Need some insight on this relationship
August 21, 2009 7:52 AM   Subscribe

Me: little relationship experience due to sheltered upbringing. Him: was married for 4 years, recently divorced. How do I navigate this? Am I getting what I need? If not, how do I ask for it in a way that won't scare him off?

We're both in our mid-20s. I've had very little relationship experience due to a sheltered upbringing, but am exploring things now. He's recently divorced (about 10 months with a bad ending) and just moved to my area.

I did not know he was divorced when I met him, but I figured it out pretty quickly. I decided I would not say anything to him unless he brought it up to me - I wanted to give him this space.

We met about 1.5 months ago, and I think over the course of 3-4 weeks of seeing each other every day (we met in a school setting) I definitely felt attracted to him. Even though we only met recently, because we were seeing each other every day because of class (which has now ended), I feel like the course of our relationship together accelerated.

I spend about 2-3 nights/week at his house (mainly the weekends). We have not had sex (because I am a virgin) but there's plenty of messing around in other ways.

About 2-3 weeks ago when he finally admitted to me that he was divorced (at a young age, 24) I told him that it was ok, "that's life" and I was not a judgemental person. I think it was really relieving for him because he hadn't told anyone in our area yet since moving (fresh start).

I feel like, though, since then -- I cannot put my finger on it -- I am not getting what I want completely in this relationship. Like, we haven't gone on dates; I usually just come to his house and sleep over 2-3x/week and we just hang out there. I also feel like he makes less of an effort to be "boyfriend"-y to me. Like before I knew, and maybe it was the newness of the relationship, it felt like he was definitely trying to court me, which I liked. And yes, everything wears off with time, but its only been a month since we've been dating (much less verbally affectionate, doesn't even mention wanting to go or plan trips together, which he was all about before telling me about his divorce).

I don't know how much to expect from him given that he went through this difficult divorce. He says he really could not care less about his ex-wife, yet the other day she sent him some email and he showed a level of emotion I have never seen from him before. Yes, I get that a relationship of 1 month cannot compare with a marriage of 4 years. But this woman he was with (per him) cheated on him multiple times and basically humiliated him in front of all their peers. He told me on multiple occasions that he hoped he never sees her again.

I know I cannot control someone's actions. I just don't like this subtle shift in his attitude toward our relationship once he got the cat out of the bag and told me. I feel like if I say something to him about this, he'll just think I am demanding too much from him. What I need in a relationship is someone who enjoys spending time with me and thinks I am great - just as I do them. What I do not need is someone who is still obsessing over his ex-wife. He tells me he's not in his words, but I feel like his actions do not make sense.

I thought about maybe he's not that into me. But he does call me every day (I do not initiate) and I'm pretty much the only person he talks to on a daily basis (I, on the other hand, have a good support system and lots of friends in the area).

I really care for him, and I feel like I have shown it in my words and actions. What can I do to engender his interest in me - in the way I would like it? (More verbally affectionate, wanting to take me on trips, etc).--> these are all things that he was like pre-telling me about the divorce.

Sorry for the rambling and if some of this is nonsense. I am new to relationships so I am not sure how to proceed.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (16 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
The fact that he went through a divorce doesn't mean that the rules have changed in terms of you deserving what you want out of a relationship. I applaud you for wanting to be sensitive to him about his past, but it's still okay for you to want to communicate with him about things that are bugging you.

It's also entirely possible that the shift in attitude actually doesn't have anything to do with the divorce. It could just be garden-variety "settling into a routine".

You are perfectly within your rights to discuss this change in him -- "you know, I do kind of miss us talking about taking trips together, can we bring some of that back?" "I'd like to actually go out and do things more often, rather than me just coming over and crashing here, can we do that?" -- but I wouldn't necessarily tie it to the divorce, because it maybe isn't that after all.

Actually, that reminds me of a good point-- you say that you talked about going on trips together, did you actually TAKE trips? Because that may be a good way to frame this too -- "we talked about taking trips together, but we haven't yet; and it got me all psyched to go. Can we start actually making concrete plans for that?"

Again, it's sweet of you to be considerate about this divorce, but let him connect those dots for you -- it may be a part of it, but it may not be the whole reason. And it also shouldn't be an excuse for you to not ask for what you need. Granted, the worst-case scenario is that he does decide that maybe he's not quite ready to date seriously yet, but I'd say that if he is calling you every day, he is "into you" and my hunch is that he'd want to work this out.

Good luck.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 8:23 AM on August 21, 2009 [2 favorites]

This may or may not be of any relevance, (I'm not claiming my experience is your boyfriend's) but as a man going through a divorce, I have noticed some shift in my approach to a new relationship.

