The Predicament of the Week from October 5, 1998…
Dear Breakup Girl,
Sorry for my verbosity, but after I wrote this litany of patheticness I felt like deleting any part of it would be like cutting off a limb. Please feel free to skip over any drivel you feel unnecessary.
I used to be pretty good at handling my romantic entanglements when I was younger, but now everything seems to be a big mess. I am really at a point where I am so confused and no longer trust my gut instincts. I have been on this manic roller coaster for almost a year and a half and I just don’t know what to do. I should be happy — I have a very successful career on Wall Street, am intelligent, creative, and have the means to do or go wherever I want. I have a wonderful family, supportive and caring friends, and I know that I am loved.
But my life is not perfect. I was divorced earlier this year after 4 years of marriage preceded by 5 years of dating. It wasn’t one of those messy-throw-all-the-china-at-each-other type breakups. We just got married too young (we got engaged when I was 21 — I am 28 now) and realized that we both changed and wanted different things. We tried to work out our differences, but it just wasn’t meant to be. So we cried, separated, cried, got divorced and cried some more.
My husband and I were separated for almost two years before the divorce was finalized and during that period, I met someone on-line. Honest, I wasn’t looking to meet anyone and it started as just a casual flirtation but the harmless banter in the chat room led to sexy all night chat sessions to megabytes of e-mail to multi-hour phone conversations every day to finally meeting. My head was screaming “Oh no you don’t!”, but my heart and I were abysmally lonely and I fell really hard. So did he, or at least I thought as much from the longing looks we exchanged over dinner and the passionate kisses we exchanged afterwards. We saw each other again and talked for hours about our hopes and dreams while holding hands, kissing, and staring into each other’s eyes. I felt happy for the first time in three years. I felt beautiful. I felt like I got my groove back. I felt like this was the beginning of something really special.
Of course, I wouldn’t be writing you if we drove off into the technicolor sunset leaving a trail of little red cartoon hearts and Cupids behind us. Over the next five days, his feelings towards me disappeared. He didn’t call. He didn’t respond to my mail. He ignored me on-line. We had plans to see each other the following weekend, but I didn’t hear from him until the day before and he said that he had been sick but told me to come to see him if I wanted to. I took the train to see him the next day and he didn’t kiss me hello, wasn’t affectionate and didn’t talk. We spent a few hours together twiddling our thumbs and as he dropped me off at the train. I guess that my wide-eyed questioning looks prompted him to tell me that while he cared for me, he couldn’t commit to me. If the relationship progressed further (meaning if we slept together), he couldn’t handle the feelings he would have for me.
I began to try to reason with him — “It’s only our third date. I’m not asking for a commitment. I wasn’t planning on having sex with you now.”, etc. etc. But I could tell that he was no longer interested and there must be more to the story that he was not planning to divulge. So he hugged me, I got on the train, and cried the whole way home and for the next week. Still feeling miserable, I heeded the advice of my friends and chalked it up to my first post-marriage foray into dating. I picked myself up dusted myself off and began to date others. This time, however, I didn’t stumble blindly into relationships led by my heart. I realized that it wasn’t the right time for me to find “the one” (I was still technically married after all) but just to have fun and meet new people.
But I still thought of him. At first, I thought that it would just take some time to get over him, but a month later, that rationalization no longer held true. Sure he was smart, funny, romantic, and gorgeous and I had never met anyone who had made my heart flutter like he had — but he was no longer interested! And I had dozens of other smart, funny, romantic and gorgeous guys beating down my door now that I was dating again. Yet, I still wrote volumes of pathetic letters to him in my journal and used him as a standard to compare all of my dates. I had dreams about him. I would find myself daydreaming about him at work. I kept asking myself why — maybe he was scared off by the divorce thing, or couldn’t deal with the fact that I lived two hours way, or that I made considerably more money than he did. Maybe he wasn’t attracted to me. Maybe he had found someone else.
Still determined to forget him, I threw out his phone number, deleted all his e-mail and in addition to working myself to death, joined every team, club, class, and volunteership I could find. I learned how to swing dance, play center field, oil paint, write poetry, and became a regular at story time at a nearby children’s hospital. But I still couldn’t forget him. And I guess that he couldn’t forget me either because he finally called me and admitted that he was wrong. Okay, so he was drunk. And it was in the middle of the night. And he doesn’t remember doing it. But he said that he loved me, and missed me, and was a jerk for letting me go.
I probably should have realized that he was clueing me in to the fact that he was a jerk, but I just heard that he loved me and melted all over again. I wrote him a letter telling him that I missed him too and that even though it was the wrong time for me to get involved with him or anyone, I just wanted to be in his life somehow, even if we weren’t romantically involved.
