Summer fling, don't mean a thing - or not
July 1, 2012 9:22 AM   Subscribe

Getting far too emotionally invested in a fling. Would love advice on how to move forward...

I'm a 22 year old female grad student with very, very little romantic experience - I am by nature (and culture) reserved, a bit too rational, and overstudious, such that although I've had a few approaches/failed starts/dates (and people do tell me that I am pretty/appear otherwise confident etc etc) I've never been in a relationship, and don't really know how.

Then a few weeks ago I met a guy (also 22) through a mutual friend. We hit off instantly (gosh, his eyes!), but he was moving halfway across the world in a few weeks time as a kind of post-graduation gap year. After a few more dates we kissed, and he said that he really wished we had met earlier. He said we could just be friends, or have a fling - and though I declined at first (I had always expected my first relationship to be conventional, going through the steps sequentially etc), I was sick of being so inhibited, and went with what my heart wanted in the moment.

The next few weeks we saw each other almost every day, went on long walks, cooked dinners, went dancing; he introduced me to a hobby of his which I discovered I surprisingly loved. (I also had sex for the first time, which he left completely to my decision, and I don't regret.) He went out of his way to make time for me, and I do think he genuinely liked me too. I had tried really hard to stay emotionally half-detached from the situation - but as we got to know each other better and talked about our childhood, family, career aspirations, life outlook etc, I can feel myself starting to like him too much. He is similar to me in many ways, yet has a much more spontaneous, laid-back approach to life that I always wished I could have.

I *know* I'm probably stuck in the phase that people call infatuation/limerence; a few weeks is definitely not long enough to know someone; if there hadn't been the 'circumstances are tearing us apart!' dramatic element I may not have fired up so much; etc etc. I know all this, and I know that an LDR is not really an option - I don't want to tie him down when he's just about to start a new life, and though we've never really talked about it, I think we both wanted it to be 'just a fling' (regardless of how we feel now). But the thought of never seeing him again makes me miserable. I'm already feeling sentimental as my friends are all parting ways to move on to wonderful exciting things, and with the addition of him leaving (to also do wonderful exciting things) I'm starting to feel as though everyone is leaving me behind in life.

I'm seeing him for the last time tomorrow. What should I do? Should I stay in contact with him (as friends), or is it better if I cut him off completely and close that chapter in the book? How do I cope with this feeling of misery? He's asked me to visit several times (though he says that to all of his friends) - would this be a very very bad idea? (It's a destination I've always wanted to go to, annoyingly.) For future reference, would it have been better if I hadn't pursued this at all and avoided the heartbreak? Any general advice is great.
posted by pikeandshield to Human Relations (18 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
What you do is wait and see. There is absolutely no way to make a reality-based decision about any of this right now. A couple of years from now you'll likely be Facebook friends who never talk, so this is hardly high stakes. Just see how it plays out.

Your misery? I think it's important that everyone go through this feeling a few times, so that down the road you understand the difference between drama and meaningful connection (which is not to say that this wasn't a meaningful connection, but the volume was certainly cranked by circumstances). Before I settled down, I kind of learned to love that feeling - it's what characters in books feel, it's the arm flung dramatically over the eyes. You've had an adventure, appreciate it.

It's better to regret things you've done than regret things you didn't do. Life contains heartbreak no matter what you do, you might as well learn to be good at it rather than live your life in service of avoiding it. This is honestly probably the least painful heartbreak you'll ever have.
posted by Lyn Never at 9:31 AM on July 1, 2012 [12 favorites]

He's asked me to visit several times (though he says that to all of his friends) - would this be a very very bad idea? (It's a destination I've always wanted to go to, annoyingly.)

Big risk, potentially big reward. What's your risk tolerance these days? Furthermore, what's your best alternative?

I dropped the ball on a similar situation - an old flame and I restarted our relationship, it became an intense and consistent thing, she went to another continent for work, we eventually stopped speaking (my memory is fuzzy, but I believe) by mutual agreement to "make things easier" as I couldn't visit her - and in retrospect that was a stupid way to handle it driven by my adherence to the familiar and comfortable.

