Dear Wendy
Dear Wendy

“Did I Ever Mean Anything to Him?”

My ex-boyfriend and I were together for thirteen years and were engaged, but we broke up two years ago. It wasn’t a bad relationship — quite the opposite — but there were so many things happening and the timing was not right for us. We’ve been in contact since our breakup, but I recently decided to do the no-contact rule as he has been dating someone he says is just casual. He wants to break up with her, but she does the whole emotional blackmail thing and asks that he let her break up with him (though this isn’t happening still) and he feels bad. He has been dating her since right after we broke up. He doesn’t tell her when we meet up even though nothing inappropriate has ever happened. I know he still cares for me as he keeps in contact to see how I am and, if I want to meet up, he is always available. I know if I needed anything, he would be there. He sent me a “Happy Valentine’s” text even when he was with her, and, when he went on holiday, he texted me every day. I am confused. Is he over me? Is there a chance for us to get back together? We have both grown so much in the last two years.

I just don’t know what to do. I feel like he has moved on and I am stuck in the past still after him. Is he keeping me on the side burner while he dates her? Is he happy to have two girls chasing after him?
Did he ever ever care? Did I ever mean anything to him? — The ex on the Side Burner

I answered a similar question in the forums this morning and my answer there is applicable to you as well, but I chose to feature your letter here because the message is important enough to broadcast loudly (especially since I keep getting the same type of letter over and over). I’ll start by answering your questions:

Is he keeping me on the side burner while he dates her? Yep, exactly.

Is he happy to have two girls chasing after him? Yeah, it’s probably great for his ego, and he likes knowing you’re still there for him, kind of waiting in the wings, like you’ve never gotten over him or moved on. It probably makes him feel really flattered thinking he must have this much influence on you.

Did he ever ever care? Sure. But that obviously doesn’t mean he cares enough to be with you and only you. It doesn’t mean he cares more for you than for himself. It doesn’t even mean he cares a lot.

Did I ever mean anything to him? Yes, if he was with you for thirteen years and engaged to you and continues to exert the minimum effort to stay in your mind and the periphery of your life, then, yes, you do mean something to him. But, listen, there are lots of people who mean something to me whom I don’t care to have a relationship with or to even interact with very much. My son’s school teachers mean something to me. They’re important. I’m grateful for their care and guidance. But I don’t need to be friends with them. Same with the woman who watches our cats when we go out of town. She means something to us in that she does a great job caring for our cats and I prefer not leaving them in the care of anyone else when we have to be away from them. If I found out something happened to her, I would be very upset, not just because she’s a great cat-sitter, but also because she’s a fellow decent human being who is in the periphery of my life, and so her life not only has meaning in the general sense but also has meaning to me, personally, because I know her and like her. Same with my best friend’s upstairs neighbor and friend. I’ve known her, peripherally, for over twelve years, and, when I found out she died yesterday morning after a brief battle with cancer, I felt so fucking sad. Not because we were close friends or that her absence will affect me very much — my interactions with her were so limited while she was alive — but because, limited though our interactions were, she did have an impact on me. And more, she had a great impact on my friend. And she was a kind, good person who was taken too young and life is so unfair that way.

There are so many different ways we can mean something to someone and their presence or absence from our lives can affect us emotionally, but a lot of times the meaning we have isn’t very reciprocal. We may bring meaning to their lives — we help them see the world in a different way, or we care for them or someone they love, or they keep us connected to an important time in our lives, or they keep us a tiny bit connected to a community from which we may have become mostly unattached. Or maybe they just make us feel loved. The meaning here is about how the other person makes US feel — what the other person does for us (or someone we love).

This kind of meaning is important. There can be reciprocal care and affection involved. But rarely is this the kind of meaning to build a true relationship on. (A friendship maybe, but a relationship? Not usually.)

I don’t doubt that your ex cares for you and that you mean something to him. But I doubt very much that he has any true desire or intention of ever committing to you. I think you feed his ego, provide some sense of security (if things don’t work out with his current girlfriend or the next one or the one after that, maybe, if he is really afraid of being alone, you will still be there to fall back on), and keep him feeling connected to a different time in his life (when he was younger, when life was maybe less complicated, when his dreams still seemed attainable). And maybe, if you’re honest with yourself, his meaning to you and in your life is similar. Maybe it’s a reciprocal relationship, after all. But that doesn’t mean it’s a romantic or loving one or that you’re meant to be together.

I think your “no contact” rule is a good one, for now. It’s important to get some real distance to move on. You can still mean something to each other in your absence from one another’s lives. Your history can still speak for itself. And maybe that, if you’re ever to find a healthy, happy, mutually-meaningful relationship, should be the final word.

