A SWEETIE SWEETIE GEM:
My question is about a confusing casual long distance thing, but for context - earlier this year I ended a 4 year relationship with my boyfriend. It was a slow weird breakup, but ultimately felt right. Right before him, I was in a long-distance abusive relationship. While in my last relationship I finally accepted I was bi. So after all that and feeling free to explore my sexuality and actively healing my traumas, I wasn't really interested in getting involved with anyone.
However… I met this guy about a week after my ex moved out on a dating app. It was supposed to be a rebound, and it was definitely lust at first sight. I’m not attracted to many men, and tbh kind of tired of all their bullshit. But it was an instant connection, something that hasn’t happened in a very long time, (I think in part because I was feeling confident + happy, also a first in a while). I haven’t had a crush like this in years, not even with my last two exes. But a relationship just wasn’t an option, and he was leaving in a month, so it was perfect for me. Every step of the way I would check myself and make sure I wasn’t getting wrapped up in making this crush something it wasn’t. But it was super hard!! Because we really connected AND I was super attracted to him.
One of the first things we bonded over was that we both wanted to move to the same city, but the pandemic put our plans on hold. He’s from across the country, and moved back there, and I live on the opposite coast. My plan is to move there spring/summer of next year, but that isn’t a definite, especially now.
He would often invite me into his life in ways that surprised and confused me. I wasn’t ready to do the same, so I didn’t. I have abandonment issues, and its been work to constantly monitor my perception of things. I have a tendency to sabotage. I was pretty proud of how I was able to have fun with him and not get attached to the outcome. Since it had an expiration date, it seemed easy.
Sike!! So, he moved, and I figured that was that. But he continued to keep in contact with me. Since he left, there really hasn’t been a day that we haven’t talked. Its been about 4 months now. We’ve known each other about two months in person and two months not in person. Much of the time its just memes being sent, but we do have conversations a few times a week, mostly texting but a solid phone call here and there. We’ve also had mental illness talks, and that’s been nice to have someone who is actively trying their best too. But it has consistently been him makin the moves. I’m used to people saying all the right things, but their actions don’t line up. With him it seems the words aren’t there, but the actions are. Actually the words might be, but I am way too good at circumnavigating a vulnerable conversation. Its immature but I deflect a lot with humor or just end up pulling away. Recently I’ve been pulling away more. Yesterday he shared how good of a day he had and my response was very blah, and now I feel bad for being so hot and cold.
I feel as though, if we lived in the same city, would we be dating? I kind of want the answer to be yes, even though I repeatedly say I don’t want a relationship. He has “joked” to me on a few occasions about being single, and that kind of confused me. People don’t joke to their crush about being single? I don’t think? We also talk pretty casually about dating/relationships/sex in a broad sense. I went on one date with someone after he left, and it was fun and fine but tbh, I kind of just compared him to my crush. I have never once considered asking if he is sleeping with anyone, it doesn’t seem like my business.
So should I let this die? It seems like I’m killing it on purpose. We didn’t start off as just friends, so it would be silly to try and now say I’m not attracted to him in that way. But I do value his friendship a lot. I feel like I’ve been around the block and can recognize compatibility when I see it now, and I trust my intuition. My intuition says this has potential and that’s why I’m taking it so seriously but my rationality says you’re just going to create drama when you need to be focused on other more important things. I guess regardless, I would like to have an honest conversation about us, even if that just means acknowledging how weird and complicated it all is. But I don’t even know how to approach it or what the conversation would be about. I feel the wall up and I want to knock it down but don’t know how!
Good morning, brilliant friend of ours and welcome back to the bliss-hell that is potentially-romantic relationships!
First things very first—and I say this more for other readers than for you specifically. I’m sorry; I know that’s a bit rude of me to hijack your letter, but a lot of people need to hear this—REBOUNDS AREN’T A THING.
I mean, not how you think they are. Not how we’ve been told they are. The idea of a rebound is pretty much inherently flawed and fucked. In no way does hooking up with a person help you move on from a past relationship, or assuage the ill-effects of its end. That’s like eating a donut because you just ate an entire cake and it made you feel sick. The ONLY proven “rebound” after a relationship is time ALONE. ALONE ALONE.
