In the last few weeks, I have pondered the hardest “Would you rather?” Here goes – brace yourself, readers – would you rather love someone more than they love you, or would you rather love them less?
I did not find this existential, if not philosophical, burden in a book or an online forum. Instead, I came to experience the dichotomy of liking someone too little and then, with horrible PTSD, recalling the times I liked another more than they liked me.
I will illustrate both for you. In the late winter, I dated a girl for several months. I remember my excitement when we first started going out. I especially remember a Saturday afternoon text she sent: “What are you doing?” Genuine interest in my existence!
As time went on, her interest seemed to drain away. Of course, it was not so obvious, or things would have fallen apart immediately. She sent less texts, she flaked on dates, and she spoke of dating other people. I uncomfortably broached the question—“Uh, hey, are you that into me?”—and she denied the evidence. She insisted she liked me, she said she wouldn’t keep hanging out with me if that was the case, and she brought up my inquisition too many times afterwards for me to think I hadn’t offended her. I tried to dismiss her aloofness as extensions of a southern upbringing and her sorority sister stature. She was used to the guy pursuing, and that’s what I did.
I eventually stopped reaching out. She never reached out again. We had no “final conversation,” but I didn’t need closure. However, I never decided if I gave up on her because I stopped liking her or if I stopped liking her because I couldn’t believe she was that into me.
A few months afterward, I went out with two different girls and had two very different experiences. The first I met at a bar. She was attractive, but I did not feel compelled. She even invited me to her apartment, but I demurred and we ended up making out on a Metro platform before texting when we got home. I already knew I didn’t want to see her again. I could not place if it was her decibels-too-loud laugh or her brassy self-awareness or—“Please, no,” feminist me begged—her forwardness. There is not much of a hunt if the rabbit leads you right to her hole.
For the next few days, I replied to her messages and even entertained some elongated conversations, but I avoided solidifying future plans. On a date with someone else, I received a “Hope you’re having a good Saturday!” I both eye-rolled and felt queasily guilty, so I ordered a double rail when my date moved to a second location.
I debated sending a “breakup” text, but it felt heavy-handed after one date. I recalled when I had received some of those in the past (“Sorry, I didn’t feel a spark”), and they typically came across as melodramatic or self-involved. Of course, saying something is better than being ghosted… but I wasn’t ghosting either. I also liked feeling that I could go out with her again, though I knowingly cringed at the prospect.
Nevertheless, as our conversations continued, I limbo’d through questions like “What are you up to?” and “What’s your week like?” without saying, “Not seeing you!” My guilt grew and grew. I had nightmarish flashbacks to all the times I seriously liked someone and felt slighted by their waning interest or unhinged by a suspicion that they weren’t into me—the sleepless nights, the anxious home-brewed conspiracies, and self-destructive anguish that manifested in general depression, annoyance, and mania. I also recognized some pride that I could provoke such desire in a stranger.
Eventually, she stopped texting me, but to this day—weeks later—I question whether I should send an apology or, worse, go out with her again “just to see.”
Only a week after that incident, the episode seemed to repeat itself with a new person. This time, I felt somewhat more connection so agreed to a second date on a vague timeline. Her eagerness outweighed mine severely, which again prompted my sense of culpability. She invited me out with her friends and sent suggestive emojis. I replied with a photo of my family who was in town and thought both A.) “Why am I dragging my family into this??” and B.) Any time I’ve been really into someone, damn my family, damn sleep, I’d be there.
Ultimately, I sent her a breakup text, unwilling to repeat the last disaster: “Hey, I hope you had a good Monday! I know we talked about getting together again, but I’m still getting the hang of things since moving and am realizing I’m not looking for anything serious. I wish you the best!” (Feel free to use this for your own breakups!)
Of course, as any face-saving single should do, she replied that she wasn’t under the impression that we were pursuing anything serious. “I just thought we were going to hang out from time to time,” she signed off.
Still haunted by these episodes, I took my question to my group text of friends and asked whether they would rather love more or be loved more. Needless to say, everyone was triggered. “You can’t just ask that!” one friend protested.
I was not sure which side of the question most people would choose. While explanation exists for either choice, on its face, choosing to be loved more speaks to selfishness, and choosing to be loved less speaks to insecurity. As a poll on my Instagram, “being loved more” easily won out.
Surprisingly, a friend immediately chose to be loved less. She explained, “I get to experience the love I have for them, and I think the beauty of loving someone else outweighs the beauty of someone loving you that you don’t love as much.”
She added, “Also, loving someone less than they love you is really f*cking hard.”
Snaps from the back.
Another friend brought perspective: Love can grow. Knowing this provides optimism compared to the helplessness of knowing your current love is already more than your partner’s and you have no control over if theirs can or will grow.
“It’s about who has control to make the situation better,” another friend expanded. “I’d rather have ownership than have it be in the hands of someone else.”
So they’d choose to love less, I take it?
“I still think [I’d rather] love more than the other person [loves me],” a different friend said. “I feel like the burden of being the person who loves less would be too much for me. And I like the idea of experiencing this major love, even if it’s not reciprocated.” After all, what is a great love story without unrequited love? (I kept my mouth shut.)
“I agree,” the other friend replied. “If I’m going to love someone, it’s going to love all of them, including the part of them that doesn’t love me as much.”
The answer to all of this, obviously, is to never love or date. But we humans never heed the best advice (or our own). For my part, I have decided I must love more, because I prefer anguish to guilt, and I’d rather be hung up than apathetic. I may also prefer more hopeful “Would you rather?”’s.