How does one recover from a whirlwind relationship?
November 14, 2017 2:29 AM   Subscribe

Long story short, a very close friend and I became romantically entangled (in an affair, to be completely honest), in which there lots of emotion invested, promises were made, then she broke it off, thereby also killing the friendship - which I knew was a risk. I know we shouldn't have gone there be we did anyway. I'm having difficulty coping with the loss. What's next, and how do I move along?

I'm a mid-40s male who got romantically involved with a very good female friend, also in her mid-40s, while she was trying to work through a divorce. We had a very deeply connected friendship of a sort I've never experienced with anyone else - ever. When this all ramped up I was under the impression she was in the process of a divorce. It turns out she had yet to ask her husband for a divorce. We proceeded all the same. We ramped things up quickly, made promises, made lots of emotional investment, saw each other when we could (it's long distance). I made it clear to her if she and her husband wanted to work it out that I'd back down; each time I was met with the request to not run, to stay. She finally asked her husband for a divorce and he asked for some time to process and also if she was having an affair. She acknowledged me being in the picture but was also clear that she was asking for divorce because of their dysfunction over the past twenty years. After asking several times if we had sex (we never did, despite a very strong attraction) he finally seemed to accept where I was while they discussed the divorce. He only asked if we might curtail contact while they discuss the divorce, and that she be honest with him if she saw me in the meantime. She and I agreed to dial it back a little but still move forward with plans we made to see each other. Later in the evening of that last visit he asked her if she had seen me that day. She admitted she had. He felt deceived by her not telling him upfront - I think I get it based on all she told me. Within a couple days they hit rock bottom and had some very brutally honest conversations about all that had transpired in the past twenty years. On the third day after our last visit she wrote me saying they were trying to reconcile and reminded me of my promise to support her in such a decision and asked me to make no further contact. Fair enough.

The romantic element seemed great, but I see that as having been bolstered by a wonderful and deep friendship. Now I've lost both - a known risk. Granted, we shouldn't have stepped beyond our friendship - we made big mistakes. We shouldn't have done this - I know that. Unexpectedly, this has me feeling more torn up than when my ex-wife asked for a divorce so she could be with someone else. I'm respecting her request to not reach out, even if the draw to do so is at times overwhelming. I'm having a lot of trouble dealing with day-to-day stuff and letting it go. What are my healthy next steps? How do I recover from something like this, which I've never known before?

Use for questions, direct comments, or advice.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (7 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
I see parallels between your situation with your ex wife and your ex friend that I think subconsciously added to this relationship's importance for you? Like, you flip flopped roles somewhat in an attempt to experience that situation from a different role or perspective? You definitely buried the lede a bit by only disclosing you had previously been in the husband's role towards the bottom.

That aside, you process strong emotions by feeling them fully and letting them run their course. This may bring up junk from around your divorce you were unaware of, don't be surprised.

My hot take was that your "friend" mislead you and was incredibly dishonest with you. I agree you had a strong attraction with each other, but she took advantage of you in a way that almost guaranteed your relationship would get damaged, that you specifically would get very hurt. She's dramaz, in pain, spreading around dramaz and pain. Hence her decision to be dishonest with you, to drag you into her marital problems. I'm willing to bet this may even have been a pattern between her and her husband over the years you are unaware of.

It sounds like both this woman and your ex-wife lied to you. Betrayal sucks and there are wiser sources than me to help you process deception and recover. I strongly believe avoiding liars and drama-makers is a skill you can learn.

When you are ready, after you've felt and processed the range of emotions from this experience, set your attention towards learning some healthier relationship skills - books, documentaries, podcasts, therapy, maybe a class if you can find one.

In short: You process this by feeling your feelings, then forgiving yourself + getting proactive about onboarding some new relationship skills to improve your experience in romantic relationships.
posted by jbenben at 3:23 AM on November 14, 2017 [11 favorites]

This: “We had a very deeply connected friendship of a sort I've never experienced with anyone else - ever.”

Does not match with this: “I was under the impression she was in the process of a divorce. It turns out she had yet to ask her husband for a divorce.”

Nah, real friends don’t play people like she played you. Not to mention the risk of physical or financial or reputational harm a jilted husband could cause you. With a friend like her, who needs enemies?

You’ve established she is a liar, a cheater, and triangulator. You get over this nonsense by deciding that being lied to, being manipulated into playing the role of unwitting sekrit affair partner, and being suckered into being the hypotenuse in some couple’s dysfunctional triangle is totally fucking unacceptable to you.

You say you “knew you shouldn’t have gone there”— so really think through whatever caused you to second guess yourself. What’s missing in your life that caused you to betray your own good judgment? Therapy is in order here, to explore whatever unresolved family of origin issues you may have that are causing you to be so uncontrollably attracted to disordered emotional abusers who mess with peoples’ heads just to feed their unquenchable need for an ego boost. (Ask me how I know this.)
posted by edithkeeler at 4:32 AM on November 14, 2017 [31 favorites]

It's tough because it's a big important breakup. The details aren't really important, and I'm not sure if framing it in any way other than "this hurts" is going to help you (though yay if it does!) After breakups, many people do a lot of crying and taking comfort in basic pleasures (ice cream, warm baths, massages,etc.), distracting themselves with TV, and letting their friends take them out and attempt to cheer them up. Eventually the worst of it passes and they return to normal life. Time is what you need.
posted by metasarah at 5:07 AM on November 14, 2017 [6 favorites]

I recommend South Park and alcohol.
posted by flabdablet at 6:33 AM on November 14, 2017

There's something about the affair setup that makes it especially intense psychologically. It's obviously really upsetting and painful to lose a friend and potential romantic partner. But the intensity is quite possibly not an accurate reflection of the potential that this relationship in particular holds but more about the excitement generated, the promises made, the waiting, the forbidden nature... Since you couldn't just go ahead and start trying to build a relationship together, with all the caution and "hmm is this right?" that might then arise, instead the myth of your relationship's potential got amplified. I'm not saying you guys didn't have a connection or some potential. But it might help to read questions here or elsewhere that reveal how much "an intense connection I've never felt before" is a common feature of affairs, and quite possibly not a true picture of this relationship's potential for you.