I do not mean that you cannot suck a **** or ride someone’s **** in the early days of being single. That’s fine and jolly and I hope you enjoy yourself! But the thing is, it’s very very very very very very very very very very very very hard to repeatedly hookup with a person and not get entangled. Even if you don’t want to end up together or try dating each other or get serious, the very act of having to navigate things like how often you’re gonna hook up, what your boundaries are around hooking up, how often you text and talk outside of hooking up, IS INTIMATE. It’s intimacy. And that means that it’s going to require emotional maturity and emotional bandwidth. No one wants to admit this, but friends-with-benefits or no-strings-attached-hookups (OF WHICH I AM A MASSIVE FAN!! I LOVE THEM!) require work because they are a modality of interacting with a person. And interacting with people ALWAYS HAS AND ALWAYS WILL require work. Dealing with people is work. It is why we pay therapists and sex workers and Walmart greeters. Dealing with people is work, even if it is casual. There is no such thing as a fancy-free rebound with no work attached. The strings will always be there unless you’re fucking someone whose name you didn’t catch in a bar bathroom and you never see them again (Which is fine! I’m pro anonymous fuck!)
Just please, everyone, adjust your idea of what a rebound is / looks like because 80% of the time that people try to rebound, they end up in weird quasi-relationships like the one above and it requires just as much work to get into/out of as a Real Relationship and now you’ve given yourself NO TIME to heal from the first relationship before you’ve jumped back in.
OK NOW BACK TO YOU, 100%!!! Nothing else for other people!!!! ALL FOR YOU AND YOUR LETTER!!!!
My biggest question here, and the question I think you need to do the most thinking on is: what do you want? If you’re having trouble figuring it out, here is what I suggest. First, start by thinking completely unrealistically. Don’t put any parameters on your little fantasy of how this goes. Do you want to move to the city today and be with him immediately? What’s the ideal? Got an answer? Ok. Then, perhaps surprisingly, I suggest that you think about what the WORST scenario is for you. What is your worst case scenario here? Is it for you guys to get together and it end badly? Is it for you to be alone? What’s the fear?
Ok, now take the two scenarios you’ve created (BEST BEST BEST and WORST WORST WORST WORST) and figure out how to get as much of the good stuff as you can—e.g., doing everything you can to move next year to his city or having a conversation with him about how you want to date for real. Additionally, do everything you can to avoid the bad stuff. I know it sounds very simple, but when you admit to yourself what your actual fears and desires are, it will help you get closer to fighting to make this as good as possible. A word of advice: don’t get too caught up in rationality. You have 80 years on this planet, if you’re lucky. Being smart and careful pays off in a lot of ways (like when you decide to invest in a Roth IRA or not jump off a roof), but being too much of a “Reasonable Adult” about love is not one of them. It’s ok to be a bit foolish for the sake of romantic connection, as long as you’re not harming anyone or severely blowing up your life. (E.g., Please do not quit a job that you need in order to live. Please do not move to a city you aren’t legally allowed to live in for immigration reasons. Please do not pay off someone else’s debt until you’ve been married to them for a while and you know it’s the real deal).
Once you figure out what YOU ACTUALLY WANT with this guy, then the second hard part comes: how do you follow through. Like a lot of people, you seem set on pushing away intimate moments. We’ve all bee there. We’ve all joked off nice, sincere things because it feels uncomfortable. But I implore you, if you do decide to “go for it” with this guy—whatever that may look like—to get over yourself. Otherwise you are dooming this already difficult, precarious relationship. You already have long-distance PLUS a pandemic PLUS only knowing each other a short time before the long-distance. And you want to add bad communication? (Because that’s what jokey-ness in the face of sincerity is). It will not work, babe. If you want to doom this relationship, there are much faster, less painful ways of killing it.
