Sunday, August 31, 2008

Dismaying Story #131: They Had A “Brief Thing”

Dear Andrew,

I am happily married – will be 9 years in October. No problems at all with my husband as he is a very good man and devoted husband and friend. Had forgotten old boyfriends, lovers, etc. everything many years ago when I met my husband and have been very happy.

My problem is an old lover that I saw a year ago this past April. I met him in 1993 and we did not really date – had a brief thing. Neither of us were married at the time but he ended up pushing me away. I never understood why and I contacted him on and off for almost 3 years. I loved him totally and never understood why he did not want me. Over the years, I dreamed of him on occasion and I thought of him whenever I went back to Myrtle Beach where we met. But nothing painful. No problems or regrets. I loved him still but it did not hurt and I did not have a desire to contact him. I knew that for whatever reason, he had some issues and I always believed he cared as I had pushed him one time and got a strong reaction and he admitted he cared for me. When I met him and afterwards, I believed that we were supposed to be together. I believed for the longest time that I would be with him and marry him. Even after none of that happened, I knew deep down that one day I would see him again. I can’t explain it, I just knew that I would.

I saw him at a professional conference. He stood in front of me on purpose so that I would see him. I know this because the last time I saw him he did the same thing and then denied having seen me. When I saw him last, his friend was looking at me really oddly at the same place where we met. I couldn’t figure out why this guy was looking at me so funny and then I saw “him”. I know his friend was waiting for my reaction and I had a big one. I did not talk to him that day last April when I saw him again as I was sure he did it on purpose. It was at a conference in one of those large ballrooms with 400 – 500 people and during a break I was talking to a former co-worker at the end of a table deep in conversation. Someone was standing in front of me and talking, but I thought nothing of it until he introduced himself and I looked up and there he was. Wanted to crawl under the table and die right then. I didn’t react. My friend did not even know what was going on but I told her later. Sent him an email, and called him last September and talked to him. He denied seeing me, getting my email, etc. I thought then that this was just not true.

I got a therapist (licensed family, marital, etc.) in January because I couldn’t shake it and went alone to try and sort things out as I never stopped loving him. It did not take her long to identify the reason for his behavior. After only 5 sessions/weeks she suspected he had a Narcissistic Personality Disorder. I googled it and found all kinds of information on it. Wow – it explained 85 – 90% of the behavior I experienced from him. That helped a lot. I have an extremely detailed memory and I remember everything about him and everything that happened between us – things he said and things I said. The huge missing piece of the puzzle was found and I understood why he did not want me or love me and why he was such a paradox (he seemed to care, he wanted my attention, the way he looked at me was pretty unmistakable, but he would dodge and deny and distance himself).

I guess my question is, how do I really let this person go. I thought I had. I knew I still had feelings for him, but I had managed to bury them. I never expected them to resurface. I am doing much much better with it after having seen the therapist. It helped a lot. Have you ever dealt with NPD’s before? I could always hear the regret in his voice. I think he knows that something is wrong with him. When he said that I should have come and talked to him, I told him I couldn’t. He asked why I didn’t, I told him that I didn’t think he’d want to see me. He said he would have thought that was the other way around.

When I read the info about NPD, I see why it seemed that he was always threatened by me or afraid for some reason. I could not put my finger on when I would talk to him, but there were times I could hear the fear in his voice, I could feel the regret in a way from him, I could tell he was always struggling with what to say to me. He was very smart and that was part of the attraction. I believe he is the cerebral form of the narcissist. I expressed my feelings to him very clearly. I told him I loved him.

Is there any way to be over him once and for all? Is there any help for these people? Do they have any feelings or is really just a case of the lights are on but no one is home? Can I get over not getting what I wanted desperately and instead getting what I needed (a strong man for a husband)?

I would appreciate any thoughts you have.

Signed, Not Over Him


Dear Not Over Him,

I’m a results-oriented kind of guy. I am not that concerned, to be honest, about the reasons behind this man’s behavior. In terms of how you should react, it doesn’t matter if he has some personality disorder or he behaves that way because he is getting messages beamed to him from Mars or if it is because he is just a nasty person. The end result is that he has treated you a certain way and you have to react accordingly. You need to protect yourself from the poor treatment.

