How Do I Get Over A Relationship That Never Started?

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How Do I Get Over A Relationship That Never Started?

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Hi Dr. NerdLove!

First I just want to say that I love what you do and am so grateful for everything that you do for the community! This is my first time posting, and I feel stupid for still being lovesick, since I’ve talked about this issue to so many people and even read and watched so many help/guides! In other words, I’m desperate, and have come to you as my final salvager!

Ok, so here’s my issue: I’m crushing on this person and I have now since 2019. I feel like I’ve tried everything, except for just straight up confessing, but hear me out, because I feel like I can’t do that. I’m pretty sure I’ve already been rejected, so there’s no point in being so explicitly (although, how else will I finally move on?).

I met this crush of mine, for the first time, 10 years ago at college. Back then, I didn’t really think much of them, they were kind and all, but I guess I was too busy dating other people at that time. I remember that our second year in college together was real nice, and we hit it off, but I didn’t think that much of it back then. Then our final year, I don’t even remember what happened to them, and then we graduated.

For me, after graduation, stopped dating for a while (due to some personal issues), then started working and became a “busy bee”. At this point, I lost contact with all of the people that I went to college with, and also kinda suffered a “depressive period”. When I finally reached the end of the tunnel, I started reconnecting with a bunch of people from my past.

During this time, people would start asking me out again, and others would try to set me up on blind dates, but I just couldn’t do it. At first I thought it was because I was too tired, or too exhausted, but later I figured it was because of my fears from past relationships. I was terrified of either ending up being taken advantage of or even becoming that person that took advantage of someone else. So I kept the pause on dating for even longer.

Until, someone asked me, if I’d ever regretted breaking up with any of my exes, and if I had had that “someone that I let go”. At first I was pretty convinced that I didn’t, and that I was grateful for my past relationships not working out (I guess I’d been in a couple of “toxic” relationships..), but later when I thought it through, I remembered this crush from 10 years ago. And I even thought that it was so weird that I thought of them, knowing that I didn’t have a crush on them back then. After realizing this, I didn’t really think that much of it, and only had a brief moment of “what a shame”..

Then.. a couple of months later, out of nowhere, this SAME person, starts following me on social media! I was shocked! I didn’t even think to look them up on social media, and now seeing that they out of the blue started following me, made me of course instantly think that this was “heaven sent” (I know, it’s ridiculous..)! So, of course, I followed back and also DMed them! Trying to play it cool.. but I didn’t receive a reply. So, once again, I thought to myself, that at least I tried, and didn’t really think that much of it!

But then…. they interacted with my posts, and more frequently. And one time I made a post about an event, where they asked if I was going, ON THAT POST. So I thought, oh, maybe they didn’t even see my DM! I replied to that post saying that I would, and they replied that we should meet up at the event! I WAS SUPER ECSTATIC!

Then I go to this event, and I see them, and they look super tired/stress or whatever, and they don’t seem to be interested in catching up. They also came with someone else, and so did I, but the person that I was with was more interested in getting to know everyone, than my crush and the person that was with them. When the event finally comes to an end and right before we are all about to leave, my crush tells me how sorry they are for not responding to my DM and that they were SUPER busy and had been meaning to get back to me, and that they would DEFINITELY text me that evening. Again, I’m filled with hope!

So later that evening I wait for the response. And of course, I receive no response, I even wait past midnight, and still no response. So I muster up the courage to send a new DM, were I again, try to play it cool. This time I tell them that I would love to catch up with them over a cup of coffee, considering the fact that we weren’t really able to at the event. Then I go to sleep.. and of course I don’t sleep that night..

The next day, they answer! With a huge YES! and they even ask if I’m free the next day! I DID NOT EXPECT THAT! Like that was fast! So, I’m super happy, and then we meet the next day, and we have a cup of coffee, and I believed that we had such a GREAT time, and we both agree upon seeing each other again and reconnecting.

But of course, that doesn’t happen. First of all, like we didn’t even exchange phone numbers, we just stuck to social media. And whenever I’d DM, I’d either not get a response, or a real delayed one. AND AT THE SAME TIME, they would interact and like my posts, making me again super confused. After a couple of weeks I gave this whole thing up..

