Hello, Internet! Welcome to Ask Dr. NerdLove, the only dating column that believes in UFOs, astral projections, mental telepathy, ESP, clairvoyance, spirit photography, telekinetic movement, full trance mediums, the Loch Ness monster and the theory of Atlantis.

This week, we’re talking about how to handle the end of a relationship, whether you’re watching things fall apart before your eyes or having to deal with the aftermath. One reader wants to know whether it’s possible to save his relationship or if it’s better to end things now, while another knows his ex is no good but he just misses him so much.

Let’s do this.

Hi Dr. NerdLove,

I am writing to you in because I am in need of objectivity and guidance. I do realise that I have a bias in telling my problem, but I try to be as fair as I can.

Basically what I am struggling with is: Should I break it up over the issues we keep having, because we have not been able to work them out or is there another way to try fixing them?

So some background: We’ve been dating a little under two years and things have been somewhat deteriorating since about 8 months ago, when she got into a school in another town and started spending a lot of time there. Before that we had a very good and close relationship and we were both happy with it, but after the change she’s grown more distant and it affects me more than her.

She used to value our time together and wanted to be with me at parties and social events and talked to me a lot, but these past months she hasn’t been that way. She barely talks to me while she’s there and on the weekends she’s in town she goes to parties without me, drinks a lot, comes home late and she requires time to be alone as well. So during the school year I feel rather neglected as I feel like I get to spend time with her if she has nothing else better and has some leftover energy. I admit after talking about this with her she has put some effort to the way she is with me, but not into making time for me.

I was hoping that when the summer vacation started it would be different, but during the last month she’s been to parties, a week-end trip with her old school friends and their plus-ones, but she has explicitly chosen to go solo to all of these. She has maintained that she wants to be with me and loves me dearly and it does show when we are together. Couple of days ago we had a fight over the issue and she admitted that she’s not sure that she wants to be in a close relationship and she understands that the situation is unfair for me. We had a talk and she agreed to include me more, spend time with me more and make time for intimacy more until the end of the summer. We talked that we’ll decide about the continuation of our relationship when the summer ends.

However her ex-best friend who was deeply in love with her and cut all ties to her when we started dating came back and apologised for his behaviour and sulking after two years. For the whole duration of our relationship, my girlfriend has said that she misses him, how he was the funniest, he understood her, always wanted to do things with her, is so similar to her and how the summer before we started dating with him was the best and she misses it as well. This while she doesn’t apparently miss me while she is away. This all makes me feel very miniscule compared to him, like I am never going to be as good and brilliant as he is or matter as much. They were very close.

And now that he has come back, she wants to be friends with him and she assures me that he is over her and is purely platonic towards her. She said that I am more important to her than he is, but I don’t trust the guy even as far as I can piss. I feel very uneasy about them spending time together so I asked her If she could not see her alone and I hate myself for it, but she doesn’t appear willing to do this for my sake. I feel that if they get close he might sabotage our relationship or just pray for an opportunity and I don’t think there is any room for something that resembles a fulfilling relationship for me, if they spend much time together, talk and are close. I fear that the rather limited time that we might have, which we agreed to use for creating at least good memories before the possible end and thusly making a less bitter separation might be wasted and leave me even unhappier. This has given me self-confidence issues, anguish, fear and desperation. He is just so much fucking baggage.

So am I being unreasonable? Is there anything that I can try or should I? Is there any semblance of hope, even for the summer? Should I just cut my losses and concentrate on getting over her? I am fairly desperate at this point and I’d appreciate pretty much any insight.

Sincerely yours,

-Should I stay or should I go?

So I’m not going to lie to you, SISOSIG. You’re in a shitty situation. But the problem you’re having isn’t the problem you think you’re having.

Right now you’re focusing a lot on her ex-BFF. You and she both know he had a thing for her and he - like many other ‘Nice Guys’ - took off when he realized she was dating someone for realsies. And now he’s back, swearing it’s all in the past and he’s over her like a bridge over a particularly sexy river.

