Where to start when you start over?
January 9, 2009 9:49 AM   Subscribe

How do you start over, with a new love or without one? Heartfelt, soul-searching soap opera of my life and love inside.

You met them (to avoid silly pronoun problems) on the internet. They made you laugh. You thought it was harmless. Both of you had other commitments, other relationships in your lives.

Neither of you intended it to go anywhere. It was just supposed to be friendship. Somehow, you tumble head-over-heels anyway. They confess to feeling the same way.

You both overcome boundaries--complicated personal relationships, huge geographical distances--to meet "IRL". You figure it has all been too good to be true online. Surely this will only lead to disappointment IRL.

But you meet. You laugh often. You revel in the conversation and lively debate. Evntually, inevitably, you make love. The sex is incredible. You have never felt so free, so independent in your life. And you feel like...yourself. No pretenses, no subterfuge. Then the two of you separate as planned, go back to your "other lives".

Being pragmatic by nature, you tell yourself that you are just infatuated, that you are not thinking clearly. Happens all the time, you know. People do this. They meet online, get together, fool themselves that they have something when they don't. This will pass, you tell yourself. The infatuation will fade. It's wrong to feel this way. Let it go.

You make a dedicated effort to end it, going months without contacting them. You fall into a deep depression. You go to therapy, you take medication. Nothing helps. Conversely, even your real-life relationship, which you had sought to help by this separation, worsens because you feel so disconnected to everything and everyone emotionally.

Only when you are with them, even if it is only online, are you happy. It is not what they do--just knowing they are part of your life is enough. And when, finally, you accept this and get back in touch with them, it's as if no time at all has passed. The two of you come back together seamlessly, effortlessly. And, of course, you want more than just the online stuff. You continue to see them when you can.

This is not just a fling, like so many others. The feelings only grow stronger over time. Gradually, It becomes a relationship measured not in days, weeks or even months, but years. Their support has helped you do things in your real life you never had the courage to do before. They've helped you discover yourself. Along the way, you have come to terms with the problems in your real life relationship, and you know you have to do something about them. You know there is little communication, and that you have never had the emotional intimacy you need to thrive.

You feel you could be independent now, when before you felt trapped. At various times in your relationship with them, you have both considered changing your lives, despite the many hardships and the others involved, to be together. Now, you feel you are ready.

You understand that they may not be able to go through with it. It's a huge commitment. You know that in the end they may lack the conviction or the courage to leave the life they have now. Only they can decide what is right for them.

Regardless of what they do, you feel you must make the change in your own life. It is not about a promise of something that might be, but an end to something that no longer is.

And of course you're scared to death. This is a secret years in the making. You can handle being called selfish, a betrayer--you deserve all that. But you don't want to hurt anyone any more than you have to when you leave. You don't even know if you should tell them the whole truth, the why behind your decision.

So you go online, and ask nameless, faceless people you have never met, (but maybe people who will be objective simply because they don't know you) HOW do you do this?

How do you end one life and begin another without destroying the lives of those you leave behind? How do you move out on your own when you have always been sheltered and protected before?

Where do you START?
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (31 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Do the SOs know anything about the online relationship? It's not 100% clear from the posting and it makes a difference in how to go about the break.
posted by fructose at 10:04 AM on January 9, 2009

If you've been sheltered, that creates a handicap that can only be overcome by doing without the shelter. Growing pains, they call em.

As for what to say, it depends on the other party. Consider what will be best for each person. Ask questions if you need to.
posted by kconner at 10:10 AM on January 9, 2009

If you're like me, you lead your SO to an online forum where you've discussed the whole messy deal. The rest pretty much takes care of itself.
posted by MrMoonPie at 10:12 AM on January 9, 2009

Your post is poetic, but too coded to actually give a proper opinion or advice. Maybe follow up through an OP as to what specifically is going on. You are anonymous, after all.
posted by meerkatty at 10:13 AM on January 9, 2009

....I'm joining the "i'm confused" camp. Are you actually in a relationship right now, and if so, with whom? Are you asking whether you should be in a relationship right now, and if so, with whom?
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 10:15 AM on January 9, 2009

First: There is no way that you can end your "real life" relationship without hurting your significant other. This will hurt them.. Badly. There is no way around it, and you need to be willing to accept responsibility for it. You must be willing to accept that this person may hate you for the rest of both of your lives.