It ended late last year, and I was devastated. Moved to another city. Spent a lot of time thinking a) that beneath it all she loves me, and if I can show her how the things she was not happy about can be different, she'll see that and come back and b) she's gone and I don't know if there is anyone or anything for me after her or if this is just the beginning of the end.

So I dove into online dating and seeking a new relationship very quickly, even while still hoping to win back my wife. I badly needed distraction, and I needed evidence that there could be someone else for me. I was very driven for reasons that, I now realize, had far less to do with an actual relationship with another person than they did with replacing what I'd lost to try and deal with my own immediate pain.

As time has gone by, and I've made some headway in processing what's happened, the need has become different. I still want someone in my life, but it's more about building a future, and less about plastering over the wound, if that makes any sense. I'm less desperate about it, more patient and thoughtful.

I think that perhaps he was similarly very intense in the early stages because he needed the reassurance, as I did, that there could be someone else for him, that he wasn't doomed to be alone forever. Now that you seem to have given him some of that, perhaps he's better able to deal with what he's going through and so is kind of pulling inward to do that.

I don't think this is necessarily a bad thing. Although I dove into the pool sooner than I should have, I meant it. I wasn't trying to use someone for comfort and then throw them away. I'd counsel patience in terms of letting him work through what's happened to him - it's a very painful thing and his processing it is emphatically not just "obsessing over his ex-wife." But I would definitely talk with him about what you want out of the relationship and how you'd like him to show you that he cares. You may find him quite willing to do those things for you. That's something you should do anyway, that has nothing to do with his divorce.

(Be very explicit when you tell him what you need. If more women could do this, perhaps we'd have fewer wrecked men wandering the landscape in anguish.)
posted by Naberius at 8:24 AM on August 21, 2009 [7 favorites]

Oh, another data point about the fallout from the divorce proper: my ex also said that he was totally over his divorce ten years prior, but...he KEPT saying it, a lot, to the point that I eventually started to wonder just how over it he actually was. now -- he and I got together REALLY fast, after another breakup he'd had -- we started dating only a month after his preivious girlfriend moved out, and a month after he and I broke up he met his next girlfriend and now LIVES with her (which they decided to do after only 5 months). I realized one day that in the entire ten-year period after his divorce, he had only been single less than a year, and just kept hopping from woman to woman without giving himself time to sort through all the complex fallout a divorce puts you through.

It sounds like you're treading with caution, and he sounds like he's got things in a bit better perspective; don't be alarmed if some contact with her throws him for a little while. Some of that fallout stays with you an awfully long time. The key, though, is whether it feels like he's trying to USE you to get over her, or whether he's actually working on getting over her himself; it sounds to me like he's trying to keep that separate from your relationship, which is a good sign. He'll have complex feelings about it, sure, but at least he is facing them.

In other words -- It's one thing for him to tell you he's over her; it's how often and how he tells you that's the key, I think. There's a difference between this:

You: "What's wrong? You seem a little upset."
Him: "Oh, I just got an email from my ex-wife the other day."
You: "Wow, I'm sorry, that must suck."
Him: " did a little, but I'll be okay. It reminded me how much I'm over her."
You: "If you ever want to talk, or just want a hug, I'm here."
Him: "Thanks."

And this:

You: "Hey, I found this picture of you in Colorado -- when did you go there?"
Him: "Oh, that...that was a trip I took with my ex wife."
You: "Oh, cool."
Him: "Um, speaking of my ex wife, I'm totally over her, it's in the past, I'm fine, really."
You: "...uh....okay?"

It sounds more like your conversations are more like the former rather than the latter. (The latter is what my ex was doing, which just eventually made me wonder...)
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 8:37 AM on August 21, 2009 [2 favorites]

First off, it seems a little worrisome that he wasn't upfront about his divorce in the beginning. That seems like the kind of detail that should be made clear early on, especially if they are still in communication. I know I would want to know, especially before becoming involved to the point of "coupledom". Based on your description, it sounds like he's still working through issues with his divorce, and he probably won't be the kind of guy you're looking for until he does.

Second, the whole "together, but not actually going on dates" bit seems off. I don't think there's anything wrong with it, per se, but that's usually a big part of an early relationship. That you've gone from meeting to sleeping over multiple times a week without any fun dates inbetween is a, let's just say it would raise a lot fewer red flags for me if you had more experience. You've talked about wanting him to "take [you] on trips", but it's not the travel that's the issue, but the commitment and emotional closeness. If his attitude has changed since letting you know about his divorce, he's not ready for that, and it really feels more like he's using you for his emotional needs without attending to yours. Dating, especially in the early stages, is supposed to be fun, and this is not my idea of fun.

