Heartbreak Open Thread

We got the following request yesterday:

Hello Awkward Helpers! I am thinking that I (and maybe others?) might benefit right now from an open thread on coping with acute romantic loss and heartbreak, for, you know, group support purposes and such. I know the subject has been dealt with in previous questions, and that moderating a thread is hardly zero work for you all, so if that’s not doable right now I understand. But I am also trying to exercise self care and ask for things that I think would help me this week! Thanks, lovely folks!

I am otherwise committed for the next few days, so moderation will be spotty, but if your feelings about a breakup are more about this song or this one than this one, this thread’s for you. Talk amongst yourselves and remember the Litany Against Fear.


175 thoughts on “Heartbreak Open Thread

  1. Oh my gosh, thank you for doing this. This support made me burst into tears.

    (Also, I’m not going to bother with trying to log in with my other (more pseudonymous) WordPress account, because that always confuses the browser and gets complicated, so I might get stuck in moderation. Sorry!)

    You guys. This breakup is so, so hard. One of the hardest I’ve had (which is a lot). Ugh. I am still in the fixating on it and him and everything stage, but I think I’m creeping into the fruitlessly angry territory. How do I do this, again? I just really don’t know. SIGH.

    1. It’s probably different for others, but I actually found the “fruitlessly angry” emotions to be helpful, because I could turn them into purposeful anger, which I could then much more easily handle and get over than crushing sadness. Like:

      Stupid Universe for making this perfect person’s ambitions incompatible with mine!! > Stupid ambitions of perfect person!! > Perfect person had stupid ambitions! > Remember how they brushed their teeth all annoyingly while getting ready in the morning for their stupid ambitious job? FUCK THEIR TOOTH BRUSHING! > This person wasn’t perfect! They brushed their teeth weird! > I am WAY BETTER than being with someone who had weird tooth brushing habits! > I’m going to PROVE I’m better than that! > some time down the road I’m actually kind of over it, and since I wasn’t actually mad about the tooth brushing I can still have fond recollections of my former partner.

      1. One of the things that helped me in my Most Awful Breakup Ever was not talking to people about it. Like, I told my closest friends and family, but then issued a moratorium on talking about it at all, and I did it via mass email. And work colleagues, etc, just didn’t get the news. It sounds a little contradictory, I know, but it really helped me to not have people fucking ASK me about it all the time, so that I could figure out how I felt and just…be sad and angry and not have to verbalize it all the time and worry about other people. And then, after a few months had passed, I started talking a little bit about it and explained a little, and it helped to receive sympathy when I wasn’t still living through the trauma of it.

        (Not to say that you shouldn’t reach out for help if you want/need it! Of course, you should! Don’t be afraid to ask for help! Eat the Sandwich! But in my situation, I was just devastated and needed to be able to spend time with people and do normal life things without talking about my ex and re-living the breakup every damn minute. The silence helped.)

  2. what worked for me:

    give yourself a time limit. 3 days. A week. A finite amount of time that doesn’t create more problems for you (missing work, etc.) In that time, be sad as hell. Throw the best pity party ever. Drink all the wine. Watch Terms of Endearment. Listen to sad love songs. Eat ice cream for breakfast and have a cigarette for dinner. And then. And THEN. Get up. Take a shower. Put on a bra. And say yes: Anytime anybody asks you to do anything, say YES. Get out of the house. Even when you’re invited to something that sounds awful, just go. Now is not the time to be alone. Let your friends see sad you, that’s what friends are for. When the sads come, and they will, don’t fight ’em – let them wash over you like a wave, and know they’ll recede into an ocean of emotion again. But keep saying yes. Find a mountain to climb. This can be figurative or literal (I climbed Shasta). Learn a language. Pick up a new instrument. Commit to tutoring disadvantaged kids an hour a week – anything that takes the focus off you, and makes you show up to your life. Know that time does heal all things, and more importantly, remember that time takes time. Know that you are loved. By your Mom, or your best friend, or the bus driver that let you ride for free, or whatever you call God/the Universe/Allah/etc, know that you are loved. Know that you are loved. Know that you are loved.

    1. This is truly excellent advice. My current struggle is with long term unemployment, not heartbreak, but I am going to help myself to this advice anyhow. Because it rocks.

    2. “Know that you are loved. By your Mom, or your best friend, or the bus driver that let you ride for free”

      Woah, this is fantastic advice. I went through something similar, and this is just.. great advice.

    3. This is marvelous advice. And the beautiful thing is that it’s appropriate for all kinds of heartbreak, not just end-of-a-romantic-relationship heartbreak. I think it would have done me a great deal of good after a painful friend-breakup, or even after I made the difficult decision to not go to grad school.

  3. This is a timely thread for me! My boyfriend recently broke up with me. We had been together for a year, were serious and actively looking for places to move-in together, given that he spent most nights and all weekends at my place. When I was out of town he sent me an email telling me he had been cheating on me for the past 4 months, including details of their names, how he met them, what he did with them. And following that, no contact – he did not even answer my calls. It was completely unexpected and deeply hurtful. I’m back now and have resisted texting or calling – I felt like he wanted me to disappear from his life, and I have. He was a darth vader boyfriend in many ways (with a nightmare family), but it has been rough – I’m going through a hard hard time in my life anyway, and though the shock phase has passed, I am struggling to cope with the loss of support, loss of comfort, lonliness, and feeling terrible about myself.

    1. Wow. WOW. He did WHAT? Oh no. That…

      I am so sorry that happened to you. I hope you start feeling better soon and I am hopeful you will find someone else to be with, who isn’t deliberately cruel to you.

    2. Wow, just… there are no words for how terrible that is. I am so sorry he put you through that. I’m familiar with the ‘suddenly no communication’ thing, which is bad enough on its own, but to try and hurt you like that deliberately beforehand, that’s just… wow. As if it’s not hard enough to lose the support and comfort a partner brings without crap like that. Good luck with the coming times. I know that intellectually, you already know you have no reason to feel terrible about yourself, but I’ll just reiterate it: there is no reason for you to feel terrible about yourself. You trusted someone, and they hurt and disappointed you. You are not the party at fault here: you are the person who displayed the kind of positive, constructive behaviour that human interactions ought to be built on.

      1. LumberJack and MovingOn and Mamacita and everybody I hope it helps you, like it helps me, to know that although your pain is unique and all your own, you are not alone. Bless you, JenniferP, for starting this thread so that we can be a support group of sorts, and to see that heartbreak, like love is universal. And so are assholes, apparently.

        Here’s more from my break-up manifesto (this is a real thing I wrote for myself after my *HUGELY DEVASTATING BREAKUP I THOUGHT WE’D BE TOGETHER FOREVS AND HAVE TONS OF BABIES WHYYYYY GOD* and sent to couple of friends who were also going through breakups, who sent it to their friends, who sent it to their friends, etc., At the least, I can take solace in knowing my pain has somehow helped somebody, somewhere, deal):

        – Watch Your Thoughts. You Are Not Your Thoughts. Be Smarter Than Your Thoughts: When you are alone, when you are still, notice the chatter in your head. Right now, a lot of it probably consists of HIM (or her) – what happened, what didn’t happen, how it happened, etc. Question them: Are these thoughts true? Are they based in fear, or love? Where do they stem from? How do you feel when you think those thoughts? How would you feel without these thoughts? Can you step back an non-judgmentally observe them, even be amused by them, as a parent watching a child? Once you are aware of your thoughts as just those – thoughts, not YOU, you can remove yourself from them. The quickest way to expose them for what they are is to shine a light on them. (Books by Byron Katie, Eckhart Tolle, and Jack Kornfield really helped. Super new agey,sure, but they really got me through the open raw wound periods in the beginning)

        – Stop Playing The Tapes aka STAY PRESENT: When I find myself GOING THERE, I literally say, “STOP” out loud, and divert my focus to something, anything, in the here and now. How blue the sky is. The way my skirt feels against my skin. The sound of the wind through the trees. Get out of the past, it doesn’t exist. Get in the present. Here. Now. It’s the only reality.

        -Let It Go: This one is tough – how can you let it go? Pick up something close to you. A pen, keys, whatever. Hold in your hand. Now let it go. Practice doing the same with your negative thoughts. This takes practice of course, active, conscious practice.

        This is not to say don’t feel your emotions – do. Feel all of them, embrace them, crack open a couple of beers and make up the couch for them. But when you get to the point that your jerkbrain is literally having its way with you – I find that these tactics help bring me back from the edge. xoxox

        1. Great tips. Not just for breakups, but learning to let go of a negative past, difficult experience, relationship in general, etc. I particularly like “stop playing the tapes.” My mind replays the tapes every so often, sometimes out of nowhere, and it’s been challenging for me to figure out what to do when that happens.

          1. I was thinking I really liked the Let It Go part, including actually, you know, letting go of objects. I had never thought of it like that before. And now I feel like there are a lot of things I could practice on!

    3. That is just awful. Awful. I’m so sorry for what you’re going through, and so glad that Darth Vader has gone.

  4. Oh, that’s awful! What a douche. I’m so sorry you are having to go through that. I’ve been cheated on a couple times and left for other women, but I’ve never had an ex *enumerate* the details, which is just deliberately hurtful.

    I hear you about what’s hardest right now–the loss of support and comfort and being able to talk to them, when they were the one person you went to with everything. It dumps you into this sudden vacuum.

    And also about the unhelpful jerkbrain negative thinking that makes you feel bad about yourself. I’m still in the early stages of this, so I’m kind of letting that run its course without being too hard on myself for having the illogical negative thoughts. Clearly my brain has to do *something* right now to make it easier for me to accept it’s over and walk away, and telling myself he didn’t love me and never would have, while 100% unknowable and made up, seems to be accomplishing that right now. It just has the unfortunate side effect of spiraling my head into “that’s because no one ever loves you, because you are very difficult to love romantically” territory. I’m clearly going to have to deal with the fallout of that shit later.

  5. I was short-noticed canceled for a date with someone. Which, whatever. That happens. I am more heartbroken/disappointed in myself for making an “eh, dating… on a break” exception, and then being upset when things fell through. Well, that and it pushing my newfound “people not being mindful of my time makes me upset” button.

    It’s like I undid a whole lot of work and then steady going of liking to do my own thing. Ugh. Self, don’t disappoint so!

    I did follow the advice above and have ice cream for dinner. Three courses of it.

  6. Great open thread. I was recently dumped by my boyfriend. We’d been long distance (different countries) the whole time, and I was very careful in the beginning not to read too much into it because of the whole ‘tourist girl – local boy’ thing, but after several months and a couple of return visits and no red flags and encouraged by his apparant devotion, I started taking things more seriously.

    Fast forward yet another couple of months, and suddenly he becomes very unreliable in his communication. I already had a trip booked so when I was over there, I talked about this with him because unreliable = BIG no for me. He apologized and explained and I really had the feeling that we got closer and understood each other better and he made all sorts of promises (and up to that point, he had always kept his promises!). And then I come back home, and I never hear from him again. Doesn’t answer my calls, texts, doesn’t show up on Skype, nothing. Sent him an ‘ultimatum email’ (“if I haven’t heard from you by X date, I consider us broken up”), didn’t hear from him, ergo we broke up.

    All this was a month ago, and I *still* get upset at the stupidest moments. The nights we used to Skype are worst, around the time he would usually come online (which is now, actually, so this thread is very timely indeed), and I can’t sleep late at the weekends any more because dozing in bed alone hurts. But it’s getting better, and I totally second the suggestion of getting out and doing things with other people. Take everyone up on every invitation.

    Two other things I did/do that really help me and I’m throwing them out there in case someone else finds them useful:

    1) Whenever I feel really sad about the whole thing, I sing a song (full blast, as loud and with as much conviction as I can, because I live alone with only downstairs neighbours) that has a message that I find appropriate to my emotions at the time. My two go-to songs for this break up have been ‘Think of me’ from the Phantom of the Opera (because – well, all the lyrics, basically, knowing we’ve parted ways but hoping he will think of me sometimes) and Someone else’s story’ from Chess (for the times when I feel sad, but also feel I’m getting over him).

    2) I wrote a long letter detailing all the things he did or the things we shared that I was thankful for. I did actually send it to him this time (writing at the top that he could reply if he wanted to, but that I wasn’t expecting him to) but you can do this just for yourself. ‘Thank you for always making me feel safe when I was with you. Thank you for buying me dinner at that fancy place. Thank you for introducing me to [tv-show], it’s really cool.’ It really helped me to focus on the positive aspects of the relationship. Those are the things I want to remember, and in the sadness of a break-up I often find that in the long term the negative thoughts and memories that I mulled over in the aftermath become the strongest ones. So by really trying to remember as many positive things as I can and writing them down, I try to counter balance that, and I find it works really well in my case.

    1. Oh my gosh, the breakup by complete abandonment is so unconscionable. I’ve had one person do that to me (while I was in the hospital for emergency surgery, no less!), and while I got over it eventually, it was one of the most frustrating breakups of my life. I just wanted to find him and shake him. He couldn’t even do the courtesy of telling me he wasn’t going to talk to me anymore? What a jerk.

      All I want to do right now is write to him and talk to him, so writing letters that will not get sent (effectively journaling, I guess) has been my go-to this week. Like, with unmatched desperation. At some point it has to stop so I can think about other things in my life besides him. Just not this week.

      I’m not yet at the point where going out a lot and doing a lot of activities is likely to be too helpful. It will be later, but it hasn’t even been two weeks yet. I’m also traveling for work basically all month, and right now not alone, so I don’t have me-time (except today, a little, in the office!), access to structured activities (this is practically the middle of nowhere), or much to do besides read books, write letters, and try not to keep checking my email for messages. Eventually I’ll be back home and able to get back into a social routine and absorb myself in the things I enjoy in my life, but right now I have to tough it out and just push through the coming month.

      1. The desire to have that ‘one last talk’ is sooo strong, I totally know what you mean. It took effort to stop trying to reach him, even long after I had accepted that he wouldn’t reply.

        And yeah, while going out and doing stuff with other people really works for me, it obviously depends on the time frame and how much time and resources you actually have to do this.

