#378: How do you get over someone?

Cast of Closer: Clive Owen, Natalie Portman, Julia Roberts, Jude Law
Apparently these are the only 4 people in London.

Dear Capitan Awkward,

How do you get over someone?

OH MY GOD I JUST REALIZED it’s been SEVEN years since this whole story started and I am SO OVER FEELING THIS WAY.

ok. so SEVEN years ago I started dating someone (X) who had just gotten out of a relationship with (Y). It was just after I moved to a new town where i knew no one, so dating was exciting and lovely and I fell for this person in a real way. Forever Feelings For The First Time. Our relationship moved fast, and we were in a committed and L-word relationship four months in when X dumped me to get back together with Y.


what transpired next was TWO YEARS of deep conversations and feelings and negotiations between X, Y and myself. X & I tried being friends & ended up sleeping together multiple times. X tried dating both Y and I at the same time. Y was heartbroken and unwilling and felt cheated on (BECAUSE SHE WAS) and X felt torn and everyone was deeply unhappy.

in those two years, my main support was my new friend Z. Z was a sounding board, late night cheerleader, and advice dispenser. two weeks after introducing X and Z to each other, they fell in love, Y and I were unceremoniously dumped, again, and X & Z moved in together.  it was shitty. it was shitty and the worst part is that i felt like i had asked for it, and that I was making terrible decisions, and that i was behaving like the worst of myself. Z tried to maintain a friendship with me while X went back and forth from writing long, dramatic emails to no contact whatsoever. I finally couldn’t handle it anymore and cut both of them out of my life, a decision that affected all our mutual friends and led me to move (not very far) away.
Four years later, I’ve deleted every long-winded email from either of them and avoided seeing them at parties and our friends have (mostly) stopped updating me on their lives.

I am in a two-plus year long relationship with The One (A). A is marvelous, the love of my life, the real deal, the butter on my bread. I’m happy, and successful, and making plans for a future, and would be devastated if anything happened to endanger that.

so why when i do hear news about X and Z that I go immediately to that old place of anxiety and helplessness? How do I get over this feeling in the pit of my stomach whenever i hear either of their names? How do I stop googling them late at night? this is all coming up for me right now because I heard through mutual friends that Z is pregnant. And i want more than anything for that to be No Big Deal.

I need a spell. Or a pill. Or something. I cannot live the rest of my life under the shadow of a failed relationship. Ugh.

Over It.

Dear Over It:

Your letter reminded me of two movies. The first is Young Adult, where finding out that her ex has had a baby is the inciting incident for the main character to return home and try to wreck everything. The news sets off a time bomb of old unresolved feelings and she handles them very, very badly. It’s a cringeingly awkward movie and Charlize Theron is amazing in it. Side note #1: There is a scene that breaks my heart where Mavis tries to tell her family that she might be an alcoholic – this is a huge understatement – and they breeze right past it. I think this happens to so many people when they try to break the news to loved ones about illness, especially mental illness. Side note #2: This movie will provide no emotional payoff or satisfying resolution. It’s all Uncomfortable Middle. But watch it and then congratulate yourself: You’re not going to do any of the things she does.

The second movie your letter reminds me of is Closer, where I want to yell at all the characters that “There are more than 4 people in London. FIND THE OTHERS AND DATE THEM instead of making each other miserable in your horrible emotional feedback loops!” So you might watch that and find it cathartic, in that it used to be you, and then you broke out of the feedback loop.

It comes up over and over here that closure isn’t something other people give you – it’s something that you decide to give yourself. I’m going to straight-up channel my therapist when I say this, but is there a way you can be gentle with yourself around this?

Can you forgive yourself for being weirded out by news of the pregnancy? I can totally see why it’s one of those weird things that catches the mind and holds it. Some things trigger surprise emotional time travel.

Can you forgive yourself for not knowing everything about how things would turn out back when you were first involved with these people, and for going where your heart/pants told you to go? Being loyal and optimistic and whole-hearted and in love are good things about you, even if they felt like a “kick me” sign on your forehead at the time.

I know we said the other day that therapy is not transitive, but the other thing my therapist taught me is that it’s wicked hard to process a feeling when you’re simultaneously beating yourself up for having the feeling in the first place. It takes twice as long or longer to get over it because it’s always eclipsed by your Jerkbrain using it as an excuse to be mean.

So maybe the ritual for you goes like this:

1. Give yourself a defined time, like this weekend, to fully feel weirded out by the news that Z is pregnant. Go read your old diaries, Google them, call up all the memories, and dig fully into it. Use a journal and write down every single thing you’re feeling. Write them a long letter and fully lay out how they hurt you and how weird and upset you feel right now, and then light the letter on fire or put it through a shredder or bury it in your garden. Do everything short of actually contacting them.

2. Sunday night or Monday, decide to be done with it forever. Block them on all social media if you haven’t already. Hide the feeds of anyone who is still in contact with them (they won’t know and it won’t matter). Insulate yourself from the topic coming up acccidentally, in other words. If you find yourself thinking about them, have the thought or feeling and then say “Self, okay, sure, but I’m done with that” and try to change the subject on your brain. Visualize yourself physically zapping the thoughts where they pop up, shooting them out of the sky like in a video game.

3. Be really nice to yourself. Watch your caffeine and alcohol intake. Take naps. Read or watch good, comforting things. Eat good food. Take one of those “I have exposed an entire new layer of skin from head-to-toe” baths or showers. Hug people you like. I know that seems so basic that it’s ridiculous, but it’s actually a Life Skill to say “I’m feeling a little fragile right now” and building in self-care and recuperation.

That’s the best I can offer. You’ve done the rest yourself by having an awesome life with someone who loves you the way you deserve.

111 thoughts on “#378: How do you get over someone?

  1. I’m usually the one to tell people to get the fuck over it already, BUT in your defense:

    X was acting like a narcissitic shit. Yes, she was. She dumps you to get back together with her ex. She cheats on new partner with you. She engages in and generates an epic amount of dramz, and then starts dating the good friend you’ve had as a support. Yes, I know we can’t help our feelings, but I’m seeing a creepy fucking pattern here.

    So. Maybe you’re just still angry at the shitty way X (and to a certain extent, Z) acted and you’d like for them to get a comeuppance? The only thing I can say to that is: People have beautiful facades. It doesn’t mean things are great (especially given X’s shitdouche behavior).

    I can’t really add anything to CA’s advice–maybe just schedule lots of fun things to do over the next few weeks with people who do not know these people AT ALL. Schedule hikes (if you’re up north, it’s leaf peeping time, anyway) or a potluck, or movie night, or dancing, or everyone take a class together, or a Twister party. . .you get the idea. Do you belong to a gym? Then go and sweat your ass off and then make sure you have plans for lunch or coffee or something with a friend after. Etc.

      1. Injustice rage just keeps me awake at night. I lie in bed, angry, for hours thinking of nothing but VENGEANCE but, since I’m not the goddamn Batman, when I get up in the morning I’m just angry and sleepy. That’s not a good feeling, LW. Unless you are Batman, let the injustice rage go.

        1. Lots of times it never pays off, and that sucks and you’re right, letting it go is the only way. Actually, letting it go is always the way because it makes you life better so much sooner.

          Sometimes though, you find out your complete asshole boss has bedbugs and it makes up for everything. Hee.

      1. Or they got a sperm donor, or X is a transwoman, or Z is acting as a surrogate for someone else, or a million scenarios. Does X’s gender really matter?

        1. Er, I do think mis-gendering/mis-pronouning someone matters, for reasons that have more to do with politeness than with any effect it might have on the advice being given.

          That said, we’ve got no incontrovertible cues in the letter, so in this case, figuring out whether mis-pronouning is actually happening probably isn’t a great use of our collective interpretive energies. ;c)

          1. But do we, as a community, want to embrace a definition of politeness that makes it necessary to label people’s gender every time we refer to them over inclusiveness and respect for all people of different gender identities and sexual orientations? Or do we want to model another way of treating people? I mean, don’t you hate people who always specify the race of someone non-white in a story they’re telling, even if their race is completely irrelevant to the story (as it nearly always is)? Isn’t over-emphasis on “correct” gender pronouns kind of the same?

