Can I compete with his ex girlfriend?
February 26, 2011 4:20 AM   Subscribe

Can I compete with the ex?

So, I am living abroad and met a guy about a month ago (mid January). We have been out 7 or 8 times, we get along super well, make each other laugh, I like him more every time we hang out. Ordinarily I'd say we're on our way to some sort of relationship but...

Here's the clincher: last night, while we were out having a drink, he confessed to me that he broke up with a girlfriend in December and has had a hard time getting over her. They still talk, I asked if they were thinking about getting back together and he said he didn't know. I don't know if they still see each other or sleep together.

I told him I really like him, and like getting to know him, but he has to make a decision at some point. He said he really likes me too. I ended up going home with him last night and sleeping in his bed (no sex, but plenty of fooling around). I told him I couldn't have sex until I knew we were only sleeping with each other.

I saw a jar with his ex's makeup in it next to his bed this morning. That sucked.

Am I totally setting myself up to be hurt? Is it stupid of me to continue hanging out, making out, and hoping for some semblance of a (not super serious) relationship from this guy? Should I wait a bit for his decision? How long?

If it matters, I'm 24, he's 29. Great in every other way so far.
posted by queens86 to Human Relations (37 answers total)
 
If your goal is a exclusive relationship, I would suggest that, until he is on the same page, there's nothing set in concrete here and you should be realistic as to how you think about the future.

If you can continue to have fun with this person, and be OK with the "it might not work out" part of it, then go for it. If losing him down the road is going to devastate you, then you're probably best to end it sooner rather than later (although, given that you've just had this conversation with him, it sounds like it is worth the gamble to you to hang in for a while and see if there is any change in his thinking about the ex... but, I would keep that conversation open and ongoing).
posted by tomswift at 4:30 AM on February 26, 2011


There is no point in competing with any other woman, including the ex, if that's what she is. He is most probably manipulating you. He may be planning to drag this out for a long long time.

But even if he isn't, I suggest your time would be better spent on someone who treats you with enthusiasm rather than uncertainty.
posted by tel3path at 4:33 AM on February 26, 2011


Let me rephrase that. Uncertainty is the wrong word, nobody should be certain of anything this early.

What I meant was, he's already expressed to you that he'd rather be with someone else. Therefore, he should be with someone else - if not his ex (who for some mysterious reason won't have him) then a different woman who is happy to put up with this kind of shitty treatment from him.
posted by tel3path at 4:42 AM on February 26, 2011 [10 favorites]


It's always hard to say, sight unseen, but it sure sounds like you're setting yourself up to be hurt. You said that he said that he didn't know if they were planning on getting back together. That pretty much means that he's not available, and if you let yourself attached to someone who's not available you're gonna get hurt. Go look for someone who's totally into you, and who doesn't have someone else on their mind.
posted by facetious at 5:08 AM on February 26, 2011


Not yet, probably. They are both still 'available' and in communication. He's admitted to having uncertainty about her.

Yes, you are setting yourself up for hurt. Be smart and don't do it.

Of course, that's just reason and logic. If you are like most people, you'll ignore the obvious signs and just follow the hormones, which will lead you right where you think you want to go and then laugh at you when things don't work out.
posted by FauxScot at 5:17 AM on February 26, 2011 [2 favorites]



Of course, that's just reason and logic. If you are like most people, you'll ignore the obvious signs and just follow the hormones, which will lead you right where you think you want to go and then laugh at you when things don't work out.


This has been my experience, both in my own choices and what all my friends end up doing. Hormones and pheromones are powerful things, and you dip your foot into those waters at your own peril.

That said, I think he has made it clear that he is still hung up on her. It doesn't mean he doesn't like you, or doesn't want to have sex and/or a relationship with you. But it will be a relationship where she is always in the corner of the room, and if she ever hinted that she might take him back he'd run off like a scalded cat.

