We’ve all been there — the friend you secretly love, the crush you’ve been chasing for months, or the long-term relationship that ended ruthlessly without warning. Whether you’ve had to endure the gut-churning pain of a friend-zone speech, a flat-out refusal, or the agony of a long term break-up, the result is the same — rejection. What follows is a period of suffering as we try to come to terms with a painful reality — our love was unrequited. While some can brush aside the experience, most of us are left feeling helpless, in a seemingly timeless void of existence.
And so it begs the question — why is it so hard to move on? Why do we repeatedly subject ourselves to hurt while knowing we should let go? Why do we ignore the definition of insanity by doing the same things over and over and expecting different results? Why do we refuse to accept the outcome and welcome exciting new opportunities that life wants to show us?
Whether you are suffering now or have struggled in the past, this post will provide you answers. You may be thinking you should focus on moving rather than understanding why you struggle. You wouldn’t be reading this post if it was that simple. Everyone has read the clickbait guides with generic advice, and yet, this rarely solves our problems. A one size fits all approach doesn’t work when it comes to love.
This post will help you delve deeper and address your specific needs. Not only will you identify your hidden insecurities, but you’ll also be able to forgive yourself for feeling helpless or incapable. We’re taking the first step in a much bigger journey towards developing unshakeable confidence, self-esteem, and self-worth. Let’s explore what holds you back.
You Still Have Hope (Or Believe In “The One”)
Sometimes we cling on to a love interest because we refuse to believe it’s over and that we surplus to requirements. Our minds can create dangerous illusions of grandeur, often convincing us that something is meant to be. It is our hope for change that prevents us from taking action to move on.
There are three main scenarios to consider:
1 — You think you need to make the other person realize how perfect you are for each other/show how much you want them
In our heads, it’s so simple. All we need to do is spell out the facts and explain all the reasons we are perfect for each other. If only they could see how much we have in common, they would realize what has been in front of them all along — true love. And so you confess your feelings explaining each intricate detail that illustrates why you came out as a perfect match on an online algorithm. You perform elaborate gestures to demonstrate your desire, buying gifts, and sending flowers in the process. As long as they can see how much you want them, they will reciprocate — it would be rude not to, right?
Unfortunately, romantic attraction is never logical — you cannot convince someone to like you with compatibility facts or because you think you’re cupids blueprint. We don’t choose who we fall for; it’s based on emotion and how a person makes us feel. Ironically, that doesn’t stop us from trying, and when we are buried in the emotional quicksand of wanting another person, we try to use logic to change the outcome.
The more we attempt to convince someone of our compatibility, the further we push them away. It’s arrogant, offensive, and controlling to demand that someone feels the same way as you — you are not entitled to anything, and they do not owe you reciprocation. Similarly, the second they know they have you, it’s game over. Waiting to be taken back does nothing but destroy your attractiveness — you look like a puppy dog ready to return to its owner.
That is unless you want to be Ser Jorah.
2 — You believe the person is the one and that it is destiny
What if your situation is different? What if this person is the one — a soul born into this world destined to be your partner?
If you believe you have one true love, both your heart and mind will encourage you to stay the course. Your rationalization will be that cupid designed you to be together. While it is a beautiful fantasy, the reality falls short. I’ve seen countless friends declare they found the one, only to be shattered by a lack of reciprocity and rejection. The truth is, there is no one, but the one you choose. There are millions of ideal matches for you out there, and every one of those relationships will require a team effort.
While believing there is a plan at play can help get through hard times, completely surrendering to the notion of “The One” is ridiculous. Doing so dilutes our power as we yield control of our future to invisible forces. We give ourselves an excuse to feel sorry and moan about how tough our lives are.
It’s also possible that you are suffering from Limerence — the cognitive and emotional state of being infatuated or obsessed with another person. Limerence is typically experienced involuntarily and characterized by a desire for reciprocation of one’s feelings.
I’ve written about the condition in greater detail here, but if you find yourself obsessed with having your desire returned, then this lesser-known psychological state will be relevant to you. Limerent individuals are said to suffer from obsessive thoughts and crucially refuse to accept no for an answer. If you’re still refusing to give up on your situation after repeated denials, I recommend you explore the concept further.