          2. “a definition of politeness that makes it necessary to label people’s gender every time we refer to them over inclusiveness and respect for all people of different gender identities and sexual orientations”

            I’m not actually seeing how these are in conflict, except when “specifying gender” means “hey, X can’t be the gender you guessed, because they might have Inseminating Parts!” – which, I agree, is unhelpful. (And, in fact, the original commenter also agrees that’s unhelpful, so we’re all good.)

            My (sole, and apparently very tiny) point: just as saying “X is a man because PARTS” is an unhelpful way of phrasing a possible correction to Sheelzebub’s original post, so too is “people’s genders and the pronouns you use for them don’t matter, I mean seriously” an unhelpfully over-general response to Caitlin’s misstep.

            If we know someone’s pronouns, it is important to go with them; if we don’t know someone’s pronouns, it’s important not to impose our assumption of what those pronouns ought to be on other people.

            (And now, a deep breath, and lunch, and a walk around the block. I’m feeling prickly from something totally unrelated, and don’t want to get into a BUT I’M RIGHT ABOUT THIS TINY THING, WHY DON’T YOU UNDERSTAND ME storm all over the innocent commentariat. *rueful grin*)

          3. Yeah, I’m just coming from a place of having noticed lately how many forms require one to check “male” or “female,” when it doesn’t have anything to do with the service or transaction in question, and realizing how annoying it must be for people whose gender identity is not a comfortable thing. Kind of like how there are boxes for race, when as our President so delightfully exemplifies a person can be “caucasian” *and* “african american”, or six different lineages, and why the fuck does it matter unless it’s an affirmative action sort of context? Sometimes I’ve tried not checking either male or female, but then my computer makes that annoying off-key boink noise and I get a red error message telling me I have failed to provide required info. So maybe I’m a little trigger happy on the issue.

          4. I think the point is that the comment here wasn’t ‘FYI, you’ve assumed X is female but the post doesn’t actually indicate their gender’ but instead ‘Given X’s current partner is pregnant, I’m going to guess X is male’. Which, eh. Not helpful, or a useful line of speculation to pursue.

          5. I meant it as pointing out an assumption as you’ve correctly said here. I apologize to everyone I rankled for saying the statistically most likely scenario instead of putting it the way Shiny did.

      2. The LW referred to an “L word relationship” with X, and I think I assumed that the LW was referring to the TV show, not love. I know, I know.

        Either way, X is an assbucket.

    1. I was going to say that X could just be emotionally incompetent, but then saw that X and Z were both still sending “long-winded emails” long after dumping LW and getting no response.. Sheez.

      LW, good on you for being strong in the face of all this nonsense. You are doing exactly the right thing: staying out of their drama, refusing to be sucked back in, and letting your friends choose their own friends while still requiring them to respect your boundaries around X and Z.

    2. Consider something else about X. It sounds like zie is a master of manipulation on the addict level. You know those gambling studies about how you’re hooked so much more deeply when you win some and lose some, especially at the beginning rather than all win or all lose? The hot-and-cold treatment, I break up with her then I break up with you, no both of you, what may I do next? That is a sure sign that what’s happening to you here is not just straightforward L-word but addiction.

      So maybe it’d help you to think of this not in terms of getting over someone, but getting over an unfortunate high? Have you ever gotten over illegal drugs/coffee? Advice like taking it one day at a time, focusing on future behavior and not the past, balancing out your emotions, being kind of yourself so you aren’t tempted to slip back.. Be realistic that when you’re kind of removed from a situation, it can hit you with freshness intact when you slip and find yourself confronted with it again even if much time has gone by. Have a pitying thought for poor Z, who’s now so much more stuck than you ever were, and who knows what’s really going on in her life (probably there are now V, W and T also, in my experience the ones who behave that way are also addicted to it). Also remind yourself when you think about it that this wasn’t healthy, or probably even that good, that you were manipulated, that you got out of it with good reason. And mostly remind yourself that you now have good butter on your bread :-). Make a special date with A and enjoy them fully (not dumping your current state of turmoil on them). It’s conditioning, and you can condition yourself right back.

  2. C.A is so right about blocking on social media. It makes it all much easier to deal with, because then it’s on your terms. I did this about 2 years ago when my childhood ex-best friend got pregnant, got engaged, got a job I’d have loved, all in quite quick succession. We hadn’t had any real contact for a good 10 years, having drifted apart slowly as we reached our teens, but I found it incredibly difficult to see her getting All The Things I Want. Don’t get me wrong, she’s done nothing against me, I do wish her well, but it just hurt to see all the good stuff heaped on her and a whole lot of nothing coming my way.
    So I hid her on FB and it was AWESOME. I go and check up on her every 3 months or so (when I feel up to it), send her some mental good wishes and then go and get on with my life. LW, it shoulds like you could really benefit from this! You don’t have to cut them out completely, but by hiding them and then checking in IF and WHEN you want to, it puts you back in control of all that nasty feelingstuff. xx

  3. Wow, these people really treated you HORRIBLY! They sound unbelievably toxic and selfish so you definitely did the right thing cutting them out. Honestly, whether they meant to or not, you got used and screwed over by these people big time.

    But seriously GO YOU on drawing a line and walking away, and yay on the awesome relationship you’re now in. You totally deserve to be happy!

    Other than that, the Captain’s advice is awesome, so not much more I can add to that!

  4. Every single person I’ve ever been romantically involved with (who I still know anything at all about how their life is, which is all but 1 or 2 of them) got married to whomever they got involved with during* or right after their time with me and now has a kid. I’m not even joking.

    The first time or two I found out they were getting married, and even more so with having/had had a kid, I wigged the hell out. Not only were there repeated late-night visits by the Ghost of Emotions Past, there was also the “I am so far behind my peer group in the boyfriend-marriage-house-kids trajectory” (which is not a path I even want to walk so WTH?!?) and “no one will ever love me because I don’t want kids” (even though that’s demonstrably untrue!) and similar distressing messages from my Jerkbrain that actually had nothing to do with the other person even a little bit. I was a mess for a few weeks after each of those incidents.

    But after that, it got easier. Even when it was the turn of the person who was the One I Never Got Over (which I’ve since come to realize is the One I’m Getting Over in Fits and Starts Over Many Years, which is annoying but no longer distresses me like it used to), it was only a couple of nights of GoEP visits and Jerkbrain-o-rama. At this point I find it amusing and am happy my exs all went off and had a kid with someone who is *not* me (see: not wanting to have kids ;).

    So yes, I know how much it sucks when it happens, but I can tell you the suck won’t last forever. Even the suck of the OIGOFAOMY gets better with time, and CA has awesome advice for dealing with it not being later already.

    * Just to clarify: I’m poly, it wasn’t cheating, I was totally OK with the “during” even when the “after” hurt like woah.

    1. My friends call me Good Luck Chuck and joke about my Magic Vagina With Powers To Bring People Together because every single person I’ve dated/slept with has gone on to marry/seriously commit to the person they dated right after me.

      Like you, I used to find it freaky. And like you, I’ve learnt to deal and let go.

      LW, you can do it too! (Like the Captain said, your first move is to own your freaked-out-ness.)

      1. I figure, those of us who do that (I only have a few examples, but, yeeesh) are the ones teaching people that Yes, True Lasting Love Is Possible, and it just turns out we’re the near-misses.

        I am more comfortable with this now that I have my The One; I was way more bitter about it before because DAMNIT how come everyone was such an ALMOST and I LOVED and it SUCKED, but that is how it goes.

        I wouldn’t say I enjoy being training wheels but it is nice to know that I have done a Service To The Universe that way.

      2. Rachel, could it be that you’re not careful enough to avoid the ones really freshly out of relationships? The ones who just want a bit of fresh air before they really commit, but are a bit hazy on the particulars? You’re probably giving off a vibe of nice girl who’ll soothe your wounded heart and be fun at it, which could be so attractive for them. Not giving off that desperate vibe of ticking clock, a weekend in the sack and you’ll end up shackled, which they’d avoid if they just want a fling (and I’m not suggesting you should try that vibe, not at all :-)).
        So try to give yourself some guidelines perhaps, must have been single for at least — months or a year before I give it a shot? If they moved out last month, toss them gracefully back into the pool.

