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The longest cat and mouse game
February 19, 2012 9:24 PM   Subscribe

He's not over his ex. I suppose I just have to go away and wait to see if he ever pursues me...

In high school, a good 20 years ago, there was a boy who was always pursuing me but I just never was available. Years passed and he would pop back up (just before he married he phoned to ask me if there would ever be a chance ... I said I was moving and it seemed unlikely ... They divorced within a year). A few months ago he tracked me down. This time, he was set to marry the mother of his 3 year old child, she ran off with another man. They've been apart about 6 months.

For whatever reason, the timing for me is right. I am crazy about him. We went on a few dates, and then he goes on for 3 hours about the baby's mother. I listened and was supportive and then said he should have some professional counseling and call me when he thinks he's ready to date. Of course, after a couple of weeks he wanted to spend time together as friends, I agreed. Of course, we were all over each other and I had to re-commit to not seeing him and told him so. He reluctantly accepted.

I guess I already know the answer is that I just can't see him or speak to him frequently. I don't want to be second string or a rebound and he is so clearly deeply fixated on the ex. I don't want to let another long span of time pass but I can't think of any way to finally turn this 25 year cat-and-mouse relationship into something real permanent.




I have no choice but to just get on with my life right? I can't call, I can't see him (even if he asks)?
posted by GIRLesq to Human Relations (39 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
 
Getting on with your life and hanging out with him are not mutually exclusive. See other people, don't pressure him, don't have sex if you can't handle it without commitment, but see each other and re-get-to-know each other.

Sometimes rebounds do work. Doesn't mean this one will, but it could. But not if you get all needy or pushy.
posted by parrot_person at 9:27 PM on February 19, 2012 [4 favorites]


You're correct. You need to move on with your own life and not exist in a state of suspense; it's also probably for the best that you entirely avoid seeing him, because otherwise you're setting yourself up for a fall. Yeah, that sucks. But it sucks a lot less than the drama/trauma cycle you're likely to experience otherwise.
posted by Tomorrowful at 9:28 PM on February 19, 2012


He was fixated on you for 20 years, right? I'd give him a little time to deal with things.

Unless you're looking to dive into a relationship immediately, there's nothing wrong with spending a month or two focusing on work, hobbies, or something else while he decides whether he wants to finally have this chance with you, or throw it away over a girl who left him for someone else.

I wouldn't hold my breath, or wait forever, but there's no reason not to give it a little time. Did he go on about babymamma for 3 hours every time you spoke, or just the once? Is he fixated on her as a person, as the mother of his child, or the fact that her leaving means he lost contact with his child?

You've waited this long, he's chased this long... give yourself a reasonable amount of time, if he isn't over her by then start looking at other options.
posted by myShanon at 9:30 PM on February 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


It might work, it might not. The best thing you can do for your own peace of mind is to live your life, independently of that, and see what happens.
posted by mleigh at 9:33 PM on February 19, 2012


The 20-year on/off pursuit (with a marriage to another person folded in there) between the two of you is what sounds the most troubling to me. That is not a dynamic that easily transfers into a stable relationship.

I would say don't date him now, but don't cut off contact because you think/hope that he'll start pursuing you again once you've made yourself unavailable (huge red flag there.) If you can (and it varies from person-to-person), be friends.
posted by kagredon at 9:38 PM on February 19, 2012 [2 favorites]


I'd give it some more time before cutting him off.

He does have a kid with her though which is a complicating factor. But if you're not fazed by that, give him some time. It takes us all a while to "come to" after a breakup.

The best relationship advice I ever got, and it was from a man, was to assume that all dudes are crazy for six months after a long term relationship of theirs ends -- expect them to act bizarrely for that long, and don't hold assume their behavior is indicative of who they really are. This advice facilitated my own happy marriage, so I like to pass it along. (I realize he's at the 6 month mark already; it's not a hard deadline.)
posted by fingersandtoes at 9:41 PM on February 19, 2012


In high school, a good 20 years ago, there was a boy who was always pursuing me but I just never was available. Years passed and he would pop back up (just before he married he phoned to ask me if there would ever be a chance ... I said I was moving and it seemed unlikely ... They divorced within a year). A few months ago he tracked me down. This time, he was set to marry the mother of his 3 year old child, she ran off with another man. They've been apart about 6 months.

