The story is quite simple: after a long wait, you think you’ve finally met someone interesting. You’ve had an amazing first date and it feels as though you’ve known each other for a long time. You’re both able to open up and talk about the things that interest you: your achievements, failures and life goals, and you listen attentively to what your date has to say. It just feels right. Inside your head, you’ve begun to think “Wow, the search is over, “I can picture myself spending a long time with this person”. Just for a moment, it seems that all the time you felt you’d wasted on boring dates now makes sense: it was good preparation for meeting “the one”.
Weeks go by and you keep thinking about how to make the most of your time together. “Would he like to go to an art exhibition?”, “Maybe a night out?” or “A dinner in a fancy restaurant?” You’re doing your best to keep your date happy and things couldn’t be going any better. You’ve started talking about having a relationship: “A dog first and then children later?” You both agree that taking care of a dog together would serve as a preparation for bigger responsibilities in a later stage. Conversations of this nature keep coming: “A minimal flat in the city or a bigger house in the countryside?” You feel you have every reason to start thinking about your future wedding.
But if only things were that simple. Your date goes on a short trip and you both think “What terrible timing”. During the first few days that he’s away, you both keep in touch and make plans for when he gets back. “Everything’s fine” you tell yourself. But he begins to take longer to reply to your messages, and when he does, they’re a little dry, with no mention of what you might do together when he returns. It starts to dawn on you that something is wrong.
Then you receive the message: “We’ve had a lovely time together, but I don’t think you’re the right person for me”. “What happened?” you ask yourself. “How could things have changed so quickly?” and “What did I do wrong?” If you haven’t been in a similar situation before, it’s probable that one day you will be. But before you get caught up in a negative spiral of thoughts and feelings in which you tell yourself that there’s something fundamentally wrong with you, you need to ask, “How do I get over and move on?”
Here are a few suggested answers to this question:
Sympathy for the other and yourself
When someone says that they don’t want to be with you, it’s almost inevitable that you’ll feel there must be something deeply wrong with you as a person: he got to know all of your flaws and failures and was naturally scared off. Perhaps it’s because you revealed your insecurities too quickly or because you’re not making enough money at this stage in your life. Perhaps you even wonder if you’re are a boring person with no ambition. In your head, you feel that these must be the reasons why he left you.
However, if we delve deeper into the reasons why people do the things they do, we’ll see that most of us are fragile creatures who are profoundly confused about who we are and what we want. Many of us will have been hurt in the past, whether in a previous relationship or during childhood, perhaps in spite of our parent’s best intentions. However, if you change your perspective on how you see things, you’ll start to see that there’s nothing wrong with you. In the same way, There’s nothing wrong with your beloved either. You were both just trying to make sense of all your confusing emotions.
A love interest who’s made you feel as though you’d only be good enough for them if you earned more money, for example, maybe someone who has a deep need to feel secure and feels that money is the only way to achieve this security. Deep down, she feels scared of the world. Maybe this is because, during her childhood, she discovered she had kind of food allergy, and suddenly the whole world became a threat to her. In contrast, someone who is avoidant and too independent could unconsciously be trying not to replicate the pattern in which her submissive mother (who never had much voice in her relationship with her husband) completely lost her sense of self. Without an awareness of these reasons, she adopts her mother’s persona, believing that this is just the way she is. Essentially, she’s a person who feels she needs to be taken care of. Because many of our beliefs about relationships are formed during childhood, we all have a scared young child inside of us who is just trying to make sense of the world around us.
When we bear this in mind, instead of feeling angry or sad that we’ve been left by our partner and that maybe we aren’t an interesting person, we can transform our negative feelings if we try to cultivate compassion towards another human being who feels just as confused and incomplete as we do.
The other side of pain
Although being rejected or having our future plans frustrated isn’t nice, we can still learn valuable lessons from the experience. You can use these feelings to create a better awareness of who you are and to investigate what deeply matters to you. Asking why you are suffering can provide great insight into your needs and what you want in life. A basic principle that’s important to understand is that we only suffer when we care about something. Pain and values (the things we care deeply about) are two sides of the same coin. For example, “A person struggling with depression is very likely a person yearning to feel fully. A socially anxious person is very likely a person yearning to connect with others. You hurt where you care, and you care where you hurt.”
