Giving it a second shot?
November 11, 2010 1:58 PM   Subscribe

I've recently reconnected with The Ex and am contemplating a discussion about getting back together with him. I'm looking for your stories about round 2 (or 3, 4, and beyond), how it worked or didn't work out for you.

We were our first loves, first LTR's, first live-in significant others. We spent our mid-late 20's building a life together.

He broke up with me after three and a half plus years for mostly vague reasons that to this day I still don't really understand.

Two and a half years later, we've made contact again and are attempting to be friends. Our conversations have begun where they left off and it's incredible having him in my life again. I can't help but wonder if we are still "meant" to be together, and now that time has passed and we've learned more from our mistakes (the older and wiser theory), that maybe this time around we could communicate better and actually work on our relationship rather than run from it.

I'd really love to hear your stories about getting back together with an Ex. And of course, any advice on how to navigate this territory would be greatly appreciated.
posted by patientpatient to Human Relations (21 answers total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
We dated from 19-22. Were sure we'd get engaged when I graduated college. I broke up with him six weeks before graduation, because I needed some room to grow up. Also, we had huge religious differences that I wasn't ready to reconcile.

He got married, had a kid, and got divorced.

We started talking again when I was 27. I met the kid and fell in love with him, the man and I quickly fell back into the relationship. It was great for a few months, and then the same religion/career issues that plagued us the first time came back. We broke up in April 2008.

I started dating the love of my life in May, and we're getting hitched two weeks from yesterday. It was *right* this time.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 2:01 PM on November 11, 2010 [1 favorite]

I'd be pretty hesitant to reenter the relationship until those vague reasons are spelled out. Vague once can easily be vague twice.

Which is not saying DTMFA, but to be wary of strictly emotional responses to the situation. He left you once for ill defined reasons, how will you know where the boundaries are in the relationship, and how will you know he is being truthful about the boundaries.

(this Askme does not have a single question mark in it, and may be leaning into the chatfilter territory)
posted by edgeways at 2:04 PM on November 11, 2010

You're upset about his vague reasons for leaving the first time... when your reason for wanting to get back together is that you feel like you're "meant to be together"? It doesn't get any vaguer than that.

Unless you can define your reasons for wanting him in your life better than "meant to be together", it sounds like your communication hasn't improved. And the key to making a second go-around work is being able to specifically enumerate the reasons the relationship didn't work the first time, and both parties explicitly committing to fixing them.

If communication was the issue then, it's still the issue. If you can't get him to open up, I don't see why he wouldn't do the same thing again. Is 32 that much "older and wiser" than 29?
posted by supercres at 2:12 PM on November 11, 2010 [5 favorites]

I can't help but wonder if we are still "meant" to be together...

I'd really love to hear... any advice on how to navigate this territory.

The best way to navigate this territory is to disabuse yourself of the notion that some external force of destiny has predetermined who your soulmate is. There is no such thing, and there is no such force. If you let yourself dream that you were meant to be with someone you'll end up overlooking all sorts of red flags and immediate problems.

Only you and your potential partner can decide whether you want to be life partners. In making that decision, you should look at the person as they are, not as you remember them or as you think they could one day be.

Many years ago I dated a woman for three years. I was madly in love with her for the six months she was away traveling in Asia. The rest of the time, not so much. Her absence let me create my own image of her and decide that I was meant to be with that person. Reuniting with that person quickly reminded me that it wasn't so.

Not to say that it won't work out with you and your ex. It could very well. But if it does, it will be because of what the two of you do and who the two of you are, not because of a decision that Destiny made before you were born and that you now have to fulfill.
posted by alms at 2:16 PM on November 11, 2010 [9 favorites]

In my experience, when two people get back together just being older and wiser isn't enough to change things. I think a common equation is person A never really wanted to break up, and person B is feeling nostalgic and/or lonely, finds that person A is an easy way to fix those feelings.

