#184: Confusing dude is confusing. Should I reach out to him and tell him how I feel?

"Side-eye", a portrait by V. Mohlere

Ethan, my friend Virginia drew you this side-eye.

Oh Captain, my Captain–

I was in a serious relationship with a man, let’s call him Ethan, a few years ago while we were both in college. We met through our ROTC program. He was a very good guy, and a great boyfriend. I broke up with him around our one-year anniversary, because we rarely had sex, and it was killing me. He’d told me he didn’t have much of a sex drive, and it had gotten to the point where, despite caring about him deeply, and being happy with our relationship in every other way, I was starting to think about cheating on him. I didn’t want to break his heart (or mine) by doing that, so I thought the best thing to do would be to separate.

We remained good friends, and after a short period of separation for healing purposes, we kept spending time together, talking, being there for one another, etc. Eventually he told me that he’d lied about his sex drive–he actually had a libido much like mine! Flabbergasted, I asked him why he’d convinced me otherwise. He’d done it, he said, because I’d been very much hurt by a friends-with-benefits relationship I’d had previous to our relationship–I cared deeply about FWB Dude, and he didn’t return the feeling. Ethan didn’t want me to think he was using me for sex.

Fast forward to last summer–Ethan and I had graduated from college, and he came to visit me while he was on leave. He was to be deploying to Afghanistan soon. We had a very nice visit. Then he asked if I might like to get back together. I wanted to say yes. But I was also very worried about him going to Afghanistan, and I wanted to be sure that I wasn’t screaming “yes! yes! yes!” inside my head because I was mistaking my anxiety for his safety for a desire for a relationship with him. So I told him I needed to think about it. We cuddled in my bed that night. He returned to his home base, and less than two weeks later, I log on to facebook to discover he’s “in a relationship” with a woman there!

I felt a flurry of emotions that could basically be summarized as “hurt.” After a period, I deleted him off my friends list because seeing his statuses about his progressing relationship with this lady hurt too much. Recently, I added him again–I still care about him and want to know how he’s doing, and I feel like I should set aside my feelings of betrayal. He’s engaged to her now, however, and that hurts, too. We haven’t spoken since this relationship became “facebook official.” I suspect he interpreted my “I need to think about it” for a “no” but I could be rationalizing, because his jumping into another relationship without knowing my answer is so unlike him. I really want to know for sure, but I feel like it’s far too late to talk to him. I should’ve sent him a “WTF” the day I saw his relationship status, but Flurry Of Emotions kept me from feeling able to confront it.

What should I do, Captain? Not knowing “WTF” is killing me, but I rather doubt it’s going to change anything. I have no ambitions to attend the wedding. I still care about him. I miss him in my life–I catch myself thinking “Ethan would love this book!” or “Ethan would know exactly what to do in this situation. I should ask him.” Then I remember. I feel like I should just let him go–but in my heart, I really don’t want to do that.

–Lost and Late

I’m sorry, Lost and Late.

I strongly dislike this Ethan guy as a partner for you.

How messed up to be do you have to be to lie about your sex drive to your partner? What was he doing that entire year you were together and he pretended to have no drive – masturbating furiously? Cheating on you? And how messed up do you have to be to then claim that lie was for your partner’s good, the way he claimed that it was all about your past relationship and him wanting to take care of you? You know how he could have taken WAY better care of you when you were together? Regular awesome fucking, that’s how.

I think he is your Darth Vader boyfriend; all wounded and complicated and sexy and trying to manipulate your emotions so that you will always see him in a positive light even when he does massively fucked up things.

And!!!! I think that his request to get back into a relationship with you on the eve of deployment was more about him than it was about you, and that you judged that one exactly correctly in asking for some time to think. While you took time to think, he went and got into a relationship with someone else, and that action is your answer. They are engaged. That is your answer.  If you were to write to him and put your feelings on the line, the best possible outcome is that you get all tangled up in their relationship drama.

I’ll be a little kinder to Ethan for a moment. In stressful times, people get nostalgic and reach out to people from their past. Being deployed is a big deal, right? It’s not completely irrational that he would want to go to love’s last known address and snuggle up there for a bit. Every now and then I get an email or Facebook message from an old…friend….with a very late-night timestamp and the words “I was just thinking about you” somewhere in the message. Oh, WERE you?  I guess it’s nice to be part of someone’s Greatest Hits reel?  I receive the messages with amusement and affection and I write back asking about jobs and kids, but I don’t assume that the messages are deeply meaningful.

