after breaking up will he change his mind?
August 5, 2008 8:56 AM   Subscribe

Can any of you men out there help me translate this situation and maybe give me some guidance as to how to go forward? I was dumped by my boyfriend of a year-and-a-half without warning

and his reason was this: "I don't want a relationship of any kind. I just want to be in my own space and spend my time with my son and my dogs." But then he added that I am his best friend, he thinks I'm fabulous, respects me more than any other human, thinks I'm beautiful and wants me to stay his friend because "we are excellent at being friends."
I am devistated and heartbroken. He can give me no reason other than wanting his space back.

The relationship, from the very get-go, was easy and comfortable and romantic and full of sparks and sex and laughter. We never had an argument or disagreement about anything. Our children (each have one) love each other and each of us.

It was a pretty casual relationship and we didn't see each other every day. When we were together we were close physically, holding hands, hugging, smooching, always smiling and laughing. The sex was great, too. Really great. Neither of us want to get married again and the road we were on together seemed just the right one.

We were very protective of the kids and only had overnights if there weren't any around. We each believed we were a gift to the other from the universe for some great deed performed in a different life. "all that and a bag of chips" if you will.

So after a fabulous weekend together he called me Thursday to say he needed to "air some things out." We had a deal that neither would require the other to guess the thoughts and he said he needed to talk because he was having some thoughts he didn't want me to guess.

Bomb dropped after dinner. Break up. Stop it cold. No discussion. His own space. No relationship of any kind, with anyone. No reason. No incident. No other person. No nothing just KABLAM! Over. But would I be his best friend.

Two things have happened in the last few months. One is that he switched, very slowly and under doctor supervision, from Zoloft to Cymbalta. He says that on the Cymbalta he feels better than he has ever felt, his back doesn't hurt (he had a paralyzing back injury 10 years ago, rehabbed back to full function but has had chronic, horrible back pain since the accident) for the first time in 10 years and now he wants to be alone. I truly believe this isolation is a side-effect from the meds but he doesn't and it's not my place to say. He didnt' tell his doctor that we broke up. Just tells him he "feels great". The other thing was that a few months ago I left for a two week job training out-of-state. I missed him terribly. He told me he missed me. Our reuinion was sweet and passionate. But on D-day he told me that while I was gone he realized I was much more into his "space" than he wanted me to be and now he wants it back.

I am not a smotherer. Yes, I enjoyed his company greatly. I have my own life, am independent (sometimes to a fault), am a single mother, have a great (and demanding) job, two actually. But he was so fabulous that I rearranged some priorities to spend more time with him.

I asked him to change his mind. To try this with a pull-back plan and not spend so much time together. He said "no".

Help me! I have tried to stay his friend but it is too painful to be in his company and pretend that I don't want to be close. When we are together it feels exactly the same: easy, fun, full of laughter and smiles, comfortable, close, smart but without the hand-holding and kissing.

We are in our 40s, both divorced, both had given up on finding someone and this was so right, so good, so fabulous. Why, then, would a smart, passionate, compassionate, loving man throw this away without any reason other than wanting to be alone?

Is he just that damaged and broken from his horrible ex?
Is he protecting me from something so therefore not telling me some horrible thing I did wrong or didn't do?

He said he doesn't have a single mean thing to say to me or about me. He still finds me attractive and sexy but doesn't want to have sex. He's a real gentleman and a casual sexual relationship, in his mind, is disrespectful and so therefore not an option. And I'm not going to demean myself by asking for one anyway.

He emails me a dozen times a day. If I'm late to reply he sends "where are you? are you okay? messages."
Help. Translate this for me. I don't speak boy!

Our paths are going to cross a lot. Our kids go to the same school. We swim at the same pool. We walk our dogs the same places. We live in the same neighborhood. Do I just stay away and let my fire fizzle? Is there hope that he'll realize he threw away something so very fabulous and beg for it back? Do I chalk this up to another broken heart that didn't kill me? Anyone familiar with Cymbalta and will the isolation necessity wane and he'll realize he doesn't want to be alone?

posted by theobromine_ady to Human Relations (59 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
He won't change his mind, move on with your life. </thread>
posted by godisdad at 9:09 AM on August 5, 2008 [5 favorites]

It sucks, but it sounds like he'd just prefer to be alone than in a relationship with you. And if he can, he's going to try to have the best of both worlds, by keeping you around for when he's in the mood to act like he's in a relationship with you (minus the sex.) You should probably move on if you want a real relationship.

I'm not a doctor, but I can't imagine this has much to do with the Cymbalta.
posted by callmejay at 9:12 AM on August 5, 2008 [2 favorites]

If he does change his mind and wants you back, will you trust him or will you spend the days ahead waiting for him to break up with you again? Why would you do this to yourself?

It sounds very painful, but the only way you're going to be able to move on is to move on. Don't answer his emails, don't go to the pool, find a different path to walk the dog.

Don't be a doormat. It sets a bad example for your kids.
posted by Sweetie Darling at 9:14 AM on August 5, 2008 [3 favorites]

I asked him to change his mind.

My question to people with that kind of situation is Do you really want to be in a relationship where you have to convince the other person to be with you?

"we are excellent at being friends."

