Have you ever regretted a breakup but resisted reconciliation?
August 14, 2014 5:48 PM   Subscribe

My BF and I ended our six month relationship several weeks ago. Since then we've been in touch a few times and both expressed culpability, longing, and regret. We've had one conversation about giving it another chance that seemed to put a line under things, but since then we've had contact again, expressed the same feelings again, and we're on track to having the same conversation again. We're not moving on and we're not getting back together. How do I make this next conversation "stick?" More details inside. . . .

We're gay, both in our mid-30s. Six weeks ago, after six months, we called it quits. The first four months were unquestionably awesome. We connected in every way possible and ended up totally helplessly in love with one another. We both have problematic relationship histories. A long string of three month encounters with nothing ever lasting much beyond that for both of us.

We're both aware that we have attachment style issues. I am anxious and he's avoidant. We both expressed relief at finding someone we could talk to honestly about our problems. Initially we had honest constructive discussions when we hit minor snags that left us both feeling great about the direction things were headed. It really started to feel to both of us like this time things were finally going to work out.

While we both made great strides breaking out of our old patterns they surfaced nonetheless. I started getting anxious and clingy, he started withdrawing (or did he start withdrawing and I start getting anxious and clingy, it's hard to say who triggered who) and the downward spiral began. We both admit that we both contributed to things turning sour between us. I initiated the final discussion but ultimately it was his suggestion that there was no way to make things better and that splitting up was the best thing to do.

We didn't agree to no contact. There's been intensive FB stalking and we've both reached out to one another on several occasions. Sometimes it's lighthearted fluff, sometimes it's serious chat about regret and longing. We haven't seen one another since the breakup.

Two weeks ago after one of these serious chats we agreed to see one another to talk, the agenda undefined. We ended up having a phone conversation before our scheduled meeting where I asked if he saw reconciliation as a possibility, he said he didn't. I felt like I had achieved some closure and was able to begin to move on. We had no contact since then until today.

Since the breakup I've had some exceptionally successful sessions with my therapist. He's given me a different book to read most weeks and the discussions we have about them has generated some great progress. I wouldn't say I've had a massive breakthrough, but a lot of good ground has been covered (thanks for being so awful mom!). Yesterday night I finished the latest book I'd been given and something just clicked. I felt like I had a new and deeper understanding of the issues between me and my ex. I was so excited I wanted to call him and tell him all about it. I resisted that urge, but I did text him to say hello this morning (stupid, I admit). This contact progressed into yet another chat about how we both miss one another and have deep regrets about the breakup but we're both afraid of making the same mistakes again. Once again we agreed to get together to talk.

I feel like we're both pretending we're moving on, but neither of us has.

I'm a pragmatic person and I feel strongly that our issues aren't insurmountable. It's self work that each of us will have to do in order to be successful in any relationship and it's work that's easiest to do when actually in a relationship. Why not do it together with (and for) the person we've each had our best relationship in ages?

I view it as low-risk/high-reward proposition. We've already broken up once, if we can't engage positive patterns with one another after this split, calling it off in a few more months with the knowledge that we gave it our all should be that much easier right?

He's obviously reticent to jump back in to something that he suggested ending in the first place, but he can't bring himself to cut off contact either.

What are the next steps here?
posted by bernie60676 to Human Relations (16 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
You're still pushing him along and doing the work and he's still avoiding. You initiate, he hesitates. He broke it off and you're trying to put things back "on".

Ultimately, nothing is changing. Put your resourcefulness, initiative, and hard work into a relationship where the other person is doing the same, and not just sort of hanging out and waiting for you to earn it.
posted by the young rope-rider at 6:05 PM on August 14, 2014 [21 favorites]

Also, look, I'm tenacious, too. I just am. I hate letting shit go when I can FIX IT! So I wouldn't blame you if you kept trying. Just don't let it consume you. In fact, I suggest dating a bit and keeping your options open in that regard even if you do want to keep dating this guy. Don't let yourself be sucked into the "he's THE ONE" mindset when he doesn't feel the same.
posted by the young rope-rider at 6:07 PM on August 14, 2014 [3 favorites]

Breakthroughs in therapy feel great, but they don't actually help if they don't lead to action or change. You may want to work on things with him, but nothing in your account points to his wanting to resume the relationship.

If you think he's leaning in the direction of getting back together, ask him straight out if he wants to do that. Any answer other than a definite 'yes' basically equals a 'no.' You miss each other, you think about the good times and feel sad, you wish it could have worked, you care about each other... all these things are normal, and none of them means that you should get back together. If you don't get an unambivalent 'yes,' you need to accept that it's over. I know that both of you have reached out, not just you. You'd need to resolve to cease contact with him for several months, tell him that, and then not answer if he contacts you.

Don't be lulled into euphoric recall -- that is, thinking about everything that was great in the relationship and forgetting how bad it felt to both of you, having such different ways of relating. You can keep trying, but if you do, make sure to set a limit in your mind ahead of time.
posted by wryly at 6:54 PM on August 14, 2014 [1 favorite]

I'm a pragmatic person and I feel strongly that our issues aren't insurmountable.

