Advice from the Trenches: Deja Vu

Dear C;

I’ve known Steve for about four years. We’ve just been friends, but there has always been a certain chemistry between us that never quite came to the surface. Part of it is me. I was sexually abused as a kid and when I become intimately involved with a man, I can become uncomfortably vulnerable. Guys who are casual about sex and don’t show tenderness or caring afterward can trigger PTSD – a feeling that I’ve been used, then abandoned. I swore I’d never be physically intimate with a man again, unless we were first emotionally intimate. So, for the last five years, I’ve been in the nunnery. Steve’s been understanding, because his last relationship was a very hurtful one, too. Both of us are self-protective and hesitant to get too close to others.

About three weeks ago, out of nowhere, thoughts of Steve kept floating into my head. I couldn’t understand it, because that’s just not like us. But when we got together and talked, it turned out that I may have actually picked up on his thoughts. Steve had been thinking about me, too. That’s when we both realized that there was some type of real connection between us, even if we didn’t understand exactly what it was. I think we both felt vulnerable admitting that. We didn’t fall into bed or anything, but we did became more openly affectionate. It was the first time I’d let anyone that close to me in many years.

Two days later, Steve had to leave town on work and he left without a word. That was okay – I knew he was really busy and I hate interruptions myself when I’m getting ready to travel, so I didn’t try to contact him. For the first week, I was fine, too, because I knew how busy he was. But when I didn’t hear from him for the second week in a row, the doubts and trauma from my past came whooshing back – that PTSD feeling of being used and abandoned crept in and it made me feel terrible. By the end of the second week, I was so fed up I didn’t even want to talk to him again.

Then, last night, a very casual email showed up out of the blue. He’d just gotten back and wanted to get together. Like those two weeks of completely ignoring me never happened! I don’t know what to do. I honestly don’t want to talk to him, so many bad feeling were churned up during that long silence. I hate feeling like that, and I have zero interest in getting closer to another casual guy who walks away without a word, then expects me to be waiting for him. I thought Steve was different. Now, I would rather just drop the whole thing. What should I do?

PTSD Deja Vu


Dear Deja Vu;

I wouldn’t ax the guy just yet. Let’s put your PSTD aside and look at the facts for a minute. You and Steve, two relationship-challenged, vulnerable people, discover that you might mean something to each other. Steve has to leave town. While he’s away, you make no effort to contact him. When he gets back to town, he contacts you right away and wants to get together. For this, you want to banish him forever?

A common problem with people who have an abusive past is that they can forget that other people have feelings, too. Right now, you are seeing yourself as the wronged party and are imagining that Steve is following the pattern of every guy who has let you down. It probably hasn’t occurred to you that there’s another possibility – Steve may have felt just as traumatized as you. He might have been hurt, the same as you, when he didn’t hear a word in two weeks. Yet he made an effort to reach out as soon as he got back. And you don’t even want to hear what he has to say?

Before you convict him of a crime he may not have committed, I suggest some restraint. I know you’re hurt, but don’t hit him over the head with it – a little humor is a better way to reach an understanding. You could try something like: “Dear, Mr. _____; Your account has been logged off due to inactivity. To reactivate, please contact our branch manager at ________. We apologize for any inconvenience this has caused. Sincerely, ____” This would let him know that his silence created a rift, but you are open to discussion. Try to separate your PTSD from the mix. It just blows things out of proportion.

Every sentient being on earth is suffering. We all have a tendency to think we are the only ones who can be hurt, but both men and women feel insecure when it comes to relationships and exposing their deepest feelings. This could be a chance for both of you to heal some very old wounds that never closed. And, sweetie? If the guy has hung around for four years without gettin’ any, and he still keeps coming back, you really have to take him out of the slag heap with the rest of those bozos. He’s not in it for the sex. He’s a friend. Treat him like one.

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