Is blowing hot and cold ever not a bad sign?
December 8, 2022 12:19 PM   Subscribe

I’m in a long distance situationship with a person whom I’ve known forever and who is very important to me. He’s blowing hot and cold and I don't know if I should do something different or call it quits. Mess inside

We’ve been in each others lives forever, long-standing friends who always had deeper feelings but circumstances never allowed anything more to happen. Throughout the years communication waxed and waned but never stopped, and neither did the underlying feelings which we both understood we had for each other.

We got together several years ago for a year and it was pretty great but life reasons outside of our control split us apart for again, and threw us in different corners of the world. It was very painful for both and although I was the one who made the final decision to end it, it was really the circumstances that did that for us.

After that breakup we cut all contact for years since the first time we met each other. But we reconnected again last year and started talking, slowly and only as friends because we were both with someone else.

Eventually we both got out of those relationships for one reason or another and ended up confessing that we love each other still a lot and want to see each other and try again. We started communicating daily, FaceTiming etc and planning our meet.

But things are just…not the same. For a while I was ecstatic at the thought but he has changed. I don’t know how much someone can change in a few years, I suppose a lot. He’s become harsher, he’s no longer the sweetest, most gentle person I used to know. He goes from saying that I’m the love of his life, the woman who never left his mind and the most precious thing he ever had to being mean and distant. I feel like deep down he is still angry at me for pushing him away back then. He has said that I could had saved us years if I didn’t decide to call it quits and although I’ve taken responsibility for it, I feel like something is irreparably broken.

We have been planning for us to finally meet soon but I question if it’s a good idea because of his behavior now. Sometimes he’s loving and caring, sometimes distant and friendly but standoffish. His comments about us meeting seem more and more focused on the sexual aspect and I question if we will just meet, have sex and then it will fizzle into nothing. I don’t want to break my own heart by having that happen and I’m questioning what to do.

There have been times where he has gone for weeks without talking to me. He has always come back again to say that he got too much into his head over our history and made himself upset. That he misses me when we don’t talk and can’t take it for too long. I wonder often if what he felt for me is gone and what has remained is simply a sexual attraction.

I have also looked at his social media(we follow each other) and he seems to be following a lot of your typical IG model accounts, which is so out of character for him because he was never like this before. I get that he’s single now and he can look at whatever he wants but it feels a bit icky that someone could seemingly become a different person from his mid to late thirties.

At this point it feels like I’m trying much harder than he is to maintain what we resurrected and that I should accept it and let it go. But then at times he acts like his old self and I fall back into it.

I would never put up with a situation like this if it were anyone else but I can’t explain what he has meant to me throughout the years. i wonder if I’m paying my dues to right the mistake I made years ago, or if this is already dead in the water and I should just let it go for good, which will hurt like a motherfucker. I just can’t imagine not talking to him in some capacity, he is a direct link to my past and all things considered, my longest standing friend. We know things about each other that no one else does and deep down I felt that one day we would for sure end up together.

What the hell do I do? I’m tired of trying to hold on so hard while he’s being all aloof and mercurial. I’m not trying to put my ego first but also don’t want to lose my dignity in this. Should I pull all the way back and just wait to see what he does? Am I just huffing the fumes of what we once were and ignoring reality?
posted by Riverside to Human Relations (35 answers total)
Have you... talked to him about this? Have you told him that the sex focus, the hot-and-cold, the meanness are turnoffs to you and making you seriously reconsider whether this is a good idea? What does he say?

I don't think you should even get together in person without having this conversation. And if you haven't had it because you're afraid it will go badly... well, you know him extremely well, and you're probably right.

It may be that it's still not the right time. It may also be that the years of *not* dating him, and of living far apart and not really being consistently in each other's day-to-day lives means that you don't really know him as well as you think you do, and the connection you have is one of history and nostalgia and a good dose of wishful thinking, and that he's not the kind of person that you're compatible with in a mundane, someone has to take out the trash and do the dishes sort of way. This isn't anyone's fault, but it's very much a possibility you need to keep in mind, especially since talking again with intention seems to be surfacing sides of him that you either didn't see or that weren't relevant when you weren't thinking about dating.
posted by restless_nomad at 12:30 PM on December 8, 2022 [11 favorites]

Response by poster: I’m only going to reply this once because restless_nomad has asked a good question which I forgot to include in the OP.

