Working things out: already broken up edition.
December 11, 2016 1:10 AM   Subscribe

How do you date with an eye towards reconciliation while you know the other party is also dating someone else?

My (ex)partner and I have been together 10 years and Broken up, separated for 1.5 years. I still want to get back together, he doesn't know. He is currently casually(?) dating someone else, but we are also both open to discussing then possibility of our future together.

The problem: The thought of 'competition' sends me into a worst case scenario anxiety. I panic and do not know how to behave. My default is that it's automatically over, I give up, she 'wins'. This is not new to this particular situation. I feel terribly sad and not good enough, worthy. This is causing me a surprising amount of pain and sadness.

I want to figure out how to get into the best headspace to handle seeing him while knowing I am in a huge unknown. I don't know how to be comfortable in this situation, and also how does one go about seeing someone with the possibly of getting back together?

My issues that I need addressed:

1, My fear gets in the way of being normal, how to get over that?

2, I also don't have a picture of what normal looks like in this situation. How does one go about dating/reconnecting/conversing in this situation?
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (13 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
This is not what you want to hear, but i don't think you should be dating him now. It's doing a number on your mental health and nothing good will come from it. He is dating others and if he were really interested in getting back together with you, he would not be doing that. He is probably playing you.
I'm very sorry but my advice is to refrain.
posted by Too-Ticky at 1:21 AM on December 11, 2016 [51 favorites]

Hey, I actually agree with Too-Ticky. This is a very bad idea. You shouldn't see him at all, or date him at all. It will hurt you and really damage you mentally. Regardless of your situation you are worth much more than whatever he has to offer. You should work on yourself and go and find someone of your own that can 'win' over him-- not pine over someone not worth your attention. He isn't worth this much pain. Ask me how I know. And even if he does pick you, what would you think would work this time that didn't work in the past? Is it really going to be different?

But I get the feeling you won't listen to that and continue on this path; it appears to me the pedestal you've put him on is sky high. So how to make this path more bearable? How to fortify yourself so it doesn't hurt as bad? Man, that's tough, close to impossible.

Okay so you want him back. This is problematic. You can't 'make' someone want you. It generally either is or isn't. But you indicate that he may be open to the idea of this. So how to stack the odds in your favor? I'm not going to lie, it is tough. She's new, and shiny and not real to a certain extent. She comes with no baggage because he doesn't even know her that well. You come with 10 years of backstory and bad moments and fights; this isn't your fault but it is tough thing for a damaged relationship to shake. The allure of someone new to start over with is very real. So how to even compete? Well, I'm going to be brutal here. Up til now, the status-quo isn't working for you. So you need to change it up. As the saying goes, insanity is 'doing the same thing and expecting a different result.' So if you want a different result, you can't do the same things that you used to do in the past.

But the thing is, I don't advocate this, AT ALL-- I think you should be who you are, always. You shouldn't have to change for anybody. I think (barring extreme examples) weeding out people who don't take you as you are is nature's bullshit filter and is the best way to find a real, lasting match. It's great. But you don't want to hear that. You want this guy. So here goes.

1. So, It's counter-intuitive, but try be happy for him come what may. After all, if you truly honestly love him then you need to accept that his happiest self might not be with you after all (or you with him). This is tough to come to terms with, but you need to face it. Perhaps if it's meant to be then you'll find your way together again down the line, but for the moment, entertain the notion that it might be better to not be together, for either of you. Think about your relationship, was it really that good? Dwell on the problematic parts and don't be afraid of them. After all, if your relationship really was that healthy, would you be in this position now?

