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April 26

When ‘goodbye for good’ isn’t

Filed under: Advice — posted by Breakup Girl @ 8:49 am

Reuniting on October 12, 1998

Dear Breakup Girl,

Help me oBG-Kenobi, you’re my only hope! Okay, a year ago I moved to New York City from California to begin graduate school. I left behind a guy there with who I had a very drawn out, sticky, co-dependent relationship for about 5 years. Here’s the background–we started dating senior year of high school. While we had similar interests, what kept us together was this unhealthy nurse-patient relationship with a constant cycle of fighting and breaking up to keep things interesting. He has a disease that’s making him slowly go blind–it’s sort of like a progressive tunnel-vision. And that was diagnosed when he was 13 (sometime around when he had just seen Top Gun and decided that he wanted to be an Air Force pilot) and then he was declared legally blind when he was 16, right after he’d signed up to get his driver’s permit. So far he hasn’t learned to cope–no disability training and his old room is filled with model fighter planes. Spooky.

But with sheer will and determination he’s pursued interests in athletics and music which you would have never thought possible. The down side is that he always plays himself as a victim and constantly alienates his friends with his “everyone is out to get me” attitude. I’m sure if he would ever consent to seeing a psychologist, a lot of this behavior wouldn’t come as a surprise. So my role in this relationship is that I’m the only one who really understands him and he was incredibly emotionally dependent on me. For me it was a “I needed to be needed” thing. The problem was that he has no ability to handle conflict–arguments escalated quickly, he could be so easily provoked it was laughable, but what wasn’t so funny was how quick he was to say cruel and terrible things to me when he was angry. My way of handling it was to be a peacemaker or avoid conflict entirely–for a long time I had no spine to fight back, and anyway, it was easy to anticipate what would anger him (ie everything). As a result, there were a lot of things I never told him because I knew how he’d react (like that he wasn’t the first person I slept with even though he thinks we were eachother’s first–could it get any worse??). So for 5 years we were on again, off again, each time I would forgive and hope/think that maybe he’d changed. Yes I had low self esteem in my relationships. We were together when I decided to go to New York for graduate school and he was considering coming out here after he finished an extra year of college. But by the time I was ready to leave I had a few epiphanies and realized that enough was enough and now was the time to start over. I told him that I was going to New York and I am on my own now. And that was *supposed* to be goodbye for good. It has been one year and I had not heard from him. The time and distance has allowed me to heal and understand the mistakes both he and I made. But now out of the blue I receive an e-mail from him–HE’S MOVED HERE!!!

This freaks me out beyond belief. Yes, he got into an excellent graduate program here, and yes, for his disability, I have always told him that he should be based in a city with good public transportation, but this guy is not the type to pack up from the tiny town he’s lived in all his life and move 3000 miles away based solely on career ambition. I’d love to think I have nothing to do with him moving here, but that would be absolutely naive. In his letter he didn’t elaborate on his motivations for coming out here, but just said that a couple of things have become clear to him and now that he’s here I can show him around the town and he “wouldn’t mind a phone call.” That’s nice, I wouldn’t have mind if he’d stayed in California! For a one year hiatus he certainly seemed complacent about being chummy again. I don’t know what to do, I’m still reeling and stressing about the fact that he’s here.

On one side I’ll always care about him, and to tell the truth I’m impressed he had the resolution to come out here for whatever the reasons. On the other side, I don’t want him pursuing me again. Completely ignoring his email seems passive-aggressive and logically, if he moved all the way out here, I doubt that would be enough to deter an encounter. What do I want? I would be willing to be a friend if I knew there was no ulterior motive. I am too on guard and suspicious right now to really have an open conversation and I don’t know how to manage those feelings in dealing with this situation. Can you *please* give me some pointers on how to handle this? Thank you!!!

— Turf Warrior

Dear Warrior,

Um, speaking of tunnel vision. There’s a wider, shifting picture here, one that I’m not sure you’re seeing. About what happened in the past, your interpretation and understanding — as far as I can tell — seem lucid and dead on. But as much as you think you’ve moved on, some of your observations about your role in the relationship — no matter how “over it” you might feel — might still apply in the present.

A possible re-encounter with any ex is certainly heebiejeebie-worthy. OF COURSE his arrival is sending you back to those sticky times. But still: Perhaps you do, with this guy, still “need to be needed.” And I’m going to suggest that perhaps you don’t “really understand him.” Not 100%, anyway, and not after you’ve both spent a year far apart. But you may be jumping to conclusions — flattering, flustering “Need me!” ones — about his motivations. I am not saying for sure that he didn’t move to “pursue” you. I am just saying it’s not the only possible explanation. He got into an “excellent program,” Turf (Good for him!). In New York City. I mean, let’s say he was a … logger. And he moved to … Newark. Where you live. Then we’d have reasonable cause for “ulterior motive.” Your presence may very well have sweetened his deal, but it’s not like he didn’t have other major draws.

And by the way, I wouldn’t get all wigged and reading-comprehension about his offhand “wouldn’t mind a phone call” tone; my guess is he’s trying to come off as casual, as opposed to complacent — and, more to the point, as opposed to Significant. (“As in: LET’S GO SOMEWHERE WITH HARSH LIGHTING AND TALK ABOUT US.”) He’s also leaving the phone in your court. Which was not a bad call on his part, since he made the first move by … moving.

So if you really truly don’t want to deal, you’re entitled to write a brief but kind e-note: “Congrats on the big move and scholarly success — but I have to say I’m not quite ready to reconnect…” Otherwise, though, I’d say that you’re free and clear for what I call a “Sowhaddaryupto?” — an aggressively cheery and casual summit where you sit straight up in your chair, sip latte through clenched teeth, “have to run to a meeting” in exactly one hour, and accomplish your Good/Big Person goal by the act of getting together, not by the content of your conversation. (Also applicable to people you knew in college who bore you now.)

See what happens. He may want you back, he may want to be friends, he may be being dutifully polite — or he may just want to sorta sense that you’re nearby. Like his model airplanes: a bittersweet reminder, at the edge of his field of vision, of something that he remembers fondly but can no longer have. In any case, it’s worth finding out before freaking out.

Breakup Girl


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