Help me feel more at ease about meeting up with an old flame
June 29, 2007 12:32 PM   Subscribe

I've re-connected with an old flame, who is now divorced. He's been off-limits for so long, but now wants to come visit me. I'm thrilled. I'm single. But I can't stop worrying that it will somehow fall apart and not happen.

Right after college, I came to (big east coast city) for grad school. I met and started dating a guy who was finishing a bachelor’s at music school. I had just gotten my bachelor’s in music and was in grad school for music, so we have this very much in common. Before we met, this guy, D, had already planned to move to (big west coast city) soon after his graduation. We dated for about a year, but during that time I was very drawn to (another musician), who kept me at arm’s length but then admitted he was interested too. Though I loved being with D, at the time, the other guy was more of what I thought I wanted. D wanted me to move with him, but I’d just gotten to the east coast and was in school. The timing was wrong.

D eventually moved to (west coast city), and we saw each other a few times the next few years (and most recently in 2003) and things were as intense as always. He started dating once he moved west (I was still dating other guy, though we eventually broke up), then got married. Outside sources thought the marriage was questionable from the beginning. We kept in touch, and that intensity was still apparent but not acted upon. It should be noted that we’re both still professional musicians. I have had several perfectly nice (but ultimately ended) relationships, but no marriage and no children.

A few years ago, he disappeared. Could not be found, and I tried very hard to find him. His phone #s were disconnected, his website – that listed all of his performances – was gone. I used all my sleuthing skills but couldn’t locate him. Thought of him often. Three weeks ago, he called me. Told me he’d gotten divorced. That in a very short span of time, he lost his wife (divorce), his house, his cat (died), and one of his music directorship jobs. He said that he went deep into depression and had sequestered himself but was coming out of it. He sounded very well.

He said he wanted to come visit me in August. I have been single for quite a while now and have thought of him all this time, but he’s been off limits, so I am very much looking forward to his visiting. We’ve talked several times and he’s assured me that he is absolutely coming, but I don’t think he has tickets yet. He’s made it clear that he is coming only to see me.

So, while we talk periodically, certainly not every day, and that’s fine. More than once, I’ve called or emailed and haven’t gotten a response for several days. He’s a busy musician and I’m busy as well. Things are very intense when we do speak. Yet I find myself VERY unnerved. I can’t really believe that he’s coming until he has tickets, and probably not even then. Because he disappeared for so long (though I understand the reasons). But more importantly, I think, because I fear a phone call like this:

“So…I’m really sorry, but I just started seeing someone and I don’t think it’d be fair to you for me to come visit. Sorry about that!”

...and then he’ll disappear again. And honestly, that would/will be very difficult for me. I think this is partially the result of having heard so many men say (and some women will confirm this about men) say that as soon as a man knows that a woman is interested in him, he is no longer interested. That it’s all about the chase. But I’ve gone with my gut. I don’t play games and I’m not playing them here. He knows I’m excited about his visit, and he says he is too. But if this “thrill of the chase” clause applies to all men, it’s bound to implode before he gets here.

Caveats – I’m 41, very savvy, not twisted up by insecurities but very much interested in dating again; I clearly understand that he’s coming out of a divorce and that we are in different places; there are no “biological clock” issues pressing here; I very much miss sex – it’s been too long.

I guess I’m just asking how best to process this. Should I expect that he isn’t coming and just be surprised if he does? Should I tell him my concerns?

Any input would be appreciated. If you’ve read all the way through – a gold star for you!
posted by FlyByDay to Human Relations (24 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite

"I can’t really believe that he’s coming until he has tickets, and probably not even then." This is smart of you.

I don't think it's best to assume he's not coming, because obviously you want him to come. Definitely tell him your concerns, because, heck, if you want to ever pursue a relationship with this guy, he's going to have to handle hearing about your feelings.

If it were me, I would tell him straight up: I know you've been going through a lot of changes in your life, and I'm excited at the idea of your coming to see me, but I need to know for sure if it's going to happen or not before I get my hopes up. So, when are you buying a ticket? When are you arriving?

I tend to deal with my friends in a loving but blunt way. That might not be your style, but I find that being straightforward about stuff causes a lot less hurt feelings in the long-term. Good luck.
posted by Zephyrial at 12:43 PM on June 29, 2007

". . . as soon as a man knows that a woman is interested in him, he is no longer interested."

