Dear Wayne and Wanda,
So I’m looking for a bit of an advice how to not fall apart. I had been seeing this divorced older man for six months now. He was only few months out of a 20-year marriage; we took our relationship only as fun and agreed to take it very slow. From the start, it was amazing and great with lots of ongoing texts and chats, always making each other laugh. We had some fun getaways, and slowly told family we were seeing each other.
Some days he worried about his life and how his marriage ended, and worried about his kids. He did tell them he was seeing someone and they were fine. He doesn’t have a good relationship with his ex-wife necessarily, but the separation was mutual.
Last week out of nowhere, he sent me a text that I’ve been great but he doesn’t want to see me anymore. I rushed to talk in person. He had been drinking and overthinking. He said he is scared, his head is a mess and he doesn’t want to hurt me. We talked it out, and were fine again. A few days later he had another episode where I gave him space from any communication. Today, after two days of space, he texted again that he’s a mess and needs to deal with it by himself without the pressure of a timeline. He said our time together was fun but he has demons that he can’t deal while seeing me, that I distract him.
I repeated the same supportive things: that I’m here if or whenever he’s ready, that I will give him as much space as he needs to heal himself. No pressure, no begging. I said if he needs anything, I’m here.
I understand that he probably rushed into something he can’t handle and maybe got scared. It’s the suddenness of the situation and confusion that hurts so bad. Could he heal and come back or is it done?
The saying “it’s not you, it’s me” is so cliché at this point that it’s hard to remember it’s sometimes actually true; in this case, the abrupt ending of your relationship really has very little to do with you. You could be the coolest, most generous, most caring girlfriend around, but it won’t change the fact that your guy is in an emotional free-fall after a divorce and long marriage that included parenting children together.
Dating after divorce can be tricky. On one hand, ending a marriage can carry complicated feelings of failure, and connecting with someone new can provide comfort and a confidence boost. Simply put, it can be a great distraction after the turbulent and traumatic divorce process. But it’s kind of like a romance bender: you can only ride that wave before long before you essentially sober up. That’s where your man is at now: he’s snapped out of the dizzy, fizzy, fun early stages of romance, and is taking deep stock of his circumstances and present reality.
Look, it’s impossible to meet someone and get serious quickly after divorcing. It definitely happens. But in your case, there’s no guesswork about where he’s coming from. He’s being direct about what he wants, even if he needed a few courage beers to say it out loud: he needs space and he can’t be with you. You’ve been gracious and kind in supporting him. Now turn that kindness on yourself, and rather than hope he’ll return, move forward — hopefully in a direction where you meet someone emotionally open and deserving of you.
I’m sorry that I can’t ease the heartbreak or help you hold it together. But I do think you have it together more than you’re giving yourself credit for, and once you get past the initial pain of leaving someone you care about, you’ll be in a much better place faster than you anticipate.
Look, you tried your best, repeatedly and patiently. You listened and shared. You were supportive and understanding. You brought him into your world and you backed off when he asked for it. And yeah, ultimately the relationship ended and it hurts to get dumped, even in a situation where you can see it coming. But you saw it coming because you are wise enough to know that ending it is what’s best for both of you.
Now, if you think it’s tough and earth-shattering to break up with a recent divorcee after six months, imagine how lost he feels after ending a 20-year relationship. Sure, the relationship probably ran its course, but you don’t move on from 20 years of partnership and routine and love and support overnight. Or even over six months with a warm and welcome distraction. His life is out of control, and it likely means that there’s no short-term future for you two.
But you already know that. The great thing about this is that you both are wise enough to recognize the situation rather than continue it, dragging it on until who knows what kind of epic meltdown or codependent cohabitation situation evolves. Instead, you both are clear on what you need: he needs to get his mind right, heart healed and feet underneath him; you are looking for someone who is available for you fully right now. I respect that. You should, too. The easy thing would have been to continue along the on-again, off-again roller coaster until it crashed. Props to you for accepting and digesting the hard news, and moving on with your life. You won’t fall apart because you are stronger than that. Feel terrible, cry, vent, but come out clear-headed and ready to accept whatever the world brings to you next. Good luck.