Dear Dr. Nerdlove,
What a bizarre few years it has been!
I was firstly introduced to your page by my (now) ex partner. We’ve been broken up for almost three years and let’s face it, I thought he was the one. Clearly he wasn’t.
I’ll never be sure if he cheated on me. But hey, he said he didn’t, so I should believe him, right? I know that people will read this and think ‘they’ve been broken up for almost three years, give it a break’. But really, I don’t even know if I’m overthinking and over analysing this situation. Ultimately, I trust you (a complete stranger who I coincidentally was introduced to by my ex) to answer my question because it continues to plague me.
My ex every so often will ‘check in with me.’ I’ve never had this happen before and I’m racking my brain trying to understand why. I deleted his number well over 6 months ago and left it at that. Christmas Eve comes knocking and lo and behold, a strange number texts me out of the blue. I curiously open the text to a Merry Christmas message asking how I’m doing and the phrase ‘I didn’t want to bother you on Christmas day, but just wanted to check in.’ What does that even mean? We’ve been broken up for awhile now, it really wasn’t all that amicable (as he claims). I just wanted him out of my life and for me to try and move on. Clearly it’s taken awhile.
Long story cut short-we began texting back and forth and he told me one night be still has memories…memories of us (especially having sex). He drove past a particular place and brought this memory up in a message to me and asked if I still had memories as well. I don’t. I didn’t. Until now.
I just want to move on and stop over analysing this mindfu** of a situation.
Is he messing around with me by ‘checking in?’ Also, what’s with the memories message? Nothing about him makes sense anymore and truth be told, I only just finally started to properly move on before he’s reappeared back on my life.
One of my eternal pet-peeves when it comes to the culture around dating is how often folks will come up with cutesy nicknames for behavior that’s otherwise just ‘being a manipulative shithead’. Yes, there are times when it’s useful, but there’re other times when it just feels like someone trying to make a trend where there is none by naming it and hoping that this turns into a thing.
(Then there’s the tendency to downgrade actual terms with distinct meanings like ‘gaslighting’ or — to just pull a random word out of the ether with absolutely NO regard to the current discourse — ‘lovebombing’. These are very specific patterns of abuse, and downgrading them to things like ‘didn’t love me until he died like he said he would’ or ‘made promises he obviously never intended to keep’ or even ‘was incredibly flirty and over-the-top-complimentary before he ghosted me’ is the opposite of helpful.)
However, every once in a while, one will bubble up from the swamps of social media that actually fits. This is one of those times.
Your ex is doing what folks refer to as “breadcrumbing” — that is, he’s showing up sporadically to text you, DM you or otherwise remind you that he’s around, but not putting SO much effort in that it would actually lead to anything. He is, for all intents and purposes, putting in just enough effort that you don’t forget him or move on.
Now, the reasons for this can vary drastically. Under the most charitable of interpretations, you could argue that these are the actions of someone who wants to reconnect but is too timid to put real effort in. It doesn’t take much to see this as someone who could be afraid of pushing too hard and so errs in the opposite direction.
However, even under the best of circumstances, these are folks who aren’t coming to this from a place of integrity. Most of the time, the folks who engage in this sort of behavior just want your time and attention. They want to make sure that you don’t completely move on from them, even when they have no intention of actually pursuing something with you. At least, not something serious and certainly not something that’s going to require a lot of effort on their part.
If he’s trying to be genuine about keeping a post-breakup friendship, then he’s doing so in the least effective and least authentic way possible. If someone want to be friends with their ex, they need to actually act like friends, instead of this low-effort, low-energy attempt to just stay at top of mind. If he wants to actually get back together, then he needs to do so from a place of honesty and actual effort — addressing your past, taking ownership of his side of the break up and so on. Hell, if all he was hoping for was some casual sex with the ex, that’s hardly the worst thing in the world. But he’s still going about it the wrong way.
It’s significant that, in this case, that you were on the verge of moving on when he messaged you. The dude is messaging you on holidays like Christmas — times when folks tend to either be especially lonely. It’s also significant that, as you’ve started texting him back — meaning his gambit worked — that he brought up the topic of sex and the sex you two had together. Part of what he’s doing is trying to get you to think about sex with him, in hopes of prompting some sort of engagement with you. The idea behind it is that bringing up these (theoretically) hot memories will get you all hot and bothered and want to do something about it. Maybe he’s hoping for a sexting partner or swapping some pics for his spank bank. Or he might be hoping that if he gets you thinking about him and catches you when you’re feeling low or lonely, that you’d be more receptive to a bootie call. One that, let’s be honest, would likely end in him saying just enough to make you think that there might be more, but far more likely is that he’d do the emotional equivalent of getting up, wiping his dick on the curtains and promising to call.
