Help me fight the war between my head and heart.
January 2, 2013 3:00 PM   Subscribe

Please help me make sense of a romantic situation, involving a co-worker, lots of mixed signals, confusion and a desire to remain best friends. Very very long explanation inside, sorry I kept it as brief as I could.

I'll try and keep this as short as possible, though I'm afraid it's a bit complicated so it may get long.

Basically a co-worker, W I've known for over three years asked me if I wanted to start a writing project together in September. I said yes and we ended up spending a lot of time together. One evening I discovered he was ticklish so I started to try to get him to beg for mercy. It ended in us kissing each other.

Now I'm 33yrs old and female, I've only had 3 relationships before W, two when I was 14 and then my ex from the age of 21 to 26. I can be a very intense person and have never really wanted to date casually, prefering instead to be single so that if the right person comes along I'm available. Also if I'm honest I didn't think anyone would want to date me while my ex was still living with me.

W was 40yrs old when we started dating. He's lived in the same house his entire life, never moved out, his parents still treat him like a child at times and for a lot of his life has suffered from depression and suicidal thoughts. He's spent a lot of his life feeling like no one would ever want him and could never imagine a future for himself. However just over a year ago he's started feeling much happier. I know that from what I've written he doesn't sound like much of a catch bless him :-) But he truely is a wonderful person and we get on like a house on fire. I understood that he'd be on a very steep learning curve, however I don't think I realised how big a learning curve it would be.

Anyway we started dating each other and it was wonderful, we had four amazing weeks together and for about two weeks we spent every night together. Then one week various things happened, he did something that triggered a painful memory from my last relationship, I tried explaining it to him but he thought I was upset at him. I'd told him early on that I was childfree but it didn't register how phobic I was about babies etc until the fifth week. Then he was ill and that in conjunction with a lack of sleep made him get grumpy and withdrawn. Previous to this week he'd been very happy and when he smiled it was alook of true happiness and contentment.

However due to this week he split up with me on the Saturday. Then on the Monday he told me he'd made a mistake and wanted to be more than just friends but that he really wanted kids. I tried to give him time to think about if he would be happy not having them, but after two weeks of uncertainty and experiencing chest pains and shortness of breath I knew I needed an answer sooner. The answer was that he didn't think he could cope with not having kids so we agreed to be just good friends.

However I still had strong feelings for him and there were a lot of body language signals that implied he wanted more. We got carried away a couple of times, at this point I told him I couldn't do that as I had strong feelings for him still. So I clarified that we were just friends who held each others hand and hugged. We were both doing fine with this and I was managing.

Unfortunately just before Christmas we started to get more flirty with each other. I stupidly tried to express how I felt about him without saying it directly as I felt ashamed that I'd not gotten over him already. I hoped that if he didn't feel the same way he'd say so so nothing would happen. We ended up sleeping together and I asked him what he wanted, he said he hadn't really thought about it, despite him saying earlier he knew I had it bad for him. So I spoke to him about it on Christmas Eve. We agreed that it'd just been a misunderstanding, we both thought the other was giving signals, to be honest we both probably were. So it was agreed we'd just go back to being friends.

We met up last Thursday and went out together during the day, then in the evening we eneded up in the local park blowing bubbles and chatting. Nothing happened that night and we left it as seeing each other at work today. Though on Monday he texted me to see if I was doing anything yesterday. I wasn't so we arranged to meet up yesterday. Apparently on Monday night he'd decided he wanted more (he didn't say this to me until yesterday evening). So come yesterday morning we ended up holding each other and kissing, eventually leading into more. Afterwards I asked him if this meant he wanted to date me again. He said yes. Then a bit later I asked him about why he'd changed his mind. He said that he'd realised he couldn't afford children, wasn't ready for the responsibility as he wanted to live his life first and he didn't think he'd find anyone else (he admitted today it was a stupid thing to say and he didn't mean it the way it came out). So I was doubting his feelings by this point.

So today after work we had a chat and he said he didn't intend for it to go as far as it did yesterday and that after he said he wanted to date me he realised he still wasn't sure what he wanted and wasn't ready for a long term relationship. He said he didn't want to mess me about any more than he had done. So we're back to not dating now.

I understand from what I've written that he doesn't sound very good. I didn't fully understand just how intense his learning curve would have to be. We're still very good friends and although I know it'd be easier for me to just walk away I don't want to lose his friendship as he's the best friend I've ever had, and he truely is a really great guy. He's just a little (well ok a LONG) way behind everyone else in figuring how to handle relationships.

