Q. I met this guy three years back in high school and we only dated for about six months. We kept making up and breaking up countless times until we broke up for good. The reason was that he had been trying to get back together with his ex, who apparently dumped him (I don’t know why). He even said bad things about me to the girl, trying to get her attention, which she did not give him. He also said negative things about me to other people — that I was grumpy and boring.
But I haven’t forgotten him or stopped thinking about him. I never text or call him, but I consider it. I don’t know if I think about him because of all the painful things he did to me or because it’s love. He, too, seems to have not forgotten about me. He still makes contact now and then, and our conversation gets ... cozy. He once suggested that we get back together, and even though I felt tempted, I rejected him. I thought to myself that taking him back would be too big a risk because he caused me so much pain.
Truth is, I feel attached to him. I still feel like I want to be with him because I can’t be with anybody else. I mean, I tried moving on but with everyone I engage with, I see incompleteness, like there’s always something they don’t have that only he has. At this moment, I’m bewildered. I don’t know if I want to be with him or not. What I know is that I always think of him, and whenever he texts, I feel happiness. Would it be the right thing to get back with him or I should deal with this in another way?
A. I dated (if one could call it that) someone when I was around your age who seemed very into me ... except that he wasn’t, or at least not enough. We were so perfect together, if I ignored the fact that he knew I wasn’t what he wanted. He was very honest about that; he loved me, but not enough in a romantic way. Nor was he ready to have a serious relationship with anyone at that age.
That tiny gap between what we had and me getting everything I wanted — that pocket of rejection — made this guy seem like a soul mate, or like a prize to be won. If only I could get him past that doubt, it would be ... (drum roll) ... amazing.
But then one day I was like, huh, everything he’s said is true. He likes me, but not enough — and that’s OK. Then, suddenly, I wasn’t into him enough either. I stopped communication, which made him sad, but at least I had clarity. Looking back, we did click in big ways, but part of the reason he felt so important was the rejection. It made any attention from him seem too important. It made the good moments seem like love.
You and I are not the same, and who knows what your guy is doing. All I know is that when you say everyone else makes you feel incomplete, I want to remind you that this man’s feelings for you are also incomplete. He’s never been all in.
I see two options. One is to talk to him about what happened in your relationship and ask about his intentions now. Maybe he’s sorry about the childish way he handled your affection. But if he has no remorse for that and has no idea what he’s hoping for now, you can let go. There’s no room for “I just like to show up when I feel like it.” Make sure you ask clear questions, and stay transparent about your feelings and concerns.
The other option is to write down what he’s actually earned from you (very little, I assume), and then let go. Make the decision final. It might save you some time.
Anyone who says bad things about you to his ex and others has no redeeming qualities. Being rejected is painful enough. This guy is just cruel. You said his ex would not give him the attention he wants. Be like her!
“I tried moving on but with everyone I engage with, I see incompleteness.” No, incompleteness is the on-and-off-again relationship you had with this guy from high school. You two were not meant to be. He’s a manipulator. Completely disengaging from him, knowing you’re susceptible to his manipulations, is the only healthy way to deal with this.
From what you describe, you should not get back together with this ex. Maybe after you re-read this letter, you’ll know that.
Send your own relationship and dating questions to firstname.lastname@example.org. Catch new episodes of Meredith Goldstein’s “Love Letters” podcast at loveletters.show or wherever you listen to podcasts. Column and comments are edited and reprinted from boston.com/loveletters.