Should I or should I not ? (date someone while not over someone else)
August 29, 2014 9:35 AM   Subscribe

I am a man. I had an emotional affair with a friend - let’s call him James - whom I was very much in (unrequited) love with, and recently decided to "break up”. The long story is here. Then I decided to start dating and recently met this person, let’s call him Fred, whom I like very much. The problem is that I am absolutely not over James, and we’ve even managed to re-establish contact, still very guarded at this point, although we have not yet met. So I find myself in a quandary and wondering whether it’s fair to start something with Fred when my heart is really with James. I mean, I like Fred very much and could ever grow to love him. But I fear I may be just using them as a convenient toy while waiting for a James moment that will never come. And Fred is a nice enough person that I don’t want to play with him. But then, I also need company and intimacy and I like having him around and he seems to feel the same about me, and is prepared to wait for as long as it takes for me to be truly over James.

So my question is: should I continue the relationship with Fred and hope that what I feel for James will fade over time (provided that I don't feed it by becoming super friends with him again), or should I wait until I no longer feel anything for James before I can seriously start dating again? I'm in a monogamous streak right now, so sleeping around is not an option.

What do you Mefites think? Am I even making sense? Also, I don't come from a coutnry / culture where we even have therapists, so please no suggestion along those lines.
posted by Kwadeng to Human Relations (26 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Wait so it's been like a week? ten days? since "James" warned you not to contact him because he would become VIOLENT? And yet:

we’ve even managed to re-establish contact, still very guarded at this point, although we have not yet met

No, hell no, no no no no no no no no no no no no no no no. You need to not get into any of that ever again, you hear? That dude is bad news that ends with you dead in a ditch somewhere, mmkay? If "dead in a ditch" isn't your idea of a peachy-keen relationship, you need to just let the James thing drop, as much as it hurts, for. ever. and. ever.

I don't think you need to wait until you feel *nothing* for James; but you need to really give yourself more than a ****WEEK***** between "messed up emotional affair with a psychopath" and anything else. Yes, you're using Fred. If you think anything of him as a person, like you claim, you will step far far away from that situation too.

I know you're reeling, emotionally, and it feels so very painful and unpleasant to be alone with your thoughts for even 10 seconds, but you really need to do it. You really need to learn how to cope with not having company, because your current need for it is leading you to accept some really really bad shit.
posted by like_a_friend at 9:43 AM on August 29, 2014 [37 favorites]

No, you should have an indefinite break from Fred and a permanent break from James.

You're leaping from one thing to another, and people are going to get hurt.
posted by Salamander at 9:51 AM on August 29, 2014 [4 favorites]

I think "Fred" isn't the question here. Can you take things slow with Fred? How do you know him? If you really like him - well enough that you'd date him even absent James - could you see him casually for a while?

The issue is that James had a giant homophobic freakout and threatened to hurt you, and yet you're back in contact with him. Please, please, I say this as a fellow queer person with all kinds of issues, value yourself more than this. Value yourself enough that you can be done with him. He may not be a bad person - he may be tormented by his own fear and loneliness - but he was bad to you, really bad. Sad eighties coming-out movie with gay tragedy-level bad to you.

Unless you value yourself more than this, you aren't going to be able to sustain a good relationship with anyone. Maybe, if you're thoughtful and careful to be good to yourself and good to Fred, you can build some new habits...But you need to do some serious journaling and reflecting and maybe conversation via internet support group about why you got so attached to James when he wasn't available and could never be good to you the way he should.

And what is this Fred character like anyway? When you are in the habit of hurting yourself via relationship, it's easy to repeat the same bad pattern. Is Fred a kind person? Is he thoughtful? Is he relatively unconflicted about his sexuality? Is he really, truly available for you? Is he not like James?

James was a giant jerk and had a homophobic freakout. It's jerky to treat someone as a para-boyfriend except for sex, and it's a bad sign in a grown man because it's taking advantage and it reflects a lack of self awareness. And he had a homophobic freak-out!

