What If You Love Someone You Can't Have?

What should you do when the Universe doesn't agree with your love choice?

Love & Relationships

A movie that I have watched, so many times that I've totally lost count at this point, is (wow) 11 years old now. It's the romantic comedy called Definitely, Maybe, starring Ryan Reynolds, Abigail Breslin, Isla Fisher and a host of other folks. If you've never seen it before, it's about a man by the name of Will (Ryan plays him) who is going through a divorce. His daughter Maya (played by Abigail) has all sorts of questions about his love life. As he walks her through his journey (totally in a PG fashion), a recurring character that keeps coming up is April (played by Isla).

If for some reason you decide to watch the movie for the first time at some point, I won't give the ending away. What I will say is I think that a part of the reason why I like the film so much is because it speaks to the old adage "timing is everything"—or, as my mother used to oftentimes say, "the right thing at the wrong time is still the wrong thing". When it comes to what we'll be talking about here today, it is oh so true that sometimes we love someone we can't have…right now. Maybe they don't see us the way that we see them—yet. Maybe there are some life experiences that both they and we need to have before crossing paths in a romantic way. Perhaps, while we may be "in the same book" with someone, we're not exactly in the same chapter, let alone on the same page. Again…yet. In these instances, sometimes all we need to get to our happy ending is time which requires faith and patience.

Yeah, that's not exactly what this article is about, though. What I'm talking about is what you should do if you love someone that the Universe is giving you all sorts of pushback on. Maybe they're married or in a serious relationship. Maybe the feelings are there, but you don't truly complement each other. Or maybe, you're "All Alone in Love" like Mariah used to single about (check out "5 Signs That You're In Love (All By Yourself)" when you get a chance). When this is what's going on, how do you 1) live through it and 2) get past it? Girrrl. Girl.

Ask Yourself If It’s Truly Love That You’re Feeling


If you're currently single and you desire marriage or a long-term relationship, what do you want the love that you share with that person to feel like? Shoot, to be like? Because I am passionate person, back when I was dating, sexing and situationship-ing, I must admit that I was a bit more interested in being led by desire than what motivates me now—feeling safe. Don't get me wrong, lust (which means sexual desire) has its place. My problem was that I put it before love and, when that is the case, things can go real left, real quick.

After detoxing some toxic family patterns, unhealthy friendships and cray-cray relationships with men, I realized that if something doesn't feel safe—"secure from liability to harm, injury, danger, or risk"—something isn't right. Something ain't the all-the-way-kind-of-love that I'm deserving of.

Just think about it. If you have a child, don't you want them to feel safe in your love? Your friends—don't you want them to feel safe in your love? Someone who believes that you love them, don't you want them to also feel safe? God loves us. Do you feel safe or unsafe knowing that?

Unfortunately, at least to me, the word "love" is tossed around so much—"I love ice cream", "I love red bottoms" and "Oh yeah, I love my husband too"—that a lot of us don't give love the kind of honor that it truly deserves.

That said, if you do indeed love someone who you can't have, in the process of feeling what you feel, is "safe" a word that can honestly be used to the relationship—mutually so? If not, if the situation exposes you to harm or danger or it involves a lot of risk (even if it's just emotional risk), I'm not saying that you're not feeling something; I'm just saying that love may not be exactly what it is. Love covers. Love protects. Love is safe. It's as deep and simple as that.

Get Real with Yourself About the Circumstances


If you've read enough of my relationship articles on the site, you know that I'm good for putting a throwback song into the mix. One that is pretty fitting right here is Shirley Murdock's "Husband". Actually, Shirley Murdock's "Husband", "As We Lay" (which she actually isn't all that thrilled to perform; see why here), and Kelly Price's remake of "As We Lay" where, in the video, Shirley plays Kelly's mom and says, "I know you think that you love this man, but God is not going to give you somebody else's husband." (For the record, she doesn't say you can't be with him; she said God won't be involved in the situation. That is key.)

I'm pretty sure most of you are familiar with at least one of the versions of "As We Lay", but if you don't recall "Husband", peep a part of the second verse: "You satisfied a real desire in me/Without apologies, I still have those needs/Well, I'm a lady with class, and I know my desire will pass/This cannot occur because you are her husband". I have shared before that once upon a time, I was a wedding planner who had the nerve to sleep with the groom-to-be (lowdown I know, yes she found out; they still went through with it, but they are divorced now). As a marriage life coach, I've also dealt with infidelity quite a bit and yes, sometimes people do profess to be in love with the person they are cheating with. I even know a couple who divorced their spouses, married their "side person" and have been together for well over two decades now (that is an exception and not the norm, by the way).

