High school sweethearts turned college breakup
October 20, 2013 2:29 AM   Subscribe

Is it possible to love someone and want to "explore your options" at the same time?

I dated somebody almost all through high school–he asked me to be his girlfriend when we were in 10th grade. Just a little background on both of us: he's the nice guy. The type that girls like me (who attracted not so nice guys) usually kept in the friend zone. I decided to give him a chance though. He's a genuinely good guy, he's the most trustworthy person I've ever met, he's painfully honest and he'll bend over backwards for me. I was his first real relationship, he was my third. Everything went flawlessly until we reached college. I decided to start classes early but he wanted to take a year off before starting school again. Things got strained at best–we stopped communicating and connecting like we always used to and because of that things got dull and boring. On top of that, I worked full time as well as school and I had some major family issues to deal with.

We decided to take a break my 2nd year of college (he was just starting his 1st year) but it eventually turned into a break up. He told me that although he still felt the same about me, he wanted to have his fun and get all of that out of his system. Yeah we're in college, I understand where he's coming from and all but him saying this really pissed me off. We went many months without much conversation, I dated other guys and had a brief relationship with someone else. In the meantime, as much as I hated to admit it, all I could think about was him because nobody ever made me feel the way he did.

This past summer, we started talking again and there was an incredible connection between us–stronger than ever before. None of us really were using our heads and we had sex one night. This lead to him staying at my apartment for nearly 2 months, like we lived together. Everything was great, truly, but the problem was that there was no commitment (neither of us were out with other people those 2 months either). In fact, a friend of his felt the need to tell me that he had never been with ANY women since the time we had broken up, which at this point had been a year and a half. His friend also said that he got really defensive anytime he told him that he should talk to a particular girl, buy someone a drink, etc. and that he only talked to girls online. Weird... I finally sat him down for a real conversation and said that unless we were going to be in a committed relationship, we shouldn't be doing this.

He didn't like it at first but soon admitted it was for the best and let me have my space. Meanwhile, we have really opened up to each other about how we feel and it's good but conflicting–he said he wants to be with me but at the same time he still wants to have his fun...even though he hasn't been with anyone at all and he has had plenty of time. He said he still loves me but wants me to be happy, even if it means I end up with someone else. It's confusing to me because I feel like if he really wanted to be with other girls then he would have done it by now, seriously... I run into him EVERYWHERE and although I like seeing him and we connect every time we talk, it me miss him even more.

Has anyone else ever been in a somewhat similar situation? I know people date in high school and break up in college all the time but I feel like it is usually more cut and dry than this. My question is, is it possible to love someone and want to "explore your options" at the same time? I still love him yet I date other guys. If we were to ever get back together (not saying we are), it would be serious and I wouldn't want to be in a relationship with him unless I knew he had ruled out other possibilities.
posted by xxxsweetambitionxxx to Human Relations (10 answers total)
"My question is, is it possible to love someone and want to "explore your options" at the same time?"

"he said he wants to be with me but at the same time he still wants to have his fun.."

"I dated other guys and had a brief relationship with someone else. In the meantime, as much as I hated to admit it, all I could think about was him because nobody ever made me feel the way he did."

Given these statements, why not just consider yourselves as casually dating and see where it goes until you are both a bit more mature and ready to settle down? The way you're doing this -on again, off again from different levels of commitment thing- doesn't sound real healthy (or like it's much fun emotionally) for either of you.
posted by HuronBob at 3:52 AM on October 20, 2013 [1 favorite]

I have been in this exact situation. Right down to the gaps in college entry and the reconnecting. It's not a good thing.

The reason he feels so special and meaningful is that he is. He is your high-school-sweetheart that's an important and magical thing. But it is not something you build your life around. That first big relationship always feels big and powerful and raw because that person had access to a crazy hormonal 10th grade version of yourself. No one else will ever get to date 16yo you again.

(I am trying to put this gently)... you will meet better people and become better people apart. I hope you're not at the same college, because that will make it harder.

I recommend very limited or no contact with him for the foreseeable future. Because the kinds of "friends" former high-school-sweethearts are during college is toxic and unhelpful.
posted by French Fry at 4:07 AM on October 20, 2013 [10 favorites]

This sounds like it's been very tough for you. It doesn't matter how common a situation like this is it still hurts when you're at the centre of it. The thing is, you can't reason or logic him out of his feeling that he needs to see what's out there. You clearly both care about each other but this feeling of his is real and important. If you persuade him to commit, which you quite possibly could because he loves you, the feeling wouldn't go away.

