I am stuck on my recent ex of about 15 months.
We began online and with distance. He was in a live-in relationship at that time. I told him that I was not interested in an online, long-distance relationship and that I definitely was not interested in an attached man but he assured me that these things were temporary—and I believed him. She was/is his boss (she got him the job) and he claimed he was fearful of repercussions and also that he feared she would kill herself or quit her job if he left her. He also said that he hated the city where he lives and was looking to relocate within 12 months and began to make tentative plans to move to where I was.
We had that ‘instant connection’ that happens sometimes and he love-bombed me with attention and spent hours and hours every day talking to me and really trying to get to know the ‘real me’—or so it seemed. I had been single in every sense of the word until we collided (and we did collide) and I had long given up hope of ever again meeting a man who I was interested in, let alone one who returned my affections—which this man did in spades.
There were red flags (other than those I have mentioned) in that he played the victim: He told me about his severe anxiety issues, his history of hospital confinement due to a nervous breakdown and the biggest, that I ignored, is that he would test my (sexual) boundaries and emotional boundaries. He told me he did not ‘believe’ in relationships, even that he did not feel ‘love’ and had never been in love, although he behaved like he and I were definitely in a relationship by being incredibly emotionally intimate and spending ALL of his free time with me—AND he told me he loved me.
We met a few months into our relationship. I insisted that the live-in girlfriend be aware of this and he did tell her about me (although he lied and made up a story as to who I was) after we met in person the first time. I flew across the country and spent 4 weeks in his city, and the meeting just deepened the love I felt for him, even though there were problems—niggling doubts about his intentions, his honesty, etc. I was completely hooked however and ignored my doubt and insecurities. It seemed as though this man was completely into me.
Shortly after I flew back home, the trouble really began. First of all, he moved into the spare room in the house he shared with his ex. This didn’t take, however (for obvious reasons) and he moved out completely, much to my joy, and things with us became even more intense. We would talk, SMS, and Skype for hours and hours all day every day. A few times he was ‘unavailable’ but I didn’t think much of these incidents.
A BIG flag—and point of contention for me—was that he had a dating profile on a dating website. He showed me this, he was open about it and insisted that he just liked to talk to people. I actually tried to end things a couple of times in this period because he was still no further along making arrangements to move to where I was. This was about 9 or so months into things at this point. Whenever I withdrew at all, he would bombard me and beg me not to leave or turn away from him. He kept assuring me that I was the most alluring woman he had met in 10 years and that he had a bottomless desire for me as a person and as a woman.
Eventually, I found out that he had been talking to and sleeping with a woman he met online, for about a month. She contacted me to let me know that he had told her that he loved her (within weeks) and had given her a large sum of money. When I confronted him, he apologized and told me it would never happen again.
I put this ‘affair’ down to me not being around physically. I was convinced that if we could just be together, we could find out if he and I had a chance.
Not long after, I got a job interview in his city and decided to attend. He offered to pay my fare and told me that I could stay with him and if I needed to, his parents (he was in a share house, so staying with him long-term was not going to be okay). I came over and the first weekend things were lovely. Then, that first week he was a bit distant and our usually incredibly good sex vanished into thin air. He began to have massive panic attacks and things were just… strange. (Oh, I forgot to mention that his anxiety attacks are medicated daily with large doses of Xanax).
I got the job I applied for, but he was weird about this, and things were not looking good. On the Saturday and Sunday, my second weekend here, we had a lovely, romantic weekend and we had sex a couple of times. Then, on the Monday morning, he dumped me—telling me that his emotions for me had been ‘burnt out’ due to his anxiety attacks. He claimed this had happened before. I remembered then that he had stopped wanting sexual contact with the woman I ‘replaced’ just three months into their three-year relationship
I was devastated. I had left everything behind to come and try to spend time with this man to see if he and I had a chance. To make matters worse, he left me sitting alone, shattered, in his sharehouse that very night and went on a first date with a woman he had met online a week or so earlier. Turns out that he had a ‘new’ me to talk to in the early hours of the night while I slept in his bed.
The next day he was quite cruel to me. I did not get angry with him about what he had done or the date, I was just devastated and completely bewildered because he had promised, just a few weeks before, that he would never, ever turn away from me and here he was saying that he didn’t even really ‘know me’ and suggesting that for all he knew, I could have been lying about who I was all this time. It was like the world had been flipped upside down.
