Mimetic Desire and the Fear of Rejection

by Eric Disco
Jun 20

I was with my 3-year-old nephew this weekend.

We were playing with his toy cars. He would always start off this way:

“Uncle Eric, which car do you want?”

“I want the blue one,” I’d say.

“No!!! I want the blue one. You take the green one!”

Almost every time we played he would do this.

He would first check to see which toy I wanted, and then take it for himself.

Was he being a dick?

No. He’s doing what kids do, and human beings in general.

If one kid is playing with a toy, all the other kids want that toy, even if there are a ton of other toys to play with.

It’s called mimetic desire, a term coined by the philosopher Rene Girard.

Mimetic means to copy. And mimetic desire means a desire that copies someone else’s desire.

Girard hypothesizes that all attraction is in some way mimetic, that two people are never truly attracted to each other in a vacuum.

There is always a third party involved in some way. Triangulation.

If nobody was attracted to you or wanted you, then your partner wouldn’t desire you either.

If everybody was attracted to you, like a rock star, then your attractiveness skyrockets.

This is also known as pre-selection, or social proof.

If you’re in a bar with two attractive women, it’s more likely that other women in the bar will be attracted to you.

It makes sense.

It’s less work for them to figure out how valuable you are.

They can see that other attractive women have already chosen you.

Along with pre-selection, I believe there is also pre-rejection.

Kenny gives a great analogy in one of his recent blog posts about an empty restaurant on a street next to a restaurant filled with people.

Sure, you may get quicker service in an empty restaurant, but if you’ve never eaten there before, you start to question why it’s empty.

Is the food bad? Are there cockroaches?

My friend had a first date with an amazing woman. But on that first date, the woman told him that her last boyfriend dumped her.

That was a really bad thing for her to tell him.

When a woman tells you this, you start to wonder why.

You can’t help thinking, is there something wrong with her? What did he see in her that he didn’t like?

And you start looking for the bad instead of the good.

This is one reason why I believe men fear rejection so much.

Human beings are extremely social creatures. We evolved in small tribes. Everyone knew one another.

If you took initiative with the wrong person and got rejected, it’s likely everyone knew about it.

This could have a tremendous impact on your standing within the tribe.

You were knocked down a few pegs.

Now you’re the toy that nobody wants to play with. You’re the restaurant that nobody wants to eat in.

That could have a huge impact on your future success.

In today’s modern world, a rejection from one woman doesn’t mean anything in a practical sense.

Nobody will know if you say hi to a woman at a Starbucks and she rolls her eyes and ignores you.

But the feeling can be devastating for most guys.

This is because we’ve evolved to avoid rejection. Those who shamelessly took initiative and got rejected, suffered due to pre-selection.

Those who were much more careful with their initiative tended to maintain their standing in the group.

Next time you see a bunch of kids all fighting over the same toy, realize that this is human nature. It’s mimetic desire.

And we are all party to its effect.


posted in Attraction, Embarrassment and Rejection

14 responses
Crebral says:

Mimetic desire…..pre-rejection..m my analytic mind loves all this knowledge! Thanks Eric! :-)

argentin says:

This is all very interesting, but a practical conclusion would have been great too

Mike says:

This is the best explanation yet that I have heard so far for approach anxiety, Eric. Thank you for writing this!

KL says:

Excellent topic. This is also why social circle game is probably the most powerful type of game–you’ve been preselected by her friends and friends of friends.

Mark says:

Interesting site, and interesting post. Not sure it adds up, though. All the paleolithic men who were rejected wouldn’t have passed on their anxiety brains to the next generation. I think the main reason men fear girls is because Susie called them a loser in the 6th grade. Once you get your game going and you start to feel good about yourself, you can get rejected a ton and it doesn’t matter.

Eric Disco says:

I don’t disagree with you. An individual’s experience does have a play in this.

Social emotions, such as embarrassment and shame, have evolved. Like fear, they are natural, instinctual and powerful. But you can be conditioned to be more sensitive to them.

Perhaps in the same way someone who has been assaulted is more afraid of being assaulted again, there is a certain trauma that the mind inflicts on itself once it’s felt that pain. Like Robin William’s character in One Hour Photo says, “The things we fear the most have already happened to us.”


Mark says:

Yeah, I don’t think we disagree in principle. Maybe just in degree. Sure, some fear is natural. All infants are afraid of heights, but a 13-year-old boy with a good upbringing has essentially no fear of embarrassment. He may feel embarrassment, but it doesn’t cripple his life. Is the embarrassment trigger innate, or the result of something else?

Evolutionary psychology definitely adds to the understanding of the mind, but it’s getting a little out of hand. Since The Selfish Gene, conjectures have built upon conjectures, and while they sound cool and interesting, most of them are unfalsifiable.

On mimetic desire… In my experience, girls don’t need to see you with another girl to like you. Sure, it can help, but a girl simply needs to feel that another girl could like you. And if you walk up to a girl like you mean it, as you talk about on this site, then she knows you have options. I mean, I’m sure you’ve slept with a girl without her seeing you with another girl, or even meeting your friends or knowing that much about you.

Maybe it seems like I’m splitting hairs here, but it’s an important distinction. It feels hopeless when you’re in a dry spell, and then somebody tells you that girls will only like you when girls like you. It’s just not fundamental. Use it as a garnish, not a main course.

To land the plane here, if you really believed that a girl’s life would be better with you in it, even for a night, then you become magnetic. It doesn’t matter that much if you’re pre-selected by girls. Pre-selecting yourself matters more.

MrAntiquity says:

Mark–A+ comment–I’m with you completely on this.

There are different kinds of attraction anyway–the attraction that a girl feels from actually liking you is different from that borne out of the spirit of competition. A good relationship will probably have a little of both…

Sure, most people aren’t going to want a loser–but there are a tons of loNers who ARE attractive to women. Why? Because they’re self-assured, and comfortable with their own identity. Genuine losers are people who have no self-respect…so that’s what makes them unattractive.

Furniture says:

Apparently there is some evidence that there were nomadic alpha males in our distant past who would travel around either alone, or at least in very small groups.

It’s believed that it was these alpha males who introduced fresh genes into the tribes (preventing in-breeding etc).

This might be another good explanation of why women find ‘peacocking’ (wearing clothes which ‘stand out from the crowd’) desirable. They see these guys as not being part of their ‘tribe’ and therefor it’s in the groups interest to introduce new genes from these guys into their group.

Just a theory, but sounds pretty solid to me.

Lee says:


Love this explanation. Makes a lot of sense.


Socialkenny says:

Is this really mimic desire or pre-selection?

Seems like pre-selection to me.

Eric Disco says:

I think the two operate on the same mechanism. Pre-selection implies an initial desire where as mimetic desire implies a continued desire, even once the stand-alone value can be determined.


JONESY says:

Am I the only one born not giving a crap what toy any of the other kids wanted? I only care WHAT I WANT, and I never change my mind.

curt says:

So do you plan on finishing this article?