Dudefile #70 – Nostalgia or True Love?

Dear DW,

I seek your wise opinion regarding something I have been mulling over for a while now…

I had a boyfriend in college – let’s call him Paul. After college we decided to break up, as he was moving to San Francisco and I was moving to New York. Paul was my first real boyfriend and my first real love. We had a very passionate and loving relationship (with the occasional fight and disagreement) and while neither of us really felt like we were ready to break up, we figured the distance would be enough of a strain, so we decided to split up. However, even after the move, we still talked on the phone, like, everyday, said our “I love you’s”, etc. We visited each other a few times after the moves. I was also trying to date other men, thinking that would help me move on, but it didn’t really. After over a year of doing this, and also some gradual emotional distancing, we had a real break because during one of his visits, I got really fed up with his attitude and his treatment of me (the occasional fights we would have would be where he turned into an asshole and be mean to me and pick on me).

A year after this breakup after the breakup, before I was leaving to move to another country, Paul and I were talking on the phone as we would still do occasionally, and he confessed that he was still in love with me. Me? I said that even if I ended up on the West Coast after I came back from abroad, that I wouldn’t want to get back together with him. He was sad, but that was the nicest way I could tell him that I wasn’t in love with him. While I was abroad he started dating another woman, and they dated for a long time and I thought for sure they would get married. They were together for something like 5 years, but broke up over a year ago. I recently moved back to California, and actually live very close to where he lives. Since we dated in college, our core group of college friends are the same. Many of the friends also live in the vicinity, so Paul and I see each other fairly regularly.

Paul has always been a very good friend to me, no matter what.  And it has taken a lot of work for both of us, I think, to get to a point where we are friendly and comfortable and where I’m not worried about touching him or talking about other guys I’m dating.

So yeah, about the other guys I’m dating (or not, as it were).  I’ve been looking for something meaningful, but have yet to find anything. Since Paul I have only had one other real boyfriend, although I have dated a lot. I have never felt for anyone what I felt for him. For the most part, I feel like I just need to be patient and active and hold out for true love.

Lately, though, I have been wondering if I want to get back together with him. He is loving and caring and I wonder if I didn’t make some sort of mistake a long time ago. But I have been too afraid to do anything about it.  Sometimes I wonder if it is because I haven’t found anything and find guys to be eternally frustrating, and wonder if anyone would love me as much Paul did. Then I kick myself and say that these are not sufficient reasons to want to get back together with someone. I also worry that if I was to say something, and he didn’t feel the same way, then what would happen to our friendship that we worked so hard to build? To say nothing of my broken heart and ego.

I gave all this back story (and there is a lot more, believe me, including how sorry he was after his visit and our “real break”), because I know he really cared for me (like sent me letters after we broke up saying, “I just hope that I will marry someone as amazing as you…”) and think that there might be a chance.  The other night we had dinner and I sometimes, I swear, there is some sort of tension there; it’s palpable, at least to me.

There is a recent development, also, that kind of complicates the matter even more: Paul literally just got back together with his other ex-gf, the one that I thought he would marry. Our other friends are not happy about this, and he has been relatively quiet about sharing this news. I suppose this has now dashed any hopes for me, as over dinner he was telling me about their possible long-term plans.  I don’t know what to do…I have had these feelings for a while, and thought to wait it out and see, but there is a part of me that is curious about exploring them too — but is it a risk worth taking?  And is it even appropriate now?  Will I kick myself later if I don’t do anything?

Ack, help!  I am too much in my own head about this and need some fresh, clear thinking on this matter.  That means you, Dude Whisperer!

Many thanks,

wondering and confused


Hi w and c,

The DW has to say, he’s got a pretty strong bias against getting back with exes. The way he sees it, the poop sandwich of reality here is that if there were reasons to break up the first time there will be reasons, and likely the same ones, to break up a second time. As the DW has mentioned before, most recently just last week, people can learn to pick the laundry off the floor or not leave the sink full of dishes, but they’re still the same person underneath. In other words, you are still you and Paul is still Paul. Older and wiser? Sure. Fundamentally different? Not so much.

The DW is also horribly suspicious of first loves. The poop fries on the side of the poop sandwich of reality here is that most first loves are our first loves a lot less because of true compatibility and love than because of circumstance, hormones, emotional need, more hormones, and strikingly wild crushed out optimism/ flat out magical thinking. Now, the DW does believe first loves are fun, probably even important, to keep tucked away in a special little corner of your heart. It’s a clouded, messy, awesome, exhilarating thing to be in love for the first time. It’s one of those weirdly powerful experiences that can really begin to let us see ourselves clearly. It’s kinda magical, in a way. Thing is, it’s also almost impossible to do without fooling the shit out of yourself.

So, you get where this is going, w and c. The DW thinks you should be Paul’s friend if you can swing it. You two sound like you can offer each other a lot as friends, which is a pretty cool thing. If it hurts too much to just be his friend, though, don’t be afraid to stay away as best you can and form a life that doesn’t involve him too much. But trying to get back together is not likely to go well. Just so this isn’t only a matter of the DW’s biases, though, let’s take a look at the dude behavior that cinches the deal.

Think of the situation in these simple terms. Strip away all the maybes and guesses. Look at just the facts. The dude was single. You were single. You two were in the same place at the same time with the same friends. He did not ask you out or even do some lame try to bone you “for old time’s sake” maneuver. He got together with the other ex. Not you. That doesn’t, as you suggest, complicate matters, that simplifies them to the core.

Look, the DW gets your impulse. If you asked him about old flames a day before he met the Wifey, the DW could have ticked off four or five women that maybe could have been The One if he only hadn’t been so stupid, or so young, or the timing had been different, or the circumstances had been better, or, or, or, or. None of it was true, no matter how much he felt like it was. None of those women was the right one for the DW and the DW wasn’t right for them, either. It was just that he didn’t yet have anything better to go on. Then the DW met the Wifey and every other relationship he’d been in just kinda seemed minor league.

The DW bets you’ll have the same experience. Maybe soon, maybe later. But you will.



the DW

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4 Responses to Dudefile #70 – Nostalgia or True Love?

  1. Bobo says:

    DW! You answered a question I didn’t even know I had. So clever. Um, with a side of poop/life meal metaphors. Thanks.

  2. jess says:

    I love this response!

  3. jazzhands says:

    I am generally in agreement with DW’s position about reconciling with exes. However, in wondering and confused’s case, the reason for the breakup seems to be more about distance than incompatibility. This doesn’t change the fact that Paul is now back together with his most recent ex-girlfriend, but I do wonder if it shouldn’t temper the usual advice about keeping an ex and ex.

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