About these ads

#465: Life after Darth

A man and woman dressed as Darth Vader holding hands on a crowded street.

Image from likecool.com

Hi there,
An online friend and I were innocent email buds. One day, we start DMing which leads to texting/phone call. It gets sexual. Tells me he has a live in girlfriend but doesn’t ever say “maybe we shouldn’t go there.” It progresses to constantly talking, texting, gchatting. 2 weeks after we started he flew here for a weekend.

Knew he had a gf, he told me they had major issues ever since she moved in. I asked him to please break up with her and figure that out ASAP. He went home and 2 days later he told me he would regret leaving if he didn’t try to fix their relationship. But wanted to try with me too. The waffling about what he wanted continued for 4 months. We saw each other again, talked constantly. We’d both try to cut each other off at points, it NEVER stuck.

Throughout I would threaten to tell her, push him to leave. I regret all the manipulation. In the fall, he decided that he couldn’t handle it. He cut it off, came crawling back. I let him. He’d become my emotional crutch. I fell into deep depression, constantly beating myself up. 

Finally he said I severely hurt him by threatening to tell her, he could never really forgive me, give me a real chance. I said I’m done, cut off contact. Though did demand he tell her. I wanted him to get left. He did tell her, they have stayed together so far.

So was left feeling insane and sad. I did some controlling things that I’m not proud of. Jerkbrain: I’m an awful person who not only hurt this man but someone else too. I acted absolutely unreasonable on more than one occasion with this situation.

How I can start to forgive myself? Some people may always think I’m seriously shitty and I have to get over that but having a really hard time being okay with everything. Especially because I really did care for him. We had some seriously intense emotional and physical chemistry and I really thought I loved him at one point. I know this pit of despair may eventually dissipate but I am so ashamed of myself and tired of feeling like I’m the bad one.

And her friends have openly cried for revenge against me and told me I should be scared. They have stayed together so I guess I can understand why I’m the target and not him but it’s really frustrating that that’s the tactic. Which is my other question, how do I reconcile my desire for justice against him? I am just so pissed that he’s essentially had no consequences.

Thanks.

Good news, there are a few people in this story who deserve the “bad one” title more than you.

#1 is Cheater McCheaterson, who can’t just fucking cheat but has to also drag you along on the entire rollercoaster of his dysfunctional relationship and its aftermath. He was the one with a girlfriend, and he was the one with a greater responsibility to her, either to pass on a relationship with you if that was their agreement and his choice, or to make a clean break with her. He was totally capable of telling you “You are awesome, but I have a girlfriend, so I don’t think we should chat so much.” He was totally capable of telling her, “I met someone and I want to explore that, even if it means we break up.” He chose neither of those things, because he wanted to have a girlfriend and a relationship with you and ride everything out for as long as possible. It’s not shocking that things got messy, and he doesn’t have to be bad or evil to get in over his head, but he did not help this situation. I don’t think your threatening to tell his girlfriend (or even actually telling her) would have made much of a difference in the end. It’s a weak position where the only strong play you really have is to get the hell out of there and leave them to each other.

#2, #3, #4 are anyone who tells you you should “be scared” because you fell in love with a dude who spun you a lot of confusing lies and empty promises.

The Darth Vader boyfriend or girlfriend isn’t necessarily evil or deliberately malicious. We’ve talked a lot here about warning signs, and those are certainly red flags for when you are getting involved with someone, but for me the characteristic that makes something a Darth Vader situation can only be seen afterward, when you see how much you strayed from yourself (your own best interests, your own ethics, your own standards for how you want to be treated) and how often you made excuses for the other person’s behaviors to preserve the relationship. My Darth Vader was not awesome in his behavior, and was quite manipulative, but what makes me look back with shame and horror was my own total desire to be manipulated and hear only what I wanted to hear and also behaviors that tended toward, frankly, stalking. Darth Vaders, however they work, create an altered headspace where we are not our best selves. And while we are always responsible for our actions, we have to find a way to forgive ourselves in order to get free of that headspace.

Right now, the only things that fix this are time, distance, and sitting with some uncomfortable truths until you gain something like perspective and can tell a story about this that doesn’t hurt.

Step 1: Cut off contact completely with this guy and everyone who knows him, including these friends of his girlfriend. Use whatever e-blocking tools you have to do, but do whatever you can to make sure you travel in completely separate worlds. You can’t worry about threats if you don’t know that threats are happening because everyone involved in this story is dead to you.

Most importantly: Don’t try to be friends.

You’re not friends, and you won’t be friends. The best part of you wants to find a way to preserve the good in all of this, and to make everything feel less wasted and wrong. Like, if you can be friends, it will all have been worth it. Something can be saved! Beware this instinct. Mostly what gets saved is his ability to believe that he’s not a bad guy, and his ability to reach out to you for emotional support and keep you engaged in his drama. What gets lost is your ability to put it behind you, by getting as angry as you need to get before you can heal. It keeps the little jolts of attention, and let’s face it, addiction going as the texts and messages come in or leave you bereft when they don’t come in.

Step 2: Repeat this until you believe it: Having great chemistry does not by itself make someone a good partner for you. People have to be kind, and considerate, and respect boundaries, and when it comes down to it, they have to choose you.

This isn’t a story about how you would be together if it wasn’t for this lady and her threatening friends, this is a story about a guy who liked you well enough but didn’t want to be with you. You were actually involved, even if you didn’t have some kind of official relationship status called “girlfriend” or “primary partner” or whatnot. It is a break-up, so mourn it like a break-up. Give yourself permission to feel sad, and bereft, and royally fucked over by fates.

Chemistry (love, lust, that instant recognition that here be your people, “intensity”) does mess with people, and people treat it like some inexorable force that temporarily abrogated all decision-making skills and swept them away. You aren’t the first person to be here, nor is he, nor was I when it was my turn to be in these shoes, but eventually the cloud clears and the question of “should we actually be together” comes up. Are you actually together? Would this wishy-washy guy who didn’t choose you in the end actually make a good partner? The answer to both of these is no. If you were supposed to be together, you would be together, and it would have gone easier than this.

It’s not the kindest or most comfortable thought, but it’s important to get yourself out of the headspace of “If only….!” and worry over the good times you had and try to stretch them to cover you now. Feeling: We were so great together! If only! Fact: But he didn’t choose me, and we are not together.

The first time you teach yourself to put the factual wet blanket on those feelings, it really hurts. Because you are basically taking The Golden Retriever of Love to the vet and “sending it to live on a nice farm where there are horses” or whatever your parents told you was the euphemism for “we killed the dog when you were at school.” Murdering hope fucking HURTS. But this guy has shown you again and again that he is not a good repository for those hopes, and having hope where he is concerned does not help you. Over time, if you can get in the habit of nixing the obsessive “But if only!” thoughts as soon as they come up, the fact of “But we’re not together” gets a friend, and that friend is “And I only want to be with people who really want to be with me, and who will come at me correct.

Step 3: Letting go also means letting go of the desire for revenge. The desire for his life to fracture the way it feels your has is understandable, but it keeps you engaged with him. It doesn’t seem fair, but it is actually entirely, cruelly, beautifully fair: .His reward or punishment is exactly the same as everyone’s – he has to live in his own skin and find a way to move forward with his life.

Step 4: It’s not a good idea to tell his girlfriend what happened, no matter how much you may want her to know, but tell SOMEONE. Deal with this overall cloud of depression you’ve got going on by dealing with it as depression. Get counseling. Tell someone the whole story, the highs, the lows, the hopes, the feeling that something beautiful was completely twisted and wasted, the missing piece in your day that used to be filled by this drama and how nothing feels right afterwards. A therapist or counselor can sort through what happened and help you take ownership of only what is yours (what can be learned from and changed in the future) and let go of what belongs to other people (his responsibility toward his girlfriend). Speak, and get it out of your system. Be good to yourself.

Step 5: Let time do its work.

This is what a good outcome looks like. Not you back together, not him suffering, just someday, you will tell a story about this time that goes like this:

I got involved with a very charismatic guy who had a girlfriend, and things got very messy both between us and for my own mental health. I’m not proud of the way that any of us behaved, but mostly I’m really glad that it’s over.