Um, I used that line on my ex recently because I had fallen out of love with him.... I did/do enjoy spending time with him and we did/do get along really well, but there was no spark or passion or lovey emotion anymore. I had been trying for a while to 'fall back in love' but I didn't. From my perspective it was nicer to him in the long run to cut him loose and have both our lives move on.
posted by gwenlister at 9:15 AM on August 5, 2008 [2 favorites]

I think a good rule of thumb for any breakup is to assume the other person will not change their mind. I am not familiar with Cymbalta, but you could take the sentence "I think he really loves me, it's just the Cymbalta," and substitute almost anything for the word Cymbalta: ex-wife,long work hours, alcohol, etc. The upshot is the same, and I think you'll be a lot better off if you just take him at face value, chalk it up to experience, and try to move on.
posted by lunasol at 9:16 AM on August 5, 2008 [5 favorites]

It's petty and I hate to suggest it, but, work the jealousy angle perhaps? Find a new beau and see how he reacts, if you really want to know if he's still interested in you beyond friendship, or can be thrust into it? Plus, who knows, maybe you can find someone else that makes you happy.
posted by alcoth at 9:16 AM on August 5, 2008

What do you want? Do you want to get back together, or do you want closure?

I think in either case the best thing you can do is cut off all contact. It doesn't sound like it is good for you, since you've essentially not broken up, you've just suddenly transitioned into a sexless and loveless relationship with the same amount of contact you had before.

Stay away.
posted by miss tea at 9:18 AM on August 5, 2008 [4 favorites]

I think that what may be happening is that he is starting to reflect on himself. Introspection, and this is difficult when someone else is around, particularly someone without great empathy. Yes, you don't have empathy, otherwise you would have seen this one coming, and anyways , I can read in your post that you only see the surface of things, and not the depth.

To make him miss you, you have to stop seeing him physically, but be there for him emotionally. Tell him that you cannot see him anymore, as you want a lover, and not a friend, then just stay at your home. Answer emails, answer the phone, say hi on the street, but let him do his thing.

It will take months, but he will come around. To become valuable, you have to become scarce.

(By the way, all those things you claim such as "we believed we are gifts to each other" if those words came from you and he simply agreed with what you said, then that was a very wrong thing to say. There's a reason women play coy and hard-to-get: that's what turns men on. If you are just open and obvious and too affectionate, then you lose value)
posted by ChabonJabon at 9:19 AM on August 5, 2008 [3 favorites]

I'm a boy. It sounds to me like he doesn't want a relationship of any kind. He just wants to be in his own space and spend my time with his son and his dogs. But he still wants to be your friend.

So give him some space, but be his friend. It seems like you're pretty torn up about it, so maybe let him know that, in a way that says "if that's really what you want, OK, but you should know that I don't feel the same way." Maybe he's been feeling this way for awhile, he just hasn't wanted to tell you, whereas you're convinced that something must have happened recently to cause him to switch.
posted by rjacobs at 9:20 AM on August 5, 2008

I think it's important to remember that it might have been nothing at all you did wrong. It might not be the medication, the situation, the kids, or the dogs either; he might just enjoy being alone.

I'd suggest being cordial, as I'm sure you have been, and giving him the space he needs. Either he'll get it and ask you to understand that he has this issue with personal space, or he won't and you're really none the worse for wear. If the former happens, proceed with caution - your emotions and needs are worth prioritizing, too. If the latter happens, you've still got a life. Proceed with that.

What I would suggest you NOT do is wait around for him. If it's too hard to be 'best friends', respect your earlier agreement to be honest and tell him that. He's asking a lot of you here, IMHO, and you should give yourself the emotional latitude to acknowledge your discomfort with the situation. Don't move or take your kids out of school or stop swimming where you like just to avoid him, but don't force yourself into an uncomfortable situation just to make things seem cool in from of him either. You are allowed to have feelings.
posted by Pecinpah at 9:21 AM on August 5, 2008 [4 favorites]

I truly believe this isolation is a side-effect from the meds

Having been on both Zoloft and Cymbalta, I truly don't. I truly believe you want to truly believe this. I'm sorry. I'm a girl but I speak pretty good "boy" and I've learned to trust that men usually mean what they say. Even if they don't, what good does it do you to try to drag the truth out of him? If he says he needs his space, trying to get him to admit that he really doesn't is going to exacerbate that need for him. Give it to him. It's the loving thing to do.
posted by desjardins at 9:21 AM on August 5, 2008 [6 favorites]

Best answer: Sadly, the only one who knows what's really going on in your guy's head is him. All that the men of metafilter can do is guess - and you'll get any number of competing ideas.

In the end, none of that matters. He broke up with you, for reasons even he may not be able to articulate to himself yet, he's not willing to reconsider, and you want to know how to go forward.

My advice is this.

First, stop being his friend. Be honest and tell him that it's just too painful for you right now, and that you need your space and time to heal. Ask him to respect that and stop emailing you. His behavior is sending cruel mixed messages, whether he's aware of it or not, and he clearly has stuff to work out for himself. Remove yourself from the middle of that.

Once you've asked him to lay off the contact, do likewise. Stop emailing him. Delete or file his emails. Change those other priorities back to where they were before. If you feel the urge to call or email him, call or email a good friend instead.

