I love you, but that's not enough...
July 5, 2010 4:45 PM   Subscribe

How do I help him get over "us" or at the very least how do I do the right thing in this situation?

I started dating a guy 2 years ago. It was never what you would call serious. The vast majority of the time we have dated it has been very long distance. We were very good friends before we started dating and we only see each other at most half a dozen times a year for a long weekend. Sometimes even less. We've always agreed we weren't exclusive and were free to date other people.

About 7 months ago he told me that he loved me. I didn't immediately say it back. A month later I told him I did love him, but that I didn't feel like our relationship had any long term potential because we were fundamentally different people and were not compatible. He agreed with this, but said that he still wanted to acknowledge our feelings for each other, etc. I was fine with that. About 2 months ago he was offered a job near where I live. We talked about it and both agreed (and I should say very easily and quickly agreed) that it would not be a good idea for him to move out to where I am because as we had discussed on several previous occaisons our relationship had no future. We loved each other, but just weren't right for each other. All good.

Fast forward to 3 weeks ago and he randomly messages me in the middle of a work day. I won't go into the whole drawn out conversation, but the gist is that he was like to start making moves towards a more serious relationship. Mind you he does not yet want a serious relationship, but would like to have that conversation in the near future. I'm really thrown by this and say so, he immediately backs down and says he was really just sort of talking and wasn't actually trying to change anything.

I call him last week to have a big talk about our previous conversation. This dissolves in a 4 hour crying conversation where he acknowledges that we can never make each other happy, but that he really loves me and is really upset. I feel the same way. It's a very very hard conversation, but at the end of it I think we are on the same page. As in this is the first of many conversations towards ending our romantic relationship once and for all as we've both gotten too emotionally involved in something with no long term potential.

Today I talk to him and he has decided he is completely going to overhaul his entire life. He wants to move to a new apartment. Get his finances in order. Get in shape again. Catch up with old friends he has let drop and work on a lot of personal issues he has. And after he is done doing all of that after the next year he wants me to be open to the possibility of a serious relationship with him. Oh I should also add that he has suddenly changed his mind about marriage and children and now is open to that too (he never was before and this was one (of MANY) dealbreakers for me).

I sat and debated with him (in the kindest possible way as I really do love and care about him) that my issues were that we were fundamentally incompatible and that I was not looking for him to "fix" himself for me. He said he was doing all these things for himself, which I think is great and will make him a far happier person, but I don't really buy it.

He got really upset that I "wasn't even open minded" to the possibility of us having a serious relationship. He said all couples fight. All relationships are about compromise and negotiation and that it wouldn't be fun to be with a partner exactly like yourself.

To complicate matters I met someone just before this all started to unravel who I am very interested in. We've only been on a couple dates, but I think there could be big potential. I know it's really really early days, but I haven't met someone I've liked this much in years and feel like I could be throwing away something great if I walk away now to deal with this.

I don't know what to do. He seems desperate to hold onto the hope that one day we will be able to work it out. I think after 2 years (and many more years of friendship) I know we are not meant for one another and that a relationship should not be this hard. While he has many personal problems that need addressing, those really aren't at the core of my hesitation. He's just not the one for me and I don't believe anything can change that. He is personally insulted that I won't essentially give our relationship a chance.

Where do I go from here?

Cutting off contact is not an option. He has said he cannot handle that right now and our mutual friends report to me that he's in bad shape. I really want to remain friends, but I know that may not be possible. I cannot abandon him now though. He is a very good friend, while he has hardly been perfect in our relationship and has hurt me, has still be a very good and supportive friend.

Any anecdotes or advice would be hugely appreciated. I feel like I'm watching a slow train crash and have no idea what to do.

