If falling in love is one of your ultimate life goals, know that very few things in life will cause you more pain and mess with your head more than an almost-relationship. Countless readers e-mail me asking for advice on how to get over something that they almost had, wondering why it’s so challenging to let go of something that never even came to fruition. Before we can get to how to move on, it’s important to understand why it’s so damn painful in the first place.

One of modern dating’s most perplexing ironies is that many people claim an almost-relationship ending before it really started is harder to get over than the end of a real, long-term relationship. It’s mystifying why it’s so painful getting over something you never really had, and why you feel heartbroken even though you hadn’t fully handed over your heart yet. We don’t quite comprehend what we’re grieving the loss of, so we aren’t sure why the pain we’re experiencing is so severe.

I personally believe that the agony aligns with our crushed idealizations, which were comprised of fantasy, hope and imagination. This is where the ‘what if’ scenarios and the ‘what could have been’ fantasies leave us feeling disoriented, as a love story began but its completion was circumvented. It’s a common theme for today’s singles to lose sleep over what they almost had or could have had, because they don’t know what they’re missing out on. They don’t even know how wonderful or awful what they lost out on is, and a part of them might always wonder.

The psychological mechanisms of the pain we’re in is actually quite fascinating. Even as children, we were always the most upset when we felt teased or tantalized. It might sound silly, but if your mom snatched a lollipop out of your hands when you were just getting started and were only on your third lick, you’d cry, cry and cry. You expected you’d be savoring that lollipop for awhile, and you were just getting started when it was suddenly taken away from you. If you got to finish the lollipop, you’d still be sad when it was gone, but the sadness wouldn’t compare to the former scenario since you at least got to finish it.

As adults, we often fall for the dangling carrot. The unattainable reward (the “carrot”) seems to be within reach, but it’s an illusion. A player has memorized the good guy lines, and will create the illusion of attainability (the carrot dangling on the string) to keep their prey perpetually chasing it.

It’s much worse when your almost-someone was filling your head with a witch’s brew of lies, perfectly concocted to lead you to believe your story was special, real, and just beginning. If they were leading you on by painting a beautiful picture, illustrating what the two of you were going to have together, the incomplete story can be incredibly unsettling – and it will haunt you.

In the most twisted of scenarios, the painter has sinister intent, knowing that the prettier the picture they paint, the tighter the hold they’ll have on you. They’ll encourage you to step into the fantasy, and if a picture is being painted to reel you in rather than jumping in themselves, then the intent was never to move past the “almost”. The intent is evil if the feelings weren’t as strong as were portrayed, because the minute someone decides to play games with your heart, they’ve crossed over to the dark side. Encouraging you to trust them and encouraging you to fall for them is a special kind of abuse. If this happened to you, I think your silver lining should be the anticipation of their karmic retribution.

An almost-relationship is like a really great romance novel that sucked you in with a captivating preface, but the rest of the story was unwritten. When a real relationship unfolds, however, it has a beginning, some great chapters that you’d definitely re-read, a climax, and an ending – complete with closure. Your story wasn’t a story at all, it was just fake news.

Some almost-relationships are heartbreaking in their own extra-disappointing way, when it wasn’t given a real shot, and you’ll never know if your fantasy could have been your reality had you both given it a real shot. The nights you’ll lie awake missing something you never had is suffering unlike the demise of a real relationship to which you gave your all. This is especially true if in life, you don’t like to do anything half-assed.

A real relationship is fondly remembered as a valuable life experience that gifted you with amazing memories to hold dear, important lessons learned and something concrete that your time and energy was put towards. Even if it didn’t last, the difference is that it’s typically not considered a waste of time. It was meaningful. It was something.

On the other hand, an almost-relationship feels much more like time lost or wasted, as your real feelings were wasted on something counterfeit. You invested so much time and energy, and yet the rewarding aspects of a partnership stayed stuck at the “almost” stage. In other words, you never got your return on investment. It was, in essence, a scam. And, when your heart was invested in someone, it doesn’t matter if you ever “really” dated or not. The pain is intense because your heart was on the line, and because you got gipped. Conned. Duped. Let’s face it: You’ve been bamboozled.

It was real on your end, and you were presented with someone who claimed to be available. If in one way or another, they were actually unavailable, it will feel like you’ve been conned. Perhaps they weren’t forthright about still being in love with an ex. Or they pretended their goal was to meet someone great and find a partner, but it turns out they’re just looking for conquests to valuate to their friends at work. Even if they met the perfect girl, it wouldn’t matter, because they’re unavailable, jaded, or just plain moronic.

An almost-relationship doesn’t require a proper breakup, either. That means you often won’t get answers or closure, which makes it more difficult to move on. In a real relationship, mutual respect is a given, and a respectful breakup with explanations and closure is typically part of the deal. This is why getting over what could have been, or what almost was, can come with extra pain rather than less pain. The sense of almost having something amazing is much more emotionally traumatizing than having it for awhile and accepting that your time is up.

