I'm trying to figure out the best way to understand and handle the relationship between myself and a good friend who is also my ex. Snowflakes inside.
posted by jlibera to human relations (20 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
He is over a decade older than me; I am in grad school, extremely inexperienced in relationships, and we work in labs that are tight with one another.
I'd been good friends with this guy for two years, when we decided to date. He was newly out of another, very long relationship, and moving too fast for me, we had some problems, and in any case it looked like he was soon to complete his PhD thesis and move abroad; so I ended it after three months. At the time, I still liked him and hoped that we could work through our issues and try a relationship again sometime, when we were in a more stable place geographically and emotionally; I told him that when I broke up with him, and we discussed it at length. That was nearly two years ago.
The breakup went worse than I'd expected. He begged me to get back together, told me repeatedly that he was in denial and thought of us as being on break (which I angrily denied), and told me repeatedly that mutual friends that we work with were on his side and thought that we should be together. That subsided, and for about a month at a time he would be okay with me and friendly, and he would say that I had been right about things that I had said when we broke up. But then - often at the same time as he was under external work pressures - send me angsty e-mails or initiate heartfelt talks trying to talk about us, and telling me that he didn't understand why, just as though the previous conversations between us had never happened. He would still mention that our labmates were on his side (I tried to leave them out of it, but got a lot of support from them anyway). Five months after we'd broken up, he became very upset when I mentioned in casual conversation to a third person that a tent of theirs was only big enough for 'two people who love each other very much'. Each time, I was upset and, increasingly, angry, but as these conversations were rare I assumed that he would move on and they would stop soon. I was also frightened of drama spilling over into my work life. Each time, I withdrew a little more, stopping more and more contact outside the lab; and I told him that I would give him as much space as he needed, but we both knew that because of our labs - which are close both professionally and socially - this would be very difficult.
After six months, I told him that I wanted us to stop talking altogether until he got over me, for a minimum of six months. I told him that I never wanted to get back together with him again, but that if he wanted to be friends again once he was over me, I would be glad to do that. It was difficult; but he was busy with his thesis, and he stopped being invited to my lab's parties. We were as close to no contact as we could be for about nine months.
We started talking again about six months ago. We were both cautiously friendly, and I was clear that friendly was all that I was willing to be. We've hung out with mutual friends and labmates and done work stuff together. I've missed him; I definitely don't want to date him again, but I like seeing him happy, he's funny, interesting, and very kind and infinitely patient with friends and strangers alike. He has very low self-esteem, which I think is unjustified, and suffers from social anxiety. He has just landed a job abroad, so he will be leaving in May; I think he'll enjoy it, but because he is unused to living alone and hasn't lived in a non-English speaking country before, I think he'll be very lonely at first.
Yesterday, we were on the phone, and he was feeling depressed; I asked whether I could do anything, and he sighed and said, "Nothing that you want to do." He then told me that he still had feelings for me, but that he'd managed to separate in his head, as he put it, the me that was an awesome friend, and the me that was the girl of his dreams and that he still hopes to be with someday; that he wasn't okay with the breakup, but was okay with my being over him. I suggested going no contact again, but he told me that he felt he could handle it. He reassured me that he was not trying to get back together with me, and that he just wants to be friends in the time before he leaves. He also asked if we could Skype (as friends, he said again) once he was in his new home.
I don't know quite how to react. The fact that he's still bringing up our relationship after so many cycles of drama makes me angry; he could just keep it to himself, or tell me that we need to stop talking if it's too much. The fact that he's telling me to my face that he thinks we'll get back together, even if in the future, I find disrespectful given that I've said that that won't happen. On the other hand, I have a tendency to catastrophize and may be blowing it out of proportion; after all the context was of him trying to reassure me that he wasn't trying to hit on me, and that he appreciated us hanging out as friends again, and I can tell that he's trying. I would really like to save this friendship if at all possible; but how to proceed? Nip any hint of discussion about our relationship in the bud even if it seems harmless, or let things slide as long as the gist is that he's okay being friends, but risk encouraging him? What sort of boundaries should I be setting now? I can see him possibly idealizing both me and our relationship if he becomes lonely in his new home, and that might make it awkward being his friend then; how can I head that off?
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