You need to stop thinking about him and his needs and really cut him loose. Focus on what you want to get out of the next few years. College and early 20s is a magical time full of possibilities. If you waste huge swathes of it ruminating about this relationship and trying to breath life back into it you'll regret it later. You'll also sour the sweet memories you currently still have. Step away now, maybe someday you'll find your way back, probably not, but this slow death is bad for both of you and a waste of your precious time and energy. Good luck.
posted by Dorothia at 4:39 AM on October 20, 2013 [2 favorites]

Do you want my honest opinion?

This guy sounds like a total head case. I don't know what the "explore your options" deal is (because it sounds like he's actually not?), but I don't think you need to dwell on it. It's obvious that this isn't working. You need to get out, which at this point means completely writing off any future between the two of you. Not "someday", not "after he does the college thing", not "when he's done exploring his options". NEVER.

You have GOT to go no contact. There is no other solution in situations like this, where inertia can drag you back together so easily.

Just stop seeing him. If you tend to genuinely run into each other, stop going to the same places you used to go when you were together. Pick a different coffee shop, a different part of campus to hang out in, a different supermarket, whatever. Stop seeing him. Period. Even if it makes life inconvenient. And if you "end up running into each other" which means that you actually seek him out because you can't stop picking at the scab? Stop doing that. Seriously. No contact. If he seeks you out, remind him of the no contact thing and start making it harder for him to find you if you need to.

I've been in exactly your shoes before. I dated someone for a long time, was very serious about them, but ultimately it didn't work out. We tried to be friends, and found all these excuses to hang out "as friends". But then we would inevitably sleep together. And that would lead to a sort of limbo non-relationship. And then one of us would hurt the other because seriously that is really no way to live and there are REASONS we broke up. Finally we had to just cut off contact. Even a few years later, I don't think we could be close friends.

Going no contact was one of the hardest things I've ever done. I pride myself on being able to stay friends with exes. I don't think of myself as some kind of crazy Fatal Attraction girl with no ability to hold back and live my own life and make good choices. But in that particular relationship, we developed some really unhealthy patterns and no contact was the only solution.
posted by Sara C. at 5:02 AM on October 20, 2013 [5 favorites]

Is it possible to love someone and want to "explore your options" at the same time?

To answer that question, yes I think anything is possible.

I'd like to ask you a question though. Is that the person you want to be with? Do you want to be with someone who is capable of leaving you to pursue other options, or would you rather be with someone who could not imagine being without you?

It sounds like committment is important to you. Please don't think this is something you need to compromise on. Your high school sweetheart is undoubtedly a lovely man who you loved a lot. That doesn't mean he's right for you. That sucks and it hurts and it's unfair, and believe me I know. Try and accept that you are both in a different place and you need to be on different paths right now. Respect your own needs. Find someone who adores you and would never let you go for a second. He's out there and you deserve that. Be kind to yourself.
posted by billiebee at 5:28 AM on October 20, 2013 [1 favorite]

It sounds like he wants you to be a fallback in case he doesn't find someone better. This is super unfair to you.

I had a somewhat similar initial situation with my now-husband. We broke up amicably when he went to college (summer romance, I was already in college) because it didn't seem fair to tie each other to a long distance relationship. We both tried really hard to avoid language that would make the other feel guilty (which your guy is NOT doing), we made a clean break (which your guy is NOT doing), and we avoided contact for a while (which your guy is NOT doing.) And when we did get back together, we were both clear that it was a serious relationship and that we were more important to each other than any fun that could be had more locally.

Your guy, on the other hand, is very clearly telling you that the possibility of fun (not even real fun! He's not doing anything fun!) is more important to him than you are. You deserve better than that. Don't you think so too?
posted by tchemgrrl at 7:07 AM on October 20, 2013 [3 favorites]

His friend also said that he got really defensive anytime he told him that he should talk to a particular girl, buy someone a drink, etc. and that he only talked to girls online. Weird...

That's not weird. In fact, it's exceedingly common. There isn't much more pathetic than a 19-20 year old man. Especially college students where they haven't even got an income to offset the awkwardness. You couldn't pay me to be a 19 year old again.

It's often said that girls mature faster than boys, and I really believe that is true. He's still struggling with something you are long past - the emotional risk involved in dating.

Plus, you have to factor in that there is a lot of pressure for a guy to be the aggressor - to ask girls out, and pursue them, to win them, etc. For a guy who doesn't have a ton of self confidence to begin with, this pressure leads to anxiety which leads to what I call "sideways behavior" - where they do things that are often counterproductive or strange but most importantly don't actually address the source of the anxiety. This is the source of a lot of "nice guy" weirdness especially in young men.

And that's on top of all the other typical anxieties about grades and whatnot.

Anyway, he's got to learn to be assertive and how to have relationships like an adult. There's a measure of trial and error in any educational circumstance and it sounds like he's struggling a bit. So, you're going to see lots of mind changing and inconsistency and all the things you see when a person can't figure out the solution to a problem. Until he figures this out, he won't be the best romantic partner and probably not a terribly good friend, either.