      2. I actually read a similar tactic in a self-help book (The Charisma Myth, if it matters) about letting go – that, after writing the long letters with nothing held back, write a letter back to you from the person you’re writing to, apologizing and acknowledging all of the things they did wrong, and all the things you’d wish they’d say (aside from, obviously, the impossible, like actions such as getting back together).

        It felt dopey as hell, but I did it with someone who’d been a niggling annoyance that ate at my peace of mind when I happened to think of her (even though I’d long since cut off all contact). And surprisingly… it worked. Somehow receiving an apology, even a fake wish-fulfillment one, and reading it once a day or so for a few days eased the aggravation I used to feel when I happened to think of her (even if it didn’t happen much before, it happens even less now).

        It may work better with anger than with loss. It may not work at all for you. But if you’re writing the letters anyway, one more won’t hurt. 🙂

  7. the most important thing I have learned, what keeps me going through the recovery period, even though it hurts and it’s sad, but it’s completely true: one day, it won’t hurt at all. one day, you won’t think of that person at all. you won’t notice that day has come because you won’t think of them, but a few days later you may realize that it’s been a while. every day, every minute that passes is another layer of healing over the open wound. and yeah, sometimes it’s impossible to resist the temptation to pick at the scab, sometimes until it bleeds. and yeah, it’s going to leave a scar. and yeah, while it’s healing it hurts, and then it itches… but after a while it stops doing either of those. if the wound is deep enough, you might get an ache sometimes, when it rains.

    it hurts. it’s sad. sometimes you listen to that song and cry uncontrollably. sometimes you bury your head in pillows and scream. you write bad poetry, angry letters, angsty journal entries, draw pictures that you can hardly see through the tears and then rip up into little pieces and burn. try to be kind to yourself, and don’t do anything irrevocable; don’t hurt yourself in ways that won’t heal, don’t make big decisions. distract yourself sometimes, sometimes dwell on it, but remember that every second is taking you farther away, closer to the time when it won’t hurt any more.

    be gentle with your grief. don’t let anyone try to push you through it. feel what you need to feel. one day, it will pass. it really will. I promise.

    1. Heffalumps that is very helpful – knowing that it will pass, or at least reduce in intensity, being gentle with myself, and not letting anyone push me through it (the only way out is through, but I’ve noticed that I have a few friends who have trouble sitting with the intensity of my pain, and that is not helpful to me right now).

      1. Yes, it helps to remember that sometimes when people say, “You need to move on,” they do not have a valid point. What they are saying is, “I want you to be moved on by now.”

        1. Thanks for that, Staranise, so very true. Most people have no tolerance for open displays of grief, and will try to shut you down. I find that sort of behavior to be a most useful A-hole Detector, instantly letting you know who are and aren’t Safe People to talk to about your heartache. Grief has a lifespan, and it will complete it when it’s ready, not necessarily when you’re ready. Be kind to yourself when you’re hurting, LW.

  8. I’ve never had such a hard time with a breakup, and it’s driving me nuts. I’ve been pining over this guy -who never officially was a boyfriend or anything!- for longer than I dated him now. I think I’m doing just fine, and then suddenly I want to hide in a corner and cry again. And it’s been months. And this is not acceptable.

    Honestly, I don’t even think it’s about him anymore. I think there was just some bad stuff going on, some tough stuff, that I hadn’t noticed quite yet (unhappy with work, unhappy with progress elsewhere in life, working a night shift that left me generally unhealthy and has made it a lot harder to handle emotional stuff). And then he happened and it all fell apart, because when I tried to turn to the other things in life that made me happy, I realized there really… wasn’t a lot there. That all the things I had been working to accomplish had stalled out, or hit setbacks. So I’m trying to work through those stalls, but I’m doing it from a position of emotional vulnerability I wasn’t in before, and there’s a lot of questioning the self and doubt going on. Ugh. It’s been a bit of a failure year.

    (And of course there’s the voice in my head that says “still? Seriously, you’re STILL not over this? What’s wrong with you? What’s wrong that you can’t figure this out?”. Which is not a productive voice and I know it, so I mostly ignore it. But at this point it’s been long enough I feel bad bothering my friends with all this, and I think not acknowledging that I’m still hurting is probably not smart, so here you go internet have a brain dump!)

    But I’m a tough thing and I keep going and now I’m finally, finally starting to feel better. Even starting to put out feelers again, maybe get back on that damn pony. And guess who picked now -now!- to start doing weird quiet shit like liking pictures of mine on facebook?

    What the hell does he want and where’s that damn unfriend button and why didn’t I use it sooner and ugh!

    (Yay venting! I’m really mostly doing fine now. I just… I’m stuck on a) what the hell does he want now and b) how do I start the whole romance thing again with new peoples when I don’t know why the last one hit me so hard. Seriously, it made no sense. I’ve never handled anything that badly before emotionally speaking, not even like death or divorces or, of course, other breakups with people I was with for years. WTF.)

    1. Oh wow, up until the fb thing you could have been describing me! Everytime I think I’ve moved on I’ll run into my ex and it’s like I’m back to square one (small town, can’t completely avoid). It’s even worse beacuse then you beat yourself up for being so “silly” after all this time.

    2. I have been broken up with *that* ex for almost four years. I still get angry and yearn-y and upset when I see him, and we were only together for a year. Even though I am completely over him when I don’t have to see him and have dated plenty of other people since then.

      Two things: one, you are not silly. Some people just hit us in the feels and it never really heals right, and some people are just slow healers. Both of these things are fine. The other thing is, you can have complicated feelings about your ex and still have a full and healthy life. Even if you never are able to think about this guy with a sense of detachment, you can get over him and not want to be with him. It is possible!

    3. Ugh. I broke up with *that* ex about four years ago and I still get discombobulated whenever I see him. So I feel you.

      Two things: one, you are not silly. Some people hit you right in the feels and you never get quite over it. Other people are slow healers. It’s fine. It’s normal. Don’t worry.

      Two: you can have ambivalent feelings about an ex and still live your life. Even though I have feelings about my ex, I don’t have feelings for him, so I’m able to date, enjoy my life, and generally have no regrets about that breakup or think about him much unless I’ve just seen him. You will get to this place as well. I promise!

      1. “Even though I have feelings about my ex, I don’t have feelings for him…”

        Thank you. That’s what I needed to hear today.

    4. Ooh, can I just say how much I hate pining over someone who “who never officially was a boyfriend or anything!”? It’s bad enough feeling sad and angry about what they did, and stupid that I let myself get attached to someone who didn’t want me, without my brain constantly pointing out that I don’t get to feel that way because we didn’t do/say [whatever it is that counts as making it official].

      1. It’s such an awful way to keep yourself in the pain cycle to try and invalidate a painful end to dating someone by saying, “That person wasn’t with me, they never wanted to be with me, we weren’t together, why am I so sad?” If you cared about them and the connection is over, then it can still hurt, it’s OK that it hurts.

        1. Word. There’s no accepted-protocol for friend “break-ups”, either, but, f***, it was a universe of pain, for a really long time that still pounces back occasionally.

        2. I so wish I had heard this back when I was doing my own “unreasonably long mourning period for person only fleetingly in my life”. That pain cycle is super the worst.

          This, coupled with the Captain’s advice of not letting yourself pine for too long before attempting to date someone would have saved me a year of quiet heartbreak. Sigh. Live and learn.

          1. Yeah. I’m trying to do that “attempt to date someone” thing, but I keep self sabotaging because, well, one of the major problems with last breakup was that he wasn’t over his previous girlfriend, and I don’t want to put anyone else through that. Eh. I’m working on it.

      2. I have only ever pined over not-boyfriends. It makes me feel very, very silly and pathetic. (Also dysfunctional in that I only have had boyfriends that I didn’t like all that much. It took me two years of reading Captain Awkward to have the thought that maybe having a boyfriend would suck less if it were someone I liked, but I have been unable to figure out what to do with that thought except periodically take it out and give it a suspicious side-eye.)

      3. I know that for me, if I am in an official relationship long enough to get to know all the stuff that really annoys me, I *feelknow* in a having experienced it way, why the relationship won’t work in the long run. Whereas with the intense emotional connections/flirty friendships that could have/should have been full-fledged relationships but weren’t or the hook-ups that I know aren’t really LTR-possible but I start to get the feelings anyway, I’ve never gotten to really know them on that day to day basis where I actually get sick and tired of the crap and feel the consequences of incompatibility. I can know in a thinking only way that it can’t be for *reasons* but I haven’t felt and experienced the reasons. So, except for one official relationship which didn’t actually last that long before the ex that he loved first (and about whom I didn’t know) came definitely back into the picture, it’s generally been much harder and taken longer for me to get over flirty friendships/hook-ups/flings that weren’t than the official relationships.

      4. Bleah. My worst experiences of heartbreak have been:
        A) someone I was never “with” properly, who made it clear that no relationship was ever on the cards and I deluded myself as only a lovestruck idiot can that that would change, and
        B) a friend who was incredibly important to me for many years, who suddenly changed his personality and views on all sorts of things and became a complete asshole (I still don’t know why, but it was dramatic) and we couldn’t be friends anymore. There was never anything romantic between us or any desire for anything romantic.
        A took me a couple of years to get over. B I’m mostly recovered from but it still hurts sometimes – after four years. These things take as long as they take, sadly.

    5. To be fair, we were spending every free minute/night together for three months, so it probably should have been considered an official relationship thing. It just didn’t get talked about until he started acting really distant all of a sudden, and then the talking was me going “The way you’re acting lately makes me feel like you don’t want me around. Do you want me?” and him saying “I can’t look you in the eye and say yes.” and me saying “kthxbai”. Boom.

    6. Hey, it is totally okay to be gentle on yourself about a break up, or a not-even-a-thing-hard-to-label-relationship you’ve had. It’s okay to also admit your year has been crappy. I think when we’re stressed we forget to give ourselves breaks, we become perfectionist and we listen to the thoughts in our head saying, ‘Well, shit, you definitely haven’t finished writing up this work, better do that now!’ or ‘This person I live with is doing something I’m not comfortable with, but if I speak up that’ll be more energy to expend and they hate me :(‘ or ‘I’ve had a really long day but my friends want to go out lates and I should really see them but I don’t have the energy’.

      It’s totally fine to give yourself a break based on needing more time for your emotions. I’ve found it’s been really bad to throw yourself back into romance and dating when you’re too exhausted to do anything else and do anything for yourself. I hope it gets better soon though.

      Damn the facebook liking and weird quiet shit! I have one of those too, a thing that was never really a thing. We were good friends in a university we both used to go to, we both liked similar art or literature as well as sharing many of the same outlooks on life. He Feelingsbombed/Feelingsambushed me a couple of years ago. He was getting together with his current gf and I was with my current bf. I got clear away from him for a while and let him process whatever he was feeling but I never checked up on it. Now he likes photos of me and work I do, but when we’re in mutual friend groups and I mention something I’ve done recently (like visit a gallery or do a race), he’ll suddenly bring up a ‘Hey, I like that too, you never mentioned it!’ Well, you had yeeeeeaaaars to mention it and you’ve only brought it up now, what do you want? Because I’m on watch for ‘FEELINGS’ around him.

      You have every right to look at that sort of behavior online with a heavy side of side eye and stay well back.

      Also, hi, I’m a long time lurker, first time commenter and I love your blog Captain!

    7. So I’m LW #473, which means I was dumped earlier this year after a very short-term relationship with a guy I thought was perfect, but he wasn’t ready for anything so soon after his divorce. The Captain’s advice REALLY helped me heal, but even now that I’ve been seeing someone I’m head-over-heels for for 3 months, that breakup still hurts a bit. It doesn’t help that my new partner is also divorced (and almost the same age as the ex), and I sometimes get unfounded anxiety worrying that he is going to break up with me for the exact same reason. I think I’ve mostly come out from under that fear, since he’s been awesome for awhile now and treating me like he really does not want me to go away, but. That ex leaving me made me feel like I can’t trust my reading of anyone anymore. If he didn’t want to be with me, then anyone can not want to be with me!

      So I know it’s not about that man anymore. I like my new guy much better on many levels, especially because I know him much better than I ever got the opportunity to with the other man. It’s about the feeling of lost potential, and that awful disillusioned feeling of having the rug pulled out from under my feet. I really thought that the ex and I were perfect for each other, and our first date was some serious Before Sunrise shit, only with a LOT more snow. It was magic. I’m pretty naive and I watch a lot of movies, and it was incredibly hard for me to accept that someone could walk away from the kind of chemistry and kismet I felt we had going on. And it’s been hard for me to accept that I’ll never know if it went both ways, or if he was Just Not That Into Me and the breakup wasn’t actually about his divorce. I tell myself that he did not want to make it happen, but part of me still believes he liked me too much and wasn’t prepared to deal with those feelings, because that is a romantic-ish story and one I want in my life. Who cares about the unknowable truth?

      I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to fully wave goodbye to that potential. I didn’t have that much time to fantasize about the life we’d have together, but I wanted to be his girlfriend, and I still think we’d have been good together. I’ll never know what would have driven me crazy about him. I think I can put that away somewhere deep in my heart though, and make it just another path I didn’t get to go down. It’s sad, but it’s fine, there are thousands of those, and they only cause me pain every once in a blue moon.

      The harder part to heal from is the feeling that I can’t gauge how my relationships are going or trust anyone’s feelings for me to keep them around. Learning that is just part of life, because no matter what, people will leave you, even if they love you, and it’s impossible to read anyone’s mind. Sometimes I think things about my current boyfriend I know he would never suspect, and it scares me a little. Everyone has a secret world inside of them*. It’s kind of beautiful, but seeing it demonstrated so starkly has been one of the hardest lessons I’ve ever had to learn. I’ll never be able to predict anyone’s actions and they won’t behave in ways that I find fair or rational. It’s so difficult to accept that and not try to convince anyone that they should give you a chance or love you.

      *Neil Gaiman’s words, not mine

      1. ” it was incredibly hard for me to accept that someone could walk away from the kind of chemistry and kismet I felt we had going on. And it’s been hard for me to accept that I’ll never know if it went both ways, or if he was Just Not That Into Me and the breakup wasn’t actually about his divorce. I tell myself that he did not want to make it happen, but part of me still believes he liked me too much and wasn’t prepared to deal with those feelings, because that is a romantic-ish story and one I want in my life. Who cares about the unknowable truth?” This! Only with “split with ex-fiance” in place of “divorce” and god knows what happened.

