(reposted from drloving.net)
Dear Dr. Loving;
I am in the middle of healing and attempting on moving on right now. My boyfriend and I broke up last October, but we only decided to really move on this December. Now, we still see each other and are just now “friends” or “best friends.” We text each other everyday (I text him and he replies) and we see each other and hang out or study at least 3-4 times a week. We celebrated his birthday together last week, just me and him. He still gives me a hug after we hang out when I ask him to hug me. Basically, we’re still part of each other’s lives except we’re just simply “close friends.”
Now my question is, do those signs show that he still likes me or is he just doing that because he’s a guy? and is this kind of relationship healthy for me? I don’t know whether I should really avoid him or just go with the flow with whatever we have. I honestly still want to get back with him, but bringing that up to him always irritates him. He said he doesn’t have “time” to be in a relationship anymore. I am not sure whether there’s no chance of us getting back together and I’m just fooling myself. — Conflicted
Let’s start with your second question: No, this kind of relationship is not healthy for you. If we take him at his word, then it’s best for you to let this one go and actually start, in your words, “healing and attempting on moving on.” By remaining in contact with him you’re not allowing yourself time to disengage mentally from him. As we become more and more involved and committed to a partner, we develop what researchers refer to as “cognitive interdependence”, which essentially refers to the idea that our sense of self (i.e., our identity as a person) becomes inextricably linked to our partner’s identity.1 In other words, the cheesy phrase “two become one” is actually true in many respects. People who are cognitively interdependent engage in what’s known as pluralist thinking, or viewing the self in terms of a couple (i.e., we) rather than as an individual (i.e., me). This we-ness generally promotes the longevity of relationships: it encourages us to think less selfishly (i.e., we focus on our relationships first).2 But, when we separate from a partner, the we-ness can take a toll; when we lose a partner, we lose a piece of ourselves, and we’re also inclined to keep putting the (past) relationship above our own needs. With time, that will change, but the more you stay in touch with your ex, and the more you do things with him, the harder it is going to be for you to emotionally and cognitively disengage from him. Put another way, the ‘me’ can’t beat out the ‘we’ when you’re constantly doing things as a ‘we’; you’re not just surrounded by reminders of your ex, you’re surrounded BY your ex. Thus, it’s very likely that you’re going to stay conflicted until you take some time away from him so that you really can heal and move on.3 Think of it this way: your ex was your drug.4 Time to go cold turkey.
Now back to your first question. Based on your description, he seems to have already moved on himself. Why he’s still doing so much with you is beyond me, but it’s possible he thinks he’s being helpful (or he’s a masochist). He may ‘like’ you. But, from what you describe, he doesn’t ‘like’ like you. You didn’t mention in your question whether you were still intimate with him (even on rare occasion), but if you are, that’s a very likely reason he’s keeping this going. If you really want to get back together with him, take some time away to focus on you. I suspect that once you’ve stopped surrounding yourself with him you’ll find that you don’t need him as badly as you think. But, if not, he may very well find your independence attractive.
1Agnew, C. R., Van Lange, P. A. M., Rusbult, C. E., & Langston, C. A. (1998). Cognitive interdependence: Commitment and the mental representation of close relationships. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 74(4), 939-954.
2Aron, A., Aron, E. N., Tudor, M., & Nelson, G. (1991). Close relationships as including other in the self. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 60(2), 241-253.
3Fisher, H. E., Brown, L. L., Aron, A., Strong, G., & Mashek, D. (2010). Reward, addiction, and emotion regulation systems associated with rejection in love. Journal of Neurophysiology, 104(1), 51-60.
4Bartels, A., & Zeki, S. (2000). The neural basis of romantic love. Motivation, Emotion, Feeding, Drinking, 11(17), 3829-3834.
Dr. Tim Loving – Science of Relationships articles | Website/CV
Dr. Loving’s research addresses the mental and physical health impact of relationship transitions (e.g., falling in love, breaking up) and the role friends and family serve as we adapt to these transitions. He is an Associate Editor of Personal Relationships and his research has been funded by the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development.