The only thing worse than falling for someone totally wrong for you is falling for someone totally wrong for you and caring a lot more than they do.
I’m not talking about unrequited love, because although that is agonizing, it’s at least something you can wrap your mind around: I felt something, they didn’t.
What I’m referring to is a relationship where there were real feelings on both sides, but yours were always stronger. That kind of relationship is basically a slow-moving trainwreck in which you exhaust yourself trying in vain to bring your partner’s affection for you up to the level you feel for them so effortlessly. When things end, which they will, it sets you up for a special kind of heartbreak layered with rejection and self-doubt.
My first encounter with love was exactly this sort of scenario. I was in it with my whole heart from the beginning, and he just…wasn’t. I became convinced the solution was to make myself “more lovable,” meaning less like my true self because clearly my true self wasn’t worthy enough. Spoiler alert: not only did this effort fail, but it left my sense of identity in tatters.
As I healed from this first major heartbreak, I was determined that next time I would keep myself better protected. No way would I be caught again loving someone more than they loved me.
Of course, this line of thinking is deeply flawed. Anyone who has been in love knows that you can’t predetermine how much you’re going to love another person, and you certainly can’t predict or control how much they’re going to love you back. But what I also failed to realize at the time was that being the one who cared more can actually give you a major advantage in the long term: it prepares your heart for the person who will meet you on the same level.
I believe the amount of love we give in a relationship is a clear indicator of how much love we hope and are ready to receive from our partner. When we’re willing to go all in with someone, we’re showing that finding deep and lasting love is worth being vulnerable and even risking heartbreak. If we hold ourselves back and try not to care “too much,” it means there’s a part of us that isn’t yet ready for the real deal.
There are many reasons why love may be imbalanced in a relationship. Perhaps one partner keeps their heart hidden behind a wall in an attempt to shield themselves from something that hurt them in the past. Perhaps they haven’t stopped saving some of their love for an ex. Perhaps they believe giving away too much love is equivalent to giving up their identity or sense of control.
No matter why your partner is less invested in the relationship than you are, the realization that you care more is going to hurt like hell. It’s awful knowing you don’t always get what you give in love.
But as you heal, don’t make the mistake I did and assume you should change anything about your approach to the next relationship. Instead, think of the love you put in as an invitation to your partner: “Here’s what I’m willing to give, and I hope you’ll join me.” Whether it’s the person next in line or it takes a few more tries, you’re going to find the one who answers with a resounding yes.
This post was previously published on medium.com.
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