Take things slow? How do people do that?
January 12, 2011 9:23 AM   Subscribe

Question about getting back together with an ex, and how to take things slow

A quick review of my posting history will reveal that in November 2009, my boyfriend broke up with me. He immediately began dating someone knew (a fellow student in his grad program); I had a wee bit of a mental breakdown (untreated depression rearing its ugly head). Thanks to the good advice of Mefites, I broke off all contact with him in January 2010, and began a slow healing process. I got a cat, a new apartment, and began dating again, albeit unsuccessfully. With the help of a psychiatrist, I’ve been feeling a lot better, and I’ve been enjoying a lot of success in law school (in a tough legal market, I’ve landed my dream job for after graduation).

Fast forward to the past few weeks: I’d been checking my OkCupid profile, and noticed that my ex had been viewing my profile about once every week. With curiosity piqued (against my better judgment), I sent him a short jokey message. We started chatting for hours on end, which eventually culminated in him driving to my apartment in the middle of the night to apologize for hurting me. He said he realized he’d made a horrible mistake, and spent the past year regretting breaking up. He said he still loves me, and would like to try dating again (he is single again, by the way, as am I). I told him I still love him too, and would like to make things work.

We talked about the breakup and various other things, and agreed we should take things slow to start. The problem is, neither of us really has any experience at “taking things slow.” We both have a tendency to dive into relationships headfirst, with lots of together time right away. We agreed that spending all our free time together early on contributed to our original breakup.

So my question for the good people of AskMe is, how do we take things slow? Any ideas for how often we should see each other? Should we try to stick to traditional date outings as opposed to sliding back into just hanging out at each other’s apartments? Does anyone have any experience with reuniting with an ex, and working things out successfully?
posted by mesha steele to Human Relations (25 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
So my question for the good people of AskMe is, how do we take things slow?

Stay out of the apartment. Go out. PLAN to go out. Museum, tour, anything. If you live in a small town, both of you could volunteer somewhere. Just stay out of the apartment and be in the world, doing stuff.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 9:27 AM on January 12, 2011 [7 favorites]

Date other people at the same time.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 9:40 AM on January 12, 2011 [5 favorites]

How do you keep things slow?

Set a timeline for things, no physical contact for the first date, only had holding on the second. and so on and so forth.

The better question is why you would date him. He failed to respect you before and you were sent though a loop because of it. People do not change, you cannot change people, starting a relationship on the basis that people change is a bad idea.

You have to want to date the person that decided it was a good idea to dump you for someone else. I would never date that person. I will only ever date people that treats me like I am an awesome person. I only date people that I believe are awesome people. By dumping you he said "you are not an awesome person" that is unforgivable in my book.

My real advice is to go slower then slow, in fact, just stop. Find someone who will love you because they KNOW that you are an awesome person. That person exists, it is not your ex.
posted by Felex at 9:41 AM on January 12, 2011 [7 favorites]

Agreeing with Blandon Blatcher that the easiest way to avoid temptation (in this case, getting super freaky super fast) is to put obstacles in the way to make it harder to succumb. So, yeah, public places, movies, dinner, actual dates. No overnights until you feel more stable.

I wish you the best--sounds like the two of you are doing this right!
posted by misha at 9:43 AM on January 12, 2011 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Oh, and coming back to say that everyone makes mistakes, and I don't think one breakup means you cross someone off of your list forever. Sometimes we appreciate how good we have it after we have a chance to see just what else is out there. And he did the honest thing (though hurtful), by breaking up with you rather than cheating, and it has been a year and you both have a new perspective on thsi now.

So, I guess I disagree with Felex.

But then, I am friends with all but one of my exes, so make of that what you will.
posted by misha at 9:46 AM on January 12, 2011 [2 favorites]

Don't just go into spending every night together by default. Plan almost all of your nights for the first month or two so that you're doing something else without him: going out with friends, cleaning your house, whatever.

