Forget Him—Forgive Yourself

src: CollegeCandy.com

Being on friendly terms with the ex girlfriend, now one of the best friends, of the guy you are dating can be both a blessing and a curse. You wind up getting more insight about this person you think you know fairly well. It can be helpful when you are worrying you’re overreacting about an issue in your relationship but a quick chat enables you to realize it’s an issue that he’s had before with others—it’s not just you. And with a really sweet and open ex, you can hear the nice things the guy is saying about you when offered unbidden.

Then, sometimes you get more than you bargained for. You may ask what you hope are innocent questions but the answers leave you reeling. You learn what he’s said about an ex from his past is not true. You discover that he’s left out critical details about a former relationship. Thus ultimately, you find out what he really thinks about relationships, how he really views women and inevitably, what he really thinks about you.

Hearing about their past relationship, you know you have to take any detail with a grain of salt. Of course there are two sides to every story. Yet you start to question the veracity of your sources when while describing their period together romantically, one cites a bland haiku and the other speaks of a wandering epic.

To him, they took the boat out for a couple months but said there wasn’t enough fuel to keep things afloat. After some recon and prodding from me, he admitted that afterward, sometimes they’d take the boat out every now and then for nostalgia’s sake but mostly they kept their feet on the calm shores of friendship.

To her, they took a bumpy, hazy flight across continents. While there were plenty times of fun and joy that kept her hoping for more, he would got lost in the clouds of the past and was often a short-sighted wingman. She was looking for a more permanent co-pilot, and he was not up for that position.

Most recently, I found out that she grounded their multiple flights a couple of times, and that he was the one more recently who had been asking her to go for repeated joy rides….even though his constant refrain was that he didn’t have a real strong desire for flying. Her story became more and more believable as I realized that was something he often said to me, though we flew constantly, sometimes multiple trips in a day.

by Igal Maasen

Hearing their completely different versions of their journey together, I realized why I felt like he and I were speaking different languages. We went from feeling like we were in a full-blown relationship to him pulling away. I found out after some prodding that, despite behavior to the contrary, he did not consider me his girlfriend. He told me he wanted to continue seeing each other just as we had been, spending weekends together, hanging out with his friends and family, but without labels or expectations.

After the most enlightening conversation with his ex yet, when we discussed his odd reaction to her having finally moved onto sleeping with someone new, I decided to confront him again. I informed him that I felt he was taking advantage of our “situation,” that I wasn’t feeling much reward from it, and that I was moving on. The next day, I informed him I would be considering my dating options again, but unlike his ex-wife, I knew how to keep my legs together. “That was your real concern before [the last time we had the “relationship discussion]—sexual exclusivity, wasn’t it?” I asked.

He finally came out with, “Yeah, I guess.”

It embarrasses me to admit how much I have been seething with all this anger and frustration that I have been played by this guy, who in all honesty, really wasn’t worth any of the fuss. It hurts that I had actually been concerned for his wellbeing, which above everything else—the humor, decent company, things in common—had kept me in the game, while all he was thinking about was ensuring he could keep having sex with me…and have someone with whom to watch his favorite shows.

I admittedly flipped out on him. “Why weren’t you honest with me? Why did you tell me you specifically didn’t want to be friends with benefits? I told you that was the last thing I wanted in my life right now, and that if that’s what you were looking for, no thank you,” I said. “You told me, you’d rather we just be friends and have no sex. You said, however, what you most wanted was for us to keep seeing each other as we had been doing, without the labels.”

He first claimed my ignorance, then his ignorance. I almost laughed at his third reaction of confusion—he was telling his ex-gf we were no longer seeing each other after he just told me we hadn’t just been seeing each other. We were all IMing simultaneously, to his ignorance. I asked him, what is the truth: were we seeing each other, or weren’t we? Do you put on a show for everyone? Your ex? Your grandma? Your friends? Your mother?

Finally he says, “I’m sorry…Will you still be my friend so we can continue to watch Battlestar Galactica together?” W.T.F.?

