Before Christmas I met a girl and I instantly liked her. It was the first time I was going to make my move (late bloomer here) so I was really excited … and anxious of course. I asked a common friend if she is available and it turned out that she was – she broke up with her boyfriend before a couple of months. So I added her on Facebook and I arranged for another beer with all our friends in order to get to know her better. I was planning to move quick but it turned out that she was to leave the town the next day for Christmas and she would return after 2-3 months. I decided to occasionally chat with her on Facebook in order to keep some kind of contact. I noticed that even though we had long and smooth conversations she would never text first. As a result after some weeks I decided that she had no interest so I stopped texting.
After 2-3 months she returned and we hanged out as friends for some weeks. I could not notice any interest signs but I found strong feelings emerging inside me. At first I tried to ignore them as I always did in the past, because I was anxious of getting rejected and I was sure she didn’t like me. One day after some smooth and playful chatting – thanks to your great new book – I decided to ask her out on a date. The worst that could happen would be her turning me down so what’s the big deal I told to myself. It was the first time in my life that I did such a heroic act. I received no response so I assumed that it was a soft no and I continued hanging out with her as a friend. But after a few days something unexpected happened.
She begun flirting with me and we ended up going out for a date with all the kissing and stuff. We would hang out as a couple for a week. Although I was really happy I started feeling that something was not right. As the days were passing by she started looking uncomfortable. I asked her what the troubling was and she replied that she wanted to end our “relationship”. It turned out that she couldn’t get over her ex and moreover she was planning to leave the town in few months. She said that although she liked me, the timing was not right. She apologized for the pain inflicted and then came the dreadful question: “Can we remain friends?” I was feeling devastated at that time and avoided giving a definite answer.
I decided to take the semi-nuclear option (unfollowed her in Facebook, stop talking with her) and get on with my life. I thought that if I wanted to be a genuine friend I should get over her first. It has been almost one and a half month since then and I am still thinking about it. It was my first “relationship” although it lasted a little less than two weeks. Perhaps I suffer from Oneitis but at the same time I am thinking about her proposal to remain friends. It is sad that we stopped talking to each other – we haven’t talked to each other since our “break up”. We have a lot of friends in common so things feel a little awkward right now. I stopped talking with some people although we hung out together and had a good time just because they are close friends with her.
The following question keeps returning in my mind ” Should I contact her and try to act as a genuine friend regardless of my feelings or should I take the full nuclear option and let it go once and for all ?”. To be honest the nuclear option seems very brutal to me and at the same time I feel angry with myself feeling messed up about something that lasted only a few days. So, Doc, what do you propose ?
Thank you very much for your time.
To Be or Not to Be
So there’s a lot to unpack here. But let’s start with the obvious:
We often talk about “The One” or finding someone who’s “right” for us. But when we talk about someone being “right”, we tend to talk about things like shared interests and personality traits. One of the things that we don’t often talk about with dating is how much dating success is about timing. Someone can be amazing and tick off all the boxes for what we want and need in a partner… but if we aren’t or they aren’t in the right place in life, then it just isn’t going to work. It’s frustrating as hell when it seems like we’ve met someone who’s absolutely perfect for us but a quirk of timing means that the relationship isn’t going to work out… but unfortunately, that’s life for you.
The good news is that there is no One. There’s no single person who’s right for you – there are many, many people who are right for you and who are in the right place in life to date.
Part of why you’re hung up on her right now is because of what she represents to you. The reason why you’ve got this nasty case of Oneitis is because she is The One That Got Away, this near-miss at the sort of love you only find in bad fanfic and instant coffee commercials. The arc of “I like her, she’s not interested OH MY GOD SHE LIKES ME, oh no it’s not going to work,” hangs in the air like a lingering fart because you had happiness for a brief fleeting second before it got snatched away. Now she’s less of a person and more of a representation of What Might Have Been. When that’s your first relationship, that’s hard to swallow. Hell, it’s hard enough when you’ve had plenty of relationship experience under your belt, but it’s even harder when it’s your first brush with romance.
But here’s the thing: part of what’s messing with you right now is that you haven’t given yourself any closure. Part of why I advocate The Nuclear Option – unfollowing them on social media, deleting their number, etc. – when it comes to break ups is because you need time to tie off that cauterize that particular emotional wound… and you aren’t really doing that. It’s not about “you left AND NOW YOU’RE DEAD TO ME”, it’s about the fact that it’s much easier to feel, process those feelings and finally move forward when you aren’t constantly being tempted to check on them and reopen the wound. Out of sight, out of mind is a thing after all, and it’s much easier to heal when the person who you’re aching for isn’t symbolically right in front of you all the time.
