Alright, someone call the porter because there’s a lot to unpack here.
It’s hard to know where to start, but we can start with the ways you’re making this harder on yourself than it has to be. The first and most obvious example is the idea that this is a complicated situation and your feelings are hopelessly entangled and… well, they really aren’t. You have feelings for the version of Lee that exists in your head and you aren’t ready to give them up.
I’m not entirely surprised by this; you’ve made being in love with her (for suitably variable definitions of love) part of your identity. One of the reasons why folks are often reluctant to give up on their unrequited crush is because that crush has become part of how they define themselves. They’ve made “I’m in love with X and they won’t love me back” a core part of their self-concept — the answer to “who are you?” It’s not terribly surprising, honestly; unrequited love is incredibly dramatic. It’s prime fodder for quick and easy character depth. I mean, how many shows are airing right now that feature main characters who are at least partly defined by the fact that they’re in love with someone who doesn’t love them back?
I mean, that’s at least half of the shows on the CW, bare minimum.
But the problem is that the drama in and of itself is addictive; it makes everything feel so much more intense and significant than if you just treated it as “well, I’ve got an annoyingly persistent crush”. And that feeling of intensity and drama makes it much easier to rationalize why you can’t accept things and move on. This is part of why you have created this false dichotomy where your options are “these feelings will just be there FOREVER and I have to get used to it” and “I have to take the nuclear option, cut ties and never talk to her again.” Those aren’t your only options; they’re just more exciting and play more to the imaginary drama that you star in.
Now to be fair: all of this sounds like I’m being dismissive or condescending and I’m honestly not. I know exactly of which I speak; I have been there, I have done that and I have the (thankfully long deleted) emo LiveJournal posts to prove it. And trust me: I am very familiar with that incredibly polarized language you’re using because I’ve done it myself.
Another clue about this is the fact that you say a lot in your letter, but it’s the things you don’t say that’re a little more telling. Specifically: the lack of any other attempts to move on. You talk about how long you’ve had these feelings for her, but you don’t talk about, say, ever actually trying to date anyone else. The closest you come to bringing this up is “thinking more and more about trying online dating”. I notice the lack of “again” or “one more time” in that. That’s a kind of important tell; it’s difficult to maintain a case of oneitis when you’re making good faith efforts to date other people. This is especially true when you, y’know, haven’t seen them in person in 10 years.
(I wish to stress that the operative word here is difficult, not impossible; again, been there, done that, etc. etc.)
And then there’re things like the ways you compare yourself to her partner; you use the supposed similarities between you and Ben to maintain the belief that you and Lee could work. I mean, he’s basically you except for the parts where he’s a jerk, right? So clearly this is meant to be, if she would just realize it. I mean what does he have that you don’t?
Besides Lee, anyway?
Are the two of you similar? Probably, in some ways. That’s not exactly surprising or a sign of anything. If you were to do a general survey, you’d probably see very quickly that the vast majority of people’s romantic partners are similar to their friends. After all: those are the personality types that they click with. People, as a general rule, don’t start relationships with folks who are polar opposites from the people they’re friends with. It would be a little weirder if you (or Ben) weren’t similar to one another. However, there are also very clear differences — those differences are part of the x-factor that affects who we are romantically or sexually interested in vs. who we like as friends.
Then there’s the fact that you’re manfully holding yourself back from doing things that you feel, on some level, like they might ruin your chances with Lee. Things like criticizing somebody’s partner when they’re treating that person badly or offering reassurance or commiseration when they’re feeling down are things friends do for their friends. While I can understand not wanting to sound like you’re badmouthing Ben in hopes of somehow Svengali-ing your way into Lee’s pants, just between you, me and everyone reading this… there’s the part of you that’s hoping Lee will recognize that you’re the better match and look at how good you are about not trying to interfere, isn’t there?
And look, there’s also the fact that Lee is your primary, possibly only, source of validation and emotional intimacy. That likely has a lot to do with why you fell for her in the first place. Guys, especially guys with few close friends, are often so starved for emotional intimacy that when they finally experience it — usually from a female friend — they confuse it for romantic attraction. And when the object of your affection is your main — or again, only — source of intimacy, it’s much harder to step back from that. Even when that’s precisely what you need.
