A breakup means you break things off...
June 11, 2013 3:06 PM   Subscribe

This was me. Short version: was in a 6 year relationship with about a year of long distance, partner dumped me for someone else out of the blue. A month later he broke up with her and has since been really working hard for us to get back together. I can't imagine trusting him enough to get back into a relationship, but I love him and he's my best friend so we're doing this weird friends-who-miss-one-another and love-one-another thing that I know will eventually end badly. What should I do?

This is anonymous so I'm going to write a bunch to avoid later clarifications. Sorry it's so long.

Timeline: For about two weeks in the second half of February, he was seeing us both. In early March he called me to tell me and we broke up (not in a great way--I had to lead him through the conversation). At my furious insistence, we spent about a month and a half not talking, aside from a few dramatic calls and email exchanges when he was really struggling. I started to heal. In mid-April, we had one long friendly phone conversation; a few days later he unexpectedly showed up at my door, 700 miles from where he lives, to say how much he loved me. We talked for hours but another friend was staying with me from out of town and I sent him home that night. After this, he seemed to feel a lot better and I felt a lot worse having been reminded of how much I loved him.

Since then, we've been in frequent contact, discussing our relationship and just hanging out. I've been clear that I can't trust him after such an abrupt betrayal, and might never be able to. He's contextualized the cheating by describing that he felt like he was torn between two lives: the one in his hometown and the one he was going to start when he was to move in with me in the summer. When he felt attraction to someone else, he thought he could stop feeling so torn and start to live fully in his hometown (quarter-life crisis!). That obviously didn't work out and he daily reiterates how much he loves me and wants to be with me.

I love him very much but can't see feeling secure in any future relationship with him for a very long time. He didn't communicate with me about any of his issues with our relationship until he had fallen in love with someone else, so I was totally blindsided by the breakup. At the same time, he's my best friend, I love spending time with him more than anyone else, and I am really afraid of losing him. Before we started dating, we were friends; I've been close to him for more than a third of my life (if it isn't blindingly clear from this relationship ridiculousness, we're in our mid-20s) and he knows me better than anyone else. We've been communicating really clearly about our feelings, even doing exercises from books about infidelity, just to try to work through this.

We text or talk almost every day. I'm basically not moving on, but know we can't be together right now. Every day we talk, I feel more interested in being with him even though there's a solid wall of distrust that won't let it happen. I imagine we should stop talking (hey, I read AskMe, I know the drill) but honestly--I am tired of making hard emotional decisions and just want there to be a less painful way for us to start healing. A complication is that he's started a bunch of new interests, a new job, and basically started to grow up in a new way since the breakup. I'm starting grad school in the fall, but basically feel a bit emotionally stuck, so I have some resentment that the breakup seemed to be really good for him but really threw me off course.

Here are my questions:
1) What is the kindest and most future-friendship-saving way for us to proceed? Is there a good way to split the difference between daily contact and no contact at all? I feel cruel because I know it hurts us both when we talk, but it feels so much better than the alternative.
2) If we should do no contact, for how long? With any exceptions? When I asked for no contact before, he repeatedly initiated contact (including showing up at my place). We've talked about how that's inappropriate boundary-breaking, but I also always responded and wanted to talk when he did. How do I commit to not having that happen again?
3) Any sage advice for me in general? I'm generally a responsible-ish adult with adult emotional responses, but I'm flailing with this.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (25 answers total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
No contact, and don't plan on re-contacting him. You're addicted to him, and most likely, the drama of re-igniting something that shouldn't be started again, and holding onto the promise in the future of being together is holding you back.
posted by xingcat at 3:11 PM on June 11, 2013 [13 favorites]

What is the kindest and most future-friendship-saving way for us to proceed?

It's difficult and painful at first, but the only chance for a friendship in the way-down-the-road future is to go NO CONTACT for the foreseeable future now. It's impossible to predict how long it will take (and also impossible to predict if you will ever really be friends again -- I know, it's horrible even to contemplate), but to get over a 6-year relationship the wound is going to be pretty raw for at least a year.