Since you live nearby and your lives are already entwined by kids and dogs, be polite but distant when you see him. Don't get dragged into long conversations, and if he tries, politely make an excuse and move on. If you have to, take a friend when you go to the pool or walk the dog. You shouldn't have to alter your routines, but it may help initially - just remember you have every right to be in those spaces whether or not he's there.

Be kind to yourself - something like this is inexplicable. While it's possible that in time, he'll realize what a mistake he made, you need to start from the assumption that it's over with a capital O. And even if he did come back begging, the fact that he brooked no discussion, no thought of compromise or a middle ground bodes ill for any future relationship, so you'd want to talk that over very, very carefully before proceeding.

( I will admit that in the early days of my relationship with my now wife, years ago, I pulled something similar, not being fully recovered from a nasty breakup, and freaking out at the prospect of a deepening relationship. That's my excuse anyhow and no medication was involved. Two days later I called her and grovelled. She took a few days to think it over, and fortunately gave me another chance after some long heartfelt talks. However, we'd been dating months, not over a year. )
posted by canine epigram at 9:23 AM on August 5, 2008 [31 favorites]

I have gotten the "I just can't be in a relationship right now but you're amazing, and I don't want to lose your friendship" speech every single time I've been dumped. Every. Time. And every time it boiled down to a combination of let-her-down-easy and the guy not wanting to have a girl hate him because, hey, it bruises the ego. It's not always this way for everyone, but I suggest giving him that space and staying away for a while. No phone calls. No email. It'll give him what he says he wants, and it will you give you time to clear your own head and decide if you even want to continue with this guy on any level.
posted by katillathehun at 9:24 AM on August 5, 2008 [4 favorites]

Now [Esteban] discovered that secret from which one never quite recovers, that even in the most perfect love one person loves less profoundly than the other. There may be two equally good, equally gifted, equally beautiful, but there may never be two that love one another equally well.
--Thornton Wilder; The Bridge of San Luis Rey

posted by weapons-grade pandemonium at 9:28 AM on August 5, 2008 [22 favorites]

He doesn't want to be in a relationship with you. He's trying to find a way to tell you he doesn't want to date you without being a jerk, and he possibly still does want to be friends with you, but he doesn't want to be in a relationship with you.

If you can't be friends without it hurting, cut it off and move on with your life.
posted by arnicae at 9:30 AM on August 5, 2008 [1 favorite]

Why, then, would a smart, passionate, compassionate, loving man throw this away without any reason other than wanting to be alone?

You make "wanting to be alone" sound like a disease or some kind of psychiatric problem. Maybe he just really wants to be alone!

I've been in your situation. I had to break off even friendly contact because it hurt to much to act like "friends" when I really wanted more. My advice to you is to spend a little time alone yourself, and then decide if you can be his friend as he is requesting. If so, be his friend. If not, cease to see him.

It sucks that you had no warning, but there ya go.
posted by SuperSquirrel at 9:30 AM on August 5, 2008 [1 favorite]

Who knows, but the difference between a depressed person and a non-depressed person is night and day. Perhaps now that he's a getting therapeutic effect from his medicine he may not feel a need to be in a relationship at this part of his life. This may not be a side-effect that wears off.
posted by damn dirty ape at 9:31 AM on August 5, 2008

You're upset, as anyone would be. You want things out of him that he no longer wants to provide, as he is no longer interested in the reciprocal arrangement you had before. This sucks, at the most basic level, because you've gotten used to those things and now you're routine has been jilted. Beyond that, someone whose opinion you value has done something which can feel judgmental. Though he says otherwise, you probably think you didn't measure up in some way. You've trusted him on a great number of things before, trust him on this.

"I don't want a relationship of any kind. I just want to be in my own space and spend my time with my son and my dogs." But then he added that I am his best friend, he thinks I'm fabulous, respects me more than any other human, thinks I'm beautiful and wants me to stay his friend because "we are excellent at being friends."

We are in our 40s, both divorced, both had given up on finding someone and this was so right, so good, so fabulous. Why, then, would a smart, passionate, compassionate, loving man throw this away without any reason other than wanting to be alone?

We (westerners, USians) have been culturally conditioned to believe that the optimal state of existence is romantic bliss. At the end of the film, everyone is paired up and caressing one another in nursing homes. Couplehood is the expected norm, and everything else is unfortunate and assumed to be temporary.

This, I think, makes people miserable. A lot of people are clearly in mutual slumps and would likely be better off alone. A few are truly well off... "compatible" as we say. But no matter how swimmingly their symmetry is formed, couplehood is a different way of living that entails a lot of tradeoffs. For some the upsides aren't all that alluring and, in light of that or intrinsically, the downsides aren't tolerable. It could be this guy feels that way, and you don't, which is a shame, but doesn't have anything to do with you.

He emails me a dozen times a day. If I'm late to reply he sends "where are you? are you okay? messages."

This is odd. It's probably taking him some time to transition as well, even though he initiated it. He can still care about you outside the confines of romance.

