Hello, you joyous nipplewarmers, and welcome to Ask Dr. NerdLove, the only dating advice column to help you make a love connection while you’re trying to survive the Black Friday Riots.
This week, we’re dealing with our exes and soon-to-be exes. Why was it so easy for him to let go of his relationship while his ex still has feelings? Is he just THAT cold and cruel? What do you do when you’ve got an entire other country between you and your girlfriend while you’re getting feelings for someone else who’s in the same room with you? Is the metaphorical bird in the hand really better than the two in the bush?
Let’s do this.
I love reading your column on Kotaku—it’s always a refreshing look at a variety of dating situations I’ve either had or have seen in others. You always give wonderfully helpful advice, and are not afraid to point out the problems with how us folks with questions may be looking at things. Since I have learned so much over the years from your columns, I figure it’s time I got around to asking one because of the situation I am in.
Let’s dive right in! I broke up with my girlfriend of 3 years a little over a month ago. Why we broke up had to do with where we wanted to go in life, where we wanted to live (and didn’t want to live), and even her changing her mind on now wanting to have children and I told her I still didn’t. I was clear about my positions, she was clear about hers. So, it was amicable, we went our separate ways, and that was that—or so I thought. But I am now getting constant texts at night, saying “goodnight” or “I miss you” or “I still love you,” and it’s getting uncomfortable. I do not feel the same way. She is surprised by this and how easy it has appeared for me to let go. It wasn’t at first, but I had time to go back and look at things, read little journal notes I made, spent some time travelling out of town, spent some time reflecting and in my own head, etc. I realised she just wasn’t supportive of things that I wanted to do career-wise, or through other things in my life.
Now she is saying she doesn’t want to move to another state anymore for a job halfway across the country (she doesn’t have a job yet, but actively was seeking opportunities there). Now she is saying she doesn’t want to leave her few family members that are around here. I can’t tell you the number of late nights we were up and she would complain about her family and how she just needs to get out of our town. This continued contact has had zero effect on me (fortunately?). I’ve tried to ignore it, that has made it worse. She questions everything now, whether I ever loved her (I did), why don’t I say “I miss you” or “I love you” (because I don’t feel that way), and why it’s so easy for me to push away (I don’t know).
To top it off, after I introduced her to my friends, we now run in some of the same circles. My friends are now her friends, and the ones she talks to the most. But, going through the journal notes I mentioned above, I just don’t get it. She has, on numerous occasions, told me how much she doesn’t like my friends, doesn’t like hanging out with them, etc. Then, on the rare occasion, she’ll also say how much she enjoys hanging with them. But, hell, she continues to hang out with them (which is fine, although slightly uncomfortable), but I question its authenticity and I question the motives. My friends seem OK with it, but don’t know about the amount of shit she’s talked over the past year or two. I don’t plan on saying anything to them about it, but it’s just uncomfortable and I don’t know how, or if, I should address that with her. I’ve also told her I can’t live with spite/regret hovering over me the whole time and it wouldn’t make either of us happy—she doesn’t buy it. I’m at my wits end at this point.
I guess what I’m looking for is how to handle things in this situation. She’s in a bad place right now, very depressed, sad, and lonely. I don’t want to come across as callous, but I do not have those feelings. After reflecting and looking back, I am genuinely happier now than I have been in a while, and am shocked at how quickly I began to feel this way. Therefore, I am trying to stop any of these contacts and continue to actively encourage her to move and pursue her career dreams, which she claims she doesn’t want to do anymore. I’ve told her it sounds like she’s just afraid of it now, I tried to encourage her that she’s strong and would be happier there. I don’t want to be a dick about this either, I just want to figure out a good way to cut ties or to more clearly communicate why I hope she stops saying those things to me. Any help you can provide would be greatly appreciated.
Thank you very much,
Uncomfortably Not Lonely
So there are two things going on here.
The first is why it’s so easy for you to have no feelings for her, while she’s trying to get back with you. This has a lot to do with some common misconceptions about break-ups, rebounds and how long it takes to get over somebody.
For someone looking from the outside, it would seem like you got over your ex surprisingly quickly, especially considering how long you two had been together. In fact, if we go with the accepted wisdom that it takes approximately half the time you were together to get over someone, then your seeming lack of feels for your ex are almost shockingly abrupt, especially considering the lack of some actionable wrong, some casus belli to trigger the break-up. It could make someone wonder about the true depths or veracity of your feelings for your ex.
But it only looks like that to the people who didn’t live it.
One of the things we don’t talk about much when we talk about break-ups is that marking the end of the relationship at the point of the final split is often a mistake. In fact, there are many, many occasions when the relationship ended long before it was “officially” over, In fact, in some relationships, one partner may have checked out months or even years before they actually ended things; in many cases, the dissolution of the relationship is less the end and more the point where the person initiating the break-up realised that not only were they done, but they’d been done for quite some time.
