Dear Wendy
Dear Wendy

“We’re on a Break. Should I Confront Him about Whether He’s Seeing Anyone?”

My boyfriend, “Ryan” and I had been dating for ten months but ultimately had to SORT OF end things because we were both moving to faraway places for our careers and neither of us was particularly keen on doing long-distance. However, I say SORT OF because our communications with each other are pretty much the same as before, even using our nicknames for each other from the relationship. Before we left each other, we agreed that this wouldn’t be a long-distance relationship and we’d be taking a “break,” although there are no plans for getting back together. We may end up in the same place in two to three years, but that’s a long time away and nothing is confirmed; I don’t like to dwell on maybes.

Ryan says he’s someone who lets go very easily, and I believe it. He’s also someone who enjoys…a good old romp. I can’t stop him from seeing other people, but should I confront him about the way we’re communicating, especially if he’s going to be sleeping with other people? There’s a large time difference between us now, and whenever he’s unresponsive, my mind goes into overdrive and I assume he’s with someone else. To be clear, it’s been about a month since we left each other.

Finally, he’s someone who dislikes uncomfortable conversations (who doesn’t, to be fair) but I’m all about open communication. This is no doubt a question and conversation that would make him uncomfortable, and I’ve held off on talking about this with him only because I don’t want him to be avoidant (both now and in the future). Again though, it’s been a month and time will undoubtedly drive these feelings away eventually. However, it eats away at me every so often when he’s unresponsive. To clarify, I don’t know that he IS seeing other people, but I wouldn’t be surprised.

I’m hoping to get some perspective on this. Should I approach the conversation? Should I just let it go and gradually stop communicating with him? This approach would work only in the sense that I’m very good at letting time deal with things. Lastly, I’m someone who has her head on straight and am very independent. I’m not a crazy ex, but I am a chronic over-thinker, which has always been my downfall. — Over-Thinker

The honest, open conversation you need to have is with yourself. What is it that you actually want here? What is it you don’t want? If a long-distance relationship is something you DON’T want and now, after a month of communicating with Ryan, you have learned that the boundary between “we’re in a relationship” and “we’re just friends” is very unclear, then you need to stop communicating for a while. If the thought of that is heartbreaking and you decide that what you want even less than a long-distance relationship with Ryan is no relationship at all, then that’s how you start a conversation with him. He may want or not want the same things as you, but at least you will have clarity and can form or break boundaries that are actually consistent with your needs.

Maybe you need some perspective here. It can be easy to lose sight of the larger picture when we’re inside of it and feeling all the feelings. I’m outside your picture feeling none of the feelings but familiar with what those feelings are. This is how I see it from where I sit: If you continue communicating with Ryan as you are, with no break, you are essentially in a long-distance relationship. You will continue to feel some possession of Ryan’s time and be tortured by the thought of where he is and who he’s with when he’s not communicating with you. You may feel pressure or desire to fill your own time with someone else to distract you from these feelings. There may be some temptation to make him feel the same jealousy you feel. This isn’t a given, of course, and it’s not necessarily how others in your boat would react, but your feelings over the past month, articulated very well in your letter above, suggest that this is how things would play out.

The alternative is that you for real break up. None of this ambiguous “we’re on a break” stuff that keeps you feeling possessive of each other (or you at least feeling possessive of Ryan). There’s a clear-cut boundary – you both know it, see it, feel it, and, hopefully, respect it. You stop communication, at least temporarily (three months to start and then see how you feel, testing the waters with a few texts or short phone calls). You see what it is to really be without each other, how it feels to be apart not just in body but in communication, too. You let yourself grieve the ending, the loss of this important relationship, and you begin to move on. If it’s true that you both can let go easily, that you don’t like to dwell on “maybes,” that you’re able to let “time deal with things,” then let time do its thing. Let the time and distance do its thing.

The thing with time and distance is that it gives answers we sometimes may not expect. There may be heartache in those answers – especially if you realize you want something that is no longer available to you. But time and distance also heals, and with the healing comes clarity – a “knowing” that sure beats the ambiguity of the moment you’re currently in. So, the tl;dr version: There is no “sort of” ending things. You either end things or you don’t. What is it you want to do here? If you know what you want, say it and pursue it. If you don’t know what you want, time and distance will tell you.