2. Then work on yourself, inside and out. Get mentally healthy, gain more hobbies, keep yourself occupied. Get distant, fast. The idea is, for now, that you are too busy to dedicate mental energy to that dude. And work out more, eat better, make sure you are feeling good. Therapy if you haven't already. Get in the best shape of your life. Get to a point where you feel proud of yourself. Have a goal. It doesn't need to be to lose weight necessarily; the point is to feel good and build your confidence. Getting stronger, eating better, etc. Come to terms with the things you cannot change; learn to love yourself, too. This is not an overnight thing; this part may actually take months. 'Fill' yourself up, making sure you're an interesting well rounded person that strives even on their own. Be a master of your own mental state and happiness. Cut your time with him, cut down the time you think of him; focus on you. You're number one, your needs come first.

3. Once you start feeling fly both physically and mentally, boost it by making sure you also look good. Make sure you build yourself up every day; work on changing things up to your usual routine. Dress different, get a makeover, change up your style somewhat, invest in an amazing haircut. Change up your wardrobe. Don't change yourself per se; but dress well. I know that if I felt more confident in myself, I'd probably wear more dresses and things of that nature. Maybe you have something like that for you? Wear those things. While confidence is a state of mind, it's often an outside-in kind of thing. And if you don't feel it, fake confidence until you make it. It's not fool proof but it does help.

3. Then seriously date. Look into legitimate options. Not as a way to get back at him, or even to boost your ego, but to see what's out there. To test the waters. Who knows, you may even find someone more compatible. But give this a good hard try; open your mind to the possibility of someone else. Give these dudes a chance. Realize that there are other people out there within reach, try and knock this guy off the pedestal. In the same way, really really cut your time with him by this point. I don't mean not talking to him at all, but you are busy doing you and he's busy with his own thing. Move out of the crutch that is him and his love, move out of your inertia and comfort zone.

Months down the line, once you feel like the best, well-rounded version of you, one you are at the top of your game, and once you have dated around for reals, seriously evaluate if he's really the person you want to be with after all. Are you sure? He didn't want you at your worst, does he really deserve you now? Look how far you've come and how awesome you are. What about the people you met? But If he's still the person you want to try with, then you tell him it's now or never, finally ask him where you guys truly stand and be prepared to take his response.

If his response isn't 100% enthusiasm heck yes I want it to be you, then drop it like it's hot. Because that's the least you deserve, from anyone always. Believe that. Anything other than that? Eff that noise. You now know it's not meant to be. That sucks, but oh well. But at least you're now standing here at the end of this, feeling better than ever, more healthy and more fulfilled than ever, and with more options than ever. You are in a much better position than he ever left you.

Like I said; I don't recommend the above because honestly, someone right for you will bring out a lot of those things in you already-- not need them to love you in the first place. But the idea is to boost your internal self-worth until you don't covet a second-place price like it's first prize. You deserve better than that; because he's not the prize at all. You are.

I hope that helps somewhat.
posted by Dimes at 2:50 AM on December 11, 2016 [29 favorites]

A million fucking NOs. This is the worst possible dynamic: you want to get back together, he "doesn't know." This leaves you in a dating situation where instead of two people meeting on even ground to see if they can move together towards a mutual goal of reconciliation, you're in appeasement mode 100% of the time. Dating from the perspective of "Am I pretty enough, interesting enough, attractive enough, smart enough, conversational enough OH GOD PLEASE LOVE ME BACK" is an absolute fucking disaster. More to the point, this dynamic will not get you the healthy relationship you want with this man. It will literally never even out and you will never feel secure.

As to what you should be doing and what your situation should look like, there is a method called the 180 that is recommended by Surviving Infidelity, an excellent online community. I know that is not the situation here, but you will find parallels.

When you discover your spouse is involved in an extra-marital relationship, you do a 180 from making them the centre of your attention and availability. It needs to be implemented genuinely, but when it is, it is a no-lose approach.
posted by DarlingBri at 4:33 AM on December 11, 2016 [20 favorites]

Firstly, why doesn't he know that you want to get back together with him? Are you scared to tell him? Why are you scared? Very good advice: ask for exactly what you want.

Second, I have to agree that this situation sounds like bad news. You know... I don't think any guy is worth this much anxiety and stress. Relationships are supposed to support you as you reach for your goals, not distract you from them!