Really, whatever you do, journal and reflect and read supportive books and try to unpack why you can't treat yourself well.
posted by Frowner at 9:55 AM on August 29, 2014 [10 favorites]

Don't be in contact with James. That way lies madness.

Be a friend to Fred for now and tell him, "I'm coming out of a very bad near-miss relationship and I'm really messed up emotionally now. I really like you and I want to get to know you, but it's going to take a bit before I'm actually emotionally available to date right now."

Either Fred is down with that or he's not.

One thing you shouldn't do is jump into another relationship. You need to understand why you became entangled with someone who was so clearly unavaialble to you (for a myriad of reasons) and yet was perfectly willing to monopolize your time and attention.

So 100% honest and 100% only about what you want and need.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 10:06 AM on August 29, 2014 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: OK, it looks like additional info is required here. We’re not talking a Basic Instinct situation here.

James and I managed to “talk” calmly (by phone / email) and agreed that we can still be friends at some later stage, but it will take time and whatever we do, we won’t rush it. We're not even in a hurry to meet in person. So I no longer see an issue.

Fred is a secure gay man, who knows the whole story about James and is prepared to date cautiously for a reasonable length of time. We’re in no rush to get married or anything, not even to shag for that matter, and he’s fine with the idea of taking things slowly to see how they develop.
posted by Kwadeng at 10:11 AM on August 29, 2014

James and I managed to “talk” calmly (by phone / email) and agreed that we can still be friends at some later stage, but it will take time and whatever we do, we won’t rush it.

I'll agree that this is maybe possible, if you don't talk for a couple years, you have a few relationships, and completely move on. But at this point? It's not true. The "Fred" issues is a complete non-sequitur. You need to stop talking to James until you get to a point where you can regularly have a week go by without thinking of him. Until that point, being involved with James is mean to both him and you.

But I do think you can date someone when you're not completely over someone else. I sure have, and sometimes it's turned out well and sometimes it hasn't, just date him and see where it goes.

But no to contact with James right now. no no no no.
posted by brainmouse at 10:15 AM on August 29, 2014 [4 favorites]

In general I think people can start dating before being completely over someone, but the intensity of what you mentioned makes this a slightly different story. I'd take things slow with Fred. It sounds like you are still sorting out things with James. I would wait until you've decided to stop talking to James or you're talking without feeling like you're waiting for that moment that won't ever come.

Okay, on preview, Fred sounds like a decent guy and like he's aware of the situation. In that case, the main thing is to make sure you have enough alone time to process all the feelings you have about James (grief, anger). If you don't make space for them and just try to distract yourself, they might spill out into your relationship with Fred.

And yes, I can't believe he threatened to get violent with you! That's a good reason to (silently) wish him well with the rest of his life and move on.
posted by salvia at 10:21 AM on August 29, 2014

Sorry to hear about your situation. I would stay away from James and hold off with Fred too. You need time to recover.
posted by learnsome at 10:36 AM on August 29, 2014 [1 favorite]

Normally I let all the other voices push someone along in a certain direction, but I am actually concerned that you might need to hear this ten times. I just reread your last comment in the other post and then your calm response here.

I hear you on the unrequited love thing. But if you are not over him after he not only said no/is a married man/and threatened violence on the phone -I really believe that he could blink or text you, and a relationship would start in your imagination.

You know how people break up and go no contact? Go no contact with this guy forever.

I am also really concerned as to how he responded, yet you are considering a friendship. I'm sure that you have seen people/friends/loved ones in horrible relationships, where one person threatens or uses violence against another. If your (insert person, friend, brother, sister, whatever) told you that he or she wanted to go be with someone who threatened them, how would you advise that person?

Now apply it to yourself. Even in that last question, there is something off in how that guy treated you and his own family. He ended everything with a threat.

Take it for the gift that it was. Treat it like a breakup. Do not call him/block him/and do whatever it takes.

