Dear Captain Awkward,
A few months ago I started seeing a kind, wonderful man who I fell hard for, quickly. We had a wonderful time together and he was very involved in planning dates, initiating physical affection, starting conversations, etc. After about a month, before we’d had sex, he told me he was not ready for a relationship (although he was the one who asked me out) because he realized he was not as recovered from his divorce as he thought. I don’t know the full details (I figured I had plenty of time to get them as we got to know each other better) but I do know he’s in his late 20s, was in that relationship for nine years, and was divorced less than one year when we met.
I understand and accept that explanation. Being a few years younger, and never divorced, I know that I can’t possibly put myself in his shoes or begrudge him his decision. I thanked him for being honest, told him I’d enjoyed our time together, and have not contacted him since. That was literally all I said. I started seeing other people; however, I haven’t been able to forget him and that over-the-moon feeling I had when we spent time together. I’ve been in long and short relationships, a few of them fantastic, but I have never felt that way about anyone, and I can’t stop thinking about him. I haven’t been able to go on more than a couple dates with anyone I’ve met since, although they’ve all been interesting, interested, and treated me amazingly.
I feel like I may have made a mistake in not letting him know how I feel or letting him know that I have no intention of pressuring him into a serious relationship, I just want to spend more time with him and have fun together. I’ve always believed that if someone likes you, they will make it happen, but I also know that this situation is a little more complicated. At this point, I have little to no expectation that he will want to get back with me, but I’ve been longing to contact him just so that I can say I did try for something I badly want. My heart can’t quite accept that something so promising can go away just like that, and I don’t want to always regret never giving it a shot. Will I feel better if I say something, and at least have closure, or will I be embarrassing myself and destroying my pride? If not, how do I move on from the knowledge that I may have met the right one at the wrong time?
This guy doesn’t want to be with you. “Not ready for a relationship right now” almost always means “I don’t want a relationship WITH YOU.” Timing matters sometimes, yes, and people reconnect sometimes, yes, but if he were feeling the same connection to you that you were feeling to him, timing would not matter and you would be together. Yes, he dated you. Yes, he initiated hanging out and physical affection. You offer these details as proof that he really wanted something to happen, and yes, he really wanted to date you for a while and figure out if there was a lasting connection there. Chemistry is great, but it isn’t everything, and it can fool us badly. It sucks when everything seems to be going well, the person is giving you all these signs that they like you, and you are responding the way you are supposed to to that attention, and then, *poof.* See Shirley Jackson’s short story The Daemon Lover for a good illustration of that emotional landscape. But if the shoe were on the other foot, as it is with the nice men you’ve been dating since, you know that kisses aren’t contracts, and a few dates is not a forever commitment, it is a period where you are evaluating and deciding if you want another person in your life. He decided. He decided, “No.”
The best way to get over pining like this is to stop indulging the “If onlys….” (If only we had met a few months later! If only he weren’t so recently out of a relationship! I forgive him! We can make it work!) and remind yourself of the (admittedly cruel) fact: He had the opportunity to choose me, and he chose otherwise. Those “if onlys” are lies we tell ourselves, about how this was supposed to work out but cruel fate intervened, when the truth is that this was about a series of decisions.
If someone I’d gone on a few dates with and broken things off with reached out to me and explained how they didn’t want to bug me or pressure me into anything, but they couldn’t stop thinking about me and that memories of our brief time with them were ruining their ability to date other people, and could we just spend some time together?, I would respond politely like this:
“That is very flattering, but sadly, I think I made the right decision for me. I wish you well, though!”
And then I would block all electronic means of communication and dread running into them again. Because that is way too much pressure to ever have even the possibility of a casual, fun, hangout, it is not actually flattering, and I don’t want that much power over another person’s happiness.
Letter Writer, you did the cool thing. You are in the middle of doing the cool thing! Which is to accept rejection as rejection and try to move on. If things are meant to work out with this guy – he has a change of heart, or you guys just drift back into each other’s lives – it will happen. Because your interests and social circles and lives will carry you back together. I hope it happens and I am proved very, very, very wrong. But you can’t plan for that, and you can’t decide that. You have to accept that he has already decided. You are being so sweet to try to be understanding and “forgive” him his reasons, but you don’t get extra credit for that, and he doesn’t owe you anything.
He can’t give you closure. You make that for yourself.
I am so sorry, that sucks, and I have been there, and there is no cure but letting more time pass and pulling yourself out of “If only…” land. Treat it like a breakup and grieve it like a breakup. If dating isn’t making you feel good, throw yourself into other parts of your life and give it a break for a while. It will be there when you want it again.
Because there are more dudes on earth, Horatio. He is not the right one at the wrong time, because he is not the right one (if he were, you would be together and it would be easier than this). The things about you that attracted this guy and the series of great guys who treat you well are still present in you, and you have more information now about the kind of person you are looking for. You are right not to waste time getting more deeply involved with people who don’t excite you the way this guy did (which is what he did when he broke things off with you, and well within his rights). The next time something like this comes along, you’ll recognize it and value it, and hopefully it will one of the possible right ones at the right time.