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#230: How do I prevent being a rebound?

Tempted to re-use the “Back away from the boombox, Dobbler” photo again.

Hey Cap!

I recognize that this question will probably make me sound like a terrible person, because I am preparing for a selfish eventuality that may never come. But if it does, I want to be prepared…

So, I met a new guy about a month ago, and I fell hard. Every time we hang out (always in a group, but sometimes solo conversations ensue) I find I like him more and more. Naturally, he has a serious girlfriend — but he’s alluded a couple times in my presence (to others he knows better, but when I’m within earshot) that he thinks the relationship is on the rocks and probably won’t last much longer. Now, I am ABSOLUTELY not going to make a move while he’s still dating her, or encourage him to break up with her, or anything like that. He has no idea how I feel, because I don’t want to put him in an awkward position, and I’m really, truly content to remain friends with him if he and this girl stay together — or, for that matter, if they break up and he just doesn’t like me. (I might need some alone time to process my feelings, but I’ve done that and become really good friends with the other person before.) (Also, I’ve never met the girlfriend, for what it’s worth.)

My question is: if they DO break up, really and truly broken up with still no idea on his side that I have feelings for him, how do I then make my move? How do I avoid being a rebound with someone I haven’t known long, but who’s been in a relationship the whole time I HAVE known him? I know to use my words, but I don’t know how to navigate the timing — I don’t want to seem like I’m pouncing on him as soon as he’s free. Of course, I also don’t want someone else to snatch him up while I’m waiting for him to recover.

(My possibly overly-optimistic brain thinks he is attracted to me, since he’s flirtier with me than with other friends [according to them!] and has made vague statements about how timing never works out right in life. He’s never crossed a line into making any potential attraction clear, obviously, since he’s in a relationship. I don’t know if this is relevant to your advice or not, which is why I include it in parentheses.)

Thank you!

Here’s you avoid being a rebound:

Stop lying in wait for this guy to break up with his girlfriend and date you. Stop being his sounding board about his relationship troubles. Stop looking for cracks and/or signs of attraction.

Go do your own thing and find a new crush. DEFINITELY stop testing out whether he is flirtier with you than other friends with the wider friend group.

How someone acts when they are breaking up with someone (or thinking about it) actually tells you a lot about them. To you he’s the handsome guy of your crushing and connection who might soon be single. To her, he’s the guy who tells their business across the friend group and hints around that things will be soon be over. Or he’s just bitching and letting off steam, the way people do with their friend sometimes.

If you hang around at the edges of this fraying relationship watching for hints/dropping hints that you would like to give him a soft landing into serial monogamy, that is literally how you become a rebound. “I’m conveniently located and already into you, date me!”

I’m super cranky and tired today, so sorry if that was a big spoonful of Stuff You Don’t Want To Hear? It’s totally normal to notice people and crush on them, and I don’t think you’re a terrible person for thinking about this. And if you think you’re picking up on a vibe, you probably are. But do you need to act on every crush and flirtation? No. No you don’t.

So yeah, maybe don’t lie in wait and plan ahead for a happiness that depends on the death of someone else’s love. It’s bad juju. If this is meant to happen because feelings change over time and you guys do have a mutual attraction that you’ll eventually explore, it will all happen without you making any kind of plan.

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28 comments
  1. commanderlogic said:

    Hey there, Letter Writer.

    I just want to reassure you that you are not a terrible person. You are a perfectly fine person in the grip of a crush and it’s wrecking your groove.

    The Captain is very wise, and the advice here is not to suppress your crush feelings, or even feel bad about having those feelings. Crushes are fun! But you can’t act on your crush in the relationship-pursuit fashion.

    So! Channel your awesome crush energy into useful actions. Go meet people who are available to be in relationships! Use the bubbly goodfeels that this guy gives you to feel pretty and awesome in your interactions with other people! Use the bubbly goodfeels to push you to do something you’ve never tried before! (Trivia night? Dancing lessons? Lose your karaoke virginity? Whatever, shine on in your preferred fashion!)

    I believe that the bubbly goodfeels are a potent pheromone, and if you’re amplifying them (more dates! doing rad new things!) rather than suppressing them (“I must hide my feelings because they are inappropriate”) you’re going to feel better in general and attract people to you because you’re awesome rather than because you’re convenient.

  2. FlyBy said:

    I met my husband under similar circumstances. I fell for him pretty hard while he was still in a relationship. He considered me a friend, but nothing more. There was a third girl who also fell for him at the same time I did.

    When his relationship broke up, it hurt him badly. I wasn’t about to flirt with him while he was grieving, so I drew back and only interacted when we were with mutual friends. The third girl flirted with him hard. At the same time I started hanging out with another guy and figuring out if he was boyfriend material.

