Took your advice & DTMFA. Now he's made big changes. What to do?
April 27, 2014 8:21 AM   Subscribe

I took your advice, MetaFilter, and broke up with the guy who I wasn't totally feeling things for (and had checked out of our relationship). Some time has passed and he seems to be resolving most of the reasons for my unhappiness. He'd still be a great co-parent and partner, so, should I reconsider? Or is it too soon?

So, this was me seven months ago, "no tingles, but my chance at having a family."

Fast forward until about two months ago, after much painful deliberation (and many attempts at trying to work things out, big talks, offering therapy, trying to exercise together — he was unresponsive to all), I told him I wanted to take a break. He said no. So I said I wanted to break up.

Well, that got his attention pretty darn fast. He was profoundly sorry. He took full responsibility. He admitted he was (1) very depressed, (2) not dealing with it out of shame and embarrassment, (3) was taking me for granted, and (4) just thought he could "ride out our problems."

He has now thanked me for the breakup as a big "wake-up call." He said he has lost other relationships to his depression. He is now seeing a therapist, working out daily, making plans for his career and himself and has already lost weight and is eating healthier, quit smoking and has regained his sex drive.

I am both pleased by this and super frustrated by it. If we did hypothetically get back together, I don't want to be in the position of policing his progress for the rest of our lives, having to constantly threaten a breakup to get him to pay attention to my concerns. I've been telling myself: he's got to figure out his depression on his own and get in a stable place for several months before we can even consider getting back together.

He took the breakup very hard. While he's been accepting of my decision he seems willing to do anything he can to get back together (which makes me a wee bit nervous about all the "progress" wondering if it's also a bit for show...). We've been talking, carefully, about 3 or 4 times since the breakup and many things seem more hopeful. We still have issues — there's not much to talk about and we don't share a sense of humor — but we do have shared values: he says the most important thing, his life dream, is to have a family. He is a good person.

Being single the last few months has been hard, lonely and sad. I have not felt like dating. The dating scene is predictably bleak. Another birthday is around the corner and I still want a family.

What I need from you, good people of MetaFilter, is a healthy framework for figuring out what criteria I should expect/demand before considering getting back together. What would you want to see before entertaining a reunion? How much time should go by for him to prove that his changes are lasting and real? Should I wait for him or should we both be dating while broken up? Or should I just walk away entirely and move onward?
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (31 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
OK, but you still don't love him, right? I mean, the fact that he's in therapy hasn't caused you to feel butterflies in your stomach when you think about him? His quitting smoking doesn't make your heart skip a beat when you talk to him, right?

I think it's great that he's making changes that will make his life better, and I think that as someone who cares about him, you can be really happy for him. But none of this changes the fact that you're not in love with him. So no, you should not make a life-long commitment to a man you don't love just because he has started working out. Because without real, deep love, you don't have the foundation to weather all of the many problems life is going to throw at you.

Note, I am not a "true love," hopeless romantic type. I don't believe that there's one person out there for each of us, or that there are soul mates, or whatever. But I do believe in chemistry, and that our feelings profoundly affect the way we behave. You like this guy. You're proud of him and happy for him. But you're not in love with him, and you're never going to be. That, not his weight or his commitment to mental health treatment or whatever, is why you shouldn't get back together with him.
posted by decathecting at 8:34 AM on April 27, 2014 [14 favorites]

I am about 15 years younger than you are and in a very different place in my life, so take my comments with a grain of salt, but:

He has now thanked me for the breakup as a big "wake-up call." He said he has lost other relationships to his depression. He is now seeing a therapist, working out daily, making plans for his career and himself and has already lost weight and is eating healthier, quit smoking and has regained his sex drive.

I would not be comfortable being in a romantic relationship with someone I had this much...power?...over. I would want to be with someone who took care of his body, mind, and career for himself, not for me. This is partly just personal preference - I find strong individuals to be attractive and appealing - but also partly practical. What happens if you go through a rough patch romantically speaking? Will he react by stuffing his face with junk food, becoming a couch potato, and abandoning his long term goals? If so, I would think twice about procreating with this person.

