#921: “Captain, can you e-slap some sense into me, please?” or, 12 steps for getting over a charismatic lying sexy jerkface.

Dear Captain Awkward…

I started seeing a man who claimed he and his wife were ok to seek outside relationships. He said the friendship of those outside liaisons was important to him. Seemed on-board; I heard his wife mention one or two outside-the-marriage dalliances.

I fell into an emotional clusterfuck with him. I truly didn’t want to be his “primary”, I didn’t want to tear him from his family, but I was emotionally invested in him on some level. He could be utterly sweet and he initiated daily conversation, but it often felt all about him. I told him how it bothered me when he reached out and shared a bunch of info and then proceeded to act what I thought was dismissively to what I told him. He said it wasn’t intentional but it always happened again. Were we fuck buddies, I wouldn’t have expected anything but because of the “friendship”, I was stupid enough to want the support and consistency that I get from my closest friends. But when it was good…it was goddamn magical.

1 year in, I learned that we’d crossed a line. I never got a succinct explanation but it related to the fact that our relationship was emotional, not just physical; they weren’t that open. He wanted to continue, secretly. I was unwilling to forego my attachment, so I stayed, for the magic and the self-absorption.

One day, after he dropped plans with me in what I thought was a crass way, I had a come-to-Jesus moment that I just didn’t matter to him when he didn’t need a distraction. I left. It’s been months. I hear from him sometimes because he wants to remain friends, but he’s been respectful of my request for way less contact and he isn’t trying to be amorous. But I don’t know what to do. Not talking has been awful, but talking brings back memories and leaves me wanting. I miss the intimacy but I’m emotionally drained. I don’t want to cheat but I kind of do. I feel like a failure and an asshole and like he has all the answers. I torture myself with thoughts that he’s found someone else. And I love him, but I think it’s ego that is truly driving my consideration of staying in touch with him. I’m so fucked up (I know this letter sounds awful).

What is wrong with me? Why is it I feel sick to my stomach about not having him in my life anymore, but I feel sick to my stomach about some of our interactions? Please e-slap some sense into me. I hate this and I can’t seem to get myself out of this rabbit hole.

Dear Letter Writer In A Rabbit Hole:

No slaps for you. You crossed paths with a charismatic liar who toyed with your heart and you feel like a pathetic asshole. It happens. Now we do damage control.

Step 1: Write him a message that says some version of “It’s time to let all of this go, please don’t contact me anymore.

Step 2: Block his number. Block him on all social media platforms. Block his email. BLOCK HIM. It’s time to go cold turkey and stop wondering “what if?” about this dude. You can take complete control of this situation by choosing to end it. The thing that makes it all better is time and distance away from him, and you can’t get the benefits of those things until you take them for yourself.

Step 3: Here is a really good song, called Better Things by the late (eff you forever, 2016), great Sharon Jones & the Dap Kings.

Listen to it on repeat. How long?  All of 2017, probably. Listen until the words are true.

Step 4: Get in touch with nice people who love you and who you can count on and spend time with them. Remind yourself that there are lots of kinds of love in this world and that you are connected to many other people who think you are important and value your time and who don’t suck you into weird cheating dynamics.

Step 5: Do some good stuff for the world. Bug your elected officials about things that are important to you. Find a neat volunteer gig that brings you in contact with new people. You need to distract yourself from texting some crap dude and the world could frankly use the energy you’re spending on thinking about him right now.

Step 6: Be nice to your body, whatever that means to you. Maybe it’s getting a massage, or a really great haircut, or culling your closet of things that don’t look or feel right, or getting enough sleep, or stretching for 10 minutes every morning. Maybe it’s dancing your ass off with friendly strangers for a few hours. Find a friendly not-creepy feminist sex shop and stock up on accoutrements and go to town on yourself.

How this dude made you feel in your body felt addictively good, I’m thinking. But he’s not the only source of that goodness – your body and its goodness belongs to you. Reclaim it.

Step 7: When you think of him, and you will think of him, acknowledge the moment and then move on. Don’t linger – distract yourself with something else. “I miss (Darth Vader). I’ll probably miss him for a while. Not gonna text him though. Oh look, kittens.

Step 8: What plans and dreams were you putting on hold while you dallied with this guy? Work plans, study plans, art plans, travel plans, daydreams? It’s time to dig back into that stuff and throw yourself at it as hard as you know how. DO THE THING.

Step 9: Forgive yourself.

Step 10: Forgive yourself.

Step 11: When you’re finally feeling like yourself again, these exes have a way of coming out of the woodwork back into your sphere of attention. I don’t know why, they just do. Be ready, ignore whatever bullshit he says, don’t respond to any messages from him, don’t hug him or “get coffee” and catch up with him. Sing along with Sharon. Laugh at the insipid stuff he says to try to get back in your pants. You’ve got better things to do than spend any more time thinking about that dude.

Step 12: Let time do its work. You WILL heal and you WILL get over him.

All love, no slaps,

Captain “I have been there” Awkward

*They’ve got a holiday album, btw. It’s so great.

92 comments
  1. Palliser said:

    #11, so true! Exes can smell it when you’re about to move on. The person who figures out the mechanism for this phenomenon should win a nobel prize. Maybe someday we’ll be able to buy a perfume that hides the relevant phermone or something.

    • Fishmongers' Daughters said:

      I’ve noticed this too! It’s actually sort of satisfying? It reaffirms that I really did have the power; I just GAVE it to him, and scurried around trying to gain his approval and affection and all that and now, months or years later, he’s still in the same place, with the same superiority complex, and while I’ve moved on and learned so much he’s still back there trying to draw me into a power dynamic that doesn’t really exist anymore except in his head. My twenties and early thirties were spent learning that lesson over and over, and I bet anything that if I were to text those guys right now, 9/10 of them would kiss my ass for the chance to let me make them feel good about themselves again.

    • peregrinations said:

      Omg yes re: #11. I don’t know how on earth they sense it, but they do. They also have an amazing talent for popping up at the worst possible times. At least mine do: Darth #1 popped up every couple years, always in the middle of some Major Life Stress. Darth #2 has popped up twice: once as I was in the middle of riding out a literal freaking hurricane, and again a few years later as I was in the middle of a figurative work clusterf**k.