Now the trouble is that I've always been a sensible person, I've always sought to control my emotions with my intellect, yet for the last few months I've been unable to do that. I've been at war with my own mind and emotions. Part of my mind says to run a mile, the other part sees all the wonderful qualities he posesses and says he's worth fighting/waiting for and my heart is saying fight for him as I believe he's a soul mate. I want to be sensible as I've always prided myself on that but I'm struggling at the moment.

Then tonight I've had what is probably a terrible idea. I've never dated casually and can be very intense, this is something I need to work on and I thought perhaps a way to do that would be to enter into a casual relationship with W. Would this be the worst thing ever and destroy our friendship or could it be good for both of us? We'd get to hang out and have fun times, he'd gain experience and I'd learn to relax and not take life so seriously. Or I could end up getting in too deep and ending up hurt again.

Please give me your opinions as I'm still at war with myself and am struggling to see what would be for the best. As writing this the grown up sensible part of my mind is saying walk away and the other part is telling me not to. So I really need other peoples opinions to help me, as I'm finding it so hard at the moment.
posted by Ranting Prophet of DOOM! to Human Relations (20 answers total)
You don't have to work like mad or put up with endless crossed signals from a soul mate. Another huge red flag for me is that he seems to be coming up with endless excuses why he can't/won't make a commitment (versus occasional dates and booty calls), starting with the truly odd deal breaking demand that you agree to have children with him after a little over a month of dating.

I would say you are definitely ready for a relationship but this is not the guy for you. So seriously do walk away.

I'm also not sure you are going to be happy with casual dating. That's OK, not something you have to work on. But if you want a real committed relationship, don't look for less.
posted by bearwife at 3:08 PM on January 2, 2013 [1 favorite]

It doesn't sound like either of your have the experience or temperament to turn an intense infatuation into a casual relationship. It sounds like the start of the relationship was already kind of rocky, and the children thing was the end of it. Children are a common dealbreaker to many relationships and one that you can't ignore or hope will change. I suggest moving on and removing yourself from your friendship with this guy. You guys are going to keep crossing the line and hurting each other. It will interfere with your ability to form other romantic relationships, and if one of you does enter a new relationship I can guarantee the other is not going to take it well. I know he feels like the best friend you've ever had; sexual tension is a powerful influence on one's impressions of other people.

For what it's worth, given your ages I don't think it's odd at all that he's putting the children thing on the table now. It would be weird in your early 20s, but by mid-30s if someone wants kids it should play a strong role in the formation of new relationships.
posted by schroedinger at 3:11 PM on January 2, 2013 [3 favorites]

the truly odd deal breaking demand that you agree to have children with him after a little over a month of dating.

Not that odd, and not a demand. He's 40. She told him she never wanted to have kids. If he ever wants to have kids, then figuring this out is going to be vitally important and the sooner the better.
posted by empath at 3:15 PM on January 2, 2013 [5 favorites]

You want different things (he wants children and you don't), you work together, and you suffer shortness of breath and chest pains (yours? or his?) for extended periods of time when broken up, which happens intermittently.

You don't make him sound "not very good" so much as like a vulnerable person you are jerking around. Having a casual relationship with him would be a way of jerking him around more. You say he has a lot of "wonderful qualities", what are they? I actually can't tell, from what you've written, whether you like anything at all about him other than his vulnerability.

It seems like your personal lives, mental and physical health, and employment could be at stake here, perhaps his more than yours. The first thing I would suggest is that you seek employment elsewhere, to take the pressure off your professional situation.
posted by tel3path at 3:15 PM on January 2, 2013

You can ratchet a casual relationship into a non-casual one (well, sometimes. Not often), but it's very very difficult to take something that is giving you chest pains and shortness of breath and takes 13 paragraphs for you to explain and make it casual. Do not even try to go casual with this dude: it won't work, and it will probably make things way worse. The kids thing is a deal-breaker, and that's okay. Move on.

Now, if you want to try a casual relationship, that's all well and good -- but pick your casual partner very very very carefully. This guy is a bad bet for that particular experiment for you. You need a clean slate for that one.
posted by Countess Sandwich at 3:24 PM on January 2, 2013 [5 favorites]

It doesn't sound like you're capable of a casual relationship with this guy. Every time you sleep together or something intimate happens one of you thinks it's time to get back together. Proposing something casual is just going to keep that cycle going.
posted by Autumn at 3:28 PM on January 2, 2013 [2 favorites]

Sorry I just realised I didn't make it clear about the children. He didn't demand that I have children with him. I told him a week into the relationship that I was childfree and would never have any. He wanted to see if he could cope with never having children. Unfortunately as all my other friends at work knew I was childfree I thought he did too. As it turns out he didn't. As not having children is such a big thing for me I do make a point to discuss it very early on. I've been childfree since I was 12 and was sterilised at 30.