They are insurmountable as long as he does not want to surmount them.

He told you he doesn't want to get back together. I have a feeling that your next meeting will involve him telling you the same thing.

What are the next steps here?

Don't beat around the bush. Tell him that you are going into this meetup with the hope that the two of you will get back together, and ask him if he sees this as a possibility at all. If he says anything other than "yes," then you need to stop talking to each other for the foreseeable future. Don't argue with him and don't try to convince him that he should give things another shot if he doesn't want to - you cannot change a person's heart with logic.
posted by FAMOUS MONSTER at 6:57 PM on August 14, 2014 [2 favorites]

Ask him if he wants to get back together and if the answer is yes, suggest couples therapy so you can deal with what comes up there and not make the same mistakes again. If not, go no contact and start dating. And let him know that is what you will do - not as a threat, but so both of you can finally move on. Best of luck.
posted by Jubey at 7:01 PM on August 14, 2014

Cut off contact completely, and then reassess the situation after a couple of months. The decisions you're making now are based on the fact that you are still sort-of-but-not-quite-together-ish. Let the relationship you had completely die. Then you can make a decision based on what is best for you, when you don't still have this thing hanging over your head.

Spend some time working on you for yourself. You're not ready, right now to be in a relationship with this person. You said yourself you have work to do. You'll find it much easier to do that work without having to worry about whether or not someone else is doing the work you want them to be doing. Work on yourself because it benefits you, not someone else.

but he can't bring himself to cut off contact either

How many of the conversations that you've been having with him have been instigated by you, and how many have been instigated by him? Cut things off so you can make a decision that doesn't involve your attachment level to him.

You guys haven't broken up, not properly, because you haven't cut the cord. You've weakened it a lot, but it's still there, affecting you. Let this go, work on yourself some more and then think about rekindling things later. Get back into a relationship when the work that you're doing on yourself is done and you have the results you want. You're anxious and he's avoidant. That hasn't changed simply because you're aware of it.
posted by Solomon at 7:05 PM on August 14, 2014 [1 favorite]

You need to understand that someone can long for you, "love" you and be deeply attracted to you yet be completely unable or unwilling to actually be in a relationship with you. You also need to understand that with the right guy, you will NOT have to repeatedly convince him to be with you.

Please read that last sentence again:

With the right guy, you will NOT have to convince him to be with you.

In fact, from here on out, you should probably make a pact with yourself that if a guy pulls away and says he doesn't want to date you..repeatedly..you will know that he is not qualified to be with you.

When someone says that the relationship is not working for them and they break up with you, this should be pretty clear indication for you that you two are incompatible.

Please go no contact, continue therapy and move on with your life.
posted by Gray Skies at 8:51 PM on August 14, 2014 [8 favorites]

Please also know that it is not unusual to have an "awesome" relationship for a few months that just.. fizzles. That's the difference between the early phase of dating and a durable relationship. When two people fall for each other, they can't know for sure whether the thing has legs, so to speak. The only way to find out is to try. Unfortunately this means, for many of us, having relationships that don't transform into long term commitment.. Until one day, it miraculously happens.

Great early dating doesn't mean you're "meant to be". Sorry you're going through this, but it will only get better if you forget about him and move on.
posted by Gray Skies at 8:56 PM on August 14, 2014 [4 favorites]

Ah, sounds so much like me and my ex-gf. We stayed friends after we broke up and though I thought it was a great idea at the time, I don't think it really was. It just kept my feelings for her in a kind of purgatory or limbo. We weren't girlfriends anymore but at the same time, so much of my emotional energy and intimacy was wrapped up in her that it kept me attached. And yes, I'm anxious (possibly even anxious-avoidant, for maximum crazy!) and she's avoidant and it will never work unless she wants it to work. Which she didn't. Never has, from her history. Sounds like your ex doesn't either, and is telling you so.

I have to tell you, going no-contact is really really hard. I was sure it wasn't necessary, that it was so harsh and inhuman. But ever since I finally (over 2 years after we broke up!) texted her to say we have to stop seeing each other, it's gotten better. I still have my moments where I feel awful that we can't even be friends anymore, but mostly I actually prefer my life without the head-games of wondering what's going on with her, am I being clingy, is she avoiding me, is she trying to hurt me by telling me in gory detail about her new relationship and pushing me to go find someone else, blah blah blah so boring I am boring myself.

Don't wait 2 years in limbo like I did. Cut him off now, he is not relationship material for you. You will thank yourself for it someday. With time and distance, maybe you can be friends again. But with time and distance, you may not want to anymore.
posted by Athanassiel at 9:55 PM on August 14, 2014 [3 favorites]

Gray Skies nailed it. I think of some of the relationships I tried to salvage in the past that were a complete waste of my time. Especially when the person in question was a decent person with no red flags waving. They just weren't into me, or vice versa. You're making it sound like this can be fixed with therapy. It can't. And it's really only worth it if you're both committed. He is not committed. That doesn't make him (or you) a bad person, it just makes you incompatible.

