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#555: Carts, Horses, and the Order of Operations

Dear Captain Awkward:

How bad is it to get involved with a new person when I am still very hung up on someone else? Someone not available to me, but still part of my friend group? Even though I am still in love with him, I no longer hold out hope that we can be together and I feel ready to find someone else. What I’m afraid of is that I’ll meet someone new, and get involved, and then realize that I am not really emotionally available for him, which seems like an awful thing to do. But, I don’t see how I can know in advance whether or not I will love the new person more, unless I give it a try. Does this make me evil?

Part 2 of this question is, do I have to tell my new guy at some point about the old guy? Old guy doesn’t want me to, as he’s married and is afraid of the story getting out to all our friends and our children. Does it really matter if either I don’t love new guy enough to stay with him, or if I love him enough that I don’t love old guy any more?

Dang it,
Confused

Dear Confused,

In answer to two of your questions:

“Does this (meeting someone new when I’m still hung up on someone else) make me evil?”

No.

“Part 2 of this question is, do I have to tell my new guy at some point about the old guy?”

No.

Here’s what I see in your letter.

You’re still extremely hung up on Unavailable Guy, and as you decide (correctly and laudably!) to move on, your jerkbrain is still looking for ways to keep making him important in your life and central to your decision-making. You can’t go out and meet new people, because your feelings for Mr. Unavailable might get in the way! If you did meet someone new, you’d of course have to tell him about Mr. Unavailable because….fairness….or…something? This idea of being “fair” to him, or to your feelings for him, or making those feelings part of decisions you make is a way of holding onto him in the face of grief and loss.

Inadvertently, you are hitting on THE fear and THE central possibility that is between the lines of so many dating questions, when you say: But, I don’t see how I can know in advance …unless I give it a try. 

When seeking romantic love, you can’t know in advance how it will go. If you choose to try, you choose to do so without knowing or controlling the future. Because we feel out of control, we do what we’d do in other situations, which is to play the “what if” game and run through scenarios. What if New People like you but you don’t like them as much as you like Unavailable, and you hurt them? What if you like them more than they like you, and they hurt you? What if being so hung up on someone that you are actually planning out the moment that you tell people you haven’t met yet about Him puts the kibosh on your ability to move on?

What if you never find someone you like as much as Mr. Unavailable, and this was your one chance at this, and now you can’t ever, ever have it?

I don’t think that’s true, for the record, but I think it’s a thing that can feel really true. And I think that’s the question at the heart of your letter, the secret question that keeps you fixed on an intractable problem because at least it’s a familiar one. The problem of “What do I do about Mr. Unavailable and my feelings for him?” is a well-worn groove in your life, a broken-in shoe. New shoes are shiny, but they aren’t comfortable. Not the way the old shoes were. Those were broken in just right…except for the hole in the sole. Those were the perfect shoes ….except for the stench from when you wore them without socks in summer that will never quite go away.

So, how do you grieve, while opening yourself to the possibility of the future? There are some things you can do to take care of yourself in the aftermath of a breakup, and the rest is up to time.

I have loved, and I have lost, and every time the losing felt like it would be the end of me, and every time I tried to bargain – with myself, with the other person, with the universe – to make the ending not be real.

And every time, time did its work. Once, years ago, at a party I was throwing, I saw an arriving guest only from the back as he walked down the hall to stow his coat. I was in the middle of something and someone else had answered the door, so I didn’t quite catch who it was, just the back of him.

The back of someone I had slept beside for years.

The back of someone I had been convinced at one time I would marry someday, a person it had been very hard (though 100% correct) to leave.

And the thought that I had while watching his back walk up my hallway was “Who is that? Must be one of (roommate)’s friends” because I literally did not recognize him until he turned around. I was glad to see him, but the days where my happiness rose and fell with his were long over. My brain had cauterized the place where he was anything more than another well-wisher at the party.

That’s a particularly happy ending, as we stayed friends. There are other kinds of happy, healthy endings best described as “It was really painful break up, but then we went our separate ways, forever.

Time can’t work its magic if you’re still up in each other’s business all the time, if you’re still factoring him into your future decision-making or strategizing how you’ll deal with seeing him at Trivia Night. If seeing Unavailable Guy is painful for you, minimize how much you hang out with him. He’s part of the friend group, you say? Cool, you shouldn’t have to give up your entire friend group because of a romance that went bad. You’re so concerned about being “fair” to Mr. Unavailable and Theoretical Future Guy, maybe it’s time to be fair to yourself and ask Mr. Unavailable to step back certain events for a bit until you find your equilibrium and are not feeling so raw. He was a married guy and this was all a big secret, you say? Oh, okay, that adds a layer where you feel sad but you can’t publicly BE sad; you have to pretend that you are fine and that everything is fine, or people will Notice, and then they will Talk. Of course you’re feeling anxious and uncomfortable. Who wouldn’t have a hard time dealing with a bunch of secrecy and the fear of social fallout on top of rejection?

My recommendation is to make your old social circle a “small doses” thing, and go to their events only when you’re feeling strong.  Put your energy into meeting new people – all kinds of new people, not just potential dates. Some of those people might be new date prospects. Some of them might be new friends. All of them might be people who don’t know about you & Unavailable, people who don’t remind you of him, people who won’t bring you into contact with him or into situations where you have to fake being okay. And the very act of changing up your routines will be healing for you, will breathe fresh air into your life.

I think you should talk to someone about your time with Unavailable. But you are correct that “I’m only actually dating you because the person I really love is married and doesn’t want to be with me, and I’m not sure I can ever love you the way I loved him. But I’m willing to try!” + “Well, I’m just trying to be honest with you” are not words you probably want to deliver out loud to others. In fact, I would be wary of any new dating partner who hears that and says “sure!” or gets really into your history with Unavailable and wants process the gory details at length.

The intimacy of being close to and comfortable with someone after a long time grieving a breakup can make the temptation to use the new person as a sounding board a strong one, and it’s easy to advocate telling everything for the sake of “openness” or “honesty.” We need to be honest with the people we love, but there is also love (and honesty, and self-awareness) in asking yourself who is the right audience for certain discussions, when they happen, and how much you tell. Some things, like overburdening a new love partner with old love business, can be dressed up as the good kind of honesty. But if you haven’t done the work on your own to process this stuff, it can really be a self-indulgent way to keep talking about your ex and stay in your feelings about them…to a fresh audience.

May I suggest a pro counselor of some stripe for any details beyond “I broke up with someone last year, and it laid me low for a while, but I’m ready to meet new people again”? Use a therapist, use a journal, use a trusted friend who knows what actually went down, and tell the story over and over again until it bores you. Tell it until it sounds like something that happened to someone else, a long time ago. When the details are just mundane, and you can say what happened without analyzing and second-guessing or justifying your decisions, when it takes 2 minutes to tell rather than 2 hours, you’ll know that you’ve healed.

