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How to break free when you have feelings for the wrong person

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The heart wants what it wants. But what if it shouldn’t?

When Matilda became a veterinarian, she began working in her brother-in-law’s clinic. Working side by side with him, she began to see him not as her sister’s husband, but as a man — a warm and passionate man, a storyteller with a sense of humor. And she fell in love.

Unrequited love. Unspoken. Difficult. Fraught with family taboos and guilt. Fascinating, but in a bad, secretive, and traumatic way. Tragic love? Wow! Isn’t that the stuff of plays, rom-coms, and romantic fiction? Dreaming of someone unreachable could further enhance the euphoric feelings of love. After all, if there is no Romeo, at least there can be a Juliet!

Emotional Bermuda triangle: Matilda, her sister, and her sister’s husband

One gesture, one word: that’s all it would take for a family disaster. For the past year, Matilda has been trying to push away her feelings, but she seems to be stuck in this situation. She torments herself. She forbids herself to feel this way, and at the same time, she allows it. After work, she goes home and dreams of her boss. She has given up her social life. She is not willing to give anyone else a chance. She chose the option to love quietly.

It’s doable, but why do it?

“Did you not try to change jobs?” I ask, and Matilda looks at me as if I had taken her lifeline away. She is tired and tormented, but at the same time, she wants to wallow in this dramatic and impossible feeling. Forbidden love brings on anxiety. It causes shame and guilt and great suffering. The suffering happens in solitude and hiding. And it is possible to suffer this way for a very long time.

Living an illusion

This is what it means to live an illusion: it means thinking that things will change. That he will look at her not as a sister-in-law, but as a woman. That finally a day will come when they will be joined by the romantic shackles of Great Love, and the veterinary clinic will become a stage from a Harlequin romance.

I use the kitsch language here deliberately. I am not ironic, but I do want to emphasize how it is possible to elevate and poeticize a relationship from which in reality we should quickly escape.

Matilda makes herself out to be a victim of unrequited love, and somehow she exalts herself through her suffering. However, what happened to her is not a huge tragedy, but rather a common experience. Suddenly we love someone we shouldn’t.

The injustice of fate is difficult to go through; it brings anxiety and feelings of inferiority and resentment. But it is possible — and in fact, necessary — to do something about it. You shouldn’t wait until the drama becomes a romantic comedy and he confesses his deep love for you. You shouldn’t expect your sister to say that it’s wonderful because she fell in love with someone else, too. I wouldn’t count on that.

In this kind of situation, it’s better to keep your feelings to yourself. Admit that you are stuck on a dead-end street and then turn around instead of staying stuck.

Love is a task

Love is not only a task — it is an eminently practical task! Don’t bury yourself in destructive wishful thinking. Start a specific decision-making process rather than becoming embroiled in emotional chaos. What can you do to manage this confusion? How can you regain control of your feelings?

1. Stop nesting in an empty nest

Quit being passive. Avoid situations where you have to painfully adjust to the circumstances. Do not ogle somebody else’s husband, but start living. Instead of torturing yourself with your thoughts, act. Do something. Make small steps in spite of fear. Do not wait until your feelings for him go away on their own.

2. Change the word “love” to “infatuation”

Not to diminish Matilda’s feelings, but what she is feeling right now is a type of invitation to enter into a love relationship. An invitation that should not be offered or accepted. Matilda’s religion, the fact that he is married and that his wife is her own sister, and a sense of basic morality mean that intimacy and commitment do not stand a chance in this relationship.

3. Rather than a knocking on his heart, look into yours

Most likely there is emotional turmoil in your heart. It destroys and blocks what is good. Instead of enjoying the true intimacy of a man, you punish yourself by fantasizing about reciprocity from the one you cannot have. Dreams are all well and good — but not when they replace reality. 

4. Stand on your side, not on the side of love

When we stop taking care of ourselves, life — and especially love — get complicated.  Nurture and take care of yourself, not the seed of a possible relationship.

5. When love cannot do anything for you, you should do something for yourself

Falling in love with the wrong person is a powerful experience, but from a psychological point of view, the worst thing is getting stuck in this feeling. It becomes a masochistic celebration of unhappiness. Or it will produce feelings of anxiety and avoidance towards other men. It can make you feel like you don’t want to fall in love again because you don’t want to suffer so much.

But did anyone ever promise you that love is only a good and pleasant experience?

6. The end of such problematic love means freedom

Once you get free of it, you gain another vantage point. You leave behind tunnel vision where HE is the only thing you can see. Maybe not immediately, but in a few weeks or months you will see something different on the horizon.

7. Love, but allow yourself to be loved as well

Bring back your social life. Try to be more open and active. Do not concentrate on relationships that don’t exist but look for those that hold promise.

8. Cutting the knot of a tangled situation is already a success

Such risky love can easily overshadow others that could really happen, perhaps even with reciprocity. Maybe you will have to wait for your next love, but it is definitely worth it.

9. Even good feelings are born in uncertainty and fear of unveiling, fear of rejection

Despite all the fears of pain and hurt, it is worth it to be courageous and not shy away from deep feelings. The next time you fall in love, it does not have to hurt as much.

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