Also. I'm female, he's a he (I guess obviously). I'm in my late 20's and he's in his early-mid 30's. We are both professionals and work for different offices of the same company (we have very, very little interaction with each other and probably could have even less if I wanted, so this detail is far less of a problem than it might seem. Our boss knows of our relationship and has no problem with it.)
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (28 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
I think you need to lay down some major boundaries. I would say cut off contact, but since that's not an option, you need to nip everything else in the bud. Don't allow him to talk to you AT ALL about loving you, or a serious relationship with a you, a future, marriage, children, etc. Take all that 100% off the table. Do not engage in arguing/debating/discussing it with him even for a second.
posted by Ashley801 at 4:51 PM on July 5, 2010 [1 favorite]

Gah, is this heartbreaking. Obviously he's got a big scheme to win you back and he only parrots back It'll Never Work because he knows it's what you want to hear... I get that you want to help him - and ordinarily I'm big into Being Friends With Exes - but in this case, you really do need to cut him off for his sake. The very fact that you have mutual friends reporting on his status means that you aren't his only support - you're just the support that he's in love with and trying to build a life around, and it seems like even though you've been completely above board in your dealings with him, he won't listen to you. I wouldn't recommend total silence or some big announcement - but I'd really ramp down the intimacy to occasionally writing short messages back by email, and to letting him hear through the mutual friends that you are in a new relationship. He's being really unfair to you, and to himself.
posted by moxiedoll at 4:53 PM on July 5, 2010 [2 favorites]

Wow, the drama of all this made my head hurt. Do him a favor and cease contact with him. Dating other people would be the perfect way to go about that.

Cutting off contact is not an option.

Of course it's an option. Not doing so will translate into a world of hurt to him and more unnecessary drama.
posted by halogen at 4:55 PM on July 5, 2010 [2 favorites]

You may not be able to stay friends. If you know for certain that you will never see him "that way" walk away now. He has friends where he is, and they can tend him if he needs tending. But he can't focus away from you if you aren't willing to be kind enough to cut contact so he can deal. I'm not saying it has to be forever but it has to be long ENOUGH.

I understand-I have had people in my life that I loved dearly but whom I just did not love in THAT way while they on the other hand were constantly trying to drag me to go look at engagement rings.

But the fact is that if he is not the one, you are stringing him along and that isn't right. By that I mean he honestly thinks he can work on you till you admit you will be serious with him. You need to back up, and back up dramatically-assuming you mean what you are telling us here.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 4:56 PM on July 5, 2010

P.S. Tell him you are breaking up. Yes, I know you don't think you are in a relationship with him now, but that's not what he is thinking.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 4:58 PM on July 5, 2010 [1 favorite]

Cutting off contact is always an option. Just because he says it isn't doesn't make it so. As soon as you approach this on his terms you'll never get out of it.

In my opinion, and in my experience, getting completely 100% away from the person is the only healthy way to go. Yes, it will hurt him (and I've been in his position) but as long as you're trying to "remain friends" all you're doing is giving him hope that this relationship can be salvaged, which it pretty clearly can't. He will never give up on it so long as you're still in his life.

His saying that he can't handle not talking to you is clearly unfair and seems to border on blackmail. What is the consequence of cutting off contact? Will he just be deeper down in the dumps about everything? Will he commit suicide? Or will he, maybe, start down the road to getting over you and getting on with his life? He's in his 30s; any decision he makes about how to deal with this is his own and not your responsibility. He's not a child so you shouldn't treat him like one.
posted by fso at 5:00 PM on July 5, 2010 [1 favorite]

1. Have you broken up? You need to, stat -- establish that you are no longer a couple, no longer casually dating, no longer in a relationship, whatever terminology you've been using. Saying "we can continue in our current casual relationship, I just don't want to escalate it to a more serious relationship" is no longer an option, even if he might insist in desperation that it is. The two of you have different visions of what the relationship should be, and it's cruel to pretend that the casual thing is possible anymore.

2. What kind of bad shape is he in? It's inevitable that he will be sad that you are breaking up with him, because it sucks to get dumped, and he will go through hard times while he's getting on his feet. That's something you can't help him with, sadly. This is the tragedy of a break-up -- the person you would normally lean on for help in a tough situation is the very person who can't help you deal with it. He needs other friends to help him weather the breakup and help him start his program of self improvement. He needs to transition his leaning-on to those people as quickly as possible, since drawing it out only makes it worse. The only way you can help with this is to encourage him to seek other people to lean on. You can be kind about this, but being firm is part of being kind - "look, I care about you and I think you're great, but I can't be your partner anymore, period." The message needs to be: The things you need from a partner, I will not provide, and it makes sense to think about other ways you can get those needs met rather than trying to negotiate with me about what I will provide.
posted by LobsterMitten at 5:07 PM on July 5, 2010 [4 favorites]

If you really really see no possible way to cut of contact, make absolutely completely sure that you will never be alone with him. It does nor seem unlikely that he will take any chance alone to guilt you into a relationship you don't want. This includes messaging, email, and phone calls.
posted by that girl at 5:07 PM on July 5, 2010

This is going to be the second one I've given this advice today. I'm paraphrasing because my iPhone doesn't copy and paste.