Second: If this is really your decision, then do it quickly. Make as many arrangements as possible in advance. Put as many pieces is place as you can in advance (travel arrangments, financial arrangements, etc.). Once that is done, have the "breaking up" talk. Then...

Third: Leave. Get out of their life and their living space. Any long drawn-out process is simply cruel.

Fourth: Don't try to maintain a friendship with your ex; you lost that privilege when you violated their trust. If your ex is interested in contacting you, (s)he will do so. Avoid doing things that you say are for your ex's benefit that are really for your own.

I wish you luck; you have a difficult time ahead of you.
posted by DWRoelands at 10:21 AM on January 9, 2009 [6 favorites]

First, lose the affected second-person writing style. It's an effective distancing technique, but that's the opposite of what you need to do -- you need to own your situation, not hide from it.

Second, there is no way to leave a long-standing relationship (married or otherwise, kids or no kids) without causing discomfort and pain. Sometimes it's still the right thing to do -- but searching for the special painless method is a waste of time.

Your harder choice will be about whether or not you should be honest about the affair, or just have the breakup and move on. That's not a situation I've been in, so I'll let others speak to that issue.

My central point, however, is this: you need to make your decision about staying or going separate from your lover's choice about leaving his/her relationship. If you aren't happy, and you love someone else, that sounds like a pretty compelling reason to leave, to me. But don't waffle around and try to use the other person's inaction as an excuse for your own. Take ownership of your own life here, and act like an adult, basically.

Finally, something to be aware of is that there is a real risk that you might leave your relationship, and find that things will then fizzle out with the lover -- that what made things with him/her so good was that both of you were in relationships already. Forbidden fruits being sweeter, everyone on their best behavior, and so on. Take that attraction out of its little hothouse of attraction, and you will be forced to confront how much real connection there in fact is.
posted by Forktine at 10:25 AM on January 9, 2009 [4 favorites]

I like that you wrote it 2nd person, but yeah, I'll try and recap.

Despite being married (or close enough) you've been seeing someone else for years who lives far away . You've decided to leave your partner and make a go of it with this long distance person. They are undecided but you feel like you should leave your partner anyway. Should you tell your jilted old-partner what's been going on?

posted by Potomac Avenue at 10:25 AM on January 9, 2009

The answer is no, whether you get together with the new person or not. You SHOULD say that you met someone else, but no need to rub it in by telling oldpartner that you've been cuckolding them for years behind their back. Just say "I'm sorry, I met someone else and it is over. I know I'm a jerk so say whatever you think you should but it is over."

What's missing in all this is how you feel about the current close-by person. Is this extra-curricular affair the result of problems with that relationship or just restlessness. Because (and here's where I'm probably going to be controversial) if you really do love and respect oldpartner despite cheating on them emotionally and physically, why jump ship before you know the internetpartner is coming too? This seems unlikely though. If you desire something from internetperson that oldpartner isn't giving you, the relationship is probably wrecked anyway. Give them a half-truth and move on to some new, as yet undiscovered partner who doesn't have to be an actor in your flaming bag of melodrama.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 10:33 AM on January 9, 2009 [1 favorite]

I think beyond all the poetics of the romance you're feeling/experiencing, is the basic truth: you're currently committed to someone else, as are they. Jeez, you might both be married, even. You significantly cheated on your SO, realized it made you happy, and now you want out-- and are hoping the other person will join you but don't have any guarantees.

The question is not whether you should stay with your SO. That's over with. You tried, it didn't work. So you have to leave. Now. You're wasting the other person's life and continuing to abuse their faith in you. And you're wasting your time, too.

So tell your SO/Spouse that you cheated, and you're going to leave. It's completely unfair to stay with them when you're being both emotionally AND physically unfaithful. That it's "true love" with your internet partner doesn't matter, except to give you the hope you'll find something better with that person post-breakup. Possibly.

