Hey Anna, first, I just have to tell you that I am thrilled that The Hook Up is back. You left a huge hole in my life. I’ve been wanting to ask somebody about this for a while, but there is absolutely no one else I would turn to. I’m sure you probably don’t remember, but I wrote to you a little over a year ago. I was in a situation with a girl with an older girl at work who had a boyfriend and I asked you if you thought she would be worth trying a poly relationship for. You told me if I thought my feelings for her were strong enough then I should ask her to be with both of us. A lot has happened since then. I took your advice. I asked her to be with me and she agreed. I was the happiest I had ever been. It was the shout it from the rooftops kind of happy that you talked about. That happiness came with a few small strings, I’ll admit. It became very clear very early that I did, and always would, come in second. I think that hurt more than I was willing to admit at the time. There were a lot of little things that happened that really hurt my feelings and sort of destroyed how I felt about myself. To make matters worse, I don’t think she had any idea how things were affecting me. I certainly never told her because I was afraid of losing her. I’ll also be clear, our “relationship” didn’t last very long. While we were dating she and her boyfriend broke up and got back together several times. The last time they were talking about getting back together he told her that she had to end things with me if they were going to try to work it out. She told him she would, but that she would still be my best friend. She turned around and told me that we just wouldn’t tell him that we were still together. I foolishly agreed at first because I was scared and inexperienced, but I wasn’t happy with the idea. I mentioned it to someone at work and she found out. Then she broke up with me over a text message. I was devastated. We worked together, so that was hard for me. She said that she still wanted to be best friends, though, and I agreed to try after a while. She started being really flirty with other people right in front of me at work, and it made me feel like a crazy jealous psychopath. I told her and she said it was just in fun and didn’t understand why it upset me. I have since moved a little further away for school and transferred jobs to another location. I thought this would help me get over her and move on, but it hasn’t. We still talk a lot and I live close enough to go visit kind of frequently. I’m still in love with her and most people think I should cut her out of my life completely, but I can’t do it. It can be hard being in her life, but I’ve tried not talking to her a few times and those few days were far more painful than when we were talking. It has been easier since I’ve moved, and I keep thinking that one day I’ll be over it eventually and I won’t have to waste any time not speaking to her. Since the breakup, she has told me that she can’t imagine her life without me. She sometimes sends me flirty text messages and makes jokes about me cheating on her boyfriend with other girls. She even kissed me on New Year’s eve. I also know that she hasn’t been with any other girls since we met (which is a really long time for her). All of this makes me think that she still has feelings for me, but most people think she’s playing me. Do you think she’s playing me? Should I run for it? — Poly Part 2
Anna says: Dear Poly Part 2, yes, I think you should Poly Part 2-step on out of this situation immediately. But first, thank you for the kind words and for taking my advice. I’m always curious about that. Often I never hear again from the gals who write to me, which leaves a Bette Porter-sized hole in my heart that only a lot of Nutella-sized hole-filler can fix. But enough about my problems!
I think your situation will ring true to a lot of those reading this. It’s a classic, “She loves me but not enough” scenario. Those are the hardest to escape from. If she was an douchecopter 90% of the time, you’d have no problem extracting yourself from the situation. But as it is, she’s a little douchey, and a little nice, and the nice parts have overridden the parts of your brain that are screaming, “Girlfriend, shut it down!” (My conscience sounds like a mix of Tyra Banks and Tina Fey).
The good news is, you’re halfway out of the bad situation already. You moved away and work at a different place now, therefore you don’t have to see her all the time. The bad news is, you need to cut off contact with this girl for a while. And by a while I don’t mean “a few days.” I mean a WHILE. I mean enough time that the thought of seeing her with someone else doesn’t feel like a gut punch. I mean enough time for you to feel like the strong, confident bad-ass I know you are.
I know you tried this a few times and it didn’t take because you said not talking to her was “far more painful than when we were talking,” but I assure you it does get easier. Imagine if you were trying to give up drinking and quit because the first few days were hard. Our brains process breakups the same way they process addiction. There’s a tough withdrawal period, followed by Lost Girl marathons, crying to Gotye, and then slowly, slowly, a period of adjustment and acceptance, then more crying, a mildly destructive decision to either f*ck or eat the pain away, more acceptance, and on and on until you actually feel okay. Sometimes this takes a month, sometimes several, sometimes even longer. It depends on your tolerance for emo rock and how well stocked your fridge is. But the point is, you need a break from this girl. An absolute one. I recommend 90 days. (If you need more suggestions for how to cultivate willpower, read this column. And read this one too.)
