Should I have taken it slow or was I right to walk away?
December 11, 2021 10:41 AM   Subscribe

I was dating someone and they pulled away and said they wanted to take things more slowly and weren’t ready for a relationship. Did I make the right call by walking away, and can there be hope for the future?

I’m confused about a situation I’m in with someone and I’m not sure how to proceed.
I was dating someone for about two months. We immediately got along, had a huge amount in common, really enjoyed each others company. It felt very exciting and right.

We both said we really liked eachother and ended up having a conversion about exclusivity. But then a week or so later they pulled away, saying they needed to take things slower, and contrary to what we’d said before that they didn’t want to use labels. They clearly have a lot of trauma and baggage and they explained that they were worried about self sabotaging. But they also explained alongside this that they weren’t able to be available emotionally in the way I would want at the moment, that they take a long time to trust people, and that they understood if I didn’t want to wait until they were ready for a relationship or knew what they wanted.

I have a bit of a difficult past relationship wise. I’ve come to the realisation over the past few years that I struggle with an anxious attachment style, so I can go too fast and be rejection sensitive. I’m not often the one to end relationships and I have a tendency to put people on pedestals and stay in situations regardless of red flags. And unfortunately for me this conversation had a few red flags (particularly the emotional unavailability and some of their accounts of past relationships where they’d messed things up). So I made the decision to end things. Because it had been such a short relationship we agreed we’d be friends, and they suggested hanging out again pretty soon after the split.

However I’m having difficulties reconciling with what has happened. I feel very disappointed as I really liked them. I’m sad about the loss of a potential relationship, even though I feel like I trusted my gut by ending it. I don’t know if being friends immediately is a good idea, and I still have it in my head that I hope they are more in a place for what I want somewhere along the way when they have sorted themselves out (with therapy, which they’re in). They’re clearly not in the same place as me, but I wonder if I should have respected their needs and taken things more slowly, as I feel that I have lost out on one of the strongest connections I’ve ever felt with anyone.

I suppose I’m just wondering what I should do. Should I be honest that I really like them and try and talk to them about it more? Should I be friends with them and see what happens in the future? Or should I cut them off to heal?
posted by popcorngirl to Human Relations (17 answers total)
Personally, I don't think you should try being friends while you are still feeling so ambivalent. In my experience, the situation you are in is a very common one, where one person tests the waters for how much control they can have over the other in a potential relationship.

You've both expressed feelings for one another and even floated the idea of taking the next step. Nobody said they didn't want that, only expressed fear that it might not work. Now the onus is entirely on you to navigate the way forward in a way that feels fair and good to you. They have been quite clear with you that they are unable/unwilling to help you with your own complicated feelings or needs on it, but also are asking you to have grace for them and their trauma.

I think it's not totally out of line to ask but you are probably very right to say no. What else could you possibly trust other than your gut in the face of a potential relationship with a person who has told you they are not willing or able to consider your needs or feelings alongside their own at this time... if ever?

Frankly that doesn't even sound like a great foundation for even a friendship. I would just move on.
posted by pazazygeek at 10:53 AM on December 11, 2021 [20 favorites]

I'm with pazazygeek. I also think it might be a bit too late to be asking the question you're asking, because it's not like you can retroactively go back and say that you're fine with the other person setting the pace of the relationship. Like you've already said it wasn't acceptable, so most people wouldn't be willing to give you a second chance anyway, especially if they already have emotional availability issues.
posted by erattacorrige at 10:56 AM on December 11, 2021 [1 favorite]

It sounds like no one has done anything wrong here - they were right to express that they needed to move more slowly, you were right to end things when that didn’t work for you. Sometimes, even when both people are clear and honest and like each other, things still don’t work out.

In terms of a friendship, it seems like you, and possibly they, aren’t in the right place to be friends at this time. So yes, I’d cut them off - do it kindly of course, letting them know that you care about them and are doing it so that you can try to move on.
posted by insectosaurus at 11:31 AM on December 11, 2021 [10 favorites]

Do-overs almost never work. This person was a bad fit for you and you have saved both of you a great deal of time by understanding that. Break ups are always painful and often provoke second guessing. But you did the right thing and it’s probably a sign of progress that you were able to do that as early as you did. So congratulations. Take whatever time needed to process your feelings. When you are ready, go out and look for someone who is a better fit. It sucks that we cannot know if people are a good fit until we’ve invested time with them and often grown to care about them. But that’s kind of how it works. Good luck!
posted by Bella Donna at 11:33 AM on December 11, 2021 [14 favorites]

Best answer: You may want to read this post on Baggage Reclaim about whether folks change after saying they are not ready for a relationship.