You know what you have to do. The time for lying (to your SO and to yourself) is over. It seems like you already realize you might be trading this life of double-relationships for one of no relationships, if your love interest doesn't want to give up his/her SO for you. You're taking a chance, but it's far better to break up as soon as possible, and as honestly as possible, than continue living this farce. You say you like the feeling of being independent, but it sounds like you're afraid to make that step. You're doing no favors to anyone by being hesitant, here.
posted by np312 at 10:35 AM on January 9, 2009 [2 favorites]

I just watched 22 chapters of Trapped in the Closet by R Kelly and then read the OP post, now I'm totally spun out. It would really help to have more specific details. Try messaging another user and get some more detail in.
posted by rc55 at 10:36 AM on January 9, 2009 [1 favorite]

Wait, what? You want to dump your current boyfriend/husband/SO/wife/whatever and go off with this other individual who you've had a secret (maybe) relationship for years? And you want to do it without hurting the other people involved in your life without a promise that this other person will be with you? And you're really trying to convince us that you wouldn't mind if that other person doesn't end up with you? Seriously?

There is no magic bullet to cover your infidelity and let those people in your life who you've betrayed be happy or accept your new life. You don't get to choose how they feel. You don't get to choose that they won't get upset or angry or feel miserable because of the lie that your relationship to them has been for years.

Stop stop stop living your life as if you are in some lame romance novel. Your life is not something that happens to you. Your infidelity or whatever wasn't the fates running your life. You met the person in real life, you went and sought them out. Your initial "whatevers" about what happened doesn't cover the fact that you've already done the damage to your real life relationship and you've been living a lie for quite some time. What you do is pack your stuff, move out, and tell your SO that you met someone else, you've been cheating on them, and they should get an STD test just incase. If you're unwilling to do that, then stop seeing the other individual, grow up, and take care of those things in your life you can take charge of and, guess what, having emotional/sexual relationships with people you meet online is something you can take charge of.

p.s. and if this other person you get is married, male, and has kids, he's never gonna leave his wife. / harry met sally
posted by Stynxno at 10:45 AM on January 9, 2009 [9 favorites]

Tell the truth; the cold, hard facts and not this sugar-coated version you've been telling yourself in order to be able to sleep at night. "I've been cheating on you both physically and emotionally for years." If you were so concerned with not destroying their lives you would have ended this years ago, or never began it to begin with. Do it now. You've already robbed them of their trust, don't rob them of their time as well.
posted by Ugh at 10:45 AM on January 9, 2009 [2 favorites]

The second-person narrative works best if an author wishes his/her audience to experience firsthand what s/he describes. This can be an excellent literary device, but it's meh, even frustrating, for AskMeFilter, where people want to help you with your challenges.

If you choose to leave this recap as your only "recounting" of events (anonymous, abstract, vague), you'll likely receive philosophical musings in response. If you decide to add details ("Five years ago, I met Renee online. I was recently married and..."), you'll get far more substantive suggestions and assistance.
posted by terranova at 10:47 AM on January 9, 2009

Whatever you decide to do, you need to realize that there's a huge difference between a long-distance, slow motion, covert relationship and one that is "out in the open," committed, and every-day. I read a lot of romanticizing in your post, and I want to caution you that the comedown that results in ditching your current, long-term relationship for this mythical love, especially if it doesn't end up working out, will be monumental.
posted by The Light Fantastic at 10:50 AM on January 9, 2009 [3 favorites]

People are going to be hurt. Drawing it out never helps.

Pull the pin on the life grenade and get on with it.
posted by tkolar at 10:55 AM on January 9, 2009 [2 favorites]

p.s. and if this other person you get is married, male, and has kids, he's never gonna leave his wife.
Favorited. I wish I had thought to include this in my response, because it is Truth.

I hope the OP comes back with some followup.
posted by DWRoelands at 11:21 AM on January 9, 2009

It's better to tell SO that you cheated on them so they have some closure. I had doubts about my ex, but it was super-duper easy to leave him when I found out he cheated. Though I was angry, I never looked back. I didn't have this long drawn-out drama of "what happened?? we were so happy!!" It was DONE. Just don't go into the gory details of how internetperson made you feel so special, how you've been meeting over the last 5 years, etc. Just "I cheated on you, I'm really sorry, and I'm leaving."
posted by desjardins at 11:25 AM on January 9, 2009 [1 favorite]

I have to argue, (assuming little or no risk of infectious disease transmission) that there's no need to go into hurtful details of exactly what happened in the past. Just "I met someone else. It's over. I'm sorry."
posted by mercredi at 11:32 AM on January 9, 2009

You can say you cheated, but don't offer too many details. Don't say, "I know this is really painful but I wouldn't have hurt you if my relationship with X wasn't so very important," which is what someone once said to me, thinking it would somehow make me feel better. It doesn't make the person you betrayed feel better to know that you did it because you've found true(er) love with someone else. I think people in the midst of an affair often feel that the fact that they are finally experiencing "true love" excuses them, and, honestly, the way you've written out your story above suggests you might feel this way too. Be prepared for the people around you to not agree with this point of view.

