Midlife relationship question
July 17, 2012 10:48 AM   Subscribe

I recently met online a former high school boyfriend from 25 years ago. We've seen each other briefly at reunions, but now we are both single and he is over the moon with me before we've even had a chance to meet in person again, which will happen tomorrow. I am confused and overwhelmed by his interest in me, how do I proceed?

I am a 45 year old single mother. Until the birth of my daughter 5 years ago, I enjoyed a fulfilling career as a researcher and have had the opportunity to travel extensively -- and live in several countries--during the past 20 years. I had an exciting life. Six years ago, I moved back to my city of origin to be closer to my family as well as work at a prestigious university. My daughter’s father and I had a very rough relationship and broke up soon after our daughter was born. We were not married and our relationship lasted less than 18 months total. He was bipolar and went back to drinking and smoking a lot of pot soon after my pregnancy. He’s a loser, will not pay child support but demands to have time with our daughter. I won full custody but he has visitation rights despite being an outspoken pot-smoker (the courts just don’t care). Prior to that, I ended several relationships, including an eight year marriage, due to a lot of insecurity and feelings of abandonment--I had been cheated on a couple of times too. My relationship history has left me feeling little hope of having a stable loving relationship. I have been in therapy for three years, but left about six months ago due to a job change and loss of mental health coverage. I feel I made great strides in therapy, although it catalyzed me to end most of my friendships and family relationships, which were grossly dysfunctional. I have been on a path to make room for healthier, loving people in my life, but I’m finding it pretty overwhelming to figure out if people are “healthy” or not. It’s like I never learned what healthy is, so how can I know if I am making the right decisions. I would say that everyone I meet is unhealthy, as even people who appear normal have abnormal behaviors when you get to know them. When do I move on and when to I accept foibles. I tend to reject most people out of fear they will be dysfunctional and try to pull me into their world. My boundaries are so rigid that I am unable to see the good that is surely to be there with some people I meet. This leads me to my question: I recently encountered a man I had gone to high school with. He’s spectacularly funny and has raised two very high functioning children who are now in college. He’s a manual laborer, very bright and hard working. But here is the problem: we haven’t had a chance to actually get together in person but he’s talking like we are destined to be together, how he is so overjoyed to be in touch with me, that he’s never forgotten about me. I, on the other hand, have been feeling curiosity about catching up and learning about him. See, I believe that I’m the healthy one here and it’s wrong to overdo it with emotions so quickly. But I am also the unhealthy one, historically. I want to meet my life partner but how do I know who he is, as I have been wrong so many times before? How do I proceed if I don’t love him but want to know if I will some day if he is already “in love”?
posted by waving to Human Relations (13 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Maybe you should ask him if you can take it slow. Tell him you like him but he's moving a little too fast for you.

Good luck!
posted by commitment at 10:56 AM on July 17, 2012 [2 favorites]

At least one of you is having the appropriate response to reconnecting.

Husbunny and I started dating after knowing each other for over a year on-line. When we met IRL, I had the expectation that we'd be as close as we were on-line. It was disconserting, but it's like we had to build a separate, real-life relationship, apart from our on-line relationship. Thankfully, we did that and a year after our first date we married.

The point is, that your high school boyfriend is confusing you with his high school girl friend. He's meshing the you he knew 20 some-odd years ago with who you are today. He'll get the rude awakening soon enough. You'll meet him at the door and you won't be 17. Intellectually he knows you aren't 17, but his emotions and his expectations are over-riding his logic circuits.

Go out, re-connect and if you want to keep seeing him, great, see where it leads. If you don't have a connection, oh well, it was nice to see him after all of these years.

As for what he says, feels and does, that's on him. He's a big boy, he can take care of himself.

If he's head-over-heels, and you want time to suss out the situation, be honest and take it from there. Sometimes it happens that way.

In case you were wondering, I was the head-over-heels one in the relationship, but I respected Husbunny's reticence. I knew I was loony, but I was okay with it.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 10:57 AM on July 17, 2012 [5 favorites]

Best answer: Listen, sweetie: you have historically NOT been the problem... you've been involved with people who are mentally ill, people who cheat on you, people who don't fulfill your needs or mess you up in other ways. YOU have led an exciting life, been the sole caregiver for a kid, taken the big step of entering therapy to get healthy, etc. YOU sound like you're doing great.