I dealt with something with similar contours to your situation earlier in the year. No Contact turned out to be the right move for me.

I think it would help you to keep in mind that the strong connection you felt was to someone who turned out to be emotionally unavailable and whose behavior probably wasn't limited by the self-restraint and caution of someone acting with real intentionality. I think having contact with this person is likely going to hold you back from moving forward, and have you focusing on whether or not they've changed rather than focusing on what you can do to change so that partners like this feel like less of a natural fit for you.

Also, there can be a temptation to blame yourself for not going at their pace, etc. That's an attractive thought because it means you still have some control over the situation and salvage it by making a change. But what about your needs? Your needs sound reasonable to me, and I suspect you were moving at a pace that was co-created before this person pulled back, and that they may even have done some things to move things forward early on that were surprising to you. That is just a hunch though.

An encounter with someone like this can be a big event in your life. I think it would be good to try to create some other big events in your life to get some distance from this situation. They don't have to be relationships, just things that move you closer toward your goals.
posted by alphanerd at 12:25 PM on December 11, 2021 [19 favorites]

This isn't ever going to work out romantically, and you need buffer time to pass before you try any other relationship. Set yourself a reminder in 3 months to see if you feel like reaching out.

(I hate to be cynical, but this speech is - in a lot of people's minds - the right way to say you aren't interested. It can also be a test to see if you will settle for begging for scraps while providing unreciprocated attention and sex.)
posted by Lyn Never at 12:27 PM on December 11, 2021 [27 favorites]

Extricating oneself from an early dating attachment when it doesn’t feel right for whatever reason is one of the hardest parts of dating.
How do you say you’re just not feeling it? Or that “this is a No” to this trial of attachment?
One common way is to say you might not be in the right space to continue.
For some, that awkward extrication in the early stages may involve making self-effacing statements about one’s supposed baggage, background, personal hesitancy issues etc. The ol’ “it’s not you, it’s me” attempt at a graceful exit, leaving room for a dignified closing of the door.
Offering to transition to friends is also a strategy for extrication. Ghosting, tapering contact or I dunno, setting the whole thing on fire by having a forced disagreement are other ways people fall when they don’t know how to exit something that doesn’t feel right.
I think what you’re going through is two people going “something about this isn’t right” and having the awkward conversation. It doesn’t mean truly that there’s a star-crossed, if-only-we-were-in-different-spaces-this-could-work story here. You tried out an attachment and it was a No from both of you.
posted by honey-barbara at 1:42 PM on December 11, 2021 [9 favorites]

Never wait for someone who says they need to figure out what you want. All you communicate if you do is that you are okay with being a disposable option. Cheerfully wish him the best of luck out there and block.
posted by DarlingBri at 2:30 PM on December 11, 2021 [3 favorites]

Two months is too short a time in which to determine how deep a connection is.

I think you did right by yourself. The doubtful, panicky after-thoughts are probably due to the fact that you're setting new boundaries and behaving in a new/different way. Don't panic. You saw the red flags and acted accordingly.

Not sure if you keep a "well done" journal or any similar tracker but it should be something to note as an achievement. You've saved yourself a lot of heartache. Nobody wants to be waiting around for a relationship to finally get going. That's a waste of life.
posted by ihaveyourfoot at 2:43 PM on December 11, 2021 [10 favorites]

You did good. Let about 6-12 weeks go by before you even think about reaching out to be friends. Once time has passed your priorities will be different and you may even feel relief. Congratulate yourself for taking the first step to break the anxious attachment cycle.
posted by matildaben at 5:09 PM on December 11, 2021 [1 favorite]

Ending it when your needs are a big mismatch (which seems to be the case here) is absolutely respecting their needs. You did the right thing.
posted by augustimagination at 5:52 PM on December 11, 2021 [2 favorites]

Asking to meet up as friends so soon is a pretty big red flag. There's a very good chance that meetup would be followed by others, and that while the status remains "friends", a physical relationship develops or continues.

It happens. It's really not good for us. Breaking things off was the RIGHT choice, and even better would be to get some time and emotionally space.

Being "friends" now doesn't mean hanging out frequently - it means being polite when you run into each other, and being able to hang out in the same group and share other mutual friends without a ton of conflict or feelings, jealousy or otherwise, when you each date other people.
posted by stormyteal at 8:18 PM on December 11, 2021 [5 favorites]

Best answer: We immediately got along, had a huge amount in common, really enjoyed each others company. It felt very exciting and right.

