I'm married but chasing my ex

After seeing my ex once I filed for divorce. Now he says he thought we were through!

By Cary Tennis
Published March 9, 2011 1:30AM (EST)

Dear Cary,

I'm a 36-year-old married woman who is in love with her commitment-phobic ex-boyfriend.

I met my ex-boyfriend when I was 26 and for five years we were engaged and living together. When I was away visiting my parents, all of the sudden, out the blue he sent me a breakup e-mail. He handled it very poorly, he didn't even talk to me about the breakup, he just made statements like "it doesn't feel right." I was crushed. I tried to get him to talk about it, but he wouldn't. I finally accepted the breakup and after years of crying (not months, but years) I sort of moved on (physically, not mentally) and got married to a wonderful guy who loves me so much, it's weird. Within a few months of my marriage, my ex-boyfriend resurfaced via e-mail and we had two years of almost daily e-mail correspondence. In the e-mails he told he how depressed he is and how happy he was with me and how awful his life is. He does have a successful career, but it's his personal life that he said is awful. He never directly said "leave your husband and marry me," but he did imply it.

I tried to end the e-mail relationship, but was too weak, plus the e-mails made me really happy. I should also point out that I was living in a foreign country with my husband (he was an expat working for a large company). Finally, we moved back to the United States and throughout all of this, my e-mail correspondence continued. I felt guilty during this correspondence (toward my husband), but also really happy, because I have a special connection with my ex-boyfriend and I'm in love with him. Finally, last week, my ex-boyfriend flew into the city I live in and spent 24 hours here. I saw him and realized that I still love him and I thought he felt the same way. We didn't have sex or anything, but we did cuddle and we laughed a lot and had a lot of fun. It was the best 24 hours of my life and he said it was like a vacation from life, and when he went to the airport, he cried. I went home and filed divorce papers. A day later, I send him an e-mail saying how happy I am and how it's a new beginning.

His e-mail back to me said "Oh, I thought it was a goodbye and not a beginning." Then he sends a series of e-mails telling me what an asshole he is and how he has no soul and how he really loves me ... blah blah blah. But he doesn't say what I want to hear: "Come to this city, let's have a family."

He keeps saying it shouldn't be this hard, that he must be backing out for a reason. I agree with him, so why does he continue to string me along? It seems like he just wants to string me along some more.

I told him I don't want to have any more contact with him, but after receiving e-mails from him, I was again weak and started the correspondence again, he just sounds like he is in so much pain. He also left sobby/crying messages on my answering machine. He said he feels so guilty toward me, like he has ruined my life. He is in therapy and has been for years and is usually a really sweet, wonderful guy, except for this one thing ... but it's a HUGE one thing. Of course the true victim here is my husband and I feel so guilty about him, but I can't help the way I feel. I'm afraid I'm in love with my problematic ex. I really want to just forget my ex and live happily with my husband, and I want to have kids one day.

My doctor says I don't have much time, that the quality of my eggs are poor ... so that adds extra frustration to it all. I want to have a baby when I'm in a better psychological place, I want to not want to have a baby with my ex, but I do. I want to marry my ex and have a family with him -- I wish I didn't, but I do. As for my husband, he is truly understanding, even after all of this, he still wants to be with me. He is a handsome, sweet, successful guy, who loves me and treats me well, but I don't have the intellectual, spiritual, emotional connection with him that I do with my ex. I know I deserve all this and I'm an awful person for not appreciating what I have. Anyway ... I can go on and on ... please give me some advice. I feel like if my ex prevents me from having children, by continuing to mess with my head, until it's too late ... I fear I might hate him forever and ever and I don't want to hate him because he's a wonderful guy ... he's just problematic ... but so am I ... but he doesn't want to be with me ... he says things like "something doesn't feel right" ... isn't 10 years long enough to know ... why is he still confused? I wish he would either commit or let me go.

My friends think I am crazy and should just forget him. They think I should be angry with him and change my phone number and my e-mail address or block him. I keep telling them that he isn't a bad person, that he is just confused and has issues. He is sort of nerdy and awkward and has never been a ladies man, so he isn't like one of those men who can't commit because of other women. I'm afraid he just has serious emotional issues, like I feel sorry for him, so I can't hate him. I tried to help him with his problems but don't think I can; he is getting professional help, but I'm not sure how well that's going, based on recent events. Plus, I really want him to be happy. I know I can't change him, I have to focus on myself, so what should I do?

The pathetic girl that I am wants to move to his city and waste some more years of my life, in case he changes his mind, but I'm afraid that will drive me crazy.


Dear Crazy,

I have a feeling the only way out of this is for you to change your behavior in a deep and lasting way through some kind of committed process of therapy or analysis. That's just my gut reaction and I don't know how to persuade you that my gut reaction is correct, or even if it is correct. It's just what is in my heart. It's what I would try to persuade you to do if you were my friend and we were sitting together talking.

I'm not a trained therapist but I have the privilege of reading many first-person documents produced by a great variety of minds, and have noticed certain patterns. Sometimes it's just a problem that needs solving. Sometimes it's an area of consciousness that has been neglected and needs to be looked at. Some people just need to make a decision or spend some time thinking and problem-solving. But now and then it seems to me that somebody like yourself has a fundamental difference about them. I don't know what this thing is called.

Maybe this is the sociopathic phenomenon, or the narcissistic phenomenon. I can't pretend to know exactly what it is. But I really think you ought to undergo some psychological examination to see if there is some area of your psyche that is undeveloped, some area that can be strengthened so you can get outside yourself for a minute and see what is going on here. Right now, you don't seem to be able to get perspective. You don't seem to see what is happening. But I think you can learn to see it if you commit to some work over a period of time. I think you can grow, and see what's happening.

Here are some things I notice: the suddenness of your shifts and your decisions; the seeming lack of inner conflict or ambivalence in your life-changing decisions; the radical difference between how you perceived the situation with your ex-boyfriend and how he perceived it, or says he perceived it; the lack of ambivalence or any sort of self-consciousness in your statement that you love your ex-boyfriend; the suddenness of your actions, i.e., you saw this guy and the next morning you filed for divorce.

It all sounds to me like there is some deep disconnect in your personality that could be addressed by a really good therapist, so that you could gain access to the other part of you, the part that's able to weigh options and form long-term plans and is able to recognize deceitful people and predators, and also to recognize when you are wounding the people who are close to you and care about you.

I really feel that without that hard-won knowledge -- and I think it is possible to attain such knowledge through committed help, introspection, guided journeys in memory and feeling, you know, what we call therapy or psychoanalysis -- you will continue to flounder, making inexplicable and destructive decisions, and being victimized by unprincipled others.

So I urge you to have a psychological evaluation done. I urge you to commit to a course of therapy that will help you understand yourself.

Believe me, it feels weird to say this to somebody. You sound like an interesting and likable person and I just don't want to see you get hurt further. Nor would I like to see you hurting others.

Break it off with your ex-boyfriend. He cannot be trusted. Continuing your relationship with him will impede  your emotional growth. Work out some kind of compromise with your husband so you can maintain a stable living situation. And begin a course of committed psychotherapy to get at the roots of your vulnerability and your needs.

January 2011 Creative Getaway

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Cary Tennis

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