If you are suffering because a relationship didn’t work out, it’s very likely that you care deeply about human connection, love, kindness, intimacy and so on. Spending time with others, opening up, being accepted or even cuddling are things that you find essential. If love hurts, it’s because you find it fulfilling when you act in loving ways towards yourself and others.
Once you have a clear idea of what’s really important to you, you will realise that loving behaviours need not be limited to only one person. Although it’s understandable to think that you can only feel this way towards one particular human being, you can act in loving and caring ways towards other people too. You can be open to finding connection in different contexts. For example, you could get closer to a friend who’s really important to you but to whom you haven’t expressed how much you care in a while. Or you can start attending events that provide you with a sense of connection. You could even change your attitude to finding a new partner and instead of looking for someone who has the “perfect job” you could look for someone who will meet your needs in other important ways and help you to align more closely with your values.
See it as a “blessing in disguise.”
Whenever we feel hurt or frustrated by a relationship break-up, it’s quite easy to believe that it’s the worst thing that’s ever happened to us. When immersed in our thoughts, we can only see the negative: that they’re not interested in us anymore. In reality, if we gave a bit more thought to our situation, we would see that what seemed to be a terrible thing a first, could actually teach us something beneficial in the long term.
Perhaps you were so enraptured by your new love interest that you didn’t care about whether he had sexist views on women. Or because you thought she was beautiful, you overlooked the fact that she was an extrovert who wanted to spend most of her free time with friends while you are an introvert who is quite happy to spend the weekend reading a book. Personal values and interests are so important that it’s hard for us to suppress them for long and may lead to arguments or conflict in the relationship. Perhaps it was a “blessing in disguise” that your love interest left as it means that you’ve managed to avoid prolonged suffering in the future.
Viewing hardships as “blessings in disguise” means that things that don’t seem positive at first can, in fact, be life-changing after a period of reflection. For example, if you’ve been turned down for a job that you badly wanted, at first you may think that you weren’t good enough for the role, but later you realise that the real problem was that you were inflexible in your approach and were applying for jobs that didn’t suit your values and talents. In the long run, your life is much better for having received that first “no” as it compelled you to make a change in your professional life.
After a more careful analysis of your recent relationship, you can see that rather than being left behind, you may actually have been liberated from many things that would have deeply frustrated you in the long run. And while it’s quite easy to neglect your own needs in the early stages of a relationship (after all, you’re still in the “honeymoon period”), a more mature approach would be to look for someone who understands you and shares your values.
This is not to deride your ex-love interest just because she no longer feels you’re a fit for her. It’s just a more realistic view which acknowledges that when we are deeply infatuated, we tend to put people on a pedestal. Instead, we should try to see the person for who she is: an incomplete, flawed individual just like us.
When we adopt this perspective, it allows us to see that not everything that seems bad at first is bad for us in the long run. By allowing ourselves to accept that things happen the way they do, we can free ourselves from a narrow way of thinking that focuses only on the difficult feelings associated with unrequited love and adopt a more flexible and expansive approach. This approach allows us to ask, “Is there something to be learned here?”, “Was I seeing the whole picture?” or “How can I honour my values and needs more from now on?”
Changing our attitude to rejection can help us to use it as “grist for the mill”, and something that we previously only associated with anger, sadness and self-doubt can instead be a source of self-knowledge and compassion that leads to personal growth.
MindOwl Founder – My own struggles in life have led me to this path of understanding the human condition. I graduated with a bachelor’s degree in philosophy before completing a master’s degree in psychology at Regent’s University London. I then completed a postgraduate diploma in philosophical counselling before being trained in ACT (Acceptance and commitment therapy).
I’ve spent the last eight years studying the encounter of meditative practices with modern psychology.