I speak as someone who is friends with the vast majority of my exes, including an ex-fiance and my ex-husband. It always takes a period of no-contact, which always lasts longer than you can imagine at first. And it's always more pain than you think you can bear, and yet... you always are able to bear it, and the time really will pass eventually.

Hang in there. I know how much this hurts.
posted by scody at 3:20 PM on June 11, 2013 [2 favorites]

He sounds much too immature for you. This might be a good point for a natural break. He made his choice. Even the dramatic bid for your attention (700 miles to your door? Without an invitation?) is childish. It's not really something that lends itself to optimistic projections.

You did the right thing, I think. You may need to work hard to make it stick. No contact will definitely give you the space you need. He's messing with your head by being so present in your life every day - it is very hard to think straight when you're being emotionally manipulated, which frankly, you are. Step away from all the drama. This guy has done enough and had enough time.

You're starting graduate school in the fall? That'll keep you plenty busy. Can you start getting involved in that now - like, visit the libraries to get to know your way around them, go to some summer events, walk around the campus neighborhood to get the lay of the land? Any actions like that will help you move on to the new life that's starting for you.

If someone who would do this to you still feels like your best friend, it might also be time to re-evaluate what it takes to be your friend. As they say, with friends like that... But even saying that, even if it's true that he's a decent guy at heart and will grow and learn from this and turn into a better person...well, he might, but that doesn't have to be with you. Meanwhile, if you went back to what you had before I don't think he or you would be learning much at all.
posted by Miko at 3:25 PM on June 11, 2013 [19 favorites]

1. No contact.
2. hm, all of grad school sounds like a good amount of time. Maybe plus a year. To encourage yourself to stick to it you could give a friend a cheque for more money than you can afford to lose, and if you let this guy back in your friend gives all the cash to a domestic violence shelter.
3. Life sucks, breakups suck, being cheated on sucks, this guy sucks. I'm sorry. It could have been worse, it could have been six months after he moved to live with you.
posted by jacalata at 3:29 PM on June 11, 2013 [4 favorites]

A MeFite recommended reading the posts on Baggage Reclaim, I recommend you do that.

Go no contact. Seriously. You're being manipulated by grand gestures. They are meaningless and you'll be foolish to fall for them.
posted by discopolo at 3:38 PM on June 11, 2013 [9 favorites]

I feel so much for you - am right there with you, having just gone thru the break-up of my 6 year relationship. There are so many reasons that things between my ex and I can’t work out, and I was miserable before we broke up. But, as the immediacy of how bad things were fades, instead of focusing on the crappy stuff, l find myself thinking more about the things I loved about him and how sad I am that we aren’t a part of each other’s lives anymore. What I’m getting at is, I understand what you are saying about how you still love him and still want to be close to him.

But, I agree with everyone else. No contact – none at all – no email, text, or phone, block him on Facebook, put away all the pictures, etc. I know it seems so hard, and it is hard (I really get how hard it is – it took so much effort for me to block my ex on Facebook!) but it is the best thing you can do for yourself right now. Every week we are apart I can see that I think about him a little less, cry a little less. And every time I get an email from him (we are still working on splitting up the household stuff) I can feel myself backslide a little. I don’t think there is a way to “split the difference” on contact. I suspect that you would spend a lot of time focusing on whatever contact you decide to allow and then either backslide into more frequent contact or end up having things get worse between the 2 of you.

As for how long to go no contact – till you don’t care anymore? I know that seems harsh, but it probably is what you need. Maybe you guys will be great friends again someday, but you can’t do it until you aren’t invested in each other’s lives the way you are now and then you can start a new friendship.
posted by Sabby at 4:05 PM on June 11, 2013 [2 favorites]

This guy is like an amazing pair of shoes that give you blisters. There are so many things about him that you really really like, the long history, feeling like he knows you better then anyone (which I have to say, considering how he treated you should make this even worse, not somehow workable), but none of that is going to fix the huge glaring problem of horrible choices and betrayal.

I've had that pair of shoes that look great, but I can't wear. It's hard to get rid of them when part of you thinks you can find a way to fix whatever is wrong. And that's about a physical object you might actually be able to make a permanent change to, there is nothing in the world you can do or say to change this guy or what he did. If keeping in contact with him is preventing you from living your life, the only life you get, the way you want to - then don't do it.

