Okay so this is going to be a little complex, but I hope that you could maybe provide some insight on the situation.
I met a guy online (a long-distance situation) and we’ve been in contact almost daily for a year and a half now. We’ve gotten to know each other and it turns out that we’re on the same wavelength and get along so well. In the past I had asked him if he had a girlfriend because I didn’t want to get in the middle of anything (we have “intimate” moments), and he said no and that he used to but that he wasn’t happy. But just recently, he messaged me that he had finally broken up with his girlfriend! So my questions are actually:
1. Initially I felt hurt that he lied, but approaching the situation calmly, it’s difficult not to comfort him, I mean we ARE friends and we do feel a little more than what friendship feels like. When he told me I politely thanked him for telling me and asked if he wanted to talk about it.
When he opened up a little about it, he said that he thought that it would make him feel better, but after doing it, he felt sad. But he also kept telling me that it had been a long time coming, and that he had been wanting to do it for so long. I’ve never had happy breakups even when I was the one to break it, so I told him that sadness for a while is normal, and that if he had wanted to do it for so long then, there’s a fundamental basis for it that’s obviously important. So now, how do I actually comfort him?
2. I’m confused about the situation. At times he tells me that I make him smile, that he wants to be with me, and I believe because if I didn’t, then we would’ve stopped talking ages ago. The connection and attraction that we have are both pretty strong, and I actually want him and want it to work, and I have plans to see him in a few months. I don’t know what to make of it – him telling me that he’s now free, how he initially feels about it, and so on. So Cap’n, can you please help me make sense of it? Thank you Cap’n!
You asked for my take on “a complex situation” (from your email subject line).
Whatever this guy is to you and however you feel about each other, he lied to you about having a girlfriend all this time. And it’s not like he never mentioned it and you never asked. You asked him directly because you were not comfortable doing “intimate stuff” if he was involved with someone else, and he said no. And then you talked almost every day for a year and a half. He didn’t “forget” that he had a girlfriend or “forget” to mention her.
It’s also highly possible/probable that he lied to his girlfriend about having an “intimate” friend who he had attraction and “almost daily” contact with. Like, maybe they had some kind of agreement or open relationship and everything was cool, but since he’s describing himself as now being “free,” I think it was…not cool?
You’re asking how to comfort him and he seems to want you to comfort him. Okay? Who’s comforting you about the confusingness of being lied to all this time? What is he doing to make you feel better about being hurt?
For a while in my life I was the queen of the long-distance sextual relationship. I’m really good at longing and storytelling and someday, and because the Internet is magic I kept finding people who were also good at those things and together we’d spin some tales and build up all this anticipation and then we’d finally meet in person and…
…one by one…
- …”I’m single. Well, actually I’m divorced. ‘Separated’ is more like it. Well, we will be separated soon, just, not yet. It’s just not the right time.” (These people are definitely still married to each other).
- …Told me he was 45, was really 55.
- …Was at least 15 years older than any photo he’d posted on line or showed me.
- …He was not all that into me once we met in person.
- …I was not all that into him once we met in person.
- …Good on the phone, selfish and annoying in bed.
- …Bad with consent and careless about safe sex.
- …Or, sexually AWESOME, bad with everything else.
- …I was but one of the sympathetic and imaginative ladies in his harem of long-distance ladies.
- …Or, I was now “his only friend” and/or “only reason to live.”
- …In one case the “harem of ladies” AND “you’re my only real friend” situation were both true? (Ugh.)
- “She’s just my roommate, I swear.” (She was his girlfriend.)(Who was working her ass off to support him through a crisis.)
- …Showed up to my city for a visit with no money and expected to move in with me…the first time we met. (NOPE!)
- “Hey come to my son’s birthday party I want you to finally meet my friends and my mom and my son…bring your video camera and take some home movies for me…oh, also, I will treat you like the hired videographer and my mom will treat you like the caterer/party planner because my real actual girlfriend who I’ve never mentioned is also here and nobody knows about you.” (TRUE STORY, Y’ALL)(I ACTUALLY PUT ON A CLEAN SHIRT AND WENT TO THIS DUMPSTER FIRE OF A “PARTY” AND TOOK VIDEO AND PUT SNACKS ON PLATTERS AND SMILED)
Me, Aged 24-33 = A MESS. A mess with a big phone bill who sent novels worth of sexy and attentive instant messages and emails to verbal, imaginative, interesting men in far-off cities.
These Gentlemen of Mystery I got tangled up with often had a lot to recommend them at the beginning. We had great chemistry, they made me feel important and sexy in a way I hadn’t before, they allowed me to spin out a fantasy life over time and distance and distract me from the mundane day-to-day, there was an inherent drama in traveling to meet them or them traveling to meet me, I got a lot of excitement out of each ping saying I had a new email or text message or IM and those methods of communication were fertile ground for a charismatic and wordy person like myself. Long distance romance spins out in words and you can collect those words and re-read them and go live inside the story you’re making and have actual evidence of the other person’s thoughts and feelings and fill in the spaces in those lovely, lovely blanks. Plus, I got to say “I have a boyfriend” without having to deal with the reality of an actual boyfriend up in my space and business all the time. I liked the version of myself I could create with these men.I liked being In Love. I liked practicing being In Love…from a safe distance.
