Home Featured The Break Up: How Projecting Ruined a Relationship

The Break Up: How Projecting Ruined a Relationship

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What Could Go Wrong?

Looking back on it, she was a great person. She was attractive, funny, smart, and she treated me as well as any woman has every treated me. All of this makes it really difficult to understand why I felt the need to break up with her after only 4 months of dating. But that’s the way memories are sometimes, they show you an altered reality – what you want to see – not what actually was. When I look back on it honestly, I know exactly why we had to break up… I had projected.

Let’s backtrack a little bit. I had been traversing the varying stages of singleness for about a year and I was growing tired. I was tired of going out all the time, tired of feeling like I needed to keep myself spectacularly styled, tired of putting in all the work and effort required to make being a single man fun. I wanted a relationship and it seemed that just as I was coming to this realization, she came along. She would be Lisa. I met Lisa when I was in high school, while working at a woman’s clothing store. We didn’t have the same schedule so we didn’t work together very often, but the two or three times we did, we spent the whole time chatting, joking, enjoying each others company and not getting any work done. After high school we lost touch, but then one day we randomly ran into each other while walking through the mall. We exchanged information and it seemed like the timing was perfect. Summer had just ended, I was coming out of a series of flings and she was about 5 months removed from the relationship she had been in since she was 16 years old.



For the next two weeks we spent our days chatting online and our nights talking on the phone. It seemed like we were trying to fit all of our life’s experiences into each and every conversation. Some nights we’d find ourselves dosing off, fighting to stay awake as we shared some irrelevant tidbit about something we’d seen or known at some point in our lives. As you might imagine, it didn’t take long for us to take our relationship to the next level. We were together and everything seemed perfect.

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I can’t remember exactly when it happened but at some point the relationship became arduous. Seeing her was a chore, talking on the phone was a chore, caring about the nonsensical minutia of her day was chore. A couple months prior I was struggling to try and figure out what I used to think about before I started spending all my spare thoughts on her. Now, only two months into exclusivity and I was already looking for a way out and so was she. Thankfully, we didn’t belabor the inevitable. With the writing already on the wall we eventually took an argument that was essentially about nothing, made it about something, dug ourselves into our own little corners and decided that neither of us would budge. We used that argument as the impetus for our break up and as quickly as our budding love had burned, it was now completely and utterly extinguished. We both were left wondering where it all went wrong.

Looking back on it what I realized was that we had projected. When we ran into each other in the mall, the fact that we had “known” each other in high school for a couple of days made it seem like we were long lost friends. When we started talking on the phone, the fact that we stayed on the phone until we could no longer keep our eyes open made it seem like there were endless amounts of things to talk about. When we decided to be together, failure seemed impossible because it seemed like we knew each other better than anyone else had ever known us. The truth was, we didn’t know each other at all. We knew projections of ourselves. I had projected onto her everything I ever desired in a woman and she projected onto me everything she ever desired in a man. We made ourselves believe that we were who we wanted each other to be and that made it impossible for us to ever truly know each other. It made it impossible for the reality of who we really were to ever live up to the fantasy we had envisioned. What I realized was that everyone is interesting when they have their whole lives to share with you. You want to hear about the birthday party they had when they turned five, and about their first kiss and about the first time they fell in love. But the fact that those things are interesting and worth knowing doesn’t always mean you’re compatible. Once you’ve learned all those things, once you’re saturated with knowledge of what they’ve experienced, you have to still find that person interesting and worth spending time with – intrinsically – for the relationship to grow and progress.

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Maybe we could have worked. Maybe if we had taken it slow things would have been different. We didn’t and we couldn’t go back. Our relationship ended up in the “it was cool at the time” box with Sega Saturn, half-moon parts and Parasuco jeans with the stripe down the leg. Has this ever happened to you? Have you ever found yourself out of a relationship just as quickly as you’d got into it? Have you ever projected your desires onto someone you were interested in?

Lastly, this is the last time I’m going to say this – please download the novella if you haven’t already! You can get it here:

Secrets Discovered In Memoriam

Stay low and keep firing.

