Dating with PTSD - And Tell Me Cutting Off This "Friend" Was Right
January 28, 2014 1:34 PM   Subscribe

I've got PTSD and am socially isolated in graduate school. I met a hot guy, and had to friend-dump him because he's in a long distance relationship. Tell me I did this right!

I’m a mid-twenties female who works a very high-stress job in developing countries — not military — and am currently at a Very Elite Graduate School to get my masters degree. I have had a brutal past three years, which included witnessing scenes of extreme violence and death, an abusive workplace, the death of multiple friends (which I had to help clean up after), and an emotionally abusive, scary relationship with a profoundly mentally ill boyfriend. I am a little messed up right now.

I’m currently in therapy to work on my problems, and am doing OK in grad school. I'm holding up fine.

Now, as for dating/meeting people…I haven't so much as kissed anyone since my ex and I broke up a year and a half ago, and am finally feeling interested in some kind of relationship again.

I’m naturally sociable, but my school is super work focused and I'm off-campus, so I’m isolated and have found it hard to make friends. I hang out in bars alone, attend meet-ups, and go to every public event I can. (Due to some of my problems and my career, Internet dating is not feasible for me).

Finally, I Met A Dude I Liked, a very rare occurrence of late. Super attractive, a little older than me, and shares my interests and my black sense of humor. After we met at the bar, he went to the effort of getting my number from his housemate (who asked for it to share upcoming art events with me) and texted to say he liked my website. Lots of texting about books and music ensued.

We met for drinks a couple more times, and he invited me over to his house last week for coffee, before we headed to a bar. He's VERY concerned with how certain I am about moving back overseas when I’m done with my program in the summertime. The answer is about 98%, which he didn't seem cheery about. Smoldering glances, lots of un-needed hugs, he’s super awkward around me, tells me I smell great, obviously Googled me…he's interested.

...Until I accidentally opened a browser tab on his laptop, while looking for music, and saw he was looking up...emergency contraception? I said nothing, but he got super flustered and muttered something quietly about “no pressing NEED for it, I was just talking about how it worked with my girl in (his homecity on the other side of the country).” Oh ho ho! Let it drop, and we went to the bar. NOTHING happened beyond flirtation and a goodbye hug. My guard was way up.

We had planned to go to the beach two days after this, and on the drive over there, after he was finally able to form coherent sentences again upon seeing me (this took 20 minutes), he said something offhand about how his girlfriend was a vegetarian. Well, there you have it. We hung out awkwardly for the rest of the day, and he asked if I’d met anyone I found appealing here. I said I hadn’t, and he offered half-heartedly to be my wing man — which I said wasn't going to work. And then he asked me if I wanted to go camping, or cook together. HAH.

I’ve been in this situation once before - I even posted to Metafilter about it! - where I’m spending too much time with a guy who’s really hot, who’s attracted to me, who keeps trying to hang out with me, and who has a relationship. Never again. Not now, especially.

So I friend-dumped him. I told him I found him attractive, that he had a girlfriend, and it wasn’t going to work as platonic friends.

He got a little butthurt about it. I'll admit I got drunk and sent him a text in response saying “I’m sorry, I have PTSD and I’m messed up, you’re awesome.” Left it there. I intend to LEAVE it there. Hoping the PTSD bomb will keep him run off.

But I do feel sad. He's the first person I've been romantically interested in in years beyond my ex, and the only person I've made a real connection with here, even on a platonic level. I need more companionship badly...but what I DON’T need is an attractive, flirty, interesting friend who’s in a long distance relationship that he sure hates talking about.

Folks: I need reassurance I did the right thing. Oh, and some pointers on dating with PTSD and how — and when — to bring it up.

posted by cheberet to Human Relations (21 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Folks: I need reassurance I did the right thing.

You did the right thing. He was angling to get into your pantaloons, and only reluctantly revealed the existence of a girlfriend after you caught him out. I would not want this person as a friend.

Oh, and some pointers on dating with PTSD and how — and when — to bring it up.

Bring it up when you have a solid idea of how it's going to affect your interactions with the person you're telling. Be able to explain that to them and be willing to answer whatever questions they might have.

I probably wouldn't have told this current guy that you have PTSD. You don't need to prove that you have a good reason to not want to be around him before you're allowed to not be around him. Also, it frames the situation as one in which he's totally great but gosh, you're just too crazy to be hanging around him! Which isn't true at all. Realistically, who gives a tin shit what he thinks, but I wouldn't want to take that approach; it seems like a less-than-ideal way to think about yourself.
posted by FAMOUS MONSTER at 1:43 PM on January 28, 2014 [22 favorites]

Hey, cheberet--you did the right thing, no doubt about it. Feel good about having done something good for yourself, and know there will be other nice, hot, guys who don't have girlfriends.

