How can I make headway in my love life?
October 18, 2010 9:27 PM   Subscribe

How can I make headway in my love life?

I'm having trouble making headway in my love life and sorting out what my head and my heart want.

Background, abridged version: I'm a girl, ex is a guy. We broke up a long time ago because I wanted to get married and he didn't (he's younger than I am and didn't feel ready for marriage), then after awhile apart he decided he did want to be married (and I believe he was sincere), but we had too much unpleasant baggage by that time from all the fighting about marriage, etc, and couldn't make things work. As of now we've had almost no contact for a year.

I'm in my early thirties and I want to get married and have kids. I feel like there isn't a lot of time left for that, biologically-speaking, and yet I haven't felt motivated to find someone, either. I haven't dated anyone since the ex. I think about him every day. I'm a very loyal person and still feel loyal to him. I have an online dating profile and I search for dates on the site, but to be honest, it icks me out to think of being with anyone other than the ex, almost as if I'd be cheating on him. I'm sure some of the guys on the site are very nice people, but they just seem gross to me because they're not my ex. I can't help but compare them to him. This doesn't seem like normal behavior, given that most other people seem to be able to move on and develop new relationships even after a traumatic breakup.

So, you might ask, why don't I call the ex and find out if he's available and willing to give things another shot? Every time I consider doing that, I remember the one big thing I dislike about my ex, that (oddly enough) I never noticed until we broke up: he doesn't share my sense of humor. And I wonder if this would bother me more and more over time if we got married, or if I'd just accept it? This keeps me from feeling sure that calling him up is the right thing to do, and as a result, I haven't done it.

I'm caught in a "grass is always greener" sort of scenario, I suppose: other guys seem unappealing because they can't compare to my ex, but when I think about my ex, I get stuck on this one thing I dislike about him. And as a result, I'm not moving forward with my love life, and I wonder if I'm being too picky and if I'll always be alone as a result. The fact that I'm a very indecisive person definitely is not helping here, either.

I know no one but me can decide what it is I should do to move forward with my love life one way or another, but I'd appreciate any opinions or experiences that might give me some insight here.

Thank you!
posted by whitelily to Human Relations (23 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
The only way to find out is through doing it.
posted by Ironmouth at 9:30 PM on October 18, 2010

Note that you are comparing photographs and written profiles to the experience of being in someone's presence; this is not an apples to apples comparison.

Spend some time in the actual physical presence of some guys who seem okay on the written page, and then reconsider.
posted by darth_tedious at 9:39 PM on October 18, 2010 [5 favorites]

Yeah, in the past, after I was dumped and started dating again, I'd feel like I was "cheating" because part of me still thought of The Ex as my boyfriend. After a few casual dates with a few different guys, the feeling wore off. I had to sort of muddle through until my heart finally caught up with my brain. (And eventually I met my husband.)
posted by Green Eyed Monster at 9:40 PM on October 18, 2010 [2 favorites]

My husband's and my senses of humor don't overlap well, but we have so much else going for us that it's not that big of a deal. Sometimes he gets annoyed when he makes a joke and I take him literally, and he can't understand a lot of the things that I find HILARIOUS, but there's so many other more important things than that in life, especially since it's so easy to find people online who do share your sense of humor (but whom you wouldn't want to ever get involved with physically or romantically) to get that need met.
posted by Jacqueline at 9:41 PM on October 18, 2010 [1 favorite]

Back in the day, I used to not enjoy having sex - it just didn't seem worth the effort. I figured if I pushed myself to enjoy it, that I'd learn to enjoy it, and that's what happened.

This can apply to your situation, too. If you push yourself to move on, eventually you will find that you have moved on. Loyalty is important, useful, etc., but right now it's appropriate for you to work on moving on. You can do it.
posted by lover at 9:43 PM on October 18, 2010

How can I make headway in my love life?

Date someone.