So if the chemistry is good enough to make the eventual tears worthwhile, go for it. Otherwise, leave the tears for someone else and find a guy who is actually available.
posted by Forktine at 5:27 AM on February 26, 2011 [2 favorites]


Are you completely sure this is his ex, and not his Current? A forgotten spare toothbrush is one thing, but if they're truly over it seems weird that she'd go three months without bothering to retrieve her makeup, when that makeup was of sufficient daily importance to bring over to Boyfriend's in the first place.

Regardless, nthing everybody else who's pointed out that this guy is not, at this point, looking for the same things you are. He's actually been painfully explicit about his lack of interest, so if what you want is an exclusive relationship with someone who's into you, then you may have better luck looking elsewhere.
posted by Bardolph at 5:37 AM on February 26, 2011


I ask you this: do you want to be with a guy who knows you are so special he wants to give things with you a real shot? Or the guy who is all kinda perhaps oh but she's still there and I'm unresolved but hey you're pretty cool for now but I'm still unsure because well there's my ex and you're pretty cool I don't know for sure....

Yeah, thought so. Been there, given this guy a chance, and well, no. Give your attention to people who know it's worth something. And don't get into the trap of "oh but if he didn't care about me he wouldn't have been so honest". He's giving you a heads up for an eventual exit, that is all.
posted by shazzam! at 5:38 AM on February 26, 2011 [4 favorites]


Am I totally setting myself up to be hurt? Is it stupid of me to continue hanging out, making out, and hoping for some semblance of a (not super serious) relationship from this guy? Should I wait a bit for his decision? How long?

I think the answers above are a bit harsh regarding the guy. He just broke up with his girlfriend (of how long we don't know) and people find it strange that he's ambivalent about a new relationship. That's not being a jerk, that's being human. He's being honest with you that he might not be in the same place emotionally...he likes you but he's feeling conflicted. This is totally normal and healthy so there is nothing wrong with either one of you.

Now, I do probably think you'll end up being hurt because it's more likely you'll be the rebound relationship than the new significant relationship in this guys life. I think that's just the way it works....no matter how great you are, if you're the first relationship following a dramatic/emotional/meaningful one then it's unlikely that you'll reach the same level. I'm sure it sometimes happens, but it seems to be the truth in 95% of my experiences.

Anyway, you have to decide if it's worth the risk to your heart to continue but I agree with the poster above that it's practically impossible to break off a relationship at this point just because something bad might happen. Our minds and hearts just don't work that way...so good luck, have fun and stay strong....our hearts are incredibly resilient and we learn much from even failed relationships.
posted by victoriab at 5:59 AM on February 26, 2011 [7 favorites]


victoriab, the guy might have been being totally honest and speaking from the bottom of his heart, and if so great, but when someone honours you by opening up like that, the least you can do is listen to and respect what they have to say.

In this case, he's saying that he'd really rather be with the ex. He also expressed this in other ways, including leaving her apparently 3-month-old makeup on the nightstand where the OP would see it.

Given all that the guy has said and expressed, it would be kindest to step away from him right now. He could surely get back in touch with the OP if and when he gets over all this.
posted by tel3path at 6:05 AM on February 26, 2011 [2 favorites]


In this case, he's saying that he'd really rather be with the ex. He also expressed this in other ways, including leaving her apparently 3-month-old makeup on the nightstand where the OP would see it.

I think you're reading more into what the OP has posted then what is actually there. She doesn't say he said he'd rather be with his ex and she implies that ending up at his place was unexpected.
posted by victoriab at 6:16 AM on February 26, 2011


I think everyone's right. You're setting yourself up for pain. But some lessons have to be learned from personal experience. Hopefully the good things you enjoy will (with the help of time and retrospect) make up for the pain and, after all, pain is part of life and especially love life and you're totally entitled to learn from your own first hand mistakes!
posted by Salamandrous at 6:47 AM on February 26, 2011 [2 favorites]


Just to clarify, he didn't say he'd rather be with her, but that he was affected a lot by the breakup and is obviously still conflicted about her. I definitely don't think he left the makeup out on purpose, it was just some under-eye concealer and a little bottle of perfume that looked like it hadn't been moved-- I don't think it was necessarily a sign that the ex was there recently, either (although for all I know, she may have been).

