Your mind is telling me no... and your mind is telling me yes...
September 29, 2015 6:11 AM   Subscribe

The Situation: A guy whom I felt complicatedly "led me on," and with whom I thought I had begun to come to a resolution, has rapidly returned to strong behaviors that led me to fall for him in the first place. This is upsetting and confusing, as I had made clear that these were what led us into the situation in the first place. I'd love some help and advice as to navigating a conversation with him about boundaries, while balancing complicated feelings of deep connection to this gentleman and the need to respect myself and model such self-respect.

Long story: I am a mid-20s gay male in the West. During the summer, a man at the periphery of my social network (alias "Brian") began approaching me out of the blue, culminating in a frank invitation "out." While I liked him well enough from a distance, after he indicated he wanted to take me out for a drink and I got to know him better, I felt a profoundly intense connection between us building. I'm talking "oh, wow, I understand all this nonsense about 'love at first sight' and 'it feels like I've known you for forever' for the first time." He was brilliant, weird, funny in a way that felt like a perfect match to my strangest humor, and I felt quickly rather safe and effortless around him. It was a feeling I hadn't had in years. He showered me with compliments about what he had heard about how intelligent I was and how cool my work is and how interesting I am; while I'm, uh, extremely bashful about compliments, from him they felt pretty genuine and honestly great. It was probably the first "beginning of a relationship" where I haven't felt any conscious anxiety at all, because it seemed so clear that this person was into me and I was into them.

It was absolutely wonderful, and apparently mutual! He ramped up contact really quickly (which I reciprocated), where over the course of three weeks we had accumulated about 1,500 text messages, which very much had the tenor of morning-till-night, thoughtful, thinking about the other, injoke-private-languagey, increasingly intimate and personal conversation. I recognized the rising intensity of the contact, which wasn't a typical rate for me in relationships of any kind, but it felt so good that I went along for the ride. While we had various professional obligations that prevented us from seeing each other in person much during this period, when we found the time our contact seemed electrifying and flirtatious, so much so that a random woman at a restaurant commented privately to me on how we seemed like the best 2nd or 3rd date she had ever seen.

Then, perhaps meaningfully as it felt that the next time we saw each other the sexual tension would finally burst into something, things burst... in a different way. As a planned aside or a genuine slip, he mentioned a long-distance girlfriend in passing. I was completely floored. People in my proximity of the social network were baffled (i.e., they had no idea she existed), and indeed if there were any indication on his online presence that such a person existed, I would never have pursued this. I wrote to him indicating my feelings, reflecting on the nature of our relationship, and requesting clarity on what we were doing and what was going on. He wrote back an email rather quickly, recognizing the intensity but indicating that he really just wanted "friendship" ... yet also on his own bringing up that he didn't tell me about the girlfriend for fear of my losing my interest in him (?!), which is a hard line to swallow. It felt contradictory. I felt pretty hurt, increasingly angry (a hard emotion for me to sit with), confused, like I was crazy. I wrote back indicating as much in as kind a way as I could, and I asked for some space, which he respected.

Fast forward about 2 months later. Wanting some degree of closure, caring for this person, and knowing that I would run into him in the future as summer ended, I reached out an olive branch and asked to have a real conversation with him. In this conversation, I buckled up, went against my typical obliging nature, and asserted clearly that the kinds of behaviors we were engaged in were interactions I reserved for a boyfriend, not someone I had in a sense just gotten to know. I indicated that it hurt to feel led on. He became superbly mentally disorganized and troubled during this conversation (especially when I gently pressed him on what he meant by the girlfriend and losing interest piece), as if he were actively struggling very hard with something (it was one of the strangest feelings I've had sitting with someone in a conversation), and he said that he would have to think more about his motivations, which were obscure to him. He didn't directly counter much that I said, and just seemed to "take it all in." He seemed really worried that he had "hurt" me, and he was worried that it looked as though I had lost weight. As we ended our conversation, he mentioned that he had missed me a lot, which was hard to hear. In the conversation, he mentioned that he sees said girlfriend about twice a year, and that it's painful and distressing for him to talk about her to anyone in a tone that seemed really dire, for reasons he didn't elaborate upon.