Now it’s time to write him a long letter of everything you want to say and feel….and set that letter on fire.

Your feelings are real! Your history is real. The hologram of Ideal Ethan Who Has So Much Potential To Be A Great Boyfriend in your head that you want to recommend books to is real! I’m sure he is a very charismatic dude with very fine qualities, and your desire to have someone with those qualities in your life is real! Give yourself a lot of time and love and self-care to grieve that very real loss of someone you loved deeply from your life. Listen to this on repeat for a while:

And then set about forgetting (or at least distracting yourself in the hopes of forgetting). There’s a plan for that in this thread. Trust to time and to distance.

Love does not have to be this complicated. Your next love will be honest and straightforward with you. He’ll give you time when you need time and not go running into the arms of someone else. And he’ll want to bone you all the time.

Much love to you from someone who’s been there,

Captain Awkward

68 comments
  1. Stephanie said:

    YES. There is nothing to be gained by contacting this guy again. Only aggravation.

    And right now I am absolutely ADORING that song. I’ll listen to it on repeat if the LW doesn’t want to!

  2. RedSonja said:

    ” While you took time to think, he went and got into a relationship with someone else, and that action is your answer. They are engaged. That is your answer. If you were to write to him and put your feelings on the line, the best possible outcome is that you get all tangled up in their relationship drama.”

    THIS. Dear sweet baby jeebus learn from my fail and take the Captain’s advice.

  3. Queen George said:

    I have dated not one, but two men who claimed to have super high libidos, then proceeded to turn me down every time I tried to initiate sex. It’s important to note here that there’s a great deal of social messaging teaching dudes that they are supposed to have high sex drives. It may be that this guy has hangups he’s afraid to cop to because of social notions of masculinity. To try to pin all of that on you, LW? That was a super sucky move on his part.

    • RedSonja said:

      I had the misfortune to be with a man who supposedly had a super high libido, but only when he was also able to be controlling about it. Basically if I initiated sex, that was a major turn off. If I expressed what I wanted to do, that was a turn off. We could really only have sex when he wanted, how he wanted.

      • JAT said:

        I have several names for that behavior, and “high libido” is not one of them.

    • scamel from the rock said:

      I definitely suspected that this was what Ethan was up to as well. The sheer volume of the deception he would have needed to employ in order to pretend to have a low sex drive is simply…well, baffling. I suspect it is much more likely that he was being untruthful when he and the LW talked about it after they’d broken up, and that he really does have a low sex drive. That would be a move very similar to the one he pulled just before he deployed — holding out an offer of the kind of relationship the LW wanted that isn’t really an offer, but a ploy to get her attention. It also seems to me that Ethan might have a very strong need to be in a position where the LW has to pursue (and be rejected by) him. I think she definitely did the right thing by defriending him. There will be other guys who can provide the kinds of insights Ethan could, and other guys to share things with, but without the emotional turmoil. Someone who makes you feel bad every time you think about him isn’t an ideal romantic partner.

  4. Stacie said:

    AMEN, SISTER-FRIEND!

    Your advice here is 100% on point. Love does NOT have to be this complicated!

  5. You know what else, LW? Sometimes you never get to know WTF. It’s excruciating, I know. But sometime someone who says they love you will do things that seem to be incompatible with that claim and you will never know why. You’ll have theories. Your friends will have theories. But if you ask a dude like this for a reason, all you’re ever going to get is a rationalization.

    I wish you luck and the time and space to grieve.

    • Ethyl said:

      Yeah that was something I really had a hard time with during my most recent breakup. There was SO MUCH WTF, and I had so many questions. But also, there wasn’t really An Answer that would have really been satisfactory, so I might as well stick with my theories and my friends’ theories and not have the aggravation of yet another drama. Hang in there, LW, and take care of yourself.

    • It’s true. We often don’t get closure in relationships. This can be super frustrating for those of us who like to build narratives about our lives. But sometimes some chapter of our life will be like the original Battlestar Galactica, and you’ll just never get to see the ending*. It happens.

      *This comment exists in my ideal universe where Galactica 1980 does not exist.