I really don't have reason to believe he is manipulating me. I work in a bilingual high school and was set up with him by my boss' friend, and my ex roommate had him in a class she taught and says he was one of her best students and extremely sweet. He was infuriatingly slow physically (he took four dates to kiss me) and I think one of the reasons may be that he was reluctant to mislead me.

All that said in his defense, I do realize I'm putting myself in a vulnerable position if I continue to see him. Would it be unreasonable to tell him I can't date him until he is over the ex, and leave it to him to call me when that happens?

The other part of me thinks that maybe if we keep hanging out, he'll realize how awesome I am and dump her... haha. At any rate, I feel truly uncomfortable sleeping with him until I have some sort of commitment, so our relationship can't advance much until this is resolved to some extent.

Thanks for weighing, everyone! Anyone else, I am definitely still open to more advice/similar experiences ...
posted by queens86 at 7:18 AM on February 26, 2011


I think you could take this as an opportunity to sit back and reflect a little on your own experience and what it is telling you about what to expect from this situation.

It might also be worth considering how emotionally available you yourself are. It may be (or not, I could very well be wrong about this, just speculating) that you aren't really all that keen on intimacy yourself, and if this guy is to be taken at face value, maybe consider the effect on his feelings if he decides that you are where his heart is and consequently breaks things off with the ex.
posted by tel3path at 7:49 AM on February 26, 2011


I agree with victoriab. It sounds like this guy is a decent fellow who is being straight up with you. He told you about not being over the ex, and that probably wasn't easy for him to admit, but don't wait around for him to make a decision. I'd feel weird about seeing someone who was trying to make that choice.
posted by futureisunwritten at 8:17 AM on February 26, 2011 [1 favorite]


Yeah, setting yourself up to be hurt. You don't say how long he and gf were together, but December isn't long ago. And if he'd been totally into you at this point, then he wouldn't have started talking about his ex: it's a way of putting distance between you. Yes, he may realise how awesome you are, but you need to keep some distance, both for your own well-being and so he realises that, yes, if he doesn't choose you he may lose you.
posted by londongeezer at 9:09 AM on February 26, 2011


Boy: "I'm having a hard time getting over my ex. We broke up a couple months ago."
Girl: "Are you thinking about getting back together?"
Boy: "Maybe, I don't know."

Stepping back a bit, it seems pretty clear he doesn't want a relationship with you. But you're both having fun hanging out and fooling around, so if that's enough for you, great, keep going. It's not clear to me how much of a commitment you really want.

Here's the thing. Even if he isn't sleeping with the ex right now, and even if he agrees not to, that's going to remain a possibility. That plus the fact that he's told you he's not ready for a relationship, and an exclusive relationship seems like a lot to ask for.

If you're afraid of getting hurt and aren't really okay with something casual (and exclusivity is not super casual), then yeah, you should probably bail now. Tell him you don't want to be a rebound fling and you don't want to be with him until he's over his ex, and that he should call you when he is.
posted by J. Wilson at 9:31 AM on February 26, 2011


Seconding what everyone else said...and remember it's the small signs that you see/hear/are told RIGHT away that end up being the big problems at the end of the relationship. I dated a guy for two years that I'm pretty sure never got over his previous girlfriend- and the signs were there from our first real date. Follow that Maya Angelou advice- 'when he tells you who he is, BELIEVE him'. (and even if the make up is old and unused- why is it there? a souvenir? A reminder? the guy is oblivious and just messy? no answers are really satisfactory, are they?).
posted by bquarters at 9:32 AM on February 26, 2011


I fall on the side of things in thinking that this guy seems like a nice and decent guy who's struggling to do right by you by being up front, struggling against what sounds like some great chemistry between you. Let's remember those powerful hormones mentioned above, he's feeling them too and maybe he let you know about the whole ex thing almost as a cry for help/attempt to pass off some of the responsibility. As in, he feels himself being drawn in with you but doesn't want to be the only one to blame if things go south due to his own perfectly healthy unresolved feelings down the line. So, now you know the risks as well and it's up to both of you to balance that with potential really good times spent together.

