What’s my takeaway for an intense online conversation that suddenly ended?
January 11, 2012 9:39 PM   Subscribe

I’m recently divorced and confused about an online situation that resolved amicably. I’m not sure how to think about it; however, I want to know if I made some obvious mistake so I won’t repeat it in the future.

I have a close friend/coworker who introduced me to his brother (lives on the opposite coast) via email. Brother and I are both recently divorced and dealing with similar custody and spouse situations. The friend makes it clear to me that this is not a set-up, and neither the brother nor I ever ask each other for phone numbers, pix, etc.
Brother contacts me first and we begin exchanging fairly in-depth emails about our respective situations. The tone is serious, but also wickedly funny. We communicate a couple times a week for about two months. He was/is obviously hurt, angry, and bitter about his ex-wife. I am more overwhelmed, hurt and anxious about the future. After the first few weeks, he begins asking questions like “What was my marriage like pre-parenthood? What am I afraid of? What do I want out of life? What are my passions? What was my relationship like with my father?” I answer the questions as honestly as I can without being either overlong or flippant (this took some editing). He began to take longer to respond to the emails (holiday season, in part) but never addressed the similar questions I posed to him (I generally followed his lead.) I began to feel like I was performing an emotional striptease. So I kept the next response very short and light. And then I never heard from him again.
Except…I sent him one of my “gratitude” New Year’s cards wishing that the kindness he had shown me would be repaid to him tenfold in the coming year. And he responded that was the best investment he’s made in a long time. Since then, nothing.
It feels over. Why? It appears everything ended on the up and up. But because I am so new to this, I am worried I did something “wrong” that caused him to not want to be in contact with me anymore. I know I will have to enter the online dating world soon, and I want to make sure that if I did make a mistake here, that I know about it so I won’t make it again with someone else. I need a diagnosis! I am worried that I overshared or sounded too depressed, although I consciously made an effort to be honest, brief, yet thorough, and funny when possible. I teach writing, so I’m fairly sure I was at least entertaining. But maybe you’re not supposed to answer questions honestly? This post-divorce, pre-dating era I’m in seems like the Dark Ages: I feel like I don’t have the emotional tools to deal with these new technology-based “relationships.”
posted by Fierce clam to Human Relations (15 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
You didn't do anything wrong. Many times, even people who come well recommended to us are flaky or emotional "users," enjoying the rush of easy intimacy but not reciprocating or willing to do the work of continuing or deepening the connection.

He's a flake. It's not you.
posted by jayder at 9:44 PM on January 11, 2012 [27 favorites]

It feels over. Why?

He got what he wanted, and moved on.
posted by roger ackroyd at 9:52 PM on January 11, 2012 [2 favorites]

You didn't do anything wrong and Jayder sums it up perfectly. Don't spend so much time thinking about what you could have done differently. Just be glad that you didn't spend more time and effort just to find out that this guy wasn't worth it. Dating is pretty much a crap shoot for everyone no matter where they're at with experience so don't beat yourself up over failed prospects.
posted by MaryDellamorte at 10:00 PM on January 11, 2012 [6 favorites]

iayder nailed it. Some people are freaks.

I know I will have to enter the online dating world soon,
You don't have to if you don't want to. Some people like it; some find it incredibly depressing and full of awful awful people.

But if you do do it, if you exchange a few good emails with someone, just go ahead and meet in person. There's no point in dragging out a correspondence with someone you have never met in real life. You'll just end up in the awkward scenario where you feel really close after exchanging millions of words and then you meet and one (or both) of you is just like, "ehhh, no."
posted by drjimmy11 at 10:02 PM on January 11, 2012 [3 favorites]

Also, my one takeaway from horrible horrible online dating experiences is that people who like you really quickly will unlike you really quickly. For me at least, if someone seemed to love me right off and was super-excited to meet, it was a guaranteed failure. Either I didn't live up to the high expectations in person, or they were the kind of people who went through infatuations very very quickly.
posted by drjimmy11 at 10:05 PM on January 11, 2012 [17 favorites]

Seems like someone who has a warped idea of intimacy to me. I know someone who behaved like this - he was also going through a divorce at the time and was very bitter about his ex-wife. He interrogated me about very personal matters, made me defend my beliefs, decisions, opinions, actively sought contradictions and omissions in what I was saying and contributed very little to our friendship in terms of self-disclosure. When I withdrew a little from the friendship (this wasn't an online relationship), he grew angry and accused me of using him to meet my own emotional needs without giving anything back. With some distance, I now see him as someone who doesn't know how to experience intimacy as a gradual process & exchange of confidences. He tried to force it to happen. Initially I found him to be flattering and direct and I responded to his questions but after a while it felt very unbalanced. I think he honestly cared about me, but he was also controlling and demanding and I needed less of that.

In short, I don' t think you did anything wrong. I think your (abrupt?) shift from compliance with his demands to "short and light" either (a) made him realise he was transgressing boundaries, and he has pulled back because he is embarrassed, or honouring your request to be less intrusive (or maybe because he doesn't know how to let a friendship grow in a more organic way) or (b) angered him because you refused to do what he asked and demonstrated that you didn't want to be controlled. I tend towards (a) because if it was (b), he would probably be trying to contact you to guilt trip you into giving him what he wanted. The response to your card was awkward (an "investment"?) but not terrible. He read your "short and light" message as a wish to be left alone and he is doing that.

