I had a friend I first met about 15 years ago. We got on amazingly well: mutual friends called us “one mind in two bodies” because our personalities were so similar. We understood each other almost perfectly and could talk and laugh for hours about things nobody else quite got. We then had an extraordinarily intense romantic relationship: we were ridiculously in love and had an incredibly deep connection. It ended because I was super needy and honestly wasn’t ready for that sort of relationship. We were both heartbroken and intended to get back together one day, but life took us in other directions. We tried to stay friends but I wanted too much from him; he felt he had to keep me at arm’s length. I told him I had too many messy feelings to have a healthy friendship, he begged me not to go, I said I hoped to be back one day, there were tears on both sides and we went our separate ways. This was in 2008. Resolving to take something positive from what happened, I worked hard on myself, addressed the co-dependency issues that had driven ALL my previous partners away, and now I’m married to an awesome guy I’ve been with for 10 years.
This January, we finally got back in touch. I apologised for some hurtful things I’d said when I was in a lot of pain over losing him. I told him how I’d changed for the better. I said if he forgave me for being a jerk I would love to rekindle that awesome friendship if he wanted to, now Other Feelings weren’t an issue any more. He replied to say it was a lot to take in (naturally) but he would answer via email, not to worry if that took him a while and, in the meantime, how was I?
Since then we’ve exchanged several messages but often he takes days, even weeks to reply so we haven’t really got a good conversation going (except one night when we texted about random stuff until 2:15am, which showed we still have that great connection and same weird sense of humour). Because communication has been so sporadic, it’s hard to gauge what sort of friendship we might have if at all. When he does reply he’s warm and affectionate, laughs at my jokes and sends me cool stuff he knows I’ll like. But because of our complicated history I’m unsure how well I can walk the line between “yikes, co-dependent ex-girlfriend is messaging too much!” and not having enough contact to re-establish a friendship.
I’m trying to give it time – maybe he’s just not ready and could be navigating A Swamp of Unexpected Feelings himself. But I feel with this sort of situation it’s important to be honest and open from the start about what you want, like I was in my first message to him. I gently reminded him he said he’d email me and while he didn’t have to, I’d appreciate knowing where things stood between us. He said he was busy but could do it next week… which was several weeks ago now and don’t feel I can ask again. Me badgering him when he needed space was why we stopped being close in the first place.
I’m feeling a bit lost about how to handle this situation. At the moment I’m playing it by ear, replying to messages when they come, trying not to send too many back, giving him space when he doesn’t reply. But while I’m thrilled to be back in touch, there’s this elephant in the room, it’s…uncomfortable, and I don’t believe he’s going to send me that email – it’s been nearly 2 months. How can I figure out what the relationship is between us without making him feel pressured to talk about things he clearly doesn’t want to talk about?
PS I searched for similar letters but the closest I found was you advising not to reach out to an ex for friendship until your feelings reached the point of “oh yeah him, I wonder how he’s doing, would be fun to catch up.” Which is what I did… but now I don’t know what to do next.
Hello, Hopeful Friend,
What if “having a pleasant conversation now and again” is “the situation” with this friend? What if this is the good part, right now, where you’ve changed and let him go and made this whole happy life without him, and he’s made a whole happy life without you, and now you both know that, and you had a pleasant time catching up a bit, and that is better than the 12-year silence you had, that’s the win.
You used to chase him and he used to run away.
Then you didn’t speak for 12 years.
Now you’re back in touch and you’re already at “Per my last email, what is our ENTIRE DEAL?” levels of investment and it sounds like he is…not. i.e. THAT is the deal with your friendship.
Answering “Would you like to be friends again?” with “That’s a lot to take in…” and waiting weeks between communications is not a signal that says “Fuck yes, old friend, let’s dive IN.” He’s glad you’re happy now. He was glad to catch up a bit. He’s maybe testing the waters a little by sending the odd meme or joke – “Can we do this? Can Hopeful Friend be cool? Do I actually want to reconnect?” – But the friendship is probably not going to become the huge, important, dramatic connection it was in the past, and if you chase him again he will run away again.
Do something nice for yourself to celebrate how far you’ve come in 15 years.
Every time you start feeling anxious about this friendship, do something nice with friends who do not leave you hanging, friends where you know where you stand, friends who don’t have this fraught history, friends who are not exes. Also, do something nice for and with your excellent spouse. You have people in your life who don’t make you feel like you are chasing them, who don’t leave you hanging. Celebrate and appreciate them. Put your energy there instead of into re-forging this old connection.
Assume your friend is not going to send that email. Live your happy, functional, much -better-after-15-years life like he never will. If you find yourself obsessing or getting very anxious and overly-invested in this, check in with your mental health team for support.
Texting with exes late into the night is not a reliable recipe for getting over them. GENERAL ANNOUNCEMENT. “Oh, I’m married, I just want to be friends!” I believe you! And yet, texting with exes late into the night is not a reliable recipe for getting over them.
Do not “just follow up” or otherwise contact this guy. Do not chase him. Do not seek to define this. If he wants to be friends? He knows where to find you. He has choices.
But also? Don’t beat yourself up for getting excited, or for feeling your feelings about being back in touch. He was truly important to you. Having him acknowledge how much you’ve changed would probably feel pretty great, as would having this great friendship again. It’s probably not going to go like that, but it doesn’t make you silly for wanting it or for hoping.
“He’s not that into being friends anymore, I need more from friends” is an okay need to have, an okay thing to decide if he doesn’t ever get back in touch, or does so only sporadically. “I’m glad to have re-connected but this person still makes me feel a lot of anxiety” is an okay thing to decide. It doesn’t have to come out in ultimatums, nor does it mean you failed or that anyone is bad, or that the good things you shared weren’t real and important. It does probably pay to remember that you parted ways for a reason, and even though you did a lot of work on yourself since, “restored friendship alliances” are not the automatic prize for that. You get to show you’ve changed by showing that you’ve changed and then living the life that you’ve changed for yourself. That’s success whether this old friend stays in your life or not.
Let go, remove pressure, and don’t do work for people who are not working at being good to you. You’ve already done so many hard things to reshape your life into its best one, I’m confident that you can do one more. ❤
100 thoughts on “#1257:”How do I navigate the transition between romantic relationship and friendship with someone who’s really (platonically) important to me?””
LW, I went to a really awesome therapist when I was going through one of the toughest times in my life. I relayed a story about how a relationship ended, and admitted that I have a tendency to blame myself when relationships, jobs, friendships, etc. don’t work out. She told me something I had not considered before, which was: “That’s because we want to believe if we had made different choices we would have had the power to change the outcome.”
I am telling you this because you seem to take the majority of the responsibility for the ending of both the relationship and the first time the friendship ended. I am not saying you weren’t clingy, but in my experience when someone dumps someone else solely for that reason, it doesn’t involve the sadness and regret that was involved with you two. I think it might help to forgive yourself and realize maybe you two just weren’t meant to be vs., Wonderful Relationship ended because I F’ed Up.
This is such a lovely, kind and insightful comment. Thank you for sharing it.
That is a wise therapist. Thank you for that this morning.
Oh man, I’m a month out of a breakup with someone who I thought I was truly meant to be with. He dumped me very, very unexpectedly and I’ve been spending…..so…….much time wondering about all the tiny things I could have done differently that would have made him stay. Your comment really came to me at the right time. Thank you. It seems like a good thing to remember that this was probably an outcome I couldn’t have changed.
Suddenly dumping you was an arsehole move. You can’t have done anything about the relationship without him communicating about his unhappiness in it directly, indeed. I hope you end up with someone who communicates their needs better.
A sudden breakup IS someone communicating their needs. I don’t see it as an areshole move.
The ex could have used their words, though.
Yeah. Reminds me of when I tell my husband something and he’s like “Oh why didn’t you tell me?!” and I’m like I just did. Happens several times per year and I’m like…I don’t get it! But yeah when someone does a thing, they’re basically letting you know then.
Yes, sometimes your need is to leave, and telling someone you are leaving is how you communicate that.
A shoot, it autofilled the name on a reply instead of my username :(. Please if it’s caught in moderation can that be deleted?
Maybe they didn’t want their ex to ‘do something about the relationship’ or ‘fill their needs better’.
Maybe what they wanted to do about the relationship was to end it, and maybe the need they needed filled was the need to no longer be in the relationship.
In one of Geneen Roth’s books, she talks about a woman in one of her workshops who says she could describe her history of relationships by saying she spent fifty years trying to make the wrong people stay.
It’s not that people never mess up, or blow up relationships for XYZ reasons or whatever, but one thing I’ve managed to kind of, sort of get over the years is that you can’t make anyone stay. They either stay or they go depending on what choice they make. That’s absolutely terrifying and I’d far prefer to believe that my entire life would be different if I hadn’t worn that sweater or said that one thing or whatever, but it’s true.
Apparently February was the month of sudden “sorry, goodbye”s.
Here’s to the suddenly-single club! *toasts you with hot cocoa*
What a wonderful and gracious response from the Captain. Its so easy for me to fall into old pattens with people from before I started dealing with and treating my mental health issues. Its a really great reminder for me personally (and, I hope, the LW) to remember when we have come along way, and then maybe think through how to not fall into those old patterns.