In the meantime, if you want to try to go on some dates, try going on some dates. It is okay to go on some dates without putting your entire romantic history and your entire heart up for grabs. If they are lackluster and you don’t feel excited, if it feels overwhelming or like too much effort, don’t go on more dates with those people. If some of that is secretly about how they compare to Unavailable Guy, they don’t have to know that. If someone stands out from the crowd – he’s really great, he’s into you, you’re always excited to see him, he’s emotionally available and not otherwise attached (this should be your new operating baseline, it will save you a lot of grief or at least from repeating the same grief), give it a chance and get to know him better. If he supplants Mr. Unavailable in your heart, you have very good problems. If he doesn’t, and it ends, let it end. But again, you don’t have to tell him the reason beyond “You are great, but I don’t want to take this deeper or further, I’m sorry.”

Don’t get involved with anyone you don’t adore. But also, don’t use the specter of Unavailable Guy as a reason to keep good people at arm’s length because you’re scared. Being scared is just part of the territory of the unknown, which you have to venture into, because it’s where the future lives. The thing about the future is that you’re going there no matter how you go, whether it’s kicking and screaming, hung up on somebody who doesn’t want to be with you, or cautiously excited and brave. You’re asking the hard questions now, which has me leaning toward “brave,” so here’s hoping that fear will soon start to feel like freedom and possibility.

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66 comments
  1. My heart is so happy every time I see that Tim Minchin video.

    • olives said:

      Me too! Totally encapsulates the irony of thinking that you’ve come across the single person in 6.5 billion people (is it 7 now?) who is singularly most compatible with you. And would you know it, they happen to live just across town!

      • edelc said:

        just a FYI for the captain, not in response to this thread, but the only video clip I see in this thread is an ad from the EU, I am guessing from the comments above that there is suppposed to be a tim minchin video?

        • Ms. Kittenwhiskers said:

          I think it’s linked in the post, but the video itself is not actually in the post proper. At least, that’s how it is for me.

          • Datdamwuf said:

            yes, click on CAs part of response “I don’t think that’s true” for Minchin vid, I love that one too :)

      • I do sex ed work w/teenagers and young adults, and the “soulmate” idea comes up from time to time. I always try to push back against that concept as subtly as I can, so I don’t come off as an adult who Just Doesn’t Understand, but I think the entire concept of a soulmate/The One can make for some really unhealthy relationships and expectations.

        And yeah, if I did have a soulmate, statistically they’d probably speak a different language from me and live faaaar away where I’d never encounter them.

      • sarahplainandsmall said:

        To be fair, the idea/fear isn’t ironic. 7 billion people are not available to each and every other person on the planet. It’s not comforting to know there are literally billions of other people in the world. I am interested in a man (so cut 7 billion in half) around my age (which cuts 3.5 billion down further) who is straight (… further), available (… further), lives in my metro area (… further), shares similar values (… further), is attractive to me (… further) and is attracted to me (… further).
        It’s not hard to believe I’d be compatible with a lot of different people among the 7 billion. It’s hard to believe I’ll find someone in the whittled-down pool I’m working with, though.

        • B said:

          Yeah, no kidding. And for queer people seeking other queer people, the odds are even smaller.

        • What bugs me about the soulmate concept is that I’ve seen folks who believe that their partner is THE ONE and because of that belief are less likely to end a relationship that isn’t working out, or seek help in cases of abuse. I realize that there can be many complex reasons people stay in crummy relationships, and believing you’re with your soulmate and therefore can’t leave isn’t the whole of it, but I think it can contribute.

          • MamaCheshire said:

            It was the #1 reason I couldn’t leave, actually. And sometimes it was the only reason.

            I referred to my ex-Darth engaging in Abusive Woo in a previous post.

            A lot of the Abusive Woo was around the whole “soulmate” idea (which led to a way-the-fuck-too-soon engagement, which then upped the ante of the Abusive Woo to “we’re married already in the eyes of the Gods, you can’t leave me EVAR or you will be an Oathbreaker!!!eleventy-one!!!111!!). And this was supposed to paste over all of our (glaringly obvious to EVERYONE) incompatibilities, like:

            – He was a heavy smoker (tobacco at first, then pot as well) and I’m allergic to cigarette smoke. Every time we had sex in my apartment, he would immediately throw all his clothes on and run out for a cigarette and kind of sulk that I wouldn’t either come with him or let him smoke in the house.
            – I require cats in my home for my happiness; he was allergic. He told me that I could keep the cats Cute Gay Housemate and I had when Darth and I met but that I would never be allowed to get another cat again.
            – He didn’t share a number of my interests, and his way of dealing with this was to come to the thing I was doing and sit there looking unhappy and vaguely angry that he was there while I participated in whatever-it-was. I ended up quitting two different physical activities I really enjoyed because this was what he’d do in the classes and kind of dropping a lot of friend groups or at least only being friends at a distance.
            – Food was a constant source of fights because his repertoire of meals was pizza, mac and cheese (from a box; he was really rude about my homemade mac and cheese), burgers and fries, pancakes, ramen, cold cereal, and sometimes things like ravioli. This eventually expanded to chicken and corn. I liked to cook creatively and was close to vegetarian when we met. I developed some severely disordered eating during this relationship because it was a big rebellious act for me to wander off and eat something *I* wanted to eat.
            – He was very rude to my friends both regarding the above (insisting on someone getting a pizza for him when everyone else ordered Chinese because “I don’t eat that stuff”, loudly complaining about brunch menus) and regarding other activities that we planned (he hated theater because he couldn’t “suspend disbelief for a live performance”, that sort of thing).
            – A party we went to together sort of summed up our incompatibilities about how one should dress on semi-formal occasions: I was wearing a sequined sweater and long satin “ballroom” skirt, and he was wearing jeans and a t-shirt that had a hole in it.
            – Then…the drugs started. And apparently I was too concerned with holding office and chasing awards in the SCA (the group we met through) to appreciate that getting high was important to him.

            There was another piece of Abusive Woo in all of this that was really horrible. Tl;dr is that he tried to reframe a drunken makeout I’d had with the friend who introduced us, before Ex-Darth and I had met, as this friend attempting to sexually assault me. (FALSE. Oh so very false.) He THEN decided that this friend was, in this weird post-apocalpytic scenario that totally was going to happen after Y2K, going to “turn evil” and have to be destroyed by Ex-Darth and that this friend was subconsciously sending little psychic gremilns out to attack Ex-Darth. Just…WHAT.

            All this to say that I kind of associate the whole “soulmates” thing with Abusive Woo now. Which is funny because it’s something that people sometimes apply to Spouse and me. We and everyone around us knew that what we had was probably going to be serious by the end of the weekend that we met, and the relationship did move fast though not as fast as it did with Ex-Darth. Spouse and I met in July 2002, he moved in sometime during October 2002, we had the “Marriage? Yeah, we’ll do that!” talk and bought rings in November 2002, told my parents at Christmas dinner and started wearing our rings and telling everyone else about it at the New Year’s Eve party, had the fight where we came closest to everything ending in late 2003 but quickly decided to work it out, and got married in July 2004, two days short of two years after we met. While fast, this was better than getting “engaged” to Ex-Darth two weeks in and the “rings” being $5 hematite bands that regularly broke and had to be replaced.

