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#693: When should I trust relationship advice and when should I trust my gut?

Hi Captain!

This isn’t anything serious but I thought you would have some great advice or direction.

My ex and I are seeing each other again. We dated for 4 years, 2 of which were living together. We were in our early twenties and the living together was much less a mutual choice and more so charity/kindness on his part as my student loans made it impossible to live on my own and living with family was not a healthy option. I think between us both being young, in a stressful almost depressing point in our lives (job issues), not having the best communication skills, and my moving into his (not our) place waaay too soon were all reasons for the breakup rather than a we’re not good for each other sort of way. After breaking up, we took about 6 weeks off but then started talking again. This time around, we’re going slowly (we’re doing things casually, not being exclusive, going at our own pace), being clear about our expectations with regular check-ins to make sure we’re both on the same page, and communicating like professionals; we’ve both grown and matured astronomically. Overall everything is exactly where I want it to be. I’ve never been happier with him or in my life and all past issues seem like a bad dream. If things continue as they are, I can see us eventually trying again with potential for it becoming really serious.

However, in the back of my head I’m worried about getting hurt. My friends, who are more like siblings, were around for the most of the relationship are skeptical and concerned. They want me to be happy and wish only the best for me. When I give them updates on my romantic life, I sometimes get comments like “make sure he’s not using you” and “I don’t think you guys are right for each other, but I hope I’m wrong.” I know that my friends have an outside view of my situation so they might see flags that I’m blind to, but also that they come with their own expectations for relationships and separate past experiences that don’t apply. My gut rarely fails me, but I am also scared that my gut may be too optimistic and might ignore sage, heart saving advice. How do I know when to trust their input to guide some choices, when to take it as an idea to mull over, or just thank them and ignore it?

Thank you much!

All advice is subjective and should be approached with skepticism. If you read something here and you think it has nothing to do with your situation and isn’t about you, then it isn’t about you and you shouldn’t follow it. If someone gives you advice, and your immediate reaction is “Nope, the opposite of that” and your considered reaction a few days later is still “Nope, that’s just not right” then do what you think you should do. You’re the expert on your situation, you’re the expert on your desires, you’re the one who has the most at stake, and you don’t owe it to anyone to take their advice to the detriment of your own happiness. It feels great to be able to say “Thanks, but I’ve got this,” and it also feels pretty good to hear it from someone who knows their own mind and heart.

That said, I can think of four advice-seeking/advice-getting sort of situations that are indicators that something is off, either with the relationship, with your own state of mind, or with your friendships.

1) If you find yourself constantly asking for advice and seeking input from others about your romantic relationship, pay attention. Why are you so unsure that you need constant input?

2) If you find yourself avoiding telling your friends things or minimizing things about your partner because you’re ashamed or you fear their judgment or you feel like you already know what they’ll say, pay attention.

3) If you find constantly apologizing for and translating your partner your friends (“He doesn’t mean it that way,” “If you knew him you’d understand,” “He had a rough childhood,” “He’s trying,” “He’s just not good at social skills,” “He means well,”) or vice versa (“They just don’t know you like I do,” “They’re protective of me,” “They just want me to be happy, they’ll come around,”), pay attention. Watch also for the oversell to your friends that is really you trying to sell this relationship to yourself. When hanging out with a friend and their partner turns social events into Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? the fact that “I know, but he’s a really great dancer and he just made partner at the firm and I love the way he leans” does not matter. When we see someone we care about with someone we think is a total douche, I think we all know by now to assume that they have some secret sex magicks going on, we don’t need to read the entire brochure.

4) If whenever you see your friends, a lot of the time is spent checking whether you’re okay, pay attention. (“Are you getting enough sleep?” “Have you seen a doctor lately?” “Is everything ok, you seem really stressed out?” “You don’t seem like yourself lately, is something up?” “If you ever need to talk, I’m here.” “Call me anytime, day or night and I will come pick you up.” “Let’s go out of town for the weekend, just us.” “How…are you” or “Sooooo….how is…partner” with that little pause, “Well, if you’re happy, I’m happy for you.” + IMMEDIATE SUBJECT CHANGE whenever partner comes up, etc.)

I don’t want to freak out the painfully literal folks, so to be clear, not every one of these behaviors or phrases indicates a crisis or even a problem, especially not on their own, especially isolated from context. It’s more important to pay attention to a) patterns and b) how you feel. If your friends are constantly asking if you are okay, they don’t think you are okay. If you’re constantly apologizing or translating or smoothing things over for your partner or worrying how that partner’s behavior will be seen by others, chances are your partner is fucking up somehow. If you’re constantly editing how you present information about your partner to the other people in your life, chances are you don’t think things are fine since you’re working so hard to paint a rosier picture than the one that exists.

There are certain exes that, if my friends got back together with them, I would have a hard time restraining myself from yelling “WHY GOD, WHYYYYYYYYYYYYYYY” “ARE THERE LITERALLY NO OTHER PEOPLE ON THE EARTH” “HAVE YOU JUST DECIDED YOU HATE BEING HAPPY/OK I GUESS THAT’S YOUR DECISION” before flipping a table, and from the full-body shudder my friends give when I even mention certain exes I know that feeling is more than mutual. There’s a reason things didn’t work (and all the reasons you identified would put a lot of stress on a relationship), so, I can see why your friends have some side-eye now. I also couldn’t tell from your letter if you started *talking* again within 6 weeks of breaking up or if you started *dating* again within 6 weeks of breaking up. Six weeks do not seem sufficient time to me for these astronomical changes in communication style and maturity to unfold and are hearkening me to this comment from another recent thread:

“I can’t tell you what to do obviously, but I can tell you that whenever I sat mine down and told him that I was unhappy and things needed to change, he would get a little better just long enough to get past the crisis point, and then return to his old ways.

However long it’s been, the good news is that success and happiness are their own sales pitch. If you are actually happy and comfortable, you can reassure your friends that you understand and hear their concerns, and let time do the rest. If you are actually happy over time, your friends will get it. If you are brittle and faking happiness, they will see that also. Don’t oversell them on your reunion or on this dude’s greatness. He’s gotta show, not tell here to earn back their trust and yours. I’m glad you are feeling good, and I think you are very smart to take it slow. If I were your friend I would say “Enjoy yourself, and I will lay off of your ex for now and give him a chance, but please promise me that you’ll sign no leases and hire no moving trucks for a good long while.”

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91 comments
  1. Szza said:

    Just for a data point: I dated my BF for two years, we broke up for a year and a half, and then he proposed. We’re still together, 26 years and two kids later. Sometimes the relationship is fatally flawed, but sometimes it’s a question of timing.

    Good luck, I hope it works out for you!

  2. Everything the Captain said, but I’m also going to bring up an icky, taboo possibility…. what if it’s your friends? I’ve had toxic friends who’ve tried to sabotage relationships of mine. There’s a cultural idea that your friends never have weird motives, are never bad for you… it’s just not true.

    • paddlepickle said:

      I think it COULD be, but I don’t think there’s an evidence of it necessarily. It sounds like there were very good reasons for the breakup, so I think as a friend in that situation it would make me very nervous if they started dating again (especially if it was only after six weeks). Not to say I would be right in my judgement necessarily, but I don’t think her friends are demonstrating anything worse than maybe not quite knowing when to shut up.

      I think the “make sure he’s not using you” stuff comes from the fact that they’re dating again but not exclusive, for instance. It might be that that’s totally the right decision, but it could also mean that she’s expecting things to go back to being serious and he’s not so much. Her friends might have very traditional expectations about relationships and feel like “not exclusive” means “never going to be serious”. Again, they’re not necessarily right, but I don’t think they’re eveil either.