    Since I started out by saying that he’s my husband, you can guess how it ended. He lost interest in the girl who flirted with him right away. He got kinda worried about me spending time with the other guy (whom I’d figured out was absolutely not boyfriend material). About six months after his breakup, the timing was right and we started going out. The rest, as they say, was history.

    Me being distant and the other girl being desperate wasn’t the only thing that led him to be with me instead of her. There were a lot of other elements – among other things she was a drama queen, like his ex, and he decided he didn’t want that again. The whole thing was incredibly nerve wracking, and to be honest it ended up destroying my friendship with the other girl. But sitting tight and forcing myself to pull back was the right decision, if only because it kept me from torturing myself as the whole thing played out.

    (As an aside, after I decided that that other guy was not boyfriend material and was in fact kind of creepy, I found out that my roommate knew the guy’s ex. Turns out he tried to manipulate her by threatening suicide, among other things. She was going to tell me… if I started officially dating him. AAAAAAAHHHH!!!!! Tell me that sooner, for the love of Pete!!!!!)

  3. Sheelzebub said:

    LW, for your own well-being, I’d step away from this guy and avoid any sort of contact with him or anything that would bring him to your mind (his FB page, etc.). You have feelings for him which may or may not be reciprocated, but he is in a relationship.

    I don’t think you’re a terrible person. I do think that by being around this guy and thus letting him take up more real estate in your head, you’re letting yourself in for a lot of pining, dramz, and bad situations in general. Get away from this crush so that you can forget him. Hang with your friends, enjoy your time on your own, and eventually meet someone who’s into you and who is not in a relationship/just getting out of a relationship.

  4. Elodie said:

    Posting from phone, sorry –

    I am married to someone who was in a relationship when we fell for one another. I was also in a relationship. Peripheral Friends were also highly interested in both of us.

    I would:

    A.) not recommend making a play ( however good hearted) for someone who is in a state of conflict about their current relationship, because your resulting relationship will not be built on clean foundations

    B) not pounce upon the object of desire when they are fresh out of a relationship, as that is highly unattractive when one needs to process one’s own feelings.

    Rationale behind A – my husband and I, truth be told, used each other as leverage to leave abusive/gaslighting relationships, a fairly rare case that worked for us in the long run, but thay’s not the case with you, and the fallout is always intense and complicated and the relationship is not centred on the two of you.

    Rationale B, the last thing I wanted when painfully separating myself from a (dying, emotionally draining, unsatisfying) relationship was another human being flinging their needs and wants at me; it was profoundly draining at a time when I needed to figure out my own feelings.

    However, I am the last person to shame you for the feelings that you have. I do believe that sketchy meetings can become goodbrelationships, but I don’t sense that you have much to go on here besides vague vibes, which are not enough to hang your heart on, no matter what Cosmo says about prolonged eye contact and all that bullshit. “if he’s wearing a pink shirt, he wants to have babies with you! If he buys you x kind of drink, he means y!” =/= reality or how real people act. Vague telephone games filtered through optimistic friends are not the enthusiastic consent you are looking for, you have my permission to move on!

  5. I’m not sure I agree that the LW should “stay away”, just because this dude is in a relationship. Rather, I question the whole notion of “rebound”. Some people are poly, and have genuine romantic relationships simultaneously with multiple people. Likewise, some people are “no word for it”, and can enter genuine monogamous romantic relationships serially without gaps for “processing”, or whatever.

    One of my friends is like this: Since junior high-school, he *always* had a serious girlfriend, was always serially monogamous, and always “pre-arranged” the next girlfriend to avoid gaps. He always seemed to have happy relationships, and the last girlfriend became his wife, to whom he has been happily married for almost twenty years.

    I say, if LW likes this dude, and she gets the feeling from him that he likes her, then she should feel free to express her feelings and see what happens. Worst case scenario, it doesn’t work out. If so, there are kajillions of other dudes out there.

    • Mary said:

      I agree with the Captain’s response more than you do, but yeah, I think the notion of “rebound” itself is dubious. This may be because I am married to a man who I got involved with 2 weeks after he got dumped by someone he was serious about. Which is, ahem, anecdata. But there it is.

      If you want to have a relationship, ask someone out. Trying to calculate the perfect timing with regard to their mental health status, relationship readiness, probable fertility etc etc is a recipe for discovering that someone else asked them out first and they’re The Forever Happy Ending together.

      • JenniferP said:

        Honestly, I’d respect “I know you have a girlfriend, and I feel like an asshole, but I really like you and would love to go out sometime” more than I’d respect months of scheming and trying to find the perfect moment. That leads to 1) over-investing and 2) a sense of entitlement that the second he’s available he’s hers.

