Ask Dr. Nerdlove by Harris O'Malley

Should I Give My Ex A Second Chance?

DEAR DR. NERDLOVE: There’s something bugging me lately, and I can’t figure a way out or make a conscious decision about it. I’m from France, so apologies for any issues with my English.

To give some background, I’ll tell a few things. First, I must say that I’m bipolar, and thus always had abandonment issues in any kind of relationships, lovers or friends, I ever had. Always scared not to be enough, always scared to mess things up, always scared to be well, abandoned. But I took care of it, as I see a psychiatrist and a psychologist too. We’re making great strides and effort, and lately, I finally get a sense of what’s being self-confident and having an healthy self-esteem. Fact is, since my breakup with my ex gf 2 years ago, I was kinda feeling painful about relationships. Not having someone hurt me like hell everyday, I was assuming it was my fault and that I was such an undatable mess (you know, the usual Mr Brainy likes to tell you). I didn’t had any dates for 2 years, and that was dragging me down. At least it was, until I started to get my sh$t together, by advancing alone in new steps and projects in life, and finally feeling like I was enough, for myself. It is such a great thing to feel, and it is so relaxing not to be nagged by all those intrusive depreciating thoughts. So, here I am, feeling pretty good and having my own purposes. But the issue isn’t here.

Of course, I still feel the desire to be with someone, but I know that until the crisis is over and public places re-open, I can’t meet new people. I tried online dating, but it really isn’t my thing, as I’m more old-fashioned. So my very best option is to stay patient, until I can try and find someone new that I’d feel good with. I honestly have no issue with that, except I’m having trouble being patient, haha. The issue is that I’ve been thinking about my very toxic and abusive ex lately. She messaged me for Christmas, and I really well know why she did it. I know she tries to rekindle a bit, not necessarily in a romantic manner, but knowing her well, I presume she has intentions. Only thing is I don’t know how to feel about this.

During our relationship, she’s been extremely jealous. It went from reproaching me for go meeting up some female friends (with whom the relationship was undoubtedly platonic, from both sides), to making scenes when I said hello to a female friend (or any kind of women in fact) in the streets, to reacting madly when I had any form of social contact with another female human being. This, plus the fact she played games with me, making instagram stories in a bra, liking one of my best friend’s every post, and so on. As she was acting like this, I knew she was having some chats with a few boys on instagram, so-called friends from the music scene. It wasn’t disturbing me, as I didn’t want to give in to jealousy, and I felt that I could trust her, besides the fact she didn’t trusted me. I realized after our break-up how hypocritical it was from her, and I started having serious doubts about her fidelity and behaviour. But she could have cheated on me, I couldn’t care less today, as I’m above that and it’s on her, not on me.

Today grew away from this past, and I’m pretty proud of me for being able to feel so calm thinking about all this. However, as I said, I feel that my ancient feelings are rising again, that I want to give her a third (yes, third) chance today, and that maybe we can start something fresh and new (after all, and besides all the sh$t, I was pretty in love with her). But only in the case she comes forward and make her excuses and apologies, and in a sense, recognize how s--tty her behaviour was. Fact is we never had THE talk, and I don’t want to be the first one to come forward and propose it.

So here I am, feeling on one side that I could give her another chance, but on the other that I want to know someone new and different, and in the end not knowing what to do. Because I fear that if I get back with her, things won’t happen like I expect and/or I’ll be attracted to someone different and hurt her, which I don’t want to do (I’m a bastard, but a kind one).

I leave this to your wisdom, knowing you’ll give me the good insight.


Ups And Downs

DEAR UPS AND DOWNS: First and foremost, UAD: congratulations in making strides with your mental health! You’re doing great work, you’ve come a long way towards getting your condition under control and you should be proud of all the progress you’ve made. That’s awesome and I’m glad you’re doing better.

That’s why it would be a damn shame to ruin your progress by making a mistake like you are tempted to make.

Over all, I tend to be of two minds when it comes to getting back together with an ex, UAD. On the one hand, I can understand the desire to do so. More often than not, your ex is someone you had a strong connection to, and someone who’s a known quantity. They’re familiar and with familiarity comes comfort. There’s also frequently the desire to deal with unfinished business and unresolved issues and the feeling that hey, maybe things would be different this time. Depending on how things ended, you could feel blindsided or that you hadn’t been ready to end the relationship and want her back because from your perspective, things were pretty good.

And if I’m being perfectly honest: I’ve dealt with this more times than I care to think about, so I can empathize with that desire. And while I’ve had attempts to get back with an ex go badly, I’ve also gone on to have good relationships with most of my exes… including the one where I tried to get back with her and had things go pear-shaped.

