DEAR DR. NERDLOVE: I’m dating this girl, yeah its not really a get the girl story, so I’m not sure you might have some advice for this, but I’m pretty hopeful cause its actually been pretty stressful.
Now, back on the subject, my girl, when we’d been dating 2 months, started talking to her ex about how she wanted badly to be with him, and to give a little bit of backstory to this ass, he was her boyfriend from the time she was 14 to 17. He went out with other women while they were going out, telling her that his family was making him and that it meant nothing. He got another woman pregnant right after they broke up, a month or 2 after she found out for sure she was, she broke up with him. So, something about this guy that she hasn’t thought about most likely got a pregnant woman to prefer to raise this child by herself and balance college she’s now going to along with it…
Anyway! more to the point, since then I’ve just been having tons of times where I wonder if she really wants to be with me. In her defense, ever since she talked about it with him, she’s been trying hard to make it up to me, and I know this is probably something you can’t really give quality advice for, but I’ve been hearing good things about your advice so, I’m wondering what advice you can give on this, break up with her, make rules, etc? I’m not really sure what the thing to do is for getting completely past this…
Second Choice, Last Place
DEAR SECOND CHOICE, LAST PLACE: This is one of those times when I wish you’d given more information, SCLP, especially your respective ages. I’d love to know, for example, how old you and your girlfriend are, how long an interval it had been between when she broke up with her ex and when she started dating you.
This is one of those times when age and distance from the previous relationship are very, very relevant. Especially since the two of you sound so very young.
Now I realize that I am offically An Old, and I would prefer not to think of how long it’s been since my high-school days. But one thing I remember very well is just how intense and chaotic and confusing everything was and how very important everything would be.
On the one hand, I kinda envy that level of certainty and self-assurance that everything mattered, that every relationship would be A Love To Last The Ages and the ability to feel everything so very intensely.
On the other hand, I also remember how that meant that everything was a constant stream of drama that meant that everything was more important than everything else that had just preceded it. And while those highs were very, very high, those lows were abyssal, and there was very rarely ever any rest between the two. And let me tell you with the voice of experience: the roller coaster ride is only exciting because it’s brief. When everything is a constant interplay of highest highs and lowest lows with nothing in between, it becomes exhausting. And worse, without the moments of calm – the time between the last drop and the next climb to the ride – it goes from being exhilarating to nightmarish.
So I say this with the full acknowledgement that my advice is going to have a harder time landing in the face of the surge of hormones, the chaos of trying to figure out who you are, and the emotional hurricane of trying to navigate adult-ish relationships without the experience and perspective that comes with age: chill, my dude.
Here’s the thing: your respective ages and the length of time it’s been since your girlfriend broke up are going to be incredibly relevant and intertwined with each other like horny snakes.
Let’s start with that teenage chaos aspect. This is a two-fold issue. First is, like I said: you’re at a period of radical transition in your life, and that’s going to be pretty significant. The physical changes that kicked off with puberty mixed with being expected to behave like mature adults, despite having little life experience with which to gauge things, trying to create your own identity separate from your parents’ and figure out your place in the world – amongst your peers and family, at your school and in your immediate future – mean that everything is louder than everything else. The inherent drama of being a teenager is exciting, even when it’s stressful, and that excitement feels a lot like the thrill of New Relationship Energy. Especially when it’s your first relationship, and the only basis you have for comparison are what the stories you’ve read, songs you listen to and movies you’ve seen tell you to expect.
(Incidentally, the whole “our brains aren’t fully developed until 25” bit that keeps going around is wildly misunderstood and doesn’t say what folks think it says. It doesn’t mean that people under 25 can’t make decisions; it just means the prefrontal cortex lights up differently at different ages. Everything beyond that is speculation, not proven fact.)
Then there’s the fact that she was dating him for three to four years. When you’re 17, that’s a quarter of your life. When someone’s been part of your daily existence for a full fourth of your time as a conscious being, they’re going to be an important part of it, and not having them around is going to feel like a much bigger loss than it would if everyone had started dating in their mid-20s.
So that mix of chaos and the sudden absence is going to blend to create a sense of “this was the most important thing in my life”, and it’s understandable that the pang of missing it will be pretty intense, in and of itself.
But then there’s question of how long its been since they broke up before you and she started dating. One thing that has been fairly consistent amongst teenagers since the concept of adolescence became a thing is that they tend to bounce between relationships very quickly. And this can create some weird emotional cross-talk because as it turns out, jumping straight into a new relationship can mean that you haven’t exactly dealt with how you feel about your previous one. Nostalgia is a hell of a drug, even when you’re a teenager, and it covers up a lot of sins. When you look back at a relationship – even one that’s only been over for a few months – it’s easy for the golden haze of the early days to overwhelm the bad memories. The conflicts, the cheating, the way you and your ex treated each other and so on seem less significant and less important than how it was when things were good.
So while hearing about how she misses her s--thead ex – even while he’s actively being a s--thead – can definitely hurt, I don’t think you need to take it as a sign that she’d rather be with him. I think she’s still processing everything that happened, with all those attendant highs and lows, and it’s very easy to let everything get jumbled in one’s head.
(Let he or she who hasn’t had the impulse to get back with a s--tty ex cast the first stone, y’know?)
That having been said… I would suggest that maybe the two of you shouldn’t be dating seriously right now, especially if this is a recent break up. Giving her some time to process her feelings, come to terms with the break up and realize what she actually wants will be valuable for her. Meanwhile, you get time to try to decide what you would want – including if you want to continue pursuing this relationship – without feeling like it’s all or nothing. If you enjoy each other’s company and the connection you have, seeing each other is just fine. But if the two of you don’t take time to figure out what you want – and don’t want – then what you’re going to get are more moments of emotional lows, electric shocks of pain from hearing that maybe her feelings are more complicated than she realized and the overall insecurity of never knowing where you stand.
At the very least keeping things more casual takes away the pressure of exclusivity and an all-or-nothing relationship. You have the opportunity to decide if you’d rather wait until she knows what she wants, if you want to try to ride things out as is, or if you should be seeing other people while she’s trying to sort out her own life.
Now one thing I will suggest is that you two talk things out while you decide what you’re doing next. You don’t want lay down rules or read her the riot act; that’s going to be counterproductive. What you do want is to have an Awkward Conversation, where you lay out how you feel and want to know how she honestly feels, rather than a knee-jerk “no, wait, I meant you, I really prefer you”.
It may mean that this relationship may have to be put on hold for a bit. While that’s going to sting – a lot – that pain will be far less than if you were to continue things while she’s legitimately conflicted. Putting things on pause for now while she figures out what she wants and how she feels means that it’s much easier for the two of you to come back to things, rather than having to work past the pain of a break up mixed with the feeling of being rejected for someone who’s treated her badly.
So the lesser pain now can help you avoid a much greater one in the future… and to create a stronger foundation for your relationship in the process.
But no future is going to happen until the two of you sit and actually talk to each other. So start there.
Please send your questions to Dr. NerdLove at his website (www.doctornerdlove.com/contact); or to his email, email@example.com