How to handle a hugely disappointing experience?
March 8, 2007 11:15 AM   Subscribe

I need help understanding a weird relationship-type situation I have found myself in. Involves traveling across the country to see significant other, being stranded, and being unable to communicate with this person.

I'm just looking for some advice on how to handle what I went through a couple of weeks ago...
Okay, so about two years ago, this guy and I (who I will refer to as Tim) dated. We dated for about 3-4 months, and everything was great. However, he was unhappy with his job--we're in Michigan, and the job market has been horrendous and only seems to be getting worse. Anyway, he decided to sign up for the Navy. I reacted badly to this--like a baby, pretty much--and the whole thing ended abruptly.
We didn't speak for over a year a half, until out of the blue he e-mailed me. We started talking again; he was stationed down in Jacksonville. We began talking every day, emailing, etc. It got pretty intense pretty fast. He invited me to come down and visit him, so I planned the trip for an extended weekend. Needless to say, I was very excited/nervous, etc.
I got down there on a Friday morning; he had rented me a hotel as he wasn't getting off his boat until late afternoon. I hung out alone until then. The first moment he arrived, things were AWESOME. Like, jump in bed, etc, awesome. And we went out, then hung out talking and stuff very late. Like old times, only better.
The next morning, however, he gets a call from some Navy person telling him he has to go underway THAT DAY, for a week. I wasn't due to go back to Michigan until Monday. There was apparently nothing he could do about it, and he had to leave pretty quick.
I was so freaking upset. I tried not to be, I knew it wasn't his fault, but I couldn't help it.
He got me a Monday morning flight home, instead of Monday night. Switching it to Sunday would have cost way more, and I felt bad. So I had to sit around by myself like a loser all weekend, and I was too embarrassed and felt too bad to tell anyone--ANYONE--what had happened.
So I let my sadness get the better of me, and I tried calling him and texting him, and emailing him. So pathetic. When I finally got home, I emailed him about how depressed I was, and he wrote a brief reply saying he was still underway and very busy, bad Internet, etc.
Now I'm afraid I freaked him out. This whole situation is just breaking my heart. He won't be done with this run until next week, and it is killing me that I can't talk to him.
Have I scared him off? Was it over the top for me to have bugged him so much? I was all alone and sad and so disappointed. Any pointers on how to make this a little better? He's coming up here in April and I really want to smooth things over before then.
posted by meggie78 to Human Relations (26 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
I don't get it. You were embarrassed because he had to ship out on short notice? It was awful timing, but it wasn't as if you called up the service and had him shipped out yourself. What's to be embarrassed about?

What's done is done, and yeah, calling and texting him when he's deploying (and really very busy, probably also actually missing you) was pushing it, and it sounds like you still have a tendency to react strongly without considering how it might affect him.

I'd say send him one more email expressing how much you enjoyed the time you did have together, and apologizing for calling and texting him, forgetting just how insanely busy he is. Tell him that you miss him, and to give you a call when you return.

That's it, full stop. Call up a good friend and vent to her (or him) about how depressed you feel, and how much this sucks - but right now your boy needs your support.

Then keep yourself busy until he comes back, and try to take a bit more measured approach to this - it's likely not the last time he's going to be leaving on short notice, and you need to develop some psychological strategies (and your support network) to deal with that.
posted by canine epigram at 11:31 AM on March 8, 2007 [1 favorite]

sorry to hear it, meggie, but isn't that what it's like to date a man in uniform?
posted by kitalea at 11:32 AM on March 8, 2007

and I second canine epigram. one e-mail, full stop, and then bury yourself in work, a new hobby, something.
posted by kitalea at 11:33 AM on March 8, 2007

Maybe mention, briefly, in your one e-mail that you realize you weren't being as supportive of him as you'd like to be, and that you promise to try to do better if this kind of thing happens again.
posted by amtho at 11:41 AM on March 8, 2007

I don't know if you've already scared him off, but if you keep it up, I could see that happening.

It would be natural for you to be disappointed that your visit was cut short, but as you stated, it was nothing he could have prevented. It's part of his job. A bit of understanding and patience on your part would go a long way for your relationship and for your own sanity. Yes, it was infortunate that he had to leave early, but you could have turned what you termed "sitting around like a loser" into something like "spent the afternoon exploring Jacksonville until it was time to grab a plane." You control your own actions and activities.