We never spoke of the phone call or the letter again, but he called me a few days later and we talked as if nothing was wrong. We became friends, and over the next few months, really good friends. We talked all the time and sent e-mail back and forth at work all day, and we confided in each other about our problems, hopes & dreams, which were incredibly similar. We just got along so well and it felt so comfortable, but there was no flirting going on. We even told each other about the people we were dating and gave each other advice.
Of course, I still thought about being more than friends. I never brought it up and tried to deny it to myself, but it was still there. He must of felt that way too because he would always make comments when we were on the phone & I was getting ready to go out that I should wear a potato sack or wear funny hairstyles so my date would be repulsed or so men wouldn’t approach me. But he never said that he wanted to be with me and he never asked me about how I felt towards him. And he never, ever touched me. We even spent a night together in a hotel room after a concert and slept in the same bed and nothing happened. I mean, I’m no Cindy Crawford, but I think that most men would have difficulty resisting me if I were laying next to them while we were both in nothing but our undies. But he did. And no, he’s not gay.
Meanwhile, I was still dating others but nothing ever felt right. I would date someone a few times and then lose interest. And he was dating others too. I discovered that he had a “thing” for foreign women — and had placed ads in the on-line personals looking to meet Asian and Hispanic women. After this discovery, I felt like I had my answer. No wonder why he wasn’t attracted to me. He also began making plans with me and then canceling or forgetting about it. He seemed to be busy every weekend and was very ambiguous when talking about who he was spending his time with. I felt that he must have met the geisha of his dreams and I began losing interest. There was no way that I could make him want to be with me and there was certainly no way I could become Asian. I started thinking about him less and coincidentally I was traveling on business a lot and didn’t have time for our daily e-mail correspondence or have time to return his phone calls.
After a month or so of not talking, he called me demanding to know why I had been ignoring him. I explained that I wasn’t ignoring him, just busy and he said that he missed me when I was away. He said that he wanted to see me the next weekend that we were both free. I said sure, figuring that he would cancel on me like he usually did. But over the next few weeks, he wrote me constantly about what was going on in his life and we began talking on a daily basis again. Sometimes at night we would chat on-line and he began to flirt with me. He admitted that he had wanted to be with me that night we stayed together, that he thought that I was beautiful, that he still thought of me all the time. I felt those feelings resurface. I began to think that maybe he really was interested in more than a buddy. It also didn’t help that due to some malfunction at work, all of my long deleted e-mail was restored, including those first notes we sent to each other so many months before. After reading those old notes, I fell for him all over again.
He finally came to visit me on a Saturday night. We talked for hours. We walked around. We shared an ice cream. We watched TV. We fell asleep. We woke up. We had sex. We fell asleep again.
Yes, you read that right. We finally did it. I fell asleep watching TV, and then I awoke with his arms around me. One thing led to another and we did it until dawn. It was as amazing as I thought it would be. Of course, again, there were no technicolor sunsets and red cartoon Cupids to follow. We woke up the next morning and I could tell that he thought it was a mistake. He didn’t say a word and didn’t touch me. Surprisingly, he didn’t run home immediately and we spent an incredibly uncomfortable afternoon together walking on eggshells. I finally asked him how he felt about what had happened and he said that he was always curious what it would be like to sleep with me. Then he kissed me on the cheek and went home. I cried and cried all night. I was stupid to think that just because we had sex that he was going to fall in love with me. I felt like an idiot for sleeping with him without finding out what it would mean beforehand. I felt like I must be so awful in bed that he changed his mind about me.
But he called me when he got home and sent me e-mail saying that he had a good time. He also send me a\ teddy bear with a card saying that he was thinking of me. But he didn’t talk about what happened. And then a few days later he began giving me advice on how I should meet other men and told me to place on-line personal ads because they had been so successful for him. I felt sick to my stomach. Before all this happened, we had made plans to go to a martial arts seminar together the following week. I was going to cancel, but wanted to go to the seminar and he was really quiet the whole day, kind of like that awful day when he told me that he couldn’t commit. We had coffee together in the evening and talked for a long time about the future — I was thinking about moving to San Francisco. He was thinking about taking a job in Asia. When he dropped me off at the train station, I expected some devastating comment about how he still couldn’t commit to me. Thank goodness it was left unsaid.
Our relationship deteriorated after that. He forgot my birthday (and apologized afterwards, but he still forgot.) The infrequent times that we talked, he began mentioning the personals again, and how he actually found someone he was interested in. They hadn’t met yet, but she was Asian and sounded cute and lived near him and was so perfect blahblahblah.
