DEAR DR. NERDLOVE: I’ve been a big fan and avid reader since 2016. So where to start, I don’t have great social skills that I can act on with gusto, usually I get told I’m a great flirt and wonderful person but I tend to flirt without doing much thought. It’s weird but due to the advice I read on your various blogs I was able to meet someone amazing back in 2017 and ended up dating that person.
For background: I was a 23 year old male chef who honestly gave up on dating after an abusive relationship I had the strength to cut off and decided to be single to focus on work. Well plans change, and I met a 37 year old woman at my job who I got along with right away and ended up falling in love with right before we started dating. We worked close everyday and called all the time and got close fast, to the point where we confessed our love a night before Christmas and met up and had our first kiss together.
Now a problem I have always had was my lack of meaningful relationship experience, as my longest relationship before this was about a year two years before and it ended badly. Before that well, they lasted about four months or less I’m sad to say. With this relationship I understood most of the do’s and don’ts of past failures, so in truth I was finally comfortable. A big shout-out to you on that one, Thank You!!
I ended up being with this woman, we will call S, for over two and a half years. We were together from December 2017 to July 2020 and in that time, we grew madly in love and understood that we wanted to be married. So, why aren’t we together? Well I was unfaithful; not physically cheating but emotional cheating to the point where it was understandable if people thought I was cheating. I didn’t love anyone else, it was an attention factor. I have major depression and it came back strong, and I was too proud to get help or even talk to S for reassurance and, well, I had trust issues. We had fought about this issue a lot of times since June 2019 and she finally ended things in July 2020. She’d had enough because she couldn’t trust me anymore. I had issues stemming from my lack of high school dating and social circle (or lack thereof). I started working on giving up my vices. I was an alcoholic until August 2017, I even deleted my social media when we were trying to fix it because that was my enabler to flirt with others. This helped for a while — to the point we were planning a wedding and even wanting kids. Unfortunately I ended up lying about school work and she had it, I understand now was no excuse and she was right for leaving me. Knowing this didn’t make it easier to cope with.
We still communicated a lot after this, to the point where it felt like we were still dating and so it created this continuous hurt for her and me. She told me she moved on in December 2020 and did not want to text since she had entered a relationship. I was crushed completely and chose to focus on my studies. I started college in June 2018 for a bachelor’s degree in Digital Cinematography; I’d ended up messing my grades up when we first fought a year after starting so I was a year behind in grades with F’s across the board. I have since fixed my studies, I am about to graduate in December of this year and I have A’s across the board.
I’m now 26, my studies are better, my professors love my work and are encouraging to be a TA, and around March, S contacted me on the phone and she told me that she can’t get over me because she still loved me and still wants to be with me, but she’s incredibly scared. We talked for over two hours, just laughing and crying and… well, it felt like that night we confessed our love. It was great because we got everything out, and she understood I changed for the better. S was happy with the grades, and the fact that I had I let go of stupid issues about my dad (forgave him for leaving), high school (understood that’s not who I am), and low self-esteem (I started exercising, reading more, and talking to more people (even if it’s 6-feet and neighbors)). She thanks you for all that by the way. S even told me she was not over me and understood I wasn’t over her. At the time, she had said that she doesn’t know if she wanted to be with me again because I had hurt her to the point she couldn’t believe me at all. Now she does trust me again, I am being 100% truthful to her as well and only talking to her as I decided to focus on school and platonic relationships. In the limited correspondence so far, we’ve been taking things slow, in case the hurt becomes too much for us. She has sent various texts and songs that show she still has incredible feelings for our relationship. She has said she still loves me and still has dreams of us being married. I still love her and I would still marry her tomorrow.
Now my question Doc, should I hope that we could be together again even after the hurt I did? I mean I have changed, in a positive manner, and gotten my teen-douche-f--k boy out. Should I do everything to help her see I changed and show that I am that guy she fell in love with back then? I have talked to her but she wanted time to think, that was the beginning of May. Or should I start to protect myself and hold back my feelings? I’m sorry this is a long, long message, I’m trying to cover almost 4 years, any advice you have Doc would be greatly appreciated.
DEAR WORTH LOVING: WL… honestly, you’re asking the wrong question. I’m not entirely sure why you’re asking if you could get back with your ex, because it sounds to me like S wants you back as much as you want her. Everything you’ve written makes it sound like this is a “for f--k’s sake, take ‘yes’ for an answer already” situation.
But as I said, the question you should be asking isn’t “can you get back with her?”, it’s “should you?”
When people ask me whether they should try to get back with your ex, most of the time, the answer is “no”. A lot of times, people want to get back with their ex out of a fear of being alone, the allure of nostalgia and the golden times of the start of the relationship, sometimes even just because they want the thing that they can’t have. But more often than not, the biggest issue is that now that their ex is out of their lives, they’re thinking about the early days when everything was new and fresh and exciting. What they don’t think about is why they broke up. Sure, they may remember the fights and and the conflicts… but nostalgia puts a soft blur on everything that dulls the sharp edges and takes the venom out of the arguments. It’s very easy to get lost in the haze of memory and convince yourself that things weren’t that bad, right?
