Q. I’ve had a pretty turbulent 2½ years. I sold my business and house, moved to a different area, set up a new business, divorced my husband/business partner of 21 years after I fell deeply in love with a woman, moved houses again, and now run the business on my own.
The new relationship was amazing and we connected right off the bat, talking about our future together. It just felt right. But then the demons from her previous coercive controlling relationship came back. Very long story short, she broke up with me because she was too scared to commit. She had major confidence issues, thinking she would never be good enough for me. We went back and forth for the next two years, not getting back together but seeing each other almost daily, texting for hours, and speaking on the phone for hours at a time. It has come to a head several times when I’ve wanted to know where we stand. The answer is always the same: “I want you, my feelings haven’t changed, but I’m too afraid that if it ends again, I’ll lose my marbles.” (She had significant mental heath issues after her longtime controlling relationship ended.)
This last time we started to grow close again, we both felt it and admitted it, but she said no ... again. This time I said I’m not sure I can keep in touch. It’s too hard. However, I’ve had a severe depressive episode and I’m doing counseling — because the last two years have caught up with me. Keeping in touch with her keeps me level. I know what I’m like when we don’t talk, and it’s horrendous.
This time she has started the texting, not me. We always end our texts with an “xx” — and then last night she randomly just sends an “xx” on its own. I know if I ask her about it, she will just say it means nothing, but she has a history of saying that and then adding, “No, I still have feelings for you but can’t do it.”
We both feel so strongly about each other but I know I can’t get her to change her mind. I’ve dated a couple of women since but I ended it because I still have feelings for my ex, and it wasn’t fair to them. She hasn’t dated anyone since. What do I do?
A. You say that maintaining a relationship with this woman keeps you level. I’m not so sure.
This back and forth makes you feel very unsteady. You’re almost getting what you want, but never enough. It might feel exciting, dramatic, and necessary, but ... it’s not good.
It’s worth talking to your mental heath care provider about how to set appropriate boundaries with your ex. The last two years have been difficult, but she is not your buoy. You get through every challenge on your own, and it’s time to figure out how.
I imagine that the idea of cutting her off makes you feel scared, sad, and lonely. But that’s just grief. I’m not sure there’s a way to avoid those feelings, and they might be a necessary part of getting to a better place. It helps to build a support system that gets you to the other side. If you didn’t call this ex, who would be there for you? What friends make you laugh? What hobbies remind you who you’ve always been? Set up cool stuff to do without her.
That’s my only advice, really — to make a plan with mental health professionals to get to a place where you can let her go. I wish I could say this would turn around, but she’s not asking you to wait, and you shouldn’t. You’re trying to get back to the early part of your relationship, but it hasn’t been “amazing” like that for a long time.
You don’t need to be decoding xx’s at this point. If she can’t show up for you as a partner, help yourself move on.
Change counselors, or at least be truly honest with the one you have. Meanwhile, you need to cut all contact with your ex. Why? She’s controlling you. Yup, she’s keeping you all tied up and toying with you like a cat with a ball of yarn. Don’t let her unravel you. Her indecision should not be your crippling angst.
Dear letter writer, this is toxic for you. Not that your ex is a bad person, but her inertia is keeping you locked in place, unable to move forward. You are a mature person, not a kid. You made a big bet by leaving your marriage of 20-plus years and I get that you want to hold onto something. But you know you don’t have a real future with her. Let it go. Cut the communications cord. Start living for you, not for the mirage of a future with her.
Don’t find a new partner until you feel safe without one. Be single for at least a few months.
Do see a therapist to help you try to let go and work on your depression. This is more than just a breakup for you. It sounds like you upended your whole life for her.
You have enough on your plate to worry about and don’t need her consistent emotional unavailability and game-playing compounding things. My advice is to communicate a firm No Contact boundary for a very long period of time (maybe forever?) so you can gain objectivity. Grieve this ending, and move forward healthfully.
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