That's why you gotta trust your gut. Your gut is telling you "hey, dude, it is NOT normal to be so effusive about a romantic partner so early!" And your gut is RIGHT. Everyone I've known who has come on super-strong, super-fast has turned out to be super-DUPER-scary later down the road. Give yourself credit, trust yourself and give this one a pass. When it's right, there won't be those warning bells blaring away in the background.
posted by julthumbscrew at 10:59 AM on July 17, 2012 [13 favorites]

we haven’t had a chance to actually get together in person but he’s talking like we are destined to be together, how he is so overjoyed to be in touch with me, that he’s never forgotten about me.

If that is too much too soon for you (regardless of whether you trust yourself to judge), then it is too much too soon for you. Tell him that. "I am excited about getting to know you again but I need you to take it down a notch." See how he responds to that, and trust your gut. If your gut is wrong and you pass up something that had potential, then so be it. You will meet someone else. But if your gut is right and you ignore it, then you will soon find yourself in sadly familiar territory.
posted by headnsouth at 11:01 AM on July 17, 2012 [2 favorites]

Well, to appropriate an adage from a different context, no battle plan survives contact with the enemy, you know? It's awful easy to convince yourself someone's perfect for you on paper; it is likely that you immediate problem will be solved by actually meeting each other and finding out that you don't click (most people don't, so in terms of the statistical norm, that should probably be your expectation).

In the less-likely event that you actually meet this guy and like him and he's still over the moon about you, then you tell the guy you need time and want to take things slow and if he is in fact an awesome guy he'll respect that. If he does not he is non-awesome and there's your answer.
posted by Diablevert at 11:01 AM on July 17, 2012

See, I believe that I’m the healthy one here and it’s wrong to overdo it with emotions so quickly.

In this case, you are right. He is making two critical mistakes here:

1. The "you" he's talking about is not only idealized by the passage of time and nostalgia (this is not a fault of his - it's just something people do) but is based on who you were twenty-five years ago; in other words, twice-removed from your actual self.
2. As he hasn't talked to you in person, he has no idea what you're actually like.

Also, expectations are a killer. If he's already decided you're someone who's magically destined to be his lady forever, the reality is pretty much inevitably gonna disappoint him, and that's not your fault.

My advice? Meet him and give the guy a chance, but take things slow in every aspect, and tell him you're into taking things slow and go from there. Communicate your reservations and see how he handles being told this. That should tell you a lot of what you need to know. If he turns out to be a loon, you're only out the time spent on a couple dates.
posted by FAMOUS MONSTER at 11:04 AM on July 17, 2012

the young rope-rider's follow-up comment said, just about word for word, what I came in here to say:

he's being a little whack to be so effusive, but if you are genuinely really skeptical or wary of affection, it might be that you're reading too much into what he said.

That said, I don't think there's anything wrong with planning ahead and think about what your responses might be if when you meet up, you find that he is somebody worth pursuing but he still is more effusive than you feel comfortable with -- recommended suggestion: something along the lines of "I'm into you but I need to slow down a bit"

(Any other situation like "You not being into him" (which is a whole different problem) or "He isn't as effusive in person." (which isn't really a problem) can also be something you consider, but you've probably already thought those through.)
posted by MCMikeNamara at 11:29 AM on July 17, 2012

Best answer: Go slow, go very slow.

I've seen a few similar cases in the last few years: teen or early-twenties romance, a breakup, and then the reconnection years later. (Facebook has a lot to answer for!) Some have gone well, but more have not. I think a big chunk of the problem is that many of the people involved think they are reconnectng with that long-lost love from twenty or thirty years ago, not the person their ex really is now (let alone the fact that THEY aren't the same person either!), and they're seeing the past through rose-colored glasses.

Sometimes they're unhappy or unsettled in their current life, and it's simply a way to reset the clock to what they remember as a happy, stress-free time: their current marriage is going through a rough patch, their kids are driving them nuts, they hate their job or their boss, maybe they've had an emotional upheaval like a parent or spouse dying. But way back when, love was young and bright and beautiful, and all they saw in the future was hope. And honestly, many lie to their exes, and are actually still in relationships and are sneaking around on their spouse.

