Dating and Relationship Advice

Dear iris,

I just broke up with my boyfriend about a week ago. We were together for two years, and even though he got better, he was toxic (in the beginning, he verbally/psychologically abused me, but continued to lie and hide things until a week ago). Now I have issues because of the abuse, and I don’t feel ready to get into a new relationship.

But a few days ago, a guy I met at university a year ago who sometimes texted me and replied to my stories on Instagram reappeared. I used to study/go out with him and two other friends, and I had the feeling that he liked me, but we were both in relationships at the time.

Then I moved away and haven't seen him since. But many months ago, he texted me and told me he broke up with his girlfriend. Now, he knows my boyfriend and I broke up, and he started to hit on me jokingly. He makes a lot of sexual references without being direct, but he’s stated he doesn't want a committed relationship.

It’s pretty clear he wants to hook up, but I don’t think I’m ready. I just got out of a relationship, and casual sex has never been my thing. He’s attractive, don’t get me wrong, but I’m scared that if we hook up, I’ll feel bad after.

How do I tell him all of this when he always jokes and is never direct about it? Or hint the fact that I'm not ready? For example, he just made a joke about giving me his "tail" when talking about a costume, and I really don't know how to reply.

Signed, Single and Not Ready to Mingle

Dear, Single and Not Ready to Mingle

Congratulations on the breakup. And yes, I say congratulations because I don’t believe in the notion that all breakups need to be viewed as a failure. You not only learned a lot about yourself and what you don’t want in a relationship, but your breakup helped you escape an abusive partner. Whenever you're hurting from the break up, remember you have reasons to be proud of your decision.

Regardless, a relationship ending is hard to go through. I won't deny that. It’s great that you realize how affected you've been by your ex’s toxic ways, but you need time to heal from all the pain he caused you. I’d suggest just focusing on you for a bit, after two years of having to allocate your time to someone who didn't treat you well.

Invest your energy into hobbies that make you happy. Call up an old friend who you lost touch with. If you’re close with your family, start spending more time with them. This is the part of your life when you can be selfish. Focus on whatever makes you happy and feel more connected to your authentic self.

As for this “friend” of yours who’s flirting but not directly hitting on you, I’ll be frank: I don’t think you should entertain his messages. It sounds like they make you uncomfortable and, if that’s the case, then maybe the friendship isn’t worth investing in.

You could cut him some slack and send him a message stating that you’re not interested in being more than friends. Something along the lines of, “The flirty texts you send make me uncomfortable. I’m not interested in being more than just friends, and I need you to respect that.” Remember, whatever you say, you shouldn’t worry about making him feel comfortable when he clearly doesn’t care about making you feel comfortable.

You also don’t need to entertain the idea of hooking up with him just because he’s showing you interest. As you said, there’s a high chance you’ll regret it if you did. You’re in an emotionally vulnerable place right now, having just broken up with your boyfriend. Regretting a hook up will only make things worse.

My advice is simple: draw a boundary with your “friend” (like the text I provided above) and if he doesn’t respect it, stop talking to him. You don’t need to explain your decision. In the meantime, don’t worry about dating or hooking up. Use this opportunity to bring back joy to your life that your ex took away. You don’t have to rush into anything new. Go at your own pace.

If you don’t take time to yourself to understand why you stayed with someone abusive, you risk getting into a similar relationship again. Your best bet for changing that dating pattern is building up your self-confidence, enjoying your life, and being honest with yourself about the pain you went through. Invest your energy into making healthier dating choices in the future, rather than a guy who sends texts that make you feel uncomfortable.

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