When I went no contact with an ex, whenever I wanted to google them or check their online social activity I would ask myself, "Is this going to make me happy?". Was there a single thing I would read or find out that would raise me up a little bit? Finding out he had moved on would hurt, finding out he was pining for me would weird me out, there was no information that would give me any amount of joy. After a while (a long while, I'll admit) I've completely lost the urge to know anything about him. I don't think about him anymore and I've moved on.

No contact really does work, you just have to actually do it for that to happen.
posted by Dynex at 4:12 PM on June 11, 2013 [21 favorites]

You are the backup relationship. You will always be the person that he feels he can keep in his back pocket in case his next relationship fails and he needs someone to sleep with. And maybe, eventually, he'll settle for you and commit, but he'll always be thinking, But if she calls, I'm out the door like a shot. Maybe he won't even be thinking that consciously, but it'll be there.

I don't know anything about you, but I know this: You are too good to be settled for. Go no-contact forever, today. If he shows up, say, "I don't want to talk to you." If he presses, yell it. If he continues to press, call the cops, because he is not trying to get back together with you, he is stalking you.
posted by Etrigan at 4:17 PM on June 11, 2013 [9 favorites]

This works for him.

This is NOT working for you.

You know what to do. You know what to do.

(PS - the reason this is great for him but sucks for you is that he's using you to avoid dealing with what he did. specifically, YOU are shouldering the burden of the distrust he created, while he blithely glides along. this dynamic is sucking the life out of you and improving his life, instead.

You can't afford to shoulder his burden any longer. Dump him for good if you want to see your life improve.

Stop bargaining.)
posted by jbenben at 4:22 PM on June 11, 2013 [13 favorites]

In my late teens I had a really epic (in good ways and bad) relationship with a girl, I was madly in love but we fought a lot and she cheated on me and there was endless, spectacular drama. I desperately wanted to make it work. I felt this incredibly deep connection with her, as a lover and my best friend.

After a couple of years of drama I finally broke up with her and moved to a new town. I didn't talk to her very much at all for years. When we did talk it would get me all stirred up and confused again, and we ended up briefly reuniting and then splitting up again a few times over the next few years. Ultimately the relationship just was not meant to be, and every time I got back together with her, no matter how right it felt at the time, ended up being another disaster.

You can be madly in love with your best friend, and the relationship can still be a disaster. This guy cheated on you. That's sleazy in any relationship, but it's especially sleazy when you've been best friends. No matter how much you guys care about each other, if you stay together I can almost guarantee a lot of trouble ahead.

Cut off all contact. Try to forget him. It will hurt like hell, but you'll be glad in the long run.

No matter how awesome this guy seems now, no matter how much it will hurt to split up, do it now. Don't spend years of your life dragging this out.
posted by Ursula Hitler at 4:31 PM on June 11, 2013 [2 favorites]

If my best friend (with whom I am not romantically involved) treated me like this, I would dump her ass on the spot. And that is after 20+ years of friendship. He's not your best friend if he's using you and disrespecting you and blatantly putting you in second place.

Nthing no contact, suggesting raising your standards for "best friendship" - please believe you deserve and can do better than this.
posted by deliciae at 4:43 PM on June 11, 2013 [2 favorites]

Mod note: This is a followup from the asker.
I don't know if I made it clear in my timeline, but he broke up with her after a month--none of this wooing has happened while he's been with someone else. Just wanted to clarify! I also do believe that he's a good person who made bad decisions and freaked out, but I understand why it might not read that way. I appreciate all your answers and am taking them to heart.
posted by cortex (staff) at 5:01 PM on June 11, 2013

Oh sweetie, no. How can you get over him if he won't go away?

It hurts but he's not friend material, let alone rekindle material. You discovered that he's only as faithful as his options.

I get that it's SO much easier picking up where you left off, think of the time you'll save in mourning this relationship, dating, getting to know someone new. It's daunting.

But no matter what, don't get back with him.

Go no contact and stay that way for at least a year. Find places to be so you don't dwell. Throw yourself into work.

This time next year, you'll be stronger and wiser and happier.

