Everything about him is a match for me: our families know each other and like each other; he’s got good values and traditions; and he works very hard. He got home from training and will be deployed in three months and gone for a year — a year that I would wait for him and be faithful if this was really something. Plus, I need that time to gather myself again. So in a weird way it would work out. But then, out of nowhere, he texted two days after he got back and we saw each other and had a great time and connected, to tell me that although he wants a relationship, he doesn’t think it’s the right time between work and the reserves and being deployed.
I wasn’t even looking for anything! He’s the one who brought up all of these conversations about how he wants to be a family. He said everything right and I believed him, and I opened up to him and now feel in love with this guy and he just turned the switch. How do you go backwards after those conversations and being intimate and then hit the breaks? I don’t know how to be around him now the next three months. Part of me thinks it’s better if we don’t even see each other because I really like him and I can’t just turn off my feelings now.
Do you think if he says he still wants a relationship, but just not now, it’s because he doesn’t want to hurt me because he can’t give me what I would need in a relationship? Am I stupid if I wait or try to have a non-intimate relationship with him over these next three months? I want to be around him and have him in my life, but I’m not desperate either and won’t allow him to just come in and out of my life at his convenience. A lot of women seem to write to you about guys breaking things off before deployment because of their own fears. Plus, John’s been cheated on by his last two girlfriends, so I’m sure there’s a trust issue. Help! — Willing to Wait
John played you. He was away at training, feeling lonely, maybe a little overwhelmed, and was thinking about you being newly single and remembering how he used to like you. It’s very possible he was thinking about a variety of women from his past. Maybe he even reached out to more than just you. Or maybe you were the only one. Regardless, he fed you a bunch of lines that maybe he convinced himself in the moment that he meant. And maybe when he saw you and you connected after ten years, he still meant them. But think about it for a second: Do you really think someone who hasn’t seen you in ten years, who has never met your son, would genuinely be in love with you after all that time and want to marry you and be a father to your kid? Or do you think it’s more likely that, thinking about being away from home for over a year, being deployed to some dangerous location, far from anyone who knows and loves him, that maybe he was feeling vulnerable and scared and the idea of having a wife and kid — a real anchor — waiting for him back home gave him a sense of security? And do you think it’s also possible that he wanted to have sex with you and so he told you what he thought would get you to sleep with him? Don’t you think either — or both — of those scenarios seems more likely than some guy you sort of dated a long time ago, and haven’t seen or spoken to in ten years, suddenly wants to marry you and be a stepdad to a child he’s never met? Think about it.
And then there’s you and your part in this. You say you really like this guy and can’t turn your feelings off now. Really? After what — a couple weeks of long-distance communicating and an evening together? That’s enough that you’re all in now and can’t get out? Oh, come on. Isn’t it more likely that being separated and going through a divorce and being a single mother to a 4-year-old is all kind of scary and overwhelming, and the idea of someone swooping in and proclaiming his love and telling you he wants to be an insta-family and saving you from the potential loneliness you were facing is seductive? Isn’t it maybe harder to turn away from the idea of him/not being alone anymore than the actual person (whom you really hardly know if you’ve seen each other once in ten years…)?
Look, this — John telling you he likes you but this isn’t the right time — isn’t about his being scared of hurting you. It’s about his coming to his senses before he leaves for a year. It’s about his not wanting to lead you on. It’s about his not wanting to be committed to anyone for the next three months before he deploys. It’s about realizing that the reality of an actual person (you!) and her child is a little more serious and intense than the fantasy he built up from however many states away he was when he reached out to you. And then when he came home and you hooked up and you started echoing some of his lines about being a family and his being a dad to your kid, he was like, “Oh, shit.” Because even if he convinced himself in the moment when he was saying those things that he meant them, he didn’t really. And why would he? He hardly knows you. And you hardly know him.
Those feelings you think you simply can’t turn off? You can. Give yourself about a week or two of no contact with him and he can fade back into the recesses of your memory where he belongs. And then you can truly have the time you say you need to “gather yourself.” Because that’s a good idea – gathering yourself before starting a new relationship. Do that, and focus on your kid. And maybe a year from now if you meet someone, you’ll be in a better frame of mind to get to know him and see how you connect, and slowly — over the course of many, many, many months — you can begin to integrate each other into your lives and, as a couple, into your son’s life. And then you can start thinking about a potential future and maybe eventually being a family. But you don’t start thinking all that about some guy you haven’t seen in ten years and hardly know. That’s not the way it works.”
If you have a relationship/dating question I can help answer, you can send me your letters at firstname.lastname@example.org.