        1. Wow, this comment is really creepy. Both Rachel and I said we were now cool with it. Also, neither of us said whether or not we currently have SOs or are looking for an SO or are having “mere” flings when we want “real” relationships or really anything at all about our current relationship status and desires.

          Maybe you didn’t know I’m a woman so you didn’t drag out your gender-based assumption-filled unasked-for advice at me?

          1. Off the wall maybe, I’m far from always appropriately articulate, but actually creepy? Like how? I’m going to come over and introduce you to my flakiest friends on purpose?

            And I’m sorry Rachel if you felt singled out, that wasn’t the intention at all. What you said just reminded me of “bad series”, where you end up with the exact same kind of unsuitable person several times in a row. A friend of mine has recently gotten out of one of those, I’ve had some myself in the past, and I’ve even repeated some recently. I just find it helpful to try and figure out why. Regardless of current relationship status (that can always change, in my experience :-)) or gender, which has nothing to do with it. Simply because I prefer Mae West’s philosophy “whenever I have to choose between two evils, I always like to try the one I haven’t tried before”.

          2. Because you’re offering advice on a problem that nobody it is happening to sees as a problem? And being really condescending about it, and using gendered stereotypes? You’ll note that not only did the commenters who this happened to say they were ok with it, not one of them said they were looking for a Serious Relationship at the moment. You just assumed that — why?

            Regarding the gendered component, this right here is a characterization that many big gendered aspects to it (bold face added by me indicates gendered language/assumptions), whether you did it intentionally or no:

            You’re probably giving off a vibe of nice girl who’ll soothe your wounded heart and be fun at it, which could be so attractive for them. Not giving off that desperate vibe of ticking clock, a weekend in the sack and you’ll end up shackled, which they’d avoid if they just want a fling (and I’m not suggesting you should try that vibe, not at all ).

            Also, I’m not sure what this means:
            I’m going to come over and introduce you to my flakiest friends on purpose?

    2. “Ghost of Emotions Past” is such a good way to put it. I will use it now when explaining to my bff that I’m not really depressed or hung up on The One True Ex, but every once in a while I hear something/have a memory triggered and the Ghost comes for a visit and gets all up in my headspace for a bit.

  5. LW I really feel for you on this. I’ve got a few people I had to cut out of my life (an abusive ex and a toxic, narcissistic friend) a number of years ago and although I’m mostly over it, I still get serious anxiety and even anger on those occasions when they are recalled to my mind. The Captain’s advice is really great and is all stuff that’s been helping me, but I just wanted to add a few things that help me out which might be useful to you.

    – Remind yourself that however upsetting it is when you have to deal with the memories of these people, just how much better and happier this situation is than what you went through when those people were still in your life. You’ve come a long way since then but it’s easy to forget that in the heat of the moment. Getting away from that toxic shit was a good result.

    – Remind yourself that you don’t want ANYTHING to do with these people. That makes it easier to care less about what they’re doing, and to resist the urge to look them up online.

  6. Well, here’s what happened to me in a similar situation. As I continued on in my healthy, rational life, little behaviors of my X’s began to click as being pretty jerky moves. Previously I had been giving him all the benefit of the doubt, and then some, and assumed all mistakes were mine. So, being still in periodic contact, I started asking why. I had enough distance at this point to do it unemotionally, I just wanted to figure out WTF had been going on. Eventually I pushed hard enough that he said he didn’t want to talk to me any more, and with that, it was like a switch flipped. The FEELINGS went away and I saw him without the gauze of affection. And I genuinely, completely walked away. And it was great. My body still reacts, on the rare occasions I see him, but my emotions are done, so it’s easy to tell my hormones to knock it off. I’m not exactly advocating this as a course of action – I suspect therapy, which I didn’t do, will get you there faster and with less collateral damage – but just saying there is hope.

    Another thing to keep in mind is that the storyline of passionate romance -> bitter break up -> eventual reunion and happily ever after make for great drama. So we see it over and over again in all forms of story telling and pop culture and the idea sinks deep into our subconsciouses. So there’s a sleeper cell part of your brain saying, “if I just hang in there, I will get my happy ending. That’s how the story goes.” Opening the door and shining some light on these assumed narratives can be really helpful, too.

  7. (Apologies if this turns out to be a duplicate post; I posted from my phone, and I’ve been having problems with that).

    You would certainly be pretty normal if your reaction to X and Z finding love and happiness and making a baby together would be “that is not fair!! You two are suck schmucks for how you treated me (and Y) that you do not deserve to be happy together!!!” And having found X to be fickle-yet-intense, I’m sure you’ve been half expecting X to dump Z in favor of, say, Q, and on some level you felt like Z deserved to have that happen, for the faithlessness of Z’s conduct. Only now X and Z are likely to make it stick, what with the baby and all… At least for a while.

    So I’m thinking that when you’ve been tracking their story through the Internet, you’ve been looking for signs that the universe has belatedly come to its senses and dropped a really big anvil on their heads…?

    Natural to hope for, but probably not going to happen any time soon. Maybe not going to happen at all. Even those of us who have behaved badly in love triangles and squares sometimes bumble our way to happiness. Happily, you’re one of them! (Sounds like you were part of the messy fray for a while yourself, though by no means the worst-behaved…and while no one’s behavior was exemplary, it was all sooooo human!). And for that baby’s sake, you have to hope X and Z really were the right two to end up together, and that there is a happily ever after in the making.

    I’m hoping seeing it that way may help you move on. You’re happy, so for the baby’s sake try to hope they are, too, and everyone actually wound up with who they were supposed to.

      1. I thought suck schmucks was deliberate and was about to compliment you on coining it! 😀

    1. I’ve struggled with this a few times, and it is indeed linked to the relationships where I was treated like shit/cheated on/whatever and later hear how that crummy person is incredibly happy and married to the love of their life yadda yadda. Which makes me always want to yell “BUT KARMA! UGH!”

      But it doesn’t work like that, which is actually a good thing because we’re all just human. LW, you say how during your involvement, Y ended up being heartbroken and such- and I’m not saying it was all your fault or anything, just that if Karma said “X and Z caused LW much pain and strife and therefore they should not be happy”, then Karma would also say “LW caused Y pain and strife and therefore LW should not be happy”. And really, no one would be happy because life is messy and everyone makes mistakes.

      Stephen Colbert had a great line when he was talking to Neil Patrick Harris about his being gay, Stephen said “It’s as if your happiness doesn’t take away from my happiness”. And I think that’s something to remember, because really, no matter what X and Z do, it doesn’t have to affect your happiness.

      1. Oooh, a perfect moment to break out one of the classic Babylon 5 quotes!

        Marcus: “I used to think it was awful that life was so unfair. Then I thought, ‘Wouldn’t it be much worse if life were fair, and all the terrible things that happen to us come because we actually deserve them?’ So now I take great comfort in the general hostility and unfairness of the universe.”

        Or, to put it in a slightly different way, “Use every man after his desert, and who should ’scape whipping?”

        (Side note about Babylon 5 quotes for fellow academicians: there’s a wonderful exchange in the season 3 episode “Point of No Return” that I often find myself internally repeating while grading assignments: “Unfortunately, while all answers are replies, not all replies are answers. You did not answer the question that I asked. What do you understand now that you did not understand before?” One day, as we progress to the paperless classroom, I’ll just be able to link my students to that clip rather than making comments in the margins…)

        1. Argh, I hate that. Because “life isn’t fair” is shorthand for “stop complaining about unfair things and just suck it up.”

          If we’re gonna geek quote about it, I feel the need to counter with Rorschach: “It’s not God who kills the little children. It’s us.” Life is unfair because we allow it to be, not because the universe is a cruel and horrible place and whaddayagonnado.