        I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how much of our lives are the narratives we decide in on our head, and not what really happened. And if it’s easier on me to believe the best -to believe he did love me like I loved him but he just got scared, to believe he felt it and he wasn’t ready (rather than that he didn’t feel it at all, or I did something that made him lose interest), then hey! That’s what I’m going to settle on.

        1. Yes. Yes. Yes! Oh my God, this thread is a revelation because these are the exact problems I have been having, and the thoughts I have been focusing on. I really do think “not being ready for deep feelings” makes more sense than “not feeling it, full-stop,” simply because I’ve been rejected enough to discern when it’s easy for someone to brush you off rather than when it becomes extremely difficult.

          HOWEVER. Accepting this has also helped me realize that this person has a lot of emotional work to do, and now I would ONLY want him back in my life if he’d done that work. It’s nice because I know I did have someone who cared for me as deeply as I cared for him, but we can only do what we are so capable of.

          Because of this thought process, I feel proud of myself for dating and moving forward, and actually LW#473, your letter helped me understand my dating habits now. I was angry at myself for not finding someone immediately and getting over him, but I realized that first, I’m not like that, and second, my standards have raised considerably because of him — and this is a good thing!

          Anyway, back to reading this thread!

    1. *jedi hugs* Give yourself leeway on how hard this is, okay? It’s okay to not be an emotional Superman, leaping break ups in a single bound. You will come through it though, so just keep going one bit at a time.

    2. Some days are like that. It’s really, really okay. You don’t have to handle things perfectly right now, or even handle them at all.

      Survive. Be gentle with yourself. The handling with follow.

  9. Sighhh. I wish that it wasn’t, but this is my thread right now. My relationship of three years ended a couple of weeks ago and it sucks oh so hard. I wish I could immediately get to that place where you’ve kind of forgiven the bad stuff and remember the good experiences and the things you learned in a relationship, and I’m just not that fucking zen. It takes time to get there and there’s no way to skip ahead.

    In the last few weeks, I have listened probably fifty times to this song while thinking about letting this dude, my life with him, and all of my expectations for the future go:

    I find it weirdly soothing. I also came across this article that apparently went viral a while ago and latched onto it so hard that I was sketching myself a crocodile tattoo and had to draw a hard line for myself of OKAY, NO REACTIONARY POST-BREAKUP TATTOOING ALLOWED:


    1. That’s such a cool goddess. I’ve been meaning to get the line “There’s a crack in everything/that’s how the light gets in.” from Anthem by Leonard Cohen tatooed on me for a few months now. I might have to put the line on a crocodile now. 🙂

  10. One thing that made a huge difference for me was allowing myself to grieve for the life I’d envisioned as well as for the person I’d lost. That was particularly useful because by the time my last serious relationship broke up, I was fully aware that the guy in question was not good for me. And yet I’d had all these plans (some serious, some merely daydreams) about what life with him would be like. Breaking up meant not just giving him up, it meant giving up all those plans, hopes, daydreams.

    In some ways, that was actually harder than losing the guy.

    It helped a lot to acknowledge that, that suddenly where I had thought I had plans I now had none. After a while that was freeing–I can pick a new direction if I want!–but at first it hurt like hell, and it was really good for me to recognize that and be kind to myself whenever I came up against it.

    1. Oh my, yes. I’d forgotten this — it’s been nearly two decades since my last bad bread up — but this was a huge deal for me with my first real breakup. I was young and in love for the first time and dumb enough to have tons of PLANS, life-long, we’re-going-to-get-married-and-buy-that-little-cabin-in-the-woods PLANS. I remember, after the break up, lying in my bed and feeling like I was falling through this throbbing cloudscape of pain and loss and misery. And for months afterwards I’d think “Oh, we’re going to go to that concert” and then I’d remember that no, no we weren’t. And I’d fall another few feet through the cloudscape.

      I got so sick of it catching me by surprise that I did a … I guess you’d call it a ritual. I sat down and meditated and thought of every single damned thing we were going to do together — real (tickets to concerts) and imagined (cabin in the woods, red-headed babies) — and I poured them all into a picture of the two of us together and then I dumped it into a fire. It was maybe a little over the top but it was cathartic. I was able to eat Oreos again afterwards.

    2. Oh, yes. I just broke up with my boyfriend a week ago. Part of the reason I hung on for so long was that I have a crystal clear vision of us getting married and all the cute children we’d have, even though in reality I knew we were on our last legs. The worst part is that we were even planning to go to Europe together at the end of next year and I have saved all this money and now I am not sure what to do with it. The idea of going to Europe by myself is utterly terrifying. Most of my friends have either already been or don’t have the means to save for it. I keep trying to tell myself it will be character building and if I go on a tour I’m bound to meet people. It’s a bit too much to think about right now though.

      1. I said something down below about losing potential shared experiences. I totally feel you on this. I already knew my relationship was not going to work out for the long term when I entered it (he was always going to marry a muslim woman, I was never going to be a muslim woman) and *still* I did that thing about how wonderful it would be to have him come home after a long days work and play with the kids while I served dinner. And I don’t even want kids, but there they were in my imaginary future that I miss now.

        On the plus side, you have money now, which is always good even if you don’t go to Europe. Although Europe is great! (but I’m a European so I am biased…) If you’re ever in a place to think about that, and if you’re the couch-surfing type, there’s always a sofa-bed available for you here in Brussels 🙂

      2. I would love to go to Europe alone, but I’m me. You could always put it aside for a Europe trip later; it doesn’t have to be spent right away, and put it in the right sort of account and it’ll gain a little value while you’re healing.

      3. An ex of mine broke up with me on my birthday (thanks, dude) and I made a point of having a huge party the first time my birthday came around after that, just so that I wouldn’t have to spend the day wallowing in my remembrances of times past. I took back my birthday from the memory of the breakup.

        What I’m saying is maybe Europe isn’t the right trip right now, and that’s why it’s so terrifying. Maybe take the money you’ve been saving and instead of going to Europe, go to Hawaii (assuming you don’t live in Hawaii), or to Seattle, or Chicago, or San Francisco, or go visit your best out-of-town friend, or go on writer’s/filmmaker’s/poet’s retreat, or some other place that isn’t as terrifying to you as Europe and also isn’t a reminder of the Trip That Might Have Been. Take back your trip and make it into what you want, even if that’s a hammock in the back yard.

      4. I am the world’s biggest dork, but I am super-envious of anyone who can go on the trips many universities I know offer that non-students can audit, where it’s a course on “History and Architecture of Medieval Spain” or “The Vampire Mythos in Southeasten Europe”, and the whole class goes to Europe for a week or two and gets a super well-informed tour by someone with a PhD in the area. So if that was me, that’s totally what I’d do.

  11. I don’t know if I’ve necessarily experienced extreme heartbreak, and I don’t know if this is common either but I’ll have my initial day or two of oozing around in misery and then say to myself, “OKAY. TIME TO LIVE YOUR LIFE AGAIN AND THINK ABOUT OTHER STUFF.” I basically impose myself on my friends; I turned up on my friends’ doorstep with a six pack of cider (I would have brought some for them too but alcohol is expensive in Australia) after the most recent break up with no notice and they were suitably accommodating!

    If I feel sooky after that I sit myself down and put on a Best Coast album or the Vaccines first one and have a cry for as long as those albums go for and just decide to do other stuff afterwards. I can definitely decide when to let myself cry. I consider the way I deal with this stuff to be one of my strengths.

    Also; I block them from all social media and delete their number from my contacts and out of my history. If they text or call me after the fact I usually tell them to delete my number and that I will be the one to contact them if/when I feel like I’m over it. And if we have mutual friends, I tell them I do not want to hear about them. I had to tell my dad that once.

    All this has been easier since I left home though because my family has this thing where if you cry at all for any reason it’s called sooking (And I did it myself up there) like my mum had a heart attack earlier this year and cried when she found out she needed a triple bypass and referred to that as sooking. Mum u r allowed to cry it is a big scary operation and it takes a long time 2 recover. But I digress! If I ever find myself crying at home it’s very stressful because my mum in particular hates seeing me cry so much that she gets mad at me for crying which is a totally helpful and not-stupid reaction. *eyeroll*

    1. Oi re: your parents’ reaction to crying.

      As a general side note about crying (for everyone): Don’t forget to drink enough to prevent annoying headaches.

    2. Your story of “sooking” reminds me of something that should be stated in this thread – if somebody tries to tell you “it’s not that bad” or “you need to get over it,” don’t be afraid to tell them off. There is nothing worse you can do to somebody who is hurting then to guilt them over feeling hurt. Don’t ever let someone make you feel as though you have to hold it in to make their time of it easier.

      True story: I went through a fairly shitty breakup several years ago and spent months repressing how hurt and angry I was over my partner’s blatant passive-aggressive behavior toward the end (she wanted the breakup but not the responsibility doing the dumping), and finally I just broke down sobbing one night because we’d been out drinking and that never mixes well with heartache. On the way home in the car, I had to listen to my sister and mother keep telling me that it wasn’t a big deal and that the other person wasn’t worth it. Finally, I just snapped and spent the next five minutes reaming the two of them out over how bullshit it was to ask someone to repress their emotions for somebody else’s convenience – especially when they’re family and supposed to be supportive. I have to say the ten minutes of chastened silence that followed is one of the most satisfying I’ve ever exoerienced.

  12. I don’t even know where to start. My husband and I separated a few months ago and at the same time my best friend started a new relationship. Since then I have been emotionally all over the place – with my friend – and have been quite horrible about/to the girlfriend. Now we aren’t talking at all.

    The stuff with my husband does not upset me nearly as much as the stuff with my friend. And that makes me sad because I think it demonstrates how far gone my marriage was/is.

    But it’s easier not talking to my friend – even though I miss him and want to see him. It’s easier because I don’t have to talk or think about his girlfriend and how abandoned I feel/felt.

    The thing that has been getting me through is my best girlfriend also separated from her husband earlier this year. Comfort in misery I suppose.

  13. One thing that helped me through a particularly painful breakup, was asking a close friend to notify other friends of the breakup, so that every time I ran into someone on the street I wouldn’t have to figure out how to answer the question, “How’s ExBoyfriend?” It kept me from having to rehash the whole thing over and over. I was so grateful to my friend for being willing to do that. It didn’t stop me from rehashing it in my head all the time, but it kept me from having to do it out loud, and in public.

    1. I did the same thing when my partner of 18 years left me for another woman. I told my closest friends, then asked one of them to circulate the news among our wider circle. It was such a relief in those first few weeks not to be constantly having to re-tell such painful news. Plus the flurry of emails and messages I received as people heard was like a huge virtual hug – I read over those messages many many times.

      I also sent an email around my department at work a couple of days before I went back in (I took about a week off sick immediately after he left, but only my boss knew the reason – everyone else assumed I had flu or something). I kept it short and professional – I just said my partner had left me, that I was doing ok and would be back at work on x date, but please forgive me if I’m not my usual efficient self for a while. The professional tone gave my colleagues a nice clear signal that I didn’t want gushing sympathy (the last thing I could have handled while at work – I would have totally broken down!) but meant they gave me a bit of slack while I recovered, and I didn’t have to face any of those awkward explanations.

  14. I am so heartbroken.
    We were together seven years, and were about to start trying for a baby.
    These last seven years were the happiest times of my life.
    We had a home together, the only home I ever really had.
    He’s funny and kind and talented. I was a better person with him. There is so much in my life that I only really shared with him. He was my closest family. My best friend. My brother in arm through the hard times, and my partner in crime through the good.
    I had no doubt that we were going to spend the rest of our lives together.
    It’s been about four months since it ended. For a while I was, not actively suicidal, but hopeless. Just waiting through each day. I’m through that now, and I’m working to build up my life again, but there is a lack of joy in my life that I can’t imagine changing.
    I can’t imagine being with anyone else. We were long distance for long periods of time, six months at a time, several times over, and however lonely I got I was never even tempted by anyone else. I can’t imagine being touched by someone else.
    I’m 33 now. I have had other long term relationships. I’ve loved other people. But I’ve never met anyone else like him. I feel like this is something I’m going to carry with me for the rest of my life.

    1. Starship, you could be me, except my first husband & I were together 14 years, married for 11. I too thought we were life-mated and best friends. He waited until I was 6 months pregnant with our first child before he told me he was leaving. I was devastated. Neither of us had anyone else, he simply forgot to mention he no longer wanted to be a parent, and oh, by the way, didn’t love me anymore. Oops.

      The only thing that got me through sane was my son. Him needing me so much, and my fierce commitment to be there for him. You don’t have a child, and of course you may need to mourn the loss of the potential children you were imagining in your head. There is a whole life that will never come to be you may mourn. This is totally normal.

      But what you can do to move the process along is find some passionate cause, someone or something that NEEDS you, and that you feel a visceral need to help. This need not be a lifetime commitment, but something you can use to get out of your head and into the moment right now. Something that will make you feel good, needed, and wanted, and start creating new memories where the old ones are painful.

      I know at the moment it’s hard to imagine a future with anyone. Your passion seems burned, scarred over, too alienated from your self to be touched. Love can happen again. You note that above I speak about my first husband. I did find love again, and we’re approaching our 18th anniversary.

      The years I spent alone between loves was painful, but also extremely instructive. I found out who I was when I was solitary, and grew to love myself. I found freedom and power in making all my own decisions. Best advice I can give is forgive yourself and don’t buy into any messages of failure, whether they come from others or internally. Make new memories, because life is out there, not in the past. Be kind to yourself, not by being indulgent, but by caring for yourself with good sleep, good food, pleasant surroundings, and managing your life in a way that makes things more comfortable, not less. You do not deserve any punishment, don’t let yourself neglect your own needs. Spend time with people who love you, and listen to their care for you. Believe you’re worth it. You are.

