“He Said He Wanted to Marry Me, But Now He’s Deploying and He’s Changed His Mind”

I am legally separated from my husband, in the process of getting divorced, and have a 4-year-old who is everything to me. In no way was I looking for a relationship yet, nor to introduce anyone to my son for a while. This guy I knew from growing up — “John” — and I dated a bit when we were younger, but I hadn’t seen or spoken to him in ten years. He recently reached out to me while he was away at training for two weeks and very quickly he was talking about how he’s always been in love with me and now that I’m almost divorced he wants to be with me and wants a family and marriage and to be a solid father figure to my son.

“My Girlfriend Broke Up With Me Because I Wouldn’t Marry Her, But Now I Want to Marry Her”

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.”


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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.


  1. Avatar photo Cleopatra Jones says:

    Wendy nailed it!

    1. Absolutely. Nothing more need be said.

  2. Skyblossom says:

    It’s always a red flag when someone who has never met your child wants to be their stepdad. Always be wary of anyone who is jumping to lifetime commitment without spending a great deal of time one-on-one with you to see if your personalities and goals and wants and needs match.

    I think this guy built up a fantasy in his head about what it would be like to be with you. He probably had a crush on you ten years ago and he’s fed that crush for ten years. Then when the two of you got together he found that you weren’t the person in his fantasy.

  3. I think the bigger question you need to ask yourself is why you didn’t burst out laughing when he started spouting that obvious nonsense about wanting to marry you and be a stepdad to your son, when you’d barely just reconnected. If I’m reading your letter correctly, you were only actually together for that one visit since you started talking again? So when did he propose – over the phone, while he was away at training, before you got together in person? Are you sure he was sober when he said it?

    1. artsygirl says:

      My mother got a letter from an ex one a few years ago. She kindly replied that she was happily married and that neither of them were the same people from forty years ago. Apparently he had been going through a divorce and suddenly the memories of high school love seemed so much better than reality.

  4. artsygirl says:

    LW – You and John both over romanticized a non-relationship and got swept up. He is facing a long deployment and you are facing single motherhood and you both grasped the memory of a long distant love when life with easier. For gods sake, you are not even divorced yet so don’t worry about what could or could not be with John.

    1. artsygirl says:

      I am also going to say that I don’t think John necessarily played you. There is a reason why so many men and women rush down the aisle before deployment. You are facing possible death and extreme homesickness so the idea that someone is waiting for you is extremely appealing. It is possible that he realized that it was not fair to you or to him to make a huge commitment after a few months of dating. Also married service members get a pay bump and better housing.

  5. Bittergaymark says:

    Yeah. I don’t think he played her — but maybe just GREW UP. Something they should BOTH do at this point. Or did this LW give birth at 8?!

  6. Boot camp does that to people. When I was 19, my boyfriend was at boot camp, and called me out of nowhere to ask if I wanted to get married. I don’t think we had even talked about it previously, but I was like, “ok.”

    Even if he already did boot camp and this is the tech school part that comes after, people are still in a weird place.

    Anyway, Wendy is right.

    1. Avatar photo Cleopatra Jones says:

      Yeah, basic training does that to people.
      I always thought it was the lack of sex AND the immaturity of most soldiers in BT. Not to mention the copious amounts of alcohol on military posts.
      If you are 18 in the military post, you can buy liquor from the PX or at any club on post. If you go overseas, it’s even easier to access liquor and do all kinds of stupid shit.

      1. That and, the whole point of it is to break you down, then build you back up. The breaking down thing is key.

    2. PS, we did get married. It didn’t work out, but.

  7. Avatar photo Skyblossom says:

    Another thing to keep in mind is that guys who deploy come back a changed person. If they experience brain trauma they can be a person who can no longer hold down a job. They can have trouble with anger management. They can be horribly difficult to be around and not someone you want to have around a young child. I’ve seen this through a coworker and it is a very hard life. Even when you have spent some years together in a happy, committed relationship. If all you have are a few months of long distance you have almost no foundation to get through tough times.

  8. Monkeysmommy says:

    John said all of these things to get in your panties. He did. Now “the timing is not right.” Get it yet? The only reason he did not ghost you completely is probably so he could come get another piece before he goes off to deployment.

  9. LW —
    Really? You are happy to marry this guy you barely know and would wait for him through a year of deployment, based only on a few dates a decade ago, which weren’t such a big deal back then that the two of you didn’t continue dating? I don’t know if this was just a ploy to get in your panties, but honestly you sound WAY desperate to be so instantly bought into this guy. You need to make your child’s life any your life better. You were grasping for a savior. He’s not it.

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