How Do I Rebuild My Social Life Without Facing My Ex?

How Do I Rebuild My Social Life Without Facing My Ex?

 

Hey Doc, 

I’m 46 and genderqueer. I used to be active in the local BDSM scene. It’s where I met my last sexual partner. It’s an old story: started as friends with benefits, I fell in love and she didn’t, and my heart got broken. I left the scene, not wanting to see her again. It hurt too much.

Fast forward almost six years. I’d like to find a kinky play partner, but I’m terrified to get back into the scene. I’m afraid to see my ex-Mistress again. She might still be active. The players have changed a lot, as we’re in a college town, so I don’t know anyone I can ask if she still goes to events. She hates my guts, because I was the one who walked away, and I’m worried about what she’s told people. Plus I’m pretty sure seeing her again would hurt.

Do I suck it up and go to the next munch? Do I look for someone local through online dating instead? (Is there even a good site to find local kinky queer women? Fetlife seemed useless for that last time I was on.)

Thanks for any help you can give me.

— Frustrated in Florida

So, funny story, FiF, but I’ve dealt with this situation more than once. I’m a nerd who primarily dates other nerds. That alone is a relatively interconnected community, which means that social circles tend to have a lot of overlap. Combine that with similar tastes in movies or music, and it’s meant that I’ve always had a high likelihood of running into someone I dated while out and about.

And a painful break up? That almost guarantees that I’d encounter an ex at the least convenient, most awkward time possible. And wouldn’t you know it: I would run into the ex as what broke my heart at times that would seem so contrived that if I wrote it into a script, editors would demand I cut it out for being too absurd. Going to see Flogging Molly in concert? Guess who I’d run into? Meeting up for a friend’s birthday? Guess who was also invited?

Turns out, the strongest force in the universe isn’t gravity, it’s dramatic irony.

But that’s also just the nature of being part of a sub-culture; you’re going to see a lot of the same people. And if you’re in a subset of a subset – queer and kinky, for example – then the chances that there’s going to be overlap between you and someone you dated is pretty close to 100%. So it’s helpful to just embrace that this is going to happen.

Now, I don’t say this to say “well, sucks to be you”. Rather, I say “consider this to be inevitable” in the same sense that the code of bushido says to accept that you are already dead; recognize as an inevitability so that the fear of the possibility doesn’t handicap you. One of the pernicious things about fear is the cliche of fear itself; we become so afraid of a possibility that we start to fear the feeling of that fear. As such we start to try to avoid the possibility of encountering things that might bring up that fear.

It’s almost paradoxical, but our attempts to avoid fear and anxiety just sere to make those feelings loom ever larger in our minds. We end up spending far more of our time, energy and emotional bandwidth trying to avoid things than we’d ever actually get back if we did avoid everything. And the attempts at avoidance don’t even help. All that happens is that we’re even less prepared for when the moment finally happens.

And let’s be real: even if you decide to avoid going to munches and focus entirely on dating apps and Fetlife, the number of people who you’ll be compatible with is going to be fewer than if you were cis and straight. The people who fit into the Venn diagram of having a queer relationship and being kinky is going to be similarly constrained. The overall size of the LGBTQ community and the kink community, individually or combined means that many, if not most of the folks you may want to date are likely going to have overlap with your ex’s social circles.

So, rather than try to avoid the moment that you’ll run into your ex, I would say “assume that it will happen and prepare accordingly”. Accepting this makes it much easier to face it; instead of spending your time trying to thread the needle of dancing around your ex’s existence, you can decide how you intend to handle it. Maybe you’ll prepare yourself to be polite, but distant. Maybe you’ll brace yourself for an onslaught of vitriol and bitterness. Or perhaps you’ll resolve to apologize when you see her and take ownership for leaving the way you did.

However, one of the important things to realize is that one of the possible outcomes of running into your ex may not be as bad as you fear. When I ran into my ex, it was awkward. It was an adrenaline surge. But it didn’t hurt, not the way I expected. By that point, time had passed. I was a different person and so was she, and while the break up wasn’t fun, it was well in our past. I’d made my peace with it. So had she.

So while I wouldn’t go seeking her out – or going around asking about her – I would say to not let the fear of encountering her rule you or dissuade you from rejoining the scene. Especially if it’s a core part of who you are as a person.

