UnrequitedLoveFilter: How do I stop the negative self-talk?
October 21, 2008 9:23 AM   Subscribe

UnrequitedLoveFilter: How do I stop the "If only I had done..." negative self-talk?

Long story short: Earlier this fall, I met a man I thought was absolutely phenomenal: intellectually engaging, a good listener, funny, a fascinating thinker, and cute, too (bonus!). He told me he was shy, and I took this as a signal that I could initiate a bit more than I usually would. So I asked him out, and he responded enthusiastically-- flirty emails, excited to get together, etc. In the meantime, I really fell for the guy.

As we continued to hang out, though, his ardor seemed to cool, and he recently told me he saw us as "just friends." And I can't shake the feeling that I somehow caused it, or "scared him away" by being too forward/ enthusiastic. I'll think "If only I hadn't called him" or "If only I had seemed a little more cool and aloof"-- "If only I hadn't talked about x,y,z," etc. I'd love any advice about how to stop this (likely futile) line of thinking. Anyone else been in a similar situation-- and it all turned out okay? :)

Other possibly relevant details:
-He's six years younger (he's mid-20s; I'm early 30s).

-I date a fair amount, but DANG, I thought this guy was really special. I don't meet people I find this compelling that often, and I can't seem to shake thinking about him.

-Strangely, it'd be easier to handle if I knew he just didn't dig some essential quality in me, but I keep thinking that since he seemed psyched in the beginning, it must have been my *behavior* that shooed him away-- and that I therefore could have prevented the crash and burn.

-When I *am* interested in someone, I find it hard to hide my feelings. If there's something to learn from this, maybe it's that I should be a little more circumspect in the future?

Thanks so much. It has actually been very helpful just to write about this.
posted by airguitar2 to Human Relations (21 answers total) 16 users marked this as a favorite
Is he interested in someone else? If so, there's not a lot you can do.
posted by tapeguy at 9:31 AM on October 21, 2008

What really helped me was accepting this idea that at the end of the day, there's really not a whole lot you can do to influence someone else's actions and feelings. If you two were meant to be, he wouldn't have cared about the extra call here and there. If you weren't, then all the coolness in the world wouldn't have dragged him in.

What you CAN influence, though, is your own actions and feelings. And it's really scary just how much control you do have over your own actions and feelings. Whenever I get regretful or sad about the "What-ifs", I tell myself one thing over and over again:

No matter what happens, I'm strong enough to stand on my own, and damn if I'm not going to be happy while I do it.

I mean, yeah, relationships are fun and a lot of work and everything else, but you can be okay without a relationship. And learning and accepting that a relationship isn't the be-all end-all of your life makes you a lot more relaxed about having that relationship, and may even help project that 'cool' vibe you seem to be looking for.

Disclaimer being that this may well depend on your age group - you might feel pressures I don't, etc., but the basic idea is there.
posted by Phire at 9:44 AM on October 21, 2008 [6 favorites]

When I *am* interested in someone, I find it hard to hide my feelings. If there's something to learn from this, maybe it's that I should be a little more circumspect in the future?

I actually disagree with this. Mr. Right will like you just the way you are and will be happy about it. I hate to invoke the cliche, but the guy above *wasn't* Mr. Right and there probably wasn't anything you could have done differently - you just didn't click. Who knows why, but it probably wasn't because you did something "wrong". Perhaps your only mistake was falling for him as quickly as you did, but I applaud you for having such an open heart. It will pay off some day.

Now, there's a difference between being confidently assertive and being psycho stalker chick. You probably don't want to call him every night the day after you meet. You'll want to assess the temperature of the situation. But I think you did that here, at least from what you wrote, and he responded.

The only way you're going to shake this is to find someone else you are interested in. So, get back out there.
posted by micawber at 9:47 AM on October 21, 2008 [1 favorite]

Way to misread the question, me.

Whenever I get all introspective like how you describe, I try remembering that most other people also have similar thoughts and yet they don't see them as a problem and manage to deal with them. Perspective, yes? After all, nobody's perfect. And there's no way other people pick up on the exact same mistakes you make as you yourself do. There's no way of telling unless you ask.
posted by tapeguy at 9:48 AM on October 21, 2008

There's a couple of questions wrapped up in this.