Use that time to think about whether you actually want to re-kindle this relationship. What has changed about him that will prevent things from ending the same way this time. What work have both of you done that will address problems you had in your relationship before? Resist the tendency to place all the blame for the breakup on things you did. Think seriously about what he did, and what's changed.

Realize that he possibly isn't 100% committed to making this work. I say this because if he had felt like he really wanted you back, he would have said so. Instead he viewed your profile and waited for you, the person he dumped, to say you still wanted him. He put nothing on the line. He took no initiative. This, to me, is a sign that he's not... adverse... to getting back together, but it wasn't really something he was willing to put effort into on his own either. Is that good enough for you?
posted by MsMolly at 9:51 AM on January 12, 2011 [9 favorites]

Agreeing with Felex... Reasons for the original break up always pop up again.
posted by AlliKat75 at 9:52 AM on January 12, 2011

I know that when something similar to this has been part of a breakup/get back together scenario:

"A quick review of my posting history will reveal that in November 2009, my boyfriend broke up with me. He immediately began dating someone knew (a fellow student in his grad program)"

trust is an issue which must be dealt with. I would nth you and your friend's "taking it slow" tack, and maybe even add on let's try really hard to be just friends for a month, with the plan of going on a date 30 days from now if everything turns out ok. You can see his schedule and people in his life as it meshes with your life, determine if you have any irrational (or rational) feelings of mistrust and/or jealousy and see if you want to proceed.

Of course, I firmly believe that a progression of a good relationship is something that "flows" but I would want to be very careful of any circumstances with an ex trying to be a SO again which could affect my self-esteem, trigger lingering resentments, and become roadblocks to a healthy relationship.
posted by Debaser626 at 9:56 AM on January 12, 2011 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Just to chime in, the wonderful lady I've been dating now for 4 years had dated previously.
I (being dumb and needed to deal with some shit) broke up with her and hurt her in the process. About a year latter, I reached out to her and we hung out a bit as we did previously as friends and invited her to a New Years Eve party where I made my feelings clear. I was still interested in her, didn't mean to hurt her and would like to date her again.
I'm generally of the camp if it didn't work the first time it won't work a second time.
Yet this time was not the case.
So you never know. Rekindling a relationship is possible, particularly if both parties address the issues previously in the past and making a commitment to move forward and not look back.
posted by handbanana at 10:06 AM on January 12, 2011 [4 favorites]

Best answer: The better question is why you would date him. He failed to respect you before and you were sent though a loop because of it. People do not change, you cannot change people, starting a relationship on the basis that people change is a bad idea.

Me and former girlfriend went through several breakups, some of them involving several years. Eventually we got married, because, surprise surprise, we had both changed and grown.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 10:19 AM on January 12, 2011 [10 favorites]

Forgive me for saying it, but I wonder whether you're interested because you haven't felt successful in dating and find an instant-relationship appealing, even if it's with this guy. If that's the case, don't bother. Change how you're dating so that the dates you go on are with interesting people in interesting places; all dates on which you have fun are "successful" even if they don't end in a relationship. You're in law school. You're a MeFite. You are all kinds of desirable and will ultimately end up where you want to be even without rekindling this affair.

There is also no such a thing as taking it slow with an old flame. Pretending that you can start dating as though you don't have a history is not realistic. This is compounded by the apparent fact that you've both just confessed your love for one another, &c. The main problem, as I see it, is that this guy already professed his love for you--then dropped you when he met someone he thought was temporarily more interesting (or whatever). I'm not saying it's insurmountable, it's just that you're going to be unhappy unless you've both significantly changed in the interim.

It may be that you get back into the exciting parts of the relationship really fast, gloss over the problem(s) you had previously, and then when the thrill subsides you'll be in the same place as before, except that you did it twice. I'd suggest you talk it over with someone who knows you really well and who knew you back in the day. If you've grown beyond your depression or otherwise learned to manage it, and if you're confident that this time things will be different for you because you're different, then it may be worth it. But if neither of you has grown or changed much, you'll be disappointed.
posted by Hylas at 10:27 AM on January 12, 2011 [6 favorites]

I just read the questions you asked about the breakup with this man the first time around, and I'm so worried about you! You sounded absolutely devastated and close to suicidal. Are you sure you want to risk feeling that way again when you've come so far? I mean, this guy broke up with you partly because his friends thought he should try dating some other woman. Do you really want to be with someone like that?