As a man I can say that is not true at all for me or for my male friends. I expect he'll come and see you.
posted by D.C. at 12:45 PM on June 29, 2007

If he has turned in to a zombie since the last time you have seen him, then there is no doubt he will be interested in...YOUR BRAINS! ----

No really, everything will work out well. Just take things day-by-day...and good luck! :)
posted by strangelove at 12:49 PM on June 29, 2007 [2 favorites]

I think you might be better off assuming that he's coming to visit because he's trying to reconnect with a happier time in his life. Assume that he is *not* interested in you for romance, and *not* interested in you for anything other than catching up on old times.

If this turns out to be incorrect -- well, great! Perhaps something will happen. If not, and you've adjusted your expectations to a reasonable level, you won't be (very) disappointed.

However, if you find you're unwilling to adjust your expectations because you don't want to let go of the idea that he wants to hook up with me, that's a big red flag that your view of this potential relationship may not be realistic. You should be looking forward to seeing an old friend, not worried about him rejecting you when you don't even know if he's interested yet.

So, to answer your question: assume he might be visiting, and might not be visiting, and keep going with the plans you had for your life without him. If he shows up and something sparks, great, and if not, you haven't derailed your life for a fantasy.
posted by davejay at 12:49 PM on June 29, 2007

As a man I can say that is not true at all for me or for my male friends.

posted by davejay at 12:50 PM on June 29, 2007

Response by poster: Zephyrial, I'm with you. In fact, I found your response (and D.C.'s) so reassuring. I tend to be pretty blunt/honest too, I am, still single. So I do a lot of second guessing. That and the game-playing that I hear we're supposed to take part in ("don't tell him your serious feelings because that makes you a nag", "don't let him know you're interested", "men love the chase") - things that strike me as bullshit, but are repeated so often. Thanks!
posted by FlyByDay at 12:52 PM on June 29, 2007

Response by poster: Hi davejay: I should have made it clearer that he is definitely coming here to hook up. That has been very explicit. And I'm so down with that. Trying not to have expectations beyond that. If he shows up in the first place, that is.
posted by FlyByDay at 12:55 PM on June 29, 2007

Best answer: I guess I’m just asking how best to process this.

Sounds to me like you're processing this just fine: excited, but balanced and rational at the same time.

Should I expect that he isn’t coming and just be surprised if he does?

This is a smart, self-protective strategy - but it doesn't sound like this is truly how you feel. And that's OK. Its OK to expect that he follow through on his promise to visit, and its OK to be disappointed if he fails to show up. Why? Because this gives you useful information regarding your feelings for him and his behavior.

Should I tell him my concerns?

I think that you should make clear to him that you are expecting his visit, and will be disappointed if he fails to follow through. How he acts in response will give you some insight into what kind of person he has become, and how dependable he will be in whatever relationship you have with him in the future.
posted by googly at 12:55 PM on June 29, 2007

Best answer: Y'know, your being single doesn't mean that there's something wrong with you or your approach to life and other people. I mean, it's possible that there is, of course, but your single status doesn't mean that. So ease up on you, you.

And I agree with Zephyrial, and with several others. The whole "chase" thing is so 1954, or 1999, or some year I was either not born or busy nursing my child. Game-playing has no place in adult relationships.
posted by houseofdanie at 1:02 PM on June 29, 2007

If you are afraid that he won't come, he won't come.

(I say this out of the side of my mouth, as I am waiting and pining)
posted by banannafish at 1:10 PM on June 29, 2007

Response by poster: Thanks houseofdanie - these are all such great answers. I know - to me, gameplaying is not something adults do in relationships, and yet I keep hearing about "rules" that need to be followed, things that will turn men off like a lightbulb (expressing your feelings = nagging). I would prefer to deal with individuals as individuals.
posted by FlyByDay at 1:11 PM on June 29, 2007

Best answer: An old flame that's been on your mind quite a bit is no longer off-limits, and wants to come see you: sounds fantastic. Fantasy material, really. Relax and enjoy. I'm confused as to why you're worried about him putzing out at the last minute. Even if his plane crashes, I'd imagine the build-up alone would still make for a sweet memory. But it won't crash.
posted by kmennie at 1:12 PM on June 29, 2007

Response by poster: I'm confused as to why you're worried about him putzing out at the last minute.

