#228: Breaking up with “The One.”

I do not think it means what you think it means.
"You keep using that word...'The One.'"

A-hoi hoi,

Life is a bit awkward for me at the moment – so I thought you’d be my best bet.

I had a seemingly-lovely partner, who broke up with me a fortnight ago after 3 years together. I’ve had to move out of our home and the give up all of our shared exciting plans for the future. He says it’s because he wasn’t sure if I was ‘the one’; I say it’s because in the end he was Peter Pan and wasn’t quite ready to grow up. This makes me sad, obviously, but worse than that suddenly everything is so confusing and unstable.

In the first place everyone I know (even still) calls him ‘Mr. Perfect’ (not to his face obviously) and talks about how we are (were) the perfect couple. In moments when I believe it, I’ve tried trotting out the line ‘yes, but the right guy isn’t the one who breaks up with you’ only to receive sad knowing head-shakes. It’s like suddenly everyone’s acting as if our break-up fractured the Elizabeth&Darcy dream (ironic as my mother named me Elinor in a fit of literary fancy).

It makes him feel like a bigger loss to me, but also kind of like everyone thinks I’ll never meet anyone like him again. Ouch. It’s kind of freaking me out.

Finally, as you ‘divorce’ men, and not their family, his family have had free reign to call me. Previously they called me about Christmas presents and Thanksgiving Plans, in this case they called to tell me what a huge mistake they their son is making. His parents had a big FeelingsCall with me yesterday, in which they poured out that they had thought I was ‘the one’ and they were so surprised, and did I see it coming? His mother guessed he wasn’t ready, but he was immature and so on. His sister FeelingsMailed me about how she doesn’t want to lose me, she doesn’t have any other sister, and please please can I keep her in my life. I am genuinely glad to know I still have a relationship with them all but am still totally lost. The sentiment is nice, but they told all this stuff to me and not to him – he told me he that his mother just said ‘you have to do what makes you happy’ to him while she had a 50 minute dissection to me. So awkward. What do they want me to do about it? I can’t be ‘Miss Fix It’ with this problem (I tried…), and somehow the fact that his family and my friends and everyone I know seems to be reiterating that it’s wrong and a mistake doesn’t help me. I really don’t think he is coming back.

I put a lot of myself into this relationship, and always supported him but in the end he just wasn’t ready. I don’t think that was my fault, but I’m frightened it has trapped me somehow anyway. I get there are a lot of people out there in theory (Boston is a big place, I know…) but he does feel like one of a kind to me. And while I’m a good girlfriend, I’m not good at dating – I’m caring and stable rather than fun and flirty. What if he just wrecked my only amazing relationship? We were happy, and what if I never meet anyone like him? I’m 29 and suddenly feel very old, when I never have before. I’m shy, it’s hard for me to meet people, what if that’s it and it’s too late now?

Is there anything you can say to reassure me? Somehow, my friends with their sad eyes don’t seem to be helping.



Dear Elinor:

This Photograph is My Proof, Duane Michals, 1974
Click to embiggen

First, I’m really, really sorry. Breaking up with someone you loved sucks. Losing your home and having to start over completely from scratch sucks. And having to comfort his family for a shitty situation that is actually YOUR shitty situation? That REALLY sucks. And having your friends try to sell you on the idea that this was your one shot at love when you could really use an “I’m sorry, that sucks”? I BASICALLY HATE THEM RIGHT NOW, so it’s a good thing I am not in Boston. If they are still doing this the next time I am in Boston tell me and we will have beer, chowder, and me giving them a good talking to about how that’s not how you treat someone who is sad.

Here are two posts about keeping your cool after a breakup that might help:

The Kwisatz Haderach/Golden Retriever of Love

The Sexy Gay Jesus Tells You About Breakups

And let me throw in:

You Don’t Have To Be Friends With Your Ex (OR THEIR NEEDY FAMILY)

But now I’ll write some stuff just for you.