I promise.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 5:11 PM on June 11, 2013 [8 favorites]

Your mileage may vary, but I was in a semi-long distance relationship with a guy once upon a time in my early twenties. He cheated on me with a girl that lived around the block from him and then a few months later (when I had moved closer to him), she'd dumped him and he tried to get me back.

I said no thank you and it is probably one of the things I'm proudest of in my life. I had really low self-esteem then and tended to let men walk all over me, but in that once instance I found the courage to stand up for myself. As a result, I got out of a relationship with a guy who was wrong for me in so many ways.

Some five years later, I found my husband and I'm eternally grateful I did. There are men who are loyal and will never cheat. If I were you, I'd go no contact and hold out for one of them. Like everyone here who's been through a painful breakup, I know that's the only way that I can properly heal from a breakup. It sounds like you are that way too.
posted by bananafish at 5:14 PM on June 11, 2013 [8 favorites]

I recently went through a break up, similar circumstances, together for 5 years, left me for ex from 6 years ago, i get the pain, I understand the need and desire to want him back in your life.... BUT you have to be in the mindset that YOU CAN DO BETTER!!! To answer your questions....

1) What is the kindest and most future-friendship-saving way for us to proceed? Is there a good way to split the difference between daily contact and no contact at all? I feel cruel because I know it hurts us both when we talk, but it feels so much better than the alternative.

I agree with the others, cut off all contact, NOW, even if this means changing your number, do it. You're not healing when you talk and you're helping him build his ego.

2) If we should do no contact, for how long? With any exceptions? When I asked for no contact before, he repeatedly initiated contact (including showing up at my place). We've talked about how that's inappropriate boundary-breaking, but I also always responded and wanted to talk when he did. How do I commit to not having that happen again?

Honestly..... I wouldn't bother contacting him again, why risk the hurt? Keep yourself busy with friends who can support you. Be firm. Go on dates with other people. He needs to see you will not always come running back to him.

3) Any sage advice for me in general? I'm generally a responsible-ish adult with adult emotional responses, but I'm flailing with this.

I know it's hard, I really do.... but really the trust is lost, you should focus on YOURSELF and not worry about maintaining a friendship. He disrespected you, whose to say he won't do that again? The pain of trying to be 'friends' and eventually watching him date others is heartbreaking. Join something new, make new friends, go on a trip, just KEEP BUSY. Let him realize you have a life outside of him.

Best of luck!
posted by bluehermit at 5:19 PM on June 11, 2013 [3 favorites]

OP, you're the one reading this incorrectly. I think everyone had the timeline correct (I know I did) and the answers before your update are relevant to what you wrote. I guess you're just not putting our objection together conceptually with what you think you know about this guy?

You were healing until he popped back into your life. Right?

Well, as long as you stay in contact with him now, he gets to pretend and dodge the consequences of his actions while your healing is either delayed or destroyed altogether.

You are dealing with his consequences, putting HEAPS of your emotional energy into mitigating the mistrust he created. Your expenditure on his behalf is causing you suffering, as it should do, because this is the natural way of things like this.

You can't erase his consequences or pay his "debt." Paying his debt is never going to work out in your favor.

Trust is a funny thing. It doesn't function the way you want it to. He's not trustworthy, and all the king's horses and all the king's men can never put that fairy tale back together again. I'm sorry.

And about your update?

I'll say it again: Stop bargaining.
posted by jbenben at 5:48 PM on June 11, 2013 [12 favorites]

jbenben is right, everyone gets it. Your comment was 100% clear and your followup note doesn't change the advice here.

I also do believe that he's a good person who made bad decisions and freaked out, but I understand why it might not read that way.

Here's the thing: he may be a good person who made bad decisions. Lots of really good people make bad decisions. But those decisions do have consequences, even for a good person. No one has to be an evil, low-down snake to be not relationship material. This guy is showing you, loudly and clearly, that he is not relationship material. Even his work to get you back shows that. It's not grown up work, and it puts you in a terrible position, where you have to make all the decisions and take all the risks. Why should you? You didn't do anything to get yourself here. Not a thing. Really, why?

If he's a good person, he'll understand, respect your decision, feel awful, do a lot of thinking and learn from his mistakes so he won't do this to the next woman. That's what a good person will do in this situation.