      The Captain, as always, is wise. The charismatic ones can take a LONG time to get over. Months, even years. But believe me, sooner or later you will get over them. And when they pop up again years later you’ll share their pathetic pleas with your friends and all have a good laugh!

      • JenniferP said:

        One of mine popped up after 9/11. “Was just thinking about you…”

        Ok, Soulpatch McThirsty. Ok.

        • peregrinations said:

          UGH! Worst. Timing. Ever.

          • I called an ex after 9/11, too, and my intentions were about 90% benign and 10% “maybe you shouldn’t call that dude” because we WERE friends, before, during and after the brief more-than-friends couple phase, but it was probably not the best idea. It was, however, strictly a friendly call. I don’t feel cringe-y about it. I called everyone else I could think of, too.

            It was not a “just friends” call WRT the ex who called me (four months after we broke up (because he cheated on me and declined an offer to work on the relationship afterwards (so I moved out and vowed not to contact him ever again))). I mean, it was, like, SO WEIRD that I got all these hang-up calls at 4 AM RIGHT AFTER I started dating this new guy (coincidentally, four months after my ex and I broke up), and then I got a weird FEELINGS EMAIL from the same ex who REALLY WANTED TO TALK to EXPLAIN and APOLOGIZE and THERAPY WORDS and AMBIGUOUS SENTENCES.

            To this day, I have not returned those calls or emails, and I can’t remember if I filtered the emails to go directly to the trash, but that particular email account died five years ago, so…SHRUG.

        • Ess in Tee said:

          Oh man, you had a Soulpatch McThirsty? I had a Baron Ponytail von Self-Absorbed, myself.

          • Ooh, I went on two dates with him! He was trying to date me whilst simultaneously stalking a friend of mine “because it hadn’t worked out with me” (what?) and was amazed to discover that friends actually talk! When I broke our third date on the grounds of “you’re clearly a horrible person” he Mosbied me.

          • sorbus said:

            What IS it about these dudes and bad hair decisions?

          • human said:

            Mosbied? I haven’t heard that before, is that shorthand for something or just autocorrect?

          • golden peanut said:

            @sorbus: Now are the days of Manbun O’Dwarfbeard

        • fartherandhappier said:

          Oh yes, mine also called after 9/11 (b’c it was his birthday AND also 9/11) I stopped him cold with: It was your birthday, the country is in crisis, you are doing some soul searching, you decided I was the one that got away. You are right, I did. And I hung up.

          • JenniferP said:

            HERO.

          • sorbus said:

            Oh my god that is the best possible response to that. What a creepy and terrible thing to do, but what a deft and fantastic response on your part.

        • I called an ex after 9/11, too, and my intentions were about 90% benign and 10% “maybe you shouldn’t call that dude” because we WERE friends, before, during and after the brief more-than-friends couple phase, but it was probably not the best idea. It was, however, strictly a friendly call. I don’t feel cringe-y about it. I called everyone else I could think of, too.

          It was not a “just friends” call WRT the ex who called me (four months after we broke up (because he cheated on me and declined an offer to work on the relationship afterwards (so I moved out and vowed not to contact him ever again))). I mean, it was, like, SO WEIRD that I got all these hang-up calls at 4 AM RIGHT AFTER I started dating this new guy (coincidentally, four months after my ex and I broke up), and then I got a weird FEELINGS EMAIL from the same ex who REALLY WANTED TO TALK to EXPLAIN and APOLOGIZE and THERAPY WORDS and AMBIGUOUS SENTENCES.

          To this day, I have not returned those calls or emails, and I can’t remember if I filtered the emails to go directly to the trash, but that particular email account died five years ago, so…SHRUG.

      • Palliser said:

        I was on the phone walking down the street and saw my ex coming towards me. I had the incredible satisfaction of laughing at him into the phone to my dear friend who knew about it all. Usually I’m not dismissive or rude, but let’s just say he had it coming. His expression was priceless. I think he had fully expected me to be like, ‘Oh, Craig, it’s so weird to see you on the street after all this time. You’re clearly still my soulmate, want to smash?’ Instead, he got full righteous mean girl treatment and it was glorious.

      • Esselyn said:

        Yes! How is it they know?

        Mine cropped up just a few weeks after I’d gotten *engaged* to ramble about “finally being willing to admit [the breakup] was both our faults” (he dumped me) and “I wanted to let you know I’m dating MutualFriend – I hope that doesn’t hurt you too much. You were the best thing I ever had.”

        I took a big old FEELINGSDUMP into a notebook and brought it to my next therapy session. So much more productive than pining.

      • ThtreLady said:

        I swear my ex is tracking me. I finally deleted the archive of all our conversations and he contacted me the next freaking day. The. Next. Day.

        I mean, yeah I want to be friendly with you eventually again, but you just got engaged after telling me for 15 years that you didn’t believe in marriage. So maybe I’m a little annoyed with you right now.

      • I think they really are psychopaths. I had a horrible ex who called me nine months after he was very cruel to me, acting as if nothing had happened. My therapist – yes, I started seeing a therapist just because of this guy – had told me this would happen, so I was prepared and able to say, yeah, no, I don’t need your new phone number. If you want to call me, you have my number.

        He never did call again, but I saw him at some college reunion events. (We had gone to college together and met at an alumni event.) My husband, who knew who Ex was and had the whole story, told me that Ex kept looking over at me, but I wouldn’t even look at Ex, much less make eye contact with him.

        You can’t see these people coming – they know how to charm their way in and tell you what you want to hear. The only good thing about them is when they are gone and you realize that you dodged a huge bullet.

  2. Fishmongers' Daughters said:

    I’ve been there too, darling LW. Once with a married man who’s awesome wife and three sons were totally unaware of our horrific D/s relationship. While he dictated to me how to practice his religion which I’d just converted to and which he was a seriously hypocritical follower (like, you’re not supposed to cheat on your wife, for example). And the thing that bothers me the most are the dark, perverted fantasies I spun for him. I’m a decent writer with a good imagination and he pushed me to bad places. It injured my enjoyment of my own sexuality and made me feel ashamed of myself.

