Dear Mary Beth,
I am 48-years-old and divorced. About seven years ago I had a chance to run across a beautiful woman, whom I have admired for all this time, until 10 months ago, when we became a couple.
We had some growing pains and she was telling me I needed to relax and slow down. I heard her but I wasn’t listening. Last month she told me she doesn’t love me the way I love her and broke up our relationship.
However, she still wants to “hang out,” go to family functions together and speak almost every day. She told me that she did not want to see anyone else and was not going to, but that she does not want to be boyfriend and girlfriend. I recently had to have surgery that required me to be homebound. She was there the entire time, through the surgery and recovery.
My dilemma is: do I wait for her to decide? Even though I am trying, I can’t seem to live without her; she consumes my thoughts. I want to be loved for who I am and what I can be. I have prayed to God and the only thing that comes to my mind is the Father in the movie Rudy: We pray on our time, He answers in his. Do I move on and find someone new or do I wait?
I have a very simple philosophy when it comes to dating. When someone tells you what they want or what they’re going to do, you should take them at their word. She says she doesn’t want a dating relationship with you. As painful as that might be to accept, I think you should believe her.
I know that’s not easy to do when your feelings are strong and the messages you’re getting are very mixed. After all, she’s also telling you that she doesn’t want to date anyone else, and her actions are telling you that she still cares about you very much. But none of that changes the fact that she’s made it very clear she’s not ready for a dating relationship right now. And you have no way of knowing when – or if – she ever will be.
I wrote a long series earlier this year about commitment-phobia, and this is classic commitment-phobic behavior. As a relationship moves forward, the possibility of permanent commitment becomes more real – and terrifying. So the person with commitment issues “breaks up” to relieve the pressure.
But the problem with fear of commitment is that the person can’t commit to yes or no. So once the breakup has happened, she begins to fear that commitment and can’t let go. Of course, this just creates a never-ending cycle of breakups and reunions and lots of miserable time spent in the mushy middle. Which is no way to build a relationship.
Maybe that’s what’s going on with your erstwhile ex. Maybe not. Maybe she just cares about you as a friend, but doesn’t like to be alone so she’s sticking close to you until the next one comes along.
Benefits and obligations
Whatever the case, she wants all of the benefits of a relationship with you – hanging out, going to family functions, talking constantly – with none of the obligations. That isn’t fair to you, and it’s wreaking havoc on your emotional life.
You said you can’t live without her, and she consumes your thoughts. Well, yeah. You see her constantly. How can you get over her if she won’t go away? The wound is ripped open again every time she calls “just to chat” or invites you to a family function.
Sometimes people break up, realize they’ve made a mistake, and get back together. More often, they don’t.
Either way, your only job is to heal and get on with your life. If she wants you back, let her come find you and tell you that. But that means saying, “I want you back,” not “hey, let’s go hang out at the mall.”
Until that happens, my advice to you would be to cut off contact with her. I know you want to hang on to the little scraps of attention she shows you and the hope those scraps give you that maybe you’ll still have a future together, but those little scraps of hope are eating you alive. They’re keeping you from grieving, healing and moving on.
You said you want to be loved for who you are. I’m assuming that also means you want to be loved by someone who actually wants to be with you and is ready to explore a relationship with you. You demean yourself when you settle for this half-baked version of love in which you stand by and wait for someone who has made it clear she doesn’t want a relationship with you right now.
There is another issue here that I want to at least mention. You said that you are divorced, but didn’t say whether that marriage has been annulled. If not, then you are still presumed by the church to be validly married, and your ex may be doing you a favor in removing herself as your girlfriend, because you are even less free to move toward marriage than she is. Part of the healing you need is to start that process and to determine once and for all if you are free to move forward with a new relationship.
You don’t just need to heal from your surgery, my friend. You need to heal emotionally from the aftermath of this relationship and spiritually from your first attempt at marriage. That healing happens with time, with lots and lots of prayer, and in the case of your first marriage, with the help of your diocesan marriage tribunal.
Once you’ve healed in all of those ways, you will be so much stronger and ready to go out and find real love, in whatever form God may have in store for you!
Got a question for Mary Beth?
Email it to firstname.lastname@example.org. She may answer it in her next “Dear Mary Beth” post.