3 — The other person is giving you mixed signals
There is a possibility you are not entirely to blame for your struggle. The other person could be giving you a reason to believe things will change. Perhaps there are moments where they let slip a hint about how they really feel only to deny it later. Maybe they get a little bit too close one moment and quickly retort. These actions result in Cognitive Dissonance — the psychological discomfort experienced by a person who holds two or more contradictory beliefs, ideas, or values simultaneously.
Cognitive Dissonance is one of the reasons why hot and cold behavior works so well — it causes psychological agony as we try to reconcile what is true, i.e., do they like me?. It’s easy to become quickly obsessed with decoding their behavior and reading into every sentence spoken, text sent, or shift in body language. You can find yourself irrationally googling, “Signs he likes me” or “What does it mean if she touches my hand?”.
As your analysis continues, you spend an excessive amount of energy in trying to understand their intentions. Soon you succumb to the Ben Franklin effect — the more time we spend thinking about a person, the more we become invested in them. You create a negative feedback loop that makes it harder to let go.
How do we resolve the tension without trying to analyze the situation? You have two options:
- Change your belief — acknowledge that you will never know or commit to accepting they do not feel the same way
- Reduce the importance of the situation — focus on self-improvement and activities that will benefit you physically, mentally, or spiritually
Whatever scenario is giving you hope, remember a brutal truth — people who want you don’t make it difficult. If you find yourself trying to conclude how someone feels about you, walk away. If you can’t understand why they don’t want it — walk away. Know your worth, and don’t negotiate its value.
You’re Scared Of What You Will Lose (Secondary Gain)
Many people think they want to move on when deep down, they don’t. Why would anyone not want to move on? One of the most significant contributors is the unconscious fear of loss.
Most of us fail to appreciate that all destructive behaviors are fueled by secondary gain — i.e., secret benefits that would disappear if we overcome the behavior. In other words, what would you be losing if you were to move on entirely?
A classic example is an alcoholic who knows that drinking is damaging yet does not want to lose the feeling of euphoria and freedom from being drunk. Until they can satisfy the positive intention of consuming alcohol (the loss of inhibition), it will be almost impossible to drop the habit, no matter how harmful it is.
In the case of romantic rejection, there could be numerous unconscious secondary benefits. Some common examples include:
- They validate some part of you, perhaps your looks or a specific part of your personality you value, e.g., they make you feel funny or wise, etc.
- The thrill of the chase — the uncertainty and excitement from the entire experience of trying to win them over (read this for a more in-depth analysis)
- Avoiding the feeling of loneliness
- A purpose to your otherwise empty existence
These are only a few examples, and you need to work out what you would lose if you overcome this situation. Ask yourself — if this person vanished from my life, what would change? Be honest with yourself, no matter how brutal the answers are. For example, you may realize you are absorbed with the chase, and nothing currently replaces the euphoric dopamine high and surge of adrenaline. You might have to face up to the reality that you fear being alone or need the validation of another person to feel good.
Once you know what your secondary gain is, start thinking about how you can satisfy it yourself. Do you need to learn how to become internally validated? Do you need to fill your life with more thrill-seeking or passionate activities?
Failure to address secondary-gain makes it incredibly challenging to let go — take the time to explore your unconscious needs and make a plan to fulfill them by other means.
You Operate From Scarcity Rather Than Abundance
Robert Cialdini coined the “Scarcity Principle” in his book Influence: The Psychology Of Persuasion. The term encapsulates the human desire to want something that appears less available. The fear of loss is one of the most potent motivators in social psychology. It’s why limited quantity/time sales manage to overwhelm our common sense — we inherently hate the feeling that we missed out on something.
Far too many people have a scarcity mindset in dating. They believe they will not find anything like what they lost, and that the world of relationships is against them finding happiness. In dating, it can be a reason why we take rejection so personally. Many of us genuinely operate out of the scarcity mindset, choosing to believe that we will struggle to find somebody else like that one special person. When we employ this mindset, we are obsessed with what they think of us and relinquish control of how we feel through our desire to be accepted and validated by them alone.
Let’s gain some perspective here — there are 7.7 billion people on this planet, alongside countless dating apps, events, and opportunities to meet new people. You need to develop an abundance mindset — the belief that no matter what happens, there is someone else to meet who is going to be even better than the last. This attitude applies to everything in your life. Rather than worrying about saving pennies, could you consider making more money? Instead of allowing rejection to immobilize you, could you see it as a chance to be free and explore all the possibilities?
