DEAR DR. NERDLOVE: I’ve been a long-time reader of your articles, and after so many years, I now find myself in need of your advice. It’s a bit of a long story. For context, I am a single 27-year-old man, and the woman in question is my ex, and is about to turn 26. We both work in the same profession. I’ll start with the background first.
In the fall of 2018, my ex and I first met when we were working together at a new internship. We clicked instantly, and the attraction was mutual. We began dating almost immediately. I have no doubt about the sincerity and genuineness of the relationship at the time; I have never been happier, and she loved me and appreciated who I was and what I could provide. Having said that, I need to say that at the time, she was married — to a man who I later found out was emotionally abusing her, before and during our own relationship.
Unfortunately for me, this was also my first ever relationship, which means I made some mistakes of my own, and those mistakes — combined with her renewed desire to try to make her marriage work — resulted in her ending our relationship in December of 2018. I was absolutely heartbroken.
This was not just some work affair or side thing for me — she was my girlfriend, and I was devastated. So much so that I ended up making the mistake of playing the “We can still be friends” card on the table, and ended up locking myself into that emotional prison for a further four months, until in April of 2019, she finally made me promise not to contact her anymore, because she was committed her decision and wanted to focus on that relationship. And I agreed, because I wanted her to be happy, and because I could understand where she was coming from.
And so it was for nearly eleven months. As I’m sure you know, going no contact cold turkey from a person you WANT to be with is one of the most horrible experiences a person could have. In my case, I developed depression, felt lonely and miserable, and I even sought help in a support group for failed relationships to find solace. Not one day went by that I didn’t think about her, and — surprise surprise — I was, and am, still in love with her. After so long without hearing from her, I eventually wrote an acceptance letter to her which I did not send, and I’m quoting myself here, “because I had to let her go.” That’s where I was.
Imagine my shock, then, when she did reach out to me! Almost eleven months later! It felt like a miracle. She wasn’t sure if I wanted to hear from her (she couldn’t have been more wrong), but she said that she was finally leaving him for good, due to the continued emotional abuse, and that she thought of me. We have been texting daily since (as of this letter, almost a week), and have even had a short phone call. I haven’t been this happy in a long time. I missed having my friend in my life. But I also miss having her as my girlfriend. And that, finally, is where my question begins.
Dr. NerdLove: I am still in love with my ex, who is now formally separating from her husband. I want her and I to try again. I want us back together. Should I tell her? How should I tell her? When? And is there any hope for us, in such a complex situation?
I have been happy talking to her as normal, and discussing our work and so forth, but when she left, I told her that I loved her and would always welcome her back; surely she’s at least considered the possibility of trying again, otherwise, why reach out to me at all? I can tell she’s a bit different now: she seems a little distant and sad, and a tad overworked, perhaps as a coping mechanism. I want to support her, but I’m not sure how.
To make matters even more complicated, right now, my ex is still located near me, but when she graduates from school, she will be moving back home to Texas, and then after that, when she acquires her license, she will be moving one state over from me (I’m in Virginia) to begin her dream job. Which means even assuming that she wants to actually rekindle our relationship– which is still a huge unknown and may not even be a possibility — it’s going to be forced to take on a long-distance component very soon. But I can deal with that. After having once gone fourteen months without seeing her, there’s very little now I wouldn’t do to be able to be with her.
Doctor, is there any hope for us? And is there anything I can do to let her know that I don’t care about the past, but that I do want to be there for her in her future? I love her so much, but I feel like a compass that doesn’t know where true north is anymore.
Thank you for reading, I know it was long, but if this is or can be a second chance, I want to do it right this time, and any advice or insight is appreciated.
DEAR STILL WAITING: Hoo boy.