In any case, his reasons are his own, and not your problem anymore. When someone tells you they're breaking it off, no matter the terms it's presented in, you owe it to the both of you to take their word for it and walk away, dignity preserved.
posted by phrontist at 9:34 AM on August 5, 2008 [6 favorites]

Response by poster: thank you all.
You're all right.
I want him back. I love him. But I won't be a doormat or a yo-yo.
He's a big boy and entitled to his own life decision.
But I'm the one responsible for my life and have to do what is best for me and my child.
If the upward trend of boys stays on the same track I'm destined for someone truly fabulous who loves me and wants me in his space.

This sucks and I'll never understand it.

I do get the feeling now that maybe he's saying all of these nice things because he does still believe them somewhat but mostly so I won't boil his cat :)

Onward and upward and in hopes that I'll find my prince and the next one won't turn back into a frog.

posted by theobromine_ady at 9:35 AM on August 5, 2008 [5 favorites]

It does sound like he's "going through something." Some change, transition, something. Maybe because of medication, maybe because of some inner shift, the change in his pain level, something. I don't think you can know what will happen. He could return to you. He could move to the country or change his career. He could decide to get married to someone else and have more kids. He could stay solo for years. Humans are weird. I like canine epigram's advice above.
posted by ClaudiaCenter at 9:36 AM on August 5, 2008

Oh, and I second the recommendation that you spend some time out of contact with him.
posted by phrontist at 9:37 AM on August 5, 2008

He emails me a dozen times a day. If I'm late to reply he sends "where are you? are you okay? messages."

Oh helllllll no. He broke up with you, he doesn't now get to dictate when you two speak. Now that you've broken up, you need to not talk to each other so you can both move on. For your sake and his, cut the cord- let him know that you'll be "needing some space" from speaking to him, and you'll be in touch when you feel like it. Then, don't get in touch with him again for as long as you still want to. Once you stop wanting to talk to him, then you're probably safe to resume contact.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 9:41 AM on August 5, 2008 [19 favorites]

Hi, welcome to being me and having my own recent ex. We were also just as close, just as easygoing, just as devoted -- and it was just as much of a bombshell when he broke things off. (Well, it was and it wasn't -- it was a bombshell when he FIRST threw it at me, then he went and dithered another week and a half before finally realizing "no, I do mean this.")

And we also want to be on friendly terms -- and in my case I also want this very much -- but I'm setting some very, very clear ground rules for myself to protect myself so I CAN do that. I do want to be close friends with him -- strip away the hopes I'd had for us, and what you have left is someone who really does care for my wellbeing and support my career, and for me, that's been very rare -- but I need to let the hopes die right now, and I know what I need to protect myself to give that space to happen.

and I'm sticking to it. We've had some tentative email and phone contact, and in all cases it's been comfortable except when he says one or another thing that smarts a bit -- and I immediately respond with "okay, um, please don't say [whatever specific thing], it smarts right now, 'kay? Thanks."

You may never know why this happened, which sucks. but giving yourself some distance can help you come up with your OWN reasons for yourself, which may be more real for you (i.e., he may not have known that he wasn't communicating very well, but it's something that you may see yourself and you could realize that that at least contributed to the situation).

But if it's something that's really strong enough to support a friendship after the fact, it'll be strong enough to withstand some distance right now. I'm laying low on my ex, and I told him that I'd be doing that; I've made some very clear lines in the sand for myself and I'm being stubborn about making him stick to them and giving him gentle but firm pushes back over the lines if he crosses them. it really is the best thing to do.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 9:52 AM on August 5, 2008 [1 favorite]

Yeah, cut off contact for a while. He doesn't get to dump the lover but keep the friend - at least, not right now, and not, I'd suggest, for at least six months. A year is probably better. Right now, the contact with you certainly helps soothe his feelings, but it's only going to fuck up yours. If he's really the gentleman you say he is, he will respect your desire for no contact.
posted by rtha at 9:53 AM on August 5, 2008 [1 favorite]

Absolutely seconding ThePinkSuperhero. That emailing behaviour is a form of torture, whether he knows it or not. Make it clear that you can't handle that because you are hurting, and that he has to stop. Do not reply to emails or phone calls until you feel emotionally able to. Take back your space and recover.
posted by Joh at 9:55 AM on August 5, 2008 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: alright then.

One last bit I need some input on is this:

I feel like the cold shoulder quick cut contact is just mean and deliberate.
(despite the fact that I got the quick cut contact break-up).
This is a very kind man and despite how much I hurt I still don't want to hurt him on purpose.

So how, then, do I best tell him that I cannot be around him or have contact with him now.
We speak easily face-to-face and that feels the most honest.

Or do I just disappear without warning?

Thanks for all your good input.
Sorry to those of you in the same boat.
posted by theobromine_ady at 9:58 AM on August 5, 2008

No, you tell him. He should realize that this isn't pleasant for you, but make that clear anyway.
posted by phrontist at 10:02 AM on August 5, 2008 [1 favorite]

This is not to give you false hope but I want to address the medication aspect.

My now husband/then boyfriend wanted to quit smoking several years ago. He started on Zyban and 5 days later broke off our engagement with no warning. He said he just wanted to be free right now and had envisioned playing the field. What happened was he tried dating 2 or 3 women over the course of the next 14 months but always came back to me as a friend with benefits. Eventually he realized I was always the one for him and we married.

