I want to be transformed into a bubbling fountain.
August 13, 2010 7:19 AM   Subscribe

My boyfriend of three years broke up with me about 2 and a half months ago, shortly before I moved to another city for a year-long grant project. He still calls me once a week, sometimes more and sometimes less. This is confusing for me because I adore him and was really attached to him -- indeed, I'm still on the mend. He became my family over the years. If he told me he wanted to be with me, I would be like a fountain of bubbling joy, like one of those champagne fountains at hotel weddings. But he does not say that, he only says that he misses me, nothing more loving than that. My question is: should I stop taking his calls? I think they're giving me false hope.

His family is pretty creepy and he doesn't really have anyone in his life to give him love. Neither do I, though I'm (slowly) making some friends here in my new town. I think the reason I take his calls is that I hope he will tell me he wants me back. I'm aware that that sounds pathetic, but I'm imagining that he might grow as a person, as I am growing and changing, and that he and I could be reunited. Do any of you have experience with this dangerous territory? If what I really want is to be with him again, but in a healthier way, do you think it's better to cut off all contact for awhile or to maintain the connection on his terms, ie talk to him when he calls once a week or so? Please share your thoughts with me. I respect your various views.
posted by turtlewithoutashell to Human Relations (30 answers total)

This post was deleted for the following reason: poster's request -- jessamyn

You should cut off communication with him. It sounds like he's using you as an emotional crutch, and it's not getting you (or him, presumably) anywhere.
posted by null terminated at 7:21 AM on August 13, 2010 [25 favorites]

He's not going to tell you he wants you back. He wants your love and support without having to reciprocate. By keeping you in "ex" territory but knowing you're always going to be there, he feels he can get away with this scheme. It's not fair or kind and it's evidence of poor character - not someone who's going to magically transform into a good partner. You need to cut this dead weight loose and get on with your life.
posted by amethysts at 7:22 AM on August 13, 2010 [7 favorites]

Please, for the love of your own sanity and mental well-being, stop taking these calls. It sounds like he's keeping you on simmer, making sure that you'd be willing to jump back in case he gets bored with whatever he's doing right now.

Even if his intentions aren't that selfish, this is still incredibly bad for your mental health. Instead of breaking up, feeling awful, and getting better, you're constantly in the breaking up stage. You can't heal. You're not just picking at a scab - you're actively rubbing an open wound.

Tell him you're not going to talk to him for a month or two, at least. Maybe you can approach it with a clearer head on the other side.
posted by SNWidget at 7:23 AM on August 13, 2010 [10 favorites]

Him: "I really miss you."

You: "What is the point of saying things like that to me? Can't you imagine how that must make me feel? I'd really rather you didn't."

Him: "..."
posted by hermitosis at 7:28 AM on August 13, 2010 [17 favorites]

I don't mean to be rude, but ya *think* these calls are giving you false hopes? Your colorful metaphor is pretty telling. You wanted a lot more from him than a call a week. He wants the good side of your relationship (to him), namely - someone to talk to. Occasionally. Without the committment.

Use caller ID to completely ignore his calls, or change your number and don't give him the new one. Make friends where you live now. And make up your mind to cut off all contact PERIOD, not for a while as some sort of a game. You aren't doing this to change his mind, you're doing this to get on with your life.
posted by randomkeystrike at 7:29 AM on August 13, 2010 [4 favorites]

Yeah, everyone above is right, unfortunately. You should stop taking his calls. Whether or not you let him know why is up to you (I'm not sure I would, personally), but the calls themselves need to stop in order for you to complete healing and continue becoming yourself.
posted by batmonkey at 7:30 AM on August 13, 2010 [1 favorite]

Do not take his calls. I'm sorry, but he's using you, consciously or not. It's over. For your own sake, cut all communications with him.
posted by uans at 7:32 AM on August 13, 2010

I'd recommend to stop taking his calls as well. Personally, I'm a closure type of person, so if I was in the same situation, I'd take one more call to tell him I won't be taking any more calls. I'd tell him it's just too difficult to talk to him, because it's obvious that we don't feel the same way about each other. Don't allow him to talk you out of your decision either. It can be a short conversation, and then let him deal with it on his own.
posted by Roger Dodger at 7:37 AM on August 13, 2010

Cut him off (politely and with full disclosure of course, IMO.) He's leading you on whether he intends to or not. I repeat, for emphasis: he is not doing the right thing in this situation. Sure, he may be growing, but he's growing on his own and hanging onto you just in case.