Then, I don’t know what got into me even, but spring this year, I DMed again, and opened up a bit, telling them that I had a great time with them that time (over a year ago…), and that I had noticed how they don’t respond to my DMs. I was trying to confess and wanted some form of rejection so that I could completely move on, I think. They answered and told me that they had been meaning to respond and to meet up again, but because of covid, they hadn’t, then they also said that we would totally meet when the city opened up again. Of course, this hasn’t happened. And when I suggested us gaming together (because of course both of us are gamers) they came up with excuses for why we couldn’t.

Now the last time we DMed, was in the fall, when I sent a picture of our old study spot, and they responded instantly. They even asked me a question, and when I responded, they didn’t reply.. As always.. I mean, if someone doesn’t really respond and basically keeps on ghosting, isn’t that just a response in of itself? Despite them being nice when I reach out first, isn’t that just them being nice?

I just want to get over this person, and at the same time, I want us to be together! I want to confess my feelings and be rejected, but at the same time I feel like they have already rejected me on so many occasions! Is this not just me not taking the hint? I want to start dating again, but I don’t want to date anyone who isn’t my crush (and don’t even get me started on why, because they are so perfect, and I’ve convinced myself that I can never find someone like them, or that I should at least try to find someone like them)

I’m out of my wits end.

Dr NerdLove, please help me!

— Lovesick, Actually

Alright LA, it seems like you’re caught at a crossroads. On the one hand, you’re asking me to tell you the truth and give you permission to give up on your crush. On the other, you just spent several hundred words trying to justify holding onto hope and you can’t grasp just why with all those positive signs, they’re also not going out on dates with you.

So let me help out a little and do what you can’t do: put two in the dome of your fantasy here. They don’t like you like that. They’re not interested, you’ve been rejected multiple times and you’re clinging to a ten year old crush because you’ve been in a low point and you’ve latched onto the brief hits of dopamine that came from the fantasy that you were going to get a chance to turn this old crush — which, it seems like you didn’t have ten years ago from what you’ve described — into reality.

Sorry. I know that’s not what you were hoping to hear, but trust me, that’s the kindest thing anyone could do for you right now. All you’re doing is getting hung up on the fantasy of someone, rather than the actual person. This is as clearcut a case of Oneitis as you’re going to find. You’ve rounded up a whole lot of neutral behavior to signs of interest in your own head because… well, because you’re clinging to the past because your present kinda sucks. And I get that. I do.  Nostalgia is a drug and time has a way of casting everything in a golden haze that sands off all the rough edges, blunts the sharp corners and blurs all the unpleasant bits until they’re virtually unrecognizable. The past is perfect in part because it’s a country you can never revisit and so it can be almost anything you want. The problem is… you can’t live in the past, and trying to live in a past that never existed in the first place is a recipe for misery.

Here’s the thing: what you’re going through is incredibly common, especially at times when life isn’t going well. You’re not in love with your crush so much as you’re in love with the idea of them. It’s not about them so much as it’s about what they represent to you  — a connection to a romanticized past that you hope you can turn into the present through sheer force of will. And while that sort of determination is good for changing how you see the world, it’s not going to make an actual difference. All that’s happening is that you’ve trained yourself to take virtually anything as a sign of their interest, when in reality you’ve got a fairly solid pattern of non-interest.

Here’s the key: you’re taking their interacting with your posts on social media as a sign of something more than the algorithm showing them your posts because they engaged with them early on. And it’s understandable; there’s a certain accepted behavior amongst Millenials and Zoomers that likes on your posts mean more than clicking a heart or a thumb or what-have-you. And, in fairness, there’re a lot of folks who try to use those little gestures as the Internet equivalent of proximity; they’re hanging around near you in hopes that you notice that oh hey, they’re always around, huh? But the problem with the semiotics of likes/hearts/thumbs/care-reacts/what-have-you is that people use them in different ways and with different meanings — even meanings that would seem contradictory from post to post. Someone may give a heart on a Twitter post about losing a beloved pet and a heart on a tweet with a particularly funny meme. Without context or understanding how that person uses likes, that could seem confusing; are they signaling approval of both? Are they offering condolences and support for both?  What about if there’s a like for a sexy selfie too?

So, while yes, couples who are digging on one another may like and laugh-react or heart-react to each others’ posts a lot, just interacting with your posts — especially just with likes or reacts — isn’t really a sign of anything other than the most cursory “hey, I wanted to register that I saw this”.

