DEAR DR. NERDLOVE: I’m a 26 year old man in an open marriage that’s recently become long distance. This letter isn’t about my relationship with my wife; going long distance has been stressful and problematic but we’re finding ways to cope. There’s also a clear timetable for us to return to co-habitation.
Instead, this is about my former secondary partner, who I first met around the same time as my now-wife. She is a few years younger than me, and at the time that we met had only had one sexual or romantic relationship, while I was considerably more experienced. We quickly settled into a very close friendship with elements of casual sex and BDSM. She always knew about and was incredibly supportive of my relationship with my now wife.
This continued for around 18 months, until my elopement – which she was invited to, and initially planned to attend. She cancelled at the last minute, and we had to scramble quickly to find a replacement witness. A week or so later, she ended the sexual aspect of our relationship.
Fast forward eight months or so, and we rekindled that aspect of our relationship, but it didn’t last long; she started seeing someone new very shortly after, and chose to take a step back again, before starting to ghost me. After a few weeks of relative silence, I called her out on this behavior, which she acknowledged she had been doing; when pressed as to why, she pointed to “a
hole”-like behaviors of mine that I didn’t think were new aspects of our interaction.
At this point, I should point out that I have Asperger’s – which she knew about for a long time, and has experience with family members with the same diagnosis. I apologized without reservation for anything I had done to make her feel uncomfortable and asked for her help in mending any broken bridges. She refused and we haven’t spoken in the four months since; I chose to prioritize self-care as I was going through a difficult period between jobs, arranging my “official” wedding, moving country, and starting a new degree course.
Now that the transition period is over, I’m in a different country from my wife, and I’m finding not having the close friendship I had with my former partner to be very stressful. I miss the role she played in my life, but I also miss her just as a person. I don’t know if there’s any point in trying to talk to her again; when we last spoke, it felt like she made her decision to distance herself from me long before I challenged her over it.
Any ideas on how to fill this gap?
DEAR LONELY POLY: I have seen situations like yours before LP, so I’m wondering about a detail you left out: was your secondary partner interested polyamory before you two got together?
I ask because there’s a tale as old as… well, modern poly relationships anyway… where one party of the triad or quad or what-have-you got dragged into being in a polyamorous relationship as the only way of being with their partner. They aren’t happy with being poly, doubly so if they’re not primary, but they take it as a price of entry into the relationship with their snugglebunny. For a while everything tends to be fine… right up until their partner and his or her primary decide to be serious. Maybe it’s getting married, maybe it’s deciding to have a kid or buy a house together, but some form of “this is now a serious relationship” has taken place.
The problem is that, up until this point, the reluctant poly person was able to handle things. Maybe they harbor the fantasy that maybe they’d be primary. Or – even better – they may believe that if they stick in there, they may finally get to be the exclusive partner. But now that the primary pair have solidified their commitment, the secondary is in a quandary: either they have to give up on the fantasy that things will change or they have to give up on the relationship.
More often than not, they tend to choose the latter.
Is this what happened? I don’t know. The timing of your secondary’s exit – both from your wedding and the relationship – certainly implies this. The fact that your rekindled relationship didn’t last and she proceeded to start cutting you out also suggests to me that she tried again and just couldn’t handle it.
But again, I could well be wrong, and correlation isn’t causation. I’ve only got what you tell me to work with, and you kind of elide over certain details like what those “a
hole behaviors” were. It could just as easily be that she got tired of your s
t (you know, the “usual aspects” of your relationship) and the fact that things hadn’t changed meant that she decided to “Nope” the hell out again afterwards. Your behavior running up to the wedding could just as easily have become insufferable and while she was leaving you in the lurch, “that’s all she can stands ‘cuz she can’t stands no more,” to paraphrase my sailor grandpa.
The only person who can tell you the real reason is your friend and… well, she doesn’t seem to be in a sharing mood. Her continued radio silence is likely her own form of self-care. Maybe she’s still pissed at your behavior. Maybe she realized that she’s the Martha to your Ten and had to get out of a situation that she knew was bad for her. Either way, you’re probably going to have to accept that she’s gone. It’s good to want to be friends after a break-up but some people won’t want it back. Sometimes there really is no bridging that particular gap and there’s nothing left to do but just accept it and move on.
So as much as it sucks – and it really sucks when a treasured friendship ends – you may just have to let this friendship go. If you can learn from it and not make any mistakes you may have made the next time, then that’s some value you can take from it. But unfortunately, the best thing you can do now is let her go and find some new friends. If she ever decides to come back, it’ll be her decision and on her terms.
DEAR DR. NERDLOVE: I’m dealing with a guy who won’t take a hint, and it’s starting to freak me out. Imagine the most “Nice Guy” of nice guy behaviors, and you’ve got this fellow. I’ve worked part-time in a cafe for about three years, and he started working there about a year and a half ago. After a few months of working together he decided he had a huge crush on me. I rejected him, and he physically assaulted me by trapping me inside a booth against the wall at a bar and hugging me until I literally started screaming. (I was there with my friends, and he just decided to invite himself. I don’t know how he got the info about where we were.)
About eight months ago he told me again that he has a huge crush on me. I tried my best to deflect.
Fast forward to now. He’s been pushing his friendship on me really hardcore in the past six months or so. I try to keep it at arm’s length (I will never trust someone who has so blatantly ignored my “no”) but I’m non-confrontational and I’m definitely feeling the effects of my female socialization to “keep the peace,” despite the fact that I *hate* feeling like that. I partly thought that was a safer option because he’d been seeing someone else so I assumed he stopped liking me. Unfortunately, when I’m at work and he’s chatting my ear off or when he’s incessantly texting me, sometimes it’s easier to just reply than to ask him to back off. Because when I do put my foot down he throws a big “woe is me” party and is impossible to work with, not just for me but for everyone.
