The Hook Up: How can someone suddenly fall out of love?

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My three-year relationship is over. She said she loved me but wasn’t “in love” with me. I’m so confused and hurt. She says she still wants to be in each other’s lives, but 1) is that just a line people say? 2) What do I do? 3) How can someone suddenly stop being “in love” with a person? What is it about that little word “in” that makes all the difference? 4) How do I stop having feelings for her? 5) How can I be “in her life” without hurting myself?—Fresh Off The Dump Truck

Dear Fresh,

  1. It is a line people say, yes, but it doesn’t mean she’s not being sincere about wanting you to be a part of her life. Eventually.
  1. What you do is let yourself grieve fully and completely. You do that by giving yourself time, space, and self-reflection. (Don’t skip this last one.) Time is the worst component because no one ever knows how long it will take to get over someone they loved. You can’t skip ahead when you’re bored or hyperventilating, and you can’t slow it down when you find yourself enjoying a random moment of joy and forgetfulness.

But time is also incredibly reliable. You will move forward because there is literally no other choice. Time moves whether we want it to or not. Trust in that, and know that each second passing means your pain is diminishing a tiny little bit. You might not feel it, but take comfort in the fact that it’s happening and is as true as your heart is beating in your chest.

Space means physical and emotional distance from your ex. This is the absolute hardest part for most people because you’ve built your life around this one person for the last three years and now all of those habits and comforts and routines are worthless. You have to go at it alone. You have to build new habits and rely on other people to make you feel loved.

Remember that you were a whole person before you met her and you are still a whole person now. Our lives are long, but our attention spans are short. You are stronger than you know and more independent than you remember.

The fastest way to cut the cord is to cease all communication. If that’s too hard, give yourself a deadline. Thirty days, say, or 90. If you slip up, get back on that wagon. Nothing is permanent, least of all your grief.

Self-reflection means to gaze deeply at yourself, your life goals, your moral compass. It can take the form of long walks or meditation or journaling or self-help books or therapy. It means looking at the great arc of your time on earth and realizing that this one relationship was just a tiny blip on your life’s radar. It means asking yourself big questions and taking calculated risks, and tapping into parts of yourself you may have neglected while in a relationship. We all have things and people that cobweb over when we are in the thrall of romance. Rekindle friendships, restart self-care regimens, rework creative endeavors you’ve always wanted to try but haven’t yet.

  1. Falling out of love is never as “sudden” as people make it out to be. In truth, she had probably been thinking about it for a while, questioning her feelings, wondering what to do. This has nothing to do with you, though, so don’t take it personally or find yourself at fault. Three years is a solid chunk of time, and you gave it your best shot. It’s not a reflection on you that it didn’t work out. Please believe that. Tape it to your wall and look at that sentence each day if you don’t believe it.

The phrase “in love” versus simply “love” is semantically meaningless. I encourage you not to ponder it too deeply. Some people use the “in” to justify behaviors or decisions, but the truth is far more complicated than can be summed up in a preposition.

  1. You might never stop having feelings for her, but your crazy-making, agony-type feelings will definitely subside sooner or later. It depends on how much of the time/space/self-reflection prescription you follow and sheer, dumb luck.
  1. You can be “in her life” by taking as much time as you need to feel okay, for starters. My litmus test is this: If I can think of her with someone else and be genuinely happy for her, then I’m ready to be friendly again. It might vary for you, but in general, it’s a good start.

When you feel ready to broach a tentative trust with her again, go slow and create boundaries. You might need to agree not to discuss new dating partners or to limit the amount of time or physical affection between the two of you. If anything feels icky or stabby, back off. It’s a process, though, and one you’ll probably want to change and adapt as time goes on.

Also, know that you don’t have to be in her life at all if you don’t want to. I know the lesbian hex of “forever friends” is strong, but if your heart’s like NOPE, then screw it.

Good luck, Fresh. It’s going to be fine. Do you.

Anna is a freelance writer in Oakland. Get overly personal emails and haiku from her at tinyletter.com/annapulley. Or Twitter @annapulley. Send her your Hook Up questions at askthehookup@gmail.com 

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