#275: “How do I keep a friendly (or more) connection with the guy who just broke up with me (twice)?”

Luke Skywalker hanging off of Cloud City.
Sometimes we make our own Darth Vader Boyfriends out of wishful thinking and a refusal to let go.

Dear Captain Awkward,

About six weeks ago, the guy I was dating (let’s call him StarTrekFan, our mutual love for Star Trek and other geekery brought us together), broke things off very suddenly. I asked him to give us another chance and he agreed. We had talked about what issues had arisen and wanted to work on them.

However, life got a bit shit in those six weeks. He had to spend a lot of time in SecondaryWorkTown as well as in HomeTown with his family because of a death in the family and he had a mega-stressful time at work due to yearly evaluations. This meant we saw each other maybe once a week for a couple of hours, mostly in public spaces. He’d asked me for some space over that time and to take things slowly so I tried not to bother him too much over that time apart from when we saw each other. I have my own issues with death due to personal family related reasons so I probably wasn’t supportive enough with that but with everything else, I tried to be as supportive as possible without being too intrusive.

After the agreed upon period of time ended in which he’d asked for space, I thought it was finally time to work on previously discussed issues, together. However, he got back and the next day (after a nice couple of hours together the day he got back) he just broke up with me again. That was about a week ago.

We talked things through and the reasons he has for breaking things off keep jumping between having lost the “spark” and not having a deep enough “connection”/not being “close” enough. We’d been dating for about three or four month when he first broke up, not necessarily the time period in which to forge a very deep connection, especially for two very introverted people. He maintains that he really enjoys my company, that he’s still attracted to me and that we have a lot in common and want the same things from a relationship. I do not doubt his honesty.

I know that I don’t have a “right” to the chance I thought we would get and that sometimes feelings just fade out. But I don’t want to let him go completely and I think the circumstances in the past few weeks are a large factor in what happened between us. I understand that things between us can’t just resume. However, I would like to continue to be friends and work on being closer friends. I would quite like to ask him to do that and would like him to keep an open mind in case the “spark” does come back. If it doesn’t, we’ll be better friends for it, if it does, that would be great.

My question is, is that a reasonable thing to ask for? And how can I ask for that? I don’t want to sound desperate or be annoying and things are made more difficult by the fact that he will be in SecondaryWorkTown for the next two or three months (which had always been a likely possibility for this summer).

Thanks for any advice,

Dear Star Wars Fan:

I know my answer will not be what you want to hear, because The Force (attraction + optimism + wishful thinking) is strong with this one.

But I’m pretty positive that when someone breaks up with you twice in two months you should believe him that broken up is where he wants to be. The stuff he said about “spark” and “connection” was a nice way of saying “I like you, but not enough.” Yes, there are tons of mitigating circumstances and outside stressors. He doesn’t want to be in a relationship. There’s nothing you can do to be “enough” or solve the question of “enough,” because it’s his subjective choice.

That suuuuuuuucks. I’m so sorry.

I honestly think the best thing you can do for yourself right now is to perform some kind of ceremony to mark the end of this thing and create closure for yourself. It should be some combination of saying “Self, this is over” + deleting his number from your phone + filtering his email + unfollowing/filtering on social media + never initiating contact with him again (be affable but brief if he gets in touch) + being really nice to yourself.

Admiral Ackbar saying "It's a trap!"
Staying “friends” with a confusing dude you have feelings for is a trap you make for yourself.

I know that seems really harsh, when you like him and he (basically) likes you and maybe you could be friends. But you’re not friends. You’re into him. He’s still starring in all of your kissing fantasies. Your brain (and groin) is constantly thinking of ways that it could still all work out. That’s a sad, weird, awkward place to start a friendship. So I want you to consider changing this from a story about the guy who was so perfect except for That One Thing (bad timey connectiony sparky stuff) into a story about a guy who broke up with you twice in two months and then moved away for work. Definitely get rid of the part where you maybe weren’t supportive enough when he was grieving. You don’t need the fallacy that maybe you could control this if you’d done something differently hanging about in your brain.

If you’re meant to be friends down the road, it will be because he seeks you out and makes the effort and because your common interests (vs. your interest in his Pants) are enough to build a friendship on. You don’t have to make it easy for him or send him regular reminders. And if you were meant to date it would be easier and he wouldn’t keep needing “space” from you and breaking up with you.

Confusing dude is confusing. Fortunately a lot of people like things that start with “Star ___ ,” and you can find somebody who isn’t confusing and who knows that he likes you all the time. Please, please, please don’t waste 6 months or a year of your precious awesome life mooning after this guy and trying to figure out his deal. He TOLD you that deal is “I like you, but not enough.” Believe him, and no one has to cut off a hand or blow up a planet.

42 thoughts on “#275: “How do I keep a friendly (or more) connection with the guy who just broke up with me (twice)?”