Comment(54)

  1. Man listen, this has been my achilles heel. I always find myself dating exes, tryna take friendships to the next level, even flirting with this girl at work because everyone else thinks we would be perfect together. In the back of my mind I know after me and my ex hook up for a while she's gonna start feeling like I'm back for a reason and i'ma fall back, i'm ultimately gonna lose a friend at least for a while and the girl at work i really dont see any connection besides physical attraction and mutual dislike for certain coworkers. I know it won't last but I'm gonna enjoy it while it does. My excuse is that i'm young (c) Droopy Drake

  2. Ah, sir you never fail to inspire me to explore my relationships.

    Today, I can say that I am more clear about my feelings and what I need in a partnership. This supports me in keeping projection in check. Also, I can recognize my projection sooner rather than later and address it accordingly.

    Great post!

  3. I think everyone has been guilty of projecting. I was involved with a lady I really had no business being involved with exclusively. However, when you're young and have a chance at a woman who's a 8.5 or higher, you tend to overlook what should be obvious incompatibilities. It wasn't until she said, "I love you" that I really paused and realized we didn' t have any kind of realistic shot at a future. I broke her heart, but had to end it.

    But she was fine!

      1. or gets pregnant! Which is what happened in my case!
        "We knew projections of ourselves. I had projected onto her everything I ever desired in a woman and she projected onto me everything she ever desired in a man. We made ourselves believe that we were who we wanted each other to be and that made it impossible for us to ever truly know each other. It made it impossible for the reality of who we really were to ever live up to the fantasy we had envisioned. What I realized was that everyone is interesting when they have their whole lives to share with you."
        I swear I read that part over and over and over because that's exactly what happened with my sons father and I. We seemed perfect for each other! He wanted a good girl who would understand he wasn't perfect (given the life he lived before me) to start a new life with, and I found him exciting and very different from any guy I had ever dated before. Everything happened so fast. Before I knew it we were planning the rest of our lives together. Maybe had we taken things slower we would still be able to communicate with each other without fighting.
        I looked up projecting relationships and found this article: Projection: The Relationship Time Bomb
        innerworkjohnson.blogspot.com/2008/07/projection-relationship-time-bomb.html
        Maybe someone else would find it interesting as well. Especially after reading this post!
        As always, thank you for the great read Mr. Spradley!

  4. I can see how this could happen. People live dramatic lives, they place themselves in a mental movie. In their mind they're living in a TV show where the camera's are watching. In reality you are stuck with yourself and hopefully you know yourself well enough to call CUT when the mental camera's stop rolling.

  5. I'm still laughing at Herbetteroption quoting "Droopy Drake" to drive home his point but I digress…

    "But that’s the way memories are sometimes, they show you an altered reality – what you want to see – not what actually was." – great quote.

    I'm not as guilty of "projecting" as I use to be in my youth. This isn't necessarily a good thing. In fact, it's probably a bad thing. For the most part, I expect people to disappoint me. I go into relationships, and life in general, hoping for the best but expecting the worst.

    1. "For the most part, I expect people to disappoint me. I go into relationships, and life in general, hoping for the best but expecting the worst." <<<<< That's so sad to me but if it works for you……..

      1. It is sad… but I kind of feel him.

        I guess its just a matter of having balance. Of course, the other extreme is expecting everyone to always be able to be what you need… and that will get you in trouble too.

    2. For the most part, I expect people to disappoint me. I go into relationships, and life in general, hoping for the best but expecting the worst.

      Me too, im trying to work on it though 🙁

      1. It might be more accurate to say, "I hope for the best but PLAN for the worst." Not expect, but I do tend to have a back up plan in 98% of my interactions. It is what it is.

    3. I have the same kind of attitude, but normally with people I already know. If it's someone new I really don't expect anything (positive or negative) and attempt to give benefit of the doubt. But as the old adage goes, "Fool me once, shame on you, fool me twice, shame on me". Fool me twice then I'm all about hoping for the best but expecting the worse.

      But yeah, from the start, though? (and this is just about life in general) Expect nothing, be greatful for everything positive.

