Loving Someone You Can’t Have: How To Let Go

By Nate Miller

Updated November 26, 2019

We don't get to choose who or what we are attracted to. Whether from how we were raised, what we've learned, experiences in past relationships, or plain genetics, the feeling of excitement we get from things and people is largely out of our control. Most of the time, this is a rewarding experience. The thrill of a new relationship, the steady satisfaction of improving on a hobby, we don't question when something makes us feel good. We shape our lives around achieving more of the things we want.

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However, there are times where what we want is something we cannot have. Sometimes it's because of money, sometimes we don't live in the right place at the right time, and sometimes it's because we are just drawn to someone even when we know it won't work out. Even if you are truly and madly in love with someone else, that doesn't mean you can pursue it.

When we are incapable of following through on a relationship that we sincerely desire, it can be excruciating. It can make you doubt your sanity, question your life, and leave you feeling empty and hopeless. The rest of the world gets to be with who they want, but not you. It seems unfair. It is unfair. But feelings aren't fair, they are.

Loving someone you can't have is difficult. However, it can be overcome. It may seem crazy to want to work to get out of love with someone, but there are times it is necessary. It will take patience and self-compassion. In this article, you will learn about what to do if you are in love with someone you can't have, and how to let go.

Why Should You Work To Get Out Of Love?

Human beings are drawn to finding attachment. We have biological impulses that encourage and reward us for developing loving relationships. Companionship, sex, affection, starting a family, all of these things and more are strong motivators. If you have these feelings for other people and believe you have the power and ability to act on those feelings, it's fulfilling when you do.

This is why it can be so painful and difficult when you feel helpless to act on your feelings for someone else. That pain is unlikely to disappear or diminish unless you make an effort to change your life in some way. Our feelings of desire are very complicated. However, by changing our situation, we can change the conditions of our feelings, which can reduce them.

How Does An Unachievable Attachment Develop?

Almost everyone has, at some point in their life, been drawn to someone they couldn't be with. Whether it was a high school crush for someone you never spoke to or being drawn to a married coworker, it can happen anywhere at any time. However, even though these feelings can crop up without warning, there is number of circumstances that do make you more likely to develop unachievable love.

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  • A Recent Breakup: Breakups are devastating. It can almost be like losing part of your mind, depending on how long you were together. When you go from having your romance reward circuits being triggered almost daily to having only yourself for company, it's reasonable to want to find anything and anyone to feel better. People who are recently separated are more likely to develop irresponsible feelings of attachment in general, even when it's impossible to act on.
  • A History of Codependency: Being codependent includes a large component of needing other people to validate your existence and value. Without other people reminding you that you matter, you spiral out into negative thoughts. When it seems like your only choices are finding anyone you can to love you, or being painfully along, you are more likely to try to find love with someone you can't be with.
  • Grappling with Depression: Similar to the first two, people suffering from depression are in a dark place that they feel helpless to change. Whether passing or permanent, anyone or thing that comes along and alleviates the depression, even for a little while, can be a great relief. Just like how depression increases your likelihood of addictive behaviors, depression makes you more susceptible to seeking love you can't have.
  • Strong Non-Romantic Relationships: You have a handsome coworker with whom you click. You have a close female friend who gets all your jokes and loves the same hobbies. Romance can crop up when you least expect it. Once it does, it's hard to shut down. If you have one or more people in your life with whom you have, even intense, bonds over shared activities, there's an increased chance for romantic attachment to develop, even if it's completely one-sided

What Can Make Love Unattainable?

Several simple barriers can stand in the way of you and another person ever developing a relationship.

  • You Have Feelings For An Ex: It's not unusual, after a relationship ends, for one of the people to still have some feelings of affection, even strong feelings. If breakups leave us pining for some connection, you can naturally gravitate towards someone you've already had that connection with. However, chances are things ended for a reason, and if they've moved on and you haven't, you love someone you can't have.
  • They Don't Feel The Same Way: When romantic feelings develop on one side of a non-romantic relationship (e.g. good friends), you can be stuck trying to create a sense of chemistry or spark with someone who isn't interested.
  • Your Lives Are Too Different: You might meet someone at a party that seems like the perfect partner for you. Then you find out they live on the other side of the country. As quickly as you got excited about someone, they're gone. Unfortunately, your feelings didn't leave at the same time.
  • The Relationship Would Violate Social Norms: Even if you are head-over-heels in love with someone who is already in a relationship, or married, you can't do anything about it. They've chosen to be with someone else. You may think they should be with you, but that's not your call to make.