He needs help. You aren't qualified to provide the level of mental health care that he needs. If you are concerned for his physical wellbeing you might contact police or emergency medical services.

You've set some boundaries and he repeatedly abuses or ignores them. This isn't the same as the guy earlier today who had left and had the OP nervous about self harm, but it's close enough.

You don't owe this guy anything. You've given him information, and what he does with it is not up to you. However, what you do with information is also not up to him. Right now you're using information to believe that something terrible will happen to him because of you.

No. He makes decisions that effect the few square feet that he occupies.

Of course, if you call him and say, 'I hate you and I hope you die,' that's different than calling him and saying, 'I can't be any of the things you need. Please get help, but I can't be in contact with you while you do that.'

So. Um. That was a really long winded way of saying that for your own well being, and his long term well being, cutting off contact is the. Best option.

How to get you ready to do that? Therapy. For you. Because I'd bet $100 you just read everything I said, and you're thinking, 'she doesn't know this guy. He needs me. I'd feel so bad if something happened to him, and I know it would.'

So, go to therapy, please.
posted by bilabial at 5:07 PM on July 5, 2010 [1 favorite]

The longer you stay in contact with him, the worse off he is going to be. He's in emotional limbo right now, a cycle of continual hope and crushing despair which will only end when he accepts that the relationship is over, which he will not do as long as you continue to show interest in his life and well-being. Contact with you is the problem, not the solution.
posted by PercussivePaul at 5:23 PM on July 5, 2010 [3 favorites]

As a guy who has been on the other end of the equation, cut off contact. You're giving him false hope every time you talk with him.
posted by pakoothefakoo at 5:25 PM on July 5, 2010 [8 favorites]

The lesson I've learned about situations like this is that cutting off contact is always the right choice. Break things off with him for good. If you continue to be a part of his life, whether you may think you are or not, you are stringing him along. He'll continue to think that you can be won back, and it will just make it harder in the long run for both of you.
posted by Zophi at 5:29 PM on July 5, 2010

Wow, I love how everyone gives you the advice you specifically asked Not to get. While it may be in the end that you Do have to cut off contact, I think first you can try reinforcing the boundaries you've already been setting. Yes, encourage him to work on getting his life in order for himself and working with friends to get support you can't be giving him much of now.

I think letting him know that you're dating someone else seriously would be a good way to drive home to him that you're not waiting on his getting his life in order. Let him know that you still care for him as a friend, but one of the reasons you might not be as available as before is that you're busy with the new person. This means you're not cutting off contact, but you're doing some serious distancing, which you both need now. It's gonna hurt for him no matter what, but distancing (especially as he's not local) may help ease you guys toward more separate, whole lives of your own.
posted by ldthomps at 5:30 PM on July 5, 2010

You are his drug and his obsession. You can keep feeding him your attention and keep him addicted, or cut him loose and free him. He is not rational about you at this point so discussing things with him is not constructive.
posted by meepmeow at 5:34 PM on July 5, 2010 [2 favorites]

This man sounds like a lovelorn teenager (not that you have behaved with the utmost integrity, either: "A month later I told him I did love him, but that I didn't feel like our relationship had any long term potential")

Cutting off contact is not an option

Cutting off contact is essential. ESSENTIAL.

The longer you stay in contact with him, the longer he will pine for you. While he is pining for you, he will never truly be your friend. You'll just be drawing out the agony for him, and maintaining a one-sided, unfulfilling, awkward "friendship" for you.

You both deserve better.
posted by idiomatika at 5:41 PM on July 5, 2010 [5 favorites]

As a guy who has been on the other end of the equation, cut off contact. You're giving him false hope every time you talk with him.