  6. Most you never disappoint! With the advent of social networking and the common interests you find with people in the e-streets I think this happens more than we'd like to think.

    Its hard not to project sometimes but when you think you know exactly what you want.

    Great post.

    1. I'm so guilty of this– This "projection" leads to becoming the "serial dater." I am learning to take my time, and not just in dating, but in life. I blame social media as you do too Nina–

      This false sense of knowing someone can be the death of a good thing.

      This post really and truly hits home- Good post!

    2. I like the advent of social networking. Nice to know that there are some women out there that are at least vaguely into the same things as me.

      1. I don't dislike it – I just think that projecting is done more than we think because of it. We have a false sense of knowing someone whether they are new in our lives or from our past.

  7. Most, this is such a dope post. I can't even begin to explain how much it impacted me. The whole subject broached just really got to me in a real way. It speaks to a situation I'm smack dab in the middle of right now.

    Projecting can do just the opposite too, at least the way I see it. Projecting can stop you from taking a certain course of action because in our minds we tell ourselves it'll definitely work out a certain (perceived as negative) way. But that may not always be the case. I'm overly analytical anyway, so projecting is like my kryptonite… kills me every time! I know half the time I just need to get out of my own way.

    Thanx for this post. My apologies if my ramblings went all over the place.

    1. Sami,

      You and me both! I truly believe that these potholes in my way were self-created sometimes as to avoid the 'inevitable' of whatever the "possibility" produces. Getting out of my own way has definitely been on my to-do list this year, with some nice and yet humbling results!

  8. "The truth was, we didn’t know each other at all. We knew projections of ourselves. I had projected onto her everything I ever desired in a woman and she projected onto me everything she ever desired in a man."

    This is soooooooooo true.

    Been here before. I guess thats the problem with building with people based off potential and not reality. Sometimes you end up only seeing what you want to see…

  9. Damn Most, you done exposed my entire last relationship all up on here..lol Except mine lasted about 2 half years..you actually helped me realized why it didn't work..

    "I had projected onto her everything I ever desired in a woman"

    yep that's it right there..she was everything I've ever wanted her to be before she had a chance to be it..It wasn't fair to her and it wasn't fair to me..and I fell in love with that image..who she REALLY is and who I wanted her to be are 2 diff people..I was sooooo lost in that woman..scary situation

  10. Almost so sad, i don't even want to post anything … Imma have to come back later … I'm not mentally prepared for this realization yet.

  11. Great post my man. This reminds me of some sort of subset of expectation management. Success = Expectations met. However, those expectations, at times, are unrealistic projections conjured up in our own head which is why we see success in these situations as futile.

    In situations like these I tell other people, and tell myself, that your (my) perception isn't everyone else's reality. I believe you articualted this saying well in today's post. Kudos.

  12. I have definitely been there… I had a crush on my mom's best friend's son since I was 4. He is 3 years older than me, so of course there wasn't a chance in childhood. I moved away when I was 10 and the dream was put to rest. When I was 16, and he was 19, his mother remarried and at her wedding something inside me was rekindled when I saw him looking all fine in his suit. We spent the entire reception and night after flirting, and then parted again the next day. Two years later, when college landed me in his City and away from our mothers, we took the opportunity and fell into a dizzy swirl of magic. We projected perfection- could have made a lovely love story.

    Twas quite the short lived fancy. Not only was he not the man of my dreams, I was certainly not the woman of his. After the laughter at our misjudgment quieted, we became, and are, close friends.

    Ode to the dreams conjured up in youth and sought out in adulthood… were it not for the underdeveloped frontal lobe acting on these delusions of grandeur, would anyone be able to learn the moral drawn from pursuit the imaginary?

    I find this lapse in judgment/lack of clarity to be beneficial in the long run. Thank goodness it is literally the biology of youth that allows us to jump into these projected relationships, to make such errors before it really matters. It teaches us in the long run, what really matters to us to sustain a worthwhile relationship in the long run. It teaches us to take our time, to see the bigger picture, and wait until the love goggles come off before we give into the fanciful wishes of the heart.

  13. This post is so real.

    I like to enter situations with the unknown staying unknown. I like discovering people. Because as much as you think you know about someone, you don't really know until you know.

