Am I hurting myself in the long run, or being a good friend?
May 14, 2015 9:31 AM   Subscribe

I have posted some questions before about my first relationship and would like to get some advice on whether friendship is even the right thing now. I've had conflicted feelings the entire 5 1/2 years I've known this person, and am wondering what is the right thing to do? He says he needs my support because he finally came out but could we be friends or are we going to keep hurting each other?

I apologize for the length, I've just really been struggling and my support system gives me conflicting advice. Ok, I'm in my mid 20s and he is late 20s. We met in a really chaotic point in our lives where we were both depressed and clung to each other like we were lost at sea. I fell hard for him and so did he, until a year later I found out he was seeing men. He begged me not to break up with him, and I saw so much pain in his eyes and still cared for him, that we stayed together. I am open about sexuality and that didn't bother me at all, what bothered me was that he lied about it. He didn't expect me to find out, I just happened upon an email he sent. I enjoyed spending time with him and his company and feel like we were really best friends all along and it was the romantic aspect that didn't work out. Yet, I was still intensely attracted to him so we didn't stop being physical and he didn't have any problems with me in that department. I figured maybe he's bisexual or questioning at the time and I told him it's perfectly fine if he experiments, but to be honest with me.

Fast forward last year and he tells me that he's been meeting up with a guy for about a year, part of which we were long-distance, while he was at school. I considered that cheating because it wasn't something casual and he didn't tell me he was going to be having those kinds of relationships, even though he said it was purely sexual. I felt angry and betrayed because he jeopardized both of our health as he wasn't protecting himself in any way. Also, because I struggled with his intimacy issues and being close to him as a person, while some random stranger that didn't even appreciate him got his goods basically. I mostly felt sad for him because I wanted more for him than being used sexually. We both have a history of growing up in emotionally (for me) and physically (for him), and sexually abusive (for him) households. I know he has a history of self-esteem issues, ADD, promiscuity, and self-mutilating self-sabotaging and OCD behaviors. He hasn't been diagnosed but I suspect he might be borderline or at least have issues with being emotionally dysregulated. I have struggled with depression my entire life, but got into a really bad patch last year when he told me he had been seeing someone without telling me. I felt sad because I would ask him if he was happy and if he wanted more. I tried to have open dialogue and communication, either he wasn't ready or struggled with self-hatred, I"m not sure but it seemed like he felt more comfortable closeted and having me for companionship. He grew up in an extremely religious community, basically a cult in my eyes, but I have tried to be supportive of him because I deeply care for him.

I moved out of our apartment in October, after having the difficult internal dialogue with myself and understanding that I'm still young and deserve more. Our relationship was broken. However, I wanted to salvage the friendship. He's been a part of my life and I have grown and learned so much being with him. I believed he was my life partner, although I wanted a boyfriend that was physically affectionate and completely in the relationship, that was what finally made the push for me. I knew that if I kept finding excuses to stay, I would. So I found reasons to leave and I did. Mostly the lying because he is a compulsive liar and definitely could be manipulative. Yet, my leaving was the catalyst for him to come out. He is gay and he is now seeing someone. I am happy for him, but of course I still miss him. I saw him last month and it was the ease of wearing your favorite pair of jeans. I feel comfortable with him like I haven't yet felt with anyone else. My concerns are he is graduating this weekend and I told him that no matter what is going on between us, I still wanted to be there to support him. Well, here the time has come and I want to be there, but am I being foolish? Should we part our ways and say thanks but no thanks? It's definitely been a rollercoaster. I vacillate between maybe we can be friends later on in the future, and knowing that of course we can be friends, because we always were. It was his friendship that made me want to spend time with him and ultimately get into a relationship with him. It was a rush whirlwind romance but we had many moments I still treasure. Should I let it rest and let it be just that? A moment in time that I will value but now we are on separate paths? I want to be friends with him, I feel like I've mourned the relationship fully and can be there at his graduation knowing that I helped him get to where he is and it was worth it. Painful to know he's living a life that we created together, but I feel like we were really good roommates and why give that up? He said he doesn't want me to hate him, and I don't, of course I was upset for a while greiving the relationship I thought we would have. But I'd much rather have his friendship. Is that even a possibility?