There are several types of almost-relationships: The couple who never gave it a full shot; The fake-out where one person presents themselves as relationship material, but turns out to be a player in disguise; the casual daters who act like they’re more but insist they’re less; the couple who almost made it work, but allowed outside influence to sway them; the relationship where someone was disingenuous and exploring other options on the side; the relationship where someone just couldn’t give it their all; the relationship where trust was broken due to some form of deceit early on; the relationship where not enough effort was put forth. There are infinite types of almost-relationships, and each is its own special kind of pandemonium.

Sometimes the way someone treats you in the beginning is what labels it an almost-relationship. It could have been the real deal, and the word “almost” could have been removed had you been treated the way you deserve to be treated. Similarly, the “almost” could have been removed had the appropriate amount of effort been put forth, or if other options were put on hold while he was giving it a real shot with you. Perhaps it was you who made the mistake of settling for “almost” whenever their actions almost met your needs. While there’s always a chance that some sort of grand gesture could salvage everything, it’s best to move on rather than holding your breath for that. If it looks like things are never going to move past the “almost”, here’s how you get over it and move on:

1. Remember how much you hate games. It was an “almost” relationship for a reason. Some sort of game was being played, or you were being played, or the whole thing was a feigned romance disguised as something real. Remember how much you hate games, and remember that what you really want is someone who is true, real and authentic. One day, you’ll meet a truth-teller who doesn’t pull stunts, or concoct a witch’s brew, or bring out your frustrated and angry mode. One day, you’ll meet someone who doesn’t play games and is instead consistent with their behavior, which allows you to relax and be yourself. Someone who doesn’t play games is allowing you to be your fun, sexy, carefree, light-hearted self. Think of it this way: What you really want is to be true to someone, and to have someone be true to you. Why read fake news when you could be reading a romance novel.

2. Remind yourself that you’ve blurred what could have happened with what would have happened. Perhaps you fantasized about how fun your dates would have been, how romantic that weekend getaway would have been, and how it would have felt to get closer and more intimate with him. Don’t forget, though, that what could have happened isn’t necessarily what would have happened. Perhaps everything he promised really was all talk, and none of your fantasies would have ever played out or become cherished memories. Remember that when someone can talk the talk that well, it usually means they can’t walk the walk at all.

3. Recognize the importance of not allowing someone to lead you on. You’ve learned many valuable lessons, one being the importance of not allowing someone to lead you on. It’s incredibly easy for anyone to memorize the good guy lines, and feed them to you in an effort to lead you on and get their hooks into you. An important takeaway from this pain that you’re experiencing at the hands of Satan is the importance of self-control. It requires self-control not to get swept up in the lines you’re being fed. Master self-control, and nobody will ever succeed in leading you on again.

4. Forget how he makes you feel and remember what you deserve. He might give you all the feels. The connection, the chemistry, and the warm fuzzies. But that doesn’t mean you can forget how you deserve to be treated or forget what you deserve. Remember that you want to be loved and chosen, not almost loved or almost chosen. Forget how you feel about him and remember what you deserve.

5. Commend yourself for your bravery instead of calling yourself ‘dumb’ or ‘gullible’. You weren’t dumb for wasting your precious time on this person. You weren’t gullible for believing what he said. You were brave. Fearless, in fact. If you bravely took a leap of faith despite being skeptical and despite everyone telling you to run away, this very clearly demonstrates a few great qualities about you. You clearly believe in love. You give people the benefit of the doubt. You believe that people are inherently good, and have good intentions. You’re willing to take a leap of faith, hoping that he turns out to be exactly who he says he is. You’re hopeful, not hopeless.

6. Go on dates. You’re not going to want to go on dates. You’re going to think there’s no point, because nobody will compare to  – but you’re wrong. And if you don’t believe me, line up some dates and see what happens. If you’re not quite ready to date yet, that’s fine. Take some time for yourself, but know that going on dates with other people will help you get past the pain. One man’s “almost” is another man’s “choice”. Plus, what are the odds you’ll meet another con artist?

7. Remind yourself of how easy it should be. The right person will be consistent, put forth the appropriate amount of effort, and make everything feel easy, natural and effortless. The word “almost” indicates complications. It’s complicated if it’s an almost-relationship. It becomes complicated when someone’s patterns of communication are inconsistent. Typically, the reason things get complicated is because you choose to stay with someone who isn’t treating you the way you want them to treat you. It’s the act of choosing to pursue someone who isn’t capable of treating you the right way that inherently complicates everything.

8. Think about what you should have been spending your time and energy on. So, you wasted your time investing in this almost-relationship, right? What should you have been spending your time on? Perhaps you should have been spending more time in the gym or on the tennis court, or spending more of your energy on your passion project or entrepreneurial endeavors. Perhaps you should have been giving more of your time to your friends and family. All of this wasted time spent thinking about and pursuing this almost-relationship serves as a great reminder of where your time is better spent. So, start investing in things that really matter, now that this investment turned out to be a scam.

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