            But yeah…never underestimate the power of Abusive Woo, especially over someone who is young and wants to be a moral and ethical person very very much. (And the Abusive Woo used by Ex-Darth had a nice side of throwing my sexual history, especially the “can’t be raped (again) if I don’t say no, so having lots of sexytimes now!” years, in my face and convincing me that not only was he my “soulmate” he was also my very last chance at finding a willing partner who would overlook the degree to which I was “damaged goods”.)

          • duaecat said:

            My own feeling on soulmates is… it exists, but in the same sense as blood type (Soul type?). There are people out there that click with you and match up in weird ways and finding someone like that, either with pantsfeelings or without is a wonderful thing. And they’re are people you’re kinda-sorta compatible with and people you don’t match up with at all.

            But not the idea “My soul is one half of a perfectly unique snowflake and only the other half will complete it.” I think that idea is a dangerous one.

  2. Good advice here from the Captain. Just want to point out that LW did not say they and Unavailable Guy had ever dated and broken up (understanding there may have been more that was edited out), but rather “I no longer hold out hope that we can be together.” I was in love with someone in my friend group for many years, and he was aware of it, but it never went anywhere because he didn’t want it to. After my now-husband and I had been together three years and were engaged, I told him about it. It had been such a big part of my life for so long, and we still spent time with my friend group, that it would have felt similar to hiding that I’d once been in a serious relationship with such-and-such friend, and by that point we were both very familiar with each other’s exes. But I didn’t tell him right away when we started dating because it seemed unnecessary and unhelpful.

    • JenniferP said:

      I honestly couldn’t quite suss out from the letter if it was a crush or an affair, but clearly the Unavailable Guy didn’t want people to know *something*….so…it feels like at least some mutual shenanigans were afoot that ultimately were cut off by Unavailable? Hard to tell.

      Whether it was a breakup of a physical, mutually romantic relationship or the rejection of a dearly-held desire, mourning it as one would any breakup is a good idea for the LW. Something was lost, even if it was only hopes & dreams, and being really nice to yourself as you recover and reframe is never a bad idea.

      • staranise said:

        The main way it matters to me is just: if it was an actual affair, I may frown at Unavailable Guy for telling the LW to hush it up but I can understand the motive. If it was a rejected desire, and he forbid her from telling people about something that happened to her, in which he took no active part except rejecting her, that is overreaching. It’s not something he has much of a right to ask of her. It’s her story about what she felt and experienced, and she is capable of telling it in a way that doesn’t land him in trouble.

      • Jaz said:

        And even if it was only hopes and dreams, I often find that they are the hardest ones to give up. And the hardest to explain to others, cos you never had anything real to start with.

  3. Bluegirl said:

    LW, I’m in the exact same place you are right now. I’m dating someone new while still in frequent and unavoidable (though pleasant) contact with a fairly recent ex who meant a lot to me, and it’s hard. It’s hard because I don’t know whether my new partner will balk at my weird sexual quirks or the dark, ugly parts of my soul or the way I wake up at sunrise, when I know my ex saw all these parts of me and loved me anyway. I don’t know whether new partner will make me feel beautiful or sexy or fascinating the way my ex did. I don’t know if we’ll work in all the ways that my old relationship worked. And yet, there were ways the old relationship didn’t work, and as time goes by and the new thing becomes a familiar thing, I’m realising it’s good at things that the old one wasn’t.

    It’s impossible not to compare the two relationships when the old one is still kind of raw, and right in front of me, and I remember how much I love her and she loves me and how good it made me feel. THIS FEELS REALLY UNFAIR. It feels really unfair to my new partner to think “I love the way we can sit here reading in bed together before we go to sleep hey it kinda reminds me of how my ex and I used to eat blueberries in bed and her lips would go all purple holy shit I miss that.” It IS unfair. But I also can’t help it, and I can’t help that I associate my ex with familiarity and things that are known, and my new relationship is by definition full of scary unknowns.

    The thing is, my old relationship is familiar and known *because it’s over”. It’s a fixed, finite, complete thing that CAN’T change or have unknowns any more, because it’s finished. And with time, my new relationship can become just as familiar and comfortable and alive and BRILLIANT as the old one until it eclipses it altogether, but I can’t rush that, either. It’ll just take more time.

    • esis0020 said:

      I love this point: “The thing is, my old relationship is familiar and known *because it’s over”. It’s a fixed, finite, complete thing that CAN’T change or have unknowns any more, because it’s finished.”

      I think I’m going to read it three more times. It was so true for me. I was always terrified to start something new after several of my relationships. But each time the new became the old (ie comfortably familiar). Now I’ve been with my partner for 2years, my longest romantic relationship. It was scary to start, but I’m so glad I did and that he’s not the boys from my past.

      So, LW? Yes it’s scary. But be brave and listen to the Capt’n. You can do this! :)

  4. Hi Letter Writer,

    8 years + 2 months ago I too was deeply in love with Unavailable Guy. A Nice Guy and I became friends and I knew that he was “interested” in me and in the interests of Openness and Honesty I admitted to him my deep Feelings for Unavailable Guy. He heard my story and was deeply moved by how Romantic it all was and he told me it didn’t matter to him and that he could and would wait for me. And I kept telling him that I didn’t feel “that way” about him but all he heard was that it was because of “unavailable guy” so he thought if he was Nice and patient enough eventually I would reward him with my heart and body.

    8 years + 2 weeks ago a Funny And Interesting Guy who was in my social circle and I who had chatted online on and off for a while ended up having dinner together and I… realised that I really liked him. I required a bit of a kick in the pants (from Unavailable Guy, of all sources) to stop firthing but 8 years ago I asked him out on a date and 1.5 years ago we got married so… yeah. My feelings for Unavailable Guy didn’t vanish in a puff of smoke – but my new feelings were suddenly at a much higher priority.

    (Also if you guessed that Nice Guy turned out to be not so nice and said mean things about me talked about his “lucky escape”… congratulations! That is exactly what happened)

    You and I are not the same person, Letter Writer, but from my experience Openness and Honestly about Unavailable Guy didn’t help me AT ALL. I thought that my Feelings for Unavailable Guy (and let me tell you, they were strong and all consuming) were holding me back from having pantsfeelings and heartfeelings for someone new…and so did that Nice Guy. It didn’t help either of us at all. When that new person came to my attention my feelings for Unavailable Guy didn’t matter. They were stored in a different compartment from my feelings for Interesting Guy and I was able to put them away in a cupboard instead of carrying them around and peeking on them every 10 seconds to make sure they were still alive.