      • Monica said:

        As someone who is not in an exclusive relationship (poly, yes), I am often defending myself and my relationship to friends who are confused by the non-traditional dating style I’ve got going on. When I started dating one of my paramours, he had been poly for a while and I have actually never had a relationship before. I got A LOT of ‘are you sure?’ or ‘I dunno, that sounds skeevy’ etc ad naseum from a lot of my friends. Most settled down after they saw I was happy and others who couldn’t let it go even though I repeated over and over again that I was 100% good ..we’re not such good friends anymore. I had a few who stepped over the line of curious to asking baiting questions that felt designed to bother me and make me feel insecure.

        Sometimes if you’re defending your choices over and over again, it’s not because your choices are wrong but because the other person refuses to budge and let you make your own decisions. Hell, they don’t even want you to feel comfortable making your own decisions because suddenly (and I know this is being very general and of course it’s not always the case) they’re looking at their relationship model differently and wondering if what they are doing is the “right” thing. I don’t want to get poly-holier-than-thou; it’s just been my experience lately that when you’re doing something non traditional, people who are die hard fans of traditional tend to freak out as if your decision to be different is someone saying they’re wrong wrong wrong.

        • paddlepickle said:

          Yeah, totally, I agree with everything you’ve said here. I think if her friends continue to double down on the criticism and there really are no good reasons for it, they are probably not good friends. I just don’t see anything suggesting as of yet that that’s the case.

      • I thought the “make sure he’s not using you” could easily come from simply the fact that “he” is suddenly seeming all changed and everything after only six weeks. It could be true (most plausibly if the changes had been coming for a long time, but it took the six-week break for the two of them to reorient and begin applying them to each other rather than staying in the relationship pattern they’d been in), but it could also be a matter of “getting a little better, just long enough to get past the crisis point,” which would definitely qualify as using.

        What’s more, I thought that “I don’t think he’s right for you, but I hope I’m wrong,” was actually pretty sensitive, and a good way to indicate concern while also making clear that the friend would be willing to reconsider and support the relationship if they saw it go well — i.e. was not deeply emotionally invested in the position that Guy was not right for LW.

        These don’t sound like bad friends to me, or friends who are out to sabotage the LW’s relationship on purpose. That doesn’t mean they’re correct about Guy, only that they do seem to have LW’s best interests at heart. If they are really prepared to rethink their opinions if they see the relationship working out, then there shouldn’t be a long-term problem with them so long as Guy really *is* sustainably good for LW.

        I wouldn’t necessarily take their advice, but I’d want to learn more about exactly what they were seeing NOW which concerned them. (Things they saw before which concerned them, while not unimportant, would get filed under, “If I see these factors re-emerging, I will know what to think; but I’m not going to worry about it until then.”)

    • MamaCheshire said:

      In my experience, signs that “it’s the friends” are when “the friends” focus on aspects of the relationship or of your partner that you are already totally clear in your own head are not problems.

      Examples from my own life or the lives of friends:

      – The ever-popular “you are a traitor to our cause!” reaction that seems to happen when a cisgender bisexual person dates a cisgender member of the opposite sex.
      – Immediate dislike for someone based on a prejudiced view of that person’s career (or current employment) – not to be confused with actual worry about a long-time partner’s lack of contribution financially and otherwise. This is “but all people who work in X field are Y and how can you stand that?” type of crap.
      – Partner does not enjoy an activity that “the friends” enjoy. (Reading print books gives Spouse severe migraines if the print is any smaller than hardcover Harry Potter books. Apparently this made him a horrible non-intellectual person who was beneath me?)
      – Random ableist nonsense/concern trolling about partner’s physical or mental health.
      – Other random -ist crap based on partner’s ethnic or cultural background. (When I was dating a Jewish guy, I got the “don’t you know there’s a Jewish prayer men say about thank God I am not a woman – how can he possibly treat you well?” thing. RUDE.)
      – “Your partner was abused as a little boy, aren’t you scared he’s going to abuse you or your (current or future) kids?” (Don’t say this. DON’T.)
      – But (same-gender partner) has never dated someone of the same gender before, aren’t you worried that you’re just an experiment?”

      • Xexyz said:

        Yup to all of the above. In a more general sense, friends who have your best interests in mind will raise concerns about your relationship as it relates to YOU. Suspect concerns are objections to your partner which are divorced from your actual relationship with hir (unless they’re MAJOR, obvious, red flags).

      • BDSM stuff, too. Not- or less-kinky friends who get upset when they snoop in your partner’s social media or online dating and find kinky content or identification.

    • titijil said:

      Personally, I’m a big fan of introducing partners to different groups of friends, family members, and acquaintances — and in different contexts: small and large gatherings, formal and informal occasions. If nothing else, this allows you to gather more data about whether or not they play well with others (which I think is good information to have).

      One individual person may or may not have your best interests at heart, but how likely is it that EVERYONE you know is going to have similar opinions or come to the same conclusion? If your entire social circle — your BFF, your sibling(s), your close-but-not-closest pals, your work mates, grandma, folks you’ve met through hobbies, et al. — has reservations about the person you’re dating, then I’d definitely pay attention to that.

      It might sound excessive, but I’m also thinking that, ideally, one aims for a full and well-balanced life into which one can integrate potential partners. If they don’t get along with anybody you care about or can’t roll with some of the basic aspects of your existence, then that may not bode well for the future. I’m not at all saying that this is the LW’s (or anyone’s) situation, I’m just sharing some of my own personal playbook for navigating challenges that can arise whenever one’s circle expands.

      As with anything, YMMV; I’m aware that I’m coming from a pretty community-oriented background, where, like, random aunts are going to tell you what they think of the company you keep.

  3. Excellent advice. Just want to say I broke up w/my long time boy friend after a stint of living together. We were separated a year & both grew & changed quite a bit in that time. We started hanging out as friends again & began dating a few months later. There was a lot of moving slowly & discussing boundaries but for us it worked out. The separation was great for us & we learned a lot about what we both needed in a relationship. We’ve since gotten married & had a child.

  4. Are they worried, or do they JUST WORRY?

    I feel like there’s a very big difference between “I just worry that he’s using you” and “I worry that he’s using you because THING HE VERIFIABLY DID”.

    Especially because it sounds as if he’s never given YOU any major red flags, I wonder if this is about their feelings about gettng back together with exes in general.

    I’d ask them why they’re worried. If they have concrete reasons based on things you both agree that he did[1] when you were together before, that’s a bit worrying. If they have concrete reasons based on things you both agree he’s doing now, that’s potentially very concerning.

    In either case, that’s worth hearing them out, thinking about, and then acting on, or not, after which your friends should assume that you have got this and they can drop it, at least unless or until they see a BIG concern.

    If they’re worried because they “just worry”, ask them to cool it unless or until they have a reason based on verifiably sketchy behaviour on his part. And if asking doesn’t cut it, maybe TELL them. Friends who JUST WORRY are not that much of an improvement over family who JUST WORRY, for which see the archives.

    [1] meaning “you were both there, you saw it happen.” You don’t have to agree on what it MEANS to make it worth hearing them out.

    • Guava said:

      This is a really good point. Sometimes friendships take on dynamics where you become the “reckless one” or “the one who jumps in with both feet and then gets hurt every time” and your friends elect themselves the concerned elder siblings. If your friends have a different style than you, that could potentially be a source of the conflict.

  5. Goblin said:

    The Captain speaks wisely. I am currently engaged to a gentleman who some eight years ago broke my heart into achy grey smithereens. He was mad (bipolar, OCD) and fucked up and neither of us had our shit together. We were apart for three years, and then gradually, carefully, edged back together. My friends, who’d had to pull my pieces back together more times than I can count in the breakup aftermath, were understandably cynical and resistant, and even my protestations of caution were met with raised eyebrows. But over time, as we were demonstrably functional and communicative and did a bunch of work separately and together, they all came round. We were both noticeably happier and more secure together, and my friends knew me well enough to be able to recognise that. It’s still early days I guess – 4 years on, not 26 – but going strong so far. If you guys are really good for one another, people who care about you will recognise that.

