Getting closer to my ex during COVID-19

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Dear Meredith,

I'm finishing up my college undergrad, and I've been talking to my ex regularly for a few months now. He and I had a calm and respectful (but tough and very emotionally charged) breakup last summer. I loved him so much as a person, but I felt like we weren't a good match romantically. It was his first relationship. I am a very loving person but I do struggle to take care of myself at times, and I know that can be hard for those who are close to me. We dated for about six months – not very long at all, but significant for me.

I know that when exes come back into the picture, everyone's first reaction is "forget about them!" But of all the people I've dated, he is the one who is hard to discount. After we broke up, I explored some other casual encounters. I ended up dating a mutual friend. It was not something I intended to be serious or public. We (Ex #2 and I) ended up dating for about three months. It was very public and I know this really hurt Ex #1.

I thought it would be worth it to try to mend things a little. If Ex #1 had told me to leave him alone, I would have listened, but he agreed to talk. We had a few intense conversations. I told him that since our breakup, I had thought about him every day, and that I still care about him deeply. He said he also thought about me every day, still cares about me, and is mostly scared to trust me again (understandably). It has taken months to get to know him again and earn his trust, especially after my relatively public relationship with our mutual friend.

After talking for a few months – we've managed to get closer during this COVID crisis – he brought up that he heard I still have feelings for him from a different mutual friend. He said that for various reasons, we shouldn't date. Even though he wasn't saying never, he insisted we had to take the option off the table. I respect and appreciate that; it's too soon to try again and expect different results. We decided to try and be friends with a mutual understanding of our boundaries. My main question is: Am I being fair to him? To myself? What expectations should I have or avoid? I still talk to him almost every day. It's friendly, at times affectionate, but we have good boundaries. I have thoroughly enjoyed getting to know him in a way I wasn't able to before (we kind of jumped from friendship to relationship the first time). I am trying to keep the thought of us getting back together "off the table" for my own well-being, but I feel so confused. It's painful at times.

- Trying My Best

If this ex wants to be friends, that's great. But most friends don’t talk almost every single day. I mean, some do, but the two of you shouldn't. You're both setting yourselves up for a lot of confusion.

Honestly, your letter suggests that you've really fallen for this guy again and that you want these interactions to lead to more. Maybe these feelings represent real desires. Maybe it's all just something nice to daydream about during COVID-19. Regardless, I’m not sure your boundaries are working. It sounds like you're hearing every affectionate sentiment from him, filing it away in your mind, and using the information as evidence that you're both working toward a better romantic relationship. That's a big jump and I'm not sure it will happen.

My advice is to worry less about him and think about how you can take care of yourself. You mention at the start of the letter that you haven’t been great at considering your own needs. This is a great time to practice. Let him know the truth, which is that you are hoping this goes somewhere, even if you understand why that can't happen now. If that's not how he feels, you need space. If we're sticking to the metaphor, you need to clear the table.

If he cares about you as a friend, he'll give you what you need. You shouldn't spend this time proving something to him because of past mistakes (also, it's not like you cheated). The simple fact here is that you want more and he can't give it to you. This is a good time to let yourself get over it.

– Meredith

Readers? Is this friendship healthy? What does Ex #1 want from these interactions?