And yes. Usually they were. As a general rule, your ex is an ex for a reason, and those reasons don’t change just because you’re aching for the highlight reel of what your relationship had been. Assuming that it had actually even been that good in the first place.
So when people come to me to ask whether they should try to get back with their ex, I have a series of questions that they need to answer before I’ll give them my answer.
Question #1: Why did you break up in the first place?
Question #2: Has the reason why you broke up changed?
Question #3: Why Now?
Question #4: Do you miss THEM, or do you miss what they represent?
Question #5: Are they right for you, NOW?
It’s important to answer these questions honestly and completely, because otherwise all you’re doing is signing up for heartbreak… and that’s assuming that your ex would even be open to coming back. If you haven’t addressed the issues that get drawn out by these questions, then all you’re doing is signing up for the 12″ dance remix of your previous break up… the same old song, just faster and with a more intense beat.
Most of the time, people haven’t thought things through. They’re so caught up in just the emotional pain of missing their ex — or, more often, missing what they remember — that they don’t realize that nothing has changed. Either the fundamental conflicts or incompatibilities are still there, or they’re reacting to being lonely, or they’re trying to recapture the feeling of dating them and not the reality. Sometimes, it’s not even about their ex, it’s really about them; they don’t like being the one who was dumped or who got left behind.
But if they can answer these questions in such a way that, yes, it seems clear that it’s possible to make things work now… then it becomes a question of whether it’s even worth trying. Knowing whether you have changed or circumstances have changed is only half the battle. There’s also, y’know, their ex. And a lot of times, it doesn’t matter how much growing or changing they’ve done, their ex isn’t interested in trying again. The hurt may have been too deep. Their ex may have changed too and isn’t the person they were when they were dating. Or their ex has simply moved on, and it would be a better use of everyone’s time and energy if they would too.
Now if we look at your situation, it seems like you’ve pretty handily answered most of the questions. You clearly understand why you two broke up, and it seems pretty clear that you have put in a lot of effort to address the issues that lead to your breaking up. You did the wise thing: you took a long, hard look at yourself and decided to make some very necessary changes. That’s really admirable; it shows a level of maturity, self-awareness and emotional intelligence that a lot of folks lack. It also says a lot that you were doing this for yourself, and not just in the name of getting S back.
Question number 3 is also an easy answer. Why now? Because S reached out to you, first. Question number 4, likewise, seems to be answered; you pretty clearly understand what you had with S and what you gave up because you were busy being an insecure bag of slop who was looking for validation in places that didn’t serve your needs.
Now question number 5 is the tricky one. It’s been a while, you’ve grown and changed… but so has S. While you two may still have feelings for each other, as the poets say: “sometimes love just ain’t enough”. Part of what’s going to be important for the two of you moving forward is that you don’t rush things. Just as the early, intoxicating days of New Relationship Energy can make you overlook problems and incompatibilities, the dopamine and oxytocin rush of getting back together can be just as blinding. It can be very easy to get lost in the chemical and emotional rush of starting the relationship again and not realize that neither of you is who you were before. And while that means that the previous problems are no longer in effect, that doesn’t guarantee that you’re still compatible. People grow and change, and sometimes those changes mean that you’ve grown apart.
So it’s a good thing that you and S are taking things slowly. In fact, I would advise that you two continue to do so. I know you feel as though you could marry her tomorrow, but you need to put the brakes on that. It’s going to be a while before you and S are going to have the clarity and perspective to see whether you can work together now. This is going to be especially true on your end. Yes, she trusts you now, but the pain of the previous relationship is still there. You’re going to have to show that you’re trustworthy and live your life as a man of integrity. It’s a lot easier to do this at the start, when everything is exciting. It gets a lot harder when the twitterpated stage has faded and you don’t have that NRE to help with the emotional lifting.
My advice in your case is to proceed with caution. That’s not to say that there isn’t reason to hope; from everything you’ve laid out in your letter, things look very promising and hopeful. It certainly sounds like there’s every reason to believe that you two could make this work. But it’s all too easy to get caught up in the excitement and dive in head first, only to realize that things were shallower and rockier than you knew. So I would say to continue to take things slowly. Think of this as an extended courtship; talk, date, and continue to test the waters. Just don’t lose your head and commit to anything more than next week. You need to treat this like a new relationship, not like you were picking up where you left off. Otherwise, the two of you run the risk of breaking your hearts a second time… and that’s going to hurt even worse than the first time you went through it.
Please send your questions to Dr. NerdLove at his website (www.doctornerdlove.com/contact); or to his email, firstname.lastname@example.org