Try not to send any more drunken text messages, though.

Good luck.
posted by Admiral Haddock at 1:44 PM on January 28, 2014 [5 favorites]

You were right to dump this guy. He obviously wanted to be more than friends with you and he waited way too long to tell you that he was already in a relationship. He has no right to be butthurt as he was pursuing you while not single. At the best, he's selfish and inconsiderate. At worst, he's a manipulative cheater who can't be trusted.

As for the PTSD, I'd maybe wait to tell people until you feel comfortable telling them about your experiences and the emotional fallout that you've had to deal with as a result. By all means, it's fine to prioritize your own well-being and no one is owed information about your trauma. Your emotional and metal security always come first. Once you're ready to tell someone, it could be helpful to contextualize why you developed PTSD and what the effects are now. PTSD has become a bit of a buzzword lately, but few people understand the actual dynamics of it. Just telling someone you have PTSD and assuming that they'll understand what that means probably won't be a successful approach. No one needs to hear any gory details of what you've been through and beware of people who press you for them. Instead, focus on what you need now in order to feel safe and healthy.

Good luck to you and I hope that the next awesome fellow you meet isn't a selfish jerk.
posted by quince at 1:57 PM on January 28, 2014 [3 favorites]

You absolutely did the right thing. And yay, you've found that side of you that wants a relationship and knows how to form a connection is alive and well! Now you just need to find a good guy. This guy was not one of the good ones. Well done protecting yourself from him.
posted by cecic at 1:59 PM on January 28, 2014 [2 favorites]

Best answer: He's a drama llamaaaaaa. And emergency contraception? Seriously? That combined with what we know of his personality already makes him sound extremely immature, perhaps unwilling to use condoms (who knows, I am just speculating worst case scenarios here) or just prone to irresponsible and rash decisions/actions. I mean, yeah, benefit of the doubt, the condom broke and everyone handled it professionally...but no benefit of the doubt...stay awaaaaay.

This dude is not as awesome as you think he is. Girlfriend or no girlfriend. I mean, I'm sure he's hawt, but that's probably about it.
posted by quincunx at 2:08 PM on January 28, 2014 [4 favorites]

Response by poster: I am REALLY glad I could see and defuse this drama bomb before it went off, I must say!

And yes, I'm glad I can take away from this that I can be interested in men and can attract them. I was just biking to school today and a cute guy who works for our lit department ran into me and we had a nice little on-bicycles chat. Gotta believe.
posted by cheberet at 2:10 PM on January 28, 2014 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Yes, I regret the text. My ex did the "Oh, I'm just too CRAZY for anyone to want to be my friend" thing and it drove me nuts, so I absolutely do NOT want to get into the habit. It's the first time I've done anything like that, and will hopefully be the last.
posted by cheberet at 2:12 PM on January 28, 2014 [1 favorite]

Bravo and well done! It's hard to be the grown up, but that's what you did, and it's an investment in yourself and your greater happiness. Gold stars and kudos!
posted by rosa at 2:19 PM on January 28, 2014 [1 favorite]

Yup, you did the right thing. That dude was clearly trying to string you along, and you, thankfully, had none of it. Don't fret about the text because that can't be undone, and any further explanation draws you back into his gravity well.

If only everyone was so good at ditching people who are bad news.
posted by Turkey Glue at 2:29 PM on January 28, 2014 [1 favorite]

This guy is not "awesome" because he pursued you WHILE HE HAS A GIRLFRIEND.

He's a douche. Your PTSD has nothing to do with his poor choices.

Anyhow, you did great!!

Next time, just don't apologize for other people's poor choices and character traits, em kay;-))
posted by jbenben at 2:32 PM on January 28, 2014 [4 favorites]

Response by poster: I'm still laughing about the fact that he said he "wasn't looking for drama" when I said I couldn't hang out with him. REALLY NOW
posted by cheberet at 2:34 PM on January 28, 2014 [6 favorites]

You did just fine. And it sounds like you are really looking out for yourself on many levels. Way to recognize a potentially bad situation and nip it in the bud! You are worthy of so much better.
posted by futureisunwritten at 2:35 PM on January 28, 2014 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Omgawd, you just won at adulthood. I know your whole world is swirling and you are probably missing the connection, but having the maturity to nip this in the bud IS AWESOME AND YOU SHOULD GIVE YOURSELF ALL THE GOLD STARS.
posted by whimsicalnymph at 2:45 PM on January 28, 2014 [11 favorites]

It's the funny thing about recovering from drama-llama relationships: because there have been so many bad choices/situations, it sometimes doesn't feel right when you avoid them. Your gut instincts are probably still a little miscalibrated due to your previous relationship experience. Add PTSD and it's no wonder things are a little murky.

