This is a question about tailoring ill-fitting pants.
So there’s this lady in my life. She’s a fantastic lady. I met her last summer and we connected pretty much instantly. I was coming off some serious heartbreak, she was coming off some other drama. So we took things slowly, but we started to develop feelings for each other.
After a couple months, I moved back to school and she moved back to work a few states over. I was hesitant to get into a long-distance relationship: I’d done it before and hated the logistics and the lack of face time, and I didn’t want to take things with her any faster than they’d been going. But we decided to stay in touch and see how things developed on their own.
And they did develop. We talked every day. I liked talking to her on the phone, which was new for me. We wrote back and forth. We sent each other poems and pictures and articles and random things that made one of us think of the other. I went to visit her and loved her company as much as ever. I wasn’t sure, but I thought I might be falling for her.
But then a lot happened. I had a depressive episode that lasted for a couple months. I hated my program and being a student and living in my town. I was nervous about the future. I cried a lot and had a panic attack once and felt really trapped and awful. There was a day that was the worst day of my life where I wondered what it would be like to step in front of a bus. And somewhere in the midst of that, I realized that this woman was not the woman I was supposed to end up with.
Or that’s how it felt, anyway. It was this weird, strong intuition. It felt like all the “taking it slow” had been because I hadn’t been sure if she was the right person for me, and now I was sure that the answer was “no.” And I couldn’t be with her in good conscience, knowing that, because I suspected that she didn’t feel the same way. So – trying to be as clear and kind and gentle as possible – I broke up with her. It was miserable.
She took it hard, but she understood that she couldn’t change my mind for me, and didn’t want to try. That’s not how love works, she said. And it’s not.
But I still feel that connection for her that I felt the first day we met. There’s nobody else in my life I’m interested in at the moment. (In fact, I don’t want to date anyone right now. I want some time off from the heartache, and I’m kind of a serial monogamist and feel like I don’t know who I am outside of relationships, like I haven’t built real boundaries for my self yet. This is a big deal.) We’re still friends, we still talk every day, we still love each other. I am doing my damnedest to be totally honest about my feelings and not lead her on in any way; she assures me that she knows where things stand between us and is okay with that. I’ve more or less climbed out of my depression and have just started therapy, which is awesome.
Oh Captain, is there a way to make this relationship work? Being less depressed doesn’t make my intuition about the two of us go away. I still don’t think she’s the right person for me to be with. But I want her to be, so badly. She’s smart, down to earth, supportive, gorgeous, with an incredibly beautiful soul. (Also, we’ve barely scratched the surface of our sexual potential together and that drives me crazy.) It’s just this FEELING, this not being as in love with her as I wish I were. It feels like a limit – like, I’ve reached the maximum amount I can be in love with her, and it’s not enough. It doesn’t feel like a choice. It feels like I’m not getting to be with this person because of something I can’t control. That thing just happens to be this knowledge in the pit of my stomach.
Will that ever change? I’m not quite waiting around for that to happen – after all, we are still broken up – but I’m not NOT waiting around for it to happen, either. I don’t want to get back together with her if I feel this ambivalent; that’s not fair to either of us. She deserves all the love in the world. Could I ever be the person to give it to her, or should I just give up on this? Can you tailor pants to make them fit, even if you’re not sure why they don’t? Is it possible for them to fit eventually? Will the pants size of my love change to accommodate them? In a month, or a year, or five? Does that ever happen?
[FWIW, I'm a 25-year-old woman. She's 28. And thanks for your whole website full of amazing advice...I am a dedicated reader and lurker.]
Fix My Pants, Please?
Dear Fix My Pants:
I don’t know.
Second thoughts about breakups are part of breaking up, especially if you’re only dating really awesome people as we encourage around these parts. You can live in those second thoughts for a long time and break your own heart with them in slow motion.
The poets feel your pain:
Friendship After Love – Ella Wheeler Wilcox
After the fierce midsummer all ablaze
Has burned itself to ashes, and expires
In the intensity of its own fires,
There come the mellow, mild, St. Martin days
Crowned with the calm of peace, but sad with haze.
So after Love has led us, till he tires
Of his own throes, and torments, and desires,
Comes large-eyed friendship: with a restful gaze,
He beckons us to follow, and across
Cool verdant vales we wander free from care.
Is it a touch of frost lies in the air?
Why are we haunted with a sense of loss?
We do not wish the pain back, or the heat;
and yet, and yet, these days are incomplete.
“There’s nobody else I’m interested in right now” is not a good reason to have a relationship with someone. “I’m trying to figure out how to have boundaries about relationships and figure out who I am outside of one” is a good reason to NOT pursue a relationship right now.
If you’ve been honest about your feelings (or lack thereof) and this lady still wants to talk to you every day, that’s her decision, but if you’re casting about for a boundary to set, the one where you both take a break from intense contact and from thinking about what might happen “IF ONLY” sounds like a good starting point.
If you really let her go, you’ll be without a relationship prospect and a daily source of flirting, affirmation, and comfort that you’ve come to count on, and I realize that’s scary and it sucks, especially in the short-term. Expect some withdrawal. If you lived in the same place, your lives and social circles would carry you back into each other’s paths without anyone having to buy plane tickets. But the long distance nature of this thing adds layers of complication. It’s easier to live in the second thoughts or what might happen and keep everything entirely in your head because all of it is at a distance. I think you live in your head A LOT, and I think this question of “Do I love her enough? I don’t think so. But she is so cool? Maybe I can love her? But I don’t love her as much as I should love her?” is a well-worn path your brain has traveled to death. I have this knee-jerk thing where I think if you’re debating the relationship and discussing the relationship and worrying about the relationship more than you’re HAVING the relationship, the relationship is not working and something big needs to change or it needs to end.
Trust therapy. Trust time and distance. Trust that if one lovely gorgeous cool lady liked you, another one will present herself in your life (and that your nifty ex will also be loved as she deserves by someone else). Trust that giving yourself a big old break from this line of questioning is a healthy step. Set the boundary of “Let’s not talk for a while” to give yourself that break and to prove that you can set a boundary.
Or decide that I’m completely wrong about everything! I don’t know you! I don’t know your love! You’re going to call your ex-girlfriend and love the daylights out of her forever! Where is it written that you must do the “smart” thing? Whatever it takes! In which case, there’s your answer. But short of that? Leave the lady alone.