If you're sure you do want to try this, take it slow by not forgiving and forgetting too quickly what he put you through before. Try to build a wall around your heart to some extent that he would need to work pretty hard to penetrate - by earning your trust all over again. Also, don't just "hang out" with him. Go out on dates and get him to put a good bit of effort towards planning them. This will show him you're not his fallback option - just a safe haven for him after he got battered and bruised out there in the real dating world.

I'd imagine, based on the way you couldn't stop contacting him and trying to get him back after your last breakup, that the attention and love you showed him must have been a bit of an ego boost for him. Make very sure this isn't all about his ego this time around.
posted by hazyjane at 10:41 AM on January 12, 2011 [6 favorites]

Just thought I'd pop in to highlight the fact that if people read her past posts, it's clear that there were a multitude of reasons they broke up the first time. The ex didn't just randomly dump her for a chance to be with someone else (maybe that was part of the reason, but from her past posts, it's not the main reason). I think this is important-- he didn't dump her for superficial reasons and he didn't disrespect her, but it was clear there were serious issues going on.

My take: Have these issues been addressed? Are you sure it's a good idea? Are you still going to blow up on him over small things and he's going to feel uncomfortable? It's easy to forget the bad parts of a relationship after a year, only to have them pop up again. I didn't specify whether you two worked out the issues that led to the break up (both within yourselves, and with each other). It didn't work the first time, and I feel the only way relationships work the second time around is if you two genuinely grew in the time apart, and you two trust each other. Love and missing each other is not enough.

My answer to your specific question: If you truly think this is good idea, for starters, don't spend every single day together like you did before. Have at least a day in between for yourselves. I'm sure you two cultivated your own independent lives in the time apart... don't let those go.
posted by lacedcoffee at 10:53 AM on January 12, 2011 [1 favorite]

Er, *YOU* didn't specify whether you two worked out the issues....
posted by lacedcoffee at 10:54 AM on January 12, 2011

Felex wrote (minus the footnotes):
(1) People do not change, (2) you cannot change people, (3) starting a relationship on the basis that people change is a bad idea.

(1) False. People do change sometimes. Rarely, and generally only after traumatic, life-altering events, which do not include realizing they'd "made a horrible mistake, and spent the past year regretting breaking up". I mean traumatic, not desperate.

But people claim to have changed about 1000x more often than they actually do.

(2) True.

(3) SOOOO true.

You don't sound emotionally strong enough to safely navigate this relationship. You sound hurt and lonely, and therefore in need. If you can't come at this relationship from a position of self-preservation and strength, you will get hurt again (99% likely, at least).

Sorry. I've been in his shoes (thinking I'd changed enough to make it work this time), and yours, and those are the facts, regardless of what we hoped at the time.
posted by IAmBroom at 11:04 AM on January 12, 2011 [4 favorites]

Re: taking it slow. Seeing each other every day isn't taking it slow.

I tried "taking it slow" with someone a couple years ago when there was a chance it might turn into something awesome. We ended up dry humping for a few weeks before sleeping together, which isn't really all that different from sleeping together from the get-go. Then he had quals (a rigorous test that PhD candidates must pass to continue with grad school), and we hadn't established a solid foundation of knowing and understanding each other well enough to get through those. So we broke up.

My point is that "taking it slow" is very hard to do. It can be done - but it requires a commitment to the idea from both parties. You have different reasons than I did for wanting to take it slow, but my point holds. He already knows that he wants to get back together with you. You're the one who has to tread carefully in making sure that he's what you want. You have to be the strong one in this. You have already shown that you can be strong without him; continue to be strong in asserting your needs as you approach this new relationship.
posted by lover at 11:15 AM on January 12, 2011 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: Thanks for the advice so far everyone; you've given me a lot to think about.