    And I still wanted him.

    All this to say: The ‘block him’ thing is key. My moment with this guy came when he contacted me months later, when the (metaphorical) bruises had healed and I wasn’t limping around in circles anymore. He wanted to take me to Hawaii with him. I got to test out my fledgling self-esteem and crude boundary-enforcing skills and told him no. Then I blocked him. I would never have been able to get over him if I hadn’t blocked him.

    But it took me a bit to get to that point, and I’m not sure you’re there yet. Though I agree with CA about blocking him, I’m not sure it can be the first step. If you can’t make yourself do that yet, maybe try Step 8 first. It takes a WHILE to purge a dude like this from your system, and anything that was a passion of yours before you met him can help you do that. The further you get from him, the easier that step of blocking him might get.

    Much love, LW. Many of us have been there. You don’t need a slap – just be nice to yourself.

  3. Part-time Jedi said:

    I heartily second the advice to get out into the world and meet people and reconnect with friends and do cool things. It’s SO EASY to fall back onto abusive people if you feel lonely or bored or unfulfilled. Anything you can do to fill those needs will make the guy-cravings easier to bear.

  4. Redgirl said:

    This is totally OT to the LW, but I only discovered Sharon Jones when I saw her open for Hall & Oates in September of this year. She was so amazing! I had no idea she just died. 😦 Eff you forever 2016, indeed.

    • Cory said:

      Best wishes to LW -listen to the Captain- butwhat a gut punch re: Sharon Jones! I didn’t know. Sigh.

  5. Lapis Lazuli said:

    This letter feels rather timely, considering LW of 919 considered getting into a “hush hush” type of relationship with a married dude.

    • Light37 said:

      Good point. LW 919, read this carefully. You don’t want to be here in a year or two.

  6. Ess in Tee said:

    Oh man, I have Been There with the whole “he is terrible for me and this is awful and horrible and why am I still wishing he was here” business.

    I spent a lot of time wishing he would love me and defending his terrible, selfish actions to others. I spent a lot of time pining and changing myself in ways that I had hoped he would like. I took up smoking again to be closer to him. I grew my hair out. I made myself available for sex any time he wanted. I pretended I was fine with the fact that he was freely having sex with scores of other women, most of whom didn’t speak the same language as him, which made him ghosting on them easy. He left a lot of devastated women in his wake during the time I knew him. Honestly, in hindsight it was really clear that he wasn’t worth it. But at the time? I ached to be loved by him. I wanted to be his girlfriend and he smirked and said he would make me his “partner in crime.”

    Eventually, I had a nervous breakdown. The kind where I stopped sleeping, stopped eating, and cried multiple times a day. I lost a huge amount of weight and desperately needed help. I won’t say he was the only factor that caused it, but he was certainly a big part of it. Eventually, my company loaned me the money to go back to my home country to get some help over the winter break. I clearly remember, the night before I left, during a Christmas party at my apartment (why did I not tell him not to come to my Christmas party?! WHY DID I INSIST ON STILL HAVING A CHRISTMAS PARTY IN THE FIRST PLACE?!), smoking outside with him. He said, nonchalantly, “y’know, I can’t help but feel like I’m partly responsible for this.”

    Then-Me vehemently told him he was wrong, that it was all me. That it was not his fault, that it would never be his fault. Now-Me would probably have told him to grab his stuff and leave my home before I hucked him off the damn balcony.

    I came back with meds (which honestly helped a lot) and a new lot in life and decided never to see him again. This lasted a week. I went right back to being his partner in crime. He mentioned a new “ladyfriend” and I noticed she was a pretty big part of his life, but he swore it was casual.

    It was not casual. She was his Real Girlfriend, while I was still his partner in crime who he fooled around with. His Real Girlfriend who he dumped via a couple of sentenced on facebook after he had left the country. When I realized that he had used me for sex while he was seeing someone else, I was suddenly LIVID. He was out of the country by that time, so I told him off via facebook. His response was “well, at least we weren’t married!” Oh. Okay. That makes this aaaaall okay, then. Good job.

    Once I realized how terrible of a person he was, I let myself get MAD. You don’t need to get mad, but if you feel yourself getting there, please know that you are 100% allowed and in the right. I cut off the hair grew to please him, quit smoking, deleted every single photo I had of him, blocked him everywhere, and destroyed everything he ever gave me. Felt damn good, too.

    In the end, there was a sort of happy ending, in that I learned that I never wanted to be jerked around like that again. I learned never to bow and scrape for someone who never cared about my feelings or wellbeing in the first place. It took time, and I stumbled here and there, but I worked on myself and learned how I deserve to be treated. I now have an awesome fiance who loves and respects me, and I adore and respect him right back.

    I will never settle for being anyone’s partner in crime ever, ever again.

    OP, don’t become this guy’s partner in crime. You deserve so much more than what this tool has to offer. Do not set yourself on fire to keep him warm. You deserve better, OP.

    • Purps said:

      In my case I had slowly gotten so sunken into prioritizing his feelings over mine that I COULDN’T get angry at him while we were still in touch. Because of his feeeeelings. It wasn’t part of the rules that I, or any woman, got to be mad at him. In fairness: it was also my first time on this particular merry-go-round and I didn’t understand that the shitty feelings that were only relieved by being in contact were also being CAUSED by being in contact with him, and that I could get good and mad, once, and mourn that he wasn’t the person I wanted him to be, and actually successfully place the blame at “wow, he was really manipulative, and I don’t have to care that he had his reasons for that anymore.” and then start to feel better.

      • Ess in Tee said:

        “I had slowly gotten so sunken into prioritizing his feelings over mine that I COULDN’T get angry at him”

        THIS IS THE BEST WAY TO DESCRIBE WHAT HAPPENED TO ME TOO OH MAN

        • Purps said:

          ngl Ess in Tee I read your comment and if it wasn’t for the fact that you were international I would ask if we’d dated the EXACT SAME MAN. Mine used to soulfully lecture me about how he’d always thought I was too enlightened for whatever thing I’d told him I needed. Like commitments, and later, like not telling me all about the sex he was having with the new girl. Heck with that dude. Like, forever.