***************Follow along on Facebook,  and Instagram. If you have a relationship/dating question I can help answer, you can send me your letters at wendy(AT)dearwendy.com.

14 comments… add one
  • avatar

    Bittergaymark August 18, 2020, 9:24 am

    It amazes me how so very few people actually grasp or even vaguely understand what “Being on a break” truly means.

    🙄

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  • avatar

    FYI August 18, 2020, 9:58 am

    You’re not “on a break.” You broke up. You’re not in a relationship. That’s what y’all decided. There isn’t anything to “confront.” (Lawd, how I’d love to get rid of that word.)

    Also, you said “Ryan is someone who… ” a couple of times. You aren’t nearly as independent as you think if you’re basing your behavior on who Ryan supposedly is. What do YOU want? Who cares if Ryan is uncomfortable, or Ryan likes a romp, or whatever. What do YOU want?

    Anyway, there’s no such thing as “on a break.” You can’t bookmark someone and come back to them (years?!) later. It didn’t work out. Move on.

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  • avatar

    Pheebers August 18, 2020, 11:16 am

    “On a break” has the same immature connotations to me as when people put their FaceBook status as “complicated.”

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  • avatar

    Bittergaymark August 18, 2020, 12:25 pm

    I disagree. You can be on a break. Only You have to then accept it means NOT acting like you’re still together.

    Maybe straight people lack the ability to do this? I dunno. That said I do know lots of gay couples that have done this successfully while having to move to places far apart and started up a few years later. It can be done.

    But only if you have the maturity to do it.

    🤷‍♂️

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    • avatar

      Prognosti-gator August 19, 2020, 3:51 pm

      BGM, I don’t think it is a difference in gay/straight relations, it has to do with what the word “break” actually means.

      Generally, a “break” is a temporary pause. When there’s a commercial break in your show on TV, you KNOW the show is coming back, there is no doubt. If someone is playing music and after a song says they’re taking a break, you expect they’ll be back in a few minutes. If they said they were taking a break and never came back, you wouldn’t still call it a break, you’d say they left.

      So, what does a “break” in a relationship really mean?

      If you KNOW you are going to be back together in X months, that means that even though you’re seeing other people, you’re placing the future of this relationship as primary. That’s really more of a temporarily open relationship. You’re placing the needs of this relationship over any potential new ones.

      If you are open to the possibility that you might meet someone else and not get back together at all, then it really isn’t as much a “break” as a “break-up””. There’s no saying that if you break up, you can’t get back together again in the future if you find yourself wanting to, but unless your plan before the split was to have that temporary pause where you knew you definitely would be back together, it wasn’t just a break.

      In the case of the LW, it sounds like they *might* end up in the same city someday in the future. That’s definitely not a break, as there’s absolutely no reason to think this relationship will pick up again.

      What complicates this is that you can retroactively assign “break” to what really was a “break up” if you get back together. So, you could break up, be apart for two years, but then get back together. Those people might say they “took a break” … but unless they had planned that they would be getting back together, they’re just playing word games. They broke up, but then got back together.

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  • avatar

    katmich15 August 18, 2020, 1:00 pm

    You are basically in an open long distance relationship, not a break. A break means you live your own lives, and don’t communicate the way a boyfriend and girlfriend do, if at all. Sounds like this is torturing you so I think for your peace of mind you need to make this a real break or even a break-up, and then whatever happens down the road happens. Easier said than done, I know, but if you keep things as they are, you will always be wondering, and if you ask him, do you really think any answer he gives will satisfy you?

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  • avatar

    ArtsyGirl August 18, 2020, 3:17 pm

    Any other millennials/Gen Xers repeating Ross from Friend’s yell “We were on a break!” while reading this?

    LW you are broken up. You and Ryan agreed that you have no interest in a long distance relationship and the situation will not be rectified in a short period of time or possible never. You cannot dictate who Ryan dates or sleeps with and what in the world would you confront him with – “how dare you go out with other people while we are no longer in a relationship.”

