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Reader Question #16: The Golden Retriever/Kwisatz Haderach of Love

Dune Poster

Some things cannot be explained, only endured.

Dear Captain Awkward:

I’m having a really hard time getting over my ex-boyfriend.  It’s not like he was Darth Vader, he’s really nice, good, stable, friendly, etc.

We knew each other from college and were friends first. After being together for 2 years we started talking about getting married.  He wanted us to move in together and I wanted to wait until we were engaged. He gave me an ultimatum, like “I can’t get engaged until after we live together for a while, so what’s the holdup if you love me?”  I gave him the ultimatum of “Well, if you’re committed enough to want to be together 24-7, why is being engaged such a huge hurdle?”

He said he’d think about it. My birthday came in November, I thought maybe he’d ask me then. Christmas came in December.  Still no ring. I can see you rolling your eyes right now – I swear to god I was not one of THOSE people. After we had some serious talks  and he said he wanted to think about it, I never brought it up. I didn’t hint about it, I didn’t go through his pockets looking for a ring box, I didn’t pressure him.  I love my apartment and am in no hurry to move in – it’s just that I didn’t want to move in without that larger commitment there.

Finally in January he took me out to dinner so we could “talk”, and I thought “Maybe this is it!” and put on a really great dress and went to the Mac counter for makeup…and you know where this is going, right?


He dumped me in a sushi restaurant.  He said that whenever he came close to pulling the trigger on getting engaged he just didn’t feel excited the way he wanted to.  He said that I deserved someone who would be over the moon at the thought of getting married to me, and that he didn’t want to waste any more of my time with someone who didn’t deserve me, blah blah blah.  I asked him if there was anything I could do to change his mind, and if it meant so much to him I’d reconsider moving in.  He said it was too late.  So the whole time I had been getting excited and thinking about the future, he’d been thinking about how to dump me.

He wants us to be friends, which I guess makes sense – we were friends before we started dating and our social circles overlap quite a bit.  Our friends really want us to be friends.  To rub some extra salt in the wound, we are invited to 4 weddings of mutual friends in the next 6 months and are in the wedding party of two of them.  Walking down the aisle and standing on an altar with him won’t be awkward at all!

I’m not feeling friendly.  I’m feeling broken and obsessed.  We live in the same neighborhood, so I run into him in the grocery store, in the brunch place, at the dry cleaner, at the Starbucks, at Games Night with my friends, running in the park (Oh did I mention that my dog LOVES him and will run adoringly up to “Daddy” whenever he sees him, yanking me along on  his leash?)  He always apologizes profusely and says stupid stuff like “you know I’ll always care about you.” I keep waiting for him to say he’s made a mistake and see if we can start again.

Our friends are trying to be supportive, but with my girlfriends it’s All Weddings, All The Time.  Also, they are rooting for us to get back together, so they keep passing on “helpful” information like “He looked really sad the other day, and says he misses you a lot.”  “He told  (mutual dude friend) that he’s worried he made a big mistake.”

I’ve broken up with people before, and I know time makes it better eventually, but I want it to get better NOW.  It’s so awkward and I feel like I can’t breathe or escape from it.  Any advice?

Still In Love

Oh man, that sucks.  I am so, so, so sorry.  Here’s what I can offer:

Paul Atriedes - Dune

On the bright side, you don't have to drink your own wee to stay alive.

1.  Friends = UNHELPFUL. Set a boundary right now.  “I know you are trying to be supportive when you pass that stuff on to me, but hearing about him just makes it worse right now.  Let’s talk about other stuff.”

Arrakis teaches the attitude of the knife — chopping off what’s incomplete and saying: “Now it’s complete because it’s ended here.” – from Collected Sayings of Muad’Dib by the Princess Irulan

2.  You are broken up. He may be having second thoughts.  Who wouldn’t?  Your relationship was mostly pretty okay, right?  It was pleasant and respectful and you had tons in common and the kissing parts were nice.  Those breakups are probably the hardest to deal with, because there’s no obvious and satisfying reason.  Let him have all the second thoughts he wants.  You can’t worry about those, because you are BROKEN UP until you hear something directly from him and jointly decide, just the two of you and no one else (especially no one who has a vested interest in making sure that your grief and sadness will be not be immortalized in their wedding album) that you are not.  Also, you don’t have to be friends with him. That will come later.  Don’t force it.

A process cannot be understood by stopping it. Understanding must move with the flow of the process, must join it and flow with it. – The First Law of Mentat, quoted by Paul Atreides to Reverend Mother Gaius Helen Mohiam

Wedding Cake Topper

Love endures all things, including having to dust this shit for the rest of your life.

3.  It’s okay to still be in love. Love is – as this hideous wedding-cake topper excruciatingly reminds us – patient, it is kind, it believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.  So there you are, all shaggy and embarrassing bounding toward your person wagging your tail and doing that adorable thing you do where you pretend that you’re not going to hand over the ball you’re carrying in your mouth and your person doesn’t even want your stupid ball and then the leash of reality yanks you back.  That part of you is the purest and best and truest part of you, and you can’t really turn it off.  It’s just going to love for a while.

