Dating someone fresh off a LTR
July 11, 2017 11:47 PM   Subscribe

How do you approach a relationship with someone who still loves/misses someone else?

The guy I'm dating is six months from his last real contact with his ex partner of 16 years. I think he moved out a year before that. We've been seeing each other just over an intense month.

He feels guilt for things he did early in their relationship that he thinks poisoned it and hurt her deeply. (Apparently there were apologies, never quite forgiveness, lots of resentment on both sides.) I met him when he'd launched himself into a search for a new capital P partner. (Randomly.)

The woman he dated before me was jealous of his ex. I'm not, but I don't know if he's got room in his heart for me (and maybe I should be?). I don't know that I totally trust him to know how he feels.

He was *very* vocal about wanting to pursue something serious, with me, in the first few weeks. There was an intense physical and emotional chemistry. (We'd actually had a fling *many* years ago - were both blown away by the connection we found this time.) Exchanged texts daily, through most of the day, it's been kind of a whirlwind.

I was more cautious about the longer term - I've been single for quite a few years now, have had the occasional ONS but have avoided emotional intimacy almost totally (formal dating, for sure) after being burned by a past ex.

And just as I was persuaded to allow myself to hope for something real, because I felt so cared for and connected, he felt he wanted to pull back. He wasn't sure. Missed his ex. Instead of talking about wanting to be my husband (!), he was glad to have me as a "distraction". I said I'd need to be more of a priority than that at this stage of my life, as I'm contemplating having children and don't have much time. I'd give him a bit of it, though.

Cut to the next time we're in bed, and he wants to marry me again :/ Are you sure, I ask, yes he is...

Cut to the day after that, and he's almost in tears over his guilt re his ex. I listened, without judging. He also said he felt it wasn't healthy for him to indulge those feelings, that he wanted to move on. That that's what he was trying to do with me... He said he still loves her but thinks he can make room for someone else...

Am I a rebound, then? Is this just what dating is like when you're 40+? No one's perfect, everyone has baggage, me included. Should I not accept this kind of messiness, am I disrespecting myself? Because I want to be with someone who wants to be with me. But I also know how grey things can get.

I don't know how much time to give him for this. It took me two years to work my ex out of my system, and we weren't together half the time they were. (I didn't try to actually date anyone, though). I've also known couples that married a year after one of them divorced or split. (Including my ex.) Do I give him one month? Two?

Should I ask him not to talk about his ex with me? I don't mind listening, but it's probably not helpful for this thing we're doing. I'm not his therapist, after all.

Somewhere in the middle of the baggage, escape from loneliness, etc, is something real and great, I think. There's so much I like about this guy, and how we are together. I'd list it all, but it'd take up a lot of pixels. Rest assured that he's wonderful. I can imagine sharing a life with him, and think it'd be great.

Should I somehow protect myself while we try this? How? (We text most of the day, every day. Talk on the phone at night. See each other on the weekends.)

(Another reason I'm not sure he can stand by what he says from day to day is that he's got a psych diagnosis that involves that kind of behavior. He's conscientious about taking the shedload of meds he's been prescribed, works steadfastly on self-care, and has tons of insight - I admire this about him, he's got a *lot* of EQ, in part as a result of his struggles, I believe. Then again, I'm prone to anxiety, maybe making mountains out of molehills. I'm also a little vulnerable because I haven't opened up to anyone like this in a very long time.)

Thank you in advance.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (22 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
 
Am I a rebound, then? Is this just what dating is like when you're 40+? No one's perfect, everyone has baggage, me included.

Sure everyone has baggage, but it sounds like this is very early in a new relationship, if you're asking whether you should give him a month or two to get over the ex. If it's really this early, to me it's a huge red flag that he's talking marriage; even if that's your eventual goal, it's wayyyyy too fast to broach it about a specific relationship. (Saying "I'm looking to eventually get married and have kids, and I don't want to date someone who isn't on the same page about that" is different than saying "I want to marry you" after the first or third or even fifth month.) And no one should be talking marriage while they're still in tears over an old relationship. Much less making their new/current sweetie process that old relationship baggage with them. It's truly not your problem, and for the health of the relationship shouldn't be, regardless of whatever diagnosis he may have.