  15. My first serious boyfriend (also my first sexual partner) dumped me two months ago after being together for three years. I didn’t see it coming at all, and it hit me like a train. Bottom line was, I was serious about him, and he never was about me. It took me so long to realize it wasn’t my fault, or because I’m not good enough for him. I still think that way sometimes, but I’ve been able to control it more recently.

    I spent the first three days afterwards crying, laying on my couch watching Gilmore Girls and breakup movies (Forgetting Sarah Marshall, 500 Days of Summer, etc). I called my Mom to talk it out, and I listened to a lot of Taylor Swift and Adele.
    Really though, there were two things that helped more than anything else.

    1. Since the breakup was over a quick phone call, I never really got the time to develop my thoughts and speak. It was very one sided. After I finished my 3 day cry-fest, I gathered up the thoughts I wanted to say to him (mainly that I thought his reasons for breaking up were minor problems we could easily work through, if he had really wanted to). I laid the words out logically and calmly. I checked to see if he was online, and I facebook messaged it to him. Just one short paragraph. And he wrote back. He said he agreed, but he just wasn’t ready for a real serious relationship. It still sucked, but actually getting closure like that was great. I felt like a weight had been lifted off me.

    2. I developed rebound crushes on other guys. I never acted on them (really would have been a terrible idea), but just allowing myself to be interested in someone new really helped me stop thinking about him.

    Also, it’s nice to give yourself a few rewards. If you make it a few days without crying, give yourself a mental high-five! Progress! Also, As they say in Parks & Rec, “Treat Yo’ Self”. I bought new handbags, new bras, and a ukulele, because why not. I deserve it for being awesome, with or without him.

    Reading all your comments on this thread has been great too, it’s so nice to feel like I’m not alone. I’m mainly a lurker here, but this seemed like the right thread for me right now. Sorry if this was long or rambling! Remember you’re all fantastic, and we’re all going to be ok soon.

  16. My partner died in March, he killed himself after suffering from a long term illness. I’m glad his pain is over but I miss him so much, his utter devotion to me. His love. He was Internet famous so there was a lot of support initially but that’s over now. I guess I thought I’d be feeling better by now but I feel infinitely worse, lonelier, more isolated. I had to give up our home and put everything in storage and I’m living with my mom. We were together in some form for 19 years. I’m so lost.

    1. My thoughts go out to you. I hope your future has more joy and less pain in store for you.

    2. I am so sorry. I hope that there are people you can reach out to and get support from, even if they aren’t coming to you first anymore.

    3. You are one of the strongest women I’ve ever Internet witnessed. I miss him too and I never officially met him so I can only imagine how lost you feel.

      He was a powerful force and such a big part of your life I think it’s more than reasonable that you are still struggling.

      He’s a good man with a good heart and beyond the modification fame stuff there’s lotsa people who love you both just for who you are.

      I mean how can we not? Still after all these years when I see ducks & duck looking things I think of you two. 🙂

      I’m just sayin there’s still a lot of love floating around out here for you, don’t be afraid to reach out for it if that’s something that would help you.

      You have my admiration, condolences, and gratitude. ❤

  17. I have had this breakup. I suggest the following things:

    1) Spending extra time with friends who love you, and who will let you cry and give you hugs and threaten to kneecap the bastard because even though you are not quite ready to move on, the display of loyalty and affection will make you feel good.
    2) Doing awesome things that you love. When I was going through THE LONGEST BREAKUP OF ALL TIME, I did a lot of traveling. And even though we were “on a break” and still talking (re: emotional masochism) at the time, it was hard to be miserable all the time because I was having many amazing experiences.
    3) Don’t talk to them. The less you talk to the ex who leaves you heartbroken, the faster the healing goes. I violated this one in spades, so when I finally cut off contact, it took me that much longer to get back on even keel, but it was absolutely necessary.
    4) I VERY CAUTIOUSLY recommend sex with other people. The trick is to sleep with people who are good people and whose expectations line up with yours. That can make you feel sexy and awesome. Otherwise, it can make things MUCH MUCH worse (I had both experiences, and yeah).

      1. It’s a real challenge. I found that sleeping with friends worked better for me than sleeping with strangers, but that was only my experience.

        1. Yes, this. When I was not even close to ready for a new relationship or dealing with a stranger on intimate terms, I had a friend who engaged in mutual benefits with me for a while. It was good for both of us, and feeding my soul/body that way kept me from making some bad decisions and helped me get back to health.

          1. The last time I tried this, it turned from “Hey, mutual friend comfort!” to “Oh by the way I’ve been in love with you since I met you” and I ended up hurting a friend. But, live and learn. I think I’d be a lot more perceptive now.

      2. Yeah I think you just have to put out what you want when you want it with the appropriate people (sexy, not scary, right intensity of feelings) and then see what they say. I think a good thing to remember is friendly sex/sex with no expectation of romantic relationship can be mutually beneficial. I’ve hooked up with a friend a couple times. Similar to what tirzahrene said, for me its a matter of feeding my body/soul. He recognizes that we don’t have the chemistry needed for a romantic relationship, but he thinks I’m attractive and interesting and likes getting to be sexual with me. He has a really high need for physical affection and its great for him to have another person who will cuddle him.

  18. I have totally been through that breakup; I used to be the queen of them, and now I’m much better. The trick is, I think, to cut off contact as quickly as possible to leave yourself a “getting over that person” zone. Even if you get back in touch, you definitely want some time where you aren’t speaking. The other trick is to get really selfish and focus on you. Go see Europe! Get obscene amounts of Thai food with your friends and complain! Learn a new language! Go flirt with cute people at a bar! Maybe sleep with them (although be VERY careful, as it is easy to attract assholes in a vulnerable state)! Take some time to remember that you are the driving force of your life, and you have the power to make it wonderful if you want. And don’t be afraid to grieve. That is also important.

    1. This! This has been my method for getting through many a painful breakup. I thought I was getting pretty good at it, actually, until this last one. I think the “oh god, my normal tricks aren’t working” was/is a big chunk of what threw me so hard, actually. But I figure it’s got to be a time thing. Just keep trying. Fake it till you make it. It’ll work eventually.

  19. ok, so minor trigger warning for a small instance of violence.

    My girlfriend/fiance of two years broke up with me in June over Facebook. We are/were in grad school together and she had gone home to the UK for summer break. A few days later she sends me a single facebook message saying she wants to break up. The next day she tells me she cheated on me. Then she tells me it’s my fault and that its no big deal because its “just sex” and “I didn’t like you much anymore anyways”. Then she basically just yelled about how I was the worst person ever and no one really liked me and none of her other ex-boyfriends had a problem with her cheating on them and were still friends, so clearly I was messed up if I had a problem with it.

    So, naturally, I was hurt and upset (which of course “proved her right”). Then I thought more about our relationship. Specifically, I thought about the time we went out and I forgot my phone and she was so angry that I had been so “inconsiderate” that she punched me in the back of the head so hard my ears rang. It was the only time she ever got so angry she hit me, but she also repeatedly said afterwards that it had been my fault for making her that angry and that I was not allowed to every bring it up again because that wouldn’t be fair. I also thought “hey, I should be able to take a punch one time…” and dropped it… but that was abusive of her, right? She basically constantly told me that none of my friends were “real” friends, that I only had her, and that if she ever got angry it was because I wasn’t loving her enough. She also said that depression wasn’t real and that tourettes wasn’t real, so whenever I was having trouble with depression or tourettes she called me a liar or said I was just “playing the victim” to trick her or claim that SHE was “crazy”. Like I would say something like “man I am depressed today” and she would actually scream at me.

    So now a month and a half later I’m doing better and I know I’m better off now that she decided to run off (and possibly quit school as well)… but I just don’t get why she needed to be so cruel about it. I thought of her as my best friend despite everything… I thought I could have taken a breakup that let us still be friends, but instead it was just more of what I now suspect was really fucked up abusive cruelty. I keep feeling like “hey I put up with all of that cruelty and horribleness for her, I lived with it and she STILL cheated on me, so what was it even for?!” Like, by putting up with emotional abuse I was somehow abiding by a contract or something, which I know is a fucked up way to think. Also now I keep hearing her voice in my head saying “no one really likes you” when I try to reconnect to the people I grew apart from while with her, or when I try to meet new people. How do I trust myself again after that? Also… this might just sound odd but… was it abuse? I don’t even really know if I can call it that…

    1. Hi, I saw a version of this come in in the inbox but haven’t had time to get to it. I’m glad you posted it here, this is probably the better solution.

      Short answer:

      YES, you get to call her behavior abuse and sort things out through that lens. SHE HIT YOU. She was mean to you. She blamed you for bad things she did and tried to make them your fault. She treated you like a toy she could pick up and put down whenever she wanted. Not. Good.

      The aftermath of abuse is almost always confusing, because abusers are people who claim to love you and sometimes they act like they love you and there were legitimately things that you loved about them. If people were just 100% abusive assholes from the start, and wore a badge or a sign declaring it, you wouldn’t fall in love with them. But abuse gets mixed up with love, and it messes with our whole idea of what love feels like and our ability to trust ourselves. And abusers support the “that wasn’t really abuse!” narrative and want to keep you second-guessing.

      I would do whatever you can to cut off contact with her and give yourself space to heal.

      1. Thanks. Yeah, I saw the title of the open thread and thought “this should save the good captain some time”.

        I’ve cut off all contact I can. Unfriended from facebook, all that jazz. Some nights though I still just get super angry and sad and “IT DIDN’T HAVE TO BE THIS WAY!” and those are hard… On paper I know that closure is just an illusion and that there is nothing I can expect from dealing with her, but in my mind there are all these “perfect” things to say that I just “know” would make me feel better if I said them. Of course I won’t, it would just open the door for more problems, but its frustrating to have a desire and to know it’s not actually a desire you want.

        I’m kind of terrified that she’ll just suddenly show up at school next year, or worse bring her boyfriend back with her. She’s been so manipulative, I worry that she’ll force people to “pick sides” and I won’t be able to keep up and lose friends here. I know I shouldn’t obsess over something that hasn’t happened and might not, but, yeah, tourettic OCD is a shitshow sometimes.

        I guess I’ve done everything I can do and now I just need to heal naturally with time, and so I guess all that is left is to get as much of the talking and complaining out of my system here so it doesn’t fester.

        1. Suggestions for dealing with the anger and the “what the fuck was that” (yes, it was abuse, but like you said, you want to be able to trust yourself again, and the more you work through it and get a stable opinion about what happened, the better you’ll feel and also be confident in your judgement of people. Also, you didn’t deserve any of this and it wasn’t your fault and maaan, what an asshole she was/is). So, suggestions:

          1) Write that classic e-mail/letter you’ll never send. Write everything down. The plans you had, how betrayed you feel, the accusations for what she did to you, the love you still feel, the confusion, everything. You can decide whether you want to keep it or burn/destroy it ritually to let go.

          2) You don’t have to stop with this one thing. It’s very likely that it will take some time to understand all of this, so if this is your thing, try journaling regularly about everything that comes to mind, be it directly about her or just the shit day you had.

          3) If you want to tell her something? Do it. I don’t mean really do it, but in the safety of your home, with only yourself as a listener, you can tell her eveything that was fucked-up and unjust and that hurt and that you just don’t understand. And she won’t be able to interrupt you or hurt you further.

          4) If you know someone you can trust or have/can afford a therapist, let them validate your feelings. If you have someone compassionate sitting right in front of you, who can tell you if it was normal when your ex told you that you don’t have real friends and all the other things she did and they say no (which they should), this constant validation can help you make sense of what happened.

          5) If it helps ease your anxiety, you can write down and even rehearse (I promise, this helps) scripts that you will use when e.g. your friends come asking what happened. This way, you will feel prepared and not be caught off guard if the situation ever arises in real life.

        2. I’m really glad you reached out. Do what the other commenters suggest – write ALL of it down. Write letters you’ll never send. Get it out.

          And DO NOT feel like you have to pretend everything is ok or hide what happened for the sake of friends. You did nothing to be ashamed of. You don’t have to tell everyone every detail of your life, but tell close friends what really happened (even if they are ‘back home’, if, as I remember correctly you are a bit geographically isolated form them right now) and tell mutual social acquaintances “Yeah, we’re not together anymore, it was not an amicable breakup and I don’t plan to remain friendly” so they don’t pressure you or ask her about it.

        3. Your ex was emotionally and physically abusive, and you’re better off without her. Don’t worry too much about her coming back next year (if she does). You have lots of time to take care of yourself. Take the time to feel your feelings, including your anger, because it’s absolutely justified. Pamper yourself. For the evenings when you get angry, I find that soothing yourself is very effective. For me, it’s Sesame Street videos on Youtube and cross-stitch embroidery while listening to civilized podcasts. You’ll have to find what works for you.

          Cultivate the friendships that are important to you: let your friends get to know you so that they are less likely to be swayed by her tall tales about you. In the end, if she makes them pick a side, they’ll get to decide who’s side they’re on. You might be pleasantly surprised. And you know that voice in your head that tells you that your friends are not *really* your friends? That’s her voice. You know that you can’t trust her, so don’t trust that voice.

          If/when she comes back, you will be much more grounded, much stronger, and you won’t be so easily suckered back into her drama.

          In the meantime, big Jedi hugs if you want them.

          1. Thanks everyone. It does help to have people confirm that “yeah, it was abusive” because it’s so easy to downplay it with “oh other people had it worse, I can just deal with it, maybe it was my fault a little anyways…”

            Part of the issue is that I know she suffered abuse too when she was younger, so obviously I have sympathy and pity and forgave a lot because I thought she was trying to work through things as well. Even now I understand why she needed so badly for my tourettes and depression to not be real. Because if ANY psychology is real then the abusive psychologist from her past might have been right about her when he diagnosed her with what she considers unflattering conditions (and when people used that as an excuse to hurt her). So I understand that she feels she needs to protect herself by making psychology 100% her enemy, but I no longer feel I have to excuse it, or excuse her gaslighting. If she can’t cope with her abuse without abusing someone else, it’s not my fault and taking on any of that is not going to help anyone.

            She actually just randomly wrote me last night. Just a short “hey you don’t need to respond to this, but here is an article you might like”. So seemingly innocuous, but I just can’t help thinking “Christ, ok, what’s your angle here?” So I’m just not engaging. I want to believe that maybe one day I could engage if she could be honest about what she wants and if she can come to terms with how she treats people, but I don’t need to beat myself up if that doesn’t happen.

