By Harris O’Malley
Dear Dr. NerdLove,
First of all, I would like to thank you for your great dating advice. I’ve been visiting your blog regularly for about six years now; even though dating is pretty much an American phenomenon, your blogposts, podcasts and videos have been useful to the Western European guy that I am.
The question I would like to ask is should I break up with my girlfriend in order to (maybe) have the slightest chance to get with another girl I know?
Let me give you some context and details. My current girlfriend is the only girl I have dated so far. We’ve been together for four years. She’s kind and considerate and she really loves me, up to the point that she would like to start a family with me in a few years. It hasn’t always been that easy. She used to be extremely jealous. We wouldn’t even get out of our apartment together since she would think I would stare at any pretty girl passing by and, consequently, go apeshit.
We also used to have a difficult long distance relationship. After graduating from University, I moved back to my parents’ house in a foreign country to look for work from there. We oftentimes had difficult arguments over the phone and, of course, her jealousy did not fade.
I eventually found a job in my girlfriend’s town and moved back to that area. Something weird happened after that. My girlfriend said she wanted to break up, which we did. But we kind of stayed together anyway. I regularly stayed at her place, which is something that she and I both wanted. It is as if we were addicted to each other’s presence.
After living a few months in this odd but comfortable situation, my girlfriend told me she wanted us to get back together. We talked some things out and resumed our relationship indeed.
Our sex-life has been non-existent for the most part until recently. The good news is we started to have better sex since we officially got back together. Also, my girlfriend is not jealous anymore. We spend good moments together.
That being said, I fell in love with a colleague of mine. In retrospect, I think I fell in love with this young woman just before my girlfriend and I reunited. I don’t know if there’s a thing going on between this colleague and me. She’s genuinely friendly to everyone in general, but I feel like she’s slightly flirty with me. We’ve had great conversations and really opened up to each other until now. She’s utterly smart, eloquent and elegant.
I don’t know what to make of it, but whether she is into me or not is not the most important question. My falling in love with this girl makes me wonder if I should stay with my current girlfriend or just call it quits. Should I break up with my girlfriend in order to have the slightest chance to get with this colleague? Or, more realistically, should I just break up (since our relationship has been too rocky) and be single again for a while even though I don’t want to be alone? Or should i just stay with her ?
Roll The Dice
OK, RTD, I want to make sure I understand this: you had some rocky times with your girlfriend. You split up without actually splitting, got back together, reignited your sex-life and solved your girlfriend’s jealousy and trust issues and things are better than ever. Meanwhile, you have a crush on someone you barely know and who hasn’t given you any signs of interest that go beyond wishful-thinking levels of flirting.
So on the one hand you have a relationship that’s better and stronger than before and on the other you’ve got an office crush. And you’re asking if you should ditch your girlfriend for the vaguer-than-vague possibility that this woman might be interested with you.
I’m going to ask this with all due respect: are you out of your goddamn monkey mind?
Look, RTD here’s what’s going on: you had a rough patch with your girlfriend. That happens, especially in a long-distance relationship. You clearly weren’t ready to do the LDR thing because you and your girlfriend had issues with communication and trust. Once you were together in the same city, it was easier for your girlfriend to accept that no, you weren’t cheating on her or looking to dump her for someone else. More importantly: you talked things out, worked on how to actually communicate with one another and solidified your connection with one another. It’s pretty damn clear that the biggest issue was distance; it was sandpapering your girlfriend’s anxieties, which was causing her to lash out at you and everyone was miserable. Take away the distance and suddenly everything works again.
The fact that — as this was going on — you developed a crush on your coworker is entirely understandable. Crushes happen. Over the course of your life, you’ll develop crushes on folks; some of them will be while you’re single, some of them will be while you’re in a relationship. Crushes are signs that you find somebody else attractive and you’re caught up in the novelty of it. That’s it. They’re not a barometer for the health of your relationship or a measure of how much (or how little) you care for your partner. All a crush means is that you’re a mammal with a sex-drive. Monogamy and commitment aren’t magic spells that keep you from ever finding someone else attractive. They’re just a promise to your partner that you won’t date or sleep with somebody else. You will want to sleep with other people — so will pretty much everyone else you ever date — but you’ve chosen not to.