I think you should either plan to visit him or tell him to call you when he's back in town - but the two of you need to agree to have a frank conversation now about whether either choice is as friends only or as something more. This can always be revised later (and almost certainly will be), but starting on the same page is the only way to go.
posted by Inspector.Gadget at 9:34 AM on July 1, 2012

First of all, you need to try to separate this feeling: I'm starting to feel as though everyone is leaving me behind in life from your feelings for this guy. You're starting a new chapter, too, even if you're physically staying where you are. Grad school is a great place to be lonely, because odds are everyone else is, too, and you have a built-in icebreaker with your fellow students.

Second, you're right to have reservations about an LDR based on such a short relationship, even if you feel like you secretly want one. To be blunt, he's going to have new experiences just by virtue of the fact that he's moving abroad, and new experiences change you. If you sit around waiting for him, you're not letting yourself grow, and you're basically guaranteeing that you will develop as a person less than he will over the year-- which will just make you resentful. If you cut off or minimize contact, you'll be able to have new experiences, which will help you continue to grow as an adult. This will have one of two good outcomes: a) you get over him and have a great year on your terms, or b) when he gets back, you'll both be coming from a more mature, worldly place that can be the foundation of a real relationship.
posted by oinopaponton at 9:42 AM on July 1, 2012 [6 favorites]

I'd say to cut him off completely--until he moves back to this country again. Because right now you are going to go through a whopping broken heart stage, and it never helps anyone to still have that person in their life on some level (even if it's via the Internet). It gives you hope that someday it will work out--and right now is at best a giant "fuck if I know." But he will be too involved in his new life--and hopefully so will you--so it probably won't work to keep him on a string right now anyway if you tried that. Unless he's an awesome Skyper/pen pal, he'll probably just drift away as life distracts him. You aren't "just friends" right now and you didn't try to do that, so you'll have to suffer the consequences of that by well, acting like he's an ex-boyfriend that you have to get over. And exes have to have tons of no-contact time before they can try "just friends," at best.

Now, maybe if you're back in the same place again in the future, it could work out. Assuming you haven't met someone else local in the meantime or he hasn't, but...frankly, that's probably more likely. And right now since this is your first, you're going to be hoping like hell it will, and pining, and being all, "damn those life circumstances, if not for that we'd totally be together!"

So, I'd say "call me in a year if you're single," and otherwise, cut him off, because you need to get used to him not being in your life any more so you can get over the feelings.

I wish you luck, it's gonna be rough.
posted by jenfullmoon at 10:03 AM on July 1, 2012 [2 favorites]

My anecdotal experience: I had a very similar experience six years ago when I was in Beijing for a summer language course during college. I met a Swedish girl and we spent a few intense weeks together before flying back to our home countries. Neither of us had much romantic experience. At first we both thought it would be just a summer fling, but we stayed in contact. The result? We're married. There was two years of long distance before we could move in together, but we had plenty of visits in between.
posted by pravit at 10:34 AM on July 1, 2012 [4 favorites]

I think you're very brave to have gone so far and you should not regret anything you've done. At 22 a year seems like a very very long time and you haven't known each other long enough to have any kind of serious commitment.

My advice is to let him know that you want to continue the friendship without any expectation of it being more than that. And that you would like to visit.

If and when you do visit make your own arrangements for a place to stay and make a list of all the places you'd want to see there even if he weren't there. If you have a girlfriend who wants to go too that would make the trip even easier.

Remember that he's got feelings too. I think the no-contact thing is unduly harsh, he's going to be alone in a strange place and it will make it that much harder if someone he's gotten really close to just cuts him off completely.
posted by mareli at 10:40 AM on July 1, 2012 [2 favorites]

Take things as they come? You may find that both of you are into Skyping like fiends, only one is, you're on a plane in six months, etc., etc., etc.
posted by ambient2 at 11:12 AM on July 1, 2012

Welcome to the part they don't talk about too much. I'm afraid we all just muddle through. Keep in mind the feelings do fade over time.
posted by Ironmouth at 11:19 AM on July 1, 2012 [2 favorites]

Stay in touch. If after a month or two it still seems like a great idea, visit!! (But if you can, try not to buy the tix way far in advance. Three weeks is just right. You don't want to get there and find that he's met someone in the interim.)

I don't know why everyone's being so pessimistic. I myself moved to a foreign country and invited someone I was crazy about (the very first person I was ever so crazy about, in fact) to come visit me there. He did and it was clear we had to be together so I moved back and we got married. It happens.