I stayed in the sharehouse, renting a spare room that came up—mainly because I had no money to find anywhere else and I was due to start my new job.
Over the next eight weeks or so, he continued to ‘date’ this woman, but to act as though he and I were still in a relationship. He constantly wanted to hang out and talk, watch movies, etc., and many nights we slept together—no sex, mainly because I kept hoping that this ‘bad dream’ would end and he would tell me that he had made a huge mistake. He would wander around naked in front of me and wrap himself around me in bed but he never tried to touch me or made any sexual overtures.
We had a few brief discussions about what happened, the last being that he apologized for what had occurred and then told me that after I flew here, he and I made love (his words) a few times and then he realized that he “no longer found me physically attractive.” Yes, he said that.
I finally lost my temper after he said that and told him to fuck off and walked away. But even then he came into my room the next day (when I was due to move out) and again kept trying so, so hard to be my “friend.” Our friendship in the house only existed because he chased me for it. Every film we watched was his idea, he constantly came into my room looking for me. He bought food and cooked for me all the time. I did not chase him or his company for one second.
I am still reeling from all of this. I have only been away from that house and in my new digs for two weeks but this has affected me more than I can say. Initially he kept up contact by calling, etc., but that has eased off and it has now been eight days without any contact from him. He is on the dating site for up to 12 hours a day. It’s the one thing I keep an eye on and really, that is to reassure myself that he is doing to my replacement what he did to me. He seems to NEED the subterfuge of these internet dalliances.
I don’t think that it is serious between him and my replacement. In fact, I think it might be all but over (I could be wrong). But that is by-the-by. What I cannot seem to do is reconcile the facts that this man who worshipped me for 12 months, who swore I was the most amazing woman he had ever met, who was planning to relocate, who left his previous relationship for me—that this same man just callously discarded me like I was nothing.
He wants to be friends and claims that he still really likes me as a person and wants to be in my life. I am humiliated by what happened and just can’t seem to get past it, thoughts of what I had with him, how he made me feel. They haunt me all day and night. I just can’t seem to accept that someone can just change their mind like he claims he did.
I need help to make sense of this.
Please read your letter from beginning to end and imagine that someone else wrote it. Then, tell me what advice you would give to that person. People who read your letter are not going to be the least bit curious about this guy you fell in love with. He’s an emotional leech. He spends every second of every day sucking love out of women—you, the ex, the new you, the NEW new you—all without feeling it. He’s trying to feel, and failing. First he told you about how he lost all sexual attraction and love for the ex very early in their relationship. Then he told you he doesn’t “feel” love and doesn’t believe in love and doesn’t know what love is. That wasn’t a way of testing emotional boundaries—that was him telling you the truth about his issues. Then you found out he was looking for other women online. Then he told you, milliseconds after you arrived in town, that he wasn’t attracted to you anymore. Then he found a new you. Then he followed you around the house, kept hanging out, kept talking to you, kept trying to milk you for more, more, more, all the while searching for even more women who might give him love, online, anywhere.
There is no mystery here. This man can’t feel anything. The love he finds doesn’t do enough for him, because he can’t really show up. So he looks for more, constantly, compulsively. He has no idea how to have a real intimate relationship with a real human being. When you arrived in town, you created a problem for him. He would’ve been happy to leech attention and affection from you, long distance, indefinitely. You should assume there are dozens more of you out there, slowly being prodded to give themselves to him—virtually, always at arm’s length.
So he’s not that interesting, at least not to people who aren’t into human quicksand. He has big, big problems, and his life is pretty confusing for him, too. He’s struggling to get something he needs, but it never works and it’s never enough. Give him your sympathy and get the fuck away from him and never look back.
Here’s what IS interesting: HOW THE FUCK YOU GOT HERE. He was supposed to move to your city. He never did that. So YOU picked up and moved. He acted like a crazy person immediately. Instead of bailing and going home, you stayed. He broke up with you. Instead of bailing and going home, YOU MOVED INTO A HOUSE WITH HIM AND A BUNCH OF FUCKING ROOMMATES.