First, how to stop the "If only I..." talk. Recognize that it's a human desire to want to be in control - to have had the option of changing fate. By letting the "If only I" hamsters loose in your brain, you're searching desperately for a key to "I could try X" or "next time I could Y!"

Now from what you've written, unless there were any Lloyd Dobbler moments you aren't telling us about, it sounds like pretty normal wow-relationship forward momentum.
Honestly, without hiring a telepath, there's no way to know what happened. And that's a really hard thing to accept - that sometimes it's not about us. His reasons, whatever they are, have more to do about how you fit with him, or where he is in his life, or any number of things.

If you find yourself thinking, "If only I..." just remind yourself - under your breath, out loud, in your journal, whatever works for you, "Who knows? Too bad he's gonna miss out."

Because you can't establish a reason, I would caution you against drawing the conclusion you should be more aloof.

For whatever reason, it didn't click with him. If you go out with several more guys, and have the exact same pattern happen, then maybe, sure, it might be worth talking with a close friend and saying, "am I going completely overboard in the beginning?"

But until then, be honest, be yourself, and don't be afraid to put yourself out there.
posted by canine epigram at 9:48 AM on October 21, 2008 [2 favorites]

You are basically asking us to tell you how to change who you are. That's impossible. Meet someone who likes you for you and leave it at that. Don't overthink life or it will pass you buy.
posted by scarello at 9:51 AM on October 21, 2008 [1 favorite]

I've had a few terrific unreturned crushes on some wonderful people and I sympathize with the doubt and the morning-after-quarterbacking you're going through. However, since you said you're someone who dates a lot, these doubts are probably more along the lines of "why can't I make the people I think are super-special feel that I am super special?" and not "why can't I ever find people to like me?" That's good and is a good start. These are some of the things I go through trying to quell my own inner nag.

1. if he isn't into you like you are into him, then it's a bad fit no matter WHY it didn't ultimately work out. A good person for you is someone who thinks generally that you are nifty and sexy and excellent and whatever, not someone who would be scared off by a mis-statement, overenthusiams or, I dunnow, bad glasses. This is the main mantra. Bad fit is no one's fault.

2. being yourself is the bext way to find a genuine relationship with someone who likes you as you, and for you. In other words, don't you go changing; find ways to love yourself as you: not circumspect, making the first phone call, not being aloof. If you have good friends, now is a time to go dish with them, be mopey if you want but don't blame yourself. The universe is unfair to us sometimes, true.

3. I have said this before on AskMe, but there's a special chemical released in your brain when you meet someone you really like that makes you forget that you have ever felt this way before and indeed makes you believe that you will never feel this way again with another person ever. You are under its spell, and it will wear off. Repeat after me: I am on brain drugs, they will wear off.

4. Unless you believe in The One [and skip this if you do] the guy has not died. He's still around, would still like to be your friend. Sure it's not the two of you walking off into the sunset, but realistically speaking, it might not have been anyhow. You're experiencing an early alert that yes you're not living in a fairy tale, but there are still a lot of good things in your world. A friendship with a special person could be useful, enjoyable, fun and indeed most things you were looking for, so don't be all "bleah what a waste of time!" about the fforts and emotions you've put into this. Just being reminded that you can find special people in the world is one of the good things about continuing to be alive.
posted by jessamyn at 9:52 AM on October 21, 2008 [23 favorites]

When I *am* interested in someone, I find it hard to hide my feelings. If there's something to learn from this, maybe it's that I should be a little more circumspect in the future?

Does this mean that perhaps you suspect being too overzealous in your pursuit of him? If so, that definitely could have factored in, if not caused him to see you in a different light. Sometimes it's easy to get a bit scared if you feel that the other person REALLY likes you. I've actually ended relationships because I felt the other person demanded too much attention from me. Anyhow, don't know if that's the case here, but it sounded like a possibility.
posted by ISeemToBeAVerb at 10:01 AM on October 21, 2008

There are some people, I have found, who create or maybe thrive on an intense early- flirting- connection- intimacy experience. With these people it tends to burn hot hot flirty exciting for a while, in the beginning, and then zzzt nothing. The person can't follow through on the intensity, which is perhaps artificial-superficial anyway. For me these people have been men, but I'm sure there's a female version. It could be that your fellow is one of these people.