And you won’t have to go into the details or chew them over, because it will be well and truly in the past.

 

 

About these ads
95 comments
  1. Lalala said:

    Everything the Captain said is brilliant, and I can’t stress how much time will help. I was in a similar situation and getting out of it was the most painful experience I have ever been through – echoing all the things you’ve said about feeling awful about how you acted, and feeling ashamed of controlling ways you acted etc. It’s taken a couple of years, but I am now in a place where I’m at peace with the mistakes I made and the pain I caused, as well as the pain people caused me.

    I don’t know if that helps, but just want to say I hear you. Sending you all the hugs you want.

  2. I don’t want to derail from this spectacular answer, but having been in a similar situation, and still being stuck in this funky headspace afterward, I was curious how the good Captain feels about journaling or writing about the situation. I don’t have a therapist to talk to now, but on the one hand, I’ve always sort of written through my problems and feelings while on the other hand it has been more than I year since I wrenched myself from that situation and I think the writing is keeping it in the forefront of my mind. Please tell me the Awkward Army has some helpful thoughts on the matter!

    • JenniferP said:

      I am pro journaling! 750words.com!

      • KL said:

        I’ve been doing this for about a month, based on your recommendation (just became an albatross!) and it is seriously life-changing.

      • Ve said:

        This site looks great, signing up now!

        For anyone else who may also be interested, accounts made after May 1st will no longer be free.

        • Great to know, thanks for the heads-up!

        • FemmePrincess said:

          Thanks for the info

        • Mercy said:

          Hey, they finally added non-facebook logins, too, when I checked them out last year or so, there wasn’t any option for those of us who don’t like facebook.

    • ona555 said:

      Like the Captain, I am thoroughly pro journaling, most especially as a tool by which to extricate oneself from messy, confusing post (and during) relationship feelings. I don’t even know how many “such an asshole because Reasons but I luuuurrrve them!!!” type books I have all boxed up and packed away, but it is many. Sometimes I go back to read them through and amaze myself both with my own cluelessness but also mostly with my own wisdom. All those things I thought from the start were red flags? Were. All those things I didn’t know if I could live with? I couldn’t. All the ways I got bungled up inside whenever that person did xyz? Never resolved, didn’t take them (very far) with me when I left because they weren’t mine to being with. All those things I wondered about being my own patterns? Some were, some weren’t, but it’s kind of awesome to go back and sort it through once recovery has begun and see all the ways I was right, all the ways I have changed.

      So yes, journaling. The shit you’d not be able to say out loud to anyone else, paper won’t judge you for the words you write or the anger or the longing. Those fights that never got resolved, where you didn’t say everything you needed to say at the time? Those times you tried to be the better person and keep yourself to yourself? Yell it out, cry it out, scribble it out furiously. I have whole pages full of virtually nothing but swearing. It felt so good, it did its job even if I didn’t still feel that way five minutes later. (I’d say especially if I didn’t feel that way five minutes later!)

    • memetikchik said:

      I’m a journaler too, and it’s always been super helpful for me to work through my issues on a page (virtual or otherwise). That said, I totally hear you on the whole “the writing is keeping it in the forefront of my mind” thing. There were definitely days for me post-my own Darth drama when I’m sure I spent many more hours dwelling than I might have otherwise. There’s a trade-off, though, because if I don’t write it down, the same thoughts come, just circling around and restating themselves in ever more dramatic ways, because when the thoughts stay in my mind they can be endlessly rewritten.

      What helped me a lot is setting limits on how much I could really think about it. The limit wasn’t always the same – until I’ve worked through X thought, for an hour, until my next class starts. And during that time, I got to seethe and rage and just really, really feel all the things I wanted to. But after that, I had to stop, and set it aside. Because there is oh so much more to life than the drama of yore, and it is super important to have other, positive activities that work towards you being you again.

      A last tip: end every entry with something besides the drama. if you’re the obsessive journaling type, it’s easy to get really stuck on only journaling about drama. (Because, as the good Captain notes, it can easily feel like you’re missing part of your day when the drama isn’t there to fill it anymore.) Write about other things too. Write about really enjoying the spring morning. Or that really nice cashier at the coffeehouse who made your day. It doesn’t really matter what, just leave yourself little reminders that even when you feel like shit there’s more than the things in your mind.

      And someday, you’ll get to write about new things.

      • Badger Rose said:

        Seconding this. Journaling works for me when I’m obsessing about something as long as I work hard to stop thinking about it when the journal is closed. If I barf negative feelings into my journal to purge them, and then make a conscious effort to think about other things, then it works great. If I barf negative feelings into my journal and get myself spun up, and keep spinning on them after the journaling session is over, it’s actively counterproductive. The journaling is super helpful but only if it’s a way of containing the obsession, not feeding it.

    • panda flannel said:

      I am also a journaler and when I was involved with my own shitty complicated relationship-not-relationship last year…oh boy. There was much journaling. There were also bar graphs, pie charts, comics, you name it. If you want the long answer, here’s my personal experience:

      PROS: I NEEDED to get it out and my head would have exploded otherwise. I was completely stuck and obsessed and I think I would have burned my support network out much more quickly if I hadn’t been able to siphon a lot of it off into my journal. Writing it down also gave me a way to let my feelings out and reflect on them before having Real Talks, like a rehearsing a piece of music instead of sight reading it at the performance.

      CONS: One thing I noticed myself doing was making a lot of logical jumps in my writing, because I was able to create whole scenarios just in my head without anyone else to be like, “No, that’s not actually how I feel,” or, “That is based on a lot of jerkbrain assumptions.” For me, I wish that I had used that journaling energy to actually feel my feelings, rather than try to “figure them out” in ways that ended up making everything way more complicated.

      The other thing I found was that it burned me out HARD on journaling because my relationship was the only thing I journaled about for like a year. Once it was pretty much over and there was no new information to process, I stopped journaling for nine months because every time I saw my journal it was like, “Oh, that is the place that I associate with Ex and feeling terrible and lost and stressed out and having no answers,” and I avoided it because I was afraid of falling back into that spiral.

      I wish that I had also continued writing about other things in my life. I know it feels super fucking hard when your entire life feels consumed by Worst Thing Ever, but I think it’s important to keep that connection to yourself and your writing alive and respected. It’s taken me almost a year to make my journal feel like my home again, and I lost out on a lot of solace it could have provided me in the meantime.

      • KL said:

        I’ve been trying to do a daily list of 10 things I’m grateful for in my journaling, and while it still feels majorly cheezballz, it also really, really helps take the focus off of the negative obsessions (in my case academic/career stuff rather than relationship stuff, but I imagine it works in a similar way).

      • Josie said:

        This is very useful – thank you.

        I managed to avoid burn out by having lots of different journals – I used to have different paper ones and now use Evernote – for different things I was interested in/wanted to write about. I still do this and it’s awesome. I stole the idea from a Doris Lessing novel The Golden Notebook (an epic EPIC book).

    • DeskGnome said:

      I am not a big journaler, but even I managed to write down some of my feelings during stressful times last year. When I found the journal again months later, so much had changed that it was amazing to see where I had come from. I wrote a little note to my past-self letting her know everything was okay and her life was going to get better :3

    • Sara (JC) said:

      I am not a journaler and wanted to leave something for people who, like me, may not be all that writerly. I am quite verbal so I like to say things out loud. What I do is take my dog to the park (which is usually pretty empty) and have long, angry, one-sided conversations (my dog doesn’t judge). This lets me say the angry words and spew out the feelings and work through my issues in such a way that I don’t feel the need to do it all again when I am actually with the person who is causing me the problems.

      It also helps me rehearse what I actually do want to say to the person so I can edit out all the unhelpful FEELINGS! and end up with (hopefully) good communication.