You know why you're hung up on your ex? Because once upon a time you felt like you had "it" with him. You know why it's no use going back to the ex? Because you already did it and the relationship failed definitively. The sense of humor thing is a red herring. Sure, it's important in a relationship, whatever. But your attempt to restart the relationship with the ex didn't fail because your senses of humor didn't mesh, it failed because when you got back together "it" was gone, gone, gone, never to return again. Go date someone. Doesn't matter who, they almost assuredly won't be the one. You just need to get off this go-nowhere cycle of thought and into some semblance of reality.
posted by nanojath at 9:55 PM on October 18, 2010 [7 favorites]

You're latching onto the sense-of-humor issue because it's relatively specific and safe and manageable. It's a stand-in for a larger, more complex, harder-to-explain set of feelings. You were pleased that it seemed like a switch had been turned on that made him start acting in all the right ways. You believed at this point that marriage would be the appropriate next step, but only if you took a "clinical, objective" view. You no longer actually had romantic feelings toward him. You saw an outwardly positive shift in his behavior, but at the same time your own private feelings went in the opposite direction. You struggled with this dissonance, but it was "akin to watering a plant that has already died." It was "immensely frustrating and saddening." This is more important and uncomfortable and complex than the point about not sharing the same sense of humor.

As darth_tedious said, if you're only judging men on dating sites without meeting them, that isn't an accurate reflection of the full potential of these sites. (Same thing even if you've just gone on a couple dud dates, since that goes with the territory.) Visiting the websites may be a dull and sometimes even depressing experience, but online dating only works if you move from "online" to "dating" and beyond. Much as a dating site might like to have you believe that the site itself can work some special magic, all it really does is provide access to new possibilities. You know what it's like to water the dead plant. Try planting a new one.
posted by John Cohen at 11:22 PM on October 18, 2010 [3 favorites]

Until you date someone else, and I don't mean one date, but date them, as a girlfriend, you won't get over your last boyfriend.

Some people can. Maybe you will after your next relationship; maybe you have in the past, but for whatever reason you're stuck on nostalgia of this last one, but in truth: it's only the last one you had, not the last one you will have.

Move on. It's OK. Maybe it won't happen this day, week, month, but if you agree to let yourself move on, you'll fall for another guy. Life will be better, and filled with love again.
posted by IAmBroom at 12:37 AM on October 19, 2010 [1 favorite]

You're putting a lot of pressure on yourself and making things into a "Big Deal" (with large, scary capital letters), which is only making it harder for you, I think. I know the biological clock thing can be kind of difficult (I say this as someone who has never wanted kids, but I still get it), but you need to try to put that out of your mind. Do you really want to marry someone just to be married and have kids? Is that enough?

A year or so ago, I was in a relationship that was dangerously unhealthy for me. It took a lot for me to extricate myself from that, and afterward I was completely convinced that I wasn't going to pursue a relationship with anyone again, let alone get married. And then I met someone who was unequivocally wonderful for me, and my feelings on the matter changed entirely.

I know that's not the situation you're going through, but frankly, the times in my life when things have worked out the best have been when I wasn't stressed out trying to find whatever it was I wanted. So try to relax, get out there, and meet some new people. Just let life come. Meeting people online never worked for me (I'm an introvert, and I feel way too much pressure during those first few meetings; I do much better meeting people through friends, in group settings), but maybe it will for you—if you stop looking for "the one" and start looking for someone you'd like to get to know better. See where that takes you. And try to forget about that biological clock. There are so many kids out there—of all ages—waiting to be adopted.
posted by divisjm at 4:06 AM on October 19, 2010 [4 favorites]

I would put the online dating on the shelf for awhile and start trying to meet guys in person. This can be done in any number of ways.... Volunteering, hiking, singles groups, speed dating... I know exactly what you mean about feeling like you are cheating on your ex, but trust me when you meet a good-looking funny guy in person you will forget that quickly.
posted by bananafish at 5:13 AM on October 19, 2010

Good question... let me see if I have this right:

" How can I do what I won't do?"