What if he does take you back? You'll end up in an LDR that's on way-too-shaky ground to begin with as an LDR. You can be friends again, but only after you're mended. There are plenty of other men out there who can pop your cork.

...hey, it's your metaphor.
posted by griphus at 7:39 AM on August 13, 2010 [2 favorites]

Maybe you're using him. What I mean is, you are both getting something out of these calls continuing and it is probably unhealthy for both of you. Would you be taking these calls if you knew that there was absolutely no possibility of the relationship resuming? Getting back together is probably a mistake - it's usually a mistake - but if that's what you really want then pursue that. Tell him that is exactly what you are interested in and if he's not then stop the communication so you can both move on. If he's wishy washy he's just stalling to postpone the full emotional loss, don't allow it.
posted by nanojath at 7:39 AM on August 13, 2010 [5 favorites]

I'm an oddball in this, but I usually think people should maintain relationships with their exes if they truly ever loved them. I've never stopped loving someone I was in love with.

But I still think you should cut off contact for now. There's nothing about your message that makes me feel like you can get over this by continuing things as they are now. If it makes it any easier for you to do this total clean break, just think of it as the thing you need to do to maintain any sort of relationship in the future. If you keep letting him in, you'll never heal enough such that you can have any sort of relationship. Even if, by chance, you end up getting back together (stranger things have happened), you have to actually split up before you can.

So quit communication, explaining to him that it's a crutch to both for both of you and one you can't handle at the moment. He's not going to get any better at dealing at the world without you if you don't let him. The best thing you can do if you love him and are not getting back together with him is to force the issue and let him go.

Good luck!
posted by MCMikeNamara at 7:48 AM on August 13, 2010 [4 favorites]

I'm friends with a few of my exes.
Doesn't mean I want to marry them.. or that they want to marry me.

The other thing is, there have been times where a guy and I broke up and we still kept in touch until one of us moved on to another relationship. Basically because that person was the last person that you were intimiate or friends with - but when one of you moves on, those phone calls will stop.

So, eventually one of you will move on and the phone calls will stop.

Also, you could just ask him how he feels.
You have nothing to lose, right?
posted by KogeLiz at 7:51 AM on August 13, 2010

turtlewithoutashell: “If what I really want is to be with him again, but in a healthier way, do you think it's better to cut off all contact for awhile or to maintain the connection on his terms, ie talk to him when he calls once a week or so?”

It's clear that you still love him. There's nothing wrong with that, and although you're right that this is dangerous (and although most people will instinctively recoil at the danger and tell you to get outta dodge) I don't think the instinct you have to want to be with him is necessarily the wrong one.

However – you do need to be careful with yourself here. What you need to do is have a plan and stick to it – be clear about what you're after and what you're not. It sounds like you want him back, but what you're doing is putting that desire in the background by simply waiting and hoping. That won't work. You really only have two options: either (a) make a conscious effort to get him back, with goals in mind and a realistic notion of what it will look like if you fail; or (b) let it go, cut him off, stop talking to him, and move on with your life.

Now, if you choose the first option – if you want him back – then accept first of all that, while there may be some miniscule possibility that he'll call and ask for you back, that is almost certainly not going to happen. You already seem to know this. And the fact is, even if that were going to happen, hoping with all your heart it happens is not a strategy for getting what you want in this situation any more than hoping with all your heart and jumping as high as possible is a strategy for landing a man on the moon. Accept this fact: if you get back together with him, the only rational way it's going to happen is if you make it happen. What's going to have to happen is that you're going to have to talk to him and tell him you want him back.

(Also, please notice this: by talking to him all the time, by offering him emotional support free of any attachment or commitment, you are not doing yourself any good strategically. The longer this goes on, the less likely he ever is to want to rekindle his commitment to you; this is teaching him that he doesn't need that attachment to have what you offer him. It's good that he's the one calling you; that means he's forced to tacitly admit that he wants and needs to spend time talking to you. But if you're genuinely going to try to make this work, you should try to make this difficult for him – be unavailable to talk regularly, make him call you back later because you're busy, etc – so that he's forced to recognize and admit to you and to himself that he actually wants and needs to spend time talking with you.)

