All of your friends are getting married. Your weekends are booked up by wedding after wedding. And as you feel your proverbial romantic clock ticking away like the flashing red light in a competitive baking show, you start to wonder if you should just settle for someone who isn't your soulmate. Should you marry your second choice, in hopes that your feelings for them develop over time? After all, Love Is Blind's Jessica was able to convince herself she could fall in love with Barnett. I mean, Mark.
"Sometimes you can 'learn to love' someone, which really means that you begin to appreciate qualities in them which were not apparent on the surface," Damona Hoffman, certified dating coach and host of the Dates & Mates podcast tells Bustle. "[Yet,] you should never marry a 'second choice' in hopes that you'd fall in love with them."
As Hoffman shares, falling in love can take time. Though you may have originally seen your partner as a friend or initially weren't looking for a LTR, sometimes love can build as you get to know someone better. However, while it's totally OK to move slowly in your relationship, the experts share there's a big difference between taking time to feel your feelings and straight-up forcing them.
"It’s possible that you start to see someone in a new light as you get to know them better, and perhaps fall in love with them," Jaclyn Lopez Witmer, a licensed clinical psychologist at Therapy Group of NYC, tells Bustle. "That being said, forcing yourself to try to love someone because you think you 'should' (because they make a lot of money, are objectively good-looking, or your parents really like them), might not work."
As Witmer explains, committing to someone in hopes that your feelings will later develop can set unrealistic expectations and lead to resentment between you and your partner. Although it is possible that your romantic feelings will build over time, if you know that you actively have feelings for someone else, it's important to really acknowledge where your heart is at.
"Marrying your second choice won't make them a first choice," Susan Winter NYC relationship expert, love coach, and author of Breakup Triage: The Cure for Heartache, tells Bustle. "You can't force a relationship."
While you may have fond memories of your college sweetheart or like to joke about how that hot bartender with the neck tattoo was the one that got away, if you're actively in love with someone you can't be with, it's important to resolve what you're feeling before starting a relationship with someone new.
"If the person you are not with remains your 'first choice,' it’s important to clear out any feelings for the 'first choice' person before moving on," Dr. Carla Marie Manly, a clinical psychologist, tells Bustle. "Unresolved feelings are stored inside and can contaminate any subsequent relationships."
Nobody wants to feel like a second choice or an afterthought.
Though healthy relationships take time to develop, nobody wants to feel like a second choice or an afterthought. It's possible for feelings to deepen over time, but experts share that there's a clear difference between giving your feelings room to grow and forging love where it doesn't organically exist. "Forcing a relationship involves efforts to create love and affection where there is not a desire to evolve on the part of one or both partners," Dr. Manly says. "Both people need to be invested in order for any relationship to take root and grow."
All relationships, however, require their share of work. Dr. Joshua Klapow, Ph.D., Clinical Psychologist and Host of The Kurre and Klapow Show, tells Bustle that if you are constantly "making it work," (or actively trying to convince yourself that you're in love), it may be time for a check-in.
Like a perfectly aged wine or a pair of ankle boots you've been waiting to go on sale, good things in life can take time. But going with your second choice can be like forcing yourself to drink or squeezing your foot into shoes that don't really fit — trouble that it's worth. And although there's no rush to define what's in your heart, being honest about what you feel should always be your first choice.
Dr. Carla Marie Manly, a clinical psychologist
Dr. Joshua Klapow, Ph.D. Clinical Psychologist and Host of The Kurre and Klapow Show