    2. Also, just to make sure someone said it: It is 100% OK to be mad at her. For cheating, for being mean to you, for hitting you. For making you feel guilty that you’re mad. For gaslighting you about your depression and tourettes. For screaming at you.

      And yes – you get to call this behaviour abuse.

      I’m unclear on whether you’re still in contact with her or not. If you are, remember that there is no sacred rule that says you have to remain friends after a break up if you don’t want to be. Even if you decided to when you broke up at first. (And this goes for any relationship, not just abusive ones. I’ve had wonderful break-ups where we decided to ‘stay best friends forever anyway’, and at some point we… lost touch. It happens. If you don’t want any more contact with her, then there is no rule saying that you need to.)

      As for the negative voice in your head, I think there’s a few old posts on the site which discusses how to deal with that.

      I hope you give yourself space to heal.

    3. Then she tells me it’s my fault

      There’s a thing my friend says every time there’s, like, a scandal where a politician denies all wrongdoing, or stuff like that:

      She would, wouldn’t she?

      Her telling you that it’s your fault is a totally selfish move on her part. She has NO motivation to take the blame, so why would she? If she can make you take it even if it isn’t yours, things are better for her!

    4. This woman is made entirely of evil bees. Evil bees don’t abide by the social contract; it’s what makes them so evil. She was abusive and awful and just SO AWFUL. I’m so sorry this happened to you.

      But evil bees play by their own rules, and those rules are to sting as much as possible before flying away. Good people, people who abide by the social contract, will love you and keep you safe. And they will understand that relationships are a two way street, and not an opportunity to sting.

  20. One thing that helped me, like a lot of people said before, was a permission to grieve. I wasn’t dumped – it was my idea, and I did dump my girlfriend of five years by totally stopping contact, but I figured, after my partner (even in a long-distance relationship) goes and marries somebody else, I reserve the right to exit however the hell I want to. Ending that relationship was possibly the smartest thing I did over the five years it lasted, which is what kept going through my head. I had things by then like pride and self-respect, and I didn’t want to grieve a relationship with someone who jerked me around for five years. It was like, But Ruby, how can you be sad about someone who swore her love, then refused to even kiss you after you traveled halfway across the world to see her, TWICE? Someone who then blamed you for not “insisting” and went off on vacation with someone else? Who was too busy flirting with someone else and couldn’t be bothered to talk to you while you were crying in a hospital parking lot at 2 am because your life was in pieces and you needed support? Who kept swearing she loved you, had a string of affairs under your nose and wouldn’t as much as kiss you? Who dragged you on a date with her boyfriend? Whom she then married while continuing this weird love affair with you? Really, you’re grieving that bitch?

    And the thing was, yes, I was grieving that bitch that didn’t deserve it. BUT my dedication to the relationship, the love I had for another person, the sense of being so close to somebody did deserve to be grieved. I didn’t cry (was seriously over it by then) but I sulked. And telling my brain to shut up and let me sulk was a huge relief. Yes, it was good to get out. No, that person didn’t deserve my love. But it was important to grieve and to stop telling myself how I was stupid to have stayed that long. So, good or bad, whether the person deserves your tears or not, turn off the rational thought and acknowledge the pain.

    1. Thanks for this. I’ve been having issues getting over a Darth Vader who I dumped because he did some really objectively terrible things through basically the whole weird non?-semi?-relationship?-friend?-sex?-???-thing we had going. And I think the biggest issue I’ve been having is that I still feel sad, even though he was an asshole to me, and even though it’s been a while and I’m with someone awesome who doesn’t do asshole things, and it makes me feel so completely stupid that I’m still upset over a douchebag who didn’t care about me and took advantage of me at every turn and didn’t deserve an ounce of the time and energy and attention I gave him. And I think you’re right about my feelings and dedication to the relationship being worth grieving. That thought helps a lot. It also really helps to know that I’m not the only one.

      On that note… Does anyone else struggle with feeling like the other person “won” the relationship somehow? Like, he got away with using me for a long time, and jumped right into using someone else, and I spent so much time walking on eggshells in order not to upset him or hurt his feelings and I’m still feeling sad and he never really had to face up to anything he did. And I know it’s unrealistic and life doesn’t work that way and it’s not my problem anymore and so on and so on, but I still can’t shake the feeling that it’s just not fair and there should be some sort of justice or something. How do you make those feelings stop and let go of that resentment?

      1. Your feelings sound like common ones after surviving a Darth. They’re not a self-reflective, pleasure-denying sort so do move on very quickly to new sources of adoration & attention. It isn’t fair, and never will be, and one of the many things that suck about them.

      2. Oh yes. I’m still working on the letting go, the entire situation ended so traumatically for me, but I seriously identify with those feelings of injustice and resentment. Jedi hugs.

      3. I’ve definitely felt that feeling of losing so much in the relationship and then losing the relationship.

        It helped me to try to develop gratitude for whatever bright spots there were in the relationship, even if it’s just that I went to a restaurant I might not have tried otherwise, or I met his weird family and now can tell stories about them at dinner parties.

        The most helpful thoughts (which I wasn’t really able to believe deep down until some time went by) were if I could pat myself on the back for letting it end, not chasing him, not throwing even more time and effort into a sinkhole.

        Meanwhile, here are some song lyrics I enjoyed singing/screaming:
        Or maybe I’m just stuck in here
        Feeling like I gave
        So much more to you
        Oh, than you gave to me.
        Middle Class Rut “I Guess You Could Say”

      4. >>How do you make those feelings stop and let go of that resentment?

        I found perfecting a revenge fantasy helped. Every time I felt angry, I would go back to my revenge fantasy and tell myself the story of How They Got Their Just Desserts and fill in some more details along the way.

        What it helped me to was understand my own feelings better, and also just find some useful way of channelling the thoughts away from that horrible frustration and resentment. For me, revenge wasn’t about violence or making them particularly miserable or whatever, it was about a mostly-ridiculous situation where they were publicly humiliated through their own bad behaviour and I maintained a calm and detached moral highground, and everyone realised that I was the Better Person. It turned out that what I wanted was not an apology or for them to feel bad or anything, but recognition from everyone else that *they* were in the wrong, and I was Right and also Better. By the time I’d got that figured out and I had all the details perfect, the resentment was pretty much gone. I *knew* it was ridiculous, but by God it was satisfying to work out that whole little drama in my head! It was like Real Person Mary-Sue-ing, I guess. If storytelling is something that works for you, it’s very powerful!

      5. Yes to your second paragraph!!! My ex broke up with me 8 months ago; we were living together at what had been his place, it took me a few weeks to find a place to rent, and less than a month after I was out, a new gf was living with him! I have recently had another wave of rage about the breakup, triggered by his trying to assume we were friends, and I realized that I had been looking forward to this new girlfriend promptly dumping him and to reaping the the schadenfreude I was due. But no, he had “won” and in the meantime my life was the one with all the upheaval.

        He was more an Anakin than a Darth (childish, oblivious rather than malicious, irresponsible, but with control issues and plenty of undermining). And for my part, I wanted to avoid conflict; when I disliked something he did I either (a) only brought up when he started to criticize me on something related or (b) tolerated it and thought about how he’d never find anyone else who was that forgiving. ::face-palm:: In hindsight, there’s a lot of bull I ought to have called him on, and maybe that would have helped things end sooner, preserved more of my self-esteem, and perhaps helped him become less of a jerk for future ladies.

        Talking with friends & my psychologist about these frustrating feelings helps (even though/especially because I felt ashamed to still be crying about Anakin stuff 8 months out). Further asserting my boundaries has made me feel a lot better, too! (Story below*.)

        O Awkward Army, thank you for teaching me the vocabulary to describe this situation, suggesting skills that I am beginning to practice, and sharing with wit and sincerity your pains, joys, and awkwardnesses!

        *Even as he was dumping me and listing my “faults”, he told me he wanted to remain friends. He did not want me telling anyone we had broken up!!! He has acted to others as if we are chill, and I have not “pooped in his shoes”; we have acted civil among mutual friends. (This keeps coming up because we founded a thriving volunteering organization together and both care about it.) Five months ago, I sent an email saying that I was still mad at him for how he had treated me and specifically how he had broken my trust and been needlessly cruel when we broke up; I did not consider us friends and would require an apology for even considering being friends. He did not respond and has not mentioned it. Then recently, he has sent me several one line emails about media he thinks I would like. And so, I forwarded the February email and reiterated that I don’t know if I will want to be friends with someone who says he holds contempt for one of my core life choices, but I certainly do not want to be friends if he is not willing to apologize for anything.

    2. I went through pretty much the same thing after breaking up with my first serious boyfriend. I dumped him, and he was abusive and manipulative and terrible for me, but it still took me years to be done grieving for him. Even when I was with someone different and totally fantastic, I still wasn’t necessarily done grieving for this crappy relationship with this person who treated me like shit a lot of the time.

  21. One other thing: does anyone else miss his or her friends? As we were long distance, I only ever got time with his friends when I was over there so we (they and I) never established independent friendships, but they were good people, damn it! They were fun and awesome and I feel like I’ve lost them, too, on top of everything else. There is one guy in particular who I would love to keep in touch with, but I’m not on Facebook and I don’t have his number and it would be way too awkward to actually go there again to see him or any of the other guys. I keep feeling that ‘if only he had broken up with me face to face instead of just ignoring me until I went away once I was on the other side of the continent again, I would’ve had a chance to ask these people to stay in touch’, even though I know I probably wouldn’t have out of embarrassment and they wouldn’t have out of loyalty to my ex. But still. I miss them.

    1. Sounds reasonable to me! You’re losing not just that person, but a whole experience you had around them, with potentials for new friendships and new experiences, and now those are gone too.

      1. Yes, the potential new experiences! It sucks so much to have lost those. Every so often I’ll think of something he said we’d do together some day, and it just hits me so hard that I wanted to experience that, I wanted to make that memory of us, and I never will.

  22. I had an epiphany moment after my breakup that was one of the best moments of my life. When I realized I *wasn’t sad anymore*. It was a really tumultuous relationship, with a lot of ups and downs. She’d want me, she wouldn’t want me, she’d ignore me, she’d come back–it was actually emotionally worse for me than losing a parent young (at the time, not consequence life-wise). I felt like I was dying. I remember lying on the floor in front of some reality tv show feeling like I could not be this sad and still breathing.

    That, also, is the reason why it can make me cringe when people criticize Twilight because of Bella’s reaction to her breakup. Not that there’s not a lot of valid criticism of Twilight, but…sometimes it really does feel that bad. So it feels like they are saying ‘we only want strong female characters who don’t fall apart after a breakup’. But people *do*. It’s not even a new thing in fiction, And yes it’s melodramatic and stupid and all those other things and when actually in it? You can know all those things consciously and still feel like you’re being sucked into a vortex of NOPE.

    Then one day I just…wasn’t so sad anymore. There’s an Emily Dickinson poem that was one of my breakup obsessions…”I got so I could stir the box in which his letters grew–without that forcing in my break like staples driven through.” It was like that.

    Sometimes people will talk about on-off relationships, and why people get into them. Or why they get in these really Vadery situations that to the outside are *awful*. Having experienced it I can relate it to one line in that old song “Cecilia”. ‘Jubilation, she loves me again.’ That every time after she stopped talking to me, when she contacted me again there was this huge rush of relief and love and amazingness. It was exhausting and *so* hard to get out from under.

    So when people make fun of teenage girls (for some reason it is usually teenage girls who get this kind of criticism even though no gender or age has the market cornered on reacting badly to breakups) for freaking out over getting dumped? Or even a guy not calling for a second date? I can’t help but feel like they’re doing that thing where people say ‘your issues aren’t as bad as some people’s so you have no right to feel upset.’

    What helped me long-term was that I met a whole new group of awesome people, who I’m still friends with today mostly. One friend of mine kept dragging me out to things. I remember one party he took me to, and I was so sad I had to make him take me home partway through, because I just *couldn’t*. But I let him take me to another event a couple weeks later and it clicked a little more…then next time it was even better. And then I realized I had filled my life with things other than waiting for her to decide she wanted me again, and it was great. But it took WAY more time than I think is ‘respectable’ really. I hope all of you going through this now can get past it as soon as possible.

    (I’ve had other breakups since that I managed without this level of bad drama, so it was definitely a combination of being young, first love, on-off relationship dynamics, plus no outside support system except for that one friend at the time.)

    1. I don’t think you need to have a reason for this lousy relationship to have happened–I’ve come to think this is one of the ways in which a relationship can be just not a good fit. I had one boyfriend where it was like what you describe: his feelings were on-again/off-again, and not even because he was a bad or malicious person. He was effectively stringing me along, but his inconsistent feelings were clearly almost as distressing for him as they were for me. (Almost.)

      I came up with an analogy for how it felt, when I finally told him I couldn’t take it anymore and walked away (even though *my* feelings were not in doubt, and I didn’t actually want it to end; walking away meant breaking my own heart). A friend of mine growing up had an older sister who had to have a pallet extender on her braces: her mother would turn the key one notch every night, and it would gradually break her jaw to extend her pallet and make room for her incoming teeth. She would scream in horrible pain every. night. Being with that boyfriend was like a pallet extender, breaking my heart a little bit at a time, over and over, with no relief. Afterwards, I wished that I had just punched myself in the face to get it over with and break my jaw all at once. Now, I can punch myself in the face when I have to, and it is measurably better than sticking around to be strung along. Lesson 100% learned.

      1. That palate expander analogy is the single best analogy I’ve ever heard. I haven’t exactly been in a relationship like the one you describe (although don’t get me wrong I’ve been in plenty of bad ones), but I have had a palate expander installed and ye gods, I know now exactly how that relationship must feel.

      2. Oh man, I had one of those expanders when I was a kid, with the key and everything. That thing sucked so hard. Anyway, off topic. Back to the regularly scheduled conversation!

  23. I don’t even really need advice, you know? I am the queen of breakups, I have had so many, in so many different permutations. I know the actions that are necessary. But it’s not like experience makes them better in any way: just like each relationship and each time falling in love, it always feels a bit different and new, and you have to learn it all over again. Just, ugh.

