In our Love App-tually series, Mashable shines a light into the foggy world of online dating.
You know you’ve got it bad when you start crying in public.
It happened on the District Line as I made my way home, weary and emotionally bruised. Many moons ago, in pre-pandemic times, I boarded the train and sat in the end carriage on purpose, so I could have my emotional breakdown around fewer people. I tried to hide the tears as soon as they coursed down my cheeks, but I couldn’t conceal the sharp intakes of breath that come when you’re trying so hard not to weep audibly. My chin was doing that ugly uncontrollable wobble that happens when you’re having a massive sobbing session.
Women sitting in the same carriage as me shot furtive, concerned glances my way. I wanted to tell them, “Don’t worry, nothing terrible has happened, not really. I’m just crying over a man I never even dated.” That last detail — the fact I couldn’t even call this man my ex-boyfriend — made me feel I didn’t have the right to feel heartbreak.
It was a lonely time. A time where I felt I couldn’t really talk about what had happened, a time where I felt I needed to apologise every instance I brought up my pain and the thoughts that paced back and forth through my mind. “Sorry to keep going on about this,” was the caveat that preceded all statements concerning the heartbreak I deemed invalid.
During a habitual pre-bedtime scroll through TikTok, I stumbled across a glut of videos that put into words the lonely state of getting over someone you never dated. I hit the heart so fast. Finally! A TikTok trend that speaks to my soul! But watching these videos made me wonder why we don’t talk about this type of heartache more.
As an anxiously attached, highly sensitive person with a tendency to fall too hard, too soon, I’ve gone down the heartbreak-over-someone-I-never-dated road more times than I can remember. Whether it’s a situationship, an intense fling, a friends with benefitship, or an unrequited crush, each occasion is accompanied by a low-level feeling of stupidity, a kind of “I can’t believe I’m back here again” as if I should have learned my lesson by now. Perhaps I should have. But as I’m learning through therapy, there are some aspects of this situation that are due to my typology as a highly sensitive person, and INFJ-T personality type, that are beyond my control.
In the run up to my 30th birthday, I found myself embroiled in a very confusing talking stage with a guy. We’d been emailing back and forth (very You’ve Got Mail of us, tbh) and eventually we started messaging over Instagram. While chatting to this person, and spending time with them IRL, I started to like the guy and wonder where things were headed. It eventually became clear that this talking stage would be where things were going to stay. Or rather, that’s where things ended.
I felt rejected, and began questioning my self-worth, and wondering what I needed to change about myself in order to be deemed lovable. Not only that, I felt naive and angry at myself for allowing myself to feel something without even so much as kissing the guy. I wondered how I could have possibly misread this situation so badly – had I read too much into the emails and messages? A few years later, and with a much better relationship with my self-worth, I know my feelings were real and valid. I’m not a mindreader and I can’t speak to the other person’s motivations for behaving in that way, but I know it has nothing to do with me.
As someone who’s not had a long-term relationship for over a decade, my status as a perennial singleton who’s actively dating doesn’t mean I’ve been spared heartbreak during that time. Far from it. I know from my experience, and from that of my friends, that you can feel tremendous heartbreak, pain, and grief from any kind of relationship — be it in the very early stages of dating someone, the talking stage, or after sleeping with someone a couple of times. Just because you can’t call them your boyfriend, girlfriend, partner, whatever, doesn’t mean you don’t have the right to feel sorrow and heartache over something ending. Your feelings are valid no matter the duration of that connection.
Match’s dating expert, Hayley Quinn, says short romances and flings are easy to invalidate, but grieving over situationships is becoming increasingly common. “Modern dating often means that commitment takes time to form, and it’s often found that by the time you have ‘the conversation’ about what you are, you’re already attached — even if someone doesn’t want the same level of relationship as you do,” says Quinn. If you’re in a situationship that suddenly ends, just remember that time will heal. “Even if you don’t understand their reasons, and never get closure, the fact that they’re no longer present in your life is telling enough about what they can offer you,” she says. “Remember, you will grow out of believing this person is the only one for you, and there will be many other people who can give you the same level of connection as they did, whilst bringing more to the relationship, matching your wants and needs too.”
Rachael Lloyd, relationship expert at eharmony, says the amount of time spent together and the type of relationship are immaterial if you’ve caught feelings for someone that aren’t reciprocated. “All too often we are presented with the narrative that ‘breakup blues’ are only valid if you’ve been with a partner for years, experienced significant milestones or if the relationship ended badly,” says Lloyd.
“In my view, that’s nonsense. What about the guy you never heard from after two amazing dates? The girl who ghosted you despite the great sex, the funny back and forth online that suddenly becomes one sided. All still sting.” Lloyd says it’s important to acknowledge and sit with those emotions in order to get over such knock-backs. “It’s not silly to be sad about something that hurt you and dismissing these experiences could lead to you becoming more emotionally unavailable later down the line,” says Lloyd. “As with any breakup — focus on self-care, look to your friends for support and go easy on yourself.”
Recently I found myself saying the words “I hate myself for feeling this way” to my therapist. She stopped me in my tracks and told me, “What we resist persists.” How can you move on from a feeling if you’re fighting its very existence? With time, you’ll feel differently. But just know, your feelings are valid and you have every right to feel sad.
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