Break or break up?
November 28, 2018 7:19 AM   Subscribe

I think I made a break up ambiguous without intending to and need help to stop over-thinking.

I recently posted a question about this situation where I was dating a guy on the brink of finishing his PhD. Fast forward a few weeks and I asked him if he wanted to break up because the situation was becoming a strain for both of us. Had to do it over text because he was away overseas:

Me: If you want me to leave you alone, you will tell me right? I know you are having a hard time so if you need space I understand.

Him: Yes, I think it's better to shelve this :/

Immediate context around the "break up" text:
We went out on a date the last Sunday, after which he indicated we would meet up "soon", but then I didn't hear from him all week. I sent him a text on the weekend only to find out he was abroad on a trip to visit old friends. I don't begrudge him going where he wants, but I did really resent the fact that he had time to take the trip but didn't have time to tell me he was going and wouldn't see me that week.

Talked to my support network about the break up while having a good cry and everyone thought the reply was strange. Am I overthinking or reading too much into this, or was his reply not a definitive "it's over"? Maybe I couched my question badly? Would like the hivemind's (more objective) input, so I can figure out how to put this to bed in my own mind. Sadly I am not over the break-up yet so in a terrible ruminating stage.

English is not his first language but he speaks like a native (been in English speaking countries 6+ years in higher ed environment, plus native tongue is Germanic), so I am dubious that it is a 'lost in translation' issue.

All advice on how to move on welcome :')
posted by radiantsquirrel to Human Relations (22 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Y'all really need to meet up in person or talk on the phone! Breakups should never occur via text, and this is a perfect example of why. It sounds to me like he wants to break up, but there's no way to know unless you TALK. Pick up the phone.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 7:27 AM on November 28, 2018 [3 favorites]

His text is really ambiguous - I can't tell if the "this" he wants to shelve is the relationship or the conversation about it.

Your text was also a little ambiguous - it would have been clearer to say "If you want to end this relationship..." instead of "If you want me to leave you alone..." because sometimes people want to be left alone for a short period but don't want to break up.

Ruminating is a totally normal thing to do, but it's not healthy! Don't focus on his words so much, but his actions. He's not making you a priority and he's not treating you well. Even if he does want to maintain a relationship with you, you deserve to be with someone who can give you what you need and want. For your own sake, don't contact him again.
posted by schroedingersgirl at 7:28 AM on November 28, 2018 [6 favorites]

It sounds like a real, definitive break up. He is passively, if not aggressively, breaking up with you. He is now thrilled that he didn't have to be the bad guy. Sorry.
posted by Melismata at 7:28 AM on November 28, 2018 [14 favorites]

I would proceed as if you have broken up. Don't call or correspond. See if he makes a next move. He won't.
posted by AugustWest at 7:29 AM on November 28, 2018 [69 favorites]

I am convinced that, in his mind, y'all are done -- but he lacks the courage to just say it. If you want to drag it out of him, by all means get him on the phone or in person. But if you'd like to just be "I'd rather be with someone who is much more honest and clear in their interactions with me" that also makes perfect sense, just say to yourself, I can do better than this, and I'm starting right now.

Which will work best for you?
posted by seanmpuckett at 7:29 AM on November 28, 2018 [5 favorites]

It doesn't seem ambiguous to me. You said "let me know if you think we should stop seeing each other" (basically) and he replied "yes".
posted by EndsOfInvention at 7:30 AM on November 28, 2018 [14 favorites]

Count me in as another who doesn't think this is ambiguous at all. You guys are broken up. Move on.
posted by BlahLaLa at 7:37 AM on November 28, 2018 [2 favorites]

You don't just go without talking for a week and on a spontaneous holiday without telling someone you're dating in any meaningful way. You broke up at least a week ago on his end, but he was too much of a dang babyman about it to tell you. That sucks in a lot of ways, but now we all know you deserve better.

I'm mentally throwing a dart at a picture of his face in your honor.