We both said we really liked each other and ended up having a conversion about exclusivity. But then a week or so later they pulled away, saying they needed to take things slower, and contrary to what we’d said before that they didn’t want to use labels.

To me, that does not seem like the behavior of someone who wants to take things slow.
That sounds like you guys getting progressively closer in an organic way and then them backpedalling.

They wanted to turn back, to undo the degree of closeness y'all had already developed.
That sounds like classic avoidant behavior and a recipe for a miserable experience.

Good job on walking away. I do think the healthiest option is no contact. I do not think hanging out as friends as if nothing had happened is realistic. For one, it would create more ambiguity and an unhealthy power dynamic. But also, it would prevent you from grieving the relationship and truly moving on.

You did something very difficult and extricated yourself from an unhealthy situation. Second thoughts and lingering doubts are inevitable to some extent, parts of our brain don't process what happened and crave the connection. But you have saved yourself so much heart ache.
posted by M. at 10:37 PM on December 11, 2021 [6 favorites]

If you are not usually the person to break things off, it can feel really weird to do it, but it’s also just really good to teach yourself that it can be your choice.
posted by Lawn Beaver at 5:49 AM on December 12, 2021 [4 favorites]

Your decision seems like the right one for you, and I wouldn't go back on it if I were you. But... Please don't listen to all these lengthy posts that took a few sentences about your ex and fancifully imagined all sorts of sinister scenarios up to and including that they are abusive. From the actual evidence in this post, we don't know that.

It is absolutely possible for someone to say the words your ex said and be sincere. They may simply be a confused and hurt person who needs to pull back and take things more slowly, and perhaps not have an emotionally demanding relationship at all for a while. They may not yet have realized that when they agreed to something exclusive.

Plus, as with all Ask questions, we do not know what your ex would say if they were asked to contribute to this thread. I find it upsetting that people are so ready to find ill will in someone with soooo little information.
posted by Flock of Cynthiabirds at 7:09 PM on December 12, 2021 [2 favorites]

Best answer: You made the right choice, and with time you'll feel more confident in it. I also completely understand how it's been eating you up inside. So often we ask ourselves what we did wrong and how we could have been more patient/understanding/etc. but it just didn't work out. We can't make someone want what we want or be the person we wish they were and all the bending on our parts isn't healthy either.

I'm sure they genuinely really liked you but just can't do it and isn't really willing to try to do the things so they can (therapy, deep reflection, opening up about fears, etc.) They're not a bad person but are unable to offer you what you need. I was recently in a somewhat similar situation and also chose to end things, however much it hurt and still does. The longing and sadness comes and goes and part of me wishes the other person will come back ready to try again. That's unlikely and as time goes on I see as being for the best. In fact, we kinda tried before and it just didn't work so I appreciate their honesty even if it sucks. I really wish we could be real friends, giving each other space and pushing through discomfort to make it work platonically one day. The thing about friendship is this: a lot of people with fear of romantic commitment like this are also not exactly ready for the type of open, generous, chill friendship that you are accustomed to with its sometimes uneven-but-fair giving and taking. Again, not bad people but lacking in a certain social emotional skill set and not ready or willing to prioritize adding those, perhaps now and maybe never. And this is too bad because they are really missing out on your awesomeness!

The power of self-respect is beautiful. Framing your choice as being true to yourself in a rough situation, however unhappy it was, is amazing and powerful. A friend coached me on a note to send to my ex that was stronger than I was feeling and helped me find closure; another friend said reading it brought tears to her eyes. As for my ex's response? Crickets, which hurt but made me even more glad that I had written what I did. Please let me know if I can send you a copy because it might feel empowering to write your own version, not even to send but keep for yourself. You are hurting because you care, and being able to care so much and express it freely a wonderful thing, even when it's not reciprocated as we'd have wished -- as is walking away.
posted by smorgasbord at 10:25 PM on December 12, 2021

I think you absolutely did the right thing and it was probably not the easiest option either. So give yourself some credit for having your own back, listening to your gut, and making a rational and analytical choice given what you know about yourself. You rock!

The thoughts about regret and wanting to be friends are probably your anxious attachment system trying to re-establish a connection. Your system is activated because it does not like separation. Just try to push through this period and don't let the anxiety and longing for connection make you settle for less than you deserve. One thing that helped me when I read the book "Attached" is that the attachment system activates and deactivates of its own accord and there is not a lot we can do to control it. So whatever you are feeling is not necessarily about that person or a reflection of how compatible you were together, it's more likely just that your system is sensitive and it will take a while for the feelings to go away.
posted by winterportage at 5:02 PM on December 13, 2021

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