Dear Sara: Two and a half years ago, I met a woman online (I was 43 and she was 33 and an alcoholic, sober for 3 years), and we hit it off right away. She was witty and smart. We communicated really well, and we had great physical chemistry. After a few weeks, she said it was important for me to meet her friends and family so that she could get their opinion of me, so she took me to several events to meet everyone. They all loved me and some commented that they had never seen her so happy. She would say. “This is too good to be true!” She said she had never had a healthy relationship; I told her, “It should be this good in the beginning!”
After about 2 to 3 months of dating we began saying “I love you.” She said it first, in a card, and I cried immediately (she was present and we embraced). I was so happy. I felt I had finally found my true love. We talked about having kids together and she said, “For the first time, I can see myself building a life with someone.” We both loved living in the city and after about six months together, she suggested moving in with me part time while also staying in a city an hour away where she worked. I helped her move in to both locations.
Eventually, we would have some small spats. I told her this was normal after dating for a while and living together. Shortly after the six-month mark in our relationship and after she had moved in, she posted a nice photo of the two of us at a dinner party and proclaimed, “Well friends, it’s been 6 months and about time to introduce you to A. He’s quite a catch, and I feel like a lucky, lucky gal. He also survived a family reunion. Xo.” 256 likes on Facebook. I was happier than ever.
She worked a lot and loved her job, which meant I didn’t see her as much as I wanted; I was in love after all! I asked if she would eventually be willing to look for a job in the city where we lived (she said this was where she really wanted to live), but she said this was her dream job, and she wanted to take it as far as possible. Two months after she moved in, she said she was “not ready for this” and broke it off. The breakup lasted two days and we both cried. She left some furniture in my place for a couple of months, and my heart was broken again when she showed up to get it.
A few months ago, I learned that she had a new job in the city where I live. I sent her an email explaining how in love with her I was when we were together and that if she wanted to get lunch to let me know.
She quickly responded by saying thank you for reaching out, I wish you the best (summarized). I think about sending her flowers every day until she realizes she still loves me. But those things only seem romantic in the movies; in real life they seem crazy and desperate, right?
Since our break up, I’ve had two girlfriends, but I was not in love with either of them and I broke it off. I’m single again now. I miss being in love. Any advice is appreciated. — L
Dear L: First, I’m so sorry your heart was broken this way. It’s always such a shock when the people we love decide to leave, and of course lots of us do exactly what you’re doing—poring over the relationship history, building a case for Why This Shouldn’t Have Happened.
And yet … it did. And you may never know why.
My sense is that you have a theory about why your ex ended things—you note that she is a recovering alcoholic who had never had a functional relationship before. So, just to fill in the dots, yeah—you could be right. Maybe her demons or her lack of experience are at play here. Maybe she has never been as close to anyone as she has been to you, and she got freaked out. Maybe she’ll decide she made a mistake and come back.
I think that is certainly possible, and I’m glad you sent her the nice, cordial note. It was generous and classy of you to let her know the door is still open.
But I would warn you against telling her what her feelings are. You have compiled a lot of evidence, but you actually don’t know if she still loves you—only she knows that. Your letter also indicates that you often took the role of “expert,” telling her how things go in a healthy relationship. I understand that you had more experience in good relationships, since she didn’t really have any, but every relationship is different and if you fell into a master/apprentice dynamic this might have been draining for her.
This is just a guess based on a few comments in your letter, and maybe I’m reading too much into them. But I mention it because “mansplaining,” as it’s now called, is fairly common pattern in a lot of heterosexual couples—women say how they feel; men explain how it is. So that’s just something to watch for.
Anyway, I agree with you that sending flowers would probably be too much. I think you’re wise to be friendly and allow her the space to come back, but I also think the best thing you can do for yourself now is to take her at her word and move on.
I’m glad you did the right thing with your subsequent girlfriends and broke it off when you realized you weren’t in love. No doubt, they were just as bewildered as you were when your ex left you. But it’s really all we can do for each other—just be honest and allow people the freedom and space to find the person who is in love with them.
So even though I know things are hard right now, I think you’re on a good path.
You allowed yourself to fall in love and emotionally invest in another person. You recognized what the experience of being in love feels like and have committed to holding out for it.
That’s all any of us can do. Of course, the wait is hard and the duration indefinite. But if you proceed with honesty, compassion, and respect toward yourself and others, I think you’re in good shape.