Rather, it’s something totally inconsequential—the way they cuff their jeans, a random sneeze, their weirdly shaped earlobe. And in most cases, the disgust is irrevocable.” These definitions and explanations are reader-friendly but not exactly professional. So please consider a few things:

1) You may have depression or anxiety and something about being in a relationship produces unwanted feelings of stress that overtake your rational thinking. In other words, when “being in a relationship” sets in and becomes a serious consideration, you get scared and want to bail. This might be why your parents are suggesting you ride it out and see how you feel after a few days or a few more dates. If you feel this is a possibility, please speak with a mental health professional and work this out. You’re not weird or abnormal – but you might need to talk through this, or consider some individualized personal options.

2) Maybe you are shallow. I don’t say that in an accusatory way. Not at all! But it is a blunt way of saying what I mean. Sometimes, we think we are very thoughtful and considerate of others, when in actuality we’re not. Embracing who we really are, instead of who we think we are (or who we present ourselves to be) is important to personal development. Again, there’s no judgment here. But do a self-inventory and see what your goals are when you “start seeing someone.” Maybe you prefer light and superficial conversation over heavy and serious investment in someone else. In other words, you might be amazing at meeting someone, just not at developing that relationship. This is an exceptional skill to have in sales or marketing- the ability to develop a false sense of identity and emotional connection.

3) You’re not alone with these feelings. In fact, thanks to the availability of the Internet, blogging, and sharing of resources, Sudden Revulsion Syndrome is becoming more popular in cultural conversation. “More people are talking about this,” in other words. Writers like Karley Sciortino, for instance, wrote an article for Vogue on Sudden Revulsion Syndrome and she speaks about this very regularly in interviews, podcasts, and speaking engagements. Go ahead and use a search engine to look up Sudden Revulsion Syndrome and see if that’s a label that feels appropriate.

As for me, I’m one of those people who has felt Sudden Revulsion Syndrome – sometimes very acutely. The best example I can give you from personal experience is the time I went out on a date with an aerospace engineer. Engineers are great, but they’re typically not my type. I wanted to meet her, and she felt the same, so we agreed to grab a drink. Really, as soon as we sat down and got past those first giggly minutes, I was ready to leave. In the time it took me to drink half a glass of beer, I was completely repulsed by her. This was very confusing to me since she had so much going for her – she was very attractive, had a great job, was very intelligent, funny, but something about her set off my SRS alarms and I had to go. I left my half-full glass on the table and left to her astonishment. No real excuse, even. I just said, “I think I’ve had enough. I’m going to go,” paid the check, and left her sitting there in surprise.

I thought a lot about that exchange. How it went down. Where it went wrong. Why I left so abruptly. Whether I should try apologizing or explaining. And in the end, I don’t think any of that mattered. Sometimes, you’re not a good fit and you know it. Why waste each other’s time? But, one thing I’ve noticed is that technology plays a big role in reshaping “How We Date.” People are no longer people, they’re packets of information – she has a nice face, he works at such-and-such place, we like some of the same musicians. But what does any of this really tell you? And – this is a very serious question – do the sum of the parts make you “human” to someone… or just more expendable?

One of the most common experiences in online dating is that you start a good conversation, things are rolling, maybe you even meet up once or twice and exchange social media info, then BAM! you send that e-mail or share that link and they never respond. You send another one, no response. You’ve been “ghosted.” Being “ghosted” is when the other person never calls, texts, writes, or communicates back. They just… die. And you know they’re still out there somewhere, but you can’t see or hear them. They’re just gone, suddenly.

Ghosting, to me, is a symptom of a new dating paradigm. People are expendable now because, on a deep level, they are not “people.” We’re not invested in them. Our conversations take, are taking, or took place online – but they lack substance because those statements are crafted and we’re not able to “read” them in person, the body language and eye movement. This person on your laptop isn’t “real” because we’re not spending physical time with them. More, because of the immediacy of the Internet, we are getting rejected more, more frequently, and faster. Tinder is “a numbers game” for everyone. You swipe right or left on faces. These are not real people. Even if you start chatting, it could end with the other person deleting their account, Unmatching or “consciously decoupling” at any moment. Poof! Just like that, they are gone. Knowing this, we hold back. Knowing this, we groom our image to present a false self.