      • Sara (JC) said:

        To add to my own post, the process of talking and walking seems to help my brain process stuff, hence the park. YMMV

        • kanel said:

          Walking seems to help me process as well, but being more writerly than verbal I sometimes write things on my cellphone while walking. Or I’ll just go through stuff in my head and write it later. What I definitely also do is walk and sing along to songs that express what I’m struggling with. Preferably where there’s no people around, but I have started to care less if people hear me.

      • JenniferP said:

        I talk to myself this way in the shower. Very useful!

        • Will said:

          I used to do this in the car, when I had one. You can yell and scream and swear and cry and know that nobody else can hear you.

      • Britt said:

        I talk to myself while I cook when I’m home alone a lot for the same reasons. It’s really actually excellent, I think.

        • I do this too! And ranting over the washing up is another trick. I used to go for evening walks on my own back when I lived somewhere safe enough to do so. Nothing like talking/crying/ranting when on the move. :)

      • Me four! Rehearsing is so useful. It prevents the Splutters. Or – even worse, Fluster Tears.

        • This! When you say it a hundred times out loud to yourself, you get rid of all the Fluster Tears while you’re alone, so when you go and say it to the actual person it’s all like “yeah I’m totally chill about this, I definitely did not just spend an hour crying to myself deciding what to say.”

    • Journaling is highly recommended for all things at all times. There have been times in my life when I seriously don’t know what I would have done if journaling hadn’t been option. Yes. Do it. Always.

    • miss_chevious said:

      Yay for journalling! One of the things that I find helpful in journaling is that I do it every day, drama or no drama. I try to do three paragraphs (about a page and a half in the size notebooks I buy), no matter what is going on in life, awful or good or just neutral. Making the journaling itself the habit can keep it from spiralling into Always Talking About Darth. Sometimes, the entries will be about whatever drama is all-consuming at the moment, but sometimes when you sit down to do it, you just find yoursalf talking about something else. I do mine at the end of the day, so each entry is a little summary of my day.

      • JenniferP said:

        I also think that process is more important than product, i.e., that you write is more important than what you write.

        If every journal entry is about Darth and the drama, eventually your brain is going to get bored with it and start writing about other things, so don’t worry in the early stages if your journal just seems like indulging the obsession.

        • Jane said:

          Yeah, definitely. I was so relieved when my journals started turning away from “I AM SO LONELY AND ANGRY” to things like “I went down a steep hill on my bike” and “I like tea” and “I ate ravioli out of a can.” I didn’t think I could ever muck out all the shit encrusted at the bottom of my heart — and it’s still not really done — but just the boredom with the same-old-pain is useful in its way. I still have to deal with it so it doesn’t crop up and bite me in the ass again, but the catalog of my sins is much less of an obsession when it became tedious to detail the full extent of it yet again.

          It’s also sort of a solid way to measure progress out of the hole and make sure you remember days as separate units with separate accomplishments instead of one long smear of misery. I find it can also be useful to ground yourself by listing small, concrete things you noticed throughout the day — “I saw a fence post covered in lady bugs” or “There was a chip shaped like Pacman in the bag I got at lunch.” This sort of value-neutral observation can get you out of your head without requiring any exhausting emotional effort.

    • hey said:

      I think you really have to identify why you are journaling. I spent a few months after a very messy break-up, writing out everything – anger, pain, sadness – and it was extremely helpful, I don’t regret it. It eventually led to self-enlightenment and the realization that I was in a better place out of this relationship. Eventually though I realized that I didn’t need to write anymore and that by going back to my journal all the time, I was holding on to something I was ready to let go of. I think it’s all about finding that moment when you are ready to move on, and knowing what will help you do so, which in my case was to stop writing about it.

  3. Lily said:

    It’s over, and you’re better off, even though you don’t feel so great right now. You discovered a new boundary the way new boundaries are often discovered: by barking our shins on them or getting hit in the face with them and finding out how much they hurt.

    Now you know that you don’t want to get intimate with someone who’s already a relationship, and you can build your resolve for any future time that happens. “You know, you have a girlfriend and I’m just not comfortable with that” will trip right off your tongue. And you can build your resolve for guys who have girlfriends and say they want to be friends but constantly move the goalposts into intimacy territory. That kind of “space invader” move isn’t going to work on you anymore, because you are going to shut it down.

    • FlyBy said:

      “You discovered a new boundary the way new boundaries are often discovered: by barking our shins on them or getting hit in the face with them and finding out how much they hurt. ”

      That is excellent. It reminds me of the saying “Good judgement comes from experience. Experience comes from bad judgement.” It helps me to remember that fucking up doesn’t mean I’m a failure or a bad person, it just means I’m in the process of becoming wise. Doesn’t make it hurt less, but it does help me cut down on the unhelpful jerk-brain messages.

  4. Jenn said:

    “Murdering hope fucking HURTS.”
    Ouch. I needed to hear that today. In fact, I needed to hear most of this, even though my situation is very different. I live too much in my own head, and I tend to have difficulty letting go of my fantasies, even when they are destructive or just plain pointless. LW, I hope everything gets better for you. Captain Awkward has the best advice, as usual.

  5. sasha said:

    Everything the Captain said here is great. But I especially latched onto this part:

    Darth Vaders, however they work, create an altered headspace where we are not our best selves. And while we are always responsible for our actions, we have to find a way to forgive ourselves in order to get free of that headspace.

    This is SO true, and something I haven’t heard very often in other spaces. Darths aren’t just doing things (manipulating, abusing, etc.) *to* you, they’re actually *changing* you and your responses to them – and other people in your life.

    I was with my Darth for 6 years. Over that time, I changed from a generally optimistic person to a cynic, and from an extremely conflict-avoidant person to a yeller. I even hit him back once, something I had *never* done before, not even my sister or other friends as a kid, and had sworn I never would! Over the years, I became this completely different person – and I didn’t like who I had become. But I thought this was who I was, who I had independently matured to become, and I used this recognition of all my faults to fuel my fear that no one else would ever love me, so I’d better take what I can get with Darth. When I finally left, I resolved myself to the fact that I may not ever be loved like that again.

    Well, thankfully I never *was* loved like that again. But as I started healing, I began to realize that who I had become with him was not who I *was*. I am a (mostly) optimistic person. I don’t yell, let alone hit someone. I rediscovered my positive qualities, and relearned that, yes, I am loveable. My Darth had changed me into someone I wasn’t, then used that against me. Darths have a way of doing that.

    What you’re going through now is not easy. It can take a long time to get over a Darth, and even years later you may still have some triggers. But it gets easier with time, and eventually he will be just a story you tell sometimes. I wish you all the best as you work through this!

    • goldenpeanut said:

      Your description of how you changed made me suddenly realize that my last employer was Darth Vader. My changes were very similar to yours, but less extreme in degree (no hitting, a little yelling, much nastiness). I didn’t like the person I became there, and I am still reacting to them after a year.

      • panda flannel said:

        Wow, your comment just made me realize the same thing. I still beat myself up about my last job because I basically got fired for being “too negative,” which felt totally shitty. Now it seems increasingly strange when I think about the fact that every other employer I’ve had (with the exception of my 17-year-old food service job) has explicitly told me that I was a great worker and they loved having me.

      • Serin said:

        Oh my god, it never occurred to me to think of employers in this category. Now I’m entirely reinterpreting my whole experience with a former boss, and all the years since then that I’ve spent trying to become me again.

        I can remember thinking (while I was being berated for breaking some rule that could never be stated out loud but only discovered by breaking it), “But you hired me in the first place, to replace you when they promoted you! And then five years later you hired me again to pull me into your new department! If I was that awful, couldn’t you have left me alone and hired someone else?”

    • embertine said:

      Holy crap yes to this:
      “When I finally left, I resolved myself to the fact that I may not ever be loved like that again. Well, thankfully I never *was* loved like that again.”

      It took me a long time to come to terms with that myself. So when my ex told me, “You’ll never find someone like me again,” I was able to reply, “No I won’t, because I don’t make the same mistake twice” AND MEAN IT. But it took a few years and a lot of self-loathing to get to that point.