Not only that, your letter indicates that his behavior is a problem for you. I disagree. That’s his problem. Your issues are tied up in your own behavior. That’s actually good news because you have no control over what he does and all the opportunity in the world to control what you do.

To summarize your situation, you had a “brief thing” with a guy approximately fifteen years ago, which you characterize as not even dating. Based on this brief encounter and a few words of attraction you wrangled out of him, you became convinced you have a special connection with this fellow that you thought would result in further contact and potentially marriage. He on the other hand pushed you away, made it clear he didn’t want you, ignored and lied about your emails, and acted positively weird when you happened to bump into him later.

The real questions for me are these:
  • What made you feel so positive about this guy to begin with, when he had such an ambivalent response to your relationship?
  • Why has your feeling of a special connection persisted for so long even though all of the potentially reinforcing events have actually been negative?
  • And why oh why would a great gal like you squander your emotional energy on a guy who has made it quite clear he doesn’t want you?
There is a saying in the medical community that applies to diagnosis. “When you hear hoofbeats, think horses not zebras.” In other words, most situations are caused by the most common issues. I suspect strongly that your responses to this guy are based on the same underlying causes as last week’s Dismaying Story (with perhaps one twist). It sounds like at the time you wanted very much to be in a relationship. You received at least some positive feedback from this man – the “strong reaction” you received when you pushed him – so you allowed yourself to develop a strong hope that this might be THE ONE. Hope can indeed spring eternal and it seems to be doing so in your case.

This hope is so powerful, this feeling of inevitability so seductive, that you categorize his weirdness as issues to be overcome and any slight indication of interest as proof that your hope has merit.

Your letter also implies that the initial encounter was sexual, since it was “not really dating.” Our society teaches young women to attach great importance to sexual relationships, especially the first relationship that involves great passion and abandon. Young ladies who give sex freely and without discrimination are often portrayed as tramps, while intimacy with the great love of your life is viewed as special and unique. So if you simply had a romp with a random guy who quickly passed in and out of your life, then you may be tempted to think badly of yourself. But if this guy is THE ONE, then it’s different. The sex is a special thing that happened with a special person in your life. This could be a powerful motivator to attach additional significance to this relationship.

Since we have not spoken I have no way of knowing if this is a factor in your case. I mention it so you can think about it and decide if you wish to raise it with your therapist.

You need to place this relationship in the appropriate historical perspective so it will stop interfering with your current emotions. You need to ask yourself what would have happened if he had agreed to stick around, to enter into a more longstanding relationship with you.

That would have been a disaster for you. His “come here, come here, no get away” personality would have had you constantly tied up in emotional knots. His weird behavior would have had much more opportunity to cause you pain, and the end result would have been the same, with him eventually rejecting you – not because of any failing on your part but because he has proven that this is his pattern.

Yes, you can and must get over this guy. He is not deserving of your desire – his behavior towards you makes this unequivocally true. My advice to you is the same as I doled out last week – believe him when he says he doesn’t want you and move on. Your husband is really THE ONE and deserves to occupy that spot in your heart without sharing even a bit of you with anyone else.

Good luck!

All the best,
Andrew

6 comments:

  1. Andrew, you are always so helpful. I hope that this is clear and very healing to her, so that she can let go.

    I think the misperception on her part (and of the woman in last week's story)is that thwe weirdness and pushing away would cease when she got into a real relationship with him.

    As though then he would become normal and those issues would cease.

    Thank you for explaining why this is not so.

    People do NOT 95% of the time, change their patterns without being are of them and working on it.

    This guy didn't strike me as someone who wanted to really have a connection with anyone. He just plays at occasional intimacy and then runs.

    I hope your sound perceptions and advice allow her to be free of thinking or feeling anything for him completely.

    Her husband sounds like a good man who doesn't cause her pain or anxiety. That is a gem.

    The other elusive man who didn't care about what effect his come here-go away games/behavior had on her is a dirt clod.

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  2. You're right; his issues are not her problem, her problem with not being able to understand why he doesn't want her is.