I have talked to him about this. The answers I’ve gotten are aligned with what I would want to hear but then I feel like the actions don’t match and I question if it’s me, if I’m being too this or that. If only it were that straightforward where i could solve it with just a single discussion, I would.

for example, on his occasional radio silence, he’s said that he sometimes gets too into his head about our history or gets upset thinking that I will push him away again like I did back then.
posted by Riverside at 12:38 PM on December 8, 2022

For me, the meanness is the red flag. I wouldn’t want to be with someone who was regularly mean to me.
posted by lunasol at 12:43 PM on December 8, 2022 [30 favorites]

Best answer: He is a different person now. (So are you.) You cannot really resurrect the old relationship, but he doesn't really sound like someone you can build something new with. Rather, it seems like he is still pretty hurt and angry over the breakup years ago, and is taking advantage of the fact that you are still in love with the person he used to be. You are both actually living in the past and I don't think that makes a healthy future.

This isn't blowing hot and cold. This is cruelty.

You didn't make a mistake years ago, but you are close to making one now if you don't save yourself from this guy. He is going to keep punishing you for not being what he wanted, by not consistently being what you want. At a minimum I would not go meet this person and have sex with him, but honestly I'd mourn the relationship and move on. For real, this time.
posted by sm1tten at 12:46 PM on December 8, 2022 [19 favorites]

Best answer: he sometimes gets too into his head about our history or gets upset thinking that I will push him away again like I did back then.

So on the one hand this is a valid fear. On the other hand, it is classic negging - it sets you up to go "Oh but I won't be like that!" and then you have to accept literally anything he says or does without pushback or you are "pushing him away again". This may not be intentional - I'm not saying he's deliberately manipulating you. But he's putting you in an impossible position where he gets to determine everything about the level and frequency and content of your interactions and if you object, you are doing the thing he was worried you were going to do and he gets to pull back, but you - by definition - don't get to pull back or have concerns or actually negotiate any of this.

It makes sense that it's driving you bonkers! It's a setup pretty much designed to do so! And if he really is a good and reasonable guy, you can point this out to him and see how he thinks you should handle it together - where both of you get a seat at the table, and that regretfully staying "just friends" is an option that doesn't mean anyone is the bad guy. If you need to get a couples counselor to help with this, it's the kind of situation that might benefit greatly from having a disinterested facilitator helping you both work through what is clearly a whole lifetime of expectations and hopes and fears.

I am not optimistic for you, not right now. If he's hot and cold, that means that, in the end, he's cold. It doesn't mean he's a terrible person, but it sure doesn't sound like he's in a position to be a good partner. It's gonna take significant work from him - not from you - to get there.
posted by restless_nomad at 12:46 PM on December 8, 2022 [24 favorites]

In these moments, I think the best thing you can do is to sit with yourself and get very clear about what you would want in an ideal scenario (you/he move to the same city, move in together, have children, don't have children, travel the world, start a business together, etc.), then think about the kinds of actions, words, behaviors that you need to feel safe, loved, desirable, etc. Then be honest with yourself about whether or not this person can meet your needs.

It's fine to try things and no relationship is ever 100% certain, but you both need to have the same desires going in. If you want a long-term, build a life together relationship and he wants low commitment fun and sex, then trying things isn't going to work out in the long run.

And I think in this situation revisiting the law of "fuck yes" is worth your time.

"There’s a grey area in dating many people get hung up on—a grey area where feelings are ambiguous or one person has stronger feelings than the other. This grey area causes real, tangible issues...But.. dating advice misses the point. If you’re in the grey area to begin with, you’ve already lost."
posted by brookeb at 12:57 PM on December 8, 2022 [11 favorites]

If you were meeting him for the first time as the person he is now, would you be interested? I know that’s a hypothetical and maybe unanswerable, but it sounds like you wouldn’t. And I think your history can buy both of you *some* leeway as you navigate it together, to get over some awkwardness or lingering difficulty - but it shouldn’t be license to be mean to you.

I think at minimum you should take sex off the table for this meeting. Things are still new and tricky between you and it would be very reasonable to move slowly.

But mostly I think neither of you should be working this hard to talk yourselves into being together based on how you felt about each other many years ago. It’s okay to let this go, and find someone you’re excited about who’s excited about you too.
posted by Stacey at 1:38 PM on December 8, 2022 [5 favorites]

It can be hard to do when we're caught in relationship patterns, but can you take a bit of mental time and space to reflect on the bigger picture of what you want in relationships? Not this relationship, but in the longer term, what do you want, big picture, from the emotionally and physically intimate relationships in your life?

