Help me move through this PLEASE
March 16, 2010 3:34 PM   Subscribe

Insight, advice, perspective required for relationship dramas/attempt to become emotionally unstuck (longggggg)

I'm a mid/late 20s female. A year ago I left a LTR with the guy I thought I was going to marry as I found out he'd been cheating on me with a MUTLTITUDE of other girls, both emotionally and physically since day 1 (literally). I left as soon as I found out and never saw him again (I had moved state to live with him a year before so I flew home). I was gutted in a way I just couldn't believe, absolutely shattered and it made me question EVERYTHING knowing that what had been the most important and best thing in my life had just been a big lie. But since I got home I realised that a) he'd really been treating me pretty badly, b) I had no self esteem whatsoever and had totally given away my sense of self to that relationship to try to make it work and hope he'd love me and c) I was actually anorexic and some of the things he'd said to me had not exactly been helpful in this regard. I was deeply ashamed of the fact that he'd cheated on me and only told a handful of people what had happened, and not in detail at all, as I felt it reflected badly on me, but I was determined to get my life together and make changes and feel better. I started therapy, got my life sorted (work, hobbies, study, reconnected with my friends), did a HEAP of introspection and reading and whatnot, started to like myself and love my life in a way I never ever have before, am now well into recovery for my eating disorder, and even went on a few dates despite being emotionally totally unavailable. I was aware that I had MASSIVE trust issues and the idea of a relationship was the least appealing thing on earth and I really had no faith in anyone's ability to be faithful or even genuinely love another person.

Not long after I moved back I joined a sports club which was a huge part of me getting my life back together, in particular one of the friends I made there I saw almost every day and as well as being a lot of fun he was a massive support and one of the first and few people I opened up to and trusted. About 9 months later I realised I had feelings for him but ignored it for quite a long time as I didn't know what to do with it.

To cut a long story short, after a few false starts (any time "us" was on the table I felt like I really didn't want it, but as soon as it was agreed we were just friends I felt comfortable with him and wanted to be with him), we decided to give "us" a try. We talked through my concerns and he was great, but after about a week I started jumping to conclusions about him, assuming he was dodgy or trying to trick me, that he was probably laughing about me with his friends - all kinds of ridiculous stuff. I was way too scared to talk to him about it or ask if we were exclusive or what was happening, and decided he just saw me as a booty call. I became more distant, really hot and cold and avoided him a lot of the time and just generally acted like I only wanted a booty call too. I hated that I was thinking that way about someone who had been more caring than anyone in my life had ever been, who I'd trusted more than anyone, but I couldn't make it stop. I kept thinking I could think my way out of it - that I'd be able to decide whether I wanted to just keep things casual or be exclusive, whether I wanted to be with him at all - but I chopped and changed my mind a million times a day. This made me anxious all the time as I knew it was unfair to him, but I was scared to talk to him in case he laughed at me for thinking we were in a relationship, or in case he wanted to be in a relationship and I didn't. I just didn't know what the hell I was doing. Finally I told him I just didn't know what I wanted, and I needed to step back from "us" to work it out. He was great about it, told me to take as long as I needed to get myself together and then decide, he'd be here for me either way, and as soon as I left I realised I really did love him but I tried to keep it broken off. We didn't last long apart (maybe a week!), but as soon as we were seeing eachother again all my fears came back. Finally the other day I told him that I needed us to just be friends. I knew it wasn't fair on him - I love him and I know he deserves better, I wish I could be the way I used to be, loving and affectionate, but I keep freezing up, and it's no good for me either as it causes me massive anxiety. I think I need to spend some more time being single and establishing myself as my own person before being in a relationship. I also need to work through my fears about being cheated on and made a fool of, and my uncomfortable feelings about casual sex (the fact that I've slept with less than 10 guys, almost always inside a relationship, makes me feel insecure - this really only started after I found out that prior to being with me, my ex used to go out with the express purpose of sleeping with random girls 3 nights a week - I felt like there was something wrong with me that I didn't do that, it made me feel somehow inferior). So anyway, I told him I wanted us to be friends and ended up crying for about 2 hours, we talked through a lot of stuff and I actually opened up to him this time - why I was so hot and cold and what I was scared of. We both agreed that we can still care about eachother whether we're together or not, but this is really hurting me. I know I need this time on my own but I wish I was just ready to be with him NOW. It also hurts like crazy to think that he'll be sleeping with random girls all the time, which is fair enough as I can't give him a relationship, but makes me feel absolutely horrible and also brings up a lot of the same feelings I had with me ex. I want to get to the bottom of why I'm so terrified of him doing that when I know that a) he cares about me and wants to be with me and b) I can't be with him because of my own stuff.