Of course, it's easy to say that things have changed in the past year, but I honestly believe I am different now. A lot of the change comes from finding a good combination of meds, and I'm currently trying out therapists. My friends in particular say they've noticed a change for the better in me, both independence-wise and my ability to calmly address small problems. I've also gotten involved in extracurricular activities at school (I'm an editor on the law review), so I have my own activities to spend time on rather than relying on a significant other for entertainment.

The plan for taking things slow is also a way I can figure out if my ex has changed in any significant ways. I do trust him, and don't hold any grudges about the breakup; honestly, I'd just like to focus on the future.
posted by mesha steele at 11:21 AM on January 12, 2011 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I don't understand what "taking it slow" means. Slower than what? A lot of people date because they hope it will lead to marriage, which generally involves getting married and being together every day. If making your relationship work involves a lot of false boundaries and killing time apart until you get to hang out again... what's the point? Like others have said, you've dated this guy before, so it's not like you're easing into getting to know each other. It will be vital at this stage to make sure you're both on the same page about what you want from this relationship, both right now and in the short and long-term future.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 11:59 AM on January 12, 2011 [2 favorites]

I honestly believe I am different now.

You won't really know that until you start seeing how well you handle the everyday stressors of life with him. There's gonna be a lot of anxiety challenges involved in practicing law, believe me!

"Taking it slow" is a good idea, but in the sense that you should be very patient with yourselves and the relationship. Be calm, and don't pressure yourself or him to be perfect. The relationship may or may not work out. This isn't about proving that you're meant for each other, or proving that you've made progress, or proving that you really love him. It's about seeing if you can make a healthy, happy, and supportive partnership.
posted by yarly at 12:00 PM on January 12, 2011 [2 favorites]

Hylas: "There is also no such a thing as taking it slow with an old flame."

Agreed. But I don't think you need to take things slow physically.

mesha steele: "We agreed that spending all our free time together early on contributed to our original breakup."

In that case, you just need to spend a decent amount of free time apart, not put the brakes on the physical. Try scheduling things that you are committed to doing alone or with someone other than him. Make Tuesdays the night that you get dinner with friend X, or sign up for yoga or something. Just have a regular reason why you're not spending time with your ex-cum-current boyfriend a certain number of nights per week.
posted by Cogito at 12:55 PM on January 12, 2011 [1 favorite]

Don't make any serious commitments, don't move in together, don't start drastically changing your lives. If it works you can do all those things later.

That said, though, I'm not sure that taking it slow is the best way to evaluate him and the relationship. Not by itself, anyway. If possible I'd suggest that you both agree to take it seriously - try some couples counselling, have lots of tough conversations about what you both want from a relationship and how you're going to achieve that.

It's tempting to try 'taking things slow' on the grounds that that way you'll be less emotionally attached and it'll be easier to break things off if they don't work out - but honestly, you can't wind the clock back to just after you'd met, and breaking up will suck no matter what you do here. Don't approach this with an attitude of 'well, I'll just let things happen and see how they go'. Tell yourself 'it is important to me to try to make this work, and it is important to me to not get messed around, and it is important to me to be as informed as possible about the chances of either of those things happening, so forget 'wait and see' - I'm going to damn well find out.'
posted by Catseye at 3:23 PM on January 12, 2011 [2 favorites]

If possible I'd suggest that you both agree to take it seriously

Yes, this! The one couple I know that got back together (and married) after a few years broken up took things seriously from the get-go. That doesn't mean that they jumped into insta-marriage (I think the engagement took another 3-4 years), but that they really thought through the issues before they mutually decided to give it another try.
posted by yarly at 3:39 PM on January 12, 2011 [1 favorite]

I'm drawn to girls like you. The anxious, insecure, high-achieving perfectionist. All heart, ultra-feminine, a fighter to balance the fragility. Harder on herself than she is on anyone else. Sigh. It's all in the eyes. You meet someone and inside 10 minutes it's like you've known them 10 years, and you're lost in it again ...