This particular guy may very well be telling you the truth; the problem is, YOU DON'T KNOW. Either way, it sounds like he's really pushing you much farther and faster than you'd like to move, and he needs to back off. Take your time, and don't let him talk you into something that makes you uncomfortable.
posted by easily confused at 12:43 PM on July 17, 2012 [2 favorites]

I would agree with those who've said that if he's going too fast for you, you have the right to slow him down or otherwise act accordingly.


There is a lot of room for interpretation in your situation. For example, you say that you would say everyone you meet is unhealthy. You can be skeptical of this feeling, and suspect that you are being too ... um, suspicious. Or you could accept that nearly everyone *is* unhealthy. Most of us have been deeply affected by something somewhere along the line, or have failed to learn something important, and act unreasonably in some situation(s) because of this. It is what it is. It can just be reality, not a minefield or a morality play.

This guy is super-into you super early, and that's alarming you. And I would never counsel anyone to ignore their alarms. But you're looking for your life partner, and here is someone who is seriously into you who already knows I assume a decent amount about you. That too is what it is. It doesn't have to be bad. It could be good. Or it could just be what it is: an apparent option. I would suggest trying to look at it that way, seriously think about the ramifications, and *then* seeing if the alarms are still going off.

Also, some guys are just this way. I am. When I was single, I wasn't a play-the-field type. I fixated on one girl/woman at a time and thought a lot about how great it could be with her. Sometimes I never made a move. Sometimes I dated her and was disappointed. The last time, I was not. I like to think that once in these relationships, I came off as relatively normal. He seems eager to you to be in the relationship. Maybe, if he gets what he wants, he will calm down. I think it's more likely he just has kind of a big mouth. :)
posted by troywestfield at 1:04 PM on July 17, 2012 [1 favorite]

This might be a good thing to read, about green flags in relationships.
posted by griselda at 1:13 PM on July 17, 2012 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Here is what eventually happened. I went out with this high school friend after having been in contact with him from an online dating site. I was looking forward to seeing him again but felt somewhat miffed at how overconfident he felt in us having a relationship, like we were already going in that direction. I was pretty turned off by his attitude, but wanted to see this through and make sure that I wasn't just reading him wrong. After our date, I was certain that I didn't want to have a relationship with him and told him so. He pretty much ignored what I said and continued to be in touch with me as if we were going to see each other. It was very bizarre; he would describe future "dates" together, describing how our kids would really get along, how he's never forgotten about me and is so glad we have the chance to be together again. Without talking with me about it first, he said he made plans for my birthday that were going to last all day, so I needed to be sure I booked that day with him. I told him I didn't want a birthday gift from him. He said he already paid for a half day spa treatment, so I HAD to show up. I said NO, I did not and I would not. He said something about how he didn't want to make me so mad, but he understood. Then on my birthday I came home to a large cooler full of wine and beer, along with gifts for me and my daughter. I called him and said it was nice he thought about me but I had told him absolutely no gifts. He laughed it off and said it was just friends and for me not to get so uptight about his intensions, he explained, again, that he knew I just wanted to be friends, and he felt friends should be able to buy gifts for each other if they wanted. I explained again that I was not interested. He continued to text and email me despite me not replying to him again. One day a couple weeks later I came home to two large gift bags on my doorstep, one for me and one for my daughter, full of little presents. I texted him that I didn't want presents, nor did I want him coming by my house unannounced, ever again. He again made it out like I was going overboard. He texted me that I was a "control freak". I replied that his comment was very inappropriate, an I was not kidding when I said to not come to my house again. He replied that he was sorry and he wouldn't be in touch with me until I contacted him first. I said best wishes.
What a nightmare.
posted by waving at 8:13 AM on September 17, 2012

Awww, honey. I'm sorry. I was hoping (although not hopeFUL) that this wouldn't happen. But consider yourself lucky to have dodged this bullet. There is someone out there who's right for you, and when you meet them, they will be HAPPY to go as slow/steady as you want them to.
posted by julthumbscrew at 8:26 AM on September 17, 2012 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: MeFites,thanks for all of your very helpful advise. It helped put me in a better frame of mind going into this, to trust my feelings and do what's best for me rather than thinking I have to be nice to someone who is creepy.
posted by waving at 12:03 PM on September 17, 2012 [1 favorite]

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