I have always been up front and honest with W apart from the other week when I struggled. As for his good points he's incredibly funny, artistic, a deep thinker, incredibly complex, comfortable enough in his own skin to sit on kids playground equipment blowing bubbles with a crazy woman, very thoughtful, he has a great mind, he's a wonderful writer and does amazing poetry, he's a fantastic listener, even when we had an argument he listened when I spoke and took it on board, has a wonderful smile, is great with accents etc.. I didn't want to list all of the fantastic things about him as my post was already long and I was trying to keep it as short as possible.

The chest pains and shortness of breath were mine as I struggled not knowing what was happening. When I know I can deal with a great amount of things.

Our work has never suffered, in fact it actually benefitted as I became more aware of what was happening around his section so when I had time I'd go round and help him and the other people doing his test. Even the day after we split up my and his work didn't suffer despite the fact that I was working in the same room as him. We both had interim performance reviews today and our manager had no problems with our work at all.

Thank you for all your opinions so far, it's made me realise that there's nothing wrong with me wanting a long term relationship. I'd started to feel that perhaps I was wrong for wanting a long term relationship and only wanting to date people who are interested in that from the outset. Your opinions have also helped me see that dating him casually really is the bad idea I thought it was. It's just that at the moment I don't trust my judgement as I've gone from being able to control my emotions and not beeing all mushy and romantic to suddenly being ruled by my emotions and unable to control them.
posted by Ranting Prophet of DOOM! at 3:30 PM on January 2, 2013

Please walk away from this man, trust me.

Just reading this is making me feel sad.
posted by timsneezed at 3:35 PM on January 2, 2013 [6 favorites]

He's 40. He won't change. He might make you feel good, but he doesn't really want you.
posted by discopolo at 3:35 PM on January 2, 2013

Forget him, you don't really sound prepared for this relationship. Forgive me, it's just, your rigidity about certain things is not conducive to deepening any relationship.

There's no being "just friends" with someone you just broke up with. A period on "no contact" is necessary, and sometimes one person or the other is never ready to be friendly again.

At 40 years old and still living at home, yeah, this is a BIG project. Likely insurmountable, as it seems this guy doesn't know how to put a bad moment or a bad mood into proper context and move on. Too bad.

But you present a whole different situation, equally as problematic. You are 33 years old, you may or may not still be living with someone you broke up with about 4 or 5 years ago (as roommates? sharing a bed? this is unclear) you require instant commitment AND intensity from a partner, BUT you definitely do not want children, ever, never to change your mind on that score. Also, you have very little relationship experience to speak of.

Basically, you'll need to tell anyone and everyone you meet EXACTLY how a romantic relationship with you will be (instantly intense, no chance of a family ever) so that maybe one day you might meet someone who's romantic criterias agree with yours. Dating sites might work well for you here.

As for your friend, I think you should let him off the hook and go no contact as much as possible, even though you work together.

Unless he learns to roll more easily with the occasional disappoint or bad day in a relationship, and you decide to deal with your "baby phobia" (your term, not even really sure what it entails) then this can not work out and will only be LOTS of drama and heartache.

Instead of casual dating with this guy, I guess you could try coupled counseling together, and individual counselors for each of you, in an attempt to make it work.

Your friend sounds very emotionally fragile. Please don't lead him on. Also, don't keep giving him the opportunity to vacillate as much as he has been, because that is too hard on both of you. Good luck.
posted by jbenben at 3:39 PM on January 2, 2013 [7 favorites]

It can be really, really challenging to be so attached to someone with whom you have a major impasse, like wanting kids/not wanting kids. Ultimately, you have to figure out for yourself (not for him) whether it is a dealbreaker or not for you, and if it is, take them at their word that it's a dealbreaker for them and move on.

Of course, because you're so attached, all it takes for your resolve to dissolve is for the other person to say "oh, but it isn't really a dealbreaker for me", and boom, you're back together. At some point you have to take it on faith that they're telling the truth, but I'd be keeping a very sharp eye on it, and not assuming everything was fine if, for instance, he started suggesting unprotected sex or encouraging you to hold babies. Anything that suggests he's saying it isn't that important, but showing that it is, means you'll have to give up and move on.
posted by davejay at 3:42 PM on January 2, 2013

I think it's not going to work for you with this guy. The no kids thing is likely a deal breaker and if you carry this on for much longer, you'll wind up more hurt and possibly not be in the right place when a better fit shows up. The back and forth between friends/casual is not helping, you'll need to have a break before you can be simply friends again.
posted by arcticseal at 3:44 PM on January 2, 2013 [1 favorite]