My read after this: there's probably trouble in this relationship, and he found himself having an emotional affair because of this, maybe unknowingly. He is caught in a hard place where he does not want to admit (for whatever multifarious reasons) that this was so, and maybe is only beginning to let himself sit with that fact. Perhaps there could be something in the future, but that would require him to do some introspection, to make choices that are perhaps hard for him, and to clearly indicate his wants and needs. Brian is nominally bisexual, although to my knowledge has never been in a relationship with a man, and from poking around it seems as though this relationship might be his one and only of any note; breaking up after 7-8 (3 LDR) years of a relationship is hard in a way I can't imagine, especially if it entails enacting a part of your sexuality you haven't explored before. I knew I couldn't count on it, and resolved to keep online dating as I had. I felt much less crazy after this talk (and had been feeling increasingly OK prior; hooray therapy!) even as I felt I didn't get much direct clarity from him. We agreed to have a lunch date a few weeks in the future, and that it would be our explicit "follow-up" from this.


However, not even two weeks went by before he began to reach out to me in similar ways to before. It started with little things that I didn't reciprocate, but built up to including (but not limited to): taking videos of himself interacting with things in the world following from jokes we had had, taking photos of art that remind him of me, and trying to make sure that we were both looking at the recent lunar eclipse. Much of this comes late or right before bed. Although, I know I should have pushed back over digital communication, I wasn't really sure how, to be honest; it's out of my wheelhouse and I have few good examples. I'm really good at negotiating conflict between others, but asserting my own needs is a skill I am working on in therapy. (Coincidentally, my therapist has been seriously ill for the past two weeks as things have happened: hey Metafilter, hey!). While I will 100% admit I broke my silence to respond to his musings on the moon and digitally talk under the eclipse (a moment of... weakness? romantic sentimentality? following a shitty OkCupid date, that I am trying to be self-compassionate about), I have tried to be withholding; but I feel that, in the long term, I am going to need to confront him again.

We have a meeting set up for the end of this week, and unless he's found clarity for himself, I think I need to be assertive.

In the long-term, I know I don't want to be a boyfriend-without-benefits, even if it feels so, so, so nice in the short-term to be receiving this kind of focused attention. While I was prospectively imagining that I could tolerate occasional messages from him, things like lunches, and large group social events, I don't think I can tolerate this sort of intimate "really thinking of you, OK?" messaging. It communicates to me on a level that will ultimately be really painful again unless it's paired with real vulnerability and a real relationship. While I am guessing these communications come from a place of longing, pain, and confusion on his part, I am trying to recognize that they are ultimately unkind to me as long as they remain as they are, given the needs that I have expressed. It seems he may be in a shitty situation, but it's affecting me negatively, and if he cares about me in any mature way, he needs to recognize that.

I've never had a conversation like this before with someone, and I would love advice how to navigate it kindly yet assertively, and if you have ever navigated a similar conversation before. (Or if you've been Brian in this situation!). I think I would still be open to something in some unknown future, but I think that in a sense this back-and-forth is ruining that undefined and unreliable possibility for me by making our interactions painful and fraught. I want to find out a way to say something to the effect of, "When I don't respond to you, it isn't because I am angry with you or am ignoring you, but it's because it seems very intimate, and you're doing the same thing that brought us to where we stand, and that's painful to me. If that real intimacy is not what you want right now, I need to set up a boundary with you." I am worried that, essentially, a hard stop may be necessary, depending on how he reacts, which is hard to admit.

Thanks for your advice regarding my rambling, complicated relationship, MetaFilter!
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (21 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
I would not have a conversation about it because he's already indicate that he lacks the impulse control (or the desire, or maybe both) to really treat you in the way that you want to be treated.

Instead, I would suggest blocking him or using technological means to keep from seeing his messages. This, to me, is the kindest thing you can do for yourself.

In that vein, I would suggest that this person has some serious issues that have nothing to do with you, but that could very well derail your own stability and mental wellness. It seems like you're still holding open the door for a relationship here and don't want to cut him off in case that's what he wants, too--but I would ask yourself if you think that this is the sort of situation in which a relationship would be a good idea, even if that's what he wanted.
posted by internet fraud detective squad, station number 9 at 6:17 AM on September 29, 2015 [19 favorites]

He's leading you on and loves the attention and flattery. At the very best, he has massive issues nothing to do with you. Stay away, and don't meet up with him. You need to take care of yourself, and get a boyfriend you deserve. I know it's tough, but I've been there and while it feels like an open question, sometimes questions are best left unanswered.
posted by pando11 at 6:18 AM on September 29, 2015 [5 favorites]

I've known many guys to do this - to create a para-relationship with someone, minus the sex or actual commitment. It's really dishonest and usually a sign that they're not very self-aware. For him, it's probably more complicated than "leading you on" - but that doesn't mean you should get enmeshed with him.