Did Joseph Heller write your question? (Catch-22 reference).

It's like saying "It hurts when I peel the skin off my finger with a vegetable peeler."

You dumped the last guy because of a show-stopper. It was enough of a show stopper to dump him. That's still the case. Where's the question?

You need another mate. You aren't getting one because of conscious decision making. Where's the question?

Summary: Forget the ex. Get a new BF.
posted by FauxScot at 6:20 AM on October 19, 2010

Early thirties? Are you sure you don't have more time than you think? I wonder if feeling like you must get married soon makes it harder to have patience for the dating process and then starting at ground zero with someone. "Do I want to marry my ex or this random person I've never met?" Well, if that's the choice, the ex. But you have a block that makes you not want to marry him it sounds like. I'm not saying you have an eternity, but judging by my friends' experience, you have some time.
posted by salvia at 6:59 AM on October 19, 2010 [2 favorites]

Sense of humor is number one for me, so there would be no way I would've even dated someone with mismatched sense of humor in the first place. I can't imagine not being able to laugh at the same things or being with someone who "doesn't get it".

I figure, if you have this sort of hesitation, then he's not the right person.

Look, you really just need to get out and be social. Go out with friends, go to some parties, strike up conversations with single men either in person at these functions or through IMs online (in which you meet through the dating sites).
You'll get used to it and more comfortable... especially after you start chatting it up with someone that shares the same sense of humor.

Early thirties isn't that old. Maybe you think like this because nowadays everyone seems to be having babies at 16 - but, come on. There's plenty of people having children in their mid-late 30s. I think you're concentrating too much on hurrying up.
posted by KogeLiz at 7:45 AM on October 19, 2010

i'll be blunt here. the social world is in shambles because of situations like this. your example is testament to the entire process of 'moving on'. and it pisses me off. why? because i met a woman this summer who is in exactly the same rut, a sort of quasi-stockholm syndrome disorder if you will that she is in and it's fruitless.

here's the kicker: i'm head over heals for this person and they know it, and given the type of quality time we've spent together, feelings shared, sense of humour unequivically mated to perfection, the most passionate of kisses ... this woman still holds a tragic torch and loyalty to an ex that convinced that love could be anything otherwise.

give your heart a chance. that's all you need to do. believe in the power of congruency and environment. believe in chance and serendipitous happenings. remove the blinders for crying out load and recognize what is good for you and what can work.

for me --i'm not waiting around. i'd like to but it's not my call.

people need to seriously be awakened by the demons of their ex-pasts, and let go.
posted by sniperantics at 8:00 AM on October 19, 2010 [1 favorite]

I think about him every day. I'm a very loyal person and still feel loyal to him. I have an online dating profile and I search for dates on the site, but to be honest, it icks me out to think of being with anyone other than the ex, almost as if I'd be cheating on him.

This is your problem - you're framing this all wrong for yourself. Your relationship ended, and you got a little hung-up, with lingering feelings that you have a hard time letting go of. It happens to everyone. But you've gone a step further and romanticized your lingering feelings to a certain extent. You're telling yourself that this is really just a part of one of your admirable qualities, loyalty, and you're making a virtue out of your pain. That's understandable, but it's not really helpful.

I remember when my first girlfriend broke up with me. I was upset for a long time. And then, one day, I realized that I was keeping myself upset. That when I started to feel better, my mind would go back to how happy I had been years ago (nevermind that the relationship hadn't been very good in the last six months or so) and making myself feel the extent of what I'd lost. The reason I was doing this, I eventually decided, was that somewhere in my head I thought that as long as I wasn't over her, we were still connected, we might get back together, and that relationship wasn't really over in any meaningful sense. Once I realized that this was 100% bullshit, and that our relationship was actually already over, whatever I did in my own head, I felt much better, and I was ready to move on. I think you might be in a similar pattern - does any of this sound familiar?
posted by Ragged Richard at 8:15 AM on October 19, 2010

Getting married and having kids are great, achievable goals but in my opinion there are two goals that should precede that. 1) Being really comfortable and happy with yourself, knowing that you can find a way to have what you want no matter what it is (which makes it easier to) 2) Find someone who you love spending time with and who makes your life easier most of the time and who genuinely adores you. The first step is critical because it's a lot harder to find things if you are desperate for them. It skews your priorities and makes it nearly impossible to really focus on what is important.