Oh OP, I feel for you so much. While I haven’t been in this exact situation, I’ve been in a lot of the pieces of it. I think the Captain’s advice is good, here. I want to add that I have felt things that were neither exactly “I am just really excited about this person and this friendship” and nor exactly “I am not over this person, romantically” and it sounds plausible that that’s what you’re feeling. Those feelings, for me, had pieces of both the friend part and the romantic part, but advice that only talked about those parts was hard to take in because it felt like it didn’t apply. In my case, the person in question had started to feel larger than life for me. Everything connected to them felt bigger than it would with another person — my love for them, my admiration for them, my anger when they hurt me, my fear when we miscommunicated or when we wanted different things, all of it bigger and more intense than usual. For me, it took a lot of time, and dealing with some more general anxiety issues that, surprise surprise, were bigger and more intense when related to that person. I’m not actually out the other side yet, but far enough in the process that I can look back on it. So OP, I want to say that your feelings are valid even if they don’t fit one box. Unless I’m wildly projecting, it sounds like they’re bigger than any one box, and the reasons they’re so big have a lot to do with him and also a lot to do with things that aren’t exactly him, like your feelings about having had co-dependency issues that you’ve worked through and now you’re in touch with someone from a time before you had done and seen the results of that work.
The other part of your letter that really resonated with me is that it sounds like you want An Answer on where you stand, and for that answer to be accurate and overarching in the long- or at least medium- term. I have a tendency to want this, too, especially when I’m anxious, and extra-especially regarding my larger-than-life person. That drive for An Answer has led me to let my behavior towards that person be driven by anxiety and led me to let myself repeat old, bad patterns. I think that desire is a normal and very hard part of a change in relationship with someone you care about, especially for people who have patterns related to reassurance-seeking (I haven’t struggled with codependency per se, but I think the reassurance-seeking part is probably an overlap between what I’m dealing with/have dealt with and what you are dealing with / have dealt with). I think Captain Awkward’s first line, “What if “having a pleasant conversation now and again” *is* “the situation” with this friend?” is really, really important for that. If you can make peace with “having a pleasant conversation now and again” being the situation, I think that everything else relating to this friend will get easier, although it may not go away. Making peace with a low-intensity friendship when you have high-intensity feelings about the person or the situation is MUCH easier said than done (and it’s the part that’s still hard for me), but at least for me, it has helped me deal with my desire for An Answer, because I have an answer and it’s a decent one even if it’s not the one I wanted most.
I wish you luck. (Also, because this is the internet I must say — talk with your husband about this friend if you haven’t already, because Secret Intense Feelings About an Ex are a recipe for hurt feelings in a relationship but Intense Feelings About A Friend Who’s An Ex And It’s Not About Romance But It’s Not Like We Can Pretend They’re Not An Ex don’t have to be.)
Your point about “an answer” also got to me.
I’ve moved around a lot and made friends in a number of different cities. Sometimes I can still think of someone as my “friend” even though we’re barely in touch and I’d admit we’re not close.Sometimes that gap is maybe mostly because of me, maybe not – but I don’t examine it and don’t fret over the status of our dynamic.
However, sometimes the nature of the friendship is such that when someone doesn’t reply to an email or text, it sends off all those triggers in my brain that say I’VE OFFENDED THEM, THEY HATE ME, WILL WE EVER BE FRIENDS AGAIN. Those relationships clearly get an places in my psyche that are still very sensitive and not as resilient to dip in/dip out friendships.
For me what helped was looking at those specific relationships and said “what if I stopped being their friend because it’s too painful for me”. And then I actively decided individually that what I was getting was valuable enough to no be bothered by gaps in communication. For some of those friendships it really helped be like “if I hear from them every day in January and then they go cold until May – that is ok. If they’re mad at me, they’ll tell me. If they don’t tell me, then it’s just other things.”
And other relationships I cut entirely because I didn’t know how to live with the dynamic. In all cases “an answer” was never coming. And sometimes I could live with it. And sometimes I couldn’t.
Not a relationship, but what you said about not being able to live with the no? It’s one of my friends, and I keep deciding I’m done because the silence hurts too badly… then thinking maybe this time it will be different and messaging her again. And sometimes we chat, but it’s never different.
It breaks my heart, my already-battered-and-broken heart, but I can’t keep doing this to myself.
Thank you for the comment. And thank you so much Captain for all you do. My life is immeasurably better for reading here
Yes! This is EXACTLY how it feels, thank you so much for articulating it so well. Everything is just bigger when it’s about him, and while some of it is simply because I’ve never known anyone like him who really “gets” me, a lot is because of feelings about my past (like…I know it isn’t my fault I was not super emotionally mature back then, but I’m spending a lot of energy trying to convince myself that The Land of If Only is not a helpful place to dwell).
And thank you, Captain, for a kind and wise answer that wasn’t necessarily what I wanted to hear but was DEFINITELY what I needed to hear, very good advice indeed.
I have been trying hard to accept the fact that this is probably what our friendship looks like now, so I’m glad that’s what everyone is advising me to do. I have told him before that he doesn’t have to give me An Answer because I don’t think he’s comfortable talking about it and that’s ok; the problem for me is that I’m just not sure how to behave around him while I don’t have one. The responses I’ve got here have massively helped with this – you guys are the greatest. Oh yeah, and don’t worry, my husband knows what’s going on.
Dear LW, I appreciate the complexity of your thoughts and feelings about this. That said, I wanted to gently push back on this statement: “I’m just not sure how to behave around him while I don’t have [An Answer].” I think what the Captain and a few others are indicating is that you DO have An Answer. The current dynamic, content, and frequency of your communication is, in and of itself, An Answer. While it isn’t the one you wanted or imagined, his signals are pretty clear. His signals might change, or they might not. Some folks have already touched on some ideas I offer below, but I’ll include them anyway:
In terms of how to behave, I’d suggest: try to acknowledge more explicitly what fantasies you built around renewing this friendship so that you can let them go and accept what he is willing and able to offer. Avoid sinking time and energy into anticipating or engineering a substantial change in the quantity/quality of your communication. Invest in other meaningful friendships and/or seek to cultivate new ones (which may surprise you), not because he is replaceable, but because you cannot make a person say, do, or feel anything they ultimately don’t want to. And you certainly can’t make them say, do, or feel anything on your own internal timeline. To be clear, I’m not saying that you’re intentionally trying to force him into anything.
You might also consider reevaluating your request, followed by a reminder, for him to articulate “where things stood between us.” Why would you expect him to suddenly know or gauge this when you haven’t been in touch in over a decade? Couldn’t it conceivably take several months and a range of social interactions with you for him to ascertain how he feels about re-establishing regular correspondance, mutual disclosure, in-person visits/trips, etc.? Without any disrespect towards you, if I were in his shoes, your gentle reminder would’ve pushed it over the edge for me in terms of serious entitlement. I’m sure he’s thought of you over the years, but he hasn’t necessarily been gearing up to re-establish a connection, which means that he hasn’t been meditating on where things stand or could stand.
The last thing I’d state is that you are having to work way too hard around this. You’re trying to anticipate and manage his reactions and moods, partly because you want to be kind and partly because you want to be liked. I respect your decision to reach out to him, but, for me, this is a clear sign that you’re not ready to be friends. If, however, you think you can loosen up around this and enjoy sporadic contact (which can be the nature of many deep friendships, depending on life stages/events), then stay in touch. If you realize that you only want a friendship with him if it meets a certain threshold of interaction and reciprocal investment, then I’d consider backing away at this point. You can always reach out again in a couple of months/years/decades, and count this as a helpful litmus test.
Obviously, I’ve made all these comments with limited information, but I definitely wish you the best of luck!
LW, the one solution I’ve found (also observed) to be effective is if I decide that’s where the relationship is at. “I choose to regard this person as a ‘chat once in a while’ friend.” For extra added self-security, I add 2% to the distance I observe them demonstrating. It takes them three months to get back to me? I respond to them three months + a week after that. Their email is comprised of ten lines of text? I reply with nine. I also observe strict tit-for-that. If they haven’t responded to my last email, I don’t initiate any new exchanges until after the next time they contact me.
And for good measure, I assume the relationship is over until I hear from them.
It can be really really hard, especially if I’m not in a resourceful frame of mind. But this algorithmic approach also reduces a lot of the anxiety induced the uncertainty.
This is useful, thank you. In fact I’ve already done a lot of that, so it feels validating for someone else to advise me to do it!
I’m not *quite* at a point where I can actively choose to see this person as a once-in-a-while friend, but I have managed to reframe the whole thing in my mind as “I *am* in control of this situation. I can, to a point, control how Friend feels about me, by choosing not to do things that are likely to make him feel uncomfortable. I can choose to only put things in my messages that are likely to make Friend laugh and feel relaxed. If my messages make him laugh and feel relaxed then he is more likely (though not guaranteed) to want to reciprocate.” And so on. It’s alleviated a LOT of my anxiety and I wouldn’t have got there if it weren’t for the lovely Captain and the comments here.
After reading earlier comments I also made myself A Concrete Plan Going Forwards, which is a thing that always helps me in situations where I feel a bit helpless. This consisted of an algorithmic approach VERY similar to yours. And you’re right, it has already helped with the anxiety even though there hasn’t been any contact since this letter was published. I would definitely recommend it!
I’m glad this works for you and I agree the antidote to feeling helpless or out of control is to take control… but I want to note that this kind of scorekeeping would make many, many people run for the hills. Like most people. Auditing friendships breeds resentment, it’s as if they are wholly transactional and at that point, why choose people who make you feel that way?
“Everything connected to them felt bigger than it would with another person — my love for them, my admiration for them, my anger when they hurt me, my fear when we miscommunicated or when we wanted different things, all of it bigger and more intense than usual. For me, it took a lot of time, and dealing with some more general anxiety issues that, surprise surprise, were bigger and more intense when related to that person.”
SometimesALurker, this resonated with me SO MUCH. I’m recently reconnected with a friend with whom I fell out, and this describes our connection to a T. I am trying to be very, very careful that our reconnection does not set me spiraling again. Thank you for the insight – I need to remember that when someone can light me up like that, the highs might also promise very low lows.
Oh dear god, THANK YOU for this. I’ve needed words for this for… too many people in my life.
SO TRUE, all that has been said! I am in nearly the same situation, and have to remind myself constantly that there was a reason he is an ex; he is fun and exciting and “gets” me in many ways far better than my partner — but partner is enthusiastically “yes”ing me. Ex did . . . .not.