New relationships shouldn't be full of trouble and emotional tumult, or wild ups and downs, or irrational ramping-up of commitment, no matter how kind and tender he otherwise is. Regardless of diagnosis, it's not an excuse for this kind of behavior, and it's not your responsibility to take care of someone you barely know in the way he needs caring for--and seems to be seeking out of a relationship, rather than via therapy or a better family/friend support structure.
posted by tapir-whorf at 1:27 AM on July 12 [13 favorites]


He is literally showing you how he rolls, how he is going to be with you. He is going to love you one day, then cry the next that he misses his ex. There's nothing more to to it than that--it's not that adult relationships and messy and take time and all that--

This guy is NOT ready to date. Unless you want to be dating someone who will keep throwing you for a loop (spoiler alert--you don't) and mess with you because they're oh so busy working out their "stuff," just let this guy go. He's not ready to be dating.

There's something about being the first rebound. My life experience has taught me that this guy will work through his ex issues with you, but you'll always remind him of her and his angst. When it gets to be too much for him, you'll be shocked when he leaves you for someone else and declares it was love at first sight.
posted by yes I said yes I will Yes at 4:36 AM on July 12 [11 favorites]


He's not ready to date. I'm not saying he should be ready to marry you, but he should at the very least be over his ex and open to the possibility of a new relationship. If you're early 40s and wanting kids, you don't have two years to burn while he dicks around trying to find himself. Sorry, but that's the point you're at.
posted by Jubey at 5:08 AM on July 12 [6 favorites]


Six months just isn't long enough to get over a 16 year relationship, generally. (I can imagine exceptions - a situation where someone was checked out for years prior to the breakup so the main work was already done - but they'd just prove the rule.)

You could "date" him, I suppose, but I certainly wouldn't commit to him and wait for him to come around - you should date other people too. And yes, I think it's a great idea to tell him he can't talk about his ex with you. You aren't his therapist and processing on his ex isn't at all part of what you want to do with him. The change might just possibly smack him into focus. Or he might not be able to stop, and you'll know to really end it.
posted by fingersandtoes at 6:14 AM on July 12 [1 favorite]


From the OP:
I'm sorry, I may have been confusing:

- He moved out of the placed he shared with his ex over a year ago. (They broke up annually for a while before that.)
- Six months ago is when they went no contact, at his request. Prior to that, they were in casual communication, not dating, though I'm sure things were confusing.
- It was miserable for years.
- He cheated on her early in the relationship. (I'm not making excuses for him, because he doesn't do that for himself at all, he takes full responsibility for it, but I can see how it happened - hypersexuality is part of the issue he's treated for [not an issue now], and, I mean I know people who do what he did at the time... it seems like it's a bit of an occupational hazard).
- He apologized over and over again through the years, got diagnosed and treated - she wasn't ever quite able to forgive him and let it go. They got into a long-term shit spiral after that. He completely owns his wrongdoing and feels guilty for having hurt her ("ruined her life"). This doesn't come up *often*, we've talked about it twice. The time he cried was the only time he really talked about it at length.
- He expressly set out to meet a new partner for something serious many months ago. He's dated a few women after the breakup and before me.
- The actual word "marriage" only came up in the context of, I guess, pillow talk. (He's kind of a talker.)
- We knew each other (biblically etc) years ago, as kids (teens), and happened to run into each other now. When we saw each other again, there was just an intense chemistry (which we had in the past, too). After a couple of weeks of talking to each other (about *everything*, old stuff, family stuff, everything), and having a blast together, he said he wanted to date me "with the long term in mind", i.e. that he wasn't up for just fooling around.
- He wanted to take things slower, he said, after a conversation *I* prompted at some point, during which I was asking him questions about his ex. I don't know what I was doing, maybe playing counsellor... maybe leading questions, or poking at things, in a way that might keep me safe from risk, to be honest. Or prove I'm not worth dating. Something avoidant... I'm afraid of intimacy (or feeling it and losing it) - maybe I wanted to head that off at the pass. He does have friends he talks to... I'm a careful listener with - I guess - some kind of fucked up listening agenda... He later said he hadn't thought about pulling back until that conversation.
- About a week later, he said he regretted saying that and wanted to regain ground lost during that time.
- He assures me that he has no intention of ever getting back together with his ex. He just feels bad that he hurt her. (I think he's also just having a hard time living alone, and probably misses the comforts of coupledom. And, that's a huge chunk of your life, 15 years. You can't really think of that time without the other person in it.)
- When I asked you kind folks how much time to give him, I didn't mean in terms of getting over his ex - I think that can take years to really fully do. I meant how much time should I give to dating him, in terms of giving this a chance to see what kind of life and potential this has.