The other thing is that you don't, in this question, say that you're in love with him. Even in your first question, you mention your love for him extremely briefly and instead focus on how loving he is and how loved he makes you feel. I don't think it would be a great idea to commit to someone who you were never "head over heels" in love with. Obviously those feelings often fade with time...but you just don't seem IMO to be in love with him. And I don't think that's a good recipe for a healthy long-term future with children.
posted by schroedingersgirl at 8:35 AM on April 27, 2014 [16 favorites]

He's made an excellent response to being made aware of his depression issues. That's very promising.

It still leaves the majority of stuff in your "cons" list in the previous question sitting there as "cons."

I'd go back and re-read all the answers in the earlier Q, because they all bear repeating here, and are good answers to figuring out a healthy framework for criteria for a long-term relationship where reproduction issues will enter the picture. He still sounds like a decent chap and it still sounds like biological clock worries are the main impetus for you to be with him; the latter is pretty problematic.
posted by kmennie at 8:38 AM on April 27, 2014 [1 favorite]

I'd walk away. Before the weight gain, the depression and the other issues you mentioned...

you actually didn't seem all that into him. You didn't laugh together, you didn't have much to talk about, it seemed like you just weren't a great fit. There should be some element of sparks. Didn't seem like there were.

Now add in that you had to be the catalyst of change in his life, I don't know. Is that what you want? And what if you do have kids and dad becomes a depressed, black hole? Are you going to have to separate or threaten divorce?

And what if you don't have kids? Is this the man you want to commit to for the rest of your life? Someone who needs to be pushed into action without considering how that affects you?

From your framing and from your previous question, I don't think the answer is yes. I would congratulate him on the positive changes he's made in his life and move on.
posted by kinetic at 8:38 AM on April 27, 2014 [6 favorites]

Besides what other folks are saying above (you're not really into him, you don't love him, you've got almost nothing in common), there's this: after all that, it was just two months ago you broke up with him: a mere two months ago he finally decided to actually do something to get his shit together.

What that says is, good for him: he's getting the depression checked, has lost weight and stopped smoking.

What that does not say is whether these changes will indeed last and be long-term. Even if you were in love with him, which you are not!, I cannot recommend getting back together.
posted by easily confused at 8:52 AM on April 27, 2014 [3 favorites]

You know what would be depressing? Being in a lifelong romantic relationship with someone who wasn't in love with you.
posted by amtho at 8:53 AM on April 27, 2014 [14 favorites]

There's not much to talk about and we don't share a sense of humor.

If you marry someone and have kids with them, you spend the rest of your life talking to that person. You do not want to spend the rest of your life with someone you don't enthusiastically love talking to. Seriously. You can erase every other problem you mentioned. Even if he becomes incredibly happy, active, ambitious, etc. etc. etc. he will never be the right person for you if you don't want to spend thousands of hours talking and laughing with him throughout the rest of your life.

Or should I just walk away entirely and move onward?

Yes. You haven't fully broken up if you're still in constant communication with him and are contemplating reuniting. You need to end it and date lots of people.

You can have a fulfilling and happy life that includes everything you want. The only thing that would ensure that doesn't happen is settling down with this person, who you don't really love.
posted by leitmotif at 8:54 AM on April 27, 2014 [18 favorites]

You need to be doing literally everything you can to date. It is clear from your place in life and your previous question that this is crucially necessary for your happiness and peace of mind.

If dating him again is a real and true part of "doing everything you can to date" I don't see why it shouldn't be a perfectly legitimate option.

You also need to seriously look into having a child on your own, as a back-up plan.

If you don't have an online dating profile or three, go out to meet people regularly, ask to get set up, take good care of yourself and your appearance, etc., then you really need to be doing all of those things 24/7.

If you've been doing nothing towards that and just moping about this one guy, you cannot make a good judgement call on whether or not to take him back.

For the record, I don't think as most of MeFi does that it's shameful or a terrible idea to take someone like this back. I know a lot of women who settled in their late 30s, to younger guys who were nice guys, and quite honestly I'm perfectly sure they're happier for having kids and a family and would be quite unhappy if they'd taken advice never to settle. I know a lot of men with lifelong reoccurring depression who manage it and still have happy families and kids who love them. What I'm trying to say is that, in real life, in my experience, it is a legitimate option to get back together with someone, to enter marriage for reasons of having a family, to settle in one's late 30s, etc. It's perfectly possible to do this and not anger the gods so much that you'll be miserable forever, or anything like that. In fact I think it's a lot more common than MeFi would have you believe.