Then, take a look at that and compare it not to the potential of this current relationship, but this relationship as it is. It's best to make decision based on how this relationship is now, and not how it was or how you think it could be.
posted by bluedaisy at 2:15 PM on December 8, 2022

he’s said that he sometimes gets too into his head about our history or gets upset thinking that I will push him away again like I did back then.

So how do you win? You can't.
posted by DarlingBri at 2:23 PM on December 8, 2022 [8 favorites]

So, mostly, the way he's communicating sounds like a bad sign. The meanness especially.


Am I understanding correctly that you two haven't met in person since this recent reconnection? If that's correct, I think it might be worth meeting in person at least once before deciding how to proceed. I'm someone who tends to hugely overthink relationships when I haven't seen someone in person for a long time, but once we're together in person, everything 'clicks' and is okay again. If he's similar, meeting in person could help reset things and give you a chance to talk through your visions for this relationship in a more relaxed way.

If you're worried about the meeting moving too quickly into sex and you getting hurt, it's perfectly fine to set a boundary that you don't want to proceed to sex right away. How he responds to that might help in your decision.

If you're not excited about the idea of seeing him in person, then don't! But I think it's certainly possible that some of the recent weirdness is caused by the long-distance situation and not something that's changed fundamentally about him.
posted by mekily at 2:54 PM on December 8, 2022 [3 favorites]

Best answer: He has said that I could had saved us years if I didn’t decide to call it quits

This is a deeply concerning thing for someone to say to a potential partner. We all get just the one precious human lifetime: do you want to spend it with someone who low-key blames you for the “loss” of time together? This sounds like the iceberg tip of bitterness, resentment, and entitlement.

It doesn’t sound like he is introspective about these tensions in the relationship, or interested in growing and learning from them. Recognizing and articulating that you’re hurting is a great first step: never progressing past that, and using your hurt as a rationale for treating other people poorly, is immature bullshit.

This sounds really hard - I’m sorry.
posted by rrrrrrrrrt at 3:19 PM on December 8, 2022 [4 favorites]

We have been planning for us to finally meet soon but I question if it’s a good idea because of his behavior now.

Just to clarify, have the two of you ever met in person?
posted by easy, lucky, free at 3:41 PM on December 8, 2022

Response by poster: Easy, lucky, free - do you mean have we ever met in person? Yes of course, and we dated for a year several years ago. Have not met in person yet since we reconnected this past year.
posted by Riverside at 3:43 PM on December 8, 2022

Best answer: You know what? I'm gonna be harsh. Fuck this guy. I hate this for you: "He has said that I could had saved us years if I didn’t decide to call it quits and although I’ve taken responsibility for it, I feel like something is irreparably broken."

He's blaming YOU for the breakup that happened years ago, and he sounds like he's stuck in the past with whatever wounds he has from since then or before that, or even before you. Furthermore, you're *taking* the blame. Don't do this to yourself!

Something IS irreparably broken. It's him, I'm sorry to say. You didn't cause it (by breaking up with him or whatever else) and you can't fix it either.

He is not your person. If he was, circumstances wouldn't have caused the breakup in the first place. But ok, things happen beyond your control. He is still not your person by the way that he's treating you now. It's bullshit. Also him following models on IG? And him ramping up the sex talk? Plus blaming you for the breakup? And being mean? My gut feeling says he hates women.

>I wonder if I’m paying my dues to right the mistake I made years ago

Again, please don't do this yourself. You had good reason to break up then. I don't see a good reason to continue this "friendship." Yes, nostalgia is powerful but the past is in the past. Look at what you have in front of you now. A guy who seems loving at times, but who also has more issues than National Geographic.

>I just can’t imagine not talking to him in some capacity

You did it for years previously and you can do it again.

>Am I just huffing the fumes of what we once were and ignoring reality?


What to do next: decide if you want to be in a relationship with him, with who he is *now*. If you do (which I highly don't recommend) you're going to have to have some long hard talks about how he's treating you because what he's doing now is not ok. You'll also have to talk about how this relationship will look like with the distance, if it'll stay like that forever, or if someone will move at some point, or you both move. Basically have the conversation about what you want and what you want the future to look like. The past is in the past.