Thanks so much, everyone. Your advice and thoughts are really appreciated. I hear your concerns, definitely
posted by taz at 7:01 AM on July 12 [1 favorite]


you know, it's one thing to have doubts and regrets about a previous relationship, but it's a totally different thing to talk about those feelings with the new person you are dating. I mean, he's just showing so damn little common sense here that you should take it as a huge red flag. If there's stuff regarding his previous relationship that he still needs to process, he should talk to his best friend, or his mom, or a therapist, but to put that on you? it's spectacularly heartless, and does not bode well for a happy, respectful relationship.
posted by 5_13_23_42_69_666 at 7:19 AM on July 12 [13 favorites]


You should give him no more time. He's using you as a therapist. I have had lots of close pillow talky talks with exes where we process and share stuff and this is not that. Take care of yourself.
posted by sockermom at 7:26 AM on July 12 [5 favorites]



I don't know what I was doing, maybe playing counsellor... maybe leading questions, or poking at things, in a way that might keep me safe from risk, to be honest. Or prove I'm not worth dating. Something avoidant... I'm afraid of intimacy (or feeling it and losing it) - maybe I wanted to head that off at the pass. He does have friends he talks to... I'm a careful listener with - I guess - some kind of fucked up listening agenda...


I think I know what you were doing. You were asking him if he was ready to love you. That's not avoidant, that's not a fucked up listening agenda, and I wonder why you're saying it is - is it because he, through his actions and maybe words, has helped you spin this narrative? This guy is helping you shelve yourself. Don't put yourself on a shelf. Your needs matter.
posted by sockermom at 7:32 AM on July 12 [4 favorites]


You know way too much about his past relationship. You simply do not talk about exes this much when you're forming a new relationship, it's a huge red flag. He's not ready to move on.
posted by blackzinfandel at 7:34 AM on July 12 [10 favorites]


Yeah, you're a rebound. I basically had the same thing with a guy for a year and half while he was in the process of getting divorced and afterward also. He cried and cried and I listened and listened. We had a great connection, emotionally and physically, and he tried to move in with me (I wouldn't let that happen), and then he literally stopped talking to me one day when he went on a date with a woman who he then ended up marrying. He just couldn't stand to be alone and not paid attention to because he was used to be being in a partnership. I was just a placeholder until he found the next real deal, and that, sadly, is probably what you are right now. Luckily, I was aware of it (even though he would deny it) and I protected myself as best as I could for the inevitable. Of course it hurt when he dropped me like a bag of shit on fire because I was hoping we could stay friends, but I wasn't surprised because I was able to recognize that he was just a pathetic man-baby all along. As is yours. So from one woman to another, find someone who wants you, not just someone to fill the void.
posted by greta simone at 7:38 AM on July 12 [19 favorites]


It sucks, and I'm sorry, but it's going to take him time to process the ending of his relationship before he's ready to be a good long-term partner to someone new. You are in a different place; you need someone who is ready.

It is wildly, wildly difficult to sit - REALLY sit - with the change in circumstances after living with a partner because you're no one's most special person anymore. I think it's common to feel like that's an unnatural state that needs to be resolved ASAP through finding a new partner, and I believe that's where he is - it sounds to me like he's grasping at any life raft he can find right now. I get a little bit of a sense from your question that if you just listen well enough, or give him enough time, he'll regain his equilibrium, but I really don't think it has anything to do with you. Yes, everyone has baggage, but baggage and stability are not the same thing. Many people carry the ghosts of their past relationships with them while still being able to focus on the here and now in a wholehearted way, because they know if it all falls to pieces again they'll be OK - they've been there before. This is not him, because he hasn't yet stood successfully on his own two feet.