I had a similar relationship, though we never fell out of touch because we’re in the same friend group, but we did get as distant as possible without being all We Are Not Talking at group events for a while. We are now at “friendly catch-up chats at parties and the occasional email when one of us sees something hte other might find funny” and honestly, it’s a good place to be? We’re both happily with other people (his current GF is awesome and I’m closer with her than him at this point!) and I like that we can see each other and not be weird. Sometimes I’m sad that we couldn’t maintain that close connection, but honestly I think in the long run this way is better. One thing that helped me was to think of it as we were forging a new connection instead of trying to have some semblance of the old one.
Oh LW. I feel for you over missing the friendship that was.
Thing is, we can’t go back to 15 years ago. Neither you nor him are who you used to be, and there’s no way to cherry pick the bits you miss from the old, intense! friendship and make them mesh into your life right now.
Even if you weren’t exes, this would be true.
People change and friendships change.
If you do rekindle you friendship, it definitely won’t be what it used to be.
The Captain’s advice to focus on the relationships in your life that aren’t this one, is very very good.
Enjoy what you have, don’t waste precious energy trying to rebuild the past.
‘Thing is, we can’t go back to 15 years ago. Neither you nor him are who you used to be’
True. But some of that is given. ‘People change and friendships change.’ They do obviously. Not all situations are like this. It’s important not to say that all things or connections change the way she is describing or especially after her helping herself. Friending ex-partners is hard to do. Sometimes friends ending or changing had to do bc of very big challenges, not just people changing.
I agree with most of your comment. But constant victimhood and those that use it can often seem to be found saying ‘people change.’ It’s easier to blame the old friend than to find common ground.
Not to sound this dismissive but I have no idea what kind of point you’re making.
I’m sorry if someone has used the same wording as my comments in a bad situation for you? But I don’t see where any blaming is present.
I too am baffled. I don’t see how you are construing Nanani’s comments to mean s/he is blaming anyone. How do you mean?
LW, it sounds like you reached out to your friend first with the apology and the request to rekindle the friendship. I’m guessing that before you did, you spent time thinking about what you wanted to say and what you wanted for the outcome. You had time and space to process emotions about what you were going to do with no pressure.
Think of your friend as in that place you were before you reached out to him. There’s a good chance he’s thinking about what he wants to say and what he wants for the outcome. He needs time and space to process emotions about what you’ve done — and, as with you, with no pressure.
Two months might seem a long time to you, but you and he are in different mindsets. Your clock started when you thought about reaching out; his started when he received your message.
I think it’s a positive that you and your friend still have a connection and that he is nurturing it. However, he might need more time to think about the grander scheme of things in terms of friendship, communication, etc. You might get tired of waiting and withdraw, which is understandable; however, this friendship means a lot to you, and I hope you can give your friend a chance to figure things out.
Yes! This is such a good point. And as a person who has had people end friendships with me for a variety of reasons, the friendship part is probably harder to deal with, than the ex part. We have a framework for ex romantic partners in our society, for mourning them for moving on. Lost friendships however, for me have left much bigger scars than any of my romantic exs. Having them come back into my life and wanting to rekindle that would require a lot of trust, that I’m not sure I could have. I think we could be friendLY, and we could be in contact, but the level of pain caused by that person shaped hole in my life is not something I could come back from completely.
It may be that your friendly ex friend needs some time to consider all of that. You have a lot of history, he also presumably has a life that he’s very busy with and trying to put a label on an amorphous rekindling of an old thing so that it is now a THING again is probably not high on the list.
Maybe instead of trying to put a big fancy label on things you can ask yourself — what are the specific things you are wanting from this friend. Adding on facebook? Instagram? Christmas Cards? Group chat? Video Game Buddies? Couple’s vacation in napa valley? Rather than trying to get an answer to the “HOW DO WE LABEL THIS IS IT GOOD” question, maybe focus on concrete things you might like. Personally, I’d start VERY small.
Otherwise, I think the Captain’s advice is excellent. Enjoy the contact you have with him when you have it, and let it be. Not every relationship needs to be put into a box with a neat label, it will evolve, it will change, just like everything does.
LW, something I still need to remind myself of sometimes: not getting the answer you want, when you want it, the WAY you want it–that’s actually your answer. Their inaction and inattentiveness is what you needed to know.
LW, it seems like you want two incompatible things: to pick up where you left off with this friend, and to start over.
It feels great to pick up where you left off with an old friend. It validates all the thought and feeling you put into the relationship. It tells you it was OK to be out of contact for a while, that this connection is special and can survive a challenge. That you’re not being judged for needing a break or just forgetting to call.
Consider, though, that you really do not want to pick up where you left off with this person: in a friendship with an ex that was so codependent and emotionally intense, that you wanted a break despite normally feeling that you are the clingy one in your relationships. A friendship that you felt intensified some really problematic feelings and behaviors for you, feelings and behaviors that you’re rightfully proud to have left behind.
If you want to start over with this friend, start over. Treat it like a new friendship, where typically you won’t offer or ask for a ton of very personal sharing so soon. Focus on getting to know each other, having fun, feeling out whether *both* of your senses of boundaries are compatible, and deciding if the friendship as it exists right now is something you want more of in your life. Enjoy those occasional deeper conversations for what they are in a new friendship: something great that might or might not happen more in the future, if you both want it and if you continue to let the relationship grow organically. You can’t restore the old friendship, because you no longer want to to be the person who engaged in it.
You make a good point: this friendship really *is* starting over. LW acknowledges that they are not the same person as they were 12 or 15 years ago; in fact, they’ve done a lot of work to make sure they’re NOT the same person. So this ex/friend is also VERY MUCH not the same person as he was. In fact, on some level, they barely know each other.
Imagine your best friend from Kindergarten through second grade, who you moved away from. You meet back up with them in your mid twenties, when you reconnect and realize… what you have is feelings and history. In-jokes. A limited pool of “hey I know your dream ice cream order and exactly what monster you thought was under your bed,” but that’s more nostalgic at this point than personally accurate.
Sometimes people can click right back together. Sometimes they can’t. And this is only on a friendship level: it gets far more complicated when you were in an intense romantic relationship that now limits the friendship nostalgia you can feel without being reminded of the romance. In a world where we do NOT have many roadmaps for making friends as adults, especially cross-gender, ESPECIALLY with exes. And where the prioritization of romance means that you will likely never be satisfied with the emotional intensity of the new friendship because societally we expect your romantic partner to always take priority over all friendships and even relationships that are both family and friendship.
If it’s going to work, though, you have to work at it like you’re strangers again.
LW, your situation is very much like mine was (though mine had the added complication of being unhappy in my marriage and really wishing I could have the romance back with the ex). I reached out to my ex, about five years ago, I think. He was like, oh hell no, on the romance angle, and cagey about the friendship part too, at first. Over a period of probably a year (in which I was weird and limerent and clingy – but didn’t let on) we moved from silly memes, to occasional chats, to occasional really deep conversations. I didn’t make him be my therapist, but he was a great person to talk to as I exited my marriage. He hasn’t made me be his therapist either, but I have also supported him through a breakup. The intensity varies depending on the intensity of our lives; right now it’s bad puns and youtube clips to try to give one another earworms, and that feels right. It’s really nice having him back in my life at this level. LW, I hope you find a new balance for how to have your ex in your life in a way that works for both of you.
I think probably after your ex started chatting/texting with you on occasion, he probably figured the “Official Answer About What We Are” email was no longer necessary. I wouldn’t be surprised if he was surprised and a little confused when you mentioned you were still waiting for him to email you back. I am not your ex, and I am not you, but hearing someone request that I formulate my exact feelings about the nature of our relationship and putting them into words such that…what, the friendship can officially “begin”? would send me running for the hills. It doesn’t mean your way is wrong, but it may feel like A Lot to him, especially if he is one who would rather let relationships develop more organically.
While I am not one for the official “what are we?” talk, what I CAN identify with is this notion that “If X happens, Y and Z facts that would otherwise make me afraid don’t count.” Which is to say, while you’re waiting on his email, you have plausible deniability that some of his behavior reads as more ambivalent than you might like. Is waiting a week for a reply good enough for you? Does the prospect of keeping things light rather than diving fully in disappoint you? It’s easy to think “well, once he emails and has wrapped his head around it, if he says ‘yes, let’s be official friends again!’ that his current ambivalence is wiped clean,” but I think that way lies heartache. The Captain is so wise to advise you to treat the status quo as the Official State of Things, not because it lowers the bar (it does, and she’s also right that you are allowed not to want that), but because it also allows for future growth while still giving you permission to enjoy what you have now.
LW here – thank you for your comment which like the others is really helpful – you guys rock.
I had been wondering too if he felt that email was still necessary. I only asked him if he was still intending to send it (in a very no-pressure kind of way: I explicitly said it was absolutely fine if he didn’t want to, but if he did I was interested to hear what he had to say) BECAUSE he had already told me twice before that point that he would. I never actually asked him to, even though it would give me some much-needed closure to hear either “yes, I forgive you for being an arse 12 years ago” or “actually I don’t think this is a thing I can do, sorry.” I told him when I first reached out to him how I felt now about us being friends. He basically responded, “I have some feelings about this and I will explain all in an email.” That’s why it feels weird not knowing what he’s been thinking. Maybe the feelings were triggered by me suddenly popping up and saying all that, and maybe now they have subsided and he doesn’t have anything to say any more. Like I said, I don’t think I’ll ever get that email now, and that’s OK.
If it weren’t for the complicated history between us, and the fact that one of us (me) has said “actually I can’t be friends with you, but I’ll let you know if that changes” and the other has responded with “please don’t go, I want you in my life, is there any way we can change this but if not I’ll respect your decision and not push it” then there’s no way I’d expect someone to tell me whether they want to be friends or not.
