The crush that refuses to die
January 27, 2010 8:37 PM   Subscribe

I briefly dated a guy a few years ago. I ended things but then couldn't get him completely out of my thoughts. Recently we dated and stopped again. How do I prevent from falling back into pining?

I'm a woman in my early 30s. A few years ago, I met a guy who I became instantly smitten with. He flirted quite a bit with me, and I pursued him.

We dated for a number of weeks, and I became frustrated at his on-and-off behavior. On dates, he was incredibly attentive and affectionate. Between dates, he would sometimes not reply to my emails, or days would go by without me hearing from him. I eventually became aggravated, and ended things via email.

To get over this crush, I did all the recommended things: I cut off contact, and dated other people. However, I couldn't get him completely out of my thoughts. Sometimes the crush would come back and I would miss him, despite the fact that months / years had gone by with very little contact.

Recently we met up and dated again for a few weeks. He was again affectionate in person, but lax about communication. I suggested more than half of our outings. (Incidentally, he has much less dating experience than me, though we're roughly the same age.) After a few weeks, he proactively brought up our situation. He said he liked me a lot, but could not see a long-term future for us, and didn't want to get serious. He wanted to get this in the open, and then continue dating. Since I really liked him, I felt it was better to stop. We did stop dating, even though he seemed unhappy about this and preferred to continue as long as it was fun.

I'm concerned about a repeat of last time, where I couldn't completely get him out of my system. I don't want to end up in that situation again.

I've spent some time with him as friends afterwards, with the goal that seeing his real-life flaws will remind me of the frustrations and prevent me from idealizing. Sometimes this works. Other times it doesn't, because he still acts attentive. Maybe he is fanning the flames because my attraction strokes his ego.

I think that if I saw him flirting with other women, or being rude to me, it would break the spell. Right now my logical mind says that he's unreliable, but my in-person interactions with him are very positive, and my logical reasoning is unable to override my emotional memories.

I also wonder if I think about him because he's unavailable. This would explain why time apart does not erase him from my thoughts, because he remains an elusive mystery.

The usual ideas of getting over it by dating other people and filling up my time with hobbies don't seem to be working.

Has anyone been in this situation, with tips to offer? Your anecdotes would be much appreciated!
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (17 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
How do I prevent from falling back into pining?

You don't. You allow yourself to pine and pine and focus on becoming comfortable with the pining. Because the moment you are OK with it, you will no longer be pining. Bring it on as quickly as possible. This is the price for allowing yourself to fall in love with people. There is no way out of it but through it.
posted by Ironmouth at 8:57 PM on January 27, 2010 [6 favorites]

Recently we met up and dated again for a few weeks.

This isn't cutting off contact. When you cut off contact with someone, you do not speak with them, much less date them.

I think it's a futile effort to try and purge him from your mind. I would give up trying to control your thoughts, and instead control your actions. Picture thoughts as clouds drifting through the sky. You cannot capture a cloud or force it one way or another. However, when you see a dark cloud, you can go get an umbrella. My mantra is "don't fight." Don't resist the thoughts, and they will magically have less power over you.

Also, mindfulness meditation (see especially the last section on thoughts).
posted by desjardins at 8:58 PM on January 27, 2010 [1 favorite]

I have no idea if this works, but when I read it, it stuck in my mind:
How to stop pining over lost love: the nitrous oxide cure
posted by smcameron at 9:10 PM on January 27, 2010 [3 favorites]

I think that if I saw him flirting with other would break the spell.

That sort of thing tends to triple my pining. The only remedies that have ever worked for me are time, finding a new man to pine over, boxing up the odds and ends that remind me of the old pinee, and making sure not to "retire" whatever perfume I was wearing or music I was listening to when I was with him--if I don't, those sort of things become total fonts of pine later on because they transport me back so vividly.
posted by sallybrown at 10:23 PM on January 27, 2010

Oh dear heavens, yes. I should apologize to the friends who put up with dissecting that dead end "relationship" for several years.

What eventually worked? Admitting that he was never going to be man I wanted him to be. He just wasn't. He's a fine man, but he didn't have all the wonderful qualities I imagined for him. His absence allowed me to project lots of perfection upon him. When I finally figured it out, my crush ended. And then I found Mr 26.2 who has many of the wonderful qualities I was looking for in a mate. Funny how that works.