Quoted for truth. While I'm not a guy who's been on the other end of this equation, I've been on your side. Every single time you talk to him in any way, you give him a glimmer of hope that his wish of a permanent relationship will come true. Sat, but true.

What he does after you cut off contact is not your responsibility. He is a grown man and makes his own decisions. If he is "in a bad way" that's on him - not on you. You cannot take the responsibility of his actions on yourself. You are responsible for your actions, and no one else's - ever. Period, end of discussion.
posted by patheral at 5:43 PM on July 5, 2010 [1 favorite]

I would guess the majority of your actions these last two years have all reinforced one thing with him: You are attractive to him because you really don't like him in the same way he likes you. Every time you reject him, every time you close a door, it just makes you that much more irresistible. So I would question your premise that cutting off contact with him would be bad. ANY contact will just make it harder for him. If you really care about him, do him a big favor and be the jerk who refuses to have anything more to do with him. He'll be angry, he'll be hurt, but he'll heal faster. I've been on both sides of this equation and the sooner you sever ties, the better off you'll both be.
posted by Happydaz at 6:45 PM on July 5, 2010 [1 favorite]

The ones that you don't want to cut off contact because you're afraid of what they'll do? Those are the ones that need it the most. You are not responsible for what another person does to himself/herself and many times cutting them off is the only way to force them to stand on their own two feet again.
posted by CwgrlUp at 7:50 PM on July 5, 2010 [5 favorites]

Waiting to break up with him or cut off contact will not be easier for him in three months, or six months, or a year.
posted by moira at 8:36 PM on July 5, 2010 [1 favorite]

The reason he doesn't want you to cut off contact is that if you do, he won't be able to deny that you've really broken up. That's not doing him any favors. You may eventually be able to be friends with him again, but you may not. You've got to accept this. You've also got to know that you're not going to be the one to help him through breaking up with you. The only way you can help him is by being clear, unambiguous, and stick to your guns.
posted by lemniskate at 4:53 AM on July 6, 2010

So you don't want to date him? Right?

Because I wasn't entirely convinced of that from your post. Given the mixed messages that you've been sending him, I honestly find it hard to fault the guy. You told us that "He's just not the one for me," told him "I love you." No wonder the poor guy is a desperate mess.

Also, long-distance relationships are never easy.
posted by schmod at 6:50 AM on July 6, 2010

"Listen Bub, if you are really working on these issues for your sake and not trying to fix yourself for me, you have to do this on your own. I'm not going to put my life on hold for this and I'm not going to be your crutch through this."
posted by advicepig at 7:09 AM on July 6, 2010

Cutting off contact is not an option.

Ah, the ol' askme classic: tell me what I should do to make things right. P.S. -- I won't do the one thing that will make things right.

Don't worry, he'll survive.
posted by the bricabrac man at 7:27 AM on July 6, 2010 [1 favorite]

There are a couple of things going on here but most importantly, you're in a relationship with someone who you're not able to see yourself with in the future. I really think it's in both your best interests to end any sort of romance between the two of you. It will hurt him more, and it will make things more difficult for you as well if you keep this "we're dating but there's no future" type of relationship going. As to whether or not you can end your "relationship" and still be friends...I'm not sure. My gut is telling me that the answer is no. And the reason is that I think this guy will always have feelings for you. And he will eventually come back to the topic of trying to work things out. It would be best to cut off contact from him. I know this sounds harsh. But any attempt to stay in touch and just be friends will only lead him on and encourage him to think that the two of you might have a future together. I would recommend that you break up with him in person. A full break up. Be honest, be kind, and be straight forward. Give him a chance to talk with you and don't rush the situation. But whatever you do, don't back down. I wish you all the best.
posted by ljs30 at 3:56 PM on July 6, 2010

Mod note: From the OP:
I guess I really need to address the cutting off contact issue.

