What To Know About Mimetic Desire In Your Love Life

Early psychological theories have a funny way of regaining popularity. Thanks to the far-reaching abilities of the internet, people are noticing more and more patterns among the humans surrounding them ... leading them to regurgitate the ideas that early thinkers posited or embodied centuries ago. Parasocial relationships, anyone? The re-emergence of common ideas has even led some to comically lament the fact that historical figures are missing out on modern media. "RIP oedipus i know he woulda loved yo mama jokes," quipped one Twitter user.


Now, a new theory is taking the internet by storm ... and while it doesn't involve Oedipus, it's certainly no less "complex." HBO's hit series, "The White Lotus," recently made reference to a French theory. One character accuses another of "having a bad case of something called mimetic desire." Ethan explains, "If someone with higher status than you wants something, it means it's more likely you'll want it, too."

The brief reference was enough to get viewers curious about the decades-old theorem. Did HBO get René Girard's ideas right? More importantly, what does this lesson about desire mean for your own love life?

What is mimetic desire?

René Girard expanded and expounded many theories throughout his lifetime as a philosopher, but his magnum opus was his development of the "mimetic desire" concept. According to the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Girard was inspired by Plato's work on human's instinct to imitate others. Repeating actions and copying what we see others do is an essential part of learning basic skills, such as speech.


Girard's ideas take things one step further — asserting that we mimic not just what people do but what they desire. In the Atlantic's analysis of the phenomenon, they noted that this means our wants are not decided by our own personal assessments of an object or person's value. On the contrary, we're more apt to consider how desirable the item appears to others and how our status may be impacted by possessing it. This may seem shallow and over-simplistic, but the concept is everywhere once you know to look for it.

Where does mimetic desire show up?

The thinking of a 20th-century philosopher has never been more obvious than in the 21st century. Though we'd all like to appear individualistic and dismissive of trends, we've never been more connected or cognizant of others' opinions. Social media has become a mimetic desire playground.


Forbes even goes as far as to attribute the success of influencer marketing to mimetic desire. If we see our favorite celebrities, reality TV stars, and TikTok creators using a certain product, we might copy their affinity for it. It comes back to that iconic "Mean Girls" line: "I saw Cady Heron wearing Army pants and flip-flops, so I bought Army pants and flip-flops."

On the surface, this doesn't have to be a bad thing. After all, imitation is supposed to be the sincerest form of flattery. Unfortunately, when it comes to relationships, copying someone's desires can lead to intense rivalries, hurt feelings, and shocking abandonments of friendship codes.

Mimetic desire and relationships

Mimetic desire can show up in almost every type of relationship. Maybe you don't have much in common with a person, but you desire to be their friend because they seem to be the coolest kid in school. As a parent, you might attempt to create family traditions that don't come naturally to your household but instead fall in line with the actions of aesthetic Pinterest parents. Worst of all, you could find yourself pursuing a romantic interest out of mimetic desire ... which means that someone close to you developed a crush first.


Simple imitation is inherently different from mimetic desire, as the latter comes with a sense of rivalry. You can remember this because, according to the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy, the word for mimetic desire put into practice is "mimesis." As in, you're bound to end up with a mime nemesis. Not only could acting on mimetic desire land you in an incompatible relationship, but you could ruin valuable relationships along the way.

Warning signs that you're operating out of mimetic desire

Because mimetic desire evolves from looking outward, the best way to combat it is by looking inward. If you're worried that you're basing your romantic opinions on the thoughts of those around you, take a step back and reflect why you're truly drawn to someone. You may be generally interested in their wealth, popularity, or ability to serve as excellent arm candy ... but what traits do they have that would uniquely suit them to be an excellent partner for you?


Another way to check the legitimacy of your crush is contemplating where you found them. Did one of your besties let you stalk the Instagram of her latest Tinder match? Has your For You page been filled with the dancing videos of TikTok's next big thing?

Sometimes, people are popular for a reason. But there's no need to ruin friendships and abandon relationship standards in pursuit of the "trendiest" date. Trust your instincts and remember that your desires for a relationship will differ from those around you — as they should!

How to navigate mimetic desire

In an interview with Psychology Today, Luke Burgis — a writer on mimetic desire — shared that much of the allure of this theory is that it helps us to find shared truths. In an increasingly divisive and polarized world, copying the desires of others helps us to find shared interests and goals.


Fortunately, there are alternative, healthier ways to get close to your friends beyond stealing their love interest. If you find yourself inclined to crush on the same people your friends are, try to orient your hang-outs and conversations away from romantic discussions.

Before entering a new relationship, make sure that you're firm in your personal standards and boundaries. This will help you to be able to cut off a new relationship that isn't a good fit ... even if those around you might admire the pairing. Above all, remember that strong, lasting friendships are more valuable than the potential for a budding relationship.