          1. So. Much. Word. Paul Farmer, founder of Partners in Health, riffs on Liberation Theology and says poverty exists because we decide to let it be so. We could effectively address so many health problems in the world, if we really wanted. He says the poor have a moral right to demand those with the power to create suffering take responsibility for ending it. (That doesn’t really work well in “the only control you have is over yourself” scenarios.) But when it comes to God/The Universe/ Factors External to the Human Family are the cause of suffering… yeahno. All too often (not always, but often enough), we ourselves impose suffering on others and have it in our power to make it otherwise. We just don’t care to.

          2. I concur, actually. But I still love the quote. It’s not one that I would ever throw at someone else as a “life’s not fair so deal” line, or use in reference to something big. It is instead one that I use on myself, about me. Increasingly frustrated by seemingly intractable depression? At least I can take (cold) comfort in the knowledge that it isn’t happening to me because I deserve it. Weird-ass fungus kills my tomatoes? Not divine retribution for my sins, just a weird-ass fungus. It goes hand-in-hand with another line that I find useful for coping with small-to-medium-sized crappiness: “If this is the worst thing that happens to me this month, it’ll be a pretty damn good month.”

  8. I’ve noticed a pattern in myself lately that might be a piece of what you’re experiencing, LW. I feel like some of my resentment and anger and generally shitty feelings brought up when I encounter or see or hear about certain people are mostly automatic feelings.

    When the bad stuff was going down with an ex-friend, for instance, it was so intense. I mean, some of the most intense stuff I’ve ever felt. And it took a while, but I got over it, but only because time passed. But the last thing I ever felt about that person was all bad stuff. After all that time, I got to a point where the situation wasn’t on my mind so much and I had moved on and I didn’t think about the ex-friend very much at all, but I’m not sure I moved out of strong dislike/hatred for this friend to get to another feeling even as “positive” as indifference.

    So even months or years after that situation is over, when that person comes up, the last feelings I ever had about that person are the ones that surface, and they happen to be anger and resentment I felt during the bad situation. Just the fact that these feelings come up again at all makes me feel bad again.

    Those emotions are on automatic pilot. And I think the reason they surface at all is because they were so intense during.

    I’ve also noticed that the automatic feelings that did come up get less and less intense over time too. And I do expect to be able to get to a point where I care about ex-friend as much as I care about any other human being on the planet, but perhaps not much more than that.

    Once I had the thought that my emotions about this ex-friend were automatic, it made it much easier not to beat myself up over them.

    And the Captain’s recommendations for self-care are all absolutely fabulous while you try to make the feelings automatic pilot a little less easily triggered.

    1. This is very true!

      I think this is part of why people go chasing after ‘closure’. It’s like trying to take the bad taste out of your mouth, or salvage a terrible evening by trying one last place to go or one last quick game or what have you. But sometimes it’s just not possible to get your interactions with someone to a better place before ending them (or a good idea to try!), so you end up stuck remembering and re-experiencing those same things every time you’re reminded of the people involved.

      I am with the Captain’s advice to the max. Don’t beat yourself up about how you feel, it’s completely understandable and not something you need to try to rise above or anything. Ride it out for a while, be good to yourself, and when you get to the point where indulging your feelings is a tiring doomspiral rather than cathartic then do your best to just move your thoughts along as and when they appear. With time it will fade naturally. It never feels fast enough at the time, but it will happen.

      Personally, I find that there is pretty much always something on my emotional agenda, so to speak. If I’m having an involved emotional interaction with someone, even just in my head with my ideas or memories of them, that’s just going to damn well stay there right in the back of my head, and get automatically returned to in any alone-time, for as long as it takes for something else to happen that touches that part of me and take its place. So frustratingly enough I find that the calmer and less dramariffic my life is, the longer these things linger because there’s nothing of equal intensity to replace them.

      But something eventually always does, whether it’s an unusually deep conversation with my partner, a friend going through something, making an exciting new acquaintance, something that at work that REALLY gets my goat, emotionally demanding activism work… or even just reading or watching something that unexpectedly whacks me in the chest. It can take time, especially with my life being so delightfully happy at the moment 🙂 But it helps me to keep in mind that I keep going back to XYZ as much because nothing else major has happened since they said that/I heard the news/I bumped into them/whatever as because it really traumatised me so very much. Nope.

      YMMV, I’ve never really articulated this before so I have no idea if it’s an everyone thing or a just-me quirk.

      1. Oh yeah, that alone-time. Sometimes that part of my brain that doesn’t like to be empty sure can keep me rehashing something. Shiny, you’re making me think that I should finally quit thinking about it and get involved in some volunteer work or something because 1) less alone-time, and 2) more people to care about.

      2. I’d just like to point out that if it were possible to “get your interactions with someone to a better place before ending them “, most likely it’d be possible to get them to a better place while NOT ending them. The fact that they’re ended does mean something’s irreparably broken. So don’t flog yourself over broken meaning bad in the end.

  9. Oh, yikes. My most recent ex (he who broke up with me, after nearly 5 years together, to Deal With His Issues, but said we should still be friends) pretty much cut off contact with me after I told him I was engaged (to a mutual friend of ours). And even though every contact between break-up and break-off left me emotionally exhausted, I still threw all kinds of mental that’s-not-fair tantrums when it happened.

    But he wasn’t doing it to punish me, was he? He was being a responsible grownup and, once again, taking some space and Dealing With His Issues.

    Another moment of uncomfortable self-reflection, courtesy of the Captain.

    LW, the good news is, you can do this. You’ve already done it once, the first time you cut them off. I’m guessing the experience sucked a lot – it’s probably going to suck this time, too. But self-preservation and self-care are already in your skill set. (And if your relationship with A is such that you feel comfortable angsting about your ex with your new person, then the other good news is, you have one more member of Team You than you had last time you did this. Bonus!)

  10. I just want to re-emphasize the whole idea of “Feel your feelings” which sounds woo-woo and lame, but is really, REALLY important in breaking the feedback loop of “I hate them! I love them! I hate hate/loving them! I hate them even more! I am TERRIBLE FOR HATING THEM!”

    I think it’s human to feel like you should always be cool and calm and collected. Then when something comes along that messes with your cool-calm-collectedness, you’re like “But this isn’t me! I shouldn’t be perturbed by this stuff!” Except you are. Because you’re a human being with feelings. Don’t get caught up in the “should” about anything. Focus on what you actually feel like, accept it, and work on it.

    Michelle, the Fat Nutritionist (WHO IS AWESOME) talks about the small, soft creature inside us all, and how we tune it out to our own detriment. I imagine mine (my emotional center, I guess?) as a quivering, spherical yet puppy-esque thing. When it is sad, I don’t tell it how it can’t possibly be sad, because puppy-esque things don’t understand rules, they just understand what IS right now. I can’t tell it it’s been seven years and it should be over that by now, because it doesn’t understand the passage of time. So instead I look at what it’s feeling and soothe it. I tell it that it’s going to be okay. That other things are good! That it is doing exactly what it is supposed to be doing, and that is also okay.

    You’re supposed to feel stuff, so on that front, AMAZING JOB! Good luck!

    1. Big “Amen!” to what Commanderlogic just said, and can I add a helping on the side? When I am in the thick of a bout of ‘it’s not FAAAAARI! why not meeeeeeeeee?’, I try this one on for size: I am NOT and may never be okay with what’s happened. I AM okay that I am not okay with it. And that is perfectly acceptable.

      We bandy stupid cliches like ‘getting closure’ at people who are grieving, and it salts their wounds if you ask me. Many’s the time I’ve thought to myself ” if anyone else mentions closure, they’d better be talking about motherfucking zippers ’cause I do NOT want to hear it!!’
      It will be over for you when it’s ready, and it may be soon. Get yourself some peace, and be very gentle with yourself until then.