I’m definitely not going to push for answers. I was more looking for advice about how to deal with a situation where I don’t know how the other person feels about being friends…which you have also given me, so thanks again!
“I am not your ex, and I am not you, but hearing someone request that I formulate my exact feelings about the nature of our relationship and putting them into words such that…what, the friendship can officially “begin”? would send me running for the hills.”
THIS. This is so well said and you nailed something I was thinking about but could not express properly.
Yeah it feels… like a LOT. I’m not sure why.. maybe bc the relationship bearly exists as of now, but the person demands so much emotional labour, that goes into writing such a thing, or maybe it’s the weird Oficial-ness, almost like a wedding oath or something, but to me personally it would be alarming, like a sign that this relationship already is way too intense and that the other person is already coming in so strongly like it’s some very serious business venue or something. It would be a Yaiks for me.
I dunno, maybe it’s just very subjective and some ppl do that and are totally okay with it tho, maybe it’s just cultural :). Don’t wanna be judgy ppl are okay with this and it works for them.
One thing sticks out to me from your P.S., which is that I think you may have overestimated your readiness to be chill about this guy – the rest of the letter does not at all vibe like “oh yeah him, I wonder how he’s doing, would be fun to catch up.” It’s frustrating (have been there!) to realize you’re not ready to be chill when you thought you were, but you really seem to be pouring more thought and desire and energy into this than that – and there is no harm in saying to yourself, “I thought I was ready but I’m not.” It seems to be hurting you, worrying you, causing you to write letters to advice columnists. Were you happier before all this got stirred up again? If the answer is, “but the special gem of his friendship is worth the turmoil,” you are not at “oh yeah him” stage yet.
This. It kind of feels like LW was gone for 12 years and then bursts back into Ex-Friend’s life like “hey I’m all better now, time to do this again!” like he hasn’t also spent 12 years doing his separate thing but was waiting with bated breath the whole time for LW to come back. Maybe he’s not sure that LW being “back” is the best for him.
OK you got me (LW here). In response to 5 Leaf Clover, the question of whether I was happier before all this got stirred up has a very complicated answer, but to massively simplify it I am happier now we’re back in touch than I was before we were, even when I was at a point where I never thought about him at all except when something particularly reminded me of him (which, admittedly, happens fairly often as we have so much in common including what seems like an infinitely long list of stupid in-jokes nobody else I know would find funny). This whole reconnecting thing and “how do I not mess this up” has caused me quite a lot of anxiety, but when we have talked it’s been really nice and felt just like our old friendship, which was all I really wanted. So yeah, maybe you’re right – maybe I’ll never really be at “oh yeah, him” even though I honestly believed I was.
And I do agree with RabbitRabbit that maybe he isn’t sure me being back is best for him, but that’s OK! It’s not exactly as you put it – when I initially reached out to him I said please excuse me for suddenly contacting you out of the blue, I hope you don’t mind, you have no obligation to finish reading this or to reply, and if you don’t respond then I will continue wishing you well but won’t contact you again, thanks for all the good times. I also said I totally understood if he didn’t want to be friends or wasn’t sure how he felt about it, and I’d mainly reached out to let him know that HE has the opportunity to have the friendship with me if he wants it (since it was me who said “I can’t do this” last time we were in touch). I know a lot has happened in both our lives since we were last in touch, I know we both have much busier lives now, and he knows I know that.
It’s just super frustrating that the snippets of conversation we have had show really strongly that we do still have that shared connection and every message he sends me reminds me of a million things I want to share because he will love them, and then he stops replying so I never get to tell him about them. I honestly do realise this means he isn’t as up for it as I am (not yet at least, maybe never), but I also think we potentially have SOMETHING, it’s just that he has to be the one to set the pace really. And if this IS the pace, then it is what it is and I appreciate everyone helping me understand this.
Just because a relationship changes or ends doesn’t mean that relationship “failed” or wasn’t valid. I mention this because sometimes in these situations there’s an element of not just wanting the old relationship back (but in the present), but sort of wanting to validate the old relationship and experiences and stop thinking of yourself as a failure for having ended things. But you don’t need redemption, you don’t need to fix something that already happened, and the ending doesn’t define the whole experience. Your relationship with this person doesn’t need to be in the present tense to be a lovely, beautiful, important part of who you are and how you got to be where you are now.
That’s a beautiful thought. Thanks for this.
Thank you for saying this, OMJ. I have someone like this in my life (once again), and I really needed to read this.
I’ve been thinking back over the last ten years of my life – and various people who were VerySpecialFriends (platonic or otherwise) who have been out of my life for the last decade. Ten years ago, I was a new-ish teacher dating a guy I thought I would marry living in a decent sized city. Now, I’m married to a different guy, we’ve produced an amazing but time-consuming three year old, I work part time at a DIY hardware store, and I live in the boondocks.
Truthfully, if any of my VerySpecialFriends popped back into my life, I would need days to weeks to write anything longer than “Glad life is treating you well!” The reason for that is that there are a whole list of people (including my husband and son) who have higher priority in my list of things to do. Even just updating VSFs on the whirlwind that has been my son’s life (NICU! Medical equipment! Therapists! More Therapists! Different therapists! Diagnoses! DME! IEPs! Preschool!) takes more time and energy than I have.
No, more honestly, it takes more time and energy than I want to give to someone from a long time ago. Not because the VSF were bad people or we had a bad relationship; I simply ration my time and energy far more strictly at 38 than I did at 28.
For me, if the VSF was an ex and wanted to have a talk about our future relationship, I’d run for the hills Not because there is anything wrong with the ex’s desire – but I’ve got a whole lot to do, very little time to do it, and I’d rather be crocheting a dishcloth while my husband and son romp on the couch.
I relate to this. I have a relative who after a few years of bad behavior is reaching out. Which is progress, and I intend to respond, but I have a full life and simply don’t have the energy for Big Emotional Conversations and Reconciliation that I suspect this person wants.
Your comment made me think of a relationship I had that was filled with Big Emotional Conversations until I found out my ex was an ass.
I had a sucky breakup one time with a guy who made a half-assed attempt at a double life by dating me while convincing a local priest that he was totally ready to start looking into becoming a priest. There’s nothing wrong exactly with dating while thinking about becoming a priest, but having a committed girlfriend while looking into seminary is viewed as a sign the person isn’t ready. He got around this by failing to mention me to the priest. My ex was addicted to self-loathing so he got a great double dose of that by dumping me by FB message just before boarding a train to a weeklong vacation retreat during which he was a hot mess.
The bit that threw him, though, is that most of his previous girlfriends re-established contact with him when he pulled something like this and did his “I’m so full of the sadz feelz that I hurt you and I don’t want to lose you as a friend”.
I did not.
He lied to me for six weeks. He lied to a priest for six weeks – and the priest took it pretty hard when I showed up at his office with photos of my ex and I over the previous six weeks because the priest trusted him. The only person who benefited from those lies was my ex.
And nearly a decade out – I don’t miss him especially his drama that came from being unable to adult. He reached out a few times in the first years after we broke up – but I had no interest in bringing his neediness and untrustworthiness back into my life so I ignored the invites.
My life is simply better without him.
“No, more honestly, it takes more time and energy than I want to give to someone from a long time ago.”
I really appreciate that little bit of honesty there. As someone who’s had a lot of disappointing experiences with friends giving me less time and attention than I had hoped to receive, the advice I often get is, “Try to understand that these people are busier than you are.” (I have some tricky mental health issues and am long-term unemployed.) And yes, it’s true, and it’s also probably true that I tend to overinvest in friendships because my mental health is so bad and I’m desperately looking for things that will make me feel better, but it’s also true that they are CHOOSING to prioritize other things over time with me. Which is fine! No one is obligated to be my friend. But I feel uncomfortable with the idea that underlies that advice, that IF ONLY these folks had more time, we would be the best friends ever!! But woe is them, their lives are just too demanding!! I’m sure their lives are demanding, but also, it’s just a fact that they’re less invested in the friendship than I am. That’s nobody’s fault, it’s just the way things are, but I often wish it were stated more plainly. I wish you, your husband and your son the best.
I don’t want to argue, but I know that when I say ‘they’re/I’m busy’ I do mean that because time and energy are finite I have to attend to higher priorities first and due the nature of my life I can’t chat/get back to/reply/hang out with people that do not demand my attention. It’s not that I don’t like my friends, I just have to choose to try and live the most possible life possible.
I think interpreting the phrase ‘they’re busy’ as being…deceptive or as a relationship referendum is a mistake and honestly unnecessarily aggressive.
And also, their mental health might be a reason they are not endlessly avaliable–I once didn’t reply to an email for four months not because I hate my friend or because I’m not invested in the friendship, but because my mind was a black hole of misery. I am wary of frameworks which interpret distance or asynchronicity as some privilege of the fortunate.
I’m not sure if you read my reply to Allonge below — it explains my state of mind a bit.
Also, please do keep in mind that I’m talking about specific people that I happen to know quite well and I’m not applying this framework indiscriminately to everyone I know. I have specific gut feelings about these people that I would not presume to apply to someone I’ve only known for a few months, for instance.
On a general basis though, I take your point and will keep it in mind if I find myself veering in that direction over someone I don’t know that well.
Would it be helpful to think of it as they do not have time in their life for anyone, not just you? If someone has a full time job, a partner and a kid (let alone multiple kids), they don’t have a lot of free time for anyone. And choosing to live their current life is yes, a choice. Stopping to live that life would be another choice but with enormous consequences. It’s not the choice between having salad or a burger, where two days later most of us don’t remember at all.