      • CoolNewAnonymousNickname said:

        Amen to the never being ‘loved’ like that again! I have been completely, dateless-ly alone since I left my ex nearly 4 years ago. It doesn’t look likely to change soon, if ever. It is still *worlds better* than living in misery with someone who doesn’t like, want , or love you–but won’t let you go. Being alone is not the worst thing that can befall you. And facilitating a cheater who cheats is not the worst thing you could do, LW. Get clear of the wreckage, and learn that you deserve better than someone who wants to keep one foot on the boat and the other on the dock.

      • YES. After I had left my Darth, and he kept calling to tell me that he had jogged past my apartment “to check on the cat” and inviting me out to Very Awkward Breakfasts, he intoned, “No one will ever love you as I have loved you.”

        And I blurted out, “Thank GOD.”

        It was a turning point for both of us. I started going out to breakfast with a better class of people.

        • That might just win the award for “Best Blurt Ever!”

    • extinction said:

      Thank you for this. My boyfriend was with a Darth Vader for seven years before he was able to break free. We met shortly after and have an amazing relationship that has potential to be a Forever Relationship. What you wrote resonates with how he described his own emotions about leaving her and feeling like he’s been reborn somehow–he talks about how cynical and angry he used to be, how he didn’t think he had a future, and how he thought no one else would ever want him. It’s stunning because I can’t even IMAGINE him like that. The man I know is sweet, loving, compassionate, excitable, and full of joy. There is so much to love about him.

      He says leaving his Darth was the hardest thing he ever did, but also the best thing he ever did–because he got his life back.

      There’s a reason Darth Vaders are more commonly referred to as toxic people: they literally poison who you are, and you have to stop breathing them in to heal. Do whatever you can to detox. It’s worth it. There are better things waiting for you, and you deserve them.

  6. Oh, LW, a lot of us have been in your shoes. The Narnia of Meant to be is a place I’ve visited more than once. Of course he’d look like Prince Charming, because he’s showing you his lovely side! It’s awesome being showered with that attention! Of course you’d try to seek it out again, even at the cost of doing things you’re not proud of. That attention is worth a little Jerkbrain-fuel, or at least it seems so. If you think about it now, how good did he really make you feel?

    I want you to know that you have power here. It seems like you’re feeling powerless and sucked into a vortex in Drama City, but you don’t have to be. Just because he doesn’t say ”Oh,we shouldn’t do this” when you find out about the GF, doesn’t mean that you can’t make a decision to call it quits. He isn’t making all the rules, is what I’m trying to say. You deserve better than just getting his breadcrumbs of affection. You don’t have to feel guilty over hurting his feelings when he’s the real jerk, with a GF to boot. You’re better off without him. When this is over you’ll have Experience points in spotting Darth and can avoid the next one that comes along.

    Have you thought about writing an angry letter to him and not sending it? It can help just getting all those feelings out.

    • popesuburban said:

      A professor of mine recommended this to us once. She had an e-mail folder titled “Savage Indignation,” and it was where all these things went to be written and then die without another soul ever seeing them. I really wish I could remember why we were talking about such things in class, but best I can figure, a bunch of undergrads sometimes need life advice and a professor who’s been many years in the game knows to give it before it’s needed.

      Also, LW, you learned from this! You don’t ever want to be this way toward anyone, or toward yourself, ever again! That is good! There are a lot of people in this world who Darth out and either think it’s okay, or just can’t face the pain of learning the lessons all the way, and so Darth out again. You feel bad, and that’s pretty appropriate, but you are also committed to being better. Don’t undersell that.

      • Jinian said:

        Note that if you use email for this purpose, you should definitely NOT put the person’s real email address in the “To” field. One might think that it would be easy to remember not to ever hit “send” on such a message, but habits are powerful. And, after all, you’re writing it because you really want to say it to them. My fingers sometimes have their own agenda in a situation like that.

        • If you use Gmail, you can address it to “yournormalemail+spam@gmail.com”. If the username is normally “FuriousMcAngryperson” at gmail.com, then addressing it to “FuriousMcAngryperson+spam” at gmail.com tells Gmail to dump it straight into your Spam folder when it’s received. You get the satisfaction of slamming Send, and no human eyes need ever touch the text again.

          • Badger Rose said:

            Er, I’m unclear. Are you suggesting that I can send an angry email to my ex boyfriend (email myexboyfriend@gmail.com) and send it to myexboyfriend+spam@gmail.com and he will never receive it?

            If not, then cool, and I’m sorry I misinterpreted.

            But if so, that is… unreliable. Some people have their filters set up so that +spam doesn’t go to spam. And many people (myself included) skim the spam folder once a week or so to rescue things that were improperly flagged as spam.

            In which case I’d see the not-intended-for-posterity email in its entirety.

          • Oh goodness no! Address it to YOUR email address +spam. That way you get the satisfaction of having sent it somewhere, but without the risk of accidentally sending it to somewhere that might get you in trouble. It goes right back to your mailbox, but since it’s filed directly to Spam and you don’t have to see it, you can pretend you got to holler it at whoever you wrote it at.

  7. Elle said:

    “#2, #3, #4 are anyone who tells you you should “be scared” because you fell in love with a dude who spun you a lot of confusing lies and empty promises.”

    I have no issue with the LW but one part of this answer really stuck in my craw. How are the friends of the LW *more* morally culpable in this situation? Is decrying the “other person” in a cheating situation always right or smart; no. But the moral comparison seems iffy at best. I would like to know what these “threats” even mean in reality. I’m pretty sure When friends are saying how much they hate their ex’s and wish they were dead, I’ve said supportive things to friends like “Well, if your ex (a Darth) came around, I’d throw him out of my house. I’d give him a piece of my mind. Or he’s lucky he didn’t run into me” etc etc etc but with more profanity and creativity. I’m sure through the grapevine, it might sound bad. But the English language permits hyperbole for a reason.

    And the LW seems like a nice person who made a mistake and didn’t come here to be insulted. I get it. But the last part of the sentence makes it sound like she tripped and landed on his ****. I mean, come on.

    And something sits uneasily with the specific method of slinging mud at bystanders to make yourself feel better by comparison. Where does this end? I mean, why not rope in his gf? She was in the relationship with him in the first place. She could take some blame, right. Or her parents. His parents. Al Gore for inventing the internet. Obama. It’s seems very petty.

    • I think you may have missed a paragraph? The anonymous 2, 3, and 4 aren’t the LW’s friends, they’re Darth’s other girlfriend’s friends who have been *threatening* the LW.

    • Ystir said:

      Depends. If they’ve been saying to each other “god, that bitch, if I see her…” then yeah, that’s probably just “we’ve got your back” posturing. If (as the LW says) they have *told LW* they should be scared, then that is a threat (however empty it may or may not be), and that’s not on.

    • I’m hoping the threats are just sabre-rattling. However, if somebody does find a way to do you harm, LW, don’t hesitate to bring in the authorities. Not standing up for yourself would give the message that you deserve to be punished and are willing to allow those people to turn you into a punching bag. But unless there is actual provable harm, you’ll have to just try to tighten your boundaries and turn your back. Don’t respond personally if anything is done to you: either ignore it, or if somebody, god forbid, vandalizes something, call the police.

      I think a lot of people learn the hard way that it’s a good idea not to get involved with people in relationships. I’m sorry you’re having to go through this, but it’s an important lesson about your personal ethics.

      By all means, get counseling if you can. Your therapist is very likely to encourage journaling, and starting a journal, even if you don’t decide to keep up with it, does give you a private place to mourn and say things you don’t want to share. Bear in mind that therapists are trained not to be judgmental.

      Good luck to you.

    • neverjaunty said:

      As the original post said: “And her friends have openly cried for revenge against me and told me I should be scared”. That’s way, way different than her friends using rude names for LW or telling Girlfriend “man, if it were me I’d kick her ass”. And note, please, that just as LW didn’t fall and land on Darth, neither did Darth bend over to tie his shoe and suddenly fall on top of LW – yet these people are THREATENING LW.

      Frankly I wonder if LW should not be making a report to the police? I mean, name-calling is one thing but telling LW to her face that she “should be scared” and calling for “revenge”? I’d be worried that they’re talking about a little more than snubbing LW at the next Magic: The Gathering night.