Also consider if he wanted a relationship with you, he should be able to say so. He wouldn't be mean and not talk to you for weeks. You won't be able to have a healthy relationship with him because he's not capable of it. This "He goes from saying that I’m the love of his life, the woman who never left his mind and the most precious thing he ever had" may sound nice, but it's hyperbole. He's not seeing you for you. His words mean nothing given how he's treating you, which again makes me suspect that he hates women.

If not a relationship, decide if you want to stay friends with him (I don't recommend this either). Similar as above: talk to him about what you will and won't accept, including sexual talk. If you want to be friends, is it FWB or platonic friends? At least with friendship, there's no pressure about the future and moving and all that. Think about whether or not he's going to be a good friend to you.

If it's a no to relationship or friendship, then tell him that you're ending it for good this time. Yes he'll be upset and he's allowed to feel whatever he feels. His feelings are not yours to solve or assuage. Go no contact again, block him everywhere, grieve him, the past and those memories. Find someone who will treat you right and who wants to be with you.
posted by foxjacket at 4:38 PM on December 8, 2022 [15 favorites]

He has said that I could had saved us years if I didn’t decide to call it quits and although I’ve taken responsibility for it

Whaaaaaaat. No. I'm assuming you didn't break up out of caprice or cruelty, but for reasons that seemed valid to you at the time, even if you later got back together.


This is some creepy power game nonsense. You can't thrive in such an atmosphere.
posted by praemunire at 4:42 PM on December 8, 2022 [10 favorites]

Yeah, I'm with mekily here - I'd agree with the consensus if this was an in-person relationship, but I can understand why someone would have a hard time fully committing to something that so far has been entirely 2-D/distanced.

Another thing - do either of you have plans to re-locate to where the other person is? How hard would relocation be for either of you? Because I wonder if part of both your anxiety and his anxiety is due to the knowledge that really being together would require a big move for one of you?

In short, I don't see anyone being "bad" here (sure, some less than stellar communication), but ultimately if you want to be with someone, you need to decide to prioritize that, and it sounds like you've both had other priorities - which is fine. You say "circumstances" brought you apart last time, but unless one of you was imprisoned or something severe like that, you both made choices - which is to say, neither of you are at fault for the previous breakup, but you both contributed to it. Is he willing to acknowledge he also made choices that contributed to the breakup? And when you confessed your feelings for each other and your desire to try again, did you also discuss at all the practicalities that this would require? Because if not, I can see why you're both feeling stuck in a bit of a nebulous mess, and it would seem worth pondering how much it's worth wading through for you.
posted by coffeecat at 4:51 PM on December 8, 2022 [1 favorite]

when someone breaks up with you and then, years later, wants you back, but without being sorry about the first time, the natural sequence of emotions is euphoria--> resentment. this will cycle around and around until a new thought cuts in. things have to be very particular for the resentment to go away even if you don't want to be feeling it.

furthermore, maybe he doesn't wholeheartedly want to get back together, but he might feel like admitting that would mean giving up the right to feel wronged: like if he gives up wanting to be with you, he has to give up being ticked off about being broken up with before. and/or the sunk cost thing, where he can't admit that he has emotionally moved on because it would make all his years of pining a retroactive waste. this is stupid but pretty common.

life reasons outside of our control split us apart for again, and threw us in different corners of the world. It was very painful for both and although I was the one who made the final decision to end it, it was really the circumstances that did that for us.

do you think he would tell it in this same rather agentless and convoluted way? or might he recap it somewhat more directly as "they broke up with me"?
posted by queenofbithynia at 4:59 PM on December 8, 2022 [7 favorites]

I would never put up with a situation like this if it were anyone else

posted by warriorqueen at 6:15 PM on December 8, 2022 [8 favorites]

The whole thing where you have this person in your life who is The One, in the background of all other relationships, and you hold onto each other through all that life throws at you, but it's never the exact right time, you're never really able to get together and stay together and make it work... but still you know this person is The One who knows you like nobody knows you, and you know this person of course like nobody else does...

That's a seductive fairytale. It's so attractive, and comforting, and makes you feel so special - like you're part of something big and secret and wonderful. I've been there; reading your post was like deja vu. I was there for almost 30 years.