  6. Aurora said:

    I will add my story to the list of folks who had a shitty ex who grew up, got a dose of reality, and became a pretty cool person. We are now back together as a sort of friends with benefits thing (I’m in an open relationship), and we’re very happy.

    Listen to your friends, keep an eye open, all that. They might be on to something. But, they also might be just fretting. Taking it slow is a good plan, and make sure to note anything poor that goes on. That said, I hope it’s all better now, and I wish you luck!

    • portiabravo said:

      All the stories of successful reconciliations makes me feel all the more confident in my current baby-reconciliation. My friends are slowly letting go of their (reasonable) skepticism, and god we are happy. 7 months of couples therapy should have had an effect though ^_^

  7. inkwasrunning said:

    When I got back together with my ex (who I should NOT have gotten back together with, for the record), my best friend started throwing a fit. He never liked my ex and I knew it, but he’s overprotective so I dismissed his concerns most of the time or explained them away. When he started protesting my decision, I told him to just be neutral. For me. Just be polite and neutral to my ex because I wanted him to. He was shocked by the request, but honored it. Within a year, my ex and I were broken up for good, but my best friend is still my best friend because he respected me enough to let me make my own decisions and mistakes.

    • I was in this situation but as the ‘best friend’. I couldn’t accept it and broke off the friendship. To my knowledge the relationship-with-ex didn’t last and now I don’t have my friend. It seems we both lost. But at the same time, I don’t think the friendship was working for me how I wanted/needed it to and the relationship-with-ex was the ‘last straw’.

      I’m happy to hear you and your friend pulled through. I feel better knowing some people can pull it off 🙂

      • Portia said:

        I’ve never had the same relationship with my cousin since I told her I thought getting married to her Vader was a terrible idea. They were divorced within three years but me being right didn’t make our relationship any better. (who could have predicted?) But again yeah our friendship wasn’t healthy anyway, and I’m better off with some distance from her.

        • Titanium Spork said:

          Same here. I had a friend who was married, but started seeing another man. Considering I was also friends with her husband, this made for epically bad juju in the friend circle. I tried as hard as I could to tell her not to get me involved and to either break things off with her husband or the other guy, because it wasn’t fair to either one and she was putting me in the middle by expecting me to be her confidant in the situation. Long story short, no friends in that circle anymore, nor any chance of reconciliation, for yea verily, those fucks have been long burned from that field and the earth salted behind. Some relationships (friends or otherwise) are not meant to be.

    • cruelmistress said:

      All I did was *talk* about getting back together with an ex (one I had previously broken up with and gotten back together with and then broken up with a second time, so there is just no way it would have been a good idea to reconcile), and what my best friend said was “if that was what you wanted to do, you wouldn’t be wrong,” which in retrospect is just as much a meaningless statement as is possible, but it made me feel uncritically supported.

      I didn’t get back together with the ex, and eventually hugely critical statements about my ex started coming out of that friend’s mouth. But not until she knew we were done for good! And I appreciate that.

      But the thing is… she wouldn’t have been wrong to hesitate. Which I guess is why she said basically nothing while she was showing support for my dumb consideration.

      • inkwasrunning said:

        That is an amazingly brilliant way to say absolutely nothing. I need an arsenal of vaguely supportive but ultimately meaningless statements.

        When my break up finally did happen, my friend was all amped up, ready to shit talk. But I wasn’t there yet and had to tell him that when I was ready to be pissed off, he would be the first to know, but first, I need to cry and be fed ice cream. Again, so much restraint on his part, bit his tongue while I cried about losing this shitty dude. But one day I was like, HEY DID YOU KNOW THAT MY EX WAS A FUCKING DOUCHE and we high-fived and are still high-fiving to this day.

  8. To me, some of the most important components in a healthy relationship are mutual trust, mutual respect, and the ability to work together on problems and issues that arise so that you can deal with them in a way you are both reasonably satisfied about. I think it’s good to check in with yourself now and then to think about to what extent you do or don’t have these things. Other things to ask yourself are: Do I feel safe around my partner? Do I feel on edge (that walking on eggshells feelings) like it’s easy to mess up and cause problems around my partner? Am I generally happier around my partner? Do I feel relieved, like I can breathe more easily when we spend some time apart?

    I think these questions can often help to clarify things. And I think they’re good questions to ask yourself now and then, just to take a moment and make sure things are going alright. I would definitely listen to any specific things a friend worries about (any incidents or specific details they saw that worry them) and think about what they indicate. But general worry is likely a fairly reasonable concern based on the fact that they’ve seen you two together and it wasn’t good. And while getting back with exes often does not work out well, it can sometimes. And you might be one of those times. It’s hard for people to just not think about the past evidence they saw, but if you do work out well, then it’ll become clearer and clearer with time.

    I think the only other thing I’d really want to think about is what the specific issues were between you. Was it general not getting along or were there issues of lack of respect or entitlement? The former often improves with changes/growth and improved communication. But lack of respect and entitlement are stubborn beasts and rarely improve without significant therapy and hard work put into oneself. If it was the latter, then this is likely a honeymoon period. You say it wasn’t a “not bad for each other sort of way”, so I hope it was more general conflicts you couldn’t figure out how to resolve. Basically, have you figured out why you went wrong last time and addressed those issues? Maybe keep in mind what the problems were last time, and then keep an eye out for how things are either not falling into those patterns now or starting to reproduce them. That will probably be a useful indicator for whether or not this is a honeymoon period or the start of real change between how you two interact.

  9. GemmaM said:

    My best friend from high school dated a string of guys who I disapproved of. She had, like, a knack for finding that one guy who would borrow a lot of money off her and never pay it back, sort of thing. And then she went through this awkward relationship with a guy who was already dating someone else and, as far as I could see, was basically stringing her along. I did my best to cheer her up through the breakup, and when he came back to her a few months later with a present and an apology and, at last, no other girl that he was cheating on, I admit I was skeptical. But they got married last year, and I consented to be her bridesmaid, and, honestly, they seem happy.

    It’s very easy, as the friend who had to hear about all the trouble that guy put you through, to be disapproving and to have high standards for you. But sometimes we’re wrong. Sometimes the situation really has changed, and things really will work out this time. It sounds like your friends are at least cautiously willing to trust you, misgivings aside, and that makes them sound to me like good friends who will almost certainly come around as and if the relationship continues as nicely as you currently have reason to hope it will. Go ahead and trust yourself.

    • sunshine said:

      Hmm… the situation may have changed in your friend’s case, but PEOPLE don’t usually change. That’s why we hear “once a cheater, always a cheater” so often. I personally don’t think it’s always true. However, I do think that people who don’t fix things/ don’t break it off with one lover before starting up with a new lover rarely suddenly develop the skills/ moral fiber/ balls to do so the next time, without major self-work. Since every marriage encounters challenges at some point, hopefully your friend’s husband has done this hard work and your friend will fare better than her predecessor. Obviously, this observation about situations changing vs people changing gets at the heart of the LW’s issue, i.e., what is different about her relationship this time vs last time that will enable it to work now.

      • I would have agreed with you, but . . .

        Morals are something that many of us develop over time. We aren’t born moral. I engaged in infidelity pretty often when I was in my teens and very early 20s and then I stopped. At first it was a matter of morals, and then eventually it was a matter of self-discipline (because by my 20s I had decided it was morally wrong, but I didn’t have the discipline to not do it.)

        Sometimes people don’t really change so much as they come to see things differently and thus change their behavior in response.

        LW: my current love and I had a crisis of timing the first time we dated, and he broke up with me oddly and painfully. We got back together, very carefully, the next year. We have been together for 4 years now, and things are very good with us. So I wish you the best of luck!

        • sunshine said:

          Ms Pris, I think you and I are on the same page on this. I agree that when people are young, we are still gaining new life experiences, testing out different behaviors, etc. So something we might have done in our teens or 20s, we wouldn’t necessarily do when older and wiser.