Ironically, it was at precisely this time that I was charged with writing up an article on forgiveness in relationships. Yep. While I was envisioning punching his smug big head into the television screen while it was playing Battle-fracking-star Galactica, I was supposed to be waxing poetic about the healing graces of forgiveness.

"It's Not You, It's Me" by Niagara

My good friend @thecrazymagnet of And You Thought You Had It Bad reminded me that any anger I harbor towards another hurts me more than it hurt anyone else. I’ve always known that anger is a mental and physical toxin that just eats away at our insides, paralyzing us from moving forward in our own lives. Yet here was this person, this man I thought I knew at least to some extent, who was just acting like any other guy who takes advantage of a situation physically, financially, emotionally and frankly, taking up my time, as much as he can because I am being too much of a giver—okay, a pushover—and not protesting loudly enough or frequently enough.

I just couldn’t get over the fact that I, such a wise and intelligent, mature and seasoned woman, had let this happen. That’s when I realized that the person I was most upset with was myself. The person I needed to forgive the most in this equation was yours truly.

Far too often in relationships-gone-bad, we blame ourselves for not being smart enough to see a steady stream of lies, for ignoring the fishy text message cover-ups, for not asking the right questions or for accepting the answers full of holes. We blame ourselves for being a bad judge of character, for thinking someone genuinely cares for us when he has only really been acting in his own self-interest and personal gratification. We mentally bang our own heads because we dared to believe the best in others—and were wrong.

Unfortunately, this only further poisons our thoughts and our actions. We start behaving unkindly toward ourselves, adding to the wrongs others have already done to us. Blaming yourself only pushes you further backward. Blaming myself only made me hurt more than I already was. It made no sense when I needed my own love and self-care the most.

Hopefully I, you, we learn from these hurtful experiences and take the time, space and wisdom to get to know the next person more clearly before jumping in heart-first. And we listen to our guts when they tell us a few weeks in that things no longer feel right, that something smells fishy in the water—and it’s not us. There’s no shame in throwing a rotten one back in that ocean—that rip current will take care of ‘em. Nor is there any shame in getting out of the water completely for a while, simply taking time to rejuvenate, rediscover and relearn to love yourself.

Are You Settling Into Love For Life Or Just Settling?

In a recent episode of The Colbert Report, Stephen Colbert discussed his hesitancy to support Mitt Romney as his choice for a Republican president candidate. He cleverly compared this decision to a person having to figure out if he is settling for love, which surprisingly struck a cord with me as  my former FWB (FFWB) recently announced once again that he has decided to give it a go at marrying a woman he’s struggled to convince even himself he truly loved.

Describing his feelings about Romney, Colbert says, “It’s not fireworks.” However, he’s there, Colbert says. “Maybe I should just grow up and accept it.”

“I’m 40, she really loves me,” FFWB tells me about the woman he has decided to marry. “Time is running out. Maybe it can work.”

Over the four years of their tumultuous relationship, they have broken up several times, for as long as a year at one point. During their six month “engagement,” she has threatened to leave more times than I can count, purchased plane tickets, given the ring back and thrown temper tantrums over ridiculous things. FFWB has told me he finds her immature, dramatic, unpredictable and volatile enough that the idea of having children with her frightens him. They don’t share similar interests, don’t connect on an intellectual level and at least half the time,  seemingly don’t connect on an emotional level either.

I asked him if he loved her. He said, “There’s a difference between being in love with someone and loving someone,” as if I haven’t been in more committed relationships than he has. “From the married couples I’ve talked to and my own sense, the in love period wanes after two to three years…”

“I didn’t ask if you were in love with her,” I said. “I asked if you loved her.”

FFWB paused. “I care for her very much. I would miss her terribly if she left,” he said. If he doesn’t marry her, she will have to leave the country, and he doesn’t know when or if he would ever see her again. “I suppose under all my conditionals and caveats, I could say to myself that I love her.”

Wow, fireworks. Poor girl. “Have you ever been in love with her?” I finally asked.

“There was a period of infatuation for a few months in the beginning,” he said.

When I asked if she is his best friend, he quickly said, “No, that would be T.”