Sorry I didn't make it clear, my ex fiance is no longer living with me. He moved out after almost six years as a lodger. Yes it affected me deeply as I couldn't move on and deal with it with him still living in the same house. However I have dealt with that over the previous year before I started dating W. When we started dating I made a concious choice to let go of the past and start afresh. The only rigidity I have is with regards to children. I have been childfree since I was 12 as I knew I'm not cut out to raise children and I believe children are a privilege not a right. I'm phobic about pregnancy, childbirth and babies and this is another, albeit seperate reason for me not wanting children, as if I'd changed my mind about having children I'd have adopted. However I gave myself 18 years to change my mind and I didn't so I asked my doctor to be sterilised.

I didn't want the relationship to become as intense as it did as quickly as it did. I told him I wanted to take it slow and steady. He was the one who started talking about paying money towards the bills as he was spending so much time at my place. He was also at one point working out how to fit extra storage space in the front room for his collection and started measuring up. Yes I did ask him if he'd be interested in moving in but I did say it wouldn't be for at least a year as I didn't want it to progress too quickly. I was the one who suggested he stop over night as when he came round I'd start saying he should go home at about 11pm but often he wouldn't leave until 3am. I figured at least if he stopped over we'd get a decent nights sleep.

I didn't/don't want instant commitment. I merely want someone who is actually looking for a long term partner rather than casual dating or a bit of fun. I want to know someone is interested in getting to know me and working on our relationship to see if we have what it takes to be partners long term. As if all I want is sex I can get that without a relationship. I still want to take time and get to know someone as I learnt my lesson from my previous relationship. As that went very quickly and ended very badly. Hence why I kept telling him I wanted to take it slowly.

I'm aware that not having children is a deal breaker for a lot of people, this is precisely why I brought it up very early on in the relationship so that if it was an issue for him he could tell me. Unfortunately he didn't tell me when I mentioned it that he wanted children and instead decided to wait to see if he could grow to deal with the fact that if he was with me he wouldn't have children. This is where the issue came in, as by this point I had very deep feelings for him. I did tell him to go away and have a think about it and I wanted to give him more time to think about it but it turned out not knowing was affecting my health.

Your opinions have all helped sway the voice in my head to the sensible side. So thank you all. With all the mixed signals he was giving out I was struggling to get my head straight. Writing the question helped me to start to see it more clearly as have reading the replies.

We are still writing a book together and I'm going to see if we can still do that as he's coming over for a couple of hours to work on the book. However if I find it hard to do then I will definitely go no contact with him. I've already told him that I may have to do that.
posted by Ranting Prophet of DOOM! at 4:15 PM on January 2, 2013

You two are pretty much a textbook example of why fooling around with co-workers is universally held to be a terrible idea.

If there's any way you can swing yourselves back around to seeing yourselves as co-workers who once had a fling but whose relationship is now back on a purely professional basis, do that.

I'm glad you said your heart considers him a soul mate, as this implies that you're not stuck in the delusion that only one such soul mate exists for you. Go find another one.

Apart from anything else, a true soul mate would be on the same page as you about kids.
posted by flabdablet at 4:22 PM on January 2, 2013

When tonight I've had what is probably a terrible idea. I've never dated casually and can be very intense, this is something I need to work on and I thought perhaps a way to do that would be to enter into a casual relationship with W. Would this be the worst thing ever and destroy our friendship or could it be good for both of us?

You're right, this is a terrible idea. It won't be good for you. You will get hurt.

Look, be fair to yourself - from your updates, you don't sound unreasonably intense at all. You're a mature, rational adult who knows what she wants. Stop trying to convince yourself to want something different, just because you think you should.

I didn't/don't want instant commitment. I merely want someone who is actually looking for a long term partner rather than casual dating or a bit of fun. I want to know someone is interested in getting to know me and working on our relationship to see if we have what it takes to be partners long term. As if all I want is sex I can get that without a relationship.

This is totally normal once you're in your 30s. Totally. Personally, I'm a bit sick of the prevailing culture that tells us we need to 'work on' being less serious about relationships. I'm nearly 40, and I could have written that paragraph. And you know, I used to feel some weird pressure to learn how to be more 'cool' and 'casual' in relationships, like - I dunno - have some banging sex and live for today and all that, and eventually if I did it enough I'd learn to be 'good at' more casual relationships. Well, it's not going to happen. I'm not good at it, I don't enjoy it, and that's okay. I'm pretty intense about most things, that's my personality; it's no better or worse than being into more casual relationships, it's

I don't need to try and teach myself to be someone I'm not, and nor do you.

