The summer before my senior year of college, Paul* and I went on three magical OKCupid dates. We bonded over a common love of animals, made out through the entirety of The Room, and took long walks where we talked about our past relationships. Then, on the afternoon of what would’ve been our fourth date, he ghosted me. I didn’t hear from him for over a year. 

I dated someone else over the course of that year, but after we broke up, Paul was still on my mind. I found him on Facebook, and we started talking again. He admitted he’d gotten back together with his ex the previous summer but was too scared to tell me. But they weren’t together anymore, and he invited me to hang out next time I was in his city. Thus began an on-again, off-again non-relationship that I secretly hoped would become a relationship, despite his warnings that he wasn’t looking for one. 

Another year after our reunion, we were talking on Facebook, and he confided in me about a relationship with a coworker that had gotten “complicated.” Tears filled my eyes. I knew we weren’t dating, but I thought we were something. 

I tried to put him out of my mind for the next few months, but I couldn’t. When I went to a music festival we’d gone to together, I secretly hoped I’d run into him. I fantasized about how our big reconciliation would go. Then, while I was listening to music on Spotify, I saw his Facebook profile picture on my sidebar, and nuzzled next to him was a beautiful woman. I cried and cried all morning. 

But there was a silver lining to that discovery: Finally, it felt like it was over. I could give up and move on. But what had ended, exactly? A relationship had never even started.

Sometimes it’s harder to get over the people you never actually dated

It’s sometimes these relationships that never even start that are hardest to get over — because you’re always left with hope. Hope that it didn’t really end. Hope that it’ll evolve into more. Hope that they’ll realize there was something between you all along. 

This hope is seductive. Since the relationship lives mainly in your mind, you can make up whatever you want about it. Why would you tell yourself it’s over when you could tell yourself it’s only getting started? 

The reason why, of course, is to spare yourself the disappointment when things don’t work out between you (because, chances are, they won’t, or they would have). If you want to move on but you just can’t seem to, here are some ways to speed up that process:

1. Mourn it

A relationship doesn’t have to be official to be worth grieving over. The more tears you can get out now, the less you’ll be crying over it for months (or, let’s be real, years) to come. 

2. Stop talking

Unhealthy attachments thrive in grey areas, and one such area is “staying friends.” Be realistic: Can you really stay friends without hoping it’ll evolve into more? Your only shot at a friendship will happen once every semblance of a romantic feeling is gone. 

3. Stop stalking 

Snooping on someone’s Facebook profile can have the same effect as talking to them. It provides more opportunities to fantasize, reminisce, and pine for them. 

4. Set your sights on other people

Focus on people who actually are looking for the kind of relationship you are. The more you see how many great people are out there, the less important your ex-you-never-dated will seem. 

5. Get some tough love

Enlist a friend to remind you of the hard truth: This person doesn’t want to date you. Don’t glorify the relationship in your mind. It might have made you happy, but it also left you feeling confused, neglected, and sad. And relationships don’t have to feel that way. 

Paul still pops up on my Facebook wall sometimes, and I’ll even I.M. him things that made me think of him once in a blue moon. But I’m under no delusion that we will ever be more than former lovers and acquaintances. And as it turns out, there’s a bonus to that: I finally get to appreciate the relationship for what it really was.