But I am merely neutral and accepting towards this as an option- not endorsing it without a real sense that you are thinking this through, are already doing what's best for you, and are making a real effort.
posted by quincunx at 8:59 AM on April 27, 2014 [4 favorites]

Don't do it. You weren't into him when he was down and out. Who wants to be with someone who loves them only when they are on the upswing?

Find someone who you love with ALL of your heart, not just a large piece. Find someone who you still love and find endearing even though he's gained a few pounds, is stinky in the morning, isn't where he wants to be with work but he's working on it, spills coffee on his shirt Human and you love him for all those little weird and sometimes gross things that make him that way, warts and all. The pretty parts are merely shiney distractions (although enjoyable too).

He's out there. This guy sounds great and all, but if your heart is only 95% IN, then that's not fair to anyone. It sucks, but keep looking.
posted by floweredfish at 9:01 AM on April 27, 2014 [2 favorites]

I know it's hard right now, and you are miserable and unhappy. Please don't go back! Many years ago I was in your shoes and went back, but it was one of the worst mistakes of my life. The changes he made were temporary, simply to win me back, and faded away fairly soon after we reconciled. Things ended up worse than before and I still regret wasting that time I had spent at least starting to heal. Sometimes people just aren't a good match, and that's ok. You will get back on your feet and find someone who is a good match for you.
posted by notaninja at 9:03 AM on April 27, 2014 [2 favorites]

keep all of your options open and don't decide until the last possible second.
posted by bruce at 9:05 AM on April 27, 2014

Have you seriously considered having a child by yourself? It seems like in the reads of these two questions, it's less about him and more about the ability to have a child. I have a friend who went that route, including infertility treatment, and she seems so much happier than having settled for someone she wasn't happy with.

I wouldn't tie myself to someone I had nothing to talk or laugh about, those are important things to get you through the hard parts. He's working on part of the things that were in your cons column, but a lot of the important factors still aren't there. Being with someone out of desperation and feeling like you can't do better is the worst. I've done it, and I wish I could have those years back.
posted by Nimmie Amee at 9:07 AM on April 27, 2014 [2 favorites]

I don't think it's been nearly nearly long enough to even contemplate it. This is absolutely a show. A good show. One that's healthy for him but still 100% show. He did t make the changes until after he HAD too...

Break all contact for 6 months. Actively date. Screw your girlfriends who are telling you not to date. Wtf? Get out there. Go now. In 6 months MINIMUM if you're still thinking about him MAYBE that's a foundation to build on and he will have had time to develop good lifelong habits.

Do NOT settle. It's a recipe for a long sad life for both you and him.
posted by chasles at 9:09 AM on April 27, 2014 [8 favorites]

Don't go back.

Some folks prone to chronic depression manage it well and have perfectly happy lives. Others do what it takes to get a partner, and then want to stop trying. They even know all the right phrases to guilt that partner into staying - you're supposed to love me for who I am, I'm not your child, etc. Your instincts are telling you he might tend towards the latter type- and no, you don't want to police him for the rest of your life. Trust your instincts.

I would also say that wanting to have a family in and of itself is not a value- how you will raise that family is. Nothing in your questions indicate that you two share any of those types of values. Something to consider.

Good luck!
posted by susiswimmer at 9:13 AM on April 27, 2014 [5 favorites]

Being single the last few months has been hard, lonely and sad. I have not felt like dating. The dating scene is predictably bleak. Another birthday is around the corner and I still want a family.

I don't think this is a mindset where a healthy framework for getting back together can come from. You're lonely and not seeing a lot of success, so you reach for the easiest solution. How is this any better than him hating his job but dealing with it by coming home and playing video games to avoid going through the difficult process of searching for a better fit? He'll get fit and be more active, but he'll still be the guy you're not into and think you're better than. He'll still be the guy who thinks you have all the power. This is depressing and unhealthy. Unless you can get into a mindset where you genuinely feel attracted to him and enjoy his company, you're not looking at a situation that could be described as healthy. And, sorry to say, I don't think you can force yourself into a mindset like that. I think he'll always lack something you want because you've always thought of him as someone who lacks what you want.