You left six years ago. That is a lot of time for people to grow and change and to give themselves closure. The way your ex felt six years ago isn’t likely to be the same way she feels now. The same is true for you; what you think you feel may be more the habit of feeling this way. But if you examine your feelings, you may realize that you feel differently.

And again, I want to be real with you: carrying a grudge for over six years because someone broke up with you is… well, there’s a point where it stops being about them and more just nursing a grudge for the sake of keeping it. This is especially true when the biggest crime you could reasonably be accused of committing is “not ending things with all possible grace”. You didn’t cheat on her with her dad, steal her inheritance, run over her goldfish or even blow your nose on the curtains on the way out the door. You ended things because the relationship became untenable for you. You wanted more than she could give and so you made what is ultimately a responsible decision: you decided to love yourself enough to know when to leave a bad situation. It may have hurt, and it may have pricked her ego, but sticking around would’ve been worse for everyone.

Yeah, it may not have been the world’s smoothest dismount, but it’s going to take a lot of sins to justify a burning hate for nearly a decade. And if your ex is carrying around a hate that burns with the heat of a thousand suns because you broke up with her six years ago? That’s very much a her problem, not a you problem. Especially if your biggest sin is “I may love you, but I need to love me more.”

So if your ex has greater emotional intelligence than someone who never outgrew 4chan, I think the odds are good that it won’t be nearly as bad as you fear.

But what if it is? What if she has been talking shit about you? Well, first the odds that anyone who knew both of you has likely moved on – as you said, it’s a college town, which tends to mean a lot of turn-over. And if we’re being realistic, it takes a lot of energy to keep such a grudge going for six years that odds are good that it just wasn’t worth constantly stroking a hate-boner over a break-up; the odds that anyone new in the community has gotten all the dirty deets and stained sheets is low. The odds that they’ll connect that with you, newly returned to the scene, is even lower.

However, showing maturity and integrity is one of the best responses to angry rumor-mongering. If you run into her at an event and it’s appropriate, you can sincerely apologize. You can say “Our relationship was untenable and my staying would only have made things worse for both of us. I wanted something from you that you couldn’t give, and that wouldn’t be fair to either of us, but I could’ve left with more grace and for that I’m sorry.” Will it defuse her anger? Maybe, maybe not. But showing your own integrity and growth will show who you truly are. And sometimes that’s the best we can hope for.

If she’s poisoned the well that deeply, then yes, that can be a problem. But based on what you’ve said, I don’t know if that’s a realistic fear. An understandable one, to be sure… but not one that I think has a reasonable chance of actually happening.

As it is? I think you’re better to confront this fear head on, than to spend more unnecessary energy trying to avoid it. The uncertainty of the situation is almost always worse; even the bad outcome means that at least you don’t need to keep anticipating the worst. You can work on dealing with a single scenario, instead of trying to find solutions to a thousand different ones, each worse than the last.

Personally, I don’t think it’ll be that bad. It may even be better than you fear it will be. But if it is, then at least it’ll be over, and you’ll know for sure.

Incidentally, if FetLife isn’t working for you, you can always look to more “standard” dating apps that cater to less heteronormative relationships, like Feeld and #Open. The crossover between groups like the poly community and the kink community is pretty extensive, and the likelihood that you’ll find someone who’s at least kink-curious is in your favor.

Good luck.

***

Dear Dr. NerdLove: How do I as a 26 years old male have a strong personality from your point of view? I currently have a weak one.

No Face

I wish you’d given more details, NF, because “strong personality” and “weak personality” can mean so many different things that it’s hard to make a recommendation.

I’d ask, for example, what you mean by a “weak” personality. Do you mean that you’re not assertive? That you’re afraid to take up metaphorical space in the room and cede ground to people who are more aggressive or determined than you are?

Or do you mean that you’re a push-over, who goes along with what other people want, even if it’s something you can’t stand, or that goes against your highest good? Do you sacrifice your needs for others because you can’t bring yourself to say “no”?

Or for that matter, does it mean that you don’t have a strong sense of “self” and your idea of “you” is so malleable that who you are and what you stand for varies depending on the room you’re in and the company you’re with?

I’d also want to know: how is this a problem for you? How does it interfere with your life? Does it mean that you’ve been pushed into things that go against your values, or had people violate your boundaries with impunity? Or is it simply that you’re more submissive and you feel like this is bad for you as a man?