But to all of this, what I will say is, trust tends to be significantly and oftentimes irrevocably broken when two people come together via cheating. It is very hard to ignore the fact that if someone will cheat on their partner with you, it is very likely that they will do the same thing on you later down the road. And honestly, to want someone so badly that you don't care about that fact, that also begs the question if you're "in love" so much as you're bordering on obsession because real love doesn't require that you lose yourself in order to obtain it.

So yeah, if you love someone you can't have because they are currently with someone else, get real about if you are so consumed by them that you will not love your own self, just to be with them. If the answer is "yes", sis, the last thing that you need is that guy. What you need is to practice some self-love so that you can see what you are worthy of; and sometimes, that is the furthest thing from what you (currently) want.

Fun fact about "As We Lay": If you ever wondered what it would be like for these two sangin' powerhouses to come together, Shirley and Kelly performed "As We Lay" some years ago at the Essence Festival. You can peep it here.

Are There Red Flags That You’re Ignoring?


Once upon a time, there was a man who I loved so much that I looked over all sorts of red flags. His commitment-phobia. His unhealed childhood sexual abuse. How he would talk to me about other women (it wasn't derogatory, but it was pretty dismissive). His emotional unavailability and, to a certain degree, immaturity. I loved him so much that, in my mind, I thought that I could "love those things away" when, the reality is that, sometimes all you can do is support someone as they go through the process of fixing themselves via therapy, healing and the conscious desire to want to break free from certain patterns.

Sometimes, we want someone so badly that we overlook all of the reasons why we actually don't need to have them in our lives—at least, not in the way that we want them to be. Sometimes, if we're really and truly honest with ourselves, the "can't have them" is about all of the red flags that are trying to tell us, "I know you think this is what you want, but I promise you that it isn't."

What red flags are you ignoring? If you really can't see them, ask your friends about the red flags they may be noticing. Red means stop. Don't take that lightly.

How Has the Universe Been Working AGAINST What You Want?


There's another guy in my world who, although I didn't initially know it at the time that we met, he was in a long-term relationship. We worked together (which is how an overwhelming amount of emotional affairs get started) and so, eventually, I developed a pretty serious crush. By the time that I did find out that he was with someone—yes, feel free to insert some side-eye there because him not saying it from the jump was indeed shady on his part—I had already caught feelings. Feelings to the point where I was pretty irritated with God (what, you ain't never been there before?). I was irritated because, after finding out that we knew some of the same people and had shared similar life experiences well before meeting up and also well before he got with someone, I thought that the Lord was playing some sort of cruel prank or cosmic joke. Because, in my mind, this man was absolutely perfect for me.

That is until, after about six months of griping, I heard God say to me, "Shellie, if I wanted you to meet him when he was available, you would have. Being your man is not the purpose that he is to serve in your life." God was so right (duh). As I got to know this guy more and as I've discovered more about myself, he serves a purpose; just not a romantic one.

And trust me, coming to that realization has been a real lifesaver and totally a good thing. Not all connections or intimacies are meant to be romantic or sexualized. Sometimes, until we get—and accept—that reality, the Universe will do all sorts of things to put stumbling blocks in our way. For me, it was waiting for time to reveal.

So yeah, sis. If you love someone who you can't have, ask yourself why can't you? If it's due to their relational status, y'all's location or some other sort of circumstances, rather than breaking your neck to try and make "it" happen anyway, have you ever considered that God loves you enough to prevent it from going any further? And that is a blessing—even if right now it is a blessing in disguise.

What’s Preventing You from Moving On?


Even though mama used to say that there is no such thing as "can't", if trying to be with someone is costing you your principles, your self-worth or even if it's just totally wasting your time, sometimes "can't" should apply. You simply cannot remain emotionally invested in someone who either isn't right for you or, through his actions (or lack thereof), is showing that he doesn't want you because you're so much better than that.

If you're not yet at this point and place, ask yourself why not. Are you not accepting reality for what it is? Are the two of you sexually involved and you're honestly ad-dick-ted? Are you hoping that if you wait long enough, the circumstances that are keeping the two of you from being apart will change…even though his actions are clearly indicating that he has no problem with things remaining just as they are? Do you believe that you will never love someone the way that you love him? Are you afraid that this is the best that it's gonna get?

I had to learn the long and hard way that someone who truly loves me will value my time. A man who has no problem wasting it, he doesn't love me as much as I deserve to be loved. If the "can't have situation" that you are currently in is dragging along, you should ask yourself if waiting even longer is more or less painful than sucking it up and moving on, so that you can get to someone who will value every moment that he has with you—and will act accordingly because of it.

