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