Regardless of what they do, you feel you must make the change in your own life
Keep this in mind at all times, if, indeed, it is true.

And, don't kid yourself, this is going to be painful and damaging no matter what. Following the advice above about leaving quickly and decisively may keep it from being even more painful and damaging.
posted by agent99 at 11:38 AM on January 9, 2009 [2 favorites]

Tell the truth; the cold, hard facts and not this sugar-coated version you've been telling yourself in order to be able to sleep at night. "I've been cheating on you both physically and emotionally for years."

Honesty is not always the best policy. You'll give the poor man/woman a complex. "I've met someone else and I am leaving you to be with him/her. Sorry." Try to take the focus off of heartfelt soul-searching you for a bit and attempt to make this as painless as possible a transition for the person you have been cheating on for years behind his or her back.
posted by ND¢ at 11:41 AM on January 9, 2009 [2 favorites]

What is this, an episode of Dawson's Creek? You acted like a jerk. Tell your SO that you've been a jerk, and you're leaving. Prepare to be treated like you're jerk, too.
posted by Green Eyed Monster at 1:11 PM on January 9, 2009 [2 favorites]

One of my all-time favorite comments was this:

You know how I feel about my husband? I want to protect him, defend him, honor him, celebrate him, and do whatever I can to make his life better; any day that I can add even a drop more happiness to his life is a good day. I want to SMASH anything that would ever, ever hurt him.

You're not ready for marriage. So go ahead and have the affair, but break it off with your fiance first.
posted to Ask Metafilter by taz at 12:13 AM on July 17, 2007

Maybe you don't feel that way about your SO/husband/wife. But if there are children involved, I hope, I hope, I hope you feel that way about them.

How do you end one life and begin another without destroying the lives of those you leave behind?

You don't. Their lives will be destroyed.

Why are you more special than your SO and any children that might be involved? Why do you get this long-shot chance at happiness and they get left behind? Why not suck it up and do what's best FOR THEM for once? You've had years of an affair and sneaking around and being fulfilled by this other relationship while they have only gotten a shell of you? Why not try to make them happy from this point forward?

Why not wake up tomorrow and ask yourself how you can make this the best day of your SO's life, the best day of your children's lives instead of focusing on how trapped and sheltered you are?
posted by Sassyfras at 1:28 PM on January 9, 2009 [7 favorites]

Having lived a similar scenario, I can say that it sounds like this online relationship served as a catalyst to get you out of the relationship you were in. To allow you to see it more objectively than you could before.

Maybe I am being idealistic, but if I read your post correctly, you are ready to leave the real-life relationship whether the online one works or not. So it's irrelevant, what you've done, to the decision you are making now. You've changed. You need other things. You are not happy where you are.

Clearly you're not at all devoted to the real-life relationship, or you'd not have been seeing someone else. Cut it off cleanly, move on, use the "I've not been happy in this for a very long time" speech. They will be hurt (more or less depending on how much they've picked up on - your distance, your deceptive acts, etc) but it has to be done. Because as it is now? Shit for everyone involved. And no matter how much your SO has picked up on, he/she KNOWS at some level they aren't getting all of you.

Thoughts of the online relationship? Make them irrelevant for the moment, and focus on ending the relationship that is clearly not doing it for you. Free your SO to be with someone who CAN give them 100%. It's the kinder option for everyone involved.
posted by routergirl at 1:36 PM on January 9, 2009

...and, yes. Prepare to be treated like a jerk. Because you have been one. There's no way around that.
posted by routergirl at 1:38 PM on January 9, 2009 [1 favorite]

I don't know what to say except leave as quickly as possible. Cheating once is one thing, and having an affair that lasts years is another. You didn't just stop loving your "real life" partner a long time ago; you also kept that person tied up from getting what they need from someone else who wants to be with them. Whatever you do, end it now. Today. Don't waste any more of your partner's life while you hedge your bets.