In her comment, Sabby said:

l find myself thinking more about the things I loved about him and how sad I am that we aren’t a part of each other’s lives anymore.

THis is totally, 100% legitimate feeling. You can't expect yourself to be a stone, to feel nothing. But it might help to recognize these feelings for what they are: not yearning. Not regret. Not love. They are feelings of grief. There was something that was part of your life, and now it's lost. It's absolutely normal and rational to feel a sadness because of that, the sadness of grief that this relationship, at least as it once was, is no longer. I think that giving it a name and allowing yourself to feel the sadness that one relationship, the mutually trusting and completely comfortable one, is gone, will help you not mistake these feelings of sorrow for a desire to get back together or the belief that this won't recur. It's just grief, and it takes its time.

It's interesting that almost no one so far has spoken up for couples counseling and for trying to stay together. Usually, you will see that on AskMe for longer-term relationships like yours. I think you're not seeing it here, at least so far, because there are so many red flags in the situation. You could certainly choose to throw all this advice over and continue trying to be with him. But know that you were to choose that road, that it's going to be a hard slog. Therapy, at a minumum - for both of you together, but also, I think, for him. Because he's not acting in a mature way and doesn't see to know how to communicate appropriately or get his needs met appropriately, and he has a distinct ambivalence about settling down with you at this point in his life. And don't move in with him, as you were planning, or mix your finances at all. Figure out what you need to know and see to be assured that he is not cheating. Figure out whether you can avoid the temptation to snoop and check on him, whether your trust can really be solid again. Figure out whether you'd be happy about getting back with him for another 2 or 3 or 6 years if it ended up not working out after all anyway, leaving you a few years older. Figure out if you want to be doing all this emotional work that someone else thrust on you during these years of your life. And also figure out whether you can pursue all of this emotional discussion and heavy lifting while you are a fulltime graduate student.

His actions spoke really loud, I think. He may want to want to be with you, but he doesn't seem to want to be with you. My gut sense is that you'd be doing both of you a favor to just cut off contact, kindly but firmly, at least til you're done with school and have grown some more and dated some other people. Of course I don't know you or him, but it's not like we're just misreading the comment. It's a really lousy situation and it seems clear you didn't bring it on, and don't need to be the one to repair it.
posted by Miko at 7:10 PM on June 11, 2013 [9 favorites]

You say he's a good guy who made a bad choice. The thing is, a real good guy wouldn't make that choice. He's flawed, and it's in a way that is fundamentally not good for you. Let him make these hurtful mistakes on someone else's time. Your time is best spent building a new life without him.

So just to reiterate, just because he's willing to come back, it doesn't mean that the relationship is okay.

You know it's not, you're not on the same page about anything and he's untrustworthy in the bargain.

Let it alone, cut him out of your life and move on.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 7:35 PM on June 11, 2013 [3 favorites]

Oh honey. I spent my early-mid twenties addicted to a bad, dramatic relationship with a cheater. We went through so many cycles of breaking up, going no-contact for a few weeks or months, and then starting up again despite knowing it was the wrong thing. We even had a dramatic long distance chapter where he moved across the world to be with me when I started school in a new country.

I kept going through the cycle because he was my best friend at the time. But you know what? If you give yourself time to heal and get a new best friend (hint: yourself is not a bad choice!) it will be so much easier and you'll look back and shake your head at how long it took you to get real.

Love is fucking blind. I'm sorry you're in the woods right now, but I can tell you this: once you get to grad school and meet all sorts of new people, the VERY LAST thing you'll want is a toxic relationship dragging you down. Use your new start. In retrospect, letting him move across the world to live with me was a terrible choice. I was mired in cheating relationship drama when I really should have been hanging out with my classmates and living it up in a foreign country. I'll never get that time back, and I'll always regret that.

IMO, once a cheater, always a cheater. Your ex sounds like a self-absorbed jerk. Once the trust is broken, it's really, really difficult to repair and it doesn't sound like he's doing any work to build it up. Furthermore, showing up at your doorstep with no notice is immature and dramatic, a relatively cheap grand gesture that has no bearing on whether he's worthy of trust. It reeks of manipulation and I instantly dislike this guy for his stunt.

