I spend most of my tender youth in an abusive relationship that really fucked with my sense of what is normal. I’ve had lots of therapy to come to terms with it but honestly, I think at this point that it’s just going to be something I have to deal with for the rest of my life, so there isn’t really a “when I’m better” timeline I can look forward to. And yeah, that sucks, but I’m handling it as best I can. That’s not what I’m writing to you about.
After that relationship, and a couple of flings here and there, I met with a wonderful man I’ll call John. I originally intended to keep it casual but John was just such a lovely person that I quickly found I didn’t actually want that. He deserves a whole heart, and I wanted to offer it to him, so we got serious.
John was patient, understanding, supportive, honest, and loving to me. I tried my best to skirt the line of caring deeply for him and trying to protect myself from flinging into the terrifying bottomless pit of love without restraint that ate me alive before, and I don’t think I completely succeeded, because after about a year of dating he dumped me. It was a few things. I wasn’t as emotionally available as he deserved, he wasn’t as upfront about his insecurities as I deserved, and there was a maturity mismatch (John is a little bit younger than me, and I’m jaded as all fuck). He also said he had a “list of pros and cons” about dating me that just… does not compute in my head. I just can’t think that way, so his words on it really cut me deeply. We parted with a lot of crying and hugs, but I think he was right, and it was for the best.
The problem is this: I miss John terribly. I think I might still be in love with him because after all that I still can’t think of anything substantially negative to say about him. And he asked me if we can get together for coffee. I know closure is a myth, but mostly-healthy non-abusive humans can be happily friends with their exes, right? (Please tell me that’s right.)
Part of me is terrified that one look at that suave grin of his will have me head over heels all over again. Part of me is certain that there’s nothing he can say that will get me to hook up with him again. Part of me thinks that even thinking about it is just a terrible idea altogether. And part of me wants to prove to myself that I’m not unlovable, that I’m not destined to make every ex hate me forever, and that I can stop fucking someone and still be good enough to be cared about.
So…. how do I know when/if I’m ready to see him again?
How do I human? (She/her)
This is just my opinion based on many bad decisions from my own life:
You’re probably ready for that friendly coffee with an ex when your level of feelings about the whole thing are along the lines of: “John? Yeah, wonder what he’s been up to lately. It will be fun to catch up.”
You sound like you are still in “I might still be in love with him/I want to prove something to myself about myself/We might almost definitely have sex” mode, feelings-wise, i.e., probably not ready.
Also: “But mostly-healthy non-abusive humans can be happily friends with their exes, right? (Please tell me that’s right.)”
Many people can be friends with their exes, but not everyone, and not with every ex, and I don’t think that’s a statement on the relationship’s abusiveness or anyone’s emotional health. Sometimes breaking up was just too hard and there are still too many feelings. Sometimes, without sex to act as catalyst and glue, there’s not anything there to make a friendship work. People can be lovely and cool and you still might not be friends, because friendship is its own kind of relationship. Sometimes you can be friends, but not quite yet, it needs more time, or it needs to find a new venue or interest that brings you into each other’s lives in the present day. And sometimes what’s best for you is to say “I wish you well but I don’t want to be friends.” It doesn’t make you abusive or unhealthy to know your own limits around that. Quite the opposite.
I’ve always liked this poem by Ella Wheeler Wilcox:
Friendship After Love
BY ELLA WHEELER WILCOX
After the fierce midsummer all ablaze
Has burned itself to ashes, and expires
In the intensity of its own fires,
There come the mellow, mild, St. Martin days
Crowned with the calm of peace, but sad with haze.
So after Love has led us, till he tires
Of his own throes, and torments, and desires,
Comes large-eyed friendship: with a restful gaze,
He beckons us to follow, and across
Cool verdant vales we wander free from care.
Is it a touch of frost lies in the air?
Why are we haunted with a sense of loss?
We do not wish the pain back, or the heat;
And yet, and yet, these days are incomplete.
Have fun getting that coffee (I always got that coffee). It’s okay to still have feelings, and be hopeful/angry/unsure/curious. Having weirdly intense sex while crying with someone who probably doesn’t love you the way you love him is not the most awesome life choice, but I can tell you from experience that it’s a survivable one.