    I don't tend to project, but men do this a lot, it seems. And sometimes even when you tell and show someone exactly who you are, you are still some altered image in their eyes. This can be good or bad though, I suppose.

    Nice post.

  14. Love the post.

    It is so easy to fall into a false sense of knowing someone and more importantly a false sense of compatibility. For one thing having common interests doesn't make you compatible, imo. Its an element, but certainly not all encompassing. And just because you can talk for hours on end about life in the beginning doesn't mean that the person is interesting, exciting, or any other adjective. In the beginning everything is going to glitter. But its at this time that people have to be the most careful. No matter how upfront a person is about who they really are, there's always going to be layers you have to peel back before you get to the core of the person (if you ever really get there)

    I agree that social media and e-hookups/e-relationships have made it so much easier to fall into this trap. Its quite easy to think that you and so-n-so are a match made in heaven based off a few chat sessions and skype. But i always caution folks that when you meet in person, you need to be prepared to start all over again from the beginning. Who most of us are online, is only a slight comparison to who we are in person, no matter how hard we try to keep it real in these e-streets.

  15. “This false sense of knowing someone can be the death of a good thing.”

    THIS..how I ended up with my ex-husband. We knew each other as kids, and had the same friends. Originally met because his family was close to one of my best friend's family, probably when I was about 10, and knew eachother over the years, but only on occassion ever saw him. We met up again, when were a bit older, and had my grown woman on, and him, his grown man….lol. We explored our feelings, and eventually "fell in love". I can say, I gave him the time of day because of familiarity, I believe more than anything. But eventually, after marriage, truth betold probably before, realized it wasn't what it should be. But, we stayed married 10 years. 10 years too long.

    I find that often, when you already know someone, or meet someone through a friend, and you hook up, 90% of the time, is because of projecting. You've been arond this person so often, that you believe it could genuinely turn into something more. You already know who they are and what you're getting into, or so you think. It just doesn't always work out the way you planned. Sometimes staying in longer than you should be cause of if.

    Great post!

  16. Unfortunately we don’t always love people for who they are but for who we want them to be. Sometimes when we really like people we jump past the present and go into the future. Meeting someone new and having some sort of connection with them is exciting sometimes we get ahead of ourselves because that new “love/like” high is serious. In situations like this sometimes you have to fall back and really take your heart out the situation and use your head. But it’s all about taking things one day at a time.

    Example:

    It’s like when you’re sitting on a date with MR. perfect and you hear all those good qualities that he told you about himself “6 ft, good job, he loves to cook” and then you start going off into fairy tale land. While you’re in fairytale land you don’t notice some of the red flags that he may have mentioned that would make a relationship with him not an option.

  17. Like someone else, i've been guilty of this and I didn't even realize it. A guy I was kinda "talking" to awhile back…. I had just ended a relationship, and looking back, I was just looking for a guy who was everything my ex wasn't. Not that my ex was a bad dude, but I was bored and looking for something different. Anyhow, long story short, i ended up hooking up with this dude that I had always had the good sense to avoid up until then. I spent the night at his place, no sex or anything, but we talked all night, til sunrise. I thought he was it, and that I had found HIM… at long last lol. A beautiful man he was, tall, sexy, soooo well-traveled and interesting, great job/salary… I was blind-sided, but of course, it didn't last. There was nothing to last now that I think about it…. The situation just ran it's course, and fairly quickly.

    Afterward I thought I was heartbroken, but I'm actuality, I was just disappointed that he didn't end up being the person that I wanted him to be. Projection is a mutha.

  18. i don't know if i've been in a relationship that short before. i believe all my relationships have lasted at least a year and some change or they were just flings. for the most part i like to take my time knowing a person before entering an exclusive relationship with them.

    i can see how spending a lot of time with a person can make it seem like you really know that person and they are the person that is meant for you.

