Here is the lay of the land: I have been the perpetually single friend for the last 8 years with no serious relationships, save for the occasional fling and sporadic few months of online dating, but I recently met a man “in the wild” through mutual friends. He is kind, funny, interesting, and handsome to boot. I’ve been impressed with how polite, considerate, and non-creepy his interest in me has been over the past couple of weeks.
We recently were talking and he told me that until a few months ago, he was engaged and that it ended when he learned his fiancé was cheating on him and she left. I appreciate his honesty and can understand all of the emotions of getting out of an emotionally abusive relationship. Thus far it seems clear he isn’t just talking to me to have a rebound fling, but I am hesitant as to how to proceed with all of this. My gut says to just take it day by day, but I also know I cannot make decisions for him as to whether he is ready for anything new.
Ready for Love
Dear Ready for Love,
There’s always a catch, isn’t there? It seems like we are all spinning so wondrously close to Our Greatest Happiness – the perfect job offer, a mate you could see yourself boning for the next few years at least, a compliment from that dour older colleague you try so hard to impress – and then, as if on life’s cruelest cue, we collide with something unexpected and our happiness is tainted. It’s still there, yes, and certainly attainable, but a little less shiny and exciting from our new perspective.
This is the way of all new relationships, though that may or may not make you feel any better. There are always warts in the form of revelations or surprising personality traits that were not on display when you were shopping for your heart’s desire. No one is who he or she pretends to be in those first moments, because we put so much weight on the need to pretend. We use those introductory experiences to put our best feet forward and hope, not unlike a “Price is Right” audience member, that this time you’ll get called down to the show. We are so pathologically programmed to only reveal our deepest flaws in well-planned intervals, and sometimes, what we spend all our time and energy attempting to conceal isn’t the obstacle to our romance – it’s all the work we did pretending to be better than our pasts.
Everyone, absolutely everyone, has a past. Some of those pasts are ugly, dark, and sad, and some are more mundane, less heavy, but not particularly any more attractive than the former.
But believe it or not, you actually have something to celebrate here. (Yes, celebrate.) This person has had limited interactions with you, and yet, is so sold on the very idea of a potential relationship that he has revealed to you the hardest chunk of his immediate past so that you might go headfirst informed. To put it frankly, this man is picking up what you’re putting down. To be clear, there is no perfect time to tell anyone news like this. He was probably well aware that your burgeoning feelings for him would be at least temporarily tainted by his honesty, and he determined to be honest anyway. He likes you, and he had the guts to risk that this would be a deal-breaker. Honesty is not as common a trait as it should be, especially not when there is nothing obvious to be gained in the act of it.
As for the future of your relationship, that is up to the both of you. We cannot speak for him or know what only he knows, but I’d venture a guess that he only shared this difficult truth with you because he wanted to see if you guys could make a go of it. As for you, only you can answer the question, Is this a deal-breaker? Because if it is, then it is, and it will never be less so, and you’d better return the favor of honesty to your suitor as soon as possible. But if it isn’t – and I have reason to believe that since you wrote this question to me at all, it isn’t – then move forward. Move forward with the understanding that people are people, and no one comes to us like fresh games straight out of the box. They come to us a little dingy ‘round the edges, with missing or broken pieces, and rulebooks long ago lost.
So the job ahead of you is a big one. He has unearthed that hard chunk of boulder representing his romantic past and it is now your job, as a tentative twosome, to walk around it or over it or obliterate it all together. That will obviously take a considerable amount of time, and is best done slowly. Do not shake this off as if it means nothing to you, because it means something to you. A few short months ago this man was involved with a woman he assumed he’d be with for the foreseeable future, if not forever. That woman betrayed him and then left him behind – do not be naïve about the emotional damage that something like that could cause, but don’t let the thought of it overshadow your budding bond, either.
Ask questions, and prepare yourself not to be wholly pleased with the answers (this is what it is to happen upon the messy bits of someone else’s life). Be gentle with yourself and kind with him while you both try to figure yourselves out. Examine the baggage you may be silently hauling along, and consider how to best return his honesty with some of your own. Try not to blame him for those experiences. They’ve happened, and they cannot be changed. Be as gracious with him as you would want him to be with you.
He cannot help what happened a few months ago. He cannot help that he’s met you now, and that you two seem to be headed towards some kind of bliss. That is precisely the way that life works. All relationships are work. No matter what anyone tells you, to be in a happy, healthy relationship requires work from all the folks involved. Regardless of what you choose, should you one day decide that he is not the one for you, you will not suddenly stumble across someone so perfect that they don’t have their own little hidden truth to reveal. Everyone has a little bit of weight to unload. It’s up to you to decide if it’s a weight you wouldn’t mind helping to carry.
So, there it is. Take it slowly, be understanding, and prepare yourself for the fact that, no matter what you do, there are big chances that this will work out and big chances that it won’t (again: we are talking life, randomness, and cruel, cruel fate). If you are interested in this beau, then see what can come of giving him the chance to work through his shit. He is not a brand new game, just out of the box (neither are the rest of us, natch). He might have a little dirt around the edges, some pieces broken. The rulebook may be lost. But there is absolutely nothing keeping you from writing a new one together, if you want to. It may take awhile, but the game will be a lot more fun to play once you’ve both worked hard on making it so.
– Coach Beastly