A good amount of time is going to go by before you really feel better. Time is really what heals you.

I have been in love -really in love – more than once. And every single time, the ending was painful, and every single time, my brain and my heart looked for a way that it could maybe still work out for a long time afterward. “But it was so perfect? Except for that one glaring thing that was not perfect? But it could have been so perfect?” And every single time I’ve come to a place where I heal and let go – my heart feels complicated and a little sore, maybe, but it’s like I’m watching everything associated with this person from a great, great distance.

I can’t help you go through the process any quicker, but I can promise that time will do its work and heal your heart. And you’re going to find out as you grieve that he was not so perfect, and he was not so perfect for you.

For example, he sounds like someone who left you to carry the emotional water of his relationships with his family. They carefully manage him with “do what you want to do, son” and then vomit everything onto you. “Holiday planning/difficult emotional discussions = women’s work.”

That doesn’t mean you were wrong to love him? Everyone is imperfect – even amazing people who we really love. No one meets all of our needs all the time, or even could, or should even try. I’m just saying, as you get some time and distance from your Partner, I predict that you’re going to find some needs you have that he didn’t meet. You’re going to find some moments where you”could have been happier” (a phrase I always steal from the brilliant Raymond J.), and it didn’t have to be awful for it to end – just, you could have been happier.

I’m still aghast that his family would expect you to comfort them because their son dumped you. I mean, it would have maybe been nice to get a note (not a phone call, a note) that said “I’m really sorry this is happening, we really adore you and wish you the best. Please don’t stand on ceremony – if there’s anything we can do for you, don’t hesitate to reach out.” And if he finds out about their lengthy phone calls, it’s his job to say “Guys, leave her alone. She’s SAD. LEAVE HER ALONE,” and not enable that shit.

So here’s a script for family that you can adapt as needed:

Over the course of our relationship, I’ve grown to love you very much. I do hope that we’ll stay in touch in the future, and I’m really grateful for the good wishes, but right now I need to make a clean break from (Partner) and that means I won’t be in touch for a while. Thank you for understanding.

If they still call/write to you, send back a very neutral “Thanks for the good wishes.” If necessary, set their calls to go directly to voicemail and set up an email filter.

Disapproving cat disapproves.
Click the photo - you'll see that Disapproving Cat is but the vanguard of an army of animals who are embarrassed for your friends' poor handling of this situation.

As for your friends? Be blunter. MUCH blunter.

Why do friends do this crap? What is their stake in you having some perfect fairytale relationship that is obviously not that perfect? What is so hard about saying “That sucks, I’m really sorry, are you okay, what do you need?” It’s their duty to be nice to you and to help you come up with a really unflattering nickname for him.

So you’re going to have to give them some home-training.

Hey, that’s unhelpful and makes me feel even crappier than I do. Can you say only nice things to me?

Why are you trying to sell me on a guy who dumped me? If the relationship were perfect I’d still be in it. Stop telling me how great he was.”

If you want to be more diplomatic, ask up-front for what you need and give them a template to follow. “I need you to distract me.” “I need us to not talk about him at all.” “I need to talk about him.” “I need to listen to nothing but Adele songs right now.” “Please turn off the Adele songs. Please. No more, I beg you.

I hope that works, it would suck to have to get new friends right now.

I want to see if we can do something about the narrative that he was Peter Pan/everything was perfect but he’s just “not ready.” I think that’s going to have your jerkbrain asking questions like “But maybe at some point he will be ready? And because it was perfect, he will come back? After all, his family loves me, it can be so perfect and just like it was!”  I know you get this, and you’re doing a good job with the mantra of “If he were The One, it would have worked out, and it didn’t, so he’s not.” Keep doing that thing. But when the doubts creep in?

Remind yourself that he wasn’t ready for marriage/a continued committed relationship with you because he didn’t love you enough. He gets to decide that, and once he decided that he did the right thing by ending the relationship. He would have done you both a grave disservice by continuing to perform “the relationship” if his heart was not in it.

