How to be ok with my boyfriend's feelings?
July 6, 2010 8:33 AM   Subscribe

Crazy card alert? Please, help me sort out my relationship, MeFi world!

I met J 6 months ago, and we started talking. He had come out of a 2 year relationship about 4 months prior which ended when the girl cheated on him. He and I hit it off and we've been dating for about 5 months. Before we began dating I had asked him about his previous relationship and he had mentioned that he wasn't completely over his ex, but I didn't think a lot of it since we weren't too serious at that point. In the past few months, however, we have gotten more serious, and he recently told me he's been thinking about "expressing the L-word" (this came after a little breakdown I had after he told me he still wasn't completely over the ex--after 6 months of dating me...and 10 months of being broken up with her). The breakdown came after frustrations built up inside me from thinking that after 6 months, he should be over this other girl. In my mind, I guess I assume or expect myself to be enough for him to be "over her" completely, and when he told me he is about 90% over her (--to me, anything less than 100% was unacceptable), that made me feel inadequate, like I wasn't enough. When I had asked him, "Are you over her?", I had expected an immediate, "yes", so when i got, "I mean, I don't want to be with her, but I don't want to see her making out with someone because that would be weird, so I guess maybe not 100% yet", I was floored. Anyway, I confronted him about it because it had been bugging the crap out of me and here are some facts:

1. He said he is "100% about us". He doesn't want to be with anyone else, he wants me completely, there is no one else he wants emotionally or romantically.
2. He said that when he sought the advice of friends about the situation (re: his not being completely over her while dating me), his friends told him that it sounded like he WAS completely over her, so if it had been them in the situation, they would have said that yes, they were 100% over the ex (according to the facts and info he gave).
3. He ran into the ex a few days ago (again, after 10 months), and said he felt 0 feelings for her, though he said running into her was a little weird.

I tend to cope with relationships by making breakups pretty painful and messy. This is a coping mechanism for me because in my head, I think if I can be friends with an ex, why not sleep with him. Yes, I know this is messed up, so in order for that NOT to happen, I tend to go a little crazy at the ends. Because of this, I notice that at the end of relationships, or if I think I'm wasting my time, or if I'm not happy, or if I sense the other person is not happy and wants to break up, I'll start picking fights, being a bitch, basically sabotaging the relationship so the other person eventually break ups with me, so it looks like I'm the victim and he's the asshole bad guy. Writing this out here, I know it's incredibly cowardly, but I recently had a situation where I broke up with a boyfriend of 2 years (this was my last relationship 2 years ago), and tried to be friends with him. We ended up sleeping together for 6 months after we broke up which just prolonged the pain of the breakup. I figure if I hate the guy after we break up, it lends a certain sense of superiority to me because if I ever see him again I think kind of "look what you had but you can't have it anymore". Again, f-ed up. I know.

The feelings I have about the relationship are that it's fun, I really like him, but because I'm moving and had known that I would probably be moving when we started dating, things have always, in my mind, been a little halted. In other words, I've noticed at first I was afraid to really get invested because I don't want to invest in something or (god this sounds horrible) waste my time with something if it is going to fizzle out once I move. On the other hand, another part for some reason feels like I am putting this relationship on some sort of timeline, like we should start having sex at this time, or the L-word should happen at this point, or we should meet parents at this point, or its too early to start saying i miss you or this should have happened already, etc. etc. and its been driving me BONKERS.

Am i being unrealistic in my expectations of him and of this relationship? is it unrealistic to want one of those relationships where you are blissful, with no worries about exes, and no anticipating when anything will happen or freak out if something doesn't happen, without any timelines, when two people are crazy about each other and there is nothing else that distracts either of the two people from each other? Am I playing the crazy card?? Can this relationship, or any for that matter, still grow into a love while his heart, at least part of it, is apparently still clinging, even a little bit, to a past ex? Maybe I am a love-whore, and want to amass love from people without really loving them back. Does this sound manipulative?

MeFi, how can I alter my thinking about how he feels about the ex and about me? What can I do to be ok with how he feels right now? What would you do? What is my best course of action for this situation. Thank you thank you.
posted by LemonGardot to Human Relations (15 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite

I'm going to say yes, you are absolutely being unreasonable. People can't control their feelings -- almost everyone has SOMETHING they still feel for an ex. That doesn't mean he wants to get with her, wants to do anything with her, etc. You are completely, totally, playing the crazy card and being manipulative -- and this is just from your side of the story.

Either you can accept it, or you can be a good person and break up with him without being a bitch.
posted by brainmouse at 8:42 AM on July 6, 2010 [12 favorites]

I think it's normal to want your partner to be completely over their ex. Nothing wrong with that. But this:

When I had asked him, "Are you over her?", I had expected an immediate, "yes", so when i got, "I mean, I don't want to be with her, but I don't want to see her making out with someone because that would be weird, so I guess maybe not 100% yet", I was floored.