      • Ethyl said:

        And you know what? After a while, I stopped wanting that closure so much and started feeling….um, closed? Eh, you know what I mean 🙂 Time did its work and I got over it, little by little. I think LW’s Ethan and my ex need to get together though, and just have an epic WTF-ery party.

        LW, we are both so well rid of these people, even though they were such good friends!

  6. Caito said:

    I once dated a guy who made decisions that affected the both of us and wouldn’t tell me the real reason, just would say that it was in my best interest and that I should trust him. It was in my best interest to trust my gut and not date him anymore. I don’t like that this Ethan behaved the way he did for *your* sake, but without consulting you or at least cluing you in. To me, that’s a big red flag, as though you’re not grown up enough to make your own calls.

    I agree with the Captain’s advice. I think you’re right to be hurt, and it’s more than fair for you to grieve the loss of a good friend from your life, especially over something that seems so preventable in hindsight. But I don’t think you’ll gain anything by reaching out and asking for an explanation. What could he possibly tell you that would make you feel better about all this?

    • Copcher said:

      Yeah, that first paragraph, for real. Either it’s false (like Brightwanderer said below), or it’s a serious red flag. There are many ways to show someone that you like them for things other than sex while still having sex with them. Also, it seems like there could have been more communication in the relationship, since it seems like he had no idea that you wanted more sex from him. Unless he did know, but decided to not sleep with you for your own good anyway? Or it’s just false.

      I completely agree with what the Captain said. His actions are your answer. Also, there’s this: “Not knowing “WTF” is killing me, but I rather doubt it’s going to change anything.” If it won’t change anything, make up an answer that helps you move on, and go with that.

  7. xenu01 said:

    I have nothing to add, only that I would like to recommend this song to listen to as well, along with that Gotye song, because sometimes we do everything right and it’s not enough. also I love her love her.

    • Simone Lovelace said:

      I cannot stop listening.

  8. Brightwanderer said:

    Big caveat: of course I’m just going by what I’ve read here, so I may be way off base, but I’m just going to throw something in here – I don’t buy that line about hiding his libido for your own good. I don’t buy that that was going on at all. It seems like an incredibly complicated and painful pretence to keep up and I find it hard to believe he was really doing it, consistently and consciously, the entire time you were together, even out of misguided belief it was “for your own good” (in fact, especially for that reason! It’s my experience that even the most well-intentioned of us are less motivated to make our own lives uncomfortable on someone else’s behalf.)

    I would suggest another possible scenario: that his libido _is_ that low, and that he is ashamed of it. He shouldn’t be, of course, but it’s hard to avoid the constant message that Men Want Sex All The Time And He Is Less Than A Man If He Doesn’t. So he retcons it to you – maybe even to himself – that he was faking it. Maybe he convinced himself that if he got back together with you, it would be _different_ this time. Maybe his sex drive really did suddenly pick up and he doesn’t want to admit it was ever low (you don’t mention whether there were any other factors going on at the time – medication, mood problems, stress and poor physical health are all things that can temporarily depress libido). Maybe he just really needed to change the image you had of him as “someone with a low sex drive” and he thought “someone who lies to me supposedly for my own good” was somehow better! Differences in sex drive are a completely valid reason to break up, but too many people feel like they ought to be able to change to match their partner – both ways.

    I’m just throwing this out because I think you need to let go of the idea that you _could_ have been good together if it weren’t for this one thing (which he has now told you could supposedly have been done away with). Other commenters and the Captain have summed up exactly why taking his statement at face value is grounds for side-eye – I think it’s worth considering the possibility that you were right the first time, too, and that this later confession was less than accurate.

    • Hanna said:

      Yeah, obviously we can’t know, but this was my first thought as well. To me the story of faking low libido sounds implausible. Though if it is true, that’s even worse!

    • JenniferP said:

      I love this explanation for what could possibly be going on. Sad if it’s true, but then it totally validates the LW’s initial decision to break up with him because they are incompatible that way.

    • viajera said:

      I’m with you re: not buying his “for your own good” excuse, but I have another hypothetical explanation. Maybe his libido really _was_ low in the relationship, and really _has_ picked up since the relationship ended. Certainly my libido crashed when I was in relationships that were troubled, and at the time I thought that I just had a low libido. Then once I got out of the relationship and started dating, and eventually started up a healthy relationship, suddenly my libido kicked into high gear.