    Go on some dates. Don’t use your feelings for Unavailable Guy as an excuse not to live your life. Don’t use them as an excuse not to fall for someone new or as a barometer of your new friendships or relationships – but don’t rush past your feelings to something new that you aren’t ready for. Maybe those feelings are trying to keep you safe from rushing into a relationship with someone who is actually bad news like mine were – or maybe they’re being overprotective. Only you can decide. You can’t make your feelings go away but all I can advise is that you be open to them dropping in priority in your heart.

    • thathat said:

      “I thought that my Feelings for Unavailable Guy (and let me tell you, they were strong and all consuming) were holding me back from having pantsfeelings and heartfeelings for someone new…and so did that Nice Guy.”

      Y’know, I think it’s worth noticing that a lot of times, having a Nice Guy like that can only make it harder to get over Feelings for Unavailable Guy. Because the Nice Guy is nice and interested, but, oh I just don’t feel anything like that for him, and really that must be because nobody but Unavailable Guy will ever spark such Feeling in me again, and not because Nice Guy is simply not someone I’m interested in.

      “They were stored in a different compartment from my feelings for Interesting Guy and I was able to put them away in a cupboard instead of carrying them around and peeking on them every 10 seconds to make sure they were still alive. ”

      Gold star for imagery. I love it!

      • Yeah, absolutely.

        And yeah Nice Guy behaved like a jerk when he told mean lies to all my friends, and I don’t feel like I was dishonest to him because I told him that I didn’t have feelings for him… but if I had realised that my lack of feelings for Nice Guy and my continuing feelings for Unavailable Guy were actually independent events and not related to each other: I would have saved both of us a lot of time and hurt feelings.

  5. olives said:

    Thanks so much for this, Captain. This is exactly the advice I came to this blog for a couple years back, and ultimately figured out by reading between the lines. Now I’m eternally grateful that New Partner DOESN’T know about the mess of Old Partner – it’s yet another confirmation that I exist and my life does not have to revolve around old drama.

    LW, go out and meet new folks, take it slow unless and until it feels exciting to move forward, and I really, really suspect that the more time you spend with new people, the less it will feel like Mr. Unavailable is the only partner you’ll ever have in this square dance we call life. May you find all the happiness, and freedom from trying to guess at your future =)

    • “I exist and my life does not have to revolve around old drama.”

      Yes! I think this can be especially true for women: you are not the sum of your romantic history. Which doesn’t mean that your romantic history isn’t important, but SO many other things are as well.

  6. Blue said:

    LW, I am so sorry you are in this position right now. Few things are harder than having to mourn the intimacy you had with another person while also attempting to heal. Funnily enough, I had my heart broken by someone very much in your situation a year ago, and I went through the same hypothetical run-down you’ve illustrated in your letter. The what-ifs played constantly in my head, and just as the Captain as pointed out, they all stemmed from the all-consuming anxiety that I had missed my chance with the only person who I could be happy with.

    But I hadn’t. In fact, the way he got handsy with me, ruined our friendship, and shot down my feelings was a gift. I no longer had to be emotionally invested in someone who was so engrossed in another person that they couldn’t even treat me with common respect. And while I don’t know your situation personally, after some distance, you may also start to see that Unavailable Guy was not your One Chance, and that there are better people to look forward to. I’d recommend reading the Captain’s previous columns in regards to manipulative/abusive behaviour, especially in reference to boundaries. It took me a long time, but after better understanding supportive behaviour thanks to my Team Me and reading columns like Dear Sugar and Captain Awkward, I was able to look back at my Former Friend and see how many of things he did were unethical, disrespectful and douchey. That is not to say that this will be your experience, but surrounding yourself with people and media messages that address what healthy and unhealthy relationships are is always a good idea.

    That, and doing things that bolstered my competence are what let me heal. The what-ifs were a convenient way of keeping me tethered to the past, so focusing on meeting new people romantically didn’t really benefit me. That may not be true for you, but regardless of whether dating right now is a good choice for you, I’d recommend doing some serious soul-searching. Doing terrifyingly new things was what helped me move on. Getting a new job, going on stage for the first time, starting to write again, and focusing on career goals all helped build back the confidence that my excursion with Former Friend had taken away. It may help you too.

    Everyone says time heals, and I know that the adage must sound completely cliche, but it’s true. Take the time to grieve and use the advice that the Captain gave you, and white knuckle through, as Clementine Von Radics would say. This man is not your sole chance at happiness or a grand love affair or true understanding. There will be other men, ones who will be better able to meet your needs. Maybe you will come to see this parting as a gift, or maybe you won’t. But you can heal if you let yourself, I can promise you that. I really hope you do, because it is so much better on the other side.

  7. My soul feels a bit calmer after reading this. Thanks so much Captain Awkward!

  8. Vicki said:

    Unavailable Guy might be amenable to “some version of it’s painful to see you a lot while I’m trying to move on from this Thing That Can’t Be, so can we agree to trade off some of the events of Mutual Friends’ Group?” Not everything, and not by asking their friends to invite only one of them, but maybe agree that if the group always has a Memorial Day party and a Labor Day party, she’ll get the first and he’ll get the second. This might involve some amount of coordinating with each other, but maybe coming up with some sort of schedule to divide certain things would be less stressful than running into each other there.

    I’m not sure how much of a “story” there is to “get out” to his wife and your or his kids; there being anything implies that he might also have some incentive to not be at the same events for a bit. N.B. This shouldn’t be any sort of “back off or else”: if he’s comfortable seeing you at every party, then it’s up to you to skip things if that would make you more comfortable. But that phrasing suggests to me that he might share LW’s desire to have less contact, and thus be amenable to that sort of arrangement, where someone who had no idea that she’d been crushing on them wouldn’t be.

  9. Palliser said:

    I’m in somewhat the same boat at the moment, and I’m sending you jedi hugs. Everything the Captain rings true from my experience (eventually you do get to that place where someone is a partygoer at the same party and nothing more) but in the meanwhile, it sucks. Sucks horribly and feels like February when you wish it was May. That having been said, I think it’s all right to bumble through a little bit of dating when you’re not sure how to do it. If you’re respectful, then you’re offering as much as anybody. I wish you tons of luck!

  10. panda flannel said:

    Captain, this might be the most beautiful advice of yours I’ve ever read. Thanks.

  11. I’d advocate seeing Unavailable Guy less, if that’s possible. I know he’s part of your friend group – but maybe you could hang out with individual friends for a bit? Or, as the Captain says, ask him to cut back on his friend group time so you can hang without being stressed? When I was trying to get over some unrequited love, it took being away from unrequited love guy for some solid time – and then it was like my brain flipped a switch from “I am involved with Unrequited Love Guy (even if I’m not TECHNICALLY involved with him)” to “Oh, look, this person over here is super awesome!” That absence was key for me.

    • I misread “advocates” as “avocados” and thought… doesn’t seem right? And yet the idea seems so right.

      I am avocadoing for you, LW!

