The question we're answering today is a question I get all the time, and so I wanted to put something a bit more comprehensive together for you. This is honestly more of an eBook than it is a blog post, but this is such a big, important, and tender topic, I didn't want to leave one thing out.
Okay, without further ado, let's get to today's topic, and the question that inspired it:
I really need some advice. I have feelings for a guy, and I have for a really long time. The problem is that he says he doesn’t feel the same way about me. I know I should try to get over him, but I have no idea how. I have prayed about it so much — asking God to take my feelings for him away — but He hasn’t, and now I’m more confused than ever. Does the fact that God isn’t taking my feelings away mean something’s going to happen between us? Does this mean I have these feelings for a reason? Should I hold on to them? And if I shouldn’t, how in the world do I finally let them go? How do I begin to get over someone I care so much about? I so hope you can help me!
I am so so glad you asked about this, because this is a situation so many of us have found ourselves in — myself included.
Sometimes it happens after a breakup — they seem to be moving on fine, but no matter what you do, your heart can’t seem to let go. Sometimes it happens with a crush. No matter what you do, you just can’t stop hoping something will happen.
The truth is, stopping feelings once they’ve started feels like stopping a runaway train. Totally impossible. Or at least, NOT easy!
Things become even more complicated when we start praying, “God, if this isn’t meant to be, please take my feelings away.”
Because at least for me, I expected the answer to that prayer to feel like a vacuum in my chest. I pictured God sticking a professional grade shop-vac into my heart and sucking the feelings right out. And if that doesn’t happen, then it kind of seems like He’s saying this is meant to be. Which makes letting go actually impossible.
I have totally been there. I think we all have.
But, if I could go back and tell myself a few things when I was in those situations, I know exactly what I’d say, and those are the exact same things I want to tell you today.
I know that we might not be able to break through this seemingly impenetrable wall all at once today, but I’m hoping we can pull out a few bricks so you can see through to the other side.
First, I want to share with you two things I learned (the hard way, of course!) about this situation. And then we’ll dive into the 5 steps I have actually taken to getting over someone and moving on.
So let's start with these two things:
1. I don’t know if God’s actually giving us a sign
It feels like we’re setting out a fleece. Doesn’t it? Gideon said, God, please don’t be mad at me, but if this is from you, please give me a sign. Let this wool fleece be wet with dew in the morning while the rest of the ground is dry. And then the next day, God, please let the fleece be dry, and the ground around it be wet with dew, and if you do those things, I’ll know this is from you.
And I think that’s what we sometimes do when we pray, “God, if this isn’t meant to be, please take these feelings away.” We hope that He’ll step in, suck them right out of our chests, and if He doesn’t, that means it’s meant to be. But I just don’t know if that’s how it works.
That’s not how it worked for me.
For two years I prayed for God to take away my feelings if it wasn’t meant to be. God didn’t take away my feelings, and it still wasn’t meant to be. And for a long time I was frustrated by that. It felt like God hung me out to dry. You know? God — why would you allow me to have those feelings if it wasn’t meant to be? Or worse, why would you GIVE me those feelings (which it feels like He’s doing if He refuses to take them away), if we weren’t going to end up together? It starts to feel like God is cruel, playing with our hearts, falling asleep at the wheel when He should be protecting us from harm.
But here’s something important I realized not long ago: God doesn’t give us feelings for Himself, so why would He for someone else?
Here’s what I mean — one of the cornerstones of our faith is that God gives us a choice whether or not to love Him. When Jesus died on the cross for us, it was an invitation into relationship with God. It was an opportunity to come and be close, if we wanted to be. But we know through reading scripture, and through looking back at our own lives — lots and lots of times, people don’t choose Him. And God allows that to happen. God doesn’t force us to love Him, He allows us the choice. And this is crazy because we’re talking life and death here. We’re talking about salvation, and God still doesn’t force our hand.
And so what makes us think that He would in our relationships here on earth?
I think I thought that God would plop feelings down into my heart — that He would put someone in my path and give me the feelings I had for them. He’s God, right? He can do anything! But realizing that even when it comes to life and death, God doesn’t force our hand, helped me see that maybe the feelings I had for these guys weren’t plopped from God in the first place. Maybe I had more of a say in this than I realized.
And looking back over my relationship history, that’s the truth I see. I can remember moments when someone liked me and I wasn’t sure I liked them, but I totally convinced myself into having feelings. I had the ability to do that, and I know you do too. I can see times when I fell for someone — head over heels — that wasn’t good for me at all. They weren’t good for me then, they weren’t good for me in the long run either. But I fell anyway. And I can see times when I thought I was trying not to like someone, when I thought I was trying to get over them, but I can see myself stoking the fire of my feelings for them, helping them grow instead of diminish.