Which brings us to the issue with “Can we still be friends?” We all want to be able to say “yeah, sure” because friends are awesome and someone we want to date is someone we should also be able to be friends with. But the problem is that it’s hard to be friends with someone who just hurt us. They may not have meant to – hell, it may not have even been their fault – but the fact is that we’re still hurting. It can take time to get past that and get to a place where you can be friends. But if we’re honest… there’s a certain amount of pressure involved to say “yes” immediately. The last thing that anyone wants is to give the impression that the only reason to be with someone is if you have the chance to sleep with them. So a lot of times, we get hung up in the middle – wanting the distance we need to heal but not wanting to send the wrong message or close the door on the future relationship.
That’s where you are at the moment, TBONTB. You’ve stuck yourself in a place where you can’t NOT think about her or move forward because, well, you’re picking at the wound. And the conflict inherent in this limbo is starting to spread out to affect the other folks in your life. It’s one thing to cut ties with your ex; cutting out your other friends just because they’re connected to her isn’t healthy. That’s just going to isolate you further, which is bad. You’re going to need folks in your life who care for you, who you know have your back. You aren’t going to heal if all you’re doing is trying to excise every association of her like some sort of damnatio memorae; all that does is create an unhealthy feedback loop that will leave you always on your guard on the off chance you see ANYTHING that reminds you of her.
You need to close this loop and give yourself some closure. First, while this isn’t strictly necessary – the fact that you haven’t talked to her in a month and change is sending a message, even if you didn’t intend for it to – you may want to send a quick email that says “Hey, I know it’s been a while but I wanted to reach out. I DO want to be friends, but right now this is still kind of raw and I need time to get over it. Thanks for being patient with me.” Then set up a filter so that her emails get sent to a folder, not to your inbox. This solves the bigger issue that you’re struggling with: what to do about her. This gives you the best of both worlds: you give yourself permission to let her go, with the understanding that you can try to resume a friendship if that’s what you want down the line.
But the next step? Forgive yourself, my dude. Getting angry with yourself about how much you hurt is pointless. You can’t control how much you hurt, so instead of trying to tell yourself that you’re not “supposed” to to feel the way you do, just accept it. Let it flow through you instead of damming it up. Accept that yeah, this sucks… but it’s going to suck less over time. One day you’re going to wake up and you’re going to realize that the pain has reduced itself to a dull ache. One day, you’re going to wake up and you’re going to realize that not only does it not hurt any more, but it hasn’t hurt for a while. But that’s not going to happen for as long as you keep telling yourself you’re a loser for caring for someone and being hurt when things didn’t play out the way you hoped. So forgive yourself for being hurt and for loving not too wisely, but too well.
This will get better. I promise.
All will be well.
I’m embarrassed to be writing this, because I’m ashamed I’ve let things get to this point.
Nine months ago I had a baby. Between her health issues and my disabilities, it makes the most financial sense for me to stay home and do the 24/7 childcare and house upkeep, and my husband generally works about 50 hours/week. I feed the baby round the clock on doctor’s orders (she can only have small amounts without getting sick, so she needs to eat frequently), and I get pretty busy sometimes.
I’m writing because our sex life has become basically nonexistent… and while I feel fine, I’m worried about my husband’s needs not being met. I’m totally willing and I’ve tried initiating things sometimes, but he doesn’t seem particularly interested.
I’ve seen you write before about how it can be hard for a man to shift back from seeing someone as a mother to seeing her as a sexual partner before, especially if he’s present for delivery (which my husband was) and I’m sure that could be part of what’s going on. However… I also just don’t have much to offer right now.
I’m still carrying some baby weight. I have stretch marks everywhere. I haven’t colored or cut my hair since early in pregnancy. Breastfeeding did not do my figure any favors. Between caring for a baby with extra needs, keeping up with my own freelance work, cooking and cleaning, and dealing with my own issues without the money for medication, I can’t seem to find much time for things like skincare, hair care, or weight loss. I walk for an hour or so every day, but that’s the most strenuous exercise I can really do with a baby in tow when we live ten miles from town and have no car to get to a gym (my husband needs our only running car to get to work).
My point is, I look disgusting. My husband isn’t shallow or cruel, and he has never said a single negative thing to me about the way my appearance has deteriorated, but I can’t imagine the way I look now is particularly enticing. My question is… should I suggest an open relationship? I’m not particularly comfortable with the idea and I have no interest in seeing others myself, but I feel like he deserves the opportunity to have sex with someone more appealing than I am at the moment. He’s a good person who shouldn’t have to put up with this.