Which he will. In six months time, when he thinks you’re likely to be moving on, again.
So, all this in mind: I think that yes, he’s messing with you. I don’t think he’s necessarily consciously manipulative — I doubt he’s sitting around like a low-rent Ernst Stavro Blofeld plotting how to fuck with your life while he strokes a Persian cat in his local cat cafe. But he definitely doesn’t want you moving on — certainly not on terms that he doesn’t get to dictate.
You don’t seem thrilled to have him back in your life, to put it mildly. The good news is: just because he weaseled his way back in doesn’t mean you have to let him STAY there. I think your best move here is to just tell him that you don’t want to talk to him any more, take the Nuclear Option and block him everywhere he can reach you and just go on about your life. Just because he wants to stick around doesn’t mean that he gets to. You’re not in any way obligated to indulge him in this. Block your way to happiness and, if you’re feeling especially petty, pretend that he’s got the wrong number next time. Even if it’s very obviously the right one.
I’m hoping you can help me make some sense out of some conversations that I’m going to need to have soon with my spouse.
Over the last several years I’ve decided that I’m not particularly happy with my life/marriage and have decided that I want to move on from our relationship. My husband is a good mate and a great person, the issues I’m having are almost all about me. My anxieties, how our lives are changing with the completion of our original goals (children and MD for him) and my desire to step out of my multi-decade role as a stay-at-home mom completely. There are a few issues that I see coming down the pike from him: while he will ultimately support (reluctantly) whatever I want for myself but, he also makes it clear he wants to enjoy having the benefits that come with a non-working spouse (ad hoc personal assistant/no scheduling issues). I feel that as our kids have become teens and no longer require my daily care, my job as a SAHM (which I found very fulfilling personally) has slowly become the keeper of the ‘stuff’, whether or not these are things I wish to be obligated to care for (our several animals are a great example) or find worthy of my time/energy.
His new life goals are also creating anxieties for me over the obligation I feel they will create; I know that whatever things he takes on in life will become my slack to pick up. A vacation home sounds great but, to me it sounds like more work and an obligation to spend our vacations for the next several decades in one place. So there are plenty of issues to discuss and while most of this is all negotiable (or mutable with time and perspective), one issue is not. I’m in love with someone else and always have been, I’ve never intended for our marriage to last forever.
I, in fact, planned that we’d do the family thing together during the middle part of my life, that I’d support him (in any way I could) getting his MD and once our kids on longer needed daily care I’d move on and to try to finally get to spend some of my life with the person who I truly wanted to be with (and he with me) but, we weren’t able to meet each other’s needs during our reproductive years. My feelings for him were deep enough that I wasn’t able to get over him, only past the moment and feeling heartbroken so we could become friends and keep ourselves connected in life with hopes that something would work out eventually.
For me, that time has come, my feelings still endure (thirty years later) and with recently renewed contact (nothing inappropriate) I think he, too, is of a similar mind. Regardless of whether this inevitably works out, I know I would forever regret not taking the chance. My goals right now are to get our home routines settled so they can exist without me (cooking/cleaning), while looking for work so I can begin to be able to support myself before looking for an apartment nearby. There’s no way my husband isn’t aware that our marriage is not stable; we haven’t been really connecting for many years, we spend less time together as time goes on and as of late I’m not interested in intimacy any longer. However, we’re both very good at avoiding things while getting on pretty well.
The question is how much of this do I tell him? I am just not sure how much info I should provide him about my reasons, I have no desire to hurt him more than I have to and hope we can find our way through this to remain on good terms for not only our kids but our own friendship. He’s aware I’m in contact (phone calls) with our friend (his fraternity brother) so I’m sure he’ll draw his conclusions. I don’t want to rub salt in the wound. For what’s it’s worth, I think my husband would move on rather well (we both come from divorced families) and would eventually be actually happier. I do expect some hurt, disappointment and maybe frustrations/concerns over money and the effects a separation would have on his financial goals/projects. I honestly think he would easily find a new mate that would meet his future needs better than me in many ways.