Aside from coming down from that kind of high, sobering up after all the high drama, and dismantling the myth, all the other advice I have is just the same advice for any breakup. Maybe go running, read books (either books like When Things Fall Apart or books that take you intensely into characters' lives -- I got really into Robertson Davies after one breakup), travel, get outdoors as much as you can, maybe throw yourself into work or a goal like training for a triathlon. Drinking sounds good, but meditation and processing things are the fastest way through, I think. (Plus, being sad and/or angry and drunk is so much worse than just being sad and/or angry, in my experience.)
posted by salvia at 7:24 AM on November 14, 2017 [10 favorites]

Time will help, and sifting through the ashes to find and process the lessons within. You don't get to skip the line on that, nor should you - not processing this is just going to lead you to end up here a third time (because hooboy did you just re-perform your own divorce there).

You definitely have a treasure trove of lessons to take from this. Among them "but she said to stay not run!" suggests you contain no capacity to analyze a situation and make your own choices, as if you are unfamiliar with people telling themselves/you things that make them/you feel better rather than things that are true and a good idea? You didn't just get played, you got mined for juicy endorphins for her (and incidentally you) to get high on, and you have a choice here to steep in learned helplessness and go do it all again, so baffled how it all went so wrong, or you can come out of this with some skills for identifying real honesty in yourself and future romantic partners that'll probably be more productive in the long run for finding someone you actually connect with who is not lying to you and using you.

You're going to feel bad for a bit. It's okay, discomfort is not fatal. Try being single for a while, in a very intentional not-looking kind of way. Keep an eye on your basic self-care: sleep is critical, healthy food, hydrate, daily exercise and getting daylight into your skin/brain - if you're not doing those things, it's much harder for your neurochemicals to help carry you through the recovery period here. You may need to come up with a plan for dealing with intrusive thoughts or obsessing or shame-spiraling; you may need to do some daily journaling for a bit to get these thoughts out on paper instead of clamoring in your head for attention, you may need a mantra about putting aside those thoughts until your daily processing time, and a motto about how you'll be a stronger person for getting through this. You can be, if that's the choice you make, and you can remind yourself that you're doing important work when it gets especially hard.
posted by Lyn Never at 7:30 AM on November 14, 2017 [1 favorite]

So - many years ago in my early 20's, I was involved with a woman who was still married. She was deeply unhappy, wanted to leave her partner, and I was the right person at the right time. It was intense and dramatic because the emotional turmoil was high. I ended the relationship after about six months because I was guilty about it, I did not see it progressing, and deep down I knew that even if she left her husband it was going to be a horrific way to start a new thing. After it ended, she reconciled with her husband and I believe they now have a couple of kids and are living happily together.

When I reflect back on that relationship, I have a few things that I realized that might help you:

1) Fantasy is not reality and circumstance is very much reality. My partner is one of the most wonderful people I've ever met and a perfect fit for me if I had met her while we were both stable and single - and so when we were together, I was living that fantasy life where it was just the two of us in the world and that could be true. Affairs are often an escape from reality - not a new reality. You shut the entire world off for a little bit and the world seems simple, and true, and good. But we are really actually complicated people, with history and baggage and reasons that actually matter, and the fantasy world of romance, future plans and deeply emotional talk is not actually a sign that two people are meant to be together.

2) This is not meant to be as harsh as it sounds, but I don't have better words than this - a person willing to lie to their partner about their intentions (i.e., keeping an affair up) is also willing to lie to you (or themselves) about their intentions. My former partner admitted in the one conversation we had post-breakup that she realized that she really wasn't ready to make the decision leave her partner and their history even though she'd say when we were together she was done. She knew this for months and had just hoped that he would leave her so she wouldn't have to decide. If she had've verbalized that, I would've left months earlier.

3) Affairs often fill voids in marriages - however, you are not the only way to fill that void. Affairs can lead to productive dialogues and renewed efforts to fill whatever was missing within the relationship structure. It's a very traumatic way to get that job done, but sometimes it works.

4) One of the reasons I think the affair I had lingered for much longer than it should've was - I never felt like we had a fair chance to see what it could be, ergo it's mourning a relationship's best possible state rather than what it actually was. We spent so much time in the fantasy world of either meeting while single or what life post-divorce would look like that it felt real to me, and therefore had to be mourned even though it never happened.

If I'm honest with you, being involved with a married person is one of the more shameful, hurtful periods of my life. I vacillated between romanced, sexually energized, guilt, sadness, shame, and grief. A truly good relationship, the one I am in with my wife, gives me the first two without any of the rest. It took coming to the realization that the fantasy relationship never happened and what was kinda sucked to really get past it. Therapy helped.
posted by notorious medium at 8:18 AM on November 14, 2017 [15 favorites]

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