Why “If He Wanted to, He Would” Is Some Toxic TikTok BS

Why “If He Wanted to, He Would” Is Some Toxic TikTok BS

“If a guy wants to be with a girl, he will make it happen, no matter what.” This grossly patriarchal line, from the 2009 rom-com He’s Just Not That Into You, has taken on new life in the Year of Our Lord 2023 as a viral piece of “advice” that’s been making the rounds on TikTok for months: “If he wanted to, he would.” Essentially, the saying claims that if a man “wants to”—text you, date you, marry you, buy you presents, give you the world, blah blah blah—he will. No questions asked, no obstacles barred.

If this sounds like a gendered oversimplification (or, you know, like something out of an unrealistic early-2000’s rom-com), you’re not wrong. This framing sees the dude, at least in a heterosexual relationship, as both blatantly assertive but also ultra-intuitive, and women as merely passive receivers of these gestures, as if we’re not all just flawed humans trying to feel our way through the complexity of intimate relationships. It fails to consider that people have different lived experiences, some that might make it harder to give you exactly what you want, especially if you haven’t voiced it.

Don’t get it twisted, this isn’t a Cosmo-sanctioned excuse to let your partner/sneaky link treat you like crap. There are several things you can and should expect from them and shouldn’t have to ask for—love, support, respect, and kindness, to name a few. I’m also not saying you should only expect the bare-bones minimum. But the truth is, believing that if he “wanted to” he just *would* discounts the fact that men also face emotional and mental roadblocks just like anyone else. Think: anxiety, fear of rejection, demanding schedules, intimacy issues, etc. They’re not going to automatically have the tools to give you everything you expect if you don’t express it, and this doesn’t just apply to cis het dudes either, it applies to people of all genders.


How many times have you wanted to go up to a hottie at a bar, but didn’t because nerves or anxiety got in the way? Have you ever been less present in a relationship than you wanted to be for reasons that had nothing to do with the other person? That doesn’t mean you didn’t want to, it just means you’re human.

The Problem with “If He Wanted to, He Would”

Dating and relationships expert Callisto Adams, PhD, agrees that the saying isn’t entirely true in real relationships. You can’t just apply it to everything. “There is so much more in people than just a generalization such as ‘if he wanted to, he would.’ In the real world, there are different love languages, there are different personality types, and there are so many other factors that can affect one’s behavior.”

The saying discounts the need for communication and creates the unfair assumption that the other person (in this case, the aforementioned dude) is all-knowing, in charge, knows what you want/need, and can provide that no matter the emotional, mental, or financial circumstances. It’s unrealistic, lacks compassion, and places men on a pedestal—one that it’s high time we left behind, don’t you think?

It also doesn’t leave room for understanding that they might not be doing something because of history in their own lives, says matchmaker Susan Trombetti, CEO of Exclusive Matchmaking. “You never know what someone else has been through and how it has affected them. This may mean that it’s not as simple as the phrase says.”

“No one wins and both parties are hurt…”

For example: Say your partner has a hard time saying “I love you” because they were scorned in a previous relationship, or because they never heard it in their own home growing up. If you bought into “if he wanted to, he would,” you wouldn’t be considering that maybe they do love you—they just might need a little more time to vocalize it, might not know you need to hear it, or might be showing you their love in a different way that’s unique to them. The TLDR answer: “No one wins and both parties are hurt…no relationship is one size fits all,” says Trombetti.

While I think we can all agree life would be a lot easier (for both parties, TBH) if you could just will your significant other to do or say what you want, it’s important to remember that they also might not know what you want.

“There’s a specific set of expectations that a man is supposed to meet to satisfy the ‘if he wanted to, he would’ belief,” says Adams. “The problem is, he’s expected to do so without having a clue what those expectations are.” If you want flowers, and your partner has never gotten you flowers, sure, it would be *nice* if they could just assume you want them and get them for you without you having to ask. But…have you ever talked about flowers? Have you ever just mentioned that you like them? Do they know you’d consider them an expression of affection? Did they see their parents exchange flowers or gifts as tokens of appreciation growing up? There’s more to consider than just, “they don’t want to do this for me, so they must not love me/be into me/want to make me happy.”

Maybe a new person you’re seeing *wants* to make it official, but is too nervous to ask you formally out of fear that you’d say no. Maybe your situationship *wants* to make a nice dinner reservation or some other grand gesture, but is worried you might think it’s too much. Maybe your partner *wants* to propose but can’t spring for a nice ring or is waiting to pay down their student debt before taking on paying for a wedding. This doesn’t make them any less in love with you, nor does it necessarily speak to their feelings for or intentions toward you. But you won’t know why a person isn’t doing something you want if you don’t talk about it.

“A person cannot simply be unstoppable, plastic, and static. There is so much fluidity to emotions, feelings, thoughts, and beliefs,” says Adams, who also notes that physical and emotional roadblocks—like financial and timely factors, past trauma, mental health, and maybe even confusion about your own behavior—can prevent someone from doing what they actually do want to do.

Explicitly Expressing Your Needs

It’s a different story altogether if you’ve voiced the things that would make you happy and your partner still isn’t showing up for you. There’s also a difference between what you, specifically, might need in a relationship (more alone time, a different type of sexual intimacy, maybe some good old-fashioned PDA) and just basic niceties. The latter is non-negotiable. While you might need to ask for the former, things like the aforementioned love, support, respect, and kindness should be a given and not a request.

“There is so much fluidity to emotions, feelings, thoughts, and beliefs.”

When it comes to asking for what you want, remember it’s a two-way street. Be open to working on communication together, because your partner may also need things from you that you don’t know about. Trombetti suggests avoiding demands (“You need to buy me flowers every Friday to show me you love me,” for example) and focusing on “I” statements instead—“I love flowers! It would mean a lot to me if you picked some up for me once in a while.” Keep the convo short and to-the-point, while making sure you listen to and react appropriately. Some other potential scenarios:

  • “I would love to go on more regular dates because I really value quality time. I’d be down to take turns planning if you are!”
  • “I’ve loved our time together and I think I’m ready to label our relationship. What do you think?”
  • “I don’t know what your feelings on PDA are, but personally, I love holding hands and random kisses now and then—it makes me feel closer to you!”
  • “My ideal timeline for moving our relationship forward looks like this. Is there anything we haven’t talked about that’s stopping us from getting there together?”

Again: We’re not advocating for you to accept less than what you deserve from a significant other. We’re advocating for you to take your power back and communicate your needs. Is there a reason they aren’t giving you what you want? Are they willing to work on it? Is there something they need from you to get there? Talk about it, assess whether or not they can give you what you need, and if nothing changes, don’t be afraid to step away, your FYP be damned.

Headshot of Megan Schaltegger

Freelance Writer

Megan Schaltegger is an NYC-based writer. She loves strong coffee, eating her way through the Manhattan food scene, and her dog, Murray. She promises not to talk about herself in third person IRL.

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