Dear Wendy
Dear Wendy

“I’m Supposed to Move In With My Boyfriend, But I Can’t Stop Thinking of My Ex”

I am 28 have been dating my boyfriend, “Derek,” 38, for a little over three years now. We are probably going to move in together at the end of the summer. While I love him, I have been dragging my feet on moving in together, which I originally thought was just nerves on taking such a big step.

My friends and family love Derek and think we’re a great match. He is thoughtful, responsible, and understanding, and we agree on all the important issues. We travel well together and enjoy a lot of the same hobbies. I really have no problems with him or our relationship outside of minor domestic things, and we’re great at communicating. Ours is the most functional relationship I’ve ever been in. However, our relationship is getting sort of boring in the sex department and our 10-year age difference has contributed to my feeling a little settled down since he’s not as active as I am. Additionally, I have been battling unresolved issues with my ex, “Gerald,” 27, for several years now.

I met Gerald when I was 21 and we dated for a bit before he decided he was too intimidated by me and we broke up, which was really upsetting for me as I had liked him for quite some time. We continued being friends and I ended up moving across the country about five years ago to a big city from my smaller hometown. During another break up of mine, we ended up speaking quite a lot, got very close, and formed what I now think was an intense emotional relationship that lasted for about two years that we never really defined because neither of us wanted to move to each other’s city to date each other. When I visited my home town, usually about one to two times a year, we would inevitably hang out and it always caused emotions to come up that were difficult for both of us to deal with. We would usually stop talking for a few months and then resume texting each other four to five days a week.

I just went back to my hometown and Gerald and I spent some more time together. He has not dated anyone seriously since I moved, it’s obvious that he is hurting, and I miss him too. I cannot help but think I am seriously romanticizing what we had since we never truly dated in person as adults. He is also very introverted and has a hard time getting close to others, so I imagine he is also romanticizing things. I can’t get him out of my mind and feel deeply guilty that I am still having these feelings as Derek’s and my relationship gets more serious. I also know that Gerald and I don’t have a future as we will still not move to each other’s cities nor will I engage in a long-distance relationship. I am trying to not talk to or think about him, but it hurts since we do get along well and have known each other for so long. Any advice or direction would be appreciated. — Romanticizing My Ex

You have one man who you say is a great match for you, and, indeed, he sounds ideal. But you’re hesitant about taking the next step with him because: sex has gotten boring; you feel too settled with him; you are romanticizing an ex who dumped you years ago and with whom you know you have no future. Sounds like classic avoidance of intimacy to me. Why not work on the boring sex with Derek? Communicate with him about why and how you would prefer staying more active? Instead of wallowing about feeling sedentary or whatever because your boyfriend is ten years older than you, get moving. I mean, Derek is 38 not 68, so I don’t really buy that he can’t keep up with his 28-year-old girlfriend. What is it that you’re suggesting that he doesn’t have the energy for? Can you do it without him? Persuade him to give it a try if you can be willing to try/do something he enjoys doing? This is called compromise, and it’s certainly not unique to relationships with an age difference.

You’re at the point in your relationship when you have to put some effort into maintaining and growing it. Guess what? All relationships demand that effort — even one you might have had with Gerald. But you’re not going to have a relationship with Gerald because he’s not the guy for you. If he were, one or both of you would be willing to move for the other. You are not each other’s unicorn. You are merely distractions for each other. He’s distracting you from the relationship you want to avoid either because you’re lazy or you’re afraid of being hurt (or both), or because deep down you don’t think Derek is the guy for you either. You need to figure out what it is you’re avoiding and deal with that shit. Leave Gerald out of it though. In fact, lose his number and block him every way he can reach out to you. He’s distracting you and holding you back. Imagine the depth of feeling you might have were you not funneling so many shallow thoughts and feelings toward him. Seriously, what a waste of time and effort! Save that shit for someone who actually wants something real with you, not someone who dumped you because he was “too intimidated by you” (what a crock of shit, seriously–sounds like he just wanted to bang other women), and keeps you on a line for years because he, too, is avoiding something in his life.

With Gerald, you talk about all these emotions and how “difficult” they are and yada yada and how you have to take breaks for months on end from even interacting because the emotions involved with even communicating are too much. Doesn’t it sound like you two have issues dealing with intimacy? (I mean, you say he can’t even get close to anyone because he’s so “introverted” [that’s not what introverted means, by the way], which further suggests how much he is using you and your weird emotional affair/friendship/whatever it is. He can feign closeness with you without actually having to put in any effort at all. In fact, as soon as it feels too intense, he (and you!) back off. For months. How convenient. That’s not the way real relationships work.

You want a real relationship that brings real joy and fulfillment? It sounds like you could have that with Derek. But in order to feel the joy and fulfillment, you have to be willing to feel the full range of emotions involved in a serious relationship, including the frustration, anger, boredom, and moments of feeling inadequate or misunderstood. I’ve heard grief described as the receipt you get for the love you shared or had for someone. Grieving is payment for love. And, in a similar way, all the stuff you’re avoiding — with both of these men — is the payment you have to make to love and to be loved deeply. You aren’t making the payment, and as long as you keep avoiding it, you will fail to feel the depth of love in a romantic relationship that you could.