Your first instinct will probably be to work up to that – to take some time and prepare yourself before you sit down and have the talk with him and say: "look, I really like the conversations we've been having, and I miss you... do you think we can give it another try?" That's all right, but keep in mind that the main reason that's your first instinct is because you'd rather avoid the possible rejection you'd face if he decided to say no. Remember that rejection is a necessary part of this; without a realistic understanding of what failure will look like, a strategy doesn't make any sense. So I think the best thing to do is set a moment for yourself when you're going to do this; say, in a week's time. The sooner the better, but it's all right to build up to it so long as you hold yourself to it.

And that's really what it's about, in the end: you need to finally be honest with him. At some point, you will need to sit down with him and say: "I want us back – and I think it could be good." He might say yes, he might say no, but it's essential that you not spend the rest of your life acting on feelings that go unvoiced.

Finally, if he says no – then there is absolutely no point in continuing with these conversations. Every time you talk to him, you're perpetuating your feelings of hope; and those feelings are something you'll have to come to terms with and move on from if you're not going to be with him. You need to be free to contemplate what that means, and to think about what direction your life is going to take. If you're not going to be with him, then all you're doing is holding on to a past that can have no place in your future.
posted by koeselitz at 8:02 AM on August 13, 2010 [6 favorites]

I generally advocate for being honest with people and cut out game-playing as much as possible. In this case, that would mean talking to this guy. Tell him you're not over him and the regular communication with him is hurting you. Tell him that you can't just be friends right now and need a break until you have a chance to move on.
posted by Kimberly at 8:04 AM on August 13, 2010 [2 favorites]

There are certain details missing from your description of the situation. You moved to another city for a year-long grant project. Does this mean that when the year is over, you will be moving back? If so, then I suggest that you tell your ex-boyfriend that you will get in touch with him when you are back, after a year, but until then you don't want to hear from him. You also didn't mention the reason why he broke up with you just before you left, although I can easily imagine that he felt that you were abandoning him. So, if you can be apart for a year and afterward still feel a mutual interest, you can see if the former relationship can resume. However, if you have left never to return, then he ought to find someone closer to home, to talk to and perhaps have a serious relationship. If he had really wanted to have a long distance relationship with you, he should not have started out by breaking up as you were about to leave. He could have told you "I'll miss you and I'll wait for you" or words to that effect.

I have a friend whose girlfriend felt that she needed to take a year to work on a project in Thailand. My friend accepted this and made no effort to break up. The two of them are now married and have two children together. Relationships can be interrupted without coming to an end.
posted by grizzled at 8:04 AM on August 13, 2010

I think that in the long run this form of communication with your ex will unfortunately hurt you...probably both of you. That being said, I think you have a couple of options. Since he continues to maintain contact with you, there's a chance he still has some feelings for you beyond just friends. If you still have feelings for him perhaps you guys should talk about that. Tell him you still wanna be together. Ask him why he continues to call you. At the end of the day, if he's not interested in getting back together, then I think for now it would be best to cut off contact. You should give yourself the opportunity to move on and find someone else. Continuing to talk to him regularly will prevent that from happening. You deserve to be with someone who wants to be with you. It doesn't mean you can't be friends with him somewhere down the road, but not until you no longer wish to be in a relationship with him. I know it's hard. You obviously still have a lot of feelings for him. You don't want to let him go, but at some point in time you have to consciously make that decision to move on. You've got nothing to lose by having an open conversation with him about where things stand, but again if he says he's not interested in a relationship, then it's time to have no contact. And that means no phone calls, no texts, no emails...nothing for at least a few months. Hope this helps.
posted by ljs30 at 8:20 AM on August 13, 2010 [1 favorite]

Thanks everyone for your insight and candor. As for missing details, I may move back to NYC at the end of this year, I may stay in Western New York and I may move somewhere else. He and I were living together when I moved (this was the most promising job I could find after a frightening year of hunting following graduation from law school and admission to practice in NY). Most of my books (10 boxes or so) and a few furniture items are still in my ex's apartment in Brooklyn.