It doesn't mean he's a bad guy, but he's still a mess, so he's not the guy for you right now. I'm very sorry. This is not going anywhere you'd be happy to end up. You sound like a lovely, caring person. I wish all the happiness in the world for you.
posted by superfluousm at 8:15 AM on July 12 [1 favorite]


Thanks for the update. I sort of get from your update you'd like the consensus here to be that you should stick it out.

Unfortunately you're not getting that response. Don't stick this out.

When I asked you kind folks how much time to give him, I didn't mean in terms of getting over his ex - I think that can take years to really fully do. I meant how much time should I give to dating him, in terms of giving this a chance to see what kind of life and potential this has.

No, I think you've got this wrong--it's part and parcel of the same thing. In fact, he shouldn't be dating until he's fully over his ex. Since you know he's not over his ex, accept that means you shouldn't give any more time at all to dating him.

We knew each other (biblically etc) years ago, as kids (teens), and happened to run into each other now. When we saw each other again, there was just an intense chemistry (which we had in the past, too).

This is a hugely telling detail and I've so been there. Connecting with exes manages to fill a spot that doesn't get filled when dating someone new. You have all this history, and your brain isn't emotionally exhausted because on some level, you already know this person and have a very high comfort level. It feels really good really quickly but the problem is even though you want to think you're dating this person you knew, you're not. People change and grow and you're both different people then you were years back. So you end up having a pretend relationship with a ghost, and as you get to know the current person, the veil lifts and you realize you need to mentally readjust to this entirely new person.

The guy you're dating now isn't the guy you knew when you were a crazy teen with teen hormones and all that. You're dating a memory; one who is not ready to be dating.
posted by yes I said yes I will Yes at 8:30 AM on July 12 [9 favorites]


Jeezus. No. Do not engage. Abort, run away. He's a flaming wreck whipsawing from disaster to euphoria and then tears. Id say he needs at least two years of solo-self time, if not three or four.

Don't get dragged along with this. It's not worth it. You can't be his sexy therapist and or relationship partner. Hes got Messy Rebound written all over this in big red neon letters.
posted by Jacen at 8:33 AM on July 12 [3 favorites]


Your follow up makes me feel like you hoped it would cause us all to say that things really are normal and okay here, and that you should continue to let things be as they are ... but honestly, it sounds like you're just making excuses for him, and asking us to be complicit in - as sockermom said - "helping you shelve yourself." What's more, the fact that he's been on-again, off-again with his ex for years and actually moved out a year ago makes his behavior now seem even worse, to me. His relationship with his ex had been dead/dying for years, not just six months, and still he's so hung up on it?

You asked if you're disrespecting yourself, and from what you're telling us, it very much sounds to me like you are. He's outright told you that he thinks he can make room for someone else. That isn't just crumbs he's offering - it's the hope of maybe crumbs.

I'm sorry, I know you've said that he's wonderful in so many ways, but the ways in which he is NOT wonderful are significant. Do right by yourself by letting this go.
posted by DingoMutt at 8:37 AM on July 12 [12 favorites]


Everything you write is about him. What do you need and want? Push a little bit more for what you need and want. You may or may not be successful, but why put up with all this drama and angst only about his needs? People respect you more when you ask for what you need.
posted by theora55 at 8:54 AM on July 12 [4 favorites]


he was glad to have me as a "distraction"

If I had shared with my partner that I was looking for something serious and did NOT have time to play games, they said they were on board, and then they turned around and laid THIS down on me? In the first MONTH? It would prompt a VERY serious discussion, if not an instant break up. And if something like it happened AGAIN? Like, oh, you THINK you can make space in your life for me? HELL NO.