However, as the others have made clear, you totally made the right choice here. Keep making more decisions like this one, and good decisions will feel like your new normal. Congratulations on all the progress you've made!
posted by juliplease at 3:15 PM on January 28, 2014 [2 favorites]

I'm also in my mid-twenties, and I was in a similar situation (not identical, but I see a lot of parallels) a year ago. I also cut that person off. In my experience, the way you're feeling right now - a little unsure of yourself and your decision, kind of disappointed, doubting yourself - is completely normal. I felt that way for quite a while after I had ended the "friendship" and would constantly doubt the way I'd handled things, wondering if I had overreacted, wondering what I did to cause it, etc. The thing is, one year later I have absolutely ZERO doubts that I did the right thing for me and would do it all over again - in fact, the only mistake I made was not doing it sooner. At the time, however, it really threw me for a loop. Being completely straightforward and honest with yourself and others about the undercurrents beneath "platonic" friendships can be really difficult and VERY uncomfortable at first, but it really is the right way to go and can only help you in the future! I guarantee this situation will help you fine-tune your radar even more, and it has already given you more practice being assertive.

Plus, you absolutely cannot take his reaction personally - the guy I cut off (very politely and compassionately, I might add) also got butthurt and said some very hurtful and insulting things to me that I took wayyyy too much to heart. Now, with a little distance and perspective, I realize his reaction said way more about him (and how he was trying to manipulate me) than it ever did about me. You do NOT need to apologize for doing what is best for you - in fact, I went back and read your previous question since you referenced it and I am very impressed at how you were able to take what you'd learned from that experience and make the adult decision in this one. So, you should feel proud! Now just stick to it - delete his number, whatever you have to do so he can't drag you in again. I even ended up unfriending my guy on Facebook and blocking his email when he kept trying to contact me, and that was very freeing - so you have this random girl's permission on the Internet to do what you gotta do :-). Congratulations!
posted by luciernaga at 3:34 PM on January 28, 2014 [1 favorite]

Definitely the right thing... And, the good thing is that this guy isn't part of your regular "circle," your academic program, your job, your regular life.

And you have a sense of humor about it. I think that's pretty swell.
posted by sm1tten at 4:36 PM on January 28, 2014 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: He DOES go to my favorite bar and likes the same music/shows I do. However, it's a lot easier to just cut someone like Jane Fucking Austen in public places if you do run into them.
posted by cheberet at 4:38 PM on January 28, 2014 [2 favorites]

You did the absolutely right thing. (And I'm guessing the emergency contraception thing was a little more pressing than he let on)

People who say they aren't looking for drama generally create it. See this xkcd: Drama.
posted by RainyJay at 4:53 PM on January 28, 2014 [1 favorite]

Re the PTSD - this is not as obvious to others. You only need to bring up things like this if and when your interactions are going to confuse someone who doesn't know the context of your behavior.

It's not like you have a giant dinosaur tail waving behind you and knocking over buildings. You have mental health issues, they are your private business, and you're working on them.

Even if you mention therapy for some reason, you are not obligated to detail why you are in therapy.
posted by Lesser Shrew at 4:56 PM on January 28, 2014 [3 favorites]

Best answer: Honestly, of all the AskMe beginning of dating drama threads i've ever seen, you handled this drama bomb like you were military EOD. Go in, identify, disarm, dispose.

You did absolutely awesome here, and bailed way earlier than i ever have in weird awkward situations like this. A+

Also, i wouldn't take this as anything you should read in to as "i was attracted to someone unavailable". It's completely on him that he made it seem like he was available until pretty far in. You bailed as soon as you knew that and didn't fall for some push-pull BS. Your gauges don't need to be recalibrated here, the asshole detector is working great and is within spec.
posted by emptythought at 5:37 PM on January 28, 2014 [6 favorites]

Mod note: Hey cheberet, moderator here. AskMe threads are really not the place for ongoing back-and-forth discussion; you just ask your question, read the answers, and choose the ones that seem useful to you. Thanks.
posted by LobsterMitten (staff) at 7:06 PM on January 28, 2014 [1 favorite]

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