It’s that chosen part that’s important. That’s the part that’s meaningful, not the attraction to someone else.
Here’s the other important part: you don’t know if this girl likes you. Thus far, every indication you’ve given is that, while you are into her, you have no idea how she feels about you. You think she maybe, could be, possibly flirting with you. If you squint. A lot. That’s a pretty good sign that you’re doing a lot of rounding up, here. You’re seeing signs in the tea-leaves that you are hoping to see, not what’s actually there, in no small part because this all came about while you were pissed at your kinda-ex. That’s what we in the advice biz like to call “motivated reasoning”; you were looking for a way out and so you found one… that just happened to be your cute coworker.
Which actually brings me to my next point: in your letter you lay out multiple options where you leave your girlfriend, regardless of whether you leave her to pursue something with your coworker. That’s the sort of thing that makes me wonder: are you asking for my advice about what to do? Or are you asking for my permission to break up with your girlfriend? Because from the way you’ve framed things, it seems like you’ve got one foot out the door and the fact that circumstances improved have caused a delay in your exit plan.
If what you actually want is just permission to break up, even as things are going great… well, you can go ahead and do that. You can break up with your partner at any time, no matter whether things are going amazingly well or not. The only reason you need to break up with someone is that you’ve decided that this is what you want. Other people may think that it’s a dumb idea, but it’s your call if you’ve decided that you want to be single.
And frankly, I’m one of those guys who thinks that’s a really dumb idea. You had a rocky start to your relationship. That happens. What’s more important is that things are going well, now. Ditching a great relationship just because it was rough at the beginning, or you’ve got 3,720 to 1 odds of your co-worker liking you is the definition of absurdity.
If you want to be single, be single. But I think you’re making a mistake to break up like this. To quote the sage: there’re a million fine-looking women in this world; most of them won’t bring you lasagna at work.
Hey Dr. NerdLove,
A little background, I’m a nice/easy going person and tend to be on friendly terms with most of my exes. I’m in a happy, committed relationship and my boyfriend and I tend to be on the same page with understanding that you can be friends with people you dated in the past.
However I have an ex that is really pushing the boundaries. We broke up about four years ago. I initiated because she was toxic/overbearing and I wasn’t feeling the relationship anymore.
She’s always been kind of chatty/intense, but it’s been the biggest obstacle toward me being completely being cool with being her friend again. She always sends a million texts/dms and seems like she finds any reason possible to chat with me. I’m usually polite and respond, but it’s turning into a thing where I feel like she’s haunting my inbox which would make me feel weird even if we hadn’t dated. It’s gotten to the point where I started using the ‘close friends’ function on Instagram just so she won’t see my stories/reply to them anymore. However this hasn’t worked because she’s just started dming me about random topics now.
She moved out to the suburbs/came out as a woman a year or two ago, so part of me feels like she’s just lonely and wants friends. However part of me also feels like she’s veering into crush territory with the way she’s constantly trying to communicate. I don’t want to make assumptions, but at the same time regardless of her intentions she’s making me uncomfortable. The way she behaves has already sucked the air out of a lot of my college friendships. For example if a college friend invites me to a party on Facebook I never say if I’m attending anymore because I know if I do she’ll immediately text me and ask if I’m going/show up if I say I am.
Besides that she’s kind of annoying. I don’t really enjoy talking to her all that much if we’re being honest. She’s always been this way, but she’s kind of a braggy narcissist and likes to editorialize everything that is happening around her. Which leads me to my next part.