If you want a relationship with him to continue, you're going to have to expect these sort of things happening. He's going to get called away, he's going to go on extended runs where he won't be able to get in touch with you. Again, part of his job. It's absolutely not going to be easy and if that's not something you can handle, maybe a relationship with him at this point isn't in your or his best interests.

Was it over the top for me to have bugged him so much?

I think you know it was. You already called your actions 'pathetic' so you've answered your own question. It was a bit much. Send him a brief email, stating that you had a fun time and were sorry it had to get cut short, but you do now understand that it's part of his job. Tell him you are looking forward to seeing him again in April and leave it at that. Short and sweet. Don't dwell on it. His job obviously takes him away from a lot of people he cares about. I am sure he misses you as much as you miss him, but he doesn't need whining about it when he has to go.
posted by jerseygirl at 11:42 AM on March 8, 2007

infortunate! My favorite typo ever.
posted by jerseygirl at 11:44 AM on March 8, 2007

The way I'm reading this you just got used. You broke up with him 18 months ago. Then he calls up and gets you to come down, whereupon the both of you jump in bed immediately. He "unexpectedly" has to ship out the next day (how did he not know that?) and then brushes you off with a "bad Internet connection" reply.
posted by DU at 11:46 AM on March 8, 2007

I understand how frustrating that must have been and you are certainly allowed to feel how you feel. I would have felt lonely too, after putting so much planning and effort into it. I agree that you should e-mail him your thoughts and support and then wait for him to respond to you. I'll bet things can be smoothed over if you take a deep breath and try again.

But I want to expand what kitalea pointed out. This is what it's like to be involved with a service member. I'd give your reaction some thought if you want to pursue a relationship with him. This is something that you will need to get used to. You can't just tolerate it and abide by it; I would say that you need to be whole-heartedly fine with it over 90% of the time. It's not for everyone and that's okay, too. But the Navy will continue to treat his time like this and this is his job and his commitment. If it's not something you can see yourself being happy with, then I'd consider finding someone whose lifestyle is a better fit and/or waiting until Tim gets out of the Navy, if he's not in it for the long haul.
posted by juliplease at 11:46 AM on March 8, 2007

Oh wait, I missed the "coming up here in April" part. Maybe I'm wrong.
posted by DU at 11:53 AM on March 8, 2007

Don't think about it any more. What's done is done and you can't change it, so take a break from all this and let time work its softening magic. April isn't that far away. Work on being a calmer, less freaked-out you in the meantime.

Any pointers on how to make this a little better?

Short term: If you have contact with him between now and April, do as canine epigram suggests and be supportive -- but leave it at that. Let things mellow a bit, for your own sake.

Long term: you've already identified the pattern, which is a huge step: you guys get together, something happens, you freak out, he leaves. So basically, you want to stop freaking out. It's cliché, but take deep breaths and think things through before you (over)react. (And I say this as a reformed overreacter myself -- for me it also helps to think of the most laid-back person I know and how they'd respond.)

As you can see, the short-term advice is basically the same advice as the long-term, just a bit more specific. Distract yourself, do something that relaxes you -- but above all, just don't allow yourself to get worked up, and things really will work out.
posted by AV at 11:58 AM on March 8, 2007

Oh, hon, that's the military for you. Really! Not his fault.

My son is at USAFA and I can't tell you how many times his fellow cadets have lost money on weekend ski plans and such because Mother Blue requests the pleasure of their company for some last minute meetings, etc.

I also live near Ft Bragg (near enough to hear the sound of artillery and gunfire on the practice ranges) and last-minute orders are pretty much normal.

If you are truly interested in something longterm with this guy, you need to know what you are getting into.
posted by konolia at 12:00 PM on March 8, 2007

You are way overinvested, and you've got the crazies. Take some time to surf out the infatuation - do not involve him in this process, that is not how you get it out of your system - and then be ready to choose to be (not "find yourself") in a relationship with a person in the military, if you actually want to be, as a mature person who is braced to handle the very difficult circumstances that can come with a partner in the service.

Everybody gets the crazies now and then, so apologize and let that go and don't beat yourself up, and stop scrutinizing the past and start thinking harder about the future. You can turn around from this (not necessarily with him) and grow from the experience, but you need to decentralize yourself from everything a little bit.
posted by Lyn Never at 12:05 PM on March 8, 2007

yeah the crazies are only good if recipricated ... and even then it's iffy.