And if it doesn't work out, so what? Better than knowing that you cut it off not even knowing whether it could work out for you or not.
posted by fingersandtoes at 11:32 AM on July 1, 2012 [1 favorite]

What fingersandtoes and mareli said. Saying goodbye to someone special sucks. But luckily, in this day and age, there's skype and plane tickets.

However, don't be surprised if three months from now, your feelings have changed. Not that you won't want to be in touch with him, but you may feel less attached to him and more connected with school and the new friends you meet.

You're fortunate to have had this great experience of first love, romance and sex with such a nice person. I hope you two can at least be friends going forward, maybe more, but you're 100% right that both of you should be allowed to move on and date people who live closer to you if that's what arises.
posted by Pearl67 at 11:49 AM on July 1, 2012 [1 favorite]

Oh yeah, and a lot of great LTR's start out as flings!
posted by Pearl67 at 11:49 AM on July 1, 2012

Making a plan now doesn't guarantee that what you plan will actually happen. I'm another anecdotal fling-to-LTR person--we were together for about two months before I moved back to our home continent, we planned to stay in touch as friends, and eight months later I was back where I'd just left. It definitely happens.

BUT I don't think it's a good idea to plan for that. Sometimes it works out that way, but I've also heard lots of stories where people stay together after a short fling, but the person who goes overseas winds up meeting someone else, and it all ends in much worse tears than if they'd just broken up cleanly when they parted. You don't want that kind of surprise, and you don't want the crappy experience of being in a long distance relationship, if it can be avoided.

My advice would be to part as friends, not to completely break contact but to make your contact friend-like (and maybe a bit intermittent to begin with to help with the transition) and to plan to take this opportunity to visit a place you've always wanted to see. Don't plan your visit until you see how the first few months go, and definitely, as mareli notes above, plan your own place to stay while there and ensure that if you are uncomfortable with him you will still have lots to do on the trip.

I think a great experience is always worth a bit of heartbreak, so good for you for going for it. Whatever happens, I'm sure you'll remember your fling fondly in the future.
posted by snorkmaiden at 12:21 PM on July 1, 2012 [2 favorites]

I've had two good relationships in my life.

A Fling and My Marriage.

I had a lot other relationships that were terrible that lasted a lot longer than the fling and a lot less time than my marriage. Too often we judge our relationships by their quantity rather than quality. It sounds like you've had a truly marvelous time; Is that really so tragic?

Now I agree with the wait and see approach above, there are no rules. If you are going to go visit him id suggest not putting all your eggs in one basket. Make sure you have an alternate plan for having a good time there if the chemistry has not picked back up or he has a girlfriend etc. Don't waste a vacation spoiling the memory of a beautiful fling.
posted by French Fry at 1:32 PM on July 1, 2012 [2 favorites]

I have not read any of the other replies and I am not sure this will make sense, but this is what occurs to me:

I got married at age 19. I was a big believer in "until death do us part". Super short version: The marriage was not happy. We ultimately divorced.

Part of the reason we divorced is because the marriage had gotten to a place where I felt like if he died, my reaction might be "Thank god, I am free! Now, where is the insurance money so I can pay my debts?" I did not want to feel that way. Ever. If we stayed together until death parted us, I wanted his death to be the worst thing that had ever happened to me. I wanted it to rip my heart out. I wanted to feel like I could never love again.

I am 47. I have been in a love a few times. I survived the end of those relationships and I do not regret them. I am all the richer for having known them. I still cherish any relationships that were important enough to me to rip my heart out. I try to drink deeply of them while I can. Then I work on focusing on other things when it is time to let go and move on. Work and hobbies and friends tend to be a good way to fill the new space when they do go.

