It’s not always easy to figure out what’s stopping you from moving on, too.
. . .
Dear Swipe This!
About two and a half months ago, I started dating a guy I met on Tinder. Both of us were newly single—I was fresh out of a one-year relationship and he was five months out of a 14-year (and his only) relationship. Because of that, the first time we hung out we didn’t put too much pressure on it to be a date, but it was clear, by the end of the evening, we were vibing hard.
From there, we started texting every day and saw each other as often as we could, given our schedules and the holidays. The conversation was amazing. The sex was BOMB. And we checked in regularly to see where each of us was at—we both admitted to being in a weird headspace but still really liking each other. Far and away, it was the best dating experience I’ve had.
Three weeks ago, I invited him, very casually, to attend my birthday party. When he didn’t come, I opened up a conversation to see if we were still on the same page, and he admitted that getting into relationship territory with me was starting to make him feel sad about the breakup again. (Also, dude doesn’t have any experience with breakups, so he doesn’t know how to deal with, like, any of it.) He said, “I think I may need some time to recalibrate and see where I’m at.” And we had a very mature conversation in which he asked if he could check in with me in “a bit,” and I said that’d be OK.
Then, this weekend, I noticed that he happened to update his Tinder pictures and it has me going insane! The pics he updated are not even good—one is him licking an ice cream cone and the other is a mirror pic. Honestly, I wish I could tell him they look dumb, but selfishly I want him to just remember how beautiful and amazing I am and text me instead. I didn’t check his Tinder while we were dating, and I deleted the app at one point myself, but it seemed nothing else had changed on his profile until this weekend. (We’re not connected on social media, so I checked his profile just because I missed him and wanted to see his face.)
I feel like he broke up with me because I was too much “potential girlfriend/love” territory and I think he’s maybe trying to fuck around and be single for the first time since he was 16. Which, like, I would want for him? Because I think bouncing from a 14-year relationship straight into another serious thing probably wouldn’t be good? But I wish I had any sense of where his head’s at right now so I could know whether or not I should move on and assume we’re never getting back together, or if he’s testing the waters for a bit to make sure that he wants to be in a serious relationship with me.
I know maybe I should move on, but I’m still really sad! And I feel dumb because intellectually I saw this coming from a mile away, but I still really like the dude and miss him. Do I text him to check in, even though I don’t think I should make the first move? Should I assume he’s trying to casually date and unmatch him so I can move the eff on with my life? Is this guy being a fuckboi in sheep’s clothing?! Am I wearing rose-colored glasses in thinking that when he’s ready, he’ll text me? How long should I wait up for him? HALP!
Waiting With Bated Breath
. . .
Dear Waiting With Bated Breath,
When I was reading your letter, an old viral video popped into my head. It’s called “The Marshmallow Test” and it depicts a bunch of really adorable kids enduring a torturous experiment. They must sit alone in a room with a marshmallow for several minutes. If they don’t eat the marshmallow, they are promised a second marshmallow when the adult supervising them returns. Some of the children can handle it. They touch the marshmallow, smell the marshmallow, push it away. Others stuff it into their mouth before the experiment supervisor is practically out the door. But those who wait are rewarded with one more gorgeous marshmallow, and then they get to feast on both.
This is the lesson most of us are taught as children: Be patient and good things will come to you. So it makes sense to me that part of you believes that if you are good and patient, your reward will come to you. You aren’t a fool. You’re just doing what you were taught.
On top of our childhood messages that we’d better be patient, apps like Tinder teach us that a tasty treat is always a swipe away. Connection has been commodified for easy consumption. Chats and dates are literally at our fingertips. If you’re really interested in dating around, especially in a big city, you can line up several dates a week with relatively little effort—so long as you aren’t terribly picky, of course. So I can see why you’d worry that when you find someone who seems pretty great, he’s just a fuckboi who’s looking for a snack.
But that’s not what you experienced, is it? What you experienced was a connection powerful enough to make you want something more defined. So you opened a conversation and unfortunately, you didn’t get the answer you wanted.
I don’t believe you were a snack, but it might be helpful to remember that this dude isn’t one either. He’s not your reward for being patient. He’s a person with his own feelings and needs, and unfortunately, right now, it appears those feelings and needs don’t line up with your own. That may be a bitter pill to swallow, but it is the plain and simple truth, and it’s sitting right in front of you.
As far as I’m concerned, updating his Tinder pics doesn’t mean he’s a fuckboi, but it does mean he’s at least toying with the possibility of putting himself back out there. And that choice may feel like a rejection, but it has very little to do with you, or even how he feels about you, and everything to do with his needs and where he’s at.
Is it possible his needs will align with yours in the future? Perhaps. But putting your own love life on hold will have no impact on how his future unfolds. Instead, I’m afraid, it will only cause you to suffer longer and harder. And, perhaps even more tragically, it could lead you to miss out on other connections that are available to you, with people whose needs actually do align with your own.