      Under this explanation, he was telling her the truth (so far as he knew it) when he told her about his low libido, and was telling the truth about his libido being higher now, but was lying about the “for your own good” part. Maybe he convinced himself of that, or maybe he just thought it was a “better” (where “better” = more likely to get LW back) excuse than the truth. But either way, if LW and Ethan *had* gotten back together without resolving their other issues, his libido would just crash again (been there, done that, too many times). In short, they’re still better off apart.

      • T100 said:

        This guy’s behavior is one of a jerk, egotistic, insecure asshole and doesn’t need hypothetical explanations for his acting that way.

        • “This guy’s behavior is one of a jerk, egotistic, insecure asshole and doesn’t need hypothetical explanations for his acting that way.”

          This. This a thousand times. Regardless of any “oh, at the time…” or “he was ONLY lying about THIS part…” bullshit; he DID lie, he HAS fucked the LW around and tried to manipulate her. That’s enough.

          Also, the Captain has awesome taste in music. Literally, I am in awe.

    • Totally agree. The libido foolsies explanation struck me as implausible to the extreme.

    • Agreed with all of the above, and add the following alternate explanation that fits in with Brightwanderer’s musings:

      Maybe he just wasn’t sexually attracted to her. Maybe he loved her and had a normal sex drive, but didn’t find her particularly arousing. That’s not a reflection on her, obviously, it’s just what it is (assuming it is, that is…). We know that LW is objectively sexy, because she reads Captain Awkward, but actually finding someone sexy is a completely subjective matter. So maybe, in a purely sexual sense, she just wasn’t his cup of tea.

      And it’s understandable that he would feel bad about that and try to come up with some rationalization for it. Doesn’t make what he did right of course – what he did was so, so wrong – but it would explain why he felt the need to come up with this story about suppressing his sexual desires for her own good.

    • kate said:

      Bottom line is that one way or the other, at its BEST, the relationship didn’t work. It doesn’t really matter whether it was because he had an unacceptably low libido or because he had control and communication issues. It didn’t work.

      And when he asked if she wanted to give it another go, I think if LW truly believed that his confession really explained away all their problems, then she would have said, “Yes! I’m so glad we got that straightened out, let’s celebrate our newfound mutual hot libidos!” Not “Hmmmm…. let me think about it, how about if tonight we just snuggle?” The very fact that she was able to be cool and rational and think “huh, I need to make sure what I’m feeling isn’t just fear for your safety” suggests what she was feeling was mostly fear for his safety.

      I’m guessing she knew something didn’t quite resonate right with his explanation. Most likely, she picked up that he was just looking to make that human connection before he deployed, wanting to feel like somebody would be devastated if he died over there. Understandable, but all about him, not all about her or the unrealized potential of their earlier relationship, and she sensed that.

      So when he did not get it from her, he kept looking, and he found it with someone else. Maybe it’s because he totally got lucky and found the perfect woman for him two weeks later. But since she was someone back at his base, I’m betting he knew her and thought she was almost-relationship-worthy-but-not-quite-as-great-as-LW before he came to visit LW, so before proceeding with her he went back and gave LW another shot, but when she wanted a little time to consider he thought “Sorry, love, I don’t have time for that, I want to be in a serious relationship NOW,” so he plunged in with the other woman and decided she’d do after all.

      Maybe they’ll live happily ever after, maybe they won’t. (I’m thinking not, because he’s too “all about me,” and he’s with her more because he wants to be in a relationship than because he wants to be with her). But instead of thinking “Did I blow it? He’s so great in so many ways, should I have ignored my niggling doubts?”, LW, think “I am well out of that! He’s great in so many ways, but it was never quite right and was never going to be. Among other things, he’s just too self-centered and never dealt with me openly.”

      It’s unfortunate that he made that selfish overture and then moved on lickety split without hearing your answer, and that you found out he’d moved on on FB, because it made a relationship that YOU had ended and ended for right and healthy reasons feel like “the one that got away.” Don’t let him rewrite the story that way. Edit it back to “Ethan was a great guy in a lot of ways but not right for me, and that’s why I broke up with him.” Wish him all the happiness in the world with his fiancee, then focus on finding your own. And keep trusting your instincts. I think they’re spot on.

      • kate said:

        Ew. Just realized he could also have been with the woman on the base even when he was trying to re-hook you. All the more reason to say “well out of it.”