    They weren't really dating but she was already building the house with the picket fence in her mind and in the end it came tumbling down for no apparent reason or one that she sees.
    There may be a reason that she can't see or doesn't want to see.

    She should be happy with what she has because sometimes what we want only ruins a good thing.
    I know someone who has been in love or obsessed with a woman for 20 years; it’s cost him his marriage.
    The woman doesn’t want him and has never displayed anything more than a friendship towards him but he calls her his girlfriend in public and discourages other men this way who might be interested in her.
    He can’t grasp it in his head that she doesn’t want him.
    Even when she had a lover he would call her up and beg her to marry him.
    Is it love or obsession due to rejection?

    I know this is at the extreme end of the scale but a snowflake turns into an avalanche before you know it and not all the damage could be rebuilt after.

    I think she should focus on the man that loves her not the one who doesn't care about her and what he said about caring for her is a BS line to string her along in his sick mind game.

    Enjoy the long weekend

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  3. What I love about this advice is the way you get straight to the heart of the issue, saying you are very much a 'results man'. What you said all rang so true - the reasons behind this man's behaviour are not worth the lady's time and effort in analysing. The guy treated her badly, rudely, weirdly. She is now married to wonderful man.

    I'm enjoying reading each & every post you do (even though I don't always comment). Thanks Andrew.

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  4. I had a taboo attraction for this guy once. I dated him off and on in high school. Then, when I was a high-school senior, I met the guy I to whom I am still married, for twenty five years now.

    My husband would probably divorce me if he knew I still hear from this guy on a regular basis. I used to have a truly unhealthy infatuation with him. I would call on his birthday, anonymously (from a pay phone), just to say "Happy Birthday". Then, I came across his email address about five or six years ago, and he and I have been corresponding via email ever since. But, I would never pursue a physical relationship with him. Ever.

    Now, I'll get to the point. That was when I realized that I still "carried a torch" for him and that I believed we were meant to be together. That we WOULD be together one day! I knew I would never leave my husband, but I just felt certain that he and I would be together again.

    Now, I know that it's never gonna happen. Not in this lifetime. Oh, and did I mention that about three years ago he confessed to me that he was gay? He has a live-in male partner.

    So, to make a long story short. I still have a very good friend. He knows I am married, and I know he is committed to his partner. We forward jokes to each other and sometimes "vent" about problems we are going through, but nothing else. I don't still have that unrealistic fantasy of our being together one day. Since his "confession", I have even seen him at a social event--and it wasn't a bit awkward like I was afraid it would be. He was just a friend I ran into at a banquet honoring high school honor graduates. (I was working, his son was an honoree.)

    Is it wrong? I don't know. It doesn't feel wrong, even though my husband is unaware.

    I may be way off base, but maybe you are making more of this casual contact than you should. He isn't actively pursuing you, just running across you at random moments. Short of moving, you may not be able to avoid social meetings.

    Walker is right. Focus on the here and now. On the man who loves you and the life you are making together. You can keep your "fond" memories and even enjoy occasionally seeing this man in social settings, without nurturing those make-believe scenarios in your mind. There is a fine line between sanity and madness. Have you allowed yourself to cross over into obsession. Could those feelings destroy your marriage?

    If you cannot come to terms with the reality of your situation, please get help. I feel very strongly that if I hadn't had a reason to step back (finding out this guy was gay), I might have crossed that line myself, as some point.

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  5. Gee, Dr. Andrew, I am so happy that you are the doctor, not I. When someone carries on (even inside their head) like this after that many years, I'd think they are flirting with marital death. She said she has a loving husband and still thinks about this manipulative dude.... I'd say, "Look out lady, before you give up the best thing that ever happened to you...all for nothing".
    I think she needs to grow up...her thoughts are as disloyal as the people who have affairs on the internet.

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  6. I agree with you. I feel for this woman--it is very confusing dealing with narcissists. In the midst of their cruelty, they can be very attractive, intelligent people. The only answer, from my own experience, is to stop communicating with the person in any way. Cut them off. Do your therapy. Love your husband. Let time take care of the rest.

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