Since you know he is supposed to leave, can you give yourself permission to be insanely in love until that date and then come back and revisit the question of how to effectively let it go at that time? Kind of like suspension of disbelief for a two hour movie?
posted by Michele in California at 2:11 PM on July 1, 2012 [2 favorites]

I tend to agree with the wait and see approach. I see no reason to cut this guy off entirely or decide that you'll never see him again. You've clicked, and while it quite possibly may never go any further, there is a chance that you will at the very least be friends or, eventually, maybe more. Keep in touch, not every day mind you, but some Facebook interaction, an email here and there, and a phone chat once in a blue moon, if you're both inclined. At some point, if a visit makes sense, then take the trip. Since it's some place you have always wanted to go, maybe you could bring a friend along to make it less intense. Try to shift the relationship into more of a friendship than romantic partner dynamic and see what develops overtime. However, if you find yourself mooning about constantly or this is interfering with you meeting new people or having new experiences, then you should cease contact, let it quietly fade away, and force yourself to turn your attention elsewhere. If you start making major life decisions based on this fellow, that's a huge red flag, as well, but I think it is quite possible to enjoy the time you do spend together, stay in touch as you go about living your separate lives, and just see if this attraction deepens and evolves into something more, settles into a friendship, or just fizzles out while he's away. Good luck!

By the way, while heartbreak is never fun, it is part of life, and, if that is the ultimate result of this relationship, it will most likely be due to circumstance, not some dramatic falling out, which makes it a smidge more bearable. It sounds like you have really enjoyed the time you had together, tried new things, and, though over a short period of time, actually grown as a person. This could turn out just fine or even better than anticipated. If it goes in the other direction, however, once it all sorts itself out, and you make your peace with it, you will see that it was worth it. Missing out in order to avoid disappointment or hurt would be the real tragedy. Trust.
posted by katemcd at 7:10 PM on July 1, 2012 [2 favorites]

Thanks a lot for the replies everyone - they really helped me collect my thoughts together for my last meetup with him today. I told him I wanted to stay in touch as friends, and to let me know if he's ever back in town, to which he agreed. He told me I am free to skype him or visit him whenever I wanted, but that was my decision; he said we'll probably cross paths again at some point, but to not wait around for him because I will probably find someone better soon. I wonder what this had all meant to him - did he ever see it anything more than a fling? - and I wish I had been more direct in asking, but I suppose I was too scared to ask.

I've been numb since he left and can't bring myself to do anything. But I don't regret anything that happened, and I think I'll get over it... at some point.

Anyway, thanks for all the supportive words and advice! Please do keep them coming.
posted by pikeandshield at 10:30 AM on July 2, 2012 [1 favorite]

This is in response to "keep them coming" and your remark about being scared to ask what it meant to him:

During my divorce, I knew an older man who swore he did not love me and would never remarry. I was crazy in love and wanted to marry him and have another baby. He was always nice about it when I said that. He also always said he hoped we would always be close. We were from different cultures. We framed things very differently. I eventually learned to accept that words like "love" meant something different to each of us.

Sometimes the words get in the way. I eventually stopped nagging him with questions about what he got out of it. I eventually accepted that it was meaningful to him and he chose to give me a great deal of his time for few years. The relationship faded away without some dramatic ending but it did end.

In my twenties, I had a sebacious cyst on my face (basically a pimple that would not open and had become a conspicuous bump). It had been there for nine years already but then I got hit in the face and it grew larger and became infected. It had to be surgically removed and I worried about being disfigured. The surgeon was very talented. The scar is nearly invisible. It is less obvious and less disfiguring than the cyst had been. So I was left both healthier and also more beautiful.

The relationship I spoke of above also left a small scar when it ended, though not a physical one. I feel my life is both more beautiful and healthier for it. I no longer try to understand what I meant to him. I am just glad to have known him.
posted by Michele in California at 1:18 PM on July 2, 2012 [4 favorites]

Like you, I overthink. One of the great things about falling for someone is having feelings finally overwhelm thoughts ... you get swept away and taken somewhere you'd never consciously go. The loss of control = exciting + scary, 'specially for a newbie.

My take is you subconsciously let yourself fall for this guy cos it was safe - he's leaving soon, so you know where the exit door is. Really, you couldn't have ordered a better entree to a real relationship if it came in a leatherbound menu. Stay in touch and see where things go, but keep it light + fun and don't let him be your only romantic outlet - leave your heart free to chase someone closer to home.

If you find yourself obsessing or miserable over him for longer than you were together, cut it off. Hard n quick, no mercy. Inbetweentimes, live a little and next time you find a guy with omg eyes take a slightly bigger risk, a bigger step into the unknown. You're going to get hurt sometime, that's just the way of things. If you don't you were either born under a lucky lucky star or you're taking nowhere near enough chances.
posted by bookie at 2:00 PM on July 3, 2012 [3 favorites]

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