    • kathleendonohue said:

      “I would suggest another possible scenario: that his libido _is_ that low, and that he is ashamed of it. He shouldn’t be, of course, but it’s hard to avoid the constant message that Men Want Sex All The Time And He Is Less Than A Man If He Doesn’t. So he retcons it to you – maybe even to himself – that he was faking it.”

      Just spitballing here, but it may be that he’s looking for the Magical Vajayjay that will cure his sexual issues.

      • "Lord Domly Pants's Bane" said:

        Heehee “magical vajayjay” I love that. That is the only good use of the word, which I hate so much I have a list of Anything But Vajayjay in which I am collecting every other term I can find.

  9. This song is played and played and played again, and it is emphatically NOT COOL, but neither am I, so …

    It helped me feel things at a time in my life when I was numb, and it helped me grieve for a man who was never going to happen for me.

  10. Esti said:

    As others have wisely said, sometimes you don’t get to know WTF. You just don’t. This is one of those times. If he spent a year supposedly consistently depriving himself of sex and lying to you about why, how could you believe any explanation he might give now? Would it really make a difference if the explanation was “I thought you said no” vs. “you said maybe, but then I went to Afghanistan and it seemed like all bets were off”?

    And even if he could explain everything now, how could that possibly help you? He’s engaged to someone else. You haven’t talked in a year. Even if there was a magical make-everything-better explanation and you wanted to be with him again, that ship has sailed. (I know that sounds harsh, I’m sorry.)

    This dude treated you badly and is now with someone else. It doesn’t matter if there were good reasons (though god knows what those could be) or if he’s sorry about it or if maybe things could have worked out this time around. I understand why it feels like it matters — you didn’t really get any closure with someone who was obviously an important person in your life, and so things feel unfinished and hard to let go of. But listen to his actions. Whatever the reasons, his actions have said pretty clearly that things are over. That’s the only answer you need.

  11. Ace said:

    She is, as usual, right. There’s so much going on with this guy but you should count yourself lucky that he’s engaged and therefore untouchable. It’ll be so much easier to forget about him when being with him is impossible. It hurts to lose a friend like that, but you will find new friends one day; ones that won’t dick you around and it won’t hurt as bad. Mourn for him and move on when you’re ready.

    This is only marginally connected to the letter but… I’ve been waiting for a letter like this so I could drop *THAT* gotye video into the comments because it’s so perfect and you beat me to it. Well played, Captain.

  12. Ensign Perception said:

    Point 1: As tanglethis said, sometimes we don’t get to know WTF. To be honest, the way you describe this guy, he doesn’t know WTF either. I’m sorry that you are going through this, LW. But sometimes, there just is no closure; there just are no answers. It doesn’t even sound like he is capable of giving you a straight answer about the simplest things. He was or is all twisted up about some things. That isn’t your fault.

    Block him from Facebook, there is no secret code to be read in his updates, unfortunately, as much as that sucks. Grieve this relationship and get on with your rockin’ awesome life. You can do this, I believe in you.

    Point 2: Have y’all seen this video of 5 people covering that Gotye song on one guitar!?! http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d9NF2edxy-M

    • JenniferP said:

      That cover is seriously awesome. It’s all about the Beard Guy.

  13. Yeah, love and affection doesn’t have to be this complicated. Good advice from the Captain.

  14. duck-billed placelot said:

    So the last letter inspired me to watch Sense and Sensibility, whereas this one is clearly indicative of an Emma screening (Ethan is clearly Frank Churchill). Regency romances for every Captain letter!

  15. Man, Ensign beat me to the one guitar cover. I AM DISAPPOINT

  16. Hanna said:

    Facebook is a poisoned chalice brimming with devil’s wine when it comes to break-ups. Seriously. Studies* (*self-reporting in a sample size of about 6 of my friends) have shown that seeing an ex’s status updates constantly can prolong break-up agony by as much as 40%. Even more when that ex is getting into o’er-hasty engagements to other people. So I suggest you “hide” Ethan on fb until you get over your upcoming Gotye listening phase, LW.

    • I once had the following conversation with a friend:

      ME: I made a mistake.
      HIM: What’s that?
      ME: I looked at [recently broken-up ex]s Facebook page.
      HIM: Yeah, not a good call.

      Everybody understands this.

      • Christina said:

        I believe the technical term for this phenomenon is “pain-surfing”.