  1. Excellent advice as always. I’m going to second the “saying ‘Self, this is over’ + deleting his number from your phone…” advice because it works. Additionally, spend time with your friends and/or support group and have them distract you from brooding. Doing activities that you like to do as an individual as well as journaling your thoughts will also help the recovery process.

    I had my own breakup a few months ago, and had learned these techniques in a social psychology class a few months prior to that. I’m glad I saved the notes!

  2. I would quite like to ask him to do that and would like him to keep an open mind in case the “spark” does come back. If it doesn’t, we’ll be better friends for it, if it does, that would be great.

    LW, this is a likely scenario if you two do become “friends” at your behest: You will pine over your ex. You will wait for the spark to come back, see signs of it coming back (with no words from him) and then get confused and hurt when he shows you that actually there is no spark back there. The friendship will be awkward and not particularly close. He will feel weird and uncomfortable on some level because he will get your pining vibe, no matter how sure you are that you’re not showing it or that you don’t feel that way. He will date other people. You will be jealous, even though you’ll convince yourself that you’re totally cool with it and you and him are like, BFFs. Dramz–completely unintentional–will ensue. Ex will take up so much headspace that there won’t be any room for cool, new potential love interests who cross your path. You’ll wake up one day and wonder about all of the wasted time and missed opportunities, all of the things you squandered over a guy who just isn’t that into you.

    Do not become a Nice Guy (TM)–I don’t know what your gender is, but Nice Guyism is something women can and do fall into, and it’s not a good look for anyone. Value yourself enough to move on. Maybe one day, when you have no pants feelings for this guy at all, you can be friends, but right now I think you would be treating yourself in the best way if you put a lot of distance between yourself and this guy. No Facebook, no email, no calls/texts (block these things if you can). Indulge in a few things that you enjoyed and he didn’t.

    1. This is a really important addition: this isn’t the choice between letting go of The (Possible) One or having a nice friendship with The (Possible) One and (possibly) more – this is the choice between truly getting over a breakup or obliterating a totally overwrought and LOADED “friendship.” Not that I think bad intentions are behind it (BEEN THERE!), but that’s the fact of the matter.

  3. Hmm LW, sounds like you’re Hooked. (Refer to HIMYM Season one). Or as I like to call it, it sounds like your ex has “I-don’t-want-you-but-I-still-want-you-to-want-me” syndrome. I’ve met a lot of people with this syndrome. It’s hard because sometimes a person just really likes there are people out there that want you and want to be with you. It makes a person feel really attractive and wanted, even if it’s not from someone they ultimately want to be with.

    For me, it mostly seems to stem from this line you wrote: “He maintains that he really enjoys my company, that he’s still attracted to me and that we have a lot in common and want the same things from a relationship.” You have all these good qualities that he says he likes, and yet he doesn’t want to be with you. It happens. And it sucks. I can’t tell you how many guys I’ve been into that don’t necessarily push away my attention, but they definitely don’t reciprocate. It’s a fine line I suppose.

    The advice above is great. Get him out of your life. I know it sucks because you like spending time with him, and you think he’s a great guy. He probably is in a lot of ways. Like my ex. He’s not necessarily a bad guy. We just didn’t want the same things. He basically came up with every excuse in the book to why he broke up with me. It changed every few months. I went through so many up and downs with our break-up because he still wanted to be friends. But it was hard for me. REALLY hard. We tried hanging out. I cried. We talked about getting back together. He decided it was a bad idea because he was moving away to finish school (like an hour drive). I was willing to drive back and forth, he decided it wasn’t worth it. Two months later, he’s IMing me telling me he misses me. I finally had to let him know that he couldn’t do this. It was okay to miss me, I missed him, but if he didn’t want to be with me, I really needed the time and space to get over him. I asked him not to contact me until I was okay with things. We have barely communicated in the last four years. A few emails here and there, but mostly asking questions about little things, not to really check in with each other. He gave me the space. I suppose I’m finally over it, I mean it’s been twice as long since we’ve broken up than the time we were together, but I’m still not sure I can be friends.

    I had friend who was dating someone who ultimately ended up stealing from him for drugs and ultimately punching him. They broke up. Six months later, the guy is back, just “as friends” as everyone else he knew had shut him out and he didn’t have anyone to turn to. I told my friend it was a Bad Idea, as my friend has a difficult time separating his emotions from his friendships. Needless to say, friend and bad guy got back together. It caused a lot of stress because I refused to support my friend’s decision, clearly this was a bad guy. They eventually broke up because of similar problems. Not that your guy is that bad, but it can be really difficult to move on without shutting someone out completely.

    I’ve also been in the situation where I was totally into someone, and he was straightforward that nothing would happen. We stayed friends, and I kept hoping, but nothing ever did. We are still quite good friends, but I think if he had actually taken advantage of my feelings and we got physical, we probably wouldn’t be. Once you cross that line, it can be hard to go back.

    Of course, this is all based on my own experiences and my own feelings, but I know that not everyone is like me or deals with things in the same way.