We know you aren’t meant to have that romantic relationship with Gerald. I can’t say whether you’re meant to have it with Derek. But I can say that you won’t figure it out if you keep funneling your energy to someone else rather than deal with the nitty-gritty, sometimes messy and uncomfortable stuff that a real, true relationship requires of you. If you aren’t at a place to put in that effort and to get a little messy, then at least be kind and let Derek go. But if you think you are willing to put in the effort and get a little messy to see what this payment for love might give you, start by letting Gerald go. You’ll be doing yourselves both a favor, and, ironically, it may be the biggest act of love you could give him, saying good-bye once and for all.

I think these two columns could also help you:

“I Keep Dreaming of Cheating on My Fiancé”

“I’m Moving in with my Boyfriend, But I Can’t Stop Thinking of my Ex”
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If you have a relationship/dating question I can help answer, you can send me your letters at wendy@dearwendy.com.

12 comments… add one
  • juliecatharine

    Juliecatharine May 19, 2017, 1:09 pm

    WWS. This isn’t a friendship, it’s an emotional affair that should absolutely be ended. It’s completely unfair to your boyfriend. If you’re not ready to settle down don’t do it but it is super shitty to keep someone on the hook while you pine for what might have been with someone else and play little melodramatic games with them. Generally speaking when you’re torn between two men the answer is neither and I have to wonder if that applies here.

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    Fyodor May 19, 2017, 1:16 pm

    That the first thing she tells us about Derek is that her family likes him is all I need to know. The fact that she sounds like she’d seriously consider leaving Derek if Gerald were able to move nearby, means that she’s pretty weakly attached to him. That doesn’t mean she should be with Gerald, but it means that she doesn’t really feel strongly about Derek.

    Your early-mid thirties are the age for settling for a guy you just kinda like. You’re 28 now. Try to find someone who you’re fired up to be with.

    Derek is entitled to someone who is excited to be with him or at the very least fully resigned to a meh romantic relationship. LW is neither. Set him free.

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      RedroverRedrover May 19, 2017, 1:37 pm

      I agree with this. It sounds like Derek is perfect on paper, but the LW doesn’t sound all that fired up about him. It’s telling that these strong thoughts/feelings for Gerald are coming up just when she is about to take the plunge of moving in together, which I assume is meant to be step 1 toward major commitment. Is it really just the sex and feeling “settled down”? Because both of those could potentially be fixed. Or is it more than that? Is this her way of trying to get out of moving in with him because deep down she realizes it’s not really what she wants.

      But either way, follow Wendy’s advice about Gerald. Just cut him out, it’s not meant to be.

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      K May 19, 2017, 1:52 pm

      I’m assuming the “Your early-mid thirties are the age for settling for a guy you just kinda like. ” is meant to be tongue-in-cheek 😉

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      anonymousse May 19, 2017, 3:23 pm

      Great advice!

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    Fyodor May 19, 2017, 2:10 pm

    I was mostly teasing but it is true that I might have different advice for a 38 year old vs a 28 year old about a fundamentally sound relationship that maybe didn’t fire them up so much. Partially because of the shorter time window and partially because the 38 year old would have more of a reference point for whether it’s an acceptable compromise. I wouldn’t advise anyone to stay in the relationship she’s describing.

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      K May 19, 2017, 2:35 pm

      I agree, she shouldn’t stay in it. Well, if she feels like working on their issues, seeing how that goes, and then moving on if she feels the same way. It seems like her heart isn’t in it though. But someone in their 30’s also shouldn’t just settle for a guy they only think is ok.

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      • juliecatharine

        Juliecatharine May 19, 2017, 2:44 pm

        Agree. Dan Savage does have a point with his line that ‘there’s no settling down without settling for’, however, I feel like that is more a reality check for people who want a “perfect” partner rather than a realistic one–you should still be fundamentally psyched to be with your SO.

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    wobster109 May 19, 2017, 2:48 pm

    What does Gerald mean when he says “intimidated” by you? This is only valid if you are pounding your chest and charging at him. I’m guessing you’re not doing that. It’s probably more like you’re smart and energetic and ambitious, in which case don’t date Gerald. Don’t date people who want you to be dumber and quieter.

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  • bittergaymark

    bittergaymark May 19, 2017, 3:23 pm

    Another Nice Guys Finish Last letter. Only this one is written from the GF’s point of view. Oh, what to do? Actually, this one is easy. For his sake you’d best set Derek free. Then — with hopeless (and prophetic!) abandon — throw yourself after some emotionally stunted douche who dumped you for one of the most seriously bullshit textbook reasons ever. Lemme guess, in a few month he’ll offer up the “it’s not you — it’s me!” speech…
    .
    Honestly? It’s amazing what some people will fall for, Much less hopelessly obsess over.

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    anonymousse May 19, 2017, 4:00 pm

    My husband is mid forties, I’m mid thirties. We are both fit, but he’s super fit and has way more energy than I do.

    There’s a world of great sex out there. Don’t settle for lukewarm. I agree with fyodor, if the first good thing you write about someone is that your parents like them…maybe you don’t have the necessary passion for the long haul.

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    Misa May 20, 2017, 2:54 pm

    I want to comment about this part.
    “However, our relationship is getting sort of boring in the sex department and our 10-year age difference has contributed to my feeling a little settled down since he’s not as active as I am. ”
    My husband is 17 years older then me (46 to my 30). I am super active in the bedroom, and my husband has back problems that lead to problems depending on how his back it doing. That has never slowed us down. My husband is willing to help me out and I am willing to do what I need to. If your sex life is boring, then do something about.

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