I don't think you need to have another conversation with him. I think the one you describe already was terrific and very self-aware, and I wish I'd had the wits to have that kind of conversation in my past.

If you do have a conversation with him....look, it seems like you like him a lot (or could like him a lot), and I think that out of the many possible outcomes, the only one that is any good is where you say, again, "look, I really like you. I don't want to be in a confusing semi-friendship with you because it's messing with my head - if you ever want to date, fine. Otherwise, we need real space from each other and I need a total break from communicating with you" and then leave the ball in his court and if he gets his act together, well and good, and if he doesn't, at least you're well shot of him.

I think you're very self aware in most ways, but it seems like you may unconsciously be drawing out your interactions with him - in the name of conversation and closure, of course, but you're still continuing to be in contact with him, which both feeds the drama of the whole situation and gives you, unconsciously, some emotional satisfaction and protection from loss. As long as you have one more meeting/interaction ahead of you, so to speak, you don't have to deal with the whole thing being over.

It's a shame, and the guy will probably look back on this with regret later on.
posted by Frowner at 6:34 AM on September 29, 2015 [19 favorites]

I can't speculate about what this guy's issue is, but it's probably going to be best for you to just walk away from him entirely. This person is not making your life better. Sure, it feels good to get texts from him and to joke with him and to get attention from him. Of course it does. But that's just the dopamine talking.

I know how hard it is to say goodbye to someone like Brian. But really, truly, it will be much healthier for you. Doing what's healthy doesn't always feel good in the short term (this is why I dislike both exercise and broccoli) but the long term benefits are so worth it.

Take care of yourself.

Oh, and do you have a hobby? Something you enjoy doing that's just your thing? Maybe focus on that for a bit right now. Carve out some quality you-time and make or do something. It will get your mind off of this guy and will make you feel accomplished and good about yourself. Having a hobby is an important part of self-care and is a great thing to throw time into after losing someone important and dear but ultimately unhealthy.
posted by sockermom at 6:41 AM on September 29, 2015 [3 favorites]

I had this happen to me back in April, almost verbatim. Instant connection, feelings of love and companionship, everything to a grinding halt just before sexual intercourse, random bouts of "oh but..." This person is a mind fucker, probably a narcissist, but official diagnoses don't matter. To you he's a mind fucker. That instant connection/safety/etc. you feel is because they probably stalked/observed you for a while in order to understand just what makes you tick in order to REALLY hook you to the extent that you can't ever really let it go or see through them. When you confronted him about his behavior and demanded an explanation he short circuited and couldn't elucidate his intentions because he probably has no idea why he's doing this, just that he is compelled to. That's no excuse, however. You will never date him. It doesn't matter what issues he has. Whatever they are, you probably aren't the first person this has happened to, so just block him and heal. Don't let him break your heart, ok?
posted by Young Kullervo at 6:41 AM on September 29, 2015 [11 favorites]

There are so many things that could cause this guy to act this way and break your heart, but they are none of your concern. Your concern is protecting yourself and being good to yourself, and this guy's past behavior is 100% out of line with that.

Stay away from people who play games with your emotions. It's really easy to fall for someone who is making such an effort, but that's how con artists separate people from money, and how messed-up people separate well-intentioned people from their own good judgement.

You'll find someone way better for you.
posted by xingcat at 6:58 AM on September 29, 2015 [8 favorites]

I'm going to reduce your problem to its bare essentials:

The Situation: A guy whom I felt complicatedly "led me on,"

he mentioned a long-distance girlfriend in passing

I will fill in the ending of this story for you:

[record scratch] The End.

Please don't think I'm misunderstanding the nuances and complexities here. I do understand them. The ending is still the same. Listen to me to save your sanity.

Cut off contact. Don't look at his social media, auto-filter and delete his emails, don't call him, don't answer when he calls.