I finally found someone whose affections I never question, who is in this with me 110 percent, as in "Hell yes, I love you, I like you, and I want to spend my future with you! Let's do this thing!" I will settle for no less now.
posted by futureisunwritten at 5:50 AM on August 15, 2014 [4 favorites]

Response by poster: Some further detail . . .

-Initiating contact since we split has been 50/50. We've each contacted the other exactly half of the times.

- Early on in our relationship he asked me if I'd consider therapy if things ever got that rough. I agreed that I wanted to keep things on track and if that's what it took I was willing. We never came back to the question so hearing that things had degraded to the point where he was done completely blindsided me.

- He characterized his thinking when we broke up as "I'm not meeting your needs and it's leaving me feeling like a failure. I love you, and I love us, but I don't want to feel like this anymore." I understand that my expectations can be unreasonably high at times, one of my negative patterns is testing my partner to make sure he's invested. The primary reason he wanted to call it quits is something I need to change.

- However, my need to change doesn't discount his acting out his own negative patterns. I don't know how fully he's recognized that, and/or decided he wants to change them.

- He's described his position since the breakup as "gun shy." I'm inferring from this that he may want to make it work but fear and embarrassment are keeping him from it.

We've both got issues that need to be addressed. Issues that are triggered by being in a relationship that are more difficult to work through outside of one. I don't want to miss the opportunity just because we didn't try. I fully acknowledge that we may be incompatible in other ways that are yet to be uncovered.

Considering that we've already made plans to see one another, I think I will follow through with meeting him and pose the question. Anything short of an unambiguous "yes" on the issue and I'll have to tell him that continuing to limp along like this is unhealthy for both of us and we need to cut off all contact so we both can heal and move on.
posted by bernie60676 at 7:14 AM on August 15, 2014

I think you ex has said in every possible way that he no longer wants to be with you. How about taking his word at face value?

Since he is so reluctant to make decisions, you'll have to call it quits and go no contact for as long as it takes for you to be truly over him. Limping it like this IMHo is only going to make the recovery more complicated. I'd be very surprised if he changed his mind after the last chance meeting.

Good luck, however it turns out.
posted by Kwadeng at 10:49 AM on August 15, 2014

Your update leaves me convinced you are my psychic twin or something. Seriously, he tells you he can't meet your needs and you interpret it as you need to change? Honey, you're just fine. The only thing you need to change is this conviction that he's The One. Good luck with the meeting (my ex initiated heaps too) and I hope you feel more sure of yourself after, no matter what you decide to do.
posted by Athanassiel at 3:50 PM on August 15, 2014 [2 favorites]

I'm inferring from this that he may want to make it work but..

Nothing you wrote after "but" matters.

This is called "mixed signals". He may not mean to, but he's playing with you and/or doesn't know what he wants.

It may be that nothing short of trying and failing to find happiness with him will convince you of the futility of trying to make someone be in a relationship with you. That's what it took for me.

Good luck.
posted by Gray Skies at 8:01 PM on August 15, 2014 [3 favorites]

I'm sorry, but I have a feeling that this meeting between the two of you will not actually occur.

You said "we're both pretending we're moving on, but neither of us has." This does not mean reconciliation is on the table or that it's a good idea. Regret and longing are not equivalent to desire to change for the betterment of the self or the relationship. It doesn't really matter who's initiating contact; you're reaching for something he's not actually offering you.
posted by sm1tten at 9:43 AM on August 16, 2014

Response by poster: In anticipatory glee I spent hours crafting an extravagant letter explaining everything I wanted him to understand, everything I NEEDED him to understand. For I believed that if only he understood how this could be fixed then he would see the folly of his mistake! Then, I realized I was trying to solve the wrong problem, he didn't need to understand, he needed to want, and he doesn't.

We met. We talked. We talked a lot. I told him about my glorious missive that was designed to change his mind, but how I realized it wasn't my job to change his mind. He told me where he thought things went wrong and what we should have done differently. We talked about how hard failing at something so wanted can be utterly crushing. I decided to give him my letter, to show him that I've thought long and hard about it too. He read it and agreed with everything I'd written, that these are the things we would need to do to make it work.

But, he said that he just didn't have it in him to try, that he doesn't have it in him to be with anyone right now, not even me. He said he feels like such a failure that he can't even contemplate letting someone that close again. Sadly, I feel worse for him. He put so much of himself into something that failed that he's become terrified of it.

I told him that continued contact is going to be an impediment to both of us moving on and it's for the best that we cut off all contact. He said he understood. I told him if he ever finds it within him to try, to come track me down. We hugged, said "goodbye," and parted ways.

"And death shall be no more; death, thou shalt die."

Maybe sometimes we drag these things out in order to digest them in pieces only as large as can be managed at once? This wasn't the outcome I wanted, but it is the one that I needed.

Thanks to all of you for the well wishes and advice! I want to give each of you a big hug!
posted by bernie60676 at 11:32 AM on August 17, 2014 [3 favorites]

« Older Isolated microbiome; is this a thing, or just some...   |   Did you have a Lexiscan? How did it go? Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.