Rebound relationship
September 22, 2011 1:17 AM   Subscribe

Hi, I just got into an online relationship with a friend whom I've known for three years. He left his previous (online and real life) relationship of three years because his girlfriend was blackmailing him and spilling his secrets to other people which made him lose friends. She was both nice and mean, in his own words, bipolar. He said that he has emotional residue because he felt that she was the only one who would stay with him but that he knows he should let go of her. He made peace with the notion that he will be single forever before I told him that I'd like to be with him.

He and I are alike and we've been very honest with each other, so he said he liked me much better when I shared some of my own skeletons with him (even though we were already on good terms). Somehow within a few days of telling me that he broke up with her few weeks ago, I told him that I had slight interest in him for quite a while and we sort of started something.

Even though the he and his girlfriend seemed really bubbly, I did sense some sort of a power dynamic going on between the two. The girl seemed a bit controlling and territorial. From what he told me, even though I think he should let go of her, I feel guilty as if I am like replacing her. I am not here to replace her. We don't trash talk his former girlfriend. I don't care if they get back together, as long as she's not blackmailing him.

I got into the relationship because I was curious how it would be to get into one (and I want to be in a relationship with him), and want to help him let go if his girlfriend was being abusive. We are casual, we don't expect anything serious yet. No high standards. Going with the flow, I am taking things slowly. Please give me advice on how not to mess up. It's my first relationship so I am not sure how I should go about this.

So far I told him that he's dateable to many girls when he complained about some legitimate physical issues of his (he's not fishing for compliments, I know this guy), and that he is adorable. I told him to take his time, that if he doesn't want to be in a relationship yet, that is okay. That I am available if he wants to try one with me. He did. After we decided to start something, we traded phone numbers (he goes through the same things as I do, so there is a reason why we didn't share our numbers before). He wishes that we lived in the same state so we can meet eachother, and I told him that I wish I was able to cuddle him because he looked so soft. I want to console him. Did that "I would to cuddle you" go too far?

We are young, around 19.
posted by kopi to Human Relations (27 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
So what you're saying is that your friend had a bad breakup, you always liked him, and you're dating him now.

If you don't want to mess it up, don't approach a relatively simple thing in the most complicated way possible.
posted by tel3path at 1:25 AM on September 22, 2011 [4 favorites]

Oh, wait - you're not within accessible distance to each other? In order to date someone, you have to be in their presence.
posted by tel3path at 1:26 AM on September 22, 2011 [3 favorites]

Long-distance relationships can work, but you have you be really committed and there has to be an end in sight. You've known this guy for a long time, so presumably you're pretty into him. But if you don't feel a strong connection, then it may not be worth pursuing, and don't be afraid to break it off if it isn't working.

The fact that you call it an 'online relationship' seems to imply that you have no plans to be in the same area as each other. Will either of you be going away for college or grad school anytime soon? If you do feel strongly for each other, then chances are you'll want to be together as soon as possible. You don't say exactly how far away he is, just 'another state'. Is it driveable? You could see each other a few weekends a month. I'm in a relationship that started online - he lived in the UK, I lived in the US. Now, we live together in the UK. But for three and a half years we visited each other during summer and winter holidays. It's one of the hardest things I've ever done, and our relationship wouldn't have made it through it if we were not very devoted to each other.

So basically, make sure you really want to put yourself in this position; don't be afraid to break it off if the spark isn't there; if the spark is there, do anything you can to meet up regularly and plan to live closer to each other in the future. Only you will be able to tell if it's worth it or not - LDRs are incredibly hard.
posted by Gordafarin at 1:59 AM on September 22, 2011 [1 favorite]

You're describing this an awful lot in terms of him and what he wants or needs - how he feels about his ex, what his ex did to him, how insecure he is about his looks, how much he needs consoling - and very little about you and what you might want or need, other than to console/support/not pressure him.

This doesn't make him (or you) a bad person, and it's only human to want to help someone you see as fragile. But if you're putting all the 'needs to be cared for' load onto him, and all the 'needs to not mess this up' load onto you, that's not fair on either of you. If he wants to try a relationship with you, he has as many responsibilities to you as you do to him; it's not about you tiptoeing round the edges of his past and present hurts like they're an unmarked minefield where it's your job to know which bits of ground are safe. You not only can, but should, express to both him and yourself what you want and need from him.