I'm sorry. This will hurt, but unfortunately that's just the way it is. It will be very, very painful for you and it's just too bad. Do anything else, and you'll just prolong the agony.

You deserve to prosper, not to suffer, so again: listen to me.
posted by tel3path at 7:17 AM on September 29, 2015 [26 favorites]

You already had a conversation with him about this. He's not treating you well. None of this is good for you, and he's already proven that he won't respect your stated boundaries. Just cut him off entirely.
posted by J. Wilson at 8:28 AM on September 29, 2015 [3 favorites]

It sounds as if you've both been entertaining yourselves--and other coffee-shop patrons, which I have to say is very kind of you--dressing this thing up like an Epic Romance. It's not an Epic Romance, and for that you should thank God because those are much worse. You and he will continue to do this as long as neither of you has anything better to do, or, worse and much more likely, as long as you have better things to do but you'd rather do this instead. What are the better things you should be doing with your time and your creative energy? Be compelled by them. Do them.
posted by Don Pepino at 8:34 AM on September 29, 2015 [5 favorites]

It's hard to tell from your account whether anything physical ever happened between you two, and, hey, different people feel differently about this stuff. So take this with the entire salt shaker.

But in general (as someone who is bi and who also doesn't want to be boxed in about which genders I can be friends with vs. date), if I have an intense connection with someone new, and we're not at least kissing after three weeks and multiple "dates", I file this new relationship under the category of friendship, not dating. A date is something that ends in some kind of romantic physical contact. Maybe not the first date, but by the second time we get together, for sure.

Either way, since it's pretty obvious at this point that you are looking for a relationship from this guy, and he is looking for friendship, it's time to extricate yourself. I'm sorry this dude did this to you, but you can't make him change. Just go.

FWIW I was in the type of "para-relationship" (as Frowner puts it) with a dude for a lot of the last year. It took a lot of mental energy and prevented me from finding something real, or at least having my own headspace to do other stuff. I'm now in a relationship where my partner unquestionably wants what I want, and I look back at that, and uggghhhhhhhhhhh.

So, seriously. Go.
posted by Sara C. at 8:42 AM on September 29, 2015 [3 favorites]

In the long-term, I know I don't want to be a boyfriend-without-benefits, even if it feels so, so, so nice in the short-term to be receiving this kind of focused attention.

I think you encapsulate your own dilemma quite nicely. This is what he's offering you. And you, rightly, find the offer wanting.

I suspect Brian is deeply closeted, so an additional question you might ask yourself is what kind of a boyfriend he would make if he allowed physical intimacy. Me, I think it would be a mistake to believe that he is capable of a healthy relationship, gay, straight or in between. Maybe some years down the road, but he's got a lot of ground to cover. And in the meantime, there would be plenty of withdrawals and subterfuges to make your life an insufferable hell.

I am worried that, essentially, a hard stop may be necessary, depending on how he reacts, which is hard to admit.

Hard, sure, but go ahead and admit it so you can begin to move on.
posted by Short Attention Sp at 8:46 AM on September 29, 2015

He has forgotten this behavior hurts you? Probably not, just being a selfish ass. He wants a fan club, not a relationship. Run.
posted by TenaciousB at 9:38 AM on September 29, 2015 [2 favorites]

You seem like a very kind, thoughtful person, in a way that makes me think that you'll have an easier time with this if you give him one last chance to change on his own. Since you'll be seeing him at the end of this week, that's a great chance. It sounds like you handled the first conversation really well. You can remind him and then draw a line like "if your situation changes and you want to be more than friends, let me know. Otherwise, I do need us to not have contact." (Or "contact like that.") "If you keep sending these text messages, I would eventually need to set up my phone to block them. I'd really rather not do that, so I hope you will respect this request."
posted by salvia at 10:27 AM on September 29, 2015

This all turns on that girlfriend.

But, that girlfriend is extremely fishy. A long term relationship, turned long distance, that is so fraught that it’s not even possible to have a conversation about it?
My feeling is that the “girlfriend” is actually something else. Lots of people get in “relationships” that function as something other than romantic partnerships. Sometimes these “relationships” are a defense mechanism to keep away a real relationship, or to put on a hetero presentation for others. I sincerely don’t believe that the “girlfriend” is a solid romantic partnership, but is a defense mechanism for Brian to fill other parts of his life (confusion of sexuality, fear of falling in love/making a lasting relationship). And maybe the “girlfriend” doesn’t exist at all. The story reminds me of teenagers that claim to have girlfriends “in Canada” or of course the historical girlfriends and wives of men that were gay or bi and were the “beard.”

