DEAR DR. NERDLOVE: I’m having a hard time maintaining a post-breakup relationship.
This is the first time I (she/her) am making an effort to stay friends with my ex (he/him). We’ve been together for three years, sharing an apartment for 1.5 years. I ended things 4 months ago and moved out 1 month ago.
Since the breakup, he has asked me multiple times in different ways if I could imagine some form of cuddling/sex and I have always clearly said “no”. This was even a source of arguments when we were still together because I hadn’t been sleeping with him for some months…
A few days ago we spent the first evening together as really just friends and just the two of us and contrary to my fears it went pretty nice! We cooked, talked, listened to music. To me it felt nice and friendly, not too close or boundary crossing. Two days later he messages me “I guess this still doesn’t change the fact that you don’t want us to be closer? Sure, we had tasty food, a bottle of wine, listened to some cuddle-compatible music…”
My first instinct: Damn it, I shouldn’t have done that! I was getting his hopes up with this atmosphere.
On second thoughts: Wait, I told him a million times that I don’t want to get physical with him. Do I really have to engineer our time in a way it does not get too cozy or send any ‘vibes’? Can I only put on death metal when we’re together so that there won’t be ‘that kind of mood’? Noooooo? Is it simply too soon to be friends like this?
So I messaged him that I feel like I have to state clearly for one last time that I won’t ever kiss him again or anything and that it stresses me out that I have to repeat it.
His reaction (in short): Stop mind-reading me, I was asking a question! Stop projecting your worries onto me! You don’t understand me anyways.
Grrrarg. Am I overthinking this? Am I mind-reading him? In a way I shouldn’t? I have a really hard time understanding his message any other way than “Is there a tiny chance we can bang now that we drank wine and listened to some mellow music together”? Am I crazy?
Thank you so much
Navigating Muddy Waters
DEAR NAVIGATING MUDDY WATERS: No, you’re not overthinking this. Your ex is invested in the idea that you’ve changed your mind – or that you will, eventually – about sex with him. He has his desired outcome – sex with you – and is working backwards from there. There’s literally nothing you could do that your ex isn’t going to take as a signal. If you were drinking Topo Chico and listening to Gorgoroth, he would still find some way to frame it as your sending him a vibe somehow.
This is a form of Nice Guy behavior; he knows what the answer is, but he’s trying not to hear it. He wants the answer to be yes – or at least “eventually” – so he will twist himself into logical pretzels to justify holding on to hope that your resolve is weakening. He will take almost anything as proof that maybe things are finally coming up Milhouse. Whether it’s the fact that you drank wine instead of beer or soft drinks, the music that was playing or just the tone of voice when you said “no”, he will latch on to anything that he can point to to say that you’re changing your mind. This way, he can frame himself as a romantic hero instead of a habitual line-stepper.
The problem is, well… you’re refusing to play along with his fantasy. You’re stubbornly refusing to heed the siren call of his boner and so he’s getting frustrated. Moreover, he also knows that his place in your life is precarious; as much as he keeps stepping over the line, he realizes that if he pushes too hard, you’re going to run out of patience. Since his plans to get you back in bed are predicated on maintaining this “friendship”, he knows that he needs to keep you from kicking him to the curb. Except you’ve just called him out on his crap. So he does what many, many lame dudes have done before: he puts it on you. You’re imagining things. You’re reading too much into it. You never understood him and that’s not what he’s like at all. It’s bulls
t; dude is as transparent as glass. But we live in a culture that continually teaches women to not trust their own instincts or even their own lived experiences and so you get that nagging feeling in the back of your mind. Is he right? Are you sending him mixed messages?
No. No you aren’t. You’ve been clear about your boundaries and that sex is never, ever going to happen. He just doesn’t like the answer.
And here’s the thing: under other circumstances, somebody wanting to make sure they weren’t catching a vibe would be reasonable. There’s nothing inherently wrong with a person double-checking about whether they were reading things correctly or not. But those aren’t the circumstances in your case. You’ve been saying “no, nein, nyet, nu-uh” over and over again. You have smacked him upside the head with a clue-by-four with the words “NOT INTERESTED” carved into it and he’s chosen to not pay attention.
So since the Clue By Four didn’t work, it’s time for the Chair Leg of Truth instead, and the Chair Leg of Truth is wise and terrible. This dude is going to keep pushing at your boundaries because he isn’t interested in being told no. So you need to tell him, for the last time: Not just no but HELL NO and not only do you not appreciate his constant pushing and line-stepping but the way he tries to put that on you instead. And if he’s going to keep acting like this, then you’re going to have to make sure he gets the message by choosing the Nuclear Option and dropping him like 5th period French.
