Relationship Mixed signals after breakup

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First time poster; wish I’d found this site months ago. I (M31) have been seeing my partner (F36) for one year. We are both college students. She is a single mother of two children (M10 and F7). We live separately. She has C-PTSD as a result of sexual/psychological abuse during an eight-year marriage with the father of her children; she has had zero contact with him since taking her children to a women’s shelter, five years ago. I am the first person she’s dated seriously since leaving him.

Relationship started out with the usual giddy warmth and daydreams of the future. We settled down a bit after a few months of that. Three months ago, we began feeling a bit more distant; she was under pressure, which cut into our ability to be emotionally or physically intimate. Sexual intimacy is a trigger, and we’ve set boundaries around how we talk about sex so that she can feel safe.

I spoke to her about my need for quality time with each other, she shared more about her need for space, and we listened to the other. The problem started a couple of weeks later; she started to feel guilty and pressured to attend to me, whether she was in a place to do so or not. She felt like she was letting me down, and resented me for creating that feeling.
We talked a few more times, and she began sharing that she didn’t know if she could ever be in a committed relationship again. She’d started feeling nervous and trapped after we began getting more seriously involved with each other. She gave me the usual “You deserve someone better than me.” She also told me that she loved me, and she still wanted to try even if she felt scared.

Two weeks after that she told me she didn’t want to date, on the exact day she left her ex five years before. I said okay, and tried to validate her feelings even as I felt the bottom dropping out. We had lunch and parted. And I’ve been confused since. I am not ready to break up with this lovely and passionate person.

She held me tightly and moved to kiss me before we parted; I asked her not to. We meet for coffee a week later, where I apologized for my part in making her feel unsafe, and told her what I would do to help her feel safe and give her space. She engaged in the conversation, but did not express a desire to stay together. Which, okay. So I dropped it and told her I wouldn’t bring it up again.
Then she grabbed my hand and held it as we walked through the park next to the coffee shop. She sat and chatted with me for awhile, and cozied close into my arms. She showed up to an event hosted by mutual friends, and hugged me goodbye for what felt like an eternity while looking into my eyes with a tender expression. She invited me to a concert next week, and to join her family for dinner and watch a movie with the kids.
I feel like I am getting mixed signals. I do not know what to do. Do I set boundaries? Do I lean into it, with the hope that she is trying to find her way back to me? I know I can’t push her. I don’t know if I’m fooling myself.

My hope is that she needed to isolate for awhile due to the added stress of a significant anniversary in her recovery process, and didn’t know how else to communicate that; it’s not something she’s ever asked for.
 

Sweetpea76

Moderator
Do I set boundaries? Do I lean into it, with the hope that she is trying to find her way back to me?

You’ll have to decide what you want, and make that call. She’s going to waffle.

If you want to pursue a relationship, keep in mind how you feel now. If this is the way she reacts to stress, she’s going to do this to you a lot. Be prepared to go through this multiple times.

Being a supporter isn’t all love and romance. It’s dealing with the reality that your partner may not be healthy enough to function in a relationship… and that can even happen after years together.
 

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You’ll have to decide what you want, and make that call. She’s going to waffle.

If you want to pursue a relationship, keep in mind how you feel now. If this is the way she reacts to stress, she’s going to do this to you a lot. Be prepared to go through this multiple times.

Being a supporter isn’t all love and romance. It’s dealing with the reality that your partner may not be healthy enough to function in a relationship… and that can even happen after years together.
Thank you for that. She’s needed to check out mentally for a week at a time; I try to show patience and empathy, but it’s so hard not to feel hurt by it. It’s so hard to need to hide what I’m feeling because she doesn’t have space to acknowledge it.

She does care. She was steady when I was going through a major life transition earlier this year. She let me lean on her after my grandmother passed away last month. It’s so hard to reconcile that person with the one who feels trapped and angry when I ask her to attend my sister’s wedding with me, or even decide to drive somewhere when she would’ve preferred to take the train.