Of course, there’re always posts going around from folks that say “hey, if I don’t say much but I like your posts, I’m letting you know I still care I’m just swamped by life” or whatnot that get hundreds of reactions and shares and “OMG me too!”, which makes it easy to willfully read meaning into your crush’s behavior. But if you want to meaningfully separate the signal from the noise, you need knowledge and context. And to get that, you need to look at their other behavior. Are they interacting with your posts in a way that requires more than a second’s muscle twitch of a finger tip? Are they regularly commenting on the things you post and having conversations with you in the comments?

It doesn’t sound like it. In fact, it sounds like the most conversation you’ve had on social media was their asking if you were going to the event you were posting about. And while that could be seen as a sign of interest, we have to put that into context with the rest of their behavior. In this specific case, they said “hey we should meet up there!” Ok, cool, that could be a good sign or it could be an old acquaintance taking this opportunity to see someone in the flesh for the first time in god knows how long. But when you got there and saw your crush… they’d brought someone. May have been a friend, may have been a date, but that definitely should affect your read of the situation; as a general rule, that’s not necessarily the behavior of someone who’s looking to kindle a romance. Now, maybe they brought a friend for emotional support or because the two of them already had plans to go to this event. Cool, maybe you’re still in with a chance. Except — again — if we examine that in context with the rest of their behavior, it doesn’t look like someone interested in seeing if there’re sparks with someone they’ve known for a while. You said it yourself: they never spent time hanging with you specifically. They didn’t look for opportunities to get a little alone time with you, even if it was just stepping a few feet away from the rest of the group for some symbolic privacy. That’s a pretty good indicator that they aren’t feeling the mode the way you’ve been.

And then there’s the way they behave with your DMs. It’d be one thing if you and they were having regular conversations in the comments on posts and picking up the thread in your DMs or theirs. But what we have here are several instances of your messaging them and not getting a reply, a couple of responses that peter out very quickly and several very obvious curves, swerves and soft-nos. That is the important part — much, much more so than whether or not they’re liking your posts. And let’s be real here: no response is a response. It’s a “not interested”. Is it possible that they’re truly overwhelmed and bad at DMing? Of course; God knows I’ve got messages and emails that I end up not responding to in a timely manner when I’ve got too much on my plate or my ADHD is spiking hard. Sometimes it gets to the point where responding at all feels ruder than just… not. But if they consistently do this to you? That’s not good.

Here’s the thing: how somebody behaves in “public” is often less important than how they behave behind metaphorical closed doors when it comes to figuring out how they feel. It’s not a guaranteed way of divining how someone feels, but it’s a fairly handy rough metric on social media. If someone doesn’t interact with your posts much but regularly has conversations in the DMs with you, you can safely assume that they like talking to you and you’ve got a fairly friendly connection. The opposite, however, isn’t true; if they’re giving low-investment responses to you publicly and not replying to private messages? Then you’ve got a relatively reliable sign that you and they aren’t that close. Now maybe they’re more of an in-person type or who doesn’t really “do” DMs or social media… but it certainly doesn’t sound like that’s the case with your friend. And even if they were, they’ve made absolutely no move towards connecting with you in a way that they’re more comfortable with.

Your crush hasn’t shared their number with you, nor have they accepted your invitations to hang out in other ways — in person, gaming together online and so on. They’ve given non-committal replies to your offers — notice how they keep getting kicked down the road to some nebulous point in the future? — or else give you reasons why they can’t do something while simultaneously not giving alternate ideas or proposing a different activity. If they were interested in hanging out with you, they’d be putting much more effort into this. And they’re not.

That, more than anything else, should tell you what’s going on. And what’s going on is: you’re nodding acquaintances. The two of you may or may not have been close way back in the day, but that day is not today. Today, you’re a familiar name on their social media feed.

So there it is: you’ve been rejected. It’s pretty clear. You now have permission to let this go and move on.

But one more thing: you haven’t exactly been Captain Rico Suave about this. I don’t mean to kick you while you’re down, but I want to make sure you don’t make these mistakes the next time.

Part of why this has gone badly for you is because you’ve been missing signs and being entirely too passive about all of this in ways that read as cringe-y at best and off-putting at worst. Missing the point of  all those unreturned messages is part of it; it’s an indication that either you don’t know what they’re trying to say or  you’re ignoring them. Here’s a good rule of thumb: one unreturned message could be anything. People get busy, messages get lost in the churn, they see it but close the window by accident and it’s out-of-sight-out-of-mind. Two is worrisome, but understandable. If someone’s swamped, they may have turned off notifications or put their phone in focus mode. Three unreturned messages is a message, and that message is that they don’t want to talk to you.