He says to this day he regrets the breakup and swears it was the medication. I am glad we had the breakup because I am sure he is the one now after he tried a few others.

I agree you should stay away. Maybe my guy would have come to his senses sooner if I had done that instead of being always available. And if your guy does not turn around, you will be that much further along in your healing if you start to stay away now.
posted by shaarog at 10:12 AM on August 5, 2008

My vote is with the disappearing without warning, or rather, a short message or phone call saying that you are not capable of staying in such constant contact and that for your sake you too need a little time. For a man that has broken up with you on the grounds that he needs some alone time, this should hardly come as a shock.

And what's more, fuck him. I'm sorry to sound embittered, but you really don't owe this man anything, and you need to focus on doing everything in your power to get over the emotional havoc this has caused you and start healing. As others have stated, THEN you can be friends. Then and only then.
posted by nonmerci at 10:18 AM on August 5, 2008 [6 favorites]

Next time you see him, tell him something like:

"Bob, I appreciate that you want to be friends, but right now, I can't. It's just too painful for me right now, and I need space and time away to heal. So please, don't call me, don't email me, and if you see me around town, just leave me be."

Don't debate or justify. Just state it.

If he asks when he can see or contact you again, tell him that you'll let him know.

And then leave.

If it makes it easier, screen your calls for a bit, or build an email filter to send anything from him to a folder that's not your inbox.
posted by canine epigram at 10:20 AM on August 5, 2008 [5 favorites]

I feel like the cold shoulder quick cut contact is just mean and deliberate.
(despite the fact that I got the quick cut contact break-up).
This is a very kind man and despite how much I hurt I still don't want to hurt him on purpose.

Tough shit. He might feel hurt - and? He broke up with you, he doesn't get to have it both ways. And it's not MEAN, it's reasonable and self-preservative.

Frankly, I think he's an ass for dumping you then acting like this - it's selfish and mean. OF HIM.

He wants his "space" so f'ing badly? GIVE IT TO HIM.
posted by tristeza at 10:21 AM on August 5, 2008 [6 favorites]

So how, then, do I best tell him that I cannot be around him or have contact with him now.

Just tell him that. Be nice but firm and straightforward; don't beat around the bush and hedge it with so many qualifications he has no idea what you're saying (guys can be dumb that way)—just say "I know you want to be friends, and I wish that were possible, but it's not right now, so please don't write or call."
posted by languagehat at 10:24 AM on August 5, 2008

Yes, tell him you need your space, too, and indefinitely. This doesn't have to be done "cold-shoulder" style. If he is kind and cares for you- he will understand and graciously allow you to step away and take care of yourself.
posted by mistsandrain at 10:28 AM on August 5, 2008

So how, then, do I best tell him that I cannot be around him or have contact with him now.

Tell him you need to "air some things out." You guys "have a deal that neither would require the other to guess the thoughts." Sounds like you too are having some thoughts you don't want him to have to guess.
posted by salvia at 10:30 AM on August 5, 2008 [1 favorite]

Do it just once and clearly that you need time and space for yourself and that what he has done has consequences. Now he is a big boy and you're a big girl so you stick by your decisions. He wants space and you don't want to be the run to girl or better than nothing option. Explain to your child the situation of the break up and that you will not be in contact with him for awhile if ever so it is not a surprise to her/him. Do not give up your space by not walking your dog, going to the pool or anything of that nature because, why should you be in purdah because of a choice that he made? When you see him treat him politely nothing more, nothing less. No purposeful contact, ever and no "lets be friends" because friends don't dump friends in that way nor treat them as a "prop to occupy their time".

A privilege of being older is not having to put up with mind games or dithering around.
posted by jadepearl at 10:31 AM on August 5, 2008 [2 favorites]

Wow you got 3rd tier to the dogs? Ouch. I would say that he's going through a depressive withdrawl time. I know that his actions provided no closure for you but seriously, move on from him. He needs his time to figure things out and you need a person who is healthy and strong enough for a relationship.

It's not you
It's not him

Blame the depression. It kills everything.
posted by dasheekeejones at 10:38 AM on August 5, 2008

"But on D-day he told me that while I was gone he realized I was much more into his "space" than he wanted me to be and now he wants it back."

Just because this is terrible for you does not mean it is not 100% true. When someone tells you that they are no longer into you, please believe them.

You guys will undoubtedly run into each other. The best thing to do is simply die to this person and start a new life. You don't need to announce it to him or keep him informed about your feelings. In a few months, maybe you can give him a smile at the dog park. Until then, absolute radio silence. No phones/texts, no email. If it's one sided like you say it is, simply stop responding. If it gets to be truly problematic/harassment, curtly tell him to stop without giving him any elaborate reasoning. His wanting his own "space" is selfish on his end, and he is allowed to be selfish with his feelings. His wanting to remain your friend, do the right thing blah blah is being selfish with YOUR feelings, and that is not allowed, especially not anymore. It's now time for you to be selfish with your feelings. Keep them guarded from him and stay focused making a better/faster/stronger you. You can do it, you have the technology, all that good stuff.