I KNOW. It sucks. I KNOW.

But do yourself a favor and take the the question of “When will he be ready?” or “Was he The One…but just not ready…but someday?” off the table. Go with “He wasn’t feeling it, and there’s NOTHING I could have done to change his mind.” Go with “I came really close to getting what I wanted out of love, and that’s heartbreaking, but in the end it wasn’t right.”

Finally, 29 is not “too old.” I can understand you feeling run down, exhausted, and like the best parts of you have been scooped out leaving only a shell. I made some forays into dating a few short months after my last breakup, and we’ll go with the words “hilariously unready to face the dating pool” to describe how that all went. “Hello, handsome gentleman! I have nothing whatsoever to offer you right now. What kind of taco are you getting? No, please don’t touch me. If you touch me, I will break into a million pieces and maybe cry on you. By all means, tell me about the demise of your first marriage.

I’m not sorry I did it, it gave me some good information, like a) Jennifer, you are hilariously unready to face the dating pool right now! and b) Chicago (like Boston) is a big city and is full of nice nerdy handsome dudes who might be into your thing. So Elinor, when you are ready to meet dudes again? Even if you are shy and want to go really slow and feel some trepidation about it? There dudes will be. And some of them will be not Perfect, like this ideal you feel like you have to achieve and maintain even when it’s over (with the help of the Greek Chorus of your friends and his family), but great. Great for you.

Much love,

Captain Awkward

34 thoughts on “#228: Breaking up with “The One.”

  1. Damn. I am sorry your support network is about as useful as a really old sports bra right now. That sucks in a different way than the whole depressing sad breakup part.

    Yes, you’re on the right track, and your head is screwed on a lot straighter about the situation than anyone else’s. He didn’t want you, and he told you that so that you can both move on. It sounds like, as awful as it is now, the best possible end to the situation — you have no really unkind words to share about the man who just broke your heart, which says a lot about you but also something about how he ended things.

    Be kind to yourself. Give yourself time, give yourself space, take care of yourself. You will come out of this shiny, eventually.

    And I live somewhat north of Boston (too far for it to be a good dating pool), but as someone without a broken heart who visits the city irregularly, Boston is STOCKED with hot nerdy really interesting guys, and I have all the faith in the world that when you’re ready, dating will happen for you and it will be good.

  2. Long time reader, first time reply.

    LW, this was me exactly 18 months ago, down to family calls and friends bemoaning how I was somehow shattering their ideal of love. The difference? You have the presence of mind to know that, sad though this may be, it is right and good and what must be done. You will not be the sad exgirlfriend who invites her ex out to convince him that he made a mistake and I’m sure that we can work this out, despite knowing in your heart of hearts that this is right and good and what must be done.

    During this time of emotional duress, people don’t know what to do. Use the scripts and your words to let then know what you need and especially what you do not. As with all breakups, it does get better and people do eventually come to their senses and act like the amazing friends you know them to be. And guess what- if they don’t, you don’t have to continue a friendship with them. And you won’t have to feel bad about it.

    As for your next great big love (or like or lust), don’t go looking for it. After a while, you might feel like its time to date and that’s good maybe you’ll sign up for online dating, maybe you’ll know a friend of a friend who seems into you, maybe a total stranger will strike your fancy. Whichever it ends up being, it will happen but only when you are ready for it. Tend to your wounds now, take walks in the rain, write overwrought journal entries that you tear up later, and consume all the stuff that allows you to wallow until one day-to-day you don’t want to wallow anymore.

    I alluded to being in the same position at 29? I wallowed, I did things that scared me, I set and pursued some personal goals and then I met someone who saw the life I was living and said, “I want in!” While thats a short version, the end result is that I’m happy with someone again.