You may be tempted to stay in case the new person doesn't turn their key and end their relationship, too, but tough. You want out, you have to take that chance. It's the most fair thing you could do.
posted by slow graffiti at 2:04 PM on January 9, 2009 [3 favorites]

I believe in karma. Right now there is a whole bunch of it waiting to come out and it is going to cause a lot of havoc. It is beyond the point of no return. Be prepared to see things just blow up big. Because they will. I wish you and those around you the best of luck. But I cannot see things not being destroyed.
posted by Ironmouth at 5:18 PM on January 9, 2009 [3 favorites]

Wait, I've seen this movie before, let me see if I can remember how it goes.
You end up leaving your relationship, with much drama, however, your soulmate decides to stick it out with their partner. Also, soulmate starts to pull back from you because of the perceived additional pressure, and the relationship gets strained and fizzles.
In the end, you're left with a broken heart, dissolved marriage with some acrimony, but a mostly clean slate.

At least that's how the one I saw turned out.
posted by forforf at 7:17 PM on January 9, 2009 [3 favorites]

I think there's really two questions here: What to do about the online relationship and how to strike out independently.

First off, nthing the whole, "he won't leave his wife" sentiment. It just doesn't happen.

If you are really unhappy in your relationship (the real life one, I mean), you should be prepared to leave it and (this is the really important part!) expect nothing from the online situation to change. If it's been going on for years, chances are the other person is comfortable with things just the way they are, so why should they change just because you have decided to? (btw, "they" sure sounds like a married guy from your post).

The distance thing works in your favor here, if you do that, because you can set up your new real life where you live now and see how it works out. That should be first on your list, getting out and starting up on your own.

BTW, I'm wondering how long it's been since you've been with the online guy IRL? Because maybe this is just coming out now because you've spent some time together and it's all fresh in your head and you're coasting along on that wave of infatuation. You might be short-changing the faults in the real-life situation, if so. I'm married, and sometimes when my unmarried friends are out with us, I think things like, "Aww, they look so romantic, why aren't we that way together?" yada yada yada, when really I am just seeing the best of them. Just something for you to think about.

If you really are prepared for the online person not to change (you make a brave front with the whole "may lack the courage or conviction" and the "end to something that no longer is" parts), you should be okay, if you choose not to divulge the online thing when you end the real thing.

And (I'll probably catch hell for this) that's what I recommend you do: don't even mention the online stuff during the break-up. Because you'd only be hurting the people who are part of your real life, and I can't see revealing all this stuff now, especially if it has been going on for years(!) serving any good purpose.

As for starting out on your own, I'm sorry, but I haven't the faintest idea. It strikes me, reading your question, that I went from my parent's house to my husband's house, as it were, without really living on my own, so I guess I am part of that "sheltered and protected" group, too.

Some things to consider, though: how are your finances? Job situation? You should start saving up, if you haven't already.

I know some think you've acted like a jerk (let's face it, you have been deceiving people), but you sound kinda immature and confused to me, too. You've made a mess of things, and you'll have to face the consequences. I really do wish you well. Maybe sometime you can update this question and let us know how it all worked out.
posted by misha at 11:04 AM on January 10, 2009 [1 favorite]

Ugh... my ex-wife was engaged in a long-term internet relationship complete with IRL meetings and super-secret, romantic plans of escape from her "dreary" life with me.

However, she was a coward. She never had the fortitude of heart or the courage to actually leave me. She waited until the lies finally consumed her like a cancer - actually, on the day my father died - to finally come out in the open about everything.

Damn near killed me.

Every day you wait, you are one day closer to some great fucking tragedy where your infidelity is going to be the spark that makes a bonfire out of some poor person's life.

Do an honest, good thing for your current relationship. Come out in the open and leave before you do more harm than you can imagine.
posted by Baby_Balrog at 12:32 PM on January 10, 2009 [3 favorites]

Someone once told me that you can't build a relationship derived from someone else's pain. From what I've seen, this is true. Having said that, I think you should leave your partner. Not to be with someone else, but because they deserve more than to be with someone who would treat them like that. Then you need to take some time to sort yourself out and become the kind of person that's worthy of an honest open relationship. You'll get there.
posted by Jubey at 5:15 PM on January 11, 2009 [2 favorites]

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