      • SC said:

        LW here. They have posted things openly via blogs and twitter about revenge against me. I don’t feel seriously threatened. I feel like it’s much more a sticking up for a friend thing and I get it. I love my girlfriends too! But it just is upsetting because of what has been said, I didn’t have an agreement with her, it’s pretty sexist to hate me so openly and not condemn him.

        • JenniferP said:

          Stop reading their stuff, immediately and forever. It is sexist, and not fair, but not everyone likes everyone. Write them off as people who will never like you but who don’t matter. Even if they had a fair presentation of the real story, they still wouldn’t like you, because they are trying to be loyal to their friend.

          Threatening you = bad.
          But publicly blogging that they don’t like you, while not the most mature thing, is ignorable. You have a lot of choices here.

        • neverjaunty said:

          LW, what Captain Awkward said. This is not about loving their friend; this is about their being sexist, immature jerks. They don’t have to like you. They don’t have to think well of you. But WTF, threatening you and calling for revenge? Use the power of blocking to eliminate these nitwits from your life. If they want to live in a world where men are forgiven for their shitty behavior but it’s all women’s fault when men cheat, leave them to it.

        • Suzy said:

          That’s just annoying. This kind of “It wasn’t *my* fault, that woman attacked me with her vagina, I couldn’t defend myself” attitude drives me nuts. I was in a situation where a woman engaged in a smear campaign against me because she didn’t approve of my relationship, and seemed convinced that I had somehow forced a guy into a relationship with me.

          You can rest assured that this wanker has probably spun a load of lies about you to save his own ass. About how you preyed on him while he was in need, built his trust. Screw that. His girlfriend’s got a real catch there!

          Shut a door on that, file a police report if you’re worried but definitely leave them to their sabre-rattling in their blogs. Far away from you.

  8. Victoria said:

    This is a serious question, one I’ve had about a few letters. I hope I’m not being too much of a jerk:

    Why is the ex the Darth in this situation, not the LW? Or are they both each others’ Darths? ‘Cause there are two differences I see in their behavior:

    One of them (the ex) was in another relationship. That obviously makes him the appropriate target of his girlfriend’s anger/mistrust/whatever, but given that the LW knew about the relationship going in, and that they both made the choice to get back together over and over again, it doesn’t strike me as Darth-like behavior.

    One of them (the LW) made threats throughout the relationship and still wishes that the ex could get more hurt. That seems hella Darth-like to me.

    That doesn’t really change any of the advice. I think most of us are probably someone else’s Darth. We’ve probably all behaved pretty badly in past relationships, especially when we were young or inexperienced. But I wish we’d hold ourselves to the standards we want to hold others to – shine a light on what we wish we weren’t doing, reflect on why it’s happening, and be accountable for making it better.

    • JenniferP said:

      “Darth” doesn’t mean objectively bad. It means “bad for you.” The LW doesn’t sound like she was a great fit for the ex. He wasn’t a great fit for her, and they brought out the worst in each other. Someone can be your Darth, and you can be a Darth in certain situations.

      We can empathize with the person who is writing in and don’t have to go out of our way to cradle the feelings/reputation of someone’s shitty ex boyfriend who did not write in. If he’d written in, we’d probably say “Sounds like LW was really bad for you” and the advice (including cutting off completely) would still apply.

      The LW is sincerely regretful for her part in things and trying to fight her way into a better headspace. It’s a process.

    • staranise said:

      Right now the LW seems pretty stuck in “I’m an awful person”-land, which can be productively turned into “I am determined to be a good person!” mentality, or negatively into “I am totally awful” mindset. The important thing here is to focus on the LW’s ability to forgive herself and move on (like no longer seeking out places where people write awful things about her).

      A huge amount of the time Darths, from their own perspective, are just fucking miserable people who will do anything, including hurt the people they love, to feel a little less miserable. The difficulty of helping them to be better people is balancing moral accountability (which tends to make them more miserable) with self-compassion (which moves them towards being healthy people who are not in pain all the time). Two important parts to learning how to be better to other people are: 1) Learning to be gracious and kind when you’re completely miserable; 2) Being less fucking miserable.

    • MJ said:

      I’ve had similar thoughts while reading some of the Darth letters posted here. I think the advice that the Captain and others have given to these LWs is excellent, and this site is one of the only places I see this kind of stuff talked about in a rational and healthy way.

      I do think, however, based on some personal experience of my own, that it’s not particularly helpful to get into who is the “bad one” in these scenarios where both parties have behaved in a Darth-like manner*. The LW in this case states that a lot of her pain in the aftermath is linked to feeling like the “bad one” and wanting that feeling to go away. I’d suggest that this might be what is fueling the desire for revenge, and creating a kind of feedback loop – if LW isn’t the bad one, then surely her Darth is, right?? And surely that means terrible things should have happened to him, yes?? But if they haven’t, then maybe LW is the bad one after all???

      It seems like the only useful, affirming type of moral comparison is to look at what people have done *after* shit hit the fan for good, *after* the mutual-Darth scenario was more or less over. LW is clearly trying to Sort Stuff Out and move forward in a way that will make things better in the future. That’s what healthy people do, no matter what went down in the past. Perhaps her Darth isn’t behaving that way (we really don’t know). If not, he’s making a choice to stay in a giant gray mental space that will probably continue to cause pain for him and for others. That would be pretty uncool of him.

      But whatever her Darth does, LW can feel pride in what she’s trying to accomplish now. She’s trying to go down the better road from here on out. That makes her a “good one” in terms of facing the past and doing her best to learn from it.

      *situations where abuse and/or power imbalance are involved would be more complex, and I’m not attempting to speak to that

    • Linden said:

      Not every relationship that doesn’t work out involves a Darth. I think of Darths as people who manipulate others, either consciously or unconsciously, for their own gain and leave a trail of mindfuckery in their wake. It seems to me that in this situation, LW made mistakes (which she is now trying to learn from), but the ex was a Darth.

  9. Part of your depression, it sounds like, is because your self-respect has taken a hit. You never thought of yourself as someone who would be The Other Woman, and you don’t think much of the role because you buy into the assumption that The Other Woman is an amoral, predatorial slut. And yet, you got sexually/romantically involved with a guy who had a live-in girlfriend. And now you’re wondering about what that fact says about you.

    Think about how it happened, though. You made a zingy connection with a guy who wanted to have his cake and eat yours, too. He knew you wouldn’t go for it if you knew he already had cake, though, so he told you “That? That thing that looks like cake? It’s actually a low fat bran muffin. And it’s stale and moldy. I just haven’t gotten around to throwing it away yet.” And since you wanted to believe, you said to yourself “Oh, well that’s different. Thank goodness — I can follow my heart/pantsfeelings!” Everything you did was premised on his representation that no matter how much that thing over there looked like cake, it was really a moldy bran muffin. He wasn’t cheating, because no matter what that girlfriendesque person in his life looked like, she wasn’t really a proper girlfriend deserving your deference.

    Feel foolish, okay? Because yeah — that’s about the oldest line in the book. If he’d been married, this guy would have been saying “my wife doesn’t understand me.” You believed it because you wanted to, and because you told yourself that he couldn’t possibly have so much zing with you if his relationship with his GF was any good (still hard to believe, isn’t it?). And now, like so many others before you, you feel like crap, because you know he was lying, and with the benefit of hindsight you feel like you should have known better. And his/her circle of friends is eager to reinforce that feeling, casting you as the skanky, selfish home-wrecker.

    But the fact is, HE is the one who knew all along that his other relationship was real. HE is the one who made you feel special and important to him, and led you to believe what you were doing with him was not really wrong. It is pure sexism to dump all the condemnation on the person who believed the lies rather than the person who told them. They’re doing it because the GF has decided to keep him in their lives, and to make that ok they need to make you the villain. (Though the chances are the GF and his friends will come to regret that, when he does this again).

    None of this means you were wrong about the kind of decent person you are. You were only wrong about your ability to read this guy/situation (and perhaps in being too quick to judge when you heard Other Woman stories).