I wish you all of the best. Continue to remain a great example for your child.
posted by littlelebowskiurbanachiever at 10:41 AM on August 5, 2008 [1 favorite]

He wants to renegotiate the terms of your relationship - no dating or romantic potential, but he still gets all the emotional support and friendship he wants.

No. You don't have to take crumbs from his table.

You have an obligation to be respectful to him and compassionate to his child and yours. You have no obligation to maintain constant contact. You have no obligation to justify why you no longer respond. When you see him, a simple hello is all that's required. Then you can chat with his child if you like.

The longer you allow him to manipulate you, then longer you delay meeting someone who is emotionally ready for a relationship.
posted by 26.2 at 10:52 AM on August 5, 2008 [7 favorites]

Well, perhaps I'm overly cynical, but in my experience, "I don't want any relationship right now" generally translates as "I'm screwing someone else", or for the slightly more honorable types, "I've met someone else that I really want to screw, and I'm pretty sure I could if I was single." And "you're so great and wonderful yadda yadda yadda" translates as "I don't want you to be upset at me, because then I might have to actually admit to myself that I'm this shallow and capricious."

Nth-ing cutting off contact with him until such time as it doesn't hurt you to talk to him, if ever. If he doesn't want to be with you, that's his decision, but you are under no obligation to make him feel good about it.
posted by Shoeburyness at 10:52 AM on August 5, 2008 [7 favorites]

Nthing that he's a douche. Don't talk to him. If you'd like, let him know that you're not willing to be just friends, despite his assertion that you're "good at" it. Wash him right out of your hair, and start anew.

Good luck.
posted by Citrus at 11:07 AM on August 5, 2008 [1 favorite]

He is doing what he feels is best for himself. Now you do what feels best for you. Listen to languagehat. (And girls can be dumb that way too...)
posted by SuperSquirrel at 11:11 AM on August 5, 2008

We are in our 40s, both divorced, both had given up on finding someone and this was so right, so good, so fabulous. Why, then, would a smart, passionate, compassionate, loving man throw this away without any reason other than wanting to be alone?

I hope the term "mid-life crisis" doesn't sound like too much of a generalization to you, but it's pretty much the definition of this kind of experience. He's suddenly solipsistic, wanting to survey other options, and yet not quite willing to let old ones go. He feels like he's playing musical chairs and wants to make sure he's in the best possible chair before the music stops -- pissing away incredible opportunities left and right, no doubt.

If you're not capable of being that close because of your (totally understandable) heartbreak, let him know that. And stick to your guns. You're allowed to have as little of a bad situation as you want.
posted by [NOT HERMITOSIS-IST] at 11:29 AM on August 5, 2008 [1 favorite]

In a younger man, I'd say he's hedging his bets -- he knows he has you, so he wants to keep you in hand while he pokes around the bushes for something better, so to speak. At his age, it's possible he is actually telling the truth... but even then, it's the mythically fun alone+space life he's wanting another taste of as opposed to the "whom else can I get?" quest.

Either way, your best course of action is to refuse to be kept in hand.

Note, however, that some men take a very long time to come to life-changing decisions, and show no sign that they are doing so until the decision is made. Given that he's divorced and has kids, he probably already feels like most of his life is beholden to the whims and needs of everyone but himself... so it's very likely he's been thinking about this quietly for a very long time, and it only seems sudden to you because he never revealed his inner conflict.

The real kicker is that unless he plans to somehow lose the kids, he isn't going to get the life he says he's after anyway -- they're "in his space" as well.
posted by Pufferish at 11:40 AM on August 5, 2008 [2 favorites]

So how, then, do I best tell him that I cannot be around him or have contact with him now.

If you communicate best face-to-face, then meet somewhere neutral and public (coffee shop). Keep it short. As others have said, be direct, and do not hedge. If he says "But why?" don't elaborate, and don't overexplain: just repeat "I need time and space away from you to heal/get my shit together/burn you in effigy/ etc."''

When you get home, create a filter for the email address(es) he emails you at so that emails from him go into the trash or another folder you designate so that you never see them in your inbox.

Good luck. I'm very sorry for how painful this is.
posted by rtha at 11:55 AM on August 5, 2008 [1 favorite]

I feel like the cold shoulder quick cut contact is just mean and deliberate.
(despite the fact that I got the quick cut contact break-up).
This is a very kind man and despite how much I hurt I still don't want to hurt him on purpose. So how, then, do I best tell him that I cannot be around him or have contact with him now.
We speak easily face-to-face and that feels the most honest.

Just tell him that -- tell him that for YOUR own sake, you need to not have contact with him for a while. Decide for your own self what "no contact" means -- and tell him that those are the new ground rules until you decide you want to change them. Period. But tell him that this is for YOUR own protection, that you are doing it as a self-care thing. If you are confident that you will renew contact again, tell him that -- but do not promise a specific date, just in case it takes less or more time than you think.

For my own self, I've decided that I'm comfortable with the occasional chatty email from my ex, and even the occasional chatty phone call, but specific topics are verboten, and I'm being very clear about that. We have both agreed that after we finally do the "you've got my stuff" exchange this weekend we shouldn't be in the same room together for a month or two (and I've also decided that NOT having contact during the "stuff exchange" would just feel way too weird, so we're getting ice cream or something so it feels like a lighthearted "whee, ice cream! Oh, by the way, here's that book I borrowed" kind of thing). Your mileage may vary, but that's just the point -- YOU know best how much or little you will need. Tell him what you need, and make him stick to it, especially if he's emailing you every few minutes. And then stick to it yourself.