You didn’t say where you met the guys you are seeing, whether it was online or in person. But let’s say you met in person. I’m sure you talked about the developments of this ‘ship with your friends – who he is, what he does, how you met him – all the good details. And I’m sure your friends had thoughts, encouraged you or discouraged you in some way. This is normal. But what has changed is a fundamental difference in our social psychology, or how culture looks at dating. Even if you are not dating online, there has been a shift in how everyone thinks about dating. Again, this new paradigm means people are expendable to you and your friends, who will encourage you in behavior that is not necessarily in your best interest for the sake of maintaining their relationship with you. If he chews too loudly? “Girl, dump that man!” If she has a mole on her jawline? “Dude, you don’t want to look at that forever. Let her go.” If she was married, if he has two kids, if she likes rap music and you’re a country kind of guy – whatever the “issue” is, we’re not working through things and doing the hard work of developing our relationships.

You indicate that dating is a “chore.” Yes. It is. That chore is called “emotional labor” because you are investing in a person, learning about them, and taking care of them as it is appropriate and that’s hard work that needs to be done regularly. A relationship is hard work, but the good thing is that it gets easier if you attend to it regularly. Everyone else feels the same way, so you’re not alone or unique. It doesn’t mean something is wrong with you just because you’re having a hard time. Some people abandon these “chores” for a while, some for their whole lives, and it never works out well for them – they are lazy and often get “evicted” from their relationship because of how messy they are.

Let me give one more example, then I’m done. For me, I’m in a phase of life where I move around so much for work and life that it’s hard for me to meet people. My coworkers are all married, and while there is the occasional client who catches my eye, I’m reluctant to mix work and business anyway. More, I’m not in grad school right now and, having stepped out of a classroom, I realize most of my peers are either married, have kids, or are too focused on their careers to build something. This means I don’t meet people the same way I used to. That’s not good or bad – it’s just the phase of life I am in at the moment and I recognize that. But, I still enjoy meeting people and having conversation. So I have “conversations” via text, or email, or other social media with women I’ve met online who are in the same boat. I try to be up front about where I’m at – I like you, I’m talking to you, I enjoy our conversations, but I also would like to see something develop and if that’s not where you’re at, please let’s end this before we meet up and it becomes a dramatic scene with me standing in the rain. With all of this, sometimes the conversation is going really well and out of the blue one of us experiences Sudden Revulsion Syndrome.

None of this is especially relevant except to say that I believe many people use Sudden Revulsion Syndrome as an excuse for poor dating skills. Our parents and grandparents certainly experienced this same thing – but not as strongly or frequently. That indicates bad dating skills to me, an emotional immaturity and unpreparedness. I want you to avoid doing that, now that you have a name for what you’re experiencing. When someone becomes a real person with family and medical history, pets, a career, we have a tendency to dismiss them because they don’t fit into our plan, our world – me, me, me. This is another change that’s taken place because of online dating. In addition to whatever baggage we bring into a relationship because of past experience, we can become narcissists in the name of “personal narrative” and “self actualization.” People either complement our vision or they present a challenge to it and working through that is another way that we “work” at a relationship – by working on ourselves.

When I was in college, a friend of mine got dumped by her boyfriend and she told me, with mascara streaked down her face, “The next man needs to be perfect to make up for all the assholes. I’m a princess and deserve to be treated that way.”

I laughed and then saw she was serious. “That’s a lot to put on someone. Your next guy needs to undo and fix what the last guy did – and then be better in every area?” I asked.

“Absolutely,” she said. “I deserve someone who is perfect.”

Now, she went on to write romance novels and got a good job in publishing. Very happy for her and, apparently, everything worked out just the way she wanted. But what her statement said to me at the time was, “I’m not changing. Other people have to change and fit into my life. I’m not going to do the hard work anymore, because I’m a special princess.” Our friendship ended shortly after that conversation because, ultimately, I began to see that the way she lived her life was what repelled these men. She felt entitled. People “owed” her something. They needed to do all the work, because she was tired of doing her part. She wasn’t willing to work on herself anymore – and she said so. She was a “princess.” She was perfect, in her own mind. And the guys, well, for many people, that’s a tall order. We might expect Our Next One to be better than Our Last One – and do undo all the damage done to us. If they fail in the slightest to “fix” us or “complete” us though, they’re out the door. That’s a very sad position for any of us to be in, and I sincerely hope that’s not where you find yourself now. Everyone has a story, a series of events, and it would be a shame if you were rejecting someone before you knew the Why to whatever it is that turns you off.

Hope this helps. Keep me posted and let me know how it’s going for you – but be strong. Don’t be afraid to break up if things aren’t going to go anywhere, but don’t break up with someone just because it gets a little hard. Like your parents said, give it a few days. See where things are going, or if you’re going to change your mind. Don’t run just because things feel new or challenging – but, again, don’t feel like you need to stay in that relationship if it’s not working. Learn the difference between Sudden Revulsion Syndrome, shallow behavior, and the resistance you feel at new experiences.

All the best.

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