I think you need to walk away entirely and cut off contact. He needs to make these changes for himself, knowing fully that he won't be rewarded with a relationship with you at the end of it. Otherwise, it just won't work. He's not going to become a more confident and ambitious person if being with you is his only end goal. I'm sorry. Dating is often bleak and lonely, no matter what age you are, but you should do that instead of trying to make this relationship work.

One final thought: No one has a perfect family, but all the good ones I've known had this quality: they did not need anyone in it to change in order to be happy in it. By this metric, he's good family material for you, but you aren't for him. This isn't a good foundation to build a family on. I think you'd have a happier family as a single parent.
posted by rhythm and booze at 9:21 AM on April 27, 2014 [4 favorites]

It was right to leave, and it's right to stay gone.

He'll find someone that's right for him, and you'll find someone who is right for you.

He's FAR from having his shit together in a way that works for you, he's just made steps in the right direction.

Keep moving, nothing to see here.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 9:32 AM on April 27, 2014 [9 favorites]

You don't want this guy to be father of your potential children. You don't want just any family--you want a happy and healthy one that functions well, not one where mom is putting up with dad because she wanted a family.

Happy parents=happy children. Keep looking.
posted by discopolo at 10:17 AM on April 27, 2014 [5 favorites]

If you were meeting this guy for the first time, and you learned all of the stuff about him that you know, would you date him? If you met someone who was working on theirself but who wasn't actually ready for a relationship, would you consider a relationship with them? Leave the fact that you have a history and are lonely to one side, for a second. Stop to consider this person through a fresh pair of eyes. Are they relationship material?

This guy is working on himself to get you back. When he has you back, he has no further need to work on himself. He can (but not necessarily will) let all of his effort slide back into who he was before you broke up. Things can quite possibly go back to exactly how they were before. It took breaking up to force this change. Will it take breaking up again to force it again?

Two months is not nearly enough time for any of this to stick. I would say six months from now, minimum. And then reassess where you guys are at. I totally think you should be dating in the meantime. You want a relationship, it seems, so totally get out there and try to find one with someone who is ready to be in one. You might not find any one, in which case you're no worse off, or you might find the man of your dreams. You'll never know if you don't try. In the meantime, you can see what your Ex does when he realises there's no chance of reconciliation - does he keep up his hard work or not?
posted by Solomon at 10:37 AM on April 27, 2014 [1 favorite]

The thing about "you make me want to be a better man"-type stuff like this is that it's not going to last if the reason he's making these changes is to get you back. If you never go back with him, will he drop them like a hot potato? If you come back to him and it worked, will he let those things drop out of his life too one he wins? It could happen. I do concur that "wait a year and see if it sticks" is probably a good option, but you're already tired of waiting and I don't think you want to do that anyway.

Thing is, the best advantage to this guy that you or anyone else is seeing right now is that he has sperm that he is willing to share with you to make precious babies to love, and you can't find anyone better than him to do it with. You want us all to tell you "Yes, he's totally fine now! It's okay to settle for him!"

So, fine: you want to settle for this guy because there are no other fish even close in your sea and your eggs are rotting, go to it. But you're not going to be 100% happy with him and you do kinda know that, right? He's not Prince Whatever. He's a semi-okay dude that you might be able to tolerate. If you want to be a Mrs. Somebody and Mr. Collins is the only dude with a hook in your sea and you've lost all hope of better, then fine. Just go into it knowing that (a) you're not going to be all that happy with him except for the part where he provided you with babies (assuming his sperm works and you can have them at all), (b) he will probably not be all that happy either once he figures out you don't love him like that, and (c) your kids will grow up in a middling (if you're lucky) home, having figured out at about age six that Mommy doesn't really love Daddy and that's how relationships should work. That might be worth it to you rather than having a baby alone.