    I wish you love, Elinor

  3. Seconded, seconded, seconded with all my heart.

    LW, I’m one year older than you and I’ve been in what I call love three times. Each time I was sure I would never love again – I mean, that’s part of it, right? You love that One Person with all your heart and energy and of course you can’t imagine having something so intense and unique with anyone else.

    But although I haven’t fallen in love a fourth time yet, I am sure that I will. Because people are *wonderful*. Yes, many are assholes, and all of those seem to come rushing through the gates the moment you start dating again (they sense vulnerability and confuse it with weakness). But there are so many amazing, beautiful, empathetic men out there, it’s astonishing. Now that I’m ready, I very much enjoy dating these men casually and carefully (considering that, at this point in our lives, many of them are a little bruised by love as well). I wish this bounty upon you when you’re ready for it.

    In the meantime, verbal boundaries are an amazing tool. You can set the limits on how much of these unproductive, hand-wringing talk you want to take from people who were not in that relationship. If the limit is zero, fine. Good luck.

    1. GOOD SONG. Can there be SexyTypewriter podcasts where you make us all mix tapes? Can there? Can there?

  4. Lots of Boston-area Awkwardeers! We should have a meetup, or something. We can all sit around and *not* be enormously douchey to Elinor.

    Elinor, I am very sorry for your breakup, and for the crappy way your friends and his family are handling it. They need to STFU, like yesterday.

    1. I kind of had this exact thought. There are a LOT of non-douchey people in Boston! Elinor, whenever you are ready, we are here for you.

    2. Yes to all of this! I am a very infrequent commenter, but I am also in Boston, and there are some lovely people here. So many possibilities for wonderful friends and romantic interests! There also my post-heartbreak-in-Boston strategy, which is to take the commuter rail out of the city for a day or two, ignore everyone, and moon around Walden Pond thinking thoughts about nature. Highly recommended.

      I’m so sorry you’re going through this. You deserve way, way better.

      1. Another Bostonian infrequent commenter here. Totally agreed on the Walden Pond strategy!

    3. Yet another Boston Awkwarder here! Yes, the dating pool here is large and yes, we should have a meetup.

    4. Yes! I’m in (a suburb of) Boston. We can be fantastically awesome and talk in our wicked Boston accents and get lunch and a cold brew at the Barking Crab and reassure Elinor that there are metric tons of cute dudes who will be lining up to take the ex’s place when she’s ready.

      Elinor, I second everyone on your friends being kind of awful. Yikes. I get that it can be sad to see friends you were sure were going to get married break up, but you refrain from making them feel worse! A good friend of mine was dumped by his girlfriend–someone we all liked and grew attached to and thought they’d end up married–and while we were sad we were still there for him. “I’m so sorry, that sucks, it’s her loss, what do you need/are you okay/let’s go out and do X today” etc. And the family needs to learn some boundaries. I get they are sad and they don’t want to lose you, but they’re going way over the line. Nothing wrong with a “I will understand if you need space, but I really do love you and hope that eventually we can be in touch as your friendship is very important to me” and “OMG WE THOUGHT YOU WERE THE ONE WHAT WAS HE THINKING??”

  5. Elinor, I am so sorry to here about your break-up, doubly so that every man and his cat have decided you’re the best person to vent to. I will never understand the vested interests some people present in the midst of a break-up. It’s like they have a sales quota to meet. Like the Captain said, your friends need your schooling in how to treat you at the moment. If things don’t improve, like they are really doing your head in, you may need to step back slightly from the friendship. Now especially you need to look after number one. From your letter you sound like you have a decent grip on things already. I know you’re sad, I could feel it in your letter, but you are telling yourself all the right things and thats the best first step you could make.

    Also, 29 is not too old. You probably feel old at the moment, only because you are stretched so thin emotionally and mentally. I’m sure you can think of nothing better than curling up with a book and your favourite music on a Saturday night. And that’s ok. You need time. You’ll know when you are ready, and by then you won’t feel so drained and old.

    I wish you all the best for the future. And like Sofi said above, ‘everybody needs to shut the fuck up about it already.’