You can maybe try helping him with that, although its hard for me to say how much good it will do. Probably the best thing is to go no contact - that can be hard if you're at the same school. Look out for your interests and stand up for yourself and all that, but be kind. Mostly, I think he just needs time to grow up and figure himself out.
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 8:48 AM on October 20, 2013 [1 favorite]

> Is it possible to love someone and want to "explore your options" at the same time?

Love can mean all sorts of things, so sure. Is it possible for this guy to love you the way you want him to love you, and still want to explore his options? No.

Set aside all of the words and look at his actions. He could have you if he wanted you. He doesn't want you. All the talk, all the sharing, the feeling of connection, the occasional sex--at the end of the day, he is not choosing you.

At some level you know this and it will tear at you until you do something about it. You are the one that is getting hurt here. You have to fix it.

Like everyone else, I suggest walking away, though it will hurt even more in the short run. Resist all temptations to revive the "friendship" which will only end up right back where you are now.
posted by mattu at 8:50 AM on October 20, 2013

This is just my take on it, so YMMV but here goes.

Your ex-boyfriend has shit he needs to deal with -- from before you, stuff that he had to deal with but never finished resolving. But he doesn't know how to explain that, so he's telling you he wants to have "fun" (which is a pretty standard, acceptable "reason" guys his age cite for avoiding intimate commitments). It's just as Pogo_fuzzybutt suggests except that I don't think it's just about avoiding commitment so much as trying to buy time to deal with the shit that's feeding his isolation/depression. It's MUCH easier than admitting he's got some childhood baggage preventing him from enjoying this amazing girlfriend with whom he feels so incredible around.

And also as Pogo_fuzzybutt suggests, he's in a particularly crappy demographic being a very young man without a substantial income or self-confidence under his belt. And he's probably right to feel so discouraged because the frank truth is that mental help appropriate for the particular needs of young men is simply not available in proportion with the mental health needs of the general population. He's right to feel discouraged because he is the PERFECT gender + age to get shoved right through the gaping cracks of mental health services, and he probably knows it... that if he's going to fight for his mental health, it is going to be a surmountable battle. I mean, just have a look at this article about a very successful, slightly older 'young' man who gave up in utter despair that no help existed for someone like him. I'm not suggesting that your ex-boyfriend has suffered specifically what Bill Zeller went through, but Bill's letter made it pretty clear that even the love of a compatible woman was not going to be enough to put his mental health demons to rest... he needed to tackle those demons for himself well before being truly available to anyone for an intimate, loving relationship.

If I were in your shoes, I wouldn't deny still caring about him and feeling that connection. But I would make it clear that he needs to deal with his demons for himself, and he needs to fight for himself himself (not wait for someone to fight that fight for him, NOR fight that fight for someone else). Then go no-contact, making it clear that you're open to talking him only when he's dealt with those demons and when he knows without any personal doubt that he is strong enough to be in an intimate relationship (because you guys obviously can't deny the connection or be "just friends" with a connection like this lingering in the forefront). Don't be ashamed to admit that you're going to continue fostering your own awesomeness and being open to romantic connections with other men in the meantime (because sorry, but that's the reality that comes with an uncommitted relationship). Trust me, this is fair to ask because it is unfair of him to trail you alongside him, keeping your focus on him while he makes no headway on himself. He knows that the way he is now, you're getting the shitty end of the deal, and that's probably why he stays away. Make it clear that he needs to do what he must in order to get his mental house in order, because he is simply not available to anyone --especially you-- until he's put those demons down for good. Best of luck, xxxsweetambitionxxx!
posted by human ecologist at 11:05 AM on October 20, 2013 [2 favorites]

Sometimes people aren't done with each other after the first breakup, and they need to keep trying. Like quitting smoking. You are both still pretty young, and you might need to play the field and develop as adults a while longer before you're ready to settle down. Or even to know if settling down is the thing for you. It sounds to me like maybe you're both keeping the other in reserve just in case nothing better comes along. That sounds reasonable but it's actually pretty bad for most people's heads. I've known people in their fifties who are still playing that game, and who can neither commit to people outside the old relationship nor be fully with each other.

" is it possible to love someone and want to "explore your options" at the same time?"

Yes, of course. It's even possible to love more than one person. Not everyone practices monogamy, and some people have more than one partner at the same time, with different degrees of commitment, successfully. But to explore your options and be monogamous at the same time? No, that's contradictory. Even if you two pursue an open relationship, it's going to be a mess, because it requires introducing and negotiating with new people when you haven't actually ironed out what the plan is between you. It's not fair to the new people, and it's not fair to either of you.
posted by gingerest at 7:49 PM on October 20, 2013

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