***************

Follow along on Facebook, and Instagram.

If you have a relationship/dating question I can help answer, you can send me your letters at wendy@dearwendy.com.

17 comments… add one
  • Raccoon eyes

    Raccoon eyes August 8, 2016, 9:46 am

    Wendy, what an outstanding and amazing answer.
    *
    LW, I have nothing to add other than that the point here shouldn’t be about HIM and HIS feelings. Your narrative needs to be centered around YOU and your feelings/well being/happiness. You deserve that- don’t get hung up on the past – learn from it and keep moving forward.

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    • juliecatharine

      Juliecatharine August 8, 2016, 10:00 am

      Yep, that really is the key-getting to a healthy head place where you nurture yourself. Keeping in very regular contact with an ex who hides you from his current girlfriend (of 2 years!) isn’t good for anyone. And really, what’s the point? He doesn’t want to be with you. If he did, he would nut up and be with you! He hasn’t and he won’t and really, why would you want that? If you’ve really grown in the time you’ve been broken up why would you want to go back to what didn’t work?

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  • avatar

    dinoceros August 8, 2016, 10:08 am

    WWS. I can’t really tell what people are looking for when they ask if someone ever cared about them. In terms of determining your actions going forward, it doesn’t really matter. What matters is what the person’s words and actions are indicating about their current feelings. Someone could have thought you were their soulmate five years about, but that doesn’t matter at all if they break up with you in the present day. People’s thoughts and feelings change over time. They might hide certain parts of themselves and then choose to show those sides later on. Just because someone cares for you in the past doesn’t mean they will always care for you in that same way. Just because someone currently cares for you deeply doesn’t mean they will treat you right or that they will even want to be with you. All you need to know is that he is with someone else (who he is lying to and going behind her back) and tossing you a bone every once in a while to make sure that you stick around and give him attention.

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  • findingtheearth

    findingtheearth August 8, 2016, 11:19 am

    This is so incredibly spot on. You rocked this one.

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  • avatar

    Sunshine Brite August 8, 2016, 11:28 am

    *slowclap

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  • avatar

    wobster109 August 8, 2016, 11:29 am

    Step back a moment. What do you think of a guy who visits other women and keeps it a secret from his girlfriend?

    I think he’s untrustworthy. In the moment it feels nice that you and him together keep a secret from his girlfriend. It feels like you and him are on the same team. Except that he’s choosing to date her and then painting her as the villain. He probably tells her horrible things about you too.

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    • avatar

      Essie August 8, 2016, 1:28 pm

      Yes, I’d bet good money that he describes her as “my crazy ex” to his current girlfriend.

      LW, I just said this in another post, but sometimes people are just jerks. It’s not about whether he really loved you once, or anything else. He’s a jerk. There’s no need for further analysis.

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    • avatar

      RHB August 9, 2016, 12:33 am

      Yes, I have seen a side to him that I never knew existed.
      I never thought he would do something like this. You are right, I overlooked it as it made me feel like we knew something she didn’t. Usually I wouldn’t allow that but this girl has stalked me on social media to make a point of making sure I knew about them (this is how I found out) and also to keep an eye on what he is up to. It made me feel violated and so I didn’t care about her. So obviously she can’t trust him that much.

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  • avatar

    artsygirl August 8, 2016, 11:49 am

    LW – Even if you started dating when you were very young – that would put you both near your 30s at the low end – your ex is a grown man. That means he should not be pulling this high school shit. Insisting that he cannot break up with his girlfriend of two years because she is ‘manipulative’ and then repeatedly chasing after her when SHE ends the relationship is not being an adult. Meeting you on the side and keeping your friendship a secret is not being an adult. Insuring that you are left hanging and unable to move on is not being an adult. Does it matter if you meant something to him in the past? You are not his GF in the present and it sounds like despite having every opportunity, you are not going to be his GF in the future. You are letting him treat you like a GF without getting any of the acknowledgement, support, or sex that should come with a relationship.

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  • bagge72

    bagge72 August 8, 2016, 12:26 pm

    I don’t have any advice, Wendy just nailed it, but I do wonder how many women in those 13 years he hung out with, without telling you.

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    • avatar

      dinoceros August 8, 2016, 12:30 pm

      Ding ding ding!

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  • avatar

    Brise August 8, 2016, 4:39 pm

    The way you speak of your break up, it seems you didn’t really understand it or processed it. It seems as if something happened to you both, without you both taking responsability for the decision to break up. But you took this decision (or he, or you both mutually), because it didn’t work, your couple didn’t resist the test of hardship and should have committed much before 13 years. This is a very long time. There is still attachment between you both. It takes a long time to detach. Basically, he let you down, and he repeats the same reluctance with his present girlfriend. But I am quite sure that if you were to date him again, it wouldn’t work, and you wouldn’t even want it really. Let it go. It is over, and a better relationship is ahead if you really accept the end of this romance.

