How do you cope with a ten-month crush that will just not quit? In July, when my most recent crush said he did not feel ready to talk to me, I used every ounce of my willpower to move past him. I first sent him an angry email because one, I felt angry, and two, if I roasted him that meant I could tell myself I no longer cared about him. I then invested my energy, as I always have, into my clinical work, mentoring, friendships, and hobbies. For the last couple weeks of September, I felt that I had moved on from him, managing to go days at a time without thinking about him and at least two or three conversations at a time with friends without analyzing him and his motives. I even went on the patriarchy capitalism devices, otherwise known as dating apps, for a few days before remembering that dating apps make me feel sick.
I experienced a romance-induced relapse last week, when my brain betrayed me and flooded with thoughts of him: is it possible that he still likes me? Was he lying to me and himself about how he felt about me the whole time? I wonder how long it will take for my readers to boycott my blog until I stop writing about him and move the heck on? I fought these thoughts hard, telling myself to stop thinking about him, that he did not value me as a person so why should I even grace him with two seconds of my mental energy? But on my flight back to the east coast from San Diego, in between writing a review of James Baldwin’s The Fire Next Time and reading Leslie Jamison’s new book Make It Scream, Make It Burn, it dawned on me: holy fuck, I am still into this guy. On one hand I felt embarrassed
but clearly not that embarrassed because here I am writing about him on my blog yet again, and on the other, I felt some kind of freedom for accepting my feelings. I then practiced three strategies from third-wave cognitive behavioral therapies to help me cope with this backslide into unrequited desire.
1. Radical acceptance. Drawn from Eastern meditative traditions including Buddhism, radical acceptance entails honoring your feelings as they are without trying to fight them. Radical acceptance does not mean giving up or liking your situation, nor does it mean putting up with oppression. It means acknowledging the truth of the situation in that moment.
With this guy, I just accepted that I still felt, like, into him. I felt and feel into his writing, his weirdness, even the way he spontaneously makes decisions despite the sometimes questionable quality of those decisions. When I accept my desire for what it is, the emotion lessens in intensity. I remember that while my desire exists, it comprises one emotion of many that I feel, others including gratitude for my closest friends who keep me company and love for living a complete life without a man. When I practice radical acceptance, I regain more of my power and agency.
2. Dialectics. Another concept drawn from Eastern meditative traditions, dialectics essentially entail accepting two opposing ideas at once. I struggled a lot with dialectics with this guy: how could I, Thomas, of all people, still have feelings for a man who literally could not commit to a single phone call?
The answer: dialectics. I can recognize this man’s hurtful lack of communication and still feel drawn to him. I can admire parts of him from afar and know that he may have just used me as a free source of emotional labor because of his failing relationship with his ex. I can find him attractive and refuse to spend a second on any man who cannot practice healthy communication and honor my worth and my feelings.
3. Commitment to my values. One of the core principles of Acceptance and Commitment Therapy entails honoring difficult emotions and circumstances while acting in line with your values. So even though this crush still takes up some space in my heart, I will do my best to direct my energy and my love to more fruitful endeavors: my clients, my students, my friends, and myself. After all, whether or not a man worth my time ever shows up, I will always prioritize making the world a kinder, more compassionate place just as much if not more than I prioritize him.
If I accept my feelings for this guy, I can honor them while still acting in line with my values. Who knows, maybe a social justice-oriented man who actually has his internal emotional world together
aka a unicorn that shoots Jeni’s ice cream out of its horn will enter my life and help me get over commitment-phobic email guy, or, I will continue creating a life worth living without a man. How do you cope with painful emotions or thoughts? Let me know in the comments, as I would love to hear.