Why would someone create and then drop intimacy? Who knows. (My therapist has a theory that I can't articulate or totally understand.) But it may help to think that this cycle of intensity and then nothing may be the creation of the other person, and their own needs, rather than anything you have done or not done.
posted by ClaudiaCenter at 10:02 AM on October 21, 2008

Short version: Eyes front. Forward march.

The next person might like the very same qualities that this person didn't. Since you can't second guess everyone, carry on being yourself.

Also, I hear he scratches his manbits when he's watching TV.
posted by mandal at 10:13 AM on October 21, 2008

If your overzealousness had anything to do with this, he would have been turned off from the very first. But it sounds like he initially responded positively to it, so logically, it wasn't the overzealousness that did it. You also point out that he's in his late 20's and you're in your 30's -- I also once had a fling with a guy his age when I was your age, and I realized (and he also confirmed this) that sometimes people in their late 20's go through a whole minor breakdown of "what the hell am I doing with my life, I'm about to turn 30, omigod" and they kind of flail and get panicky about their entire lives, relationships included. So he could have just also been going through "I'm in my late 20's and I don't know what the hell I'm doing with my life" angst.

But you're not asking to evaluate what your negative self-talk is saying, you're asking us how to stop it in the first place. I know full well from being in similar "if I'd only done foo" or "if I only I hadn't done baz" states that those thoughts do not come from a logical brainspace. Which sucks.

What I finally found works is a combination of using that kind of logic, which appeals to your logical brain, and giving yourself permission to just go ahead and feel sucky, which appeals to your emotional brain. Sometimes the "if only I'd done foo or baz" talk is a way of your emotional brain trying to justify the temper tantrum it really wants to have, and if you go ahead and let yourself have that pity-party of "but he's awesome and I want him but I can't have him and it's just not FAIR, DAMMIT! WAAAAAAAAHHHH!!!!" it takes the steam out of the negativity. And clearing that out sometimes helps the logic sink in easier.

You will also, as ever, go through ups and downs with this, where some days this won't be enough and some days you'll be kicking yourself up and down; and other days you'll be gripped by the blinding logic of "omigaw, he ran hot and cold, what was I thinking?". This is entirely normal. Time will even you out; being patient with yourself, and whatever it is you happen to be feeling in a particular moment, also helps.

Good luck. I have so been there.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 10:17 AM on October 21, 2008 [5 favorites]

How do I stop the "If only I had done..." negative self-talk?

The Anxiety & Phobia Workbook has a chapter on this very subject. Well worth $4.50 + shipping, used.

This free online copy from Google Books can give you faster access to it (Self-Talk chapter here), but don't just skim it. Read it, do the exercises, and reread it.
posted by IAmBroom at 10:19 AM on October 21, 2008 [1 favorite]

You can't make someone love you. And you can't change yourself to become someone to be loved. True fact: love is someone who loves YOU.

Cliche, cliche, cliche. But read these words again. Think about what they mean. Imagine someone going into a restaurant and ordering a pepperoni pizza every day. Would this mean that the fettucini is terrible? No, it just means he likes pizza more. Now, imagine someone else orders the fettucini and it's got pepperoni chucked all over it. Does it mean it's a pizza?

I don't know if this makes any sense. It's been a long long day. but really, you could have done X or not done Y and it still wouldn't have made you a pizza.
posted by mippy at 10:22 AM on October 21, 2008 [3 favorites]

If you had been able to change something about *you*, the way you naturally reacted to/with this guy, and by making that change could have stopped the crash and burn - then it probably wouldn't have been a very good relationship, because you would have constantly been checking your behavior and trying to correct it and wondering if you were overcorrecting.

Does that make sense? I had a similar enough situation once. Weirdly, we ended up being great friends a few years later, and still are. Near as I can tell, I didn't do anything wrong in the first place - he *was* really into me, and now that I know him better I know he just shifts focus to himself pretty quickly. I spent like forever all weepy because I thought it was me and I had lost this super great guy - come to find out eventually that it really wasn't me, and if I had changed myself in ways that I thought would make the relationship work then I would have ended up possibly in a bf/gf relationship with him that would have crashed and burned for way different reasons.