Anyway, thanks for reading. I"m sorry this is so long. I'm afraid to trust my gut and intuition because I pretty much haven't made the best choices. It was really difficult to be in a relationship with him because I couldn't understand him and our communication styles were different. But slowly we learned how to communicate effectively. The thing is I've had trouble communicating with everyone my entire life, even my family. I'm the black sheep and they don't understand me and I found a kindred spirit with this man. We both behaved pretty foolishly at times, but I feel like there is a connection there. I"m happy for him, and we're both willing to figure out how to navigate a friendship and gain boundaries. Does that mean we can't be close friends, and we should instead share the occasional birthday texts? I feel like I'm not a part of his new life and he doesn't want me to be, that he'd rather live in the city where I laid out the foundation for a foreverhome and instead it's his new lease on life to live free to be himself. Will I trigger negative feelings for him if I'm around? Will he trigger me? Do we need more time or to just close this chapter of my life and learn to live without him even if it means at the expense of a great friendship?

TL:DR; I had an intense and tumultuous 5 year relationship with a man that was closeted and once I left him to pursue my own happiness, I realized we were best friends the whole time who tried to have a relationship that didn't work. The relationship is broken, but can the friendship be salvaged? I want to grow, was our codependency holding each other back from the lives we were meant to lead and I'm just trying to keep holding onto some connection to him? Or face the unknown future, move to a completely new city, grow up, move on, and navigate myself as a single strong independent woman? Can I have both? I miss Chicago, can't we just be roommates? I felt like this needed to happen. But how do I navigate this new unknown?
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (16 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Dang girl, this sounds like a LOT OF DAMN WORK.
Do you want to be on the hook for all that work and drama from here on out?
I highly doubt it.

If the above is a lot of damn work, you know what sounds like a LOT OF DAMN FUN?
[F]ace the unknown future, move to a completely new city, grow up, move on, and navigate myself as a single strong independent woman?

THAT sounds like fun!
You got this, you just really need a clean break from drama and stress and Oh My God This Dude Is Just Tiring Me The Hell Out.

Repeat after me: I DESERVE BETTER THAN THIS. And you do.

You know the answer to this question, and I think you know what you need to do, you might just need to hear it from impartial 3rd parties on the internet :)

Have fun storming the castle!
posted by Major Matt Mason Dixon at 9:40 AM on May 14, 2015 [12 favorites]

He says he needs my support because he finally came out but could we be friends or are we going to keep hurting each other?

Sometimes people who make shitty partners can make very good friends. That said, when I have been able to make this work it was after a serious break from whatever the drama of the bad relationship was. And once we'd both moved on, very far on.

So I'm with MMMD, walk away for now. You seem to be strongly motivated by other people's strong feelings which is not that big a deal but can make you vulnerable to intense people who don't know what they want and/or have bad boundaries and slop those all over you. Like I get that the guy doesn't want you to hate him after he did a lot of shitty things but what he wants isn't that germane in this situation. You feel how you feel.

So questions I would have about this guy and your future friendship

- Has he owned the ways in which he was a bad partner to you in the past and does he have a clue about how to not be a bad friend in the future (like ... lying is against the rules and maybe it was just self-hatred but maybe he has an unsteady relationship with the truth)
- Are you okay with a "this is not your relationship" relationship with this person? It's often hard for people to move on to friendships if either they or their ex haven't completely moved on and I worry about you and boundaries. This guy has another partner. That should, optimally, mean that he worked out stuff with the partner first and you second. Are you comfortable with that outline?
- Are you looking for some level of intimacy from him that you might be better off getting from a partner? All good partnerships are, at some level, friendships. What do you get out of a friendship with him? What do you still need/desire in a partnership?

My advice is to go do something else for a while and cultivate other friendships. You should not be roommates, no. Give it some time and revisit it in a few months (6? more?) and see how you're feeling then. There's always an ache that comes form ending a relationship and part of that is just brain-drugs your body tosses at you to make you not leave. Give those some time to wear off. Realize that this guy isn't your life partner but he could be a good friend, maybe and later.
posted by jessamyn at 9:50 AM on May 14, 2015 [5 favorites]

I'm in the middle of getting a divorce for reasons that sound very, very similar. I knew that he was queer when we got married and said, ok! That's cool! I don't feel the need to be the end-all of sexual partners, just be honest with me. Spoiler alert: he was not honest with me.

This question is so painfully familiar, right down to "can't we just be roommates?" And the answer, right now, is no. You deserve better than this, and staying in the same or a similar living situation with him isn't going to get you that--it's going to get you falling into the same patterns and having the same problems. You, personally, are going to find yourself stuck in the same place forever while he goes out and meets people and does things and finds himself.