Do You Really Not Believe That There’s Better Out There for You?


Now that all of this information has been presented to you, if you still want to hang on, really, what is that all about? It took me a long time to get to the point and place that I'm about to share with you but, you deserve the kind of love that you are willing to give but aren't receiving in return. And here's the thing about that—if he felt the same way, he'd be making moves to figure that out as well. Here's one more thing about that—if he's married, you shouldn't want him to ditch his wife for you; he took sacred vows. Again, if he can dismiss her, he's showing you that it's not outside of his character to do the same thing to you too.

Something that the loving-someone-I-can't-have experience has taught me is the extreme importance that comes with guarding my heart so that the gift of my love isn't given without seeing if mutuality and reciprocity are even on the table first.

If it's not, no matter how awesome a man may be, he needs to be "filed away" as being something else. That way, my heart is healthy and whole for a man who I can love that I can have. A man who is single, ready and emotionally available to loving me in return. Because that's the kind of love that I deserve—one that will instead of, well, can't.

Want more stories like this? Sign up for our newsletter here and check out the related reads below:

Why We Love Men Who Are Absolutely No Good For Us

Why You Should Be Grateful 'He' Didn't Choose You

You Can't Sex It Away: A D*ck Appointment Is Not An Antidepressant

One Overlooked Yet Obvious Indicator That A Man Is Husband Material

Feature image of model Asha Childs by Unsplash

ACLU By ACLUSponsored

Over the past four years, we grew accustomed to a regular barrage of blatant, segregationist-style racism from the White House. Donald Trump tweeted that “the Squad," four Democratic Congresswomen who are Black, Latinx, and South Asian, should “go back" to the “corrupt" countries they came from; that same year, he called Elizabeth Warren “Pocahontas," mocking her belief that she might be descended from Native American ancestors.

But as outrageous as the racist comments Trump regularly spewed were, the racially unjust governmental actions his administration took and, in the case of COVID-19, didn't take, impacted millions more — especially Black and Brown people.

To begin to heal and move toward real racial justice, we must address not only the harms of the past four years, but also the harms tracing back to this country's origins. Racism has played an active role in the creation of our systems of education, health care, ownership, and employment, and virtually every other facet of life since this nation's founding.

Our history has shown us that it's not enough to take racist policies off the books if we are going to achieve true justice. Those past policies have structured our society and created deeply-rooted patterns and practices that can only be disrupted and reformed with new policies of similar strength and efficacy. In short, a systemic problem requires a systemic solution. To combat systemic racism, we must pursue systemic equality.

What is Systemic Racism?

A system is a collection of elements that are organized for a common purpose. Racism in America is a system that combines economic, political, and social components. That system specifically disempowers and disenfranchises Black people, while maintaining and expanding implicit and explicit advantages for white people, leading to better opportunities in jobs, education, and housing, and discrimination in the criminal legal system. For example, the country's voting systems empower white voters at the expense of voters of color, resulting in an unequal system of governance in which those communities have little voice and representation, even in policies that directly impact them.

Systemic Equality is a Systemic Solution

In the years ahead, the ACLU will pursue administrative and legislative campaigns targeting the Biden-Harris administration and Congress. We will leverage legal advocacy to dismantle systemic barriers, and will work with our affiliates to change policies nearer to the communities most harmed by these legacies. The goal is to build a nation where every person can achieve their highest potential, unhampered by structural and institutional racism.

To begin, in 2021, we believe the Biden administration and Congress should take the following crucial steps to advance systemic equality:

Voting Rights

The administration must issue an executive order creating a Justice Department lead staff position on voting rights violations in every U.S. Attorney office. We are seeing a flood of unlawful restrictions on voting across the country, and at every level of state and local government. This nationwide problem requires nationwide investigatory and enforcement resources. Even if it requires new training and approval protocols, a new voting rights enforcement program with the participation of all 93 U.S. Attorney offices is the best way to help ensure nationwide enforcement of voting rights laws.

These assistant U.S. attorneys should begin by ensuring that every American in the custody of the Bureau of Prisons who is eligible to vote can vote, and monitor the Census and redistricting process to fight the dilution of voting power in communities of color.

We are also calling on Congress to pass the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act to finally create a fair and equal national voting system, the cause for which John Lewis devoted his life.

