An official relationship is not a prerequisite for a broken heart. The proof is in the lengthy journal entry you penned with milky gel pen when your fifth-grade crush asked out the long-haired blonde instead of you. I know that I've been in plenty of situationships, half-relationships, and "unofficial" relationships, and yet I've still had my heart demolished. Getting over someone you never were in a relationship with is sometimes even harder than getting over someone you officially, exclusively dated.
I'm not just saying that to make you, or me, or fifth-grade me feel better —I've actually talked about this quite a bit with my therapist. It's 2018, and everyone is a bit label-phobic these days, myself included. When I don't actually enter a full-on, "serious" relationship with a person, and that "whatever" ends, I feel devastated not only over the loss of the person I cared for, but over the fact that I never really got to try things out all the way to see how great they might be. When you end a half-relationship, you mourn not only a person, but a possibility. It's both sad and frustrating.
And if you're still unconvinced that it's completely normal to have a hard time getting over someone you weren't in a relationship with, I'm going to prove it to you by delving into some of the psychology behind it. I spoke to relationship expert and coach Kathryn Mitchem about why we might mourn someone we dated or had a "halfsie" or any other undefined relationship just as we would a long-term relationship.
Your Brain Doesn't Necessarily Differentiate Between Relationships
Of course on one level, you know whether or not you and your romantic partner had the "what are we?" talk. But that label doesn't really change the way you emotionally process the connection you two had. Your brain might have a harder time telling the difference between "official" and "unofficial" relationships.
"The reason that our brain psychologically has trouble getting over this type of relationship is that the brain does not know the difference between fantasy and reality," explains Mitchem. "If you have spent hours or even days imagining what your life would be like with this person, then when the 'relationship' ends, the brain registers the same amount of grief as it would with and actual relationship ending."
And my own two cents? If you've only had the fantasy long-term relationship with this person, and not the fights and nitpicking that come with an actual relationship, there will only be good "memories" to hold onto.
But this ability to fantasize can be a good skill to have. "You can use this function to work for you, rather than against you in the future," explains Mitchem. "If it is a loving, committed, genuine relationship that you want, use the power of the mind to visualize this relationship by writing down all of the things that are important to you in a partner."
Often, The Grief Goes Back To Our Childhood
When it comes to people you weren't in a relationship with, but are having a hard time getting over, the reason it feels so difficult to you might stem all the way back to your childhood memories. "It's difficult to get over them because they remind us of the longing for love that we had, and never received, in our childhood," explains Mitchem. "We are drawn to people and situations that mirror our unresolved wounds, so these are deeply ingrained in all levels of our psyche."
"But my parents were available!" you might be thinking. "They always came to my soccer games!" Well, same, but sometimes these patterns stem from smaller moments of our childhood in which a parent wasn't available to us. "It's difficult to get over chasing this kind of fantasy love because it seems so familiar to us," says Mitchem. "We try to fill an empty hole in ourselves that never got filled in childhood, thus chasing fantasy or unavailable partners."
If you are in the awful predicament of having an extremely hard time getting over someone you sort of dated, I want to remind you that time really does heal, but it takes a lot of it. Mitchem adds that seeking out therapy, journaling, trying yoga or meditation, and practicing "radical self-love" can help you change this pattern, so that you begin to seek out partners that exist fully outside of a fantasy.
I am the first to roll my eyes at anything remotely "wellness" or "woo woo" — I drink coffee and love a martini, damnit! However, last year when I struggled to get over a half-relationship, that loss was put in perspective when I was utterly devastated by the loss of my mother to cancer. The only things that kept me going were things like yoga, mindfulness, therapy, and friendship. Take care of yourself, be patient with yourself, and let yourself feel the feelings! You've got this.