    What you need to do now is cut yourself some slack for not being as much better and smarter than all the other Other Women as you thought you were. Make a vow that you will never fall for that “she’s a bran muffin!” bullshit again. Hold out for a guy who can give you that zing free and clear, without having to make excuses. But don’t confuse naïveté with moral turpitude. You are human, and humans make mistakes.

    • panda flannel said:

      Holy shit this comment. Thank you.

    • “It is pure sexism to dump all the condemnation on the person who believed the lies rather than the person who told them.”

      Ah, yes. This. And when it’s not sexism, it’s a convenient way to relieve cognitive dissonance. “He/she wouldn’t have left me if not for that evil other person!” They can’t deal with the person they love being the target of their anger … especially when they hold out hope that said person will regain their senses and come back someday.

    • Patu said:

      YES THIS

      Really feeling you here LW, I had an ongoing relationship for a year with a guy I knew had a girlfriend. I always knew it wasn’t really right but I was in love and we had wonderful stimulating discussions til 3am and he was caring and playful and affectionate.

      I thought we had a special connection and he certainly encouraged me to reach that conclusion. But he would never have left her – we finally ended up openly together when she dumped his sorry arse, and once it wasn’t ‘forbidden’ anymore, things certainly went off the boil.

      There are some fairly unsympathetic comments here, LW, which will probably suck a bit to read. You may not have come out of all this smelling like roses, but you certainly smell better than your shit-smeared Darth. You know that things weren’t right and you know that this is a mistake you don’t want to repeat. And believe me, you won’t. Sometimes you really do have to find things out the hard way, but lessons sure do stick that way.

    • Ahhh, Alphakitty, this comment is spot-on. The metaphor of bran-muffin versus cake is one I’m going to keep. I’ve been the Other Woman, and I am not proud of it at all. I had super-duper pants feelings for the douchecanoe, I knew he had a fiance (!), I knew he was playing my feelings and that he was using the crumbs of attention to keep me hooked but not satisfied AND I STILL FUCKING FELL FOR IT!!! How much of a fool do I feel? How much have I wanted to get in contact post-situation and call him out on his bullshitte? How much does my jerkbrain want to condemn me for a horrible person forever and ever and ever? LOTS, is the answer.

      What can I actually do about it though, in the here and now? Bugger all. What can I do in the future? Remind myself that crumbs of attention fuck with the reward circuits in my brain so much that I’m super easy to suck in, mislead and misdirect. That that sort of behaviour brings out the worst in my attention-hungry, clingy, anxious-insecure attachment-style self. And consequently, do my best not to get involved in and to get out of that kind of situation as soon as I find out what’s going on.

      LW, hugs, commiserations and sympathy. Here’s to figuring it out and learning to live with yourself and being different next time.

      • Perhaps it was also partly the classic “I will save the poor dear (hot) man who is stuck in a relationship with some woman who doesn’t appreciate him the way I do, showering him with so much love and hot sex that he will realize he deserves better, and choose me!”

        It’s icky — because it buys into the notion that if he’s not satisfied with his current relationship the problem must be the other woman’s unworthiness, when the very fact that he’s messing around on the side instead of behaving in a straightforward fashion should tell you who is the real problem.

        But it’s one of the messed up things we tell ourselves when a guy we’re attracted to but who has a GF moans about how he’s not happy with her, and it seems so good when we’re together.

        • I can see how that would be the case in other situations. My story had the advantage that I found out from someone else within a couple of ‘encounters’ that he was engaged and I put a stop to it not long after. I also had the advantage that he wasn’t someone I saw in day-to-day life so it was easier to recover, but still…

          The hard bit is realising that you screwed up and then accepting it, *without* letting jerkbrain pile on the guilt that isn’t really yours.

        • JenniferP said:

          The poor hot man is so, so, so good at making this all about “saving him.” It is so compelling at the time, and so gross in retrospect.

        • Beth said:

          Both this and your original comment upthread – ouch, yeah.

          I’ve never facilitated intentional, explicit cheating, but I’ve been in a couple of presumably-consensual poly situations with this dynamic. (I say presumably because explicit consent WAS there, but underpinned with Everybody involved engaged in either self-delusion or bad faith.) They were of three types: intense relationships with men whose genuinely emotionally abusive wives were the ones I was actually attracted to and trying to get closer to; intense relationships with men who were modeling the behavior you describe; and intense relationships with women who treated me like shit while trying to “save” my husband, who was the dude modeling that behavior, while ALSO having hot sex with me and throwing me crumbs of affection.

          Eventually I figured out that what all of these situations had in common was the ugly, ugly truth that I felt compelled to be a “fixer” – I was attracted to unhealthy dynamics and emotionally needy people, because of the intense surface satisfaction of “making” someone happy who was not a basically happy person. And instead of fixing, I was homewrecking. (That was how I framed the “aha!” moment at the time, which was shocking, life-changing, and valuable, but also wrong. In hindsight, the truth is those relationships were ALREADY BROKEN.)

          A lot of self-hatred, therapy, tears, walking away from potential relationships with red flags and embracing the loneliness, and hard work later, I’ve taught myself to seek potential partners who treat their already-existing partners – and are treated – the way I want to be, with open expressions of love and respect.

          • Beth said:

            (I just re-read that sentence and realized how clunky it is! “while ALSO having hot sex with me and throwing me crumbs of affection” DOES INDEED refer to both my ex and the women trying to “save” him and paint me as the Devil. Sexy, slutty, evil Devil. It was COMPLICATED and self-confidence-destroying, gaslighting, mind-warping badness. So glad that phase of my live is over.)

          • panda flannel said:

            “Eventually I figured out that what all of these situations had in common was the ugly, ugly truth that I felt compelled to be a “fixer” – I was attracted to unhealthy dynamics and emotionally needy people, because of the intense surface satisfaction of “making” someone happy who was not a basically happy person. And instead of fixing, I was homewrecking. (That was how I framed the “aha!” moment at the time, which was shocking, life-changing, and valuable, but also wrong. In hindsight, the truth is those relationships were ALREADY BROKEN.)”

            Oh god this. I don’t know how I’ve managed to convince myself so many times that I can just set boundaries and not get smeared with the shit of broken relationships: it doesn’t work, and it has done a number on my self-esteem because it’s so easy for people in unhappy relationships to use someone else as their scapegoat.

    • griffykate said:

      YYEESS.. I wanted to say this, only Alphakitty said it better, and with an awesome cake metaphor. :D

      This douchebag wanted you both. YOU, letter writer, YOU stood on the moral high ground when you said that you wouldn’t be the other woman, that he had to leave his girlfriend if he wanted to be with you. He tried every trick in the book to get you to change your mind so he could have ALL the cake. And when you still wouldn’t cow down and be his secret bit on the side, when it turned out you had too much self-esteem and respect for yourself to be his dirty little secret, he turned it around on you by convincing you (and himself!) that HE was the one standing on the moral highground. Suddenly it was all I LOVE MY GIRLFRIEND and MORAL SCRUPLES because you wouldn’t let him have all the cake, so he got bored.

      DOUCHEBAGGE. You will spot the next one that comes along. *jedi hugs*

  10. gmg said:

    Some people may always think I’m seriously shitty

    Focus on the fact that really the only people who might “legitimately” (for lack of a better word) think that are the girlfriend and her friends. (And that underneath that, they know that they should think Darth is even more seriously shitty, but they can’t do that because everyone’s made their beds and has to lie in them, etc.) This is why No. 1 on the Captain’s list of excellent advice is important. “You can’t worry about threats if you don’t know that threats are happening because everyone involved in this story is dead to you” — well, on a lesser scale the same thing goes for worrying about whether people don’t like you. You don’t NEED these people to like you. Because beyond Darth himself, who I know did/does matter and who will take some time to get over, none of them matter to you. That doesn’t negate them — they may be otherwise lovely people who are just angry and said dumb stuff, they may be horrible people who would rather issue threats than be grownups, I don’t have any idea — but to you in the process of getting past this, it MAKES NO DIFFERENCE. The only people who matter are your friends, and your actual friends will not think you are “seriously shitty.” They will think you are a flawed but worthy-of-love human like all humans, who fell for some bunk and made some mistakes, and they will be there for you while you work it through.