Okay, whoa, whoa whoa. All other concerns aside, this guy phoned you up while engaged to be married to another woman? WTF? And then they divorced, he fathered a child with someone and got engaged to her as well, and that imploded too?

This man seems to make poor decisions and get hung up on many random women, not just you. I would back away for that alone, much less the ex thing.
posted by stockpuppet at 9:49 PM on February 19, 2012 [16 favorites]


Yes, he had a failed marriage 10 years ago and clearly had cold feet. Yes, 4 years ago he decided to have a child but was cold on marriage - and when he came around on marriage she bailed.

He has said that it's not so much the bay's mother herself that he's hung up on... It's the loss of his family, his plans for the future. He has primary custody and is deeply devoted to his child. He's struggling with accepting the loss. And the ex toys with him. She's essentially living with her new boyfriend but suggests she may come home "one day".
posted by GIRLesq at 9:56 PM on February 19, 2012


@Stockpuppet the calling before marrying the first time didn't strike me as that much of a red flag... Could have just been a cold feet "what if" type moment.

Now, if the only time he made contact was as he planned to marry someone else, that would definitely be a sign...
posted by myShanon at 9:57 PM on February 19, 2012


Yes, he had a failed marriage 10 years ago and clearly had cold feet. Yes, 4 years ago he decided to have a child but was cold on marriage - and when he came around on marriage she bailed.

While it's true that many people have failed relationships, even marriages, and that in itself isn't damning, for him it seems like a larger pattern of behavior. That's what troubles me. Do you think it could be part of his personality that he always wants what he can't have, and as soon as he gets it, he loses interest? His fantasy about a perfect family without actually caring for the mother also shows a sort of short-sightedness, IMO.
posted by stockpuppet at 9:59 PM on February 19, 2012 [4 favorites]


Oh. Oh, boy.

This is so timely for me, just today. Thanks for the question.

"I don't want to let another long span of time pass but I can't think of any way to finally turn this 25 year cat-and-mouse relationship into something real permanent."

The guy I had a "cat-and-mouse" thing with for about 16 years turned into my stalker about 4 years ago. Truth be told, he was always kinda stalking me, I just didn't realize it. He's a narcissist, in the personality disorder type-way, it turned out. Very similar story to yours, right down to calling me about 10 years ago right before he married his now-ex, and I was living with someone else in a committed relationship.

When we were finally both free and in the same city, we made a go of it for a while. He was still totally hung up on his ex and over-romanticized this relationship that I later discovered he'd been a big fat cheater in throughout it's entirety. That period of my life was a nightmare. Just today, I was pondering EXACTLY how I could have been deluded about this guy's true nature for so many many years. I adored him.

You know what? I can't even go on right now.

Via stockpuppet...

"Do you think it could be part of his personality that he always wants what he can't have, and as soon as he gets it, he loses interest? His fantasy about a perfect family without actually caring for the mother also shows a sort of short-sightedness, IMO."

Emphasis, mine.

This person has probably idealized you, similar to the way he idealizes other exes, even though he treated them like shit. And I guarantee that when you get to know this guy up close, if you do, you'll regret it.

Memail. Memail.

I HATE that part of my life, but I will elaborate for you if it saves you the troubles I had.

It's no coincidence I had a nightmare about my stalker this morning and you are writing this question tonight. I still don't understand how I could have had a nearly undeatable belief in a "soul connection" for almost 20 years with someone who doesn't exist as I believed them to. There's A LOT of cognitive dissonance for me concerning this person to this day. I know now the person I loved never ever existed, but I still can't entirely grok how I fell for it. Arghh.

Do not go down this road. Step away.

I'll tell you how it all turns out in gruesome detail so you don't have to live it if you want to hear it.
posted by jbenben at 10:28 PM on February 19, 2012 [5 favorites]


This guy's had nothing but massively dysfunctional relationships, and now he's offering you the option of having one with him. Don't take it.
posted by anildash at 10:35 PM on February 19, 2012 [14 favorites]


WOW! I can't just believe this popped into my head!