  6. LW, if you need some friendly people in Boston who are Captain Awkward fans and who will take you out to places and distract you and who will not tell you that your ex was PERFECT OMG WHAT HAPPENED TO YOU GUYS, etc., come find me on Twitter (@phira) and we will distract you. Promise.

  7. oh, i’m going to take a moment to be outraged on your behalf. maybe two. that whole transferrence number that the family is pulling is totally uncool. “hey, i’m sorry that my son broke up with you, may i now kick you in the face?” i heartily recommend that you heed the captain’s advice on this one. she’s done a great job navigating a terribly difficult breakup and she chooses her resources wisely. good luck in your travels!

  8. Dear LW:

    1) Everyone who is not you makes my slappin’ hand itch.

    2) IMO it is not insignificant that a guy who’s an immature not-ready-to-be-responsible Peter Pan type has a family that’s completely insulating him from his own relationship choices (“You have to do what makes you happy,” even though they clearly think it’s a bad idea, but God forbid they actually express that even once) while trying to “fix it” behind his back. I’m sensing some “I don’t have to be responsible because everyone else takes care of my shit for me” here, is what I’m saying. (Is he a youngest child?) So this is a family system you’re dealing with here, not just one “almost perfect” guy, and that’s why they are ALL acting slapworthy. And that’s why you should really probably turn your back on this whole scene, because as long as the family system thinks it works, it’s going to keep reinforcing the Peter Pan behavior. Even if you could somehow get this guy back, it would be “Let’s call Elinor about Christmas and Thanksgiving because GOD FORBID our son should have to deal with anything, ever.” This whole system, as you’re experiencing it, centers around making life easy for this guy, and so anything they say about how “perfect” you are for him and vice versa is incredibly suspect; I highly doubt he’s perfect for *anyone* if this is how they roll. UNSUBSCRIBE.

    3) I can’t explain your friends (seriously what is wrong with your friends), unless they’re somehow also related to the Pan family. I think the Captain has you covered on this one.

    1. In regards to number three, I *think* her friends think they’re just expressing what’s going on in her head, like, trying to help her? I prefer the idea that they’re being clueless jerks to any of the other less savory interpretations because, to steal a quote, I refuse to believe her luck could be that bad.

      They don’t realize that obsessing over how perfect he was is really hurting her? Or maybe they think, like the family, that it’s a temporary break up? I don’t know, there’s not much excuse, but if they’re good friends at all following Captain Awkward’s advice will help.

      Oh god maybe it’s some weird case of IRL shipping? Like, everyone was so LW/Peter Pan that now that it’s over people are freaking out? Augh, that’s even worse, but it might be on the mark. Like, if she could find the perfect dude, then they all could sort of thing? I dunno, I’m with you Cleolinda, my slappin’ hand is rather itchy.

      (Can I say I love you forever for using “unsubscribe” in this context? Yes, yes I can.)

    2. Yeah, my reading is actually that the family thought she was too good for him.

      Something like this: “our son [/brother] is a lovely person, because of specific genuinely lovely qualities X, Y, Z but also because he’s OUR SON [/brother]. However… while we don’t want to dwell on it he has poor qualities Q. Oh, and R. And if I have to say it, S. Oh, and sometimes T. We really hope he will grow out of Q, R, S, and T. And ideally U as well. Luckily our son has AMAZING GIRLFRIEND Elinor who is amazing and who is so past Q, R, S, T and U and she is the best thing that has ever happened to him and has accelerated his personal growth ten years into the son [/brother] we know he can be! Thank goodness for Elinor, who is making our son into the person we want him to be.”

      And so in the breakup, their son has cost them the promise of Better Living With Elinor and they are really hoping the nightmare goes away.

      I realise this is really cynical. It’s undoubtedly not the whole story: genuine affection for Elinor and care for her happiness and similar is likely part of it too. But I have seen SO MANY relationships where a man’s family’s strong affection for his girlfriend had a big ol’ helping of “thank goodness, someone to keep him on the path we want for him!” in them.