So, just be careful, whether you're person A or B.
posted by bluejayk at 2:29 PM on November 11, 2010 [4 favorites]

I spent five years of my life in and off-and-on relationship with the same person. We'd get together, everything would be great, he would dump me for unspecified reasons, we'd lose touch, a year or so later we'd start talking again, everything would seem great, wash, rinse, repeat.

I am a slow learner romantically, but it's also very, very hard to say no to that intoxicating early in love feeling, and it's I think especially hard when you have that destined for each other feeling (which, as previous posters have noted, is basically a crock of shit, but knowing that intellectually and feeling it in person are two different things, God only knows).

Again, your situation may be different--but in my experience, the second and third time around were not such a good idea.
posted by newrambler at 2:39 PM on November 11, 2010 [2 favorites]

I've done this twice. It didn't work in either case.

Ultimately, I would conveniently forget the problems that we had when together, so when we reunited it was really exciting and fun to have an awesome new relationship except there was a deeper emotional connection and intimacy because we knew each other so well. Best of both worlds.

But the relationship issues (even as basic as I just wasn't feeling it for one guy) always came back and the reconciliations failed.

Honestly, I've never seen this work out. So my advice is for you to move on.
posted by dzaz at 3:04 PM on November 11, 2010

General advice: For some reason, I feel like this is a lesson that everybody needs to learn on their own. Do what feels right, but don't get hung up on any sort of romantic notion about "destiny" or "the one." People have successfully gotten back together, and I've heard of people getting closure from having a one-night-stand with an ex. These cases seem to be the exception rather than the rule, however. For many people, it's worth trying (and failing) simply because it gets the "shoulda, woulda, couldas" out of their systems.

Your specific advice: It sounds like your ex really just wants to be friends. Also, the fact that you were both the other's "first" is setting off all sorts of alarm bells, when taken together with the rest of your post. Have you had any relationships since this, and has he expressed any interest in getting back together with you? From what I can tell, he's over you, but you're not (remotely) over him, especially since you still don't understand why he broke up with you -- from personal experience, I've had a few breakups that were baffling at the time, but all of which became crystal-clear in hindsight (even if that explanation ends up simply being "He's a jerk").

I'd steer clear. He's extending the olive branch to be friends with you, and you're already thinking about abusing this friendship. If you don't think you can manage to be "just friends" with him, I'd avoid any contact with him entirely. If he wanted to jump back into a relationship with you, I think he would have made that clear by this point.
posted by schmod at 3:14 PM on November 11, 2010 [1 favorite]

Mr. McTodd and I dated throughout most of college and for a while after, but broke up twice, mostly because I wasn't really sure what I wanted, which probably counts as a vague reason (looking over my shoulder, he says, "that definitely counts as a vague reason!"); after the second time, I moved out of state to pursue a graduate degree. Five years later, I had a paper accepted at a conference in his city, so since I was more or less hung up on the idea that we were "destined" to be together, I broke up with the guy I was seeing at the time and sent Mr. McTodd e-mail asking to meet up (we hadn't been talking much). Two years after that, we were engaged (he said, "I've wanted to marry you since 1997 [ten years ago]." Aw!) Destined, soulmates, the one -- these are concepts that I can't completely discount because they helped me realize what would make me happy.
posted by Ralston McTodd at 3:30 PM on November 11, 2010 [1 favorite]

Disclaimer to my above comment: Yes, I have done it. First time, forced apart by circumstances and not wanting a LDR. Got back together and it was AMAZING... ... Until it blew up spectacularly.

Would I go back and do it differently? Right after getting dumped, I would say, "Hell yes! I would sell my left leg to take back the last six months!" Now, I'm not so sure. It motivated me to do a lot of different, good things in my life. And I like where I ended up, and I can see that

This is to say: In the short term, if you both want it, it could be great. (And yes, reading into your question, that is a biiiig "if".) But if / when it fails ("if" almost certainly does not apply here), it will be worse.

