I’ve done it. Many of my clients and friends have done it. Maybe we’ve all done it at some point.  We’ve continued to spend time with someone we cared about…who didn’t quite feel the same way about us. We’ve eagerly anticipated their call or text, felt excited when they agreed to meet up, found ourselves looking for any sort of sign that they might share our attraction.


And maybe it went even further than that. Maybe we canceled plans with friends so that we could see them. Maybe we hooked up. Maybe we had sex. All while avoiding the scary questions—what is this, really? do you actually care about me? do you even like me? is this just convenient for you?


Afraid we wouldn’t like the answers, we didn’t ask. We may even have tried to downplay our own feelings—I mean, I’m not in love with him or anything. We’ve told ourselves that we’re enjoying the ride, going with the flow, seeing what happens.  No harm, no foul, right?


Why Not Keep it Going?


Hanging out with someone can satisfy several needs—companionship, affection, sex.  One could easily ask what the harm is in spending time with someone whose company you enjoy. For the record, under the right conditions, hanging out don’t have to be a bad thing. If both people acknowledge the relationship isn’t going to go much deeper and neither truly wants more, then godspeed.  But it seems that, more often than not, one person has greater feelings or intentions than the other, and hanging out leads to heartbreak.


Essentially, there are three problems that can come up in these relationships: a) hanging out leaves you emotionally entangled with someone who does not want to be with you, b) it’s a waste of your time if you’re looking for a long-term relationship, and c) sometimes hanging out actually turns into a relationship—a shitty one. First of all, often we think, well if someone else (who is interested in me) comes along, I’ll simply stop seeing this person. However, those pesky feelings have a tendency to get in the way, and it can be tough to truly open yourself to someone else when you’re still emotionally involved with another person.


Also, time becomes a real concern.  There’s only so much time available to each of us, and if we spend it focused on someone who there’s little chance of a future with, we limit the time we can spend looking for a proper match.


Finally, sometimes couples do allow their hanging out relationships to move towards something more like commitment.  This can be a natural, positive development.  But sometimes individuals stay because it has become easier to stay than to leave. Because hanging out is based on comfort and convenience, folks aren’t confronted with the task of figuring out what the relationship really means to them and if they actually want a long term commitment with this person. This can result in a relationship (and even marriage) where one person is not truly invested.


All of that said, from a distance it is very easy to say just walk away from someone who doesn’t seem to care about you the way that you care about them. But anyone who has been in that place where excitement and hope and fear and attraction intersect can tell you how difficult it is to leave.  Below, I discuss three ways to avoid getting hung up on hanging out.


How to Let Go


Be honest with yourself about your own feelings.  Recognize (and don’t ignore) the signs that you’re feeling some sort of way about this person.  If you find yourself feeling those little jitters when they show up in your phone, forgoing plans with others so that you can see them, thinking about them throughout the day—you’re in like, so own it. Take stock of what you feel for this person and think about whether their behaviors demonstrate interest on their part.


Make your feelings known.  This is the toughest but most important way to deal with being uncertain as to how someone feels about you.  On the surface it seems that the fear of rejection haunts us in these scenarios, but more than anything it’s having to give up on the idea of a relationship with this person.  We’re not just saying scary vulnerable words to another human being (hey, I like you), but also letting go of the fantasy of what could be. The thing is, if you tell the person how you feel early on, you rip the Band-Aid off right away.  You don’t have to keep wondering how they feel about you and you don’t have to waste time with someone who doesn’t share your feelings.  It gives you the freedom to move on.


The best cure is to avoid getting sick in the first place.  Obviously, these situations are not always avoidable.  We cannot control who we develop feelings for.  However, we can decrease the likelihood that we end up in this scenario by defining what we want in the beginning of a relationship with a potential partner. I hate to be old fashioned here, but if you’re looking for a long term relationship—stop hanging out.  Just…stop.  Date people.  Like, actual dates, where each of you has expressed some level of intent.  Don’t accept anything less than actual dating and you won’t have to wonder if this person is interested or not.  And consider using the three date rule to move your dating life along.


Walking away from someone you’re attracted to and enjoy spending time with is tough. It can be difficult to give up having some of your needs met, even if the relationship is not fully want you want. But going down a path with a person who does not share your feelings is only delayed heartache—the disappointment and hurt feelings happen eventually. Not to mention, by devoting your time to someone unavailable, you stand to miss out on a person you could actually have a future with. Hanging out is not the cure to what ails you, and at times it can even make the sickness worse.


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