‘Pick Me’ Women Just Want To Be Chosen. So Why Are They Judged So Harshly?

Photographed by Eylul Aslan.
I unknowingly grew up with 'pick me' women.
Though the term “pick me” was born from irreverent discourse on Black TikTok — used to describe women who seek validation from men by denouncing other women and expressing traits that make them seem different from the rest — I have witnessed this behaviour my entire life.
Sprinkled throughout my childhood are memories of my dad, and how he never had to wonder where his plate of food was at family functions because my stepmother was already preparing it (Alexa plays “Cater 2 U” by Destiny’s Child). Then there's the aunt who was willing to settle for less rather than leave a marriage where she and her husband were now familiar strangers.
The examples of ‘pick me’ behaviour in romantic relationships are endless (watch any noughties rom-com and you’ll get the gist), and, more recently, the 'pick me' hashtag has been making the rounds on the internet with videos on the topic garnering over 6.5 billion views. Much of the videos made are by women who seem to want to distance themselves from the image of a ‘pick me’, especially when it comes to relationships with heterosexual men. What exactly makes a ‘pick me’ girl such a divisive topic?
“‘Pick me’ behaviour is used to draw people in and then keep them there,” says Relationship expert and So Syncd Co-founder Jessica Alderson. “They want you to think that they're unique and that you wouldn’t be able to find anyone else who is nearly as special as them.” Among these so-called “pick me” behaviours are dressing more sexily, acting more playful, being more flirtatious, shaming others for their decisions, or bragging about wealth and status, for what is often, sometimes unfairly, perceived as male attention.
Much of the criticism of pick-me women often relates to how they engage with other women, for example, exclaiming from the rooftops to men how they “hate girl drama”, blatantly agreeing with anti-feminist thoughts, claiming to be much lower maintenance than other women or jokingly highlighting the fact that they wear less makeup compared to other women. It can even involve self-deprecating comments which are shared in the hope that a man reassures them and strokes their ego.
All of this may sound familiar. When it comes to heterosexual relationships, craving male approval isn’t new — whether historically or within pop culture. Youtube platform, The Take, uses SATC’s Charlotte as the main example of a ‘pick me’ woman, who after years of altering and sanitising her behaviour to become a wife, finds that her perfect relationship with Dr. Trey MacDougal is just “fake.” Similarly, Insecure’s Tiffany Dubois, played by Amanda Seales, is a ‘pick me’ who, revelled in her proximity to whiteness (her looks, her obvious well-off upbringing, her husband) and lorded that over her friends, to be perceived as the ultimate wifey-type and different from her social group.
According to Relationship Coach and author Catherine Wilde, these ‘pick me’ traits are a form of courtship “in which an individual attempts to increase their chances of being chosen as a mate by engaging in behaviours that make them more attractive to the opposite sex.”
If that’s the case, why are so-called ‘pick me’ women judged so harshly, especially by other young women on social media?
“While there is nothing inherently wrong with wanting to be noticed or wanting to feel loved, the term often has a negative connotation because it implies that the person is willing to do anything to get what they want,” says Wilde. As the relationship coach suggests, ‘pick me’ behaviour also signifies that the person is not confident enough to choose themselves, which could lead to an unhealthy and co-dependent relationship.
In many ways, the term 'pick me' has become synonymous with toxic and manipulative behaviour used to strong-arm a partner into a relationship. It’s worth asking, if you aren’t showing up as your true self from day one and feel the need to take on personality traits to make you appear as the right one over someone else, my friend, you might just be wading in ‘pick me’ waters. 

"I think at the end of the day we just want to be chosen and to feel loved.” 