Student Debt

Black borrowers pay more than other students for the same degrees, and graduate with an average of $7,400 more in debt than their white peers. In the years following graduation, the debt gap more than triples. Nearly half of Black borrowers will default within 12 years. In other words, for Black Americans, the American dream costs more. Last week, Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Sen. Elizabeth Warren, along with House Reps. Ayanna Pressley, Maxine Waters, and others, called on President Biden to cancel up to $50,000 in federal student loan debt per borrower.

We couldn't agree more. By forgiving $50,000 of student debt, President Biden can unleash pent up economic potential in Black communities, while relieving them of a burden that forestalls so many hopes and dreams. Black women in particular will benefit from this executive action, as they are proportionately the most indebted group of all Americans.

Postal Banking

In both low and high income majority-Black communities, traditional bank branches are 50 percent more likely to close than in white communities. The result is that nearly 50 percent of Black Americans are unbanked or underbanked, and many pay more than $2,000 in fees associated with subprime financial institutions. Over their lifetime, those fees can add up to as much as two years of annual income for the average Black family.

The U.S. Postal Service can and should meet this crisis by providing competitive, low-cost financial services to help advance economic equality. We call on President Biden to appoint new members to the Postal Board of Governors so that the Post Office can do the work of providing essential services to every American.

Fair Housing

Across the country, millions of people are living in communities of concentrated poverty, including 26 percent of all Black children. The Biden administration should again implement the 2015 Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing rule, which required localities that receive federal funds for housing to investigate and address barriers to fair housing and patterns or practices that promote bias. In 1980, the average Black person lived in a neighborhood that was 62 percent Black and 31 percent white. By 2010, the average Black person's neighborhood was 48 percent Black and 34 percent white. Reinstating the Obama-era Fair Housing Rule will combat this ongoing segregation and set us on a path to true integration.

Congress should also pass the American Housing and Economic Mobility Act, or a similar measure, to finally redress the legacy of redlining and break down the walls of segregation once and for all.

Broadband Access

To realize broadband's potential to benefit our democracy and connect us to one another, all people in the United States must have equal access and broadband must be made affordable for the most vulnerable. Yet today, 15 percent of American households with school-age children do not have subscriptions to any form of broadband, including one-quarter of Black households (an additional 23 percent of African Americans are “smartphone-only" internet users, meaning they lack traditional home broadband service but do own a smartphone, which is insufficient to attend class, do homework, or apply for a job). The Biden administration, Federal Communications Commission, and Congress must develop and implement plans to increase funding for broadband to expand universal access.

Enhanced, Refundable Child Tax Credits

The United States faces a crisis of child poverty. Seventeen percent of all American children are impoverished — a rate higher than not just peer nations like Canada and the U.K., but Mexico and Russia as well. Currently, more than 50 percent of Black and Latinx children in the U.S. do not qualify for the full benefit, compared to 23 percent of white children, and nearly one in five Black children do not receive any credit at all.

To combat this crisis, President Biden and Congress should enhance the child tax credit and make it fully refundable. If we enhance the child tax credit, we can cut child poverty by 40 percent and instantly lift over 50 percent of Black children out of poverty.


We cannot repair harms that we have not fully diagnosed. We must commit to a thorough examination of the impact of the legacy of chattel slavery on racial inequality today. In 2021, Congress must pass H.R. 40, which would establish a commission to study reparations and make recommendations for Black Americans.

The Long View

For the past century, the ACLU has fought for racial justice in legislatures and in courts, including through several landmark Supreme Court cases. While the court has not always ruled in favor of racial justice, incremental wins throughout history have helped to chip away at different forms of racism such as school segregation ( Brown v. Board), racial bias in the criminal legal system (Powell v. Alabama, i.e. the Scottsboro Boys), and marriage inequality (Loving v. Virginia). While these landmark victories initiated necessary reforms, they were only a starting point.

Systemic racism continues to pervade the lives of Black people through voter suppression, lack of financial services, housing discrimination, and other areas. More than anything, doing this work has taught the ACLU that we must fight on every front in order to overcome our country's legacies of racism. That is what our Systemic Equality agenda is all about.

In the weeks ahead, we will both expand on our views of why these campaigns are crucial to systemic equality and signal the path this country must take. We will also dive into our work to build organizing, advocacy, and legal power in the South — a region with a unique history of racial oppression and violence alongside a rich history of antiracist organizing and advocacy. We are committed to four principles throughout this campaign: reconciliation, access, prosperity, and empowerment. We hope that our actions can meet our ambition to, as Dr. King said, lead this nation to live out the true meaning of its creed.

What you can do:
Take the pledge: Systemic Equality Agenda
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Featured image by Shutterstock

This article is in partnership with Staples.

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