Dear Dr. NerdLove:
My ex and I broke up a couple months ago; we were together 2 years and six months. She broke up with me because she said that I was manipulating her, even though I wasn’t and if I did it wasn’t on purpose. After this we stopped talking for a month. When I saw her again, she told me that I wasn’t manipulating her and that her friends told her that I was and just a lot of things that didn’t make sense. After that we stopped talking. Then we went to a football game and saw each other by accident and we talked and she said that she was sorry about it. When I told her I forgave her, she asked if we can try again. I said I don’t know.
After that day, we went to a dance and we talked about what happened and just danced with each other and kissed, then I made up my mind that I wanted to try again. But now every time I see her with friends, she just doesn’t seem like she wants to but after all that when we are alone she either ignores me or just talks to me about us like she wants to be together.
I feel like I am being lead on. Can you help me Doc?
Please, I want to try with her but I don’t know what she wants and she wont tell me. What should I do?
Running Hot and Cold
So, unlike a previous letter about relatively explicable and understandable behavior, I feel like pointing out that these are some actual mixed signals.
When you’re dealing with actual mixed signals – where either words and deeds don’t line up or someone says one thing one day, says another the next and then goes back to the first on yet another day – there’re two likely reasons. Either the person sending those conflicting signals is confused or doesn’t know what they want, or they’re playing head games with you.
The problem is… neither of these are great.
Now, I’m going to assume – and this may be an overly generous assumption – that you told her you wanted to try again. If you hadn’t… well, then there’s your problem. You need to actually say the words, and make it clear where you stand. But if you have and this is what you’ve ended up dealing with? Well, then I’m going to say that this ain’t a great scene for you.
Let’s start with what kicked the whole mess off: your girlfriend dumped you because “you were manipulating her”. Except, apparently, you weren’t the one manipulating her, her friends apparently were, or at least were the ones telling her that you were. Now, this wouldn’t be the first time friends have interfered with someone’s relationship for seemingly bizarre reasons, whether with good or malign intentions. Maybe they didn’t like how much time you were spending with her and conspired to break you up so she would have more time for them. Maybe they watched the wrong TikTok videos and the tendency to misuse and abuse legitimate psychological terms like “gaslighting”, “lovebombing” and “trauma dumping” lead them to think that normal relationship behavior was somehow toxic. Or maybe they had legitimate worries about her and were calling out what they saw as real problems in good faith.
Ultimately though, that doesn’t matter as much as how your now-ex responds once the truth was revealed. And it seems that… well, not much has changed. She says she wants you back. Her actions (at least in a few places) suggest she wants you back. But she either doesn’t make a move, acts like she’s not interested or otherwise seems to go every which way. And that’s a problem.
See, one of the things about being a good potential partner is that you have good emotional intelligence and to be in decent working order. This doesn’t mean that you need to have Hannibal-like insight into people’s emotions or psychological states, nor does it mean that you can’t have any quirks, flaws or neuroticisms. It just means that you need to be in good enough mental and emotional shape to date. And right now? It doesn’t seem like your ex is.
It’s hard to say why she’s acting the way she is. You say that she acts like she’s not interested in you when she’s around her friends. Well, could it be that her friends are still on Team Someone Else? Is it possible that they’re still trying to talk her out of getting back with you? Or maybe the friends have nothing to do with it and either she took your “I don’t know” to heart. Or she might not be entirely sure, herself, and her desire to get back together flows in and out like the tides.
But at the end of the day, it ultimately doesn’t matter. Any of these reasons are big signs saying “this is a bad idea”. If her friends are still dripping poison in her ear about you, then she’s still allowing them to dictate her relationships, instead of recognizing it for the toxic friendship that it is. If she’s blowing hot and cold because she legitimately doesn’t know what she wants, then she shouldn’t be telling you “let’s try again” one day and then giving you the cold shoulder the next; she should be trying to figure out her own mind instead of making it your problem. And if it’s that she took your “I don’t know” as the last word… well, either she’s playing a very weird game or she’s almost absurdly fickle.
One of the things I always tell people when they want to know if they should get back with their ex is that if the reason that they broke up in the first place hasn’t changed, then all they’re going to do is end up in the 12″ dance remix of their first break up; it’ll just be faster and have a more driving beat. And going by what you’ve said here, nothing has really changed. Either she’s stuck with toxic and manipulative friends, has poor boundaries or simply doesn’t know what she wants. That combined with her constant routine of “Come here, go away, come here” is enough for me to say that she’s not in a place where she’s in good shape to date. If her boundaries are just that poor, it’s a bad sign. If she doesn’t have the emotional intelligence to know her own mind enough to decide what she wants before telling you she wants you back (maybe), then that’s a bad sign.
If you’ve told her you want to try again and she’s acting like this? Then the best thing you can do is take her non-committal behavior as an answer and the answer is “no”. Even if it isn’t a no, you should move on; quite frankly, this will just end up being more confusion and headaches for you, and for no purpose whatsoever. I know you want her back, but taking her back when she’s acting like this will just leave you back where you are now: confused, frustrated and nursing a broken heart. Better to take the clean break and let yourself heal than to commit to a second, slow break up that’ll take that much longer for you to recover from.