      • thathat said:

        Oh, THANK you. While reading toughlittlebird’s comment, I started craving avocado and I had no idea why.

  12. Anisoptera said:

    Jennifer’s advice is really, really good, and I feel like it was important for me to read it right now.

    I want to add something – you can love more than one person at a time. In my experience there’s no truth to the idea that we can have romantic feelings for only one person, and that we have to purge the old before there’s room for the new. It is true that we don’t have infinite time and energy, and that relationships take up both of those (one of the many reasons I’m no longer interested in non-monogamy) but we have no real limit on people we can find attractive and fall in love with. It’s a strange cultural quirk really, because we don’t suggest that we can’t have a new friend until we’ve stopped liking at least one old one and we don’t need to forget about the first child before we can love the second.

    Perhaps by pursuing a new actually-available-guy you’ll be able to limit the amount of space the ghost of Mr Unavailable is taking up in your life. Don’t make your new relationships all about this old-one-that-never-was*, just be honest about your feelings and thoughts about the new relationship. It’s not about whether new-guy has killed your love for old-guy, it’s about how you feel about new-guy. Your love for Mr Unavailable might never really die – it might just fade into the background, become a thing you don’t think about that much, and that’s OK.

    Then one day, when you’re having successes with some new-guy and you’re sharing pieces of your hearts and your pasts you might say to new-guy “Oh Mr Unavailable – I used to have such a crush on him” or if you actually were together “Erm, yes at one time I was seeing Mr Unavailable, but his wife doesn’t know, and honestly I regret the whole thing and want to keep it discrete” (or whatever it is you actually want and feel) and it will just be information about your past. A new guy you develop feelings for will take up space in your thoughts and your heart, regardless of what other old lovers still linger there.

    *practical tip – avoid mentionitis. Mr Unavailable might still loom large in your mind, but don’t bring him with you on dates with new guys in the form of constant mentions and comments and discussions about this relationship-that-wasn’t-to-be. Don’t mention him at all until you’re having some kind of discussion of relationship history and then think brief and concise.

    • In my experience there’s no truth to the idea that we can have romantic feelings for only one person, and that we have to purge the old before there’s room for the new.

      Depends on how you’re wired. I’ve never been able to develop romantic feelings for someone new until my feelings for the last someone old are at least some degree of purged. The good news is, they do get purged eventually. A long period of absence helps.

      • olives said:

        Yep, this is what I was going to say, too. I totally get that for some people they can do the concurrent-loving-others-romantically thing, but my brain has never really been able to handle being in love with (or practically even interested in!) more than one person at a time.

  13. duck-billed placelot said:

    So, this bothered me a touch: “Old guy doesn’t want me to [talk to putative future loves about him]“.

    a) Do yourself a huge favor and stop talking to the guy who’s completely unavailable about your feelings. Not just your feelings for him – your feelings at all. If he’s been a big part of your emotional support system, it might feel weird for a while, but talking to him about your feelings is like ripping off a scab and then rubbing salt into it.*

    b) It’s not up to him. The Captain talked a lot, with a lot of wisdom, about the not-telling option, and the ‘telling a little bit, later on’ option. But at the end of the day, you get to decide how much and when and if to share details about your emotional/physical history. This unavailable guy whom you have given up hope of being with – he gets exactly zero says in your ownership of your life. And yes, the stories you tell about your life are part of that ownership. Even if he’s nervous about an affair coming out. Even if he has kids. Your life is yours, and the man you’re not with does not get to decide for your which parts of it you get to keep.

    *Ew. I just grossed myself out with a cliche simile.

    • JenniferP said:

      This is apt. Eff Unavailable guy and his needs, tell your story when and how you want to. Mostly I was on the side of don’t drown new partners in it if it’s just a way of staying fixated vs. actually healing; you don’t owe anyone the story.

      • LDN Layabout said:

        I think there is an onus on the LW to be careful though, if the Unavailable Guy wasn’t involved in the situation beyond ‘nothing can ever happen’. It does sound like something did happen from the letter, but honestly if it’s a situation where he was a good friend to her, discovered she had feelings for him and tried to back away, then spreading the LW’s story could be hurtful to him in many different ways even though it is her story.

        I guess this is more of a case if the new love interest is already part of the social circle.

        (I don’t even know if this makes any sense)

        • Yotey said:

          If that is the truth and the LW does not imply he did anything else, I don’t see the hurt to the fellow. I mean, in your scenario (which, we don’t know if it is correct) he did the right thing. Her saying that she developed feelings for X and she knows X is not available so she wants her friends to help her get out, go with her to a clown dancing club or w/e, really has nothing to do with him and does not make him look bad. Unrequited love is a well known occurrence, I don’t see how anyone could fault the person she felt it for.

          • LDN Layabout said:

            I guess I would see it as asking the social group to make a choice between the two of them, or even placing the burden of the LW’s feelings on X in a social perspective? Of course, it also depends on the level of sharing?

            I’ve been in a similar situation lately with someone who’s an integral part of a social circle I’m in, so that might be colouring my view of the (hypothetical) situation. This person is a fantastic person and a really good friend for a lot of people I know, but I inevitably leave any interaction I have with her on the edge of an anxiety attack, hating myself and hating HER while at the same time wanting to people please and have her like me. And honestly, this isn’t her fault, we just have different friendship styles that clash wildly even though we are friends with the same people without any issue.

            I’m the one who’s pulled back in this situation, because as far as I see it, this is my issue to deal with. With people who are friends with us both, I’ve given a view short explanation that doesn’t go into gory details and we haven’t discussed it since. It means I see less of them, but they should be able to have a relationship with her without my stuff colouring the situation.

            With people who don’t know her very well/at all? Yeah they know all the stuff. I told my flatmates a few of the situations and she’s already permabanned from our place with only one of them having met her. But they’re also my people and not shared friends.

            But yeah, this only applies in one situation and well, if he was cheating, if he was an involved party, then it’s a different story. I just don’t think a cut and dried, ‘yes, your feelings are the most important!’ really works in all situations.

      • Yes, I think the letter writer should be able to talk to her friends about this in a respectful way. She is going through things and could use their help, even if that help is asking her friends to spend time with her without the person she has feelings for.

        I am actually giving a bit of side-eye to the Unavailable man that he asked her to not talk about it. If he was actually her friend he would want her to do what she needs to do to move past her feelings for him. Asking her not to share the story reminds me of the other letter in which the LW did not want her ex husband talking to their friends about the divorce. She didn’t want him to do so because she did not want to own up to the hurt her actions caused. Does Unavailable think she will paint him in a poor light? Does he think there are times where he may not have acted 100% honorably?

        I don’t think she should trash him to mutual friends, and of course the children should not be involved in adult personal matters. But she should be able to say that she has these feelings and wants help dealing with them for a while. If he acted poorly that is not her fault and it is on him.

