Today’s article is in response to a question from a reader (via Ask Melissa!) about the concern that she scared her love interest away. In my response, I provide guidance on how to approach this concern, whether she actually scared him away, and whether she should pursue him to get him back.
What do I do when I’ve met a divorced man that could very well be my other half but he suddenly flips his switch from being completely enamored with me to shutting down and breaking things off with me and explaining that it was “not his choice” and he “doesn’t want to do this”? I am not one to follow online blogs or forums but at this point, I need an ounce of hope.
I dated a guy for about three months and right off the bat, everything flowed naturally with him. We fell for each other fast and both being people that had been badly scarred by life, it seemed inevitable that when our deeply-rooted fears surfaced (mine surfaced first), we both went into Survival Mode and decided to start the purging process. He purged me first because the people you love the most can hurt you the most.
He’s been through a lot. He’s 28 years old and divorced. In his last year of college, he got his then-girlfriend pregnant. They had their daughter who is now three and he, being the good guy I know, owned up to the consequences and married his girlfriend. He loved her so he didn’t marry her just because they had a kid and she loved him at some point but her family, who strongly disliked him from the start, made sure that their marriage went up in flames.
According to him, he was blindsided with a 14-page divorce out of the blue with false accusations that in the eyes of the law, granted his ex-wife nearly full custody of their daughter. He sees his daughters twice a week at most and only for a couple of hours at a time. He’s stuck in a town he hates, working a job he hates because that is the only way he can continue seeing his daughters – even if it is for so little time.
So when we first started dating, it had been over a year since his divorce and he told me “no pressure – but I am giving you my heart in its purest, most vulnerable form.” For the most part, I handled his heart with care but when my deeply-rooted fears surfaced (fears about the future, about being stuck in the town he was in and stuck at the job – since we are coworkers), I told him “Look, we are lying to ourselves. This will never work out. I belong back in San Diego and you’re stuck here because of your daughter. So why are we fooling ourselves? We might as well stop now because it will only hurt more later” and he fought back, defending our relationship.
But eventually my fears surfaced some of his greatest fears. And now, he’s gone. He says his mind and heart are disconnected. He says he loves me tremendously but at this time, he says that there is a hole where his heart was.
Did I scare him? How can I get him back? Will time help him heal and should I wait for him? I love this guy. He opened up to me in a way that he had never opened up to his ex. He said that with me, he could be himself – something he never was with his ex because of her expectations.
Stuck in a Small Town, Waiting
Dear Stuck in a Small Town:
Thanks so much for reaching out. I feel your concern.
I know it’s really hard when you’re in love with someone but then he pulls away and you feel responsible for his pulling away.
Managing Our Own Fears and Insecurities
To your concern about having deeply rooted fears about the future and about feeling stuck… I encourage you to download my free audio on dealing with baggage.
We all have a past, we all have baggage, and sometimes our baggage can surface and interfere with our present relationships.
The audio gives some advice on how to become conscious of and manage our own baggage, as well as how to navigate our significant other’s baggage.
Dealing with baggage is really about becoming aware of our own fears and insecurities and learning how to manage them so that they don’t sabotage our relationship.
Was It Your Fault?
But let me assure you, if you were showing up as who you are and being real with him in your relationship, you didn’t scare him.
At the end of the day, each adult is responsible for his or her own thoughts, feelings and actions.
So if he said he was scared and if he ended the relationship, it’s not because you scared him, it’s because he chose to leave.
Being in a relationship with you at this time and place in his life brought something to his awareness: that this isn’t what he wants right now.
Something about the relationship, or something that occurred in the relationship, triggered some of his fears and that’s not your fault.
You have nothing to do with his readiness for a relationship; his readiness is what it is.
He already had those triggers or those fears in him and he is responsible for the way that he reacts to those triggers.
Though when “he suddenly flips his switch from being completely enamored with [you] to shutting down and breaking things off with [you]” and explaining that it was “not his choice” and that he “doesn’t want to do this,” he is denying responsibility for his own thoughts and actions.
I would take his denial of responsibility or his refusal to own his experience as a red flag. Deciding to end his relationship with you was his choice, whether he wants to claim that responsibility or not.
He is an adult; he can decide whether or not he wants to be in a relationship.
While it may be true that he “didn’t want to leave the relationship,” he chose to leave the relationship.
So I would take care to not blame yourself for the choices that he made because you’re not responsible for his choices.
When we start feeling responsible for other people’s feelings and reactions, it can be very emotionally toxic to us because we’re assuming responsibility for something that we ultimately cannot control.
It’s a losing battle every time and it can erode our self-esteem because we keep trying to affect something that we cannot control.
The sense of ineffectiveness will make us feel small and powerless.
Why You’re Left Hanging and Whether You Should Wait
I know it can be really hurtful and confusing when you’re left wondering why he changed so suddenly.
It’s a common scenario, especially when your significant other is undergoing a big transition or recovering from one.
If someone experiences a huge transition in their life that shakes them to the core, sometimes it can make one question their whole outlook on life and leave them unsure where to go from here. Unfortunately, it’s not always handled in the best way, especially if they’re dating someone while undergoing or recovering from a big transition.
Sometimes they send mixed messages or abruptly leave the relationship…and the person they’re dating ends up hurt and confused.
Usually it boils down to a relationship readiness issue; he realizes that he doesn’t want or feel ready for a relationship.
But should you wait for him to feel ready? I provide guidance on that question in my article Should you wait for him to feel ready for a relationship?.
How to Get Him Back
So when you ask “how can I get him back?”, there are never any guarantees, of course, but having some time and distance from the relationship can help tame raw emotions and lend new perspective.
However, I encourage you to not pursue him because that may end up causing you more pain, and possibly drive you both further apart.
When we go through a breakup, continuing to see, hear or interact with the person we broke up with makes it much more difficult to heal; it can reopen wounds and leave us feeling needy.
So I encourage you to really give yourself the gift of time to step back, reflect, and take care of you, at least eight weeks.
And in that time apart, you both might grow in ways that will benefit both your readiness and may ultimately lead to creating the love life you really want.
I know this is a lot to think about but I hope this helps provide some guidance.
All the best,
Have a burning relationship question? Send me your question here.