Because I've lived through my share and more of "oops, sorry, I just found the perfect woman, and it's not you!"
posted by FlyByDay at 1:14 PM on June 29, 2007

i had an ex get in touch with me after a divorce. i think someone above nailed it: he's trying to reconnect with a happier time in his life.

that being said, he's a man, and presumably sex will be involved.

i would try to keep your expectations in check, though--it's possible that he was reaching out just to prove to himself that he could, that someone found him attractive. it may have been a rebound impulse that, after giving it some thought, he may realize he's unable to follow up on.

if he does come visit, you may have a great weekend together, and then, having purged his demons, he may never call again. or you may reconnect, fall in love all over again, and have a great relationship.

but i say go for it in all its full, messy glory. you might get hurt. you might not. but it sounds like a special opportunity.
posted by thinkingwoman at 1:14 PM on June 29, 2007

Best answer: I went through this with someone I had known 18 years before, and a friend of mine did as well. For me, I really had a lot of hopes about it because it felt so romantic... I wanted it to work out so well that when I finally had to admit that he was actually a gigantic asshole it really tore me apart. For my friend, they had a lot of chemistry at first but then it just faded because they live so far from eachother and had changed a lot since they knew eachother before.

Don't expect it to fail and create a self-fulfilling prophecy, but also don't go overboard with your expectations. There are plenty of relationships that begin this way and you might be lucky and have one of them. But you can't MAKE it happen if the ingredients aren't there for both of you. You can't force it, and if you do then you'll probably sabotage it. It's DEFINITELY not easy, but it's possible.

There's a story I try to remember whenever I find myself automatically thinking these kinds of things are doomed to fail. Have you ever heard the song Good Morning Heartache? Well I used to sing it so I was doing research on its background. I found an old People Magazine article about it, and apparently it was written about a specific girl the lyricist fell in love with as a teen but just couldn't forget. He lost all touch with her and they both got married. The song was a hit for Billie Holliday and many other people, and she had no idea it was about her. He still never forgot his love for her, and then like 40 years later, they found eachother. They were both widowed. The ended up getting married and spending the rest of their lives together. The article featured a really sweet picture of them in bed next to eachother with him giving her a rose.
posted by miss lynnster at 1:17 PM on June 29, 2007 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: he's trying to reconnect with a happier time in his life.

The thing that makes me believe that it's more than that is that we never actually broke up, per se - he just moved so we stopped seeing each other because of distance, but the intensity and feelings have continued through all of our relationships. We shall see...hopefully. I just want the opportunity to find out.
posted by FlyByDay at 1:20 PM on June 29, 2007

Is there a reason you can't fly out there, maybe for a three-day weekend, ASAP? Is there some reason that it is vital that it be him who does the traveling? If not, and you can afford it (or have some airline miles), I'd say strike while the iron is hot and you know both of you are single and interested.

Your concerns are totally valid, and would be shared by many if not most people in your situation. But you can't really resolve them by thinking about them. You will resolve this either by him arriving (or telling you that he is not coming), or by you grabbing the reins and taking charge of the situation. You could do that in a variety of ways: by buying yourself a ticket, by buying him a ticket, etc. The way you have described the current situation, however, makes you sound really passive -- he controls whether or not he comes out, he controls whether or not he is in communication, etc -- and that is fine, as long as you are happy with the ambiguity and lack of control that comes with this approach. If you want certainty and resolution, you will need to take a different approach.
posted by Forktine at 1:21 PM on June 29, 2007

By the way, one thing I'd say that is helpful is that while you have a lot of comfort there from your history you have to remember that this person will be a different person from the one you knew. You need to get to know eachother from scratch in some ways. Don't expect more perfection of him than you would from someone else, give him room to show you who he really is and for him to discover you. Take it slow and try to stay mellow. imagine that you're running a marathon & not a sprint because it'll be much better for the relationship in the long run.
posted by miss lynnster at 1:22 PM on June 29, 2007

Response by poster: Is there a reason you can't fly out there, maybe for a three-day weekend, ASAP?

Forktine, I actually love this idea theoretically. The reason he's not coming sooner and that I probably couldn't do this is that I have to move at the end of July and am in the process of finding a place, which will be followed by the hell that is moving into that place. I am also having to find and put up lots of $$ for a new apt in a very expensive area, where I live, so funds are restricted. He is also just moving (though he hasn't lived with his ex for a while). And we both have fairly busy performance schedules. I have been contacting him, but don't want to overdo it. For example, I haven't heard from him since Tues, and I've called once and sent a few text messages (his internet isn't yet up and running), but no response. Don't want to bombard him, but I'm also...pretty much the opposite of passive. The non-responses worry me.
posted by FlyByDay at 1:29 PM on June 29, 2007

Response by poster: Excellent advice all around, miss lynnster.
posted by FlyByDay at 1:30 PM on June 29, 2007

"I should have made it clearer that he is definitely coming here to hook up. That has been very explicit. And I'm so down with that. Trying not to have expectations beyond that. If he shows up in the first place, that is."