The experience you had with Brian is two people falling in love. Of course it is. It was apparent to everyone, from a mile away, even strangers noticed.

You can’t fabricate falling in love. Millions of people right now this second want to fall in love, but can’t, because that person and that magic and that spark don’t come along every day. Neither of you forced this relationship. It burst into your lives, whether you wanted it to or not, and it’s how love often manifests. And many, many people fall in love with people that they should not fall in love with, or did not plan to fall in love with. Literature, and real life, are full of examples.

It’s not just romantic partners that fall in love, friends fall in love as well. I fell in love with my best friend when we were newly acquainted and her father died. I took care of her a lot for several months, and as she emerged, we had the patterns and habits of old married people.

I know Metafilter loves to haul out the DTMFA for the smallest of infractions, but I think differently about relationships.
There are very, very few people on this Earth that we can love instantly and deeply. Very few. I have a hard time hearing about people walking away from relationships, and I think that makes our lives a little less rich to not struggle to hold on to something precious. Casting things off is very easy in our society, but working on something until you know for sure it is forged in steel or completely untenable is how I think we should honor these connections. My priest once told me, “Sin is broken relationships.” It’s one of the things I have built my life on, and when I make a relationship, I will honor it and keep it. I know I have sinned when I have broken a relationship, and it is a sin against myself as much as the person I have sinned against.

However, Brian is deeply conflicted, and it’s painful to you as things stand.

I think you need to figure out exactly what it is you want and need, as well as what is creating the pain, and you need to express that very clearly to Brian.
I think you should include that you love him, and it has been clear to you that he is in love with you as well. Include that you want a sexual and romantic relationship with him.
If he denies that you have some kind of love, or denies that you have some kind of relationship, that’s simply falling back on labels. His actions have shown that you have love and are in a relationship. Love is love, whether you label it as love or try to deny it. Perhaps he will try to deny the love, because “he only loves his girlfriend” – the defense mechanism.
I think his girlfriend is almost irrelevant. The facts stand – you are in love and you want to continue / not continue the relationship. Does he agree to continue/ not continue? Can he keep his “girlfriend” if you are in a relationship?
Will you settle for a friendship? Is it possible to you? If so you need to tell him if you are all or nothing or can be just friends.
If he cannot take on a relationship with you now, and it’s too painful for you to keep him as a friend, you need to tell him exactly what that looks like going forward. If you want no contact simply because it’s too painful, please explain that precisely. If you want quarterly updates, please explain. If you want to leave an open door to a future relationship, tell him that, but also commit yourself to dating others and tell him you intend to date others and will not be waiting for him.

What an excellent treat you have had to connect with another so profoundly, and it’s with great sorrow we learn how tenuous those connections are. I sincerely hope both of you can find clarity and either move forward together or on your own, both richer for what you have brought to each other’s lives.
posted by littlewater at 12:13 PM on September 29, 2015 [7 favorites]

"If your situation changes"

Make sure both you and he understand "if your situation changes" does NOT mean "if you change your mind next week." It means "if you ever get yourself un-fucked-up". We're talking years. 6 months MIGHT be enough to make him technically available for romance -- but not enough to fix the underlying personality problems that made him treat a person he cared for so exploitatively.

I mean, look: this bit is something you consider an EXCUSE, and yet it describes a crime: also on his own bringing up that he didn't tell me about the girlfriend for fear of my losing my interest in him (?!), which is a hard line to swallow. He felt intensely connected to you, yet was ruthless and/or desperate enough to deliberately deceive you by omission, abusing your affections.

Don't take that desperation to be flattering: it's a sign he's trouble, and I say this because I've been that kind of trouble. My situation, like his, was partly structured by my young and incoherent bisexuality, but much more importantly, my behavior reflected deep fucked-upness. You totally described me:

He became superbly mentally disorganized and troubled during this conversation (especially when I gently pressed him on what he meant by the girlfriend and losing interest piece), as if he were actively struggling very hard with something (it was one of the strangest feelings I've had sitting with someone in a conversation), and he said that he would have to think more about his motivations, which were obscure to him.