On the other hand, more often than not, your ex is your ex for a reason, and those reasons likely haven’t changed. Trying to get a second (or third) chance with them usually means that if you two do give it another shot, you’re going to end up doing the 12″ dance remix of your previous break-up; just faster, more intense and with a heavier beat.

And in this case, your ex is your ex for very good reasons. Twice over, in fact. Everything you’ve said about her makes it clear that she’s been a toxic, manipulative mess. She gave you s--t for having the temerity to have female friends, while having flirty chats with other guys. She tried to run jealousy plotlines on you to get reactions out of you and was generally a hot mess express. It sounds like you were well rid of her. Hell, you know all of this because you’ve already gone back for a second round and it was indeed “second verse, same as the first, little bit louder, little bit worse”.

Now, my rule for deciding whether to get back with your ex is that you need to answer five important questions:

Question #1: Why did you break up in the first place?

Question #2: Have those reasons changed since you’ve broken up?

Question #3: Why are you thinking of getting back with them now?

Question #4: Do you miss them or do you miss what they represent?

Question #5: Are they right for you, now?

You’ve already answered #1 and #2, and those answers suggest that no, you shouldn’t get back with her. As of right now, you have no cause to believe that the reasons that you’ve broken up have changed; while she did message you back at Christmas, it doesn’t sound like that conversation involved things like “I’m sorry I was a toxic mess while we were dating, here’s how I’ve changed.”

But hey, I’ll be charitable and say that maybe that conversation is still yet to come. So let’s move to the next tone: why now?

Well, you’ve answered that too: it’s been two years and you haven’t dated anyone or gone on any dates since then. Now in fairness, you were also working on yourself and making great strides towards getting yourself in good emotional working order. That’s great, and it understandably means that you wouldn’t have much time for love. Similarly, the pandemic has made it difficult for you to meet people the way you are most comfortable. So you are understandably lonely and likely more than a little affection and touch-starved… rather like the rest of us, really. But while that’s both completely understandable and very relatable… it also means that you’re more likely to make choices that are based more on your current (and temporary) state. While I can completely understand making poor decisions because you’re lonely and horny (been there, done that, literally got a line of merch out of it), it doesn’t stop being a bad decision just because you’re aware that it is one.

That also answers question #4: what you miss right now isn’t her, specifically. You miss having somebody, a relationship in general. It’s not that there’s anything about her in particular that’s calling out to you so much as the fact that she’s there and reached out to you. That, again, is not a great reason to get back with your ex, especially in light of the first three questions.

Now while all of these answers are, frankly, pointing very firmly to “not just no but HELL no,” question #5 may be the most important.

One of the things we rarely stop to think about when we think about getting back with an ex is that we tend to still think of them as they were when we were dating them. In fact, more often than not, we tend to think of them during the best parts of the relationship rather than what things were like towards the end. And that’s understandable; nostalgia is a hell of a drug. But they aren’t a fly trapped in amber, preserved exactly as they were when you were dating. They’ve changed too — hopefully (but not always) for the better. But those changes often mean that they’re different than they were back then, and in ways that mean that you and they may well not be compatible any more.

By the same token though, it’s possible that your ex has grown and changed and gotten over whatever bulls--t made her play stupid games with your emotions. And, again, speaking from experience, part of why I’ve been able to have new relationships with people who broke my heart is because we had frank discussions about what happened. We both owned what we did wrong, apologized to each other and were able to start a new and different relationship from that point on.

It doesn’t sound like you’ve had that experience with your ex. While that doesn’t mean you couldn’t still have that conversation… I’m inclined to doubt that it’s likely. And even if it were to happen, the fact is that the answers to the first four questions are all resoundingly in the negative. That means that, even if she had changed  for the better… you’re still making decisions based on the fact that you want someone, and she’s the most convenient option.

That’s not a great way to rekindle a relationship. Especially one that screwed you over twice.

I think you’re better off keeping your distance from her. I realize that you’re lonely and that dating apps aren’t right for you. While there are other ways of meeting and dating folks during the pandemic, I think it may be better to grit your teeth and white-knuckle your way past this impulse. The truth is that the end is in sight and we can see the light at the end of the tunnel. Cases are dropping worldwide, more and more people are getting vaccinated and new vaccines are being approved in the US, Asia, Africa and Europe. While it’s rough now, we are getting close to returning to something approaching normal.

While I absolutely understand your impatience and your desire… it’s better to be lonely because you’re alone than it is to be lonely because you got back with your toxic ex and she stomped all over your heart and soul again.

You’ve got the strength to get through this UAD. You’ve already proven it. Hang in just a little longer and you’ll be happy, healthy and ready to hit the dating scene like a tornado.

Good luck.

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