Dear Rosie & Sherry,

I'm in my early 20s and have been dating for a couple of years. Although I've gone out with many guys, I never seemed to develop a connection with any of them. Six months ago, however, I met someone and felt a connection right away. He was part of a group of my brother's friends who came over for dinner. After dinner, we sat down and talked for a while, and I couldn't believe how comfortable I felt with him. But, the night was running short and he had to leave with the rest of the gang. Over the next several days, I couldn't get him out of my head!

I finally got up the courage to ask my brother to set us up. He resisted at first, but I asked a few more times until he agreed. When Evan and I finally went out, I found out he felt the same way about me when we met, and that he had been driving my brother up the wall to set him up with me.

Evan and I dated for a while, and both of us really felt we were connecting. I knew that Evan had difficulties in his background. During his teens he rebelled. For a while, he had a lifestyle that was pretty far removed from the mainstream, but he eventually came back. I actually admired this about him, because it takes a great deal of inner strength to do this. I respected him for it, and trusted his sincerity. Although I saw that Evan had some weak points, I also saw that he had qualities other people didn't see, and I felt a strong connection to him because of this.

However, my parents were both unhappy about our going out. They didn't think that Evan was a good person and told me some things about Evan that I hadn't known, which both upset and confused me. Evan and I decided that we had to resolve what was happening, so together we visited someone who seems to give people good advice about dating. She said that we needed time apart and suggested that we stop dating for six months. Someone else got involved and suggested a three-month break, but Evan and I somehow got them down to two weeks. We weren't able to last more than a week, but that just made things worse!

I was so emotionally drained that I fell into a depression I worked hard to get out of it.

I heard about new things that Evan had done recently, and this upset me so much that I became physically ill. I spent hours crying until I didn't have any more tears. And then I decided to put a stop to it all. I went to talk to Evan, and at the end of our conversation he told me, "You decide what to do, because I do not want to hurt you." I didn't know what to think. Did he want to leave me? Without really giving a second thought I said, "I think it's best that you go your way, and I'll go mine." And so we broke up. For weeks afterward, I was so emotionally drained that I fell into a depression I worked hard to get out of it.

Today I am still dating, but he is still in back of my head. I work, pray, try to keep busy. I've tried in so many ways to get him out of my system -- but he is still there! Because of that, nothing comes of my dates. As much as I admit to everyone that I'm fine and I don't care about him anymore, it's not true, because I do.

Are my feelings normal? Should we get together again? What do I do about my inner feelings for him? How can I get married to someone else if he's in the back of my head?!

I know that this experience is a growing process. But why did I have to meet him in the first place if he is really not for me? Please help me understand all this.

Gali

Dear Gali,

Your letter describes a common aftermath of an emotionally intense courtship. You became instantly attracted to someone, saw a strong emotional connection develop, but then ran into problems because of a number of issues. Once you broke up, you couldn't stop thinking about whether it might be possible for the two of you to get back together, and as a result, Evan is present at every date you go on.

To help you, we'd like to examine both aspects of your dilemma -- the fact that you fell for someone who wasn't right for you, and the trouble you have letting go.

Sometimes, when a person has gone out with a number of dating partners without connecting to any of them, she's primed to "fall in" to an emotionally intense relationship that isn't right for her. She longs to feel a connection to someone, and when that happens instantly, she jumps into it blindly. "It's taken so long," she thinks. "I never related so well to a guy before." And so, she doesn't give much thought to whether the two of them want the same things out of life, are comfortable with each other's lifestyles, or have similar values. These are criteria she might have looked for all along, but since she feels so connected to this new man, she hopes that these qualities will emerge as they date. Sometimes they do, but often they don't.

If you had looked into Evan's suitability before deciding to date him, you might have realized that even though you had a great conversation with him and were attracted to him, he wasn't right for you.

You made a decision to date Evan based primarily on the attraction you felt when you first met. However, attraction isn't enough to sustain a relationship over the long term, and many times couples who start out with strong feelings for each other find that things don't work out between them. Perhaps one or both of them lack maturity or emotional stability, or they learn information about each other they can't come to terms with, or they have trouble reconciling the differences in their values, goals, or expectations for the future. Perhaps they aren't comfortable with each other's lifestyle choices, or they encounter obstacles to forging an enduring emotional bond that involves trust, openness, and deep friendship.

From the start, Evan didn't have all the criteria you were looking for.

