how to start again, if at all?
January 17, 2010 9:38 AM   Subscribe

I’ve had reservations about my relationship. We agreed to some time of no contact, giving us both some time to think. How do I come back to it all 1) letting go of some of our past mistakes 2) ensuring that we don’t make them again? Am I even ready to start again?

Two years ago, I wasn’t expecting to find this person with whom I’d be in a long-term relationship. I especially wasn’t expecting to find this person in the person I was casually dating at the time. It’s been wonderful, fantastic fun, infuriating, all those things relationships are. Including recently, really hard.

We moved to a different city together with some friends (another couple, in the same apartment), after spending ~6 months long-distance. I think I suspected I wasn’t 100% ready for that, but it was convenient and cheap, and I was buzzing from the prospect of living with friends and my SO after living so far apart. We both faced a lot of stress from our job situations, and parts of our relationship got very ugly. Spending so much time together was damaging, and I found him clinging too tightly to me and to our relationship. (I need a lot more space than he does). I read every codependent mefi question on here, thinking that that was part of the problem. I expressed my need for a change by wanting to move. My SO took it badly, felt like I was abandoning him, and started acting in a way that I would call manipulative.

In the middle of our ugliest argument, when it was a real possibility that we were going to break up, he went on a dating site. (I shouldn’t have snooped, I know. I did this knowing that he did this to me, using my computer. Stupid immature tit-for-tat stuff here). It hurt me, but what hurt me more was that his sign-up date was months before, when things were really great. Right around my birthday. He’s apologized, but I don’t know if he can undo that.

I have a hard time trusting men, so for me to find myself in a relationship with one is surprising and difficult. I’d just as soon not be in a relationship at all than be in one that has any amount of manipulation, insecurity, jealousy, pettiness, and controlling behavior. I’m not high-maintenance, but I have no tolerance for these things when I’m perfectly happy doing my own thing single. Early on in our relationship, when I wasn’t as invested, my SO showed signs of having some of these tendencies (and even admitted to them in different contexts, in his former relationships). I had no expectations for us at all, but did make sure to let him know that I don’t like feeling like my own insecurities are being used in a way to bring me down. (It was mostly one particular incident, with others here and there that were a lot less hurtful but still vaguely reminiscent of this: When we were casually seeing each other he listed the women he thought were more attractive than me. Not celebrities, women he knows and at least one he’s slept with). I spent a lot of my youth being insecure, and had gotten over what felt like that last hurdle right before I met him. In some ways, being with him has felt like an undoing of all that work. It wasn’t as hurtful then as it was when I knew I actually cared for this fool, and let myself be vulnerable to him.

He’s changed a lot in those 2 years, but centrally I think he himself still has some raging insecurities he needs to deal with. Others’ opinions mean more to him than his own, even though he’s really strong-minded and can come off as arrogant. There are times when I don’t like who he is when he’s trying to project this image to others. He thinks I’m wrong about this, but I’m pretty sure he has a fascination with artsy hipster chicks. Now, one might label ME that if one didn’t know better, but the kinds of people he thinks are cool are the ones out to prove to the world how cool and ironic and bored and whimsical they are.

Anyway, we managed to get through some tough times. Things got better between us, but living in that arrangement wasn’t working out for me for a number of reasons. The job got worse, I felt like I was wasting my time, and worst of all, I couldn’t muster the clarity of mind in such a cramped space necessary to even feel like I was taking care of my own needs in the most basic ways. I decided to move back home to Get My Sh** Together and really reassess this relationship and my career and do some writing and live a really awful Sandra Bullock movie for a few months. Things got worse briefly after I made that decision, but after a week apart visiting our respective families for Christmas, he wrote me a letter owning up to and apologizing for a lot of the things I never thought he’d ever admit to (holding me responsible for his happiness and suffering being the main one). He also shocked me at how aware he was of his own inner-workings. We both suspect there’s a lot more work to be done there.