Now, you can either call him or see him and get closure (which I think you want?) or never talk to him again (which maybe you want instead now that we've all provided feedback). What you shouldn't do IMO is not talk about it then let him waltz back in a month or a few weeks later and act like nothing happened and you're back dating.
posted by OnTheLastCastle at 7:42 AM on November 28, 2018 [17 favorites]

I actually do think it's ambiguous, because it's not saying whether you are "on a break" - temporarily broken up but with the idea of getting back together after the big thing is over - or actually broken up. "Shelving this" implies different things to different people - to me it would say 'for the moment' rather than 'forever', especially if you weren't exclusive.
posted by corb at 7:47 AM on November 28, 2018 [1 favorite]

That specific wording is very very ambiguous to me (on both sides) but the actual situation is not. He's not only been ghosting you, he went overseas without even telling you - in his mind you are not dating in any meaningful way.
posted by randomnity at 7:47 AM on November 28, 2018 [35 favorites]

And he's an immature jerk for not being more direct with you about it, too. I know it feels shitty now but in a year from now you'll be able to appreciate dodging that bullet.
posted by randomnity at 7:50 AM on November 28, 2018 [3 favorites]

Sounds like a breakup to me. If the slight remaining ambiguity around his non-English-fluency is bothering you, I think it's perfectly reasonable of you to send a text or something on some minor administrative matter (usually it'd be offering to return his stuff that he left at your place or trying to get your stuff back, but it doesn't matter), unambiguously saying "Now that we've broken up, when can I stop by to get my [espresso maker] back?" 99 out of a hundred, he either gives back your espresso maker or ignores you, and you know it's a breakup. In the outside chance that you've misunderstood him, he responds with "Wait, what? I don't want to break up with you, what do you mean?" and the two of you patch things up.

The last thing is really really unlikely, but if it would make you feel better to eliminate the possibility, I think you can.
posted by LizardBreath at 7:53 AM on November 28, 2018 [1 favorite]

He didn’t come straight out and say it, but yeah, you are broken up. As others have said, he would not have gone on a trip abroad without telling you if you were in any kind of legitimate relationship.

I understand your desire to see some hope in the ambiguity of his text, I really do. But the best thing for you to do would be to move on.
posted by amro at 7:58 AM on November 28, 2018 [1 favorite]

From your previous question it sounds like you're more invested in this relationship than he was, it sounds very casual - you mention only meeting on neutral ground and no progression in intimacy after 2 months - I assume that means you've never slept together. He left the country without even telling you? Wow. Are you sure he was ever really your boyfriend? You say you didn't hear from him for a week, does that mean you didn't contact him either or he ignored your attempts at contact?

However, this: If you want me to leave you alone, you will tell me right? I know you are having a hard time so if you need space I understand does not read as "do you want to break up?" to me. It says, do you want me to shut up and go away until you have time for me. His response is also ambiguous, shelving something is often temporary but not always.

Even if he thinks you're just on a break, not broken up, he's treated you badly or you've misunderstood the nature of your relationship - possibly both - either way you should move on. Find someone who is looking for the same thing as you in a relationship
posted by missmagenta at 8:02 AM on November 28, 2018 [5 favorites]

Thanks all for your feedback! Really needed that dose of reality :) Definitely going to move onwards and hopefully upwards.
posted by radiantsquirrel at 8:05 AM on November 28, 2018 [15 favorites]

It's done, he's a baby, and beware a grown man who can't feed himself or make time for you but can arrange international travel in the midst of finishing his thesis. Be happy you didn't waste more time on this guy, you sound like a really great caring person but watch out for these situations where the give and take is not matched, and do not ever make food for a guy who isn't your boyfriend (or at least isn't also making you meals), I speak from experience.
posted by lafemma at 8:41 AM on November 28, 2018 [8 favorites]

Well maybe its over but, regardless .. gahhhhh... I. Hate. Texting. And it's really really extra crap for this sort of thing. If there's a next time (with this guy or another) make like it's 1995 and call him and leave a voice mail if nothing else. If you're worried it won't be heard you can always text " I left you a voicemail" -- it's a) too easy to get wires stupidly crossed texting and b) too easy to ignore someone when its letters on a screen vs when they're a real human voice with human emotion. Humans evolved to speak for a reason. Ok. Rant over. Good luck; hope you can feel less worry about all this sooner than later
posted by elgee at 9:46 AM on November 28, 2018