The hardest part of letting it go was that parts of it were honestly great; there were times when he was able to be there for me when nobody else was, in ways that proved to me that he really felt for me. But the reason he was able to do that was that we weren't together. There were no strings. Being my soulmate was a thing he got free of charge, without ever having to actually show up in my life and live it with me. When circumstances finally allowed us to try to make it work, it went up in smoke, because it was too hard. I can't even really blame him - he'd been telling himself the same story, and neither of us were ever going to be able to live up to the characters we'd fallen for.

So... I would respectfully suggest you look carefully at your feelings here and ask yourself: Do you love this person, or do you maybe just love this story you've been telling yourself about this person for so many years? The story makes you feel good, but it sounds to me like the actual guy makes you feel uncomfortable and bad. And you don't need that in your life.
posted by invincible summer at 7:18 PM on December 8, 2022 [22 favorites]

He’s not gonna turn back into someone he used to be, ever. So don’t base your decisions on that version of him, or that version of the relationship.

At this point, you have only really truly actually been together a year. The vast, vast majority of your relationship has been a kind of fantasy or wish (I have one of those too, so I’m not judging!) I'd encourage you to look at the reality of him and of the relationship you have.

I’m a little sympathetic to his situation. Once someone has broken up with you, it can be an enormously hard task to get fully back in—because you know it can end. However, my sympathy ends when he takes this out on you instead of committing to doing what it takes to get back in.

He’s punishing you IMO. You don’t deserve that, and do you really want to be with someone who punishes his partner?
posted by kapers at 8:59 PM on December 8, 2022

This sounds like a guy who has gotten onto a path of a lot of toxic masculinity and sexist views, especially around relationships and sex. It's unfortunately becoming more and more common for people to slip into these sections of the internet, especially for young men.

As noted above, he is negging you. He's blaming you for ending a relationship (a valid thing for you to do, for any reason) and holding it against you, so you will comply to anything he wants. He wants you to beg and be always seeking approval. He is focusing on sex in a way that is making you uncomfortable. He is following accounts that make you uncomfortable.

He has changed. He does not sound safe. If you wouldn't put up with this behavior with anyone else, don't put up with it with him. That is a sunk cost. It's a parade of red flags.

Fuck, he's MEAN to you. Not accidentally hurting your feelings. MEAN. That's CRUEL! They shouldn't even be your friend if they are trying to hurt you.

I knew someone like this. He was genuinely sweet at one point. Came from bad circumstances. Then he became a "nice guy" that joined a frat, negged people, was fired for sexual harassment, cheated on his girlfriends, and eventually I ended our friendship. It was really hard to end that friendship. Because I too knew what he COULD have been, and what he used to be. But after I left, I realized just how messed up it had been for years.

If it were me, I would end it and never speak to him again.
posted by Crystalinne at 11:01 PM on December 8, 2022 [4 favorites]

Fuck this guy, he’s a manipulative asshole who treats you badly for his own ego. The good news is, there’s no relationship to end so no conversation needs to be had. Having said that, what I would do is follow his lead! He leaves it weeks to return your calls and leaves you stressing about where you stand? Well that problem just solved itself.

Take his actions at face value, whatever you’ve got no longer exists and move on. Start dating and live your life. Meet men! Have fun! I’m sure he’ll contact you eventually when he’s bored and wants his toy back. That’s when you tell him you never heard back, and after all his cruel comments and lack of interest, you assumed he moved on and now you have too. Wish him all the best and tell him you’re dating now so it’s not really appropriate for you to still be in contact with an ex so it’s good bye from you.

I’m sure his jaw will drop and he’ll tell you that you’ve got it all wrong and blah blah blah. That’s when you put the phone down.

Play stupid games, win stupid prizes.
posted by Jubey at 2:18 AM on December 9, 2022 [2 favorites]

Yeah, I also feel like he's trying to make you pay for making the decision to end the relationship the first time around. And that seems toxic to me and a giant red flag. I bet you if you tell him you don't want this current reconnection to continue he will suddenly drop the aloof and mercurial act. I am sorry but he does not sound like he is a good match for you anymore. I get it must feel sad given that you had a good relationship previously but I think you should look at it like you dodged a bullet at the time without realising.
posted by unicorn chaser at 2:37 AM on December 9, 2022 [2 favorites]

"I just can’t imagine not talking to him in some capacity, he is a direct link to my past and all things considered, my longest standing friend. We know things about each other that no one else does and deep down I felt that one day we would for sure end up together."

So what? your past won't erase if you don't stay with him. Having a shared history with someone can be wonderful, but it isn't a reason to keep being involved.

