We’ve all been there.
You meet a seemingly appropriate man or woman somewhere “meaningful” like at Whole Foods or Bible study. Your “meet-cute” could rival those of mid-1990s romantic comedies.
In the span of a whirlwind romance, you’ve planned your whole life together, only to have your fantasies start ripping at the seam when you realize well, you’re both imperfect human beings and maybe this time, you’re not supposed to work the rest of your lives out alongside one another. Perhaps they were the first to realize it.
This can be an especially painful process and that pain is sometimes unavoidable, even when you get your mentors to meet them first and approve your courtship. Even when you think you did everything the way Christian wisdom implores you to. Or perhaps you didn’t and had some slip-ups that were brought on by height of emotions along the way.
Either way, the agony of unrequited like can be treacherous so to assure you that you’re not alone, here are the five unavoidable and inevitable stages that we all go through when we realize they’re just not the one.
Stage One: Ignorant Bliss
This is the very beginning and usually the most dangerous phase. It is when our “dream” for the future is starting to lose shape but it’s so subtle that we’re too busy with our schedule and to-do lists to notice that the other person might have just realized that it’s just not working out.
Usually, this phase is marked by extended gaps between text messages, a whole lot of “Oh, lol” responses to pretty much anything you say and the most telling sign of all, the avoidance of saying any more than they absolutely have to because having one-on-one time means you may have to have that conversation you’re both avoiding.
If you find yourself at this stage where you know something has been up but either you or your current partner are unwilling to address the issues, it’s a huge warning sign for challenges down the road. Take a step back and schedule that difficult conversation for sooner rather than later in order to avoid a greater fallout of pain in the end of things.
Stage Two: Utter Denial
At this point you’ve both sensed that there may be more you each have to work on individually before being in a relationship or that you may just not meant to be. Maybe the compatibility is running shorter these days but you just can’t get yourself to admit it because you’ve become used to one another or the expectations of those around you are weighing heavily.
Presumably, you’re dating the other person because you’re planning to build a long-term future together. At the end of the day, you won’t reach that long-term future in a healthy way if you’re beginning to ignore problems or denying that it may be time to let the relationship go.
It may be hard to let go of your dreams and the fantasy you created in your mind when you first met. Maybe it scares you to start over. But you’re doing one another a favor—in respect and time—the less you allow this stage to drag on.
Stage Three: Acceptance (Read: Angry)
So now you’re oscillating between harmonious acceptance of the reality and anger because the inevitable finally dawned on you. It’s not going to work out with this person. And that means letting go of your boyfriend or girlfriend’s family who you’ve also drawn near to. You haven’t worked out in weeks. You’re disappointed.
This is the stage where the neurotic tendencies seem to make an appearance and you wonder if you’re crazy for not settling.
God didn’t create you to settle.
We’re all imperfect human beings and being in a relationship with someone else tends to solicit these areas that the Holy Spirit wants to address within us. Areas of selfishness or apathy, complacency or narcissism. But He also created you to delight in this relationship, and ultimately this process, with another person. If you’re settling in areas that you ultimately feel uncomfortable settling in, whether it’s spiritual discipline or lifestyle differences, that’s a recipe for resentment.
Trust that God will provide peace and grace for you and whoever you thoughtfully enter in a relationship with. The person you thought you’d achieve this with just isn’t the one, but God hasn’t forgotten about you.
Stage Four: The Pity Party
So this is where the despondency tends to settle. You’re not angry anymore, just sad. You build this minor rejection into an ultimate truth about your entire love life. You start to think that dating and marriage aren’t meant for you and maybe you’re not to be trusted with decisions about your love life anymore. You mope around, watch sad movies and pretty much convince yourself that there’s something wrong with you.
This is the time to seek out your friends and leaders, those who were there before this relationship and will be there long after. Get out of the house, start spending time with the friends you’ve been neglecting. Don’t allow the end of this relationship to define the end of your identity as a beloved friend, brother or sister in the church, or leader to others. Lean into the people you trust and be transparent about your disappointment as you navigate through it.
Stage Five: Healing
If you’re in the midst of this process, you may not believe that you’ll heal but the truth is you really will. You will wake up one day and realize that you’re hopeful again. You have your summer vacation to plan, your best friend’s surprise party is next weekend and you may even be willing to speak to potential dates again. You start to settle back into yourself and into your life and realize things look pretty good from where you’re standing.
This is where you can begin building the kind of partner you want to someday have within yourself. Seek health, check things off your bucket list, dive into prayer and remember that time is passing quicker than you’ll ever realize and disappointments drain the life that God so lovingly wants to imbibe your life with.
God didn’t orchestrate for you and the person you thought you’d end up with to be together and that is perfectly OK. The satisfaction we have in this place is knowing we have all love and peace available to us through our relationship with Christ. He hasn’t forgotten about you. In fact, he’s crazy about you. And his faithfulness to you won’t fail.