Dear Wendy: “Always The Rebound, Never The Boyfriend”

Just about my whole life I have been the “rebound guy” for most of my relationships. I have a knack for meeting women who have just exited a long relationship and once I help heal their broken hearts, I’m dumped. For the last year and a half, I’ve been dating a woman who, you guessed it, was just out of a four-year relationship when we met. Learning from past experiences, I didn’t hold any expectations or try too hard to get a commitment. As such, our relationship has been pretty on and off: we’ll go on a date, then she’ll disappear for a few weeks, then I’ll hear back. Rinse and repeat. I know I have not landed this plane crash in the “friend zone” because there is sex. Whether or not I veered into “booty call zone” is unclear, though certainly possible. When we first started seeing each other she specifically mentioned she was not looking to get back into a relationship, which I totally understood and agreed with. So my question for you would be this: what is the statute of limitations when it comes to a rebound relationship? Is the next person you are with after a long relationship automatically the “rebound,” be it three months or three years later? Should I let her get the “rebounding” out of her system with some other schmuck and then I’d no longer be the rebound? But then, if I do that, I run the risk of her meeting Mr. Anti-Schmuck neurosurgeon who owns three yachts. And, maybe, I was already the rebound guy and there’s no hope? — Rebound Guy

I wish there were some secret formula I could share with you that you could plan your next moves/relationships around, but unfortunately, there isn’t a one-size-fits-all rule book for rebounds. Plenty of people don’t even need or have rebound relationships. They can end one committed relationship and move seamlessly to the next — no rebound necessary — without any drama or hiccup. Others need time to process their breakup or be single and focus on themselves before committing to someone new. And, still, others think they need or want one thing — some space and time alone, for example — and find that changes as they’re exposed to new people and situations.

In general, my feeling is that when someone says “I don’t want a relationship right now,” it’s code for “I don’t want a relationship with you right now.” That sentiment can certainly change over time, but if you’re the person in the twosome who does want a relationship and you’re hoping the other person changes her mind about not wanting one with you, it’s your job to take a regular “temperature” of your situation. You need to decide how long you’re willing to wait around for a possible change of heart and then check in periodically to see if the other person is satisfied with how things are between you — and whether she wants more or less of you. It’s kind of a delicate balancing game, though, between expressing interest in a more serious relationship without putting too much pressure on the other person. But the bottom line is: if you want something, you have to go for it. The nature of being in the non-committed relationship like the one you’re in means the woman you’re seeing could always meet that “anti-schmuck neurosurgeon who owns three yachts” and hook up with him. I mean, what would keep her from doing that now? If you think you have some kind of hold on the woman you’re dating — first dibs on her when she’s ready to be serious — simply because she sees you once every few weeks, you’re fooling yourself.

In the end, you have to question what it is about you that makes you keep falling for these women who aren’t making themselves totally available to you. Do you just like the chase? Do you feel that you, unlike the anti-schmuck neurosurgeon who owns three yachts, don’t deserve these women? Are you sure you actually even want a real relationship? In any pattern that exists in your dating life, the common denominator is always you, so if you don’t like the pattern, you know exactly where to start changing it. Actually, I guess that’s the best “secret formula” for a happy and healthy love life I could ever share with you.

*Do you have a relationship/dating question I can help with? Send me your letters at [email protected]