Also: obviously I don't know him or your situation, but the way you've said more about his ex and her mistreatment of him here rings a few potential warning bells. There are people in this life who'll bounce from one relationship to another on the 'my ex wronged me terribly, so now it's your job to redeem humanity and relationships to me!' ticket, and they are... kind of a nightmare, whether or not they know they're doing it. If he's not making your relationship all about his last one, then neither should you be. And if he is, then maybe he's not ready for a relationship after all.
posted by Catseye at 2:23 AM on September 22, 2011 [19 favorites]

If you've never met this guy, you're storing yourself up an awkward situation.

A lot of relationship compatibility is about behaviour. A relationship is a complex phenomenon where his behaviour has an effect on yours, and yours has an effect on his, and the whole is different from the sum of the parts.

Usually, when you meet someone in person, you start with hanging out together and then you move slowly to hanging out more, or in private, and hanging out in each other's homes, and you learn little by little whether the way that you work together is something that is good for both of you. Or maybe you learn that his habit of being ultra chilled out brings out your habit of being bossy and organising, and you find yourself becoming kind of a bully, or a parent, so you have the choice of saying "OK, this really isn't working out for me".

This stuff is WAY DIFFERENT in person than it is online. It's much much easier to say "I love you" than it is to work out, in person, how it's possible to act lovingly to that person, even when things are difficult.

If you make a great big deal out of your relationship with this guy you've never met, you're skipping a lot of the safety steps. You're letting down your emotional guard before you've really experienced what it's like to be around him. This is dangerous. Be wary!

Lastly: Don't get involved with someone because you pity them or because you want to look after them. Get involved with someone because you are both awesome on your own and it seems that you are even more awesome when you are together.
posted by emilyw at 2:36 AM on September 22, 2011 [6 favorites]

How do you define a casual online relationship? What do you do that makes it a relationship? You just sound like friends to me, but you're calling it a relationship because you want to be able to say you're in one and you want to fix him or look after him or heal his hurts.

Which is fine, but keep in mind that it's not your job or your responsibility to fix him, as seductive as it might be to try or to feel like you're the only one who can.
posted by corvine at 2:54 AM on September 22, 2011 [1 favorite]


See how everyone is saying you have to see the dude to have a real relationship? THAT. You aren't going to know what he's really like, if he's cool or a jerk, or if he's even being completely truthful about everything. I know it feels real and so intense, but online relationships are often more about you than him and you. It feels more intimate than it is because you're filling in a lot of the spaces between.

this really called out to me: He and I are alike and we've been very honest with each other, so he said he liked me much better when I shared some of my own skeletons with him

you are JUST talking about how you told him you liked him, right?

this is very very important. please take this to heart. This man is basically a stranger. You have never met him IRL. DO NOT (no matter how long you've chatted online, no matter how close you feel) share ANY possibly damaging information with him. DO NOT have skype sex (or send naked photos of yourself) unless you are completely ok with video or photos being uploaded to share sites. If he is pushing you to share very secret things, run to the hills.

I know that you might be thinking that "well, he has all these damaging secrets and told me" but:
1. can you confirm that those are really the secrets he has? how?
2. He might think that he is so far away from you physically, that you'd never find out that he spilled or uploaded something personal.
3. if his secrets are so freaking bad that he lost a bunch of his friends, why is he telling randoms on the internet? He shouldn't trust you, either. Especially right after he got burned. It screams of shitty boundaries.
4. people are jerks. sometimes IRL boyfriends or husbands of many years do horrible things like share secrets or upload private photos. it's easier to do this to internet people because they seem less real.

Until you can spend a few months in his presence getting to know him as a person, he has not proven that he should have your trust.

But you know- if this is just fun internet flirting with some hottie from across the country, have a good time, don't show him your boobs, don't fly out to see him without getting your own hotel room and making sure you have a real friend in the area, and remember that people lie on the internet a lot easier than in real life.
posted by Blisterlips at 3:51 AM on September 22, 2011 [18 favorites]

In my opinion, there's absolutely no reason to get into the drama-filled, tenuous, long-distance relationship you're describing if you're 19 years old. Go outside and find someone nearby who is easy to talk to, attractive to you, and isn't dealing with a breakup.