I think your reuniting for the purpose of having sex is a very bad idea. Admittedly, I'm 20 years older than you,; there may be a generation gap involved in my reaction. But it sounds like an invitation to a morning after debacle. You've got so much riding on this guy, you're bound to crash.
posted by Carol Anne at 1:37 PM on June 29, 2007

There was a classic This American Life episode titled "This thing called love" that recounts a story like yours, only moreso.

I suspect you aren't just worried that D will flake out on you: you want D to be The One, and are worried he might not be. There's no easy solution to that except for putting yourself out there and seeing what happens.

Anyhow, I suggest you listen to that episode (I suggest everyone listen to it), and that you get D to listen to it. It should provide a kernel for conversation that'll help you find whether you both are on the same page.

FWIW, the fact that you've had this almost-thing for so long, and that after a year hunkered down he surfaced to find you, seems like grounds for optimism to me. There are some guys for whom "it's all about the chase." These guys are what we call "cads."
posted by adamrice at 1:40 PM on June 29, 2007

Response by poster: I suspect you aren't just worried that D will flake out on you: you want D to be The One, and are worried he might not be.

Hmm, not really. At my age, any thought of my "the one" is tempered with lots of cold doses of reality and experience. It'd be nice, but I don't expect it. Esp since we haven't even been together yet.

I will check out that ep, though - I love TAL.

Yay for the non-cads!
posted by FlyByDay at 2:09 PM on June 29, 2007

Best answer: ". . . as soon as a man knows that a woman is interested in him, he is no longer interested."

I don't think this is true as stated, but I think I see why it sometimes looks that way:

I. It has in fact happened to many people where they pursued something, got it, and then as they get familiar with it, found it wasn't what they thought it was, or realized they valued something else more. This is human nature, it's a consequence of never having a perfect perception of the object of your interests, and an evolving understanding of what truly suits you personally.

II. Everybody has a different idea of how a relationship ought to progress, which milestones are important, acceptable time frames for moving between them. There may be some patterns that tend to coalesce around gender, but I think a lot of the time, there's other factors at work and people put down observed differences to stereotypes and easy conventional wisdom.

The milestones that involve the revelations of deep feelings or proposed commitment are especially tricky, and lots of people spook when they get brought up. There's real responsibility that goes with that territory, and if you're still in the process of developing your own feelings, that can be problematic. Now you're stuck between knowing that if you don't reciprocate, that'll cause some grief for the other party... but you may or may not have passed the milestones that tell you it's just fine. Lots of people have had this happen to them. Some people simply bail at this point to avoid the complications, supporting the conclusion that tipping one's hand about serious interest is a good way to end a relationship.

There is no way I know of to guarantee these things will never happen to you. They probably happen reasonably frequently. Hence the common wisdom.

The good news is that you can do things to reduce the likelihood of those things coming up as a problem. You're over 40, you probably know what most of these are. Be the kind of person who gives people space to reach their own conclusions and who can respect them. Be an explorer of the uncharted territory many developing relationships represent, and a seer of sights along the way. Be the kind of person who understands differences between affection and invitation and obligation. "Be ye therefore wise as serpents and harmless as doves" -- make allowances for realities human nature without giving up your efforts to transcend them, both within yourself and within others and in the relationships you cultivate.

In this case, that probably means stepping back, realizing this person you think you know might be different than you expect, and that signing up for the tour through that may take you through a few twists you don't expect. It's OK. You can get off if you really need to.

Should I expect that he isn’t coming and just be surprised if he does?

It's probably worth it to invest in hope even when the vagaries of human nature make it clear that sometimes, this is vain. Most investments are sometimes.

Should I tell him my concerns?

No. That will almost certainly complicate things right now. Recognize they're there, find the best anchors you can put in place to help you deal with them, but wait to involve him until it looks like he's working on the same problem... or until waiting any longer to involve him would likely complicate things further.

On preview: what miss lynster said.
posted by weston at 3:05 PM on June 29, 2007 [5 favorites]

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