    • Yes, yes, yes. Depending on circumstances, an argument can be made for not getting mutual friends involved. Maybe. But LW doesn’t owe it to Unavailable Guy to keep him a secret from all new partners forever.

    • Seconded. He is no longer intimately entwined with your emotional state, much of your inner workings should not be relevant to him, and what is relevant to him he doesn’t necessarily need to know. If you’re desperate to tell him something, whether it’s to rant or mourn or just because you think he’d be interested, try writing it down instead where no-one but you can see-it’s a cliche but it can be really helpful.

    • mamacitaconpistoles said:

      Yup. This guy? Needs to read the column for the LW in the previous one who worried her ex might give a version of events that didn’t reflect the story she wanted to tell.

      Doesn’t work like that for the other LW, doesn’t work like that for Unavailable Guy.

  14. Jane said:

    Here be great advice!

    A few added thoughts from my life:

    1. Do not feel obligated to keep yourself to a schedule for getting over Unavailable: just keep working on all the framework for doing so in wee little steps — therapist, meet new people, work on hobbies, good self-care, etc. I see that people advise that sort of scheduling quite often (“give yourself two weeks to mourn the breakup”) and the truth is that I think that if you are if a healthy mental place that can be a good tool to keep yourself from wallowing, but if you are not, it’s more important to be tender with yourself than try to worry about whether you’re recovering fast enough.

    2. Possibly investigate the depths of your anger toward Unavailable as a tool for getting back on your feet, because it sounds like even if he was a great guy he may have been fucking with you. NOT ACCEPTABLE. This will be easier if you are not seeing him very often.

    3. JOURNAL THAT SHIT. I have written the same letter to the same guy literally over one hundred times. (Never sent it.) 750words.com is your buddy! Or a word document, or whatever. IT IS A PLACE TO PUT YOUR OBSESSING AND VALIDATE IT.

    4. I made COPIOUS use of a duration calculator (http://www.timeanddate.com/date/duration.html) every day for several months. “It’s been three months and four days since I last contacted P.” “It’s been four months and two hours since I last spoke with P.” At some point those numbers will rack up to be more than the time you spent invested in Unavailable, and you will feel Fucking Powerful.

    Best of luck!

    • Jane said:

      Yikes, to clarify: the CAPTAIN’s advice is great. Mine is just a comment.

  15. Pseudonymeria said:

    Delurking to give a huge thumbs up to this advice, particularly the part about not oversharing with any prospective new dating partners. I spent the better part of my college years in love with a guy in my friend group. When we finally got together, it was heaven; when he broke it off three weeks later, I was devastated. It took a long time to get over it. In fact, one sign that I had very much not processed it even six months later was my insistence on rehashing the whole sorry tale with the guy who was about to become my new (and later my ex-) boyfriend… on our second date. I felt like I needed to be “honest” and get it out there for this new thing to really have a shot. But the fact that New Guy didn’t shut the whole thing down right there–that he actually proceeded to confidently analyze all my past and present feelings about the situation–was not, as I initially thought, a mark of his cool understanding cool chillness. Three months of jealous tantrums later, he was still bringing up my Unavailable Guy even while I was honestly sick to death of the subject, and we finally broke up in part because of his belief that I’d never care as much about him as I’d cared about U.G. Turns out, this was true! And there were many, many other reasons we were a bad match, so I guess in the end it’s good that the specter of Unavailable Guy was there to serve as a catalyst for the split. Point is, my impulse to use New Guy as a sounding board for my last relationship should have been a signal to me that I wasn’t ready to be dating (and, yeah, that I needed to find a therapist). And his immediate and continuous overinvestment in the story should have been a sign that he was not really a safe person to let into my confidence.

    For what it’s worth, I’m now in another relationship with a guy who is *actually* cool and chill and cool. I told him a very abbreviated version of the college story after we’d been together several months, only because Unavailable Guy (with whom I’ve maintained a coffee-once-a-year sort of friendship) was in town and we’d seen him at a party, and it kind of organically came up in the course of conversation. But I think I’d have been well within my rights to have kept it to a simple, “He’s my friend from college,” had I been so inclined. Because I actually *do* care about my current boyfriend more than I care about Unavailable Guy, and I don’t need to prove that to anyone anymore, least of all myself. Like the Captain says, time is on your side.

  16. misspiggy said:

    You just never know what will happen when the pressure’s off. Because I was convinced I would Never Love Again after a horrendously complicated relationship, I went into dating a new guy with a completely open mind. I told him I didn’t have any intentions of settling down with anybody at this point, and he was OK with just seeing where it went. I tried not to tell him too much about Never Love Again guy, and I didn’t use the new man as a processing-board for it all. But I was insensitive and defensive and weird for a while.

    He, being awesome, took it all in his stride, and occasionally called me on my defensiveness and insensitivity. We’ve been together for 12 years. I thank the great flying spaghetti monster that I managed to rein in the effects of the Previous Relationship enough to have fun with him, and that he was cool enough to cope with the times that I was a pain in the neck.

    Er, so what am I saying? I guess that it’s not all on you, LW. Don’t try to protect a future new man too much, because he may well be able to look after himself and be kind to you.

    • mallard said:

      “Don’t try to protect a future new man too much, because he may well be able to look after himself and be kind to you.”

      Yes! Thank you for this reminder.

  17. If you’re prone to overthinking, to turning over in your head every moment of your interactions, every detail of him to puzzle out what he really really means which is either the best or the worst possible interpretation but never in between, then you might benefit from giving someone else space in your head. The old idea of getting over someone by getting under someone else isn’t for everyone, but it has a kernel of truth. If you allow experiences with someone else to overlay your memories and wishes with the unavailable one, so that he isn’t the only person you can imagine doing these things with, providing your brain with a new model for how relationships go to shock it out of the old groove, as the Captain says. At the moment you’re probably very used to thinking about everything relationship-based with him in mind, so providing a new possibility and spreading the associations could be very helpful.

    You don’t have to wait until you’re completely ready. There might be no such thing, if trying is what makes you ready.

  18. From the side of someone recently dating someone in a similar situation, LW, definitely heed the Captain’s advice of ““I’m only actually dating you because the person I really love is married and doesn’t want to be with me, and I’m not sure I can ever love you the way I loved him. But I’m willing to try!” + “Well, I’m just trying to be honest with you” are not words you probably want to deliver out loud to others…Some things, like overburdening a new love partner with old love business, can be dressed up as the good kind of honesty. But if you haven’t done the work on your own to process this stuff, it can really be a self-indulgent way to keep talking about your ex and stay in your feelings about them…to a fresh audience.””

    The person I was dating definitely wanted her history to be an explanation as to why things were going the way they were going. But ultimately when it didn’t work out, the explanations didn’t make me feel any better – it made me feel like she was avoiding being emotionally honest about whether or not she was really interested in me by saying “ah well, I’m probably interested, it’s probably just my baggage from my ex!” when honestly, things didn’t work out because she just wasn’t into me that way.