DO NOT WIKIPEDIA THIS. NO SPOILERS!

See if you can Netflix a French movie called, "He Loves Me... He Loves Me Not." 2002, Audrey Tautou stars in it.

When I watched it, it was after viewing "Amelie," and I think this heightened the film's punch. At first, you're still watching the character Audrey Tautou played in "Amelie."

The narrative structure of "He Loves Me..." kinda nails it.

Watch "Amelie," and then, "He Loves Me... He Loves Me Not," back-to-back.

Then MeMail if you still need to. While, "He Loves Me..." is hyper-dramatization on many levels, the structure of the film is EXACTLY what you need to pay attention to.

No spoilers from me. Just remembered that film resonates with this situation on some levels concerning how it effects the viewer via the narrative, not the story itself.
posted by jbenben at 10:47 PM on February 19, 2012 [3 favorites]


just before he married he phoned to ask me if there would ever be a chance

this seems like a huge red flag to me. I don't think you can really trust this person
posted by 5_13_23_42_69_666 at 10:59 PM on February 19, 2012 [3 favorites]


I bet the ex bailed on marriage because whenever he was with her, he spent all his time going on about you.
posted by tel3path at 11:28 PM on February 19, 2012


p.s. That's not a "it's probably you he loved all along", BTW. What I mean is that it was probably not an isolated incident that he spent your date going on about his ex.
posted by tel3path at 11:29 PM on February 19, 2012 [2 favorites]


There's something missing from this that gives the whole thing a very "living in imagination" vibe. Meant as constructive criticism, btw – I've done this myself, the key thing is to realize what's happening when it's happening, then you can take what you need from the situation.

First thing missing: you never say why you're crazy about him. He was pursuing you in high school, yet you weren't available. Why not? If you were with other people, ask yourself why you thought them better choices than him. There's important information for you there.

Were you friends? Are you friends? It doesn't really sound like it... people generally don't drop out of others' lives for years and then pop back in with cold feet about their impending marriage (!!) if they're friends. Did you ever consider doing that with him? Tracking him down when you felt lonely, I mean? Why not? (There's important information there too.)

To me it has a strong whiff of a yearning for stability, friendship, and mutual admiration – very human desires. Being pursued for so long feels pretty good, and likewise for him, he'd feel pretty good if he finally "caught" you.

This seems a lot more about the game itself and a lot less about a fulfilling relationship. No need to feel badly about that, we've all been there, and this can be an opportunity to learn more about yourself and life.

I also think there might be something to take from how you frame this: I have no choice but to just get on with my life right? I can't call, I can't see him (even if he asks)? Would you even be asking this if the guy were a genuine friend, someone you believe you can depend on?
posted by fraula at 11:45 PM on February 19, 2012 [3 favorites]


Of course you have a choice. You can call, you can see him.

It will lead to "drama" with the implied alternative as boredom. Just remember that MeFites say "drama" when they mean stuff like bullying, emotional abuse, stalking, that sort of thing.

People warning you against this are doing so because they've experienced it as a result of calling or seeing guys like this. I suppose it's not the only possible outcome, but I'm not optimistic about a guy who yeah-want-kids-but-without-commitment-lets-get-married-whoops-lets-not-waffle-waffle-waffle-waffle. I mean, the kid is real, not in anyone's imagination.

The kid is being trained to pine for unavailable Daddy/Momnmy and reject Daddy/Mommy when he is available. That's how intense relationships usually work. If one person is in, the other has to be out. I know he blames this on the women bailing on him, but he's the one calling you every time he's about to get married. Meanwhile, the kid will grow up to pine for people who abuse her and toy with the lives and emotions of others, because that's what the kid knows about love, having been taught lessons that on a fundamental level are never unlearned. The kid may learn to act in a healthy and "drama-free" way but the pining, longing, and pain will always be there regardless of the outward behaviour.