Sometimes when I'm out at clubs or whatever I can't help thinking of what my ex would be up to in a place like that, it's made me feel really uneasy about other single people going out to hook up even though I know it's normally just harmless fun and when I was single I wanted to do it too and it didn't mean anything bad, but it just brings up that sick feeling I had the day I found out what he'd done.

I feel like I'm a bit stuck when it comes to trusting, when it comes to sex, when it comes to relationships, and it's mostly because of my ex, but I don't seem to be making much progress moving past it. I want to change the way I think about these things. I want to do the right thing by the person I care about most in the world. I want to use this time alone to start to feel ok and not threatened by other people's sexual history, by my own lack of (whether this means I need to start sleeping around or not I have not quite worked out - I have a feeling that it makes me feel like I am not as attractive or something, but maybe it would be good for me to experience it to get comfortable with the idea and realise that it's just something to do), basically I want to take this time out to get myself emotionally unstuck in this area so that when I am ready for a relationship, hopefully with this guy, if he is available at the time, I feel comfortable to ask for what I want, to ask him to be exclusive, to be open and affectionate and all that without being afraid that it's all a big trick and that I'm making a fool of myself.

I'm really sad that the timing is so bad for us - we get on really well, we accept eachother as we are, we know eachother really well, we both care about eachother SO much - but because of my issues I'm just not ready and as much as I keep trying right now I just can't love him in the way he deserves to be loved.

I guess the crux of the issue was that if I wasn't so scared that I was going to get hurt or made a fool of, I could just love him and it would be fine, but as much as I try to make myself I just can't "let go" and I always start to feel myself switching off from him and becoming disinterested as a defence mechanism. I tend to avoid my feelings a lot of the time (hence the anorexia) but am working on this - but in this case I'm TERRIFIED to admit just how much I feel for him as I'm STILL afraid that I might be making an idiot of myself. I am extra terrified to ask him if he was sleeping with other girls while we were together - if he wasn't it would help me a lot but if he was, well, it's my own fault for not asking him not to but it will gut me in a way I don't think I'm ready to handle.

Am I making the right decision to take time apart or am I just running away again? What should I do now? Is there something I'm missing?

Sorry this is so long and all over the place - but any insights you can give me into any of it will be most appreciated. Throwaway email
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (12 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite

quote from you i will refer to:

"it's made me feel really uneasy about other single people going out to hook up even though I know it's normally just harmless fun and when I was single I wanted to do it too and it didn't mean anything bad, but it just brings up that sick feeling I had the day I found out what he'd done."

it seems like you have developed a negative connection between you and your ex with him cheating on you and any form of intimacy and relationships. You seem to think that every time you see singles hook up. One of them is cheating on someone that they are in a relationship in. Now since your ex cheated on you, you are scared that another guy will do the same again and you don't want to live through that again.

This connection in my mind is the sole reason for your suffering. Same with examples like hating the beach because someone you loved drowned there, etc...for you to truly heal yourself. You need to let go of all of your emotions that connect you to your ex. This is much easier said than done. There is no correct way to do so. Only you can figure it out.

Letting go of your ex should allow all parts of your life to fall into place. That is what you need to focus on.

Hope i helped :D
posted by NotSoSiniSter at 3:58 PM on March 16, 2010 [1 favorite]

At the end, you proposed that you are either running away, or just making a right decision to take time apart. In truth, these are not mutually exclusive. You clearly still have a lot of things to sort through, so taking time is no problem, even though you are indeed running away. Remember that what you're doing isn't bad, even if it feels that way.
posted by Electrius at 4:00 PM on March 16, 2010

the fact that I've slept with less than 10 guys, almost always inside a relationship, makes me feel insecure

But... this is normal.

- this really only started after I found out that prior to being with me, my ex used to go out with the express purpose of sleeping with random girls 3 nights a week

But this is abnormal behavior. The overwhelming majority of people, male or female, do not do this.

It also hurts like crazy to think that he'll be sleeping with random girls all the time, which is fair enough as I can't give him a relationship

This doesn't follow at all and isn't a fair assumption to make about this guy, unless you know something about his behavior that you haven't stated, or he specifically told you that's what he's into.