So, how do you get over this stubborn case of oneitis? Well, the usual cure is time, experience and maturity… usually as part of dating around and realizing that as wonderful as your crush may be, there’re millions of other women out there who are just as amazing, if not more so. As a wise man once said:
Our love is one in a million, you couldn’t buy it at any price
But of the nine point nine nine nine
Hundred thousand other possible loves
Statistically some of them would be equally nice
But this is completely contingent on actually being willing to let go of the dream of ever being with Lee. That doesn’t mean that you need to just FORCE HER OUT OF YOUR LIFE, nor does it mean JUST GETTING USED TO THOSE FEELINGS. The former is unnecessary, and the latter isn’t true. What it means is that you live your life as though you weren’t nursing this long-standing crush. That means, among other things, acting like a friend to Lee instead of Perfect Alternate Universe Boyfriend. It means actually making a point of going out and dating — possibly even going and just getting your v-card punched because fuck it, why not? Will that cure your oneitis? Probably not, not in and of itself. However, it is something that would mark a change in your life. That change would serve as a convenient delineation of life before/life after. And also hey, sex is awesome and folks who enjoy it should go out and have more.
But it also means understanding why you’ve let things linger for so long and what you’re getting from this that you’re afraid to give up. In this case, it means having more sources for intimacy and friendship besides Lee. While I’m sure she’s great, you’ve put all of your metaphorical eggs in that particular basket, and that’s perpetuating this mess. Just as having more sources for dopamine and oxytocin are key to getting over a break-up, having more than one place to go to get your needs met is going to be critical to getting over Lee.
This also means being willing to deprioritize her, at least for now. You can’t get over somebody if you’re constantly reinforcing how much you love and miss her and oh if only things could be different. If you’re having Pavlovian reactions to the text message notification or texting her constantly, then you’re making it that much harder to let her go. While this doesn’t mean that you have to cut her off, it does mean that she needs to be a lower tier of importance to going out, meeting people and making more friends.
And what about those feelings? Well, part of what you need to do is learn that they’re just that: feelings. They’re not commands. They’re not imperatives that must be acted upon. They don’t define you. They’re just something you’re experiencing. Part of how you learn to deal with those inconvenient emotions isn’t to try to get rid of them, it’s simply to recognize them for what they are. When you feel those feelings well up, you note them and name them and just move on. “Oh, yeah, I’m experiencing my crush on Lee right now.” “Ah, ok, I’m currently feeling jealous of Ben, good to know.” It sounds odd, but simply acknowledging that you’re feeling these things by name takes away their power. By being mindful of your feelings and recognizing them, you also realize that you don’t feel them all the time. The more mindful you are, the more you recognize how much time you spend not feeling them and not dwelling on them. Similarly, they remind you that feelings aren’t definitional; you aren’t defined by being in love with Lee, you’re feeling things about Lee. As absurd as it sounds, this diminishes the amount of power those feelings have over you and lets you move forward.
You don’t need to give up your friendship with Lee, but you do have to be willing to allow it to change. And yes, letting go of your oneitis is going to change that friendship. What it will become is up in the air. However, being afraid to lose it entirely is as much about your unwillingness to let go of your oneitis. Until you are able to accept that there will be a change… nothing can change. It may be scary to risk the (non-zero) possibility of your friendship changing, unless you take that chance, you’re going to be stuck in this rut for even longer. And you’ve been stuck there for long enough.
It seems many people look for others in bars. However, I just do not understand the logistics on a physical or mechanical level. What I mean by this is that I know that approaching someone from behind is rude, but how do you even approach then? Everyone is facing towards the same wall, and it’s not like customers are allowed behind the bar. So how is it even possible to not approach from behind?
Furthermore, what is the etiquette with the rest of the bar? Is it appropriate to approach someone at a table? Someone standing around? Someone talking to others? I’m not being obtuse here, I really do not know. Because between all of this, I cannot think of any time I have seen an even remotely approachable woman at a bar. Everyone is some combination of:
1. Just facing the bar, sitting between people.
2. Sitting at a table, talking to a group of people.
3. Standing around, talking to a group of people.
So how is a man supposed to approach a woman in a bar, on a mechanical level?
Barfly On The Wall
Before we get to the logistical issue, I want to correct a few misunderstandings that you seem to have. First, approaching someone from behind isn’t a great idea, not because it’s rude but because it can be startling. If you’re not expecting someone to come up behind you, it can be incredibly jarring. Women, in particular, can be sensitive to folks they don’t see rolling up on them because that can be goddamn terrifying. That’s not an ideal way to start off talking to a stranger.
(Also, I’m wondering what bars you’ve been to where everyone is facing the same wall. This sounds less like a bar and more like a Cybermen convention…)
Part of the issue is that much is going to depend on the bar. Your local watering hole where folks go to drink in quiet is going to have a very different vibe than a college bar in the entertainment district. As a general rule, if you’re going to a bar to meet people, then one thing you want to do is make sure you’re going to a bar where people actually go to mix and mingle and meet people.