    But, talking about it with sympathetic people helps, just because it means there is support. Thanks to everyone in this thread.

    1. Just because you know how to stitch up your own wounds doesn’t mean it’s not painful, or that you wouldn’t prefer to get someone else to do it for you! It’s important to be reminded that there are people out there who still listen and care. And to listen to and care for other people.

  24. This thread. This is my home today.

    I broke up with my boyfriend of 1 1/2 years last night because I couldn’t see how our future paths were going to stay aligned. He (early 40s) is committed to this city, career-wise, and I (mid 30s) have always felt somewhat ambivalent about staying here for the long haul. I still want to teach overseas for a bit, see the world, try out new cities. Where we live now is far away from my family, which has been a source of stress for me.

    The start of our relationship was all sparks and whizz-bang-zoww, but as our time together progressed, that nagging “are you willing to stay” question kept rising to my mind’s surface. We would discuss it periodically, he would tell me “do what you have to do, just let me know” and then we would go back to our normally scheduled program. I started to resent him for making this solely my decision to make. And so my heart started to pull away.

    A few weeks ago, I had a phone interview for a job that would take me back to the city I lived in before moving here. It brought this issue to a head. I don’t even know if I will get this job, but my gut keeps telling me go, go, go. But maybe my gut is caught in the same terror that is currently paralyzing my mind — what if I’m just too scared to take that next step with someone I love? I’m not exactly young. My last serious boyfriend committed suicide after we broke up, which is probably one of the reasons why this current loss is hitting me so hard.

    I’m not sure if I really want to go, now, after saying goodbye to him last night. I am full-on, hardcore second-guessing myself as I sit here, weeping, on my couch. I thought I would feel more certain of my decision, relieved even, but instead I feel so supremely sad. He was my best friend. Maybe I have made the mistake of my life, I don’t know. I’m having such trouble sorting it out.

  25. Has anyone else had the experience of being so afraid of getting their heart broken that they avoid getting into relationships in the first place? I’ve had very few romantic relationships overall, and I’m convinced that I’m “due” for a massive heartbreak should I get into one. Whenever I think about what it would be like to be in a relationship with X person, I always skip to the end and think about how much it will hurt when they break up with me. I’m also worried that I’d be perfect prey for an abuser because I would be so, so happy that someone loved me and was attracted to me that I wouldn’t see the red flags until it’s too late.

    I swing back and forth on a pendulum: sometimes I don’t even think I *want* a relationship, because it would be so much hard work, and so painful in the end anyway, and sometimes I think that even if I *did* want a relationship, no one around would want me. I run in a lot of geek/nerd circles in my town, which is fairly large, and even host my own events, but almost all of the guys I come into contact with are already married or seeing someone. On top of all that, I’m quite fat, and while I’m a devoted reader of fat-positive blogs and have been through all of the Shapely Prose archives, it’s so hard when day in, day out, for years, no one has seemed attracted to me at all.

    I guess I just feel messed up and scattered all over the place and I want to know that I’m not the only one who feels this way.

    1. You are NOT the only one who feels this way. Not by a long shot. If everyone who avoided relationships because they were afraid of getting their heart broken would put 1 euro in the charity box, we could – well, we could do something really awesome for charity.

      I myself was very afraid of getting my heart broken. Very. I was incredibly afraid to trust someone because I couldn’t imagine anything worse than having my trust betrayed. I feel I am a very trustworthy person (whether that’s true or not, I guess you’d have to ask other people) and I struggled with trying to figure out if other-person-I-kinda-really-like was trustworthy, too. And the few men who have been interested in me mostly didn’t pass the test, or I was otherwise not attracted to them.

      And then I met this guy on holiday. Mediterranean, local guy, called himself Casanova, works in the tourist industry, and me, young European woman travelling alone who just bought a very expensive thing off his cousin. The whole thing had WARNING: DO NOT TRUST written over it in big, glaring red letters. And in the end, I guess, he did betray my trust.

      But in between were months where he was good to me, where my smile would make him smile, where he would tell me I was beautiful even though I’m plain and flat-chested and have a belly and a crooked back. And when he broke my heart – which was the first time my heart got *really* broken – it was terrible. But I also felt a great sense of relief. Because that was it. The worst had happened. Even when I was still in the crying-for-3-days-straight phase, there were moments where I thought ‘You know what? This hurts like hell, but now I know this is how it feels. And it was worth it’. The fear of getting hurt had been hurting me more than actually getting hurt did. And over time, as the pain becomes slowly less but I keep the good memories, I become more convinced that it was worth it. And I’ll do it again if I get the chance.

      You don’t know if you’ll get your heart broken. You don’t know if the other person is going to be abusive, although I actually think that you *will* see the red flags because you are already alert to them now. You don’t know how well you will handle the bad stuff if and when it comes. But you’ll miss out on some potentially awesome stuff if you never take a leap of faith. Love pops up in the funniest places, too, so don’t worry if there is no one around *right now* that doesn’t suit you. Because every day is a day of potentially meeting new people and some of those *will* suit you!

      Re: no one finding you attractive: I can’t of course say that this is not true, because I am not omniscient, but I have a strong feeling it’s not true! Paradoxically, feeling attractive will make you more attractive. What helped me in times when I felt unattractive, was to “think like a guy”. You know those research studies that show that men interpret interactions differently, so that what women see as just being friendly they see as flirtation or romantic interest? Think like that! Check-out guy smiled at you as he said ‘Have a nice day’? Totally thinks you’re hot! Guy waiting at the station with you makes a comment about how the trains are always late? Totally looking for an excuse to talk to you! You fall over when the bus suddenly starts and someone puts out a hand to steady you? He could totally have let you fall flat on your face but he tried to save you because you’re awesome! You don’t have to do it all the time, and it takes some effort, but I find it works for me.

      (sorry that became very long! I just have many feelings on the topic because I recognize my own fears in it)

    2. OH YEAH.

      I feel this feel SO HARD.

      I basically have no reference points at all for a “good” relationship. I was in a kisses-and-cuddles (nothing more) relationship for three months my freshman year of college, but the misery I felt after that relationship ended and the dude didn’t want to be friends anymore pretty much completely obliterated anything good I might have gotten out of it — like, three months of intermittent ecstasy and fearful anxiety does not outweigh nearly a year and a half of self-hatred and despair. What was the point of that?

      I experienced two brief crushes in the six years between then and now, but was too tired and traumatized to try for anything (okay, also mentally ill, so that doesn’t help, and also I think maybe I am one of those people who is sort of sliding toward asexual, because I don’t seem to have the profound NEED for romantic relationships that drives other people to look for them even if they’re not sure what they’re doing. I would just. . . /like/ . . . to have. . . a relationship. . . but only a nice one. . . ) I guess I figured that if I was so emotionally unstable that a three-month relationship could send my life to hell for a year afterwards, dating was never going to be worth it for me. (I’m still not sure whether it’s worth it for me.) (Admittedly that guy was my first boyfriend, my first kiss, etc., so I guess it’s common for that to occupy a lot of emotional space.)

      Recently I had (sort of) a repeat, where I thought I had become really good friends with a guy, and I asked him out, and then that friendship ended. Again: it felt so POINTLESS. It still feels pointless. And when I read stories from other people of their relationships, I’m honestly terrified. Neither of these guys was actually abusive or a Darth Vader — the first one was kind of an asshole about some things, but mainly we were just bad matches, and I didn’t have the emotional skills to cope with any kind of romantic relationship (I still don’t have them, but I’m in therapy to get some.) When I think of how many relationships most people with my low level of social skills have to go through to get to a point where they can act well and maturely with other people and not self-sabotage and speak up about their needs while not being /needy/, and how much misery and pain my few relationships have caused me: the prospect of how much misery I have in front of me if I choose to go that route is really overwhelming.

      I can’t really give any advice. Right now I’m just doing small things — a date here, a date there — a couple emails — going to some social events — and a LOT of time by myself, because this last semester was emotionally exhausting. I am trying really hard not to think about how other people will figure into my future, and am just making plans for myself — places I want to visit, skills I want to learn, things I want to do — and trying to set really low expectations for my social interactions. Got upset but didn’t let myself fall into a depressive spiral for more than ten minutes? +1 for me. Didn’t cry the whole night? +1 for me. Talked at all? +1 for me. Remembered to ask people questions about themselves? +2 for me. Picked a topic that seemed to keep people engaged? +2 for me. This is all I can do right now. Whenever I think about getting close to someone again, pouring my effort into another person who might decide to ditch me, I feel sick. I don’t really know what to do besides continue with therapy and hope for the best, because I am preeeetty sure that one of the things that sabotaged the crap out this last friendship was me seeing patterns repeating from my last close friendship with a dude and acting in a scary way out of panic.

      I am also fat — the only fat woman in my lab. It makes me tense up so hard when the PhDs talk about needing to lose weight or not wanting to bulk up when they all weigh a LOT less than me. And in conversations where they talk about relationships, about getting asked out or being flirted with or whatever, I can’t contribute anything at all. I’ve never been asked out, and until this year I’d never gone on a real date. I still haven’t kissed another person besides the freshman year guy.

      I think it’s okay to be scared. The fear of abandonment is up there with the fear of death in terms of terrifying things we have to deal with as human beings. Sometimes you can’t make any sense out of why things happen or don’t happen to you, and you just have to keep moving.

    3. This is a totally rational and valid fear. I’m sort of wavering in that place right now, in that I’m looking for a serious relationship, but I’m also hyper aware of all the little red flags, and so I’ve run a bunch of guys out on rails recently (admittedly for very good reasons, but still)

      I’ve been in that place that you’re really afraid of, with a shredded heart, twice in my life. Once because the guy was a dick, and once because we wanted very different things, and it still hurt even though I knew breaking up was the right thing. And it took me ages (like, years) to get over both of those guys. And I’ve been hurt by incompatibilities and breakups and things like that a bunch of other times. And it’s the shittiest thing.

      But when your heart is shredded, it builds new. You are growing, and becoming a DGAF baller. You learn to see the bad signs, and to end entanglements with people who are unsuitable. And you get to have fun, and live your life, and know that you can grow and even thrive after heartbreak. It can be done, I promise.

    4. Hi Bookwyrm! I don’t really have any words or advice for your comment, but it did make me think of a song by my favorite artist about a relationship that has ended, about recognizing the pain but being happy for it all the same. It’s one of the most beautiful heartbreak songs I know.
      “Joy To You Baby” – Josh Ritter

  26. My biggest advice, don’t poop in your ex’s shoes. And don’t hang around with people who tell you to poop in their shoes.* If you’re angry, be angry! Write a dozen Angry Letters that you won’t send (and don’t send them!) If you can, find someone who is capable of saying to you “Yes, your feelings are valid, you have every reason to feel them.” Without going “You should totally act on them!” keep them as a treasure and listen to them.

    *Poop in their shoes is shorthand for doing something purely out of spite, like egging their car, going to social media with embarrassing pictures/video/facts, hiding shrimp in their curtain rods, etc. It does not apply to abuse reports, safety measures, telling the truth, etc.

    Don’t poop in your own shoes either. Give yourself time, put emotionally connected things away. You can decide in six months or a year if you want to permanently get rid of that book they gave you, or that mug you painted at the pottery place with them. I have book that was a gift from an ex, years ago. The book is one I really love and it’s out of print now, I would have been sad if I had given it up because of who gave it to me.

  27. I recently got a “I just can’t be in a relationship right now” breakup. (Extra frustrating because she asked me out! And I hadn’t really looked at her as a relationship prospect before and then I got very attached!) I’m at this stage where I feel kind of normal in terms of my mood, but I feel all these contradictory things as well.

    Like mostly I miss her as my friend and I really want to see her again, but seeing her and knowing I can’t kiss her is going to suck. I want to be friends again but I hate the thought of being just like any of her other friends and not being special.

    I also feel stupid and horrible because the event that kind of triggered the breakup was me having a short depressive episode and asking her for help… and all the anxiety and depression was kind of over as soon as we broke up. Like the relationship was the source of the anxiety in the first place. And I HATE that! I almost hate that I feel better now. I’m at least shutting up the part of me that wants to run after her going “I was wrong! I’m not depressed after all! Come back!”

    Just being single again is frustrating because in the course of this relationship I discovered that unlike the me of my university years, I take a LONG time to trust someone enough to have sex with them. I’m sick of being single altogether, and while I know I probably won’t be single forever, it’s daunting to think of how long and slow the road to a comfortable relationship is going to be for me.

    *end flailing feelings dump, goes in search of a hug*

    1. Jedi Hugs

      Can I recommend a song too? “Soon or Never” by the Punch Brothers. The lyrics are paradoxical and difficult to wrap my head around. But there’s something sweet, impatient, frustrated, and accepting about the song all at once that I find cathartic.

      1. Thank you so much! It took me a week to see this reply because I’ve been moving house (which, it turns out, is a GREAT distraction) but I always like new music and it’s one of the most cathartic ways to cope that I know of. This was great.

  28. This reminded me of a break-up with a person who never officially called me her boyfriend, but who I was heavily involved with both sexually and emotionally. This happened last November; at that point we lived a couple states away and we broke contact due to a bunch of personal issues on both ends. She’s come into my life again this past month but I find myself not missing her at all and being skeeved out by her presence. She was really pushy, tried to cajole me into shit I really didn’t want to do all the goddamn time, and this one time I think she may have raped me (but it was in the process of doing something that I definitely consented to so I JUST DON’T KNOW :/). I still feel guilty for not missing her and not wanting to support her now, because in other aspects she basically saved my life (traveled to my house from miles away after I got out of the hospital, validated my gender identity, gave me the courage to tell various assholes in my life to fuck right off, let me vent pretty much 24/7) and I’m not sure I’d be as healthy as I am if not for her involvement in my life. I don’t know, CA commentariat, does this sound like a relationship worth rekindling?

    1. This does NOT sound like a relationship worth rekindling. Whatever good things she did for you in the past, you don’t OWE her a future relationship as a reward. Pay attention to the part of you that is skeeved out, violated, and didn’t miss her. It’s ok to say “no.”