But maybe it won't turn out like this. It's your choice to see how it plays out.
posted by tel3path at 12:35 AM on February 20, 2012 [3 favorites]


I have no choice but to just get on with my life right? I can't call, I can't see him (even if he asks)?

Honestly, I'd say ignore most of the people here who are warning the guy (a stalker, really?!). You've known him for 20 years, you know him much better than anyone in this thread and probably much better than you think.

I see a guy who's been crazy about you for years, yet has tried to move and have life. That life hasn't always worked out, yet he's tried to have his dream of a family and a kid. Failing that, he now just has the kid, whom he's devoted to. Doesn't exactly sound like the next incarnation of Hitler, you know?

You have a choice, obviously and I think you should give him a bit of time. If you two are crazy about each other, then talk it out, agree upon some time frame say 3-6 months, where you two try again, with the understanding that in the mean time he's trying to come to terms with the loss of his marriage. See how it goes. Don't put your life on hold exactly, but give him some time.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 4:19 AM on February 20, 2012


just before he married he phoned to ask me if there would ever be a chance

this seems like a huge red flag to me. I don't think you can really trust this person


I admit I would be more worried if he'd phoned you just after he married.
posted by tel3path at 4:50 AM on February 20, 2012


It appears he is operating in fixed patterns of choosing unfortunate partners. Counselling is a good first step and will take time.

Secondly, if you become involved with this man, you will become involved with both his present, and his past. Sometimes, when we're very attracted to people, we gloss over and accept things that may be very obvious red flags. That he spoke at length about his ex is the first. Do you want a relationship that includes all his baggage?

You had the right answer, he needs to go sort himself out. In the meantime, it may help you to let him go. It may be very comfortable to think that you've known him for 20 years, but at the same time, there is a risk of codependency. From your perspective, the best thing may be to say goodbye for now, move forward with your life, and if he sorts himself out, re-evaluate in the future.
posted by nickrussell at 5:29 AM on February 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


just before he married he phoned to ask me if there would ever be a chance

Do you know how many other women from high school or old flames he called with the same question?
posted by mibo at 6:18 AM on February 20, 2012 [3 favorites]


I am always a little concerned about romantic cat-mouse metaphors as they rely on a model of the more powerful pursuer and the more agile pursued. But here, there seems to be some value to the part of the metaphor that recognizes that the cat in part just enjoys chasing, and certainly does not necessarily value the particular mouse over all other mice, simply because he keeps up the chase.

Certainly, it could be that once he's handled what's going on in his life right now -- I think you know that while the timing is right for you (singular), it is not right for you (plural) -- he will be a candidate for a happy relationship. But I also think you have to consider the possibility that he is the kind of guy who, at a restaurant, always wants what the guy at the next table is having. (I hereby become the only person in history to quote the Jennifer Aniston romantic comedy Picture Perfect.) I think it's really important sometimes not to tell yourself that the length of the chase indicates how satisfying being caught is going to be. Sometimes, there's a reason something seems for 25 years like it might happen but it doesn't. You've now been approached in three different high-drama situations (when you weren't available, when he was about to get married, and when he was just separated and traumatized), but never in a low-drama situation. That's not necessarily disqualifying, but it bears consideration.
posted by Linda_Holmes at 7:22 AM on February 20, 2012 [2 favorites]


I agree with those who've urged you to pay attention to red flags. I think the most likely explanation is that this guy chases what he can't have, and that this isn't a promising situation.

However, I do think there's a chance that this guy is acting in good faith, and is pursuing a feeling that is meaningful to him. That his previous relationships were failures on their own terms, and that he has had feeling for you that have persisted over the years.

I really don't think it matters right now.

Running with the possibility that this guy isn't just a ball of bad drama, there are things you remember about each other that are wonderful. But it sounds like these things are completely remembered, that you haven't actually had persistent contact through the years. Maybe he remebers this kind, beautiful girl that he never had the chance to see how things played out with. Maybe you remember him, and he was creative, or funny, or enthusiastic about life. I bet you're still kind, and maybe he really was (and still is) that basically good person he was in high school. But you've both changed and grown so much in the years since you've known each other. Changed in really important ways. Maybe you've changed in compatible ways, retaining the qualities you both have been drawn back to each other by. You just don't know that yet.

