DEAR DR. NERDLOVE: I am in my early 50s and married. When I was 21, I saw a woman in a bar in New York and it was love at first sight. She blew me off that night. A year later I saw her in my hometown! I got to know her sister (who was not single) and we became friends. When I got to know my crush better, I found out that she was a remarkable woman, the smartest and wittiest woman I ever met (she later got an Ivy League PhD, so this is a legitimate statement). I wasn’t just smitten by her style, I was smitten by her intelligence. I was once an extreme nerd, so while we were friends, and there was a huge spark, she kept the flirtation going, but would not let it get physical. She married her boyfriend and when she had a baby, I decided to become serious with my girlfriend and got married myself.
At age 40 we reconnected online as long distance, only this time the sparks flew faster and hotter than anything I experienced in my life. She was literally “love bombing” me with compliments. We were both married, so we didn’t know how to handle this. She sent me over 500 emails that first year; it was a very serious flirtation, but she never let us get physical as long as she was married. The day she announced her divorce, I expressed my love for her and she told me it was too soon, but to keep doing everything the same for the next year.
Several months later things were getting weird. She introduced me to her parents and her kids, but she didn’t want us to get caught, so she wanted my wife there too. I begged to see her again, and this time she announced she had a new boyfriend — a complete disaster with multiple suicide attempts and arrests for violence. I was destroyed, completely and utterly destroyed. After quarreling for several weeks we decided to give our relationship a break for a year. Mind you, I was married, and she had a public boyfriend. After that year break, she denied we ever had a relationship. I was being gaslighted. I was hurt, confused, but still very much in love with the only woman who could touch my heart a certain way, and so every 1-2 months or so would send her an interesting email about our mutual friends. She would respond to many of them, but not all.
5 and 6 years after our “break up” she sent me two truly beautiful emails that left me with tears in my eyes, emails so beautiful that I felt buoyant for months. At that point, even though she’d been with her boyfriend for several years, it became clear to me that she was the only woman in the world who could really understanding me. She knew me, really knew what made me tick, and no other woman ever cared- not even my wife. You have to understand, she told me things more beautiful than any human being ever told me in my entire life. She helped me get through my father’s death in ways no other person did.
Years 7 and 8, I kept sending her emails, but she never wrote back. At Christmas in Year 8, I told her I couldn’t let myself look like I was obsessed, and that if she wanted to talk to me, she needed to just email me back. She never did. That was last year.
I can’t let go. I have never driven up to see her, I don’t compulsively send her emails, I have total control over my over actions. But inside my heart is filled with love for her and who she was from 2009-2017 and how she made me feel. Every day I wish we were together. I’m not an easy person to get to know or to understand. I’m a nerd. I met this person who was so special to me that I would have divorced my wife and left my kids to be with her. I am baffled why she would have seduced me and brought me to that decision and then once she had won my heart, gaslighted me.
I once had a therapist who told me that she was submissive and wanted a man to force her to cheat on her husband but when she and I got hot, I was too nice, too much of a boy scout and too nerdy for her to cheat on her husband with, so she chose this disgusting, dirty, violent individual to have a rebound relationship. But that she couldn’t officially let go of me because she was in love with me. This idea that I represented this honorable boy scout figure, someone she wanted to be the step-father of her kids, but not someone she found sexy.
But that’s the closest I’ve come to understanding what happened I need to be with her or I need closure.
This Is My Obsession
DEAR THIS IS MY OBSESSION: OK, I’m gonna be honest here. My initial reaction is “what the actual F--K is up with your therapist??” Because all of that? Not actually helpful. I’m pretty damn sure it’s also not true, but holy hopping sheep s--t, none of that’s useful or helpful for your recovery.
But instead, let’s talk earworms. You know: those moments when you get a song, especially a snippit of a song stuck in your head and you can’t dislodge it, no matter how hard you try. One of the reasons why earworms get stuck in our heads is because it’s an open loop. We’ve heard or remembered some piece of it — usually the hook, or some catchy part — but not the whole thing. Because we’ve only got that little piece of the song, it just goes around and around in our brains. Closing that loop — listening to the entire song — is one of the most effective ways of getting rid of an earworm.