I'm not entirely sure as to the other person. It sounds like you have been open and honest, but it will never go anywhere unless you let go of the person forever.
posted by Wolfster at 10:46 AM on August 29, 2014 [2 favorites]

I think it's fine. Fred sounds like a nice guy and low-drama so far, which is what you need. As long as you genuinely like and respect him, and are ready to do the adult thing and NOT re-engage with James, I see no reason why you shouldn't date Fred. Maybe it'll help you gain some perspective on what a relationship should be like (viz., pleasant, communicative, and never involving threats of violence.)
posted by fingersandtoes at 10:46 AM on August 29, 2014 [2 favorites]

Try just dating for awhile. It can be Fred, but don't go into "relationship" territory for awhile. Go on a date each Friday or Saturday night, have a couple of fun/flirty phone calls/texts/whatever-it-is-the-kids-do-nowadays and have FUN. Don't worry if you're "over" someone or "ready for" anything, just enjoy this person's company.
posted by xingcat at 10:49 AM on August 29, 2014 [1 favorite]

My now husband was technically my rebound and I was his from a previous relationship. I had kept up hope that my ex and I would reconnect; but a few months into my relationship with my husband -- I was hooked on him. My ex even started to come around, and I politely told him that I was no longer interested, and I geninuely wasn't any longer.

I think, if you have a connection with this new guy, don't let the opportunity pass you by.
posted by Sara_NOT_Sarah at 10:50 AM on August 29, 2014 [2 favorites]

Yeah, you have a very, very big problem here because James is a heterosexual married man. So this is totally the wrong fucking question to be asking. This question is based on the idea that James is potential competition for Fred. And that's a big, big problem. You cannot be "friends" with James if you are still harboring hopes of it becoming Love when he is STRAIGHT.

It is perfectly A-Okay to get with Fred. In fact, it's potentially a great way to help you let go of James. But the real problem here is you not yet having it clear in your head that James and You are not an item, were never an item, will never be an item, he does not want your body, he is STRAIGHT and MARRIED.

If you had that clear in your head, you would not be asking this question. You might be asking a different question, but this question is rooted in the idea that James and Fred are potentially romantic competitors. And that thought process is a good way to wind up in the ER after James gives you a good ass-whooping one night.
posted by Michele in California at 10:58 AM on August 29, 2014 [5 favorites]

James cannot have a healthy relationship with you. Stop talking to him permanently. He is an emotionally unhealthy man whose behavior fits the mold of a controlling and abusive partner (from your earlier question: "He is very protective and once told me that I should run all my major life decisions by him (business, investment, et al). He is jealous of my friends, of which I have many, and doesn’t like the idea that I have other friends but him." and "He called me right back to tell me to stay away from him and that I should never contact him again, lest he becomes violent.").

Fred sounds kind and emotionally available. Be clear and honest with him and leave James in the past and sever the connection.
posted by quince at 11:15 AM on August 29, 2014 [6 favorites]

Having had friends in similar situatons I'd maybe counsel caution on all fronts, Fred might be a nice guy, but I'd maybe be a bit cautious about a man that was really happy to play second fiddle while you sort your head out over another man.
posted by Middlemarch at 11:15 AM on August 29, 2014 [4 favorites]

It's much too soon for you to be thinking about "growing to love" Fred. You like what you've seen, but you really don't know him yet. Keep seeing Fred, and go one day at a time. When you find yourself thinking about what might happen in the future, tell yourself, "I just need to think about today." Let the wishful and hopeful thoughts come, and when they do, remind yourself to focus on today.

You won't get over James unless you have zero contact with him for an extended period of time. When you can think of him without heartache, you'll be ready. By that time, you'll probably have little use for him.

Love is supposed to lift you up, to make your life better. It's great that you've met a new person. You can't make your anxiety go away, but you can start learning to care for yourself by diverting anxious thoughts and staying present. It's not easy, and it takes time.
posted by wryly at 11:53 AM on August 29, 2014 [2 favorites]

Okay, I'm going to be blunt.

You want to be friends with a HETEROSEXUAL (caps for a reason) man who threatened physical violence if you contacted him again.

That, alone, tells me the only relationship you are ready for is one with a therapist. You and James were not a Thing. You will never, ever be a Thing. You need to fully accept and come to terms with that, otherwise you are going to keep going through a cycle of hoping that just maybe there's an inkling of desire there.