It was around the holidays and I wanted to die. I couldn’t even listen to the radio anymore. I was on volume four of my journal of pathetic ramblings. I was too sad to leave my house much less date anyone else. I wore only black and listened to the Counting Crows. It was really a bad time for me. To make matters worse, he sent me a card saying how glad he was that we were friends and that we got to know each other better. He signed it “With Love”. Yeah. Sure. I was so friggin’ glad that we were buddies… especially when I was home alone on New Year’s Eve.
So in this demented and disturbed state, I met someone else. He was a lawyer — funny, cute, super smart, successful. He treated me like a princess. We had incredible sex. I thought that I was happy — happy enough to stand a visit from my “buddy”. He came by my office and we went to a hockey game together. He was sweet. He was friendly. He said I looked great (which I did) but no sparks. Nothing. I knew it was over. I cried again when I got home, but this time only for a few minutes. I continued my relationship with the lawyer for another two months until he told me that he couldn’t get serious with me because I wasn’t Jewish. Maybe he could have mentioned this while he was telling me how much he loved me and never met anyone like me, but that’s another story altogether.
So I found myself alone and lonely. I missed him (the first him, not the lawyer guy) yet I couldn’t bring myself to talk to him. He would call me and we would talk like nothing was wrong — I just felt like a big stupid happy animal when I heard his voice — but I couldn’t pick up the phone or initiate contact. I didn’t want to feel like I was chasing him. Over the ensuing weeks, he started talking about his ongoing relationship with that Asian woman who answered his personal ad. She was pretty, smart, and perfect, of course, but he felt like he couldn’t be himself with her — her family wouldn’t accept him, she wouldn’t accept his friends or understand his past. He could never be the type of guy she wanted because he didn’t have a college degree and could never make enough money. He even had to hide the fact that he smoked. But she was cute and successful and Asian. I would have rather have my eyelids peeled off than to talk about this with him, but I told him that if he wanted to have a relationship with her, he should be honest. And if she couldn’t accept him for who he was that it would be her loss. Because it’s important to be with someone who he could be friends with… someone who could accept him for who he was…. someone who wanted the same things that he did. You and I know who I was talking about, but he just didn’t get it.
That was seven months ago. We keep in touch every so often and I guess that we are friends, but I feel like I am just hanging on to something that will never be. I saw him again for the first time since the hockey game a few weeks ago. He invited me to a concert. He was glad to see me but clearly still uninterested in anything more than being friends. I didn’t cry after we said goodnight, but I did get a lump in my throat.
So what’s my problem? I met someone last month who is loving, caring, mature, intelligent, passionate, attractive, and wants to be with me. It feels wonderful to be with him and I know that this could be the start of something special. But I am still hooked on that guy even though it has been so over for so long. I still feel butterflies when he calls me or sends me e-mail I know that he will never love me, but I still can’t accept it. I just saw “My Best Friend’s Wedding” over the weekend and I feel like that’s my destiny. I know that when I get that inevitable call, I will be devastated. How come I can’t let him go? What’s wrong with me?
–Teary-Eyed in New York
Try this one on: you ARE over him.
Don’t worry, I’m going to walk you through this.
Of course it feels like you can’t let him go. He was a big deal, Teary! He was the first guy you felt — and did — a little somethinsomethin with after your divorce! He occupies/d a larger-than-himself place in your heart.
But look, the definition of “over” is not quite as neat and clean as we would like it to be. Does “over” him/her mean that we are indifferent? Does it mean we never think of them? Does it mean that they can tiptoe through our minds in the dark, silent, unnoticed, without knocking anything over? Hardly.
Here’s what “over” means: Gone, yes. Forgotten, as if. Butterflies, maybe always. The difference is this: the “over” butterflies flit around and whisper: “Ooh, ooh, looky looky, there’s that person who was a big part of my life…” “Oooh, ooh, I feel both tingly, and also sad.” That’s all. They are not icky moths that hang out and chew holes in stuff. Okay, let me repeat that without all the lepidopterous mumbo jumbo: When we’re over someone, we may still have feelings for/about them, but those feelings don’t interfere with anything, they don’t make us act on them. The feelings are just there. Of course they are.
So here’s what you need to do. Quit talking to him. Quit hanging out. No hockey, no concerts, no e-mail, and for God’s sake no sharing about dating. Ask him nicely to cease and desist: “Hey, you know what? Being in touch with you is actually kind of hard for me. I’d like to cut off communication, at least for a while. I respectfully request that you not call or e-mail me. I’m not angry at you. This is just what I need for me, and I ask you to honor that.” ( <- cut and paste into e-mail if you like). Then don’t you go and call, you!? If you do this, you are not punishing or stomping off in a girly huff. You are doing it because you are over him. Wait, wouldn’t “over him” mean that you’re enlightened enough to deal with being friends? Nah. It’s not about being enlightened. Some oysters (relationships) have pearls (friendships) inside, what can I say (pelecypodous mumbo jumbo) ? But hey, Teary: you guys aren’t friends. I don’t see any evidence of a true post-romance platonic pearl here. It’s pretty much in-person weirdness with blips of uncomfortable communication in between. With friends like that, who needs exes?
