In our first coaching session, I can hear the pain in her voice when she tells me why she’s here. She wants to break a pattern of being available to the man she loves every time he reaches out to her. He knows how she feels about him. He has also told her that he does not reciprocate those feelings. Yet, he reaches out from time to time.
He flirts with her, compliments her and they generally have a good time. When it suits him, he treats her like a partner. “I’m travelling. Can I leave my pet with you?” “I’m running low on money this month.; can you lend me some?” For a while she had hoped that this would increase his dependency on her and that he would then realise that she was the one for him.
At an intellectual level, my client can see that he only reaches out to her when he wants or needs something. She sees that she is being used. I believe that somewhere deep down, she realises that there is most likely never going to be that breakthrough moment when he proposes and apologises for the delay in admitting his love for her.
But at an emotional level, well, the heart continues to want what the heart wants. Her ask from me is to help her not be this man’s “back-up plan”.
Of all relationship patterns, this one is among the hardest to break. You need to handle habit and hope, and this requires immense amounts of strength, self-awareness, vigilance and effort.
As a first step we decide to block his number. I advise her to also block all other channels of communication, such as email and social media. She is reluctant, but agrees.
The next three sessions are dedicated to moving on. We work on self-respect, meeting new people, dating actively, and shifting her focus away from this individual.
In the fourth session she admits that she met him again. He reached out via Instagram; she says she left just one channel open because she wanted to know if he tried to reach her.
At the meeting, she says, she told him honestly that she was exhausted by their current situation that couldn’t be classified as a friendship or a relationship. He told her he really valued what they had, but added that he could not (or would not) define it in words.
She said she was shattered when she heard that. She really hoped that an ultimatum would help him see that he didn’t want to lose her. They parted with an agreement to not connect for a while.
Our sessions continue to focus on healing and learning from this disappointing experience, and preparing for the kind of relationship she deserves to be in.
Now, most of us have been on one or both sides of this equation. You know you like someone, they don’t like you, so you focus your attention and affection on someone who does. It’s comforting to know there is such a person. Perhaps it gratifies the ego. It might also make one’s own pain caused due to unrequited love a little easier to bear.
But this kind of equation can’t go on for long without becoming unhealthy, hurting the self-esteem and long-term prospects for love on both sides. Are you someone’s “back-up plan”? Do you have a “back-up plan” in play?
Whichever side you’re on, I would recommend that you step back and return to what I think of as one of the abiding principles of any relationship: Would you want to be treated the way you are treating the other person?
If you are the stringer-along, have an honest conversation and ask for some space while you both redefine your relationship. If you’re the one being strung along, I would advise that you stop being available.
In some cases, people do end up in a successful relationship after such a break forced them to really think about what they want. The resultant relationship is typically more equal in respect and giving.
In the other cases, the pause has helped those with no hope of building such a bond together shake off a pattern and move on.
(Simran Mangharam is a dating and relationship coach and can be reached on firstname.lastname@example.org)
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