There. Is. Not. There never will be. Frankly, I think it is a bad idea for you to have any contact with James at all. Block him on all social media. Erase his number from your phone. Delete any emails, text messages, what-have-you and consign them to the bit bucket forevermore. Set up rules in your email program(s) to automatically take any email from him and delete it immediately and permanently, sight unseen.

You need to get this man out of your head, because as long as he's in your head, you are going to be holding onto some hope that things will change. They won't.

So please. Cut every single bond and connection with James that you have. All of them. And then find a therapist, preferably one with a specialty in QUILTBAG issues, to help you come to terms with this.

If Fred's a good guy, he'll be supportive but keep things platonic until you have ironed out some of the wrinkles in your brain. That is what you need right now.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 2:53 PM on August 29, 2014 [8 favorites]

James loves the adoration, attention, and energy you give him. James does not love you.

Fred is not a "together" person.

Anyone sane and worthwhile will drop the idea of pursuing you in a hot second once they find out about the drama. I don't know what Fred's damage is, but he's willing to trade off quite a lot. His baggage must be sizable, you just don't know what it is yet.

Get yourself away from that destructive narcissist, James. He's going to steal years of your life and all of your happiness if you don't start to see through him.

Please, start to see through him.

He's obvious. His moves are textbook for the genre. You're smarter than this. Man, c'mon!!
posted by jbenben at 2:55 PM on August 29, 2014 [10 favorites]

James isn't Straight. That's not the problem between the two of you, that's not the barrier keeping you apart.

Getting hung up on that label is blinding you and others to another, more important label James embodies...


Narcissists flirt with everyone. They don't really care what gender you are, only that you'll give them unfettered attention and excitement.

OP, that's why you don't care that James is Straight and Married on the surface. You're right! It doesn't matter!!

Trouble is, what's going on underneath is not in your favor.

You had an emotional affair. James is still having his ego stroked by you.

It's not the sane thing at all.

(There's a typo in that last line, above. And I'm going to leave it. The sentence still makes sense.)
posted by jbenben at 3:05 PM on August 29, 2014 [4 favorites]

I'm sorry, apparently I glazed over the last line about no therapists.

I find it... difficult to believe that you are living in a culture with office buildings and televisions and texting and apparently being relatively openly queer, and there is not a single person anywhere with a professional certification in helping people who are having problems with their heads.

There is online counselling available. You really, really need to talk to someone. And until your infatuation/obsession is well and truly under control you really, really need to avoid romantic relationships.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 3:06 PM on August 29, 2014 [7 favorites]

we’ve even managed to re-establish contact, still very guarded at this point


James has manipulated you, monopolized your attention to the point where you couldn't date even though he's married, made you cautious to come out to him despite your allegedly-close relationship, flipped his shit when you came out to him, and threatened physical violence toward you. DO NOT TALK TO HIM. DO NOT TELL YOURSELF THAT IT'S GOING TO SOMEHOW BE OKAY SOME TIME IN THE FUTURE. This guy does not love you, he loves controlling you. He is not capable of being a friend or having a positive role in your life: it's going to be all or nothing, and that means it needs to be nothing.
posted by bile and syntax at 3:28 PM on August 29, 2014 [2 favorites]

Forget Fred for a moment, he's not the dangerous one here. Take it slow with him or let it go, whatever you feel is probably best.

But you have GOT to go no contact with James. Delete his phone number, delete his facebook, block his emails, etc etc. He's told you who he is, now LISTEN to him and recognize that he could attempt to physically harm you at any time. No way is this going to end well.
posted by zug at 5:23 PM on August 29, 2014 [1 favorite]

Dude, please listen to what people are telling you here. You're not safe.

You have this cognitive dissonance about James from the beginning, whereby on the one hand he's totally unavailable because he's married and straight, yet on the other hand you're basically having an affair already. So you're already in the mindset of knowing what is true in public reality (you and James are having an affair and are already together), but refusing to believe it because of what is also true in the public realm (you and James are not having an affair and it's all in your head because he's straight and married).

