I'm forlorn and flailing

He was sent to Kuwait; I was sent to Kosovo. Now we're back in the States, he's gone, and I'm lost. What are my orders?

By Cary Tennis

Published September 29, 2003 7:31PM (EDT)

Dear Cary,

I hurt. I hate it. And I want it to stop.

My boyfriend and I began dating a year before I was to leave for a deployment -- we are both in the National Guard. Knowing it was coming, I told him I didn't want to get too involved but he fell for me anyway.

I was slower to warm up, but by the time I left, he was planning to go active, and we agreed (although, by then I'd changed my mind) to go our separate ways, and see what the future would bring.

It brought Kuwait, for him, while I was in Kosovo. But first, I didn't hear from him for two months. I was pretty mad, too. At the time, he said he was lonely and depressed and missed me so much he thought it would hurt too much to keep in touch. Well it hurt me. When he reported for active duty, he said he'd be offline for a while, but I didn't hear from him until he was heading out.

He begged forgiveness for his appalling behavior and I, missing him terribly, gave it. We kept in touch by email, and when we both got home around the same time, it seemed like a chance to try to work things out. I moved down to where he's stationed, found a job, but it was a stressful time for both of us, and suddenly he decided he needed to bail (not ready for this "commitment" and blah blah blah.)

But we were still friends. I thought. Then I went home for a week and even considered staying. But the ex was nowhere to be found. He was blatantly avoiding me -- sending his cell to voice mail when I called, etc.

While I was home, he met someone.

He says he didn't do it on purpose, but he likes it and is going to go with it. It's almost laughable, if it didn't hurt so much! He met this girl, a little 21-year-old (yes that's mean -- he's nearly 28, I'm 26), fresh meat as they say here, new kid on the block and supposedly "just hit it off." He has spent every waking moment with her ever since. When I do talk to him, he is punch drunk giddy with infatuation -- the feeling he says he missed when we got back together (despite all the other, deeper, feelings involved). I feel like he was running away from me because he was not ready to handle a mature relationship of any sort. But hearing about him with her hurts more than breaking up!

I don't want to live in the past, and I accept we didn't work out as a couple, but I just want my friend back and I hate feeling so needy and desperately lonely over one lousy person like this! I go on dates with people I meet on the Internet and can't enjoy it because it only serves to highlight the contrast between what they are to me (no one) and what I am missing (everything).

I did meet one nice guy among all the flakes. He has offered to let me take out this "aggression" on him, at no supposed cost to me. I really do not want to be in a committed relationship at the moment. I think I would be OK with a casual fling with a nice guy.

I gave my ex a statement of full disclosure on how I was feeling and said if he could make the effort to keep in touch, I can stifle all my dubious impulses until they pass, and maybe we can meet for coffee and complain about whoever we are dating. But he may say he can and not, he may not want to try -- and right now it is very hard to get past how much it all hurts.

I feel like I am just flailing around. I need direction. Which way is up?

Jealous, sad, and utterly aggravated -- with myself

Dear Jealous,

You certainly are flailing around. I can see you there, struggling and trapped, and I can see the solution so near at hand it's heartbreaking, but of course you can't see it because of how the trap has caught you.

I am the doctor of what is available; I work only with the tools at hand. In your case, the tools at hand consist of your military training. That is what I think you should use to get through this. What did you learn in your military training that could help you? You learned to follow an orderly course to complete a mission, did you not? Did you not learn a kind of doggedly focused pursuit of an objective? Did you not learn that once you have a mission you must complete it at all costs?

Immediately, the problem becomes clear: You are flailing because you have no mission. You are trapped by your own directionless energies. So you must construct your mission out of available materials. Your mission is simply to survive in this hostile land until you are either rescued or you can escape. So for the time being, keep low and out of sight; try to blend in; reveal as little as possible; take only those risks that are necessary to your survival.

Do not become overly familiar with the local townspeople. They may betray you. If rescue does not come, then quietly begin to collect the materials you will need for your escape and keep them hidden in a safe place. Do not tell anyone of your plans. Wait until you have everything you will need on your journey: Cash, first-aid kit, communications apparatus, and perhaps, if necessary, a new identity. Wait for a moonless night. Sanitize your surroundings. Erase all trace of yourself, and disappear.

Go home. Once you are home, try to resume your former life. If that is not possible, think of a new life for yourself. Perhaps you belong in the armed forces. Perhaps only there is your mission spelled out with sufficient clarity and detail. Or perhaps you have some other mission you have not yet spoken of. What is your mission? What were your last orders? Think hard. Remember your orders. Formulate your mission. Treat your mission like a hill that must be taken, like a house that must be searched, like a prisoner who must be watched over day and night.

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Cary Tennis

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