When you meet someone really cool…
And you seem to have a connection, and he seems to like you back…
It’s the best feeling in the world.
You can’t stop smiling. You feel so happy.
Your world, ordinarily so predictable, sparkles with hope and possibility.
What if this is it?
What if he’s the one?
It’s even sweeter because of how hard you’ve worked to get here.
You’ve put up with so many bad dates and duds and jerks.
Meeting a guy like him is like hitting the jackpot.
He’s interesting, he’s funny, he’s cute, AND he feels the same way about you!
How often does THAT happen? So you are NOT going to let this guy go.
You are going to do everything in your power to make sure this works.
Three weeks later…
He stops messaging you.
You casually ask what’s going on. Are things busy for him? Did he not see your messages?
His reply is brief. It tells you nothing.
Your heart starts racing.
You know exactly what’s happening. He’s pulling away.
If you don’t do something now, you’re going to lose him.
All that joy and happiness you felt drains away. Now you’re panicking. Now every morning you wake up with dread.
Every time your phone vibrates, your heart leaps. It might be him. (It’s not.)
What went wrong???
You reach out to your best friend, and you tell her what happened.
Her answer confirms she is the WORST friend ever.
You know what she says?
She says NOTHING went wrong.
She says you jumped to conclusions.
She says you got attached too soon.
Your jaw drops. How dare she say that?
She doesn’t know how it was between the two of you! She has no idea how it felt!
You hang up the phone, and you’re furious.
You’re going to get him back if it’s the last thing you do.
Pain, Hurt, and Determination
I suspect more than a few of you will resonate with this story.
You’re nodding your head, because you know exactly how it feels.
It is so HARD when you feel like your chance at happiness was finally within your grasp, only to be roughly jerked away.
You’re blindsided, rejected, hurt.
And what makes it worse is that you didn’t even have all that much time with him.
You didn’t get to enjoy months or years of being with him before he pulled away.
The last thing anyone wants to do in this situation is take a step back and look at their feelings.
But once you’ve got the mental space and emotional energy, it can be helpful to look at why you crashed so hard.
Attachment vs Love
Author and Buddhist teacher Jack Kornfield says that we often confuse love and attachment.
We think we’re in love with someone, when really we’re attached to them.
Attachment looks and feels a lot like love, but it’s an imposter.
As Kornfield writes:
“Attachment masquerades as love. It says, ‘I will love this person (because I need something from them).’ Or, ‘I’ll love you if you’ll love me back. I’ll love you, but only if you will be the way I want.’
“This isn’t the fullness of love. Instead there is attachment—there is clinging and fear. True love allows, honors, and appreciates; attachment grasps, demands, needs, and aims to possess.”
Attachment is common in the early days of a relationship.
You don’t know each other well enough. Love takes time, and you haven’t had enough time together.
All you know is that you like him a lot.
Which would be great, except that most of us aren’t content to leave it there.
We jump from LIKING this person to WANTING this person.
We become attached to getting what we want.
And it’s our attachment that causes us problems.
I often see women making these 3 attachment mistakes…
Mistake #1. Attached to the Future
You should be savoring every moment of those early days of a relationship.
Instead, you’re fantasizing about your future. You can’t wait for him to make it official.
You’re living FOR the future instead of IN the present.
Mistake #2. Attached to Him as a Source of Happiness
Before you met him, you were pretty happy.
You spent time with friends, did things you enjoyed, and filled your soul with inspiration.
But meeting him changed everything.
NOW it feels like the only thing that will make you happy… is him.
You’ve pinned your happiness on having him.
Mistake #3. Attached to Control
In your everyday life, you are in control.
You can make things exactly the way you want them.
But love is so unpredictable.
You can’t “make” anyone love you.
Life would be so much easier if you could control another person the way you can control your own life.
But other people don’t always act the way you want them to…
And you hang onto the illusion that you could have made them act differently.
When you give up those three attachments…
To your fantasies of the future, to him as your only hope of happiness, and to the illusion that you can control the situation…
You get something FAR better in return.
You get space for love to blossom.
I enjoy your column because your advice for women also often overlaps men’s issues as well.
I’d like your comments (and others as well) as it’s been almost a year and I’m still saddened, confused and angry.