I get it: you don't want to wait for the whole banquet meal, you'll settle for that Hungry Man microwave rather than starve until your eggs die. Okay, but don't go into it thinking the meal will turn into a banquet, and that you're making decisions for your future family that...aren't emotionally the best ever. Most people here think you'll be happier if you wait and keep dating. I don't know if you will find better or not, I know a lot of folks who didn't until babies were no longer an option and babies may be more of your priority than real love by now. But it's up to you in the end.
posted by jenfullmoon at 11:52 AM on April 27, 2014 [4 favorites]

Being single the last few months has been hard, lonely and sad.

You're having extremely strong emotions right now. You need to treat this as if you're drunk and your judgment is impaired. I would not make any huge decisions at the moment. I don't know how long you were together, but a couple months is nothing. The wound is extremely fresh.

I don't know what this particular guy's deal is, but I do know that people don't fundamentally change in a couple of months, if at all. Depression certainly doesn't get magically healed, although it's great that he's making a start. I would not even hint to him that there's a possibility of getting back together if he straightens up. Instead, go no-contact for a bit and then check back in with him to see how he's doing (assuming you haven't met someone else in the meantime). And then only take him back if you are actually in love with him.
posted by desjardins at 12:36 PM on April 27, 2014 [2 favorites]

If I were in your shoes, OP, I would much rather start exploring (maybe even with your own therapist) the possibility of being a single mother, if you truly want children and your time is running out. I would INFINITELY rather be a single mother - even if that was never my hoped-for life plan - than settle with a person I wasn't in love with, and have to interact with that person as my child's parent for the rest of my life, even if you did decide to break up again.

But to try to answer your other questions:

What would you want to see before entertaining a reunion?

At least two years of actual change/dating/marriage before I even considered having a child. That would be my minimum metric of seeing actual change. And I'd probably tell myself it should be more like three, and the extra year should be you seeing change without the immediate carrot of a relationship. In other words, you should both hypothetically see other people for at least a year. If either of you meets someone else, great, you probably were not the best choice for each other.

If I, hypothetically, then told myself that I wanted or needed to have a child sooner than two years (at a minimum), then I would need to admit that the desire to reconcile is completely about wanting a baby, not this guy, and it would be unkind to both of you to pretend that your reconciliation was about romance and not just settling to have a baby.
posted by nakedmolerats at 1:05 PM on April 27, 2014 [2 favorites]

*And I should add that that's OK, if you both decide you JUST want to settle down and have a baby. People do that. But then I think you would need to completely, brutally honest with him that you only see him as a good, respectable person, you're not in love with him, you don't think you will be in love with him, and you just want him to be a good loyal partner and father. If he's OK with that, then OK... but he needs to know that.
posted by nakedmolerats at 1:25 PM on April 27, 2014

I can see why this is so tough for you (being in my late 30s myself) and take your dilemna very seriously. I don't immediately write off your most recent relationship as a possibility. My two suggestions below are based on trying to be extremely practical about solving the emotional equation with an eye on the clock.

First, I think you ought to really try to put back on the table the "have a baby alone" idea. It is not the worst idea. Many people end up single with a toddler AND a complicated divorce situation. I know one person who got pregnant via a sperm bank and met her partner while she was pregnant. Stories abound of people having wonderful lives as single parents and / or finding love sometime thereafter. I get that it's not your top choice, but having seen several friends make it work in one way or another, for one reason or another, I don't see why it's absolutely not an option. Maybe your next AskMe could collect some stories? I think most anyone would say that going it alone would be better than a relationship that makes you actively unhappy. That said, there are major practical concerns, like the cost of sperm, and whether your insurance would cover it. But there may also be more resources than you imagine. I'd start to put together what that route to motherhood would look like because I believe having a backup plan might make your anxiety about this go WAY down.

Second, in your last question, you mentioned a history of bad relationships and that you were trying to overcome a tendency to like people who were bad for you. That is important context for your lack of spark with this guy. I don't remember if you said you were in therapy, but I would be actively doing work to learn what healthy intimacy feels like (again speaking from personal experience). Very little in your question indicates that you haven't already done a lot of work, so maybe it's unnecessary at this point, but at minimum, if you do get back with him, I'd get yourselves into couples counseling to fine tune all of that. Just the fact that he didn't hear your requests until you broke up with him suggests that a little guided conversation to build up communication skills could be quite valuable.