You say you reconnected with him as he was actively searching for a "new capital P partner", despite the fact that he must have known full well he was still having intrusive thoughts and feelings about his ex. This to me SMACKS of someone who has made a habit, nay, a lifestyle out of offloading all of his emotional labor onto his girlfriends rather than processing his thoughts and feelings in therapy because he can't be bothered to put in the work himself.

He doesn't know how to be alone with his thoughts, so he's throwing himself into another relationship so someone else can do the thinking for him. Because that's what girlfriends are for, right? Making sense of his own, tortured, man-pain thoughts and soothing his fevered brow with a cool hand, expecting nothing in return? This is lazy, selfish, and immature at any age, but especially when one is on the other side of 30 and has had ample time to figure out that ain't the way.

He's too old for this type of behavior to be rewarded, and it doesn't sound like you have the time or energy to teach him the error of his ways (nor should it be your job to do so). In your shoes, I'd let him know EXACTLY why this relationship could not continue and encourage him to get real, professional help rather than continuing to try to date the pain away. He's doing no one, including himself, any favors with that approach.

However, I'm not you. And I know how sucky dating is. And if you really feel that this dude and this relationship could have real potential if certain conditions are met, here's how I might approach that. Normally I'd think this was a little heavy handed for a month-long relationship, but if y'all are already talking marriage, the usual rules don't apply, I think.

First, decide on a max amount of time you're willing to give this relationship to stop looking like free therapy for flaky dudes and more like an actual loving partnership. Put that date on a calendar. Decide what you need that loving partnership to resemble in order to continue past that date.

Next, meet up with your fella and lay it all out for him. Let him know what you need, what that looks like, why present circumstances are at odds with your needs, and what you will require of him if he genuinely wants to continue a relationship with you. Let him know that you wouldn't be asking this of him if you didn't feel like there was real potential for you two. I'd absolutely make therapy a condition, based on what I've read here about how he's dealing with his feelings about his ex. You have already let him know you have zero time for games, but I might reiterate that here because he seems to be a little hazy about what games look like.

Then I would let him know that I was INSISTING on a week of no contact so he could think it over and make up his mind about whether his needs are compatible with your needs without all that sexy limerence getting in the way. Just a week, alone with his thoughts.

How he responds to this perfectly reasonable request will be very telling. Feel free to either ignore any texts or even cite them as grounds for immediate breakup depending on how you're feeling. Anyone who can't respect a boundary for a measly week, especially when their relationship is on the line, is someone who believes their needs are more important than yours.

After a week has passed without incident, meet back up and see what he says. If he seems genuinely willing to put in the work of being an equal partner with you, awesome! Give it a go! If he sticks to what he says he'll do (allowing for some growing pains), and come that date on your calendar things are looking up, cool.

If he agrees to work on this and then doesn't, you can decide for yourself if you want to let the clock run out on your calendar date, or if you want to just cut him loose when you feel like it's run its course. If he lies to you about working on it and you find out, dump his ass IMMEDIATELY, because he's clearly still 15 years old emotionally if he thinks that lying to you so you won't be mad at him is a valid communication strategy in an adult relationship.

If he comes back after a week and says he's not prepared to put in the work for this relationship, or tries to argue that X or Y is totally unreasonable, thank him for his candor and self-awareness and wish him the best. At least he had the decency to admit his limitations. But do not waste any further time on this dude; he will not meet you halfway.
posted by helloimjennsco at 9:34 AM on July 12 [6 favorites]


Just want to pull some things forward here:

Him:
- He moved out of the placed he shared with his ex over a year ago. (They broke up annually for a while before that.)
- It was miserable for years.
- He cheated on her early in the relationship. (I'm not making excuses for him, because he doesn't do that for himself at all, he takes full responsibility for it, but I can see how it happened - hypersexuality is part of the issue he's treated for [not an issue now], and, I mean I know people who do what he did at the time... it seems like it's a bit of an occupational hazard).
- ("ruined her life")

You:
- an intense chemistry (which we had in the past, too).
- He wanted to take things slower, he said, after a conversation *I* prompted at some point, during which I was asking him questions about his ex. I don't know what I was doing, maybe playing counsellor... maybe leading questions, or poking at things, in a way that might keep me safe from risk, to be honest. Or prove I'm not worth dating. Something avoidant... I'm afraid of intimacy (or feeling it and losing it) - maybe I wanted to head that off at the pass. He does have friends he talks to... I'm a careful listener with - I guess - some kind of fucked up listening agenda... He later said he hadn't thought about pulling back until that conversation.