I don't think there's going to be a definite "Ok, NOW I'm over my ex and we can safely have a relationship moment." so don't pin all your hopes on that. It's perfectly reasonable to require him to break off any other sexual relationships before embarking on one with you, but if you choose to move forward, you must be content with the fact that there is a HIGH likelihood that you might end up as a fun rebound. Which can be super fun, but only if you know that's what you're getting into.

Definitely don't fool yourself into thinking the fun and making out you do means he is "forgetting" about the ex. The fact that you are already saying "our relationship can't advance much..." means you're thinking in relationship terms, ie. big red flag you might not enjoy being the rebound.
posted by dahliachewswell at 9:40 AM on February 26, 2011


I was in this relationship at university and had my heart broken over a painful, extended period of time. It really sucked.

By telling you early on that he's not sure how he feels about her, he's building in redundancy into your relationship, in case she changes her mind, and/or to give him carte blanche to flake out on you at any point. Someone answered a question similar to this a little while ago along the lines of 'if he says he's afraid of hurting you, he's actually saying that he will hurt you and your continued presence in his life is effectively tacit agreement in this, letting him off the hook in the future'.

To really be ready to date again means being (at least mostly) over your ex. If you've not yet thrown away her makeup, you're not there. I'm sure he's a great guy but really he needs to at least strap this baggage down before he's ready to fly again.
posted by citands at 9:45 AM on February 26, 2011 [9 favorites]


I think that's just the way it works....no matter how great you are, if you're the first relationship following a dramatic/emotional/meaningful one then it's unlikely that you'll reach the same level. I'm sure it sometimes happens, but it seems to be the truth in 95% of my experiences.

Anecdotally, I started dating my current husband a whole two weeks after my ex-husband moved out. (The break-up/divorce had been in the works for months at that point, it just took a while to work out living arrangements and such.) I was told over and over again not to "rebound" and to wait and etc...

It's three and a half years later, we got married and we're having a baby any day now.

However, from what I'm seeing - your ex is not in the headspace I was in after my own divorce. I was ready to commit to someone else and try a new relationship because I had given the other one everything I had and it didn't work out and, y'know, pick up the pieces and move on. (Not to say I wasn't heartbroken or devastated, but I wasn't still carrying a flame for my ex.) Using the make-up as an example - anytime I found anything of my ex's around the house, I threw it away without even pausing to think about it.

Anyhow, judging by my own experiences with rebound relationships: I would move on if I were in your position. This guy isn't ready to commit to someone new. That's fine, everybody takes their own time. It's too bad for you, but there are of course other men out there who will devote their full attention to you and you won't meet them if you're still hanging out with this dude. Stay friends if you want, but don't put any pressure on him to call you if he "gets over" her because that might or might not ever happen. Maybe in a couple months if you're on good terms, you can revisit things. Or maybe you'll find that you wouldn't have been a good match anyhow for other reasons.

Save your energy for someone who has an equal amount of energy for you. This guy doesn't have it right now.
posted by sonika at 9:55 AM on February 26, 2011


I work in a bilingual high school and was set up with him by my boss' friend, and my ex roommate had him in a class she taught and says he was one of her best students and extremely sweet.

Wait, what? Are we talking about a current high school student? If so, even if it is legal in the country you're teaching and he though has reached the age of majority (since he's 24), this still has all sorts of heeby jeebies about it.

Please don't date students until you are they are no longer in different positions of power at the same school.
posted by arnicae at 10:24 AM on February 26, 2011


NO! He is not a student hahah. HE is 29 and a teacher at a DIFFERENT school .. I am 24 and also a teacher... He was in a class that my friend taught to teachers at the school he works at as part of some faculty program.. I am pretty 100% positive I would never come close to dating a student, even if they were older than me.
posted by queens86 at 10:33 AM on February 26, 2011


Um, you do know he's still sleeping with the "ex," right? That night when you stayed over and fooled around and you told him that you wouldn't have sex unless it was exclusive? If he wasn't sleeping with her, he would have said, "no problem, let's do it."