      1. And one additional shitty aspect of their behaviour is: how likely is all this to be true? When Elinor has a new partner, or son has a new partner, is it really that likely that Elinor(+optional non-son partner) will be talking to them regularly and visiting them?

        To be fair, I have actually heard of this happening, particularly but not only when the ex-couple have children together. It’s not impossible. But the most likely outcome is that the Elinor+ex’s family relationship is nearly over too. And they’re grieving that (for selfish reasons or not), which is legit, and asking her to comfort them, which totally isn’t, since she’s grieving all the relationships and they aren’t.

        1. Totally nodding my head while reading your response re: Better Living with Elinor. I’ve been with a Peter Pan for 2.5 years now; before me he was with his ex for the better part of 11 years, since college. His family absolutely adored her and I definitely get some of the “thank goodness, someone to keep him on the path we want for him!” vibe from them about her and – to a lesser degree – me.

          As for the awkwardness re: staying friends with the ex’s family after you’ve both moved on to other relationships, let me give you the other side. His sister is still really close friends with the ex, and his mother is also still in touch with her to some degree – and that can get Really Weird as the New Girl (even after 2.5 years). His mother’s been really welcoming to me – we get along well – but his sister regularly makes it clear that she prefers his ex to me. I’m not jealous of the ex in any other way, but whenever I’m around his sister (who I otherwise like) I feel like I’m competing with the Ghost of Exes Past. So, yeah…I’d advise against going there.

      2. THIS.

        I was reading the blogpost thinking “this sounds familiar” and then I got here and thought “THIS IS WHY” – Elinor, my brother just dumped you.

        (Not really. He lives several thousand miles away. He is the oldest child, the only boy, the darling of both our parents – and my parents do a number JUST LIKE THIS every time he breaks up with one of his girlfriends. While I tend to quietly think “Yes, well, she’s lovely and lovable and deserves so much better than my brother; hopefully she’ll find him.”)

  9. The Captain us right as usual. It’s astoundingly rude of his family members to feelingsbomb you like this, and gbsmackingly inconsiderate of your friends to keep harping on the Mr Perfect theme.

    It sounds like they all kind of expect you to get back together (does that maybe happen a fair bit in your social group?) and don’t want to risk being the one who said “Thank fuck for that, he really got up my nose” during a temporary split. Not that this excuses their behaviour – they could still pass the tissues and keep their traps shut – but I’ve been Ms TFFTHRGUMN before, and it is somewhat embarrassing.

    Wishing you all the best, LW. And if I remember the book right, Peter Pan got right up my nose anyway.

  10. Oh, Dear LW,

    Giant, giant hugs and good to you. I can relate. I have been in your shoes . . twice. And it totally sucks and you totally get to cry and stomp and buy glittery tiaras to wear around your living room for all that Adele listening and “Kate and Leopold” that may be soothing your heart. It will get better. Pinky swear.

    The other thing? You have no obligations to be awesome for anybody else right now. Sometimes, I think we all need to retreat to Planet Repair. I wish we had signs to wear around the world for this time, so people knew to be nice to us. So, it is totally okay to just hang around the people who love you best. And be mad at all these stupid, unhelpful people. Direct all your emotional resources to you — because you need it. Other people don’t get them right now.

    I remember one of the best things I did after a catastrophic breakup, was notice that I was always super-sad and lonely only Friday night, which had been designated date night. So I started making plans with friends, going to movies, and finally settling into a beautiful routine of going to yoga. I started to look forward to the day I dreaded and it felt like such an awesome, healthy way to take back some power I felt I had lost. The other thing I did that was way less noble, but totally helped, was poke around on an online dating site (and, um, go on the dates that I didn’t have the heart to be on) and just be reminded that there are actually tons of hilarious, smart, fantastic, single men roaming about that will be there when your heart is healed.