While love is most certainly blind, and while our hearts are this wild, curious toddler we have to keep a constant eye on to keep out of trouble, our hearts are our hearts, and I think God gives us absolute authority over who we love and who we don’t.
He’s not a controlling Father, forcing us to love Him, and that’s actually a matter of life and death. And so I don’t think He reaches into our hearts and either places or removes feelings for someone here on earth. I think He gives us the choice.
And that’s what I’ve found in my marriage as well.
When Carl and I were dating, I remember asking him one time if he'd ever asked God if I was the woman for him. And what Carl reported back totally shocked me. Carl said that he felt like God was giving us the choice. If we wanted to choose each other, we totally could. But we also didn't have to.
And when Carl told me that, I was like, “Hold the phone. What does that even mean? Isn’t God supposed to choose?”
My Christian fairy tale was falling apart before my eyes.
But then Carl stepped in and pointed out something I had never considered before. He told me that he thinks it’s even MORE romantic to get to choose.
The thing is — how romantic is it to ask someone why they love you, and for them to say, “Because I was told to.”? That’s not fun at all. We don't want someone to be forced or coerced or even cajoled into loving us. We want them to choose us, to see us and say, “That one. I choose her!” We want to be seen, recognized, and picked on purpose.
And that’s what God was saying to Carl. He was saying, “I’m not going to make this decision for you. Do you want it to be her? Then go get her.” And Carl did.
He pursued me because he wanted to, not because God told him to. He did it with God’s blessing, for sure. But he chose me. And that’s set us up for a beautiful string of almost 4 years now of us choosing each other.
We hear people say this all the time, that love is a choice — that marriage is waking up every single day and choosing that person all over again. And that’s what Carl and I have been doing ever since.
He picked me, and I picked him, and every day we wake up and do it all over again. We choose each other, choose to pursue each other, to be kind to each other, to love each other. Every day Carl feels seen and chosen, and so do I. Our hand wasn’t forced, we got to pick, and we picked each other.
So I KNOW it feels totally confusing to ask God to take something away and for Him not to do it. But I really do believe we have more say over our feelings than maybe we realize. Which brings us to number two.
2. Getting over someone takes intentional action, and it’s something we have to do if we’re ever going to get to be with someone else.
So if God isn't going to shop-vac our feelings out of our hearts, then what do we do? This is when most people would pipe in and say something like, “Time heals all wounds.” And I agree with this — to an extent. I think time helps tremendously, but I also know that I’ve sat two years away from the initial heartbreak, still holding onto feelings. I bet you have too.
One of my favorite things about our hearts as women is our deep hope. We are loyal, committed, persistent with our hope. We stick it out, hold out for it, refuse to let go, because that’s how deep our love goes.
But the problem comes when it’s time to let go. We don't know how, and sometimes even time isn’t enough to pry our fingers off of our hope for things to turn around. It certainly wasn’t for me.
I needed to do specific, intentional things to let go — to start to move on. Because again with the runaway train, left to my heart’s own devices, it could hold onto hope forever.
But before we get into the specific things I did to start to let go, I want to remind us of why we need to.
The thing is — if this person isn't going to be the person for us, then we need to make room in our hearts for the person who is.
I remember talking to my pastor once about an ex-boyfriend who was sort of back in my life. I was trying to convince him and myself of why that ex and I could still be best friends — why it was totally fine for him to be the person I called at the end of the day, the person who knew my deepest hopes and dreams, the person I walked next to through life. “We’re not together,” I told my pastor, “We’re just friends, so it’s fine!”
But then my pastor said something I’ll never forget.
He said, “Steph, how do you think the next guy you date is going to feel about your ex-boyfriend being your person? Also, isn’t that the space your next boyfriend is supposed to occupy?”
He was right.
That day, I started picturing my love life like the Olympic podium and there was only space for one in the top spot. If I had this ex-boyfriend in that spot, either I was going to hurt the next guy who tried to take it, or I wouldn’t be able to let anyone take it at all.
The top spot was being occupied, meaning there wasn’t room for anyone new. And I know so many of us have found ourselves here.
When we have super strong feelings for someone, and we have for a long time, the prospect of dating someone new sounds painful and also impossible. No one can measure up. We compare everyone to that guy. Even worse, we might not be able to date at all, because we’re so consumed with someone we aren’t actually with.
The top spot in our lives is occupied, and if we’re ever going to let someone else (like our future husband) take that seat, we need to free it up.
So friend, I want to finish up by talking about the 5 intentional steps I took to get over someone I loved — to free my heart up enough to date and even to love again.
And honestly — I am so glad I did these things — because if I hadn’t, then when my husband came along, I wouldn’t have been able to give my heart to him.
So without further ado, here we go!