First, it's only been 4 days. He's still processing this and I feel like it is WAY too early to be making that kind of decision. I realize that if he continues on this path that might be necessary, but I don't think we are anywhere near that point. Yesterday was one day in the course of 2 years. He's generally very rational and has never acted like this before. I think there is still time to save this before this becomes a really ugly situation requring that I cut off contact, but yes if it gets to that point I'll do it. I should also say all of our mutual friends do NOT think I should cut off contact. I should also say before the last two weeks he has never expressed any interest in us having a serious relationship. I know for a fact he has told multiple friends over the last two years that he was really happy with our arrangement because he didn't want a serious relationship or feel like he was in the place to have one. He also knew I wanted marriage and kids eventually and he had no interest in that. This continued even after we told each other we loved each other (acknowledging feelings is very important to him regardless of the status of our relationship). This sudden interest in a serious relationship appears to be the result of him feeling that he needs to "grow up" after a number of things in his life changed very quickly (including the beginning of the end of our relationship).

Second, he's specifically asked that we not cut off contact. I feel that it would be treating him like a child to decide for him what's best for him. He's a grown man. If this starts being a self destructive pattern, I'll reassess, but once again we're four days into this thing.

Third, I do not think he is going to turn to self harm. I'm worried that he'll sink in a deep depression and this will really destroy his self esteem for future relationships. He already has a tendency to withdraw into himself, but no I'm not worried about him actually hurting himself.

Fourth, I have to disagree with cutting off contact being the best. I've had that done to me twice in past relationships and it was one of the worst experiences of my life. The lack of closure made me obsess for years afterwards. It was confusing and made me question everything about the relationship. He has basically told me he would feel the same thing. Relationships that ended with me still able to write them an email asking some questions and not being treated like a leper by the person were so much easier to get over. It's both humiliating and heartbreaking to be cut off totally by someone that you love like you were never anything to them. It made me question my self worth and attractiveness for years. I know for some people this is what they need. This was not what I needed at all in past relationships and he has told me it is not what he wants. I feel that I have to respect that for now.

I am going to have another conversation with him making it very clear that we have to be 100% over. That our casual relationship can't continue at all and that we both have to move on. I'm going to once again propose a limited time of no contact or much less contact and see what he says. We live far away from each other so we won't be seeing each other in person at all.

One of the reasons I've been a bit all over the place is because I didn't actually go into this thinking we were breaking up. I talked to him initially because I felt I needed to get some clarity about some odd, off hand comments he'd made and then it pretty quickly became clear we needed to end it. He was initially in agreement about this, but then two days later everything changed. I agree I need to not give him any false hope, even though it is very hard because he is basically begging me to give him some sort of hope for the future. He also told me he's very scared to start dating again and I think that fear is one of the big reasons he's trying to hold onto our relationship.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 8:05 PM on July 6, 2010

Cutting off contact is not an option. He has said he cannot handle that right now and our mutual friends report to me that he's in bad shape.

For what it's worth, it is an option -- you are not his keeper, and he needs to be a big boy about this. However, since it is a step you are not willing to take at this time, I think a simple break-up along the lines of "we have agreed from the start that this relationship has no long-term potential. You may have changed your mind about that, but I have not. You need to get your head together about this. You said you were going to start changing a lot of things in your life, so focus on that, and it'll help you get over me" should do nicely. Beyond that, you can still communicate with him, but if he brings up the subject (the first time) you say "hey, we're not going to talk about that. If you can't talk to me without trying to start our relationship back up, then we can't talk. Bring it up again and I'm hanging up the phone." The second time, tell him you're getting off the phone, and do so. Repeat.
posted by davejay at 11:12 PM on July 6, 2010

It strikes me that as soon as he figured out he was losing you he started getting clingy.

Well, that's HIS problem.

You need to tell him about the new guy.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 2:54 PM on July 7, 2010

Second, he's specifically asked that we not cut off contact. I feel that it would be treating him like a child to decide for him what's best for him.

Ultimately, it's about what's best for you, not him. You have to think of yourself first.

He also told me he's very scared to start dating again and I think that fear is one of the big reasons he's trying to hold onto our relationship.

Dating again will help him quite a bit. It's scary at first, but you have to start somewhere.

And it's not your responsibility.

You may not see this, as it's been a week since the last post, but thought I'd add that.
posted by krinklyfig at 4:49 PM on July 14, 2010

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