  11. About ‘being too old’. No such thing exists. My grandmother had really nice guys her age trying to pick her up in her late 80s, because she was good company and made excellent tripe and onions. My sister-in-law’s mother found the love of her life (thrilled by her very existence right through till she died, and there for her every minute of her last illness) in her fifties. Neither woman was out-of-the-ordinary as far as looks or niceness goes.

  12. I once broke up with a guy and got a very emotional phone call from his mother wondering if it was anything they(the parents/family) had done or could do to fix things. I had to tell them it wasn’t them, it was just him, and though I loved his family I KNEW I couldn’t keep them or hang around them. Oh, boy, was I right. Everytime I bumped into him for ages he was all sad puppy dog eyes and “oh look how heartbroken I am over you.”

    And it doesn’t sound like you are planning puppy dog eyes or anything so good for you.

    I also (years later) had the Perfect Marriage that all our friends thought would last forever. I sympathize with having friends who mourn the passing of your relationship more than you do, and who are no help at all. I have a “friend” who is only a distant friend and only calls once in a blue moon….and she chose to call on my late husband’s birthday offering any help I might need, call as late as you want! Which might possibly have been useful in February of 2010 when he passed, but, in December of 2011? With not much contact in between? She is not from my planet, it seems.

    My advice is to take some time for you. Get used to the feel of your own skin, and not being part of a couple. This will take time. Find things that you want to do, and maybe invite a couple of your friends along….the ones that won’t remind you of the couple thing. The Captain has given you some good scripts to use. With those maybe you can expand the pool of people who don’t remind you of the cople thing.

    You are an amazing person, not half of a “perfect couple”. Get to know yourself a bit better.

  13. Elinor, I just wanted to say that I SO MUCH FEEL YOU on this one. I have had friends like this. The last FEELINGSMAIL I sent was actually suggested and proofread by her because she was THAT CONVINCED that even though he’d dumped me (after a short fling, which followed a friendship of several years) we had SUCH great rapport and chemistry it was MEANT TO BE and he just needed me to HELP HIM REALIZE IT. Um. We were in our late 20s, not our early teens.

    Of course it didn’t work AND did irreversible damage to my friendship with that gentleman. I don’t blame her for it 100%, but man, when you are sad and vulnerable and wishful-thinky, other people’s projections about a relationship can look really insightful (this friend isn’t the only person who said this — heck, when we went to parties people we’d never met before asked me if we were MARRIED, which was awkward and interesting! And also COMPLETELY IRRELEVANT to his feelings about me).

    My friend still occasionally says weird stuff in this vein. Like, I ran into an old acquaintance of hers by chance a while back and she told me she wasn’t especially fond of him but could see me really liking him and I was like, Uh, not where I was going with that, I’m pretty happy with my boyfriend, but OK? Then later I told her I thought he was actually kind of annoying and she was like, “Oh, that’s because you’re totally hot for him,” only half-kidding. Actually, no? I know the difference between irritation tinged with sexual tension and regular irritation? I’m pretty sure I do, anyway.

    On my better days I think people just do this stuff either because they’re just making conversation or being glib (as in my second example anyway) or trying to be supportive and let you know that hey, this thing that is making you sad ALSO makes me sad. The alternative explanation is that some people think of their friends’ lives as an adorable romantic comedy on which they are consulting producers, all proofreading your script and questioning your casting choices and then complaining when the movie doesn’t end the way they wanted it to. A combination of saying “Please just LISTEN to me, I don’t want your advice and don’t really want to know your feelings about it” (in reference to serious situations) and changing the subject (in reference to weird passing comments) has done a lot to repair that relationship, but muttering to myself “Also my life is not a movie and SUCK IT” has helped a lot as well.

