What happens when the person you’ve built up in your head lets you down?

What happens when the person you’ve built up in your head lets you down?

You’ve met someone, and they seem amazing. They’re perfect, they’re incredible, they’re everything you’ve ever wanted.

Now they’re gone. Now you’re sitting there wondering how you could be so wrong. How is the person who you thought really connected with you suddenly not interested, wrong for you, or something completely different from what you expected. 

If you’ve ever felt this way, know that you’re not alone. I’ve been there, and countless others have too. But you didn’t click this link to commiserate, you want answers. So let’s do it.

First, why do we build people up in the first place?

Lot’s of reasons obviously, but I think it’s safe to say that if you’ve ever built anyone up in your head, it’s safe to say that the reason fits into one of these three categories:

  • Early Green flags. Think of this as the opposite of a Red Flag. If you have a dog and you meet someone who hates dogs, Red flag. Meet someone obsessed with dogs, and your dog in particular, GREEN flag. It might be more serious than that though. Usually it’s a combination of things, like them being self-sufficient and independent, attractive, single, well-spoken, well-educated, etc., etc. The more positive aspects you see, the more likely you are to ascribe other positive attributes to that person.
  • Hope in the face of repeated bad experiences. Plain old hoping for the best. Sometimes it’s not what someone shows you, it’s what they haven’t shown you, that allows you to hope for the best. You go on a first date, or you’ve sent a few messages back and forth on a dating app, that aren’t good per se, but it wasn’t necessarily bad either. You’ve had so many bad experiences that the absence of a one allows you to hope, and that hope causes you to build someone up in your head.
  • Wishful thinking. Sometimes the reason we build someone up in our heads has nothing to do with early indicators that they’re a catch, or hoping someone will be good because the bar for “good” is set so low. Sometimes, it’s just wishful thinking.

So you built someone up in your head, and now they’ve let you down in some way. In life, and in dating, well all go through. So why does it hurt so much when you build someone up and they let you down?

  • It can feel embarrassing to be wrong about someone. Nobody wants to be wrong, and I think a lot of people get embarrassed when they’re wrong. Especially when they’re wrong about a person.
  • Your bad experiences seem unrelenting. Being wrong about one person might be easy to accept, but if you’ve got months, or even years, of bad experiences that never seem to end, the cumulative effect can be devastating. Even the emotionally strongest among us have a breaking point.
  • Disappointment. Plain and simple, disappointment hurts, and when you feel like you’ve only disappointed yourself by building someone up in your head, it can hurt all the more.

While it’s good to know the motivation behind our behaviors, and why some things hurt us, the key focus should always be how to move on. I’m all for figuring out causes and their effects, but the most important thing is to move on when you’re ready. As always, here are my strategies for moving on after a build up and a let down. Your mileage may vary, but I think these tips will help:

  • Remember, there’s no shame in being wrong about someone. You’re not infallible. I’m not infallible. If I was, I wouldn’t have had multiple experiences over all the years I was single where I built someone up and was then let down. We’re all wrong about people from time to time, no matter how good we are at reading them. Some people are purposely dishonest, and know how to convince others of a lie. Others are exactly what you think they are, but aren’t into you. It happens, so don’t hold yourself to impossible standards. You deserve better.
  • There’s nothing wrong with hope, it means your heart hasn’t hardened. There is value in hope, especially in dating. It pays to take a critical, even logical look at dating and relationships from time to time. But, there is a place for hope, especially when you’re confronted with disappointment day after day. The constant slights and rejections can hurt and harden your heart, making it harder to meet anyone. The pain you feel is valid, but it’s also a reminder that you still feel. That, in and of itself, is a good thing.
  • Think of every time you’re wrong about someone as a learning opportunity. You can always take a “silver lining” approach. It hurts to be wrong about someone, it sucks to be disappointed, but if you can use it as a learning opportunity it can help. What can you learn? Look at why you built someone up, and where you went wrong. Look at how you built them up in your head, what made you do those things, and think of ways that you can prevent it from happening in the future. These are just some small ways that you can use a build up then let down to learn and grow.

Let me just close by saying that even if you take everything I’ve said to heart, that doesn’t mean that you’ll never be in the same situation again. When we meet someone promising, it’s easy to build them up. If we’re lucky, they’re just as good as you thought they were, if not more so. If you’re unlucky again remember that you’re not alone, and it happens to the best of us.

Good Luck Out There.

Also published on Medium.