Save the angst-ridden online relationships for when you're old and bitter (like me)!
posted by xingcat at 4:09 AM on September 22, 2011 [7 favorites]

I won't tell you not to give it a try, just be aware that your particular circumstances are going to make this a lot more complicated than the average casual relationship. It's your first relationship, it sounds like you have yet to meet him in person (maybe you could clarify this point), it's long distance, and he's fresh out of a rocky 3-year relationship that ended badly. Oy.

I think pretty much anyone who has been in a long distance relationship is going to tell you that LDRs are really, really hard. It's difficult enough to maintain a solid, established relationship throughout an LDR, so I'm having trouble seeing how a casual LDR would work. LDRs require tremendous commitment and dedication from both parties, which is the opposite of "casual." Do you have plans to visit his city, or have him visit yours at some point? Do both of you have the means and desire to keep up regular visits?

On that note, I'm sorry if this is hard to hear, but you don't really know a person until you've spent considerable time with them in the flesh. There are so many aspects and dimensions to a person that don't translate through text. It's also far too easy for someone to hide behind an online persona. How much do you really know about him? How much of that is based solely on what he's told you? Before you invest yourself in a relationship with this man, find out if he really is who he says he is. As emilyw advised, please be very careful.

Lastly, it worries me that he broke up with his ex-girlfriend just a few weeks ago. Based on what you've told us, he's clearly not over her. I mean, making peace with being alone forever?! That's not a healthy place for him to be in, let alone jump into another relationship. It's also concerning that you feel responsible for helping him get over his ex. It doesn't really work that way. He'll get over her in his own time and on his own terms, or he might not. It's not up to you.

And anyway, what do you want and expect from this relationship? That's the big question. It can't be all about him.
posted by keep it under cover at 4:12 AM on September 22, 2011

At this phase of your life, you are supposed to mess things up. You'd be a statistical outlier if you didn't. Your question suggests you are not a statistical outlier. In form, content, approach, articulation, focus is has all the hallmarks of a 19-year old girl. The world is a puzzling place, and you are supposed to sniff about like a puppy and get the lay of the land now. That's OK. Just do it and be safe. See what works for you. If you are careful, you can learn something valuable from all of this. Take notes. (No kidding, do it mentally and/or in a journal and see how things change for you over the next 10 years. You'll be surprised how your mind, body, intellect and emotional self age and you'll be able to go back and see how you could do things better, worse, differently.)

The actual circumstances of your dilemma, such as it is, are not important, but the process is. Get comfortable with screw ups. There are so many waiting for you there's not even a way to tell you. Life is all about screwing up, avoiding screwups and recovering from screwups.
posted by FauxScot at 5:03 AM on September 22, 2011

I think you should read some books on co-dependency STAT.
posted by Ys at 5:37 AM on September 22, 2011 [2 favorites]

I have no idea if this is true for you, but is there any chance you're interested in an online relationship because it seems somehow easier or safer than trying to find someone who lives near you? If that idea rings true, it might be something to explore with yourself.

As far as he goes, I agree with everyone above that it's not your job to fix him. That's not healthy for fair for either of you.
posted by pie ninja at 5:45 AM on September 22, 2011 [3 favorites]

Response by poster: It's not that serious, we're just seeing how it goes. If it doesn't work out, then it doesn't. We don't have hot passion for each other or plan to marry, just a small spark that may develop over time or not. I just don't want anything that will strain our friendship if we stop. And yes, it seems like I am the one doing all the caring here, but he's not seeking me to fix him or that sort. My goal isn't to fix him, but I am hoping that this relationship will help him more than hurt him. I hope it tells him that his ex gf isn't his only option, that there are probably others out there who can like him. Two years ago when he still had his gf, he told me she was the only partner he ever had.
He probably doesn't even know that I am hoping to help him detach from his girlfriend. I got nothing to gain or lose yet, personally. I don't really know what I want either, I am just a little interested in him.