You, on the other hand, are fairly sure he’s full of shit. And in fairness, he probably is. It’s certainly not impossible that he’s matured enough to get over his awkward one-sided crush and is able to appreciate his friendship with her for its own sake. But I’m doubting it. The “No, I’m totally over you I swear (but touch my penis anyway)” dance is part and parcel of the Nice Guy Experience. Shit, I’ve done that. It’s usually the second act before the finale where they make their move, get rejected again, and end up complaining about women on dodgy subreddits. But you don’t want to say anything because a) you’re already having trouble and b) she’s excited that her friend (and let’s say that again: her friend) is back in her life.

Comparing yourself to her ex-bestie and her excitement to have him back in her life isn’t fair to you or to her, nor is it particularly useful. It’s a different relationship than the one you have with her and different circumstances over all. They’re very close because they have a long history together. Cross-gender friendships can be very emotionally intimate, in no small part because women are the only people men are socially allowed to open up to. That doesn’t mean that he’s a threat to your relationship. Just because he may still have pants-feelings for your girlfriend doesn’t mean that shes going to have them in return.

But here’s the cold hard truth: this guy isn’t the problem. He’s not even a symptom. He’s a side note. What’s been going on is that your relationship has changed because… well, she’s changed. And so have you.

You went from a standard relationship to a long-distance one and that has made the difference. Where you were both growing together, now you’re growing separately. You had experiences in common—mutual friends, daily get-togethers and so forth—that reinforced the story of YOU’N’HER. You were living your lives together. But once you two were in different towns, you and she began leading very separate lives with very separate experiences. She was out there trying new things, enjoying new experiences and learning more about who she is and could be. It can be hard for someone to integrate their old life with their new one. This is why high-school relationships rarely last through college and why long-distance relationships tend to fall apart.

And thus we come to the actual problem: you’re trying to relate to her as who she used to be. That person doesn’t exist any more. We are all the sum of our choices and experiences; as those change, so do we. Your girlfriend has new experiences, new interests, new friends… she’s not the same person she was when she went off to school. Your relationship doesn’t work because it’s with someone who doesn’t exist. She’s left that person behind. And unfortunately, that means you’re being left behind too.

So what do you do about this?

Well… I hate to say it, but the best thing you can do right now is accept that your relationship as you currently know it is over. I don’t doubt that she sincerely cares for you, but I’m also not going to lie to you: in all likelihood, your romantic relationship is going to come to an end before summer’s over. One of you is going to pull the trigger before too much longer. Either you won’t be able to take the anticipation, or she’ll realize that continuing as you are now isn’t fair to either of you and end things herself.

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That’s going to hurt; that’s only natural. You’ll mourn the relationship’s loss, and you’ll feel lower than a snake’s ass in a wagon rut.

But here’s the thing. You have an opportunity here for change and growth. You can get to know who your girlfriend is now, learn how to relate to the person she’s become even as you miss the person she used to be. In letting go of the old relationship, you have the chance to form a new one. Will this save your romantic connection? I can’t say, and frankly you shouldn’t look at it as a last-ditch effort to fix things. What you should do is see this as a chance to make a new friend from an old one and in doing so, to find some opportunities for you to change and become a new person.

Just ask yourself which you would prefer: a summer spent running down the clock and agonizing over all the ways things are different? Or a couple of months getting to know somebody on new terms, without the sword of Damocles hanging over your head?

It won’t save the relationship… but it will mean a chance for a happier summer, no matter how things end.

Good luck.

Dear Dr. NerdLove,

I’m a 22 year old gay dude, been out since I was 12, and I am going through a fresh break-up. I met this guy while he currently had a boyfriend he was unhappy with. And against my better judgement I started dating him before that all ended and resolved itself.