I wanted to break up with him before I read his letter. I really tried. I held hopes of picking things back up after an indefinite period -- years, ideally. I hoped that the wounds would heal, he’d mature in the ways that he couldn’t while in a relationship, I’d go off and do my own thing, we’d both sow some oats and put to ease any lingering curiosity, then be ready to resume a relationship I’m not sure I was ready to begin when it began. Or if not, we’d be those joking exes who managed to come out of a draining relationship with a caring friendship.

Instead of breaking up, we agreed to have a set period of no-contact, then to go from there without any expectations. (We agreed that neither of us would be seeing anybody in this time). But after reading his letter, and feeling a lot of pressure taken off from knowing just how aware and genuinely sorry he was for the way things happened, our last weeks together were really wonderful and fun and loving. A lot of this question has only focused on the bad, but I love him and know that we get along ridiculously well. We have incredible chemistry and I have as much fun with him as I do with anyone. (Not more fun, I’ve been lucky to have strong friendships that keep me going). I’m out of that apartment, back home, and beginning to do that dirty work of reflection and hard assessment.

It’s likely that each of our future plans will land us in the same city again at around the same time (in ~6 months time).

I know that relationships are a lot of work, and call me lazy but sometimes I just don’t feel up to the task. (especially when things are bad, when it needs work the most). Sometimes I do just want to meet other people and flirt in bars and not be responsible to anyone and not care about my level of attractiveness or not always come to a decision in my life as a co-decider. I think of how terrible it would be to only interact with others as a social unit. I've been so tired of that. How encumbering! I know there are people out there in their 30s and 40s wanting to meet someone and to settle down, and here I am in my early 20s not wanting this boon that fell in my lap. Not yet.
Would I be better off without this relationship?

If we both do decide to start things up again, how do we do it in such a way that we’re not letting old patterns take over? How can we get keep the good stuff while snipping away the manipulation, insecurity, jealousy, pettiness, and controlling behavior?
(couples therapy isn’t really something I’d be into)
Even though the details would give me away anyway, this is anonymous. Thanks in advance for your input, apologies for the length. Throwaway email: howtocleantheslate@gmail.com
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (10 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
 
I know there are people out there in their 30s and 40s wanting to meet someone and to settle down...

Yeah, but you clearly aren't one of them.

You may like or love the guy, but it doesn't sound like you want to be in a committed relationship -- not with him at least, and probably not with anyone for now. That's just fine, but if a stable, committed relationship isn't what you want then don't get back into one. There's no right way to restart something you don't want restarted. There's no non-committal way of being committed.
posted by jon1270 at 10:01 AM on January 17, 2010 [1 favorite]


you describe most of your problems as his problems, or your problems but with caveats. you haven't seemed to own up to your part in all this. to make your relationship work, he'll have to fall on the sword over and over again, and chances are at the end of that you still won't be satisfied.

i'm going to tell you something that took me too long to realize : relationships should be work but they shouldn't be hard work. they should be peaceful and supportive and a refuge from the world at large. they shouldn't be war zones in search of a treaty.

cut your losses, this relationship is over.
posted by nadawi at 10:02 AM on January 17, 2010 [5 favorites]


When we're hurt, angry, threatened or in fear of being abandoned when we don't want to be, our nasty little personality traits come out. His is manipulative and controlling. Yours is as well, but in a different way. There is no universe where you can be in a relationship with this guy and none of that behavior will appear.

You can only learn better how to communicate if/when the shit hits the fan so that you understand eachother instead of trigger eachother when you fight. Honestly, it sounds like your issues are almost anathema to eachother, I've seen lots of couples with this problem. Where their insecurities are perfectly polar opposite and therefore impossible to surpass.

I think the only way you could get past it would be couple's therapy, but you're not willing to do that, which honestly speaks volumes to me about whether or not you actually want this relationship to continue. It sounds like he's made some big mistakes, but he's also owned up to them which shows that he's self aware and able to work on problems.