    Good luck!

    1. “”He maintains that he really enjoys my company, that he’s still attracted to me and that we have a lot in common and want the same things from a relationship.” You have all these good qualities that he says he likes, and yet he doesn’t want to be with you. It happens. And it sucks.”

      Also sometimes the people who break up with us say things like this because they don’t want to hurt our feelings. They feel like if they are super nice and just say the word “space” a lot and use vague terms like “spark” but say that we are still cool and hot, just “space and no spark” that we will get that they are ending things.

      And lo they have ended things in the nicest way, have they not? They said nice things, they didn’t say the word “over” aren’t they nice nice people who are oh so saving of our precious fee fees?

      Sadly, they are not. What they don’t realize is that the vague feeling of hope they leave by saying nice things and feeling saving does nothing to let the other person grieve for the relationship and move the fuck on. Instead it leave us wallowing in vague hope, which is a slightly nicer location than recently dumped, but tends to last much longer and end much more horribly when the bog of vague hopes is crushed by the rockslide of reality. (Oh god why am I writing metaphors before noon?)

      A few years ago I had to have an intervention with a good friend who was doing this to a guy. She thought she was clear he was super nice, she needed “space” which to her meant “THIS SHIT IS OVER.” To him this meant he still had a chance. She thought she was avoiding hurting him by distancing herself and still being nice to him, instead it was the exact opposite.

      Chances are this guy is either stringing you along, as above, or just too afraid of hurting you to be honest.

      1. See? This is what happens when I take too long to reply. Someone does it much more succinctly in half the time.

      2. It’s true. I did take a bit of a negative view of the whole thing, I guess I do have a lot of experience with those types of lines.

        I also sometimes feel like it’s not just about not hurting the feelings of the person being broken up with, but also that the person doing the breaking up really doesn’t want the other person to hate them. It’s a bit selfish, but break-ups can kind of suck, so trying to be nice and saying nice things is like saying, “Hey person-whose-heart-I’ve-just-broken, I know it sucks, but I’m still a nice person, I’m still saying nice things about you!” And maybe the person doing the breaking up is a nice boy/girl/person, but if I want to hate them for awhile, I should be able to.

        I mean break-ups aren’t fun, but if the dude breaking up with me was just like, “Yeah it sucks, I know you’re going to hate me for awhile, but it’s over.” instead of “Oh yeah, well, I’m just feeling this way, and I still find you attractive and think you’re great, and I still really want to be friends, but it just isn’t working, although you’re great!” it would probably be easier. I mean when I heard an iteration of the second statement during a break-up, I really did think I could find a way to get back together. This went on for about three months, until we had a SECOND (well make it THIRD) talk about our relationship. (As the second talk involved possibly getting back together, and the third talk involved that we were never getting back together.) That’s when I could finally cry and wallow and move on. I can kind of laugh about the awful phone calls I made to my friends where they couldn’t understand anything I was saying because I was sobbing into the phone.. It was not the best of my times. The recovery involved a lot of drinking/karaoke/late night taco bell runs/Veronica Mars marathons. Which could have started sooner if people weren’t so damn nice trying to break up with me! 😉

        1. This just happened to me… the guy decided to go from boyfriend to friend ***without telling me*** and for three weeks I lingered in a pit of confusion/anxiety/hope. Finally when I sat him down and asked him what was happening he admitted he didn’t have “intimate” feelings for me anymore but I was “so cool” he wanted to stay friends.

          I proceeded to lecture him on how to properly break up with someone using knowledge from personal experience on both sides as well as the knowledge accumulated from this site. It actually turned into a really good talk and conveniently banished any interest in him that I had clung to during my three weeks in the confusion/anxiety/hope pit.

        2. Even better is when your ex’s sister/your friend tells you that you shouldn’t hate him because he still really likes you as a person. *gag* Oh really? Then why is it whenever I see him these days the most he does is give an unsociable grunt at me?

          Regardless of how badly or well a breakup went, you should be allowed to not like a person anymore without having to justify it.

  4. Great advice (as always). But also great question. Every friend I have has been through their own version of the LW’s events (myself included). All of us wasted far too much time as the captain says ‘mooning’ over people who where quite clear when they said they just didn’t like us. You need grieving time, absolutely, but don’t let this situation spiral to a point where we read a letter from you in 3 years time still pining over what could have been.

    Don’t waste your awesomeness.

  5. I suspect that the boy has another girl in secondary town, so forget him and move on. You can’t go from lovers to friends overnight. Give it space and time and then maybe it will happen.

  6. Heh. I know exactly what this is like.

    The advice you have been given is good, and possibly what I should have done.

    However, I would like to say it can be possible for you to still be friends. It is very very super dooper hard though, and everything others have said does happen.

    I don’t think it’s necessary to completely cut yourself of, but definitely give yourself a lot of space and time away from him for a month or two. Spend time with your awesome friends. Be awesome.