So you might not need to cut him out of your life absolutely yet. You just need to be really, really careful. You need to get to know each other again, and you need to do that in a healthy space. And he's not in a healthy space right now. Maybe he's unhealthy because he's an unstable drama bomb who pines over his fantasy of perfection. Maybe he's unhealthy because he's dealing with a huge change and breakup in his life.

Either way, I think your best step here is to be out of contact with him for a few months, at least. If this is a good thing, if it's genuine on both sides, then this will give him a chance to recover and balance out. If he's bad news, it will probably become more apparent. Pay attention to any red flags. Proceed slowly and carefully, and if it truly feels safe you will get to know each other again. And you'll be in a place to make a better decision. And you'll feel a lot better about this huge thing in your life that feels so unresolved.

Good luck, be safe.
posted by f_panda at 7:54 AM on February 20, 2012


Don't wait around on twenty years of held back secret passion. Move on.
posted by oceanjesse at 8:23 AM on February 20, 2012


In response to some of the questions: we didn't have a full blown relationship in high school because we met in 11th grade and were attending different schools so we didn't see each other that much. By 12th grade, I had a boyfriend and after graduation I moved for college.

He contacted me several times over the years but it was usually the same situation, I was in a relationship or another city. He's not an insane stalker -- he's had the same friends since elementary school, very close relationships to his primary family, has lived within 10 miles of his childhood home his entire life and is an upstanding member of the community.

In fact, these are many of the qualities that attract me to him, he feels like home. We have some shared history, we have very similar socio-economic values and beliefs, I believe he has a lot of integrity (yes, he had cold feet about his marriage but, as mentioned above, he never once contacted me while he was married). And keep in mind, the mother of his child had an affair and left him -- not the other way around and he's devastated.

For the first time, we're living in the same city and I've been single for over a year which is good timing for me but clearly it has to be good timing for both of us.

As far as "baggage" goes, I think all adults have histories. I'm thrilled that he has a child as I have none of my own and feel ready, willing, and able to be a step parent if that opportunity were to arise.

I haven't spoken to him for three days (we were speaking everyday) and it's already given me a lot of clarity -- as have all of your comments. There's no fire here. We don't have to be together right this very minute. I think we could talk one or two times a week. And see how he's feeling in a few months or a year. In the mean time I just need to keep doing all the things I'm doing.
posted by GIRLesq at 8:56 AM on February 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


My experience is that when someone is nursing a long distance obsession for decades, it is a problem they need to solve in their head, not a relationship they need to make happen.
posted by ead at 9:05 AM on February 20, 2012 [2 favorites]


You made him sound pretty dubious in your original post, now you say he's the salt of the earth. The thing is, if he's that great a person, why would you ask something like I have no choice but to just get on with my life right? I can't call, I can't see him (even if he asks)? when the obstacle is that he's newly divorced?

If the answer is he just needs some time and you have to take it slowly, why put it like this? I'm confused.
posted by tel3path at 9:06 AM on February 20, 2012


Tel3path: He was never married to the mother of his child. She bailed a month before the wedding (set for 5 months ago). We've been on half a dozen dates and on each date the ex comes up in some way shape or form (the most egregious was a three-hour conversation where it became clear that he couldn't figure out why she prefers to sleep on friend's couches than be in her home with a man who loves her and her 3 year old child. Answer: she's got a boyfriend who is more important to her).

So it's not that he's some monster. He's just unavailable. And I am at a point in my life where my career is established, my life is in order, and my number one priority right now is creating a primary family of my own.

My dilemma is whether I'm getting in the way of my goals by pining for an unavailable man or whether I'm being impatient with what could be the right man.