There are many levels to being a ‘pick me’ and as far as the internet is concerned, those who do act this way, have reason to be mocked and ridiculed. Yet, what leads any person to act in this way?
There’s a saying that things left unchecked can fester, and the same can be said of those with past traumas who enter relationships they aren’t emotionally or mentally prepared for, they end up becoming ‘pick mes’ without realising it. “The hardest thing especially with dating culture right now is a lot of us have baggage and trauma that we chose not to deal with. We need to heal from those trauma etc, to be our better selves,” says realtor Saniya Abrahams. “Instead of the term ‘pick me,’ I think at the end of the day we just want to be chosen and to feel loved.” 
Abrahams recently left a relationship where she admits she started acting like a ‘pick me’ because of insecurities surrounding her relationship.  She remembers doing whatever it took to be chosen and feel seen by her partner: “I think when you deal with someone who’s a narcissist and you’re in an emotionally abusive relationship this ‘pick me’ mindset manifests because you just want to be chosen.” The signs started showing up in Abraham's relationship in reactionary ways, such as her partner liking other women's pictures on social media, making her wonder whether if she had a bigger chest, a better career, more money or was more popular he would be able to see her fully. Abrahams explains that this made her act in ways unfamiliar to her, such as doing things her partner mentioned he liked in other women, striving to be someone that wasn’t fully her, and in the long run losing herself in the relationship. 
“I started questioning my worth, I actually started thinking I was going crazy,” says Abrahams. As Abrahams experienced, being a 'pick me' can cross a very fine, toxic line that can lead to varying levels of insecurities and take their toll on a person's mental health. “If you are not who you are describing [yourself] to be you cannot truly be vulnerable,” says the founder of The Maclynn Matchmaking Agency, Rachel MacLynn. “Your partner may be disappointed as you are not whom you described being, and you have to maintain such a high level of pretending that in the end, you may feel exhausted, emotionally drained, and unhappy.”
A running joke about the dating world is that the bar is so low that it’s in hell. Perhaps, ‘pick me’ behaviour is a direct response to the state of the modern dating market. Today, there is such an overwhelming sense of competition when it comes to finding a partner, especially on dating apps where, as of 2021, 323.9 million people are said to have an account. With so many people looking for love, it can be difficult to stand out from the crowd. “As a result, some people adopt a ‘pick me’ attitude in an attempt to make themselves more attractive to potential partners,” says Alderson. The increase in requirements for finding the perfect partner over the years across dating apps and profiles alike has played its role in pushing ‘pick me’ behaviour to the mainstream. Though it may seem like engaging in it will give you a greater chance of achieving a relationship, you’re setting yourself up for potential unhappiness and failure by feeling pressure to maintain the 'perfect' persona.

Shaming mostly women online for engaging in ‘pick me’ behaviour is misogynistic. Women are allowed to have dissenting opinions about how to navigate relationships without it just being about seeking male validation

It's hard to ignore the fact that ‘pick me’ behaviour is largely viewed as a woman's problem, and, via an online jury, faces ridicule and shame for behaviour that goes against what is believed to be feminist ideals. Some also conflate ‘pick me’ behaviour with submissiveness, bringing with it the reputation of a woman bending to her partner's will without questioning it. As a TikToker shared in a now-viral video, "it's not about the men, it's about you." Throughout her video, she says ‘pick me’ behaviour — such as talking too much, playing games, and acting aggressively — reeks of desperation. Oddly enough, while this particular brand of shaming is done under the guise of being informative, it comes across as ‘pick me’ behaviour as well — you know that famous Spiderman meme of all of them standing in a circle pointing at one another? 
Shaming mostly women online for engaging in ‘pick me’ behaviour is misogynistic. Women are allowed to have dissenting opinions about how to navigate relationships without it just being about seeking male validation. There have always been people who put others down to make themselves appear more attractive to potential partners, but now that social media has taken over, it feels like a societal phenomenon. “As a result, ‘pick me’ behaviour is more public and obvious than it ever has been before,” says Alderson. 
‘Pick me’ behaviour will continue to exist for as long as people are seeking love because at the end of the day, doesn’t everyone just want to be chosen?
Want more? Get Refinery29 Australia’s best stories delivered to your inbox each week. Sign up here! 

More from Relationships