A reality of life is that relationships end. Just because you once thought he was the guy for you, doesn't mean he still is.

good luck.
posted by rhonzo at 5:22 AM on December 9, 2022 [3 favorites]

wait, so your current "involvement" is 100% long distance? You haven't actually spent any time together since you "got back together"? It... doesn't sound like you're actually back together at all.

But I agree with the other posters that if he can't even be nice to you consistently on the phone/text etc., he's not someone to trust with your heart.

Sounds like he's looking forward to the booty call.
posted by fingersandtoes at 8:05 AM on December 9, 2022 [1 favorite]

He goes from saying that I’m the love of his life, the woman who never left his mind and the most precious thing he ever had to being mean and distant.

Here's a potentially relevant excerpt from Captain Awkward:
if you’re not ready to call it quits on this person yet, there is one test you can perform to see how deep the mean runs before you bail entirely.

Mean Guy: “Mean thing…”

You: “Hey, that was really mean” (see also: uncalled for, not cool, not okay, hurtful)

Mean Guy: “Oh crap, you are right. I am sorry.”

Mean Guy: -doesn’t do or say that thing or things like it again-

Test passed! Be cautious, but it is possible that he is not a complete a-hole. Though if you have to do this every single conversation, or more than once in a given conversation, it’s time to hop on the Nope Rocket and flee to safety. Run the test a few times to be sure. In fact, do it every time he says something mean.

If on the other hand, it goes like this:

Mean Guy: “Mean thing…”

You: “Hey, that was really mean” (see also: uncalled for, not cool, not okay, hurtful)

and Mean Guy:

* Mansplains why it was actually funny
* Doubles down on the jerky sentiments
* Calls you too sensitive or questions your sense of humor
* Blames his depression or makes it about some issue he has where he somehow can’t help it, ESPECIALLY if at the end of the above conversations you end up apologizing to him in some way
* Or he says anything that is not in the vicinity of “I’m sorry, you’re right”–


posted by Bella Donna at 8:10 AM on December 9, 2022 [11 favorites]

I turned on my treadmill so you can run.
posted by yes I said yes I will Yes at 11:37 AM on December 9, 2022 [3 favorites]

I would never put up with a situation like this if it were anyone else

Big red NOPE. Listen to your gut. You're running on nostalgia and what-might-have-been. Not even the rose-colored glasses can disguise how many negative issues there are in this situation.
posted by BlueHorse at 5:30 PM on December 9, 2022

Best answer: The consensus is clear but I sense you'll have trouble letting this go because how could someone so sweet who obviously cares about you turn on you like that? It makes no sense. It seems impossible he would choose the dark side. Maybe I can help you understand what's going on his head, since I have spent a lot of time trying to understand masculinity myself.

Masculinity works like something that sits between someones true self, and what they actually express to the outside world. Sometimes it has no effect so that the self is expressed purely; sometimes it blocks the self so that nothing is expressed, sometimes it twists the self so that genuine emotions like pain or love become anger and bitterness, sometimes it blocks the self and usesthe self to express something different from the self, namely male supremacy. It's like a mindworm or meme, or like a parasite that takes over the host. In the same way someone can be taken over by a cult and is used as a vessel for propagating the cult's messaging and beliefs.

The person who is afflicted with masculinity usually lacks awareness or understanding of what's going on. What they experience is very confusing -- words they want to speak don't come out; they find themselves getting angry and lashing out when they don't want to; they find themselves doing reprehensible things to women and find themselves enjoying it even as their souls are screaming inside. The experience feels like being possessed by a demon, except it's s familiar and so total and also so normalized by society that you believe the demon to be yourself. After many decades of living with it one learns to settle for the tedious rushes of getting one over on people, being mean and getting away with it, finding people upon whom to enact power fantasies, as a substitute for legitimate feelings of meaning, joy, and happiness, which feel extremely far gone at this point.

Also.... Masculinity had 'sleeper agent' components. There are behaviors that only activate once the person is in a committed relationship, or a marriage, or had kids, or passes a certain age, etc. Effectively when a person transitions between social states, a different set of social behavioral expectations becomes active and then restricts the self accordingly. The person you get depends a lot on context and setting. For example masculinity lay allow the pure soul to shine out unimpeded at critical moments in order to lure you, then slam the doors shut and give you nastiness and meanness ad a way of exercising control. Its very nefarious; it has evolved these tactics over millennia.

