Hey there Captain Awkward, I don’t normally post these things, but I’m taking a big step and reaching out to you in the hopes that I can get some useful (if not probably obvious) advice from you.
I have been in a relationship with a man 8 years younger than me for the past three years and I have recently moved cities to be closer to him. When we had talked about me moving closer, we had also talked about moving in together. He seemed excited at first, but when it became real he quickly backed out and said he wasn’t ready for that kind of commitment. So I moved into my own apartment and even though I was sad we weren’t making a move together, I knew that this was going to be an exciting new adventure for me. The summer was great, until he found out that he didn’t pass one of his qualifying exams. I should mention that he is doing a very stressful PhD program and has recently started on anti-anxiety medication to help cope with the stress he is under.
A few weeks ago, he out of the blue tells me that he doesn’t want to be with me anymore because I will be too old to give him children when he ready to do so. I was stunned…literally I had just made this man dinner and we had been watching tv for an hour when he drops this bombshell on me. I freaked out…rightly so I think! Anyways, a few days later I sent him a message saying that I needed to talk to him face to face and that I had questions for him about the real reasons he didn’t want to be with me. So he came over, and within 2 seconds he was crying like the Nile saying that he was so sorry, and that he has been under a lot of pressure and that he felt he just didn’t have time for a gf and he didn’t know what else to do. Me being the understanding person that I am, forgave him and decided that mistakes are best left in the past and perhaps a fresh start was in order where we give each other more space when feeling pressured by extraneous forces.
Fast forward three weeks to today…We spent our first night together since our split and everything was great. It felt relaxed and “real”. Until he left his facebook open…I should have closed it, but for some reason I got a “feeling”. Sure enough, he was writing an old flame about “how he was just getting out of something serious” and was making plans to visit a girl in Europe to meet up with her friends in a month. I’m distraught and feeling so taken advantage of. I sent him a message asking if he was being honest with me about how he really feels and what he really wants. He said that everything was great and he’s super stoked. WHAT AM I DOING WITH THIS PERSON???? Am I wasting my time here or do I give him the benefit of the doubt (especially since I was snooping) and be patient?
I have been where you’ve been, namely:
- The guy I’m involved with gives me A LOT of information, up to and including saying words like “I don’t see a future together,” about his commitment to a relationship. See also:
- Being really enthusiastic about being with me, talking a lot about stuff like moving in together, and then getting cold feet when it comes down to actually doing it. Like, the time I moved back from New York City to be with someone who broke up with me the very next morning (*after* sleeping with me one last time, of course. Just to be sure!).
- Leading me to think it’s a monogamous, exclusive relationship while simultaneously talking/chatting/emailing with future flirtation/make-out partners as if the relationship doesn’t actually exist.
- Me having lots of those “feelings,” like the one you had that led you to snoop into this dude’s messages.
Snooping is wrong, we should respect each other’s privacy, etc., etc.
- Cheaters are terrible at logging out of their shit.
- Your instincts told you something was up and when you dug deeper, there was something to find that justified that feeling.
- Once you snoop, you pretty much lose the moral high ground, because any revealing of what you know and how you found it makes the other person instantly outraged at the privacy violation – legitimately so! If you confront him, he’s going to have an explanation that sounds reasonable + a lot of righteous anger at the privacy violation.
- However, you KNOW that he was flirting with other ladies and talking about your relationship in the past tense, which is not something that people who are madly in love tend to do.
- Even if you’d found nothing out of sorts, you are feeling “off” about the relationship enough to commit a major privacy violation. Something is not right here! Your gut is telling you some stuff, so listen to it!
I’m not going to say that people never have second thoughts, that they never flirt with or think about other people, and that relationships are never repaired successfully after trust has been breached, or that people never change their mind about breaking up.
But, I think this guy is giving you a lot of information, and some of those pieces of information tell you that:
- He is capable of hiding his unhappiness and second thoughts and then springing stuff on you out of the blue when you think everything is going fine.
- He doesn’t seem to talk over his doubts or problems in a way where you get to have any input or time to process anything, it’s all “YOU’RE THE GREATEST, PLEASE MOVE HERE” “NOPE, SORRY, LET’S BREAK UP.” “OH SORRY THAT WAS AN ERROR, NOW WE’RE BACK TOGETHER!”
- A setback for him (failing exams) is taken out on you. YOU didn’t fail his exams. The RELATIONSHIP didn’t fail his exams.
So. I’ve been where you’ve been. And my tactic for dealing with it was to become the most chill, patient, forgiving, understanding, laid back, relaxed, cool girlfriend EVER. I will KNIT this thing back together with the POWER OF MY MIND and the STRENGTH OF MY CHARACTER.
I will show you that BEING THE BIGGER PERSON and LETTING YOU BE YOU and NOT GETTING HUNG UP ON PETTY STUFF (monogamy, planning where I will live in the future) is the way to happiness!
And when my needs come into conflict with what is actually happening, I will teach myself not to need those things anymore. I will sacrifice them on the altar of TRUE LOVE. Our relationship will be like a constant audition where I strive only to show the best, prettiest, least messy parts of myself to prove that we should be together! I will also use LOGIC and REASON. Pro & Con lists are romantic, right? Long late night talks with crying are romantic, right?
This kind of shitshow is how, after moving back from New York and getting dumped, I ended up going to his kid’s birthday party – “I want you to meet my son,” he said. “I want to introduce you to my mom and my best friend,” he said. “I want you to meet my actual girlfriend who I’ve been with the entire time we were also dating” and “I will introduce you as the (unpaid) videographer,” was strangely silent.
And I stayed there, and I taped it, because I if I couldn’t have that dude then the award for Most Patient and Accommodating Lady would be mine. I would PROVE MY WORTH.
I hope your dude is not like that dude in my past, Patient, and I hope this was just a momentary glitch on your long road to happiness.
But I do have some advice for you. First, if he makes any noises about breaking up again, BELIEVE HIM. Get out. End it. Get off the roller coaster.
Next, questions of a mundane and practical nature.
Your career/job. Do you like it? Is it what you want to be doing? What’s your plan for the next few years with work (or education, etc.)? Is that plan served by you being where you are, doing what you’re doing? Spend some time thinking about that.
That little apartment you pay for yourself…is it tricked out just right, the way you want it to be, or are you treating it as a placeholder for the place you’ll eventually share with this guy?
This new city you moved to, do you like it there? Do you feel like you know it well? Have you been meeting people and making new friends and building a community and a life there? Do you have friends who aren’t connected to your boyfriend in any way?
Your old friends, your family, the people closest to you – how often do you see them and talk to them? Reach out with a phone call. Make plans for a visit. Remind yourself who you were before you ever met this guy.
Because my advice to you is to bite hard into your life and fucking feast on it. Surround yourself with people who say “hell yes!” to the prospect of your company and who reward your patience and forgiving spirit with steadfastness. Climb every mountain and ford every stream. Put some love into your home and your city and make it a place you can thrive and be at home with or without him.
This guy may care about you quite sincerely. You may have amazing chemistry. You may have many good days ahead. But he has told you in many ways that he is not a solid foundation for you to build your dreams on, at least not right now. He can be a part of your life, but he has some work to do to show he is serious and can be trusted. You did him the kindness of believing him when he came back, but do yourself the honor of believing in the part where he went away. Love him (it’s not like you can dissuade the Golden Retriever at will), but love yourself more.
And when you want stuff – reassurance, a solid plan for the future, to know what’s on his mind – ask for it without apology. YOU are not the one with something to prove, dear Patient. You are not the one who made this fragile and uncertain.