          As your friendly local bisexual/polysexual person, I inadvertently cleansed my emotional palate by quitting dating cis dudes, and like: I will never, ever tell you that swearing off cis men is any kind of solution. 1) straight women and queer people attracted to cis dudes exist and are worthy and deserve love, as do cis dudes who are trying to do rightly despite weird cultural training 2) all kinds of people and relationships got all kinds of problems and saying stuff like that obscures that and makes it harder for those ppl to get help and support.

          But it really did kind of drag a highlighter over the multiplier effect between just plain being a self-centered person and cis dude privilege in heterosexuality. That’s all it is imo, a multiplier/enabler: it provides this weird script for acting entitled for people who already want to act entitled. It constantly dangles a particular flavor of “don’t be one of THOSE women” in front of women who want to assert their needs. Anyway, I’m probably getting us down a rabbithole here. I’m sorry you dated My Ex, But Some Other Guy (Identical To My Ex).

          • Thanksforallthefish said:

            That last paragraph gave me a chill. I’ve dated that dude from the top but I’ve dated many dudes that have so much coding for the society in which they were raised it’s a struggle.

          • syrens said:

            @Purps, This is actually why I swore off cis dudes (dudes in general, but cis dudes in particular) in 2008. That script is TOTALLY there, and if you’re prone to ending up in those kinds of dynamics anyway (Hi, Boundaries… I really would like to get to know you better), that script makes it even harder to work against them.

    • I’m really glad you quit smoking. And “Do not set yourself on fire to keep him warm” wins the internet.

      • Seconded on both accounts. Go, you!

      • 10thmoon said:

        “Do not set yourself on fire to keep him warm needs to be said again. Thank you, all ❤

  7. Duly Concerned said:

    The immortal bard Frank Herbert wrote: “Arrakis teaches the attitude of the knife – chopping off what’s incomplete and saying: ‘Now, it’s complete because it’s ended here.'”

    The Captain’s suggestion to block him everywhere possible is wise because, as she noted, it puts an end to any lingering questions, hopes, maybes, but what if he or his situation has changed, etc.

  8. Elektra said:

    I think of it as like quitting smoking. Ain’t nothing for it but to ride out the cravings and the withdrawal until you break the addiction. It’s tough, and your body tells you that you need the drug to live: but hang in there, this guy is toxic, and in time the things you’re feeling will fade away.

    Focus on the things the Captain has suggested. Steps 4-8 are not just awesome ways for you to move forward with your life, they’re the things that will take the edge off while you’re withdrawing from this guy. It still won’t be easy, but the little bursts of love and fun and purpose you’ll get from them will hopefully make the withdrawal bearable.

    We’re all rooting for you, LW. You’re not the failure you feel yourself to be and he’s not some all-knowing magic wizard. That’s the addiction talking. You deserve someone who will be consistent and who will support you in a way this guy never did. It’s so hard, but hang in there. The torturous thoughts and the missing the magic will pass, and then your heart will be clear and free for the healthy relationship you so richly deserve.

    • Palliser said:

      I love the comparison to quitting smoking. In my experience, it really does feel like a physical and psychic tether is pulling you towards this other person and it takes a long time for that part to go away. So, you really do have to be patient and kind with yourself during the process, as getting mad at yourself for being addicted doesn’t help anybody. Have been a time or two (sigh).

      • Elektra said:

        Me too, Palliser… I think a lot of us have. And I think pointing out that beating up on yourself doesn’t actually help break the addiction is super useful, than you 🙂

    • TO_Ont said:

      There’s a growing body of evidence that addiction actually uses the attachment parts of your brain, which are triggered in an insecure/unhealthy way. It is almost literally a kind of relationship with an abusive lover…

      I’m summarizing and not explaining it that well, but it’s a big part of why people with abuse, trauma, or neglect in their childhoods, or who are isolated and lonely, are even more susceptible to addiction… it’s kind of like your brain is desparate for love and some addictive substances tap into that. But of course, they tap into it more like the way an abusive partner would than like a healthy relationship would.

      • Palliser said:

        That is really fascinating and makes me respect people who have broken out of addition and abuse even more.

        • Elektra said:

          Seconded.

  9. indigojo said:

    All the yes to getting out and doing things! Also this guy does not sound worth the effort of trying to stay in contact/being friends – given that you flag up his inability to reciprocate interest in your life as a past issue. But in general I think if you are doing a period of no contact and it still feels painful and difficult, that is a sign YOU NEED TO CONTINUE. I broke up with my boyfriend of several years this year, we didn’t talk for six months, and I only decided to reach out when I was sure that I would be fine either way. If you are still suffering from lots of FEELINGS about the break-up and no-contact, you will only make contact painful and awkward.

  10. Remind yourself – daily if you have to – that the magic you’re missing? That wasn’t a wizard bringing magic into your dull, unmagical life. That was you being magical with someone.

    If you can be magical with one person, you can be magical. If he brought it out, that just means it was there to bring.

    If you want a wake-up call, let it be this: you’re an exciting, passionate person. So what, apart from romances, excites and impassions you? Maybe you need to take the time and energy you spent on him and use it ti find, develop, or rededicate yourself to magic that’s just you, just yours. You go be awesome, because you already are. Xxx


    • Remind yourself – daily if you have to – that the magic you’re missing? That wasn’t a wizard bringing magic into your dull, unmagical life. That was you being magical with someone.

      Wow. That is a perfect reminder.

    • HindsightGraduate said:

      This comment, plus Captain’s reminder that our bodies had the light and goodness all along- this is exactly what I needed to see today.

    • MoragLachlanMaclachlan said:

      This and the captain’s advice are just what I needed to read today. Thank you both. 🙂

    • Cartimandua said:

      Yes. Yesyesyes. YES.
      I don’t have a current Darth Vader ex problem but I do have lovely ex-lovers I’m still friends with and all sorts of messy, lurching zombie feelings which suddenly rise from the grave when I’m feeling less confident about myself. I’m in a bad slump at the moment and am craving all kinds of things from my past – places I used to live, jobs I used to do, people I used to share naked funtimes with – and all of it is about wanting to be that happier, more purposeful version of myself.
      I’m trying very hard to separate out the sensible improvements from the unhelpful cravings. Should I move back to the exciting Central European city I used to live in and spend my evenings having intellectual conversations with hip young things in jazz bars the tourists don’t know about? Almost certainly not, as my memory of that time now covers only the brightest moments, not the dull everyday slog. But could I make an effort to find a jazz bar in this city? Indeed I could. And if I find myself thinking about an ex, I’m trying to do that in a more detached, critical way. What exactly was it that I liked about myself when I was with them? Was there something about the TV shows we watched together, the food we cooked, the conversations we had that brought that out? Ok, so how can I dig into that seam of awesomeness without re-opening the old, dangerous mineshaft?