      1. Word! There’s no crime in feeling bad feelings. I know we all “shouldn’t” feel bad about emotional stuff, but dude. Bad feelings are like farts: we all agree that they are gross if you bring ’em out in public, but they’re just something you’ve gotta deal with before you explode. You wouldn’t feel like a failure if you needed to fart in a meeting, you’d just be uncomfortable for a while and deal with it at a more appropriate time. (Or maybe you WOULD feel like a failure, but you shouldn’t! You did not personally order the burritos for the meeting! Bodies need to release gases or you’ll die! It is not your fault! Also, everyone else needs to fart, so you are not alone. Perhaps this metaphor is getting a little close to storytime…)

        1. No, this is a great metaphor! Like, it’s best not to impose your bad feelings on the general public if you can help it… but sometimes you just have to, and most people will understand. With people you have a really close relationship with, you get less shy about sharing your bad feelings. You can’t bottle up your bad feelings forever without letting them out or you will explode. Middle-schoolers think each other’s bad feelings are hilarious, but most of them will probably grow out of it. Etc.

        2. I have a really hard time with the feelings that overlap on the Venn diagram of Professional Jealousy and Injustice Rage, so… honestly, the Captain’s advice pretty much works for that, too. You give yourself a short, set amount of time to feel the jealousy, not to validate the content of the jealousy but to be like, “You feel this way because it’s okay to have feelings,” and then you do everything in your power to set it aside. Muting people on Twitter and filtering out as many related words/phrases/hashtags as I could think of helped A LOT. I’m to a point now where I only have the Professional Injustice Jealousy Rage moments because words that have more than one context can’t be filtered (or sometimes people talk about Whatever Shut Up without using specific names, as you do), things slip through, and I have to go fuss for a little while, then eat something, make sure my blood sugar’s okay, and then do do/read/watch/listen to something that puts it out of my head.

      2. “Closure” is elusive as a unicorn! There’s often the sense that if only you could wrap events up in a neat bow of explanation, like a stack of newspapers for recycling, you could stick them in the attic (or better yet, curbside) and never have them bother you again. The problem is, events tend not to stack neatly; they have all sorts of messy edges that refuse to align. And the bow you want to wrap it all up with typically consists of having the other party/parties to the sequence of events sign on to your narrative about them.

        But since that’s often along the lines of “X acted like a total shitheel who does not deserve to live, and Z was just as bad,” the other person typically refuses to sign on, instead offering up versions of the narrative replete with justifications for even the most unjustifiable actions, plus all sorts of attempts to show how you were at least partially to blame. Which may even have some smidgen of merit to them. At any rate, unless you are actually able to agree upon a narrative in which fault was fairly equally distributed and everyone is relatively okay with how things came out (which is definitely the exception), you’re just going to keep whacking at each other with your competing versions of events until you’re black-and-blue, without ever achieving closure.

        The only way to strong-arm closure unilaterally is to decide you don’t care what story the other person tells themselves, their friends, or even your friends about what happens, you know it from your side and the people who matter most are on your side and that’s all that matters. But I think it takes time to get to the point where you can do that — which is at odds with the whole cult of closure: when people focus on “closure,” they’re usually talking about getting there on an accelerated timetable because they’re sick of feeling crappy (or, if they’re going on about how someone else needs to get closure, because they’re sick of dealing with the person’s unhappiness).

        1. Speaking of closure and breakups and happy endings, there’s a pretty good HIMYM episode where Ted hears the story of him and Zoey getting together filtered through Zoey’s ex. He soon realizes he isn’t the shining hero and the ex wasn’t the evil villain quite so much as he thought, and it causes him to re-evaluate the story he’d been telling himself (and others).

    2. “When it is sad, I don’t tell it how it can’t possibly be sad, because puppy-esque things don’t understand rules, they just understand what IS right now. I can’t tell it it’s been seven years and it should be over that by now, because it doesn’t understand the passage of time.”

      LOVE this. Love it.

      Since I’ve got like a billion kids, I think of mine as a sort of infant (and I don’t mean that I am being a ‘baby’ but that I am being primal and instinctive). An infant gets poked with a pin and cries. It doesn’t matter if you explain at length what just happened, that you didn’t mean to, or that pin poking is sometimes something which happens during the whole diaper process, infant doesn’t care or understand, all infant knows is OUCH. You can get frustrated or yell at infant for crying and flailing and what you get is… more crying, more flailing, for a longer period of time.

      Getting older, growing up, it’s like adding layers atop your first born self. We don’t really stop feeling the way we felt when we were tiny and new, we just develop a vocabulary, learn to trick our brains with rationalization and learn to control our reflexes better with time. Somewhere in there is still that infant who is shocked and scared that it felt a pinprick, and what it takes to get through the hurt is softness, comfort, patience, staying still and kind in the moment, and honoring your pain.

    3. Wow, this is incredibly helpful. I am in a difficult situation with a best friend in which I hid my true feelings (or downplayed them) about feeling replaced and ignored in an effort to be a “mature and reasonable adult”. I am working on feeling all the feelings and writing them down and acknowledging the mostly irrational hurt and sadness while we are taking a break from communication, and I am surprised on a daily basis how much more there is to feel and sort through and acknowledge.

      This visualization will work for me, I think. I have such a quivering blob of tenderness inside me that needs to be soothed.

  11. Like, I think, everyone else, I’m picking up on the surprising lack of anger in your letter. Maybe you are so naturally calm and Zen that this doesn’t apply, and obviously, there are good things about that and nobody’s suggesting you should become consumed with volcanic rage… but we all want to be the Cool Gal who sees the best in everyone and no really that’s just fine they way they all thoughtlessly or maliciously stomped on my tender young heart, and it’s not always as good for us as a small cleansing dose of cathartic rage.

    When you take the Captain’s excellent advice to permit yourself a FEELINGSMINIBREAK and wallow temporarily in all this, maybe try a little bit of anger alongside your complicated sadness/regret/wistfulness/whatever.

    Maybe try saying out loud “X is a complete arse” or “Z should just fuck right off”. Because it’s looking to a lot of us here like X is a complete arse and Z should just fuck right off.

    1. Dude, seriously, this. I have been pining over the same person for about two years now. About a week ago I finally played a wistful sad song I wrote about them live and as I introduced it, I said, “This song is about on-again off-again relationships and learning how to tell people to fuck off and get out of your life.”

      It just slipped out, I felt kind of embarrassed because there were people there who knew who the song was about, but GOD DAMN if I haven’t felt a million times better since I just said the words out loud.

  12. There’s a thing that happens with people recovering from trauma and pain — they package up bad feelings into a box in the back of their brain and hardly even know they did it. Especially since they have processed a bunch of badness at the time.

    Then, some time later, Something Happens. Sometimes it’s a great thing — your brain is like “Okay, self, you are strong and awesome right now and it is time to Clean The Attic and Open Boxes!” and suddenly you’re like holy shit, what are all these bad feelings I thought I dealt with?!? That can really throw you for a loop and feels like suddenly you’re all crazy but actually it’s your brain saying “Yep, we’re healthier now. We can handle it. Get the ice cream and the weepy movies, I’m going in!!”

    Sometimes, the Something that Happens is more like bad feelings that you don’t want to deal with and so your brain starts looking for a box and says “oh here’s one” and opens it. WHOA. WHAT WAS THAT. All kinds of stuff comes out like unfolded socks and there was a nest of mice in there and is that an orange umbrella with holes in? WTF? So your brain, being a pretty talented brain, shoves as much back into the box and sits on it. Cool, except for all the stuff from the current incident that didn’t fit and all the stuff that got out that now you have to clean up.

    This is okay. This is normal. All it means is that you’ve got a box full of feelings you haven’t dealt with yet. Everybody does. I mean, everybody. You’d have to spend half your life in therapy to get to all your boxes and then you’d probably have to spend the rest of your life unpacking your feelings about therapy! Seriously. You’ve got a tiny little box on the mantle with Mystery Feelings about, say, goldfish or something else totally random, you know?

    You find out about a box when something happens and you have Sudden Strong Feelings. “Oh, I saw a goldfish at the petstore the other day.” “GOLDFISH! That’s what I named my first gerbil who died when I was four! Wow, I haven’t thought of that in years!”