Hi Dr NerdLove,
I recently confessed to a cute new guy at my school, we share the same class, our class in particular has a groupchat on a messaging with all our classmates inside. Prom is coming up and he asked someone else(let’s call her Elise) who is a known aromantic and not really likeable.
After my confession to him in his DMs, he replied by saying I was super cute and asked me out to prom(in which I said yes), but thinks that we should keep it a secret because of how awkward it would be if everyone knew. We were really close friends before my confession, but after I confessed, he immediately stopped talking to me during school and would only text me. He wouldn’t directly ignore me but he’d avoid me and avoid conversations.
In art class, he hung around Elise and everyone started to ship them together as a couple, and he continued to hang around her and approach her. I’m a little jealous but he did tell me when I confessed to him, that he only asked Elise out for fun, that it was nothing serious. The thing was, he asked her to prom in the class groupchat, while he told me to keep it a secret.
I gave him paper roses I made late last night, and just put it on his table when no one was there, everyone started teasing him and saying Elise made it for him, which I felt a little heartbroken at that time. A few hours later, my friend has told him that I was the one who made the flowers, not Elise. He just said “ok” and had no reaction.
My question is, is he playing me/am I a backup plan? Or does he truly like me?
High School Drama Club
Speaking of “mixed” signals…
I’m not a fan of just “confessing” one’s feelings, HSDC. It’s the sort of thing that makes for drama in CW teen shows and shoujou manga, but in real life it’s not terribly helpful. Leaving aside the framing – as though being attracted to someone is something that needs to be “confessed”, like it’s a secret shame – what you’re doing is functionally offloading responsibility onto the person you’re confessing to. You’re telling the other person “hey, I have these feelings about you. Now go do something with them.” Even under the best of circumstances, you’re essentially asking somebody to decide in that moment whether they want to explore a relationship with you. Not a lot of people are going to want to make a snap decision like that, especially if you two don’t have much of a relationship beforehand.
This is why I prefer just asking someone out on a date. To start with, it’s a much easier lift to decide if you want to go on a date than to decide if you feel the same way about someone in that moment. Dating is essentially a way of determining if you both think there is enough there to make a relationship work and if you’re compatible on that level. Asking someone on a date gives them something they can say “yes” to without feeling like they’re committing to a great unknown. Plus, the “I like you” is part of the ask; people rarely ask folks out on dates if they’re not at least somewhat attracted to the other person.
Now that rant aside, let’s talk about what’s going on here.
If I have the timeline correct, it sounds like your crush asked Elise to prom before you told him you liked him. Now, going to prom with someone isn’t exactly a promise of a lifelong commitment, but it does make telling him after he publicly asked her something of a bad move on your part. Even without some of the other issues – and we’ll get to those in a moment – you’re asking him to take backsies on his prom invite, and that’s not a great position to put somebody into. Suddenly turning around and saying “you know what, nevermind, I got a better offer” is rude at best. So if he likes you back… well, his choices are either coldly drop her like fifth period French or go to the dance with someone else even though he’d supposedly rather go with you. Again: great for teen dramas on streaming, not so great for real life.
But it’s the rest of what you say that makes me think that maybe you should just let this one go. Whether Elise is aromantic or not – known or otherwise – is kinda irrelevant. The fact that he supposedly asked her out for the LOLs is… well, that’s kind of a dick move. It’s one thing to ask someone to prom when you’re friends and you’re going AS friends. Asking someone, again, publicly, as a goof? That’s just cruel.
That is, admittedly, assuming that is what he did. Because the whole “hey I like you too, but let’s keep this on the down low” part? That seems like someone who’s either playing you for laughs, or who wants to have his cake and eat it too. There can be legitimate reasons to say “hey, let’s keep our relationship secret for now”, but they’re relatively few and far between. And going by the way he’s behaving? Well… I’m going to go with “doesn’t have good reasons for this”. The fact that he says he likes you in private but ignores you in public while cozying up to someone who he supposedly asked out as a joke doesn’t say good things about him. Either he’s lying to her – which, again, is cruel – or he’s lying to you, which is dickish. And if he really is hoping to keep you as his backup choice in case he doesn’t have the magic wand that’ll turn Elise from being aromantic into a lovey-dovey dance partner? Then that’s even more dickish.
And if he’s hoping to have it both ways – something public with his aromantic friend and you as his sidepiece on the down low so he can get his rocks off? Well that’s beyond dickish and well into “called shot to the balls” with workboots territory.
While I don’t expect teenagers in high-school to be the most adept at handling nuanced relationship issues, none of this sounds good. His words say one thing and his actions say another. When you have a dichotomy like that, you should believe the actions. And his actions say that either he’s not into you, or you’re his fallback plan at best. At worst, he’s playing both of you.
Do yourself a favor: chalk this up to a learning experience. Some guys seem nice but end up being a classic Crouching Nice Guy/Hidden Douchecanoe who think they’re slick enough to keep multiple balls in the air without dropping them or letting the others know. If the way he’s acting isn’t who he really is, then he’s got terminally poor judgement and a lot of growing up to do. If it is a representative of his true self? Well, not dating him is a bullet dodged and a lesson learned.