So it is with relationships, especially ones that never actually happened. The reason why you can’t get over her is because, perversely, nothing ever actually happened between the two of you. This was a relationship in potentia, one that could be anything precisely because it never happened. That’s why you’re suffering. You’ve got a case of Oneitis. You’ve built this woman up so she’s no longer a person of flesh and blood, but a fantasy, and you’ve convinced yourself that she was perfect and the only person who could ever understand you. And the only reason why you can believe that is because… well, because you never got together at all. You never had to deal with the reality of her or dating her (or leaving your wife and kids for her).
Since the two of you never actually got together beyond flirting, this relationship can be anything you want it to be. It can be perfect because you’ve never had to deal with the reality of being with her. So no matter what is going on in your life, what your ideal relationship would be or look like, this fantasy relationship with your crush can shift and change right along with it. As a result: you have this eternally “perfect” relationship that seems to have forever been just out of your reach.
If you’d actually dated her… well, it’s impossible to say. Maybe you would’ve left your wife, married your crush and sailed off into the sunset together. Or maybe you would have had a brief fling, realized that you couldn’t make a relationship work and broken up. Or a combination of the two: you divorce your wife, marry her, only to have the cycle repeat down the line and you or she leaves for someone else. But regardless: it wouldn’t have been this vision of “perfection” that you’ve been holding onto for all this time.
But here’s the thing: this relationship was never actually going to happen. I don’t think she was a “submissive who wanted you to force her to cheat on her husband.”
(Seriously, WHAT THE F--K, yo?)
I think she was someone who enjoyed the attention you gave her, may even have liked you as a friend… but she was never actually attracted to you. Not in the way that you wanted her to be, certainly. Because here’s the thing: the people who want you and want to be with you? They’ll be with you. The idea of “Oh, I love you too much, but I can’t have you” is the stuff of bad fiction. It may take time before circumstances are right — or at least, less wrong — but people who’re genuinely into you aren’t going to string you along forever until telling you to piss off.
I’m gonna be honest here, my dude: her behavior sounds like someone who wanted attention and to be desired… especially if her marriage at the time was less than stellar. A “lover” who doesn’t pose an actual threat to the relationship but will give her all the thrill of being wanted or lusted after can be a hell of a thing. But once she was divorced and that barrier between you was removed? Well… she didn’t want anything more than the fantasy. Hence: keeping you at a distance, until she ended up with a new boyfriend, walking disaster or not.
(And, completely unrelated: yeah, telling someone how much you love them right when their divorce is finalized is too soon. Even someone who’s long over that marriage is gonna want to give themselves some time instead of rushing into something new.)
The reason why she denied you two had a relationship? That, I strongly suspect, comes down to the two of you having very different views of how things were between you, mixed in with the fact that you never took “I’m married/ you’re married/ I’m dating someone else now” as an answer. By the time y’all took that “break”, it was pretty clear that you were way the f--k more invested in this than she was and she was likely getting to the point of trying to dial things back. By the point that she wasn’t responding at all? That was your sign that it was over. Holding on for three more years was honestly, just torturing yourself for no good reason.
Now I know all of this hurts, and I’m not saying it to be cruel. I’m saying it so that you understand that what you’re mourning is a fantasy. What you had was much more complicated, much more nuanced and far, far less perfect. The reason you can’t let go is because you’re still experiencing it as the fantasy, which is what’s giving you that open loop, that earworm. Recognizing the relationship for what it was will help you close the loop and let it go.
But to do that, you need to forgive yourself. Part of seeing the relationship for what it actually was is going to leave you feeling like a fool or an idiot. You aren’t, and you weren’t. What you were — and still are — is someone who loved not too wisely, but too well. Forgive yourself for being a fool for love, like so many of us are. Forgive yourself for giving so much of yourself to someone who wouldn’t give back. And forgive yourself for the time you spent on your crush — time that took you away from your family.
And while you’re at it? It’s time to make things right with your wife and kids. Let’s be honest here: you were neglecting them for your Oneitis, taking time and love away from them to throw down the hole of this fantasy. That’s a cruel thing to do to people who love you. It would have honestly been kinder to get a divorce, even if you didn’t immediately leap into something with your crush. At least then your family could’ve gotten closure on their end.
What does making things right mean? That’s up to you. Maybe it means redoubling on your relationship with them and being the husband and father you should’ve been. Maybe it means actually leaving, so that things aren’t prolonged any further. But you have a much bigger obligation to them than you do to the memory of the one that didn’t just get away, but was never going to happen in the first place.
Please send your questions to Dr. NerdLove at his website (www.doctornerdlove.com/contact); or to his email, firstname.lastname@example.org