About 2 or 3 years ago I met a woman on a dating site, but the relationship was supposed to be strictly friends…NO benefits.
The first time we met, it was like I had known this woman my whole life. We spent the entire day in the Virginia mountains and at the end of the day, I couldn’t believe what an incredible time we had. At one point a few weeks later, she said, “You have brought so much fun and joy to my life.” She used to come over to my place on occasion and we’d watch TV. She would take my hand and then one time she texted me the next day and said “It was so nice snuggling with you last night.” I mentioned to her about dating and she said, ‘I don’t know, let’s take it slow and see what happens.” A few months later it was New Year’s Eve and we got into an argument about going out. I wanted to go out and she was exhausted, so I said, “OK, let’s stay in. I’ll bring takeout to your place or you can come here and I’ll cook dinner.” Something went wrong…and she sent me a note telling me how inconsiderate I was about New Years, and she was done. Do not contact her again. She also mentioned in her note, “where/why did you give your friends the impression you would like to date me? WHY would you say that to them?” (well, she seemed to have forgotten we did discuss it, but I didn’t mention that to her in my follow-up).
3 months later, I was missing her so I sent her a note, apologizing if I was being a jerk. She and I started seeing each other again, friends. We were always out, nearly every weekend having fun, going to do just about everything and anything: going to museums, concerts, breweries, wineries, festivals, going to orchards, dancing, historical sites, dinners, brunches, weekend day trips. She even took me away for a weekend for my birthday (we slept in separate beds).
She was only the second woman in my life that literally had ALL the same interests, the exact personality…we were incredibly compatible as friends. I never tried to cross the line…I knew neither of us had any physical interest in each other. I was definitely not her type. Each time we came home after being out for an entire day, she’d give me a hug, she’d smile and say, “wow! Thanks for another really fun day. This was great!”
Then all of a sudden she dumped me. No explanation. She told me a few weeks earlier that she had no interest in dating any guy.
I felt like my entire life had the rug pulled out from under me. My friends loved her and couldn’t believe she just up and ghosted me with no explanation. One of my friends even said, “my gosh…you guys were joined at the hips! Why in the hell would she just dump you with no explanation?” I’m 68 and there’s been only two other women I’ve met in my life who checked every box I had, but there was no chemistry on their side. One is now my very best friend.
My question: Can you fall in love with someone but not be physically attracted to them, or is this part of what you were discussing about attachment vs love? I never gave her any reason to think I wanted more than a friendship. I’m still struggling to understand how I lost just about my best friend, and she hasn’t answered any of my emails asking her what happened. I doubt I’ll ever get closure on this, but I can’t figure out if I fell in love, even though I never had any desire for an intimate relationship with her.
First of all, I’m proud of you for living life to the fullest and pursuing fun and friendship the way you do. You let life flow through you and that’s a beautiful thing, even when it involves loss.
The truth is, we choose to accept loss when we choose to love someone. And that’s true even if it is platonic love.
The sense of grief you currently feel is evidence that she mattered to you. Probably not in that possessive, romantic way that makes you unwilling to see her share her with another guy, but nonetheless, you love her for the person she is. You didn’t “fall in love” with her in the sense of limerence. You chose to love her as a friend.
Why would she walk away from that? The possible reasons are many, so I would not venture a guess unless I first had two hours with her to ask about her story, how she framed this relationship in her mind, and why she came to the conclusion that it was blocking her from something she wanted more… even if it was to remain free from a feared identity as a person who was no longer independent.
I can understand why you are questioning yourself right now. It’s a natural reaction. “What did I do to deserve or cause this horrible thing?”
Yet it seems to me that you did the right thing, and you cannot make other people do the right thing.
I believe your friends are right. You do deserve an explanation, which makes me suspicious that she is ashamed of the true reason she left… or does not understand it herself.
Open loops like this are painful. It’s easier to grieve and move on when we obtain closure. So in the absence of that closure, you might follow the path others have taken by having some sort of goodbye ceremony yourself. Give yourself permission to accept the unknown as part of how the relationship ended. Give yourself permission to grieve that ending. Then give yourself permission to continue living with an open heart. Do not bring resentment with you into the next interesting chapter of your life.