I can't say what you should do, but I can say this: You either need to open yourself up to growing and changing along with him or you need to cut him loose. You don't actually mention the mistakes you've made here (other than the snooping, which is a symptom of a larger problem) - and I wouldn't even hazard a guess about what type of growing you need to do, but everybody has some growing to do, and I'm sure you do too!

The advice you're asking for here is likely going to get you a pat answer: Get thee to a therapist, alone or with him. It's because we're only getting your side of the story, don't know you, ad therefore can't actually help you with the ACTUAL problems i your relationship.
posted by pazazygeek at 10:04 AM on January 17, 2010


Do you still have affection and fondness for each other? Do you still like to sit next to each other, hold hands, talk about your day? If not, I question whether you have the ability to move forward.

I know you wouldn't be into couples counseling, and you're not married, but "The seven principles for making marriage work" has a lot of extraordinarily practical exercises and advice that I have found very useful, in contrast with a lot of relationship advice (which seems to be constructed out of thin air and symbolism)

You can check out a summary of his work in the wikipedia article about him.
posted by kathrineg at 10:04 AM on January 17, 2010


(By "him" I mean John Gottman)
posted by kathrineg at 10:05 AM on January 17, 2010


The short answer: You're young, move on.

The slightly less short answer: You're young and you aren't looking for serious commitment. Maybe his acting out is in reaction to the fact that you don't want the relationship the way he appears to. If you're not in it together it isn't worth the work. Maybe it would be in time, who knows, but it sounds like you want to grow in other ways, and that's ok. Learning how to stay broken up long enough to be know whether breaking up was the right thing to do is one of those painful lessons it's worth learning early. If you're think you're not ready for what he wants now you should let him go. Don't be afraid to move on.
posted by freya_lamb at 10:20 AM on January 17, 2010 [1 favorite]


I think your relationship could work if you wanted to work at it.

Reading your second to last paragraph, I get that you don't really want that. You want the very close friend ex instead. That's perfectly ok, but it means it probably won't work to go against that by trying to be a couple. Your heart won't really be in it 100%.
posted by ctmf at 10:26 AM on January 17, 2010


I'm a little confused. There was a no contact period, during which time he sent the letter? That's the way I read the question, so the stuff that follows is based on that context.
Wasn't the whole point of a no-contact period so you could clear your head? So he sent you a very heart-felt letter, that's good ... but it also seems to the cynic in me, a bit manipulative. Don't get me wrong the letter may actually be the marker of him finally maturing. But, it also prevents you from having the space to come to an objective opinion. Which, if I read things right, was the whole point of the no-contact agreement.
I think you shouldn't go back to the relationship just yet. I also think its fine to acknowledge the letter, and what it meant to you, but I also think you're not to the "clear head" stage yet. I don't think you were given the space to decide anything. In fact, he's decided that he's going to decide for you. I wouldn't be surprised if there was a sentence in that letter that basically said he's just writing this to get it off his chest and that he's fine with whatever decision you make. I'm sorry I can't give him the benefit of the doubt, but it just looks like he doesn't respect boundaries you set at best, and flat out manipulative at worst. Here's the way I'm seeing it: You don't know if he's the guy with the epiphany and changed outlook (rare in my experience) or if he's the guy who has no qualms about manipulating to get things his way (too common in my experience). Regardless, he's definitely showed that he views his needs over your own (and you have to decide if that was a selfless act on his part or not). I know where I'd put my money on this one, but here's hoping I'd lose that gamble.
posted by forforf at 12:11 PM on January 17, 2010 [1 favorite]


Let's compare and contrast some things you said:

I held hopes of picking things back up after an indefinite period -- years, ideally. I hoped that the wounds would heal, he’d mature in the ways that he couldn’t while in a relationship, I’d go off and do my own thing, we’d both sow some oats and put to ease any lingering curiosity, then be ready to resume a relationship I’m not sure I was ready to begin when it began.