          One of the keys here for both LW and GemmaM’s friend, though, is whether their partner has actually changed (and whether in the LWs case, that is necessary). GemmaM’s friend resumed her relationship with a known cheater after only a few months. We aren’t sure in LW’s case how long it’s been, or even whether her partner had any major character flaws to address. You, on the other hand, did the hard work of introspection and behavior modification over the course of many years. Accordingly, I think your story supports my point that situations often change, but PEOPLE don’t usually change without major time, effort, and practice. Just something for the the LW to keep in mind as she considers her new relationship with the old Ex.

        • Laughing Giraffe said:

          Agreed, and also worth considering: is this a pattern or a one-off? If someone has been unfaithful in every relationship they’ve ever been in, that’s far more worrying than if they did it once, felt bad, and smartened up.

      • Hmm, I’ve never liked the idea that people can’t change, because I think it’s inherently false. I’ve changed and developed a lot in my life, I’m not the same person I was 10, even 5, years ago. However, you can’t MAKE people change, and I think that’s what lines like “once a cheater, always a cheater” come in- you can’t get involved with someone with a track record of cheating if you think you can cure them of that by being a wonderful influence, and while your likes/dislikes/tolerances for certain behavior may change, but you can change those behaviors out of another person.

        • TO_Ont said:

          Yeah, people can change _themselves_. But you can’t change people, or make them change.

  10. Drew said:

    You can very justly say, “He was the right guy at the oh-so-very wrong time” if that’s how you feel and you think your friends will listen. That is absolutely a call you get to make. Your friends get to express their doubts, to a point, but once you say, “Thank you for your advice. This is going well right now, and I’ll ask you to keep any concerns to yourself unless I ask you about them,” they should respect that.

    Good luck!

  11. kat said:

    can i just say i find it a tad odd that you feel the need to communicate like “professionals”? that along with the past issues feeling like a bad dream strikes me as ….not red flags, exactly, but a little bit iffy.

    anyway i agree with the captain. your friends don’t have the whole story, nor do we. you do. if you’re not sure how you feel, try to take it slow. don’t rush into anything, don’t let anyone push you into anything you aren’t sure about, friends or bf. you know best what’s best for you, don’t forget that.

    • inarticulacy said:

      i took “communicating like professionals” to mean “communicating expertly/more effectively than before”

    • letternext said:

      I think there’s a good chance this is not literal but a phrase, “doing it like a boss” kinda thing, which just means doing something really well. but i don’t know for sure if the LW means it literally or not.

      All the advice is really good. I find the most helpful friends give you space to express yourself, but don’t push you to justify decisions, which can have the opposite outcome, of making you double down to prove them wrong. Helpful friends also don’t make exudes for your partner/ex, if you are expressing concerns, they don’t cheer you on to continue in unhealthy relationships…which can also happen, when friends are invested in your relationship or in you being in a relationship. It’s not always easy to find the balance. But a good friend expresses that YOU are in charge of your own decisions, not them, not your partner/ex, not anyone else… YOU.

      • letternext said:

        sorry, typo: “helpful friends don’t make EXCUSES for your partner/ex”

      • thelittlepakeha said:

        yeah my friends group often uses “like a pro” (usually for really basic shit like “got dressed and left the house like a pro!”).

    • It could mean using therapy/counselling language to discuss issues. That’s not always a bad thing – it can help create a little distance during conflict. However I think if that’s the only way they communicate and it’s like that all the time, it just sounds a but cold to me.

    • I actually see it as a nice thing. Professionals – in a functional workplace – are meant to communicate politely, reliably, responsbly and in a timely way. They’re not meant to overpromise and underdeliver. They’re meant to be honest, especially if there are work flow issues that affect other members of the team. There are team meetings to check in with each other as to how every team member is going. Information is meant to be distributed in such a way that all team members feel included in key decisions or at least are aware of any changes that will affect them. I think there are some general principles of good professional communication that could be helpfully applied in relationships.

      • kat said:

        you all make really good points, i just can’t help but feel the idea of running a relationship like a job, as it were, is less than ideal. probably me being too literal (and possibly a language barrier thing).

        and monica, that is exactly what i was thinking, thanks 🙂

  12. Eureka said:

    I’ve found that good advice is like good literary criticism: You know it when you hear it. (Yes, I’m too fond of the word “actually”, yes the plot is muddled in the middle, yes that character’s motivation doesn’t jibe with her actions.) It may not be something you’re ready to act on immediately, but you know that it’s probably true.

    Where it’s hard is when the advice is directed toward the relationship your friends want, or want you to have, and not the relationship that’s actually there. That’s when you should probably trust your gut, especially if that generally works for you already.

    • Loooooooooooooooooooooove your comparison.

      • Eureka said:

        Aww, thanks! It’s something that’s been on my mind today because I just finished a story for the first time in months and now I’m trying to decide if I have the nerve to show anyone else.

        • Titanium Spork said:

          Do it. You can’t sell a story if no one else ever sees it.

          Unless this is fanfic or you don’t have aspirations to publish, in which case, do what makes you happy.

          • The Aphid said:

            Eh, there are a lot of reasons to show or not show a particular story, regardless of what it is/what your aspirations are.

            F’r instance, I do have publishing aspirations, but something I’ve learned is that I personally sit down and write the next story faster if I keep one or two pieces that No One Else Has Seen Yet close to my heart at all times. Maybe it helps to keep the self-editor from deciding to stand in the middle of the Doorway of More Writing? I don’t really know why, but I wish I’d figured it out much sooner – it could have saved me several years of start-and-stop block. (When I was a kid, I wrote constantly and joyfully in private notebooks, and then I started trying to be Grown-Up about it all and things went wrong for a while, and now I’m figuring out how to balance the aspirations and the reality one step at a time.) Also, I often love/hate the thing right after I finish, and sometimes feel raw about sharing right away. Sometimes a week or six months or a year later is the way to go for me.

            Anyway – Eureka, congratulations on finishing the story! Go you.

    • The Aphid said:

      This is brilliant.

      And also puts me in mind of that thing that gets quoted around writer’s groups that goes something like: When someone tells you something isn’t working [with your writing], they’re probably right, but when they tell you how to fix it, they’re probably wrong.

      • Eureka said:

        YES!

      • How bizarre. I included that quote yesterday in a blog post about what happens when you disagree with an editor’s suggestions.

        “When people tell you something’s wrong or doesn’t work for them, they are almost always right. When they tell you exactly what they think is wrong and how to fix it, they are almost always wrong.” —-Neil Gaiman

        It’s from a Guardian article about writing tips from famous writers. Gaiman might not have been the first person to say it, but he’s the source I know about.

        • The Aphid said:

          Thanks! I’ve never been sure where that came from, though it certainly strikes a chord for me.

  13. Consolaré said:

    Her friends should mind their own business. It”s her mistake to make if it is a mistake. And if it is a mistake, it’s her mistake to walk away from. Most choices are only clear in hindsight,

  14. Absolutely agreeing with The Captain about Patterns: Watch For Them. I do, however, have an additional angle/ pattern to add. What perspective of your relationship have you been giving to your friends?

    Story time:

    In my social circles I tend to be the person who folks come to to help sort through the worst stuff they’re going through, because I’ve got a lot of experience mucking through the tough stuff. In the last couple of years, I’ve had 2 different friends who would constantly talk to me about the DTMFA-worthy behavior of their significant others. All the times their SO said or did something hurtful, was rude to a beloved relative, or stood them up for a date I heard about it. Eventually, both friends broke up with their respective SOs and they cried on my shoulder and told me even more horrible things while downing pints of Ben & Jerry’s.

    Both, to my horror, got back together with their SOs. One married theirs, and the other is now engaged.

