Repeating old relationship patterns
November 20, 2012 6:40 PM   Subscribe

Still not over the same old guy?

Hi y'all,

I need you guys to kick some RelationshipFilter sense into me. I am currently in a pretty serious relationship with a great person, but we are in a bit of a slump. I have been dealing with real mental and physical health issues, and we have been working through them, but it is tough. We are both facing a possible move at the end of this academic year, and we will have to make some serious decisions pretty soon.
Of course, at this moment, the ex from this post has decided to resurface. We have been pretty good at staying friends and I know he is in another long-term relationship as well, even though I secretly sorta kinda miss him and always have. But not in a very active or important way, since I started seeing this current person. And, despite that other post, I left well enough alone and did not make some huge declaration of feeling at that time. It seemed to be the right move.

Except now, we met for coffee (which we do occasionally) and he suddenly blurted out that he can't stop thinking about me and misses me. This, in the middle of everything, threw me for a loop. In response, I gave him a hug and said I liked seeing him, or some similar innocuous response. Since then we have been emailing each other a lot more and had one phone call. I've told my SO about all of this and neither of us has said anything that is unkosher , so to speak, in these emails. But this is bringing all up kinds of old feelings and making it hard, mostly because I also miss this guy. My current relationship, though wonderful in so many ways, still isn't what I had with that ex. I've noticed they have very different "love languages" - my current guy is much more of a doer, expressing his feelings by doing things that demonstrate the extent of his feelings. I know this is how he shows love and I understand it, but I sometimes miss the intense verbal exchanges that my ex and I used to have. I don't know if he is unhappy with his current girlfriend, and I still feel like things are unresolved between us. The fact that I still feel like this after four years, and that I sort of maybe threw something so special away, makes me so unbearably sad.
I also, logically, know a lot of other important things. I know that I am probably thinking about him because of all the current issues I have going on in my life. I know that I do not want to do anything to hurt my current SO and that it would be unwise to really think too much about this right now. I also know that we have both changed a lot and the person I miss probably isn't the same as the person he is now (or I am now). But now I am starting to relive all the pain and sadness from that last breakup, including how often I wished I had not done it and how I have never told him how much I miss him, too. My heart is aching a little bit.
Mefi, is there any good to be had from talking to this guy about our past now? I don't know if his intentions are entirely platonic or clear, and I don't know if I should ask him or not - I guess I will have to if these emails continue. Maybe we are eventually headed for a point where we can end up together, but I really don't know if that is possible. Moreover, I don't want to be wallowing in pain from a breakup four years ago. How do I reconcile myself to just living my life and trying not to let this get to me too much? Do I cut off all contact? Learn to live with the fact that maybe I'm still not over this guy and might never have something so special again? I guess this happens all the time, but it is pretty damn sad.

Thanks, as always.
posted by bookgirl18 to Human Relations (12 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Whatever you do, do it in the right order: break up with the SO to explore these feelings and other opportunities, or stop all of this and give your current relationship your full attention until you're ready to quit. The way things are going right now is messy and likely painful to all parties.

It sounds like you won't quit your current relationship. It wouldn't surprise me if doubling down on your current situation made you feel better about it--reminding you of all the reasons you're in it and loving it--and if you take that as an opportunity to create stronger bonds and better routines with your SO, perhaps these older feelings will subside for good.

Or if that seems really unlikely, then I'd guess there's more wrong with where you are now than you've said, and it's time to just move on.
posted by Monsieur Caution at 7:06 PM on November 20, 2012 [3 favorites]

The way you describe your feelings for your Ex would destroy your SO if he knew.

