I tried to break up with Dan about six months ago after a particularly hurtful episode but then came back the next week because I still believed we could fix things. He started feeling more and more like a stranger to me. I felt miserable every day, and I started blaming myself. Eventually, I was able to open up to my friends and get some much-needed support. Dan broke up with me last month, saying that I couldn’t understand him, etc. I was completely devastated, but, with no contact, I’ve realized just how toxic our relationship was and how unhappy it was making me. It still hurts some days, but I feel ready to move past this now.
Meanwhile, I had a crush on his ex-best friend (XBF) before I met Dan. I pushed my attraction for XBF aside during my relationship, but since he and Dan were roommates I saw him frequently and we developed a platonic friendship. When the first breakup happened, XBF was there for me and held me, but I was still attached to Dan, so I tensed up and hurt his feelings. We’ve had a couple of other moments full of romantic tension that we’ve both kind of ignored. I liked him, but I was in love with Dan, and I’m not the kind of person to cheat. We’ve grown apart a little because of this, but we’re still good friends. With my new insights, I realize that I’ve had and still have feelings for XBF, but we’re graduating from college and he’s moving to a new state. I care about him a lot, but what can I do? — Scared To Lose Him
I don’t think you should do anything. In your toxic relationship, you sought support in books, friends, and even therapy, but you couldn’t actually end the relationship yourself despite how miserable you say you’d become. The relationship only ended when Dan broke up with you — just a month ago! — which you say “devastated” you. And now you’re talking about moving on, potentially with his ex-best friend who is moving away soon? Girl, no. This is not the time to be moving on with some other guy. This is the time to focus on yourself and find your footing again. A 2 1/2-year relationship at your age is nothing to sneeze about. That’s a significant time. And when almost half of that time was spent feeling miserable and confused, you need more than one month to process the ending — the ending of which you did not orchestrate — and the relationship’s impact on you.
In time, you may feel ready to date and you should. But my guess is that anything you pursue over the next couple of months is going to be nothing more than a rebound fling — a quick and easy way to boost your tarnished self-esteem and to help process the ending of your relationship. (There’s nothing like affirming for yourself the ending of something than to start something new, even if what’s new is just a fling.) I don’t think your ex-boyfriend’s ex-best friend is the right person with whom to explore this transition and your feelings around it. Too much history, baggage, and drama. Plus, as you say — he’s moving to a new state. What would be the point in even trying to start something romantic at this point?
I know you don’t want to “lose” XBF, but the only thing you have with him to lose is a budding friendship. THAT can continue. In fact, you have a much better chance of keeping him in your life if you avoid starting some sort of relationship with him at this point, when you’re still smarting from a breakup and he’s entering his own big life transition and moving away. Stay friends for now — keep in touch when he moves, and maybe in the future, when you’re both at different stages, the timing will work in your favor. But if you start something now, not only will timing and circumstances not be on your side, but you also are likely to ruin your friendship and any potential for something blossoming between you one day.
I first discovered this seven years ago. He got “help” then, and he swore this would never happen again. Our children were teenagers at the time, so it was more complicated to end our marriage then. I did give him another chance, but I made clear that the literature and research say this rarely works out. He swears he loves me and the life we had, but I kicked him out of the house. I know I need to file for divorce, but it’s tough making the final jump. Any thoughts? — Fool Me Twice
Ending a twenty-nine-year marriage is going to be hard. That doesn’t mean it’s the wrong decision…and it doesn’t mean you have to do it right away. I’d take my time with this, being gentle with myself while moving through the steps of grief. This is a loss much like any death. You’re losing a life companion as well as the promise of a future you imagined sharing together. Right on the eve of retiring and beginning what many consider the golden years of your life, you will have to re-imagine what those years will look like. The structure of your family has changed already just by your becoming an empty-nester, and now it will change further as you become single. It will take time — and support — to adjust to your new normal and to process all the mixed-emotions you must be feeling (and will continue to feel for some time).
If you aren’t already, I’d encourage you to seek some form of therapy. This is the time to call in support from friends and other family members. Now is a good time to start something new, too. Is there an activity or event you’ve always wanted to try or be part of? What are some things you told yourself you’d do once you had more time to pursue them? This is that time. This is YOUR time. You’re done raising your children, and you’re done fighting for a marriage that no longer serves you. It may be hard to see it this way, but this time for you is a gift. You have a chance now to re-imagine and create the life you want for yourself. And maybe that life still includes your husband in some way; maybe you two can be friends and travel companions. But I wouldn’t jump into that new relationship until you’ve processed the end of your current one, and that’s going to take time and some distance (and plenty of forgiveness). You might also decide you want nothing to do with your husband anymore, and that’s perfectly ok, too! The beauty of this period is that it’s about YOU and what you want and what best supports your needs.
In the meantime, do talk with a lawyer about how to get your ducks in a row and how best to protect yourself and your assets. You don’t need to file or sign anything until you feel ready to, but knowing what the legal path ahead looks like will help you on your emotional path forward, too.
If you have a relationship/dating question I can help answer, you can send me your letters at email@example.com.