(You're totally right though -- I haven't done an excellent job of presenting this in a coherent way. My apologies)
posted by GIRLesq at 9:27 AM on February 20, 2012


I know two women who have men in their lives like the one you're describing. In both cases, the guy, while not evil or malicious, has wasted years and years of their lives. The women in question never allowed themselves to be fully committed to or present in any romantic relationship, because they were always holding out for the guy, even when he got married. Both of these women were called by the guy right before his wedding. One had woken up and cut the guy out of her life, and she's happy now. The other has not, and she's not. It's clear, from the answers that you have marked as best, what you want to do here. I'd just like to gently point out that you want to keep doing the same thing you've been doing for 20 years. Where has it gotten you so far?
posted by Ragged Richard at 9:51 AM on February 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


How do you know he's not sending anyone else similar messages? Seriously seems like too much dramatic bait and switch, but maybe that's just my taste.
posted by oceanjesse at 10:02 AM on February 20, 2012


You are getting in the way of your goals by pining for an unavailable, unreliable man. If you can't date him casually, don't date him at all.
posted by Sidhedevil at 10:02 AM on February 20, 2012


Wow, ya'll seem determined to paint the guy as a menace, loser or freak, despite little indication of such in the original post. Way too harsh.

The thing is, if he's that great a person, why would you ask something like I have no choice but to just get on with my life right? I can't call, I can't see him (even if he asks)? when the obstacle is that he's newly divorced?

Because she's "crazy about him", they're both finally single at the same time and have actually gone on dates. Yet he is still reeling from the mother of his child rejecting and toying with him. She's soooo close and yet so far, hence the frustration.

Good luck GIRLesq and let us know how things go, please. AskMe threads stay open for year (hint, hint).
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 10:15 AM on February 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


Okay, Brandon, I understand why now that she's explained. It wasn't clear to me why she'd decide to go no contact with him unless she was afraid of him, nor why she would ask us to tell her to go no contact with him unless she expected us to see him as dangerous.
posted by tel3path at 10:19 AM on February 20, 2012


She wants to perform a duet, not play second fiddle. He's still stuck on the strange finale with his last partner, so she's content to be a soloist for a bit. But even when they hang out as friends, they start fiddlin' with each other. But again, she doesn't want to play second fiddle, so she was wondering if she had to keep away from him, before they become an dysfunctional orchestra.

The "problem" isn't that he's so bad, but rather that he's so good that resisting the pull is difficult.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 11:13 AM on February 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


I haven't been holding out for him. Quite the opposite. It's more like after being pursued for so long, I finally see the light and am ready - but I have some fear that his ex will return or that he won't be truly available for years.

And I know a player when I see one. He's always been the guy that wanted a serious relationship, a family. He's not saying the same thing to other women. I was the one who wanted to travel the world and have a career and now it's done and I want to be home.

And it's such a powerful connection that it's scary. Frankly, it's easier to walk away and not be vulnerable. The hard thing - and what I am starting to realize I have to do - is be the one to put myself out there. Take the chance of being rejected like he has done for me so many times before.
posted by GIRLesq at 2:27 PM on February 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


Alas, if he's not a weirdo, there is only so much we can do to help.

Go forth in courage. Take it slowly. Set a time limit for how much faffing you will tolerate.

[salute/]
posted by tel3path at 2:36 PM on February 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


Your fear that he won't be "truly available" for years seems quite reasonable considering how much time he's spent obsessing about her to you already. Your fear that if the ex wants to come back, he'll trash whatever you and he might have going in order to take her back seems quite reasonable, given that he has taken time out of your dates/hanging-out time to tell you how much he wants her back.

So it's really up to you to decide whether you want to hang out with him and be his crying blanket while he processes this, or tell him to get in touch when he's ready to date like a grownup.
posted by Sidhedevil at 2:46 PM on February 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


Ok, I must have misread the situation. In that case, having been in a similar position, I suggest choosing between two options:

1) Going no contact until he sorts things out - a few months at least.
2) Just saying screw it and dating now anyway.

What you're doing now is the worst of both worlds. You're hanging out and making out and acting like you're dating, but you're feeling bad about it and trying not to. It's a really bad foot to start off on, since it makes your budding relationship feel like something to struggle against. If you're going to sort-of date, just date.
posted by Ragged Richard at 12:05 PM on February 21, 2012


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