It does feel like sometimes having to think of others is impossible, and she resents that anyone might have that expectation. I guess I’m still figuring out if I can sit with that. Not that it’s fully my decision to make
 

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She’s reached out to me every day since I wrote that, either to check in or to talk. It might help that I’m out of town for my grandmother’s memorial service. She mentioned that she wants to talk, which could mean anything. We’ll have a chance to next week.

I’ll note that losing my grandmother in June has probably made me a more stressful partner than she’s been accustomed to. I have been, and still am a bit of a mess. I’ve been needing more reassurance than usual.

She’s said that she has been busy thinking about me, and misses me. Telling me how wonderful it is to hear my voice. Saying “I love you” and calling me “Babe.” Using our typical amount of heart emojis when texting (which is a lot). I ended up setting a boundary around using pet names for each other; it’s just too confusing for me and adds to my uncertainty.

I’ve been trying to validate more; if she has to put off a phone call or basically do anything where she prioritizes her needs over mine, I’ll tell her that I understand, that her needs matter, and that I appreciate her. I don’t think I’d realized quite how anxious she feels about attending to me until the past month. Whatever we are to each other, she deserves to feel that her needs and emotions are valid.

A part of me is vaguely optimistic that we’ll be able to maintain a meaningful relationship in some form, dating or no. A part of me is trying to let go of any expectations. A part of me just thinks it might be easier for her to be open and affectionate when I’m not physically around. A part of me just wants to be held and laugh with her again.

I get some of her need for space. I’ve been constantly surrounded by family members that I love dearly for the past two weeks, and I am close to ready to strangle at least one of them at any given moment. Solely for existing near me when I don’t have it in me to give them anything of myself. It’s been a useful exercise in empathy.

Anyway. Thank you for giving me this place to ramble, feel confused, and feel insecure. It’s a very valuable gift.
 

joeylittle

Administrator
She’s said that she has been busy thinking about me, and misses me. Telling me how wonderful it is to hear my voice. Saying “I love you” and calling me “Babe.” Using our typical amount of heart emojis when texting (which is a lot). I ended up setting a boundary around using pet names for each other; it’s just too confusing for me and adds to my uncertainty.
Good job, setting that boundary. Doing things to take care of your own emotional state - these are really important, and will make a difference, whether it's in this relationship or the next.
A part of me is vaguely optimistic that we’ll be able to maintain a meaningful relationship in some form, dating or no. A part of me is trying to let go of any expectations. A part of me just thinks it might be easier for her to be open and affectionate when I’m not physically around. A part of me just wants to be held and laugh with her again.
This is all very valid, and totally understandable. I'm glad you can give yourself the space to share this stuff.
 

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Saw her today; she gave me a ride from the airport. Talked pleasantly and joked with each other for half an hour. It felt nice and natural. A week ago having a face-to-face conversation would have left me anxious. I feel that at the very least we can continue to build a friendship, which is a relief.

She briefly mentioned that she was talking about me with her manicurist, and they expressed the idea that “You deserve to have children of your own and I can’t do that with you.”

I’d like to think that I can be the one to decide whether or not I need biological children to be happy in life. But alright.

She kept finding excuses to touch my arm or shoulder. Before saying goodbye, she held me tightly and ran her hands over my back in a way that used to mean she was in the mood for physical intimacy.

She briefly referenced her occasional need for space, and said “After getting some time alone I almost always come back better.” I very much want to read into that. I want that to mean that she’s coming back.

So, still getting mixed signals. We’re going to a concert with her kids tomorrow. I still don’t know whether she’s talked to them.

Focusing on letting go of any and all expectations right now. I’ll just try to take care of myself, find positive outlets, and follow her lead when we spend time together.

Pretty much from the day we started dating she told me that she was a runner. She runs away from relationships and situations when it gets to feel too intense, when the stakes get too high. I’m finally learning what she meant by that.

My response has always been that it’s okay if she needs to fly away for a little while. I’ll try to give her a soft place to land if she’s ever ready to fly back.
 
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