    • Sheelzebub said:

      This is why I refuse to put my status on my FB info page. First, because I AM SLUTTY and second, because I don’t need to hear from relatives OH YOU HAVE A BOYFRIEND? or OH YOU BROKE UP BUT WHEN WILL YOU GET MAAAAAARRRRIIIEEEEED and third because if you need to read my FB info wall to know about my personal details, you don’t know me well enough to know them. Ahem. 😉

  17. Marie said:

    Think of it this way. The last time you asked WTF, he gave you a weird, fake, all-your-fault reason that wasn’t good enough. The next time you ask him WTF, he will give you a weird, fake, all-your fault reason that isn’t good enough. He may use different words every time, but the answer will always be not good enough, because he is not good enough for you, and that is why you are not together anymore.

    Also? Unfriending him on Facebook, then refriending him, involves him knowing you were like “fuck off” and then were like “okay, what’s up”, and he ignored you 100% through all that. He knows you want to know what’s going on — I mean, if somebody unfriended and then refriended you, and the last time you had spoken to that person was to ask them if they wanted to be your one true love, YOU WOULD KNOW something was going on — and he’s deliberately not communicating with you about it. He is waiting on you to do the confrontation because he doesn’t want to. That, too, is a weird, fake, all-your fault reaction that isn’t good enough, just like it will always be.

    • JenniferP said:

      Your first paragraph is the nutshell that this situation is in. Well said!

  18. This is not my usual speed, but… I think some good self-righteous anger would help the LW find closure. Not the kind of anger where you lash out at him, obviously; but the kind where you can stop thinking of him as “the lover I could have had” and start thinking of him as “that game-playing butthead.”

    I don’t think you can rush the transition in your head from Would Love This Book Ethan to Butthead Ethan, but I think that when it comes, having the ability to be petty and cynical and spiteful about this guy will be a huge relief. And it’s the gateway to the next stage, which is not caring at all about him and setting out, a little older and wiser, to find someone much better for you.

    • Sarah said:

      THIS. THIS THIS THIS.

      Once upon a time, there was a guy who I dated and white knighted like mad (“he’s so sweet and kind and nice! Especially if I ignore the fact that he won’t tell anyone we’re dating and generally ignores the fact that I am literally unable to eat or sleep for more than three hours a night from the stress of this and have lost about fifteen pounds so far! How I adore him!”). He turned out to be poisonous and selfish and not at all good for me, but I was so invested in my perfect man scenario that I wasted a lot of time mooning over him even as the relationship tore me to pieces bit by bit.

      But eventually, I realized what was happening to me. It took him leaving the country and me learning that a) he’d had a different secret girlfriend when we hooked up that one last time and b) he’d been trying to get with my best friend the entire time as well, but it hit me hard. And I got angry. Not helplessly weepy or sobby like before; but furiously, blisteringly, peel-the-paint-off-the-walls angry. And pow, with the rose-tinted glasses off, all the shitty, selfish, damaging things he’d done came right into view. And I let myself be furious at him, purged myself of him entirely (I unfriended him, removed every photo of him from my FB, chucked all the crap he’d ever given me, even cut my hair once I realized that I’d been growing out for him even though I hate having long hair) and moved on.

      And y’know what? I am a little older and wiser and, eventually, I found someone who is a million times better for me. It’s not a one size fits all sort of thing, but if it can work for you, I say go for it.

      • Sarah said:

        Aaaagh, the HTML mistake! It burns!

    • Shora said:

      I’m gonna second holly on this one. My relationship with my first boyfriend became incredibly toxic in ways that will take too long to understand, and it took me far, far to long to cut him out of my life. It was only when I was in a place where I was angry and bitter at him and everything he had done wrong to me that I was able to cut his toxic influence from my life. And LW, the influence Ethan has on your life is nothing but toxic.

      I’m coming out of my angry, bitter stage right now and I’m starting to experience true freedom from him. I can’t even tell you what a relief that is after being with/friends with him for three years and thinking that I would never rid him from my life.

    • NessieMonster said:

      Oh my, I’m so glad this is actually an option. It is one I need right now. I’m assuming eventually you run out of steam for being furious at their dowright awful behaviour? What do you with the rage that you want to direct at them, to tell them their behaviour was completely out of line and that they hurt you by it? In the situation where there is no mending of the relationship and telling them is just going to make you look like a crazy bitch?
      How do you not trap yourself in the bitter forever and ever stage? I.e. how do you moving from being angry to letting go, rather than getting stuck holding on to your grudge and your righteous anger?

