I’m in love with someone who isn’t my partner. How can I stop the pain?

May 29, 2023

QUESTION

Dear Venerable Robina,

I hope this finds you well and I very much enjoy watching your videos and reading your wisdom!

I am in a pickle… a pickle of pain and heartache.

I am in a happy long-term relationship in which I cherish the person, however I have been deeply attached to and in love with someone else, a friend, for six years. I have grappled over the years with feelings of shame and guilt for feeling this way for someone else. I have never acted on the feelings but I have tried to explain them to the friend in question to try to find a conclusion in my heart.

The karmic pull is so strong, yet the friend is looking down a different path of peace and Buddhist practice and, however deep the connection, they are not interested in or believe in romantic love.

How do I let them go when I feel like they are in my life for a reason and I have tried to let them go on multiple occasions to no avail. Am I just completely delusional? I guess attachment is delusion…

Much love and grateful for your thoughts,

Q

ANSWER

Dearest Q,

I’m glad to hear from you — thank you for telling me what’s going on.

I hear you loud and clear. Very painful indeed. And you understand the dilemma so well.

Yes, you hit the nail on the head: attachment is the problem! Sounds so easy, just saying the word. But as Lama Yeshe says, “I could tell you about attachment for one whole year,” but unless we go deep inside we won’t really understand how subtle, how pervasive it is.

So what to do? Given that your friend is going in another direction, then there is only one choice: change your mind. Of course you’ve been trying to do that all these years, I can see.

But this is the practice.

First, no need for guilt: that just makes it worse, so really work on that. Guilt, of course, is just anger against ourselves. Try to be kinder to yourself in relation to this. I mean you’ve done such a good job in not following through with your yearnings, so rejoice in your good ethics.

Second, you say that you feel “they are in my life for a reason”: saying that somehow assumes that you must be together. I think as long as you think that, it will always be painful. Just because there is this close karmic connection and that you feel such affection for this person, doesn’t mean it’s somehow wrong that you don’t have the relationship you yearn for.

We know that we can’t always get what we want — it’s as simple as that.

A good way to think is that their being in your life is a wonderful opportunity for you to practice giving up attachment. So powerful! And giving up attachment to one thing/person/event just naturally helps you in all aspects of your life.

It’s just the same as having a person we can’t stand in our life: they’re there as an opportunity to give up anger. Your practice is to give up attachment.

And what does that mean? It means literally changing the way you think about this person. Try to write a new script in your head: that’s the essence of it.

To do that we have to understand what attachment is. In essence, it’s an exaggeration of the thing/the person’s nice qualities.

This doesn’t mean you have to see their bad qualities! No, it just means changing the story in your head. Try to hear all the thoughts that underpin the emotions, the yearning. Try to cut back on them.

And all this also means learning to be satisfied with what you do have with this person. Get as much pleasure from that rather than wanting more. It’s possible – but slowly, slowly.

Because if you can do this, you will suffer less, you’ll become more content. Because as long as you keep yearning for them and daydreaming about them, you’ll always feel sad, as if you’re missing something.

It’s hard work, Q, but it’s possible.

Much love, much courage,

Robina

 

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