The other thing that came to my mind reading you is that “they have less time” does not always serve as an excuse for No Friendship For You. It refers to not even having enough time to (think up and) write an email. It seriously happens! So it’s not that if they had more time, you would be best friends. It’s that if they had more time, they might not take 2 weeks to respond to a text.
You do deserve friendship, and good connections to people. And it shoudl not be so difficult.
I think those are both good points, Allonge! (And to be clear, I wasn’t implying that I expect my friends to neglect their children, partners, or jobs, just to give me the attention I need. That would be ridiculously unreasonable on my part. Although, funnily enough, the only one of my friends who has a full-time job AND a spouse AND a child is actually the chattiest and most reachable of them all.)
I guess what it boils down to, for me, is that “they’re just busy” makes me think “maybe they’ll stop being busy in the future; I’ll keep waiting and throwing out conversational bids to see if they respond”, while “they have other priorities” allows me to accept that this is all they can give for the moment and to focus on looking for other ways to meet my needs.
I think the point is that the friends I’m talking about really don’t have the same gnawing need for connection and support that I do, because their mental health is not as bad, and they’re not as isolated, and they have a job to give them something to do with their day. (This is a good thing! I’m happy that they have those things!) So, from my point of view, we really do have different priorities, and it’s actually a good idea for me to keep in mind that even if they had a very light workload and a ton of free time, they *still* would have less need for connection and support and would probably still leave me wanting.
I am actively working on my mental health, by the way. It’s just been very complicated to figure it all out, for various reasons.
One thing I’d like to note is that friendships/relationships can get VERY intense in periods of your life where you feel less stable and you’re still figuring yourself out. While I still have deep, intense conversations with my friends every so often, I’m much happier and more stable now and there’s just less soul-searching to process and bond with a friend over, you know? So a friendship that worked for that unstable time… doesn’t necessarily work now, and doesn’t necessarily look the same as it used to–and even it’s close, it may never feel like it used to, ever again. That’s not a bad thing, just a life thing.
“I’m much happier and more stable now and there’s just less soul-searching to process and bond with a friend over, you know?”
Thank you for describing a concept that I have been trying to figure out with regards to a complicated friendship of mine.
For the LW, I think it is a positive sign that the friendship is different now. It means both have grown. The intense relationship of the past was described as co-dependent which is never healthy. Perhaps the healthy modern form of their friendship is an occasional catch-up here and there when they both have time. When I have found myself in similar situations to the LW, instead of focusing my energy in following up or wondering why someone hasn’t contacted me back, I reach out to my loved ones like my significant other, my family, and other friends. If everyone happens to be busy then I do something I want to do. By strengthening those bonds I focus on people who are reciprocating as well as myself; and, less on those that can’t reciprocate for whatever reason. Unless there are extreme circumstances, never focus more on another person than they focus on you.
Two comments. I mean them to sound matter-if-fact, not harsh:
* Silence is an answer. If he’s silent he’s communicating that he doesn’t want to be in touch. Maybe that’s his forever-answer. Maybe that’s his today answer. But it IS an answer.
* Relationships come and relationships go. Some folks are forever friends. Some folks are “occasional” friends — here for the occasion, a season of our lives, a place, a circumstance. The former are exceedingly rare. The later are more common. It’s OK that someone filled a place in your life for awhile. But it’s also OK if his time in your life is past. It doesn’t make either of you bad; it just means that chapter of your life is closed and has made way for new chapters.
* It’s fairly rare for a romantic/sexual relationship to transmogrify into friendship.
I have an ex with whose orbit mine occasionally intersects. I’ve gotten pretty mercilous about basing my response to that intersection on a careful evaluation of where i’m at ATM, because it was clear from the start that anxting and getting jerked around was totally in the cards if I brought any emotional investment to the table. I let them come to me, and I decide on a case-by-case basis if I’ve got the bandwith to deal with them, and otherwise take no initiative to interact with them. Seems to have worked reasonably well for the last ten years or so.
I’ve had relationships that sound a lot like this. I believe you when you say that co-dependence, neediness, and clinginess have been problems for you that you’ve addressed. But that behavior doesn’t exist in a vacuum. I’ve had plenty of relationships where I’m fine and those feelings and behaviors are a minimal problem for me. But I’ve also had relationships that triggered those feelings and inclinations to the point where I had extreme trouble controlling my behavior.
This may be one of those relationships you have to let go of in order to live a calm, peaceful life. That doesn’t mean you don’t like him or that the good times weren’t good. It just means that there’s something in the way that he interacts with you that sets off your insecurities in a way you can’t control. You may need a “yes” or a “no” in order to maintain a friendship when he’s only got a “maybe.”
I’ve had that – I had an ex who, a few years on, got back in touch with me – and then the communication varied a LOT in intensity, between wanting to chat on the phone for like an hour vs no communication for 3 weeks and then liking a Facebook post from like 2 months ago. And I was out of that codependent mindset, so it didn’t bother me, but I could see how it would have been total catnip to me back in the day.
I am currently on the other side of a similar-ish situation. I had to break up with my ex because he really really wanted to be in a committed relationship with lots of intimacy and I didn’t know if I wanted to be in a relationship at all (am I aro/ace? still don’t know but have been happily single as in not dating at all ever for 5+ years after leaving him so, maybe?).
But I really enjoy parts of our friendship now, several years later. I just still get the feeling sometimes like he wants more depth/intensity/something from me and I just don’t want so much emotional intensity in any relationship and I don’t want to talk all the time about everything. It doesn’t mean that I don’t want friends or I don’t like him or don’t want emotional connection, or that people who want more emotional intensity are wrong, just that there was a mismatch which was not a fixable thing before, and I’m hoping we can find a balance as we are now.
But talking to him now sometimes suddenly dives from good and fun and all the things I miss, to way too much for me and I have a Feelings Overreaction because I think it’s going to get like it was before and make me feel smothered, so I e.g. don’t reply as quickly as before and he worries, etc. It’s like I can feel the pressure of the friendship nudging me to be who I was then, but I’m not and don’t want to be that person anymore. I guess we’ve both grown to be more secure, but he still leans towards anxious attachment style and I lean towards avoidant and we just amplify each other’s worst sides sometimes.
I don’t really know the answer here for my situation or LW’s, just wanted to offer some perspective on how feelings can just be complicated all over in situations like this. I like the advice of another commenter to treat it like a new friendship as much as possible… we’re different people than we were and there’s no going back, just trying to find a balance going forward.
I’m going to offer a small caveat about the texting-until-the-wee-hours marathon, which – to be clear – is NOT a definitive pronouncement on LW’s friend’s feelings or for that matter anyone else’s feelings besides my own.
There have been occasions when I’ve spent hours having a text conversation with someone. In my case, these occasions occurred because texting is a horribly uncomfortable medium in which to indicate ‘Okay, I’ve got to go now…I mean, I don’t have to GO anywhere, but I just wasted an entire evening not being able to accomplish or concentrate on anything because my phone was buzzing every two minutes, this is hell, and there doesn’t seem to be an organic end coming’.
And I generally react by pulling away from the person. Not because this is a wrong or bad way to communicate, but because *I* can’t handle communicating this way, and if I’m dreading texting you because oh no what if they respond right away and so I have to respond BACK right away and then I’ll be trapped again…it’s probably not a kind friendship or relationship for either of us to be in.
Just a possible data point that a single intense experience (regardless of the communication medium) is not necessarily proof that someone wants more of such experiences in their life.
(It’s also possible that friend LOVED that texting marathon…maybe even too much, maybe LW started to take up a lot of space in their thoughts that, for their mental health, they can’t afford to allot them right now. But this entire post is just spitballing, and really reinforces the Captain’s point that it’s useless to try and guess what’s going on in friend’s head, instead focusing on what they *do*.)
This is so insightful, and I agree. The marathon of texting can be a rush, and also not necessarily indicative of a particular bond between the texters. I’ve had texting sessions like this and then also pulled back because, while it’s fun for a one-off, I actually am not a marathon texter. Nor do I want to cultivate a friendship based on this level of intensity.
Texting and IM’s: both are the enemy of actually sleeping.
I mean. I could do my pre-bedtime reading or watching stupid youtube let’s plays on a device with no communications to other people, but…
I mean this really nicely, OP but this is way, way too much.
Friends don’t generally do the “define the relationship” thing. It’s trying to put this framework kn something that, in my experience, naturally ebbs and flows. And so demanding this is just too much.
You have a pleasant text conversation now and then, that’s a form of friendship. Why do you need more?
If this is a typical pattern for you, I wonder if you’re getting some anxieties “Do my friends all hate me or do I just need to go to sleep?” And are trying to get some reassurance.
If this is limited to this guy, I think you may bit be as over him as you think and for your own sake and the sake of your marriage, you should take a step back. It shouldn’t be this important whether he lets you know how he defines your relationship.
Hello! Thank you for taking the time to comment on my letter.
I want to be clear that I never asked him to define our relationship or to send me that email. I reached out and asked if he wanted to be friends/apologised for past stuff/explained I had actually forgotten it was me who said “sorry I can’t be friends with you” and had thought for years the ball for that was in his court and that’s why it had taken me 12 years to get back in touch (an additional complication I didn’t have room to explain in my letter here) – and he said all that was a lot to take in, he’d already spent some time processing what I had said, and he would explain all in an email. I only reminded him he had said he would email because his response to my initial message made it sound like he thought it was important. I do not intend to ever mention it again.
If it weren’t for all that complicated stuff I would never ask a friend to define our relationship anyway, but there was a time long ago when I was in immense emotional pain and lashed out at him really horribly just because he couldn’t give me what I wanted back then, and I ended the friendship mostly for his sake because of that, and I guess part of me still feels I don’t deserve that friendship unless he forgives me and I don’t really know whether he has, or intends to, or knows he never can, or just isn’t sure, or simply wants to draw a line under it and never speak of it again. I get that. Feelings are complicated.