So putting these together, I would say to him "I want to make sure we're both doing what's right for our lives. I don't want you to be changing yourself into someone you're not just for me." Do your own things for six to nine months and check in then. In the meantime, DATE. (If you spend another month being depressed, then make that six to nine months into seven to ten. You want at minimum six months of actively, positively, feeling independent of him and looking into other options with hope. I'm saying six because I know you're motivated, but in a less time constrained situation I'd say more like 12-15 months. So give it six good months.) And meanwhile, maybe go to therapy. And look into how sperm banks work, save for that, check out the single parent meetup groups, and build your community of friends and family. In six months, maybe more like nine or twelve, revisit your options. At (y)our age, six months is time enough to fall in love. It's time enough for him to stop doing something for you and start doing it (or not) for himself. And if neither of those works out, you have a backup plan.

To answer your question, I wouldn't proceed with him until you feel a little shift inside you from "ugh" and a sense of grim practicality to a sweet smile and sense of hope when you think about spending your life with him -- but you can only perform that test while already back together and living together. But testing that would require undoing the breakup and spending several months together.* And if the answer comes back "no," then what, you break up again and spend months grieving again, etc.? You've already been around that merry go round once. I would first take advantage of all the time you invested in this breakup by really truly exploring your options outside of the relationship.
posted by salvia at 1:49 PM on April 27, 2014 [2 favorites]

* It might require spending several months back together and then going to therapy together for a year.
posted by salvia at 1:52 PM on April 27, 2014

You pulled the trigger on the relationship but did not mortally wound it. Its still flopping around out there, making weird noises and getting your attention. Walk away from it, grieve the loss. Do nothing with dude for 6 months or a year and see where you are, where he is and if you want to start a new relationship with the new, improved him, or if the new improved you has better options. Or, of course, he may be the same schlub, and you shouldn't get within 50 feet. But while you're still entangled in this, you can clearly see your options.
posted by Jacen at 2:15 PM on April 27, 2014

Getting back together with someone I have broken up with has never ended well for me. Ever.
posted by janey47 at 6:12 PM on April 27, 2014 [1 favorite]

From a different perspective - my husband has chronic depression, but was in a good place when I met him. That good place lasted about a year, and then for a variety of reasons, the depression reared its head again. This is a lifelong pattern for him, something he has to deal with all the time, and because he's human, sometimes he does really well and sometimes he doesn't. Two months is not a lot of time to evaluate a lasting change. I love my husband dearly, find him super sexy, and there are still times I want to scream with frustration because of his depression. Chronic really means just that - it's probably something he'll have to deal with his whole life, and it's not always easy for me to deal with even when I love him so much. I can't imagine trying to deal with the bad times if I didn't have that love to help carry me through them.
posted by RogueTech at 6:43 PM on April 27, 2014

You probably don't want to be with someone who is a better person without you.
posted by like_neon at 3:15 AM on April 28, 2014 [3 favorites]

I agree with quicunx that a lot of people "settle" with regard to certain issues, because they feel it's time they were getting married/starting a family. But I feel that, if you make that choice, you should do it by the issue, and not by the person. In other words, you no longer need a partner with a fancy job, or one who's never been married before, or whatever. What you shouldn't do is settle for someone when you've had an overall negative feeling about them as a person. For one thing, if you've ever had the thought that they weren't good enough, they know it. It may feel like a challenge to him now, but it will turn to resentment. Maybe your takeaway from this this relationship is there are some things you no longer insist on-- so look for a new partner with that in mind.

And also-- "Don't you hate it when they finally get it together right after you break up?" a friend of mine said to me. This is so, so common. It's also quite easy to give the appearance you've gotten it together if you are no longer with the other person from day to day. He may be genuinely getting it together but you just don't know.
posted by BibiRose at 7:05 AM on April 28, 2014

It's also quite easy to give the appearance you've gotten it together if you are no longer with the other person from day to day. He may be genuinely getting it together but you just don't know.

Yeah, good point. My last ex pulled that one on me and I debated getting back together with him too until I figured out that he was just being ah, overly optimistic...again.
posted by jenfullmoon at 7:31 AM on April 28, 2014

It's only been two months... Nothing has actually changed yet.
posted by sm1tten at 6:11 PM on April 28, 2014

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