Although seemingly counter-intuitive, one of the best ways to make headway in your love life is to figure out how to be a complete person by yourself. People want to be loved for themselves, not because they're a means to an end. If you don't "need" someone else to make you happy then they know that you are with them because you want to be. And when you're in the position where you'd rather have someone who is really good for you or no one at all you're more likely to find that really great person (and not settle).
posted by Kimberly at 8:17 AM on October 19, 2010 [6 favorites]

I'm in my early thirties and I want to get married and have kids. I feel like there isn't a lot of time left for that, biologically-speaking, and yet I haven't felt motivated to find someone, either.

Getting married and then having kids certainly is the preferred order for most, but the biological pressure (to whatever extent it exists and it is possible you have more time than you think) only exists for (biological) kids.

Maybe it would take some of the pressure off of the relationship situation to start making plans to have kids on your own (getting your financial life in order, and so on) even if it's not your ideal path.
posted by Salamandrous at 10:04 AM on October 19, 2010 [1 favorite]

I would put dating on hold for awhile. It sucks to meet someone, feel a little bit of promise, start spending more time with them, get their hopes up, then realize that still-present feelings for your ex are sabotaging things between you and a new person. A couple of guys have had to deal with my emotional fallout in this situation, and it wasn't right to do to them.

Instead I'd just get out and meet people, men and women, via different activities and groups. Go to a wine tasting, join a book group, join a sports team, whatever you like to do. This can be a great opportunity to delve into an interest that's maybe been on the backburner (maybe because you were pouring your energies into your relationship).
posted by medeine at 10:31 AM on October 19, 2010

I haven't dated anyone since the ex. I think about him every day. I'm a very loyal person and still feel loyal to him.

I hesitate to respond because I am a man, and I think the pressures on men in their thirties feel really different than those women feel—regardless of whether we are talking social or biological pressures. But nevertheless, you really remind me of myself in some ways. I am also early (er, mid real soon now) 30s, and feeling lately like I can't get past my last ex, but new people really freak me out. It's sort of like how you feel in the sense that I don't really see anyone else being better than my ex; but it's a bit more ambivalent with me, sort of like, "who cares, any relationship will be the same, why date anyone else."

I think the thing we have in common is that we are holding onto the idea of what our last relationship was and erroneously conflating that with all possible future relationships. We are both confusing the idea that we have created—and are desperately holding onto for whatever reason—with the reality of how other people would be and what relationships with them would be like. The fact is, neither of us have any clue what another person would be like really. And actually, what I've come to realize at least, we may not know the reality of the relationship we had with that last person either. I believe now that often times, when a relationship was not right for us, there is an idea that acts as a placeholder for the real relationship, which we can get attached to.

I really feel like John Cohen is dead on when he says you're latching onto the sense-of-humor issue because it's relatively specific and safe and manageable. It's a stand-in for a larger, more complex, harder-to-explain set of feelings. What are these feelings? I suspect that, on some level, this may be good—it may be the part of you that is preventing you from doing the dumb thing and calling this guy up. You do on some level know that this relationship is done, and your psyche is throwing this (maybe, maybe not) b.s. reason out there to prevent you from getting back into it. But it seems likely to me that between this and the "waiting game" you're playing there is a host of issues you are not digging into about how you really feel about this past relationship, what you want from future relationships, and maybe even about your life goals in general. I'm tossing that out there 'cause it's true for me, may not be true for you, but I suggest at least look into it to see if it is or isn't.

