DEAR DR. NERDLOVE: I’m a 25-year-old geek girl who just left a very toxic and very long (10 years, beginning in 10th grade and ending one year after I got my Master’s degree) relationship and I need some help figuring out where to go from here.
Getting out of and over the toxic relationship, it turns out, was the easy part (and I’ve felt amazing every day since I left)— the complication comes from the other guy involved.
This other guy (let’s call him Alpha, M/25) was my friend before I met my Toxic Ex (M/28) — in fact, I met the TX chatting with him through Alpha’s group chat. We all remained friends as I dated the TX, even spent some time as roommates and had some threesomes. Anyway, at some point Alpha backed off from hanging out with us, and I later learned it was because he no longer enjoyed spending time with the TX (and seeing me in such bad shape probably didn’t help).
So… down the road a little ways, Alpha joins the army and although I haven’t seen much of him for a few years, I try to meet up with him before he leaves for training. I actually got a hold of him on the day he is leaving a few hours too late to actually see him before he goes. We stay in touch over e-mail, and I regale him with tales of the downward spiral of my life: I had damn near bought a house not just for me and TX, but his father and father’s girlfriend too, got engaged… “sort of,” all the while extremely unhappy and unsure exactly why. 6 months go by and Alpha is back in town for a week, and I make it a point to go see him without the TX, end up hanging out with him and a few of his friends, getting drunk, and staying until pretty late. At this drunken hang out, I get to hear for the first time how Alpha really feels about me (you’re amazing, you deserve to be happy, you could be doing so much more with your life) and how he really feels about the TX (dead weight bum), I talk to other friends who largely agree and realize I HAVE TO GET OUT—NOW! Toxic relationship over, I decide to go see Alpha before he leaves for his duty station in another country 6,000 miles away. We hang out, have AMAZING sex, I leave, he leaves the country.
Since he’s been gone, we’ve talked via e-mail and instant message and we agree that we want to be together, but we don’t want this to be a rebound relationship that ends and ends our friendship as well. And, neither of us wants to see any of my old habits from my toxic relationship surface in this one (although, I think the people involved are so different that it won’t be likely to play out that way as long as long as we communicate and make sure to maintain our own independent lives).
Our best solution to that problem right now is to take some time before we decide that we are “committed” (which makes sense since we can’t see each other in person anyway), but I’m so into him that it’s not likely I’ll go out with other guys, and I think he feels the same way about me. Are we just putting off something we want for no good reason? Should we both try to see other people to avoid getting Oneitis and see how we feel when we have an opportunity to see each other again (a little under a year from now)? Any other suggestions for preventing this from being a temporary rebound situation?
Sorry about the lengthy e-mail, but, like I said—“It’s complicated” doesn’t quite cover it!
– Trying To Not Rebound
DEAR TRYING TO NOT REBOUND: You really have two different problems here.
The first is that you’re worried about rebound relationships and f
king up the friendship.
Both of these are entirely understandable. From the sound of it, he’s been an emotional rock to cling to when you needed it, a great friend, an amazing lay, and someone who you can just relax around and enjoy his companionship, even without the romantic or sexual sides of things. Small wonder that you’d worry about potentially losing him; he sounds like a great guy, and losing a friend like that would be awful.
But I don’t think you need to worry about that.
One of my eternal pet-peeves is the fear of the “rebound” relationship. First and foremost, there’s nothing inherently WRONG with rebounds; the issue that many people assign to it is that they don’t last. Which, hey, not every relationship is SUPPOSED to last until one or both of you die in the saddle. There’s nothing wrong with a short-term relationship or going into one with the understanding that this isn’t forever. Sometimes you need a little reminder that you are lovable and desirable and have option… especially after a bad break-up.
The other is that we tend to define ANY relationship, post-break-up as “a rebound” if it doesn’t work. By definition, then, ANY relationship after your first is a rebound if it doesn’t last beyond an arbitrary time.
Of course, there’s no way of knowing if a relationship is or isn’t a rebound until, y’know. You’re actually IN it.
The REAL problem with so-called rebounds is that they’re what happens when you try to get into a relationship before you’re fully recovered from the last one and you don’t acknowledge this to yourself or your partner. The problem isn’t the time or distance from your previous break-up, it’s not recognizing a short-term relationship for what it is. Setting the wrong expectations is how we end up getting hurt and inadvertently hurting other people.
It’s entirely understandable, however. We all have different reasons for wanting to get back in the game before we’re ready; it may be because we’re trying to prove something to our ex, because we just want A Relationship™ without much regard for the person we wedge into the role or because we’re in love with being in love and don’t stop to realize that we need to absorb how much things have changed in our lives. Regardless of the reasons, we go rushing in, f
k things up and end up hurting ourselves and our partners.
But the other thing we rarely acknowledge: sometimes we’re OVER our previous relationship before we’ve even ended it. That time we’re supposed to spend reflecting and moving on before dating someone new? Sometimes we do that while we’re still dating the person we’re getting ready to leave.
This is why I tend to side-eye folks who complain that so-and-so leapt into a new relationship too quickly; everyone has their own journey, and we’re not privy to what they’ve experienced. What seems like “an obvious rebound” to us could very well be something that person has been ready for, long before their last relationship ended.
Case in point: you already have a pre-existing relationship with Alpha. He’s been your friend lo these many years now. Presumably – considering you had enough attraction and trust to include him in a threesome on occasion – he’s seen you at your worst as well as your best and has a pretty good idea of all of your deepest, darkest personality flaws.
The two of you have clearly cared for one another for a long time as friends. I suspect that slipping into a romantic relationship will be about as difficult as easing into a warm bath on a cold day.
It’s understandable that you might want to take a little time to get used to the idea and to really let your newfound freedom sink in a bit before rushing into a committed relationship, and I support that idea. But I wouldn’t spend too much time or brain cycles worrying about whether or not this is a rebound relationship or what’s going to happen if you don’t work as lovers.
No, the real issue is the distance.
Long distance relationships are difficult under the best of circumstances and life in the military is notoriously rough on relationships. It’s hard enough to keep a regular communication schedule under normal circumstances. It’s another when you’re doing so half a world a way on an irregular time-schedule and when privacy and access to a phone and/or the Internet is at a premium. Right now his life isn’t his own; the Army owns his ass for the foreseeable future so any relationship you have with him is going to be a default poly triad: you, him and the military. I’m not saying it can’t be done – clearly there are plenty of relationships and marriages that survive overseas deployment – but trying to start a relationship that way… well, you’re jumping straight to a New Game+ on Insane difficulty.
So my advice: don’t stress the idea of a rebound. Don’t worry about Oneitis; you’re not really in a situation that lends itself to that condition. Keep in contact and keep the flame going; send flirty emails back and forth, talk about all the hot hot hot things you’re planning to do to each other when he’s back in town (I’d advise being careful sending any sexy pictures; with his current circumstances, his ability to keep them strictly private is incredibly limited) and continue to share your days and conversations together. But don’t call it a relationship juuuust yet. You’re a relationship in potentia. Go out and be social. Date casually if you feel the urge, but with the awareness that your soldier boy is coming home and as soon as he does, you are going to climb him like a goddamn tree.
After the two of you come up for air, THAT’S when you can start talking seriously about being in a committed relationship and figuring out the logistics of how you’re going to make this work.
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