Recently I got a message from a friend saying she was back in town for the foreseeable future, working just along from me, and wanted to meet up for friendly drinks.
What she doesn’t know is that about 4 years prior, at a low point when I was struggling (and losing, badly) against debilitating depression, shame and self-loathing, I developed a terrible, terrible case of oneitis for her after some awkward, post-night-out kissing. That was all it took to prompt me into an obsession that kept on for nearly two years. On the surface, I was her awkward grumpy friend she once had a slip-up with, who she liked getting drunk and being weird with. But underneath, I was deeply unhappy, lonely, neurotic, having suicidal thoughts and obsessing over her every day. Oh, and we were work colleagues!
It was f*cked, but thankfully things changed. She moved away, I started therapy, my life got a little better, slowly. I didn’t see her for a long time. I still thought about her sometimes, but when I heard she had started a serious relationship I was happy to have another reason to put her out of my mind. When a mutual friend tried to tell me they’d broken up, I just didn’t want to know. I just kept making progress, getting better at making the most of the ups and recovering from the downs. I still having a nonexistent love life and a sh*tty job, but I’m proud of the progress I’ve made, because I’ve started learning how to value my own feelings and enjoy being me, in spite of everything.
But now that she’s back and I’m staring down the idea of seeing her again, I’m realising that I never fully cured my oneitis, and I still feel inadequate when I think about seeing her. My mental health has taken a bit of a dive as a result. I know I don’t want to be with her but I’m still really attracted to her. I feel like I couldn’t possibly be myself around her. I feel like her opinion of me matters more than my own, like I need to please her but never could. Which is insane, because I haven’t felt this subservient to anyone else I’ve had feelings for, and because she was always a loving, supportive friend to me. It almost feels like I’m getting dragged backward to that darker time in my life, just as I was learning how to trust myself.
What I want most is to stop worrying and just be as honest as possible with a view towards getting out of each other’s lives so I can let go of how I feel about her once and for all. After all that time apart it hardly feels like much of a loss. But I feel like a part of me is worried about hurting someone who was always just a kind, supportive friend, while another is scared of being judged by her. I’m also worried I won’t be able to properly explain this to her, or that it won’t give me the closure I’m hoping for, or that I’ll just be making the wrong move entirely.
The added kicker is that she isn’t to blame for any of this, and has no idea I ever felt this way. Every day we saw each other, I was lying about how I felt. I’m definitely ashamed of it, and kind of scared of making it all real by talking about it.
I suppose what I’m asking is, what’s the best way for me to resolve this thing and put old obsession behind me?
Link to The Past
My question for you, LTTP, is “what does this woman represent to you?”
One of the reasons why we get stuck with a case of Oneitis – getting hung up on one person who has no interest in dating us – is because we invest that person with meaning and importance that goes beyond who they are as a person. They aren’t just a human being to us anymore they’re the avatar of some specific belief or need that we feel is lacking in our lives. Many times it’s because we’ve invested so much in them emotionally that we can’t imagine life without them; we have made them so important that we treat them as our last and only hope for love. There may be millions of other women out there in the world, but there’re none like her, nobody who could possibly mean what she means or do what she does. She is the only person we could love or who could love usback.
Other times it’s because of what their presence in our lives means. She represents validation, especially if she’s socially desirable. Whether it’s her looks, her status, her fame, fortune or some other quality, the fact that she wants to date us means that we must be something special. It’s a way of saying “look at how awesome I am, because I can get a woman of this caliber.”
But the problem is that as much as people may want to round that feeling up to love… that ain’t it at all. It’s never about her as a person, it’s about what she represents. It’s about what’s lacking in your life.
So the first step to curing your Oneitis is to figure out what you are missing, LTTP. It sounds to me like what your friend represents is love, affection, and support at a time when you desperately needed it. Throw in some sloppy make-outs, and it’s not hard to see why you link those feelings with her specifically. She was, in a way, a guardian angel for you, coming to you in your darkest hour. And because you invested so much importance and glorious purpose, you feel like you have to live up to a certain ideal for her. You feel as though you have to have this over-the-top life in order to be “worthy” of her, this woman who gripped you tight and pulled you from perdition. And so you’re in this double-bind. On the one hand, you want her because she represents that moment of passion. On the other, you fear that you aren’t good enough. So here you are, torn in two directions: obsessed with her but scared of disappointing her. Since she’s become this divine figure, her judgement is all-important. If she were to see you, measure you and find you wanting… well, wouldn’t that just be reaffirming that you’re nothing but scum who doesn’t deserve to crawl on this planet?
Here’s the thing though, LTTP: all of that isn’t true. It’s your own cosmology, this view that only exists in your head. It has nothing to do with reality or all the work that you’ve put in. And let’s make no mistake: you’ve put in a lot of work. Which, to be quite honest, makes your obsession and fear somewhat frustrating. You’re invalidating all the hard work you have done, the way that you have dragged yourself out of the muck because you don’t see that as being at all equivalent to one make-out session after a few too many drinks.
You need to start recognizing your own value, LTTP and the importance of how much you’ve done for yourself. The more that you can look at where you are and where you’ve come from, how hard you’ve fought and how much you’ve accomplished, the less you’ll feel that you need to supplicate yourself before her.
And just as important is that you need to recognize that this version of her you have in your mind right now doesn’t actually exist. You’ve put her on this pedestal and, in a way, invalidated her humanity. You’ve created this supernatural being in the place of a woman who farts, stubs her toe and gets zits, just like you do.
Hopefully, you’re still talking to your therapist. One of the best things you can do is talk about your friend with them and these complicated feelings that your friend’s return has brought up. That might get you some clarity and help resolve a little of the anxiety you’re feeling. Just as importantly, since they’re in a better position to judge where your heads at, they’d be better able to tell you whether meeting up with your friend would be a good idea or not.
What I don’t think you need to do is explain any of this to her. Like you said: none of this is her fault, and dumping this on her is only going to cause unnecessary pain and confusion. That’s a cruel thing to do to someone who’s been trying to be a good and supportive friend to you. Instead, I think what you should do is work on accepting her as a person. A kind person, someone who clearly cares for you and has been a source of support… but just a person. Not somebody who’s opinion is more important than yours, not somebody who you need to impress or who has life-or-death power over your self-esteem. The more you can take her down from this pedestal you’ve erected and see her for who she really is, the less of an awesome and terrible figure she’ll be.
And at that point, you’ll be in a better position to know what happens next. Maybe you’ll be able to have a more honest friendship with her, free from the stresses of your Oneitis. Maybe the two of you will drift out of one another’s lives again, as sometimes happens.
But regardless of how your relationship evolves or changes, you’ll be free. You’ll have been able to let go of your oneitis and feel the strength and confidence you need to move forward and find your own worth and validation.
Previously published here and reprinted with permission from the author.
Have you contributed before and have a Submittable account? Use our Quick Submit link here: