How can I check myself so I don't lose what may be my last chance?
July 26, 2007 12:19 PM   Subscribe

I'm being given a second chance by my ex-boyfriend. Please help me not screw it up.

My boyfriend broke up with me a a few months ago. I won't go into all the reasons why, but trust me when I say that it was my fault (no cheating, but basically I was playing major head games and generally just not being a very good person). In the end, I begged him to stay and promised I would shape up, but he left.

I resolved to move on and we both started dating other people.

I ended up doing a lot of work on my own character issues that led to our breakup. Prayer, meditation, and lots of introspection. I can confidently say that I have no desire to be that way again.

We began corresponding again awhile after the breakup, and it was apparent he still had feelings for me and vice-versa. We hung out as friends.

He says he's ready to give it a go again, as long as we take it from square one. This means we'll be going out on dates again and for now, not in an exclusive relationship. We have our "first date" coming up next week.

I'm worried I'll screw it up this time not because of the same issues in the past, but because I won't be able to take it from square one per se.

I want him back and I don't want to see anyone else, but I can't be desperate and emotional. I have to be as I would on a first or second date. But I'm sure if I follow my instincts I'll end up crying and begging for him back all the way.

So basically, how can I control myself emotionally while I'm with him again? I need to be fun, flirty, sincere, and in control. Not crying, begging, and needy.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (25 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
I don't think it's possible to pretend that it's a first or second date with someone new, nor, really, should you.

Why are your instincts to cry and beg? You tried that before - and it didn't work. Reminding yourself of that fact may be helpful.

Trying to put on an act may just ramp up your anxieties and fears. Acknowledge to yourself that yes, this is a big chance, but you're just going to see how it goes, live in the moment, and assume for the moment that this is an experiment. It's a chance, a possibility -- not a fore-gone conclusion.

Go out with the attitude that you're adjusting to a new way of being. Take it slowly. Don't force it.
posted by canine epigram at 12:31 PM on July 26, 2007

Keep doing what you are already doing, that's working. If meditation is helping you cope with him going out with his mates (for example) then keep meditating. Just take it one day at a time.
posted by Rabulah at 12:33 PM on July 26, 2007

Try to let go of the self-recriminations; take pride in who you are now and how far you've come. Once your self-esteem is back where it should be, you'll be fun, flirty, sincere and in control, all without trying (much). Although at that point you may be so far removed from desperation and neediness that getting this guy back may no longer seem like such a big deal.
posted by kittens for breakfast at 12:33 PM on July 26, 2007 [2 favorites]

Keep in mind the importance of being who you are. It can be all too easy to try and be what he wants you to be, especially since you may feel this is your last chance with him.

Ultimately, being anything other than yourself will end up backfiring in time. Don't make the mistake or doing and being for him.
posted by NationalKato at 12:39 PM on July 26, 2007

So basically, how can I control myself emotionally while I'm with him again? I need to be fun, flirty, sincere, and in control.

Act. You ever wanted to pretend your Mae West? Now's your chance. If West isn't your speed, try another female you admire. The goal is still be you of course, but with a bit of flair and fun, something different.

Baring that, what were you like on the original first date? Perhaps try that.

Baring THAT, go on a double date, bring some friends along, especially a girlfriend for you to keep you comfortable. Do something totally fun, like skeetball, shoot pool, amusement park. The goal is just to have fun.

Relax. All you can do is be your new, improved self.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 12:45 PM on July 26, 2007 [1 favorite]

I want him back and I don't want to see anyone else, but I can't be desperate and emotional. I have to be as I would on a first or second date.

No, you don't. You have to be as you are on a first or second date with this guy you used to be close to. This isn't play-acting, and it's not like he doesn't know it's you.

So that means yes, you shouldn't end up in bed or being super-comfortable-intimate, but you'll certainly know more about each other because you've been intimate in the past, and your shared history will mean the conversation will go to places completely different from two strangers getting to know one another for the first time.

Honestly, just stop stressing and remember that you've made significant personal improvements for you, not for him; you didn't think he'd ever come back. So the fact that he does want to give it a go means that (a) your improvements are noticeable, so good for you on the effort! and (b) if you change your behavior now to keep you ex around, you'll probably have a lot less success (or even regress) compared to sticking with it for you rather than him.

Good luck, and if it totally blows up? You're still a better person than you were, and your ex is likely not the only one who's noticed.
posted by davejay at 12:48 PM on July 26, 2007 [2 favorites]

Struggle to maintain whatever independent sense of self you have achieved. It's so tempting to let the relationship eat you alive.

Whatever you've been doing - working out, fostering friendships, some fun hobby - it seems to be making you happy. Keep it up and don't let the relationship take over your life. It's fun to be with people who have something of their own to talk about and it's fun to have something of your own to "escape" to when you need to remember who you are.
posted by MiffyCLB at 12:49 PM on July 26, 2007

Seconding canine epigram. It's been my experience that you can ever really go back to square one with someone who've you've shared experiences with. I don't think we can ever wipe the slate clean and start again, but I do think that learning from the past, incorporating a new awareness of oneself and choosing actions rather than reacting can make all the difference in the world. Have some faith in your newfound self. If you feel yourself backsliding into unhealthy behaviors, try to stay conscious and ask yourself, "what am I feeling" or "what is triggering this response"?

You both still have feelings for each other, so take it slow to establish a solid foundation of mutual respect and trust. Be honest with yourself and with him. And then let it go where it's going to go. Someone once said to me (or it's a famous quote, I'm not sure), it's not the destination, but the journey. Don't be so busy trying to win the grand prize that you forget to live in the now.

That's all I got. Good luck.
posted by kelzabel at 12:51 PM on July 26, 2007 [1 favorite]

Not crying, begging, and needy.

To not cry, beg, or be needy, you need to look at what drives those behaviors -- you cannot simply put a lid on them and expect to be fun, flirty, and in control.

For example, is the crying driven by the fear of losing him, or frustration/anger when you can't have your way? Is the begging driven by a need to have a guarantee or promise of some kind (e.g., "yes, we'll be together forever") -- in other words, do you have a low tolerance for ambiguity or the unknown? Do you get needy because you're scared of being alone, or because you're threatened by his friends? (By the way, Anon, none of these are accusations -- just random thoughts I'm brainstorming.)

In other words, if the crying comes from a fear of being abandoned, what you'll need to do to address that feeling before you get to the point of crying is quite different than what you need to do if your crying is a way of having a tantrum when you can't have your way.

In the end, I believe it's a matter not so much of "controlling" your emotions when you're with him as it is recognizing and addressing your emotions in a healthy manner whether you are with him or not.

on preview: Why are your instincts to cry and beg? You tried that before - and it didn't work. Reminding yourself of that fact may be helpful.

This is an excellent point. The main way I finally learned to quit pouting in relationships about minor (and sometimes not-so-minor) stuff was to look at it this way: did pouting actually ever get me what I wanted? The answer was almost invariably NO. So I stopped doing it, because it didn't work, and started doing something that does work: speaking up directly when I'm bugged about something. (Example: "honey, when you're late for dinner like this, I get pissed off." Result: my boyfriend is much better about being on time, or calling when he's running late.)

posted by scody at 12:56 PM on July 26, 2007 [5 favorites]

Don't just act--rehearse. Rehearse how the dinner can go in your mind, all the many different ways the conversation could go to push your buttons and get an overly-emotive response from you. Lose yourself in the imaginary date so you actually feel those feelings, and rehearse silently calming yourself down and retaining your decorum. Of course it won't stick to any script you come up with in your head, but what you want to do is, as best you can, get accustomed to the emotional stimulus and rehearsed in the response you want to have (instead of the reflexive response you don't want to have).

Of course getting through dates 1-3 or whatever is easy. Not falling back into old thought-patterns and behaviors once you're back together (or, as that is inevitable, negotiating a coping strategy/plan-of-action with him and sticking with it) would be the hard part.
posted by Martin E. at 12:58 PM on July 26, 2007

How about honesty combined with maturity?

"Bill, I'm happy you want to give this a go. I do too. I'm worried that I'll screw things up by getting overly emotional. I'm going to try not to, because I realize that would be manipulative and unfair to you. If I start to screw up, please call me on it. If I cry, try to ignore my tears. I want to get past them."
posted by grumblebee at 1:07 PM on July 26, 2007 [3 favorites]

I don't think you should try to control your feelings (is that even possible?), but instead work on controlling your actions. Your insides can be riding that emotional rollercoaster every minute of your date, but your actions should be following the fake-it-till-you-make-it acting school. That means being really self-aware, rather than being totally impulsive and going with the flow, but from your description that self-awareness forms the basis of all the changes you've made, so I don't think that this will be any real stretch for you.

I kind of like Brandon Blatcher's suggestion of pretending to be someone who acts like you want to be acting. Is there a movie or book character who is, to you, the personification of cool and awesome and fun? Then, at least for a bit, run your actions past the filter of that character as a test -- would that person burst into tears and run outside and kick over her (ex)boyfriend's motorcycle, or would she do something else?

But of course this only works if this faking-it on the way to making-it is pretty close to the new real you, the in-control, happy with herself, and really cool person you want to always be. Too far apart, and it will not only look fake, but the Potemkin girlfriend facade will crumble, and that isn't good for you or for him.
posted by Forktine at 1:08 PM on July 26, 2007

I've been in the same situation. It sucks. For the love of god try to relax. When it happened to me, I couldn't think about anything else, over analyzed EVERYTHING. That's the last thing you want to do. Be busy, know what you want with him and realize how you have to be, but don't dwell on it beyond that. This isn't in your control, unfortunately. Know that if this doesn't work out, you'll still be okay. After I realized that, it took a lot of pressure off and I was able to just BE with him. I knew that I was doing my best, and that was all I could do. If it didn't work out, then that really is a shame, but what else can you do now? You learn.
posted by heavenstobetsy at 1:26 PM on July 26, 2007

I'm seconding scody's suggestions that you examine your fears. Why is it that you expect yourself to react in such emotional ways? It seems as though you're working very hard to control yourself because you're being driven by what you feel you need from this person. Remember: you don't need anything from him in order to survive and be happy. You have started to learn how to do that on your own. Don't go into this consumed by need or the feeling that there has to be a certain endgame. How can you be sure that a long-term relationship with him is even the most right or healthy or productive thing for you? You can't know. You don't know. You didn't last time. And that's why you've agreed to start at square one again.

So you're in square one. Be there. Carry on your other activities. Continue to work on yourself. When you're spending time with the guy, ask yourself how it feels. Do you feel balanced, calm, and happy? Or anxious, nervous, and confused? Which feels better?

"If I start to screw up, please call me on it. If I cry, try to ignore my tears. I want to get past them."

While this might work and I honor the sentiment, I'd be wary of saying that in so many words. The reason I say that is that if I heard it, I'd hear it as a sign that someone else was trying to get me to do their emotional work for them. Imagine hearing that on a first date! Or imagine hearing "I'm an alcoholic and really working on changing. So if you see me order a drink, call me on it!" In the boyfriend's shoes, this request would sound like someone trying to enlist me to help manage their emotions, something a new partner should not be expected to have to do.
posted by Miko at 1:26 PM on July 26, 2007

Don't act or rehearse. Playing headgames and the like stems from your own negative feelings about yourself. The only way to make this work is to be you, but a you free of negative feelings. And that won't happen because you want your boyfriend back or because you beg. It will happen because you have the utter courage to actually re-make yourself, to make changes that feel close to your core identity.

It takes time and all sorts of Buddhist "letting go" bullshit for it to happen. (Believe me I'm not there yet.) It's basically all this giving up of attachments for their own sake.

Most importantly this sort of change takes more than a few months. This is why it might not be likely to work the first time around.

When you do get back together it will take positivity from the boy, too. He needs to be getting back with you because you're good, because he wants to - not out of some forbearance or high-minded sympathy.

The best solution is to look at this with him over the long term, to develop a common means of communication about your and his feelings, and just to have empathy and support for each other. I hope it works out for you - but don't expect instant results, particularly from acting.

Role models are a good idea - but Mae West is Mae West because she LOVED herself, she WAS herself, she was dripping with self-confidence, and she was NOT instantly accepted. She earned that personality through experience.
posted by By The Grace of God at 1:32 PM on July 26, 2007

Some great advice above.

On a tangential, but also important, note, I would suggest you prepare in your head that there will be times when your previous behavior will come back to haunt you. I was in a similar situation to you - I treated a girl poorly, regretted it, and we got back together.

I was a much better guy this time around, but she would get in funks where she remembered a lot of the BS from the past and I didn't handle that well; I was very stressed out. It eventually ended because of that.

So prepare for the possibility that something like this will come up. If you're mentally prepared for it, so much the better.
posted by PFL at 1:45 PM on July 26, 2007

Your question comes across a little like he is Dean of Admissions at a college you flunked out of and now want to be readmitted to.

This is not the case. In the context of your relationship you are every bit as important as he is, whatever bad things you think you may have done.

Be yourself and have your true feelings. If that's not what he wants, then he's not what you want.
posted by jamjam at 1:59 PM on July 26, 2007

I want him back and I don't want to see anyone else, but I can't be desperate and emotional. I have to be as I would on a first or second date. But I'm sure if I follow my instincts I'll end up crying and begging for him back all the way.

So basically, how can I control myself emotionally while I'm with him again? I need to be fun, flirty, sincere, and in control. Not crying, begging, and needy.

I have to say, this really sounds to me like you haven't necessarily worked through everything, and it might be a bit optimistic to think you guys can start fresh after only a few months of "prayer, meditation and introspection". I'm not saying it's impossible, but have you considered an external therapist, or seriously pursuing relationships or interests unrelated to this boyfriend? If you are really going to start from a new place with this guy, you should not be offering him an act.

If your inclination is still to cry and beg, then even though you can see that your emotional manipulation was wrong, you might be likely to fall into the same patterns even so. What is important in an emotionally healthy relationship is that both partners feel secure in who they are and what they want and deserve in the relationship. If you already feel desperate and needy before the first date, I think you still have work to do on the revamp before I'd give this idea the thumbs up. If you're ready for a second chance, you will be ready to go on a second first date without crying and freaking out. Just tell him you want to date him at some point, but you still need a little time to get your act together. Maybe he'll wait, maybe he'll date other people - don't worry about it. You should concentrate on you.
posted by mdn at 2:07 PM on July 26, 2007

"Bill, I'm happy you want to give this a go. I do too. I'm worried that I'll screw things up by getting overly emotional. I'm going to try not to, because I realize that would be manipulative and unfair to you. If I start to screw up, please call me on it. If I cry, try to ignore my tears. I want to get past them."

Saying anything close to this is manipulative and unfair to him as well.
posted by 23skidoo at 2:25 PM on July 26, 2007

This story sounds very worrying. I suggest you refuse to play his silly games, and see a proper relationship counsellor. Well, really, my advice is run a mile, but if you insist you want to try again with him, then seek professional help.

A situation that has involved you "begging" and may do so again, and him imposing strange conditions does not sound a recipe for an equitable partnership. If you truly want to be a doormat, why not go off and look for some nicer feet?
posted by Idcoytco at 5:23 PM on July 26, 2007

Just relax and be yourself.

Here is an idea to explore. The idea of a date with this guy doesn't seem like "fun," but instead seems like "work."

If the reward at the end - having this guy be your boyfriend - is the only thing that is making the idea of going on a few light dates with the guy even tolerable, maybe you ought to rethink it a bit. Do you really want to be dating this person? Or are you just so desperate for a feeling of security that you'll take whatever comes along, no matter how distasteful you find it?
posted by ikkyu2 at 5:24 PM on July 26, 2007

The first thing is to grant yourself Unconditional Self Acceptance. That means saying--ok, my behavior was bad, but I as a person cannot be inherently bad.

Part of the reason you are so desperate might be that you are still condemning yourself for some of the things you have done. Once you can accept yourself no matter what you do, you can relax and realize that this might not work out but that won't mean that you are a terrible person.

That makes it more likely that it will.
posted by Ironmouth at 5:57 PM on July 26, 2007

I havent been through the specific situation your referring to.. however I have been through a period of change and growth ... pretty much becoming a newer better person.

My advice...

---as others have said.. continue doing whats working for you. if thats meditation or praying or introspection.. continue doing it. Especially on the days that these new "dates" are happening. Hopefully it will help you stay "centered" and relaxed.

---remember.. this is the "new you".. not the "old you"... Keep that in the forefront of your mind. While you may have a history with this man,... keep it as a fond memory but dont let it influence your current behavior. Slow down and think before you do things.. "How would Me 2.0 handle this?" (instead of the old "me 1.0")...

--lastly.. perhaps buy a new outfit/clothes. Nothing helps me feel more confident and flirty than a new outfit that makes me look good. It'll definitely help you stay positive.

Good Luck in your growth and adventures :)
posted by jmnugent at 6:37 PM on July 26, 2007 [1 favorite]

You should keep in mind that these "clean slate" dates are just as much for you to figure out if this relationship would work again as they are for him to figure that out. Right now, you're approaching this from the mindset that this is The Guy for you and you need to jump through whatever hoops to prove to him that you're worth taking back. This is the wrong way to think about it.

After all, didn't you ever have a crush on or relationship with someone when you were younger that you look back on now and think, "oh my, what did I ever see in him/her?" You scratch your head, because in your memory this person was the cat's meow, and you just can't for the life of you see what you used to see. This happens to most people at some point, and it's not so much an indication of the bad taste of youth as it is of the fact that as we grow and mature, what we want out of a relationship changes.

If you have done the introspection and growth that you talk about in your question, it may well be that this guy is no longer as perfect for you as you remember. *Especially* if he (intentionally or not) pushes all those insecurity buttons that encourage you to regress to your old behaviors. Regardless of how nice he may be, if you can't be in this relationship without going back to all those manipulative behaviors, this just isn't the right relationship for you. You need to focus on doing right for yourself.

Just keep in mind that you're evaluating whether this relationship is right for you as well on those dates, and that will help keep you on an even keel--you're not trying to measure up for him; you're trying to figure out whether you too are still compatible if you're not quite the same person as you were before.
posted by iminurmefi at 5:40 AM on July 27, 2007

But I'm sure if I follow my instincts I'll end up crying and begging for him back all the way.

You need to give yourself a big pep talk.

You: Hey, Self. I'm pretty excited about this date with ExDude. And may I say, oof, I've got butterflies.

Insecure Self: Isn't going to be weird, trying to have a first date with an ex? Sounds awkward.

You: Well, we'll get to talk about what's new in our lives, but with the backup of [insert common interests here] to guard against awkward pauses. And the difference between "date" and "friends" is a good excuse to stare goofily into his eyes again, right?

Insecure Self: But what if you get all nervous and panic and say whiny things? Sheesh, be careful not to fuck up.

You: Hey, Insecure Self, shut up. That's not cool. I've got prayer, meditation, and lots of introspection on my side this time. And hey, people grow up. What, am I still in trouble for that time I made that girl Ashley cry by telling her she looked like a milkmaid in her first-day-of-third-grade outfit, too? WTF?

Insecure Self: Okay, okay. Hey, I'm just trying to lower your expectations in case this doesn't work out.

You: Well, that's no way to have a nice evening, now is it.?! Hey, for all I know, we give this a shot and it turns out that we really are just friends now and that there's too much water under the bridge. But there's no need to sabotage my date.

Insecure Self: Sorry. I just...

You: [interrupting] Fine. Now, shoo!

[exit Insecure Self with a muffled whfrooomp!]

Anticipatory Self: Hey, you. Did it occur to you that this "we're on a date thing" is

You: Yeah, a little. But it was making me nervous.

Anticipatory Self: Hey, enjoy the butterflies.

You: Any other advice?

Anticipatory Self: Sure. Um, let's see. Look totally cute, but not too "trying too hard" about it. For the love of god, don't drink too much. Don't talk about what went wrong before or try to "prove" that you're different now. The past iteration of the relationship is NOT a topic of conversation. Period. And have fun, kid.
posted by desuetude at 7:02 AM on July 27, 2007

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