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“If he wanted to, he would”: Setting the standard or praising toxic dynamics?

By Ally McLaren

We’ve all heard it, whether it’s well-meaning advice from a friend, a Tweet you’ve scrolled past or one of the many latest TikTok videos taking over the for you page: “If he wanted to, he would.”

The phrase has had a recent resurgence on TikTok, with the hashtag #ifhewantedtohewould racking up 173.9 million views.

This modern equivalent of ‘he’s just not that into you’ is aimed at women in heteronormative relationships who are not receiving the effort they should from the man they are with. The idea is that if someone isn’t messaging you back, isn’t planning dates, or isn’t making any effort, then they are not interested in you.

If he wanted to, he would. So he clearly doesn’t like you that much. It’s as simple as that.

Why it’s good advice

At its core, this is great advice. It’s what you would say to a friend if a guy they were seeing wasn’t replying to any of their messages. He doesn’t want to, so move on, you can do better. There are men out there who will want to, and they will make the effort and give you what you deserve.

The term can be more relevant to situationships, where people are still in the talking stage or haven’t established a label. If someone is ghosting you, seeming completely uninterested, or really not bothering, it’s fair to say that you are not getting what you want or deserve out of the relationship.

But it can also be applied to long-term partnerships, with those who are married using it as an example of emotional or household labour being completely one-sided, with women being the ones to do more chores around the house, take on most of the childcare, to plan dates, and to keep the relationship alive.

Women on the internet are reminding each other not to settle, that they can do better, and that if someone is treating you like an option or taking advantage, then you should end things. Rather than waiting years for them to change, or feeling unsatisfied with where things are going, cut things off now and find someone who matches the effort and energy you are putting in.

We all have standards that we expect, and deserve, to be met, and shouldn’t waste time on something that isn’t making us happy. If a man wanted to do something, he would be doing it, right? But is it as simple as that?

Why it can be toxic

Firstly, “if he wanted to he would” excludes those who aren’t in relationships with men, who also experience this type of dynamic. These one-sided relationships don’t just apply to straight men, but this is who this discourse is centred around.

This trend can lead people to compare their relationship to others, and where they might before have been happy this can cause unnecessary resentment and hostility in relationships. This can make women feel bad or like they are doing something wrong by ‘putting up’ with something that they shouldn’t be. It also shames women by suggesting that they struggle to get the idea that a man isn’t interested.

The assumption is placed on straight men to be putting in most of the effort in relationships, especially in the early days, yet women can make the first move, plan dates, and show their interest too. Relationships are a two-way street, and both partners should be putting in equal effort, rather than expecting someone to be doing everything for you while you don’t do the same for them.

One of the biggest issues with this trend is that there are actually many reasons why someone might not be doing something, and it is not limited to being just because they don’t want to.

  1. Those with anxiety, who are neurodivergent, or who are introverted, may struggle to understand what is expected of them, to meet societal norms, or have the confidence to plan things for their partner, especially in a new relationship.

  2. If someone doesn’t know your past relationship history, or perhaps they have past relationship trauma of their own, they may believe they are respecting your boundaries by not coming on too strong.

  3. They may have something going on in their personal lives, or be struggling with their mental health, which means that they aren’t able to give 100% effort to a relationship at this time.

  4. People aren’t mind readers. If your partner doesn’t know what you are expecting of them or would like them to do, it can be harmful to assume that they don’t care at all if they aren’t doing something that they may not even realise would make you happy. It’s easy to put someone on a pedestal and then become upset when they don’t reach a potential we have laid out for them in our own heads.

If you want them to, let them know

Yes, if he wanted to, he probably would. If he isn’t texting you back but is always on his phone, if you’ve expressed that you’d like him to plan more dates, buy you flowers on occasion, or make you a coffee in the morning, and he doesn’t, then he likely isn’t really that bothered, and isn’t the best choice for a partner.

But communication is key, especially if you are in a long-term relationship. Have an open conversation about what you need and expect in your relationship, and discuss reasons as to why this might not be happening.

If this then doesn’t change things for the better, of course, the match may just not be right. But don’t watch one TikTok and then call off your whole relationship.

And remember, if they aren’t making the effort, it reflects negatively on them, and not you. You can do better, and you deserve better. Sometimes it is as simple as, if they wanted to, they would.


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