      • In my case when it’s happened to me the anger’s just dulled over time. If I’m not in contact with someone, eventually I just get bored of being angry at them.

        I also think “the best revenge is living well” can be a good stage to progress to next.

        • NessieMonster said:

          Hmmmm, I like the sound of both of those things.

      • Well, my righteous anger at my first ex eventually turned into a feeling of relief and joy every time I think about her and say to myself, “Goddamn I’m glad I’m not with her anymore!”

        So now I can look back on that relationship without bitterness. And I agree, the bitterness is definitely not something you want to live with your entire life, but nursing it for a short time is sometimes better than pining for “lost love.” (If the lost love is a douchebag, that is.)

      • maggie said:

        There was a question about letting ago a little while ago. There were some good thoughts there. But it does fade over time. I spent a long, long time being incredibly angry about my ex, but it’s pretty hard to sustain forever. Especially if you have literally no contact with them.

    • Chatterbox said:

      I agree. Especially for us types who consider ourselves to be stable, emotionally literate, and possessing a good taste in partners, the idea that we either picked someone who was either obviously terrible or a horrible lying jerk can be hard to swallow. But sometimes it’s better to break that and get FURIOUS with someone for having treated you badly than to be stuck making excuses like ‘oh, the sex drive thing was just a misunderstanding, if only we’d communicated better we would have been fine, and he was totally free to hook up with someone else because I didn’t say yes when he asked, I should have explained what I meant…’ when the more obvious interpretation of his actions is that he was a total arsehole.

      Also worth saying is that ‘I wish him all the best I really do, there are no hard feelings, we’re still in touch occasionally’ is not the only good kind of breakup.

    • Sheelzebub said:

      I agree.

      Also, it wouldn’t hurt to throw in “Oh poor [Ethan’s fiancee’s name]. He’s HER problem now, best of luck to her.”

      But I am a bitch.

  19. Marie said:

    Also, taking bets that if you do ask him WTF, his answer will be some version of: “I thought it would upset you.” Well, yes — that’s ’cause you’re upsetting, dude.

    • Eclairity said:

      This made me snort in agreement.
      Yeah, I pressed for an answer from my “Ethan” and that is pretty what I got. It took a while to get to the “this guy is just really upsetting and has no idea why he does the things he does”.
      I move that we call these dudes “Ethan” from now on.

  20. Eli said:

    Also, you dated for a year, a few years ago. In uni. A time in which people are changing and they don’t know who they are or what they’re about. The guy who lives in your head and who would love that book you’ve just read? He doesn’t exist. The guy who’d know what to do about situation X? Also non-existent. You don’t know him anymore. Maybe you did once but now all you’ve got is imaginary perfect pedestal dude who is taking up room in your head with his bullshit.

    Unfriendly confusing dude. Move on. It’s time.

  21. Yan said:

    Damn.

    I’m still having occasional WTF moments over my last hearty dumping (and was trying to remember to search out that Goyte song after hearing it on the radio this afternoon, because it’s perfect — although in this case, he dumped, I cut him off when he tried the “let’s be friends” dance).

    This is beyond complicated, and it shouldn’t be. Seems to me he wanted to be in A Relationship. Period, full stop. Not A Relationship with You, LW. Thank all the powers that be that you decided to trust your gut and think before leaping. It likely saved you some heartache down the line.

    It’s fine to wonder WTF. When you stop giving a flying fuck WTF happened (well, 98% of the time), then you know you’re over and done with this convoluted mess with someone who couldn’t find his honest self with two hands, a head lamp, and a road map.

    You deserve more. Believe that, work through this, and go get the more.

  22. Sarah said:

    I dated a guy who did things For My Own Good. He jerked me around and didn’t tell the truth For My Own Good. He avoided me for days For My Own Good. After he left the country, I learned all about the girlfriend he never told me about For My Own Good. Funnily enough, she didn’t know about me either, probably For Her Own Good.

    In the end I cut him out of my life, turned on my figurative heel, and went forward without him. For my own good.

  23. Sheelzebub said:

    Ethan is a drama generator and he’s dishonest. When you catch yourself thinking “Ethan would love this book!” follow it up with “And he’d lie to me about it and then lie again and say he lied the first time for my own good.”