    I didn’t do that, and well… 6 months on there are still some piny feelings, and I’ve not always been the most pleasant person to hang out with. I ‘couldn’t’ cut her off as she was the first person in a very long time who made me happy no matter how rubbish and miserable I was feeling, I was terrified that if I cut myself off, I’d have ended up back in my depressed hole. I still think I would have too. And in the long run, I was right not to cut her off. But boy the last 6 months sucked! :p

    Sooo… I guess I’m kind of supporting what everyone else said after all, just maybe to less extreme lengths. Just promise me you’ll go and have awesome times with your awesome friends. Cos quite often they are even better than you thought they were!

  7. Thanks for this. I was just in this exact situation, including the guy saying there wasn’t a “spark”. While I feel that reason should never be given by one full-fledged adult to another full-fledged adult because it’s lame as hell, it’s nice to see the actual translation: I like you, but not enough.

    I did let my brain be “on the hook” for him for a week or two, but I still kept myself open to options. For the past week and a half, I’ve been seeing (almost every day, actually) a lovely man with the capacity to use his words! It’s a nice change and I thank the CA archives (that I may have shotgunned) for helping me get here.

  8. You have the “spark.” He doesn’t. Spontaneous combustion is really quite rare. Especially as this gentleman is wearing a wet blanket and a hat made of “Go Away.”

    I wish you the best, LW – distract yourself with a few awesome things, free yourself up for something more flammable, and you’ll be surprised at how quickly he fades. You deserve, at the very least, a nice campfire, and wasting your energy by constantly pouring lighter fluid on a wet blanket is a loss to your dignity, your freedom and your time.

    1. I love the analogy. I might have trouble following the advice, regardless of how good, but damm, I love the analogy. I might print this and keep it in my purse to make me smile occasionally.

  9. Many jedi-hugs LW – I have been through a very similar situation – and 4 years later if I never saw my ex again it would be too soon. At the time he broke up with me he said he wanted a break to think about things- that he hoped it wasn’t over, but he wasn’t sure. I *WISH* he had just said we were done, it would’ve made it so much easier. Instead I had 3 months of me dropping FEELINGSBOMBS and trying to coerce him into staying with me. And he still never directly told me it was over.

    Please learn from my embarassingly clingy behaviour – leave him alone. If he wants to get in touch with you, he will. I know how much it hurts when you keep hoping they will make the effort to stay friends and they don’t. Take the time and space necessary to process this without reference to him.

    I have to wonder if you really want to stay friends with him while you’re still hoping you might get back together. I’ve had to sit next to my ex at dinner (involuntarily) while he told his new g/f about how they couldn’t live without each other and all sorts of bullshit that he had also told me not even a year before. Then he turned around and insultingly told me I should ask for a to go box for my leftovers. It took all my will not to stab him with the first piece of silverware I could lay my hands on. (That moment went a long way to making me happy we weren’t dating anymore) I hope your ex isn’t as grossly inconsiderate as mine, but at some point he will start dating someone else, and even if you’re moving on, it’ll probably still feel like pouring lemon juice on a paper cut if you’re trying to be friendly with him.

    1. Additionally, I didn’t notice a whole lot of mention of what else was going on in your life. (Not my business) I’m hoping that’s because things are going well. I know, personally speaking, that part of what made it so hard to let go of my ex, was that the rest of my life sucked donkey balls. And he had provided that tiny (eensy-weensy) bit of solace that made my life bearable. I hope this is not the case for you, but if not, it is possible to turn things around. You do not need him to get by and he is not your only chance at happiness.

    2. RIGHT? No space, just clean cuts. It starts the process sooner and allows us to move on sooner. I hate thinking that there’s a chance things will work out when they know there isn’t.

  10. Holy crap, this was my early twenties!
    DO NOT PLAY FRIENDS. You are not friends, and if you play at being friends it will be at best painful and awkward and at worst – if he is the indecisive or addleheaded sort who will vacillate rapidly between snogging you, ignoring you, staying up all night locked in deep and meaningful conversations with you, and acting like nothing weird is going on whatsoever – soul-destroying.

  11. LW, please listen to the Captain’s excellent advice here. I know you like this guy, but he is just not that into you. It doesn’t matter if that’s because you were taking it slow or the spark faded or life interfered or whatever other reason there might be. He’s made his position clear, and you have to accept it.

    I’m not trying to be harsh — trust me, we have all been in your shoes — but he has made a decision (twice!) that he doesn’t want to date you. Asking him if you can be friends while keeping the dating option open is you failing to respect his clearly stated wishes about Not Dating. It’s forcing him to say again (and, if he doesn’t shut it down right away, potentially again and again and again) that no, he doesn’t want to date you.