      • Light37 said:

        What exactly was it that I liked about myself when I was with them? Was there something about the TV shows we watched together, the food we cooked, the conversations we had that brought that out? Ok, so how can I dig into that seam of awesomeness without re-opening the old, dangerous mineshaft?

        This is brilliant. It’s not necessarily the person you miss as much as the way you felt when you were with them. What you want to do is find ways to create that feeling again without opening a can of worms.

  11. Minister of Smartassery said:

    Sweetie, he sucks. Trust that he sucks. He is doing the sucky things that sucky people do. He is sitting on his sucky throne, surveying his sucky kingdom, which sucks. He has sown his sucky field and he is reaping his sucky crop. You don’t want to be with someone who sucks.

    And just in case my message wasn’t clear – one more time – he sucks.

    • Purps said:

      I want to add to this that you DON’T NEED TO MAKE HIM NOT SUCK to be an okay person for sleeping with him. I think I was raised on romance novels and romcoms where female-bodied attraction is supposed to follow virtue, and I had real trouble learning that in fact my attraction to someone was value-neutral. I don’t know if anyone else got this pernicious kind of ladytraining, but I definitely felt weird and broken the first couple of times that I realized that I’d enthusiastically slept with a total jerkface. Oh no! Was I one of Those Women, who had a thing for assholes? WAS I BROKEN? DID I NEED TO PROVE TO THE UNIVERSE that this was actually a good guy who wanted me in order to have a successful life and discerning ladyparts?

      Well, no. I was attracted to them because they were charismatic, smelled good, and we touched a lot. My body is very simple. It’s not bad or good. It wants to sleep when it’s dark, it gets hungry and wants food, it wants to climb attractive people like they’re trees. My heart is a part of my body and it’s in some ways very simple: it wants to be loved, it wants to be important to other humans. Human bonding is a survival urge too. As a woman person, I’m supposed to quash all these urges unless the object of them is full of virtue – or give in in a self-punishing way, because I’m being bad. And I’m definitely supposed to either 100% prioritize wanting to be loved over being and having a body, or completely quash it and never have emotional needs that are inconvenient to others. Yeah! Girl power! 100% taking off a motorcycle helmet in slow motion with my hair blowing in the wind and 0% wanting to know where this relationship is going! Okay!

      Basically what I’m saying is: don’t slutshame yourself, LW, and also don’t pressure yourself to be okay with things in a way that you aren’t. It is okay that you want what you want. It’s okay to be frustrated and sad. This dude doesn’t have to be the person who will give you what you want in order for wanting to be okay. You’re fine. You’re fine. Block his number, but not because you deserve to be punished for wanting.

      • 100% taking off a motorcycle helmet in slow motion with my hair blowing in the wind and 0% wanting to know where this relationship is going!

        DISCLAIMER: Even when you dutifully do your character-check before dating, you -still- don’t know where this relationship is going.

        Just saying, don’t beat yourself up for i-thought-he-was-a-decent-guy, where-did-i-go-wrong either.

      • But also it is ok to recognize the non horrible things our Darth exes do.

        I’m not a worthless person for marrying Utterly Horrible Ex. And at the same time, Abusive Ex had many good qualities.

  12. Dear LW:

    – You are queen / king / other-gender ruler of awesomeness.
    – You are a hero. What you are doing is heroic stuff, and when you start coming out on the other side, you will be so proud of yourself. (Been there)
    – We are all so proud of you here for leaving this person.
    – Love yourself fiercely, always, first and foremost. The magic that you felt with him? That was you, all you, and you WILL feel it again (alone or with others)

    🙂

    It gets better. XxXx

  13. lalouve said:

    I found it useful, after a terrivly bad breakaup, to go “That was my ex thought of the day. I will now go on with things without thinkign of him more today.” It allowed me to not feel bad about thinking about him, but also not to dwell, and obsess, and in general behave in ways that were bad for me. I offer it for what it’s worth, YMMV. If it cheers you up, let me mention that I am now married to a partner that is so right for me I sometimes worry I made him up…. There is happiness on the other side of that misery.

  14. Dear LW:

    Part of Step 6 for me has often been 6.1 Have sex with someone else

    I know that many people recommend taking everything slowly. I recommend taking emotional matters slowly. Nonetheless, having sex with someone other than the person I’m aching for has made my body feel good, has left me feeling lovable, has overwritten Ex.

    So, if you work that way, it’s a good thing to try. For me, having NSA sex with people has worked better than having sex with toys. So don’t feel guilty if that’s true of you too.

    • S said:

      Yes this!

      Also, I think that the captain has offered great suggestions for replacing your friend with lots of productive things.

      But I also I think texting makes this SO much worse. I’ve seen this with strictly online relationships too. It’s the double whammy of “Yay I got a text” and “Yay I got a text from <3" and it can really amp up the addiction/attraction whatever you want to call it level. So consider finding another source for "Yay I got a text."

      That could be a group text with friends. It could be hilarious and random flirting with random people from tindr or wherever. (Reddit has a subreddit where you can find people to do dirty role play, don't ask me how I know.)

      I don't want to encourage you to just find someone else to go through this cycle with. But sometimes, when a person is like, a person you text all the time, just filling that time and loneliness can be hard. So finding some online friends or community or other way to sort of wean yourself off that habit of time spending and attention might be helpful.

      It might help make the act of closing the final door in this guy's face a little easier.

      • I get what you’re saying.

        Deep down I think my sensory predicate is either smell or touch, because nothing in text works for me the way almost anything tactile and olfactory does.