I know you like this guy, but make sure you're taking care of yourself first.
posted by kitalea at 12:07 PM on March 8, 2007

What kitalea said. I’m completely sympathetic, even to your feelings of embarassment — that’s an emotion we feel when we’re vulnerable.

But the fact that it happened and that it’s so difficult for you to manage suggests that the two of you are not a good match. If you two were to stay together, this would happen again and again and you would flip out again and again. Not fun for either of you.

In the future, with some other, more locally-bound guy, don’t e-mail him about how depressed you are when you’re disappointed about something he can’t do anything about. What’s he supposed to do? Feel bad because you’re feeling bad? (Why would you want someone you care about feel bad?)

You can’t make someone else responsible for your feelings. If there’s something both specific and reasonable that you’d like him to do, by all means say so. But someone deployed on a Navy ship in a time of war is too busy to lie around being depressed because a visit with an old girlfriend got cut off short. They just are.
posted by kika at 12:11 PM on March 8, 2007

What do you want here? If you seriously want to be this guy's girlfriend, and you're going to wait for him during these tough years, then I agree with those who say you should send a letter/e-mail saying you're so sorry about how things went. Then you need to not ever freak out again (even when he doesn't respond to your letter/e-mail- he's not lying when he says he's busy). If you're hoping that you can remain good friends and have flings occasionally, I think you can let it blow over and have a good time when he comes to visit in April. Know what you want, and see what he wants, and go from there. Maybe you're not cut out to be the girlfriend-in-waiting; maybe he's not interested in having one. For now, throw yourself into the rest of your life and deal with this as it goes.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 12:31 PM on March 8, 2007 [1 favorite]

Dating military guys is like this... and it always will be, regardless of vacation plans, long-term arrangements, anything. It's definitely hard to get used to, but you gotta go into it knowing what to expect. Honestly, it's horrible, but if you don't think that you can deal with that (and there's no shame if you can't) then don't start back up a relationship. Also, cell phones, emails, etc on ships are unreliable and when he says he's busy, he is. The only good thing about it is that you know he's not blowing you off for another girl or anything petty, but that he's serving his duty. If this is worth it, then you probably only have 5 years of this ahead of you and then it might be "smooth sailing."

oh and ps. no matter how depressed or upset you are, always play it cool, no matter what... esp. with guys who are so used to order and control... seriously
posted by CAnneDC at 1:04 PM on March 8, 2007

My friend's husband (they've been married less than 2 years, so they're still very much in the honeymoon phase) was just shipped out to the Philippines for eight months, with 72 hours notice. They've got two children, just bought a house, and -- among the hundreds of others plans affected -- had to cancel their long-planned anniversary vacation. All things considered, having to hang out by yourself for a day kind of pales in comparison, don't you think?

I don't say that to be harsh, I say it to confirm what plenty of others have mentioned: this is what it is like to be involved with someone in the military, period. It takes massive amounts of understanding, self-reliance, and flexibility to cope with. Those are important skills to have in any relationship, but they're even more crucial in relationships like this. If you are easily upset by instability, sudden change, or the lack of a partner's constant presence and/or reassurance, this is not the relationship for you.
posted by scody at 1:31 PM on March 8, 2007

What's bothering me most here is something I'm not reading.

I kept waiting to get to the part of the story where he comforted you and said "I'm sorry it turned out like this. I know how much you were looking forward to this and I know you're disappointed. We'll get together again as soon as we can." Now, maybe he did say all that and you just didn't happen to include it in your account. Maybe I'm inferring too much. But if he didn't, then I think you should ask yourself what it says about the relationship.
posted by Clay201 at 2:11 PM on March 8, 2007

ThePinkSuperhero: What do you want here?

So true it needs repeating. You don't state your goals in your question. Are you looking to stay with this guy long term? In a long-distance relationship? If so, you'll have to accept that he's in the military, he travels a lot, and he might have to cancel plans at the last minute. I doubt he likes it any more than you do, but that's the way it goes.