You're doing everything right. This guy might be awesome, but he does not sound awesome for you. At all. Look, all this prevaricating and about-facing on both ends is because you're obviously a good fit in many areas, but this:

he realised he still wasn't sure what he wanted and wasn't ready for a long term relationship.


Just no. He's 40. He knows what he wants. He either doesn't want a LTR, or he doesn't want one with you. Either is a deal-breaker for you, as it should be.

Walk away.
posted by Salamander at 6:37 PM on January 2, 2013

Breakups are hard. And you guys have strong feelings. Make it happen or cut it off. Can't be friends given circumstances.
posted by Ironmouth at 10:58 PM on January 2, 2013

being an intense person and feeling like this guy is your soulmate while entering a casual relationship sounds like it will be nothing but trouble and heartache for you. please don't do it. also, since you said your ex lived with you for many years, and it prevented you from moving on, i am thinking you need to be really careful you don't stay writing partners with this guy and prevent yourself from moving on again. i could easily see that happen as there is nothing like regularly seeing the guy you are crazy about, and yet are not fully with, to keep the false hope alive. as incredibly hard as it will be i think a clean break, both personally and professionally, would be best for you. lastly, know that you and your soulmate will definitely be on the same page concerning kids.
posted by wildflower at 1:40 AM on January 3, 2013 [1 favorite]

I see your last update said he's coming over in a couple of hours and that has now passed. In case you check back in, i wanted to ask whether you had considered that having been single for quite a while, having dealt with your ex fiancé as your lodger (?) for so long and then finally feeling rid and over that and clear in what you now want, maybe you are just too deeply invested in wanting this to work?


Please give me your opinions as I'm still at war with myself and am struggling to see what would be for the best. .....As writing this the grown up sensible part of my mind is saying walk away .......... I'm finding it so hard at the moment.

my opinion : this sounds very drama filled and (i dont want to be harsh but) a bit school-age. He doesn’t sound right for you or a particularly great catch.

Read back your description of his wants/circumstances and explanations in your question and then some of the stuff you’ve said about him in your follow ups and see how it sounds. Couple of examples that stuck out to me: Being a great listener and deep thinker really should mean hearing and taking on board and acting accordingly to what you’re saying and being able to get out of one’s own head to think about others - the great listening and deep thinking isn’t paying off in terms of providing what you need/want is it? Never having moved out of his parents home but now saying not able to afford to have kids, saying he wants to have his life first before kids but (at 40) still living with his parents and seemingly no real plans in place to do this 'life living' - does this make any real sense to you? are you his 'life living' before he does settle down to have kids (with someone else)?

my advice: Draw a line under it as a short, intense fling. if you have some annual leave, please consider using it to take a break from work so you don’t' see him for a week or two. Don’t do the book thing with him, or at least don’t do it right now. No more too-ing and froo-ing nor justifications (your udpates do sound like youre trying to convince someone of something....)

I have some great friends who are physically attractive friends etc. Never would have dated them because they were not relationship attractive. This guy is not relationship attractive. Or not to your stated relationship needs/wants anyway.

Listen to YOUR EXACT WORDS: "the grown up sensible part of (my) mind that is saying walk away"
posted by moreteaplease at 6:58 AM on January 3, 2013

Moreteaplease thanks for your comment, he is coming over tomorrow night not last night. Though I did see him at work. As for your comment about wanting it too much I have considered that a lot. My initial thought was that perhaps I just wanted the relationship not him. However there have been another male friend that I get on really well with. Something could have happened with him but it didn't as I wasn't interested in him in that way. When W and I first started talking about the writing project I had no romantic feelings towards him. In fact a couple of people had implied that W and I should get together as we talked so much. But I never really saw it, and honestly he wasn't really my type physically, so it wasn't about lust or infatuation. As that came once I got to know him.

Unfortunately I have no holiday left as it's all been booked and the work I'm doing require being in the same room as him. I did take three days off work when we split up initially. I'll be fine eventually, it's just I'm finding the whole emotions ruling my head thing very stressful having always been very sensible and in control of my emotions.

Thanks again for all your advice and opinions, they've helped tremendously, so thank you for taking the time to reply.
posted by Ranting Prophet of DOOM! at 10:36 AM on January 3, 2013

I'm finding the whole emotions ruling my head thing very stressful having always been very sensible and in control of my emotions


You're only tripping.

It will pass.
posted by flabdablet at 7:15 PM on January 3, 2013

« Older Is there a way to approach unequal staff Christmas...   |   Network switch can't access internet behind router Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.