Thanks to the Internet, falling in love with someone is easier than ever. Contrary to what some people assume, sometimes you really can get to know people before you meet face to face. In fact, intimacy or its illusion can be easier over a distance, because less is at stake. However, the fact that you have feelings doesn’t mean the other person returns them – and, from what I’ve observed, that can mean you have to steer carefully between avoiding an incident and compromising your self-respect, especially if you are a man.
The trouble with unrequited feelings is that they are easily interpreted as harassment. In fact, there is no definite criteria to distinguish the two except the unsatisfactory one of whether your attentions are welcomed by the other person. Especially among feminists, you can find people who insist that unrequited feelings and harassment are the same thing, although that is like saying there is no difference between licensed drivers and hit and run drivers. The truth is that unrequited feelings are common among both men and women, especially younger ones, and the worst thing that can be said about such feelings in general is that they are foolish and frequently hopeless.
However, what you need to understand is that you generally have no defense against misinterpretations of your feelings. Once somebody decides that you are “creepy,” nothing you can do is likely to persuade the other person that you are anything else. The labeling becomes a fixed conclusion, unamendable by any logic or evidence.
You may develop the illusion that if you can only talk with the other person, everything can be explained, but anything you say or do is likely to be filtered through the basic misperception. You may have stopped at a particular coffee shop every day for six years, but if stopping there increases your chance of seeing the person, you may be branded a stalker. Just your efforts to explain and to get the other person to listen to you can be interpreted as harassment, and if you persist, the interpretation can become a fair one.
This situation is easy to misunderstand; I wouldn’t be the first person to refer to infatuation as a form of mental illness, and the chances are that you are not quite sane on the subject of your unrequited feelings. But if your intentions really are good, ask yourself if you really want the person you claim to love to suffer because of what you’re doing.
You may agonize over your inability to fix the situation, and hate the thought that the other person is putting themselves through needless pain, but the chances are that you can do nothing to change the situation – and certainly not quickly. Be careful that you are not inventing excuses to see them.
If you have any chance whatsoever – and you probably don’t – it lies in leaving the other person alone as much as possible. By definition, though, this advice is difficult to follow. After all, you have strong feelings. You may have a strong social conscience that tells you to resolve unnecessary suffering. You may be angry because the other person is being so unreasonable. But as hard as acceptance may be, you need to do nothing. Otherwise, you risk getting a reputation that you don’t deserve.
In fact, you may even want to practice some avoidance. If you can skip an event where the other person will be, you might consider doing so. If you can avoid making a public comment that will get back to the other person, possibly you should.
However, second-guessing can be difficult when you are trying to have no contact. It can easily feel like exactly the type of behavior you are trying not to fall into. Besides, at times you may have to do something, no matter what the risk. Probably, for example, you cannot chance your place of work just to avoid seeing the other person on the street.
Just as importantly, avoidance can erode your self-respect, making you feel that you are acquiescing to an unfair perception of you, or making allowances for someone who is being unreasonable. Above everything else, it can be inconvenient.
Caught by such a dilemma, the best course of action – if you can manage it – is to try to act as you would if you were not infatuated. Be honest with yourself: are you really doing something in the hopes of seeing the other person, or in defiance of their stubborn incomprehension? If so, then you almost certainly shouldn’t do it.
However, if work or some other necessity requires you to go risk contact, console yourself with the reminder that the problem is the other person’s, not yours. If you are not the way they imagine you are, then they will need to reconcile themselves to the fact that they will occasionally run into you, and the process of accepting that is one in which you cannot assist.
In saying these things, I am naturally assuming that you are genuinely confused by the situation into which you’ve blundered. If you are a stalker, my only advice is to stop at once. But if you have no criminal intentions, you need to keep busy, and think about something else than the other person. Falling out of love or infatuation is an uncomfortable process, but it remains your best hope of avoiding more trouble than you can easily get out of.