Ask Dr. Nerdlove by Harris O'Malley

How Do I Get Over Someone Who Didn’t Exist?

DEAR DR. NERDLOVE: I need help.

I fell in love with a man three and a half years ago. He lived on another continent. It was hard. But we worked hard for it. We had miscommunications, he did things that hurt me, my mental health was hard to deal with at times, we both had hardships and life changes. But after over two years together and a few international moves on his part, he finally found a dream job in my city. I thought we’d done it. We fought and worked for our relationship, through all that we were the bright spot in each other’s lives, we were finally at the point where it would be all downhill from here. We lived together for about four months. Then it all collapsed when it came out that he’d been cheating on/with me since day one. I had forgiven him every time I caught him in lies about other partners, I’d believed him when he’d sworn he’d do better by me. But it was all a lie. Our relationship was a con job.

Two and a half years of lying, cheating, gaslighting, violating my most fundamental boundaries. Every scrap of love and support and affirmation was knowingly stolen from me. 

And here’s the problem:

I still love him.

I know the version of him I love doesn’t exist. The man who respected me, the man who worked to live up to my moral standards, the man who meant it when he looked me in the eyes and swore to be better, he was an act. I can never go back to not knowing, things can’t be what they were before. I would never be able to trust that he was engaging with the work to improve himself in good faith, so things can’t move forward. Our past was a lie and our future is non-existent.

But here I am, almost a full year later and I miss him so much I can’t breathe sometimes. I dream about him. I can’t see a picture of his face without crying (and I can’t avoid him completely because we have many mutual friends I won’t part with and social media blocking/muting systems are pathetic). Part of it is missing having a serious partner, part of it is the trauma of how it all ended, but a lot of it is HIM. I miss our banter, I miss his perspective on things, I miss his smile and his face and his voice. I still want to tell him weird facts and mundane crap about my day. I miss listening to him rant about things he was interested in and things he was mad about and things I would never have encountered on my own.

My mind knows that he was lying to me non-stop, and nothing was really real. But my heart found something that made it feel the best it ever had, that it would have fought for through anything, and I can’t get it to bow to reality.

How do I fall out of love with a dream?


Longing to Wake Up

DEAR LONGING TO WAKE UP: What you’re feeling is very common, especially after a harsh break-up. One of the things we rarely think about with the end of a relationship is the way that they change our identity. We’re no longer just ourselves; we’re a collective, part of an entity that exists outside of us. It’s no longer just Longing to Wake Up, but Longing to Wake Up+Cheating Dickhead coming together to form a gestalt entity that is the relationship. You learn to incorporate the relationship into your every day life, to the point where so much becomes muscle memory. All the little accommodations and gestures you’ve had to learn and develop become something that you do almost without thinking. When the relationship ends, everything changes. In many ways, it’s like losing a limb; suddenly this significant part of who you were is gone and everything about your life now can’t help but remind you of that absence. You’ve lived so long with those gestures and accommodations that you never think about the fact that they serve no purpose now. They’ve become a phantom limb, the ghost of the relationship that you used to have. And yet they’ve been so much a part of your life that it’s almost inevitable that you’re going to go through the motions without thinking. Like someone who reaches with the hand that they lost, you will do some innocuous gesture, go through some automatic routine and suddenly you get reminded that this part of your life is gone.

And it will hit you like a hammer to the chest and reopen those wounds that you thought were closed and scarred over.

But you, LTWU, have a complication. The person you thought you were in love with never existed. They were an elaborate fiction, lies on top of lies, false promises and dreams that could never be. So not only are you faced with this challenge to your identity – the relationship’s phantom limb – but the fact that even the memory of your relationship has been stolen from you. It’s not just that you’ve lost a limb but you’ve discovered that you never had that limb in the first place. And so now you’re caught in this state of never knowing how to feel. How do you mourn a relationship when the person you thought you were in a relationship with never really existed? When he’s been lying to you all this time?

It’s made all the harder because it makes you question everything. Not just about them, but you. Like with people who’ve been catfished, you’re left with the question of “how could I not know?” Nobody likes to think that they’re the sort of person who is so overly trusting that they could be tricked by a conman. Nobody likes to think that they’re the sort of person who’s gullible enough to be taken in by somebody with practiced lies and empty promises. We like to think that we’re too smart to be fooled by a silver tongue and words that offer us exactly what we want to hear. So this loss is compounded – the loss of the limb and being forced to question everything about how you see yourself.

And it doesn’t help when other people ask: “how stupid were you?”. You are already asking yourself that question, but it’s always easy to pass judgement with an outsider’s perspective. They have the distance to see the manipulation and the deceptions. They’re far enough from the center to see everything; they aren’t in the center where you can only see what’s right in front of you. It’s easy to see the grift when you’re far enough away. It’s easy to see it hindsight, after all of the blanks have been filled in. It’s much, much harder to see it when you’re in the thick of it.

But short of being visited by a madwoman in a big blue box, there’s nothing you can do about having loved the wrong person. All you can do is figure out how to move forward from where you are.