    One day you will be with someone who is cool, and honest, and straightforward. I promise.

    • Ha ha! I like this response.
      “Ethan would pretend he’d already read that book, or worse, say that it was rubbish but he could recommend another, better book on the same subject.”

      • JenniferP said:

        The I Hate Ethan Facebook group is 1 million strong, I see!

      • kate said:

        He’d mansplain! He would tell her that maybe she thought she liked that book, but she really hadn’t understood what was happening at all, and then he’d tell her his version of what the book was all about, which would make no sense at all until she realized that he was talking about a completely different book by some other author and she would try to tell him that but he wouldn’t listen.

  24. Christen said:

    I have a few relationships (romantic and platonic) in my past that I still don’t have great closure on because they ended badly and no one involved used their words very well. I still spend some time ruminating and wondering WTF and going, “Why didn’t she just tell me…?” or “Why did he…?” or “Maybe if I’d…” Which is a losing game, because as others have said, sometimes you don’t ever find out WTF and even when you try to do so, sometimes people’s explanations for weird behavior can be weirder than the behavior itself (as we have seen with Mr. Ethan).

    One thing that helps is to try to shift the conversation in my head from “What on earth was that person thinking?”/”What could I have/can I still do differently?” to “How do I feel about all of this and what will I do about that?”

    This is probably my number one pet peeve about most advice columns, especially advice directed at women. Plenty of advice columnists are happy to hazard a guess about why someone is acting weird — secretly gay! put off by how forward you are sexually! just not that into you! Or confused because he’s OVERWHELMED BY HIS LOVE FOR YOU. Actually, that last explanation is more likely to be deployd by rom-com screenwriters or well-meaning friends, but it’s out there.

    But all that wondering what’s going on in some other person’s head comes at the expense of inhabiting our own heads and hearts. Next time you find yourself wondering about why he did all the stuff he did, or making excuses for him, or opening an e-mail draft to ask why, ask yourself, “How did it make *me* feel when he did that? How do I feel right now?” If you’re anything like me, every time you read a book you think he would like and find yourself missing the hell out of him, you are also feeling at least a little hurt or angry or anxious. Eventually, you start going, “Hmmm, why do I want to have a conversation with someone who has made me feel that way? How about I call one of my friends who doesn’t make me feel bad everytime I think about them?”

    I also think there should be a counterpart to the African violet, something we can buy ourselves to commemorate the end of messy relationships where we didn’t get closure. Something that doesn’t require a prohibitive amount of maintenance and is plenty beautiful. Aloe? Christmas cactus? Lucky bamboo? Don’t send it — keep it, water it and remind yourself relationships don’t have to be complicated and hard to be worthwhile.

    • Christen said:

      Third graf should include many props to the Captain for always making the conversation about what the LW feels and what he or she should do about it, and not about the murky and unknowable WTF.

    • Lyla D. said:

      I like the idea of the “Lucky Bamboo of Self-Love/Re-establishment” (for they are lovely, and if even I can’t kill one, you know they have to be hardy).

  25. Karen said:

    I had a WTF relationship with a guy who didn’t seem to have much of a libido either. But you know, looking back on it later, I think he just didn’t really want to fuck ME that much. Does that hurt? Sure. Sure it does. It’s a bummer that he liked me in just about every other way but didn’t find me fuckable.

    I know this is a bummer interpretation of Ethan’s actions, but I think it’s worth putting out there. I think there were times my WTF guy hoped things would improve–and those weird efforts made the relationship seem that much more difficult to figure out later. But I think I just didn’t turn his crank, and now he’s found someone who does and they have three kids and good for him. Hopefully their marriage is nowhere near as complicated as our ill-fated, sex-starved, romance was.

    • Christen said:

      I’ve gone out with a couple of different guys I found super attractive in pretty much every way, enjoyed making out with, but when the pants came off…nothing happened. Totally mutual. Genitals, they are fickle things!

  26. Eclairity said:

    Two things:
    1) Nthing the do not contact this dude, cut him out of your life because seriously you are NOT going to get closure. Try to remember the Ethan in your head is far cooler and nicer than the Ethan in real life.
    2) that Gotye video freaked me out big time because he looks like my own personal Ethan (who I also never got closure with, but I did manage to get quite angry at for jerking me around which is exactly what helped me get over him)

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