4 Things You Learn When You Stop Thinking About What 'Could Have Been'

by Laura Yates
Luke Liable

There's been one guy I dated, which was definitely one of those "could-be" relationship scenarios. I have to say, getting over that and accepting the reality of it really stung in the moment.

I think in most of these could-be relationship situations, there's usually one person who wants it more than the other. The other person who isn't quite into it goes along with it regardless because it feels good, and maybe allows them to play out something they know they'll never really have to commit to. There's just always that barrier there that stops them from taking it to the next level.

As the other person, you know this deep down. But you stay in no man's relationship land because you think the more they get to know you, the more they'll fall for you. They haven't exactly given you a good reason to walk away, so why not wait it out?

I don't want to burst your bubble here, but it's rare that these situations play out as we hope. In terms of handling a could-be relationship, though, there are many good things that can come out of them. Sure, some of the lessons don't feel good at the time, but they make us more emotionally resilient and give us big clues about our future boundaries.

First of all, one great thing is they teach us to live in the moment. It's never a wise plan to jump straight from A to Z in our heads when dating someone new. Doing this can prevent us from seeing the person for who they really are and fantasizing over the idea of being in a relationship above who we're actually getting into one with. By being in the moment and enjoying it for what it is at the time, we're more relaxed, engaged with that person, carefree, fun and less anxious.

It's when we ignore red flags (or what we're being told out loud) that the emotional sh*t really hits the fan. When it comes to the guy I mentioned previously, despite giving me ALL the green lights in the first few dates, the second things started creeping into relationship territory was the second his emotional unavailability reared its ugly head. I'd built him up to be this "perfect" man, and so I fought an inner battle about how to play this. But ultimately, he told me that a relationship was out of the question for him. In his head, he wanted it, but he couldn't do it. Classic.

So, here's what I did:

1. Gained perspective.

It was somewhat of a whirlwind romance that was all either coffee, drinks or dinner. So, of course, he was going to be bringing his best self to all of those. I was caught up by all of the attractive qualities about this guy he showcased so well, but I didn't get to see him out of "date" mode.

2. Appreciated his honesty and took it for what it was.

He could have easily rattled off the whole speech by text, but he insisted we speak in person. Not only did this make me see his vulnerability in this situation, but it also showed he did have feelings developing there. He just didn't know how to handle them. There wasn't a lot I could do about that.

At the end of the day, those were his issues, not mine. So, despite it being tempting to say I understood and that I wouldn't put pressure on him and blah, blah, blah, this would have been catering to his needs in a way that compromised my own. I had to walk away.

3. I showed understanding without getting emotional.

This is partly a pride thing, but you can't control people or force them into feeling differently. You can, however, deal with your own emotions after you leave that scenario with your head held high.

It wasn't me, it really was him. Yes, I did wallow in feeling rejected and questioned myself for a bit, but then I forced myself to look at the reality of the situation. He didn't want a relationship because his emotions were all over the place. Mine were in pretty good shape, so at least I was doing something right on my end.

I knew we had a great time together, and I knew there wasn't anything I did or didn't do that caused his reaction. It was just a reflection of where he was at. No less frustrating, but that's the fact of the matter.

4. I let it go.

I put it down to a few weeks of fun, romance and getting swept away. It's so much easier to let go and chalk it up to experience rather than agonizing over something you have no control over. Stop thinking what could have been.

So, I'd say if you are in a "could-be" relationship and don't know what the next step is, if your values and boundaries are being compromised for the sake of nurturing someone else's emotional unavailability or issues, then it's time to think about stepping away because sticking around won't change how they feel. You're stopping yourself from meeting the many people out there who do want a relationship.

If it's a mutual thing due to time or circumstances, enjoy it for what it is in the moment, but remember to keep your head about you. Don't settle for the scraps of a could-be relationship if what you really want is a genuine one.