I am getting over a 10+ year on-and-off “situationship” with a guy I met while attending college. During those years he has been hot and cold—showing me mix feelings. We only speak to each other via text (unless we’re together) and those conversations are occasional. After moving to a different state, anytime I visit he’s very affectionate but ignores me after leaving. My strong like for him has kept me going back to him in hopes that he would finally make it official with me.
I have been hung up on one guy for so long, and now I am having a hard time moving on and getting back into the dating scene. I am excited at the thought of moving on and finding someone who I can like and will like me back. But, a little piece of me still hopes that he would finally get his act together and we’d become a real couple, even though signs are showing he doesn’t want anything to do with me anymore. I already wasted too much time waiting, and I refuse to wait any longer. How can I finally move on from him? How can I get back into the dating scene when I have been out of it for so long?
An Almost Girlfriend
Dear An Almost Girlfriend,
Have you ever seen the Bob Newhart spoof on counseling? He’s a psychiatrist and a new patient comes in for a session. She’s there because she has this fear of being buried alive in a box. And what triggers her fear is her thoughts. She says that thinking about it truly makes her life horrible, that it keeps her from driving through tunnels or taking the elevator, and that even being inside of a house panics her.
The psychiatrist quickly points out that she must be claustrophobic. The patient agrees. In which case, he has two words for her. “Stop it.” The woman nearly chokes, shocked by the blunt force of the doctor’s simple direction. “So, I should just stop it?” She asks, totally confused. “There you go,” he tells her. “I mean, you don’t want to go through life being scared of being buried alive in a box, do you? I mean, that sounds frightening.”
“It is,” she agrees. “Then, stop it.” He repeats.
“But, I can’t. It’s been with me since childhood…”
“No, no, no.” The doctor interrupts her. “We don’t go there. Just stop it.”
“So, I should just stop being afraid of being buried alive in a box?”
“You got it.”
Arriving at this conclusion takes them three minutes. However, since the doctor gives five minute sessions and the patient wants to get her money’s worth, she decides to open up about a few more problems she’s facing in her life.
“I have self-destructive relationships with men,” she begins to tell him.
His answer, again, is to stop it. “You want to be with a man, don’t you?”
Yes. “Then, stop it.”
At this point, they’re four minutes in and she’s exasperated by the doctor, telling him to stop it. She doesn’t like this kind of therapy at all.
Why? Because he keeps telling her to stop it. That is, to stop engaging what bothers her, to stop feeding the dragon that’s chasing her down.
But why should he not encourage her? Is that not why she’s seeing him in the first place? Is that not what she wants, to be free of the very issues that consume and limit her? Yes, only it’s happening too fast, she decides.
Mind boggling, right? We’re always in such a rush to find the trick or magic word that stops someone else’s behavior but are so slow to do the thing which will save ourselves. I see it all the time. People asking for help at stopping “it,” at stopping him, but resisting any help that tells them you must start by stopping yourself. Stop waiting for a man who isn’t stopping for you. Stop it.
What we see in the skit is a patient who doesn’t want the doctor to free her of her fears; she wants him to indulge her in them. She doesn’t want to absolve the discomfort, she just wants help feeling more comfortable living under its hold.
You see, the dramas of our days distract us from fulfilling our lives. In fact, they distract us from really even seeing our lives, from taking a cold hard look. And the reason we would even want this, why we would even stay put on this blinding merry-go-round, clinging to the very circumstances that cause us our greatest distress, is because staring into the problem takes our eyes off the prize. And guess what? So many of us have planted our feet down into the problem for so long that our new normal has become focusing on what's pulling us under, so much so that now it’s easier to believe that this is the way life goes, that there’s a better shot of rehabbing a problem and polishing it until it looks like a prize than finding a prize that never made a problem out of us to begin with.
I spent a decade, not involved with the same man like you have done, but involving the worst version of myself with multiple men. And though those men were different, I always felt the same with them because every one of them met me under the same conditions, where my feet were planted down in the same problem, making not having to face my problems, not having to stretch myself, very easy for me.