        I still think the correct course of action is “disengage.”

        • MS said:

          “I know you have a boyfriend, but I wish you were with me” certainly worked for my partner of 16 years, back just before we started our relationship. I was leaving the boyfriend eventually anyway, and the straight approach reduced complications and made me take him seriously as a relationship, not a rebound. It did involve a horrible time as I tried to leave a month’s space between the break-up and any decisions about what to do at all, but the clarity was good.

  6. RodeoBob said:

    I see a couple of worrysome things in the letter that are not all related.

    Issue #1: I don’t want to seem like I’m pouncing on him as soon as he’s free. Of course, I also don’t want someone else to snatch him up while I’m waiting for him to recover.
    Am I the only one who is a little uncomfortable with this language? New Guy is a person, not a fieldmouse running from a hawk. I assume he has some agency of his own, and is capable of saying “no” to women who ask him out.

    LW, are you dying of a terminal disease? Have you signed up for the Peace Corps? Are you applying for out-of-state jobs? Are any of these true for New Guy? Does New Guy know a lot of attractive women in a casual sense? Is he often out at social events, meeting new people? If it’s “no” across the board, then where is this sense of urgency coming from? What’s the hurry?

    Issue #2: [ New Guy ] has made vague statements about how timing never works out right in life.

    That sounds rather… passive to my ears. Like New Guy isn’t so good at standing up for what he wants, or protecting his own boundaries. It’s a lot to read into a single sentence, but LW, think carefully about how it might happen that one person might have such awful timing over & over & over again.

  7. Christina said:

    In defence of LW, I do think this is a bit unfair. Although I get where you’re coming from with the uncomfortable language, I think this is a cultural problem rather than a case of LW exhibiting a particularly troubling mentality. We, as a culture, have a disconcerting habit of talking about romantic partners or potential partners in terms that negate their agency. To some extent this is a reflection of our limited field of influence: I cannot control whether my crush will fall for somebody else or not, but it’s still probably in my best interest to make my feelings known sooner rather than later. If I don’t it’s not unreasonable to assume that, statistically speaking, they are likely to become involved with somebody else. And although I agree that the vocabulary often used to express this limitation is troubling, LW is not exceptional in using it nor does it necessarily reveal an attitude dismissive of the guy’s personhood. Rather it’s a question of what’s the best approach to take *given* that other people are unpredictable and have the right to make their own choices.

    For the rest, out of context it’s impossible to interpret the guy’s comment correctly. I mean, sometimes people moan and whine and like to pretend that the universe is plotting against them and their lives have been particularly difficult – even when they know perfectly well that that’s not the case. Sometimes they choose language calculated to convey a message rather than describe a reality. In this case, I think LW seems to be hopeful that the guy’s comment was a hidden suggestion that he likes her, but that the timing is bad. And maybe it was! But I don’t think we have enough to go on to reach that conclusion anymore than we do that he’s really an extraordinarily passive doormat.

    • Christina said:

      Um, to be clear: I was replying to RodeoBob, not the Captain’s advice, which I actually think is pretty sound.

  8. Eclairity said:

    I am on team Do Not Date This Dude, but not because he has a GF that he will be breaking up with soon but because he talks about his relationship to others enough that you picked up on it.
    Here is the thing, the stuff he is saying to friends ABOUT his GF is a discussion that he should be having WITH his GF. Maybe she is a soul sucking she-devil who RUINS EVERYTHING. Maybe they are just unhappy and should break up, but the fact that he is not having this talk with her means that some one is fucking up and it is not her.
    If he can’t break up with her because he doesn’t want to hurt her or be the bad guy even though they are unhappy means that he doesn’t want to do the emotional heavy lifting that comes with a relationship.
    This also means that if you do date him, what is to stop him from pulling this same shit on you? So you will find out that something is wrong with your relationship through other people. Not fun, also humiliating.
    Look, talking to your friends about your relationship is not a Bad Thing.
    Ex: talk I had recently with a friend “Being in a relationship and being in love with BF makes me feel emotionally vulnerable and that makes me uncomfortable, how do I deal with this in a mature way and not just shut out BF because I am scared?” her answer, “Are you getting signals that he is going to hurt? Warning signs? No? Then that is just something that happens in any relationship. Caring about someone leaves you vulnerable, there is no way to get around that.” ( this is a more succinct version of the conversation, there was actually a lot more of me being, “Nonononono! must be protected at all times!*foot stamp*”)
    After this conversation I went home and told BF about my feelings and we talked about it.
    See? Discussion about relationship where no one gets hurt.
    It is a common assumption that women have to do all the work in a relationship because guys just can’t handle all your Crazy Emotions! (Girls! So Emotional! amirite!) This is not true, unfair, and super sexist. Guys are not emotionless robots who can’t handle the illogical and wimmin aren’t hormonal Crazy Bitches. We just get told this story over and over again until we believe it. Men and women are fully functional human beings able to do the work involved in an adult relationship, but the responsiblity goes both ways.
    Doing all the emotional work by yourself in a relationship is REALLY HARD and VERY DRAINING and you see this shit ALL THE TIME. Until it becomes something you see as inevitable, but it isn’t.