I've stopped dating for now and it's actually been really useful. In fact, I have no idea when I'm going to be able to date again and that's fine. This is where the difference between men and women looms large; I don't have any sort of biological imperative pushing me to get back into it, so that stressor is out the door. And so I recognize that it may seem facile for me to say this, but I will anyways: can you let go of all of these goals you have for a while and just investigate who it is you are, and what it is you want within the context of a relationship, and see how you can be happy, even without one? At the least, it may help you redefine what it is you want from another person so that you can let go of this last guy. But I've found that only really giving up has helped me at all.

I hope this has helped at least a little. I empathize as much as I can (I mean being a guy)...relationships are tough. I think within relationships we have the most potential for confusing and lying to ourselves and this can be really wrenching. The way through is often obscured.
posted by innocuous_sockpuppet at 10:52 AM on October 19, 2010 [8 favorites]

Or, what Kimberly said.
posted by innocuous_sockpuppet at 10:54 AM on October 19, 2010

The young rop-rider said exactly what I wanted to say. If I had a dime for every guy that I used to casually date and still kept in my phonebook as viable date options that I later find out (via facebook) is now engaged, married, with child, etc I'd be a millionaire. You haven't talked to your ex in over a year. He isn't the option you still think he is - he is no longer available to you. Accept that and go find someone else.
posted by WeekendJen at 1:46 PM on October 19, 2010

Response by poster: Thanks for the responses. Just to address a couple of things:

- As unlikely as it sounds, I know from a mutual friend that he does in fact still have feelings for me. Normally, though, I would agree with the young rope-rider that a smart, functional person wouldn't still be hanging around (as an aside, rope-rider unintentionally - or perhaps intentionally - alluded to the fact that I myself am neither smart nor functional given that *I'm* still hanging around).

- Salvia, this is why I worry about running out of time: it generally takes at least a couple of years to go from first date to marriage, which already puts me in my mid-thirties, and that's assuming I meet my future husband today. And I'd ideally like to have more than one kid, so we're talking about several years for that. So realistically, when you do the math, it's not looking so great. That really wasn't the point of my question though and I absolutely would prefer to be alone than with the wrong person for the sake of being married with kids.

Thanks again for taking the time to answer and help me out.
posted by whitelily at 7:29 PM on October 19, 2010

Everyone's comments above are good guidance and full of the very sort of spirit that makes me love the world and this site. I've read through the thread a couple of times, and I think I may have something to add to it. Your current position and experience are similar to my own, though my 5-years-younger bf and I were never planning to marry. We did, however, undergo an unplanned pregnancy about a year before we broke up. I was 32 at the time. He did not want a child. I did, but not if he did not want it with me. I terminated the pregnancy. A year later he terminated the relationship.

We have been officially broken-up for 4 months now. The first couple of months (heartbroken summer of 2010) were most tortuous because of the fear that I will not be able to find someone and have a kid before I no longer have that option. My ex continues to call me and send me emails. He asks me to come visit him. He cries and tells me that he misses me. But he does not say: you are the girl for me and let's make this work. He does not look me in the face and tell me I'm important, that my dreams are beautiful to him, that my person is precious. He does not know what those sentiments really mean. I'm not sure if it's because he's younger or because he was never loved well by anyone in his childhood or if he's part robot. He will not talk about the abortion. He will not talk about the possibility of having a child. So I know I must not go to him, though I want to. My maternal instinct is aroused by his boyish charm, a charm that is heightened by the fact that I know he was not loved well as a child. But he is not ready to love the way I need to be loved, the way I'd need my kid to be loved. I think that's more important than the urge to satisfy my maternal instinct.

So... I don't know if that story will be helpful to you. Perhaps something in it will ring true. I wish you the best of luck.
posted by Ventre Mou at 6:04 AM on October 22, 2010 [7 favorites]

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