I felt like “The Other Man” so this led to me thinking “well if he did it to him, he could do it to me.” This paired with the guy’s incredible immaturity level about lying, money and substance abuse. I left him a few weeks ago.

It was probably the first time I really stood up for myself and what I wanted, and I was very proud of myself.

Since the break up, I found myself feeling lonely and my anxiety issues rising back to the surface. So in a weak moment I confided in a few guys here and there how I missed my ex, and that is when it was brought to my attention he had been sexting other men throughout the relationship. I understand some people are open and are fine with these things. But he never asked me if this could be allowed, and when I confronted him for this he just blocked me entirely. I wasn’t his boyfriend anymore, so he didn’t have to answer to me.

Since all of this, I just can’t shake this “missing him, god I just want him back” feeling. How can I reign in my mind, and keep it from going back to something I really really shouldn’t?

Thanks so much,

Already Gone

You don’t miss him, AG, you miss the familiar. And that’s incredibly common.

One of the hardest things to deal with when we end a relationship—no matter how much we needed to get the hell out of it—is adjusting to life as a single person again. When we date somebody, we get used to new patterns, new habits. You’d been sharing your life with this guy to one extent or another. You had your little rituals with him, got used to anticipating his quirks and responding to them. You grew accustomed to how it felt when you were cuddled up on the couch or when you held each other in bed. You remember smelling him on your pillow and clothes and the warmth of his body and the things he’d say that would make you laugh.

And now he’s gone and that absence is making itself known. You know damn good and well that he’s an asshole and you did the right thing by finding your inner bad-ass and telling him to hit the streets. But now there’s this vacuum where he used to be and just like cats, our emotions abhor a vacuum. So you have this part of you that wants him back, not because he was a good guy deep down and you can work through all of this if you gave him another chance, but because you haven’t yet adjusted to life without him.

Your ex did you a favor by blocking you. Pulling the Nuclear Option—cutting all ties with your ex—is an important part of recovering from a break-up. You’re too close to the way things were; you don’t want him back quite as much as you want the familiar patterns and feelings and smells back. But that means bringing him back too and you already know he’s a scumbag. Cutting him out of your life and blocking every form of contact you have with him is part of how you give yourself the space and distance you need to recover, to get past those lingering sense-memories and get used to your life as it is now. It makes it that much harder to backslide; the more steps you put between you and a bad decision, the more likely you are to be able to resist it.

So that step’s been taken care of for you. Your next step is simple: get busy. If you can’t stop thinking about him, then you need to have other things to think about, whether it’s throwing yourself into work, pursuing your passions and interests, spending more time with your friends or hitting the gym and getting lost in your own body.

Spend time focusing on you, not him. Do things that are good for you and make you feel better, AG. A little self-care, time with friends and a busy mind are all part of the cure for getting over a shitty ex. The longing for the familiar will fade over time as you get more involved in your own life. Before you know it, you won’t be thinking about him as “that guy I miss so damn much” so much as “oh right, that asshole,” and you’ll be ready to find someone who’s actually worth dating.

Good luck.

Did your relationship survive the transition to long-distance? Have you had to shake feelings for a very bad, no-good ex? Share your thoughts and experiences in the comments and we’ll be back in two weeks with more of your dating questions.

And remember: if someone asks if you’re a god, you say yes!

Ask Dr. Nerdlove is Kotaku’s bi-weekly dating column, hosted by the one and only Harris O’Malley, AKA Dr. NerdLove. Got a question you’d like answered? Write doc@doctornerdlove.com and put “Kotaku” in the subject line.

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Harris O’Malley is a writer and dating coach who provides geek dating advice at his blog Paging Dr. NerdLove and the Dr. NerdLove podcast. His new book When It Clicks: Mastering The Art of Online Dating is out new and available exclusively through Amazon. He is also a regular guest at One Of Us.

He can be found dispensing snark and advice on Facebook and on Twitter at @DrNerdLove.

Illustration by Tara Jacoby

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