Reason: if someone is so torn about an Ex of 4 years ago while they are in a "loving" relationship with someone else, and are having coffee and daily emails with each other, that is emotional betrayal at the very least.
posted by Kruger5 at 7:33 PM on November 20, 2012 [11 favorites]

Yeah, time to either shut out the old guy completely ("sorry, but I need to give my attention to the person I'm in a relationship with, and you're a distraction") or break up with the new guy completely ("sorry, but I'm just not getting what I need out of this relationship, and it is time for me to move on.")
posted by davejay at 8:00 PM on November 20, 2012 [1 favorite]

Oh, and on the old guy wanting to talk about the past: if you're going to stick with your new guy, tell the old guy "look, you may still have issues, and those issues may be about me, but I can't help you with them. You'll have to work them out on your own, with your friends, or with a therapist. I can't help you."
posted by davejay at 8:02 PM on November 20, 2012 [1 favorite]

This totally sounds like something I could've written a few years ago.

I was in an on-again, off-again relationship with my ex for about five years. Throughout that time, we both dated other people and would attempt to cut off contact, but one or the other of us would always get in touch via e-mail. It got to the point that we didn't have each other's phone numbers anymore, so we could only communicate via e-mail. Little by little, it would always snowball to multiple e-mails a day and some reminiscing that dredged up old feelings. We'd get together, have coffee, sleep together, discuss the future.. and then it wouldn't work. I never did this while I was in a relationship, but throughout most of my relationships during that period, I was always thinking of my ex. I was always committed to the idea that we would end up together someday.

The fact that you are experiencing feelings that sound kind of similar to the ones I described above while still in a relationship with someone else is really alarming to me. You need to decide if you want to pursue something with your ex or you want to stay with your current boyfriend. There's no middle ground here, and you need to be aware that the stakes are high and you may very well end up alone.

Personally, I'm of the opinion that if your ex sounds that great to you and you are already feeling that connection with him that you had before and you don't have with your current boyfriend, you need to let current boyfriend go. It may very well be that you don't belong with your ex, but you don't belong with your boyfriend, either. I stopped having those longing feelings about my ex when I finally met someone who could "compete" with him - someone who was actually right for me and made me feel even better than the ex did.
posted by anotheraccount at 8:03 PM on November 20, 2012 [13 favorites]

Every so often I post this response that someone put up to an unknown AskMe question, but I find it applies to RelationshipFilter questions over and over. By posting this, I really do wish you the best.

"You need to be single indefinitely while you cultivate self-worth, discover the ability to make yourself happy, foster an identity for yourself that is not dependent on your relationship and face your paralyzing fear of being alone."
posted by matty at 8:04 PM on November 20, 2012 [16 favorites]

First, I agree with matty above.

But I'd like to add: the fact that you feel feelings towards your ex doesn't actually mean anything. I have an ex that I know is 100% not the one for me and I'm 1000% happy that I broke up with her and i still get feelings toward her sometimes -- and we don't even hang out ever.

My point is that of course you still feel connected to your ex -- they were a big part of your life and now they are less a big part of it. The reasons you were together in the first place haven't gone away. But the reasons you broke up with him, whatever they are, are still there too. Keep that in mind.

If you're happy with your partner, stay with them and deal with the end-of-year issues when they come up. If you're not happy with him, then end the relationship.

DO NOT break up with your partner because you think your ex is your one true love.

DO NOT stay with your partner because you're scared of being alone.

Frankly, my best advice is to take a trip to Europe and make out with a bunch of cute foreigners in hostels and forget their names the next day.
posted by no regrets, coyote at 11:16 PM on November 20, 2012 [3 favorites]

Such an elegant question. Could have been titled "Observations on the human condition".

Ever notice how the folks at the next restaurant table sometimes order what you wish you had selected? I finally figured out that that was just 'opportunity cost' or 'cognitive dissonance' in action. It would mostly always be true, since you really can't order everything on the menu. It seems particularly true when the other folks order something on fire or steaming or that takes like 3 cooks to bring it out. Drama, I guess, feeds the appetite?