    When meeting new people, try to focus on how into the new people you really are. Don’t do things because you think it’ll be “good for you to move on,” or whatever. Feelings are confusing, and I don’t blame the person I was seeing for having unexpected negative feelings or not knowing how interested she was in a relationship with me. I wish she’d had the Captain’s advice to only date people she felt enthusiastic about (and only do things with them that she felt enthusiastic about). I wish I’d been pushier about asking if she was certain, and saying “nope! let’s go hiking” when reservations came up. And I do wish she’d been able to just say “you know what, I’m not ready for this” or some other non-explanationy phrase, because the explanations made me feel like I had to be careful of her feelings while she was breaking up with me, and that sucked.

  19. “Time can’t work its magic if you’re still up in each other’s business all the time, if you’re still factoring him into your future decision-making or strategizing how you’ll deal with seeing him at Trivia Night. If seeing Unavailable Guy is painful for you, minimize how much you hang out with him.”

    I wish that this part was highlighted and blinking for LW.

    In my humble experience, time and distance has been the best medication for craptastic imploded romantic situations. Ever.

    It’s amazing how small something becomes once it’s out of your day-to-day life bubble. The absence of something that consumed that much of your efforts creates a vacuum and other things come in and fill the space. It can take effort, at first, to willingly not fill your time with Mr. Unavailable, but soon you’ll find yourself just too busy. And bored. It’s boring pining over someone who you’re not around and not talking about or facebook stalking. your mind will wander. You’ll start a project. You’ll organize a cupboard. You’ll ask a nice person out for coffee.

    “Let’s stay friends” is the worst plan to ever have after a failed romance. At least one party is emotionally wounded and the sea of feelings is still turbulent and stormy. “Let’s limit all communication to eachother for at least three months (or more months or several years) and see if we still want to be friends later” is a much better plan.

  20. remembersky said:

    Well, this is timely, because I’m kind of on the opposite side of this right now, and if it’s not too late, maybe Team Awkward has some wise words for me?

    I had my own Never Love Again breakup a few years ago and moved to a new city.. so took me a lllooonnnngggg time to feel up to just dating again. Finally did last summer, and had a bunch of pretty good first dates in a row. This one guy seemed great and cute, but at the first date admitted he had JUST
    – ended relationship with gf of 10 years
    – sold house in Old Town & moved to Current City
    – sold/gave up the business he owned and started at New Job
    Because of all of that I immediately thought, oh, well this is clearly not going anywhere, so might as well have fun, ended up with First Date Sleepover.

    Now 7 months later, we are still dating. Seeing each other about every week, talking on IM/text pretty much every day all day long. Having an amazing time, I really like him, we have a lot of fun together, and sexytimes are fantastic.

    Here’s the other shoe: the ex-gf still comes up All. The. Time. A couple months into it, he admitted that they were still talking a lot, she thought maybe they would just ‘take a break’ and try to work things out, he was positive he was not getting back together, but hadn’t quite told her yet. They have joint custody of a dog, so they see each other all the time, have dinner/drinks. He often helps her deal with craziness she is dealing with in her life, and I still sometimes am the audience for a rant about her and some latest drama he’s had to deal with with her.

    We have both been dancing around The Talk, because I think we both know that it won’t go the way we want it to. We reallyreallyreally enjoy being together, but I’m sure he’s still going to say he’s not ‘ready’ to be serious. And I am mid-30s, have spent a lot of time single in my life, I am really ready to be in something serious again.

    ugh, that’s really long, but anyway, if anyone is still reading and has any thoughts I would appreciate it. Or I will try to copy this over to the forums later ;o) TIA Awkwarders…

    • 30ish said:

      From the perspective of someone who started a new relationship soon after a very long one ended (“new” relationship now being 1.5 years old), I just want to say that it doesn’t have to be like this. It’s not a law of nature that someone who’s just broken up with their ex of 10 years still has to be in touch with her, have dinner, help her deal with drama etc. It would totally be in the realm of the feasible for your guy to reduce contact with his ex, shared dog or not. So I do think he’s probably somewhat using the fact that they have a long history to justify why they’re in touch so much. Also, it sounds like they never took a real break from each other & he even mentioned that for her, getting back together is a possibility, and he didn’t explicitly say it won’t happen. In my eyes, this implies that he’s still not closing off the possibility entirely either AND that he’s not really fully available to you.
      I’m curious that you say you both have been dancing around “the talk” because it might not turn out the way “we” want to. Are you sure it’s not primarily YOU who actually wants to have the talk but is afraid the outcome might be disappointing? He might be just fine where you are now.
      TL,DR: If he wants to be with you, he’ll be able to commit, even with an ex of 10 years dumped immediately before meeting you.

    • Once upon a time in college, I was crushing on a boy and we were “talking.” I fair amount of which involved me listening to him talk about his recent ex. They had “joint custody” of a dog. Never again. My opinion, then and now: people with “joint custody of a dog” are involved. FSM knows I am not a pristine saint in Boundary Land, province of Recently Ended Relationships, but “joint custody of a dog” should be read as “recurring date.”

  21. Margaux said:

    “Part 2 of this question is, do I have to tell my new guy at some point about the old guy? Old guy doesn’t want me to, as he’s married and is afraid of the story getting out to all our friends and our children.”

    Don’t the kids know that LW and their father were together? It’s hard to avoid seeing the other parent. And wouldn’t new guy figure out about old guy, because of kids?

    • That is odd phrasing, but I think it means either “the children of everyone in the friendship group” or “my children, of whom I am a single parent, and his children, with someone else, probably his wife”.

  22. 30ish said:

    LW, I think you should feel free to date a new guy even if you’re still hung up on old guy. Sometimes it helps to take the step of getting back into the dating game in order to get over someone. Just make sure that you actually approach new guy as a new shiny potential love interest, and not as a comparison point or counterpoint to old guy. Don’t frame any new dating experience with reference to old guy, because that’s OVER and done with. If you find yourself unable to stop thinking about old guy or mentioning him a lot to a new guy, then maybe hold back on dating and enforce strict distance from old guy until you are fully over him.

  23. KT said:

    Whenever I read about an unresolved or unrequited love and the heartache it caused, I am tempted to tell everyone to do what I did seven years ago when I was mired in feelings for two men (one reciprocal but dysfunctional, one a long unrequited crush that probably contributed to the dysfunction of the other) — move 500 miles away from everyone involved. I mean, yeah, realistically, “pack your bags and move” doesn’t work for everyone, and I was moving for other reasons besides “need to get away from all these boys I have issues with.” However, getting over 1) the bad bad relationship and 2) the unrequited love was the happy side effect of deciding to make that change. I even went back to former crush-object’s wedding a little while back with nary a single ping of “OH, BUT FOR WHAT WE MIGHT HAVE HAD!”

    So I guess I agree with the Captain’s advice that if you want to get over someone who is in your friend circle, consider expanding your circles. No need to move to another state. It works, but, you know, it isn’t necessary.