    • Esti said:

      I agree that the LW should stop thinking lusty thoughts about this dude and his possible breakup, but I think it’s a little unfair to decide the guy is jerkily oversharing about his relationship. All we know from her letter is that he has told people he is close to, while in earshot of the LW, that the relationship is in a rocky place and he’s not sure it will last much longer. That doesn’t mean he’s not talking to his girlfriend about things — if anything, it suggests the opposite to me. And while people can certainly go too far in sharing about their relationship with people not in the relationship, I really don’t put telling your friends that things aren’t going well/are possibly ending in that category. Those are the situations where you need support from your friends.

      Now, if the guy is telling everyone he knows about his relationship issues, that’s a different story (and maybe that’s what’s going on, since the LW has overheard him, but I can’t tell from her letter). And in any event, it’s a bad idea to get attached to someone in the middle of maybe-breaking-up with their current partner. But I don’t see anything in this question that suggests the dude is shutting his girlfriend out while spilling their secrets to the world.

      • Eclairity said:

        Good point, Esti. After rereading the letter I realized that I thought this dude had been complaining about his girlfriend for a month not that the LW had know this guy for a month.
        In my experience, guys who complain incessantly about their GFs are usually Bad News, because the story is usually that she is a terrible terrible person that they never ever break up with. Mostly because they don’t know how to be alone or feed or clothe themselves. They are invariable nice, cute, funny guys who portray themselves as helplessly in the grip of a succubus because…? After years of holding those guys hands as they weep ceaselessly on my shoulder, now I’m like DTMFA stat! And if that doesn’t happen, I’m all, “I’m out! Don’t want to talk about it! Break up or not! Don’t care, just stop talking about it!”
        So, my bad. Sorry LW. I’m sure your fellow is nothing like this.

  9. Eclairity said:

    In another possibly related note, there have been a ton of people that I have wanted to bone and possibly date because I was getting insistent Notes From My Vagina.
    They usually fall along the lines of, “Ignore those warning signs! You should totally fuck that guy! Seriously! Have I ever led you astray? Trust me! You will never bone some one as hot and funny as this guy! Ever!”
    At which point I cover my ears and say, “Lalalala. I’m not listening to you! You have led me astray before. There are a ton of doable dudes out there but this is Not one of them.”
    Not once in all the years I have not responded to these insistent notes have I ever regreted it.
    In fact, when I encounter one of these guys later down the road all I ever think is, “Whew, BULLET DODGED! What were you thinking, Vagina!?!”

    • Eclairity said:

      Which isn’t to say that my vagina is an unreliable indicator, just when my brain and vagina are having serious disagreements, my vagina is usually in the wrong.

      • CoolNewAnonymousNickname said:

        Nothing useful to contribute that everyone else hasn’t already covered beautifully, but just think we need to have the brain vs. vagina quote by Eclairity cross-stitched onto samplers. So. Awesome. Also, was it just me, or did anyone else think of the brain-vagina battle like Zoolander? ‘It’s a walk-off…..Old School rules.”

        • Eclairity said:

          I would say this comment made me giggle but in all honestly it was something more like this.

          p.s. it is muttley snickering, also I have no idea how to do links so if it doesn’t work, sorry?

      • human said:

        Haha, I like this. My experience is similar with ONE notable exception. The guy I didn’t bone because my brain went “OMG WHAT WILL OTHER PEOPLE THINK”? I totally should have boned him. There was no reason whatsoever for me to give a crap about other people’s opinions (if they had even cared which they probably would not have), and he was cute, and he liked me and I liked him. Lesson learned!

        • PomperaFirpa said:

          YES. I had the recent epiphany that I, as the owner and operator of my Me Myself and I, am damned silly if I act like other people’s opinions are more important than my actual life. It’s my life! I am not only allowed, but expected to find it important!

          This is probably something I should have figured out a long time ago.