Here's what I see - you have some kind of issue where you are afraid of intimacy and losing it and you’re attracted to intensity. So, you just found yourself the perfect person...he will make sure things are intense and rocky at the same time.

He is a very, very dramatic person who chooses and stays in bad relationships. There is no reason to believe that this 15 year dance with his ex is over. There is no reason to believe that he is not going to break up with you annually too - not only has he done that for the last however many years, he’s already doing it to you.

His relationship skills are terrible, don’t do this.

Run run run.
posted by warriorqueen at 9:55 AM on July 12 [14 favorites]


I'm contemplating having children

Go ahead and date him if it's fun and you don't mind the weeping and moaning, but this man would be the worst father ever. THE worst. You don't love feeling like his therapist and having to comfort him whenever he gets sad; imagine how little his kids will like it.
posted by queenofbithynia at 10:11 AM on July 12 [1 favorite]


I am of two minds here. I got divorced after 19 or so years. Waited a year before dating afterwards. The first few dates I went on, usually the other person, she would talk about her no good ex. I might chime in too. But, when I got home and reflected on the date, I realized that I did not want to hear about her ex. I wanted to hear about her. So, I vowed to never bring up my ex on a date unless it was in the context of maybe the kids or something non judgmental. I am not sure why you thought it a good idea to ask about his ex, but you did and he answered. Can't put that back in the bottle.

I would keep on dating him, but do not bring up his ex. See if he does. If he does go all therapist on you, run. If he does not bring it up or can do so briefly and maturely, then maybe you have your man.

I am not sure you can read anything more into it bc you are the one who brought it up.
posted by AugustWest at 10:34 AM on July 12 [3 favorites]


you are his rebound. he's scared of being alone and he's spent his whole life dealing with his feelings by talking them out with the nearest woman, so now you're in that spot, until he feels better and meets the next lady. i am sorry. this is super common and i have been in this situation. it sucked a lot, and it hurt, and after it ended i immediately found myself turned off when i was on a date with a guy and he started talking about his ex unprompted/unasked, especially when he was recently out of something.
posted by zdravo at 1:41 PM on July 12 [6 favorites]


Many unhealthy relationships are driven by amazing chemistry. Don't let the fear of losing it guide you.
posted by bonobothegreat at 6:45 PM on July 12 [3 favorites]


Instead of talking about wanting to be my husband (!), he was glad to have me as a "distraction". I said I'd need to be more of a priority than that at this stage of my life, as I'm contemplating having children and don't have much time. I'd give him a bit of it, though.

Cut to the next time we're in bed, and he wants to marry me again :/ Are you sure, I ask, yes he is...


I agree with you, this is not a great conversation. Easy come, easy go. I think you need an exit plan. This situation could really mess you up.

He is thinking about it in a two-pronged and not very caring or sensible way, "oh, I could stay with this person maybe (let me just suggest marriage!), and maybe they'll help me assuage the pain of my ex - or maybe I'll decide to be alone or get with someone else but I'm not sure."

Meanwhile, as you stated, you are 100% in for now. Look at the difference between those two mindsets. You may both be feeling each other out, but he is not feeling out how to make you happy. I think it's worth exiting for that alone. If you want to stick it out - I don't know how to phrase this exactly but please play your cards in a way that won't leave you emotionally devastated. Many people have successful rebound relationships obviously but I think what you are describing sounds like the classic angst of a bad one (from my experience), and your reactions are 100% normal to a bad setup.

If you have avoided dating after being burned by a past ex, and this is you giving it another shot, then you may be doing what looks from the outside like settling. If this is the guy you are taking a chance on, it can become a vicious cycle. He really seems too unreliable.
posted by benadryl at 10:50 AM on July 19


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