In my head, this translates to "This isn't working for me right now, and I'm hoping that we'll separate and I'll get to play around and he'll grow up and fix all his issues, and then we can get back together and stuff will be good because he'll be mature.

If we both do decide to start things up again, how do we do it in such a way that we’re not letting old patterns take over? How can we get keep the good stuff while snipping away the manipulation, insecurity, jealousy, pettiness, and controlling behavior?
(couples therapy isn’t really something I’d be into)


And this translates to "Alternatively, if we get back together before he has time to grow up, what's the quick-fix no-money-down easy way to make all our problems go away?"

I would suggest that:
a) As stated, you still want to cut this off for "years, ideally";
b) People don't change without hard work—it won't happen automatically given enough time;
c) It takes two to tango. You are contributing in some way to these patterns.
posted by heatherann at 1:42 PM on January 17, 2010


Wow!!! GREAT insights above!

Some parts of your post reminded me of my ex-huband and my ex-"love of my life" guy - so I thought I'd pipe in here....

"I spent a lot of my youth being insecure, and had gotten over what felt like that last hurdle right before I met him. In some ways, being with him has felt like an undoing of all that work. It wasn’t as hurtful then as it was when I knew I actually cared for this fool, and let myself be vulnerable to him. "

This.

I lived with my ex-husband for 6 sometimes rocky years until we got married at 30 yrs old. The marriage was over within 9 months. No kidding.

I had a pretty bad childhood, worked on myself constantly, and my ex-husband was there through a lot of that. I think he was working on his stuff, too. He was a great guy, but 100% not someone I should have been romantically involved with. I really sorted myself out once I left him. Fundamentally, we didn't agree on where we were going in life. He was happy to accept some stuff I thought could be improved. Subsequently, we clashed a lot. He's a great guy, but no where near as great as Mr. Jbenben (who, btw, is younger than my ex, 5x more mature, and always puts me first.)

The ex-"love of my life guy is a disaster. And a manipulator. Also, a cheater. We were in and out of touch for many many years, often not living in the same part of the world. Gosh, I had so many hopes pinned on him! It took me a long long time to realize that despite our chemistry, he was eternally fucked up, his view of the world (and me) was cynical and he was an emotional vampire who always did just enough to keep me on the hook. Again, the total opposite of Mr. Jbenben. But man, I wasted too many years on that guy! (Forgive me, but little clues in your post remind me of him - the posting to dating sites, emotional manipulation, his pursuit of "cool," your comment about tit-for-tat, your comment about "not wanting to care about my level of attractiveness"... OH! I could go on. The main thing here is that you sound like the 15 years ago version of his long-term gf that he was always on again off again with, they eventually married, lots of infidelity on both sides (I gathered) his commitment to hipness and other people's opinions destroyed her (them both, really) emotionally and financially.... So please don't be her or me involved with this type of guy. Just don't.)

-------

In closing, Nadwi has it! Relationships are work, but they are enjoyable and not hard and debilitating if they are fundamentally right for you.

Thankfully, I had this undying commitment to having a great marriage someday, and this saved me. These two men I just told you about are not capable of living happily in a relationship. Mr. Jbenben IS. I met him one day, 2 months later we went on our first date, 2 weeks later we were married... and we've been happy ever since. It was so easy to see how happy our intimate life (the person you are closest to part) would be because he had the right attitude. FWIW, sex is great, too, because you know...T-R-U-S-T.

-------

What I'm saying is: YOU ARE YOUNG. Don't get hijacked by someone or something that isn't EXCACTLY what you want.

The time between my divorce (when I was finally on my own again!) and marrying Mr. Jbenben was the best self-time ever. I really sorted myself out to my heart's content. Honestly, I got to a point there, I thought I would be alone (romantically) forever. And then, that changed. Because it wasn't a particular person I was invested in, it was an idea. The right person showed up for me once I had the right idea.

This is about YOU. Go for it!

Best.
posted by jbenben at 3:43 PM on January 17, 2010 [3 favorites]


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