Could that be right? I have to keep checking the details of your letter, because there are so many bizarre, nonsensical twists that it’s challenging to keep track of the chronology of it all. It’s a suspenseful story, too, because once you realize there’s no rhyme or reason involved, you start to wonder what fresh disaster will strike next. Not only that, but you write about yourself as if you have no free will and no mind of your own. After he dumped you and was dating someone else, he kept wanting to hang out, and talk, and be naked in front of you, so… THAT’S WHAT HAPPENED, OF COURSE. WHY THE FUCK DID THAT HAPPEN AGAIN?! I mean, seriously. Are you a throw pillow, or can you use your feet to walk the fuck out the door, and use your mouth to say GET AWAY FROM ME YOU CREEPY FUCKING ASS CLOWN?
Just as you took his straight statement of truth—”I can’t feel love”—as an emotional manipulation, you take his wanting to hang out with you as proof that he still loves you. Everything he does feels personal to you.
So here’s what you need to know: NOTHING HE DOES IS PERSONAL OR SPECIFIC TO YOU AT ALL.
When he wants to see you, that has nothing whatsoever to do with his feelings for you. He’s trying to escape his desperation and loneliness and anxiety. Remember when he said he couldn’t feel things? Remember when he said he wasn’t attracted to you? Remember when he said he suffers from panic attacks? He’s running scared and hoping for some magic to save him from himself. There is no magic. When he says, “YOU ARE THE MOST AMAZING WOMAN I’VE EVER MET” that’s his way of saying “MAYBE IF I SAY SOMETHING REALLY DRAMATIC ABOUT YOU IT’LL COME TRUE OR AT LEAST I’LL BE SAFE FROM THE TERROR OF BEING ALONE FOR A WHILE.”
He is an emotional black hole that will never be filled. He will follow any woman around like a puppy. Once that stops working, he will start drinking, or using drugs, or chasing some other fix. It has absolutely nothing to do with who you are.
But even now, despite all of the evidence you have that he’s a human sinkhole, some part of you still believes that he has special feelings for you, that he’s just confused, that he’s dating the wrong girl now but he’ll come back around and realize that he just got mixed up and lost sight of how great you are.
He didn’t get mixed up. He’s always been this way. You’re the one who got mixed up. Your free will, your ideas about yourself, your existence as a person who acts (instead of simply being acted upon), your ambitions, your friendships, your family, your hopes and dreams—it’s no coincidence that all of these things are missing from your letter.
So here’s what you need to do:
1. Get a therapist.
2: Call every one of your friends and explain what happened to you, and ask them for their support as you move forward during a very difficult time.
3: Call your family and tell them you’re having trouble.
Now: Should you quit your job and move back to your city? Maybe. I don’t like you in the same town with this guy. You could waste at least another year or two staying hung up on him, getting pulled back into some half-assed relationship with him, supporting him through his various break-ups while hoping he takes you back, and on and on and on from there. Hanging out, occasionally sleeping together, wondering if it might eventually add up to something, wondering if he’ll start “loving” you again, and showering you with all of that “affection” and “adoration” that he seems to be very good at generating in a vacuum of real contact or knowledge or understanding or feeling. Listen closely here: Even if you win him back, he will ALWAYS be chasing down other women (among many, many other problems). Every second you spend thinking about him or contemplating trying to get him back is a second spent wasting your time and hurting yourself and making yourself smaller and more powerless and needy.
You might need to flee. If you can’t trust yourself not to follow him around or obsess about him or monitor his online movements, then you should probably move back to your old town.
But I hate even giving him that much power in your story, because he’s irrelevant. Right now all that matters is you. How many friends did you leave behind to be with this guy? Do you have female friends? Do you confide in them? Are you close to your family? Do you have any activities outside of your job that you enjoy? Do you exercise regularly? Do you explore on your own, go to new restaurants, read new books, look for friendships (rather than love) online?
What kind of a life do you WANT?
Based on what you’ve described here, I think you need to take a solid six months off from dating of any kind. It’s not safe to go back in the water in your current state. You need to go to therapy and build yourself from the ground up. Because this man became your savior very, very quickly. Now, it’s true that almost any woman can understand the temptation to let that happen. It’s true that some people really do fall in love, move to a new city, and then live semi-happily ever after, or at least for a while.