    It just so happens that you’ve got a Really Big Box, and it’s full of some Really Tough Shit. That’s okay and normal too. You had massive heartbreaking confusion clusterfuckery of doom! It sucked. As part of that clusterfuckery, you were doing lots of shoving down your own feelings to try to maintain a situation you thought you wanted, so your box is *especially* well stuffed with yuk.

    And, of course, you’re into a stable awesome relationship you feel awesome in, so your brain is not rushing to shut yourself down. You’re strong enough to handle more of the fallout, so your brain is giving you more instead of shoving it away. That’s awesome.

    So, you know, this is normal. It is okay. It will pass. You might find that therapy helps you go up to the attic and open the box and deal with whatever’s inside; it’s a thing therapy is super good for. But even if you don’t you can ride this out.

    In the short term, in addition to the captain’s excellent advice, and if you don’t have/get a therapist to talk to, you might find a Designated Ranting At Friend, to whom you can say all the things you need to say.

    Most important of all: You are free of that drama!! Free, I say! Woohoo!!

    1. Word to all of this. Sometimes boxes open because you’re ready for it – I deliberately gave myself permission to start cleaning the attic last year, and it’s been really, really weird to find my adult self crying for a day over stuff that happened when I was seven and that I had almost completely forgotten about. But now I can better articulate my hot buttons and the FEELINGS around them.

      And then there’s stuff that happens that pokes you right in the box, and suddenly you have to deal with it RIGHT NOW. Emotions: They’re not rational, and not reasonable, and not anything other than themselves. They’re not good or bad, they just ARE. The only advice I can offer is to let yourself feel however you’re going to feel. You don’t have to act on the feelings, but trying to deny them is just a massive exercise in frustration. So go ahead and feel them, wonder WTF they mean, and eventually shrug and move on. In my experience, once they’re acknowledged and felt, they’ll start to fade.

      1. [Apologies if this is a double post – wtf are you doing wordpress.]

        THIS. I’m doing my own attic-cleaning right now – partly on purpose, and partly as a result of Surprise! Paradigm Shifts – and all I can say is word. The whole “Why I am crying about that NOW? WTF self? Wait, it’s ok to be crying and weird right now, breathe” thing is basically my life right now. And yes, the only thing you can really do is let yourself feel, sit with it for a bit, let it work its way out.

        I have couple of metaphors I’ve picked up along the way that help me to understand how all of this works and to remember to be gentle with myself: thorns, and the welcome mat.

        Thorns are are those little or not-so-little things that act as emotional triggers, especially painful ones, and everyone is walking around with some thorns stuck in them from various ‘thornbushes’ (emotional experiences) they’ve been tangled in. Since many of them have been there for a while, we’ve blocked out a lot of the discomfort from our day-to-day consciousness, but they still poke. And we don’t even know about all of our own thorns. Sometimes, in our interactions with people/the world/Daleks, someone or something brushes against one of our thorns and then we go “Ouch! WTF??” because Pain. But, once we can recognize something as one of our thorns – no matter where it comes from – it’s possible to say “Self, don’t hit yourself for having a thorn. You met a thornbush! Just be careful now about not letting people hit you where your thorn is – that’s totally ok to do.” And then with time, if you are gentle with yourself, the thorn can work itself free, as thorns do. (Therapy can be very good for making a thorn-clearing space.) But poking at it indiscriminately will just drive it deeper; it takes a little patience and maybe a nice soak in the tub to relax now and then.

        The welcome mat is something that can help with the process of getting rid of thorns and dealing with feelings in general. (I admit I have shamelessly cribbed this idea from Jon Kabat-Zinn.) When you are feeling emotional, or suspect you might have feelings going on that you are not processing, take time to put out the welcome mat for the feelings, whatever they are. Invite them in, and sit with them like you would with an honored guest, and listen to them. They may tell you a lot and be very helpful in this way, but also by doing this you are actually opening the door for them to go *out*, when they – and you – are ready for them to.

        Anyway, LW, I hope some of this is helpful. You have done much to level up already, so go you! I wish you the best.

        1. I love this comment, so if it shows up twice, that will be awesome. I’ll be thinking about that welcome mat a lot.

          1. Aw thanks. 🙂 The welcome mat idea really was a paradigm shift in its own right for me, and I have found it so, so helpful. Thinking of my feelings – all of them – as, not only ok to have, but actually good things I should listen to and treat with honor makes it much less difficult to listen to and treat *myself* with honor, in the moment. So now I heartily recommend it to everyone, right after I tell them to go read Captain Awkward. 😉

  13. LW, the Captain is right about taking a moment to actually feel your feelings. Take it from someone who actually has researched pills and potions. (PS- they only have varying degrees of success) There’s a time for feeling it, and then a time for moving past it. Our brains of titans of habit-forming behavior and personal thought training is something I’ve had to deploy to get over an ex or two.

    After some mourning, I used to wear a rubber band around my wrist. Whenever I thought about my ex in a regretful, possible get-back-together way, I would pop myself slightly on my wrist with a reminder that our relationship was done, and that it was time to get on with my life. Surprisingly it only a short time before I could look back and say “yes, that was lovely, but lovelier times are ahead.”

    It sounds like this is a FEELINGSAMBUSH. Those happen to all of us who have relationship battle scars. Dear LW, please don’t punish yourself for having feelings, they’re probably part of the reason A loves you so much.

  14. Oh, what a horrible situation. But this isn’t some kind of verdict on whether you’ve moved on or on what your life is like now. Sometimes feelings just don’t pop up in the most logical ways.

    In addition to all the things others have mentioned, you might want to consider telling mutual friends who are likely to talk about X and Z that you’d rather skip the updates. Something like, “I know it’s been some time, whenever I hear either of those names it still brings back memories of how ugly and toxic that period of my life was. Would you mind not talking about them when I’m around?” could work.

    I asked my friends to do that with after I broke ties with a really unhealthy, on-again, off-again crush. Turns out that even 5 years later, I’d really rather not hear about his life. They’ve honored the request, and I’ve been much happier.

    1. Yes, yes. I have an ex where my statement to my friends is “Let me know if [specific thing] happens to him, so that I’m never surprised by having to deal with him in that specific role”. Other than that, I do not give a fuck about him, but being surprised by that would likely really set off the This Was Your Life movie reel and lead to AUTOFEELINGS.

  15. I have no idea is this is helpful to you, but what was helpful to me in letting go of my Darth Vader was not blaming myself anymore. I blamed myself for being manipulated so easily, for getting back together all those times, for flirting when we were broken up, for not being more assertive when I knew shit had gotten shady. There was also some slut-shaming that made me feel really insecure. Did I somehow make this person treat me badly because we had sex too soon/too often? Is that why he kept me on reserve for when he was lonely and horny but couldn’t or wouldn’t date me?

    I thought I caused the bad situation by not being assertive enough at the beginning, and thought I could fix it by being assertive later. Part of why I stuck around was because I thought that yelling at him and saying everything I wanted to say would fix it somehow, like justice would be served or something. But you can’t yell at someone if you have no contact with them. (They also can’t manipulate you if you have no contact with them, but I hadn’t figured that out yet!) If I yelled at him, then I would be Strong, Assertive Female once more and I would be redeemed, or something. Yeah, that didn’t work.

    I should have run like the wind when he texted, “How’s your uterus doing? We’d make beautiful nerdling babies,” while dating X, or when he ‘jokingly’ called me a ‘loose bitch,’ but I just yelled at him and tried to be friends again. It wasn’t until he cheated on X with Y, impregnated Y, and moved in with her despite their constant fighting that I realized Darth is MESSED UP. If using the s-word were ever justifiable, then Darth is the slutty one, not to mention dishonest, cruel, selfish, childish etc. Nothing I did in this situation compares, no matter how naive I was.

    I don’t want to patronize you with something trite about forgiving yourself, but give it a try. Trying to maintain contact so you can punish them/you doesn’t help. If you tried to work it out with a messed up person (or persons), that doesn’t make you weak or naive or whatever. Good luck!

  16. Hey, LW, I know you are pissed at yourself for feeling this way after seven years, but really, seven years is not that long of a time when it comes to deep wounds. At least I don’t think so.