I think you already know this, because you point to it in your letter. You know that you may be hurting yourself by holding on. So the question isn’t really should you move on, but what’s stopping you from letting go? Maybe you think you won’t find someone you like as much or whom you’ll connect with as deeply. Maybe your heart’s been bruised up a bit too much this year and the idea of one more unhappy ending is too much to bear. Or maybe you just really, really liked this dude and you don’t want to say goodbye just yet.
No matter what feelings are keeping you hanging on, I think there is actually just one big obstacle that is keeping you from letting go. As I read your letter, what struck me is that it is loaded with judgments. You judge the guy you were dating as unready for a relationship. You judge his capacity for dealing with breakups. And you judge yourself, very harshly, for daring to keep caring about someone. For hoping for a happy ending. For the simple act of having a heart. What’s really getting in your way isn’t necessarily the power of this connection, but judgment.
Having a strong sense of judgment can be a wonderful tool that helps us to make sound choices. But there’s a dark side to judgment. When we start to think there is always a right way or a wrong way to be, when we put pressure on ourselves to have all the answers, we can enter a state of fear, believing we are always in danger of not getting things right. And emotional moments like the one you’re experiencing right now become even more rife with pain and suffering. Because now, not only are we sad, we’re shouting at our wounded selves that we had better not fuck it up.
I wonder what would happen if instead of beating yourself up about whether or not it’s time to move on, you showed yourself a bit more compassion. Have you taken the time to acknowledge what a difficult emotional experience this has been for you? Have you told yourself it’s OK to miss him and want to see his stupid Tinder pictures? Have you said, “Wow this is hard, I guess I don’t want to let him go just yet”? Have you really paused to tell yourself that it’s truly OK to be sad and long for a different ending than the one you got?
I can completely understand why you are having such a hard time letting go. You met someone who made you feel wonderful. You connected mentally and physically and you say yourself that it was your “best” dating experience. That must’ve been quite a rush, especially after healing from a breakup. I can also imagine what a disappointment it was to hear he wasn’t ready for more, no matter how much your rational mind agreed. And I can imagine how it felt to see those new Tinder pictures. If I were you, my heart would’ve dropped right into my stomach. It’s one thing to know someone needs to take space from us, but it’s quite another to imagine them getting close to others. Unless you are someone who is totally immune to jealousy, I cannot imagine seeing those pictures and feeling nothing.
I agree with you that it is probably best to let go, but I don’t think you’re doing yourself any favors by telling yourself you’re a fool for wanting to wait for him. You are simply a caring person with a tender heart and that is certainly not something for which you should punish or shame yourself.
I am very sorry that you got hurt, but I am glad you connected with this person. It takes a lot of courage to open up after a breakup, and it sounds like this guy gave you the opportunity to experience joy, intimacy, and a new way of connecting. When you’re reeling from a breakup it can be difficult to feel hope, and I hope, at the very least, you will take with you this reminder that the best is yet to come.
In the meantime, I think the best step you can take toward healing is making space for yourself to grieve. It’s possible this person will come back into your life, but you’ve got living to do and the only way you can do it is if you really accept and make peace with the possibility that this short time together is all the two of you were meant to share. Give yourself space to feel sad. Give yourself lots of kindness and love. Give your heart the attention you need and soothe it with whatever soothes you.
When I am feeling a bit stuck, one of my favorite ways to tend to an aching heart is with poetry. Sometimes I read Mary Oliver or Pablo Neruda. And sometimes I read the great master, Dr. Seuss. I will leave you with this passage from Oh the Places You’ll Go:
You will come to a place where the streets are not marked.
Some windows are lighted. But mostly they’re darked.
A place you could sprain both your elbow and chin!
Do you dare to stay out? Do you dare to go in?
How much can you lose? How much can you win?
And IF you go in, should you turn left or right…
or right-and-three-quarters? Or, maybe, not quite?
Or go around back and sneak in from behind?
Simple it’s not, I’m afraid you will find,
for a mind-maker-upper to make up his mind.
You can get so confused
that you’ll start in to race
down long wiggled roads at a break-necking pace
and grind on for miles cross weirdish wild space,
headed, I fear, toward a most useless place.
The Waiting Place…
…for people just waiting.
Waiting for a train to go
or a bus to come, or a plane to go
or the mail to come, or the rain to go
or the phone to ring, or the snow to snow
or the waiting around for a Yes or No
or waiting for their hair to grow.
Everyone is just waiting.
Waiting for the fish to bite
or waiting for the wind to fly a kite
or waiting around for Friday night
or waiting, perhaps, for their Uncle Jake
or a pot to boil, or a Better Break
or a string of pearls, or a pair of pants
or a wig with curls, or Another Chance.
Everyone is just waiting.
That’s not for you!
Somehow you’ll escape
all that waiting and staying
You’ll find the bright places
where Boom Bands are playing.
It may not be apparent to you right now, while you are fumbling for answers in the dark, but I have faith that you’re going to find your way out, and when you do those boom bands will be playing.