My advice is to cut him off completely. No contact until you literally don't care whether you talk to him at all. Once you have established an attitude of idle curiosity about whether he's alive or doing well, then you can go ahead (a beautiful catch-22).

Good luck!
posted by pluot at 10:06 PM on June 11, 2013 [5 favorites]

No, we really did read it right. We can't tell you what to do, and you seem to really want to forgive him and be with him again. I know how it feels, but trust me, you're setting yourself up for complete disaster.

This may be a painful lesson you'll have to learn yourself. But your boyfriend isn't going to change. The girl he left you for probably found someone better, so he probably is running back to you, the fall back girl.

Please read the Baggage Reclaim posts and look for posts related to being the fallback girl.
posted by discopolo at 10:20 PM on June 11, 2013 [2 favorites]

I've tried five times to write something in response and keep erasing, so I'm going to keep it simple this time.

This guy may love you, but he is not healthy for you. No matter how much you want to be friends, to be involved in your life, you will never be able to move on unless you go no-contact. After you truly don't care, then and only then can you be friends again.
posted by corb at 12:26 AM on June 12, 2013 [4 favorites]

Ditto with what everyone else has said here. Watch this and really listen to the lyrics: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ON5qhdt1jy4
This always makes me feel better. :)
posted by ATX Peanut at 6:46 AM on June 12, 2013

Here's the thing. I know from experience, the grand gestures feel good. Oh! He's willing to travel 700 miles to profess his love! He's willing to talk to me even when I don't want to talk or am angry! He wants to follow me to school! I was with a man like this once.

The catch is: the grand, dramatic gestures are easy. It's easy to do a one time grand dramatic thing. Really. It's easy to commit the time once to the travel and the professing of love. It's much, much harder to do the smaller, more mundane things. Things like not letting his attentions wander to other women. Things like being there for you by cooking dinner when you've been at the library until midnight again. Things like being a good teammate and partner - being able to flex in the ebb and flow of a relationship. The mundane stuff is, in many ways, a lot harder.

The guy I was with? Couldn't pull this off, because he couldn't make the commitment necessary. He was too caught up in the grand gestures to notice that it's the day-to-day consistency that provides the foundation for a lifetime commitment.

Grand gestures are empty without the consistency to back it up. He hasn't been consistent. He hasn't been faithful. He has broken his covenant with you, and faced no negatives from it. All he has offered is hollow shell games.

Also, Miko said this:

I also do believe that he's a good person who made bad decisions and freaked out, but I understand why it might not read that way.

Here's the thing: he may be a good person who made bad decisions. Lots of really good people make bad decisions. But those decisions do have consequences, even for a good person.

I was once this person. I did some really horrible things in a relationship. I behaved very badly. The guy broke up with me and we went no contact for 3 years. At the time, it hurt, but it was very good in the long run. It gave me a long time to think about what I'd done. It gave me a long time to figure out why, and to commit to never behave that way again. And - I haven't. I'm very grateful to him now for enforcing the boundary and making me face the repercussions of our actions. There are times that we don't learn unless we face the repercussions. And right now, he hasn't learned, because there have been no repercussions.

You want permission to date him again. I'll shrug and give it - it's your life - but I predict tears and sorrow, and you deserve better. You'll only be in grad school once. Don't spend the time farking around with someone who can't give you the mundane pleasures of consistency, stability, consideration, and respect.
posted by RogueTech at 8:38 AM on June 12, 2013 [7 favorites]

What advice would you give to someone else in your position?

So there you go.
posted by Guy_Inamonkeysuit at 8:58 AM on June 12, 2013

You go no contact until you don't care whether you talk to him or not, at which time you won't talk to him, because you won't want to.

But you already know this. You already know what you have to do, you're just having a hard time doing it, because it's hard and it sucks and he's your best friend and you love him. You're hoping someone here will tell you that you don't have to do this really hard thing that you don't want to do. It won't be me, as much as I empathize (and I do, I SO DO). You have to do it, and you know it. As has been said, you deserve better than this.

Good luck, whatever you decide.
posted by jennaratrix at 1:27 PM on June 12, 2013 [3 favorites]

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