Why I clung to that opportunity and chose to give myself away year after year after year to relationships that felt like dependencies more than they ever once felt like love was because I was buried so deep in my own problems that the idea of having to lift myself up out of a sinking hole and ask myself how, how have I let myself go, how have I let myself do this to myself, the idea of confronting the question of what I had done with all the life in me (not to mention all my time) had too much shame attached to it, too much sadness, regret, really it had too much reality attached to it that it felt far easier (it was not safer) to root myself down into the problem some more.
Which is exactly why for ten years, I stayed the same. I loved the same. I cried the same. I spoke the same. I thought the same. I fought the same. I felt the same. I lost the same. Because I did not challenge myself to be braver. I did not insist that I be better. I did not make the harder, wiser move. I did not give up the parts of my life that were destroying me. I did not let go of the men who were okay with me failing in love with them.
I did not stop it.
Instead, I clung to my circumstances, I cultivated even greater distress, and I stared into my and everyone else’s problems, and overtime forgot that I ever once believed that I was cut out for the prize.
I think you are writing me because you have begun to remember what you are cut out for.
You have begun to remember that a decade ago you never would have stood for this. You never would have tried so badly to force your way into love, and another into loving you. You never would have let someone else’s acceptance become your mission. And you never, ever would have called that story love.
Be honest with yourself. Ten years ago, would you have ever wanted love to be this hard?
If you’re serious about finally moving on, you know your answer. Stop it.
Stop yourself from doing more of the same.
Stop sticking around. Stop feeding the problem. Stop making it bigger than you are.
Refuse. That’s your word, and I love it.
Refuse to give yourself away by giving him one more chance. Refuse to stay put so one day you can celebrate where your situationship launched you versus where it has shackled you. Refuse to fall backward by refusing to entertain any relationship that resembles your situationship whatsoever. This really is the most important refusal of them all.
To move on from your situationship, you must refuse situationships in the future. This is how you get over your ex. By not entertaining the problems you had with him in a new relationship. By respecting your time, your heart, your sanity enough to have limits now: to say no thank you, to say you’re not for me and I’m not for you, to say I’m after more, I’m ready. I’m ready for a different kind of relationship. This is how you go into dating again, by pursuing a man who matches your efforts and not distracting yourself with the drama of anything less.
Let your decade long situationship teach you a lesson in limits. Because you need them. You need to have your limits, breaking points, that no one can cross (not even yourself... especially yourself) because limitations are how you keep yourself from actually limiting yourself. It’s how you get yourself to stop it. Most importantly, having limits is how you stop yourself from lessening your value.
So, let’s get back to that counseling session, shall we?
If you were to walk into my office, I feel like you’d sit down and tell me you’re afraid that you’ll never find a man who will commit to you. You’d tell me that what triggers this fear is this situationship you’ve been in for ten years, that the relationship itself is proof that no man will go all in with you no matter how much time you give him. You’d say thinking about your situation truly makes you feel unlovable, that it keeps you from making yourself available to new men and has even kept you in the relationship. And because you’re so afraid that no one will ever fully choose you, you think it’s best to stay with the man who chooses you every once in awhile. But then you’ll tell me that the thought of remaining in this relationship panics you because you want a real relationship.
And you know what I’d say? I’d say, you must be ready for one.
Do you agree?
Then, stop it. If you’re ready for a real relationship, stop committing to men who aren’t.
Don’t lessen your value.
If you want the prize, stop staring into the problem.
If you want to move on, start standing for new things.
Because, here’s the silver lining. If after every relationship you can learn what you now stand for, that relationship will have been worth every day and every tear.
So ask yourself, what will I stand for now? What will I not allow for ever again? What do I need to feel if I’m going to involve myself in a relationship? What will I offer the person I am dating and what will he need to offer me?
Let those answers guide you to what is next. Have them be your playbook. And start making promises to yourself today. Promise you will not stop for anything that resembles the past, that resembles uncertainty, casualty, and inertia. Promise to not wait for a man to give you what you are already prepared to give. Promise to stop breaking your own heart by clinging to what doesn’t already feel right. Stop clinging to hope. The beauty is, if you can keep the promises you make to yourself, your promises will change you.
And after ten years of sacrifice, you better believe you are deserving of change. So take your eyes off the problem, stop distracting yourself with the drama of your thoughts, stop thinking there’s something wrong with you and undesirable about you, and look forward to the relationship that matches you, that reveals you to yourself, that shows you just how lovable you are, how lovable you have always been.