- I felt like there was something wrong with me that I didn't do that, it made me feel somehow inferior

Your calibration for what is right/wrong is off. You know what you want, what's right for you, what you should do, but you're letting other people decide that for you (including AskMe). Being alone for awhile lets you recalibrate yourself so that you're the driving force in your life, not some dude. Also, introspection is overrated; my guess is that sitting around thinking about your cheating ex and new dude just makes the problem seem more overwhelming. Go do something - take a rock climbing class, learn photography, whatever. It almost doesn't matter. The point is to get your focus off of what someone else thinks of you and onto some activity.
posted by desjardins at 4:09 PM on March 16, 2010 [3 favorites]

Sweetheart, your self-esteem has taken a real battering. It's great that you are getting your life back on track. Something that may help is the book Intimate Connections. It uses CBT (cognitive behavioural therapy) to help us understand and develop security and trust about our need for intimacy.

Not all guys are into casual sex. Not all guys (not even the majority, me thinks) will cheat on a beloved partner. Once you build and strengthen your self-esteem and break your thought-habits about not trusting guys, then your path to love will seem a lot clearer and easier to navigate.
posted by doost at 4:16 PM on March 16, 2010 [2 favorites]

Agree that what you are doing- needing time to heal- is ok.
You loved and your heart was broken. It will never be the same, but it can be a new, mature, wiser heart.
It is good that you have feelings for this guy, but if he is your friend, he will work through it with you.
Dr. Phil talks about stuff like that when husbands cheat and the way to get trust back in a relationship. The link may help get you started.
Don't think the idea of having casual sex is good. You are just going to lower your self esteem more and it will leave you emptier.
Perhaps this guy is willing to be exclusive and work through it with you. You will never know until you ask. If not, then he either isn't the one or he will be there waiting when you have healed enough to handle things.
Another sign of low self-esteem is that you are fussing at yourself for normal healing. It is ok that you are not in a relationship until you are ready. Just because the dumb tv has everybody out doing stuff doesn't mean that real people are that way.
Perhaps your counselor could be a help through this as well...
posted by srbrunson at 4:30 PM on March 16, 2010

You say you're feeling terrified (for yourself) and guilty (for him), yet get on well together even though your self-confidence is shot to pieces. He sounds like an amazing guy. I agree that counselling might be useful for this next phase as you continue to rebuild yourself. Use recent success as a motivation. You don't want to rely on a guy to boost your self-esteem, but he wants to be with you. That's his choice. He's not flaking off. Instead of testing that by staying-going-staying-going (to see if he still wants you back, with steady affection?) maybe set goals: commit to one week, no breaking it off on your side. Then maybe another. And another. You might find a normal rhythm again. Would he be willing to go to a therapy session or two with you? Or decide to break things off, and stay firm in that decision. Either way, having a support network of friends and therapy for yourself would be smart.
posted by woodway at 5:04 PM on March 16, 2010

Also spending time with other people -- female friends, couple friends -- will help you see other relationships, listen to others' fears and trust, see what's healthy and unhealthy. It's so easy to get up inside your own head and your own issues after something like this, and I think it's really helpful to let your platonic relationships with friends help heal you as well.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 5:05 PM on March 16, 2010 [1 favorite]

I don't have "the" answer to this. But I think one of the issues may be that you are feeling that a lot of your preferences, wants, and needs, are wrong or abnormal. I think that comes from the hit to your self esteem and sense of self that you mentioned.

You don't ever have to be okay with casual sex. Tons and tons of people aren't, despite what TV/the internet lead people to believe. Also, your ex is wayyyy out there in terms of just male behavior- men have a median of 7 female sex partners. I think you would even be perfectly reasonable not to want date someone who has ever had casual sex, if you wanted to go that far.

And it's perfectly fine to have strong feelings for someone right away. It's perfectly fine to want to be in an exclusive, serious relationship with them right away, and to be put off by them having slept with anyone else. If you didn't agree to be monogamous with this new guy, if he slept around with other people while you involved, he wouldn't have been doing anything wrong, per se, but you can still find it distasteful.

My advice with a nutshell- figure out what it is that you really want in a relationship, no matter how silly, weird, crazy you think it is. Accept the fact that you are 100% entitled to want it, whatever it is. And then, don't let fear allow you to shirk from asking for it.
posted by Ashley801 at 5:27 PM on March 16, 2010 [4 favorites]

It seems like there is a close connection with you not wanting to be made a fool of, and you feeling like you need to have more casual sex. Maybe you are trying to prove to yourself that you're not some wide-eyed innocent. You do have massive trust issues, but mostly about how can you trust yourself again? All of the things that you attribute to other people--they are tricking you, they are laughing at you, maybe they feel contempt for your innocence--isn't that how you feel about yourself? You think you tricked yourself into believing that you were with the love of your life when he was constantly cheating on you and lying to you.