        • S said:

          I think it is a matter of replacing what is missing with what has been lost. Replacing the physical, but also replacing that friendship tie and the buzz of an electronic connection is important too.

          I think both of these things can feel hard to go cold turkey on. They are things that will naturally peter off with time, and then it is less painful

    • Hrovitnir said:

      Yes! It really depends how you work, but as someone who is a big fan of NSA sex and know from experience this won’t make me glom onto the first person I sleep with, this is my strong inclination.

      You know you though OP.

    • miss_chevious said:

      Yep, this is true for me as well. This summer I was in a fledgling thing with a guy I was really starting to like, but there were some warning signs (like red toothpicks that go in sandwiches more than red flags), so I was taking it slow emotionally. It turned out, those warning signs were real, and I found that hanging out with a Sex Friend or two made it a lot easier for me to remember all of the little red toothpicks and not just the fun and excitement of starting to really like someone. A nice Sex Friend can really remind you that you are awesome and attractive when an ex is trying to make you forget.

      • JenniferP said:

        I too have enjoyed a friendly sexual palate-cleanse in my single days. In among the terrible exes there used to be at least one trustworthy ego-booster, break-glass-in-case-of-emergency sex-friend who could help me get people out of my system and then be released back into the wild.

  15. Also, I want to say this:

    Expecting a ‘fuck buddy’ to treat you like an actual friend is not stupid. It is totally reasonable. The stupid one is him, for failing to deserve you.

    Likewise, when you say you ‘truly didn’t’ want things from him … you know it would have been okay to want things from him, right? You don’t have to apologise for having expectations of a minimum level of kindness, honesty and consideration from a sexual partner. That is a good and normal thing to expect, so stuff beating yourself up about it. You were in the right, and if that stupid twit made you feel it was unreasonable, that’s because he’s a stupid twit who didn’t deserve you.

    He should have treated you decently, the stupid twit. The fact that he didn’t? It’s because he’s stupid. Him, not you. Stupid, stupid him.

    • popesuburban said:

      Yesssss this! Like…OP approached this in good faith, figuring that adults Use Their Words and don’t lie or play creepy shady mind games. This is not a character failing on OP’s part, as they are not a member of the cast of Game of Thrones, which is about the only place I can see where “not typing yourself into elaborate knots and imaging ten conspiracies behind every thing, ever” could be considered foolish, or indeed anything but standard operating procedure. OP is not wrong, her ex is just garbage cleverly disguised in a sexy human suit (That fire? Not from his looks; he’s just a burning dumpster!). The problems here are many, but not one of them is the fact that the OP expected an adult to act like an adult, or figured that, hey, people who like you will act like they like you! People like Ex prey on decent people by exploiting their decent impulses; see Exhibit Garbage Fire, Section Fuck Off Forever.

      • Yeah, the fire thing … Well, here’s another psych-theory comin atcha.

        Now, I don’t want to Net-diagnose, but there’s a theory woth knowing about called the ‘anxious-avoidant trap’ – something I’ve fallen into myself in the past, and boy does it hurt. It goes like this:

        People with anxious attachment styles tend to have lower expectations of a partner, and are less likely to walk if they’re treated badly. (Feeling stupid for wanting basic respect and kindness is pretty much an anxious thing, for instance.) Their attachment systems are easily triggered.

        A triggered attachment system means our brain engages in attachment-seeking behaviour. We worry, obsess, yearn: our nerves basically set off a siren that goes ‘I’M GONNA KEEP SCREAMING TILL YOU RECONNECT WITH THE PERSON WHO SET ME OFF!’

        People with a avoidant/dismissive attachment styles are your Martian rubber bands (not exclusively male, nb): when they get close to someone they feel edgy, and only feel the pull of attraction when there’s distance between you – say, they’re leading a complicated life with multiple partners with whom they’re not allowed to get emotionally involved. Because of this, they do things that create threats to intimacy, and trigger a partner’s attachment system. Off goes the siren.

        Which can lead to the anxious person going crazy with longing because their attachment systems are constantly blaring … but can also lead to the feeling that the relationship was really passionate, because those few moments where it felt like you really did connect? They’re such a relief that they feel like a high. They’re good in proportion to how badly stressed out you were before.

        And they can leave you feeling like nobody could make you feel that passionate again. Some people even end up rejecting the trustworthy partners that come along because being consistently nice to someone doesn’t create that sickening/dizzying rollercoaster effect.

        I’m not saying this is definitely LW’s position, but it is worth considering that the reason it’s so hard to let him go is precisely because he was so shitty to you. He created insecurities, and the good moments were all the better for the feeling of those insecurities lifting, and now, maybe it feels like only he can give that good feeling because the insecurities are screaming ‘HIM, HIM, HIM!’

        Getting over a relationship like that, in my experience, isn’t like moving on from a disappointment. It’s more like getting over a trauma. As with a trauma, you start off confused and disoriented. The brain takes a while to lose the bastard-seeking impulse, and probably longer to lose the feeling of humiliation that goes with it all.

        You need to get as much love as you can, from reliable people (not necessarily lovers), to give your system some of the soothing it craves. You should stay away from reminders of him, and also forgive yourself if you slip back into worrying about him, or even seeing him; untangling yourself can take more than one try.

        You don’t need slaps, you need hugs. And patience. And laughter and good times and pleasure and safety. And people who don’t make you feel like wanting kindness and support is asking too much. You deserve all these things. Hear me? You deserve them.

        • BigdogLittlecat said:

          What you say about how attachment styles interact is something I need to know more about. Can you recommend some reading on the subject? I will be eternally grateful.

          • Part-time Jedi said:

            The original work on attachment styles was done by Mary Ainsworth and John Bowlby; if you search for their names, you’ll find a ton of sources on their research. They focused exclusively on infants, and how their attachment to their primary caregiver was shaped by that caregiver’s treatment of them. But there have since been studies on how this carries through to adulthood.

          • hummingbear said:

            There’s a book just called “Attached” that gives a pop-science overview. I found it really revealing about some of my (past, thankfully) romantic patterns.