One of the effects of this is that many times, people who’ve functionally left the relationship—or found that the relationship left them—have gone through the grieving and recovery process while they were still in the relationship. They seem like they got over someone so quickly because they were doing all that work long before the official end of the relationship came around.
Case in point: your relationship doesn’t sound like it was a terribly happy one. She wasn’t cruel or abusive, but you two were decidedly not right for one another in ways that ultimately drove you apart. I suspect that those conflicts were grinding slowly away at you, slowly enough that you weren’t completely conscious of the fact that you were checking out and your love and attraction to your ex were coming to an end. By the time you were aware that this wasn’t working, you had gotten to a point of acceptance and were ready to start the next chapter in your life… while you were still at the tail end of this one. As a result, your break-up was fairly easy for you. You’d done a lot of the work long before the end. You’d felt your feels, you’d accepted the end of this, said your goodbyes and were ready to move forward.
So it’s not terribly surprising that you’re not as upset by all of this. It’s not that you never cared for her, it’s that things ended for you long before they did for her. And while it’s a shame that your ex isn’t in the same place as you, her feelings aren’t an obligation for you to feel similarly to her.
I suspect her change in attitude comes from the shock the change in context meant for her life in this town. Before you broke up, she saw her time in this town as temporary; at some point you were going to change your mind, see that she was right about everything and up stakes to go to this new place and start an entirely new life.
But the most important ingredient of these dreams was “with you.”
Then you broke up with her, and suddenly she got a giant bucket of cold water dumped all over her dreams. Now she recognises that you were never going to leave, that you two weren’t going to have kids and and build this entirely new life.
The problem is that she seems to think that just learning to love it there or connecting with your friends is all it takes to fix things between you. But there’s nothing to fix. The time to fix things would’ve been years ago when you still were invested in making things work. She doesn’t realise that it was the cumulative effect of those little mismatches that changed how you feel. Now all that’s left is for her to accept the fact that it’s over, make her peace with that and move on to her next chapter.
But that’s her responsibility, not yours. It’s good that you’re concerned for her and that you care, but you can’t shoulder the responsibility of trying to guide her through this break-up. You’re not her emotional sherpa; it’s not on you to help her process things. You have to handle your shit, and her clinging to the remains of your relationship is dragging you down.
The best and kindest thing you can do at this point is to engage the Nuclear Option and cut ties. Tell her that you’re sorry that she’s still hurting and you want nothing but the best for her, but you don’t want to talk with her about this, you don’t want to go over why you feel (or don’t feel, as it were) the way you do or process the break-up. Wish her the best and then block her. Block her number, her social media accounts, her email address, everything. Let your friends know that you’re cutting contact with her and that you don’t want them to pass her messages on to you or otherwise be the vehicle for her getting in contact.
Do not explain to your ex why you need to do this, do not rationalize to her why you’re doing it, don’t discuss ways you could stay in contact. This isn’t negotiation time, it’s declaration time; you’re not debating it with her, you’re telling her that this is happening. Cut all contact with her and let this be the end of it. The clean break heals the fastest, and this will help her heal faster if she lets it.
It can feel cruel, but it’s necessary for your emotional health, if not hers. Like the wise man once said: “I may love you, yeah, but I love me more.”
Thank you for your posts. Reading through them has probably made me a better guy. I have been dating this girl, let’s call her DE, for 5 years now. We met in the first year of university and have been together since.
For the first few years, at university, everything was great. We both got off great. We had common interests, and we were each other’s first serious relationship. This was great. And she made me the happiest guy on earth. I loved her passion about her academics, and her hobbies. Seeing her so driven made me want to work hard to be a better version of me.
But a couple of years ago, we finished university. I moved to my home country, and we had to do long distance, and we did ok with that. The problem is that her job was something she picked because it was convenient, but not something she found fulfilling. She is not someone who makes friends easily, and so she’s lonely there to a certain extent. She flew over to visit me a bunch and we made it work.
A few months back, I moved closer to her (but still in a different country) to go to university for my postgrad. And I love it here. It’s better than my undergrad was, and I have friends that make me feel amazing. One of these friends, let’s call her KI, also studied in the same country that DE and I did. And her boyfriend of 5 years broke up with her at the start of this year.
Well, KI and I really hit it off. She stays over at my place a lot. We spend 9 hours a day studying together. And we found a bit of comfort in each other. Postgrad is hard.