  19. "…the fact that we had “known” each other…made it seem like we were long lost friends…the fact that we stayed on the phone until we could no longer keep our eyes open made it seem like there were endless amounts of things to talk about…failure seemed impossible because it seemed like we knew each other better than anyone else had ever known us. The truth was, we didn’t know each other at all…You want to hear about the birthday party they had when they turned five, and about their first kiss and about the first time they fell in love. But the fact that those things are interesting and worth knowing doesn’t always mean you’re compatible…once you’re saturated with knowledge of what they’ve experienced, you have to still find that person interesting and worth spending time with – intrinsically – for the relationship to grow and progress."

    Imma go 'head and admit that I just really REALLY learned this back in 2009/2010. I got married at 19 because I didn't understand THIS. I ended up in a year long relationship after filing for my divorce because I didn't understand THIS. How that last relationship ended…horribly…was what put the spotlight on the mistake that I kept repeating over and over again.

    We must learn to let relationships evolve and grow into whatever they are gonna be. We can't rush through the courting & dating stages. Never allow yourself to become sold on a situation before the novelty wears off. Hold off until you go through a cycle of life closely observing and getting to know a person. It's okay to hope a relationship reaches a certain point…but never force or rush it's progression.

    There are exceptions to every rule. But, in most cases, you and your new boo are not the exception, lol…

  20. Pressure can definitely break a relationship, I'm sorry Mr Interesting. I tried to explain that to my friends all the time, you can't rush into anything, you can't compare your relationship with someone else's, just because such and such moved in with her man the first week of her relationship and never left and they ended up married and are married in love does not mean it will work for me, Just like just because such and such only slept with him after 6 months and he adores and respect her, does not mean it will happen for you. In any event i hope both of you are happy.

  21. I really enjoyed this. It reminds me of my belief that just because you know or think you know a person doesn't mean you are supposed to be together.

  22. I believe that I see projecting a whole lot more outside of relationships than in them. I'll tell you the perfect example and let me know if you agree with me. Men project this macho persona. Men are some of the most possessive, territorial creatures on this planet. We project this, "I don't care" personality, or we say, "Money of B*tches," but in reality we don't mean that. I have seen many men try and project an image or idealogy that just didn't add up. They project enough to get the girl, but then they go ultra-emo once they get her. Dudes who said they would never keep a lying trick be the same ones crying, "why you got me out here looking dumb?" but they stay with the girl. This can go both ways. Sometimes projecting can have you looking like a little b*tch.

    1. I mean, yeah….this goes without saying. The whole, "fake it till you make it" mantra, or the habitual liars…fakes, cons and those who just plain ol' don't "keep it real". For the most part you're usually meeting someone's representative at first based on what kind of first impression that person wants to give off. A lot of it is projecting, but what's being projected may not entirely be false every time, too, but people just withholding the entire picture.

  23. WOW, something I can truly sink my teeth in… Once it's over, brother, IT'S DONE… I only went back once and it wasn't good at all… Almost all of my ex's want to get back with me. Guess they realized that I was a good thing after all…. When I say good bye, that's exactly what it is a GOOD-BYE!!!! Never to be again EVER!!! Let it go and be done with it… Life's too F-ing short for the BS… My father used to say to me all the time "People don't know what to do with a good thing when they find it…" He told me that "GOD Himself can come down here and place the perfect person in front of the person and that person will still look for more elsewhere." No truer words has ever been spoken to me… It's true what someone said in an earlier post, it's all fun and games until someone falls in love… That's my piece and I'm sticking with it….

  24. Oh wow!! talk about insight…you just pretty much clued me into why i feel the way i feel about my last failed relationship. Wow!!

    So how do we NOT project?? :'(…It's soooooooooo subtle and seemingly natural. It will take a whileeeeee(read years?) to unlearn this. Oh Chit! I'm kinda screwed. 🙁

    Thanks Most for giving me insight and giving me a panic attack!!

  25. Reading this article is downright scary. If your bio didn't say married, I might have sworn you were my ex and I was the chick you were talking about.