    You say that you “don’t want to let him go completely” and that you “understand that things between us can’t just resume” but you “want to work on being closer friends” while you both “keep an open mind in case the “spark” does come back.” What you are actually saying there is “I don’t want to accept that we are broken up because I still like you, so even though you said we were broken up let’s leave a window open for us to be not-broken-up in the future.” You can’t negotiate someone into being with you. He said things are over, and you need to respect that.

    1. This, all of it. He had already broken up with the LW once before, and the LW negotiated a return to the relationship. It sounds like the LW is trying to do this again instead of accept and respect his decision.

    2. This is totally on-target.

      It’s completely understandable, LW, as I think that just about everyone finds themselves in this emotional place at some time–hoping against hope that a relationship that went away will come back again.

      But you gotta look that urge in the eye and acknowledge it for what it is, then let it go and direct your emotional energy elsewhere.

      It sucks for a little while, but not nearly as much it will suck if you try to shoehorn this relationship back into the shape you would like to see it assume.

  12. Holy hell, between the LW and Grant’s response, you both have described my last relationship to an em-effin’ TEE.

    Co-sign to A) He does not like you enough. If he did, he’d be with you. This is not your fault. Some people click. Others don’t.

    B) If you are trying to stay friends because you hope that spark comes back, don’t. You will get hurt, time and time again. ESPECIALLY if, as he says, he’s still attracted to you. Part of the reason my ex and I couldn’t be ‘friends’ is because of the physical attraction. And every time things got physical, I took it as a sign that he maybe, just maybe, still wanted to be with me. And it messed with me oh so badly.

    I did this for almost two years.. all the ‘outside issues’ came into play.. he had issues with his ex, he was out of work and moved a couple of times while we were off-and-on.. he told me he couldn’t get into a relationship until he had his shit together… and I thought that meant that once he had his shit together, we would be together. But if he had really wanted to be with me, that stuff wouldn’t have mattered.

    I wish you the best of luck.. go be awesome and do your thing. You’ll either have a fantastic time not pining for a guy who doesn’t return the feelings, or you’ll meet someone who doesn’t make every excuse in the book not to be with you.

  13. Oh man. Not only have I been in these shoes, but I remember the way they smelled. Like fury and futility.
    Since there are a lot of Shapelings about on this blog, I’m going to do a shout-out to Ask the Blondes, a short-lived advice blog from Kate Harding and her friend Laurie. To them, I wrote my first and last advice letter: I liked a boy, we’d had a bit of a fling, then he needed a LOT of space, and I still needed a lot of his attention. I wrote something similar to LW, along the lines of “How can I make him understand how I feel?” but really meaning “How can I get the kind of recognition from him that I want?”
    They said to me, “We’re very sorry, but that’s not going to happen.” And explained that he had set his boundaries with me, and as unfair as I felt them to be, I could not change them.

    I did NOT want to hear it. I was still feeling slighted and wronged, and wanted confirmation that he should be treating me differently. But what the Blondes said was true, and it was a valuable learning experience for me–it reminded me to take people at their word, to listen when they said “I need to be over here and for you to be over there” and not invest too much in the placations and prevarications that politeness unreasonably requires.

    It still took me a lot of time to get past the feelings of unfairness, but it helped me to reframe it this way: if his actions are painful to me, and nothing I say or do brings about change in this condition, then I am straight up wrong about us having a chance at a relationship.

    Also: don’t be friends. Be civil acquaintances. Friendship will only come when/if this awkward feeling of missed opportunity (you) and having to repeatedly set boundaries (him) becomes a neutral remembrance for both.

  14. So. Yeah. I am another person who has BEEN THERE and DONE THIS and YEAH HOLY SHIT IT SUCKED.

    The thing I’d like to add that I haven’t seen so far in the comments — the other thing you will get out of DROPPING HIM NOW and STAYING THE HELL AWAY FROM HIM is that in six years when you look back at the relationship you might not feel sick to your stomach and feel deep, bitter, unreasonable hatred for his whole person and the fact you ever interacted with him. You might have a better chance of remembering the good things about him and your relationship — and you won’t just remember your clinging and (in all likelihood) his unwitting cruelty, which will overshadow the memory to the point of making you wish you could go back in time and punch him repeatedly in the face so he would hate you and NEVER EVER DATE YOU, so you would not have these humiliating recollections of how small and worthless you felt trying desperately to get back in his good graces to contend with for years and years.

    Or. Maybe that’s just me.

    Letting you down easy was probably his way of reassuring himself that he’s not really a bad person — and it is his right to not be into you, you know? But he still fucking hurt you. And you have a right to be angry and frustrated and pull back from the person who hurt you. And maybe not forgive him at all, ever! I feel like you have to process those sad, upset, abandoned feelings now or later, and if you put it off (“He’s a nice guy! He still wants to be friends!”) you (like me) will end up with nothing but a bucket of hatred later, because you expended all your energy being Kind and Understanding and Hopeful several years ago. Trying to make out like nothing is wrong and you’re still really close even after he’s made it clear he doesn’t want to be that close is using up vital energy that you could be using to heal yourself and get re-centered.