          • Purps said:

            A counter-rec for people who are on the other side of the emotionally unavailable coin: I think Attached is a very helpful book for people who would love to be able to love an emotionally unavailable person into loving them back. It’s not a very helpful book if you’re the one who keeps telling people you just aren’t ready for a commitment (and you’d genuinely like to change that). The best I’ve found if you’re someone who tends to panic and bail is John Gottman. Plenty of critiques of him are just, and I’d definitely read Lundy Bancroft if abuse is a question and not Gottman, but I found Gottman very helpful as far as explaining with math and charts that some relationships actually do not feel awful and how that is a function of good habits and not some inaccessible magic. It would NOT have been enough to keep me in any of the relationships I bailed on during the Bailing Times, but it was very helpful once I’d done some singledom and therapy.

      • Light37 said:

        Yes, LW, you are a good person who expected your partner to behave as such. That doesn’t make you naive or stupid or gullible. The fact that he chose (and it is totally a choice) to behave badly is not your doing, it’s how he chooses to operate.

  16. TheStoryGirl said:

    Wow, that thing about the charismatic guys is truer than true.

    I only went on *two* dates with a very charismatic guy who tanked it by refusing to have a frank discussion about our STI statuses before what would likely have been a fluid-exchangey third date. That was a non-optional deal-breaker, but I’ve nevertheless caught myself occasionally thinking about him for more than a *YEAR.*

    Part of that has no doubt been my recent difficulty even getting to the first date, but most if it is how charismatic he was and how good he made me feel about myself, even though I totally knew the strategy behind his frequent compliments and intense eye-contact and confident vulnerability and everything else.

    So I sure sympathize, LW, especially as your situation is a zillion times more intense than mine ever was. I think our Captain is right – taking total control by ending everything totally is probably going to be necessary.

    Also, if you’re hesitating on that, in the recent poly-situation email, one of the commenters, neverjaunty, had this bit of advice:

    “Dear LW, I find that in situations where I don’t want to do the thing I know, deep down, that I should be doing, that the relevant question is not: What should I do? It is: What are the reasons that I am resisting doing this thing? Until I figure that out, and address it, I am going to keep pushing back against doing the thing.”

    neverjaunty followed it up with hypothetical reasons relevant to that particular LW; it might help to examine why you’re hesitating at ending things with your charismatic lying sexy jerkface. It’s a great comment, you might want to peek at that chain.

    All the jedi-hugs if you want them, LW. Good luck.

    • TheStoryGirl: Yikes! You dodged a bullet there and, quite possibly, literally saved your own life! He could have given you a fatal disease.

  17. HindsightGraduate said:

    I had the hardest time separating this strain of Darth from my own sucky behavior, and I am so here for this LW, this discussion, this life lesson/affirmation session. We fuck up, we apologize and keep moving, we realize the bees were really wasps the whole time and break out the pesticide. Darth will either learn their lesson or they won’t, and mourning a period of genuine connection does not make us regress back to who we were when we fucked up. We can- and will- find better ways to get these connections, Darth-free.

  18. Cor! said:

    I’m sorry, I was weak.

  19. Fishmongers' Daughters said:

    Also, if we’re putting out song recommendations, Alanis Morissette’s “Not as We” speaks to me. Like, from the first few chords – it drips with vulnerability and it’s sort of an ode to the grief of separation and the raw newness of being You again. It makes me feel weirdly safe – gives me permission to wrap my shivering, wind-chapped self in a soft blanket and protect her from the elements.

  20. Oh LW. The wonderful Captain is right; you don’t need slaps. You need to cut this jerk out of your life. Please take care of yourself.

    (Also, that kitten cam, Cap’n? I may have emitted some resounding squee noises that frightened my own kitten.)

  21. You describe this really well

  22. Unforgettable Laura said:

    I knew that some of my mate choices were about other things entirely – that the angry men who hated and abandoned women felt familiar, just like my father’s disdain and rejection of me.

    Later I learned that men I threw myself at – the musicians, the men stationed in my home town merely for the adventure and were leaving for new adventures- weren’t so much people I even liked as, they were people doing or being things I admired and wanted in myself. Performing sex on them wasn’t going to make it be inside me…

    Tonight, reading this letter and the Army’s responses, I’ve just realized that it was that longing to actually *be* say, the musician, that had made it so hard to break up with him. For me, that’s where the longing and feelings of being incomplete were coming from. No wonder I felt shredded and didn’t want to let go!

    The guys themselves were just stand-ins, literal jam jars for what I really wanted. No wonder they would f_ and- go. But, I needed to go do those things to truly make those qualities part of me, and stop sleeping in the wet spot of who they were.

    • Anononanonanon said:

      Indeed. In our heterocentric, compulsory heterosexuality-type culture, it can be very hard to separate an aspirational crush from a romantic or sexual one when the genders involved happen to line up with what society tells us should be a hetero pairing.
      (Not to mention the literal centuries of women-type people being told that, say, if you want to be a musician, you should marry one rather than learn music)

      Good job levelling up and working that out!!

      • mercutia said:

        “…it can be very hard to separate an aspirational crush from a romantic or sexual one when the genders involved happen to line up with what society tells us should be a hetero pairing.”

        THIS THIS THIS.

  23. AndTheRest said:

    LW, of course you have to find those things that work best for you, but here are a couple of things that sometimes help me with the process of moving on:
    – Find a new celebrity crush and binge-watch their movies or TV shows. (Can sometimes work with old celebrity crushes, too.)
    – Holiday/vacation: if I can afford both the time and money, getting out of town and changing my daily routine for a while sometimes helps. Works best if I can minimize internet access (like with camping) and if it’s somewhere the ex would never want to go.
    – Do things you never would or could do with the ex, especially things you enjoyed or were interested in that they hated. (Within reason.) This can be as simple as seeing a movie the ex would never sit through, going to a restaurant they’d never eat at, trying a new hobby they would think is stupid, etc. But it must be something you think you would like — it’s supposed to be a fun, figurative “Fuck you!” (Emphasis on figurative, do not contact the ex, do not have people tell the ex what you are doing. The experience is only for you, and only to help you with mentally and emotionally detaching from the ex.)

    YMMV, LW — best wishes to you during this difficult time, and remember that feelings change — one day, it won’t hurt like it does now.