I think I may have been through something similar. I was really into a guy for a while (and I couldn't explain sure why either - objectively he wasn't my type), and I kept panicking about him and feeling insecure and competitive with other people (very out of character for me, my friends were bewildered)!

And then I read this and had a lightbulb moment. I realized that I had that stress reaction because my brain had become conditioned by intermittent reinforcement. In my case, the guy pursued me when I was very nervous/psychologically freaking out, and then he kept changing his mind and giving me attention at unpredictable schedule. And... I became very nervous and had intrusive thoughts? It was bizarre. I feel quite embarrassed of my emotional reaction, thinking back.

If I were you, I would give up and block my ex out of my life for a few.. YEARS haha. I know how natural it feels to put someone on a pedestal, but there are lots of people out there in the world! People who deserve your time and attention more than this guy, a guy who has the option of being with you but has instead chosen to see other people... That is a red flag, right, surely?

Just back off and time will offer its wisdom to you! Try and gain a bit more clarity and perspective which only comes with space. Maybe you'll learn something about yourself/him in the process, maybe you will meet someone who is more stable and committed. Or maybe you can reconnect him in a few years when you are feeling more stable, and then you can negotiate with him, properly, from a position of self-confidence, knowing that you would be just as happy with him or without him?

Also I think you should read this. I hope it's not patronizing of me to refer you to Sparknotes but the advice is legit!

TL;DR: Ask for exactly what you want! Also I think it sounds like you may have been conditioned by intermittent reinforcement. You should undo that brainwashing by enforcing boundaries (i.e. blocking him from your life for a few years).
posted by Crookshanks_Meow at 4:39 AM on December 11, 2016 [6 favorites]

You were together for 10 years and have been apart for 1.5. What is there to know that he doesn't know by now?

He knows. He's either stringing you along or trying to let you down easy. I know this is hard to hear, but your best chance at happiness is to build a life for yourself without him in it. I'm sorry.
posted by snickerdoodle at 5:18 AM on December 11, 2016 [10 favorites]

It's time to face facts.

The two of you broke up, a year and a half ago.

He's dating someone else.

The answer to "Does he want to get back together with me?" is not "yes". It's not "no", because he probably doesn't want to hurt your feelings, but broke up and he's with someone else now.

Your ex is with the person he wants to be with. It's time for you to accept that you will not be together anymore. Do whatever it is you need to do to heal, because this relationship is done. He has moved on, and it's time for you to do the same.
posted by Autumnheart at 6:26 AM on December 11, 2016 [7 favorites]

Crookshanks_Meow's advice is spot on and I'm going to echo parts of it. I know it's scary and hard, in large part because you are making yourself vulnerable and may not like his respsonse, but you need to tell your ex that you would like to try again and hope you can reconcile. I think this is best as an in-person conversation but since your fear is getting in the way, I suggest sending him an email worded just the way you like it. Whatever he says in response will tell you what you need to do. "I don't know," is no longer an acceptable answer. That translates to, "I don't," and it will hurt and it will suck, but it's better you know now rather than keeping yourself in some holding pattern based on the tenuous possibility of "maybe someday."

I agree that it sounds like he is done with this relationship and is moving on, but I'm guessing he's said and/or done some things to give you hope that reconcilliation is a possibility. Demystifying those comments and moments when it seemed like you might get back together is the best for everyone involved. He may surpise us all and want the same thing, which is awesome. If he doesn't, then you really need that information so you can grieve the relationship and begin moving on yourself.

If it helps at all, I've been there and spent way too much time in a relationship, often in some weird limbo, that was not right for me, even though at one time it very much was. I never expected that a couple of years later, after some casual half-hearted dating, I would find an amazing partner and a relationship that far surpasses my 15-year one in so many ways. Clarity on this major thing may not be fun initially, but it will do you a world of good. Best of luck!
posted by katemcd at 6:56 AM on December 11, 2016

OP here. Just refound my old sock puppet.