The sad truth is that your dude, like most or maybe pretty much every dude, is severely blighted by masculinity. Its a parasite that is so tightly interwoven with the host that it is going to be a nightmare to extricate them and believe me masculinity does not want to be extricated. In the case of your dude, the prognosis is not good, given the recent uptick in Instagram model ogling. One thing you could do to test the waters is to tell him you think he is not himself, that something has happened to him which has changed him, and you don't think he's saying or doing things he means, and you observe him looking at more models on Instagram and this seems to coincide.... And see what happens. But do be cautious because it will be extremely easy for his masculinity to suddenly show you his true innocent self, with genuine remorse and love for you, and then switch right back to male supremacist as soon as you are entangled. This thing is devious, unfortunately. The sad truth of it is that a lot of men are really beyond help and it is extremely dangerous for you to even try. I feel for you because it does sound like you love each other. So in processing and coming to terms with this understand that his love for you was real and probably still is, and that you are up against a force far greater than you - patriarchy - which has been turning men against women for thousands of years, hundreds of generations, and it is highly refined and effective at doing so, and like feel free to be hella angry about this because oh my god is this ever fucked up and wrong.
posted by PercussivePaul at 1:10 AM on December 10, 2022 [2 favorites]

Not what you’re asking but you don’t mention any prospect of overcoming the physical distance that still seems to separate you. Even if an in person meeting happens and goes well, what then? Unless one or both your circumstances have changed significantly you then find yourself in the LDR you successfully avoided last time round. And now it’s much worse than it would have been then because he’s no longer the nice, kind person you remember.
posted by koahiatamadl at 7:54 AM on December 10, 2022

""Life reasons outside of our control split us apart for again, and threw us in different corners of the world. It was very painful for both and although I was the one who made the final decision to end it, it was really the circumstances that did that for us."

Until you can say "I broke up with him and I really hurt him" you won't be able to understand what he's been through and who he is now. This is not to excuse anything on his part happening now, but there are always "circumstances" that could be reasons for breaking up (for example, all the ones at play for you and him right now which seem pretty similar) but there's no "and although I..." to dumping someone. You dumped him. Now here you are wanting him back and he is behaving badly. Nothing more normal under the sun. His behavior is called resentment and it is the number one killer of relationships. That's on him, and he's not behaving well. But the source of the resentment and therefore current behavior isn't hard to pinpoint (except it kind of is because you yourself bury it in a pile of life circumstances that make you sound like star-crossed lovers in a film). In fact, the one thing he has managed to do is tell you outright what the source of the problem is: you dumped him.

This sounds like a beautiful relationship that can't and never could exist as such except without a lot of obfuscation of the facts. I think you just both need to face the facts right now: it won't work.
posted by desert exile at 7:57 AM on December 10, 2022 [5 favorites]

Désert_exile made me realize that masculinity often grabs men when they are weak and in particular when they are broken-hearted. Numbing the pain through power fantasies is like one of the only tools men are taught growing up. So it seems likely that after you broke up with him, he didn't know how to deal with the pain and grief, and masculinity offered him a way out and he took it, and now he's lost himself.

I wonder if theres a way forward here. You both need to wind back time. He needs to wind back all the masculinity crap he's picked up since the breakup, apologies for it and disown it. You need to make space for his legitimate pain at being abandoned by you and his legitimate fear that "circumstances" might pull you away again. And to be honest.... If you love him enough to be his life partner now, and you did then, what WERE those intervening years all about? If you are ecstatic to be back together with him now.... Then does that mean it was a mistake to break up with him, and a mistake to cut contact? If so, I think you yourself need to unwind the last few years as well, apogized for it, and disown it. Why did you break up, anyway? Why wasn't he enough, why couldn't you make it work? Why did you yourself already sever this bond with your longedt-standimg friend? Should you have? Can you un-sever it?