    When I expressed my shock and concern to my friends, they shrugged it off and told me I just didn’t understand how wonderful their relationships were and how much their SOs had changed. When I expressed the same shock and concern to our mutual friends, however, they corrected me with tales of “But what about the time SO did [huge thoughtful romantic thing]?” “Or that time when SO [did small, important, wonderful thing]?”

    These stories were all entirely new to me.

    After the second round of Breakup–> Reconciliation–> Bewilderment I realized that I had been getting a very narrow perspective on my friends’ relationships, from my friends themselves. Personally, I started re-evaluating my entire life because what does it say about me that I only get to share in sorrows and never in joys? But more broadly, I’ve begun taking things with a grain of salt when a friend tells me “Oh my SO is just such a jerk!” I still watch for patterns that indicate really deep unhappiness or domestic abuse (and frankly, the ones who act unhappy but tell me everything’s fine are the ones I really worry about), but I’ve also learned to take a step back to try and see how both of them behave toward each other, rather than just relying on the limited information from my friends who may be venting in a moment of passing unhappiness in an otherwise healthy-ish relationship.

    Tl;dr: have your friends had a chance to see for themselves that you’re truly happy, or have you just told them how unhappy you were and now they’re confused by you appearing to choose to do the same thing that made you unhappy before?

    • slfisher said:

      This.

    • fir3dragon said:

      This is incredibly insightful, and you sound like a really good friend.

    • Jess said:

      I am SO this person with friends; I am the confidant, but that can end up meaning that I get a lot of people complaining about stuff and less just hanging out and having fun-type stuff. It can be very draining, but I don’t really know how to change it. Like do I just start being less understanding to people?

    • adie said:

      Healers are some people who only tend to get the worst stories, if that helps; it doesn’t mean there’s something “negative” about you, possibly the opposite!
      But absolutely one has to be careful to get the whole picture and attempt to step back and evaluate for true danger signs vs isolated, non-deal-breaker dickery that can happen when two people are close and see each other on their bad days as well as good.

  15. I think the Captain’s advice is absolutely on point. May I also leave some tangentially related advice?
    Maybe don’t make this group of friends your go-to group when you need to vent about your relationship. If they saw you through your last breakup, they probably have pretty strong opinions on this dude and his worthiness of dating Their Friend (who is a very similar person to you, but is not entirely you; Their Friend is someone they need to watch out for, take care of, and protect, and therefore they feel some sort of claim on how Their Friend sorts out their relationships). Give yourself and them a break of, say, six months during which time any issues in your relationship you work out either within your relationship (you and he, no outside opinions) or with the help of a neutral and professional third party like a therapist. It’s very easy to outsource your relationship angst to your friends and give them a skewed perception of their role in how things are going and their say in your romantic life, which can be hard to stop. If they’re JUST WORRIED without concrete evidence of something to be worried ABOUT, then let them know that although you appreciate their concern, it’s not needed and it’s not working for you. Maybe a script could go something like this:
    “Friend, when you say things like “I’m just worried…”, do you have a specific reason for that worry that’s related to something in this iteration of my relationship?” Then LISTEN. If they do have specific concerns with proof, let them know whether you’ll take that concern under advisement–“Thanks, Friend, you’ve given me something to think about, and I definitely will. But for right now, I want to focus on [literally anything else].”
    If they don’t have any concrete evidence of concerning behavior, then something like this: “I appreciate that you’re concerned, but I’d like to stop discussing this topic now. It’s not productive, and it’s spoiling our time together. I’m going to take a break from discussing my relationship with you, and I need you to respect that. Let’s focus on [literally anything else] instead, ok?”

  16. My main quibble is this line:
    “living together was much less a mutual choice and more so charity/kindness on his part”

    Was he thinking that or were you? Were you both stuck in that mindset?

    Labeling one half of the couple as “the charity case” can be quite toxic and a red flag if said charity is used to manipulate the partner. If nothing else it demonstrates some basic expectations either/both of you have about relationships. If this is something you’ve worked on since and are feeling confident about – awesome! Hooray for progress! However if it’s a pebble in the shoe – something that keeps coming back to bite you – then it’s definitely worth looking at on a deeper level.

    Some couples just don’t want to live together and that’s ok.

    I love my bf dearly, but for my own reasons I don’t want to share a home with him.

    Living together is not the natural progression of a relationship – there is no ‘leveling up’ that you should be aiming for. The minimum standard for a good relationship is you both feel safe and happy with/in the relationship (cf: being in a relationship & feeling crappy vs being in a relationship that makes you feel crappy).

    tl/dr – if you feel safe and happy then best of lock and I hope the good times continue. If one of those seems lacking, then consider reevaluating.

    • The Aphid said:

      I wondered if anyone else had noticed that line. It jumped out at me as a possible red flag, too. It seemed like an unusual way to phrase the situation unless one or both of them still feels that the LW is indebted to the ex. Of course, odd phrases could just be the result of cramming everything into the letter and it could all be water under the bridge now. I see it seems to be partly/mostly brought up to explain why that living situation wound up being unhealthy and not working out. But I did wonder if the ex ever brings this past “charity*” up in that light now, and also whether the LW ever uses it as a cudgel to beat his or herself into or out of feelings. If I was the LW’s close friend or sibling, those are things I might possibly worry about? If I noticed, I mean.

      I tried to think of advice-y situations from my life in case I had any insights on the actual question about judging advice, and realized I don’t actually give or receive relationship advice with my friends hardly at all. I’m… not actually sure what I think about that. I think I’m OK with it? Anyway, in the realm of General Life Advice, I think I tend to just go with my gut. If your friends say something and it hooks onto your gut and won’t let go, maybe think about that thing some more and figure out where the barb was.

      *I feel weird about counting a shared living space with a significant other for two years as an act of charity. I mean, offering a couch to crash on for a few weeks during a crisis, sure, that strikes me as an act of kindness. And I get that this living-together choice was not necessarily the choice that you both would have made in the best of all possible worlds, and it sounds like there was a power imbalance then, even if there isn’t now. But obviously I don’t know the actual situation, so I most likely I’m not imagining he dynamic right. I’m fresh out of an extended-family-as -roommates situation where someone tried to pull the “but you ooooooowe me” card on some stuff that had seemed like freely-made mutual choices at the time, so bias alert there!

      • cruelmistress said:

        Yes, good point. Two years is a really long time to be in the mindset that Partner is a Very Giving Person Who Is Doing This FOR YOU. Assuming Partner did nothing to exacerbate this feeling (I’m going to give Partner the benefit of the doubt here, since LW wants to date this person again, that Partner is not a complete toadstool of the sort who routinely brings up “I gave you a place to live!” during every disagreement like a trump card or a threat) and it is entirely based on LW’s own culturally-ingrained narrative of self-reliance, it still seems like a potentially unhealthy pattern, one that both of them would need to be consciously breaking down and reframing.

  17. Hi LW! I was involved with my bf a couple of years ago and he broke up with me, and I was miserable afterward, and my friends were understandably pissed at him, and then we started dating again a few months ago, and everything is great, and my friends have pretty much come around at this point, but I was really scared to tell two of them for a month after we started dating again. It turned out it wasn’t a surprise, they’d seen which way the wind was blowing, and everything has been fantastic. The relationship is good and really happy-making, and he’s awesome, and I feel awesome with him, and my friends are pretty much coming around, or at least not hanging out above the door going DOOM! DOOMMMM!!! so that’s good. But for us, we weren’t together long, and I think a lot of it was bad timing and too much distance (we were in two different countries and didn’t start dating til a few months after we ended up moving to the same town), and if it had been a case of something being structurally or functionally wrong with the relationship or us as people I think that dating again would be a huge mistake.

    The big difference for me between my friends and yours is that two of mine did the initial “this seems like a terrible idea, but you’re a big girl and I support you” thing, and then have been nothing but great. They probably don’t like him still (we are separated by huge distances, two of them are back home in Van and the other is on the east coast of the US) but they also love me and want me to be happy, and he makes me happy. I expect if it all ends in tears there will be a few suppressed I told you so-s but they’re not being gigantic jackasses to me, because they love me and they want me to be happy more than they are mad at him or want to be right.