I think you shouldn't be worried about this. I think it is totally normal to be "over" an ex and yet still be somewhat uncomfortable about thinking of them being with someone else, or being a bit weirded out seeing them in an intimate situation with their new partner, for a period of time after.
posted by modernnomad at 8:46 AM on July 6, 2010 [2 favorites]

I don't think I know of anybody who can completely "unplug" and walk away from a 2-year relationship without any emotional baggage, especially when said relationship ended with the other person cheating. You don't date somebody for 2 years because you hate the person.

You should be happy that he's 1) Not a robot, and 2) Being honest with you.

If nothing else, this shows that the guy commits himself to his relationships, and doesn't regard them as disposable. Obviously, if you don't feel the same way, you probably shouldn't take this too far past the 6-month mark, although I'd personally view it as a positive thing.

My guess is that he's indeed "over her," but is also carrying around some lingering emotional baggage.
posted by schmod at 9:03 AM on July 6, 2010 [1 favorite]

Damn. Seriously. You're putting your, admittedly, fucked up way of dealing with your own emotionally immature tendencies on him. Don't do that.
posted by FlamingBore at 9:06 AM on July 6, 2010 [4 favorites]

You are completely, totally, playing the crazy card and being manipulative -- and this is just from your side of the story.

Cannot favorite enough. It sounds like he's committed to you, to your relationship, and to honest and open communication. It's perfectly natural for him to have lingering strong feelings about a past, failed relationship. Your course of action is going to poison this relationship.
posted by qxntpqbbbqxl at 9:11 AM on July 6, 2010 [3 favorites]

First, a general point. You criticize yourself a lot in this post, and by doing so, I think you make it harder for you to sort through the actual issue. For example, you bring up how "f-ed up" it is that you make messy break-ups. The fact is, messy break-ups are common precisely because nobody wants to be the one to break it off, and so it's easier to try to induce it. But, just because it's common, doesn't mean it's good. I just wouldn't call it "f-ed up," because you're making yourself seem dysfunctional in relationships.

The way you describe J telling you he's not 100% over his ex, reminds me a lot of how me and my friends do relationship talk. We're programmers, maybe mildly aspie, and have literal minds, and so at times we can be brutally honest. J is very specific with his caveats about not being 100% over, like mentioning he still gets jealous thinking about his ex with other guys. It also sounds like he really wants to be over his ex, and so he cites the observation of his friends as a way to reassure himself. In his head, he might think that by being specific, he's being more honest, but that's not the way you're reading it.

I think it's unreasonable to expect people to get over their ex's to the point where they won't get jealous if the ex is with someone else. But I think it's reasonable to expect people to move on from their ex's and be into you to the point that even if the ex tried to restart things, your partner would clearly prefer you.

I don't know enough specifics about J, but I think he's in the latter category. He's truly over his ex, but is still scared of her, and scared about what's happening with you (even if he loves you). And so his problem is that he produces really grating relationship talk.

It's not unreasonable to expect people to have good relationship talk. But that's up to you to decide your tolerances. If you believe enough in your emotions, you might realize that listening to him drives you nuts, and that your reaction is justified. If it were me, I wouldn't put up with it. Even if my partner was over her ex, I'd hate to have to hear randomly about relationship insecurities. It'd make me lose sleep.
posted by philosophistry at 9:13 AM on July 6, 2010

How exactly do you measure "100% over her?" Does that include forgetting her name? Never ever, not even once, remembering her naked once they have broken up? What is the 1% that makes "99%" unacceptable? Are you 100% over every single one of your exes?
posted by rhizome at 11:40 AM on July 6, 2010 [4 favorites]

To have a blissful, worry-free relationship, you need to learn to trust your partner, be open, and give up on the idea of perfect control, instead focusing on enjoying that person's company each day that you have it.

I don't understand this level of jealousy in this situation at all. He hasn't seen the ex in ages, told you about it when he finally did run into her, and was honest that he felt a bit weird but that was it. The kind of jealousy exhibited here is on par with him talking to his ex regularly, them flirting it up, and him talking about her a fair amount, etc. He's given you no reason to believe he's still interested in her at all, let alone more than you. He is dispassionate towards the ex, and that is exactly what I'd hope for in terms of my bf's attitudes towards his exes, because anger and hatred is a strong emotion that stays fresh in your mind and can still turn towards strong positive feelings. Personally, what he said to you would have made me feel a bit jealous only because we were talking about her, but in the end it would reassure me and make me feel like I could trust him. And I'd let it go.