Even if it is you really want to be with someone who says he has no time for you because of his PhD and then goes on a holiday with friends? That is sending a very, very, very clear message re how much he values this relationship.
Honestly, it sounds like you were always far more invested than he was. I wouldn't call him or talk to him again, I would just accept this relationship as done. If he messages you again, ignore him. Seek out quality relationships with men who you don't have to ask these questions about a few months in.
posted by thereader at 10:03 AM on November 28, 2018 [2 favorites]

Reading back through your other post and this one: it seems like you've been stressed because you haven't been clear if the slow down in your contact was due to his writing and deadlines or if it was related to that AND ALSO indicated a lack of enthusiasm for you. That would be really stressful! It also seems like you were doing a lot of the work in the relationship: making him meals; paying (!?) for his meals (you're also a student, right?); and often initiating contact, I'm guessing. So it was really easy for him, maybe, to continue along because you were providing a lot of the energy for you both.

I mean this with kindness, but your text to him wasn't awesome. I realize there was probably a whole exchange and maybe I'm missing some context, but you pushed a decision at him without really saying what you were thinking or feeling. I'm guessing that you were hoping for a different response, something like, "Hey, I'm so sorry I haven't been responsive! I really like you and things have just been crazy. I am so excited to see when I get back." Etc. Like was the text a kind of test or provocation? Written in a moment of anxiety? And you did not get the answer you wanted.

I would say the text is a bit ambiguous, but I think it would be a lot healthier if you regarded it as a break up. I know you saw some real potential with this guy, but it also seems like being involved with him was a bit crazy-making for you. A healthy relationship is one where you don't spend so much time ruminating and stewing (I say this as someone who can ruminate and stew).

Are you often a bit anxious in relationships? I've been recommending this book in so many AskMe questions of late, but it's really good at explaining dynamics I have seen in my relationships and many others. The book is Attached: The New Science of Adult Attachment.
posted by bluedaisy at 11:14 AM on November 28, 2018 [8 favorites]

This sounds ambiguous to me on both sides, because I am a person who needs very direct communication in clear language. My question is: is he also that kind of person?
posted by sugarbomb at 11:27 AM on November 28, 2018

Thanks all for your comments, especially bluedaisy's very careful and sensitive analysis - you are spot on with how I was feeling in that situation a few weeks prior, and it was indeed really stressful to try and negotiate the change in circumstances. It was difficult for me to tell whether his becoming half-hearted was due to PhD stress, but he also continued to initiate time with me up until this past week, which made me think that he was still interested in keeping things going. I did feel that as time went on his enthusiasm waned, though. How much of him initiating towards the end was motivated by perhaps feelings of guilt that I was being extra nice to him, I can only speculate, but I was always careful to give him an out if he didn't want to see me. I would say, for example, "If you are busy I will leave you alone" or "Are you sure you have time?". He didn't take the bait at that point, as it were. Perhaps he didn't want it to end but he was also ambivalent about spending the energy to maintain it because he wasn't feeling it. It wasn't really fun for either of us towards the end in that he was agonising over his work and I was walking on eggshells around him, although the last date was very relaxed.

Re the text message, as part of it I also said to him I could not cope with the lack of contact (ie week of silence on the phone and zero face-to-face time). I also gave him the option of sending me some pictures of his trip if he wanted to. He didn't respond to this. I had intended to tread water with minimal contact (ie once a week) until such time as he handed in to see if things changed, but I think the trip was too much for me to handle. He is more than capable of forward planning when he wants to, so it really felt like he no longer gave a damn. Neither text was a knee-jerk reaction - neither of us responded to the other until a few hours after reading (ah, those read receipts!). He is not that great with women romantically (very shy and reticent) and is quite sensitive. He doesn't verbalise his emotions at all (the :/ face says it all), but on reflection I think it was a still pretty callous way to treat me. It may have been that my text was pushing a decision at him, but I think perhaps I needed that clarity rather than the torture of being unsure week to week whether he still wanted to continue. I think I will do as the overwhelming consensus suggests here and regard us as broken up. :')
posted by radiantsquirrel at 1:49 PM on November 28, 2018 [3 favorites]

He broke up with you, coldly and over text. Good luck moving on. Don't waste any more of your time on this guy.
posted by emd3737 at 1:30 AM on November 29, 2018

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