    I wonder how mutual this decision was. It seems that Ryan is fine with ending your 10 month relationship and has told you he is not heart broken over it while you obviously are struggling with the boundaries and labels. What you have right now is not “open communication” because you still expect to be a priority for his time and energy. Who is making the majority of the phone calls? It sounds like you are reaching out to him since you are upset when he does not answer. Move on for your own sake because you will just drive yourself crazy trying to monitor him and envisioning him with other people.

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    • avatar

      katmich15 August 18, 2020, 3:35 pm

      YES!!! I can’t hear that phrase without thinking about Ross and Rachel! 🙂

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    • avatar

      Talis August 19, 2020, 11:34 am

      Lol YES! It also reminds me, to a lesser degree, of that Parks and Rec episode where Ann didn’t realize she’d been dumped because Chris did it in such a soft way.

      Situations like these make me wonder what is even the purpose of a break. With no parameters, no time limit, no change in communication, no agreement on monogamy… what does it accomplish aside from stringing someone along? Or is that the whole point?

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  • avatar

    ron August 18, 2020, 4:24 pm

    Yes, you broke up and your ex can sleep with whomever he wishes and owes you nothing in that regard. — not celibacy, not fitting in convos with you between trysts, not letting you know when he sleeps with someone else — nothing. The why of that should be obvious. Just read what you wrote. You don’t want an LDR and neither does he. You have no plans (timing, location, after a certain event happens) to end the break, but think at a minimum you will be distant for at least several years. There is a chance you will live near each other sometime, years down the road. Does that sound like something for either of you to allow to influence how you live your lives.

    If it is satisfying for you to keep Ryan as a friend (and it sounds like it isn’t, it only causes feeling of jealousy and pain) then maintain contact and try to be friends. If this is more pain than pleasure, then make a clean break.

    If you fortuitously find yourselves living in close proximity 3 – 4 years from now, and you are both single, then you can mutually decide to rekindle your relationship, although that passage of time will have changed both of you, so it won’t be as it was.

    Ryan would be a fool not to sleep with other women. He is not going to give up dating and sex and put his romantic life on hold for 3 – 4 years on the very small chance that the two of you can get together again in 3+ years. It’s very telling that the two of you don’t have a plan for how this reuniting is even supposed to occur. If you and Ryan are to maintain a long-distant friendship, it would be foolish of him to talk to you about his sex and romantic life. You have demonstrated that you couldn’t handle that.

    It goes both ways. You need to assume that you and Ryan will never be anything more than distant platonic friends and get on with your own romantic life. That you are jealous of whom Ryan may be sleeping with says you are stuck in place and unable to move on. Stuck in place is time needlessy lost to loneliness and self-enforced celibacy. Why would you want to do that?

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  • avatar

    Kate B. August 18, 2020, 7:18 pm

    How can you be on a break but have no plans to get back together? This is why I, personally, don’t believe in taking breaks. You’re either on or you’re off, and you two are off. You broke up. What he does is his own business and he doesn’t owe you anything. But, you don’t owe him anything either. Get on with your life and do whatever, or whoever, you want.

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  • avatar

    brise August 19, 2020, 2:45 am

    My advice? Stop wondering about your ex-boyfriend and focus on your new place. This is a once in a life-time experience to live in a foreign country for career prospects. Enjoy it! Visit places, invite people to your place for nice dinners in order to integrate socially, go out with friends (ask them actively to accompany you to theater, movies, concerts or whatever), have as an active social life as possible. And do what you always wanted to do but had no time for, to fill the evenings when you are at home. Embrace your actual reality, not one of someone else. You will be fine.

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    brise August 19, 2020, 3:40 am

    And date! You are “on a break” for a reason!
    I would’nt “confront” your ex about anything. Just tell him that you have a hard time with the separation and would like to stop the communication for a while, because you need to focus on your new life in this new country.

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  • avatar

    ron August 19, 2020, 9:35 am

    What Brise said, but also stay safe from Coronavirus.

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