This continued level of freaking out is going to end up with you getting lied to a lot if you ever have a LTR... because your partners won't feel like they can talk to you without upsetting you, so they just won't be open with you at all. Learn to trust your partner and always be willing to give him the benefit of the doubt. Try to incorporate a little more rational thinking into what you're reacting to. He's allowed to be human, imperfect and different from everyone else you've dated.
posted by lizbunny at 11:42 AM on July 6, 2010 [4 favorites]

"... really like him, but because I'm moving and had known that I would probably be moving when we started dating, things have always, in my mind, been a little halted. In other words, I've noticed at first I was afraid to really get invested because I don't want to invest in something or (god this sounds horrible) waste my time with something if it is going to fizzle out once I move."

So....what I'm hearing is that he needs to be 100% over his ex, but you can reserve the right to not commit fully to the relationship because it might "fizzle?" Are you certain that your issues with how he feels about his ex aren't some sneaky way of keeping yourself from committing fully to the relationship? And, if that's the case, shouldn't you spend some time figuring out if you want to be in it?
posted by The Light Fantastic at 11:42 AM on July 6, 2010 [2 favorites]

Another voice that yes, you are playing the crazy card. And yes, many people manage to break up (or try really hard to) without instigating unfair fights.
posted by salvia at 5:34 PM on July 6, 2010

I think you're expecting things out of your boyfriend that you aren't willing to contribute yourself.

You cite being emotionally reserved because you don't want to dedicate yourself to something that may fizzle out, but expect his complete emotional fidelity. Understand that in a loving relationship, emotional fidelity (not putting lots and lots of emotional energy into people that you are not in an exclusive relationship with) goes hand in hand with emotional support (being there for comfort and reassurance when one partner is feeling bad). I really don't see you giving much of any of the latter.

Your boyfriend was in a relationship of two years, that ended via cheating. Two years is a pretty decent amount of time, and an ending like that hurts. I was the ignorant person on the side for about 3 months and once I found out that put me into an emotional tailspin for 6-7 months--yeah, thanks, I was just the girl you wanted to fuck on the side, you bastard--and I can't imagine how much worse it'd be for someone you've trusted for two years. He started dating you 4 months after that ending; yes, having someone else to focus on likely speeds up the healing process a little (if only by distraction), but his feelings about her are understandably a little raw. "I put that much of myself into a relationship of 2 years and that's how it ended; I'm a little scared now"--that's not unreasonable. After an ending like that, he's likely being genuine that he doesn't want to go back to her--too much lost trust there. But that was one hell of a sucking chest wound, and those take time to heal.

What would expedite the process of healing would be to sit him down, give him a hug, and being patient if/when your boyfriend seems a little raw over it still; it shows that you'd be there for him emotionally, helps him draw the mental dividing line that you != Ex, and that what Ex did to him doesn't necessarily translate into something you'd do to him. If hearing about things like this makes you uncomfortable, that's something you can tell him--and that can be fair. Everyone has boundaries, and if it makes you feel bad to hear him talk about this girl for hours on end (if he does, which it doesn't sound like), fine. But you can't force feelings, and you can't force the pace of healing, and ragging on him for not 'being over her' yet after what is understandably a bitter ending doesn't say very well for you being supportive of him. And isn't that what partners who emotionally trust each other, who want the best for each other, do?

tl;dr - I think you're not being fair to him by demanding a level of emotional fidelity/support (because you want his support and reassurances on your insecurities about 'not being good enough') that you're not willing to give in return. I'd be more than a little chaffed, if I were him.
posted by Hakaisha at 5:37 PM on July 6, 2010

Best answer: As for what you can do, if you want to prolong this relationship? Time, patience, and clear boundaries. Understand that he may not be emotionally, 100% through with his Ex, and try to forgive him for that; recognize your own limits, whether that is "I'll take you out for ice cream when you start feeling bad" to "talk to me about her if venting makes you feel better" or anything in between. You don't have to be a doormat, you don't have to listen to him vent if it hurts you, but letting go of the idea that his feelings should follow your timeline would be a really, really good place to start.
posted by Hakaisha at 5:41 PM on July 6, 2010

Response by poster: Thanks everyone. I feel a lot better and feel like I can move forward, while keeping this relationship intact, more healthily. Thanks for putting things in perspective, MeFi.
posted by LemonGardot at 7:54 PM on July 6, 2010

He was honest with you; that's a very valuable thing. Also, you can't control how someone feels. 90% is pretty good, and "getting over" another person is not something that is cut-and-dried. I haven't read all the responses but if you continue to react in this way when he is being honest about his feelings, it will result in him not wanting to share with you anymore.
posted by bearette at 8:07 PM on July 6, 2010 [2 favorites]

Best answer: What your boyfirend means re: his ex is that he's 100% over wanting to be with her, but not completely over the hurt that he feels from her cheating. That's why it's wierd for him to run into her. Play your crazy cards in Vegas, don't bring them home.
posted by WeekendJen at 12:52 PM on July 7, 2010 [1 favorite]

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