My advice is you focus on the fact that he's flawed. He's polite, maybe even flirtatious. But the second you're out of his sight, he doesn't think about you. Or he doesn't care enough to act on it.
posted by 26.2 at 10:34 PM on January 27, 2010 [4 favorites]

Oy, I've been there. Your post scarily reminds me of a past situation I was in. Intellectually, you know this person can not offer you what you desire but your heart wants what it wants. And, what your heart wants is that attentiveness, that affection on a regular, consistent basis. It is not wrong at all to want this. But, homeboy can not give that to you. He can only provide these things sporadically. He has not only let you know this via his behavior but also his words. He can only give when he can and that doesn't satisfy your needs. It's not about you. KNOW THAT! You have to make a decision that the pining does not work for you.

What breaks the spell is time, absolutely no contact and vigilance in the process of teasing out your emotional entanglement. No magic bullet I'm afraid. He is taking up space in your mind rent-free and the only way to evict him is to stay far, far away. What I've done during this kind of process that helps is: write-write to him, write to honest in your writing, be vulnerable. Do not send any of your writings to him. Hang with people who you know care about you no matter what (sounds like you've done this before), and keep reminding yourself that his inability to give you what you desire is not about you and try to give those things to yourself. It's a process, it takes time. I wish you much luck.
posted by Hydrofiend at 10:54 PM on January 27, 2010 [1 favorite]

I've been on both sides of this, and the only fix I've found in both cases is absolute separation.
posted by rhizome at 11:35 PM on January 27, 2010

Write him a letter pouring out your feelings and saying goodbye. Then throw the letter in the garbage.
posted by supremefiction at 3:43 AM on January 28, 2010

I think to get someone out of your system completely, all of you has to accept/decide that it is completely over and never happening again no matter what. It doesn't sound like that was the case after you guys broke up the first time.

Is there a part of you that doesn't want to quite close that door yet? Because he said he likes you a lot and is so great in person, so maybe you want to allow him the opportunity to change/become more into you/start wanting a real relationship?

I think the first and most important thing to do if you want to really get over someone is close that door, and decide that even he came to you tomorrow telling you he had a road to Damascus moment and realized he's ready for a serious relationship with you, you would say no.

Second, I would recommend the opposite of Ironmouth's suggestion here. I think it's very important not to indulge yourself in thinking about him. This includes remembering/reminiscing about fun times you had, fantasizing about him, reading over old emails from him, and definitely being friends with him, talking to him, and seeing him in person! If the thoughts come into your mind, let them pass on by. Don't engage with him.

(As for the nitrous oxide, the last sentence of that story makes it seem he became even more of an obsessed crazy person who couldn't get over it after he huffed that whipped cream, not less)
posted by Ashley801 at 5:31 AM on January 28, 2010

I have no idea if this works, but when I read it, it stuck in my mind:
How to stop pining over lost love: the nitrous oxide cure

Isn't this what the PSAs call huffing? Isn't that supposed to be dangerous?
posted by anniecat at 7:37 AM on January 28, 2010

I'm 80% sure that everyone pines for lost loves. This could be false confirmation bias because at any given point, I have thought wistfully about pretty much everyone I ever kissed. (Hence this AskMe)

I don't mean to minimize, I know it hurts like hell but you have two options:

1. Sit and mope and listen to breakup CDs (I think there's an AskMe about this too)
2. Throw yourself like crazy into another project or person, don't let yourself have any time to think about anything

Mix as necessary, add a little bit of alcohol (not too much), and enjoy over ice.
posted by kathrineg at 8:05 AM on January 28, 2010

I want to add that what Ironmouth suggested is also a part of the process of getting over...anything really. Very buddhist/Pema Chodron in nature, you become friends with your suffering and your fear. You don't avoid or shrink away from it. You sit with it and become "comfortable" with the discomfort. In the process of getting over a crush, doing that kind of work lessens the powerful hold your emotions have. Just sayin'.
posted by Hydrofiend at 9:19 AM on January 28, 2010 [1 favorite]

make a list of things you hate about him and things he did wrong. write these items on post-it notes. hang them up around your house or apartment. they will serve as constant reminders that he is no good, and that is what you need to start the process. i know it sounds insane or like a self-help book, but coming from someone who loathes self-help-books, i swear to you that this really, really helps. and it's not from a book. it's from my head. i have done it several times before. here is an example. good luck.
posted by millipede at 10:22 AM on January 28, 2010

Not to be like, the anti-drug poster but please don't try the nitrous oxide 'cure'. I maintained an inhalant use blog for a long time and crazy shit can happen. It's not really something you want to do recreationally.
posted by amicamentis at 12:05 PM on January 28, 2010

Ugh, I'm currently dealing with a similar situation right now. The boy in question, B, is a long-time friend of my best friend W and the three of us usually socialize together, so I don't really want to exercise the option to just cut all ties... I'd rather learn to deal with, and get over, the pining. Was doing pretty well until a dick move on his part just two days ago...