    I can't really say what exactly led us to break up; I can't really say what drew him to me in the first place; I can't say a lot of things because I never really got the closure I needed. I think when we first met, he immediately was attracted to the strong, intelligent person I projected myself to be. On the inside, however, I was going through a low point, and who I was then was not who I had been. Truth be told, I wasn't looking for a relationship anyway. I was still trying to heal from a lot of other things that had gone on in my past, but he was one of the few people I was comfortable enough to let my guard down with and I think he wanted in some way to try and "save me". He was very sure of himself, and I loved that about him. Besides, we had fun together, but that soon changed.

    As the relationship progressed, I think his way of being supportive was in trying to "fix" me of some of my self-sabotaging ways, so at times he did come off bossy and controlling, without understanding my real need to just be comforted. It felt like he was trying to change me, and he was. At first I went along with it because I knew he was doing it in my best interest, but in retrospect, I didn't ask for enough in return. I devalued myself because I felt like he was doing me the favor by being with me in the first place.

    After more time passed, I got into an accident, lost my job, and it seemed like my life was in an even further downward spiral than before. I felt as though I was becoming more and more of an emotional burden to him (I was careful not to become a financial one as well), so I did start to put up walls for that reason. I had also had some really negative experiences with my dad and other men in the past, and he was becoming less and less of the loving person I first thought him to be.

    The longer we stayed together, the more apparent it became that I needed to get myself together on my own terms, and being with him only complicated the situation more. But I did really care about him, and I thought he cared about me too. Thinking back, I'm not sure and I question whether the relationship was even healthy because I felt like I gave more than I got. He gave a lot of criticism, so many small things turned into arguments, my efforts never seemed to be enough, and he became more like a parent than a lover. After a few short months, he never said a word of good-bye. He just stopped answering my calls.

    I still have not fully processed all of it. Was he truly that in love with the person he thought I was? Or did he just see me as an easy target to mold me into the kind of woman he wanted? Was I wrong for being open to that situation? Was he wrong for wanting to be with me? Should I have taken more of his advice? I don't know and probably never will.

    1. Sounds like he was only with you while things were drama free… Hope you happiness soon.. stay up and be well…

    2. Sounds like he was only with you while things were drama free… Hope you find happiness soon.. stay up and be well…

    3. @Anon – you story sounds like me and my ex to the tee. I have been so down about the breakup that I have had to go on anitdepressants and check into the hospital because I wanted to kill myself. I wish I hadn't read this post. I'm in tears now because this hit so close to my home. I hate my life….

      1. @Mocha, I understand your pain and believe me I'm going through it right now, but know this, no one is more important than you. No one should ever made you want to take your life… Stay up and no that you are the most important person on this earth. One day you will meet your one true love and trust me, the ex will see you with this person and will want you back. It is the way of the ex. We all have lost someone that was once our everything, but just like my father always told me, "nothing is forever… I know I don't know, but know this GOD made you from love… And I love you just for not taking your life… Stay up, be strong… I was told the pain doesn't last forever…

  26. Damn I just literally fell victim to this exact scenario! SMH and it's scary to think after everything I shared with her during the catch-up phase (1 weekend) I expected her to bolt! HAHA!

  27. Projections didnt particularly end a relationship before it started (4 1/2) years HOWEVER it did play a huge part in our issues. Midway through the down fall, we were looking for the people we "once were" and wondering why certain things stopped happening, and the reality of the situation is (especially when you're young) you dont take the time (and probably dont know how) to REALLY get to know each other. And the kicker with my old relationship was, we had a hard time accepting the people we had grown to be. The people we once were, had not left the building completely, but definitely did a metamorphisis- partly by life and the bullshit we put each other through by default. By the time we did begin accepting one another- it was too late and too much damage had been done.

    Definitely a learning experience. I implore everyone to ALWAYS TAKE IT SLOW. and fall in love knowing they will change to some extent, and your job as the partner, is to enjoy the ride and the growth.

  28. And another thing! (lol)
    WE also projected in the very beginning how GREAT we were as individuals, and how GREAT we were together. we had countless conversations about our stance on typical relationship issues and knew each of us had a decent moral standing on how to deal with relationships. HOWEVER

    After the emotions got involved, all of that went down the toilet. We all know better, but to actually DO BETTER- that takes maturity we both had to learn.

    (sorry for the extras. had to get that point out.)

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