*slaps self a couple times*

Where was I? Ahhh. Ok. You are not my ex. But if that describes you, you bring an immediate tension and intensity and depth to relationships that I've never found elsewhere. There's no shallow end - a couple steps and you're both in over your head. It's intoxicating. There's a feedback loop where you get the release of sharing your real imperfect self with someone who gets it and the guy gets the rush of being needed in such an overwhelming way. That energy can quickly spiral into feeling locked into one another and the outside world disappears.

I'm not saying it's a good thing, mind. It's definitely driven by something unhealthy on both sides. But fck me co-dependence feels so right. Once you've got a taste, getting to know regular people can seem kinda flat and boring and insignificant. Happiness without drama is missing something. Makes it very hard to move on.

One thing I've found is that the flipside of all the initial intensity is the devastation when it ends. It's a good sign that you want to take it slow. Nothing comes for free. Relationships always end how they start, so pay attention at the beginning. What seems a pebble now becomes a boulder down the road. I'd walk away from the rubble feeling like the world had ended, vowing never to do it again. Nothing is worth this much hurt. Then you recover and get strong again and forget how it was and you crave the excitement and you meet someone who has the eyes and oh bang you're back in the saddle ...

I did this. Over and over and over again.

So keep those eyes open. You're feeling strong and safe and ready. Make sure you are. I'd feel strong and that meant I'd take chances. You're risking that strength by stepping back in. Think about why this guy had such a magnetic pull: not for his qualities, but yours. What buttons is he pushing? If you see things headed down the same path, one or both of you needs to be able to pull the ripcord. Talk openly and honestly. Step back and take a breath. Never lose sight of yourself.

There's some good advice above about keeping a rein on this horse. Listen to it, try it on for size. I'm not sure any of it will work. Not because it's not good advice, but because of who you are, and who you are when you're with him. I've been round the track you're on a few times already. I know my patterns. I know what I'm drawn to, and understand most of the why. That doesn't stop it having a powerful hold on me.

You're 24, just starting out, just getting to know yourself. This experience is going to be part of that. It may be true love, it may be a repeat of the first time around, it may just be an unresolved need to show you're not the girl he knew anymore and he was wrong to break up and once you do that it's over.

The one constant in it all is you. You - the old, anxious, high-strung you - will repeat this pattern, whether with this guy or someone else. You don't need to work on the relationship so much as you need to work on yourself. Build a life for yourself outside of your relationship. Take up hobbies, sports, bury yourself in your dream job. Write up a bucket list and get going on it. Make sure you have friends that you can dump your anxiety on outside the relationship. Get to know yourself. Get to like yourself. The cat, the apartment, the career, the therapist are all good things. More of that. You're headed in the right direction. Your relationships will follow your self-image, so above all keep that strong. The more you love yourself, the more sources of happiness and approval and belonging you have, the easier it will be to build a relationship around them.
posted by bookie at 7:46 PM on January 12, 2011 [12 favorites]

You wrote: "...I am different now. ... My friends in particular say they've noticed a change for the better in me, both independence-wise and my ability to calmly address small problems. I've also gotten involved in extracurricular activities at school (I'm an editor on the law review), so I have my own activities to spend time on rather than relying on a significant other for entertainment."
You are different now [in part] BECAUSE YOU ARE NOT WITH THIS GUY!
You have changed for the better BECAUSE YOU ARE NOT WITH THIS GUY!
You are independent, involved and active...BECAUSE YOU ARE NOT WITH THIS GUY!

So-- Why do you want to be with this guy?
posted by calgirl at 9:37 PM on January 12, 2011

Response by poster: Well, it's been a month now, and things are going really well between us. We see each other about twice a week, and talk online pretty much everyday. We both have plenty of time to ourselves, and I definitely haven't sacrificed time with my friends for him, like I used to. I really think this relationship is a keeper, and he's said the same thing. Obviously, it's still early, but I'll just have to wait and see what happens. Thanks all!
posted by mesha steele at 2:36 PM on February 12, 2011 [3 favorites]

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