I say this because it’s really fucking frustrating to try to talk yourself out of having a feeling or beat yourself up for having a feeling at the same time you’re having the feeling.   So  just have the feeling.  Just be the Golden Retriever of Love.  You’re not stupid for feeling it, you’re not a bad person, you didn’t do anything wrong.  You just feel what you feel, and you’ll feel until one day you stop, and you can’t decide when that is, so don’t even try.

When the true motive is love, there are no other explanations. Searching for them is like chasing grains of sand in the wind. – Fremen proverb

4.  Is there any chance that you’re a slut? Because that really works for some people, and is the chief method recommended by Intern Paul.

In all seriousness, seek out something new:

  • Volunteer
  • Learn a foreign language
  • Get season tickets to a theater company you like.
  • Take a dance class.
  • Find new dog park or running trail.
  • Take a cooking or photography class.
  • Museum membership?  Sailing lessons?  Curling league?  Roller derby? Burlesque?  Skydiving? Canoeing?  New religion?  Toastmasters?  Improv?

It doesn’t matter what it is, as long as it meets a few basic criteria:

  • Gets you out of the house.
  • Follows some kind of regular schedule that gives you something in your week to look forward to.
  • Brings you into contact with new people.
  • Bonus:  It’s something that your ex-dude would dislike but that you really like.

I realize that everyone says this – “Try something new!  Distract yourself!” – but it’s a classic for a reason. This guy is so bound up in your history, your friendships, even your daily path through your neighborhood that you need to give yourself some breathing space.

Any road followed precisely to its end leads precisely nowhere. Climb the mountain just a little bit to test that it’s a mountain. From the top of the mountain, you cannot see the mountain. – from Muad’Dib: Family Commentaries by the Princess Irulan

5.  Endure the Gom Jabbar by finding a mantra.  In Dune, when the Reverend Mother Gaius Helen Mohiam tests Paul Atreides, she puts his hand into a box. The box causes Paul to experience excruciating pain.  It also contains a poisoned needle.  He has to endure the pain without flinching, or else he will prick himself on the needle and die.  He survives by calming himself with this mantra:

I must not fear. Fear is the mind-killer. Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration. I will face my fear. I will permit it to pass over me and through me. And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path. Where the fear has gone there will be nothing. Only I will remain. -Bene Gesserit Litany Against Fear.

Don’t worry if you haven’t read or seen Dune.  If you haven’t encountered it before reaching marriageable age, you’re probably not a Dune person.  The metaphor simile still holds.

Fake it til you make it.

Observe as Sting gives us a powerful lesson in acting like you are okay when you are not okay.

Every time you run into your ex, every time your friends bring him up or ask, in hushed tones, “How ARE you,” every time your Grandma wonders what happened to that nice man you used to bring home, all those upcoming weddings (ugh, again, I’m so sorry), it’s like a little endurance test where your hand goes into the box of pain.  If you flinch, you won’t die.  If you need to cry and Napoleon Dynamite out of the situation, the world will keep turning.  You don’t owe it to anyone to be okay with this.

But if you can find some way to keep your poise, you might find that over time it helps you feel more poised.  When your hand goes into the pain box, slow your breathing, and find something that you can say in your head that calms you down.

You can use the Dune thing, which would be hilarious, especially because I picture you standing on an altar somewhere in bridesmaid finery reciting freaky Dune-shit in your head – but it might help just to repeat the facts to yourself, simply and without judgment.  “That is x, we dated for 2 years, we broke up, I am still sad, I don’t know when I will stop being sad.  This is just the Starbucks.  I will buy my coffee.  That is my dog outside.  I like coffee.  I like my dog.  It is Tuesday right now.

Go to a private place in your head.  Calm yourself down.  Remind yourself of what’s true.  Then you can greet him with a wistful-but-mysterious smile, nod your head briefly, and go about your day.

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13 comments
  1. Jason said:

    This is the single greatest piece of advice in the history of ever. Not hyperbole, fact.

  2. Jo said:

    “That part of you is the purest and best and truest part of you, and you can’t really turn it off.”

    Truth. This entire piece is pretty awesome, actually.

    • JenniferP said:

      Well, thanks!

      I’ve had this in my head all day:

      NEVER give all the heart, for love
      Will hardly seem worth thinking of
      To passionate women if it seem
      Certain, and they never dream
      That it fades out from kiss to kiss;
      For everything that’s lovely is
      But a brief, dreamy kind delight.
      O never give the heart outright,
      For they, for all smooth lips can say,
      Have given their hearts up to the play.
      And who could play it well enough
      If deaf and dumb and blind with love?
      He that made this knows all the cost,
      For he gave all his heart and lost.

      -W.B. Yeats

  3. Joe said:

    This should be part of everyone’s orientation packet in college. Also, the image of my heart as a golden retriever will stay with me forever (it was either that, or Sting in the thong).

    • JenniferP said:

      The Golden Retriever of Love: A good, friendly dog.

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