You clearly realized that you weren’t getting anywhere, but you were letting your Oneitis dictate your interpretation and so decided that their interacting with your posts was a stronger counter-indication. That’s…not a great look. Trust me, I’ve been there, done that and when I cringe clear out of my skin when I see that sort of thing, it’s because I recognize myself in it. I absolutely understand the impulse because, hey, that was me back in the day.

However, the final message where you called them out on not responding? That was an obvious attempt at getting a response out of them by leveraging a sense of guilt or obligation. Instead of getting the message that they weren’t interested, you decided to go for a Hail Mary pass and hope that it got you somewhere. And honestly, that probably sank things for you for good. Much like calling someone out for ghosting on you, you didn’t really have any leverage here; what they were doing was rude(ish) but you weren’t someone that had any sort of relationship with them that would give you a level of moral authority. At most, they were being rude in a low-key way. Not great, but not something so egregious that being called out by someone they hadn’t seen in a decade would cause them to reconsider their sins.

And to make matters worse, the way you went about it backfired. Not only were you clearly baiting them for a response, but you were doing so in a way that was pretty passive aggressive.  If you wanted a firm rejection on top of all the soft rejections you’d collected, then you could’ve actually said “hey, I’m just going to put this out there: I’m interested in you as more than a friend and I want to know if you might feel the same way too.” While that’s not the best strategy — I prefer asking someone on a date, rather than just confessing feelings — at least it would’ve been straightforward and direct. All you were doing was underlining that you didn’t get — or were deliberately ignoring — what they were trying to say. So now they had to put on the performance of “oh hey, I’ve been SO busy, maybe we can do this later at some nebulous point that is likely never to come.” Would it be better if they straight up said “look, I don’t want to talk to you?” Yeah, it’d be nice… but plenty of folks are socialized to try to avoid direct confrontation, especially with a relative stranger or acquaintance. So once again, they’re giving you a socially acceptable reason why they don’t respond in hopes that they aren’t going to have to have the “please stop talking to me” conversation that they’re so clearly trying to avoid.

So, what are the takeaways here? First and foremost: don’t let your junk overrule your logic. You knew they were rejecting you — you say as much in your letter. You didn’t want to accept it, so you kept finding reasons to discount those rejections. It’s much better to take that initial rejection with good grace and move on, rather than to keep trying to tap a dry hole.  At the very least, you get to walk away with your pride more or less intact and without having wasted weeks, months or even years of your time.

Second: context is key. If the individual “signs” you’re picking up are wildly out of synch with the rest of their behavior, then it’s better to assume that those are noise, not signal. It’s much more likely that you’re reading things into those moments that aren’t actually there,  especially if they’re contradicted by everything else that person is doing.

Third: someone has to make the first move, and it may as well be you. Yes, there’re plenty of times when someone may have all kinds of anxiety and worries about being too presumptuous of a friendship. I’ve been on both sides of that particular equation, so I can tell you that yes, it’s a thing that happens. But — also having been on both sides of that conversation — it’s better to make the first move and signal that you’re cool with them talking to you if, IF that’s the issue.

But it usually isn’t.

If you want more success, you need to take the initiative and put yourself out there. Fortune favors the bold, the people who make decisive moves and take risks. If you make tentative little gestures and pull them back at the first hint of resistance or hope to prompt a response from them without actually making a move of your own, you’re going to fail. It’s not attractive, it’s not cute and under the best of circumstances, it’s frustrating to everyone involved. Better to make a bold move and be shot down once than this death of a thousand cuts. Next time, ask someone out on a date; the “I like you” is implied.

I’m sorry to be the bearer of bad news, and I’m sorry that things broke this way for you. I hope you’re working with a therapist on those anxieties about dating and you’ve been putting work into building a supportive social circle. That will help you move past this and get you to a place where you can actually date with confidence and integrity instead of latching onto the ghost of hope. The best thing you can do in the case of your crush is to just let this go. Don’t pursue things further,  don’t DM them in hopes that you can pull this out of the nosedive or read into the likes they give your posts. Just let them be one more familiar name in your social media feed.

Gather up the shreds of your pride, square your shoulders and move forward. Forgive yourself for loving not too wisely but too well, frame this as a learning experience and take your next steps into the future — a little sadder but a little wiser for it. You’ll be ok. I promise.

All will be well.

 

 

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