Today’s advice letter is all about taking the risk with a person for the second time after the first time didn’t work out.
I love that you have an advice column called “Everything I need to know I learned from Romance Novels.” I haven’t noticed any topics on relationships (although maybe I just missed those emails) so I thought this was a great opportunity for you (to be well rounded advisors capable of dishing on any topic) and me (although mostly me, because you could probably do without complicated questions from confused women).
I recently reconnected with my ex-boyfriend, which doesn’t sound so great on paper I know. Our relationship was on and off for 2 years – we love the same movies and sports and activities and have the same sense of humour, and we really “clicked”…well sometimes…The other times he was really unreliable and I felt that I played second fiddle to the rest of his personal life – his ex, and his friends and family – which would make me hurt and angry, and consequently we fought a lot. I made a clean break two years ago and ended it for good (but I didn’t date anyone else seriously during that time either). Then over the Christmas holidays we started to see each other with mutual friends and then we started to hang out (“as friends”) and one thing led to another…you see where this is headed.
I genuinely enjoy his company and I’m attracted to him and I seriously missed him like crazy, but I’m not sure if dating again is a good idea. I have been in relationships and I consider myself a practical person but I have had a lot of time to think about what I want from my next relationship and qualities I need in a partner. Its really important to me to be with someone who’s trustworthy and dependable and will make me a priority in his life. My Ex/BF is probably not that guy, but he is a great guy and he wants to make it work this time around.
The problem with romance novels is they always have a happy ending. My questions (at long last) to you as Smart Bitches and wives: Am I being unrealistic in my expectations? I don’t believe that I’ll get struck with lightning and I’ll know I’ve met my soulmate, but I really wish it worked that way. How else do you know if its right? Should I wait for the “right” person and circumstances OR simply acknowledge that there is no HEA in real life and accept what I have now?
Please, please, please help me!
Familiarity is very comfortable. Especially when you already know the downside of being with someone – in this case, unreliability. I’m not clear about what “second fiddle” means without an example, but if you felt neglected and second-best to everyone else, that’s not a fun feeling. It’s good to have friends and a man who values family is a very positive thing indeed, but it sounds from my perspective that you felt very left out and hurt, and that you felt you were not as important to him as he was to you. Imbalance in romance, passion, and partnership does not yield success and happiness.
But there are many, many romances in which the hero and the heroine have to grow up a bit to be worthy of one another, or ready for one another.
Perhaps the two years apart have done that for both of you. You haven’t told me if his behavior is different this time around except to say that “he is a great guy and he wants to make it work this time around.” If that is true, and he’s expressed a desire to make it work, then I’m going to suggest a small to-do list, with the hope that you’ve already done some or all of the following :
1. Have a serious and frank discussion with him about what upset you the first time you were together. Give specific examples and always, always couch them in terms of how his actions made you feel. “I” statments, not accusatory “You [always]…” statements.
2. Outline clearly what you’d like to be different. Maybe you want him to include you more in making plans for the two of you, or maybe you want him to keep commitments to you without breaking them because his mom/his ex/his buddy/his brother called to do something else. Breaking plans happens; it’s normal. Breaking them every time because something better came up is disrespectful.
3. Tell him how much you’ve missed him, how important he was to you, how sad you were when it didn’t work out, and why this second try is so scary but so potentially wonderful for you now. Spell it out: “You are important to me. Please do these things to show me that I am important to you.”
4. Once you’ve done this: Bury The Past. If you see a recurrence of past habits? Address them. In the present tense. Immediately. But only those. Once you’ve discussed what went wrong back in the day, let it stay there, and make it clear that you’re letting it go. Otherwise, the past will poison the future because you’ll be carrying it around with you all the time and you’ll ultimately start looking for the same behavior from him, even without meaning to. Clean slate. Take a mulligan.
Do over. Do better.
But as far as your questions about lightning strikes or sudden enlightenment, no, it really doesn’t always happen that way.
There is a lot of passivity in romance novels, because the genre itself creates the expectation that the hero and heroine will have a happy ending. The happy ending isn’t the problem – it’s the guarantee. The hero and heroine may have to earn it or demonstrate their worthiness for it, but it’ll happen.
And the passivity bred by that guarantee can easily translate into a wish or desire that The One should be so obvious to all of us without our having to do much or even get off the couch. Identifying the one should be as easy as telling twins apart or seeing in color or having your heart beat again or some other Really Big Impossible to Miss Holy Shit Hold All Calls We Have a Winner sign.
It doesn’t work that way. And “work” is the key word: there are happy endings, but to be the heroine of your own happy ending, you have to work for it. And that means asking for what you want in a relationship and making your expectations clear. He can choose to meet them, or choose not to. But you owe it to yourself, especially if you’ve had two years to think about it and miss this man in your life during that time, to ask what you want for your happy ending, and hear him if he communicates his own wants for your relationship.
Life is not passive. Happy endings are definitely not passive. Happy endings and happiness take work and honesty.
So get to it: get to work, be honest, and ask for what you want. I hope you get it, that he’s able to hear and understand what you desire in a relationship, and be your hero. May you live happily ever after.