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‘How do I stop obsessing over a woman who turned me down?’

Ask Roe: Crushes can be fun, joyful things. But not when they become intrusive

Dear Roe,

How do I stop obsessing over a crush? I developed a heavy crush on woman I’d see at regular events. She has pretty much everything I’m looking for in a partner, so a few months ago I asked her out on a date. She turned me down graciously.

I was anxious I had been making her uncomfortable. Next time I saw her, I told her I’d been nervous around her and was sorry if I’d ever made her uncomfortable. She assured me I hadn’t and that everything was fine. She has been avoiding speaking to me ever since.

I find myself thinking about her on a daily basis, worried about how she feels towards me, whether or not she feels well in general, and other things that are not my business. I know on a rational level that she had valid reasons for turning me down and for putting space between us. I’m not looking to pursue someone who isn’t interested in me.

Yet I still have so much emotional energy going towards thinking about her. How can I stop intrusive thoughts about a woman whose life isn’t my business?

You say this woman has “pretty much everything” you’re looking for in a partner, but she doesn’t have the single most necessary quality to be your partner: she doesn’t want to be with you.

I don’t say this to hurt your feelings. We shouldn’t be hurt by rejection from potential dates – and that’s all this was, a potential date. Most romantic rejection isn’t personal. It isn’t a judgment of whether you’re a good person, or if you’re attractive, or if you have something to offer the world – it’s simply a judgment of whether you’re what the other person is looking for in this moment in time. And that’s all about them, not you.

Romantic rejection isn’t a rejection of your worth, your humanity or your personhood. It’s just rejecting a romance with you.

Every single person has been rejected at some point, and people reject glorious people all the time, for reasons both logical and utterly mysterious. Even this woman that you think is so wonderful has been rejected at some point. Not because she’s not fantastic, not because someone else won’t think she is the single most incredible person to walk the planet, but because she just wasn’t right for the person who rejected her.

This woman doesn’t want to be with you, which is fine, because it’s not personal. Repeat this to yourself whenever you feel sad or disheartened. It’s not personal.

We need to collectively embrace this idea, because our obsession with thinking that romantic rejection is personal is deeply unhealthy. It’s what enforces low self-esteem and a dependence on others to validate our self-worth.

You didn't mention if you're obsessing over her social media accounts, but I'll bet good money you are – because we've all done it

I’m focusing on this because giving romantic rejection the power to control your mood and self-worth is imbuing someone else with too much power – and that is also what is happening with your crush. You’re giving it too much space in your life.

Crushes can be glorious, fun, joyful things. But not when they become intrusive, preoccupying too much of your time or causing you worry and anxiety, which seems to be what’s happening.

It is worth examining when thoughts of this woman pop into your mind, and how you’re enabling them. Do you end up thinking about her most often when you are bored or lonely or feeling unhappy? You could be using this crush as a focus for some other underlying anxieties.

Part of what maintains crushes and obsessive thoughts are the “what ifs” and “if onlys” – if only your crush wanted you, then everything would be perfect/your life would be fulfilled/you would be the best possible version of yourself.

So when you feel like you or your life aren’t perfect, for whatever reason, you think of her, using her as both a projection of your anxieties (“She rejected me, because I’m worthless, and no one will ever want me”), and as an excuse not to invest time and energy in other people, hobbies and ways to make life fun (“She is the only woman for me, there’s no point trying to date someone else/going to that party if she’s not there/enjoying this event because she is here and now I’m thinking about her and not the show.”)

Remain aware of your thought processes, and make a conscious effort to interrupt them. Repeat: “She’s not a romantic option for me. It’s not personal. What else could I focus on to feel good or make my life a bit better?” and do that.

Also, you didn’t mention if you’re obsessing over her social media accounts, but I’ll bet good money you are – because we’ve all done it. This is another way you’re enabling obsessive thoughts, so consciously stop yourself from looking at it. Mute buttons are an essential tool in the journey to getting over someone.

On a side-note, as you start to get over her – and you will – don’t make any other apologies or pronouncements to her. I know you had good intentions in apologising for possibly making her uncomfortable, and doing so once is fine – but those interactions usually just put the other person in the position of reassuring you that you didn’t make them uncomfortable, even if you did, or are continuing to do so.

Just maintain boundaries, focus on you, not her, and look forward to the day where you get to spend all this emotional energy on someone wonderful, who is happy to expend the same amount of crushed-up energy on you, too.

Roe McDermott is a writer and Fulbright scholar with an MA in sexuality studies from San Francisco State University. She is researching a PhD in gendered and sexual citizenship at the Open University and Oxford.

If you have a problem or query you would like her to answer, you can submit it anonymously at irishtimes.com/dearroe

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