If you need further incentive, here are a few alarm bells that you mention just in this one letter. I’m sure there are more you left out: She was never with just you. She lied to her boyfriend and continued to see you behind his back. She flirts with other people in front of you and then dismisses your feelings when you tell her it hurts. She broke up with you via TEXT MESSAGE. And despite that, wants to remain “best friends” with you! A best friend, hell, even a good friend, would have the courage to be honest with you to your face. I’m not saying this girl is a bad person. I’m sure she has excellent qualities, and probably makes a delicious mac ‘n’ cheese or knows how to knit unicorn-shaped mittens or something. But she’s not the girl for you. Being around her and in contact with her is causing you to suffer. Your friends see that, and this is why they want you to get out.
There are better days ahead, and they do not involve you being strung along by a girl who wants you, but not enough. I know that feels impossible right now, but I can 100% guarantee you that things will get better, and as you heal, and find new loves and make new mistakes, you’ll realize just how much you’re capable of, and how you should never accept anything less than a love that flows easily and reciprocally.
About six weeks ago, I met a girl at a bar one night and we really clicked. We started hanging out because we liked each other and have been hanging out and sleeping together ever since. We have great chemistry all around and we have the best times together. It’s basically like a relationship because we do all the things that people in a relationship do and we are not hanging out with or sleeping with anyone else. Sounds great right? The problem is she is still in love with her ex-girlfriend. I was well aware of this when we met and we chose to pursue each other anyway. The ex is out of the picture and they are not going to get back together but she cannot let go. Do I stick around in hopes that when she is ready to fall again, it will be for me, or do I walk away to avoid getting myself in a complicated situation? — Confused
Anna says: The last girl I dated told me a similar thing. She said, “I think you’re amazing, but I can’t be with you. I’m not over my ex.” I listened to her say these words (more than once) and, in all my wiseness and experience, I of course decided to try to make her fall in love with me anyway. I thought my Big Feelings would leak out of me and onto her, and that somehow they would turn into a kind of love soup. I thought if I wanted it bad enough it could work. You can probably venture a guess at how well that worked out.
Meaning, it didn’t.
She couldn’t give me what I wanted. She couldn’t be my girlfriend because she wasn’t done processing her last relationship. And even though we still had lots of fun together, and laughed, and spent almost every night together, the situation made me miserable. The worst part was I didn’t even realize how miserable I was until I stopped being around her all the time.
I can’t say the same thing will happen to you — many people overcome far greater obstacles and continue to thrive — but I can say that you’re starting out in the hole, and in the shadow of a woman who is both real and imagined, who may be out of the “picture” but isn’t really, and you’ll have to weigh the potential pitfalls of that. It’s incredibly difficult to give your all to someone else when you’re still grieving the loss of an old love. Even if that love was an insufferable jerk. As such, some of your time is going to be devoted to helping her heal, and that might end up hurting you more in the long run. I thought I was comforting my lover by listening to how awful and great her ex was, but it ended up taking a terrible toll on me. I think it’s taking a toll on you too. I didn’t know this ex and yet I hated her and wanted to be her at the same time because she captivated my lover in such a consuming and wounding way.
The long and short of it is this: You can’t compete with a ghost. You’ll always lose. Your girl needs time to process and grieve, and you can play a role in that, but I suggest you make it a very small one. I suggest you care more about yourself than you care about her at this juncture. For me that meant cutting my lover out of my life (slowly, in waves, because we are lesbians so it takes three times as long to do everything except move in together). It’s been several months now, and I still think about her a lot. I wonder who she’s dating and if her heart has mended. I wonder if she’s still pining over the ex who treated her so badly. I hope not. But I know now that by involving myself in her struggle, I wasn’t acting as a life preserver; she was, in effect, taking us both down.
Look hard at your life, Confused. Look at where you want to be. If it’s not right here, right now, then start swimming.
Hailing from the rough-and-tumble deserts of southern Arizona, where one doesn’t have to bother with such trivialities as “coats” or “daylight savings time,” Anna Pulley is a freelance writer living in San Francisco. Find her at annapulley.com and on Twitter @annapulley. Send her your Hook Up questions at firstname.lastname@example.org.