    2. Hey, this is a good question – I am in a similar situation vis a vis being in a relationship with someone who is already committed to someone else. They were a really great friend to me when I was suffering from severe, severe depression, in a way that my other friends weren’t or didn’t know how to be, so in some ways I feel like I ‘owe them’ in exchange for their support.
      The long and short of it is, and I understand your feelings are really complicated, you don’t owe anyone your time or your affection or access to your life, etc., even if they really were a good friend when you needed them. My therapist suggested writing a letter to them thanking them for their help and support (even if you don’t send it) and then considering that thanks packaged up and done.
      This person sounds downright toxic, and despite how helpful they may have been in the past, I think you are much better off not resuming this relationship.

    3. This is a good relationship to have in your rearview mirror. You can be grateful that it happened (the good parts, at least) and she can always hold a special (yeah, I guess “special” is the word) place in your heart. Maybe someday in the future you’ll send her a Christmas card with an annoying picture of you and your loved ones in really ugly sweaters as a gesture of your continuing affection for her.

      And that can totally be it as far as she goes.

  29. Daniel Johnston “True Love Will Find You in the End”

    Imperfect but perfect and moving(non video – just listen to the song):

  30. Sometimes I want to just bawl my eyes out so I feel better, but I don’t want to dwell on my own problems, so I watch tearjerker movies, preferably ones with happy endings. The Notebook was good when I was single and lonely, but optimistic, but now it just makes me feel worse. I remember the Mona Lisa Smile was pretty good once for generic self-pity.

    I would love some recommendations of other movies, and the kind of sadness they work for. I suspect a list like this would make a good website, if it doesn’t exist already.

    1. One that’s not romantic, but knocked my socks off about people facing down tragedy: How to Survive a Plague, a documentary about AIDS activists in the 1980s and 1990s who fought for more and better research for a cure and treatments.

      And then, though it feels weird putting them in the same comment as that one, my bring-a-kleenex movies:

      Ever After for when you’re feeling like a lonely unloved little drab thing and no one will ever realize how wonderful and special you really are.

      Love Actually when you just need to dissolve into a giant puddle of tears AND YET think maybe life is okay after all.

      The Horse Whisperer when you want things to still be complicated and maybe life is always going to be hard? But it’s not going to be fucking terrible.

      1. The first little bit of The Horse Whisperer was so incredibly sad. There should have been a “bring tissues” warning on the poster at the cinema.

    2. Cranford, the TV series (it’s five one hour episodes). Partly because it is awesome as fuck and partly because of one of the most badass letters ever written (“I know little of the friendship of men, [] but in it’s better parts it must resemble the friendship of women”) but mostly because of one of the sweetest tragic love stories of all time. (There are also love stories with happy endings.)

      1. Cranford, seconded. North & South (BBC and Richard Armitage, not Patrick Swayze) also works for me. The love story is terrific, and though the story in parts is sad – people die – on the whole I always get a lift from it.

        (Elizabeth Gaskell should be on money too)

    3. “Camelot” – the 1960s musical version with Richard Harris and Vanessa Redgrave – is the movie I watch when I need to cry like a baby. It’s for times when I don’t want anyone, even a movie character, to get the fairytale happy ending I feel I’ve been denied and just need to see something beautiful and sad.

      “I love you. God forgive me, but I do.”
      “Then God forgive us both.”

    4. Its more of a family saga, but Step Mom with Susan Sheradon always makes me cry. Its mostly just the Mom, Sheradon’s character, because she’s such a little shit for much of the movie but she’s also graceful and strong at the end. I think its the sort of sad like the Horse Whisperer where you want to be reminded that things are hard but not absolutely horrible.

    5. Broadcast News, as one of those romantic comedies that isn’t really. The ending is optimistic, but not in the typical romantic comedy cram it down your throat kind of way. And I love Holly Hunter.

  31. Slight trigger warning for potential stalker/harassment behaviour

    I broke off an intense relationship (for the period of time) just last week. Actually I didn’t have much of a choice, he kind of ambushed me outside my class (we go to the same University), and so I just came out with it while waiting for my bus. Not the way I was planning it to end. Worse, he got really worked up and wouldn’t leave and I was worried he would try to follow me onto my bus but luckily he left.

    On the same day, my friend, who I probably liked a bit more than a friend so had been trying to give him the slow fade, deleted me on Facebook with no explanation (maybe he noticed the no communication in three weeks was intentional?). So it was a bit of a double blow. I hate what my friend did (we were quite close) but am also grateful for the relative ease and cleanness of it. Of course I want to know WHY but the not wanting to talk to him is a bigger desire right now.

    As for my now-ex-boyfriend… He is making matters worse by bothering all of our friends about how awful a person I am, and not respecting my wishes to leave me alone over facebook and text, even though I don’t reply. He is making it really messy. I’m worried he knows my class schedule because he was waiting for me outside my class the other day to talk to me about something he could have easily said over text. Luckily my Counselor gave me the details for our University’s harassment policy so if he does it again he’ll be getting a serious warning or they could pull his enrollment (which I find extreme for my situation but good to know).

    I tried to skip the sad parts to the being okay and laughing about it part… hasn’t worked. So I’m letting myself feel the pain, even though he is being an idiot and he never respected or trusted me. The problem is that I’m getting further behind in my classes with out-of-class readings due to my currently apathetic disposition. It’s slowly getting better but I really need to do my work and I can’t seem to find the motivation at all. All I can think about is how mad I am at this dude for ruining everything and not even having the decency to make himself scarce.

    Any advice on getting over severe apathy to everything in life except for guys who don’t treat me well?

    1. I would suggest going to your University’s health center and looking into counseling or counseling services. I’m not trying to Internet diagnose or get hit with the Captain’s ban stick, but since you ask, it would probably not be a bad idea to talk about your feelings and see what’s going on there. Universities often offer free or reduced-price counseling services or can refer you to someone.

      1. I want to second this advice. I went to the student counseling services at my university when I was struggling to deal with a lot of anger/resentment/sadness I had towards my ex and they were extremely helpful. Just having someone to talk it through with was a relief. If you want them to they can also potentially help with strategies to catch up with your classwork.

        1. And also, if you need to ask for extensions and things, having gone to a counsellor is proof (to the university) both that you need a little bit of help, and that you’ve taken steps and are working to get better. If there’s forms, one of the things your counsellor can do is help you fill them out. I’ve done that – gone to my therapist and told them that I needed to fill in a form, but I was having a week where none of the words made sense and could they help? One of the things I can get with depression is where words are so hard to read that I have to focus on them separately, and then can’t remember the words, so by the time I teach the end of the sentence, half the meaning of the sentence has disappeared 😦

          1. Thank you, guys. I am already going to counselling sessions intermittently, and am lucky to have someone understanding to give me extensions due to personal stuff, as I had to ask for some last semester for other life stress (this year has given me ALL the stress). My University gives us 8 free sessions. The problem is dealing with the feelings in between appointments. I’m a person that likes to bury them under the rug. Writing helps. Especially angry letters that you don’t send.

    2. Talk to your university’s support services. If you’re having a really rough time and falling behind in classes, then it is much better if there is a paper trail starting from now that says “Caitlin is having a difficult time, is finding it hard to get her work done, and has discussed that with us”. If you then do miss an assignment or fail a course or something, there might well be something like an extenuating circumstances form and it’s easier to take it into account if there is evidence that you reached out for help. It’s much, much harder for university staff to do anything if you wait until you’ve failed or something and then go, “Can you take into account that I was having a really difficult time back then?”

      Good luck! I hope you find your mojo coming back soon and the asshole gives up his stalkiness.

  32. This may sound silly, but I advice is to let yourself feel the feelings. I mean, really feel the feelings. Distracting yourself with volunteering, friends, new hobbies, etc. in the aftermath of a breakup is a good idea, but definitely give yourself some time to just sit on the couch or go for a long solo walk and kind of roll around in those feelings. I’ve found that it makes it harder for them to creep back, because I can tell them that I’ve already felt them enough for today, thank you, come back later.

    Sometimes the shortest way really is through.

    1. The internet ate my comment. Short version: I don’t think that sounds silly at all. I’m all for the distraction-technique, but you should also allow yourself some time to grieve. I went through 3 days of basically just crying + dragging myself through the workday before I was ready to move on to much-needed distraction tactics.

    2. Yes, I completely wallowed for about six weeks in the aftermath of my worst break-up, and then … spring happened, and I started to feel better. But that six weeks of just feeling miserable and going over and over and writing long letters that I didn’t send and being utterly unhappy was powerfully good for me.

      What I still remember is spending the first week hardly eating – one tuna sandwich a day – and having romantic fantasies of losing lots of weight and fading away in manner of Romantic heroine or similar. What actually happened is that a week in I got a *stinking* cold because I’d gone ten days without a shred of vitamin C, and oh. Not so romantic. There was something powerfully healing both about the fantasy of romantic decline and reality of reams of snot and tissues, though!

  33. My boyfriend broke up with me about six months ago, and it was a whirlwind of drama and frustration. The long story short is I put my emotional well being before his guilty conscience and tried to cut off all communication. He kept trying to contact me and try and make me “be friends” again. After a boatload of emotional manipulation and him using my friends to try an get together with another girl, I wrapped up all my emotions tightly, and then wrote a freaking novel for July Camp NaNoWriMo.

    Considering I spent a couple months wallowing in misery, I’m glad I got off my butt and did something productive. It’s something I’m proud of, and it let me put all my anger, frustration, and heartbreak into characters. Cathartic and creative. So I second all the advice above: Do something with all your feels. Do something creative or physically demanding. Do something you would never have done before, or something you’ve been meaning to do but never had the time for. Do something that will make you proud to be exactly who you are. Because it’s wonderful to say “I did it!” even when your heart still hurts and life seems like a giant endless pit of suck and despair.

    (Also, in my experience, large quantities of good tea and cookie dough go a long way in the healing process.)

  34. It’s important to grieve for the good times with someone you’ve lost, and for the shared future, and the good parts of who they were. But after twelve years I still haven’t got over losing the version of myself that I was with him. I miss that person: she’s everything I ever wanted to be, but she’s buried. When I met up with him last year she came back, briefly. I could see her fading in the mirror the day after.

    I love my life now, and I’m glad the various complications of life with him don’t affect me now. It can be good to appreciate things that you couldn’t have had with the lost person.

  35. Several people suggested writing letters that you’ll never send, and I really second (/third/fourth) this. Both my journals and the “personal” folder on my computer are full of letters to all kinds of people: to the people I lost, to people I’ve hurt (but for whom a long angsty detailed letter of apology and justification would be a further imposition), to people who are in my life but with whom I can’t talk freely for one reason or another. There’s even a letter to David Foster Wallace there somewhere. I am someone who thinks through problems out loud, and writing letters where I could just go ahead and be angry and penitent and sad as all hell and loving and then angry again was really, really helpful for me in dealing with heartbreak and loss.

    Another thing that helped over time was allowing myself to fantasize. The last time I really got my heart broken was a couple of years ago, and I just MISSED the person so much, for so long. I would find myself daydreaming about the times we were together and thinking about what it would be like to be together again, and finally I just said, “fuck it. I’m just going to do this.” And I’d have “fantasy time,” usually my commuting time, where I gave my mind free rein to picture that contrary-to-fact future in which things did work out and I didn’t lose this person. Importantly, I tried to attach a mental footnote to each of these blissful contrary-to-fact adventures: “This is a fantasy,” I’d remind myself before, during, and after. “I’m making it up.” Over time, the fantasies stopped being as compelling and my real life went back to being more fulfilling. But I’m a believer in allowing yourself to inhabit the imaginative space you want. For me, paradoxically, it helps me stay grounded.

  36. I just ended things with my girlfriend Saturday night. I’ve known for a while that we were going to break up, as she told me early on in our relationship (3 months in) that she would be moving to another continent. But I found her so interesting and lovely, I decided to keep dating her anyway and see where it went.

    To make a long story short, she decided she didn’t see a long term future for us, so she wanted to break up when she departed, but continue seeing me until she did. It took me a couple of months to figure out that was code for, “I’m not brave enough to break your heart.” So I ended things on Saturday.

    I know, rationally:
    * that we weren’t the best fit.
    * that it’s good that I ended things when I did and no later.
    * that I want to be with someone who’s more self-aware and won’t string me along
    * that I’m glad that she’s moving on to some exciting stuff
    * that eventually I’ll have exciting stuff of my own to look forward to.

    But I’m still sad.

  37. I ended things with a guy I was in some sort of nebulous poly relationship with, god, a little over two weeks ago. This is the point where I think “Wow, I’ve survived two weeks. Go me. I’m going to be okay.”

    I was going through a “I only like girls” phase when I met him at a party this February. There were so many pants feelings and I decided to hook up with him. Over the course of about six weeks of good sex, conversation, and adventures we developed strong feelings for one another. We’re both poly and decided to go ahead with the relationship despite my reservations about being in something as intense as we had with a guy. Our deal was to just let our relationship be what it was. I just ended up not being happy in the relationship- feeling anxious, needy, and like it wasn’t a positive in my life. He understood and we broke up peaceably. Then we got back together cause damn it I really liked him and I thought that if I could just push through my anxiety and change a few things then we would be fine. By that point, though, things between us were rocky and I didn’t feel close to him. It turns out it like takes time to change one’s unhealthy patters, that I actually have to feel my feelings (instead of trying to fix them then pretend I’m feeling them as part of fixing them), and that I can’t just reset a relationship to and earlier time. At this point I’m processing that what happened happened and its not my job to make it work. I’m accepting he was the wrong person at the wrong time. I tend to blame relationships not working on myself. Now I see I’m at a hard place in my life. He’s also not a person who could support me during this time.

    The thing I’m hardest on myself about is that I feel like I didn’t have the skills or emotional balance to deal with my feelings for him. I feel like I often acted neurotically. Even that, though, I’m trying to go easy on myself about. I did the best I could and I didn’t hurt anyone seriously. I try to realize that he and I had passion. He’s one of these people that I find utterly enthralling, beautiful, charismatic, etc. Honestly? The feelings I get around him are wonderful, but they’re also dangerous. I’m tired from my last shit storm of a break up. I have all this pain about sexuality and gender and self worth and my family. I’m learning to take care of myself and love my life. Passion is not what I need right now. Its hard, though. Especially because it sucks to have to loose something in order to take care of myself when I feel like I’ve let go of so many other things- people, ideas, life plans to move forward in my life. I just am kind of like him to?

