Dear Captain Awkward,
At the beginning of this year, after much agonising and a deep depression lasting several months, I broke up with J., my boyfriend of three years. We lived together, we had friends in common – it was messy, but I tried very hard to be honest with him. This included telling him that I had developed feelings for an old friend of mine, P., who had recently become friends with J. too and spent time with us as a couple. Years ago I had feelings for P., but I moved to another city for a while, I met J/, and I thought that was in the past. J. was aware of this history.
After the breakup, P. and I tried for a short while to avoid seeing each other. But having admitted my feelings to J., it seemed futile to resist seeing P. I justified this to myself with the fact that I was hurting badly, not just from the breakup but from the depression I was still suffering, and P. helped me hugely. I felt better only when I talked to him. It would be hurtful to J. to hear that me and P. had got together whenever it happened, I reasoned, because of the role P. played in my life. So, two weeks after the breakup, I began a relationship with P.
Four months later, I am very happy with P. It feels like coming home. But I still miss J. desperately. We have had no contact since moving out of our flat. I told him I would leave it up to him to make contact, wanting to give him some power, but that I would be really happy to hear from him. Unsurprisingly, I haven’t. Through mutual friends, I recently found out he has a new girlfriend. He is on my mind now all the time. I would love to have him back in my life, or even just to know what he is doing and to talk to him. Also, selfishly, I am looking for forgiveness – I hope that he does not hate me for so quickly moving on to another partner, and that he has some good memories of our relationship.
I want to know whether it would be terrible for me to make contact with J. by email, just to check in and ask how he is. I know that the way I ended things was devastating for him and that he was incredibly angry with me at the time; I also have reason to believe he may think that I lied to him about P. while we were still together, which is not true but which I can understand. But I don’t know how he feels now, whether he is still angry, whether he has moved on. I am thinking about this constantly, and I can’t get it clear in my head. Can I contact him, even though I left this decision in his hands? Would it be an entirely selfish act, just seeking alleviation of my intense guilt?
Please leave J. alone.
You left the decision in his hands. I think that was a really good decision. He has decided (so far) not to get in touch with you. I think that is also a really good decision.
You acknowledge that this desire to talk to him is selfish and mostly motivated by a desire to alleviate guilt.
So…believe yourself when you talk. This is an entirely selfish impulse. What you really want is to alleviate guilt. You want to be reassured that he doesn’t hate you. To say you just want to know how he is is a lie. He’s dating someone new. He’s (so far) not interested in talking to you. That’s how he is.
It sounds like you did the right thing by breaking up with him. You both moved onto partners who could make you happier. Breakups are almost always painful, but when the alternative is staying in an unhappy relationship, they’re the right thing to do. You had feelings for someone else. You stopped having those feelings for J. You told him. It ended.
Let go of the guilt. Let go of the need to be liked by this guy. Having negative feelings about you might be really helpful for him in moving on from a painful breakup that wasn’t his idea. He gets to have those feelings if he wants to. He gets to tell himself a story where you were the Bad Guy if he wants to. He can have any kind of memories he likes about your relationship, and for you to reach out now and to try to control that narrative IS actually cruel. That doesn’t mean you have to feel guilty, or work to resolve things. Things ARE resolved because the relationship is over. Forgive yourself for going after your own desires and move on with your life.
Do what you would do with any crush or persistent thought – distract yourself. Focus on your friendships, on work, on study, on your relationship with P. Stop talking about how you miss J. “desperately.” (Uh, definitely don’t tell P. about that. Certain pieces of honesty are overrated).
And put yourself in his shoes. There he is, going along, living his life, trying to move on and be happy, when BAM! UNWANTED PAINFUL MEMORIES in the form of a too-casual “Hey, how are you?” email slam into his day. Not cool.
You’ve got to make your own closure with this. It’s over. If you do ever talk again, it will be after a long, long break and it will be because life (a mutual friend’s event, a shared hobby, etc.) throws you back into each other’s paths and because he decides that your friendship is worth having enough to reach out to you.
Until then leave the decision where you (intelligently) placed it: Entirely with him.