....And if you find in the contact blackout that you need something different, then that's okay too.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 12:05 PM on August 5, 2008 [1 favorite]

In regards to depression/medication and your break up, I realize its only one persons story but:

I became anxious and depressed at the point that I realized the relationship I was in was no longer the relationship for me. I had been with the ex 3 years before I realized that there were a few very fundamental things that I NEEDED in a relationship that he simply could not provide, no matter how great everything else was (or seemed to be). Rather than breaking up with him, I spent 6 months fighting these feelings because he was so great and nice and we lived together and we had discussed marriage as the next step.

Fighting these "break up" feelings is exactly what lead to me feeling depressed. If he told the story, he might say that when I started anti-depressants it was the end of the relationship. He didn't know that it was knowing that I wanted to end the relationship and fighting it was the reason I got depressed in the first place. The anti-depressants just helped me get back to thinking clearly about what I wanted, and helped me to have the strength and motivation to go after what I wanted rather than give up and stay because that was the "easier" thing to do. (Depression makes giving up on everything/anything very attractive).

I only stayed on the anti depressants for a total of 7 months. After I weaned off them, not a bit of me regretted the break up. The meds just helped me get to a place where I could feel okay about making a decision I knew I wanted to make.
posted by veronicacorningstone at 12:11 PM on August 5, 2008 [1 favorite]

Wow. I'm pretty much in the same spot as you with a few detail changes. My comments:

He could "want you as a friend" as a way to gently transition things for his kid. I (stupidly) accepted the transition. It sucks. I found myself mentally re-examining his every move and word to determine what the current relationship status was. That is no way to live.

My ex was(is?) in a depressive, midlife crisis state, yada, yada. His messy divorce was 4 years ago. His is not on medication; nor is this something he would consider.

He always wanted/needed his "alone time". I gave it to him. All these years later, he still needs it and it is due to the same causes. Knowing his behavior, etc. I am confident that there isn't someone on deck.

Try as I might, I can't hate him. Well, I do when I mentally review how things went and how I got treated. However, everytime I run into him and speak with him that melts away instantly and I find myself being pulled in. I gotta hide more.

To sum it up: The distinct away time is a necessity. Do not cheat yourself of that. Go ahead and tell him if you like; don't worry about what you'll say, the words WILL come out right when it's time. Plus, your facial expressions will say what your words can't.

Then, look forward to the day when he realizes he pushed away the best thing to ever happen to him. That's what's currently keeping me going.
posted by xena at 12:12 PM on August 5, 2008 [1 favorite]

Pardon the harshness, I'm not trying to insult you, but just read between the lines, and....

He's feeling better, and so he's feeling he can do better than you.
posted by orthogonality at 12:15 PM on August 5, 2008 [1 favorite]

I don't think you need to drop off the face of the earth and disappear completely. But I agree with rtha and TPS and all the others who said that he does not get to use you as an emotional crutch while he explores his spacey options. Tell him that he's gotta stop with the dozens of e-mails and give you your space. If he continues, reply once to to remind him that you've asked him to stop.

If you run into him at the dogpark or the whatever, you can just be civil, give him a curt nod and go on your way. Keep it to small talk or less. This might hurt like hell the first couple of times, but in my experience it gets easier pretty quickly -- take comfort in the fact that you're taking the high road and being an adult about it.
posted by desuetude at 12:35 PM on August 5, 2008 [1 favorite]

If he's as kind as you say, he will respect your wishes once you make them and the reasons clear. If he won't respect your wishes, then consider it even further proof that the two of you can't be friends right now. He dropped you like a hat, which was already unkind. Intruding on your much-needed space after declaring he needs his own is the height of disrespect.
posted by katillathehun at 12:41 PM on August 5, 2008 [2 favorites]

Here's my personal advice about cutting the cord: The last time I went through a painful breakup with a guy I still really loved and couldn't bring myself to hate, I told him that I was very sad and that I wished he felt differently about me. However, unless he changed his mind or until I had some time to heal, it was too hard to be friends and I would prefer he didn't contact me. He never contacted me.

Which was great! Really! I never had to sit around wondering what he "really" meant in his email or voicemail or suffer through any post-breakup hookups and re-breakups. I didn't parse every conversation with my best friends. I knew that if he had changed his mind and wanted me back, he would call. And if he didn't, well, he didn't. This took all that agonizing guess work out of it. (And, by the time I got over it, I didn't want to be friends with the loser after all!)
posted by jrichards at 2:08 PM on August 5, 2008 [5 favorites]

Best answer: Here's the primary reason you should cut off contact completely right now: he will at some point meet someone else who makes him again not care about his space. If you still are pretending to be his supportive friend at that time - and, really, it could be tomorrow, or it might have been last Wednesday - you will have to hear how surprised and happy he is, and imagine the details. Sound like fun?
posted by nicwolff at 3:10 PM on August 5, 2008 [6 favorites]

I feel like the cold shoulder quick cut contact is just mean and deliberate.