It depends on how romantically short-sighted you are. And being romantically short-sighted is not a bad thing in and of itself. If you're realistic going in, and can handle the probable, almost-certain consequences, go for it.
posted by supercres at 3:46 PM on November 11, 2010 [1 favorite]

Wow. All of this? “We were our first loves, first LTR's, first live-in significant others. We spent our mid-late 20's building a life together. He broke up with me after three and a half plus years for mostly vague reasons that to this day I still don't really understand.” I could have written verbatim. He and I were each other’s first loves, first LTRs, and first live-ins. (Except we were younger, in late high school and college). Everyone thought we were sickeningly in love. He also broke up with me after three and a half plus years for vague reasons that I still don’t really understand. This was the conversation, over Thai take-out one otherwise quiet night. Him: “I think we should break up.” Me: Stunned silence. “Okay.” More stunned silence. “Why?” Him: I’m not happy. Me: “…Okay.” And that was that. He walked out the door.

And this? “Two and a half years later, we've made contact again and are attempting to be friends. Our conversations have begun where they left off and it's incredible having him in my life again.” Exactly my life story. We still email and text occasionally. It’s so eerie how easily we talk to each other, slip into the in-jokes, the old half mind-reading conversations with strange tacit leaps and bounds. It’s like the time that has passed just fades away instantly. We just get each other. This is a phenomenon that I am fairly sure is rare between people in general, and rare for both of us in our lives so far.

So here’s the part where our stories differ, and also the sad part: At the time we broke up, our parents were pretty terrible people and our family lives had given us deep scars and contributed to us relying on each other in an unhealthily co-dependant way. (His mom suicidal and in a mental hospital, my dad alcoholic and in recovery) He had just gotten a stressful internship with Google, and I was terribly unhappy at my large state college and wanted to transfer and move away from my hometown and my stifling family. We were living together, but my parents were exerting pressure on me to get my own place, so I had that lined up. We were both very likely on the verge of, if not in, full-blown clinical depression. We thought that if only all of these things were out of the way, everything in our relationship would be peachy. But they weren't, and in some ways that just let us blame our communication problems on external issues. And looking back, in some twisted way we may have only been together in part because of that shared stress and dysfunction.

A few months after the break up, my grandfather passed away after his 6-month long battle with pancreatic cancer. After the out-of-state funeral, I had to drive home in the rain, got there at 10 PM at night (a 10 hour drive) and realized I had left my apartment key in a different bag and locked myself out. I called both parents and they didn’t pick up. He was the third number listed on my phone, so I called him. I hated doing it to him, but I did. And you know what? He answered. And he said, sure you can come over and stay at my place. He got me Ihop. Listened to me complain about my family. Lent me PJs. He’s a nice guy. There was no taking advantage of the situation or anything like that.

But we started talking again. We were just kids, fumbling around and trying to take care of each other when we didn’t have anyone to take care of us. And the feelings came back- he was confused, he wanted me back, he had just been under a lot of stress, could we try again? Months of confused, torturous off-and-on breakup/makeup sex-laden agony ensued. Somehow we thought it was all going to work out and that we wouldn’t have to choose between the little safe haven we had carved out for each other and growing up and moving on.

Well, that didn’t happen. I transferred and moved across the country, and he got a new girlfriend. But I’m always going to love him, and if I can take his words as fact, he will always love me. So what I learned from all this (and sorry for the probably boringly detailed story, but anecdotes may help) is that sometimes it’s possible for people to be great people, to really love each other, and for it to still not be enough. Sometimes the most loving thing you can do for a person is to let them go, let them stand on their own two feet, wish them well, and move on. Sometimes everything in the world conspires against things working out, and it’s still okay. Love does not have to mean coupling up and forcing events into an "it was meant to be" narrative. There are different kinds of happy endings. And I also realized that the most important question you can ever ask yourself is not, “How do I feel about this? Is this love?” but instead, “Are we making each other better people in this situation?” It’s very hard, and humbling, to admit that you can’t always do that. There’s a lot of kicking and screaming from the id and the inner child. Yet life has a way of teaching you, the easy way or the hard way, that you can’t ignore the bigger questions.

