So you focus on that one magical night, in the middle of a sea of terrible nights, where he held your hand and treated you like a person and you drank too much and that awesome song was playing and you imagined, in that moment, that you two were destined to be together forever, and your whole life might be this good. Lucky for you, your whole life turned out even better than that, it just doesn’t feel like it because you’ve become acclimated to love the way you used to be acclimated to suffering. Those highs you miss are the sorts of highs that occur in a life mostly made up of lows.
There are plenty of different kinds of bad partners. A Darth Vader, to me, is one who strings you along with tiny bits of your heart’s desire at carefully controlled intervals. Not enough to actually sustain you, but enough to keep you hooked. Enough to make you abdicate everything you know about what’s good for you.
Her advice about how to refocus these pangs and get past it is quite good.
Today’s letter, the first to come into the new inbox, is also about exes and regretting the past.
Dear Captain Awkward,
Two years ago, I ended a romantic relationship badly. It had been on-and-off-but-mostly-off for very, very long time…and by that time, it was a long-distance thing. When I broke things off, I was hurtful and ugly, ordering him to not contact me anymore. I received one text message from him after that, to which I did *not* respond (even though he wasn’t a stalker, I, in this way at least, treated him like one and held my ground on the no contact). I never heard from him again. Over the course of the last two years, I’ve learned a lot about myself and I’ve found an assertive authenticity that has boosted my self-esteem. I also recognized my wrong-doing in the way I figuratively kicked this guy in the nuts and felt a great deal of sorrow over it. My issues (that I have since made a lot of progress in working through) caused me to treat a fellow human miserably. It sucks to have been that woman.
I have no desire to begin any sort of relationship with him but at the same time, felt that I owed him an apology. A few months ago, I sent him an email that gently said just that. I completely understand that I have no right to expect a response – I’m totally cool there and I do not expect one (and said so in the email). For the record, though, I’ve grown enough to know that I don’t need his forgiveness; I have already forgiven myself. We all know where Good Intentions lead. . .but I did want to acknowledge to him that I know how badly I behaved and that I was sorry for it because that’s not what he deserved from me. And that I knew the relationship could not ever be again (seriously, I can’t stress enough my understanding of “Done” as a proper noun kind of finished) but that I wished him the best.
So, O Wise Captain, did I commit a huge and glaring mistake in sending that One Last Message? Or did I do a decent thing from the right sort of place in myself?
Decent Or Delusional?
You say you’ve forgiven yourself, so I want you to embrace the possibility that back when you broke up you were doing the best you could to take care of yourself. In an on-again, off-again thing, you needed to be Permanently Off, and you cut off contact completely because you’d tried to break up before and it hadn’t really taken. Maybe you were afraid that you’d second-guess yourself to death, or that he’d talk you into one more try, or your stupid pantsfeelings would rear up and trip you on the way out the door (again).
Adulting has a good, simple list of things you can do to be “decent” when breaking up. It echoes this old post, and should satisfy the folks who think that this is too cold (even if it is sometimes necessary self-preservation). But even if you are as gentle as you can possibly be, there is no way to break up with someone who still wants to be with you without causing them some pain.
I’m relying on Adulting heavily today, but there are apologies we make for other people, and there are apologies we make for ourselves, and I think this one was more the second kind. Why? Because you’re still gnawing on the problem trying to get something you didn’t quite get. You didn’t get reassurance or forgiveness from him, so now you’d like to get it from us.
If you’d written to me before you sent the apology letter, I would have advised you to hold off. You say you don’t want to reopen any kind of relationship with him (even a friendship), he lives at some distance (so you don’t share a social circle and it’s not about maybe running into him somewhere and wanting to smooth that over). While your letter may have provided him some valuable vindication and resolution, there is a high potential that it just made him uncomfortable. He spends all this time dealing and forgetting and moving on, then WHAM! He has to think about all of it again, and he has to do it on your schedule, and he has to let you have the last word (again) or else open up some new awkward line of communication. The fact that he didn’t contact you when he got the email actually speaks well of how things ended up! It means that he has enough closure that he doesn’t need to engage with you about what happened anymore.
When I’ve gotten out-of-the-blue apologies from people that I’m not really interested in interacting with in the present day (grade school bullies, someone I went out with a few times nine (!?!) years ago), I generally feel weird for a few minutes (sometimes because I am trying to remember the person at all). Then I either delete the thing and block them, or write back something like “I hope you feel better after apologizing – honestly, I had forgotten the whole thing and you have nothing to be sorry for. Best wishes” and then delete/block because I don’t want to get into a whole thing about the ancient feelings of total strangers. Whatever they are about has nothing to do with me at this point.
I realize you were more intimate with this guy than that, but apologizing after a few months would have been way too soon because you were still emotionally engaged in the situation. Two years is too late. So my theory is that maybe there was no good time to apologize to this person, and the emotional statute of limitations has run out.
But you know what? That’s just my opinion. Some people are really touched and moved by late apologies. It may have felt really good to get your note, and helped him put something to rest. And making amends has its place, though even 12-step programs include the caveat that amends are not about apologies to make yourself feel better, they are about directly restoring what was lost or doing so symbolically when reaching out directly to someone would distress them – you aren’t entitled to forgiveness or redemption.
So, how do we help you put this completely to rest? Because right or wrong, you need to stop torturing yourself about this, and it’s not like you can apologize to him for making a weird, unwanted apology.
Closure is something you make for yourself, so make it. Delete his phone number and block his email so that if he does send you a reply at some point it will go into the ether, where it belongs. Get rid of old messages, letters, photos if you haven’t already. Create a goofy ritual: Say “I am sorry” three times and walk Widdershins around a churchyard. Pick one of your friends at random and buy them pancakes that are secretly “I am making amends to the universe through a small act of kindness” pancakes, or better yet, donate a little money anonymously to charity.
It seems like you are a thoughtful person who tries sincerely to learn from their mistakes, so comfort yourself with that. You apologized as cleanly as you could and didn’t ask for anything for yourself, and that doesn’t make you a bad person or “delusional.” It makes you kind. And by writing this, maybe you gave someone else a way to ask “Who is this for, really?” when they consider reaching out to someone from the past.
Sometimes you don’t get congratulations from the universe when you level up, and self-awareness has to be its own reward.