You can give him a last chance if you really feel the need. But just between you, me and everyone reading this, I am here from the future to tell you: he’s going to pull this crap again. He’s a habitual line-stepper. It’s what he does. And I think you’ll be much happier in the long run if you kick him to the curb with the quickness.
DEAR DR. NERDLOVE: So a girl I’ve hung out with constantly for the past 7 months turned me down when I asked her out for a date. I was cool with it and now she seems angry that I moved on and is trying to make me jealous on social media and showing up places I go with other guys. My guy and girl friends confirm this seems to be the case.
Why is she acting like this when she rejected me?
If it makes a difference, she’s really shy and introverted
Shot Down In Flames
DEAR SHOT DOWN IN FLAMES: There are two possibilities here, SDIF.
The first is that, as someone who’s shy and introverted, she changed her mind and doesn’t know how to tell you. So now she’s playing these weird games to try to get you to ask her out again instead of muscling up and using her words like a grown-ass adult.
The other is that just because she didn’t want to date you doesn’t mean that she didn’t like the attention, SDIF. Some people get a thrill about knowing that somebody’s got a thing for them, even if they themselves aren’t interested. It’s a boost to the ego to know that somebody’s into you and some people dig the sense of power it gives them over that person.
It sounds like your friend is one of those people. So while she may not have wanted to date you, she enjoyed the attention you were giving her. When you took “no” for an answer like a gentleman and moved on, it meant that she wasn’t going to have that same hold on you. So she may not want you, she doesn’t want anyone else to have you either. So now she wants you to get jealous and start competing for her attention and affection.
Either way, it’s a stupid game. And when you play stupid games, you win stupid prizes. These aren’t the actions of someone with high social and emotional intelligence. Even if she is having second thoughts about turning you down, these games are a strong indication that you lucked out when she turned you down.
You made the right choice when you moved on. I suggest you keep on moving and leave her and her games behind.
DEAR DR. NERDLOVE: I’m taking a big step this spring and moving in with my boyfriend. After a year of long distance, we can’t wait and it’s the first time either of us have lived with a significant other. But last night, as I clipped my toenails in bed, I asked myself – am I gross?
Being away from him, relishing my privacy, I might have picked up a few indecent habits along the way. And what about the rest of my adult life? My underwear is ancient (I’ve had it since high school). I really like the taste of anchovies. I pop the occasion zit. You get the point.
Should I clean up my act? Or expect him to embrace my foibles?
(Probably) Kinda Gross
DEAR PROBABLY KINDA GROSS: Not gonna lie, PKG, I cringed a little about clipping your toenails in bed. Not the activity, just the location; I mean, the idea of those suckers getting caught in the sheets and scratching you as you’re trying to sleep? Geh.
But honestly, you seem, to be conflating “being gross” with “having a body and existing in physical space”. We’re sacks of tapioca and bacon piloting meat robots, which means we’re going to experience the weirdness that flesh is heir to. You’re going to need to trim your nails. You’ll have ingrown hairs in inconvenient places that need to be taken care of. You’re going to fart, belch and piss. Unless you’re dating someone who is under the impression that you’re an incredible simulacra of a human being, biological processes are going to happen. Trying to pretend they don’t is just idiotic.
Now in fairness, there was a point where women were expected to pretend that they didn’t fart, sweat or require any maintenance whatsoever. There are women of our grandparents’ generation who would get up hours before their husbands so that their husbands never saw them without makeup on.
It was absurd then and it’s even more absurd now. Part of living together is the increased comfort and intimacy with living with someone. That means learning to adapt and live with their picadillos and all the various ways that our bodies do weird crap. And with that increased comfort comes increased acceptance that goes from “afraid to acknowledge that you use the bathroom on occasion” to “Hey honey, come look at this incredibly messed up thing.” Because there’s only so much pretending that you don’t have biological functions that you can do before you start getting weird.
To be sure, there are some things that are reasonable things to ask for. Cleaning one’s hair out of the drain in the shower, making sure one doesn’t miss the toilet in the middle of the night, not leaving snotty tissues on every flat surface… these are all things that should come standard when you’re shacking up with someone.
But loving somebody and living with them means accepting that they’re meatbags, same as you. That means there’re going to be times when one of you will rip a fart in the shower that’s so loud, the other will hear it in the kitchen. And then they can either pretend that they‘ve never had a gastrointestinal system… or you can give them the highest of fives.
Please send your questions to Dr. NerdLove at his website (www.doctornerdlove.com/contact); or to his email, firstname.lastname@example.org)