At the same time, if you were to order what they ordered, could you eat it every day for 75 years and not ever get tired of it? Even when you go to another restaurant with your date, if you just always ordered slight local variations on it would you still look forward to dinner every day for the rest of your life? Would it be a balanced diet or would time accumulate some missing nutrient and cost you your health?

That's how I see this 'one mate' thing. Humans seem to like the safety of boredom, but we crave the delight of change. Still, you gotta eat. This coupling thing is not optional. It, too, is like food, in that we really want and need to do it. Damned shame our eyes are sometimes bigger than our stomachs, as Grandma Fauxscot used to say.

I think you have buyer's remorse, cute boy variant. Comes packaged with almost every choice you have to make in life, IME.

Enough metaphor. (Here, is it called 'metafor'?!) Good luck. I really enjoyed your approach to your question. Not sure why, but it just sounded very real and kind, curious and gentle. Lucky boys!
posted by FauxScot at 11:31 PM on November 20, 2012 [5 favorites]

To me, people who go down these roads while being involved in other people are classless and ugly. What sort of people do you want to be around and what sort of person do you want to be?

That aside, do you seriously envision that you'll both end the relationships you're in and live happily ever after together? C'mon.
posted by ambient2 at 11:52 PM on November 20, 2012

As others have said, you need to fish or cut bait.

I've always liked the book title: It's called a break up because it's broken.

You broke up for whatever reasons and they were valid. Now you've hit a rough patch with your current SO and it's nice to take a vacation from the WORK of a relationship, to revisit the happy, fun times of your former relationship.

The problem is, we can't all live in the rosy past, nor does limerace last forever.

A relationship is a day-to-day, hour-by-hour endeavor and you have to be in one 100%. That means that you shouldn't engage in distractions that would hurt your SO.

You have to make a decision. Chances are that neither of these guys will be the one you settle down with. It's entirely possible that no matter what you choose, you'll be wrong.

I would take the opportunity to get away alone during the holidays to really think over what you want from a relationship, where do you want to be relationship-wise in the next year, 5 years, 10 years, and then decide to act in a way that moves you closer to those goals.

Go into the new year either with the conviction to work it out in your current relationship, or to start the year single and to explore yourself and understand yourself better.

I personally believe that going back to an old boyfriend will end up in a breakup 99.99% of the time. It will happen faster, and will be much uglier than the first time around.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 6:15 AM on November 21, 2012 [1 favorite]

A now deceased friend and bandmate of mine said something to the effect of this years ago (it's awfully close to verbatim, it was so memorable):

"Relationships in the beginning are like winding up the chains on a swingset. There's all this tension, then you can't wind up any more and it unwinds so fast. Once it unwinds all the way, you break up for a little but, but the chains winds up the other way then unwind again and you break up again, then wind up the other way. On an on it goes, each time a little slower, until eventually, you don't get all wound up again and there you both are, two separate chains facing each other realizing that it is finally over"

I think you might be in the "slowly unwinding" phase.
posted by roboton666 at 2:16 PM on November 21, 2012 [6 favorites]

Thanks all - I appreciate the tough love, which I'm sure I need to hear. (and some of these answers are really beautifully written!) I only broke up with the ex because the long-distance wore me out, not because I stopped loving him. He was my first big important love, which is part of what makes this so hard i know. I have often regretted breaking up with him, and my feelings never really stopped - I just kinda learned to keep going over time. I guess if the two of us are still really missing each other so much after so long, a dreamy part of me wonders if this does not mean something, like we might warrant another shot. That may be crazy and unrealistic, i am aware. HOWEVER. I understand wholeheartedly that I need to make decisions about myself and my current relationship first before deciding or DOING anything. We have exchanged three emails and had one completely friendly (promise) call in the last couple of months. There is no tortured affair, just me trying to sort out my feelings. "sinning in my heart," or having feelings, is not the same as acting on them. But I am aware it's the beginning of something messy and i need to make a decision. So thank you.
posted by bookgirl18 at 9:44 AM on November 23, 2012

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