Don't do this to yourself. Stop worrying about what you may or may not trigger for him and worry about yourself. He's probably a great guy, but he's not great for you right now. Back away and start trying to find yourself a new life. If, in a year, that new life is amazing (and it will be) and you're still thinking that you'd like to be his friend, drop him a line then. But right now take care of yourself.

Seriously, though, your new life's going to be great. Go find it.
posted by MeghanC at 9:54 AM on May 14, 2015 [10 favorites]

You are hurting yourself in the long run. This person cheated, lied, and put your health in danger for a year. That's not a friend. He's not a great guy. Go no contact for a few years. If, in a few years, you look back on the situation and still want to be friends, then you can reach out and reestablish a friendship.
posted by Lingasol at 10:20 AM on May 14, 2015 [6 favorites]

This: "he is a compulsive liar and definitely could be manipulative."

This: "I felt angry and betrayed because he jeopardized both of our health as he wasn't protecting himself in any way."

This: "I've had conflicted feelings the entire 5 1/2 years I've known this person"

Oh, and this: "I'm not a part of his new life and he doesn't want me to be"

Do not AT ALL agree with this: "we were really good roommates" and "we were best friends the whole time."

I agree with everyone in your last Ask about this man from only 4 months ago who advised you to go no-contact immediately.
posted by hush at 10:20 AM on May 14, 2015 [10 favorites]

Or face the unknown future, move to a completely new city, grow up, move on, and navigate myself as a single strong independent woman? Can I have both? I miss Chicago, can't we just be roommates?

This stuck out to me. Chicago is an enormous city, full of people living alongside each other but never crossing paths. Even though you originally moved there to be with your ex, you can live there independently and become the person you want to be, same as you could anywhere else. The fact that you link the city and your ex like this suggests that maybe you haven't healed from the relationship - in which case, no, it's not worth it to try and keep the friendship. However, it is worth it to redefine the relationship you have with the city. I don't think you need to move back to Chicago if it's not in your plans, but if your ex is the only reason you're avoiding it, stop avoiding it.

I don't think it's wise to be friends with your ex. He's manipulative and a liar - you've said so yourself - and people who manipulate and lie to their partners will do it to their friends, too. You may still feel a deep connection, but he's not the good friend you think he is.

And don't fall into the trap of feeling obligated to be his friend because he's had trouble in his past or "needs [your] support." Even if he does need it, a true friend gives as much as they take.
posted by Metroid Baby at 10:34 AM on May 14, 2015 [5 favorites]

I wonder what you are getting out of this relationship:
Feeling like a *good person* because you want to be friends?
Being a savior?

I think you know the answer already. If you are going to be friends with this man, you will need a chunk of time when you're not in contact with him. How long? Maybe a year, maybe even more. Enough so that you have other friends and maybe even a partner so that he's not the biggest emotional thing in your life.
posted by tuesdayschild at 10:53 AM on May 14, 2015 [1 favorite]

I had a relationship a lot like this. We were very close, I loved him, and we were extremely intertwined with each other. It was an extremely comfortable relationship. However, I now look back and can see that it was primarily comfortable because it reminded me of the unhealthy and ultimately damaging dynamics in my family of origin. So, while we did feel like family, & I felt very committed to his well being, it worked out much better for us to part ways.

Now I am in a relationship that is also extremely close. However, as I am now a much healthier and more stable person, I feel comfortable in a much more stable and healthy relationship. So yes, you can feel this level of comfort again. It takes time.

I also realized after I got out of the relationship, that we were so enmeshed with each other, and he was so needy and difficult to deal with because he lied all the time, that I did not have the time and energy to really make friends with anyone else. So I have also had a number of healthy and satisfying friendships since we cut off contact with each other. I do not think I would have had those relationships had I continued to spend so much energy on my interactions with him. Even though many of those interactions were good and felt positive, ultimately not having them was better for me.

It is also important to note that he seems to want to move on. It might not be actually open to you to have the same kind of relationship that you had in the past. I think that it sounds like he is realizing that this might not be what he wants, and yet he is not doing a great job of separating from you, just as you are having difficulty separating from him. I think that a good way to handle this is to really immerse yourself in something else that will take up a lot of your time and energy. And yes, I do think that you should avoid moving in with him or running in the same social circles. However you should also live in whichever city you want, take whichever job you want, and generally live your life as though he is not a factor in your decisions anymore. That means that you do not need to do anything drastic, nor do you have to stay heavily involved in his life. Instead, you can make decisions that have nothing to do with your relationship with him. Good luck! This is not an easy situation, and I wish you well.
posted by internet fraud detective squad, station number 9 at 11:00 AM on May 14, 2015 [3 favorites]

Best answer: He will never ever ever ever be your real true friend.