Step 1: Get some distance
So this step is maybe the hardest because it feels so counter-intuitive. If we have feelings for someone, most likely, we’ll do pretty much anything to be around them. I know I would. I would find every excuse in the book to talk to them, to be around them, to hang out together.
But if we’re ever going to be able to move on, this is what has to change first.
I always think of a broken heart like a physical wound. Matters of the heart can be too intangible to really know what to do with, so I think of it physically.
If I wanted to heal from something — from this broken heart, from this un-ending crush — the first thing I needed to do was to remove myself from the thing that was digging the wound deeper.
Every time I’d see the person I liked, I’d like them more. Every time I’d see my ex-boyfriend, my hope would increase, but so would my heartbreak.
But while being near them was hard, being away from them was even harder. Until I finally made myself get some distance.
Sometimes it meant finding a different job, or going to a different church, or hanging out with a different group of friends. Sometimes these moments lined up perfectly with times when I was headed out of town for an internship, or even better, leaving the country!
Regardless of how you put distance between yourself and this person, you need to have some distance if you’re ever going to be able to move on.
This means no more talking on the phone, stopping the constant texting, unfriending them on Facebook, unfollowing them on Instagram. Whatever way you are constantly keeping tabs on this person, constantly keeping in touch, hearing about them or seeing them — the most important (and of course, the hardest!) thing you need to do is to remove yourself from the situation.
Until you have some space and time away from them, it’s going to be almost impossible to move on. So distance is the very first thing.
And trust me love, I know how hard this is. It feels cruel, or like you’re throwing away a friendship, or unfair that you have to give up things you love in order to move on. But know, it’s not always permanent. You can go back to that church at some point, or hang out with those friends without him, and maybe you can even be friends again one day.
But distance is key to moving on. So that’s step 1.
Step 2: Watch your thoughts
A few weeks ago I was talking to a friend who just met a new guy. She didn’t know him at all, but they’d just met, and from what she could tell, he was a total catch.
Over the next few weeks, she thought about him a ton.
She thought about the kind of person he might be, and the things they could do together. Before long, she had this whole scenario mapped out in her brain — how they were going to meet again, fall in love, where their first date would be, and how he would propose.
But here’s the problem — a few weeks later, she saw him again. This time he was with a girl. His fiancé. He had been engaged that entire time, and when she found out, she was crushed.
And as she was telling me this, there wasn’t a shred of judgement in my heart in response. We have ALL done this.
We really have. As women, with our beautiful, loving, hopeful hearts, we can think and imagine our way straight into love, even with a perfect stranger. It’s just how we are.
But because we have this power, because we have this ability, we really have to be careful with where we let our thoughts go.
If we can fall in love with a perfect stranger just through the power of our imagination, we can certainly keep ourselves in love with someone for an infinite amount of time. That’s what I did with the guys I couldn’t get over, and I have a feeling that’s what you might be doing too.
And because our thoughts have this power, it’s absolutely essential that we start holding them accountable.
Our thoughts are powerful, and if we’re daydreaming, and writing happy endings with the two of us together, we’re not actively working to get over them, we’re actively increasing our feelings for them.
So if we really want to move on, and create an open space for someone who’s in love with us right back, we have to start watching our thoughts.
Find yourself daydreaming? Change the subject in your head. Give yourself something else to think about. This is a PERFECT time to start a new hobby. That’s a perfect time to ask God not to vacuum your feelings away, but to help your heart to start to let go, to help you move on.
Our thoughts, our imagination, and our daydreams are where so much of this struggle takes place, and so we have to start watching our thoughts.
Stand at the doorway to those fantasies and hopes and dreams, and when you feel yourself start to walk down that hallway, lovingly turn yourself back. You will thank yourself later when you’re able to fall in love with someone who doesn’t just live in your hopes and daydreams.
Step 3: Remember the bad as well as the good
One of the problems with having feelings for someone we’re not currently in a relationship with is that we tend to see the relationship through rose-colored glasses. It’s a combination of strong feelings, with a touch of nostalgia, coupled with the fact that we’re not actually in a tangible relationship with them, so we see the good they do without being affected by the bad.
And all of this swirls together into this perfection that nobody (not even the guy you’re thinking about!) can measure up to.
Think about the stranger my friend fell for a few weeks ago. He could have been the biggest jerk in the whole entire world, and she would have never imagined it. Because in her head, where the relationship was unfolding, that’s not how she pictured him. But the truth is, she didn’t really know him at all. If she did, she might not have fallen so hard.
So that’s why it’s really important to remember the bad as well as the good.
Even if there aren’t any glaring flaws to the guy you like, there is still a big one. He isn’t pursuing you. He doesn’t have feelings for you, or if he does, he’s not making them known. He’s not choosing you, not saying, “This is the one,” and doing everything in his power to make it so.