  24. LookingBack said:

    I’ve been on the opposite side of this situation, and I think another thing to remember is that the other person he is cheating on probably feels the same shitty shit shit that you do. For me, that was how I really internalized the fact it wasn’t me and it really was him. He was doing this to multiple people, and the way I was feeling wasn’t unique, it was a symptom of him actively doing things that were selfish and that he knew would hurt me and a bunch of other people too. I think realizing he didn’t care was what finally allowed me to move on and realize he didn’t have the answer that was somehow going to make all the hurt go away, he didn’t have the emotional capacity to even understand what he was doing was wrong so how could he comfort me?

    When I realized that I allowed myself to do things that were selfish, that at the time I had felt were too awful to put him through. Hell, I was the epitome of the crazy ex (after finding out he was cheating on me with 16 yr olds he was paying for sex, let’s just say that I may have taken lots of photos of those interactions and may have posted them to a dark hole on the internet… not my proudest moment but it made me feel empowered at the time). Forgive yourself if you act out, forgive yourself if you slip up and see him. For me that was the hardest thing, because I watched all my friends say I should hate him, I read all the advice to block and to never see him again, and I personally wasn’t strong enough to do that and I felt shame for seeing him again and shame for needing him still… but you will move past that it just takes time.

    All that to say you’re going to feel lots of things. You’re probably going to have a moment in 3 years where you still feel lots of things. (just this summer this ex’s girlfriend contacted me asking me to take down those photos – not 2 days later I saw him walking hand-in-hand with some other girl clearly not his girlfriend and I felt like I’d been punched in the gut and had to go throw up). Allow yourself to feel, and remember that because you can feel you are already doing 1000x better than this selfish human being who wiggled his way into your head and you will be so much better than him in time.

  25. Dearest LW – I’ve been there. I dated one of these. He claimed his marriage was an open one, but (I later found out) it wasn’t. And when I finally realised exactly how much of a jerk he was (the final straw came when he made a sick joke about something very personal and intimate and traumatic in front of some mutual friends), I took the power back and walked. I never saw him again. It hurt like hell, but I began to see that he’d exploited the fact that I was very vulnerable and unwell at the time and had basically taken advantage of me for sex on tap. It took a while, but I can tell you that I felt SO MUCH BETTER once he was out of my life. I’ve never looked back. The Captain’s advice is good, make sure you’re looking after yourself (this is super important – self care is A Very Good Thing), and seriously – block him on all forms of media (I was lucky, my jerk was in the pre-internet days, all I had to do was delete his number from my phone). You deserve so much better. Good luck and I hope your life improves a millionfold without him in it!

  26. mercutia said:

    I had a non-relationship with a charismatic, gorgeous narcissist, one of several over my life, that I seem to have FINALLY evolved beyond recently. Aside from a very few compliments delivered to me at JUST the point I was turning away, it’s been ALL ABOUT HIM. And of course I was happy to pitch all the praise and attention at him I could. I was happy just to give! No, I’m fine, I like being selfless! He’s poly, which I suspect in his case is less “open and able to embrace and share love freely” and more “pussyhound who’s not responsible for your feelings.” Of course this made me want to sleep with him THAT MUCH MORE, because more often than not I am an emotional idiot. Of course he wasn’t interested, but he was perfectly gracious about accepting all the attention ever from me. Unless, you know, I was bothering him in any way. Could I adore him later, please? I duped him from my life once but was still obsessive and missed him and brought him back into it, and he pulled some other stunt that was innocuous on the face of it, but really wounding underneath, and then I just…I dunno. I Had Had Enough. I haven’t dropped or blocked him, but I feel legit OK. I still do want to interact with him, but it’s a want, not a compulsion, like when I kicked sugary drinks and got over the hump of insane cravings for them. I can drink them once in a while but I don’t NEED them. Same with him; he’s just a person now. And it feels SO GOOD to be out of the trap of his charisma and my own limitless drive to win him over. I hope this means I’m over this whole category of person; I guess time will tell. But I wish the same clarity and peace and ability to refrain from unproductive behavior for everyone.

  27. sorbus said:

    There are some swell recommendations in here. I would like to add another one, which is this great song that I think of often when I am reminded of any of the terrible people that I was involved with in the past.

  28. Hannah C said:

    Thank you, captain, and LW for writing in. I’m still finding step 7 difficult, but over the last few months it’s been getting easier. It really helps to know that we’re not alone.

  29. Dulcinea said:

    I think a lot of the advice here is really good and I agree with the Captain’s advice. I’ve been there too with the charasmatic married deceitful guy. I so feel you on this “I don’t want to cheat but I kind of do.”

    I just want to say…you don’t have to believe that he is a jerk or a bad person to know that it is time to cut him out of your life. I think there are actually very few people who are definitively “good” or definitively “bad” and there are “good” people who do bad things sometimes. I know that I have given in to selfish or petty impulses and done things I am not proud of; I think most people have. If this is how you are feeling about your ex, then know that you don’t have to mentally write him off as a jerk or a darth vader or whatever to write him off as Someone Bad For You. And you know this is Bad For You – that’s why you feel nauseated when you think about doing it. Listen to the music, follow to Captain’s advice, and cut this person out of your life.

    Basically, I got stuck on the cognitive dissonance between what I knew was good and kind about my ex, and the way he was hurting others by being involved with me. Once I realized I didn’t have to make an objective decision about his entire value as a person, I was able to make the decisions I DID need to make and shut him out.

    Also, more song recommendations from the playlist I made to get over my version of this guy: “Just One of Those Things” by Ella Fitzgerald; “Good Woman” by Cat Power (this one can be kind of a downer OR comforting, depending on your mood..proceed with caution); “Helena” by Nickel Creek (sad but there’s some real Truth Talk in here), “Stay” by Sugarland (again sad but Truth Talk filled).

    • JenniferP said:

      This is really wise. Thank you.

      • Dulcinea said:

        Happy to help! ALSO, can’t believe I forgot the most important song from my playlist: “All the Best” by John Prine. Also for the angry moments, consider “No Children” by the Mountain GOats and for a more uplifting tune, try “This Year” also by Mountain Goats. Making situation specific playlists is my hobby.

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