Apologies for how long this got, and I suspect it wasn't what the OP was hoping to hear-the main thing to take away, though, is that "romantic love" is not the same thing as real, hardcore, daily love. The tropes of the one and only, first love, meant to be, deep passions- that stuff is lovely, but it's idealized. People and real life are more complicated, and also more rewarding, than that. I don’t mean to prosthelytize too much, and there are exceptions to every rule- but it certainly is something to keep in mind. Just make sure to really take off your rose-colored glasses. Dostovesky summed this up better than I can, in the Brothers Karamazov: “A true act of love, unlike imaginary love, is hard and forbidding. Imaginary love yearns for an immediate heroic act that is achieved quickly and seen by everyone. People may actually reach a point where they are willing to sacrifice their lives, as long as the ordeal doesn’t last too long, is quickly over - just like on the stage, with the public watching and admiring. A true act of love, on the other hand, requires hard work and patience, and for some, it is a whole way of life.”
posted by Nixy at 4:11 PM on November 11, 2010 [28 favorites]

Reader, I married him. It took years...but the wait for my ex was worth it. (From a previous question.)
posted by MonkeyToes at 4:24 PM on November 11, 2010

It is totally possible for a second shot to work. However, since you wanted personal experiences, this

He broke up with me after three and a half plus years for mostly vague reasons that to this day I still don't really understand.

based on my personal experience, gives me pause. I got back together with an ex- we dated right after college for about a year and a half, then he broke up with me for vague reasons I didn't really understand, and then when he crawled back six months later I was not clearheaded enough to realize that we both needed to understand why the first breakup happened before the second time could work.

Another year and a half-later? We broke up, for vague reasons that I didn't understand at the time. I have a much better understanding of them now, in retrospect (step one: realizing it was *so* not about me), but if I had explored them with him before I gave it a second go-round, I wouldn't have bothered trying again. I don't regret the first year and a half with him, but I sincerely regret the time I wasted on the second try.

Tl;dr: if you can't get him to articulate why it happened the first time, think again and then again and then again about whether he's mature/available enough to handle a grown-up, committed relationship over time.
posted by charmedimsure at 4:26 PM on November 11, 2010

I kept getting back together with my exboyfriend, over and over again, throughout my early and mid 20s. It was always the same. The same (really severe) issues came up again and again. Nothing ever changed. I moved to a different state (partially) so I would stop getting back together with him, because we had a hard time living in the same state and not having sex. We have both dated other people since we've broken up, and he is in a different long term relationship now, but you know what? If he called me and said "let's get back together" I'd probably still do it, because I hate dating new people and for all his issues, he's 150% less insufferable than everyone else I've dated or attempted to date since him. So I completely understand wanting to go back to something familar, even if it wasn't perfect. This is why I had to move to a different state.

It might not work out, but it also might not work out with anyone else. It's always a roll of the dice. Just because it came up heads the first 50 times does not mean the chances are less than 50/50 that it will come up tails if you roll again.

I don't mean to say that relationships are like rolling dice. But you never know what could happen. No one else's experiences can really predict yours.
posted by millipede at 4:43 PM on November 11, 2010

It's deceptively simple, we are just emotional beings so it seems complicated.

That nice feeling you have is just that: a nice feeling. It's nothing profound, I believe, it's just that jittery "falling-in-love" thing which nature sneakily uses to get us together in the first place. But long-term relationships are made of a different substance than that.

All the issues you had before that probably led you to break in the first place? They are still there, waiting to come back after the nice feeling fades. They will come back and you will have to confront them again, mutually, or one or both of you will decide to leave the relationship, and it will end again.