If you're not looking for a serious commitment, then just enjoy the time you have together, and don't expend so much emotional energy on all the drama.
posted by Gamblor at 2:29 PM on March 8, 2007

Response by poster: Wow, thanks everyone for all the great comments/advice. It truly has helped me a great deal! I do know that in the great scheme of things, what happened is not a big deal. But when it initially happened--especially right after he had to leave and I was all alone in a strange town--it was pretty terrible. It doesn't help not being able to talk to him, either. He's done being u/w next week, so I'll finally really be able to talk to him then.
The thing is, I'm not a depressive type person. But my irrational response was definitely a type of short-lived depression. I know because I have family who suffer from it, plus I had a short-lived bout of post-partum depression once. It's like I knew I should calm down and try and look at the big picture, but couldn't. I couldn't control those feelings.
And Tim did feel truly bad; he paid for my hotel for the weekend, he apologized and hugged me and seemed truly upset about the situation. He promised to make everything up to me. So no, Clay201, it isn't as though he just left and said "See ya, sorry about your luck!" :)
And Gamblor, I so want a serious commitment with this man. We've talked about it, and he did warn me from the start about what I'd have to deal with. Which is why I feel I have failed a huge test, but I have to move along and try and show him that now that I've experienced it, I know I handled it poorly but I have learned a lot from it and am prepared to handle it in the future. He is worth it to me. Big time!
The kicker is, I am the type who loathes clingy, too-much-togetherness types of relationships. I had a bad experience with a possessive person once, and I prefer being with someone where we can each have our own space. The difference in this case, though, was being so far from home. Had it happened while in my hometown, I could've dealt so much better.
posted by meggie78 at 3:16 PM on March 8, 2007

It's like I knew I should calm down and try and look at the big picture, but couldn't.

This requires practice, especially when you're not upset, so that next time something happens, you have the skills to deal with it. Think about it like carrying an umbrella with you everyday. It may not rain, but if it does, you'll be prepared.

So, make a plan. Next time you can't talk to him or see him, you'll call your old friend so-and-so. Or, you'll finish that novel you've meant to read. Or, you'll go biking with some friends.
posted by desjardins at 3:25 PM on March 8, 2007

It's like I knew I should calm down and try and look at the big picture, but couldn't. I couldn't control those feelings.

Here's a way to look at it that might make incidents like this more manageable: you don't have to control your feelings; you only have to control what you choose to do in response to those feelings.

In other words, if you're feeling lonely, sad, worried -- that's fine. You're allowed to feel those feelings. The question is, what's the response to those feelings that will actually bring you some comfort? You already know that calling/emailing him repeatedly won't do it. So do something else: call a friend whose shoulder you can cry on. Go to the gym or take a yoga class or take the dog for a walk. Distract yourself with a movie or a book.

Again, you don't have to control your feelings, but that doesn't mean they have to control you.

on preview: desjardins and I appear to have had the same therapist. ;)
posted by scody at 3:32 PM on March 8, 2007 [1 favorite]

Don't beat yourself up, meggie78. You didn't fail any test. You were so happy to see this guy that you were upset when you had to cut the visit short. That's sweet. Maybe you don't feel like you handled it as gracefully as you would have liked to, but now you've experienced it, and next time it won't be so rough.

Just play it off with a smile. Tell him, "Ok, I'm all done being emotional now. Is this what it's like to be a sailor's girlfriend? Maybe I'll have to find a local Army guy instead."
posted by Gamblor at 6:18 PM on March 8, 2007

Sounds like your guy is on a sub in Kings Bay? I'm on one in Bangor, same difference. Stuff like that happens. Usually to junior guys (but not always)--they need the experience and opportunity to work on their qualifications, so when a boat is short a guy or two, they get volunteered by their own boat to help out. I myself almost got tagged at 3pm for going out with another crew at 2am the next morning, just last week, and I have 18 years as of tomorrow. Someone else got picked instead, luckily. What I'm saying is, it's not his fault, he'd rather be with you.

What I recommend is, email him that you understand this. The imagination is your worst enemy on the boat. Your job (and his) is to leave nothing to the imagination. Email him exactly what you're thinking. Don't read anything into the speed or even existence of replies (until you know he's back in port). Email at sea is unreliable, and he may only be able to receive but not send, or not be able to receive at all for long periods. Don't write one email and then stop, unless he indicates that he's not interested, because he'll read significance into the fact that you're not emailing him any more. Don't panic. Email me (in profile) if you have any more questions/concerns or want to know what the sub life has in store for you both.
posted by ctmf at 11:07 PM on March 8, 2007

listen to scody, she is wise.
posted by canine epigram at 7:15 AM on March 9, 2007

You are human. You showed you liked him. That's what humans do. He may or may not understand. Just play it cool for a while and let him make contact again.
posted by Ironmouth at 9:57 AM on March 10, 2007

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