    • Rachel said:

      I second this very much. I was previously the girlfriend in a Darth Vader story very similar to this one, and it took a couple of iterations of the same cycle before I was able to realize that the problem wasn’t That Girl, it was Darth Vader. People take sides because they can only see a very limited perspective of the story — and none of them can see your perspective, nor could they be expected to, because they’re not going along the healing process with you. But you should keep this in mine– they don’t think that “you’re” shitty, they think that some smarmy doppelganger of you is shitty, because they’re not actually engaging with you, just the designated villain of the story.

      (In a happy ending, when I finally broke up with my personal Darth Vader, I ended up becoming close friends with That Girl — I actually served as one of her references for law school. But that’s a rare case.)

  11. misspiggy said:

    The consequences for other people don’t seem too terrible. No kids were involved; Darth Vader and his girlfriend stayed together; and she now knows what he is capable of, which is important information. Nobody got made homeless; nobody lost their job or got physically injured. The whole thing was over in a relatively short time. As the Captain points out, he bears the biggest share of moral responsibility for all this. And if you were manipulative, he was at least as bad. If you can make a clean break, you have relatively little to forgive yourself for, as far as I can see. So don’t torture yourself; just try to focus on how you might want to manage future relationships.

  12. Maggie said:

    “Feeling: We were so great together! If only! Fact: But he didn’t choose me, and we are not together.”

    Woooooo I need to tattoo this on one side of me and “He did choose me, and we are together” on the other side! This is a true thing I have to remember all of the times!

  13. Portia said:

    Oh, man, this post has me in tears. It’s everything I needed to hear…the Darth wound I’ve got is still very fresh. (Though thankfully this Darth around there’s no Other Woman issues making me crazy). Thanks, Captain and Awkward Army.

    So many truth bombs in this whole thing.

    • KL said:

      “This Darth around” is an amazing phrase and has me singing a song from Cabaret in my head: “Maybe this Darth, I’ll be lucky…”
      Jedi hugs to you!

  14. LW, one of the reasons the girlfriend and her friends are angry is because they have the sense that, because they are dating, this man is somehow the girlfriend’s property. So that you were trying to steal him. It’s a transactional model of love and relationships, and it’s bullshit.

    There’s also the idea that women are the gatekeepers of sex, that men are overwhelmed by their attraction and desire and so women must be appropriately demure. If a woman comes along being all sexy, it’s not the man’s fault for going after her. What could he do? It’s her fault for being attractive.

    You can’t steal a person from a relationship; a person has free will. You can’t force someone to cheat who doesn’t want to; man or woman, they have control over what they do with their bits.

    By identifying some of the false assumptions underlying the stories we tell ourselves about love, relationships, and betrayal, we can understand better why we react the way we do — and maybe, who we should really be mad at.

    It feels a whole lot different when you’re in the middle of it, though, because as the Captain pointed out, you were running under a totally different narrative. You had the Good Suffering Man, and maybe some of how it’s a woman’s responsibility to take care of a man’s emotional well-being. You also have your own totally legit vulnerabilities, like maybe you want unavailable men (that was me, for like ten years) or whatever.

    You got involved with an involved man, and that usually goes poorly. But please don’t buy into the narrative that he’s some golden statue that you tried to steal. Because mistake or not, you don’t deserve castigation and abuse. Your heartbreak is bad enough, and if I could ease that pain I would.

    • Christen said:

      Siderant: it’s always troubled me that in hetero love triangles where a man is cheating on one woman with another, that the Other Woman is held MUCH more accountable for what happens than the man involved is. In conversations about these things I see a lot of “You’re ruining feminism/undermining the sisterhood by sleeping with someone else’s boyfriend” thing…and while I’m not totally unsympathetic or immune to that line of thinking, I’m also weirded out by how often I see it in effect. From my point of view, it upholds the notion that men are just big walking penises with no moral compass and no self-control, so that if they screw up they’re just weak, and the corollary view that women are naturally asexual and should be the upholders and purveyors of morality 24-7, so if a woman screws up and sleeps with the wrong man, it must have been an act calculated to hurt another woman. So sexist. So toxic.

  15. Just chiming in to say that I could have used this advice, like, 10 years ago, right around the time my Darth wrote to inform me that he had decided to marry the woman he’d cheated on with me (we had sort of a plan to run away together, also). Two mantras that helped me a lot while I was healing:

    1) “Life doesn’t automatically follow neat and tidy little rules. That’s why we make the rules up.” This is something my roommate at the time told me. Over the next couple of years, I felt ashamed of myself a lot (so much that I told very few people about it, which probably made my wounds septic and made it hard to heal). I kept thinking if I’d just followed the rules (mine or society’s), I would have saved myself a lot of grief. This is probably true. But I think I had to experience what NOT following the rules would feel like in order to honestly assess which rules would and would not work for me. Now I’m proud of myself for being brave enough to make an enormous mistake, and prouder still that I was able to learn something from it.

    2) “…but he didn’t.” I was convinced my Darth was my soul mate; later I noticed that people are much more likely to use this word when describing people and relationships that, for good reason, look really bad on paper. Like the Captain said, we want to think chemistry, the rush of you-are-my-people recognition, etc. are either the only true thing or the most meaningful thing when it comes to making decisions about relationships, instead of thinking about what is actually happening outside of the bedroom or the part of your brain that is making OMG! NEW! PERSON! chemicals and fantasizing about how great things will be once all the “If only” hurdles are cleared. For a very long time, a part of me held onto the idea that the intense feelings I had when I met my Darth were The Truth and that meant we were Meant To Be Together and he had somehow tempted fate by not choosing me and if he could just come to his senses, it would all work out…and then I started answering it with some variation of, “But he DIDN’T choose me.” “But he’s NOT here right now.” “But we AREN’T together, so maybe it is NOT inevitable that we end up together.”

    At first that was really, really, really, really painful, like ripping a Band-Aid off again and again. But reminding myself all the time that we were both just people and were MAKING CHOICES also helped me deal with another hard part of the relationship and its fallout, which is that it followed certain patterns (I had previously been involved with people who seemed ashamed to be seen with me or declare our relationship as “official” in any way, and I worried that the pattern of secret or never-quite-official relationships would continue forever). One day I was in my car at a really long red light, waiting for it to turn so I could turn in to the grocery store parking lot and grab a couple of things to make dinner, and it hit me: patterns aren’t immutable or inevitable. I could CHOOSE to avoid getting into another weird sharky secrety relationship ever again (and while I’ve made my share of mistakes since then, my ability to quit while ahead has improved measurably). And that moment, honestly? Was one of the best of my life. Certainly the best I’ve ever passed stuck in traffic, waiting to go to a Super WalMart.

  16. solecism said:

    I’ve been through this a couple of times, and it just didn’t end well in either case. The first time when I was 18 with a housemate who had been courting me for weeks or months. The day after we finally got together and had sex, his girlfriend strolls in and introduces herself. Well, that was news to me, and I was pretty devastated because I was already emotionally involved. And this was my first sexual encounter after the traumatic experience the year before of losing my virginity to someone who dumped me the next day, so I felt betrayed all over again.

    This guy explained that they had an on again, off again relationship and he thought it was off. Well, we continued our sexual encounters, since we lived together and it was so convenient and it was filling some definite physical and emotional needs. And I was definitely a guilty party in that, since I reinitiated our sexual flings after being away for several months despite his initial protests of concern for his girlfriend. I figured I was long since damned for our situation and was more concerned with my immediate needs. Sure enough, a year or two later, just before she graduated and moved away, the girlfriend walked in on us. He and I were never anything more than fuckbuddies, never having a real relationship or real emotional intimacy. And our sexual rendezvous continued sporadically for many, many years, but it was emotionally damaging in the long term trying to figure out why I was good enough to fuck but not have an actual relationship with. I finally worked up the courage to ask him, and he said he just couldn’t get over the guilt of the harm caused to his girlfriend.