    So…do your friends want you to be happy, or do they want to be right? I guess that’s the question I’d be asking.

  18. bug said:

    “If you find constantly apologizing for and translating your partner to your friends (“He doesn’t mean it that way,” “If you knew him you’d understand,” “He had a rough childhood,” “He’s trying,” “He’s just not good at social skills,” “He means well,”) or vice versa (“They just don’t know you like I do,” “They’re protective of me,” “They just want me to be happy, they’ll come around,”)…”

    Boy is that familiar. That was how my SIL brought her now-husband into the family after we’d just learned they’d been secretly engaged the first and only time we’d met him (when we’d been friendly and welcoming). See also “That’s just his sense of humor” when he refused to help me open a jar for a family party (with no follow-up j/k). And “He’s just looking out for me” when he told my SIL to go to bed instead of sitting down with my husband to discuss his concerns as she’d promised. To the outsider, it’s genuinely difficult to turn an observed “cold, rude, and creepy” or what have you into “well-meaning and loving” based on reassurance. Spoiler alert: It was sex magicks, or at least some mind-blowing “exchange of energies” as she put it. I think she’s happy, but we haven’t quite “come around” yet.

    Not that this situation necessarily applies to the LW! It’s hard to balance “listen to your love/lust-driven gut” and “listen to all your other loved ones”, when both can be wise and astute and both can be unaware or in denial of certain factors. Basically, go slowly as you’re doing (and my SIL didn’t) and let your loved ones see the progress. If it’s good, they (or at least the ones whose judgment you respect) will notice, and your and their perspectives will start to merge. And if it’s not so good, you’ll have a chance to see the negatives before you’ve dug yourself in too deep.

  19. rmd714 said:

    LW I so dig your feelings rn. A couple months ago I broke up with a pretty serious college bf after about three years of dating, bc I was moving to a city 5 hrs away. I told him I didn’t want to talk for six weeks (I think the Captain once told us that that’s a good length of time to get over an ex) but after that he came to visit me, and we totally hooked up. And then I visited him a few weeks later, and we totally hooked up again.

    Now I’m sitting around with heart-eyes, trying to figure out if I should ask him if he wants to get back together. I am asking myself:
    1. Am I just really enjoying having someone tell me I’m beautiful and they love me?
    2. Am I just enjoying having someone to have sex with?
    3. Am I just enjoying having someone to bike around and go to the farmer’s market with?
    4. Is my ex just enjoying these things?
    5. Are these things clouding my judgement about getting back together with him and letting me gloss over the challenges of long distance dating, possible very different futures (he wants to travel and I don’t, I want to have kids and he doesn’t).

    I’ll let you know when I figure all this out if you let me know when you get yours.

    • I can’t answer any of those questions, but if memory serves, the rule-of-thumb period of separation is six months.

      Good luck!

    • Mary said:

      Those are all really good things to “just” enjoy, though! I mean, they don’t negate potential really big differences. But me and my partner have been together ten years, and spent half of the first three years in different countries, and I’d say our relationship is pretty much built on mutual enjoyment of 1-3.

      My life lesson is that it’s really difficult to deal with long-distance relationships when you don’t have a point in the future where you know you’ll be together. But being apart for six months and knowing that it’s finite and that you’re going to be together after that is totally manageable. If either of you thinks the kids thing is realistically negotiable, that … does not sound like doom.

  20. Dear LW

    If you’re both happy, yay you! And ignore the naysayers.

    And now for story time.

    I had a BF in my teens and early twenties on and off for 5.5 years. We lived together. We loved each other. We broke up – once for almost a year. We weren’t faithful. We weren’t all that happy either.

    It ended when I married someone else (husband and I divorced many years later)

    The point being, some relationships last for years. They need to. Even when they aren’t so great.

    In retrospect he and I should’ve stayed broken up the first time – but who knew?

    Good luck. Accept that your friends love you.

  21. Fangirl said:

    Goddess bless, I needed to hear this! My beau and I have had an off-and-on relationship that spanned over eight years. We broke up about three years ago, dated for a brief stint, before once again breaking up. During this I completed my Master’s degree, moved to Denver, and was both happily single and dating like crazy. It was such a great opportunity for me to grow (I now know that I’m on the ace spectrum, which really clears up a few things) and I’ve moved on from my past of evil bees and the Darth Vader.

    Well, after a lot of consideration (not all about him; I have a baby niece who contributed much to this decision), I moved back to Virginia, and guess who helped move me back? That’s right. The beau flew out to Colorado just to help me drive across the country. Being with him is completely different – we’re communicating openly, affectionate in front of friends and family, and effusive with the L word – but I still had whispers from my Jerkbrain (that sounded a lot like my sisters) telling me “This will just end like last time” or “He’s still the guy that broke your heart.” My best friend, who is wonderfully diplomatic, likes the phrase “I’m happy that you’re happy.” I understand their caution, but sometimes you have to trust yourself, despite well-meaning advice. And, knowing that there are many others with similar stories also helps silence the Jerkbrain!

    Best of luck with your love, LW!

    • Emily said:

      Good luck with your beau! I hope that both of you have grown enough to make it work this time. 🙂

      As a fellow ace-spectrum person who was lucky enough to know I was ace before I started dating anyone, I can’t even imagine how hard it would be to weather a sexual relationship without that knowledge.

      • Fangirl said:

        Hello, fellow Ace person! Finding someone else on the spectrum is like finding a unicorn.

        I’m demisexual, and my beau is one of the lucky chosen. I’ve had sexual relationships in the past without that sexual attraction, and all I could think was “This is nice. I’d rather have pizza, but this is alright too.” And, dating was REAL WEIRD until I finally discovered asexuality on Tumblr and it was like a chorus of Beyonces descended from the heavens to herald the truth that was before me.

        Also, I have officially decided to make an account solely dedicated to Awkwardness, so I’ll be out and about a lot more often.

    • I think your friend(s) just wanted to say the truth without lying. They want you to be happy, but can’t help but worrying
      I’m like that myself. I have a friend, who was in an abusive relationship. When she got out of it, she started hooking up with a customer at our gas station. She would tell me things. They were potentially abusive. And she’d make excuses. But I kept my mouth shut as much as possible. Because like I told her, I didn’t want to drive her away. I’d rather be there for her when she needs it. So my basic response became “I’ll stick by you what ever decision you make”
      Luckily she realize that what I was saying was true, and stopped dating/hooking up with the guy. Now she’s taking a break from dating to straighten out her life.

  22. sempercogitans86 said:

    So, I had a really fantastic (by that I mean we have compatible values, complimentary senses of humor, crazy sexual chemistry, compatible life goals, similar dispositions, and we never run out of things to talk about) two month long fling with a guy. And then a functional but slightly less awesome long distance thing with him for about a year and a half (with visits) after he moved to another state. Then I moved to his state and we kinda-but-not-quite lived together for about six months.

    During that six months, we argued multiple times a week. There were only a few disagreements, but we had them over and over and over. We probably broke up and immediately got back together once a month. And, of course, each of these break-ups was preceded by days of tension and then one final explosion.

    A few months ago, we broke up again, and I really thought it would stick. But as a last ditch effort, we decided to try staying together but not even sorta-kinda living together. I can’t believe we didn’t try this sooner. We get along the way we did during that awesome thought-it-was-just-a-fling time. We don’t argue at all, and we we do have to talk about something it’s no big deal. My only complaint is that we don’t see each other as much, but we honestly don’t have time to see each other more, anyway. And now we both have time and space to do all the other stuff that we weren’t getting done, so when we do see each other we aren’t all stressed out.

    To be fair, neither of us have ever successfully lived with another person, so maybe we just can’t. And it has only been a few months, so maybe it’ll all go to shit again soon. But I don’t think it will.

    I think that a lot of relationships are like this. People, too. Things may not work because of something that has little to do with your compatibility as people. If you think this is what’s going on with you two, by all means, try again.

  23. Muffin said:

    LW, here’s a major diagnostic tool I keep in my arsenal: not all friends have the same values.

    For example: I have one friend who believes that Love Is All You Need (let’s call him Paul). When I was in a stressful relationship a few years ago, Paul’s advice was “Do you love him? Is he the one? Then go for it.” During that same relationship, I also talked to my friend Britney, who thinks that relationships are primarily based on everyone putting in enough work. Britney’s advice was to DTMFA because when she asked me, “Is he putting in as much work as you?” I answered truthfully, “Not by a longshot.” I did dump the boyfriend eventually, and he turned out to be a multiple-continent-wide philanderer (!!), but I don’t think that means Paul was wrong. Paul just wasn’t asking the question which was relevant to my situation, so his advice didn’t really tell me anything. I’ve had other relationships where Paul’s question could’ve saved me years of heartache if he’d been there to ask it.

    So if your major question is “Do I listen to my friends or to my gut?”, my suggestion is: listen to both. What your friends suggest that you do might not resonate, but I bet at least one of their questions will. When it does, think really hard about the answer to that question.

    • Cosima Niehaus said:

      I think this is wise. Most of my friends pride themselves on their honesty and call things like they see them, a quality I admire, but that doesn’t mean they’re going to see the same things the same way. Understanding your friends’ unique motives and philosophies, and being observant about what you admire and appreciate about them, is a huge help not just in advice-seeking but maintaining solid friendships in general. And it also helps if they come to *you* for advice, because it means you’ll understand where they’re coming from and what they may not have considered.

  24. Anisoptera said:

    So, LW, you are happy! Yay! Happy is to be treasured.

    One thought about your situation is that perhaps your unhappiness with this guy was situational last time? You have radically changed your relationship – you no longer live together, are no longer exclusive, are giving each other space. Certainly living with someone will amplify incompatibilities a thousand fold – I’ve definitely dated people I could never have happily lived with, just for reasons of housework. Someone’s hobbies and the way they spend their time, and the way they treat someone they’re super comfortable with can also be a major factor. On that later point – you guys might both be on your best behaviour right now, which can also lead to great happiness – I’ve certainly dated plenty of people who when they were first wooing me, or were interacting with me in public, were way *way* nicer and more attentive than they became when they got comfy and casual later. And look, maybe even the lack of exclusivity is a factor – perhaps one or the other or both of you was put off by the fast commitment of your former situation and now that you have more options and aren’t tied down its a lot easier to relax.

    None of those are really problems per se, on their own. It’s about what you want. As you move this relationship back to a more committed state (if that’s what you want), you’ll want to look out for and address any of these issues as they become relevant.

    And this might be what’s bugging your friends. They remember what you were like when you were in your former situation and they worry you’re headed straight back there. Maybe you both really have grown and changed heaps and none of this will be relevant at all, but maybe it just feels that way because the pressure points of your old relationship are absent while it’s just a casual dating thing. And perhaps they’re worried this dude is just using you for hugs/sex/emotional support while it’s convenient and there isn’t a better offer because there are plenty of people out there who do that. I don’t think that’s a reason not to try though – you have to risk being hurt in order to open yourself to another person, and the truth is you can be married with children and still be used or abandoned or treated poorly. The only way to find out is really to move ahead and see if he’s ultimately interested in the same kind of relationship as you, and keeps being compatible with you in whatever situation you guys end up living in.

  25. msmess said:

    I remember a few years ago, one of my best friends was planning a big move and decided to also end her relationship around the time of her move. The breakup had a lot to do with her move and their shared desire to not be in a long-distance relationship, but there were other things going on at the time that she wasn’t happy with. A few months later (at the “oh, shit, what have I done” phase of the starting-over-in-a-new-city adjustment process), she told me she and her ex were talking again, she was having feelings, and she was considering opening up the possibility of dating him again (since “the breakup was just about the move–maybe distance wouldn’t be so bad”). My initial reaction was a Tom Haverford-style NOOOOO, because I could see she was struggling with being lonely after the move, and thus was seeing everything she left (including other friendships, living arrangements, job, etc.) through mighty rosy glasses… and I could remember the non-distance reasons for the breakup that she seemed not to. When we talked about it, I assured her that I was in her corner no matter what, and that I trusted her to make decisions regarding her life/happiness/relationships, buuuuttttt–hey, do you remember all those things you were talking to me about at the end of your relationship???? And she basically said, whoa–I really didn’t. They didn’t get back together in the end, but I know as they continued to discuss things, she kept those needs a little more in focus.

    I guess what I’m getting at is this: Your friends may remember things that you, for whatever reason, don’t. They may have insights, memories, and concerns about things that aren’t on your radar, but that you might want on your radar. And their perspectives can be really helpful in getting a clear idea of what your needs/boundaries/etc. are if you keep rebuilding this relationship. There’s a difference between “You’ve been crying about this turd for months and he hurt you and therefore I hate his guts” and “When you were together before, you often seemed really upset about [ex’s upsetting behavior/habit/trait], and I don’t really know how that dynamic has changed, and I’d hate to see you go through that trial again.” One is your friends being perhaps needlessly protective of you, and the other is your friends showing legitimate concern. The protectiveness isn’t necessarily helpful, but the concern could be really great in getting perspective about your re-budding relationship (regardless of how you decide to proceed).

  26. Rachel said:

    I think one thing to bear in mind is that this is almost a no-win situation for the friends. When your friend gets back with an ex after a bad breakup, you have these options:

    Don’t raise your concerns. If the couple stays together, that’s OK, except you will maybe always wonder if they are *really* happy. If they break up, you may well get “Why didn’t you say anything?” from your friend, or you may finally be able to say what you think and end up insulting your friend, and then maybe they get back together again anyway.

    Raise your concerns. If the couple stays together, they both resent you for having an opinion and trying to protect your friend. If they break up, you may reconcile with your friend or they might still resent you for not supporting them.

    It’s true that you can’t prevent your friends doing anything, and nor should you be able to, but it is so frustrating to be a bystander in this type of situation. I know there are many happy stories in previous comments about getting back with an ex and everything being great, but there are just as many stories (if not more) where it doesn’t work out, which is why friends get worried about it.

    • JenniferP said:

      This is on point. If my friends occasionally vent about a partner, that can be all good. Even the most lovely person is annoying sometimes, and even strong, healthy relationships can encounter “should I stay or should I go” challenges at some point.

      But if your friends have listened to months or years of complaining about a person and how unhappy you are with them, and they have a complete picture of the person’s faults (because you listed all the person’s faults, at length), they can be forgiven for cheering when it finally ends and for having some side-eye when it drifts back together.

  27. Jack V said:

    All of Captain’s advice for red flags is good, those things stand out as things which present a serious problem!

    What jumped out for me is where the friends said “he’s using you”. You may not be able to ask, but what I was interested in is _how_ they assume he’s using you. If that’s “borrowing money and not paying it back” or “you do all the housework, all the emotional work, and drop everything for him, and he does nothing for you apart from giving you a place to live”, then that IS a problem, likely one that won’t be fixed!

    But often people mean “you need a stable exclusive long-term boyfriend, not a casual thing, and this may not turn into that”. In which case, the question is, IS that what you want? If you subconsciously think this relationship is only worthwhile if it does become more serious, then be watchful if he doesn’t care about or doesn’t want it to get more serious. Whereas, if you think the relationship is ALREADY good for you even if it never becomes more serious, then maybe it’s fine, and your friends are warning you about something that’s not as important to you…?

    • multicoastal said:

      Right. A lot of times people will assume that women are looking for a stable provider who will support them and their children…I’ve definitely gotten the ‘he’s using you’ speech when I’m in a relationship with someone who isn’t making money. But, I make a fine salary and am totally OK with being the one to bring in the money and as long as my partner contributes in other ways I don’t feel used at all. And yeah, people are always (and often very wrongly) assuming that women want to get married instantly and that a man who isn’t going to marry them is using them. Sometimes people measure your relationship against what they want and see it as inadequate on that basis, but maybe you want different things than they do.

  28. Lark said:

    I think that even good friends can get into bad patterns – a habit of interacting with someone based on a particular concern or assumption that isn’t in itself unreasonable but becomes unreasonable and annoying through repetition. Sometimes this is all them, sometimes it’s a bad dynamic between you.

    Friends don’t always know what’s best for you, even if they’ve known you a long time and have your best interests at heart. I have several friends where they got into relationships that really surprised me and of which I was initially skeptical, but which have worked out well; I have one friend whose relationship I would not want to mimic even if it came along with a million dollars and a pony, but the guy seems perfectly content and they’ve been together forever.

    Friend advice is a great heuristic, but a heuristic doesn’t describe everything, which is what makes it so tricky. Sometimes people really do meet the love of their life on a backpacking trip, move across country based on weeks’ acquaintance and end up perfectly happy.

    The other thing that strikes me here is….this is really low stakes. You’re in your early-mid twenties, you’re (apparently) not in a hurry to have a child, you don’t need to get married for logistics reasons. Look, it will be a drag and very upsetting, etc, if you break up – but nothing will be on fire and no one will die. You’ll feel bad and then you’ll feel better and then you’ll date someone else and probably break up with them too and eventually you’ll date someone you don’t break up with.

    I feel like your friends may need to dial back some of the drama. To my mind all the “ooooh, I don’t think this is a good idea” stuff should only be brought out if someone seems actively unhappy or if there’s something fairly permanent coming down the line – whether that’s marriage, trying to get pregnant, a house purchase, etc. Otherwise, if you feel happy, your friends need to leave you alone to make your own mistakes.

    I had a friend who moved cross country to a totally new and radically different place to be with someone from the internet based on a few weeks’ acquaintance. I had a sinking feeling, and indeed it sank. But I kept my lip zipped, because my friend is an adult and can make their own mistakes as long as the mistakes seem recoverable. People make romantic mistakes, and most of them aren’t the end of the world.

  29. TO_Ont said:

    To me unasked for advice about someone’s personal life is just incredibly rude and not OK. There are extreme cases, like when you’re concerned for someone’s personal safety, where that can sometimes trump all and make it good and necessary to break that general rule, but for the most part, your friends should step back and say nothing unless _you_ ask what they think. If it’s a mistake, it’s still your mistake, not theirs.

  30. RL said:

    How long has it been since you broke up? 6 weeks? I find it hard to believe that small amount of time causes people to “mature” significantly.

    Context is important when it comes to receiving advice. People mostly complain about the troubles their ex caused, meaning then they’re going to have a negative bias. However, if the troubles were severe then they likely have a point.

    Since you haven’t really gone into the cause of your breakup, it’s hard to discern what hurdles you/your friends would have to get over to get you “trusting” him again. If he was violent, verbally abusive, generally negative, or was a serial cheater you may want to just nip this in the bud and end it. If you broke up because of some stupid fight you had that you’re over now then maybe it’s worth trying again. Still, it’s worth considering that there are other people in the world. You might be able to find someone *better* than your ex, without all the baggage. Don’t settle.

    • I read the letter to mean that the LW and their ex went 6 weeks with no contact after they broke up, and then started to talk again after 6 weeks, and now (some unspecified amount of time later) are trying to date again.

  31. The thing that is waving red flags in my face is the part about 6 weeks. SIX. WEEKS. That is long enough for both of you to be feeling really lonely, and not long enough for either of you to have done any real work on being okay with yourself as an unpartnered person. Or finding out who you are without that partner. Or any of that. So maybe give yourselves six months apart and THEN try again? Not that there’s any magical time limit, but 6 weeks isn’t really long enough to recover from, say, heart surgery, and isn’t that kind of what a break-up is?

    • I really did assume that “we took a break from contact for 6 weeks before we started talking again” and “this time around” were separated by a long time, probably a year or two, of just being friends, so this all seemed very reasonable to me, but I see that a lot of people are assuming the dating happened immediately, so I think I would want some clarification from the LW about which it was. If they started dating again immediately, I think the friends’ concerns are valid, but if it’s been a year or two, I think they are somewhat less so.

  32. potterchik said:

    LW is sellling this pretty hard.

    • I read that as an effort to give a complete picture. Also, LW is beset by people telling them this is a terrible idea (their friends, I mean,not here) so I can see how they might be in that mindset.

  33. Ginny said:

    My friend recently got back together with her husband who last year walked out on her and started living with the woman he had been having an affair with behind my friend’s back for 6 months.

    My friend was devastated and me and our other friends tried to support her as she tried to rebuild her life. We had to watch her struggle to buy out her ex of their joint house and then as he bought a new apartment with the money where he lived with his new partner. I bit my tongue when her ex would not let my friend move on but insisted on keeping her on a string, she had him come round to her house to do various chores etc. It was extremely painful to watch her go through that and try to please him and be nice even after he treated her like shit.

    So now they are giving it another go, he moved back into the house he insisted on her buying him out of, and its hard for me to react to it, on the one hand i want to support my friend but on the other hand i can’t forget how he treated her and i really can’t make myself like him. She wants to invite me round when he is there in her (their?) house and i just don’t want to go and pretend its all fine, but I know its not any of my business and I should be there supporting her in her choice.

    So yeah, sometimes its not easy for the friends who want to be good friends but who are stuck biting their tongues when people get back together after nastiness has ensued.

  34. LW said:

    Hi everyone, LW here. Thank you so much for the comments and advice! As always, this blog is very helpful and much appreciated.

    Captain, your comments, “If you read something here and you think it has nothing to do with your situation and isn’t about you, then it isn’t about you and you shouldn’t follow it. If someone gives you advice, and your immediate reaction is “Nope, the opposite of that” and your considered reaction a few days later is still “Nope, that’s just not right” then do what you think you should do.” are perfect! Upon reflection, I can see now how many of my friends’ comments just echo my plain ol’ fear of the unknown (I tend to be a worrier by nature) vs comments that resonate and that can help me be on the lookout for any potential regression on my or his part.

    In response to the last handful of comments regarding timeline, I wanted to clarify that we didn’t talk for 6 weeks after the breakup and move out. After that, for the next couple of weeks and months, we would chat via email, text, etc. Then we started hanging out and occasionally hooking up (again, we both were clear and voiced our expectations and feelings). It’s now close to two years sine the breakup and the hanging out/casual dating is regular but we’re still not exclusive and I personally am enjoying this pace and well as experience other people and what the dating pool has to offer.

    I’m not sure if or how this changes any of the comments or advice, but there it is.

    • Thanksforallthefish said:

      Sounds like you are rockin’ it in a way that is good for you.
      I am definitely an over-analyzer and worrier by nature and if someone else (like a friend) brings up an echo of the worry of the day it can suddenly spiral into the whirlpool of “I must be making a terrible mistake that I don’t see because reasons!!!!”
      I say keep doing that thing that makes you happy!

    • Hi LW 🙂 I mean, obviously some caution is warranted in any situation where you broke up with someone and then start dating again, but it sounds like you’re going about it in a reasonable manner.

      I was really reassured, when I started dating my boyfriend this time, to hear how many of my friends had broken up and got back together with people that they ultimately married or otherwise entered into very committed, long-term relationships with. I was never someone who got back with exes, and none of my really close friends had either, so it was nice to hear that A) this is a normal thing and B) it can work out really well. I hope it does in your case as well, but remember that if it doesn’t, you totally get to break up with him again and nobody reasonable will judge you for it not working a second time.

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