Honestly, it sounds like this guy needs a lot of space and you need a little more experience. You're not happy, he's got issues, and neither one of you seems to be communicating with the other effectively. I know you're a little anxious about relationships and this isn't what you wanted to hear, but I guarantee you, there are other guys out there. This one still needs time to get over his divorce, and you'll benefit from meeting and interacting with other people.
posted by Diagonalize at 8:39 AM on August 21, 2009 [1 favorite]

I was married at 22 and divorced at 25 after her multiple infidelities and miscellaneous miserable experiences, so this all sounds very familiar. 10 months after the divorce I would've been very happy to have a nice girl paying attention to me. I craved exactly that, and wanted so much to feel a little joy and be done with hurting that I would've bent the truth about my real emotional state to get it. The truth wat that I was in no way ready to be a healthy, full participant in a new relationship. I didn't want to see my ex ever again either, but that didn't mean I was available. To the extent that your BF is like I was, I'm guessing that the way to exercise your right to get what you want out of a relationship is to get it from somebody else. All that's on the table with this guy, in the near term at least, is a relationship with a troubled divorced guy licking a lot of fairly fresh wounds. Your needs do not necessarily reconcile with what this guy is able to give.
posted by jon1270 at 8:44 AM on August 21, 2009 [3 favorites]

It sounds like he's not ready to be in a relationship. You can't change that--only he can. And there isn't anything you can do to inspire him to change that other than saying what you want--there are no tricks or secrets or cheat codes to relationships. The secret is that there is no secret, except for clear, honest, respectful communication. As ever, I recommend David Risho's How to Be an Adult in Relationships.

Also, you are having sex. You're not having intercourse because of your choice to refrain from that particular sexual activity, and that's a choice I totally honor and respect if it's what works for you, but if the "messing around" includes oral or manual sex, that's sex. Those activities have "sex" in their names because they're part of sex. I say this not just to be a jerk, but because saying "we're not having sex" when what you mean is "we're not having intercourse" probably isn't helping with the clear, honest, respectful communication part.

I'm sorry this isn't working out as you would wish. It may be that this is a temporary blip and he's drawing back because it freaked him out to confide about the divorce, and he'll move past it. It may be that he's going to be stuck for months or years, which would be totally understandable after a divorce, and that that timetable won't work for you. Best of luck to you, however this situation turns out.
posted by Sidhedevil at 8:58 AM on August 21, 2009 [1 favorite]

Talk to him and say "it'd be fun if we did [this] and [this] next week.. I would like to do more date-like things with you instead of just coming over here at night." And either he'll realize that he hasn't been doing that and will want to do these things with you as well (yay!), or he won't change in which case you have to decide for yourself what kind of relationship you want with him, and whether just coming over at night for you is enough or if you should end it because he's not giving you what you want.
posted by KateHasQuestions at 9:04 AM on August 21, 2009 [2 favorites]

For now focus on the bits like going out, planning simple trips and the like which seems to be a sticking point for you regardless of his previous relationship. It sounds like you have somethings in mind for what you want out of a relationship so talk about and ask for those things. Maybe he isn't doing those things because he is doesn't want to feel like he is starting another commited relationship or it is just easier to stay in or you are just so gosh darn nice to snuggle up with on the couch or maybe his financials are hurting like everyone else. Point being if this early in the relationship, he can't deliver on what your expectations/needs are in terms of what you two do together than you should consider dating someone else regardless of what his mindspace is with his ex. Now fast forward a bit and he still isn't over his ex then you might want to reevaluate things based on that.
posted by mmascolino at 9:38 AM on August 21, 2009

Nthing the he sounds like he's not over it yet. It takes a while.

I started dating my husband of 9 years when I was less than a year out from my divorce. It took a long time for me to talk less about it because it was upsetting stuff. I get cranky when I get communications from my ex even now, and I've been married to my husband as long as I was with my ex now. But when I was freshly divorced (late 20s), the length of time that I had been with my ex was my entire adult life. And I didn't have a bitter divorce, either: I left him because I was unhappy and he hadn't cheated on me, never mind with a bunch of my friends and humiliating me in front of my peer group.

In your shoes, I would definitely ask to go out more, arrange to go out more (dinner, movies, concerts, whatever you both like to do as well as trips). In addition to being more datelike, it gives him some life that isn't about what he did with her. Maybe you could figure out some activities that he likes and couldn't do with her because she hated them. That was a fun part of my dating activities with my husband: he and I did things my ex was over because they were so boring, and we still have a lot of fun doing them.
posted by immlass at 9:39 AM on August 21, 2009 [1 favorite]

I really care for him, and I feel like I have shown it in my words and actions. What can I do to engender his interest in me - in the way I would like it? (More verbally affectionate, wanting to take me on trips, etc).--> these are all things that he was like pre-telling me about the divorce.