Still, you have some issues that you need to sort out. You need to drastically reexamine your notions of what love will look like when you find it. Dudes who immediately decide you’re perfect, who want to be in constant contact, who have “psychochick” types in their lives that just won’t go away, who describe losing sexual interest in this or that woman (instead of describing, say, what kinds of conflicts or missed connections eroded their ability to communicate or listen or give to each other generously), who put love in magical, fated terms instead of ACTUALLY WANTING TO SPEND TIME WITH YOU, FACE TO FACE, AND SEE HOW THINGS DEVELOP? These dudes need to be avoided like the plague. They are looking for a fix. They will say whatever they need to say to get that fix.
You need to build love out of friendship from now on—slowly building trust, slowly getting to know someone, meeting his friends, getting a sense of him in the world. When a guy describes panic attacks, hospitalization, suicidal girlfriends, go-nowhere jobs, lost chances, destroyed friendships, you really have to ask yourself: Is this the landscape I want to inhabit? DON’T I LOVE MYSELF MORE THAN THAT?
How much DO you love yourself? Why did you think this was your last chance to find love? Why did his intensity appeal to you so much, compared to the relatively mundane statements made by people who aren’t desperate for immediate salvation?
You need to radically reexamine your notions about yourself and others, and radically redefine your views of romantic love.
But first, you need to take care of yourself. Find a therapist immediately, and talk about this guy to the therapist. Call your friends and talk to them. Otherwise, though, push him out of the picture. You know enough about him now to never consider him for another second. Do not check out what he’s doing online. HE WILL ALWAYS BE DOING THE SAME SHIT. It has nothing to do with you. You need to focus on taking care of yourself. Right now, you are broken, confused, and sad. You need to work very hard to love this broken girl, right now. She is lovable. She deserves YOUR love. She deserves a leading role in this story for once.
Buy her some flowers. Make her a cup of tea. Tell her to pick up the phone and call her mother, or her aunt, or her old friend from school. Tell her things will get better.
Things WILL get better. Right now, you have to love-bomb YOURSELF with attention. Spend hours and hours every day talking to friends, to yourself, to your therapist, trying to get to know the real you. Who is she? What does she want? When you find her, it will feel so good, and you’ll never surrender your entire life for someone else again. You will feel stronger, and happier, and more alive. That power is already inside of you.
If you dare to look closely at this situation, and see it for the wake-up call that it is, if you dare to stop asking why HE did what he did, and start asking why YOU did what you did, if you dare to examine what you think you do and don’t deserve in this life, you’ll emerge from this terrible time with a whole different feeling about yourself and your life. This crisis could change you, if you stop fixating on him, step away from your anger and longing, and allow yourself to be vulnerable about how you got here, who you are, and who you really want to be.
If you’re vulnerable and you look very closely at yourself—how you run away from friends and family who need you, and run towards strangers who seem intense and mixed up and damaged and who NEED YOU TO SAVE THEM—then you can break this pattern before it becomes a pattern.
Maybe you DON’T think this is about you, though. If my response makes you angry and defensive, and you just want to insist that this ISN’T about you, it’s about someone who really DID love you so so so much but he’s just confused and he needs you, he just doesn’t realize it? Well, I can tell you right now, you will keep bumping into this guy. He will keep finding you. He is everywhere. And he will fucking find your ass.
My strong suggestion to you is that you dig very, very deep with a therapist and admit that you’re mixed up about love. If you work very hard, you’ll come out of this a much happier person, and you’ll start to attract strong, happy people who aren’t needy vampires.
In the meantime, go on a long walk and listen to “Hestia” by Katell Keineg:
“I’ve been laying low, breathing for a while,
With my arms wrapped around my heartbroken child
But I woke up one day with a song in my heart
And the words of the song said you are witnessing a start today.”
Forget him completely. This is about you. You were in a weakened state. He showed you his fangs and you showed him your bare neck. Next time, you’ll be stronger, and the sad vampire will only elicit your sympathy.
Heather Havrilesky (aka Polly Esther) is The Awl's existential advice columnist. She's also a regular contributor to The New York Times Magazine, and is the author of the memoir Disaster Preparedness (Riverhead 2011). She blogs here about scratchy pants, personality disorders, and aged cheeses. Bela Lugosi still from Mark of the Vampire.