This is not someone truly available -- not to you, even once he ditches the girlfriend, and not to himself. You sound like someone who could be very kind when you tell him to get his ass in therapy.

But don't wait for him, no matter what he says. At the time, I told Person X that I KNEW someday I'd be at the point where what I wanted was Person X, for so many reasons. Person X assumed that was a line, which was smart of Person X. But to me it felt true, and came true, in considerable detail. So I'm now at a point where, if my Person X and I were both free, we could make a lovely go of it, IF ONLY WE HADN'T POISONED THAT WELL through our later interactions. (Plus waiting would've intensified resentment/pressure.)

So yeah, give him a raincheck if you like: tell him to look you up in a few years, if that winds up working out.

And then don't look back.
posted by sockelganger at 12:20 PM on September 29, 2015 [2 favorites]

Okay, first, congratulations on being able to be kind to yourself, which is what you're doing by not letting yourself getting swept up into this. When people give advice and say "it's okay to be selfish", I feel like this is what we mean.

You're giving Brian more of a benefit of the doubt than a lot of people in their responses, and I appreciate your reasons for that. I also appreciate this as someone who was never a "Brian in this situation" but who spent so long into his adult life being so removed from his own emotional responses that the section where you said he responded to an discussion about emotions with by becoming "superbly mentally disorganized and troubled" felt very, very familiar. My fugue states in similar situations had nothing to do with unmentioned girlfriends or sexuality struggles, but they happened all the same.

And that, I think, is the rub. For your purposes, his relationship with this woman may be a red herring. Even if he was suddenly single and ready to engage in all the boyfriend benefits you (both probably) desire right now, he's still going to be a super nice, charming guy who's going to have that same level of emotional health that's causing you grief now. You need to think if this is something you have the energy for, even with external obstacles removed.

As for the conversation itself, which I think you should have because, based on what you've given us here, you don't seem to be the "ghosting" type who can just let something fade, I'd say pretty much exactly what you said in your last two paragraphs. But the problem with that is that just because you say it doesn't mean he gets it. Chances are he won't have a response for you that will clarify this. I'd say that you could follow up in the future if boundaries are ignored with the same thing in an email/text that you keep on hand to cut/paste, but he's already on his second or third chance. How many chances he gets is up to you if you go down this route, but if you don't go radio-silent, at least be kind to yourself.
posted by MCMikeNamara at 12:44 PM on September 29, 2015 [4 favorites]

I felt a profoundly intense connection between us building. I'm talking "oh, wow, I understand all this nonsense about 'love at first sight' and 'it feels like I've known you for forever' for the first time." He was brilliant, weird, funny in a way that felt like a perfect match to my strangest humor, and I felt quickly rather safe and effortless around him. It was a feeling I hadn't had in years.

Ahhh this happened to me recently enough for it to sting still, and the person in question pushed the pedal even more in the "leading on" direction than your Brian, and heartbreak followed in a way that he is still blissfully unaware of because we are supposedly "just friends" and I never had the guts to have that kind of honest conversation you had -- but, dear anonymous, I am happy to report I have managed to distance myself and it took superhuman efforts and a lot of self-restraint but it worked. I’m over it, mostly. Mostly. Really. I still think about those first encounters, the magic, the electricity, the connection we had but what is the value of that if it doesn’t go anywhere and only makes you feel worse and you know in the end it was just the attention and flattery he enjoyed. I have no resentment, I harbour no ill will, in my case there was no other girlfriend involved, I guess it was a bit of narcissism and apparent unawareness (I’m being generous) of the consequences of saying and doing things that would make me fall harder and harder, but inadvertent or not, unaware or not, that’s not the kind of behaviour I would want a friend of mine to be subjected to, so why should I?

Ask yourself, if a good friend came to you for advice on the same situation you’re in, what would you suggest they do for their own good?

It’s going to be very very painful for you to reduce or even cut off all contact. But if your man Brian’s behaviour keeps pointing in the direction where you get your heart broken and he gets to have an emotional affair with nothing else required of him, no need to actually get into a relationship and show he cares enough for you, then, yes, run away.

