So, if you've been rocking with this site for several years now, you might vaguely recall an article that I wrote, a couple of years back entitled, "Why You Need To Grieve Your Past Relationship." The bottom line was if you don't make the time to go through the five stages of grief — denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance — even when it comes to the ending of a romantic relationship, you could 1) mistake a lack of thorough and proper grieving for still loving someone and/or 2) prolong the process of healing, so that you can actually move forward.
Today, while this topic is somewhat along these lines, I'm actually going to touch on something a bit different. The reason why is because, after watching a movie where one of the female characters said, "How dare you not be the man I thought that you were in my mind," I felt it was also important to address that sometimes, we as women have a tendency to send ourselves through stress, strain and total emotional upheaval — not so much because the guy we were (or are) seeing did anything "wrong" to us or even because anything tumultuous happened in the relationship. It's simply because, if we're being really real with our own selves, we know that we wanted "him" to be someone he's not — and that is what we need to grieve so that we can know what to do next.
If that paragraph totally resonates with your mind, body and spirit on some level, let's walk through how you can grieve who you thought the man you care about was…even as you're catching on that he's not really that person at all.
Be Honest: Have You Been Ignoring Some Somewhat Subtle Red Flags?
Wanna know a sign of being a low-key control freak in relationships? When you ignore red flags under the guise of "I can change him". While this way of thinking is pretty common, I don't know if it's addressed enough, just how arrogant and presumptuous that sounds. Who are we to change anyone? That's not our job in any kind of relational dynamic. Yet when folks are of this mindset, they can be so caught up in what they think they are capable of doing — or even should do — that they will dismiss all kinds of blaring red flags.
How do I know? I used to struggle with being a control freak in this lane and it definitely caused me to overlook some stuff that I shouldn't have. And just what are some red flags that are beyond obvious ones like abuse or blatant disrespect? If you and the guy you're seeing don't want the same things (for instance, you want to be married and he absolutely does not). If you and the guy that you are seeing have different standards and values. If you and the guy you are seeing communicate poorly (like you chalk up constant arguing to being playful banter; relationships need to be peace-filled as much as possible).
If you and the guy you are seeing define things like exclusivity in dating in totally different ways. If you and the guy you are seeing are not doing a good job at meeting each other's needs. These are just some examples of what are considered to be signs of an unhealthy relational dynamic; still, so many people ignore them because whether it's fear, ego, or both, they tell themselves, "I mean, I might see that this person isn't the right fit but because I already decided that they should be, I will make them fit by trying to make them be who I want."
What a lot of folks who think like this don't realize is, the moment they've got to apply force (or even manipulation) in order to try and make something manifest, they actually need to be seen as a red flag to other people. Because y'all, it is off-the-charts crazy, just how many individuals will ignore signs that someone isn't a good match for them, believing that they will put their blood, sweat, and tears into turning them into something else and then acting like that person is the bad guy when things don't go as they planned. No one is the villain just because they didn't succumb to an agenda that consisted of trying to change them into something that they're not. And just why does this happen so often? I mean, besides the control freak thing? This brings us to my next point.
Did You Cast Him into Your Fairy Tale Without His Knowledge…or Permission?
Living for the fairy tale. Personally, I close-to-loathe that phrase. I've shared before that it's because I know that fairy tale means "a story, usually for children" and "an incredible or misleading statement, account, or belief". You know, not too long ago, someone asked me what has surprised me the most about adulthood; the first thing that came to my mind is how many "old children" there are. In this lane, the stories that are often told to children are ones that far too many adults are still using to program their own minds when it comes to romantic situations.
Is it wrong to want to be in a relationship that you can describe as amazing, wonderful, and fulfilling? Absolutely not. At the same time, when you run with phrases like "my Prince Charming", I mean, don't even get me started on how even the Bible says that "charm is deceitful" (Proverbs 31:30); for now, we can just go with…who do you know is married to a prince? And if we tie this into fairy tales, do you ever hear what happens after the "…and they lived happily ever after part" of the story? Chile, we don't have a clue what Prince Charming and Cinderella went through after their wedding day. It's like we're left to make the rest of the story up.
And that's kind of my point. If you are still leaning into a "fairy tale mentality," you also can make up narratives to go however you want. If you're not careful, you can also carry that into your relationships with men. Before you know it, you've decided that some guy you like should be some leading character with all of the traits that you created in your mind. Then, you find ways to "sway" him into fitting into those roles — oftentimes without him knowing that that's what you're up to or that he wasn't even asked to sign up to go through those kinds of emotional contortionist positions.
Hey, I never said that this article was going to be an easy one. I simply said that sometimes grieving who you thought someone was is something that needs to happen. If you know that you've been guilty of coming up with your own story and then inserting some man that you like into it, script and all, this is a reality that must be faced. Otherwise, you are more of a villain in your own fairy tale than you will probably ever choose to accept.
Is Denial a Pattern for You (Especially in Relationships)?
Those of us who work in the lane of therapy/counseling/life coaching know that it's pretty common to have clients who use a state of denial as to their front line of defense when you're trying to confront them about something. And what are some telling indicators that someone is indeed living this way? They refuse to talk about their issues (or they don't tell all of what has led up to them). They are constantly on the defensive. They only share the good stuff. They find all kinds of ways to justify their mindset, behavior, or patterns. They "edit out" what they don't want to face head-on.
