The Mariner Syndrome: Why We Fall In Love With The Impossible

A heavy blanket of fog covered the horizon, and as the ship cut through the dark, heaving waters, countless fish scales glimmered, curving around the bow, stopping the vessel in its tracks. Sinuous tendrils of dark hair caressed their pale limbs, and as they rose from the frothing waters, they beckoned the mariners forth, inviting them to lose themselves to their desires. So they fell, into the raging waters of passion, never to be seen again…

To the Sirens first shalt thou come,
who bewitch all men, whosoever shall come to them.
Whoso draws nigh them unwittingly and hears the sound of the Sirens’ voice,
…but the Sirens enchant him with their clear song…
The Odyssey (Book XII) Homer

Impossible loves sirens - the mariner syndrome: why we fall in love with the impossible

These water nymphs believed in nothing but the power of their song and their innate ability to ensnare any man who would cross their path. Mysterious and captivating, these are the qualities that held these men spellbound. The sirens were dangerous creatures that delighted men for long enough that they would forget “the great heap of bones of men, corrupt in death, and round the bones the skin” lying underneath their iridescent tails. Why were sailors willing to hurl their lives overboard for these celestial beings? In simple terms, they represented the impossible love all living things aspire to possess.

Beyond their beauty and alluring song, what makes us stop in our tracks is their halo of mystery. The unknown draws you in and hypnotizes the most reserved of spirits. Just as the mariners jumped to their deaths in their pursuit to ensnare these dangerous creatures, human beings tend to be drawn to people who are out of their reach and surrounded by this halo of secrecy. The people you tend to see as unattainable are those that fashion themselves as a cipher no one can decode. Their interests and intentions are an enigma, which is why you are not entirely sure whether they’re interested in you or if at any moment you will become someone special in their eyes.

Impossible loves we crave - the mariner syndrome: why we fall in love with the impossible

This phenomenon, which puts your heart at risk, is called the “Mariner Syndrome.” Just as these sailors fell in love with the impossible, more than a few of us mortals have fallen for people that are unattainable. Sexual attraction is a hormonal cocktail that can be hard to untangle, but there are a number of factors that go into who you choose to be with, including interests, values, physical appearance, and personality traits. But where does this knee-jerk physical attraction that pushes you overboard come from? While there are countless scientific studies that have shed some light on these contributing factors, one that draws our attention is anthropologist Helen Fisher’s observations. In her eyes, we each have our own individual “love maps” that determine who we gravitate towards.
This map can resemble a maze, and as you stumble across its different passageways, you are always lured in by the mysterious and novel. New perspectives fire up the dopamine in your brain, and you feel attracted to people that spark this curiosity, and generally, you may perceive them as unattainable.

Intimacy and confidence are sown when you feel certain you’ve secured the attraction and interest of the other party. However, when you are plagued by doubt and unable to answer the simple question, “Do they like me?,” then, you’re left paralyzed with self-doubt. This Mariner Syndrome happens when reciprocity doesn’t occur and you are cast adrift. While it may be that all of us carry within this desire to reach for the impossible, this force can turn out to be destructive if it begins to erode your self-esteem and confidence. You pour all of your fantasies and expectations into this blank canvas, and you end up idealizing them, turning them into almost mythological beings that will dispose or love you at their whim. There is nothing more painful or self-damaging than pining for someone who will not return your affection. So, take a page out of Odysseus’ adventure, wrap yourself around the mast of your ship, and never deviate from your own purpose in life.