He is not your friend, Teary. He is your fix. That is why you take his calls even though they suck, that is why you see him even though it makes you lumpy and weepy. He’s a gizmo, like a cell phone e-mail, or a plain paper fax: when (because?) you have it, you need it. The more you have it, the more you need it. Before, you were fine. It might feel like you can’t live without it anymore, but if you try it — though it might be tough at first — things will be truly okay.
Another relevant possibility: maybe you’re really just not into guy #2. (I’m not reading between the lines and saying all-knowingly that you’re not; I’m really just suggesting it. You tell me.) We all know excellent people whom we don’t happen to be dating — take Paul the Intern, for instance. (And it’s not just ’cause he’s a Loft-Builder. Or an Intern.) Maybe you’re thinking you should be gaga about Lawyer because he looks great on paper and you feel like you should, but maybe you’re using what could be a simple inexplicable chemical case of je-ne-spark-pas as some kind of confounding, status-quo-keeping proof that you’re not over guy #1. Just a thought. It’s okay not to go out with Lawyer if your heart’s not in it. It doesn’t necessarily Mean anything. It might just mean: Next!
I’m not done yet. (Equal-time laws give me like 2900 words here!)
You mentioned Cupid, so so will I. You guys: watch this show. (The only people who do right now are BG and Chris@breakupgirl.net — oh, and the TV guy at Time Out New York — but that is rilly rilly wrong.) Not only is Jeremy Piven delightfully meddlesome and saucy, but the show does a winning job of exploring (not settling) the thoroughly modern debate between Love as Some Enchanted Evening and Love as Project. On the one hand, people approach this love thing with rules and lists and “if…then…” functions and spreadsheets. Which are not ill-advised. But Cupid’s point is: Yo, make room for the magic. When your head’s buried in Compatibility 2.0 for Palm Pilot, you might not notice the stranger asking you to dance. Thing is, though, it’s not even that simple. I mean, hey, sometimes it’s the kind of magic where the girl disappears. It may look as if Cupid has made a perfect out-of-the-movies match — cut to: the guy’s married. Or conversely, a match that starts out in hell turns out to be dreamy. No one — not even Cupid, or Breakup Girl — can ultimately say why.
Yes, I’m leading up to another Breakup Girl Inspirational Speech. Look, teary (haven’t forgotten about you), at least recognize that your letter — all the minutiae, all the micro-introspection, all the madness — is part of the whole great big crazy messy pungent love thing. Which is big and crazy and messy and pungent because peopleare — no matter how mathematical we may try to make everything. Just because we (or your Guy #1) do A doesn’t mean we do The Thing That Should Follow From A. Or The Thing We Expected from A.
Maddening, isn’t it? As psychoanalyst Adam Phillips recently wrote in the NY Times (to use one case study, guess which): ” If I am faithful to my partner I am more likely to be faithful to everybody and everything else, to my country and my ideals [point being: Yuh, AS IF]. As though my character will be all of a piece.” He continues: “It is always a question of how complicated we can allow people [ourselves] to be without feeling the need to punish them [ourselves] for it.” This rumination also explains that Smart [People], Foolish Choices chestnut to which you allude at the top of your letter. As though our character — or our relationships — will be all of a piece. The best we can do is write to Breakup Girl and let her take some educated, superpowered guesses. That’s really it. (This revelation should make you buoyantly happy. As in, not “Ugh, this is hopeless.” But “Yay! It’s supposed to be this way.”)
So teary, it’s not good or nice or fun that this guy has been all over the place with you. But you’re getting on your own case for being led into relationships “by the heart?” Um, teary? That is how you get there. But remember how I freaked you out by saying you are over him? Now try this one: you aren’t being led by the heart. (You said it yourself: “I … no longer trust my gut instincts.”) Hearts are heart-seeking. But you know this guy’s not coming through with one for you. You, therefore, are being led by something other than your heart — some oddball masochistic attachment, or something. So turn the corner. Go with your gut, hear your heart; make room for butterflies and pearls and penalty shots. This whole thing is supposed to be cluttered and complicated. You clean up what you can, fashion the rest into some sort of autobiographical still life. Keep it, but put it somewhere out of the way, where it won’t deflect you-know-who’s arrow.