Do you want to date someone who doesn’t want you? What would it be like to find someone who loved you for who you are without needing to prove yourself always?
You Lack Pillars Of Support
Some people can become so fixated on the outcome of a crush or relationship that it becomes the primary focus of their life. Every day revolves around romance, often at the expense of meaningful activities and close friendships. All conversations somehow route back to the only thing they want to talk about. Both the thrill and success of the chase become the determinant of their self-esteem, self-worth, and self-confidence.
Rather than obsessing over your love life, I advocate building a strong support structure that does not rely on the external validation of others. The intention is to create a recurring system of internal validation that reduces reliance on others.
Challenge yourself to discover interests and activities that make you feel alive — and then make them an integral part of your life. These pursuits will form foundations that will be immovable when everything goes to shit. They should be the places you go and things you do that no matter what is happening in your life, you can count on to provide an escape and sense of accomplishment. Think of this process as creating your inner sanctuary that nothing can penetrate.
For me, my pillars are simple. I love to lift weights, play cricket, boulder, watch classic movies, listen to music, read, and of course, write on Medium. All these activities either energize me, help me to re-charge, or restore calmness. Each one keeps me focused on having fun and not dwelling on perceived problems in my life.
Having these rocks ensures balance and prevents me from spending too much of my time obsessing over any one thing or person. More importantly, they help me to build esteem, confidence, and worth. When I hit a personal best in the gym, nobody can take that away from me. When I reach a higher grade in bouldering, it’s my achievement from my hard work. When I get paid for writing on Medium, it’s a testament to the hours I’ve toiled writing posts and persevering through perpetual writer’s block.
What you focus on grows. If you spend your time chasing other people, your fixation for them increases. If you spend your time exploring new activities and doing things you love, you become a better version of yourself. You replace the euphoria of a dopamine-driven romantic chase with meaningful goals and pursuits that lead to real personal growth.
Try out classes you’ve always wanted or re-discover lost passions from your past. Not only will you start leading a more exciting life, but you’ll become more attractive and increase your chances of meeting new people. Your sense of validation will become increasingly self-determined, and you won’t feel the need to agonize over a lost love like before.
You Haven’t Cut Them Out/Try To Be Friends
Finally, you haven’t taken the most critical step required — cutting them out of your life. Most of us are not strong enough to be friends with an unrequited love, at least while we harbor feeling. It is not a pleasant step, but it is necessary.
Simple steps you can take are to remove their number, unfollow their social media, and avoid places you know they are going to be. Naturally, there will be times where avoiding a person will be impossible, such as work or friendship circle. We can still take small steps to reduce our interaction and avoid spending time with them. Failure to do so is the equivalent of trying to maintain a low-carb diet while keeping Krispy Kremes in front of you at all times — you will crack eventually.
Don’t be scared to go no-contact for 30 days. In the grand scheme, it’s a relatively short period that will give you much-needed space to heal. Whether you choose to tell them is up to you, though this is about your healing and is not their business. Remember, this doesn’t have to be forever — just long enough for you to reset. While some might consider this immature, I’d argue the opposite. You’re acknowledging your feelings and showing self-respect by having the courage to confront and process them. You’re committing to moving on and taking real steps to do so.
While I hope you found this post insightful, you’re probably wondering what to do next. You should have a better idea of what specifically is holding you back, whether it’s a fear of loss, a lack of purpose, or a reluctance to cut the person out.
Now is the time to take responsibility for your life and tackle at least one of the issues yourself. Take action and start the process of changing your life for good. Maybe you will need to make a bold call and go no-contact for 30 days. Alternatively, you might decide to try new activities that previously scared you, or you never could. All that matters is you do something and don’t sit around wallowing in your misery. If you need inspiration, feel free to check out this more in-depth guide.
In the words of Eleanor Roosevelt, no one can make you feel inferior without your consent. You are 100% in control of how your emotions — be the architect of your own life.
Make it happen.
Got a goal or an issue I can help you with? Feel free to reach out to me for coaching enquiries https://manjbahra.typeform.com/to/IYB6I2 or drop a line to firstname.lastname@example.org to say hi!
Game Of Self
Problem Solving in Fitness, Relationships, and Personal…Follow