But the first step in your moving forward, LTWU? It’s to change your perspective on your relationship. Don’t think about this as a break-up, because that’s not what happened. What happened is that your lover died. Those feelings you felt? Those were real. Those memories you have of the better times? Those were real. But in the moment that this man revealed his true self to you, the man you thought you were in a relationship with died – tragically, suddenly and without warning. Now all that’s left is for you to mourn his loss and process your grief. Yes, there’s this man who looks so much like your dead partner that it makes your teeth ache, but it’s not him. He’s not the person you gave your heart to. He’s not the person who you spent those years with, who shared your hopes and your dreams even as a continent separated the two of you. That man is dead and gone. So mourn him. Grieve his loss. Let yourself rage against the unfairness of it all, that this great man was taken from you. Feel that loss, knowing that he’s no longer in this world with you. Savor the memories you had with this man and regret that memories are all you have, even as his seeming doppelgänger continues to be around. But that’s not him.

The next step is to practice some radical forgiveness. Not of the man who deceived you; he doesn’t deserve another second of your time or your thoughts. Let him stew in your utter disregard of him. Let him face the damnatio memorae from your life. No, you need to forgive yourself. Forgive yourself for being willing to believe someone who preyed on your trust. Forgive yourself for being willing to open your heart up to someone who wasn’t worthy of your time. Forgive yourself for loving not too wisely but too well. Forgive yourself for trusting somebody who wasn’t worthy of your trust.

And the next step is simple: give it time. Now that you realize you’re mourning a death, not a break-up, you’ll find that time will help this wound finally close and you’ll be free of all of this and ready to face life anew.

Because the sin here isn’t yours, it’s his. You aren’t to blame here, he is. All you did was love somebody and you lost him. Mourn that loss, grieve that death and you’ll find the strength to move forward.

Good luck.

DEAR DR. NERDLOVE: I’m a 24 year old guy and I’ve had a crush on a girl for two years. Since I’m below average looking (at best) it’s normal for me to get crushes on girls out of my league and never have my feelings returned. However, even if I had a chance, I wouldn’t date her and I’m relieved that she doesn’t like me back. For me having feelings for her and thinking about her daily it’s enough and our casual nod makes my day. Everytime I see her my heart starts pounding, my legs shake and my mind goes blank. It’s an amazing feeling and nothing else makes me feel so alive.

I understand that I’ve put her on a pedestal and if I (miraculously) have the opportunity to get to know her that feeling will vanish because I’ll get used to talking to her and I’ll discover that she’s a human being just like me and everyone else. And if we became a couple, eventually we’ll have a fight and I don’t want to get mad a her or think negatively about her or just lose the way I feel right now. I just want to keep being infatuated with her and feeling that way as long as I can.

My question is: is it normal? I feel like I’m weird because it’s not only with her, I has been like this all my life. I’ve always been the guy with a hopeless crush on someone. My friends are not like this and they all have had relationships and I feel different. I like girls but I think kissing or sex is disgusting. I’m fine with hugs but anything else seems like too much for me. That’s weird too? There’s something wrong with me?

A Really Confused Guy

DEAR A REALLY CONFUSED GUY: First of all, ARCG, I’m gonna level with you: I’m not buying your “below average looking”. I’ve been doing this gig for eight years now and frankly, if I could have a dime for every self-proclaimed hideous troglodyte who was actually perfectly average, Elon Musk and I would be having giant mecha fights in San Jose. 90% of somebody’s looks have absolutely nothing with their facial structure or symmetry and everything to do with presentation, style and grooming. Almost every dude I’ve encountered who swears they’re Quasimodo needed a hair cut and beard trim, clothes that fit properly and a better skin-care regimen… that’s it.

Now let’s talk about your question instead. First of all: yes, I understand why you prefer never letting your crush go beyond being a crush. Crushes are exciting. They’re thrilling. They’re the pounding of your heart at the very mention of their name, the way adrenaline dumps into your blood when you think they’re looking your way, the same feeling of safe fear we get from thrill rides and horror movies. You, like a lot of folks, are in love with being in love.

But getting to know somebody doesn’t mean the end of a crush. Finding out that they’re human doesn’t mean the loss of those feelings. Sure, you’ll discover that she’s a person and not a goddess… but that makes her all the more thrilling and beautiful. Perfection is dull; those flaws we all have are part of what make us unique and exciting, deep and rich and fulfilling. She may come down off that pedestal, but you’d discover how much more there is to her than you could ever believe.

If you don’t want to find those hidden depths and reveal those secret sides and unique aspects to her, that’s your call man. You do you. I think you’re missing out, personally, but hey, I can’t live your life for you.

Your next question though, about physical affection? It’s not that common, but it ain’t that unusual either. What you’re describing sounds an awful lot like one of the many forms of asexuality. Some ace folks simply have no sex drive whatsoever; they like the intimacy of physical contact, of cuddling or hugs or occasional kisses but have no desire for sex. Others, like you, find sexual contact to be uncomfortable, undesirable or out and out disgusting and so they avoid it all.

Now if that’s something that bothers you – you want to be comfortable with sex and sexual acts – then it certainly wouldn’t be a bad idea to find a therapist who can help you unpack those feelings. The underlying causes could be anything from sensory processing issues to a disorder like misophonia. If that’s a path you want to go down, then you might want to go to the Association of American Sexuality Educators, Counselors and Therapists’ website and visit their referral directory to find a sex-positive therapist in your area.

But I would also recommend you visit the Asexual Visibility and Education Network at and browse through their resources and forums. I think these would help you not only be more comfortable with you who are but recognize that you’re not alone, not broken or even all that unusual. There’s a community of people out there who are very much like you ARCG and many of them have faced the same issues you have.

Good luck.

Please send your questions to Dr. NerdLove at his website (; or to his email,