Umm, hi? He broke your heart and left you with no warning, and you're worried about his feelings? That's very kind of you, but the person you need to put first and foremost here is you. You need to do whatever it means to take the very best care of you, because this man has just quit that job with no notice.

And while I think it's very post modern and everything that he wants to be friends, that really only works when it's a mutual decision to break up. Given that he's just summarily though very politely dumped you, what he's requesting here is that he get to have his cake and eat it too. That's nice; he gets all the cake, and you get... what exactly?
posted by DarlingBri at 3:53 PM on August 5, 2008 [2 favorites]

Your ex sounds incredibly self absorbed and lacking any sort of empathy. He dumps you out of the blue demanding his space but then expects your undying loyalty as a friend, 'cause you're just so good at that. He's hurt you terribly, your life has just changed remarkably overnight, and all you and he are doing is worrying about his needs & feelings. NO. Please take all the very wise advice above that says you should cut off all contact with him to give yourself a good long time to heal. I doubt you'll want to be close friends with him after you've gained some distance and perspective.
posted by zarah at 7:12 PM on August 5, 2008 [4 favorites]

Put a short cut on your desk top to this song, I will survive, play song and sing along every time you get the urge to communicate with him.

Everyday it will get just a tiny bit easier, hang in there.
posted by JujuB at 8:26 PM on August 5, 2008

Response by poster: Thank you all, seriously.
Apparently a record has been set here today with a consensus in the relationship forum.

First, to chabonjabon, I have been empathetic to everything right up to this decision.
And there have been plenty of things I'm not sure any single person would have understood.
You're right, I'm not empathetic and I did not see this coming...not even retrospectively.
I am not empathetic to letting someone in and promising them safety and love and a future together and just "changing my mind". I am not empathetic to holding in my thoughts for a month and then making a decision that greatly effects 4 people without even talking about them with any of the other 3. I am not empathetic to pursuing a relationship (we were friends for many, many months before he asked for an 'upgrade') and then just announcing, "sorry, didn't really mean it after all."

I had already made the decision to stop communicating with him before I posted this question. Now I am certain in my decision. thank you.

I do see the irony in my desire to be nice to him but that's just who I am. I would feel like a shit if I just disappeared without warning or explanation.

I'm sure he means the nice things he says about me but it's clear that our definitions of "friend" are different and his sucks. If he is out searching for another bush then he's not only cruel but a liar, too. And a big dumb dumb dumbity dumbass friend is one thing but a liar friend is no friend of mine.

And absolutely not, nicwolff, would I survive a "new girlfriend". Not now, maybe not ever.

Bottom line is that we made a fabulous pair. Everyone who knows him and/or us is shocked by his decision. Seems to everyone (except him) we had that *thing* that was good and made people notice.

He said to me, on D-day (unprovoked, btw, chabonjabon as were the 'gift' comments), "this may be the stupidest mistake I've ever made but I have to make it." He's right. It was.

Chances are good I'll be back here for your advice on what to do after I cut him off but still miss him so terribly it hurts everywhere or how to stop undermining my self-worth or how I should best get my stuff out of his house :).

I WILL survive and I'll get back all my love to jump in deep and give it again.

posted by theobromine_ady at 10:13 PM on August 5, 2008

Hugs to you in this tough time! If it helps, a good friend of mine advised me after my last very painful breakup to think of all the bad feelings like they're the flu. It feels yucky for a while, but it does pass.
posted by katillathehun at 12:17 AM on August 6, 2008 [2 favorites]

Seconding the hugs--I was you about a year ago (also, interestingly, after a relationship of a year and a half). As others have said, when they say that they still want to be friends, they're really saying, "I don't want anyone to see me as a (insert expletive of choice here)." It's not your job to protect him from others' opinions. Especially given how little he's considered your own.

Here are some strategies that really helped me survive the first few weeks (okay, months):

--I deleted all of his phone numbers from my cell
--I blocked his email address
--I took a friend up on her very kind offer to retrieve my stuff from his house so that I wouldn't have to see him and feel everything all over again
--I made sure that I had plans every weekend
--I also made sure that some of those plans included activities that he hated
--I bought new clothes (which just happened to make me look
pretty good)
--I left town for a week and went someplace I'd always wanted to go
(of course, that might not be an option w/kids)
--I gave away everything he'd given me
--Most importantly, I reminded myself that if he could leave so abruptly, he was not the person I had thought that I knew and loved

Don't worry about being mean to him. Focus on protecting and taking care of yourself. When you learn how to do that, you gain the strength that comes from knowing that you have your own back no matter what happens.
posted by chicainthecity at 6:21 PM on August 6, 2008 [3 favorites]

I'm in a very similar situation, and I agree with most of the thread: cut off contact. He is going to do the 'but I want to stay friends wah wah wah' and to this I would simply say, "Well, you can't always get what you want."
The follow the list that chicainthecity gave (great list) and keep yourself occupied. It does suck now. It will suck less in the future. Between now and then, keep busy. Kids are a great big giant distraction from overanalysis: use them for the resource they are right now.

Good luck.
posted by 8dot3 at 5:40 AM on August 7, 2008

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