Paradoxically, you want to have a lot of casual sex in order to have another long term relationship. If you did that, you might feel less naive and be able to trust yourself again, and be able to be in a relationship. But, the basic insight of psychoanalysis is that, despite our common-sense belief that we know who we are, what we want and what we will do, there is a part of us that is not fully included into this self-knowledge and this is the unconscious. When you are traumatically exposed to this--as in, realizing your self-delusion about the state of your relationship--it can be like a horrible, grotesque image of something you aren't supposed to see. Like maybe in a horror movie, where suddenly you see part of the skin on someone's face peeled back and all the flesh, bones and veins are visible. Once you see it, it sticks with you, you can't erase that image from your mind.

Notice how you are obsessed with the horror that lies beneath -- behind the new guy's actions, you suspect ill intentions and cheating; behind your own ambivalent feelings, a a possibility of real love which threatens you; out at clubs, the benign appearance of a few single people out having fun conceals some illicit truth. Because you were in the dark for so long, you are driven to tear down all the facades and peel back all the deceptive layers of life and shine a light on to all the monstrosities that lie within. You think that once every last thing is out in the open, you will finally have peace and be able to be in a relationship. But this is futile! You will never be able to achieve this because something will always elude your grasp. You have to accept that you aren't in complete control--no-one is--and learn how to live with that knowledge.
posted by AlsoMike at 5:45 PM on March 16, 2010 [4 favorites]

You have a lot of inappropriate and unrealistic expectations about what boys do and what you're supposed to do. Your level of sexual experience is totally normal, and most guys don't go out intentionally to sleep with random girls every night, but you don't believe either of these things is true. Worse, you assume that no matter how good things look on the surface, underneath and behind your back they must be awful.

Think of it this way: suppose you rode in a car for years without concern, and then you got in a really horrible car accident that you didn't see coming. There's going to be a really long period of time in which you're unrealistically convinced that riding in a car will lead to another horrific crash, and so you can't ride in a car, or you can't without being terrified, or you drive recklessly so that if you crash, at least it was your fault (and so under your control.)

This kind of post-traumatic behavior is normal, given the significance and the damage done by this one boy, so you really should consider getting into therapy -- not because you won't have another bad situation someday, but because the odds are a lot lower than you think, and if you don't enlist someone's help in getting back to a realistic view of things you're likely to put yourself into a situation where the only men who will tolerate you are the men that are certain to hurt you the same way, over and over and over.

You're poised to begin a cycle of horrible relationship behavior, and if you can stop now and work through this, you can break the cycle before it begins. As for your new friend, he hasn't done anything wrong, and if he's a good guy, he'll still be there when you're ready for him (or if not him, one of the other piles of good guys out there.) Of course, if he's going to go out and sleep with random people every night if you're not dating him, then he was probably going to do that while dating you, and so you've dodged a bullet. Either way, don't let thoughts of his behavior stop you from taking care of yourself, and yourself alone, right now.
posted by davejay at 6:01 PM on March 16, 2010 [2 favorites]

Wow, are *you* a candidate for CBT.

Dig up a therapist and give it a try. I suspect it may help you quite a bit.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 7:13 PM on March 16, 2010

You are NOT wrong for taking time out for yourself. If anything, that is the ONE thing that you have to do for yourself right now. I've been through a pretty horrendous breakup as well. I thought he was the love of my life, we were going to get married, had our children's names picked out...but he turned into Jekyll and Hyde. I still love him. I know a part of me always will. However, the person he has become now has begun to erase the person he was when we were together. I have decided to take a break from dating. I have informed my friends and family that I am doing a 6 month hiatus from men, from dating, from anything mental, emotional, and physical when it comes to men. I am angry, hurt, upset, relieved that we are done, guilty that he is actually doing worse now (and from what I hear, regrets his decision), and am fighting tooth and nail not to run back to him. Even if it were to end up that way, I could NOT get back together with him in the frame of mind I am in. I do not consider him to be a good person right now. I may never. The most important thing is to put yourself first. He obviously did not. You cannot wait for him to, even if he will. You MUST put yourself first to find some mental and emotional clarity and stability.
posted by penguingrl at 3:41 AM on March 18, 2010 [1 favorite]

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