One of the boyfriends from my past, I was in a lot of denial about. I wasn't really physically attracted to him. I carried 90 percent of the financial burden in the relationship. He loved me more than I loved him while I wanted different things at a different time than he did (for instance, he actually loved me enough to marry me while I wanted to get married much sooner than he did; I ignored that I didn't love him enough because marriage was such a personal priority at the time). Yet because I wanted to be cherished so badly and I had already invested so much time into us, I spent a lot of time denying what was while telling myself to ONLY focus on the good. In the long run, it wasn't worth it. Living in denial rarely is.
The thing about making denial a pattern in your life is it's directly connected to self-delusion and self-deception. So, when it comes to this particular point, if you're not sure if you're living in denial when it comes to your relationship or not, ask some of your friends what they think. Real friends only want what's best for us and because they are not mentally, emotionally, and perhaps physically invested in the guy we're with in the way that we are, they can pick up on "hold up signals" in a way that we simply cannot. Can't. Yet still, need to.
Is Whatever’s Disappointing You Deal-Breaking Material?
A couple of years ago, I wrote an article for the platform entitled, "What Should You Do If You Feel Like You Married The Wrong Person?" The reason why I'm mentioning it here is that, while it might seem on the onset that my recommendation to grieve who you thought someone was means that you are to kill and bury the relationship altogether, that is not necessarily the case at all. Again, the five stages of grief are denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance. So, what I mean is if you are in a constant state of irritation or even frustration because the man you want or even prefer (because want and prefer are not exactly the same thing) doesn't exist even though you keep trying to make want you want or prefer to be so, sometimes you really need to face that you are 1) in denial; 2) angry; 3) using pressure, ultimatums, manipulation, nagging and/or control to bargain with him to change; 4) you might actually be somewhat depressed about your situation (a profound definition of depressed is "anger turned inward") and so 5) it's time to accept reality for what it is.
And in this case, what you really need to come to terms with is, can you ACCEPT him for who he ACTUALLY is, or do you need to accept that you both should probably part ways, so that you both can be with someone who want try to change either one of you? One of the most helpful ways to come to the decision that you need to make is when it comes to who he truly is, are you upset because things aren't going your way, or are there real deal-breakers on the table? For instance, if you told yourself that he will become uber romantic and he just isn't that guy, can you deal with that long-term? Or if you told yourself that physical attraction doesn't have to be that important yet it's affecting your intimacy with him, can you really learn to adjust, or is it not something that you can get past? Or if he's all that you want in a husband but he has stated, more than once, that he doesn't want to get married (check out "He Loves You. He's Just Never Gonna Marry You. Now What?"), where do you go from here? Like, for real, for real?
A part of the reason why it's crucial to go through the grieving process whenever someone reveals themselves to not be who we thought they were is because it's the acceptance of this fact that helps us to make wiser decisions when it comes to what to do about the relationship, moving forward. If you don't grieve all of this, you could remain stagnant. And in this case, on a lot of levels, unfortunately, that typically equates to settling.
If This Stuff Applies to You, GRIEVE.
A writer by the name of Anne Rophe once said, "Grief is in two parts. The first is loss. The second is the remaking of life." To me, this is one of the best ways to bring this article to a close. I say this because, if you now know, beyond the shadow of a doubt, that you are grieving, not so much who a man actually is but who you thought he was, you can embrace the fact that it's not until you fully acknowledge the loss of that version of him that you can start to remake your life — whether that means coming to accept that it needs to be with him which includes the reality of the facts of what you're actually dealing with or alone so that you can 1) learn to become more honest with yourself about seeing people for who they really are so that 2) you can start dating and building with someone from a more realistic perspective.
And what should the grieving process look like?
Journal out what you've been in DENIAL about and why. While you're at it, if you know that all of this is a pattern of yours, write about that too.
Give yourself the opportunity to be ANGRY about what you've been denying so that you can get out your frustrations and not take them out on him. If this means venting to a friend or even speaking with a counselor, please do it.
Determine NOT TO BARGAIN over what you want vs. who he is. While all relationships require compromise and it's important to realize that it's rare to get everything that you want on your list from someone else (check out "The Pros & Cons Of Creating A 'What I Want In A Man' Checklist"), if you feel like you're making concessions that are going to leave you completely unfulfilled, long-term, you need to understand that aren't making the true definition of what a sacrifice is — "a surrender of something of value as a means of gaining something more desirable". No one should feel like they've got to convince themselves to stay with someone else. Bargaining is oftentimes doing just that.
If you come to the decision to end the relationship, it's OK to feel SAD. Clearly, there were some good things about the person and the dynamic that caused you to stand. Internalizing your emotions will just prolong the healing process.
ACCEPT whatever you ultimately decide to do. If you decide to stay, be intentional about not trying to change him. If you decide to leave, be disciplined enough to not go back until you know, beyond the shadow of a doubt, that you can accept him as-is; that you will only be there to support him in the changes he desires to make based on the man he needs to become vs. the man you want him to be (because that is not always or automatically one and the same).
Grieving can be hard. Shoot, harder than even that. This includes when it's tied to something like conjuring up an image in our mind that doesn't actually exist. But if you do it, you allow healing and clarity to manifest — and when you approach relationships from this space, you are more whole, you are more relaxed and you are better able to see things for what they are, not for what you want them to be. And then you can make wiser mate selection decisions from that. I know this from very up close and personal experience. So, grieve it out, sis. Grieve it all out. The pain won't last forever and you'll be the better for it. You truly will.
Featured image by Getty Images