Thank you. I thought I would react poorly to the answers I knew I would hear. I'm a long time member, so... But, no, you guys are great.

The only two things I wanted to add for clarity is one, that this anxiety pattern shows up in every relationship I've had. (Ugh)

And two, "he doesn't know" is his reaction because he thought I was the one who had moved on. I was out of communication because of an unrelated matter. So when I did bring up wanting to get back together he was surprised and had already started to date someone casually. So my telling him this took him off guard. In our conversation we both saw a possible future together, but we were both confused by the situation, things that have passed, etc.

That being said, I still think the above advice is very good and I do need to get my own shit together. A lot of bad things happened to me this year that really damaged me. (He completely supported me though all of it) And I might as well get some more therapy for the whole ball of yarn.

I already signed up for dating site, and am putting myself in the headspace of meeting new people etc., and am going to take that on strongly. And definitely will be reading up in the great links above. Having something 'to do' really helps with the anxiety and moving to a new headspace, I think.
posted by ragnasock at 7:32 AM on December 11, 2016 [2 favorites]

Your update doesn't change my gut reaction that you need to get away from this for your own health and self-worth.

Probably best to work on your ongoing competition issues in a relationship where you are not literally in competition with another woman.

The thing is, even if you surprised him with your wish to be together, if this is what he wanted too, I'd think he'd know pretty quick, since you had a 10-year relationship on which he can base his decision. And if he did need some time, the adult thing for him to do would be to be really clear with you and take that time without making it some reality show dating competition where you have to vie for his affections.

I don't know your whole history but I'm not sure I'd pathologize your competition issue anyway. The instinct to opt out of the contest as soon as a man places you in competion with another woman seems pretty healthy to me.
posted by kapers at 8:54 AM on December 11, 2016

this anxiety pattern shows up in every relationship I've had. (Ugh)

Then this weird situation is a potential opportunity for you. You might benefit from it by doing the following:

See him at your convenience, not his.
Treat it like a convenient hook up -- a known means to get some of your needs met.
Be bluntly honest and let the chips fall where they may.

Women get socialized to cater to other people to the point where we often do not know what we really want. We pretty routinely defer to his wishes in a relationship. This is a chance to assert yourself and, worst case scenario, he stomps off and you get closure. But if it plays out longer than that, it is a chance for you to learn some vital information about yourself and how to meet your own needs.

Do date other people, set personal goals and work on your life. Do not let him be the center of your world. If it gets too stressful, feel free to dump him. There is no "wrong" answer here when it comes to your feelings. You feel what you feel. It is okay to feel however you feel about this -- and to communicate those feelings to him.

posted by Michele in California at 9:26 AM on December 11, 2016 [3 favorites]

My (ex)partner and I have been together 10 years and Broken up, separated for 1.5 years.

Nope- what you mean is "My ex-partner and I were together 10 years and broke up 1.5 years ago." No parentheses, no present tense, no 'separated' (as if you'd been stuck on different sides of a wall this whole time through no fault of your own).

Nowhere in the question or follow-up do you say why the two of you broke up, or even who instigated it. I think that's significant. It seems as if you just plain refuse to admit that there even WAS a breakup. But there was. And there were reasons why it happened.
posted by showbiz_liz at 10:58 AM on December 11, 2016 [3 favorites]

Blunt, but true:

If he wanted to be with you, he'd be with you. Instead, he has actively chosen to be with someone else (instead of you).

There is no relationship with this person in your future; there is only the past. He has moved on, and it's time for you to move on.
posted by blueberry at 5:17 PM on December 11, 2016

My instinct would be to say that if after dating someone for ten years (!), if you don't know you want to be together for the long term, you shouldn't keep on trying to make it work.
posted by rainbowbrite at 6:29 PM on December 11, 2016 [1 favorite]

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