And that’s a HUGE problem, because you don't want to be in a relationship with someone who doesn’t want to be in a relationship with you. You deserve so much more than that.
And so for me, and I’d bet for you, it’s a really important thing to see the person you like through real, sober eyes. Who are they really? Everyone has flaws, what were theirs? It’s only when we start to see someone for who they really are — flaws and all — that we can start to get over them. And that someone great (and also flawed) can start to vie for that top spot in our lives and actually stand a chance.
Step 4: Ask for help
I don’t know if you’ve heard me talk about this before, but I am a huge fan of counseling. Both of my parents are licensed psychologists, and I’ve been to therapy before — several times. Not only have I been to therapy, but every single woman that I look up to, that I love, my best friends, my mentors, all of them have been to therapy at least once. Most of them, several times.
I’m a huge fan of it because in each of our lives, I think we come up against things we can’t and shouldn’t have to face on our own.
Life is tough — it bumps us and bruises us — and I think there is such strength in saying, “I could use some help walking through this.”
We don’t try to heal our bodies on our own, and so I don’t see a reason to try to heal our minds and our hearts on our own, especially when there are trained doctors who can help us get through these things faster, more effectively, and more fully.
I’ve been to therapy several times for lots of different reasons, including for awhile when I was trying to get over a breakup.
And maybe you feel silly thinking about going to therapy about something like this — but love affects us so deeply and so powerfully. Why wouldn’t we ask for help walking through it?
I knew that if I really wanted to be able to love someone new, if I really wanted to be able to invite a great new guy into that top spot in my life, I had to work through this, and work through it well.
I’m totally not saying you HAVE to go to therapy, but if it’s crossed your mind, or if you’ve wished you could ask for help, but felt stupid for thinking about it with something as small as this… I want to tell you, this isn't stupid.
This is important. This is a great learning opportunity — a great moment for you to discover more about yourself, more about God, more about what you’re looking for in a person. It’s the perfect time for you to heal fully from some past wounds, and from this current wound. I think a broken heart is a perfect reason to ask for help, and so if you’ve been considering it, I hope you do! (And here's a great place to find a counselor!)
Step 5: Don’t be afraid to date again
I’m totally not advocating for jumping into another serious relationship before you’re ready, but I do think there’s value to being able to see that there are other wonderful guys out there in the world.
It’s easy to feel like you lost the only good one, they’re your only chance, the only one for you and you lost them. But that’s just not true. It’s just not. I don’t believe it for a second.
There are so many wonderful people in the world, and I think meeting some new ones is a great way to remember that there’s hope, that there’s newness ahead of you, that there’s beauty and love in your future that you can’t imagine quite yet. I think it might help you start to imagine it.
I’m NOT advocating for toying with men's hearts. Don’t pretend you’re ready for a serious relationship if you’re not. But if you feel ready to go on a date, I think it’s totally okay to go on a date. If you feel ready to just even peruse what might be out there, that’s great too!
Just seeing what guys might be out in the world might help remind you that there’s life after the death of this relationship.
The last thing I want to leave you with is something that helped me immensely when I was trying to get over someone. A good friend of mine told me something that his mom always used to tell him.
She says, “The person you marry will be the coolest person you’ve ever met.” And I really do believe that is true.
I’ve been through more heartaches than I can even tell you in this one little blog post, and I’ve watched my girlfriends have their hearts broken over more guys than I can even count. We’ve waited, hoped, struggled to get over them, and thought that we really lost the one.
But I can tell you on behalf of me and my girlfriends that we wouldn’t go back to any of them even if we had the chance. Not even for a second.
The guys we’ve ended up marrying are more than we could ever have asked for or imagined, more than we would have ever been able to dream of when were in the depths of our heartbreak. And that’s how it should be.
(Here's a podcast episode where my best friend and I talk about how we got through some of our toughest breakups, and why we wouldn't go back and change our stories even for a second!)
I know you, and you wouldn’t marry someone who is a poor man’s replacement for the guy you’re trying to get over right now. Which means, the person you do marry will be better than the person you thought was perfect.
It’s just true. Mine is, it’s been the case for every woman I know, and I believe that it’s true for you too, friend.
Allow yourself to open your hands, do the intentional things you need to do to start letting go, and to start moving forward, because I promise you — there are better things ahead than the ones you’re leaving behind.
I'm on your team, I'm praying for you, and you can do this. I know you can.
All my love,
P.S. Could you use some encouragement in this season, a reminder that you're not alone in this, or just a distraction? (Sometimes a distraction is so so helpful!).
If so, click here. That link will take you to a free download of my book, The Lipstick Gospel.
It's the story of the time when I got my heart broken into a million pieces, and how that heartbreak ended up being the very best thing to ever happen to me.