I ask because the latter isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Being submissive doesn’t make you less of a man, any more than someone being dominant doesn’t make her any less of a woman. That’s just how you’re wired, and it can be better to lean into it than to try to fight it. There’re women who like less-aggressive, less dominant men, just as there’re more soft-spoken and reticent men who’re more into aggressive and assertive women. If it’s about who’s the “alpha” (as it were) in the relationship, then perhaps the real issue is finding someone who’s compatible with you rather than needing to change something fundamental about yourself.

But if your having a “weak” personality is leading to negative consequences in your life – being bullied, easily pushed around, etc. – then part of the answer will be learning to be more comfortable with keeping and maintaining boundaries, saying “no” and meaning it.

Now to be fair, this is easy to say and less easy to put into practice. Some of maintaining boundaries comes down to practice; having friends who will roleplay scenarios, being willing to say “no” to small things so that you feel more confident saying “no” to bigger ones and so on. However, more of maintaining boundaries means learning to love and respect yourself enough that you allow yourself to believe you have a right to them in the first place.

Now I want you to notice very carefully that I’m framing this in terms of love and self-respect. There’s a natural – some would say understandable – tendency to think that shaming yourself or treating yourself with contempt will force you to shape up. But honestly, all that this does is make it that much harder to be a good or sincere person. The people whose assertiveness and drive for dominance comes from a place of self-loathing tend to be incredibly brittle. They aren’t strong so much as aggressive. They push and demand and make a scene, but it’s bluster; they’re more likely to be passive-aggressive and cagey, unwilling to take a direct stand. They’ll lash out at others and project blame, instead of having a sense of their own worth. It takes very little pushing before they shatter.

Loving yourself, however, and recognizing that you have a right to dictate who gets access to you and how, that you have a right to the space you occupy, is much stronger. It means that if you bend, then you do so when you choose to do so. It also means that you love yourself to know that there are times you need to prioritize yourself. It also means that you’re willing to face the consequences of saying “no” or to saying “I deserve to be here”. The people who are most likely to try to take advantage of your weak boundaries are the very people who are most likely to try make you feel like you’re bad for having them in the first place. Telling them “no” is hard… but it’s necessary. This is it’s important to remember that “no” is a complete sentence. Once your “no” becomes conditional on other people’s agreement, then you aren’t holding a boundary, you’ve entered the start of a negotiation… one you’re likely to lose.

So, absent other information, I would recommend you work on loving, supporting and encouraging yourself. It may mean repeating affirmations as you look in the mirror – cheesy, I know, but it works. It may mean learning to stop neglecting your needs or pretending you don’t have them because you think that having them is an inconvenience to others. Sometimes it may mean just treating yourself like you deserve good things, treating yourself with respect and with care, so that you’re able to accept it.

And in the meantime, gather Team You around you – the folks who love and support you and want the best for you – and practice being able to say “no” and standing up for yourself. The more you’re willing to take up space, instead of shrinking away for fear of inconveniencing others – or being noticed by them – the more you’ll discover your strength.

Good luck.

***

A couple more things before I go.

First: I’ll be doing a live Q&A for my Patrons on December 28th, with Q&As open to my general audience coming in the future. If you’re interested in taking part, consider supporting the site by becoming a patron at patreon.com/DrNerdLove; patron questions will get priority in future live streams.

Second: As the we’re coming to the end of the year, I have a couple requests. First, since January is National Break Up Month, I’m putting out a call for questions about ending relationships: when you need to end it, how to end a relationship the right way, when a relationship can be fixed and how to handle break ups – either as the dumper or the dumpee. As always, submit your questions via the submission form, or send them to doc@doctornerdlove.com with “National Break Up Month Question” in the header.

Third: Since that’s also a hell of a downer, for February – especially for Valentine’s Day – I want to hear your Relationship Wins. Tell me about ways you and your sweetie turned things around, what you’ve learned about making things work, how you two solved problems together or otherwise made each other’s lives better. Let’s share some happiness and spread hope, especially in a month when a lot of folks may feel at their lowest. Who knows, maybe you’ll see your story featured here.

This post was previously published on Doctornerdlove.com and is republished on medium.

***

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