I think the best explanation for why he ended it is that it was draining him. I was emotionally exhausted due to financial instability, fear about my career, disappointment about not being able to find a job in spite of working so hard. I was no fun to be around because things weren't going very well for me. But now things are going well. This may be in part because I'm no longer in a relationship where I want more intimacy and togetherness than he was inclined to give. It is also because I have a job and some stability and hope for my life.

Anyway, I think you're right that I should cut off all contact. It hurts both of us. Koeselitz is correct about how I'm not doing myself any favors by being emotionally available to him when there's no committment -- why buy the cow when you can get the milk for free.

But keep sharing your thoughts with me. I appreciate the support.
posted by turtlewithoutashell at 8:56 AM on August 13, 2010

Here is another thing that I learned about this, having done it once. It felt creepy to me to do it, to cut him off and hang up the phone. And my hands were shaking. But it was the right thing to do, and I knew it.

Maybe I am just dense, but it hit me at the time that sometimes doing the right thing doesn't always feel right. Sometimes it feels weird. But do it anyway.
posted by chocolatetiara at 9:05 AM on August 13, 2010 [2 favorites]

Cut off contact.....for now.

I've been in your situation exactly. An ex-girlfriend who dumped me kept calling and basically trying to have it both ways. I think that in her case she was trying to make herself feel better for having treated me shittily in the final months and trying to maintain a respectful 'friendship' with me did that. But all it did was make it difficult to get over her. I had no false hope that we would ever get back together, but every time I talked to her on the phone I was back at square one - the wound was always fresh. So I eventually told her to stop calling me and that I needed enough time to completely get over her before I could speak to her again. And eventually I was ok to talk to her and we got along fine.

Also, you don't owe him anything. His weird family and lack of love is his problem. If he needs love and attention so badly, he should either have stayed with you or he should find someone new fast.
posted by fso at 9:06 AM on August 13, 2010 [2 favorites]

I went through this with an ex. She moved away, we broke up, but she still called almost every night to cry on the phone, regretting her decisions, lost in her loneliness.

The first time we went through it, I think there was some part of me that wanted it, as you seem to. But soon we both realized it was bad for us and stopped talking for a while.

Years later, she came back, we dated, we broke up, she moved away, and the calls and the regret started again. But this time I let her know this wouldn't work for me, and she needed to find support for our break-up elsewhere, that her decisions were her decisions and no amount of regret could really change them. I felt bad about that because she was in a new place and didn't have many friends to begin with. But I just knew I couldn't get sucked into that crying-all-night-on-the-phone business again.

If you tell him you need space, expect him to be angry, or sad. And expect to feel like you've lost something too. But you'll have a future of much more pleasant and normal phone calls with him in a few months.
posted by MonsieurBon at 9:31 AM on August 13, 2010 [1 favorite]

If you do care about the books and furniture that your ex-boyfriend is still storing for you, you have to consider that aspect of the situation. You have several options: you can make other arrangements for the storage of these posessions, you can have them shipped to you at your new address, or you can abandon them; otherwise, you can't be too unfriendly toward the person who is storing them for you. You cannot both ask someone to do you the substantial favor of storing lots of stuff for you, while at the same time refusing to speak to him on the phone. That doesn't work.
posted by grizzled at 9:41 AM on August 13, 2010 [1 favorite]

Maybe he misses you and really wants to be with you. Instead of cutting him off, have a chat with him about your future together. If you both think you have a future together, make some sort of commitment. If neither of you can make a commitment, stop talking to him.
posted by KokuRyu at 10:15 AM on August 13, 2010 [3 favorites]

It seems like you already know what you need to do here, but just to join the chorus: cut off contact with him until you can be a bubbling fountain on your own. And, I know this is going to come off as cold, but I would just stop answering his calls without telling him why. He clearly has a pretty strong emotional hold on you, and he's also clearly aware of that and not above exploiting it. This is going to be hard for you to do, so don't give him a chance to talk you out of it.
posted by Ragged Richard at 11:55 AM on August 13, 2010

I'm a big fan of asking him what he wants, and what he's trying to accomplish, what his intentions are. If you can't talk about the current state of your relationship, then you're not really friends and it's probably best to cut contact.