You are being played, no matter if its malicious or not. The fact that he is being honest with you does not change the situation. And it's not like it's even a rebound - he's actively considering getting back with his ex. Proceed at your own peril.
posted by mrs. sock at 11:00 AM on February 26, 2011 [7 favorites]


At first, I thought that this guy might be a player who knows he's going to string you along and break your heart.

The weight of public opinion seems to be that that's unfair, and he's actually a sensitive, confused guy who knows he's going to string you along and break your heart.

I guess in the end you convince yourself of the scenario which makes you feel happier, and which one that is might be different after getting your heart broken than before.

But can I honestly see any probability of this turning out well for you? I'm sorry, no. Doesn't seem like many other people can either.
posted by tel3path at 11:10 AM on February 26, 2011 [1 favorite]


"Would it be unreasonable to tell him I can't date him until he is over the ex, and leave it to him to call me when that happens?"

Not just "reasonable"--NECESSARY.

And beyond that, even IF he comes back once you let him go, think about how he's behaving now, actively dating a lady while trying to get back with his ex. If he did to her, then...you know the drill.
posted by GeniPalm at 11:55 AM on February 26, 2011


Does the rest of his place look like it's occupied by a guy who doesn't clean his nightstand for three months?
posted by rhizome at 12:24 PM on February 26, 2011 [2 favorites]


I saw a jar with his ex's makeup in it next to his bed this morning. That sucked.

So, you are already "being hurt."

I told him I couldn't have sex until I knew we were only sleeping with each other

And in what I consider a smart move, you are holding back to protect yourself.

This ambivalence is creating a barrier to the relationship progressing (sexually, at least), causing a generally vulnerable feeling, and creating experiences wherein you feel bad.

Given that, I think your proposal to say you want to stop dating until he is ready to move on from the ex- (and to call you when that happens) is a great idea. He's not a bad person, but you sound like deserve someone who is ready to start a real relationship.

When you talk to him, I'd clearly state that you do not want him to feel any pressure to prematurely move on. Encourage him to take the time he needs, while admitting that you cannot be dating him during that time period.
posted by salvia at 4:40 PM on February 26, 2011


I completely agree with GeniPalm that it is completely necessary for you to break it off and tell him to call you when he's single. i don't get why GP thinks he's trying to get back with his ex. All we know is he's conflicted.

Listen to that.

Step away, tell him you're giving him some space to let him figure himself out, and then take the space and protect yourself. I dated someone once who wasn't over her ex, and although she didn't go back to him (a friend of mine whom I set up with his now wife), she hurt me because she wasn't truly able to commit to a new relationship... and I hurt myself because I ignored what she was telling me.
posted by canine epigram at 7:21 PM on February 26, 2011


But aren't there plenty of people who dated immediately after a relationship, when they weren't completely over their exes yet, and it worked out? What's the difference here? That he brought it up and made an issue of it?
posted by queens86 at 7:33 PM on February 26, 2011


I think there's a difference between not being totally over your ex, and still being totally hung up on your ex. Your description makes this guy sound like he's still hung up on her -- how he talks about it, keeping the makeup next to the bed, etc.

Now, none of us are there, and certainly people create amazing and wonderful relationships out of much less auspicious circumstances than what you are describing. But I do get the sense, in how you phrased the original question and even more so in your follow-ups, that you are really looking for someone to say "you go girl! Romance will triumph over reality!" And while that might happen, it's a hard thing to say based on the (limited, partial, etc) information you have provided.

Everyone gets misty-eyed over an ex (or for some of us, several exes). That's totally normal and shouldn't be an issue with starting a new relationship. That's not the same as being hung up on an ex and ready to go back to her the minute she beckoned -- that's a recipe for heart-break and tears.
posted by Forktine at 8:19 PM on February 26, 2011 [2 favorites]


But aren't there plenty of people who dated immediately after a relationship, when they weren't completely over their exes yet, and it worked out? What's the difference here?