You've given us some hints that, from the start, Evan didn't have all the criteria you were looking for. One is that your brother wasn't eager to set both of you up, even though you each asked him to do so several times. Many brothers are happy to set them up their sister with someone whom they think is appropriate. Did your brother say to you, "Listen, he's got problems, and I don't think it's a good idea for you to date him?" By taking his time in arranging for the two of you to go out, he could very well have been telling you this indirectly.

There's nothing inherently wrong about dating someone who, like Evan, has decided to turn his life around and make a major change in his lifestyle and view of life. Such a change requires forethought, self-awareness, determination, and inner strength. A person who enhances these inner qualities as he goes through a personal metamorphosis often goes on to succeed in life and have a good marriage. However, some people who seem to have turned their lives around need more time to stabilize, or still may have residual issues they have to resolve before they are ready for a relationship that will lead to marriage. Your parents may have objected to your dating Evan because of the fact that he was still battling certain "demons," or for other reasons.

When your parents raised their concerns and you learned that Evan was engaging in behavior that you had trouble accepting, it was natural for you to feel confused. By then, you cared for him, and may have hoped for an acceptable explanation for what was happening, or that the two of you could work things out. But it appears that you weren't able to resolve them, and that's why you decided to break up with him. It was a hard decision, because you felt so connected to him. The depression and mixed feelings you experienced were a normal reaction to this kind of break-up. It takes time to get over something that seemed to have so much promise.

Fast forward to the present: You've mourned the break-up, feel a lot better about yourself, and are dating again -- but can't seem to get rid of the thought that maybe you made a mistake... maybe you really are right for each other... maybe he'll change... maybe you can get back together. Addressing these thoughts is one of the final steps in recovery from the break-up.

We think that you'll find it helpful to compare the qualities you and Evan had, with the qualities that indicate a healthy relationship that can endure. Did the two of you have compatible values and goals, and were you moving in the same direction in life? The things Evan did that upset you may be an indication that the two of you couldn't reconcile some core values. Were your lifestyles and expectations for the future in sync? It seems to us that becoming physically ill when you heard about Evan's recent activities is an indication that your lifestyles were not compatible. Were you both emotionally stable enough to maintain an enduring, caring marriage? Perhaps Evan's recent conduct was an indication that he lacked stability.

Were you able to respect his recent lifestyle choices?

In addition to these qualities, two people who are considering marriage should respect each other. Were you able to respect Evan in light of his recent lifestyle choices? They should also be able to accept each other's flaws. Clearly, you couldn't accept certain things about Evan. Yes, the two of you had many positive aspects about your courtship. You were attracted to each other, cared for each other, admired certain qualities about each other, and had a deep connection called emotional intimacy. However, an enduring relationship needs all of these qualities, not just some of them.

We suggest that you write down your thoughts about what we've said, wait a day or two, and then look and what you wrote. This exercise may help you see your situation more clearly. If you conclude that in spite of all you and Evan had, you lacked many important features of an enduring relationship, you'll be able to move to the last step of letting go.

That last step is admitting that you were not right for each other, and that this fact will not change if you were to get back together again. This is the hardest part of letting go, because it's very easy to imagine "if only" -- "If only he changed... If only I hadn't been so quick to say something... If only I could just let that aspect of his life stop bothering me." It's hard to accept the fact that when a major bump develops in the road of a courtship, it either gets resolved very quickly (either by the couple working it out or one of the partners being able to make peace with it), or it never gets resolved.

There are ways to help yourself admit that this relationship wasn't meant to be and shouldn't be resurrected. Stop yourself from dreaming of him, thinking of possible ways he could change, figuring out ways to bump into him, talking about him with your friends. In place of those ideas, substitute another, more beneficial thought. In addition, find some enjoyable activities that can help you take your mind off Evan. Go away for a few days with friends, take a class you think you'll enjoy, pursue a new craft or other hobby, take some day trips, visit relatives in another part of the country, pamper yourself with a spa day, or join a swim club or exercise class. These activities may have been premature when you were feeling so depressed right after the break-up, but now that you've made a lot of progress toward recovery they can give you a much-needed boost.

We can't answer your question of why you had to go through this painful experience. Perhaps it was to let you know that you will be able to form an intimate connection with someone. Many people who recover from a break-up with someone who was "almost the one" tell us that coming so close gave them the encouragement to know that the right person is out there. Once you stop hurting from the break up and are ready to accept its finality, you may be able to see this. Just give yourself more time -- you've made good progress until now, but it will take a bit longer. You can always see a therapist if you continue to have trouble getting over that last hump.

We wish you success in navigating the dating maze,

Rosie & Sherry