In the past month he’s been bending over backwards to try to hang out with me alone. No amount of me saying “I’m busy,” “I already have plans,” “no thank you,” or even “I have a date tonight” has hindered the attempts. This behavior clued me in that his romantic feelings clearly hadn’t died, but I tried to ignore it in a naive hope that it would go away. Then he recently sent me a long text message not just asking me out, but extolling all these reasons he likes me and thinks I’m basically more awesome than other people. (Ugh. I don’t want to be anyone’s unicorn.) Though he included a bit about respecting my friendship regardless of my answer, I’m (justifiably) skeptical about that.
I wrote him back and firmly said I’m not interested. He appeared to accept my answer. Since then, though, he’s texted me several times and mentioned the situation in a roundabout way, always implying that he wants to hear from me. Normally I would write back and tell him, straight up, that he needs to respect my boundaries and leave me alone. I’ve done it with people before. But because we have to work together I’m afraid that if I say something direct, he’ll just throw a tantrum and I’ll end up suffering. (For context: I told my manager about the physical assault, but because it didn’t happen at work there wasn’t much the manager could do other than ask me how to make work more comfortable for me.)
I KNOW I need to stop catering to him when he pushes his friendship on me, and I need to stand firm and tell him to respect my boundaries. I want to tell him to back off, but all I can think about is last time I rejected this dude I got physically assaulted. By the way, I’m 27, and he’s a decade older than me.
Seriously…please help me. I don’t know how to do what I know I need to do.
– Respect. My. Boundaries.
DEAR RESPECT MY BOUNDARIES: OK I’m going to start this with a HOLY HOPPING SHEEP S
T PINNING YOU IN THE BOOTH LIKE THAT IS GODDAMN NOT ACCEPTABLE. Jesus Christ, I’m kind of astounded you don’t mace the guy on principle at this point.
You know what you need to do, RMB, and I think you’re asking me for permission to do it. So… permission granted. You need to tell him, straight up, to step off. No soft “no’s” – he clearly gets them, he’s just ignoring them. No, you have to draw on your training in Kun L’un and focus your chi until your “no” becomes like unto a thing of iron. Leave no room for doubt: you don’t like him, you don’t want to be friends, you definitely don’t want to date him and you really don’t appreciate the bulls
t he pulls to get your attention. And then you go full nuclear on him: block his number, his Facebook account, his Twitter feed, everything.
Now, when you do confront him, you may want to have a friend (or two) for back-up. He’s already assaulted you once when you rejected him; it’s not unreasonable for you to be worried that he might do so again or – worse – escalate. So enlist some friends to be your brute-squad and, if necessary, run interference if he tries to roll up on you again. It may also be a good idea to tell your manager that this is an ongoing problem – one verging into harassment. Looping them in may well be a good idea, if only so that you can do things like get scheduled to work completely different shifts from this guy. If he does starts to get threatening or pushy after you’ve told him, then it’s time to seriously consider talking to the police and the wisdom of a restraining order.
What you shouldn’t do is shoulder any responsibility for what he does. Dude is a grown-ass adult; if he throws a tantrum or has a public sad, that’s on him, not you. You’re not responsible for managing his fee-fees, nor are you there to pick up the slack if his pity party makes him unable to do his goddamn job. Either he can put on his big-boy pants and deal with the rejection or he can suffer the consequences of his own behavior. You are not responsible for him in any way, shape or form.
So. Tell him off (with backup), tell your manager and leave him to have his sad. And if he gets worse: talk to the cops.
Good luck, RMB.
DEAR DR. NERDLOVE: Love your site and it’s definitely been an inspiration, I just recently bought your book New Game+ and have been reading through it to try to get more insight into all the areas of social interactions that I never understood.
Your story regarding being “The one who wasn’t good with girls,” really hits home for me. I’m 26 now and I feel like I’m struggling with trying to become a better version of myself as quickly as possible so I’m doing too much at once just so that I can attract women because I feel lonely and honestly go through long stretches of dry spells which compounds everything. It feels like I’m not being authentic and I don’t know how to get the constant drone of “Sex, sex, sex, sex,” from out of my head. The ironic process theory struggle is real, so any insight or wisdom you could offer on re-calibrating my goals and/or fixing my mindset so that I can actually progress would be greatly appreciated.
Thanks for making an awesome site!
New Man Plus
DEAR NEW MAN PLUS: It’s awesome that you’re putting in the work NMP! But – as paradoxical as it may seem – the best thing you can do right now is ease back on the throttle. I get that you want to improve as quickly as possible, but it gets really easy to take on too much at once and end up not doing any of it well. Start by recognizing that this is an ongoing process, a marathon, not a sprint. You want to conserve your emotional and mental energy so that you don’t gas out midway through. This is a lifestyle change, not a crash diet; slow changes are easier to absorb into your life and make it part of you. Plus: as much as you may want to get to the end goal as fast as you can, enjoying the process of improvement can be critical… especially since you may find that what you want changes as you do.
So take a breath. You’ve started down the path. You’ll get there, as long as you don’t exhaust yourself in the process.
Please send your questions to Dr. NerdLove at his website (www.doctornerdlove.com/contact); or to his email, email@example.com)