    Here’s the thing: sometimes people do change, but it’s rare and it’s hard. Mostly when people are really shitty to you, and to other people in their worlds, they retain those habits and go on to poison other relationships with other people, and leave a whole snail-slime trail of hurt and destruction in their wake.

    When they knew you, X and Z acted like selfish narcissists. X kept you in his/her back pocket like a convenient backup plan and dangled you on a string in case s/he decided to need you again. Z betrayed your friendship and your trust in her by stabbing you in the heart when you were vulnerable. That’s not just bad behavior. Those are pretty serious character flaws. Having a baby is really fucking hard on a relationship, and if your default setting is to cheat (X) or backstab (Z), chances are you’re going to be putting your partner through a world of hell.

    And guess what? NONE of this is your problem now. You are FREE. You can fill your head up with nice days and good moods and interesting books and movies on those days when X and Z will be moping into their coffee and bemoaning their relationship difficulties and not wanting to get out of bed. Because even if you can’t see it, it’s happening. All you are seeing is the shiny exterior of their relationship, but nothing is perfect.

    I have been in a situation similar to yours. Some things that helped me with my X was to re-read my old diaries from the times when he and I were close – not just the good times, but the really bad ones – and remember what a lying, manipulative asshat and helpless, self-sabotaging mess he could be. These days, when I catch myself thinking about him, I mostly feel sick to my stomach. And then I visualize one of those tinted, electronic car windows, like the kinds they have in airport limos, going up around me. I hear the whir of the motor and see the tinted, soundproof window going up around me and I picture myself shutting him out – all of my memories, all of the pain, everything. And it feels so safe and so good.

  17. delurking for the first time to say that former-partner-is-having-a-kid can definitely be a mysterious emotional trigger in even the best of circumstances. I’m the one who broke things off with my (highschool!) ex more than 10(!) years ago, ex is completely out of my life & there’s no residual drama from that ordeal, I’m incredibly happy in my current relationship, & I’m not even sure yet if I want to have children. but I’m also not sure if I CAN have children (for triggery medical-trauma-related reasons)–& perhaps because of this the news that my ex was about to become a parent totally threw me for a loop. I felt depressed & out of it & weirdly fertility-obsessed for days–crying at things that normally wouldn’t even faze me–& it took a while for me to realize that there was a connection between the ex’s news & my emotional state. I mean, I was literally standing at my kitchen table saying, “I don’t know why I’ve been fixating on this so much lately, but it’s been on my mind ever since…oh. OHHHHH. wait, what?!”

    so yes, Over It, please do be kind to yourself; what you’re feeling is totally normal & understandable, & there’s no unified theory over how long it takes old wounds to permanently heal (if ever).

  18. I LOVE the attic-cleaning, thorny bushes, and welcome mat analogies guys! They help to explain things so clearly, and they all go together – the thorns are the emotional wounds (our baggage) that we pick up throughout life, and the welcome mat is how we begin the process of opening boxes and cleaning up our attic.

    The only thing I would like to add to that is that the process of cleaning out an emotional box should NOT take years, or the rest of your life. Yes, it can be a process, whereby we clear one thing in the box, and then later discover another aspect of it that needs to be cleared, and so on. But the process of clearing itself can, with the right approach, happen quickly. This is because emotions are energy, and moving energy happens in the moment in a remarkably short period of time.

    I think the part that can take awhile is the mental aspect – the habitual mental patterns, the thought-forms and beliefs that we operate from, etc. This is the realm that therapy is so effective with. I really like the rubber band idea to help us, in the moment, replace an unhelpful thought-form whenever it comes up with one that serves us better.

    I think the reason why so often working through emotions in therapy takes so much time (and can seem to never get fully resolved) is because many therapeutic techniques aren’t that effective at moving emotional energy. Some are great at the catharsis aspect (opening the box) but not so much at the clearing process (transforming the contents). Emotions can’t be cleared by mental processes only – the energy needs to be moved and shifted through things like dance, ritual, etc. I heartily recommend the Captain’s idea of fully embodying all the feelings, placing that energy into an object (by writing a letter, for example), and then burning it, with the intention and belief that it is being let go of. Fire is a great ally in releasing what no longer serves us.

  19. LW, there’s something missing in your pleas for help, a conspicuous absence of plurality, and you need to acknowledge it in order to move on.

    It’s not just about X. Yes, X hurt you, and you had a failed romantic relationship and failed friendship with X, and that should be mourned for with all of the appropriate responses. (denial, anger bargaining, sadness and acceptance)

    But Z also hurt you, also was your friend and now is not, and Z wasn’t just your friend, they were a good friend at a time when you didn’t have a lot of other support, so the hurtful thing that they did was a particularly painful betrayal of your friendship. And while I get a sense that you’re working through the pain of X, it’s not as clear if you acknowledge the lost friendship of Z as it’s own thing. It’s natural and easy to bundle it up with X stuff because they’re dating, but you shouldn’t. If Z had just said something really mean and then stopped talking to you, you would have grieved for the lost friendship on it’s own. Because it’s all tangled up with X, you weren’t necessarily able to do that.

    I don’t know for sure, but that’s my best guess as to why news of X & Z still brings up bad feelings. You’ve dealt as best you can with X, but I’m not sure you ever gave the time to fully mourn the loss of a close friend who was there when you needed one, and so that pain is still lurking. Just my best guess based on a vague reading of some implied absences and odd word choices, so…

    1. Yes RodeoBob, Z is also a factor here, because it’s difficult to lose a friend,and LW may perhaps ackowledge that to herself more. But I think you’re blaming Z way too much here. I think we all agree that X is a shit. So it’s likely Z was also lied to, manipulated just as much as LW and Y, and while verifiably pregnant could not in the least be misconstrued to be happy. Blaming Z for the situation is way too similar to recent naked-pics-on-the-net, where the Other Woman gets blamed rather than facing the shittiness of the closer link, the true originator of the misbehavior. I think here we’d be more justified in feeling doubly sorry for Z, now way deeper in with the X schmuck than anyone deserves to be, much less an ex good friend.

      1. I think that this is less about whether or not Z is “objectively” to blame, and more about whether or not Z’s actions hurt the LW. And Z’s actions obviously did! That hurts whether Z meant well or not, whether Z was manipulated or fully cognizant, whether Z was an Evil Bitch or an Innocent Bystander Caught Up In Events. I think part of being unable to get over an upsetting situation comes from not realizing who or what you are upset about. I find it much easier to put my upset to bed after I listen to where it’s coming from, which means sometimes I have to acknowledge that I was missing a piece of the puzzle or actively not looking for it.

        1. I agree totally that in LW’s shoes I’d also have been very upset at losing a friend (Z) and that it wouldn’t be a bad thing for her to acknowledge that part to herself as well. Losing a friend can be very painful indeed, in and of itself, even without the additional drama. I just didn’t like that RodeoBob seemed to be going with the usual thing of blaming it all on the woman. Especially a woman who seems to me to be in a very vulnerable position at the moment.

          1. I’m not sure where you’re getting that I’m “blaming” anyone, let alone “blaming it all” on Z.

            Here’s the simplest version I can think of:

            LW: “I am over the past heartache with X. So why do I feel unhappy when I get news of X & Z?”

            Me: “Well, if you don’t have any unresolved issues with X, and you get unhappy hearing about X & Z, maybe you have some unresolved feelings about Z? You two were friends, and Z was a close friend when you really needed one. Have you stopped and worked through your feelings about Z and just Z?”

            No blame, no finding of fault, just a recognition that the LW’s hurts from Z are separate and distinct from the traumas of X.

      2. Z was LW’s friend, unlike the Other Woman in the previous letter. Whether Z was lied to or manipulated or whatever, Z also had a relationship with LW that was going to be affected by Z’s actions, and Z prioritized X over LW. That hurts in a personal way.

    1. Meant to say: I’ll probably have knitting in my hands, if you’re trying to figure out where the awkward folks are and we don’t have the crayons out yet.