If it wasn't a mistake and you stand by your decision to break up -- well isn't it kind of cruel what you're doing now? How can he be vulnerable with you knowing if the same thing happens you'd do it again? Is he the love of your life? Does he know it, and can he trust it?
posted by PercussivePaul at 1:59 PM on December 10, 2022

Ok, I have a little bit of issue with the last two comments because it feels like they're piling on you for breaking up with him. It's like, "Well, you dumped him, how do expect him to feel? How can he trust you now?" You can't un-dump him. You can't go back to the past to 1. undo what you did and 2. the person he used to be. If you haven't already been totally honest about the breakup, what happened, why you chose to do what you did, and really listened to how that affected him, then maybe try that as a hail Mary. And do it in the context of "I don't like the way you're treating me. It's clear that you're still hurting from when I broke up with you. Do you want to talk about that?" And let him talk and feel heard. But don't fall into the trap of trying to fix his feelings or taking the blame for everything. That's unfair. I'm sure you had good reasons to break up and you made the best decision for you at the time. You also can't fix his feelings. He has to own his feelings and heal them himself. Even if you had this honest discussion about you breaking up with him, I doubt it will make a difference in how he treats you because it sounds like what he wants is for you to undo the past.

If he's hurt that you dumped him, then he needs to talk to you about that and be honest about what he needs *now* which he isn't doing. If he's too hurt to talk to you about that, and talking to you triggers those hurts, then he needs to see a therapist and go NC with you. He's lashing out at you because he's hurt. Combine that with ramping up the sex talk, it's kind of gross that he's doing that in this context tbh.
posted by foxjacket at 1:00 PM on December 11, 2022

Ew, he sounds really mean. He actually sounds kind of incelly, like he's trying to make you "pay" for rejecting him before. I vote no no no!
posted by nouvelle-personne at 2:07 PM on December 11, 2022 [1 favorite]

I'd like to walk back my last comment. I overreached and put too much blame on OP for the breakup. Ive sent this privately to OP and I'm posting it here as well.


I know it's very easy for others to write people off who behave badly and say 'hell no' and I also know it is a different story when it is your dude whom you love and who loves you (sometimes, kind of, or seems to, or would if only...). So I guess I'm trying to give you a more realistic picture of what might happen if you try to make it work so you can make a better decision about what to do.

I'm pretty confident in the 'masculinity' diagnosis, and if that holds, there is a very high chance he will try to lure you into a partnership and then use that to hurt you and abuse you. It's hard to know how much of his recent mysoginistic behavior is because of the breakup, how much was always there and kind of latent, and how much is new stuff he just picked up on his own. I would guess it's a mixture of all three. I've observed men tend to drift this way as they approach middle age as well -- something about compensating for the waning of youth. You will have a hell of a battle on your hands and you can expect him to become manipulative and eventually violent when you start laying down boundaries. Watch out that you don't wind up in a situation in which youre isolated and dependent on him because that's when the really nasty stuff often shows up. Also watch out that he doesn't subtly lead you into such a situation over a long period of time.

His wounds over the breakup and his fears of abandonment may be legitimate, and, he is using those an excuse to hurt you, which is not okay. If you point this out, he may or may not be willing to hear this and change. You can get a good sense of where he's at by calling this out directly. If you delay addressing or ignore or allow this type of behavior it will only get worse. If he starts talking about needing therapy, the correct intervention for him is a domestic violence program for men who batter women -- NOT therapy. (What he's doing is already domestic violence.) Therapy can treat the wounds he's feeling, but not the entitlement to inflict pain, and in fact often makes that worse. See the works of Lundy Bancroft, if you haven't already. The percentage of abusive men who change even after seeking such treatment is below 10%, so the prognosis is not good. If he does not change, life with him will be a living hell, unfortunately.

The breakup wounds are going to be something you have to deal with, and, he's going to have to either accept what you're saying about it (and it is legitimate for you to say that you made the best decision you could at the time in breaking up with him and you still want to be with him now) and decide to move forward, or he's going to have to decide he can't do it, and end it. He should not carry on a relationship and blame you and hurt you for something you've already explained and he must not hurt you, ever. You have the right to set terms like this -- they are reasonable and fair -- and he has the right to accept or reject them. He also has the right to set terms for you and they also need to be reasonable and fair. If his terms are that he is allowed to go all cold on you and withhold love and punish you whenever he feels bad, those are not reasonable and fair and you should reject those terms. I would guess he will make many many attempts to set the terms in the latter way and you'll have to be confident and forceful in laying down boundaries and that may be something you have to do continually for as long as youre involved with him. Most likely he will refuse to play fair, get angry, blame you for everything and then storm off, only to resurface months or years later at a regular cadence for as long as you allow him to. I'm sorry. Masculinity is shit.
posted by PercussivePaul at 2:09 PM on December 11, 2022 [1 favorite]

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