The only way to get what you want out of a relationship is to verbalize it.

Also if you want to go out more, then why don't you initiate it? Does he have to be responsible for the entire courtship?
posted by Julnyes at 10:10 AM on August 21, 2009

"And yes, everything wears off with time..."

Uh, no. No it doesn't.

I'm concerned you confess that you don't have a lot of relationship experience, that you don't do fun things with this person, and that he's got all kindsa issues afoot that are admittedly unfamiliar to you - you don't really know when to judge him generously or DTMFA because the territory is so new for you.

#1. Anyone you are REALLY dating, and who LIKES you, you'll be engaging in life (dating, trips, socializing, etc.) outside of sleepovers. You and your beloved will go out and DO things because you'll naturally spark each other! It's organic:)

#2. You'll learn about healthy relationships better from people who already have them. Damaged people with baggage aren't romantic and sexy and someone for you to save.... at best, they are someone who means well, yet isn't well enough within themselves after their most recent break-up, etc. to be any good for you. At worst, folks with obvious damage and baggage can really mess you up and possibly warp your ideas about romantic relationships for a long long time.

It is awesome you found someone who is a bit interested in you! Yay! You did know you are a "good catch," right?!

Now, let this guy court you if you must, but go out there and find someone who treats you the way you've dreamed. Don't settle for less! And no more sleepovers if true dating isn't involved, because that doesn't sound like much fun.

posted by jbenben at 10:23 AM on August 21, 2009 [2 favorites]

Start inviting him out on dates. Plan a trip. Start refusing to just go over to his house. Take the initiative. Get what you want.

Keep in mind that if you truly need something, it doesn't matter if that need will drive a guy away. If you need a certain thing in your romantic relationships you should get it, or get out.*

*Restrictions may apply
posted by kathrineg at 10:53 AM on August 21, 2009 [1 favorite]

I have a thought that no one here has really brought up.

Is it possible that he is being really easy on the gas because he realizes that you are new to all of this? I am not saying that the divorce is immaterial, but maybe in the same way that you discovered he was divorced, he may have discovered that you were really new to this whole scene.

It is totally possible that he recognized this and dialed everything back a bit to have it be a more relaxed and comfortable relationship for you (instead of a constant pressure for everything to develop quickly because that is common among two experienced individuals). There is nothing inherently wrong with that tack.

As with all of the other comments above, communication is key here. The cause of this scenario is a bit of a mystery, but a little transparency all around could do some good.
posted by milqman at 11:06 AM on August 21, 2009

I don't know how much to expect from him given that he went through this difficult divorce. He says he really could not care less about his ex-wife, yet the other day she sent him some email and he showed a level of emotion I have never seen from him before. Yes, I get that a relationship of 1 month cannot compare with a marriage of 4 years. But this woman he was with (per him) cheated on him multiple times and basically humiliated him in front of all their peers. He told me on multiple occasions that he hoped he never sees her again.
You misunderstand the phrase 'could not care less.' He's lying, of course - or rather he's speaking in a manner a grownup knows is incorrect. He could not care more deeply about that relationship. Obviously. But his preoccupation is negative rather than lovey-dovey. He's neck-deep in feelings about the shit, whether or not he's addressing them. As he will be for some time. There's no straight line from why they broke up to how he feels now. Nor will there ever be. That's not how feelings array themselves.

You must talk to the guy straightforwardly. There's nothing here you should be afraid of losing. Look: you're not gonna marry this guy. Talk to him about what you want, stop sleeping over, and...actually, while we're here, there are some other things worth noticing:
I decided I would not say anything to him unless he brought it up to me - I wanted to give him this space.
Why? Because 'giving him space' in the abstract is appealing? Fuck that. Dude wouldn't tell you an enormous bit of his very recent personal history that directly bears on his relationship with you, and you valued 'his space' over your wellbeing? That's pure self-fucking right there.
We have not had sex (because I am a virgin)
What? 'I am a virgin' is not a reason not to have sex. 'I wish not to have sex' is a reason - indeed, the only one you need, strictly speaking. Whatever category you feel you belong in, if categories start dictating your actions, you're fucking yourself up (as above). Just be straightforward about it: you're not having sex, it's your choice, because you want something else more than you want sex. Anything else is a self-serving lie. I know this seems like a small thing to harp on, even just poor word choice, but all good advice is a version of 'Be honest,' and whether or not this is good advice, that's what I'm going for.
I feel like if I say something to him about this, he'll just think I am demanding too much from him.
You're wrong. Or rather - if you're right, fuck this dude, but if he's a halfway mature adult, and you're careful in how you bring things up, and it's a good day, you'll vastly improve the situation. In any case, more honesty will improve this situation, regardless of the outcome. If he leaves because you're honest, you win; you were better off without him.
What can I do to engender his interest in me - in the way I would like it?
You can't. You're right about controlling people's actions, but you can't change their feelings. All you can do is offer him chances to be something more than he is, and show him what you are. Fully and honestly. Everything else is immature gameplay.
I'm pretty much the only person he talks to on a daily basis (I, on the other hand, have a good support system and lots of friends in the area).
You can't be responsible for this guy's happiness. Why have you agreed to be? He's a grown man, he needs to start building a support network. Either help him do that, or split.
posted by waxbanks at 2:11 PM on August 21, 2009 [2 favorites]