He can continue to use you, however, for as long as you let him.

Just because being used and manipulated is familiar, doesn't make it good for you. DTMFA. He is not friend-material. Run. Run like hell and get far far away. I know you love him, but it's not a two-way street. Run.
posted by jbenben at 3:33 PM on May 14, 2015 [2 favorites]

Too much drama. If you feel obligation you are being emotionally blackmailed. Just cash in and make a clean break; it will be a huge relief, and then you can get on with making a life that actually works. A new relationship will take effort too; how will you find the time and energy with this clingy basket case sucking you dry? Rip off the bandage, and run for your life.
posted by halhurst at 3:52 PM on May 14, 2015 [3 favorites]

This is tough because of "can we be friends or are we going to keep hurting each other," whether he put it exactly that way or not. Because it's not necessarily one or the other. You two can stop being friends AND stop hurting each other. Actually, you're the one getting hurt. He's choosing to lie and hide things that are hurtful and possibly harmful to you. AND he's asking you to ignore your conflicted feelings and "be a friend" by supporting him emotionally.

When he starts to show "pain in his eyes" and says he needs you, acknowledge that. Say that you can definitely see how challenging it must be to adjust to being out. Tell him that you know he's hurt by the end of your relationship, because you've been feeling hurt as well.

When you say that you need to end your involvement with him, stay on the message that it's the right thing for YOU. That being with him after the breakup doesn't work for YOU. That you want to go your own way and keep building your own life. Say all of this kindly, but firmly. If he persists after you say it a couple of times, you can stop talking. Wish him well and walk away.

Don't try to explain why it's better for you to move on. Don't enumerate any reasons why he's not good for you, or even say, "I can't trust you," even though that's true. Emphasize the future, and emphasize the positives that await you.

It's going to be very hard, especially because he's not going to let you off the hook. You don't have to persuade him or get his blessing. Keep your mind on what YOU want, and let him figure out what he wants in his without-you life.
posted by wryly at 3:57 PM on May 14, 2015 [2 favorites]

Wryly brings up a very good point.

He's likely not going to agree to let you go. You don't need his approval or permission.

I originally skinmed your question while stuck in line somewhere. That he cheated on you and had unprotected sex putting you health at risk - whoa boy. This was not a casual betrayal and that you are still talking to someone who would do this to you? Please, no.

Please don't do this to yourself. Protect yourself from anyone who could do this to another person. You are not helping him by staying supportive and shielding him from the consequences of his choices.
posted by jbenben at 4:09 PM on May 14, 2015 [2 favorites]

I stopped reading after you said he cheated on you without protection and exposed you to diseases FOR A YEAR, and you're wondering if he's your friend?! I can't believe you're even talking to him, the man is a menace. Drop and run.
posted by Jubey at 6:48 PM on May 14, 2015 [2 favorites]

Thanks for an awesome response! It sounds like you are heading in the right direction! YAY!
Please remember that to get a good friend and support system, you have to be a good friend and support system.
I know you're in a new town, so may I recommend MeetUp?

I send a lot of my clients over there so that they can meet new nerdy, awesome, wonderful people who are into what they are into.
Make sure you are taking GOOD CARE OF YOURSELF.

Drink water, eat healthy, move daily and make new awesome acquaintances that may become good friends, and you are on your way!
posted by Major Matt Mason Dixon at 4:22 AM on May 15, 2015 [1 favorite]

Absolutely moving on is the best way to go. He betrayed your relationship, he didn't give you a life-altering illness through sheer luck, he's manipulative, he's a liar.

Chuck this toxic person into the bin marked "Kinds Of People I Will Never Allow In My Life Again" and go meet the good ones.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 5:42 AM on May 15, 2015 [2 favorites]

Sadly, I felt like he was my only support system and the only one who understood me. I know it says some scary and bewildering things about me that I still feel like I needed him and he was all I had.

Naw, it's not scary or bewildering. People care for each other for all kinds of reasons, and sometimes that goes haywire, and that's okay. Sort of like when pigs nurse baby tigers or whatever, but people.

Anyway, the whole "only support system" thing is something that I discovered was a chicken and egg kind of problem. Once I was not involved in my relationship, I relatively quickly built a decent support system of relatively healthy people. I think that it is hard to make that leap, but it will work out.
posted by internet fraud detective squad, station number 9 at 1:55 PM on May 15, 2015 [2 favorites]

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