    1. I’m going to suggest that part of why her friends are being complete tools right now is because breaking up is scary, oh em gee. When you watch your friends – especially the “golden couple” – crack apart so suddenly, it’s a realization that nothing in life is guaranteed. If those two can’t keep their shit together, then what hope do the rest of us have, y’know? They’re own insecurities about life are bleeding into their attempt to be supportive, which is why the LW needs to verbally bitchslap them into line. What they’re doing it human and probably well-intentioned, but both of those qualities have historically had the potential to be extremely damaging.

      1. That’s a really good point. Who among us has not heard about the breakup of a celebrity couple we really like with, OH NO THIS MUST MEANTHERE IS NO HOPE FOR LOOOOVE. Parroting Sady Doyle’s tweets about Kim Gordon and Thurston Moore’s separation, but that is precisely how I felt about it too. That “If X and Y can’t work it out, what hope is there for the rest of us? Is it time to get another cat?” reaction is totally normal. People just need to find a better way to air it out than to dump their anxieties on the breaking-up couple.

  14. First of – thanks all. Talk about a cheering up! Wow. That was like being love-bombed in the best kind of way. Though I knew it before, it was lovely to be reminded how full of kindness the world is.

    If you couldn’t tell from my spelling and typos I was a little frustrated when I sent that letter in. I probably wasn’t being fair to anyone I was writing about.

    It’s a bit complicated with Peter’s family. They genuinely liked me – as I was raised by an elderly aunt “I am good at” parents and stuff. Even though they called rather than writing – that’s a bit on me. I sent them a card after we broke up explaining how, even though it didn’t work out, I really valued the time I had spent with them. So, they were trying – in their own way – to acknowledge that, which might be difficult for them as English is not their first language. There is probably a fair bit of what Mary suggested too – in the end, I made it easier for them. They live in a different city to us and Peter certainly visited a lot more after I started booking flights and posting them photos from our holidays and so on. In his sister’s case, I think it’s a bit different. She’s is the youngest child by ten years and always needed a sister. I think I am her safe space in that way.

    As there is no no way Peter and I are getting back together – my friends, in the cold light of day, are just being awkward. They are, of course, still lovely people and funny and on my side – they’re just saying the wrong things this time around. I think they were just surprised because we [seemed to be] a couple that had worked things out so I think they were a bit over-invested in our success. Thanks for the reality check. I’ve asked them to stop.

    @cleolina – thanks for the slappin’ hand. I really liked that.

    Finally, (really finally) Reading all your comments was a bit like a cosmic hug. I appreciated them more than I can tell you right now. Thank you. x

    1. Elinor, I’m so glad you’re doing okay! You seem to have this figured out, so I’ll just rephrase from an outsider’s POV: this is where you start singing the “dodged a bullet!” song.

      Your ex’s family’s response to the breakup is undoubtedly genuine and heartfelt, but, as you’ve already noticed, it’s only partly about losing Elinor, the awesome and undoubtedly too-amazing-for-your-ex person. A lot of it is about losing what you brought to the family dynamic: “perfect for him”, coming from them, means “perfect for us”. You made their son more accessible to them, filled in the holes in their communication, smoothed things over, and made things with Peter more like what they wanted. And they didn’t have to do anything except for talk to an awesome person who is, I’m guessing, easier to talk to than Peter!

      There’s nothing malicious or greedy in that, but. BUT. Here’s where you start singing the aforementioned song, because that sort of heavy lifting is not the kind where you’re setting an example and people will start to pitch in and ease the load, over time. Nope, this is the kind of heavy lifting where they say “oh, hey, someone is finally taking this load off of us! nice to not have to worry anymore!” It is, in short, you becoming responsible for someone else’s relationship with his family, and in times of trial “responsible” could stop meaning “dependable” and start meaning “YOUR FAULT”. And really, that’s not what you need in your life.

      You dodged a bullet! Good for you! You didn’t mean to, you’d rather not have, but now you don’t have to look forward to spending the rest of your life holding up someone else’s filial responsibilities like you’re Hercules filling in for a lazy Atlas. Hooray!

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