  20. I love the image of video game shooting those thoughts! That is exactly the right mental tone to deal with things like that

  21. An alternative to the idea of zapping feelings in your head is to try non judging the thought when it arises and let it g. If you want to try, there’s a book “Mindfulness in plain english” about meditation, available for free too. Coupled with “universal friendliness” (trying to be happy for them), it’s another road you can try.

  22. Like others have already mentioned, I know it seems like some kind of cosmic imbalance that X and Z seem to be making it work and having a baby. I totally get that- both of them sound like inconsiderate lumps of concentrated selfishness and drama that have somehow taken human form. If it helps, think of it like this- they’re actually doing the dating world an enormous favor. Instead of two separate walking disasters causing trouble with everyone they interact with, they’re now a closed system of awful that won’t bother anybody else.

    And yeah, I have to second what everyone has said about not torturing yourself about your feelings. Think about your stew of anger and sadness the same way you think of any other impulses. When you get hungry, you don’t say to yourself “No, stomach, eating food is stupid and wrong”, because you’ll starve, so you eat something. When you get tired, you don’t say “No, brain, going to sleep is stupid and wrong” because sleep deprivation is freaking terrible, so you go to sleep. Hell, when you have to pee, you don’t say “Shut up, bladder, go sit in the corner and don’t come out until you’re sorry” because exploding kidneys are bad, so you pee.

    You need to eat, you need to sleep, you need to pee, and sometimes you need to hurt.

    1. Think about your stew of anger and sadness the same way you think of any other impulses. When you get hungry, you don’t say to yourself “No, stomach, eating food is stupid and wrong”, because you’ll starve, so you eat something. When you get tired, you don’t say “No, brain, going to sleep is stupid and wrong” because sleep deprivation is freaking terrible, so you go to sleep. Hell, when you have to pee, you don’t say “Shut up, bladder, go sit in the corner and don’t come out until you’re sorry” because exploding kidneys are bad, so you pee.

      You need to eat, you need to sleep, you need to pee, and sometimes you need to hurt.

      Yes. Thank you for putting this so very clearly.

  23. Absolutely one of the major keys here is to forgive yourself.

    I’ve had a couple of utter trainwreck relationships in my life (ask me about the ‘…and then while he told me he was working in India, he moved to America and got married’ – no, on second thoughts, don’t) and after doing a lot of rummaging in the attic of my psyche, I discovered that my huge issue was that I blamed myself for being fooled. I should have known they were wrong’uns. I should have listened to my friends. I should have stood up for myself. I should have, I dunno, hung out the washing on a Tuesday rather than a Thursday, I don’t even know!

    The best way I have found of dealing with all those negative thoughts is to consider what my actions mean outside of the context of ‘my boyfriend is a pathological liar and/or emotional abuser’. When I think ‘I shouldn’t have trusted him!’ I reply to myself, ‘Hey! You trusted someone! You got over your jealousy issues! Well done!’. When I think ‘I shouldn’t have believed him’ I say ‘Yes, you tend to assume people are telling the truth. That’s a really sweet trait, y’know?’ And when I think ‘Why did I not give up on this one a year before?’, I tell myself ‘Right, you never gave up hope. You know hope is a cardinal virtue, right?’

    And after a while I end up thinking ‘I was too trusting and too believing and too hoping, but that’s because I’m a darn’ excellent person. Go me! Just need to be a little more protective of my darn’ excellence next time. Oh, and go stab those voodoo dolls of F and C for a bit for maltreating my awesome self…’

    Also, just because a wound’s healed doesn’t mean there isn’t a scar. And sometimes deep scars ache when the weather changes; but that doesn’t mean the wound’s going to reopen.

    1. That is so true Sarah. I finally got cured of that one when I moved in with Psycho Bitch. It was immensely helpful to me (and I hope to the other roomates) to realize that not just me, but 3 perfectly normal intelligent women got taken in by Psycho’s wiles and ended up on the floor bleeding. It wasn’t that our radar was so off, that our own problems made us blind, that we were so unnaturally naive, it was simply that she had been a very good, practiced liar for decades, and that we weren’t like that so we didn’t detect it till it was too late.

      So should the outcome be that you become a lonely, bitter person who trusts nobody? No, I don’t think so. It should be that when you do realize you’re up against one of those, you just take steps to get out as fast and thoroughly as possible, and go on with your life without berating yourself for their superior skills at fooling you.

    2. SarahB this is such a wonderful way of thinking about it, and such a useful thing to read as someone recovering from their own trainwreck. Thank you.

    3. The bit about trusting and believing because you’re an awesome person thing is so true, and it reminds me of the second verse to a song I wrote recently about someone who was an asshole to me: “‘Cause I’m not a liar, I’m not cruel/and I’m a little young, so I can’t see through these/stories people will tell to hide the light.” I think when you’re a good, honest person, who genuinely tries to treat people well and behave with integrity, it’s really hard to understand or predict the mindset of people who don’t share those values — especially when you’re on the younger and/or less experienced end of things. I, in fact, am still a little baffled at the fact that such people exist. Like, why would you want to be like that…?

      But yeah. There are warning signs for toxic people, and after a while you learn to spot a few of them, but it takes time. I think just about everybody falls for this kind of stuff sometimes, unless they’re the ones pulling it. It doesn’t mean there’s anything wrong with you; it means someone took advantage of your good nature, and that means there’s something wrong with THEM.

      Life is a learning experience. *shrug*

    4. “Also, just because a wound’s healed doesn’t mean there isn’t a scar. And sometimes deep scars ache when the weather changes; but that doesn’t mean the wound’s going to reopen.”

      ^This. Thank you for writing this Sarah B – I needed to see this today to apply for another situation I’ve just left behind.

      Re: everything else – Yes! I love this too. Its like you’re allowing yourself to be your own best friend.

  24. I don’t have much advice, just popping in to say that I’ve been there, too. I’m happily married, and its been a decade, and I still sometimes feel a twinge of…sadness? regret?…when I hear about someone who thoroughly shattered my heart. And that was a relatively clean break-up, without a friend hurting me as well.

    What I’ve slowly learned over the years is that it’s okay to not be able to be friends with that person, even after so many years. It’s okay to be thrown for a loop. It’s okay to have that random moment of weird sadness. It passes. As time goes on, it passes more quickly. And as others have noted, those old feelings recede much more quickly if you don’t use them a cudgel against yourself.

    So make yourself a cup of tea (or whatever your favorite calming beverage is), watch your favorite comfort movie, read your favorite comfort book, maybe get a few hugs from your partner and friends. This too shall pass, and it’s okay to take care of yourself while waiting for it to go.

  25. Amen to taking care of yourself, LW. And amen, too, to everyone who is telling you that it is normal to feel this way. I know you added it up to seven years and seem to be using that number to beat yourself with, but if I’m following the story, that was three years of deep enmeshment that only ended four years ago, and I don’t think that’s a very long time to expect your heart to be completely bounced back. You have a lot of resilience to have found your new person only two years after all that went down, is what I’m saying, and that sounds like it’s a more relevant “getting over someone” measure than whether you get thrown by very personal information about them.

  26. When I get thinking this way, it’s really easy to fall into a deep funk, feeling sorry for myself. It’s then when my number one caregiver Linda comes along, “smacks me on the head” and snaps me out of it. She gets me to look at the things I have and not what I’ve lost. The two beautiful grandchildren top that list. Being home and getting to watch them grow and learn is an amazing experience. To them, it doesn’t matter that their grandpa is in a wheelchair. In fact, their friends are jealous that they get to ride on the back. Usually, one is on my shoulders and the other is on the back whenever we go anyplace. It’s an experience that I would never have had if it were not for my condition. I also don’t have the constant angst and tension that I had when I was working. It’s a good thing not to have that tension ball in the middle of your gut 24/7. It was tearing me apart. Oh, I have to include getting to spend more time with Linda. Our kids call us “the Bickersons” since we always seem to be arguing about something but ours is a very special relationship. You hear so many stories about people retiring and then getting to live only a year or two together before one of them passes on. MS has actually given me a present by allowing us to spend more time together.

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