If you love someone, set him free, the saying goes. Yeah, right! Who wants to do that?! When you love someone, the last thing you want to do is set him or her free ... you want to cling to him like the last life jacket on the Titanic. Sometimes this works out, if the person doesn't mind, or even adores, your clinging. Other times, if the person doesn't feel the same as you, you just end up causing yourself a huge amount of heartache. Yes, causing YOURSELF heartache. Sure, people give mixed signals. But if he's telling you he loves you one day and disappearing for three weeks the next, you can be sure you two aren't on the same page, no matter how he might feel "deep down." I think we've all been there at least once. I know I have. It was painful, but at the end of the day, it was liberating to finally "let go" of someone who just didn't seem to be on the same relationship page.
There are myriad books dedicated to keeping a man interested, getting him to commit, and keeping your marriage spicy. But what about just letting go? That's really what many of us need to learn how to do. And it's probably one of most difficult things in the world. But also one of the most necessary. Here are 10 ways to do it -- beyond distracting yourself with hobbies and pets and volunteer work.
Be realistic. Let go of the idea that if only you can get this man to commit to you, life will suddenly be all roses, champagne, and sex-fueled weekends in the Maldives. The truth is that rejection will happen throughout your life. Being married just brings with it another set of problems. As Samara O'Shea writes in Love Me ... Not: How to Survive and Thrive in the Face of Unrequited Love: "Once you're in a committed relationship, the rejection associated with dating -- such as guys not calling -- might be in the rear-view mirror, but new and exciting types of rejection lie ahead. There's small rejection (you'll snub each other's choice of curtains) and rejection that hurts more (like turning down each other's sexual advances)." In other words, bagging your man isn't going to make you immune to hurt for the rest of your life.
Allow yourself to feel bad. In this culture, it's become not okay to feel bad. Books, gurus, and TV commercials all urge you to take a pill, get back out there, get a massage -- anything but sit with your sad feelings and actually feel them. But being sad is a part of life. No one can be happy 100 percent of the time -- nor should you. It's only a problem if you become so attached to your unhappiness that you are reluctant to give it up because it's become part of your identity. Fresh off finding out that someone you love doesn't love you back, I recommend turning off the computer, not going out and getting drunk, and not numbing your feelings in any way. Sit in a quiet area and allow yourself to feel as bad as you like for at least an hour. Really FEEL it. Chances are you will need to do this less and less every day.
There is a difference between allowing yourself to feel bad and "wallowing." Wallowing means you can't shut up about your unrequited love. Every conversation turns to him. You overanalyze everything that went wrong. Accept that there is a certain amount -- a lot actually -- that you will never know. You simply can't look into another person's psyche. Force yourself not to talk constantly and write long emails about him to friends. You can actually ask them to simply not respond to you. You will eventually tire yourself out.
Stop cyberstalking. All kinds of studies have shown that continuing to cyberstalk your ex or your unrequited crush through social media will only prolong your agony. And yet it's so easy to do -- we can't seem to help ourselves. We actually get addicted to the chemical rush of the pain of seeing him with a new woman or out on the town enjoying himself.
But you don't know what you are really seeing. He might post a picture of himself and his new honey looking ecstatic at a concert, but you didn't see the huge argument they got into right before they left. As Ami Angelowicz writes in The Frisky: "Social media is like a funhouse. It warps everything, makes it giant or small or headless, unrecognizable, most notably, your sense of self and of reality. It takes your imagination on a wild tilt-a-whirl of imagined scenarios and possibilities. It’s a warped mirror, reflecting your worst fears and deepest insecurities."
In one relationship, I became addicted to checking up on the various women I knew the object of my affection had dated in the past. As the years went by, I gradually saw all of them get married and have children. While I had been eagle-eyeing them to see if they were keeping in touch with the man I wanted, the truth was, they didn't want him. They had gotten on with their lives, while I hadn't. I really wish I could have that time back!
Realize you did nothing wrong. Asking yourself why a guy didn't love you, why he didn't keep his promises, or why he didn't choose you over someone else is a futile endeavor. And yet we love to obsess on these questions. There is something to that old adage, "It's not you, it's me." It IS him. You don't know what he wants, his issues, or what he's dealing with. For all you know, he's gay. Maybe he has deep-seated problems with intimacy. Maybe he just doesn't like skinny chicks -- are you really going to gain 50 pounds for him? Who knows, who cares?
Focusing on the idea that if only you change, you can "win him over" somehow gives you a fleeting and false sense of control. Many things in this life are completely out of our control -- including how other people feel about us.
Stop trying to make him feel bad. I was a sucker for this one for a long time. After a breakup with an ex, I would send email after email detailing his transgressions, expecting and hoping I would get the one apology that would make me feel better. The truth is, even after he would apologize, I still felt like shit. Because nothing had changed.
If you truly feel you are owed an apology, then ask for one. If it's given, accept it and move on. If it's not, then let it go. He'll come to you with one when he's ready. I've heard of people getting apologies years after the fact. Or maybe he will never be ready. He's very possibly too ashamed or too narcissistic to admit what he did wrong.
Cut off communication -- at least for awhile. Most relationship experts advise cutting off communication with someone who is obsessing you, but this isn't always feasible. You may have children with the person. You may share an office or project you are working on. If you can cut off communication, do. But I find most people fail this, at least at first. If you can't cut off contact, at least try this approach: See that person for who they are.
Knock him off his pedestal, as blogger Nicole Forrester puts it. Sure, maybe he's still charming, funny, and handsome as the devil. But pay attention to who he REALLY is. All of us are just human. Notice his foibles and stop making excuses for them. Was he sharp with an underling? Did he forget to wish you happy birthday? None of this is because he needs you to truly understand him, but because he's just another human being with flaws and idiosyncrasies. He can be selfish, rude, and forgetful just like everyone else. Work to get out of your fantasy world. Who knows, maybe you will even realize that he doesn't have to love you back for you to appreciate him as a fellow journeyman on this planet, someone who also has trials and tribulations.
Trust. Trust that if this person doesn't love you back, there's a reason for it. Maybe there is something about this person you don't know, and the "universe" is making sure you dodge a bullet!
Reword. Instead of thinking something to the effect of, "I wanted this and he didn't," which can escalate into an even more frustrated set of thoughts ("That jerk, he led me on!" "He wasted my time!" etc.), try rewording to something more neutral like, "Two things did not match up," or "Two goals passed each other."
Last resort: Medication. If you've tried all of the above for months, maybe years, and you've tried therapy, meditation, and everything else you can think of, and you're going on two or three years of still obsessing over a lost love, then you may want to consider Lexapro. Samara O'Shea suffered from Limerence, which is similar to Obsessive Compulsive Disorder and makes a looping train of obsessive thoughts about an unrequited romance almost impossible to turn off. O'Shea writes about how she had luck with this medication helping to take her out of that mental whirlwind. Talk with your doctor. But realize that there is no "magic pill" for unrequited love. Lexapro might help, but it's not going to solve.
Have you ever had an unrequited love?
Image via Frankh/Flickr
I create a special savings account
I put a little away at a time
I cut corners until I can afford it
Save? Who has money to save?
I plan to put it on my credit card and love the benefits of the reward program