I would LIKE an answer, but I don’t NEED one and certainly don’t feel entitled to one. I wrote to the good Captain not because I want our friendship spelled out in black and white but because I just wasn’t sure how to behave in this situation where I don’t really know where I stand with him. You ask why I need more – well, very valid question, I guess it’s because those conversations would be so much more fun if he didn’t always disappear in the middle of them or before they’ve really got going, and it leaves me a bit frustrated. If I thought he didn’t want to be friends then I wouldn’t contact him any more, but he has said a lot of things suggesting he does. Also, every time he disappears, he always comes back and starts another conversation with me, then disappears again just as we’re getting into it. I wonder if I should try not replying at all next time, and see if he ever contacts me if he doesn’t have something to reply to.
My husband is fully on board with all this! Thank you for giving me more food for thought.
I’ve talked with friends in a bit of a meta way about our friendship. I agree with the others that the way you phrased it here would feel very pressuring if someone said it to me, even without the romantic/ex angle. Particularly if they’ve been out of my life for so long, I might feel a bit cautious about dipping my toe in.
As to stopping just as the conversation’s getting going, maybe that’s all the time he has available for it? Try to let him be the one to continue the conversation or initiate. Respond, but try to make it in a way that doesn’t require another reply, if that makes sense.
Ie. “Hey, what have you been up to?” “I made this amazing food (picture) and went on a walk with my husband (picture of nature)” (but without asking a question back, or asking for a specific response). If he responds back, then answer his question or respond to what he says, but without asking for a second response. Does that make sense?
I also agree that texting/instant messaging/etc. can be huge time sinks. It’s very difficult to accomplish anything else during one that requires any more than the most surface focus.
I’m actually in a situation slightly like this, though mostly resolved now. I fell hard for someone (yay being demi) but they turned me down, saying they’re in a monogamous relationship. Our connection still has the potential to be an important friendship, and we both seem to want that. (I was applying so much of the “People who like you will act like they like you” and it was totally lining up, though they may have more enthusiasm than time). But they also have a texting style that included messaging me but then not replying for upwards of 12 hours when I messaged back. I’m fine with no reply right away if I text them, but it was disconcerting to be talking to the void when I thought they were available for a conversation since they texted me. I finally decided I needed to just ask first if they can chat in real-time before I get into the conversation. (Only had to do so once so far; they may have also figured out my preference). They still just stop replying when they’re busy/done, but that’s not a problem for me, I’ll do the same.
I think texting can be really weird this way. It has the ability to be like a short, more convenient email, and the ability to be like a real time chat. So occasionally you end up with a misunderstanding between two people where one person is ‘let’s send each other little notes from time to time’ and the other is like ‘let’s basically have a phone call, only in writing’.
Usually it sorts itself out and people develop their own rhythm, but from time to time it causes problems.
“I guess it’s because those conversations would be so much more fun if he didn’t always disappear in the middle of them or before they’ve really got going, and it leaves me a bit frustrated.”
It may help to assume that the length of the conversations you consider as disappearing in the middle of & before they got going, are exactly the length and depth of conversation he wants to apply to this relationship right now. He’s not cutting you off early, this is the allotment of time and energy he has available or is interested in now.
If that is the case, is this enough for you? If what you want are the deep, endless, soul-searching gab fests of yesteryear, this friendship may always leave you empty and bereft, even though neither of you are in any way doing it wrong.
Hey LW. I actually was in a similar situation, several years ago. I had a very intense, somewhat codependent, on-again-off-again thing with a friend of mine for YEARS. And eventually it became too much, and I broke it off. And then, years later, in one of the roughest and worst patches in my life, I called him, not even knowing what outcome I was hoping for but desperate for a voice that might be friendly and familiar. He didn’t answer, but did call me back. And with that, we very tentatively, very carefully, and very gingerly started to re-establish our friendship.
The number one first thing I realized, and I think this is critical, was this: I had to make space for who he had become, not hold him to the vision of who he was when I had last known him. I had changed, he had changed. Honestly, our friendship changed too, but this was a good thing! If it had been working in the form it was in, it wouldn’t have ended.
As others above have said, we don’t necessarily have the same intense, late night, deep discussions that we did in our teens and 20s. But then again, we are also each a lot more stable, and don’t have time for that ish, and that’s okay. He’s still a dear companion, we laugh at each other’s jokes, we share in each other’s joys and triumphs, and we sympathize with the other’s difficulties. And for us, that is enough. This is the kind of support and love we each desire out of our adult friendships. And so that is what we give and receive.
Make space for who he is now, and who you are now. Give it lots and lots of time and lots and lots of space, and go ever so gently. There’s healing to be done here, I’m sure. Think of it like an overgrown garden in early spring: you’ve got to clear out the dead growth, prune back some of the things that need it, and then give it time to see what flowers spring forth, and what might need to be rearranged. There’s no way to rush that process. Something beautiful might be in the dirt that you don’t yet even know is there.
LW, you ask “How can I figure out what the relationship is between us without making him feel pressured to talk about things he clearly doesn’t want to talk about?”
Him not wanting to talk about it is the answer. Your relationship, as it stands right now and as he wants it to stand in the near future, is one where you guys don’t talk about your feelings or process the status of your relationship together. It’s more casual than that. He’s fine with sending memes and engaging in light conversation, but based on his actions, he’s not currently interested in digging deeper or developing much emotional intimacy.
And the thing is, I think you know that. You know that he doesn’t want to engage like this; that’s why you can recognize that continuing to push would be pressure. You know that badgering him to engage in this way is a likely relationship ender.
I think your real question is what you can DO about it. And the answer is, not much. You can’t convince him to change his mind or engage in ways he’s not willing to engage in. What you CAN control is your own reaction. If you accept that this, the status quo, is what your relationship will be…then it’s time to ask yourself some questions. Do you like the conversations you’re having these days? Do they feel worth your time on their own merits, even if you assume they won’t lead to increased friendship/intimacy from him? Do you think you can engage on this more casual level without feeling rejected or abandoned? If the answer to any of those questions is “no”, is there another way you could engage that would make what you’re getting back from him feel okay to you? If so, what’s keeping you from doing that and letting the rest go? If not, is this friendship something you want to continue pursuing in this current moment of your life?
Basically, think it through and get a sense of whether the thing that currently exists between you and this person (not your memories, not your origins, but this current relationship as it is at this moment in your life) is giving you what you need or not. Then decide how to act accordingly.
One thing that occurred to me that I didn’t see mentioned: might there be a value in / is there a low-key way to let the friend off the hook about that email?
I’ve been in a situation when an old friend reached out to me and what started off as pleasantly catching up ended up being way too intense and energy-draining. She wrote some long, emotional emails that I felt obliged to reply to and had absolutely no desire to do so. I ended up resenting her for putting me in that spot, I went no contact and we lost touch for years after that.
I think if she had found a way to say “hey, sorry, I think I may have come on too strong, don’t worry about replying to that email, let’s just stay friendly and maybe grab a coffee next time you’re in town” we could have stayed friends. Or maybe not, who knows.
LW here, thanks for the thought. I used to write long, intense, emotionally draining emails to this guy about The State of Our Relationship after we broke up and were Trying to be Just Friends again, and actually it has occurred to me that I need to be careful not to do anything that might be reminiscent of that. It’s part of why Trying to be Just Friends didn’t work out in 2007/8. So what you are saying here is actually very relevant to my situation and therefore very helpful.
The email was his idea and he’s now said three times that he’s going to send it. Each time I have responded that if he only intended to send it because he felt obliged to, then he doesn’t need to do it. Yes, I did remind him about it but only because it seemed important to him when he first mentioned it – and I said while I would find it helpful to know whether he forgave me for stuff that happened in the past and how he felt about being friends, he didn’t have to tell me any of that if he wasn’t comfortable doing so and it wouldn’t be a problem for me. And then I changed the subject to something more fun. Aside from my very first message reaching out to him after 12 years, I haven’t sent him anything emotionally charged at all (other than during conversations about politics and sports, but you know what I mean!). I want to show him I’m not like that any more: I can deal with my feelings in a much more contained way now.
I *think* that should help him feel off the hook and I showed my messages to a friend who said he wouldn’t feel pressured if he received them in a similar situation, so…maybe? All our other exchanges have been very light, informal, fun stuff. I guess it will just take time to see what happens, if anything.
LW I think it’s worth asking what else could you be doing with the brain space that you’re spending on this issue/relationship? Sometimes I use issues similar to this kind of relational anxiety (does person x like me? Why did they leave the group chat? Is it because of me?) because there’s something else that’s bigger that I don’t want to think about. May not be applicable to you, but could be worth a mental check in on other areas of your life right now.
Can I defend your behavior in the relationship, LW? You seemed really hard on yourself when I think everyone has been in a sort of relationship where they are in a kind of chase mode — maybe you were needy but I have seen this a lot, mostly when I was much younger, where it becomes a kind of push pull with one partner being hot and cold all the time, which makes the other partner panicky about where they stand. It really sounds like that could have been a big part of your relationship with him and continues to. If I’m totally off-base please disregard but it is definitely a dynamic that exists.
Thank you, I appreciate that ❤
It wasn't like that at all with him – right up until just before the end of our relationship he was always the one making excited plans about our future together and things always felt super comfortable, equal and happy between us (well, to me anyway. Obviously something changed for him, or he wouldn't have ended it. But for most of our relationship he was telling me he felt the same way.)
HOWEVER, it was exactly like that with the abusive relationship I was in just before him. I only recently realised that the huge anxiety I was getting around "is he going to text me back?" likely stems from the abusive ex who would go cold and silent on me for long periods, wait until I was in a frenzy of "WHAT DID I DO HAS HE LEFT ME?!" and then call me and scream at me for being a terrible person and gaslight me about stuff I didn't actually do or that really weren't bad. That was MANY years ago but I've now realised how badly it scarred me and I've been working on that with my therapist. Which has actually reduced how much I have felt the need/been tempted to chase for replies.