Last time I asked her to cool it on the texting (about two years ago) she told all of our mutual friends that I had ‘stopped talking to her’ and was really dramatic about it and spread a story about us getting into a big fight, instead of it being I just need her to not be constantly contacting me.
What is a nice way to tell her she needs to cool it on the communication? She’s not a bad person or anything, I just feel like I would want a chill friendship with her where we catch up every once in a while, not feeling like I can never escape her because I’m not straight up rude to her.
Another layer is that we went to the same college and she’s really well liked/connected to everyone at my college. I felt this when I broke up with her and I feel this now, but I feel like if I’m rude or cut off communication completely she’s going to black ball me or spread rumors about me to our industry (which we both still work in).
Let me know what you think
A Little Less Conversation
This is clearly a situation that’s been bothering you, ALLC; you’ve put a lot of time explaining and justifying why you don’t want to talk with your ex any more. And in fairness, it’s entirely understandable. It sounds like your ex is the exact mix of clueless and self-absorbed that can drive people up the goddamn wall.
However, the thing is: you don’t need to justify why you don’t want to talk to her. It’s perfectly acceptable for you to not want to talk to her just because you don’t like her. It’s not like there’s a Council of Friendship that’s going to veto your decision if your reason isn’t good enough; you can’t be forced into letting her into your life because your only reason for wanting her out of it is “she’s annoying as hell”.
This is, for example, why it doesn’t matter that she may be lonely and looking for friends. Yes, it’s understandable that post-move and post-transition, she’s in a place where she feels a little lost and lonely and is reaching out to people. That doesn’t change the fact that she’s annoying the piss out of you, she’s ignoring your boundaries and she’s causing drama in order to get her way. She may not be intending to be so annoying but intent ain’t magic. These are issues you had with her when you’re dating and it’s pretty clear that nothing’s changed even after you’ve broken up. You don’t need to justify or explain your reasoning or excuse her behavior; you can just decide that you don’t want her contacting you that often.
Which, ultimately is what you should say to her: she’s exhausting you with how much attention she’s demanding from you and you want her to dial it back. She’s at a 10 and you need her at a two. She doesn’t give you room to breathe and it’s getting to the point where you’re going to have to actively avoid her or block her. If she doesn’t want that, then she needs to cut back on things and let you make the next move. You two can catch up every once in a while at your pace.
And if she doesn’t listen? That’s when you start muting her on Facebook and Messenger and WhatsApp or, if necessary, blocking her. The nice thing about muting someone is that most of the time, they never know that they’re shouting into the void; it just seems like you’re choosing to not say anything. But if she won’t take “no reply” for an answer, then it’s time to drop the hammer and start limiting where and how she can contact you with the block function. If you feel the need, you can leave her ONE venue where she can get in contact with you — possibly one you rarely use, so you aren’t stuck with a thousand notifications — but cutting off her access is an effective way of enforcing your boundaries.
As for her propensity for manufacturing drama and trying to cast you as the villain in the piece? Well, you can do a certain amount of prep work and let people know you’re having to cut things off with her because she just. Won’t. Leave. You. Alone. You can drop how exhausting it’s getting dealing with her, about how she won’t take “no” for an answer and how this has been a pattern since when you two were dating.
But there’s only so much you can do; people are going to believe what they’re going to believe and there’s a certain societal expectation to err on the side of “being nice”. If folks hear her story and think you’re the offending party here… well, that’s going to have to be part of the cost of enforcing your boundaries. It sucks… but maintaining those boundaries means doing so even when other people disapprove. You can let them know why, but their agreement or disagreement with your reasons are ultimately irrelevant; your boundaries are not a democracy and you should tell them that, if necessary.
Hopefully, they’ll realize what’s going on and recognize that all that drama doesn’t make her a queen.
But for now: lay it out for her, in no uncertain terms. If she doesn’t respect that? Then that’s on her. You told her how it was gonna be and now it’s time to cut her off.
Previously published on doctornerdlove.com and is republished here under permission.
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