Love, Heartbreak

Why It Hurts So Much To End Relationships That Never Really Started

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why it hurts so much to end relationships

The more I talk to people about sex, love, and relationships, the clearer it's become that almost everyone has a “What If…?” person who has floated around our periphery for years. By a “What if…”, I mean those kinds of 'technically' platonic relationship that nothing romantic ever really happened with, but there was always the feeling that something could if timing or circumstances or lighting or personal gumption or astrology or whatever was even a little different.

Don’t act like you don’t know what I’m talking about — you’ve got a person like this. 

In fact, from talking with friends both male and female, it would seem that more than a few of us have more than just one of these non-relationships-but-more-than-friendships-mostly-precipitated-on-unresolved-sexual-and-maybe-romantic-attraction things.

These flirtatious more-than-friendships-but-never-really situations are so vague as to not have an official name, so for convenience, I’m now referring to them as "Possibly Maybes" as inspired by the apropos Björk song of the same name.  

Whether or not either of you have ever crossed a line or even if you once shared a hot moment you both laugh off and pretend didn’t happen, the dynamic of the Possibly Maybe is intriguing in the same way that any classic sitcom's “Will they or won’t they?” narrative keeps us hooked from week to week. However, unlike our recreational obsessions with the dynamics between fictional characters, the dance around sexual chemistry in our own lives is compelling on an all-encompassingly visceral level.

It is wildly exciting, igniting our senses and boosting our egos in ways that compare closely to stimulation of the narcotic kind, and these Possibly Maybes become similarly addictive. The ping of a new message notification suddenly becomes intoxicating and searching for hints that one of you will make a solid first move becomes a full-time preoccupation.

There’s freedom in these Possibly Maybes because the excitement is purely mental. When nothing is defined, we’re allowed to let our fantasies of the hypothetical run wild and genuinely revel in them, even if we consciously remember there’s no way these visions could ever live up to reality.

I’ve concluded from my own Possibly Maybes that no-strings-attached elements of flirtation, fantasy, obsession, and flattery are at least 85 percent of the appeal of the whole arrangement. If we make our feelings something definable with even one night of passion or — God forbid — a label, there’s no way either of us are going to live up to the visions I’ve skillfully indulged in crafting in my own mind and thoroughly pleasured myself to.

Similarly, once the dance of flirtation and mystery is over, what next? After the passion is over and you’ve both woken up next to someone gassy and human, where do you go from there?

Do we just attempt to settle into comfortable mendacity just like healthy, long-term relationships tend toward? Or conversely, do we avoid the drudgery of commitment and just call the whole thing off?

What if the only thing I like about this imaginary “us” is the opiate of hope, mystery, and the element of uncharted territory?

I don’t want to wreck a fun, noncommittal, no-responsibilities, no-expectations, no-harsh-reality relationship that’s been entertaining us both just for one potentially short-lived fling. Fantasies are far more sustainable than a honeymoon phase, which is why it hurts so much to end these type of relationships.

Because I’m mature enough to consciously realize this, I opt to walk the line in my Possibly Maybes, albeit, usually with a little wobbling. I see them for what they are and value them.

Which is why it’s so hard to explain the disappointment when a Possibly Maybe comes to an end. Neither of us had a claim on the other; we’ve always been free to live our respective lives — again, that was part of the appeal — and, if something was going to happen, it absolutely would’ve by now, right? But it still sucks to let go of.

It’s not a secret that hope is an opiate for all of us. It’s what drives humans forward in everything — from initiating political rebellions, listening to religious leaders, searching for cures, or even just waking up in the morning and forging through to another day when times are difficult. Similarly, the hope that something magical (that includes sexual gratification, too, by the way) may spring out of a Possibly Maybe after all this time keeps us coming back for more of the same.

Additionally, feeling desired is equally intoxicating and addictive; why else do you think that strip clubs have managed to stay open even in the age of free digital porn? Even if the hope of something more isn’t a factor, a Possibly Maybe fulfills our very human need to feel wanted and desired with the added benefit of not requiring anything extra from us.

It’s an ideal means of meeting our basic human need for attention. So, naturally having that source of confidence and reassurance gone hurts.

Arguably, closing the door on a Possibly Maybe stings a little more than the end of something solidly definable, simply because there are so many unanswered questions. At the end of most relationships, we have answers and can point out exactly what went wrong.

With a Possibly Maybe, nothing did and maybe nothing ever would’ve. Ironically, the very ambiguity of the relationship that kept us involved for so long is the exact reason why it hurts so much to end relationships and why we feel so strangely disappointed when it comes to an end.

And, similarly, it’s even more bizarre in the aftermath, when you feel this incredible sense of loss from something special but if someone were to ask you what’s wrong, you would struggle to tell them exactly what it is.