LW, it looks like you are interpreting his silence as lack of information, while the silence IS the information.
Him writing in very rarely, waiting long to answer – all of this is not ‘lack of information’, he is showing you what he wants the relationship to look like NOW. Very casual, not intense, not a lot of contacts, but when contact – friendly.
I get your feelings but it seems to me you not seeing that lack of contact is the information, and instead ‘waiting’ for information, is you just not accepting the soft no because it’s not what you want to hear.
It seems to me you are falling into this intense pattern you two had – you don’t sound chill about this at all, you just started talking again and yey it seems you are already lowkey pursuing him and he is lowkey running.
And not seeing soft no, interpreting silence/very little communication as ‘i just don’t know’ instead ‘ok this is the volume of contact he wants’ always seems like an orangey flag to me.
I know its way easier to say this than do it, but pls try to take a step back. Because you are falling into the old pattern and not seeing it yet.
For now, you already know what your friendship is gonna look like. Exactly how it looks now. Not very intense, sometimes he writes.
Maybe later he will change but if he wants to – he knows where to find you.
Thanks for this insight. I think you have some really valid points there.
I think the difficulty for me has been the mixed messages. On the one hand, he keeps disappearing for ages. On the other, he keeps coming back again, apologising for not replying (usually giving a reason) and carrying on the conversation. He has explicitly said “I do want to speak to you” and “we can definitely chat.” When I asked if there was a way he’d prefer to communicate other than the platform we were originally using, he gave me his phone number without any hesitation whatsoever. He laughs at my jokes and says they’re brilliant, he sends jokes back that make me laugh too. And then just as we’re getting into a really good conversational groove, he disappears for weeks and then suddenly comes back saying his phone was broken or something (that did actually happen, he even sent me a picture of the phone, but I wouldn’t be surprised if there were more to it than that). It’s very abrupt – not like conversations are naturally ending. More like I’ll ask him a question and he’ll vanish for 2 weeks and then answer it. That’s why it feels like “I don’t know” rather than “this is the volume of conversation he wants” but I took on board what you said and I’m thinking about it, thank you for that! The app we’re using tells you whether your messages have been read or not, and he isn’t actually reading them in that time.
You’re absolutely right – until he started doing this weird stop/start thing that made me question whether I was coming on too strong and decided to write here for advice about how to play it, I was pretty chill about the whole thing but now as you suspect I’m not any more. It didn’t feel like I was pursuing him because if he doesn’t reply I just leave it until he does, but you saying that made me look back over my conversations with him and my messages do tend to be longer than his. Sometimes he’ll send me lots of replies in one bunch, but I’ve been doing that a bit more than he has. Thanks for what you said about not realising I was falling into the old pattern. You’re right. I hadn’t seen it because in the past our relationship has always been either “falling/being madly in love with each other” or “no contact at all” and I’m finding it difficult to see what “just friends with no intention of anything else happening ever again” looks like compared with either of those things. I do think it’s worth trying because we get on so well, have so much in common and make each other laugh a lot, but I am open to the possibility that it just won’t work like that.
You sound great LW, very self-aware & kind and I’m sure you will figure it out! 🙂 I’m glad what I said was of some value to you, cheers!
One thing I’ve noticed over the years, especially as friends and I have got older, is that we can have really good intentions about catching up with something or responding to an email that never actually pan out, regardless of how much we care for each other. We don’t have the energy or the time we once did, and our brains are bad at absorbing that fact. But we feel intense guilt about this! So we’ll say, absolutely meaning it at the time – EVERY time! – that we will get to that email next week… and this can be true regardless of the previous or current intensity of the friendship, and whether or not it ever had a romantic dimension.
You’ve already made clear to him that you don’t need him to send that email. But do yourself the favour of letting go of expectations about it happening, too. Perhaps he was surprised when you asked to establish the state of the friendship in that way, but saw it was important to you and so genuinely meant to get around to it. And then perhaps, as your new friendship has been finding its level and he’s had other ups and downs in his daily life, he gradually realised… actually, there isn’t any big thing that needs to said here, from his perspective. But he’s promised you, so he keeps saying – more to keep himself accountable than anything else – that he’ll get to it. Because that’s very much how I can imagine this might go if I were in his position…
Hi LW, I wanted to say this sounds tough and good for you for being aware of possible issues.
Two points for thought:
It sounds like it might benefit you to look at the concept of intermittent reinforcement and how it affects people. The idea is that getting a positive response only sometimes for the same behavior is a very good way to make the behavior continue, better then consistend rewards even. The way you describe your conversations with this guy now reminded me of that. I am not saying he is doing this on purpose – it just seems to have the same effect on you, and not in a good way.
The other thing is that you seem to have an expectation of conversations exactly continuing until you are done with them based on ‘seems to stop when it just gets going’ and similar remarks. This is a very easy way to find even good contact disappointing! It stopped in a way that was out of your control! So I would suggest giving yourself a hard limit on when the convos need to stop. Not to play hard to get or anything like that, but so your goal is ‘good exchange for 10 minutes (or something reasonable)’ and not ‘deeeeeep sharing of minds like we used to when we had no problem getting up in the morning anyway’. Put a time limit and say bye yourself.
There have been people (read: men) in my life who I really wish had been capable (read: willing) to make that connection.
Two observations that may be helpful.
Online (texting in real time or quick responses to email) communication builds a sense of intimacy or intensity to the friendship largely based on frequency. If you’re talking back and forth constantly, you get a sense of togetherness. The best way to dial that back is to delay responding. Nothing cools an online flirtation or rapidly growing friendship than taking a few days, a week or a month to respond.
This friend may be intentionally cooling the flurry of interaction by taking his time. Listen to the silence. Don’t email him back until after he emails you back. Match his timing… do not respond to an email that took a month to arrive within a day. The correspondence will find its level or perhaps fade naturally.
Second point: some kinds of friendships (the best kinds, perhaps) do not depend on regular interaction. Before we had social media and email, people lost track of each other for years, especially if not geographically close. But when the chips are down, or when an old friend moves closer geographically, you may find that the friendship is still there. I’m old (well older than some, anyway) and I have some new-old friendships with people I knew 40+ years ago. One moved back to my area after divorce/disability/unemployment/foreclosure forced some life changes. Our circle of old roomies pulled together to support her. Another I had lost touch with when her controlling husband isolated her for years. Now and again, she is one of my closest friends. The moral here: don’t push it and if life brings you back together, you’ll beregular and close friends again someday. Meantime, the lower level of communication doesn’t mean you aren’t friends, just that life has other priorities right now.
I hear that. I too have a lot of friends I rarely speak to but when I do it’s great. The difference is that we already had an established friendship before our frequency of contact dipped down to “very little.” It’s not so easy to START a friendship that way.
And I agree about the possible deliberate cooling. I was also thinking that might be what’s going on here.
Hi LW 🙂 So many great ‘hard won by’ nuggets of wisdom being shared here, along with the Captain’s stellar advice. I wanted to share something that struck me here in your response to Jules. It is abundantly clear from your lovely letter, and the further information you are so generously sharing in the comments, that you appear to be second guessing your gut.
You have done a lot of hard work on yourself and are very self aware. You are observing patterns with this person, have gathered quite a bit of objective evidence and I trust your sense that this ex-friend is a bit ‘off’ for you in terms of what you need in a friend, especially when rebuilding a new friendship. Sure, it isn’t the most pleasant bit of information your gut is sharing with you but please trust your gut. It is telling you that however wonderful this person was/is, how they are now and how they are behaving does not meet your needs. It is more than okay for you to identify that for yourself and go “hmm, this isn’t working for me” and re-focus your care and attention with those that do meet your needs. The failure to launch here, or re-launch rather, isn’t because you are doing something to push this person away. You aren’t doing anything ‘wrong’. You don’t appear to be re-engaging with your old codependent, maladaptive behaviours. I think you can let yourself off the hook here for this one. Follow Jules’ very practical advice and I suspect it will reveal whether this friendship renewal is meant to be.
So, I repeat, trust your gut. It isn’t wrong, it isn’t fault, it isn’t lying. It KNOWS.
In the meantime, it sounds like you have built a wonderful life for yourself, surrounded by people who really care and value you as much as you do them. You come across as someone who would be a great person to know and I am sure the people in your life know would tell you how lucky they feel to be friends with someone like you.
LW, I do want to caution you on one regard: be wary of becoming the ex who is only a friend if it’s convenient to your romance with your current partner. It seems like things are going well in that regard right now, and that your current partner is cool, but it really sucks to be on the opposite side of your texts – the person having to wonder if their ex really wants to remain friends, or if they’re about to be yeeted into the sea the minute they re-establish a bond and the ex either decides “I still have a feeling about you & this may jeopardize my current relationship, bye,” or “In case of potential jealousy, I should cut you off.”
I’ve seen both happen in real life, and while I’m not saying you’d do that, your ex does NOT have any way to know that right now. You’ve barely had time to show him any of your last decade and a half of character growth. You admit that you broke up with him because you didn’t think you could maintain a healthy attachment to him, and he did *not* want to lose you completely, but did anyway.
He’s right to be taking it slow right now and trying to figure out the new you. And he’s starting out behind on sorting out his feelings, because you got to deal with yours when you decided to contact him again, and meanwhile he was respecting the boundary that you initially set.
And for the record, the speed run time of the close friends platformer game depends a lot on the setting – living on campus in college it might be 2 months, but via text and around adult responsibilities you’re not sharing? Expect it to take way more than that. The rough estimate my social group has come up with is 2 months when you live more or less together, 4 months if you physically see each other at least once a week, and at least 6 months otherwise. 🙂
Quill, there’s some people I became close friends with very quickly. We just clicked the first time we met. As we more time we spent together, the friendship developed more, and we had a chance to get to know each other better, but it just felt right. We were able to talk about things like mental health issues, and such, that are usually more of a close-friends (or group dedicated to that sort of thing) topic.