Next, it makes life much easier to watch for folks who want you to come talk to them. There’re a number of indications of interest, the most common and reliable is someone who makes eye contact and smiles. And this doesn’t “meets your eyes and immediately looks away”, but someone who makes lingering eye contact and smiles, or who meets your eyes, looks away and looks back and smiles. If you get that from someone then you owe it to yourself to go talk to them right the hell then.
Similarly, you want to prioritize talking to people who are actually open to talking to folks. One of the ways you can tell is to watch their body language. Where is everybody facing and looking? If you see a group of people in a tight circle, with everyone facing inwards, then they’re not that interested in having people join them. They’re doing their own thing, talking with one another and aren’t looking to add a stranger to the group. However, a more open circle (even a semi-circle) where they’re spaced out and aren’t all facing one another is an indicator that they’re more likely to be receptive to talking to somebody new.
The same goes for if you see folks who are actively looking around. If you see a person or a group of people who have their back to the wall or the bar and are facing out towards the rest of the bar, then they’re actively checking things out and seeing what’s up. They may or may not be interested in talking, but they’re definitely more open to the possibility than someone who’s up at the bar and staring into their drink. It’s much easier to go talk to them and get a conversation started.
Now, talking to someone sitting next to you at the bar is actually very easy. Assuming that you aren’t at a bar where everyone is there to nurse their drink and leave, then all you really need is a plausible conversation starter. You’ve likely either done this yourself before or seen someone else do it and responded to it. If you’ve ever, say, been standing around waiting for your coffee at Starbucks or hanging out in a line waiting to get in somewhere and somebody made a comment and another person responded… well, you’ve seen the plausible conversation starter in action. This can be anything from making a comment about a thing that’s happening in the bar, start a conversation with the bartender (assuming they aren’t too busy to actually talk) or just saying something that invites a response.
There can also be times when you might overhear something that the person next to you said and respond to that; I’ve joined many conversations when, say, somebody at the bar was from out of town and trying to figure out where they were going to go next. That served as a natural introduction to the conversation (“I’m sorry, I couldn’t help but overhear…”) and then provide a natural pivot from whatever started the conversation to getting to know them (“…sorry, where are my manners? Hi, may name is…”).
Incidentally, that same approach works for groups of people talking — assuming they’re giving that open-to-talking body language. A lot of people who aren’t used to talking to strangers at bars will often use an indirect method of getting the conversation started. The most common method is to ask for their help by getting an opinion on something, then pivoting from the conversation starter to getting to know them (“So how do you guys know each other?”).
Now, folks who are sitting at a table or in chairs or other seating areas, is a little more of a challenge. Most folks aren’t going to be worried that a stranger joining them is going to be a drain and they’re going to be stuck dealing with him. Again, if their body language indicates that it’s not a closed group or you’re getting an approach invitation from someone (especially the eye-contact-and-smile), then the initial approach is much the same as talking to a group of people standing around. You initiate the conversation with a plausible conversation starter. What changes, however, is that if they seem to be interested in engaging with you, then you don’t want to just be hovering over them. If there’s an open seat or a place to sit by them, while you’re going through the opening (“Hey, can I get an outsider’s opinion on something?”) then you ask if you can sit. However you don’t just sit; you want to give a little white lie and say “I’ve only got a second before I have to go/ get back to my friends/ meet my buddies at X place”. This is what’s known as a false time constraint; you’re letting them know that this stranger isn’t going to try to occupy their evening. You’ve got a time limit after which you’re going to get up and go get back with your friends. This lets them relax, rather than be thinking about how they’re going to politely ask you to leave (or abandon their seats). If the conversation is going well and they’re enjoying talking to you, then you have nothing to worry about. They’ll be happy that they met this cool and interesting person. If it isn’t going well… well, you’ve got a natural and easy reason to eject.
Incidentally, it’s not nearly as difficult to talk to people in groups as it may seem. I’ve written a lot about how to approach and talk to people in groups and you should check it out. However one key to doing so is that you don’t want to roll up and just start talking to the woman you’re interested in. That’s a good way to get squeezed out. Even if your intentions are as pure as the driven snow, people will take that as a sign that you’re only there to hit on her. What you want to do is start broad and go narrow. That is: you start by addressing the group as a single entity; you’re talking to all of them at the same time. Then, as they warm up to you, you start to give more attention to individuals within the group — asking them specific questions or directing a comment to them. As things progress, you can direct more of your attention to the person you’re interested in. Taking this approach makes it much easier to, if not befriend the group, get enough of their approval that they aren’t going to see you as someone who’s only goal is to try to hit on one of their friends and pull her away from the group. If you can befriend the group and help them realize just how of a good guy you are, then it won’t be as weird when you start vibing with the person you’re into.