Dear Captain Awkward,
I want to thank you for all the wisdom that you and your commentariat have provided to me over the last few years. You have taught me many lessons that I sorely needed. I had a difficult childhood and did not have positive relationship models during my adolescence. I was unprepared when I married young, hopeful that everything would just "work itself out" without realizing the work that goes into "making things work out". As you might expect, it did not work out. In fact, it ended very badly. I did not comport myself honorably during the end of it at all. Regretfully, I acted even worse afterwards. I started a relationship with a Darth Vader, who happened to be my ex-wife's brother. I realize this is sounding like a holovid drama, but I give you my word that every word in this letter is true.
The relationship with Darth Vader was not honorable or healthy in the slightest. I was drunk through most of it and often impaired. I used addictive substances, and I don't know how many times I did or even always what I took. The relationship was also not fully consensual on the part of everyone who was involved with it. Sometimes, that list of perhaps-not-fully-consenting participants included myself. This was a difficult realization in the years since then, but an important one. I'm to blame for this as much as Darth Vader is, and I am firm that I will never do any of this in the future, nor let it happen under my watch.
My grandmother was the only one on Team Me during this time, and she told me a lot of hard truths that I didn't want to accept at the time, but treasure now. She was the one who found your blog and sent it to me when I began to realize the true extent and horror of my actions.
Through the help of my father, I was able to get away from the situation, and I have been gone for several years. However, I'll be returning home soon, and I know I will encounter Darth Vader. My relationship with my father is strained over this relationship, but I'm capable to handle him. But I am worried that when I meet Darth Vader again, I'll fall under his influence again and forget everything I've learned. There's another complicating factor, which I hesitate to bring up but must in true honesty. I still find Darth Vader compelling. He is dazzling in his element and he knows how to command a crowd. Dear Captain, I have to confess to pantsfeelings toward Darth Vader. I catch myself wondering if, by starting a new relationship with him, I could set better boundaries, and maybe help him become a better person. I know this is a fallacy, but my jerkbrain keeps wondering if I could fix him. We were good together when we weren't destroying each other. But I know my father is correct, that re-entering a relationship with Darth Vader again would be disastrous and ruinous.
My Dear Captain, do you have any scripts I can use for dealing honorably with Darth Vader? I will be home for several months and won't be able to avoid him, so I would like to be able to make it clear that I truly, deeply regret the relationship and the harm we caused, and that I will not be indulging in it again, without me being overly tempted to fall back in bed with him. My honor demands it.
Bi on Barrayar.
First of all, congratulations on getting out of that situation! I'm glad you are in a safer place now. I consulted with a Barrayaran friend for cultural-specific issues and she brought up a few good points that I want to talk to you about.
1) What do you think you need to do, from a perspective of your honor, to clear things up with your ex?
2) Since you're not going to be going out of your way to see your ex, I assume you will run into him at obligated events. Are these events large enough that you either might avoid him entirely, or have a giant public confrontation? Both sound like they would have a ton of stresses involved.
I can't speak to Barrayaran honor, so I mostly just have prompts for you when you're thinking about it, and I hope that Barrayrans in the comment section can shine more light. What do you think honor requires? What does your Grandmother, or anyone else on Team You, think about the state of your honor? Do they feel like you need to make a public stand? Keep in mind your own safety in all of this. I won't tell you that it's more important than your honor, but I want you to remember that your life also has value. You can't throw your life away over a mistake. It sounds like you reacted very badly to your divorce and didn't have good coping measures at the time. What lessons did you take from it during your recovery from your relationship with Darth? What did it teach you about your own resilience and adaptability? What did you learn about what honor means in interactions with people who have hurt you?
I think you feel like you can fix Darth because you might be seeing it as a parallel to your grandmother fixing you. But you did the work in fixing yourself. You took the tools that your grandmother gave you and you did the hard work. You can't fix Darth for him. You're a regular reader, so you know that you can't set yourself on fire to keep someone warm, but I want to remind you that that applies to you as well. You can't set yourself on fire for Darth, and no one set themselves on fire for you. People gave you a lifeline and you took it.
Don't confront Darth. If you want to give him a lifeline, send it to him in the mail, or pass it along through mutual friends. It's very easy to fall into old habits and old mindsets, especially when the other person is insistent on treating you the same way they did before. Darth wants the you from years ago. You don't have to give that to him. It won't save him. You can't destroy yourself, or turn yourself into who you used to be, all in the name of saving him by sacrificing yourself.
You don't owe it to him to be on Team Him. If you find out that he wants to have the same journey you took, you could always provide support to people on Team Him (be on Team Them!). But remember, this took you years to do. Even if he decides to change, it's not going to happen overnight. If you're hoping for a sudden reunion where you have a relationship without all the evil bees, it's going to take a lot of work on both of your parts. Don't go down that path until you know he wants to go down it with you. Definitely don't do it if he strings you along by saying that he will change if you two get back together. You both know he won't change for you. He has to change for himself.
You know better than I do what to say to Darth to clear the air and cleanse your honor with him, but keep reminding yourself of the facts of that situation: your relationship wasn't healthy. Even if (he thinks) you consented at the time, you do not consent any more. You might consent in the future, but that future isn't now, and you can't place expectations or ultimatums on this. Your relationship is over, full stop. Remember your own agency in these matters and stand firm. Practice as much as you need to with friends about how to get out of conversations with him. Get good at finding someone in the corner trying to get your attention. We're all with you on this.
P.S. I also want to bring up that you don't talk about how your ex-wife was dealing with any of this. If she's willing to talk to you, and you haven't done so already, I think a clear and honest apology will help you with some of your guilt.