    • MamaCheshire said:

      I didn’t actually physically move, but I basically cut myself off from anything seriously relationship-like for six months, in part to get over an Unavailable Guy that my housemate had tried to set me up with because she noticed we had so much in common but didn’t notice that he was not over/still trying to patch things with his ex.

      Seven months later, I met Spouse.

      I know that’s an irritating little cliche, but it is a thing that happened for me.

  24. Sam said:

    I’d love to share my experience with this, but take it with a grain of salt because I’m sure I’m going to remain stuck in my negative pattern.

    In the past year, I have had a few of the situation you are talking about (assuming that you had unrequited love, and not an affair, because I haven’t experienced and can’t speak to the latter.) Getting out there and dating again is well worth it. It’s how I’ve gotten over a lot of my really serious “ERMAGERD LOVE” feelings.

    It also hasn’t worked out with the people I’ve dated. Whether that’s because I wasn’t ready to love, or because I dated the wrong people, I don’t know. (Well, in one case I fell for a total Darth Vader type who lied to me constantly, but the other was a wonderful person).

    Anyway. My point is, if you want to go and date you should 100% do it. It can definitely help you. If you are worried you are not really emotionally available, then tell the person you are dating. Don’t go into the specifics and definitely don’t mention you are hung up on someone else, but be honest. Tell them ‘Hey, I like you but I don’t know where I see this going. Lets be in clear communication so we stay on the same page.’

    Because communication works wonders. Maybe you’ll find the thing you’re looking for and everything will be great; maybe you won’t, and that’s okay too. Either way as long as your honest about your feelings with your partner, you’re not being unfair to them.

  25. Anonymous42 said:

    LW, I was in your position two and a half years ago. I had had a brief affair with a married coworker two years before that, and I just couldn’t get over it. So I had two years of just being hung up on him. I didn’t feel it would be fair to date anyone else: what that meant in practice was that I was completely emotionally stuck, but I didn’t want to “use” another person. Eventually I signed up for an online dating site and went on a few dates – I hated it, because no one was as good as my Unavailable Guy. I was about to cancel my membership when I went out with New Guy. I was skittish, very skittish, for a couple of weeks and a handful of dates, but then I fell completely in love with New Guy. When I told my best friend, just a few weeks after we had started dating, that I would choose New Guy over Unavailable Guy, she was so happy, so relieved. She told me, “I hoped, when you started dating New Guy, that someday, maybe, in the distant future, there would come a time when you would come to appreciate him more than Unavailable Guy, but this is even better than I hoped for.” Yes, it was better than I hoped for, too. I am still with New Guy (it’s been a little over two years), and I still work with Unavailable Guy, and that’s OK. I am still very fond of him, but I wouldn’t choose him over my relationship now, because I now truly understand that Unavailable Guy’s unavailability was only most obviously connected to his being married – he would be just as unavailable, in the important ways, if he were single.

    Pretty early on, I told New Guy that I had been hung up on a married man for two years before we met, and that was all I said. At some point in the first few months, the Adele song “Someone Like You” was playing, and I stood by the sink feeling wistful for a minute, and New Guy saw me feeling wistful, but we didn’t talk about it. He knows who Unavailable Guy is, but he is genuinely uncurious about the whole thing, and I have no interest in talking about it with him.

    Good luck, LW. You are trying so hard to be fair and kind that I think you can’t go wrong.

  26. The Captain is right again.

    I broke up with the ‘one’ when i was 25. Took seven years and two semi-longterm relationships to finally purge her from my mind.

    The two semi-long term relationships I was in were with top quality people. It’s an utter shame i wasn’t 100% available to them. In fact i was 99.6% emotionally available and felt that to be enough.
    But bumping into ex at the farmers’ market would be a trigger to send me into a funk. Once I even dropped my current-at-the-time gf’s hand and crossed the street in panic as ex approached. It was extreme!

    I have no idea what to suggest.

    The way it worked with me is i finally got published. My ex had always encouraged my creative pursuits. So i sent her a copy of the book i was in, with a note about how “she had always encouraged my creative pursuits” and how if it weren’t for her, who knows if I’d ever get published? etc

    Two weeks later the phone rang. It was her voice announcing her name. (Her voice was one of the major attractions I had for her) Now it was saying “I’ve got something important i want to say to you.” (Great! She’s received the Anthology! Can’t wait to hear what she thinks).

    The next thing out of her mouth. Instead of effusive praise:

    “[My name], I don’t want you to *ever* contact me again. OK? I’m going to hang up now.”

    And that was it.

    Really, any other attempt to contact her would be stalking/agenda seeking and misrepresentative of my values in adhering to the wishes of somebody I presume to ‘love.”

    It was the best thing she could have ever done. I’ve been emotionally open to people other than her for twelve years now. The seven years I spent in a daze, i will never get back. But least I wont go back to them either!

  27. rito said:

    “Use a therapist, use a journal, use a trusted friend who knows what actually went down, and tell the story over and over again until it bores you. Tell it until it sounds like something that happened to someone else, a long time ago. When the details are just mundane, and you can say what happened without analyzing and second-guessing or justifying your decisions, when it takes 2 minutes to tell rather than 2 hours, you’ll know that you’ve healed.”

    Fantastic snippet, and so true.

  28. MrsMorley said:

    Dear LW,

    As usual, the Captain’s advice is on target. You don’t need to wait until you’re entirely over Mr. Unavailable, and you don’t have to tell a new boyfriend about him.

    But please remember, your story is yours. If you need or want to tell people about the love you’ve lost then do so.

    I suggest that if you tell a new boy about Mr. Unavailable (although I don’t see much need to do so) you say something like “I used to be involved with a fella in [friend group], but it didn’t work out.”

    I also suggest that you try to find friends (and fellas!) outside of the group with Mr. U. This will make recovery from Mr. U simpler. This will make beefing up your Team You easier.

    Jedi hugs

  29. PBJ said:

    I’m skeptical of other people’s encouragement to spread her Mr. Unavailable story. She should talk it out with her friends and therapist, of course, until she’s processed and healed. But if she cares about Mr. Unavailable, and wants to protect him from potential sh*tstorms (and protect herself from further pain that could rain down upon her, too), then she should be careful to whom and to how many people she tells his name and the whole he’s-married bit.

    In every relationship, people should be mindful of what details they share when it’s over. Weird kink that your former partner had? Keep that to yourself. Dramatic Daddy issues that she entrusted to your secrecy? You don’t need to tell other people about that. Thoughts she had that her boyfriend before you might have been closeted? You don’t need to spread that rumor and mess up her ex’s life.

    Sure, we all own our stories, but isn’t there a point where common decency and respect for another’s personhood trumps our pain? There’s a line there somewhere. From the comments, it seems like Mr. Unavailable’s marital status is on the “her story” side of that line, but I encourage her to consider carefulness in her telling of the story if that fact might be damaging for lots of people involved.

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