And it’s fine if you do decide that you don’t think this will work. That’s ok. You can decide that now or six weeks from now or ten months down the line or never. It’s ok. But if you’re going to try, actually try. I know you think this current half-assed wishy-washy thing protects you from looking like a fool, but it does not. It’s harmful. Pick a lane—dating him or not—and go for it. If you don’t want to date him rather seriously, it’s probably time to end things. You’re too far (literally and metaphorically) to be casual at this point. There is no such thing as casual long distance.
What you are doing right now has an expiration date. You already feel it, I know, otherwise you wouldn’t have written me. Either it expires and fades away because you guys don’t put in effort to make it A Thing, or it ends explosively OR you both agree that there is something there and you work on it. You cannot stay in the place you are currently at much longer.
Now, I want to go through some things that you wrote that stuck out to me. I’m lazy, so I’ll just do it line by line:
“But it was an instant connection, something that hasn’t happened in a very long time, (I think in part because I was feeling confident + happy, also a first in a while).” You are absolutely correct that the reason that you had an “instant connection” with him is that you were feeling confident and happy and open to something like that. It’s because of the place you were in that you were ready to receive that. It doesn’t mean that the connection is false, but I want you to know that should this not work out for any reason, there will be more connection. Although, should this not work out I BEG you, PLEASE give yourself some actual time alone and single. For the love of god.
“Every step of the way I would check myself and make sure I wasn’t getting wrapped up in making this crush something it wasn’t.” I know you know this now, but I want to really beat this dead horse: THIS IS NOT A THING. It’s like taking a bike ride and thinking, “I don’t want to burn any calories from this.” You cannot think away the consequences of repeatedly hooking up with and talking to a person you like. That does not exist.
“I have a tendency to sabotage.” It’s good that you know that, but you need to figure out the why and start working on that. Is it because of the abusive relationships in your past? Is it because you don’t think you deserve good relationships (you do!!!)? Why is it? How can you work on that and change that? If you have the means and time to see a therapist, I strongly recommend doing so and asking them to help you unpack your saboteur tendencies.
“People don’t joke to their crush about being single?” YES THEY DO. THEY ABSOLUTELY DO. I’m not saying 100% that he’s doing this, but people absolutely do joke to their crush about being single as a way of hoping their crush gets the fucking hint.
“My rationality says ‘you’re just going to create drama when you need to be focused on other more important things.’” I’m so sorry, I did not realize you were the person with the nuclear launch codes. Or is it the cure for coronavirus you’re working on? Or are you in the middle of giving the Heimlich maneuver to 602 different people? What is it that is so much more important than being into a guy? That’s pretty fucking important imo. Don’t diminish love!!! Love is very important!! Relationships—whether they work out or not—do not have to include any “drama.” That is a word that we have ascribed a lot of negative meaning to in order to dismiss certain emotional events. It’s perfectly fine and normal and in fact GOOD to feel a lot about a romantic relationship beginning or ending. Don’t condescend your own feelings. It will never serve you.
Ok, now figure out what it is that you actually want and then ask him for it. It could look like this—please say it in your own words!!!. “Hey, Eduardo, I know I’ve been kind of hot and cold recently, and I really apologize for that. I know it’s not a great way to communicate and I’m sorry for leaving you in the dark, but what that came from was me trying to figure out what I wanted between us. After thinking about it, I’ve realized that I do want _______.” Obviously, this isn’t a one-sided relationship and he might have a totally different idea than you. But you don’t know that yet, because you two haven’t talked about it at all! So go forth! Be brave! You have literally nothing to lose other than a phone call every once in a while from a guy who lives across the country and some memes.
The wall is up because it has protected you before. You’re not wrong to have a wall up. But if you want it down, you just kind of have to hold your breath and live through a lot of uncomfortable moments. There’s no way out but through, sadly. There’s no magic, “I have my walls down now” pill. If you two do decide to start dating, here’s what you must do: Talk to him. Tell him about your walls. Admit to them. Tell him why they’re up. If you think of things he can do to help them not be up, ask for those things. Give him cheat codes like, “Hey, if I’m getting distant, give me space.” Or “If I’m irritable, remind me that you love me.” His job is not to tear down or get past the walls. That’s your job. They’re your walls.
Good luck; you’ve got this!!! Be kind to yourself. Be kind to him. There are no wrong answers.