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  • avatar

    Ron August 8, 2016, 5:03 pm

    LW —

    Your letter is damned near incomprehensible, probably because your thinking is so garbled. You were together with this guy for 13 years — a really, really long time for a non-commitment — yet you say the problem was that so much was going on and the timing wasn’t right for you. Really? In 13 years there was always so much going on that the timing was never right? People get married after 1, 2, 3 years together, but the two of you never found the right time in a decade longer than that? You were engaged, but the engagement ended — you never say why or by whose choice.

    After a broken engagement to end a 13-year relationship, I think we can be fairly certain in concluding that this was a relationship which was never meant to be and that one or both of you spent a lot of time pretending it was more than it was. Why was that? Fear of the unknown, total inertia, always feeling overwhelmed by life over a period of more than a decade?

    Now, you seem shocked that after the break-up he is dating someone else and further confused that he is still talking to you. It strikes me that both of you is still trying to figure out how you spent 13 years in this unsuccessful relationship.

    I think that your no-contact decision is wise. Neither of you is going to get any closure talking to each other, because neither of you seems to know what you want or be able to overcome ‘life events’ enough to progress your life. The stark thing which stands out about the 13 years is the inertia of it all. You were together, eventually you got engaged, then you weren’t engaged, and you just don’t understand how that all happened. It’s mutual passivity and not feeling able to take control of your own life which causes such prolonged drift. The unsatisfactory same-old-same-old is preferable to any other course which requires action or making a decision. Yes, you say your relationship wasn’t bad. I’ve had many relationships which weren’t bad. All but one also didn’t progress. The one which was not just ‘not bad’ but truly great has lasted over 40 years.

    Stuff happened with us the whole time we were dating: school, work stress, family stress, but that did not stop us from progressing our relationship. It is easy to blame events for inertia.

    Probably a good thing your engagement ended. Now both of you have to take the time to decide what you actually want for your life and in a spouse. Not just what’s ‘not bad’, but what will truly fulfill you. When you decide what that is and go out and find it, you won’t spend 13 years meandering in a relationship.

    Does he still care for you? Not enough to marry you. He’s made no moves on you, from what you say. He sounds as confused as you are. You are best off never communicating with him again. If you had something important to say to each other about your relationship, you would have said it repeatedly and worked through it during your 13 years together, not blame ‘life’ and ‘bad timing’ for your woes.

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    • avatar

      RHB August 9, 2016, 12:17 am

      You are right, my mind is everywhere. My common sense seems to have flown out the window. One side of me tells me exactly what you have said, I waited all those years for a proposal but something was always not right. It didn’t matter in my early 20s as I was still young and wasn’t fussed but then time got on and he still hadn’t done it. i accepted it and just kept waiting because I cared so much for this guy. I couldn’t see any other future ahead of me. I invested so much into the relationship and gave so much of myself that I didn’t want to leave and start that again with someone else.
      It just feels like a chunk of my life is cut out. I haven’t been in many relationships so haven’t experienced this before. This was only my third, I am quite protective when it comes to dating and usually hold back from anyone who asks me out.
      I know that if I was the one for him and it was meant to be then he wouldn’t hesitate and wouldn’t want to lose me.
      I have always known that he was conflicted between settling down and losing his freedom but I ignored it.

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      • avatar

        ktfran August 9, 2016, 7:44 am

        LW, I think you would strongly benefit from a therapist or life coach. My late 20s, I hit a rough patch in the relationship department and seeing someone helped me tremendously.

        You’ve wasted 13 years on this guy. Even after you broke up, you couldn’t let go. I think it’s time that you did. And there is no shame in getting help doing so.

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    Ron August 8, 2016, 5:10 pm

    And… not to be unduly harsh, but you letter provides no sense, let alone evidence, that you and your ex have grown at all, let alone ‘so much’ in the two years since you split up. He is in yet another relationship which he views as not good enough, but is unable to end. You still haven’t figured out, over a two-year span, why your relationship failed, and are pondering if it might work on a second try, while still thinking that ex will always be there for you if you need him. You have to outgrow that crap, take responsiblility for your own life without the crutch of a white knight ex, and find someone who strongly wants to be with you. I don’t see that either of you has grown or changed at all. Still the same old crap.

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  • avatar

    RHB August 9, 2016, 12:36 am

    Thank you Wendy, sometimes it takes others to show you sense when you feel like all sense is gone in yourself.
    I have screenshot your answers & some of the comments below so whenever I feel weak and want to message him, I will remind myself why I shouldn’t.

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