I am in college, he used to be in college but postponed it to work for money.

Since none of you will probably find us, I'll tell you what's going on. He's transgendered, that's the secret. In the area where he lives, it's pretty unacceptable and the girlfriend told a lot of people. I see why he would see himself as incapable of getting a girlfriend in his pretty conservative state. I deal with similar emotional issues like feeling guilty and ugly because of my own transgendered status. I know how hard it is as a trans to imagine having a partner, especially when the vast majority of the people don't respect you or take you seriously anyway. I see why he would stay with the girl even when he knew she wasn't the nicest person. He only opened up to me because I finally told him that I was physically a different sex, and he was like, "Oh shit, you're not the only one."

It's actually harder to express myself in real life. My online persona is a lot more truer than my real life persona. In real life, I almost have zero chance of expressing myself and making a genuine friendship unless the friend is extraordinary. I don't have a lot of genuine friends who I feel I can open up to be and be comfortable with. It hurts terribly. And once you open up to them, they suddenly claim authority and wield the "There. You are that. You are what I say you are" notion. I've had that happen so many times, it's ironic NOT to expect that.

I am just happy that I didn't get killed when I was back in my home country.

Yes, online relationship is much safer, and we know eachother's trans so it's not like he'll call me a liar and try to physically assault me as how real life people did. If I tried to date someone here, I have the chance of getting outed through gossip, get highly discriminated against, and live with it for a while as once the cat's out of the bag, it never goes back. It's already hard finding a friend who gives me basic respect because I can't pass, so getting into a RL relationship is sort of impossible without the other person trying to change or control you. I never had anyone see me and accept me as I am in RL nor online once I tell them. I thought I'd be safer here in Los Angeles than my home country, and I am but it's not all rosey either. I can tell that the vast majority here are wary of trans people, let alone take transpeople seriously, even though they're 'tolerant' of gays. Tolerating and accepting is not the same thing.

Now that confessions were made, we see each other in a different light now. He's physically female.
I call him "he" because that is what he wants, even though he'll probably never see this thread. I take his decision seriously as how I would want him to take my decision seriously. I apologize for the confusion.

"In form, content, approach, articulation, focus is has all the hallmarks of a 19-year old girl."
Interesting how you all assumed I am a cisgender girl. You don't mean it that way but it was still insulting after all the effort I went through.
posted by kopi at 7:08 AM on September 22, 2011

I think this is why it's important to have as much relevant information in your question as possible. "Spilling secrets" to people, especially when you're in your teens, is generally more a matter of self-inflicted drama than the very real issues you both face as trans people.

That said, I'm still not sure if a long-distance relationship is still the most advisable thing for you to do. Being in touch with people who can relate to your situation is great, and online friends and resources can be invaluable, but given that you feel so alone in the world, I fear that you'll be tempted to get into a relationship with someone online because he happens to understand what's going on.

Los Angeles must have social and support groups for younger trans people. If Boston had them in the 1980s when I was a kid, then 30 years later in a much bigger city, they must exist, and I would strongly suggest seeking them out.

I would say being a good friend and someone who can offer support via electronic communications would be a great thing for both of you right now, but as to a relationship, I still think, no matter what your identified gender is, that the best way to get to know someone (possibly even moreso) is to see them in person.
posted by xingcat at 8:23 AM on September 22, 2011 [2 favorites]

I remember your previous questions. Which is to say you've got a lot on your plate right now and you probably need to take a good long look at the situation and assess whether or not a relationship with him is the most helpful thing right now, for either of you. I can understand going through similar things offers a bond of commiseration and circumstance but I'm inclined to think that should you choose a relationship now a more stable partner could be beneficial to your overall development. Plus I gotta say the whole bipolar diagnosis is a bit of a red flag on his part because (a)bipolar isn't just someone who's nice and mean, (b)he's presumably unqualified to actually give a clinical diagnosis of bipolar disorder, and (c)it allows him to present himself as a victim in any and all interactions with the now-ex. With an online only relationship it's much more difficult to verify any of what a person is presenting to you so caution on that front should be heeded, especially given your own inexperience.