The situation's kind of weird to begin with - B's finer points are negated by some newly-developed health problems (as yet undiagnosed) much like chronic fatigue, and he's also bad at maintaining contact, hasn't really dated anyone long-term as a result. Kind of bad at social protocol that way. He's burned me twice already, always pursuing me with vigor until I give in, we enjoy a brief time together and then he drops me, the last time citing health problems with some commitment phobia (and I'm betting "not that into me" too). We still see each other often in social group activities when he's doing well, on occasion we visit solo, and it's been alright keeping things in the friend zone.

To move on, I've started the online dating thing in the last month. Just two days ago he messages me on there, thought it was obligatory that he let me know he was sent my profile as a match. At the same time I got access to his full profile. He says his account's been inactive for months, but he still gets notification emails. I was crushed. No matter what he says, it felt like an overt flaunting of his dating life in my face, and his rejection of me. I asked if he thought he was being cheeky, and in an uncharacteristic display of consideration he calls me to apologize and say he hadn't intended anything negative by it. We talked a little while, smoothed things over. I'm still dwelling on it, obviously.

I'm going to try the meditation thing again, if only to find some peace and finally relax. Sometimes there is no resolution to be had clearly, I'll work back towards acceptance. If I catch him flirting with me as to suggest his pursuit of me again, I'm going to ask if he thinks this could be something real. If not, he can just cool it. I'm not doing this a third time.
posted by lizbunny at 3:08 PM on January 28, 2010

Not to be like, the anti-drug poster but please don't try the nitrous oxide 'cure'. I maintained an inhalant use blog for a long time and crazy shit can happen. It's not really something you want to do recreationally.

Seconded. Nitrous is the last thing you need in this case.

Great inhalant abuse blog, by the way. You could call it "The Huffing-a-Ton Post"
posted by porn in the woods at 10:00 PM on January 28, 2010

I've had something like that. Fellow had me on a string and played me like a yo-yo. Some days he was incredibly attentive; other days, he pretty much stonewalled me. I pined and pined. I'd say that the most uncomfortable part for me was all the overthinking and meta-overthinking: thinking about him, thinking about thinking about him, thinking about thinking about... gah.

For me, the road to acceptance tends to travel through the land of annoyance, and this was no exception. What got me going, of all things, was reading about how dogs are trained to sniff for bombs at the airport. If you think about it, it's a tricky problem: how do you keep the dogs going when there are so few bombs for them to find? A part of the answer is that you use intermittent reinforcement. First you culture the response you want using continuous reinforcement; then you start rewarding less frequently when you see the responses you want. And what you wind up with is a dog whose trained behavior is very persistent.

I realized, that was me. Consciously or not, he'd pursued a strategy of intermittent reinforcement with me. (And not only with me, as it happens.) First the attentiveness, until I was well used to that social reward; then the withdrawal with hefty doses of more reward at variable intervals. Of course I was hooked. That's what happens with smart, trainable animals. Suddenly I relaxed: my pining was okay, ordinary, even foreseeable. All that overthinking I'd been doing about how he's like this or I'm like that -- nah. It's not that deep, really. I'd been trained like a dog. That wistfulness wasn't an expression of who I am -- it was just a draining habit I'd been suckered into.

"Well, screw it," I thought. "I am not his dog, and his training regimen is not okay with me." I decided that I was through giving him the opportunity to reward my trained-in desire for his attention. I treated his attention like an addictive drug that I had a weakness for but wasn't going to have any more of. And it worked. His patterns of attention are no longer my problem. In other words, Ashley801, rhizome, and Hydrofiend have it: don't engage with him.

And if the crush comes back once a while, seemingly out of nowhere -- well, I've never entirely gotten over cigarettes after almost twenty years, and the scent of Djarums takes me back something fierce. But that doesn't mean I still smoke. Some things just get into your blood, and that's how it is. It doesn't have to mean much of anything. It's just an empty discomfort that passes through, like a stress-induced rash. It just means you're as trainable as any other smart primate. Life's itchy like that; it's okay. The moment passes.

If there's one thing I'm glad I gained from that whole experience, it's that I'm more careful about whether I'm trying to pull a stunt along those lines myself. In particular, I know how easy it is to do just enough to keep an old friendship in a sort of cryogenic suspended animation, ready to defrost for a day or two if I'm bored or decide I need them enough. I see now how unkind that can be. I don't want to be that guy.

It doesn't matter why he's fanning the flames or whether he even recognizes that he's doing it; it matters that it's really lousy for your emotional equilibrium. He isn't treating you thoughtfully and kindly here. He's had his chance many times over. Give him the shove for good.
posted by sculpin at 12:15 PM on January 31, 2010 [33 favorites]

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