So who knows why and how. Just be happy being you and the right boy will love you being you.
posted by KAS at 10:26 AM on October 21, 2008 [2 favorites]

You may want to look into cognitive behavior therapy. Learned Optimism was a pretty good book.

Finding someone else will help. I've heard it said that you never get over someone until you get under someone else. While "never" may be an exaggeration, it doesn't hurt.

Finally, remind yourself every time you get down about it that the hurt will dull and perhaps eventually disappear entirely on its own. Time is the fire.
posted by adamdschneider at 10:51 AM on October 21, 2008

Is it really helping you to think this way? That's what your attitude should be.
posted by Ironmouth at 11:23 AM on October 21, 2008

I'm going to hell for quoting Bonnie Raitt song lyrics, but honest to God it really boils down to this simple fact:

I can't make you love me if you don't;
You can't make your heart feel something it won't.

I have WILLED myself to fall for absolutely engaging, intelligent, handsome, funny lovely guys I really, really liked and... nada. Nothing. Zip. Bupkis. And there isn't anything anyone on either side can do about it, either. That's just the way the dice roll. Sorry.
posted by DarlingBri at 11:26 AM on October 21, 2008 [1 favorite]

To some extent you always will second guess yourself. Sometimes I think about things I did twenty years ago in my teens and wish I'd behaved differently. For the most part, however, I am able to limit myself to those times when I behaved in ways I knew were wrong or misguided at that time, and I think that's the key. And even then I try not to let myself do it for long - ill feelings over things you can no longer do anything about don't serve any purpose beyond reminding yourself not to make the same mistakes again.

When you look back on this situation now, do you see places where you did things that seems like a bad idea at the time? If so, that's worth a little consideration. If you were behaving like yourself and treating other people the way you'd hope to be treated, however, then stop kicking yourself. It's certainly possible you could have behaved differently, but so what? You are who you are and you're better off with someone who appreciates you for who you are. If he decided against you based on something trivial and non-essential to who you are then really, is not landing him really such a tragedy?

None of that makes finding someone right to be with any less of a long and painful slog, but reserve your annoyance for the (unavoidable) pain that the quest is in and of itself, not for who you are.
posted by phearlez at 12:59 PM on October 21, 2008

As we continued to hang out, though, his ardor seemed to cool, and he recently told me he saw us as "just friends."

Did you tell him, you don't see him as just a friend? Have you made your feelings clear to him, or just to random people on the internet? As others have said, I think people interested in you will be interested without you needing to change your behaviour or play any weird games.
posted by chunking express at 7:20 AM on October 22, 2008

Thanks, all. It's reassuring to know that this experience is pretty universal-- after all, if Yeats had gotten the girl, we'd be out a *lot* of poetry. :) And you're right-- it wasn't a fit, for whatever reason. I do know that Mr. X is going through a major "what am I doing with my life?" crisis... and friends have pointed out that the age thing could have been a major liability later on, when he suddenly decides that what he really wants is to join a monastery/move to Guam/become a pirate.

If anyone is looking back on an experience like this from the vantage point of many years and a life of love and fulfillment, I'd certainly love to hear your take, too (any older MeFites out there?).
posted by airguitar2 at 9:29 AM on October 22, 2008

If anyone is looking back on an experience like this from the vantage point of many years and a life of love and fulfillment, I'd certainly love to hear your take, too (any older MeFites out there?).

Well, I can follow up on my earlier tale -- the fling-with-the-younger-guy was cut off by the younger guy, and after the dust settled, I realized, "oh, you know what, I actually was only interested in just doing him and that was it." And further thought helped me figure out where my head had been at while it was all going on, and how I actually wasn't quite as into him as I'd thought (except for the physical chemistry, which was, and is, still quite yummy to contemplate even though nothing's gonna happen at this stage).

But after I realized that, a couple months later I met someone who I really did love sincerely, and if I'd been with the younger guy, I wouldn't have had my chance with him, and it was a much, much better match.

...Granted, that guy broke up with me too, and that also sucked, but I had a much clearer head about what I wanted and how to take care of myself and how much of the breakup had to do with me -- very little, for the record -- and I consider it a valuable part of my life.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 9:36 AM on October 22, 2008

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