Subscriber OnlyHealth

I can’t stop thinking about my childhood crush who rejected me

Ask Roe: I feel inadequate, ugly, and broken-hearted. How do I move on?

The last time I saw him, I knew he had met someone else. Photograph: Getty

Dear Roe,

I can’t seem to get over a childhood crush who is now married. Our mothers are best friends but our families lived in different cities, so I would see him twice a year since I was a baby. I have to make it clear I was never in a relationship with him or became friends.

Our religion doesn’t allow us to date. I grew up very shy and quiet and with the idea that if a man wants to get to know you, he will. But he didn’t ever initiate conversations with me either and even though I took it personally, I made the choice to not chase him. Now, I have probably seen him four or five times in the last four years because he went to college overseas.

The last time I saw him, I knew he had met someone else. I realise he rejected me a long time ago, but I keep thinking if I wasn’t so quiet, if I had shown interest in him or talked to him, I’d at least have the opportunity to get to know him. Don’t get me wrong, I am happy for him and have no intention to let him know ever. It’s obviously too late. I just feel rejected, inadequate, ugly, and broken-hearted. How do I move on and stop thinking about him and feeling this way?


You haven’t provided any details about your culture or religion beyond what’s here, so I can’t (and wouldn’t assume to) comment on the specifics of that. But I do know that the key to your question, and your answer, does not lie in this man. The key to your question, and answer, lies in this sentence: “I just feel rejected, inadequate, ugly, and broken-hearted.”

Your goal should not be to get this man to love you. Your goal should be to get to a place where you love yourself. And I think that once you look at this situation slightly more objectively, you’ll realise that this man is not your answer.

I know that you're scared and insecure and deeply, desperately hungry for connection and validation and love, like so many of us

You don’t know this man because you share common interests or hobbies or passions, but merely because your mothers are friends. You say you only saw each other once or twice a year. And even over the course of those visits, you never even “became friends”. You didn’t have any real conversations – which could be because he’s also shy, or maybe he’s rude, or maybe he’s terminally boring and uninterested in other people.

The point is, you don’t know him. You don’t know his passions, or if he’s emotionally articulate, or if he’s calm and reflective, or if he’s polite to waiters, or if he’s the person you call at four in the morning when you’re emotional and need a supportive pep talk.

And you don’t know if he’s unreliable and flaky or has a bad temper or if he is nasty to those he believes are beneath him or if he’s emotionally distant or unfaithful or a pathological liar or manipulative or if he spent his entire college education talking about Infinite Jest. You don’t know if you actually like him, because you don’t know him.

And he doesn’t know you. He doesn’t even know what I know about you. From your letter, I know that you’re a romantic and you feel things deeply and that you have a moral compass and are respectful of other people’s relationships and even when you’re hurting, you want other people to be happy. And I also know that you’re scared and insecure and deeply, desperately hungry for connection and validation and love, like so many of us.

And like many of us, you are misidentifying the source of your unhappiness. You are choosing to believe that this man who you do not know, who does not know you, holds the solution to your problem. You are giving this man all of your power.

Instead of focusing on one person who didn't start conversations with you and judging yourself on that, find all the people who are dying to talk to you

Case in point: You say he rejected you. But he didn’t reject you. There were no offers to reject, from anyone. If rejection is being around someone for a brief period of time and them not falling in love with you, then I get rejected by my postman and every employee of my local Spar every single day. You know this isn’t how rejection works. By framing this as him rejecting you, you’re choosing to put a narrative on this story that renders you powerless, and worthless, and rejected.

And incidentally, even if you had explicitly expressed interest in him and he had rejected you? It wouldn’t be any reflection on you either. Because one person is not the sole arbiter of your worth. No one person gets to decide if you are worthless, or inadequate.

Not even you.

Right now, you’re assuming that this shame-fuelled version of this story where you got rejected is objective proof that you’re worthless. You’re wrong. And you can take your power back. What if you chose to look back on this story not as a story of your failure, but your desire? Not for him, but for life. I don’t see this story as you regretting not pursuing this one man, I see this story as you not pursuing a possibility.

The possibility of connection, of friendship, of interesting conversations, of fun; of having a life where you feel valued, and interesting, and where the people around you express the same sense of curiosity about you that you feel about them.

You can have this. Even without any romantic interests involved, you can have this. Admittedly, it’s not a great time to be physically out in the world meeting new people, but you can focus on your friendships, join socially distant bookclubs and movie nights and game nights.

You can go online right now and find literally millions of people who share your religion, your culture, your interests, who can introduce you to new hobbies and ideas and passions. You can take free online classes and YouTube tutorials and try some new skills, so you learn new facets of yourself and can talk about them with other people.

Instead of focusing on one person who didn’t start conversations with you and judging yourself on that, find all the people who are dying to talk to you and enjoy those connections, instead.

Forget this man. Focus on falling back in love with yourself right now, on doing what you enjoy, what makes you feel good, what makes you feel like the best possible version of yourself. Pursue yourself. I promise, there’s a lifelong loving relationship there. You just have to not reject yourself.