Ask Dr. Nerdlove by Harris O'Malley

How Do I Get Over Being Used By My Ex?

DEAR DR. NERDLOVE: I’m in a rut. The most serious relationship I’ve had to date ended in late January, 2014. It lasted just shy of two and a half years. It’s now December 2014 and I can’t move on. I started the relationship as an out and proud gay man. I started the relationship the same way, but what I thought was love wasn’t – I was dating someone who was still in the closet, needed space to “find himself” and he found himself with five other men (maybe more?!) in the time we were together.

It killed me because I thought I was being supportive, understanding, nurturing, and caring. In the end, I feel like I was made the butt of a big joke. He moved on and was in a relationship less than a month later, and while it’s an immature move, they exchanged promise rings over Christmas. Now, I’m 30, my ex is 28, and his new boyfriend is mid-twenties, so I think the promise ring thing is an immature move, but it still stung in it’s own way. When we were together we had a lot of “hey, I’m not ready to share this relationship with so-and-so” moments where I stood by with support. It hurts that now someone else is getting the “out and proud” boyfriend I was asked to support and wait for.

Where I used to be “out and proud” of who I am, I’ve begun to have some serious self-doubt and question my self-worth. The fear of feeling duped again is leaving me stunted in singledom.

How do I get back on the unicorn now that I’ve fallen off?

-Slightly-Dimmed Rainbow

DEAR SLIGHTLY-DIMMED RAINBOW: Ouch, SDR. It really sucks when you find out that you find out the person you thought they were – especially when it leaves you feeling like it’s some how your fault that things didn’t work out. You’ve put in all this effort, all of this concern, all of this emotion… and now you’re left feeling like you were a stepping stone to your ex’s “real” relationship.

Worse: the fact that he was able to move on so quickly, so easily makes you question everything about the relationship. Where you not good enough? Was there something you could’ve done differently? Why weren’t you enough for him?

But hey, you’ve written to me because you want the answers and fortunately, I have one for you: the problem in your relationship is that your ex was an a

hole. You were being used and manipulated by someone who took your honest affection and pissed all over it from the get go.

So up front: as a hetero guy, I’m not going to have the same experience and perspective as a gay man about being closeted or not. There’re nuances and realities that are outside of my lived experience, so take my opinions with suitable levels of salt… but frankly, your ex sounds like he was using his being closeted as an excuse. Maybe he wasn’t secure enough in his sexuality to be openly dating someone – hence the constant rules “hey, let’s not tell X, Y and Z that we’re dating” – but he sure as s

t had no problem f

king them on the down-low. Now maybe it took time for him to finally be willing to be open and out and proud. Maybe he needed time to mature and come to terms with himself.

But that doesn’t excuse the fact he was a toxic a

hole who treated you like s

t. And to be perfectly honest, I think there was no small part of him that was using his being closeted as a way of having his cake and f

king it too. After all, if you’re just Schrödinger’s Boyfriend – officially together when he wants you, less so when he decides he wants someone else – there’s that level of deniability when he’s off “finding himself” in someone else. By saying “I’n not ready to share this relationship with X, Y and Z”, he was telling you that he had reasons that he didn’t want people to know you were dating… and I suspect he also used this as a reason why you shouldn’t be around when he was off with other guys. I wonder how many of his other partners might have balked if they knew that he was with someone else.

So you weren’t a joke, but you were unfairly used. The most generous interpretation I have is that you were basically his practice run at a relationship. The less kind says that he’s a s

tty manipulator, a toxic user who dated you in bad faith, who took advantage of your sincere affection to fulfill his needs until he was ready to come out. Either way: you got the s

tty end of the stick and it was completely unfair to you.

So what do you do now? Well, the first thing you need to do is put this guy in your rear view mirror. He’s an a

hole who treated you badly and the last thing you should be doing is using him as your metric of comparison about your worth as a person. It hurts to watch someone you cared for withhold affection from you and then turn around and shower it on someone else but trust me: you dodged a bullet. Blessings in disguise aren’t fun and right now you’re in a lot of pain but in the future, you’re going to look back on this and realize how lucky you were that this relationship ended when it did and how much you learned from it.

And that’s what you need to do: take what you’ve learned about users and manipulators and apply it to your future relationships. Maintain some strong boundaries, especially in the early days when you’re just starting to get to know people and you’ll weed out the majority of users, game players and toxic people.

Meanwhile: cut this guy out of your life. You don’t need to constantly be reopening the wounds he gave you by watching him play relationship with someone else. Take the nuclear option and spend some time recovering from this relationship so that you can let your heart heal. You’ll find someone else, someone infinitely better. And when you do, you’ll be glad that you don’t have this guy in your life any more.

Good luck.

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