Well, now that I am here with KI (and I don’t even know if she likes me), it makes me really see the flaws in my relationship with DE. Her misery is contagious, and even though I tried to fight it for her since she started work 2 years ago, it gets to me. I can’t be there for her anymore. It is not fair to her that her boyfriend (someone who should be a constant) wants to be with her friends, or with KI over her.
Another problem is that when DE and I started dating, I told her that I would be happy to wait for sex as long as she needed, and there was no pressure on her. Well, sex still freaks her out and so we’ve never had that intimacy. I would like to know what sex is like? But now I feel like I am going back on my word. I just never imagined that she would still not be ready in 5 years.
I do not know if KI likes me. But she has the same passion that made me fall in love with DE initially. She can put in hours and hours into her work, and she is a significant positive influence on my grades because she drives me to work harder. And she’s more intimate with me than she is with anyone. She won’t let go from hugs for minutes on end. She brushes my shoulder when walking around me. She plays with my hair on occasion.
I will not cheat on DE. She deserves better. She deserves someone who will accept her how she is. Not want her to change. But I can feel that I have something for KI. I do not know if she feels the same way, and I would never do anything as long as I was with DE.
What do I do? Should I end my relationship with DE? If I do, how long should I wait before seeing about this KI factor? If I stay, I’m the arsehole for staying in a relationship where I cannot keep her happy, and if I leave then I’m the arsehole who moved for another girl after 5 years.
A Terrible Human Being
I want to start this by objecting to your signature, ATHB; you’re not a terrible human being. You’re somebody who’s been trying to make things work for five years and it just isn’t working out. You’re not obligated to stay with DE just because she’s depressed or unhappy. You’re not obligated to stay with her because you moved and you’re not obligated to stay until you’ve managed to cheer her up.
Similarly, you’re not an arsehole because you want to have sex and your girlfriend doesn’t. It’s entirely normal for you to want sex and intimacy and to be frustrated that the person you want that intimacy with doesn’t. Hell, you’ve stuck with this for five years. FIVE. YEARS. That’s damn near enough to qualify you for sainthood, my dude.
Look, I realise that you’re feeling like you’re going back on your word. I realise you feel like not having sex shouldn’t be that big of a deal. And for some folks, it isn’t. But for you, it is and that’s fine. There’s nothing wrong with wanting sex, period. Sexual compatibility is an incredibly important part of a relationship’s longevity and success; a lack of sexual compatibility will doom a relationship. This is just an indication that the relationship you are in is not one that’s right for you.
In fact, that’s a microcosm for the entire relationship. As with Uncomfortably Not Lonely and his ex, you and DE just aren’t right for one another. Maybe you were at one point, but you definitely aren’t now. The relationship you have isn’t serving your needs, and it’s just causing you stress and pain and giving you nothing in return.
The problem that you’re having is that, like a lot of folks, you seem to be waiting for a Good Enough Reason to end things. But if you want out—and it certainly sounds like you do—then that’s all the reason you need. Nobody is going to veto your break-up if the reasons aren’t sufficiently strong; you don’t need to plead your case before the Break-Up Courts to make it stick. You just need to decide that you’re ready to be single again. And while I can understand the worry about what other people might think, you can’t let other people’s judgement force you to stay in a relationship that you don’t want to be in.
So do yourself this kindness: end things with DE. Don’t drag it out; make it quick and clean, with as little unnecessary pain as you can manage.
But then I think you need to take some time for yourself. I suspect that, while KI may be amazing, some of her appeal may be strictly because she’s a contrast to DE. She’s a reminder that there are other amazing women out there, women who aren’t your girlfriend. Using that as a motivation to leave is valid, but trying to leap straight into a relationship with her isn’t a good idea.
I think leaving DE for KI would be a mistake. You have no idea whether she actually feels the way that you do, and making her the “reason” for leaving your girlfriend would put an unfair amount of pressure on her.
Instead, break up with DE and just give yourself some time to be on your own for a while. It’s been a long time since you were single. You need to learn who you are now when you’re not in a relationship. If you and KI are right for each other, you’ll still be right for each other when you’re not just trading one relationship for another.
Did you or your ex harder time getting over your break-up than the other? Did you leap from one relationship directly into another? Share your story in the comments below and we’ll be back with more of your questions in two weeks.
Ask Dr. NerdLove is Kotaku’s bi-weekly dating column, hosted by the one and only Harris O’Malley, AKA Dr. NerdLove. Got a question you’d like answered? Write [email protected] and put “Kotaku” in the subject line.
Harris O’Malley is a writer and dating coach who provides geek dating advice at his blog Paging Dr. NerdLove and the Dr. NerdLove YouTube channel. His new dating guide New Game+: The Geek’s Guide to Love, Sex and Dating is out now from Amazon, iTunes and everywhere fine books are sold. He is also a regular guest at One Of Us.