You can't do anything much if his moods change after only a month of dating. You're right that things cool off, but that's usually around six months or a year in, and at that point the relationship is sufficiently established that it's easier for the people involved to talk about ways to put in extra effort to get sparks back.

You are NOT at that point, at all, after one month.

I'm also concerned that this guy has very little to offer you in terms of modeling how to be in a relationship, or helping you grow personally. He has no friends other than you? He's still bitter about his ex? Have you ever asked yourself what good things you would take away from having known him even if you broke up? Chances are it will end in nothing but confusion for you, and you're not even being treated to dinner once in a while! Date someone else who brings fewer complications to the table, and you will gain healthy relationship experience that really counts.
posted by slow graffiti at 2:20 PM on August 21, 2009

If your sheltered upbringing was anything like mine or the other sheltered upbringings I know, you were also in an environment that didn't communicate too well, at least on some level or on some certain thing that was deemed taboo. This is a hard thing to reverse, but it needs to be undone. You will always have uncertain relationships, otherwise, because you won't have enough truly communicative conversations with your partner to know what they're thinking, or to let them know what you're thinking.

The first thing you should probably do is talk to him about this. You need to start initiating more. This isn't the 50s, where you stay in the kitchen and cook and don't really get your way. If you want something, go for it. If you feel uncomfortable with having a direct conversation with him, drop hints or make plans for the both of you, yourself. You say you both talked about trips before--well, does he have to be the one to plan them? Maybe you should initiate. He may feel cautious and a little insecure after his divorce, perhaps even more so after his telling you. You need to reassure him, frequently, that his divorce is not a problem, that you want the focus to be on your relationship with him, in the present.

"What I do not need is someone who is still obsessing over his ex-wife. He tells me he's not in his words, but I feel like his actions do not make sense."

You're right that you don't need that, but ten months is not long to be divorced after a four-year marriage. You may indeed have to help him get over some things about her, and if you don't feel strongly enough about him to do that, you should probably exit now. Not only did this guy go through a divorce, but he had to deal with infidelity and humiliation, as you said, and those aren't things that one gets over in a short period of time. He probably needs some therapy, even if he's handling it well.

All that being said, I don't think his getting emotional over an email his ex-wife sent is cause for concern. I guess it depends on the emotion, but I think it'd be very normal to feel an emotion concerning it. Maybe it's bittersweetness or anger or worry or any number of feelings and probably a combination of them all. If it continues well into the future, perhaps then you need to be concerned, and perhaps then you need to tell him to end correspondence with her, but in the meantime, I don't think you should be worried.

See how he is after a couple of more weeks. He's just recently told you his "deep, dark secret" that somewhat puts a shadow over his fresh start. He's probably dealing with some unexpected emotions, and he probably feels a little uncertain now that he's told you, even though you've said to him that it didn't matter. As said before, he probably needs some reassurance.

The best thing you can do is be understanding and reassuring, but also be open about what you want. Have you even told him that you feel he's been a little different since he's told you about the divorce? If you haven't, you can't necessarily expect him to know that he's been different/distant. Sometimes it's hard to realize when we've changed within ourselves.

This could be a fine relationship, provided you both communicate with each other and are understanding of one another's needs, such as his need for support and your need for a good, fun partnership (which is just as much his need, too). Finally, I really recommend that you plan dates and fun group things with friends. Not only will it help him understand what you want, but it will also introduce him to your circle of friends, thus giving him a good support system, which he doesn't have since he's recently moved, and helping him forget any left over worries about his divorce.
posted by metalheart at 5:24 PM on August 21, 2009 [1 favorite]

« Older Help Me Find a Cabinet Please   |   House of (hopefully not) Jealous Lovers Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.