I think in past questions you were suggested therapy or counseling (which might be available through your university) or finding local LGBT groups or individuals. If you haven't reached out to resources like those as of yet please do so.
posted by 6550 at 8:24 AM on September 22, 2011 [2 favorites]

I don't think it makes any difference whether or not the person you're dating is M, F, or T or if you are in fact pansexual or at least curious about pansexuality. I will say, however, that I agree with many of the other opinions on this post. You can't really say you're dating someone until you've met them in real life. Until then, it's just talk. So, it's safe to say your first line of business is to meet this person you now say you're dating.

I'd also be careful of LDR's. While traveling to see each other may seem fun and exciting at first, it becomes wearing. I was in two LDRs when I was 18-20 and in the end, while it was a great experience, it ended in hurtful ways that wouldn't have happened had I dated someone locally. (cheating, lies, mistrust, etc)

Some people cannot learn these lessons until they experience them for themselves, so I suppose all I can say at this point is proceed if you must...but with caution.
posted by camylanded at 8:25 AM on September 22, 2011

Other issues aside-- honestly, the fact that you're tiptoe-ing around the memory of his ex-girlfriend sounds like he's not over her, or he's not in a place to move on. Not wanting to "trash talk" anyone is reasonable, but you are there to replace her, aren't you? It's cool to talk about ex-relationship stuff, but it should be very, very "ex," and not be haunting the two of you. Dating right after a breakup tends to introduce this weird dynamic, and with the potential abuse piled on top it's really a lot to work through as the new partner.

I'm speaking from a place where I dated a guy who expected me to be as emotionally entangled with an acquaintance of his as he was. I pretended to be for awhile because I liked him so much and he was clearly enamored of her, but once I came to my senses I broke up with him right away. It was basically an "I'm-still-in-love-with-my-ex/crush/someone else" situation. Not a good place to be.

It's hard to answer this question because if it truly is about how to make the relationship work, the advice is: meet him. Spend a lot of time together. Make sure he's over his ex. See how things go. The other issues are totally important but secondary to the connection between you. The fact that you're worried that saying you want to cuddle him is overboard means that you're afraid of being yourself (of course it should be okay!). You both sound pretty fragile right now, so I would second the advice to find a stronger support network in person.
posted by stoneandstar at 8:51 AM on September 22, 2011

I should mention though that if the reason you're worried about the cuddling comment is his body issues, this might be a place where he really does need to heal (from his ex as well as his overall self-image), and you should just be your (kind, respectful) self. But still, yourself.
posted by stoneandstar at 8:54 AM on September 22, 2011

If you consider yourselves "in a relationship," then admitting the desire to cuddle is definitely not going too far. Some people won't even call it a "relationship" until actual sex has taken place. If you're feeling like the cuddling thing may be presumptuous, I want to call that a sign that you're not ready, or you're sensing he's not ready, to move beyond the close friendship you two currently share into something more romantic.
posted by milk white peacock at 9:10 AM on September 22, 2011 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: If we were starting a regular relationship, I would admit freely that I want to cuddle. But since he just broke up, I was wondering.

Oh by the way, I think he’s definitely over with her. He did say he feels bad but he seems ready to move on, just by the way he talks about how he likes smooching and cuddling.

I so want to meet him. We both talk about it. We just don’t have the money though.
posted by kopi at 11:37 AM on September 22, 2011

Please give me advice on how not to mess up. It's my first relationship so I am not sure how I should go about this.

One of the possible outcomes of this relationship is that it ends. That's not "messing up." That's discovering that you and your friend aren't right for each other, and that's an important thing to know.

You are a very good person for wanting to help your friend through his difficulties, but you need to make sure your relationship is reciprocal. Make sure that he cherishes you as you cherish him. If you're giving love, you need to get love back. Asymetric relationships suck. It's okay to be selfish about these things.

Please don't let your investment in this relationship distract you from dealing with your own problems. Your self-description is pretty negative. The more comfortable you are in your own skin, the more you will bring to a relationship. I wish I could offer you advice on how to evolve yourself this way, but IANYT and have no idea.