I think it mostly depends on (a) how long you're willing to wait, (b) his desire for things with you to work out despite being hung up, and (c) the likelihood of her calling him back. I don't have enough info to judge (c). I also don't know (b), though I get a sense that he's closer to "I'd leave you if she'd take me back" than to "sure I still miss her, but it's over and I am committed to 'us.'" Even just on the apparent shortness of (a) I don't think it'll happen. And I don't think that's something you should necessarily try to change because my sense of what's driving that here is a healthy, thoughtful (not paranoid or knee-jerk) sense of caution. If you want to gather more info about (b) or test it by explaining your need to feel like a priority to him, you could. But you might have more peace of mind if you make a decision (I'm leaving until he says he's ready to try something real with me) and leave the ball in his court to assess (a) and (b).
posted by salvia at 9:03 PM on February 26, 2011


But aren't there plenty of people who dated immediately after a relationship, when they weren't completely over their exes yet, and it worked out? What's the difference here? That he brought it up and made an issue of it?

To be honest, yes, that's exactly the difference here.

I think there's a huge difference between people who privately accept that they aren't over their exes but who want to be, and want to move on into a new, healthy relationship - and people who are still wallowing in the breakup and holding out hope to the point that they haven't thrown away all the painful, banal reminders of that person. My guy still had pictures of his ex on his bedside table! At least yours is a tad more subtle; but it comes to the same thing.

This guy hasn't made a clean break. He's not even attempting to make a clean break. If he's really that great then he's still going to be great in six months time, when he's got some perspective on it. If he's being honest with you and himself, he'll still be around.
posted by citands at 1:09 AM on February 27, 2011 [2 favorites]


I think there's a huge difference between people who privately accept that they aren't over their exes but who want to be, and want to move on into a new, healthy relationship - and people who are still wallowing in the breakup and holding out hope to the point that they haven't thrown away all the painful, banal reminders of that person.

I think this nails it. I'm not totally over my ex, but I WANT to be, so I'm taking proactive steps toward that. All his stuff was gone from my place and we had basically "resolved" (as much as you can, I guess) our issues and stopped talking before I started going on dates again. When I do hang out with new guys now, I try to find a balance between being honest about my ex (we broke up, it sucked, it was recent) without dwelling on it or talking about the ex too much. In other words, I'm upfront but only supply information as needed (or if it's requested.)

However, if anybody asked me if I might get back together with him, the answer would be "absolutely no way, ever." and i really mean it, but even so it's still been sort of difficult for me to connect with new people due to my hangups from him. If I was still answering that question with "yeah, maybe we'll get back together" then quite honestly the new person probably has no chance whatsoever. to me, it sounds like it's too soon for him. Even though I've been on some dates that have seemed fun, and it seems like we get along, and it seems like we have lots in common, I'm not really there yet. My heart just isn't in it yet. Thats where I'm guessing he is now. He probably knows you're a great person, which is why he keeps hanging out with you. I wouldn't be surprised if he wished he WAS more over his ex so he could focus on you. But unfortunately getting over someone isn't something you can force. I'd maybe just take a step back and tell him that while he's cool and stuff, you prefer to wait until things resolve with the ex, and give him a couple months.
posted by GastrocNemesis at 10:17 AM on February 27, 2011


But aren't there plenty of people who dated immediately after a relationship, when they weren't completely over their exes yet, and it worked out?

Sure, among those who toss the old girlfriend's makeup from their nightstand before inviting other women over.
posted by rhizome at 1:00 PM on February 27, 2011 [2 favorites]


Sure, it works out sometimes, but usually not. The thing to remember is that you deserve to be number 1 to your boyfriend. You don't deserve to be the backup girl. Also, there is a huge, gigantic gulf between "sad about a recent breakup" and "actively enmeshed with and considering getting together again with the ex."
posted by yarly at 2:18 PM on February 27, 2011


But aren't there plenty of people who dated immediately after a relationship, when they weren't completely over their exes yet, and it worked out?

Perhaps, but this isn't "after" their relationship. That's the problem.
posted by runningwithscissors at 7:11 PM on February 27, 2011


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