This is the real test of all long-term relationships: can you successfully confront the issues that will arise and maintain and strengthen your relationship? That is what determines whether you are "meant" to be, not the pleasant narcotic feeling you have at the beginning.
posted by innocuous_sockpuppet at 5:08 PM on November 11, 2010 [4 favorites]

I've done this twice. It worked once. That time, we both were doing lots of work on ourselves and got into couples therapy. It took all that times significant time to untangle the amorphous factors that made it not work the first time. It helped that the dumpee bore absolutely no hard feelings and the dumper had "it's not you it's me" reasons for the dumping.
posted by salvia at 8:26 PM on November 11, 2010

Yes, I have gotten back together with The Ex. We saw each other again after spending about a year and a half apart, and just sort of fell back into dating. No, it was not a good idea for us. No, it did not end well. Although I'll say this much, it did end very definitively, which was something of a relief. No more wondering 'Should I have stayed with him? Can I do better? Will we ever meet again?' (No, yes, hell no.)

The key to making it work the second time around is solving the problems that broke you up in the first place. So before you try dating this guy, sit down and have a frank discussion about your previous relationship. Older and wiser is useful, but won't make a difference if, say, the issue is religious, or you have different expectations for the future. Try to be as honest as possible with yourselves. Also, it may be helpful to talk to your friends, who will remember both your relationship with the ex and your break up. Ask them if you really were happy more often than not with him. This can be a useful reality check.

Second hurdle is your possible resentment of your partner for ending the relationship the first time around. Now, you may not feel it now, in the glow of rekindling love. But a month or two in? And I have to warn you, the honeymoon period will be a lot shorter the second time around, especially if you discover that the two of you haven't changed as much as you think.

Which is the third thing. Make sure you're not just falling back into a comfortable, but not terribly successful, relationship pattern. Try and treat this like a new relationship, even though your significant other isn't new to you. Don't fall into old habits, make new ones (together).

Honestly, if you feel you two are really 'meant' to be together, no one on this thread, myself included, could or should talk you out of it. So go for it! Life is all about taking chances. But try to keep your wits about you, so you at least have a parachute if you fall.
posted by Grafix at 10:26 PM on November 11, 2010 [3 favorites]

I've been happily married for over 9 years. To a man who had nearly that very relationship with a girl he'd known since junior high, and kept dating intermittently. They weren't really completely done with each other until a couple years before he and I started to date in our very late 20s.

Sorry, I know that's probably not fun to hear, but since there's this Meant to Be talk going on I thought I should chip in my anecdata.
posted by gingerest at 10:38 PM on November 11, 2010

My ex-boyfriend left me for the girl he was with before we started going out. From what I recall his reasons for leaving her the first time around were vague and nebulous, as were his reasons for getting back together with her. They're now married with a kid and he's deliriously happy from what I gather.

Which freed me up to meet the love of MY life, so I guess in some cases it can work out well for all concerned!
posted by greenfelttip at 5:56 AM on November 12, 2010

Best answer: There is something special about our first, especially if we're with them for years and share all that formative experience as well as the first love/first lover thing. It's therefore Really Tempting to want it to work, to have been Right on the first try. My first and I broke up and got back together several times, and some of it was that temptation and the rest was what BlueJayK mentioned. We're now both far happier with other people, and I wish we'd realized that years earlier.

In your situation, there are two pointers I would give: 1) go into this renewed friendship without expectations, 2) ask yourself what you want, and why, and whether he could really meet those needs, and 3) ask him if he now knows better (or can explain more clearly) why he broke up with you back then. And then see where those things lead you.
posted by ldthomps at 7:26 PM on November 12, 2010 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thanks everyone for sharing your stories and all of the advice.
posted by patientpatient at 10:20 PM on November 12, 2010

« Older Does any of our stuff actually get recycled??   |   What are the best ways to find opportunities for... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.