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How to be human: why won't she date me?

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Leah Reich was one of the first internet advice columnists. Her column "Ask Leah" ran on IGN, where she gave advice to gamers for two and a half years. During the day, Leah is Slack’s user researcher, but her views here do not represent her employer. You can write to her at askleah@theverge.com and read more How to be Human here.

Dear Leah,

I asked a girl on a date, and she said that she wasn't interested in dating. I understand that.

But I don't.

We first met when we were put together for a long-term project. From the first time that we met for a coffee, I knew that we clicked. I've never felt this way about a person so quickly. Every time that we met, I felt like I was falling for her more and more. I didn't know what to do.

After a few weeks of debating I ended up asking the question, and I got the response that I was fearing. Now I want to give her up, but I can't. I see her at least once a week for the project, and we have also met up. I have no way of distancing myself, so I feel like I am stuck with just thinking about her all of the time.

I know I should just respect her decision, but I keep thinking about how we would be great together.

What should I do?

Thanks,
Rejected

Hey Rejected,

Have you ever heard the term "unrequited love"? You probably have, but you didn't give it much thought, because why would you? It's one of those things you don't think about unless you have to, and then when you have to, it's all you can think about.

I won't sugarcoat this one: Falling for someone who doesn't fall for you in return sucks. God, it's so terrible. All those intense feelings! Then rejection! It all feels rotten. No one likes to get rejected, least of all when it's over someone or something they want with all their heart.

Man, have I been there. I could tell you so many stories of times I've liked someone, and they haven't liked me back. Times I've done deeply embarrassing things in the name of my enormous crush — oh god, Rejected. Like, I did some of these things more than 20 years ago and I'm still mortified. If I told you about them, you'd feel better for at least a few minutes. You'd fall down laughing and then give yourself a huge pat on the back for being much better about the way you're handling this.

But we don't need to talk about me and my silly mistakes. Let's figure out what you should do.

Truth is, there's not much you can do for the time being. You're right — while you're working on this project, you can't distance yourself from your feelings because that would require distance from her. While you have to see her at least once a week, that's going to be impossible. So you're going to have to breathe through this, armed with two important things: my dumb mistakes (as a warning system to not do anything that will make you cringe) and some bits of knowledge I'm going to impart to you.

The first bit of knowledge is what I said above, and what you know very well given your chosen signature: You've been rejected. It is okay to feel bad. Remind yourself of that, because it's easy to forget that rejection isn't just a name you can choose in a letter. It hurts. Just as this girl has the right to not feel the same way about you as you do about her, you have the right to feel crummy about being rejected.

You've been rejected. It is okay to feel bad

But! Feelings are different from actions. Just as she acted kindly in rejecting you (I assume based on your letter, which I think would tell me if it were otherwise), you know you must continue to act kindly in return. You do! Or else you wouldn't have written me, and you'd have gone and tried to get her to like you. You also know you can't get her to like you, as much as you want to. I know, it's hard to know that and to accept it's true. You want to show her just how perfect you'd be together, you want to do things that will make her really see it! If only you could figure out the exact perfect thing to do, she'd get it. And then you'd be together. I've been exactly where you are.

But you can't. Because you can't make someone feel something they don't. And trying to will only serve to do the opposite — it'll push the person away. As much as it might not feel like it, you're in a decent spot right now. She doesn't want to date you, but you've both handled things well enough that you can continue being around each other while you have to. Even though it might hurt, you won't look back on this with mortification (unlike your humble advice columnist here).

Sometimes we don't feel the same way about someone as they do about us. Sometimes we don't even feel interested in another person regardless of how they feel about us, even if that person is really incredible. I know it doesn't make you feel better to think about it, but I bet there are a lot of amazing girls you know who, for whatever reason, you're just not into. I once went to dinner with a friend who also happens to be a brilliant writer and one of the handsomest men I know. I felt not the slightest hint of chemistry. I couldn't even pretend to be into him when all my friends died of jealousy over the hours I'd spent with him. That's the way humans are — we like who we like, whether right off the bat or slowly over time. Sometimes we like someone who doesn't like us. Sometimes we're the one who can't return the feeling. And sometimes, magically, it goes both ways.

You can't make someone feel something they don't — and trying will only push the person away

So yes. I promised two bits of knowledge. Here's the second one: Do you know why you wouldn't be great together? Because she doesn't want to be with you, for whatever reason. One thing makes two people great together is that they each want to be with the other. Yeah, I know, people can start off wanting to be together and those feelings can change — and people can learn to love each other over time. But trying to get someone to see how perfect you are for them is a bad way to start. Trust me, as well as I know the pain of rejection and unrequited love, I know this pain too. All you can see right now is how compatible you think you'd be, but you can't know if that would translate from your current friendship to a romantic relationship. More importantly, you can't know the worse heartbreak you'd feel being with someone who doesn't feel the same way about you. I don't wish anyone to know that particular heartbreak, the one that comes months or even years down the road, when you realize you've been doing the work in your relationship, and what are you getting out of it? A lot more heartache and loneliness, and probably a lot worse.

I don't know you, Rejected, but I can see that you're a guy who's torn between his feelings and how he wants to act. Being aware of that, and wanting to do what's really right, makes me want the best for you. You don't deserve heartache and loneliness, and while you feel both of them right now over this girl, I'd rather you felt this variety than the other. Cold comfort when you're pining after this girl week upon week, I realize, but it's true.

Keep being professional. Keep your meetings with this girl to only those necessary for the project, and if she asks to hang out or have coffee, be strong and tell her it feels too hard to see her more than you must. In the meantime, keep yourself busy with work and whatever else you love to do in your spare time, distracted and active on the days between your meetings with her. Find ways to put as space between your mind and this girl, until the project is finally over and you're able to take a proper break. Time will heal the bad feelings of your rejection, and it will also move you closer to finding someone who will absolutely want to say yes when you ask her out.

Lx