Long distance relationships are real relationships, relationships that start online and grow over time are real relationships, and they can work – My Facebook wall is covered with too many cute pictures of the offspring that resulted from cross-country flights and leaps of faith and love to ever say that they can’t.
That said, if you’re planning a long-term future with someone, proximity eventually matters. Seeing a person’s living space, seeing how your intended love interacts with the people around them, seeing them in their milieu and day-to-day life, having the evidence of your own eyes and ears and other senses to guide you about whether this person is good for you, whether they are compatible with you, whether the picture they presented to you is congruent to the picture you observe, learning how you are together when it’s not just the adrenaline rush of a quick few days or some texts between classes or those late night phone calls…it’s important. It’s part of this and you can’t skip past it to happily ever after. You have to reckon with boring real everyday life.
Besides meeting online from a distance, the men I met during that period of my life all had two very important things in common:
1) They all *lied to me* about something really important early on in the relationship.
2) Being long-distance made the lie harder to spot. This meant that it took longer for the truth to come out, during which time I became very invested in the relationship and it was much harder to leave than if I had known what was up right away.
In all cases, I found out about the lie and I chose to believe the explanations and justifications they threw at me, usually some version of “I didn’t want to hurt you,” “I knew you would hate me when you found out and things were going so well between us that I was afraid to ruin it,” or “I lied initially when we first met because I didn’t realize how much I would fall in love with you, and then it was never a good time to undo the damage.”
In 100% of these cases, I would choose to “be the bigger person,” look past the red flags, demonstrate how empathetic and chill and forgiving I could be, and, 100% of the time, a situation that was about *a lie they told me* would turn into *me reassuring and “comforting” them.* For how they hadn’t meant to hurt me.
The Mediocre Dude With 1,000 Faces: “I understand if you hate me now” or “You probably hate me now.”
Past Me: “I could never hate you!”
Current Me: “Pssssttt hey you don’t have to hate him to know that you deserve better than this. You could say ‘I don’t hate you but I don’t think this is going to work out, sorry, bye‘ and hang up the phone now.”
Mediocre Max (Mike/Milton/Marvin/Martin/Merle/Matt/Mitt/Melvin/Merv/Mark/Mario/Mason)(Marco/Micah/Maxwell/Miguel/Malik/Miles/Marshall/Murph/Malcolm): “It’s just that I have a bad history with [ENTIRE SAD LIFE STORY] and I don’t really know how to [TREAT YOU/WOMEN WELL] because of [REASONS THAT ARE COMPLETELY NOT MY FAULT] + [CODED WORDS THAT INDICATE YOU SHOULD HAVE EXTREMELY LOW EXPECTATIONS OF WHAT I CAN DO BETTER IN THE FUTURE] + [WORDS THAT INDICATE THAT WE SHOULD CONTINUE HAVING SEX, WHATEVER HAPPENS].
Past Me: “It’s okay! I forgive you! I know you love me and we can make it work.” (i.e. My emotional labor can solve anything!)
Current Me: “He said a lot of words but none of them were actually an apology. Huh. That’s interesting. What if you told him, ‘I don’t want to make you feel worse right now, but I also don’t want to keep talking about this. I wish you all good things, but I just can’t be with someone who doesn’t tell me the truth. Let’s end this now before we both get more entangled and hurt?‘”
My dear Letter Writer, forgive me, probably 50% of this blog is me trying to yell through time to my past self – “Run away! He’s not worth it! You deserve better!” Let’s bring it back to you.
Your dude isn’t necessarily like the dudes I met and your experiences won’t necessarily be just like mine. People fuck up and make mistakes, not every relationship ends or begins cleanly, and maybe this friend you have is genuinely sorry for lying to you about his romantic situation for so long while you were doing whatever intimate & sexy stuff you had going on. You want this to happen and I want to be optimistic for you and give everyone the benefit of the doubt here. So what I have are questions:
- Has he told you he’s sorry?
- Has he used words like “I’m sorry I lied to you about that, I shouldn’t have done that, that wasn’t okay, I understand why you’d be upset” without trying to self-justify or make you feel sorry for him or comfort him?
- Have you said (or do you feel like you’re able to say): “Hey, sorry you’re hurting, but can we talk for a second about how I had no idea you had this girlfriend until just now? That’s messed up and it doesn’t make me feel good.“
- Does he try to “rules-lawyer” his way out of a difficult conversation, like, “We weren’t technically together when that happened, so it doesn’t really count as a lie”?
- Is there a vibe where you’re like “Ok technically he has a point, so why do I still feel so crappy?“
- Which is more important – you feeling good, safe, able to trust – or him winning the point?
- What does he do for you?
- What has he done for you lately?
- Do you trust him to tell you the truth from now on?
- What would happen if you took a couple of weeks off from talking with him so much?
- Another version of the above question: What’s That Thing in your current, day-to-day life that you’re ignoring or avoiding or putting off while you dream about Someday, When You’re Together?
- Could you work a little more on That Thing and a little less on This Sexy And Complicated Dude at least for the time being?
You don’t have to dump him as a sacrifice to my younger self, but you also don’t have to comfort him through any of this. You don’t have to overlook the hurt you’re feeling in the name of being a good friend right now. If he’s good for you, and a good friend to you, maybe let him do the work of showing you that goodness before you invest more of yourself in his comfort?