What Do You Do To Let Go?

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There are two different scenarios worth considering when it comes to letting go of unattainable love. One, you have recently realized that you may have feelings for someone and want to start doing the work of trying to disentangle yourself before things get more serious. Two, you are in love with someone else. You tried breaking free, but the feelings are still there, and it's starting to be a serious problem. If you've recently realized you may have feelings for someone:

  • Take some time to determine how much of a presence this person has in your life. If you needed to back-off to save your feelings, what would that take? How much time do you spend thinking about them or trying to be around them? Is there another way you can spend your time that would be better for you?
  • Talk to your mutual friends. If you truly have feelings for someone, you've probably done one thing or another that has signaled your attraction. Tell them you are starting to get concerned about where those feelings are headed and talk about how you want to get past them.
  • Set healthy boundaries with the object of your affection. This can be hard, but it's vital. Putting up barriers to being around or with your crush can feel crazy. However, your feelings for the other person probably developed because you Rere spending a lot of time together. Setting some limits on how often or how long you are around each other is a good place to start.
  • Take some time to analyze your relationship with the other person overall. What interactions are most stressful, or most inspire feelings of love? Are there times when you feel like you can't control your attraction to them? If you can map out when it feels safe to be around them, and when you should stay away, that will make it easier to start getting over it.

The list above is general tactics for you to start getting a grip on the nature of your relationship with the other person and take appropriate steps to avoid it escalating. Sometimes that preventive work is no longer an option. Your feelings are strong, and you need to break free. Here's what you can do to start extricating yourself.

  • Be honest with yourself that you are struggling with. Love is amazing, and love is terrible. It is ok to admit that you are caught up in a love that is the latter type. It is, in fact, vital to the long-term wellbeing that you acknowledge you are in pain.
  • Reach out to friends and family. They almost definitely know that you are struggling with this. Let them know that you need their help and that you want things to change. Work with them to figure out exactly what needs to change and how to do it. You are going to need this support because if you are truly in love, you cannot be an objective judge of how bad things are.
  • Start limiting your contact with the other person. They may be the greatest person in the world. Obviously, they are great for you. But they are also a continuing source of great pain. It will take time, but you need to start reducing the amount of time you spend with one another. Whether you see them less, stop seeing them alone, or cut your time together shorter, whatever it takes to minimize continued infatuation.
  • Consider telling the other person how you feel. In the end, your relationship with this other person needs to change for your safety. This may be achievable through your actions. However, the other person may notice the change and try to reconnect. At that point it may be necessary to be forthright that, even though you know it can never happen, you have strong feelings for them, and you are drawing back to protect yourself.

One-Sided Love Can Be Miserable

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We tend to think of love as this wondrous and beautiful experience. We yearn to find someone we can be completely open with, who we can rely on for weathering life's struggles and relishing in success. When that desire and affection are unrequited, however, and can never be realized, it can make everything else feel wrong. What's the point, after all, of anything you do if you can't be with who you want to be with?

This state of mind is something that can be worked through. Chances are, there are hidden motivations behind your attraction that can be adjusted. There is probably a way you are viewing the world and yourself that has created this artificial prison for your thoughts and feelings. By practicing some self-care and reflection, using your support networks, and finding new avenues for fulfillment, you can work your way towards a more centered state of mind. This will also more likely lead to a relationship with someone who will love you back.

Friends, family, and self-improvement can take you a long way, but the support of a trained professional for working through romantic issues can take you even farther. With the help of counselors like the ones at ReGain, you can develop a plan of action for understanding your psychological hang-ups and maintaining compassionate accountability as you address them. You don't have to overcome your feelings on your own.

Everyone has felt drawn towards something we can't have. For some of us, that means desiring a person we can't be with. If you love someone you can't have, it will only help to take the time to understand why you want something unattainable and how to get past it. Learning to let go can be freeing.


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