    Fast forward a few years. I met a man while hitchhiking, and we really hit it off. We started dating and had phenomenal chemistry. Frankly, it was the most out of control sexually that I’ve ever been. But little things didn’t add up. He always had a facile explanation, and I wanted to believe him. Nope. Lying liar all the way. It went from I’m divorced to we’re separated to we don’t get along and she’s moved out (as a result of a fight he instigated after he met me, it turns out). The evidence was all around me, and I just didn’t want to accept it. I wanted my trust in him to be vindicated.

    I finally ended our relationship when a neighbor basically staged an intervention along the lines of “you seem like a nice girl, so please don’t be a homewrecker.” At that point, I could no longer lie to myself about his lies to me. And it was hard. If I’d had to see him, I don’t think I could have made it stick, and this was well before the days of social media. Luckily, by that point, I had found another job across the country and had a couple mountain ranges between us. So the only contact were long-distance phone calls and an imminent trip to visit me that I cancelled.

    So hard. I would break down sobbing uncontrollably. Took a long time to recover. Not sure I could have done it if I’d been receiving constant contacts from him or catch glimpses of him online. Made me believe in pheromones because I really couldn’t stop myself no matter how much I could see the truth that I didn’t want to believe. So follow the advice to cut off contact. And learn from this. And allow yourself to heal.

  17. This is mostly off-topic, but I told my roommate about Darth Vader Boyfriends today and she said “but there WAS good in him! He redeemed himself by killing the Emperor!” Yeah, but he also cut off his son’s hand and, you know, murdered an entire planet.

    • staranise said:

      The moral of the story is: Anakin Skywalker did not pursue healthy relationships and ended up evil, when I’m sure he coulda been a really great guy. Pursue healthy relationships.

  18. winterdreamer said:

    My Vader experience was really different from yours, but this was still pretty much my recovery process! Also good for getting over my emotionally abusive childhood. I recommend these steps to anyone leaving any abusive situation and learning to value yourself again.

    Funny I see this post now, because just this evening I was out for dinner with some out-of-town relatives I rarely see, and they asked if I’m still in contact with Vader. I was really surprised about how little I felt when I said, “no, we’re not in touch. It was easier to have a clean break. It wasn’t all bad, but I’m glad things worked out the way they did.” And that’s pretty much what it boils down to, once time has picked the nasty bits away.

    Oh! And while you’re writing about it all, here’s a tip my mom gave me. Write letters to people, but don’t send them. Pretend they’re going to see it one day, maybe soon, or in a few years, but keep it private. This really helps with the ‘wanting revenge’ feelings. Write angry letters, say everything cruel and snarky you want to say. Write sad letters, and ask “why?” and talk about how much you miss them. Towards the end I started writing kinder letters, because I was no longer angry, and Vader was just another sad character in a boring old story. I moved on. And I know you will, too!

  19. Elle said:

    I’m still VERY uncomfortable with the castigation of the GF’s friends on this post. The LW clarified that they’ve said mean things about her on social media. That is far off the so called threats she claimed in the original post. I’m interested in how we’ve managed to shift all the blame basically onto women in this post, even while superficially decrying other women… for shifting the blame onto women.

    There is no evidence that they are sexist or being unfair. How do you know they are not decrying cheating guy privately? They may hate his guts but are trying to be supporting of cheated on gf. The LW doesn’t know them and wasn’t friends with them. It’s not like she’s been turfed out of the group. Why does she even care what they think? MYOB. These are not her friends.

    Secondly, HOW ARE THEY BEING UNFAIR? They are perfectly within their rights to dislike LW. That is not unfair. I can’t believe that we are back to “mean bitchy girls are mean”! Amazing.

    Finally, I really strongly believe that this post is teaching and encouraging exactly the WRONG post cheating lesson. General wisdom dictates that two people who cheat are horrible and evil and the women is an evil slut. The reality is that relationships are complicated and many non evil people cheat. Why not preach that? Instead, this post and comments are basically saying “well, you are a good person who was tricked by him. He is evil. You are good.” That’s ridiculous. If she could be confused and upset, why couldn’t he? Why is his bad behavior by design and hers “confusion”. Even the comments are so strange to me. Everyone is wiping their own hands clean on the basis that the guy in the relationship is bad. Why is he a douchebag? Why is he bad? Even an earlier comment points out that “his gf later dumped his sorry arse”. It’s the same moralistic crap in another form. I was tricked, I believed him (whatever that means when you knew he was in a relationship) and so he’s bad and you are not. It’s super sexist as well because it assumes that men cheating = after sex/transactional/lazy/not capable of emotional confusion. Women = emotionally confused/decent people/doing if for the right reasons.

    • JenniferP said:

      The information I had in the original letter is that the girlfriend’s friends were THREATENING the LW. That is not ok. I did not know if they go to the same school or live nearby or had the possibility of carrying out these threats. The fact that it was (ignorable, far away) social media chest-beating came out later in a comment.

    • It has been pointed out uphthread, and I agree, that he was her Darth but not necessarily a bad person in general. And she, just like all of us, can be someone else’s Darth Vader. He treated her badly because he jerked her around and he had a live in girlfriend while doing it. I don’t think anyone is declaring the LW free of every action but she’s the one writing in here asking for advice and feeling bad. She’s taking responsibility.

  20. Amanda said:

    THANK YOU! This post and comments are so useful, as I am going through a very similar situation. Except: my Darth and I were good friends and co-workers before getting romantically involved. He’s in a long distance relationship and he was always faithful before. So when we got involved it was a zing, but a surprise too. I thought we were soul mates, that this meant more than it did and that he was trying to sort things out – up until the moment he told me he that, although our chemistry was amazing, he was still in love with his gf. Then I broke things up. Now my question is: how do I keep my distance? We work together + we meet every weekend (same group of friends, etc). I am trying to remain friends, because that’s what we were before and it was awesome, but I wonder if that is a mistake? I am at this point where I don’t know what is worse: losing an awesome friend OR being confronted everyday with the guy that rejected me because he was just not that into me (and that hurts like hell. Every.day).

    • clodia said:

      I don’t know how to give you advice long-term. However, having been in a similar situation, once it ended I tried to stay friends and keep things the way they were, I kept going to the things in our social group because I still liked my Darth and enjoyed the activities. This lasted about four months before I realized that things weren’t okay, I was lying to myself when I said that it was, and that not taking time to heal had ruined any chance of actually being friends.

      Both of us pretending to be okay ruined any chance of us being friends.

      Take some time and do something else! Take a dance class, start hiking, read all the books, do theater, do anything but keep throwing yourself in with company with your Darth. If you want to do things periodically with the group, go ahead. But find something that keeps you busy and happy for a few months while the hurt heals and you get used to your new life.

      Part of the reason pretending everything was okay and keeping on with our old habits hurt our chances is because we kept up with our old habits. We acted exactly the same towards each other, except we weren’t in a relationship. How was I supposed to feel differently when absolutely nothing had changed?

      It is reasonable to need a break. You had serious feelings about him, and he broke up with you. If he’s an awesome friend, then he will understand when you say you need a little time. There’s nothing to be ashamed of to have strong feelings of attachment to someone you thought was your soulmate.

      I don’t think your choice is either be confronted daily or lose a friend. I think it’s be confronted daily or take a break from a friend. It doesn’t have to be forever. But be kind to yourself. Give yourself time to heal and process and come to terms with what’s happened before trying to be okay with the person who hurt you.

      [hugs] You are awesome. Your hurt is real. Your feelings are real. Take care of yourself. Don’t spend the next four months or four days trying to make the situation into something it isn’t. It’s okay to not be okay right now, even if he seems willing to be the awesome friend he always was. It’s okay to need things.

      • Amanda said:

        I just realized I didn’t directly reply to your message – sorry, I am new to this :). See comment below – bottom line is: THANK YOU!!!

  21. Amanda said:

    Thank you so much for your reply & advice! You have no idea how much I needed to read what you wrote and how much it brightened my day.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 4,228 other followers

%d bloggers like this: