Ask Dr. Loving: We Broke Up, But Does He Still Like Me?

Posted on in Human Ecology

Dr. Tim Loving responds to a question about whether it's a good idea for "Conflicted" to keep hanging out with her ex.

Dear Dr. Loving;

I am in the middle of healing and attempting to move 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 as "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

Dear C;

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 to move 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.

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). 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.

Think of it this way: your ex was your drug. 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.


Dr. Loving


  • Guest
    Kristina Friday, November 02, 2012

    Dear Dr. Loving.

    So there is this guy who I've know for about 3 years. We became really good friends down the road. And it developed into flirting then texting each other all the time. At the beginning he was in a relationship and so was I so it was just innocent flirting and a friendship. We worked together and so it was not like we could avoid each other. But then June 2011, him and his girl broke up, and he seemed real emo like but I just let him be. About October his dad that worked with us, was fired and I was there when it happened. I texted him to give him a heads up and later that night he showed up at my house dressed up, smelled great, and wanted to know about what happened. We talked for many hours and finally it lead to a kiss. I had always expressed how I felt for him and how I wanted a kiss and he wanted to but things were complicated. So of course when I he kissed me, I was happy. Anyways, after that, it became more kisses when we were alone together and buying gifts for one another, he buy me flowers on Valentines day and I took him on a date for his bday. On mine he showed up at work with a bottle of champagne and then spent the day with me. And dinners at my house with some friends and a couples date for my sisters bday! He invited me to his sisters bday. etc! So I assumed he really liked me and enjoyed hanging with me. A few times we would argue and not talk to each other because I wanted him to define the relationship and give me a chance to be his girlfriend. He would tell me he wasn't ready for relationships, that he was just being him, and that life passed by, etc. But I believed that the reason he didn't want a relationship was because he was Russian and I was not. Because I was not a virgin like he was, and because I have 3 kids that are not his.
    Now we havent really spoken. I transferred to another property the beginning of October and after I did, he was over my house once if not twice a week and we spoke every day almost. But I confronted him again about the defining of the relationship because I had introduced him to my grandma and he had been over so much I was becoming confused. He still has not given me a Yes or No to my questions. And assumes I hate him because I am blaming him for things. He says I am blaming him for the kiss and all the stuff thats happened between us. Even though he admits to wanting to kiss me and being attracted to me. When I first brought up my issue, he didn't respond to me till I made a response and he started drinking heavily and still is and saying life passed by, and that he is emo lately. But everytime I try to talk to him about how I miss him or about stuff not related to my issue, he ignores me. He is my best friend and I want him back and I feel like I lost him for good. Or that he's moved on... I don't know how to get him back, what to say or do? Especially if he fears commitment. How do I know if he still is interested in me?

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