There’s a man I met two years ago. We have a good friendship and chemistry despite seeing each other infrequently. Over the past two years, we would flirt often and it seemed like we were both curious to get to know each other more. However, I felt both of us were scared to make moves that showed a clear interest. We met during the pandemic and with no nights out where we could be a bit more brave, there was never a chance for things to develop. When lockdown lifted, we kissed at my apartment after a night out. We were honest about our love lives, previous relationships and he spoke about a girl he was dating. After this night, he contacted me and said he shouldn’t have been at my apartment. I didn’t argue. We’ve been civil in our interactions since. The girl he was dating is now his girlfriend and from social media, it looks like they’re happy. I’m a bit shocked as our friendship felt special with a possibility of more. I am disappointed to have no chance and I am in denial that he didn’t want more. Should I tell him how I feel? I feel stupid, did I misread things all along? I’m angry that he got the best of both worlds, date one girl and get with another, but I’d still be open to dating him. How can I move on?
First things first: step away from social media. Mute or unfollow him (and his new girlfriend, if you’re lurking on her pages, too). I know that curiosity and a touch of masochism can act like a siren call, but it’s your responsibility to make decisions that are good for you now, and comparing your current emotional state with all its understandable pain and disappointment to a filtered highlight reel of their camera-ready moment is going to make this time ten times harder than it needs to be.
Do not be ashamed or embarrassed by your desire to mute or block them – we have developed a very strange relationship with both our emotions and our social media where we supposed to pretend that we have no emotions about people when we do, and that we aren’t affected by social media, which we all are. We were not designed to see picture-perfect images of others constantly, and the comparisons have been repeatedly shown to be decimating our mental health. We need to normalise reclaiming our right to use social media in ways that are good for us, which means reserving the right to mute, unfollow and block with abandon.
You are in a state of grief right now. You’re grieving the loss of a friendship that did have real intimacy; a connection that got you through some difficult times during Covid; and the possibility of a romantic relationship with this person. We don’t often talk about the type of grief that arises from “situationships” like yours – friendships or casual relationships that often have a deep intimacy and romantic undertones, but remain undefined. Because these relationships remain undefined, the importance or impact of them is often underestimated. Add in the horrendous cultural trend that demands young people in particular express little to no vulnerability or emotional around dating and romance, and you have a recipe for a lot of painful emotions and no supportive outlet.
The end of these types of ambiguous relationships are difficult because you’re losing a friend – but also because you’re losing an ideal. The double-edged sword of these situations is that their undefined nature provides both safety and risk. You and this person seemed to like each other without ever making a move because you were too frightened of the emotional vulnerability that comes with saying “I like you and I want more from our relationship. How about you?” Both of you chose not to be vulnerable and transparent, because keeping that distance felt safer – but you missed out on the chance for something real. By maintaining that distance, you let yourself fall into a different emotional trap: the trap of the ideal. You shared a deep intimacy with each other, and a constantly sizzling but unconsummated chemistry. You got to see each other at your most intriguing, most sparkling, and got to project even more on to each other. You had deep conversations and then in your head, imagined the perfect relationship – and then you lost it.
And it’s that imagined ideal that you’re now mourning. If you had actually been together, fully committed to a relationship and had then broken up, you would have been able to see this person as a fully rounded human being, flaws and all. You would have had a relationship with its challenges and difficulties and if the relationship ended, you would have understood why. But this way, you’re losing the perfect fantasy of an ideal love without anything ever having properly “gone wrong”. In keeping yourself “safe” from the prospect of being open about your desire for this person, you instead just launched into a different and less acknowledged form of pain.
The double-edged sword of these situationships is that their undefined nature provides both safety and risk. You chose not to be vulnerable and transparent, because keeping that distance felt safer – but you missed out on the chance for something real
This pain is layered, because there’s loss – but there’s also disappointment and betrayal. But as you express your anger towards him, I’d urge you to stop projecting this anger and disappointment on to him, which was the problem with this situation in the first place. Instead of focusing on him and what he has done, look inward – not to blame yourself for this situation, but to learn from it. You have learned that liking someone for years and never being brave enough to tell them will lead to disappointment. You have learned that emotionally investing in someone without commitment or clarity on what your relationship is can cause you pain. You have learned that you have a propensity to invest in and project on to people who have not committed to you in the ways that you want, and that this can leave you feeling used and deflated. You have learned that sometimes your efforts to remain emotionally “safe” actually lead you to betray yourself – to betray your own desires, to betray your time and energy, and to betray your boundaries.
What if, moving forward, you told people that you liked them sooner, instead of investing huge amounts of time and energy and emotion into them? Either you would get a rejection and be able to accept it and move on without wasting too much of your time and energy – or you could end up on a date, and living in reality. But it’s clear that your current reliance on “nights out” to express your feelings isn’t working as you hoped, and emotionally investing in people without any clarity or transparency doesn’t feel good. How could you bring clear communication into your life so that the next time someone that you like comes along, you tell them and see what happens in reality, instead of investing in the fantasy?
Don’t emotionally invest more in this person – he’s in a relationship, leave him to it. But learn from this situation. You want love, and commitment, and to have the emotion and energy and investment you give to someone to be reciprocated. You will meet someone else you like again – and this time, respect your desires, wants and time enough to tell them.