I’m trying to get it together for him, but I haven’t found a way yet, and he’s been patient with his gross slob of a wife for too long already.
What do I do, Doc?
So it’s true that some men have a hard time making a mental shift when they see their partner give birth, PPB… but I don’t think that’s what’s going on here.
There’re a couple issues at play. The first is that, come on, you JUST HAD A BABY. Having a child is a massive disruption to your life, especially during the first couple of years. Your life is going to revolve around taking care of the little miracle, and that means that everything goes out the window – from keeping house, to sleep to your sex life. Under the best of circumstances, y’all are going to be stressed and sleep-deprived, which is as hard-core of a libido-killer as you’re likely to find. But when you factor in that your baby has special needs and your husband is working long, long hours? Yeah, that’s gonna throw a major spanner in people’s desire to get down.
But the other issue is that honestly? I think you aren’t being fair to yourself.
Actually, I take that back. I think you’re getting upset at yourself for not being superhuman and holding yourself to absolutely insane standards. I mean, the language you use in your letter is kind of telling: you’re ashamed that you “let things get to this point”. This implies that you should, what, have been able to slip back into your old life exactly like it was before without missing a beat? How in pluperfect hell was THAT supposed to happen?
I mean, yeah we see stories on Instagram and in tabloids about how so-and-so got their body “back” after the baby… but here’s the secret: most of that is bullshit and the rest of it is because they have money and resources to burn. It’s much easier to focus on “getting your body back” when you’ve got the money to pay for a nanny or a housekeeper AND a trainer, or your partner doesn’t need to work like a maniac to keep food on the table so that they can take time off from work and share in the work at home. Being upset at yourself because you weren’t able to “bounce back” like Beyonce or Kim Kardashian or any celebrity mommy is like being upset that you’re not an Olympic athlete; you’re getting upset that you can’t measure up to 1% of the population who have advantages and resources that most of us can only dream about.
And while your husband may feel a little weird about sex right now – and notice how very carefully I said “may” not “does” – I think the bigger issue is how you feel. The way you describe yourself makes it sound like you don’t believe you could possibly be attractive or desirable. That’s going to radiate through the way you act, the way you speak and the way you carry yourself… and that is going to be much more of a turn-off than stretch marks or carrying a little more weight or watching you squeeze out a baby. It’s a little difficult to get turned on when your partner is saying “Yeah, I know, I’m an unfuckable trashfire,” even when that’s not actually true.
And that bit’s important. It’s not helping that you’re making assumptions about how your husband feels, based on facts that aren’t in evidence. Yeah, you two haven’t had sex in a while but that’s par for the course for new parents. There’re so many things that’re gonna get in the way of having an active sex-life right now that have ABSOLUTELY NOTHING to do with how you look – or how you feel you look, which, I can’t stress enough, isn’t the same thing. You’re drawing conclusions based on how you feel, not on how he feels.
So what do you do?
Well, my first suggestion is that you check in with your husband and have an Awkward Conversation about the current state of your union. It doesn’t need to be a big, dramatic meeting; all you’re doing is let him know that you have concerns and you want to make sure that he’s OK. Then let him reassure you. If he legitimately is ok with things, then do yourself a favor and believe him. Because as hard as it can be to wrap our heads around it: our partners love us as holistic beings. Things like stretch marks aren’t going to be the end of desire; they tend to get folded into our concept of who our partners are. So when he tells you that he’s fine, he still loves you and that hey, it’s a little hard to get busy with the life you two have right now? Take that “yes” for an answer.
(And if you’re really worried, you can always order him a Fleshlight or Tenga and some lube to help ease the pressure until you’re both in a place where you can get down and dirty again).
My next suggestion is see if you can get some help with the baby. I know that “it takes a village” is a cliche… but some things are cliches for reason. If your parents or his parents – or hell, even a family friend – can come and give you a hand, then by all means, do that. Getting a little time for yourself is crucial for new parents. That’ll let you have some effective self-care, even if that just means having a chance for a hot bath, a face mask and some deep conditioning. Easing some of the burden – even if it’s just for a couple of hours – can make a night-and-day difference.
But trust me: this is a temporary problem. It may take a while – kids take a lot of time and attention, especially in the first couple years – but if you two can white knuckle it and hang on, you will get through it. Just be a little easier on yourself and a lot more forgiving for not being Instagram-perfect after such a relatively short time.
This will get better.