          • Eclairity said:

            Ha! yes, I had a similiar epiphany while reading “Sir Apropos of Nothing” when the main character realizes that he is actually the supporting cast to some other guys story. It was funny until I realized that my whole life I had been groomed to be supporting cast in some dudes life.
            Then I got angry, was all like, hold the phone, that is seriously fucked up.
            This was also the point when I stopped looking to be someone’s GF and started living my life. “I’m doing my own thing and it is so much fun, if you want to hit this I will be over here being awesome, feel free to call,or not, whatever, I’m busy.”

    • PomperaFirpa said:

      Oh my God, yes. I have a long list of guys who were the subject of similar Notes From My Vagina and who swiftly turned out to be really, really bad news. On one memorable occasion the friend I’d been confiding in re: my groiny feelings for a guy told me to go for it, and then that very night hooked up with the dude herself. I was mad at the time, but considering what a useless leech he turned out to be, long-term me is nothing but grateful that she took that bullet for me. WHEW.

      • Eclairity said:

        Yeah, I think I owe someone flowers. Though the conversation would probably go something like this, “Thank you for leaping on that unexpoded grenade of awful for me! What? You’re married to him? With two kids? I think I hear my mother calling!”

  10. PomperaFirpa said:

    LW, I know all about “being prepared”– that’s the way I’ve lived most of my life. What it translates to, every time, is “I can’t do anything, so I am doing make-work in my brain so I can pretend I’m doing something and thus ignore the fact that I’m not in control of this situation.” What it actually does, is make me stressed and worried, and headachey, and cranky, and makes people think I am a little on the nutty side. It does not make me happy, and it absolutely does not actually help if the situation comes to pass.

    You have no control over when (or whether) this dude ends his relationship, and in the meantime you are cramping your own style and running in little brain-circles trying to figure out how to control the outcome of a hypothetical situation. I know! I have done it a lot! It came up every time I had a crush on someone and was obsessing over how, in theory, if it ever came up, I could make my move and have it lead to good things with no bad things. It sucked, largely because I tended to prioritize my PLAN over other things in my life, like going out, having fun, meeting people, and being awesome. That was no good.

    The worst part? I never hooked up with any of those guys. They kept dating women who actually went and did things.

    LET GOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO. Go, do other things, live actual life. If this guy is attracted to you, he is attracted to the YOU that includes the way you embrace the life you lead. He is not going to be put off by you continuing to be awesome. Ergo, you lose nothing by letting go of this thought process, and you gain fun, and activities, and if it turns out he is not actually into you, or he never ever breaks up with his girlfriend, you will not have been wasting all your time waiting for him and stressing over stuff you cannot in any way control. There is no downside!

    • JenniferP said:

      Thanks, this is the response I wish I’d written.

      • PomperaFirpa said:

        Holy cow, I am gonna live on this comment for DAYS.

    • Stephanie said:

      I think you and I are probably fairly similar. I’ve “borrowed trouble” and hashed out possible outcomes to hypothetical situations all for naught. I actually had a discussion with a friend who was in a similar relationship debacle as LW, and I was wise enough to counsel her not to borrow trouble and only worry about herself and what she CAN DO RIGHT NOW WITH LIFE. Sometimes I wish I was wise enough to take my own advice.

  11. solecism said:

    As the captain has said before, if it’s good, it won’t go away, it’ll come back around etc. My current relationship is a fine example of that. Zie was my crush when I was 16-17. I did my best to proposition zie by offering a backrub in zie’s bedroom and was turned down cold. Yet I thought there were feelings! Mutual attraction! Naive young-me was so confused and hurt and did not use words. Naive young-me didn’t think that statutory rape applied to self (that this may have been the motive for rejection didn’t occur to me until I was almost 30). And then the timing was never right. Zie was in a relationship, or I was, or we were too many states apart. Finally, six years ago, I broke up with my abusive ex and made a beeline for youthful crush, turning a “might have been” into “how about it?” We’ve been together ever since, but it took 20 years to get to it. We’re slow. And if we’d tried it when we were young, it would have been an incendiary failure. It was worth waiiting for, though I wouldn’t recommend this timeframe for others.

    Additional notes–I warned zie that there was a risk of this being a rebound, since I didn’t allow any recovery time before taking the initiative for the first time ever. But it turns out it wasn’t a rebound, just long unrequited. And zie warned me that zie didn’t do casual, but only long-term monogamy, not at all reassuring to someone who’d just spent 7 years trapped in an abusive committed relationship. After an awful breakup, the thought of dating was terrifying, and I thought I was broken in so many ways. The only reason I thought this was a possibility was the comfort of the familiar past. “We now return you to your regularly scheduled life” was zie’s quip once we agreed to date. Hard to say whether either of these would be considerations for the crush of your situation.

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