If you someday intend to migrate this relationship out of the online and into real life, then I echo the other mefites' suggestions that you meet in person ASAP, and I strongly echo their safety suggestions as well.

tldr: Follow your heart, but take care of yourself, and be safe!
posted by Sauce Trough at 12:11 PM on September 22, 2011 [4 favorites]

Response by poster: It I wouldn't be surprised if it ends, but that doesn't mean we shouldn't start. Messing up would mean getting to a point where it hurts our friendship to the point we don't talk to each other.

By the way, he did not diagnose her. He said she acted like a bipolar.

camylanded, how do I be cautious? Dating was the wrong word, that's a physical thing. I do not know any other word to describe it, I am short in english.
posted by kopi at 6:11 PM on September 22, 2011

I wouldn't be surprised if it ends, but that doesn't mean we shouldn't start.

This is by far the best argument in favour of a romantic relationship that a person can make.

Keep everybody's advice in mind, be prepared to get hurt, and if you want to take the risk - take the risk.
posted by tel3path at 9:00 AM on September 23, 2011

Response by poster: Thank you all. I will be careful but I decided to try it. If it doesn't work out, well then it won't. I'll try nonetheless~
posted by kopi at 7:13 AM on September 24, 2011

"In form, content, approach, articulation, focus is has all the hallmarks of a 19-year old girl."

Interesting how you all assumed I am a cisgender girl. You don't mean it that way but it was still insulting after all the effort I went through.

Sorry, kopi; I did not mean to offend. Diplomacy suffers at 40 WPM.

Re-read of your post does suggest you are a 19 year old girl. The guy is clearly identified as a hetero potential mate and you are no where identified as anything other than 19. Nothing in there about him being bi, nor about your gender at all. The moniker "kopi' is genderless, at least to me.

In general, burdening a listener with further research is impolite. I can see where the ambiguity crept in, though. Youth and inexperience do carry with them the pulsing undertones of utter confusion, sometimes, and that's what I am responding to, though as always, my diplomacy skills are hit and miss.

Good luck with this situation. Things trend towards better with even gentle pressure in that direction, and no matter what happens, if it doesn't work out it's not a failure, but a lesson. The fun part is SEEING what happens and what's even MORE fun is making the things you want to happen, happen!

posted by FauxScot at 6:56 PM on September 24, 2011

Response by poster: If "kopi" is genderless, then it's your own bias that concluded that I am this and that. If you simply assumed I was female just in case and went from that, then that's tolerable. But telling me "everything proves you are an epitome of/ typical 19 year old female" is was unnecessary.

I am tired of having to explain that I am something "out of the norm" and then reinforce the stereotype that "gays trumpet their sexuality everywhere they go". But I guess I will have to "trumpet" from now on.

I am a 19 year old guy and he is physically female. What if I flat out said he was physically female, would the responses have been less of a "he's sounds like a predator, be safe!" and more of a "sure, try to meet her first?" I am not very used to cultural bias so I thought the advice wouldn't differ much whether I was a female with a physical male, or if I was a guy with another guy, or if I was a guy with a physically female person.
posted by kopi at 8:28 PM on September 24, 2011

kopi, I stumbled across this older question from you after reading your citizenship question from today. Probably this issue with the boyfriend is resolved by now, but either way I'd like to add some words of support for you.

It sounds to me like what you're doing here (both of you) is adapting normal teen/young adult sexual/relationship role-playing to your specific circumstances. The pool of available partners for you both is restricted, and so you've expanded your search to include people in other cities, who maybe you're not super-passionate about, but who are unlikely to endanger or shame you. That makes sense to me.

When I was your age, everybody was having fumbling, crappy, embarrassing sex-and-relationship-role-playing, often with people they weren't very attracted to. I remember the sexual-minority kids being really good at staying friends with each other once the sex part ended -- I assume because they were unusually isolated, and really needed/wanted each other's support. So FWIW, I think your odds of preserving the friendship post-relationship are pretty good.

Good luck! And can I recommend -- if you haven't read Kate Bornstein's work, maybe give it a shot. She has been helpful to lots of people in similar situations to yours.
posted by Susan PG at 10:41 AM on April 28, 2012

« Older I want to know more things in fun ways.   |   Are Korean and Hebrew languages related? Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.