It's hard to stay friends with someone you're still painfully longing for. I don't know if you should break things off or not, but a good way to decided would be to weigh the pleasure you get from hearing from him against the pain of hearing from him if he never makes any get-back-together overtures.

If it's less painful for you to cut contact for a spell, then do that. If you think the pain will naturally lessen over time with his presence in your life, then stay friends.

Don't wait for him to change. People change at their own pace for their own reasons and it's rarely into the precise shape that we want. Waiting for someone to grow usually means waiting for them to become the person we want to be in a relationship with. Best to find someone who is already the person you want to have a relationship with.

Lastly, he ditched you when you were going through a hard time. That's seriously lame. Some people are chronically draining, some folks are episodically drained because they're going through a difficult phase in their life. You sound like the latter. A real partner, a true friend, a generous lover wouldn't leave simply because you're no fun to be around. People who deeply and honestly care for you will help shepherd you through bad times - as you would them. They don't make being in a good place in your life a condition for their companionship and love. Be cautious if he does want you back together now that things are better for you. Be especially cautious because things are better now that he's not one of things sapping your spirits.
posted by space_cookie at 12:31 PM on August 13, 2010 [1 favorite]

I'm so sorry. This sounds excrutiating.

My rational side would be to cut off all contact. My more emotional side would want me to ask once more if he wanted to get back together.

That being said, I think you should tell him you no longer wish to speak with him. You don't have to give anymore details than that. Then, stick to your guns. I would even consider changing my phone number, so he can't contact you by phone. Set up your email address so his email ends up in the trash and defriend him on Facebook.

When he calls, there's a little glimmer of excitement, but remember how you feel after you get off the phone. The disappointment can be devasting and every time you answer his calls you are devasting your self again.

I once went on a pseudo-date with an ex. It was actually one of the most emotionally painful things I have done and I did it all to myself. You don't deserve to put yourself through this agony.
posted by parakeetdog at 1:01 PM on August 13, 2010 [1 favorite]

Feeling a bit down. Actually, feeling fine, but a lift would be nice. Time to call turtle.


OK, gotta run. Miss you!


Oh, she so totally wants you. Feeling awesome!
posted by obiwanwasabi at 3:45 PM on August 13, 2010

This may be in part because I'm no longer in a relationship where I want more intimacy and togetherness than he was inclined to give. It is also because I have a job and some stability and hope for my life.

I'd decide which one of these is more likely to be true before deciding whether or not to take koeselitz/KokuRyu's approach or the approach of just cutting off contact for awhile.
posted by salvia at 7:08 PM on August 13, 2010 [1 favorite]

Actually, let me revise that. (Edit window!) It sounds like you're leaning toward cutting off contact. Great. If not, if part of you is leaning toward koeselitz/KokuRyu's approach, do not do that if you think the real reason is your first sentence there. That's kind of a red flag. That makes it sound like you'd definitely be better off without any contact.
posted by salvia at 7:09 PM on August 13, 2010

Thanks again everyone for sharing your views with me and for caring about my problem. I spoke with him today, I called him back after having received two calls and a text asking me why I was not responding to him. I told him that I want to be in a relationship with him, that I love him, and that I cannot take his calls anymore if he does not want the same thing. He said he was having a very hard time without me in his life and that it's soothing to hear my voice, but that he does not want to be my boyfriend. We cried. We talked for awhile about other things. I told him he could give my chair and my lamp away if he wanted, but that I should retrieve my books. He said it was not a big deal to leave them there since he has a lot of space. We said we would talk in three months, perhaps, but no sooner. He sent me a text after we hung up telling me he would always love me with his whole heart. I reciprocated the sentiment. And that's all. Thanks to all you wise people for helping a turtle girl through the last little shiver of a very important relationship. I feel ok.
posted by turtlewithoutashell at 7:17 PM on August 14, 2010 [1 favorite]

"I told him he could give my chair and my lamp away if he wanted, but that I should retrieve my books. He said it was not a big deal to leave them there since he has a lot of space."

That's him trying to hang on. It's a bad move for you.
posted by 2oh1 at 12:59 PM on August 15, 2010

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