Dear Dr. NerdLove,
I can’t move on from my ex. Or, really, I don’t want to move on. I’m still in love with her and I feel like we can make things work somehow—even though we’re not speaking at the moment.
The story: At the beginning of 2020, I separated from my wife of two and a half years (call her A). We had been long-distance for most of our relationship, and having problems for a while, although I didn’t acknowledge them until they blew up in our faces. I was sad and conflicted about our separation, but also relieved. It felt like the right decision for both of us.
About a month later (the end of February), I connected with B. I wasn’t looking to get serious with anyone, and I told B that. B was looking to date seriously, so I sort of thought we wouldn’t go anywhere. But we had such a strong connection, physically and emotionally.
After we’d been on a few dates, B left town to visit family. It so happened that this is when the COVID lockdown started, and she ended up staying with her family for almost 3 months. During this time, we texted every day. Soon this escalated to regular sexting, and then phone calls and Skype sessions. We talked for hours on end. At one point during this time I tried to break things off, because I didn’t feel ready for the kind of relationship she wanted. B was understanding. But, I texted her again a few days later and we went back to the same pattern.
We kept this up until she came back to town at the end of May. By this point I was all in. I told B I was in love with her and wanted to be exclusive. She told me she was in love with me too and wanted to date me. She did ask whether I thought I wanted to have kids, because up to that point I had told her I was unsure. I told her I was still unsure, but open to the idea. That seemed to satisfy her.
Things were great at first. We spent a lot of time together. The sex was (I think) the best the either of us had ever had. We were extremely open and emotionally vulnerable with each other. Most of the time, I felt totally at ease with her. But my uncertainty about having kids seemed like it started to weigh on her. In July she started expressing serious concerns about the fact that I wasn’t sure about having kids. She was also looking for a partner who would be the primary breadwinner, and she was worried that I wasn’t interested in this — or that I was interested in it only because it’s what she wanted. (Some more background: I was just finishing up a graduate degree program and unsure on my next steps — and likely many years away from making the kind of salary that could support a family.)
When these issues came up I would say things to assuage her, and we would carry on as if things were normal. But they kept coming up every couple weeks or, sometimes seemingly triggered by unrelated issues. (E.g., one time I liked the post of someone I had hooked up with in the past; B saw this and took it as evidence that I wasn’t ready for a committed relationship with the prospect of kids, etc).
In August, I made a trip out of town to see A, to close the door on our relationship–this would be our first in-person meeting since the prior fall. B and I had discussed this, and she was very supportive of my going to see A. But when I got back, B said she wanted to end things. She said she felt like she was getting in the way of my and A’s relationship, and didn’t want to feel like our relationship was caught up in the middle of that. I argued with her because I was so sure of my feelings for B and that things with A were over. We ended up deciding to take a break.
But, although B continued to insist we were on a break, we continued seeing each other, sleeping together, acting in every way like boyfriend and girlfriend. This continued for a couple weeks, during which we had more tense discussions about the issue of whether I really wanted to have a family and be a provider. I insisted that yes, I wanted this. And I did want it. My relationship with B had changed my perspective: I had never been with someone I was so passionate about. Unlike with A, I was excited about the prospect of having kids and building a family with B. But B felt like I only wanted these things because she wanted them, and that this put too much pressure on her.
At the same time, by the end of August, all of these conversations and the uncertainty about our relationship had started to make me insecure and needy. I was hyper-sensitive to her being less physically or verbally affectionate, or to her not wanting to have sex. When I expressed these things to her, she seemed to react both with understanding and attempts to soothe me — and frustration. The last week of August was filled with tension, with both of us getting frustrated with each other over small things. B broke up with me at the end of the month.
But we kept seeing each other. I sort of thought that this would be like the last time we “broke up”. Things were different, though. B expressed that she felt like she wasn’t in a place to have a relationship. I told her that I was fine with this, that I just wanted to know if she was dating or looking to date other guys, and she agreed. While we kept acting “relationship-y” in many ways and we continued to be sexually intimate, she wanted to stop having intercourse. As the weeks passed, she was comfortable with fewer and fewer sexual activities–she said she didn’t feel comfortable being so intimate with someone she wasn’t dating. She was also cagey about whether she was looking to date other guys, and expressed frustration when I asked about seeing a dating app on her phone, for instance. (I wasn’t snooping–an app notification popped up when she was showing me something on her phone.)
Our hangouts were usually pleasant, though, and B seemed genuinely more relaxed / at ease now that we weren’t dating. But this new arrangement only made me more needy and insecure. We would frequently have conversations negotiating our status (e.g., whether she was seeing other guys, what kind of sexual activities she was comfortable with, why we couldn’t just dating). I tried to say I was fine with the new situation, but obviously I wasn’t, and it would keep coming out. We agreed to stop talking/hanging out for a week at the end of September. After briefly resuming our quasi-romantic relationship, a final conversation about a month ago led to B insisting that we stop talking altogether.
I know this story sounds crazy. But I haven’t felt so strongly about someone ever. Despite our problems, I still feel like our chemistry is incredible. I can’t stop thinking about how to get her back–how much time I should go before reaching out, what I should do or say to convince her that I really want the things that she wants, whether I should try to be friends with her again, and so on.
I’ve been doing all the things you’re supposed to when you go through a breakup — focusing on personal growth, exercising, hanging out with friends, going on dates, etc. But I can’t get B off my mind.
I think I probably just need to hear some hard truths, so lay it on me.
Stuck in Love