Maybe you have an opportunity to re-establish contact with him on more equal terms - if that's what you want. But you actually did everything right. Do you think you might also be experiencing that "nice girl" thing that happens when we feel bad about having been assertive? It sounds a little like that. You really did do exactly the right thing.
posted by yogalemon at 10:22 PM on January 11, 2012 [5 favorites]

I don't think you did anything wrong. I think he just outgrew his need for commiseration and support. Alternatively, he may have met someone he's now dating, and thus is focusing his emotional investment (and presumably telling his sorry tale) elsewhere.
posted by DarlingBri at 10:37 PM on January 11, 2012 [4 favorites]

It almost sounds like he was questioning you (as a friendly fellow-traveler in the great post-divorce waiting room) to see if he could understand what had happened to him from his wife's point of view. I think he needed a shoulder to cry on and thought maybe you did, as well, but it was especially about him; he wasn't as good at sharing as you were. In fact, that ought to tell him something. There are a million stories in the naked city. That was just one of them.

You sound awesome. I'd say you should go right ahead and participate with getting to know all kinds of people as much as you would like and don't worry about how to label the interactions you find. Don't look for dates or relationships, just look for people. Listen to their stories and tell some of yours. If you meet someone online, don't stay online for long before you meet up. I think you come out best when you tell the truth straight away and are willing to let the ones who don't stick slip right on through your fingers. They're not for you. Find friends, brothers, sisters, roller girls and dudes with trucks that help you move furniture. Go to ethnic festivals and art auctions. Find little old ladies with tales to tell and raconteurs who have been everywhere. Meet the people they know. Just keep on moving and have some fun. You'll run across someone who'll turn out to be special one of these days. And meanwhile, your world will be different and fun.

Be brave and good luck.
posted by Anitanola at 10:37 PM on January 11, 2012 [8 favorites]

Is it possible that he's starting seeing someone who didn't like him talking to another woman? Obvoiusly, the decent thing to do would be to tell you so, and not just leave you hanging, but not everyone is decent, sadly. It really doesn't sound like you did anything wrong.
posted by 5_13_23_42_69_666 at 10:43 PM on January 11, 2012

I concur with DarlingBri's summation.

I would also like to re-emphasise that you did nothing wrong. And, more importantly, that you should not let others (ie: men) be the leader of your own actions. When you begin dating again look to your own feelings, thoughts, wishes, desires etc as being your leader, not those of another person. If you "generally follow his lead" then you will always be on the back foot and people who want control will take it.

Being newly divorced sucks. However it is the best time to develop inner strengths such as being strong and true to yourself.

Wishing you the best.
posted by Kerasia at 11:13 PM on January 11, 2012 [4 favorites]

Yep, he's got a girlfriend. I've had a similar experience and it was very instructive. I realize this may sound extreme to some, but I don't let any emotional intimacy/reveal happen with a stranger via email. It's not ever worked out, not once, and I always feel kind of icky about myself, that I've given over too much, too soon, without reciprocation.
posted by thinkpiece at 4:41 AM on January 12, 2012 [2 favorites]

Nthing DarlingBri.
posted by ead at 9:25 AM on January 12, 2012 [1 favorite]

I have an old friend that I chat with all the time. We get into deep conversations and are very open and honest with each other. But this is a friendship only. It is almost therapeutical to talk out your issues. He is the best friend to my exboyfriend, we are not a good match, and we both are in other relationships, so we know that no relationship will develop. It is just nice to have someone to talk to that is not so physically close. This detached online interaction can help you share more. Your conversations could feel like this to your friend. He could just not need to talk it out and he could be busy.

Your online interactions do not amount to online dating. You can compare the two because they are different. Everyone has a different way to communicate and some people can share more with a stranger and have it be nothing but just talk. Where as for some people sharing something so personal means there is a deep emotional connection. Just be yourself and you will find someone who matches your type of communication. If someone just drops off the face of the planet, then realize they would not be a good boyfriend for you and move on to the next person.
posted by Jaelma24 at 9:31 AM on January 12, 2012

Actually, there IS a diagnosis here as it pertains to online dating! It's very easy to build up a false intimacy over email, and you should be careful to avoid that. (Calling it "false" may be unfair -- it's more like unrealistic or unsustainable in the real world; but nevertheless authentic in its own way.)

I don't think this guy necessarily did anything wrong or decided he didn't like you; in fact, I'd guess the emails meant as much to him as they did to you. But he realized (for whatever reason) that your relationship couldn't go anywhere and was perhaps holding him back from fully investing in "real" daily life as opposed to the easier, idealized world of semi-anonymous heart-spilling.

Moral of the story: when you get out there online, don't spend too much time exchanging emails before you meet. What matters is your chemistry in person, not how charming you can be on email.
posted by yarly at 12:21 PM on January 12, 2012 [2 favorites]

I don't think you can do anything particularly right or wrong when you're connecting with someone who "was/is obviously hurt, angry, and bitter about his ex-wife" except maybe manage your own expectations, whatever they are. I really don't think technology was the problem here.
posted by sm1tten at 5:21 PM on January 12, 2012

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