I actually just met one this last weekend. She lives several hours away, so time will tell on whether we’re able to build closeness or drift apart. We had a couple of pretty intense conversations, including about her depression/my ADHD/bipolar. She’s had a little trouble connecting with people in her new area. She relatively recently moved there from my current area (but we hadn’t met before). We both went to the same community college, we have a lot of the same interests and hobbies, she’s incredibly sweet, etc. We’ve traded emails back and forth a couple of times since.
Now, I wouldn’t expect her to loan me money, or give me a place to stay, or things like that. However, she’s the kind of friend who I think I could share with if I was upset about something, and needed support. I hope she feels the same way about me.
Yes, I agree, sometimes you just click! And people might just vary on that. If I’m in frequent contact with someone, the measurements of months are more like weeks.
I’ve had those too, but I find that my life gets a lot easier if I don’t *expect* to just click, you know? Not second guessing if people actually like me because we don’t match initial intensity, etc.
Hi LW, I’m just writing after seeing some of your own comments to chuck in my own two cents:
I think working and expending energy and thoughts on this friendship is not a kind thing to put yourself through. A friend you feel you have to chase and that forces you back into old patterns is not a friend that is enriching your life. You’re asking about how to act for the sake of the friendship, but I’d suggest acting for the sake of YOU. Interact with this guy only in ways that improve your life, and refocus on everything else that makes you happy.
I know exactly the type of person he is, and they are intoxicating when you have their attention and devastating when you don’t, so unhook yourself from that IV pronto and go live the life that you’ve made.
Speaking about the Friend and the email, who has said multiple times that he wants to give LW some sort of breakdown/explanation/audit, and yet also has not done this at all:
Sometimes you can want two different things that clash. If this is Friend’s case, he might feel like he wants to send an email because it’s The Right Thing to Do, or because he Does What He Says He’s Going To Do, or because he feels like he owes LW an explanation, or maybe even some strong feeling that he just has some stuff to say.
He may also want (with equal emotional energy), to not have to go there. Or every time he feels like doing it, he gets lethargic or bored or hungry or distracted. Or maybe he’s SUPER BUSY. Or maybe he’s “Super Busy”. Or maybe he has some internal conflict about what he wants to say and he keeps getting tangled in it. Maybe it’ll be hard for him to quantify his thoughts. Maybe he’s worried about the reaction he’ll get. Maybe it’s vague in his mind and he can’t put a container around it to describe it. Maybe it’s just going to be hard for him and whenever he wants to compose something it feels like too much work. Whatever. You can’t know. HE might not know.
Point is, this behavior to me sounds like he both wants to, and does not want to, write the thing.
One can easily hold two conflicting desires in one’s mind (especially when one of them is completely unconscious, like avoiding a task you “should” do). But they can cancel each other like equal and opposite forces. So when you try to take an action in a state like that, what usually happens is… nothing. You just get stuck. It sounds like he’s stuck.
If he IS stuck it’s because HE is creating the stuckness. You’ve tried to let him off the hook, and you can’t. It’s not yours to manage.
I think probably best to stop bringing a Promised Email up, and also stop assigning mental energy to it. It’s a relationship Macguffin.
LW, I get the vibe reading this that you really want to… control the outcome here? That maybe you want a certain sort of friendship with this person, you want it to be a certain kind of way, and you’re getting agitated that this isn’t happening. I think CA’s question is a very good one – what’s wrong with a casual friendship where you text and catch up occasionally? What about that idea makes you upset or anxious?
Also, I find as I get older, I’m starting to perceive “connection” as ephemeral at best, potentially destructive at worst. I’ve had people I felt I had tremendous connections with, felt like we completely got each other and were totally on the same page – only to find out later they did not feel that connection to me. Other times, the sense of connection was real, but also very tied to time, place, circumstance. Once the setting changed, the connection waned. At the risk of sounding jaded, I’ve found it can be hazardous to put a lot of stock into “connection” when the actual friendship or relationship leaves you frequently unhappy or anxious.
A final anecdote: I have a friend going through something slightly similar rn. Happily engaged to a great guy, but has a rather volatile friendship with an ex, who recently acted like a bigger tool than usual (I don’t have a high opinion of this guy). During this recent fallout, my friend kept referring to their long history and their “connection”. And honestly, from where I was sitting, it sounded like “connection” was glossing over facts about the things this guy was actually doing (which sounded pretty selfish and manipulative and focused on what he wanted). One thing I did tell her, was that a long connection to someone isn’t necessarily a good one.
I suppose this is a lot of words, LW, to suggest you examine what makes you anxious about this friendship, why you’re attached to a certain outcome here… and maybe interrogate that “connection”, whether it truly still exists, what it is, whether you’re maybe glossing over some more unhealthy things “because it’s us!”
You sound thoughtful and well-intentioned. Best of luck as you navigate this!
I suspect that the issue isn’t the unsent email, but the expectations of what resuming the friendship should look like. It sounds like you really valued the friendship you had, especially the parts about just getting each other. I’m guessing that’s what you wanted when you reached out. However, he hasn’t put forth the same effort to rekindle the friendship for a variety of possible reasons (social awkwardness, old feelings, busy schedule, other relationships claiming all energy for socializing, phone problems), none of which you can fix. Even if you got an email with Answers, there is no guarantee that any problems uncovered in the email would be fixable.
It might be time to use some of the energy you have been putting into resuming this friendship into other friendships or making new friends with people who will match your efforts.
Your ex may have chosen to be distant because you are married, LW. He is being respectful towards you and your husband. Many people do not approve of their spouses keeping in touch with their exes at all. The Captain’s suggestion to redirect that energy towards your marriage is excellent.
LW, I don’t have a lot to say, but the fact that you keep describing you asking (demanding?) your ex to ‘define’ your relationship now as ‘no pressure’ is a misnomer. Anytime you ask repeatedly about something, it stops being no-pressure, regardless of the wording of the request. And asking to have the ‘what are WE’ talk/answer is inherently a high-pressure question–it always means a lot.
Not that it really matters, but I actually never did ask him to do that, let alone demand it or ask repeatedly. He was the one who decided he would send me an email telling me his thoughts about the whole thing. I said it’s all right, you don’t have to do that, and he said he wanted to.
The only time I’ve mentioned it to him since was when I asked him once about a month later (which I now know was a mistake) whether he was still planning to send that email, saying it was fine if he wasn’t but I was interested in whatever he had to say. He said he’d do it later, and I never brought it up again. I honestly don’t think it was that bad, but I won’t be doing it again!
LW, I think one thing to remember is that the two of you are not just 15 years older, you’re 15 years different. You sound in a way like losing this relationship left a hole in your life and you really want to fill that hole and you think rekindling that intense friendship will do it. But what if he filled that hole a long time ago? You seem to have a very strong need to have this work and go back to that Very Important Key Lifelong Friendship, and he really…doesn’t. I’m not saying he doesn’t care at all, but you just seem way more invested than he is.
And I’ve been there. We’ve all been there. I have long term friends where I know realistically the friendship means much, much more to me emotionally than it does to the other person. And I’ve had relationships with what I prefer to have as casual acquaintances where it’s clear the other person thinks that we are BFFs and every time they text or call I sigh and think, “Again? Already?” It’s so rare to have two people on exactly the same place on the same page. And while you’re on one page, he’s on a different chapter. Or maybe in another book altogether. It’s not you. It’s not him. It’s 15 years gone by.
Mostly while reading all this, I kept having the Ani Difranco song Sorry I Am going through my mind:
I’m sorry I didn’t sound more excited on the phone
I’m sorry that after all these years
I’ve left you feeling unrequited and alone
Brought you to tears
I guess I never loved you quite as well
As the way you loved me and
I guess I’ll never really be able to tell you
How sorry I am
‘Cause I don’t know what it is about you
I just know it’s not what it was
I don’t know why red fades before blue
It just does
And I don’t know what it is about me
But I just can’t keep still, I
I keep thinking that someday I will make this all up to you and
Maybe someday, I will
I guess I never loved you quite as well
As the way you loved me and
I guess I’ll never really be able to tell you how sorry I am
Sorry I am, I am
Sorry I am
Sorry I am
Hi LW! I see that a ton has been covered here, but I’d like to add one snippet that I didn’t see, and that I hope might be helpful.
It sounds like one of the facets of not-explicitly-knowing-where-you-stand that causes anxiety may be second-guessing if he’s really as on board as he’s suggested he is. On the one hand, everyone’s advice about taking his non-interaction as an indicator of The Official State of Things is spot on. On the other hand, though, if he acts like he enjoys being in contact when he is in contact, if he says he enjoys being in contact, it’s okay to believe him. Beyond the point where you would have to be prescient, his boundaries are his responsibility.
So, as long as you’re being mindful of unspoken cues/balance of reaching out/etc. (which it sounds like you are), I would suggest a re-frame of the question.
Not: “Is he maybe getting anxious/annoyed/overwhelmed with me and lying to me about it to spare my feelings/because he’s worried about blowback?”
But rather: “Acknowledging that the reasons for his silence are unknowable in an absolute sense, even if he’s giving me reasons, am I comfortable with this mode of interaction? Are the interactions we’re having, including the pauses between them, a positive in my life?”
Which, from your answers above, again, I think it is? But I think it’s worth asking yourself again periodically, and it’s worth drawing that line beyond which his feelings about your interactions are his responsibility.
Uncertainty about feelings is a huge anxiety trigger for me, too, and I wish you all the success in the world at getting yourself sorted in this situation and finding satisfaction in managing the things within your sphere of control.
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