So now when we tell you that James is not a friend and not safe to interact with in any way, the side of you that is sure James must be sane and normal and couldn't be this mental, is the side that's dictating your actions. Everyone experiences this confusion but you're getting it all the more because of the double nature of your relationship with James.

Please listen to us, James is not a safe person to interact with in any way at all.

Also, Fred is someone you should not be around because you're not safe emotionally or physically due to your relationship with James. Don't stay friends with Fred because you'll just be leading him on.
posted by tel3path at 5:29 PM on August 29, 2014 [2 favorites]

My first reaction, without having read your backstory, was that you need to go be a hermit and live on a mountain for six months or a year or so and not even think about relationships.

Then I read your backstory.

Dude, you definitely need to stay the hell away from James. Friendship is not a thing that is possible for you with this guy. I am sure that you think you know better and we are all being mean and just not understanding what a decent, caring guy he really is. You're probably not ready to hear that your relationship was controlling and potentially abusive so I am wasting my breath, but really. If you ask the internets for advice and we all tell you the same thing, do you think maybe, just possibly, we are right? Or at least have a point?

Fred? I don't know, he sounds like he is either really nice and really likes you and is prepared to put up with your drama because he is such a nice guy, or possibly that he is sort of soft and spineless and jellyfishlike and unwilling to stick up for what he needs.

Which should sound familiar to you.

I don't think you should be in a relationship at all right now. Sure, they're nice and intimacy and hugs and stuff are good, but honestly, you will not die if you go 6 months or a year without seeing anyone romantically. Ask me how I know.
posted by Athanassiel at 5:50 AM on August 30, 2014 [2 favorites]

I am going to return to your actual question:

So my question is: should I continue the relationship with Fred and hope that what I feel for James will fade over time (provided that I don't feed it by becoming super friends with him again), or should I wait until I no longer feel anything for James before I can seriously start dating again?

The bolded part: You are already feeding it again. Please take the feedback here seriously and go no contact with the man. I absolutely do not agree with the people here saying he is simply a monster, yet I am giving you the exact same advice they are. When people see a situation so differently yet all agree that it has the same solution, that should tell you something. In fact, that should be a pretty powerful message that regardless of what you think about exactly what is going on, no good will come of you pursuing a "friendship" with James. So please do not do that.

Second, I would not spend any time hoping the feelings for James will fade. I would be actively looking to murder those feelings. Getting with someone new can help you do that. In fact, not getting with someone can put you in a position where you keep texting James because you are emotionally starving and he's accessible and yadda. Please do not put yourself in that situation. If you do not have the self discipline to Just Say No, then please actively look for some other means to get your needs met so it becomes easier to resist temptation here.

Since neither you nor Fred can accidentally wind up pregnant, assuming there are no STD's and the only danger is emotional/social drama, it is okay to continue to be honest with him about what you need and what you can offer and let things go wherever they are going to go. You are both adults. I generally do not agree with the commonly expressed idea that you need to get your shit together before you can have a relationship. My experience is that those internal crappy paradigms that mess things up tend to not change unless you are actively working on them and having an actual relationship is where you do your lab work.

I have had a number of relationships as an adult where I arranged a "no harm, no foul" outcome and we walked away better for having known each other, even though it was a shitty situation and there was essentially no hope of having it become True Love and Marriage. They grew. I grew. Their lives got better for having known me. Mine got better for having known them. It is okay to find a way to get your needs met. It is okay for you and Fred to cut a deal to try to do that in the here and now.

But you have got to get real about James. Until you do, you are in serious danger.
posted by Michele in California at 9:41 AM on August 30, 2014

I read your last question and this one, and it reminded me of this essay in the Orange Coast Magazine.

My point is that no one is all good or all bad.... James can have all the positive attributes you say he does and still be a danger to you - which he almost certainly is since that's what he's TOLD you.

Really... You have romantic feelings for someone who's married. That's cold turkey no contact right there, period. Leave it alone.
posted by jrobin276 at 4:14 PM on August 30, 2014 [3 favorites]

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