Dear Elline, 

We were just friends at the beginning. A year later, at a rehearsal, he called me out on something I said, and his perceptiveness immediately intrigued and attracted me to him. We both felt an instant connection, flirting with each other more with each time we met. I remember our conversations grew longer and were so refreshing to me. I liked listening to his perspective because in many ways it was so different from mine. We would laugh a lot, joke around, and afterward go on adventurous and spontaneous dates. 

He made a promise to himself to stay single for a year, so we couldn’t officially date. Later it turned out that he never actually made that promise… he just wanted to keep me on a string, because he was unsure of his feelings. Cracks started to surface after, as we’d start to get into arguments about things he’d say and then stuff I mentioned. Overall a lot of back and forth. There have always been unresolved feelings, but we still chose to set them aside, letting the chemistry take over again. And so the loop would replay itself.

Our whole relationship, he held onto me, and I held onto him. We’d be on and off for 5 years, he’d date people in between and I would too. One time though, when both of us were going through trying times, I finally advocated making what we had into an official and real relationship. Yet, he was on completely the opposite page. Maybe he thought we weren’t compatible because of our distinctive personalities, or perhaps I wasn’t good enough for him. Maybe it was the cultural gap. Maybe it was his family has very high expectations, which added extra pressure.

I brushed it off as I usually did, but when he came back from a trip overseas, we had a sincere talk. At a time where I was discovering things about myself, about people and friendships, I told him that what I really need is an encouragement and emotional support from those around me. So I said, if we’re going to be friends that’s what I need from you. And he just replied, “ What if I can’t do that? ”

That’s when it dawned on me that he doesn’t love me enough to even try. He would be appalled that I could request such a simple thing as love and support, and would quickly list other stuff he’s done for me. Like this, he was never going to understand me. I was crying, and hiding how it affected me. Despite all that, he continued to make promises to me that he’ll try to fix it. But I wasn’t concerned anymore if he delivered or not. It was a little late. 

This conversation triggered a film in my brain of our 5 years as a non-exclusive, non-official couple, with all the “other things he’s done for me.” Throughout the happy or bad times, there was never any encouragement. There was never any “good job,” never any support when it came to my art or seeing my shows, never sharing/being proud of any of my achievements. I got feedback on shallow things, like on my sweater, but not on things that really mattered to me. Usually, I was met with criticism. I’m already so hard on myself so it would’ve meant the world to me to receive any love, motivation, or any sign of effort, especially from someone I’ve loved and who’s been my close friend for so long. 

I would always tell him how incredible and talented he is, and that I wouldn’t even put myself in the same category, let alone compete with him. I softened my vocabulary so that he could be happy and became an altered version of myself so he would accept me, all because I was yearning for the love, support, and encouragement I was so rarely getting from him. He undercut me in many ways, and it’s still hard for me to recover from that experience.

Thankfully I have a lot of close friends who I could open up to and ask for their advice. I wanted to be as objective as I could. And my friends, who were also his close friends as well and knew him even longer than me, we're going through something similar: not feeling loved, feeling judged, and a feeling of walking on eggshells around him. So when I realized that that’s how he was behaving in general, not just towards me, it was like an even brighter light bulb turned on. 

He refused to meet people in the middle because that required vulnerability and a strong sense of security in who you are. And we’re both musicians, we both struggle with insecurities for whatever reason, but you can’t allow them to dictate the way you behave. Let the people that care about you help you, because if you isolate yourself, then you’re creating a cycle in which you never feel accepted and loved. And if you don’t love yourself, you can’t love somebody else.

However, I understand now how difficult that is to navigate. He’s not a bad person. It’s not a heart or intention issue. I just don’t think he knows yet who he is, or made time to learn to love himself truly. Part of me also needed to understand that he’s not going to get that message from me and that he needs to figure that out by himself. 

I see our 20s as an interesting time where we still deal lessons we grasped from our parents. I am making a lot more effort to pay attention to the root of my own insecurities and I’m trying to deal with them first so that I don’t operate out of that place. I’ve learned the dangers of setting expectations. For me learning to see someone exactly where they are at, and not how they could be, has been genuinely eye-opening.

I’m also learning that sometimes you just have to let people go. Some people are meant to be in your life just for a certain time. It doesn’t come with hard feelings, you just stop holding on. And, deep down, that’s been the hardest lesson for me, because I’m not really one to do that. I love people so much and always see the best in them; despite the hurt, they might cause me. 

I am now focusing on self-care and I encourage you, wherever you are in your journey to do the same. Start an inventory, journal, meditate, and do a lot more reflective work. Self-awareness, as much as it can hurt, it genuinely heals. Sometimes all it takes is looking yourself in the mirror with honesty, seeing yourself for who you are. When you listen to yourself and see the wonderful person inside, that’s when you set standards and start loving yourself and others truly.

With kindness,