So… this was a bad scene, SW. Dating someone who was married, not in an open relationship and whose marriage was apparently an abusive s
tshow is usually not a recipe for happily ever after, especially since it was your first relationship. While there are couples who start out that way, it’s an uphill climb at best, and this being your first serious relationship turns that particular learning curve into more of a learning precipice. Doubly so with the fact you were having a really hard time sticking the landing with the “let’s just be friends” part afterwards. Trying to be friends after a relationship almost always requires time away, if only so that you can actually start to get over the break-up and move on.
You… didn’t do that. I mean, things were bad enough that she basically had to initiate the Nuclear Option on you, because you couldn’t let things go. And it doesn’t sound like you did any better afterwards; it sounds like you were soaking in a lot of misery and angst about her and weren’t really able to move forward. In fact, it sounds a lot like you were (and are) still neck deep in it when she reached out to you.
That doesn’t exactly fill me with confidence about your state of mind regarding all of this.
Here’s the thing about getting back together with your ex: the only way it works is if things have actually changed. If the circumstances that broke you up are still in play, if you (or they) haven’t changed or grown past them or resolved those issues, then all you’re doing is setting yourself up for the 12″ dance remix of your first break up. And if I’m being honest with you: it doesn’t sound like that’s the case. To start with, there was the marriage issue. Her marriage wasn’t the problem that you two had… not in the way that you think, anyway. While you were seeing this as an amazing relationship and one that could last the ages, I suspect that… well, you were more of her attempt at ejecting out of the flaming mess that was her marriage. One of the reasons people will cheat is because they’re slamming their hand down on the “relationship self-destruct” button. In cases where a partner is being abused or mistreated, finding a piece on the side is often a way people will try to motivate themselves to get out; it’s both incentive to leave and a reminder that you have options. While I don’t doubt that she genuinely cares for you, I strongly suspect that you and she had very different ideas about what this relationship was — even if she wasn’t aware of what her idea of it was, yet.
I also suspect that’s part of why she’s reaching out to you after all this time; you’re a connection to a normal life without her now ex, a reminder that happier times can and do exist. What I don’t think she’s looking for is to rekindle your relationship.
And honestly, that’s a good thing, for the both of you. Like I said: trying to make a post-break-up relationship work involves time and distance so that you can heal and move on. You haven’t done that. Hell, you were barely entering the acceptance stage when she called you out of the blue. Now that she’s back, all those hopes and dreams that you’d been clinging to, the ones that were starting to burn down to embers have flared back up again. But while you’re a little bit older, and a little more aware of the mistakes that you’ve made, I’m not entirely sure that you’ve actually internalized those lessons. You can’t really do that while you’re still holding out hope that you’re going to be able to pick things back up and they’ll be like they were before.
But all that is before we tack on the complication of her future and yours. She’s already got plans to up stakes and head back to Texas once she’s gotten her degree and her future is going to be keeping her at a distance from you. While, again, relationships can and have survived long-distance — even intercontinental distances — that’s still playing at a level that, frankly, I don’t think you’re ready for.
I think what you need, more than anything else, is to let this one go so that you can heal. I get that you want your friend back in your life, but in the state that you’re in, I don’t think you’re going to be able to separate “having her as a friend” and “holding onto the hope of getting her back”. Which means that you’re not even going to have a replay of your first break-up… you’re going to have a replay of the second time, when she told you that she couldn’t be in contact with you anymore.
I get it. Believe me. I fully empathize with you because I’ve been there, done that — repeatedly — and got my heart stamped on — again, repeatedly. Telling her you want her back is just going to be inviting more misery into your life. The only question is how quickly.
I think your best decision here is to keep your distance. You can be friends, but it’s going to require space because you still aren’t over her. You need to heal, which you can’t do while you’re trying to win her back.
If you two have that connection that makes you good, close friends, then you’ll still be good, close friends when you pick things back up down the line. But if you try to rekindle things instead? I think all that’s going to happen is that you’re going to end up hurting yourself worse and shutting that potential friendship down before it has a chance to be rebuilt.
Please send your questions to Dr. NerdLove at his website (www.doctornerdlove.com/contact); or to his email, firstname.lastname@example.org