Like so many of us who try to fight, and sometimes ignore, our intuition in love, Colbert struggles to figure out how he really feels about the stiff Romney. “I can’t tell if I am missing something, or if I’m just afraid to let myself be happy,” he says. ”I’m so confused.”

He is also swayed by the opinions of others in his life. “Everyone says he’s the best I can do, but he’s good, not great.”

FFWB’s mom and sister think his fiancée is beautiful, sweet, gets along with the family and puts up with all his quirks. They say he can be difficult to put with—cranky, insensitive, not emotionally expressive, inflexible and maddeningly practical. His fiancée loves him, faults and all. They claim that she has been trying to change—FFWB admits since their last showdown a few months prior, his fiancée has only had two major meltdowns where she would normally have at least five.

His father and mother’s boyfriend think he’s crazy for considering following through on his plan. FFWB knows there are others he connects with significantly more intellectually, including his best friend and myself. He knows he is able to communicate with others with more ease and less drama. While his fiancée obviously loves him and acts with the best of intentions, many of her actions show she doesn’t know him as well as he would hope she does.

This past week, she had threatened once again to leave, reserving a moving van. To paraphrase, he gave the following “romantic” plea:

“I think the right thing to do is let this go.  But that is so very hard, and I have doubts both ways.  I feel like this is too hard to go through, and like the easiest thing to do is keep you and not go through this. To just close my eyes and jump in still – knowing it’s a huge gamble.  And I think you love me, too.  And we have something, though we have not managed to connect or communicate or make good on it to this point.”

He explained how they struggled through dating, and then engagement. He hoped that in marriage, they would learn from the mistakes and challenges of what can before. He also said he understood that she explained away some of her outbursts as fear and uncertainty from living an unsettled life and being so dependent on other people.

"Nobody rises to low expectations."-Calvin Lloyd

Despite his “significant reservations and doubts,” he said he would take the “low probability gamble” and hope for the best that this third chapter of their relationship is better. “I’d be happy to see us exceed our four years together,” he told her. He would marry her as soon as she wished.

Finally once he was past the logistics, he added the heart: “I do love you. I do want to provide you all these things you’ve been waiting for so long.” He had high hopes for their engagement, and he had been excited for the clean slate it might provide for their relationship. He hoped they would improve their communication, respect for each other and build a stronger foundation for marriage, but they failed to achieve that.

He told her:

“I could end up divorced and 43, unsurprised.  Or, it could work – we both have been unable to leave each other permanently. Nor can I say today definitively, ‘This is over, you can go [tomorrow].’ But, you still can go if this is not what you’d envisioned in terms of “romance,” but it’s the best I can give you at this point…And if you do go, I will not make you sound like the villain but just that we’re two people who really hung in there despite our differences; we respectfully parted ways.”

She was still at the home when he returned from work that next night.

I told FFWB that if he is deadset on marrying this woman, he should stop acting like he’s going to the gallows. I told him to stop acting like, ‘well since no one else will have me, and she’s been here all along, she’ll do.’ Instead, I encouraged him to start moving with the attitude: “This is the woman I choose to be with for the rest of my life. I care about her very much, she loves me, and we are committed to being a family together.”

His sister gave even better advice, telling him to stop mentioning the doubts, have confidence behind the decision he made and move forward. While his relationship will take some work (and compromise, I added, from both of them), FFWB and his fiancée have something special. “I am excited, but really its less exciting for us if you if you can’t see what you have. I’m happy to help you keep those thoughts in the forefront.”

Am I confident about FFWB’s chances? It doesn’t really matter. FFWB seems doubtful, but there is enough hope in his heart that he’s ready to pull the trigger. And maybe he does have a point: they have been unable to let each other go in the four years they’ve known each other. We talked about how that may be habit, something familiar and safe. Yet isn’t that a part of love too? To hear him caught up in the romanticism of his proposal at Disney World made him sound like a completely different man: a man in love, despite his conflicted protests now.

src: vivaboo.com

I wish him my very best. I told him I would support him in whatever decision he made. However, I can’t help but hope for myself, that when the time comes for me to settle down with a life mate, it is a decision made of both the heart and the mind…that I’m settling into a joyful life with my chosen partner, and not just settling.