Any advice you could give would be much appreciated.
One Foot Out The Door
Before I answer your question, OFOTD, I’ve got a couple of my own.
First: have you actually talked to your crush about how he feels? Not “well, we’re in contact and if I read between the lines, I think he’s still feeling it” but actual, explicit “Look, I still love you and want a life with you” conversations? Just because you’re in contact and he’s single right now doesn’t mean that he actually feels the same way. And leaping from one relationship in hopes of landing immediately into another is a hell of a feat to pull when you don’t actually know, without a doubt, that this other relationship is waiting for you. You could very well learn that no, he didn’t and hasn’t felt this way after the ink’s dried on the divorce papers.
More importantly, however, is this: why’d you marry your husband in the first place? You said you’ve always been in love with someone else and you never intended for this marriage to be from death ’til you parted. Ok, that’s fine; I know folks who quite literally entered into marriage with the expectation that this was going to be a year-and-a-day with the option to renew. However, both parties knew exactly what they were signing up for and what to expect. They went into their marriage with the explicit understanding that in a year’s time, they’d be revisiting the question of whether they wanted to stay together or not.
It doesn’t sound to me like you ever told your husband that this was going to be a temporary thing for you and that he was going to be a placeholder until your real love was ready and available. That is just cruel, in my opinion. There’s really no way to end a relationship, even one that needs to end, without pain; the best practice is to end it without causing unnecessary pain. If he went into this with the expectation that this was a traditional marriage and that you wanted to live with him as husband and wife, then letting him believe this for thirty goddamn years before cutting him loose because your crush was single again is the sort of thing that you expect to see from villains in romance novels.
I mean, I’m more or less on your side up until you hit that particular twist. Feeling like you need more than being a stay-at-home mom is entirely understandable. So too is not wanting to take on any more responsibilities than you already have. It’s really, really common for husbands to treat their wives — stay-at-home moms or not — as unpaid secretaries, social planners, caretakers and so on, with absolutely no consideration. Not wanting to get saddled with even more responsibilities — without so much as being asked — is an entirely understandable reason to want to leave. Hell, I’m a big believer that you can end a relationship for any reason, up to and including you just decided that you don’t want to be married any more. But holy hopping sheep shit, OFOTD, for all the “I want to arrange things so that my family’s lives experience minimal disruption when I leave” you talk about, it seems like designed this relationship to end in a way that’s going to shatter your ex. I mean, marrying the guy when you never intended to stay for long, having kids, building a life together and wanting to leave now that the window of opportunity with your crush seems to be open? This is the sort of thing that gets tossed around dodgy subreddits and PUA podcasts as proof that women are just marrying for the mythical betabux while waiting for the alpha to be available.
So what do you do now? First and foremost: you don’t tell him about your crush or how you weren’t planning on this marriage to last. Sorry, but if he didn’t know that beforehand, then you get to take that shit to the grave. If he thought you and he were endgame, finding out that you’ve spent the last 30 years quietly waiting for the end of time to hurry up and arrive is heartbreaking. That’s the sort of thing that ends up poisoning every memory you and he made; he’d have to look back on your entire marriage knowing that you were chomping at the bit to get loose. He doesn’t need to know this, and letting him know would be an act of cruelty on your part.
What I do suggest is that you and he hie thyselves to a marriage counselor. Not because there’s a chance of saving this marriage — you’ve clearly decided you were done — but as a means of negotiating and planning as clean and painless an end to it as you possibly can. Marriage counseling isn’t just about maintenance or repair; sometimes it’s about managing end of marital-life options as well. This, at the very least, will give the two of you some tools to create a new status-quo that’ll make your exiting as frictionless as possible. That may even make it possible for you and he to keep a somewhat positive relationship after things are officially over. Hell, he may even have an easier time accepting you and your crush getting together if he assumes it’s a “love bloomed during the end of our marriage”, rather than learning that it was more “Nah, I’ve been killing time until the window was open again”.
But if you honestly want to stay friends and you want him to be able to move on easily and with as minimal pain and trauma as possible? You never, ever let him know that you’ve been waiting for this day for as long as you have. The complete and unvarnished truth isn’t always the best policy, especially when the truth is going to cause harm that isn’t needed. All he needs to know is that you’re ready to not be married — possibly even just not married to him. The rest is strictly need-to-know and in this case? Dude does NOT need to know.