I admire the clarity with which you are describing exactly what bothers you and the words you used to put it so clearly, in this post and in your descriptions of your conversations with him. That shows you do have a good capacity to listen to your needs and take care of yourself. I know how difficult it is to draw a conclusion and put into practice what you seem to have already concluded yourself, but I hope it will bring you some relief.
posted by bitteschoen at 2:01 PM on September 29, 2015 [1 favorite]

You're overthinking it.
The guy is leading a double (or triple, or quadruple) life.
He will never be ready, willing, or able to give you what you want.

Block him, and don't be the nice guy by trying to talk to him.
That's what narcissistic sociopaths take as an invitation for more crazy-making.
He is a con man. He may not even realize it, but you are able to see through that facade - that he is lying to himself. People who lie to themselves (especially if they don't realize it) will ALSO LIE to YOU. They can't help it.

Boundaries must be set by YOU, not requested of the other person. His boundaries are working just fine for him. He has shown you his, which are: You may come as close as you like to worship me, but I will not let you in.
posted by itsflyable at 6:00 PM on September 29, 2015 [4 favorites]

What are you predicting might come out of meeting with this person again? Maybe:

1. He will have an explanation for his behavior. This is unlikely, though, since you've already had one conversation and he wasn't able to identify a logic.
2. He will apologize for hurting you, and tell you more about his girlfriend, eliciting more empathy from you. This is possible, although it would leave you in the same place you are now, but perhaps feeling more obligated to support him, at the expense of your own happiness.
3. He will try to draw you in to another romantic interaction. This would be nice in the moment, but would leave you feeling used the next time you're alone, and remember that he is with someone else.

None of these is a way of getting to a happier future for you. What else could you do that day that would be more likely to make you feel good in the future? Go to a movie? Another date? Meet up with friends or go for a walk?
posted by MrBobinski at 7:13 PM on September 29, 2015

PS - just wanted to add there’s one thing that I find particularly troublesome in Brian’s story as told by him to you, and it’s this "long-distance girlfriend" that he sees only "about twice a year" and the fact he says "that it's painful and distressing for him to talk about her to anyone in a tone that seemed really dire, for reasons he didn't elaborate upon".

Now, no offence to anyone else who may happily be in a long distance relationship seeing each other only twice a year, but seriously? What kind of relationship is that? And why does he even bring it up after the fact and alluding vaguely to some painful and distressing situation that weighs on him, poor Brian, if he’s not prepared to tell you *why* it’s so painful and distressing and what the situation is? You bare his feelings to him and he doesn't even give you that?

He’s using that as an excuse, to play with your feelings even more while keeping his distance, and to get your sympathy and interest. This, and the constant messaging and flirting, it doesn’t point to him being able to care about you "in any mature way".

(And it may all be unconscious on his part, there’s no need to picture Brian as a cruel man devising some devilish plan to make you hurt, he may very well be a wonderful, fascinating man, but so self-involved he doesn’t even think about the impact on you and your feelings. It may be something unaware, rather than deliberate. It doesn't make any difference in the end for you. As you say yourself, it’s still unkind, if not outright cruel in its effects, it’s a recipe for constant heartbreak to continue a non-relationship with someone behaving like this. He will very likely keep doing and saying things that will leave you hanging and longing and feel like a knife to your heart at the same time, you’ll end up resenting him then. And blaming yourself.)

What you plan to tell him about how this hurts you and setting up a boundary, tell him if it makes you feel better, but don’t expect him to understand or change. You have enough of a basis to assume it will be a lost cause. And what do you do with lost causes? you cut your losses and walk away with a bit of your heart and dignity and self-respect still intact. Not easy now, but you will be so, so thankful to yourself later. You can count on that.
posted by bitteschoen at 11:55 PM on September 29, 2015 [1 favorite]

He sounds like a crazy-making narcissist. You can't leave a narcissistically disordered person unless you go cold turkey, get in touch with your rage at being used in this manner, and maintain the rage until you get him out of your system. This is what happened to me and it's gut wrenching. It can seriously make you second guess yourself, the interactions and the feelings. What does he want from you? A mirror, reflecting back to him the deceitful image of himself he's constructed. I found this slide share really helpful in figuring out the NPD rubric. Read it every day for a month is my suggestion, because if you keep vacillating, the relationship will become increasingly disordering for you and then, very very damaging. Bail!
posted by honey-barbara at 5:09 AM on October 1, 2015 [3 favorites]

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