    Maybe think of him not as the awesome guy who might give you a third chance but as the guy who doesn’t get how awesome YOU are and therefore doesn’t get a third chance himself. It may be only part of the truth, but it may be the part you need right now.

    Fuck him. Long live you.

  15. I’m pretty much having this thing happen now. He said he wanted to change our relationship, and I was like, you mean you want to break up. It’s over, and it suuuuuucks because I fell in love with him, and for three months it was awesome. And there were issues, but I’m willing to work on them and he’s just NOT. He just doesn’t care about the relationship, and his feeling about it is “meh.”

    And I am suck wondering WHY and HOW, as in WHY did your feelings change from “can’t get enough of you” to “I don’t want to see you more than a couple times a month,” and HOW can you just throw away something so awesome when we were so happy together?

    And ultimately the answer to those questions just DOES NOT MATTER. Because this is how he feels, and feelings aren’t right or wrong, they just are. He doesn’t want to be in a romantic relationship with me. That’s all you need to break up.

    And he wants to be friends, hence “changing the relationship.” He’s very insistent on that phrasing, when I said it felt like he was throwing it away he jumped in with “NO NO CHANGING IT!!!” so, whatever dude. But I told him that I can’t see him, not now, and he sounded pretty hurt, but man I am in so much pain because all the dreams of finally having a person to have adventures with (both sexy and not-sexy) are dead. And it’s a loss, obviously not as bad as having someone you love die, but it’s like that. I can’t see him until I finish grieving and stop being in love with him, which is hard because he’s not an asshole, he’s an amazing person who uses his words and we still care about each other. But you can’t be in love with your friends.

    The Captain’s advice here is good for me, too, but I want to put in, as someone who is going to attempt the friend thing (eventually), don’t try to be friends until you’re over your romantic feelings, and don’t count on those things coming back. And it is okay to be hurt as fuck, and it’s okay to be honest about that. With my guy, I am not hiding the fact that I am hurt and upset, because, what’s the point? To make him feel better about breaking my heart? This is his decision and he gets to have his feelings and I get to have mine, and right now mine are pretty damn raw. And that’s totally understandable and okay.

    So, yeah, here is some solidarity from someone going through something similar. We’ll get through this, and we’ll be okay, but we don’t have to be okay right now, and that’s okay too.

    1. I’m so sorry, I know how much it sucks!

      “But I told him that I can’t see him, not now, and he sounded pretty hurt”

      While I don’t like it when someone I’m breaking up with tries to negotiate (um, no), I also don’t like it when someone who breaks up with me tries to insist on being my pal and wants to text me and call me all of the goddamn time. It’s like, dude–no. You broke up with me, which is your right. You’re not happy with me/the relationship, you should exit! But realize that once you break up with me, I’m probably not going to be happy with you/the ‘changed’ relationship and so I’m doing the healthy thing of taking some much needed space and focusing my energy on myself and my actual friends.

      1. Yeah, pretty much! I’m drawing my lines in the sand of “I know you want to be friends but I cannot do that yet” because I’d like to be friends, but I don’t know if that’s actually possible yet. And frankly, too fucking bad if that isn’t what he wants to hear. Friendship post-breakup is a maybe, not a guarantee.

        And thanks for the sympathy, I appreciate it SO much. It makes it easier, knowing I’m not the only one who’s been in this shitty situation!

  16. Oh, LW. I feel you. And I want to thank you for writing this, because I’m in a similar situation, and the advice and the comments are exactly what I needed to read today.

    Last month, I told a friend that I was in love with her, and she rejected me. I asked to take indefinite space, and while it has been *incredibly* hard, I have no regrets. I know that it was the right thing, because I’m not her friend. I’m in love with her.

    When we were “friends,” the friendship was destroying me. I would be excited all week to see her, and the high of spending time with her would be amazing — but then I would feel like utter shit for days, so sad & heartbroken and miserable that it was ruining my life. It was preventing me from finding someone who could reciprocate my feelings. It was making me feel unattractive and unworthy and rejected all the time.

    Don’t put yourself in that position. If you try to be friends with this guy, you might feel happy and hopeful for a while — but it will be hope for something that will never happen, and it will just extend the amount of time that you waste on him. You’ll be setting yourself up for another heartbreak, and then you’ll be in this same place all over again, with more months of your life gone forever.

    When I look back on the months of my life that I wasted because I couldn’t let go of this person, it makes me nauseous. At the time, I thought it was worth it because I liked her so much that I couldn’t give up if there was the tiniest little chance. But what I needed to accept was that there was no chance. Nobody who liked me enough to date me would treat me that way. I should have been spending that time taking care of myself, or meeting other great people to date.

    The Captain and everyone are right. But I’m so, so, sorry for you LW, because I know how much it hurts.

    What helped me was to think about how this happens to people all the time. When I was lost in the obsession, I would think “How can we not be right for each other when I’m so in love??” But the thing is, that happens all the time. That’s why there are so many songs about heartbreak. There are millions of people in your situation, who feel like you do — that you like him so much — and it will never happen. I hope that reading our advice will help you to see this, and that it will help you to know that you’re not alone.

  17. (This comment mentions physical violence.)

    Like other commenters, I have completely been where you are, LW, and it super sucks. Hard. A lot. But the Captain’s advice is spot on — this situation is untenable.

    I know the Captain has previously mentioned (and the commenters have expanded on) the fallacy of the Cool Girlfriend — the one who puts up with sucky behavior to prove that unlike all those other girls, you can totally handle someone who hates your friends/is never on time for anything/makes fun of your insecurities/etc. I’d like to suggest the corollary of the Cool Ex. “Look!” says the Cool Ex. “Look how we can still be super awesome friends even though we have broken up! I am so mature and accommodating! Friendship is magic!”

    Exes can totally be friends. I will not say “some of my best friends are exes,” but: it is completely possible to have healthy, rewarding friendships with people you used to date, and it is not a bad thing to want this.

    However, it is not only damn near impossible, but sometimes even more painful than breaking up in the first place, to try to be a Cool Ex. The punches in the self-worth that come with a breakup heal in time, but being a Cool Ex is like getting hit on those mental bruises over and over every time you hang out. It’s pretty awful. Waiting until they’ve healed and your pants-feelings have disappeared means that, if you and this dude do become friends, it will be because of y’all’s mutual awesomeness, and not a situation where you guys are pushing each other into a friendship that won’t make either of you very happy in the long run.

    Lots of Jedi hugs. Do lots of good things for yourself as you get through this, because you WILL get through this.

    1. I think cool exes happen mostly when both sides can agree, “I love you dearly, but us as a couple doesn’t really work” … or later, after a period of separation, when both sides have moved on to relationships or emotional states from which they have NO interest in going back. When either of the people is still feeling all wistful and “if only” ish, constantly watching for signs that the other person wants what they have said they don’t want, there really is no potential for exes becoming friends.

  18. So, I have been on the other side of this. Being the person someone else was carrying a torch for and LIKING them but not quite liking them ENOUGH to make a relationship work.

    LW, (and all) this is a tough situation to be in too. It’s hard (but necessary) to say something clearly enough to get the point across that “nope, we’re not dating, we’re not going to date, now or in the future” when a) you want to save the other person from feeling awful and b) you maybe aren’t sure what you want yourself.

    Your ex has gone through a really rough time. And taking him at his word, assuming he’s not trying to be manipulative, he likes you and is attracted to you. That by itself doesn’t happen all that often so he may be a little reluctant to throw it away. I definitely didn’t want to cut that person out of my life because he was CUTE and SMART and he did sexy things well! HOW FUN! So it was very easy for me to be talked in to “giving it another try” despite also being cruel to the interested gentleman.

    LW, you may be interested to know that after some time seeing each other only occasionally at common friend group events, we became good friends again for the past several years. So, you may still get the friendship, but you have to let the attraction go away first.

  19. Longtime reader, first-time poster. (Sorry if it’s a bit long)

    Like everyone here: Been there, done that.

    Doing it at this very moment, and for as long as i can remember actually. I’m that girl who stays friends with ALL her exes. Sometimes it hurts them, sometimes it hurts me, but I just can’t stay away. Some exes do grow into very good friends, but some of those friendships are falling apart as we speak. I was contemplating writing your very letter since yesterday night. So thank you for doing it for me, and thanks commenters, I’ve taken all the advise here as advise for myself.

    This friendship that you wish for: It can be done, but it’s hard. The advise of Captain Awkward is very good, and in some cases i wish i’d followed it.
    If you stay friends with him, you will get hurt, over and over again. Friendships like that take a long time to heal into something healthy, and always always me and the ex-boy needed a while apart before the relationship could turn into something else. Take that time apart. In my case all that hurting has eventually been worth it with 6 out of the 10 exes. Thats not a bad score, and those friendships definitely didn’t stop me from falling in love with other people after being broken up.
    In my experience, if you think you’re ready to be friends again, just wait a little longer, and in some cases you’ll never be. And when you’re ready the hurting can come from a different place than your own feelings too. Things like future relationships can really ruin the friendship when your ex meets someone they really want to be with, but who doesn’t approve of friendships between exes. Even if you’ve been good friends for over 8 years, and a person who asks you not to hang out together SUCKS BALLS. You will lose them.

    Then there’s a whole other level of hurt, that I havent experienced before, but i’m in it right now. If your relationship-turned-friendship is awesome, and you like eachother so much and get along so well, and start to hang out multiple days every week… It is inevitable that you rekindle old feelings. Even if you were never expecting this to happen, and never even wanted the person back in the first place. This is what happened to me over the last month and i’m quite upset about it. My favorite ex-boyfriend-friend and me started seeing too much of eachother.
    When we broke up 3 years ago we broke up because neither of us was in love anymore. We didn’t hurt or were dissapointed in eachother, we just had a whole lot of respect, and love, but no more pantsfeelings. He felt more like my brother than my boyfriend, and he felt the same way. To be on the same page like that is fantastic. You get to split up without feeling resentful, or wanting more. THIS IS THE BEST BREAKUP EVER and i wish it could always be like that.
    After a short time without contact, we started hanging out again. During our relationship we became friends with all each others friends, and just kept bumping into eachother after we broke up. It was just natural to see each other. For the last three years we’ve been confiding in eachother, and going for dinner or parties every few weeks, we’ve met eachothers new BF’s and GF’s. Even for me, an experienced staying-friends-with-your-ex-girl, this was friendship at a whole different level.
    It was awesome. It was so awesome that we started to hang out more and more over the last few months to the point that I discovered that I actually liked him again. He recently made some changes in his life that I’m so proud of and happy about, for him. And then I noticed I felt jealous when he told me about who ever he’s dating right now and unexpectedly I developed long-lost pantsfeelings…
    Yesterdaynight, during dinner I used my words and told him about my change of heart to see what he thought about it. Mindblowingly scary, but worth the risk in case he felt the same. He told me that even though he sometimes has had an occasional pantsfeeling, he doesn’t want to try and see if and how it would work out again, he’s doesn’t see his future with me and above that is afraid somebody might get hurt. And somebody did… me!! After all these years of not feeling resentful or unhappy about the situation, I now am.

    I’m gonna take the advise of the Captain and hope that me and him can go back to the way things were after a while. But it will take a whiiiiiile. Even though i started out with the perfect breakup turned friendship, i’m in your situation now, and I’m really really sad, I understand so well that you want to show him you’re actually perfect for him, but that’s not really up for you (or me) to decide. If he’s an honest and nice person (which i guess he is, since you still want to be friends), you should take his words and respect that he doesn’t feel the same way. Go and lick your wounds, indulge in something you like, or better yet, start venting your frustration with some running or heavy sportroutine. hang out with other people, do NOT talk about ‘how things could’ve been so good’ with those people all the time. It will only feed your sadness and frustratration. Try to step outside of your fantasies and take some time to get used to that-new-world-without-him. Good luck with your grief.

  20. Totally seconding the advice not to contact him! I believe in the six months of silence policy on being friends with exes – don’t talk for six months, and then if you still actually want to be friends after that period, you have enough distance to form a new relationship rather than half-relapse into the old romantic one.

    1. I don’t have a hard and fast rule for contacting exes, but I agree with the principle, which is that a relationship that is going to last will certainly keep for a few months while you do other stuff.

  21. I am going through a similar situation. I had already put a filter on his email address and unfriended him on Facebook because it was too hard for me to be a spectator to his life when I’d been a participant in it before.

    Halfway through reading the Captain’s advice, I stopped to delete his phone number and address from my cell phone. Fortunately, everything is electronic now and I never memorized his cell number so at least I don’t have it semi-permanently burned into my memory.

    Thanks, Captain, for reminding me that doing everything I can to be friends with him is unnecessary, because what I want is not just to be friends.

  22. Speaking as someone who asked That Guy to marry me ***three separate times*** and was told No over and over again (this is over the course of YEARS), I say don’t waste your thirties on That Guy. That said, he and I *are* still friends. Weird.

  23. LW, I was in a nearly identical situation two years ago. For what it is worth? I am now Actual Friends with the guy in question. Here is what helped with it:

    – Meeting more people and going on dates with new people. Even when I knew I was not quite ready for it, I found it helped to get out of my social comfort zone once in a while rather than sit around feeling sorry for myself.

    – Talking about it, but not too much. Venting to friends is fine, but analyzing the situation for hours (especially if they are the kind to offer advice about how to get him back, or theories about what you did wrong) is not. Set a timer if you have to. Then do something fun.

    – In my case, I stayed in touch with him via GChat, where he initiated a lot of conversations about our mutual interests. But I agree that generally breaking off contact for a while is a good idea. Gradually I started inviting him to parties at my house, game nights, etc.; he flaked the first few times but made it eventually. I felt OK about doing this because he was initiating contact with me occasionally and because I felt like enough time had passed, but YMMV.

    – Telling my jerkbrain to JUST SHUT UP when it started to dwell on him again/speculate about what I had done wrong/wonder about who he was dating/etc.

    – Putting energy into relationships and projects that were making me happy, and not worrying about the ones that were making me feel anxious or stressed, even if it didn’t seem like there was a reason this relationships “should” be making me unhappy.

  24. I know you’re not going to believe it right now, but a) you do not want a relationship with someone who’s merely “meh” about you, and b) single male Star Trek fans are not in short supply. Go find one who digs you. Otherwise you will relive my sophomore year of college, and nobody wants that.

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