If the expected added benefits exceed the expected added costs, do it. If not, don’t. — Marc McNeil, my econ prof
Several people have responded recently to a guy’s failure to understand why his ex-girlfriend wants no contact. I was particularly moved by Ferret’s response.
I have something of a secret: I’ve never actually dated in the traditional sense. I always went out with people I’d gotten to know already, so it was more a “Hey, I don’t just like talking with you, I’d like more” thing. Given that, cutting people off was (and is) really hard because it typically meant straining my social group, too.
Tale the First: I Got Cut Off
When I was in college, I dated a guy. Around Christmas that year, he seemed to be reluctant to make plans. I found out he’d started seeing someone else before ending it with me. I called him repeatedly to try to figure out what was going on before I knew that.
He, rightfully, cut me off.
He wanted to start a relationship with someone else. Granted, he handled it badly (he did not communicate that he wanted to see other people, plus we had made tentative plans then he went radio silent about them), but so did I. I still have no idea what happened from his perspective. Would I like to know? No one likes that kind of a mystery hanging. But if that’s the kind of person he was, it wouldn’t have worked out even if I’d been more perfect. Clearly, from his perspective, I wasn’t what he needed.
As it happens, I was wondering what happened to him the other day and googled. I found out his mom had died a few years ago, and the description of her in her obit made me smile. She’d been into surfing until late in life, and made Hawai’ian shirts and ran a beachwear shop for a living after I’d known her. It made me wish I’d known her better.
On the off chance he ever reads this: L, I’m sorry I was an ass.
Tale the Second: I Cut Someone Off (but too late)
This one’s really hard to write because there’s so much to it.
I was working for Scientology when I met X (not his initial), who was working as tech support for a program I was using at Scn to write our payroll software. (Scientology payroll is its own weird beast.)
X was, and is, a born-again Christian. So, let’s put it this way: the fact that we were not compatible in that respect was known at the outset. However, X was lapsed, so we started seeing each other. Then, when we started getting serious, he stopped wanting to have sex. He’d realized that his faith was important to him. Suddenly, it was crucial. So to speak.
So then I started going to church with him for a while, and there was a moment that made me realize that I definitely wasn’t in the right place nor with the right person. We were at his church, and they were singing Old Rugged Cross. He was crying.
I was trying hard not to laugh.
I’d never heard it as a hymn. But I’d heard Leslie Fish’s filk (“Stone Dance”) set to the tune; the chorus is:
So we’ll dance ’round the stone menhir ring,
‘Till the flames and the fire have died down.
We’ll emote, slit a goat’s throat and sing,
Then get dressed and drive back into town.
That was the moment when I accepted that I was just never going to fit in anywhere—and that was okay.
It was a few weeks before I ended it. He really genuinely never understood. He thought that if I’d just convert to Christianity, it’d be all better. What he never seemed to get was that the person he wanted wasn’t me.
So we remained friends, after a fashion; we’d started a business together and I still wanted to make a go of that. I started dating D some time later, and he was mean to D, and I just snapped at X.
The problem with that kind of behavior is that it fed who X was.
As a born-again Christian, X had bought into the idea that men should be the head of household and the wife should submit to the man. Catch is, X was a sub and into humiliation. (And I am not a domme—or a sub—but that’s another story. I will say that probably the most common BDSM practice I genuinely don’t get is, in fact, humiliation.) So he had an intractable problem in that his choice of faith was at odds with who he was, and his preferred life partner was at odds with his choices and needs. His life started a downward spiral at that point.
Because it was intractable, he wasn’t dating. Also, he hadn’t given up on me yet. The only way to get his needs met was to have a significant female in his life chewing him out.
Which led to bad behavior (e.g., how he treated D) and my response to it. Meanwhile, I can be a mean person, and I was all too happy to have an outlet for that. Except that he was creating drama and I was feeding off of it.
This went on for years. I moved across country, had several significant relationships, and married. Then was suddenly widowed. After that one-year period when you’re not supposed to make significant life changes, I decided to move back to Orange County and got a job offer.
I did, but then I needed a place to stay. X had a room available. He was living alone in a 3-bedroom house at the time. His hoarding had gotten so bad that he wasn’t able to live in his bedroom any more. (Later, it got even worse.)
I got him a job interview at the company I started at. He was hired.
His parents invited me over for Easter dinner that year. It became obvious that he’d told them that he expected us to resume our relationship and that he was going to ask me to marry him.
One morning, I found him outside my bedroom door hovering. I woke up suddenly. It was creepy.
I was in an awful situation. I’d paid out everything I had for my late husband’s final medical bills after his stroke (and there were more bills than money), I’d just moved across country, and I had $60 left when I arrived. I couldn’t afford to move again.
I wound up asking my employer (who’d already given me a signing bonus that I used to get out of my lease and move everything) for an emergency advance so I could afford to move again. I spent my work days pretending that my ex hadn’t been inappropriate so I could demonstrate that I could work with the ass. I did, however, tell my closest work partners (and my boss, embarrassingly enough) so that they would have my back.
It didn’t end then. I wish I could say it did, but it didn’t.
A few years ago, I realized that, for many, many years, there’d been nothing positive for me in the relationship. I missed the good parts of who he was back when I met him, but I have other friends who share those things with me now, and I don’t need that from X any more.
Instead, a flaw in my character exploited one of his needs, and he also took advantage of that. Unlike a true domme, though, I wasn’t doing it out of a place of respect or control. I had no intention of taking the relationship further, but he kept not giving up hope. In that sense, cutting him off would have been kinder to him.
I don’t miss his racism. He’s one of those Limbaugh-listening Republicans, so I don’t miss that either. (This was not how he was when I met him, to be clear.)
Clearly the reverse isn’t true. I’ve gotten LinkedIn requests, Facebook requests, and follows on Google Plus.
No. Just no.
If I’d cut him off at some appropriate point earlier on, I’d have been in a better place. I should have, and I didn’t. Lesson learned.
Tale the Third: I Get Cut Off
Between the time when I left X and moved back to the area, I dated a guy I had a total crush on. We’ll call him P.
In my “I’m not thinking about the implications of what I’m saying” moments, I said something that, truly, is the kind of thing no one should ever say to anyone. Worse, when he angrily called me on it, I got defensive and made it worse.
There was something about him that changed my life. It truly was an inflection point of my life, and I have no idea why. It wasn’t, however, an inflection point for his.
That’s another valuable lesson, though: just because someone is that person who can reach in past your boundaries and cause your little house of cards to shift irrevocably does not mean you do the same for that person.
Should he ever find this: I’m sorry I was a total jerk. I’m sorry I made it worse. Thank you, you really did change my life for the better. I hope yours has worked out.
Tale the Fourth: I Cut Someone Off After Finding them Again
I’ve also talked about a fourth case where I cut someone off. The other point: in terms of longevity over years, he’s the person I dated the longest apart from Rick. I even dated him around X and P. Which—should tell you something. He never was that person in my life. If he were honest, he’d admit that I was never that person for him, either. I wish that we’d been able to be friends and talk about things we enjoyed, but we can’t be.
Possibly the Most Relevant Points
The me of today would date exactly zero of these four people, though I’d be most tempted by P.
If you can actually genuinely be friends with an ex and that works for you, then go for it. But realize that there are two (or more) people involved, and those people may have different answers and for different reasons. Respect that.
No one owes you an answer.
No one owes you insight. Corollary: The insight you have about why is likely wrong.