    Oh, in solidarity with everyone, a poem on loss….

    One Art

    The art of losing isn’t hard to master;
    so many things seem filled with the intent
    to be lost that their loss is no disaster,

    Lose something every day. Accept the fluster
    of lost door keys, the hour badly spent.
    The art of losing isn’t hard to master.

    Then practice losing farther, losing faster:
    places, and names, and where it was you meant
    to travel. None of these will bring disaster.

    I lost my mother’s watch. And look! my last, or
    next-to-last, of three loved houses went.
    The art of losing isn’t hard to master.

    I lost two cities, lovely ones. And, vaster,
    some realms I owned, two rivers, a continent.
    I miss them, but it wasn’t a disaster.

    – Even losing you (the joking voice, a gesture
    I love) I shan’t have lied. It’s evident
    the art of losing’s not too hard to master
    though it may look like (Write it!) like disaster.

    -Elizabeth Bishop

    1. The balance between taking care of oneself and surrendering to intensity is so hard. The hardest, really. I am sorry that you’re struggling with it. I want to tell you that you don’t ever have to apologize for keeping yourself safe. You are allowed to let yourself rest. Sometimes, it is better to be aware of what you need than to be unkind to yourself and get what you thought you wanted.

      And thank you so much for sharing this poem. Funnily enough, the first stanza reminded me of the boy who broke my heart a few months ago. His actions in the context of our friendship were cruel, insensitive and cowardly. He intended to be lost. So why is his loss such a disaster? What is it about people devoid of morality, integrity, compassion or courage – and I apologize for the harsh judgey words, but I mean in the context of one’s personal experiences – that makes them so hard to lose? I still miss him, despite everything. Is there a way to figure this out?

  38. I’ve hard my heart bruised lately, and haven’t known how to talk about it. I’m grateful for this thread– I’m feeling less alone, and touched by everyone’s openness and kindness toward each other.
    I liked someone, a lot. He was super cuddly and sweet with me, really over the top, and I thought something might be starting. We wouldn’t have been a good fit long term, but it was a source of sweetness in my life. And then another girl told me he was dating her, had been dating her for months. Don’t know how he forgot to tell me that :/ Now he’s away, and will be for a long time, and I think the distance is good, but I miss him too.

  39. Guys, people, people, I just did a really stupid thing. I thought I was mostly over him by now – i.e. it still hurt but I had accepted I was never going to see him again and we were going our separate ways and that did make me sad and maybe I’d cry a bit when I was alone in bed but c’est la vie – and then today I was stressed out, the bank wouldn’t cooperate, the city council wouldn’t cooperate, I couldn’t get hold of my supervisor, it’s raining cats and dogs etc etc etc… and I sent him a message. A ‘you know what? I deserved better than you and here’s why’ message. It was so stupid! But I just suddenly felt angry and I had never felt angry with him before. Hurt and sad and disappointed, yes, but never angry. And I suddenly couldn’t stand the idea of him continuing on his merry way while I was trying to piece myself back together.

    I’m maybe making this sound more dramatic than it is, because it wasn’t that bad a message. It boiled down to “I love you, you were important to me, and I still want you to be happy and actually if we ever get the chance I still want to have sex with you aaaaaall night long because you are the sexiest dude alive, but you are also unreliable, you frequently lied to me (don’t think I didn’t notice, I ignored it because I didn’t care about the topics you lied about!), and you used my trust in you to hurt me by breaking up with me in *exactly the way I had told you would hurt me most*. The reason this boyfriend/girlfriend thing didn’t work out was at least partially *you*”.

    I’m about 100% certain he won’t respond, as the whole ‘suddenly no more communication’ thing was how he broke up with me, but man… I didn’t want to do that. Why did I do that?! And up until this point I had been so good about it, ending it with a nice clean ‘Sorry it worked out this way, thanks for the time we spent together, I wish you the very best for the future.’ when he gave me sudden radio silence.

    I feel like I was letting the wound heal, and then suddenly decided ‘no, fuck this, let’s scratch it open again and wallow in the pain for a bit longer’. It feels good to let out the anger I was repressing, but why did I actually SEND IT?! Why didn’t I just write it on paper and tear it up or something! I feel so stupid…

    1. Hey. That all sounds awfully painful. But life just is messy sometimes, and full of complicated messy feelings, in spite of our best efforts to keep things all clean and neat. You aren’t stupid, you are human, and hurting, and it’s ok to not handle all that as you wish you had 100% of the time. Wishing you as easy a journey as possible through to the other side.

      1. Thanks. I know I’m not some super human who should always do everything right or else. But it feels like such a set back. ‘My first real broken heart, this hurts but ok, I’m handling this like a grown up, it’s ok, it’s ok – nope, it’s not ok’.

        I’m grateful for this open thread so that I can vent a little without having to ‘save face’.

  40. This is certainly not serious enough to be called heartbreak, and most of it is born out of my own anxieties and neediness, but… I’d like to vent. On certain subjects like meeting someone while abroad and being taken aback by how much you like him, just hanging out with him as well as being in bed with him. And being sad because it’s been years since you met someone you liked quite as much, quite so soon, and of course it had to be with someone over 4000 miles away. And keeping up correspondence when you leave because he’s moving to a city in the States in the next few months that you’re thinking about moving to early next year, so, who knows? And then seeing that correspondence dwindling, until it ends with a short one-line reaction to something you linked and commented on and leaves no room for a response. And feeling hurt, then feeling stupid about feeling hurt because it’s not like there were actually any promises or expectations, especially since you may well move elsewhere (and told him as such). And wondering how much of it is born from you being initially alarmed at his expressed affection and rebuffing him by telling you are seeing other people too, after all, until you realized you liked him quite so well. It’s definitely not as though you could ask him not to see other people, especially since you’ve also been seeing other people (but no one you like quite as much) and that girl he just friended in the city he’s moving to is pretty cute. Plus he told you he was fickle several times, what did you expect?

    And round and round.

  41. My girlfriend and I just broke up. I don’t think I’m heartbroken. I feel… heart bruised. It didn’t exactly come out of left field, but I thought we had more time in us. And I’m hurting, except I’m… not? It hasn’t even been an hour. I feel a bit… something. I’m not sure.

  42. My girlfriend dumped me yesterday after 3 years of dating. I always put her first, I always tried to make her happy, and we had plans to get married. When I first met her she was incredibly shy, awkward, and timid. I’m a social butterfly and our personalities were definitely very, very different. However, we had a mutual attraction for one another for 2 years before we started seeing other, and we never let our differences get in the way of our love. Her self-esteem and confidence had been destroyed by a previous boyfriend, and it took a long time to get her comfortable with me; though the wait was worth it. I’ve helped her start over, a new life with no family in the country, and I helped her become a strong, independent woman.

    I’m not perfect, and sometimes I can be a bit blunt, which I guess got to her. She asked to see me before she left on a family vacation. We lived in different cities, and I had no access to the vehicle, so I made a 2 hour trek to visit her the other day, only to have a 5 minute conversation saying that I did not “respect her” enough, and she couldn’t see a future with me. It came out of left field, and I’m pretty crushed right now.

    I’ve never felt so used in my life. This was the woman I had wanted to spend the rest of my life with. It’s killing me inside.

    1. Hey,
      I hear you on the feeling crushed and heartbroken. This is hard stuff.

      But the feeling used? Not seeing anything in what you wrote that suggested she used you.

      1. Hey…maybe I didn’t explain it the properly.

        When I say feeling used, I mean that I spent the better part of the last 2 years helping her transition from small town university life into the big city. She had no-one else in Canada, and relied heavily on me for advice and help (which I was more than happy to provide, I loved her). I helped her step out of her shell as a timid person who had been abused in previous relationships, I helped her become a strong, independent woman so that she was prepared to tackle the situations that arise as a person who had no family in a foreign country. I was patient, I was supportive, and I gave her every ounce of my mental and physical strength.

        However, recently my luck has taken a turn for a worse and I become broke and unemployed. Instead of being supportive, a kind, patient ear who listened, a shoulder to learn on, she dumped me at my lowest. It felt like a sharp kick in the stomach- I feel as though the wind has been forcibly taken from my lungs. I spent every ounce of my energy to help her grow, mature, and become comfortable with herself and others; I helped her make friends, I helped her through valuable life lessons, and I stayed by her side while she suffered from depression. When it was time to return the favour, I was left to deal with everything on my own.
        So yes, in some way I do feel used.

        All I have now is the deposit I had put on this engagement ring I wanted to give her.

        1. I don’t know her, so I can’t evaluate her reasons for breaking up with you. But she doesn’t owe you a relationship because you were there for her when she needed you. No one owes anyone a relationship.

          I’m getting a Pygmalian vibe here.

        2. To build on what @TreeTopFairyDust said: We are here for your grief in losing a relationship. We are not here to argue that she owed you anything or *should* have stayed with you. You are expressing a lot of entitlement & almost ownership of her (that she owes you now) that is making me a bit uncomfortable.

          1. To second what Captain said, many times when we are grieving, we think back and say, “Oh I did so many things for this person and I loved them, why don’t they like me anymore?” That response is okay. The response that she owes you (“When it was time to return the favour, I was left to deal with everything on my own.”) now that you are going through a tough time is not okay. Anyone is allowed to end a relationship whenever they want. No one should stay in a relationship because they feel they owe it to someone.

  43. Two months ago I broke up with this absolutely amazing man that I had been seeing for a year. A year maybe doesn’t seem long, but we truly loved each other and I’ve never been as crazily in love in my life. The thing is, we’re both nonmonogamous and both have other primary relationships, we both have children, and the reason we broke up is that we realized we felt too strongly for each other for it to work. What we had was so good it threatened everything else, and we both put our children first, etc etc. We were being responsible adults, I suppose.

    It hurts so much to be a responsible adult. I miss him so much, I think about him all the time, I think I’ll never have sex that good again, never be with anyone who makes me feel so alive again.

    There were no bad feelings whatsoever in this breakup, it was a mutual decision (he initiated it, but I genuinely agreed it was the right thing to do), we even had the most perfect, heartbreakingly romantic breakup-weekend together, when we cried and had mindblowing sex, and looked deep in each others eyes and said I love you love you love you love you. And cried again. On Sunday we kissed for the last time and he left. Seriously, it felt like a movie, but it was us and our love and our breakup and now it’s my pain (and his).

    I don’t know how to handle this. I know everyone says to cut contact, but we love each other! I want to have this wonderful person in my life always, we were friends before we were lovers and I don’t want to lose him entirely. I’m just so hopelessly sad and even seeing something he posts on instagram or twitter or wherever makes me think of him and of all the love I’ll never have again. We talk sometimes, we’ve even met twice for coffea since the breakup, and even if we’ve managed to stay only friends it’s painfully obvious he feels just like I do. I had a medical scare a few weeks back and I called him and he talked to me for an hour and soothed me and helped me feel less frightened, but afterwards I cried even more because he’s not mine anymore, not in any sense, and if I this illness really gets as bad as it could he won’t be able to be there for me the way I would want him to.

    I’m a bad mother too, because my sadness shows through even if I try to hide it from my kid, and then he gets sad for me. The whole point of the breakup was to give us both a chance to be happy in our respective families (and able to make our families happy), but so far it has resulted in the exact opposite. Crying you heart out over a lover (for several months!) doesn’t feel at all like the responsible adult I want to be.

    Please help me. What do you think I should do?

    1. The “cut off contact” advice is
      1. Heartbreaking, and the absolute last thing you want to hear. (and the last thing I wanted to hear, when it was given to me)
      2. Really good.

      Here’s the only way I managed to do it: cut off contact for a pre-set amount of time. Don’t discuss this with your ex. Think about what you probably need, and what feels ‘doable’. I’d suggest at least a month.

      Send him one email or whatever and say something on the lines of “I’m sorry, I need a bit of space from this right now, I will not contact you for the next month.”

      Then remove the twitter feed, block on facebook… all those things that makes you “think of him and of all the love I’ll never have again”. That sounds like a very painful moment. Give yourself a month without them.

      I know it sounds bad. I know that those painful moments are also, somehow, moments you look forward to. But it’s just a month, right? Pretend that he’s on vacation on a desert island or something. You can have contact again at some point. When your heart isn’t trained to flood you with emotions whenever you see him pop up.

      The other thing is: you’re not a bad mother for mourning a relationship. Feeling sadness over a break-up is really not something you can “Responsible” your way out of. Your relationship ended. You get to feel sad about that.

      The third thing is:
      During this month, consider whether the Movie Memories are helping or harming you.
      They sound movie-like. I completely agree. But does that movie-like quality make it harder to move on?
      Because you both decided to end it, for practical reasons. Family reasons. But you had this intense connection, and you ended it with tearful “I love you”s.
      Almost every movie I can think of would treat this story in one of two ways:
      1. Star crossed lovers. Tragedy. Romeo and Juliet.
      2. Magical solution to break-up problem. Happily ever after, Big Kiss – fade to black.

      Almost no movie would show what you are planning to do, which is go on with your life – away from each other. Staying with your families – without sending each other tortured looks across the room.
      And stories are so, so powerful. And it can be so, so easy to give in to that fantasy for a little while. But think to yourself: is the story hurting or helping you? Do you feel better or worse when you think back on it?

      And would it help to say: “That’s a lovely memory. But we’re not together. I’m here in the sunshine/on my way to work/at the supermarket, and afterwards I’m going to X place in order to xyz.”? To stop that movie in its tracks? At least for a little while?

      1. I know, I know 😦 I have unfollowed/blocked him and not talked to him for the past week. it doesn’t yet feel any less horrible, but I suppose it might with time. Really interesting what you said about the movie-script-things, because it’s true that there aren’t any storylines in fiction for what I’m trying to do. it makes it difficult to set up good pictures in my head for where I’m headed, everything is mostly blurry (and not just from crying). It varies though, wheither it makes me feel good or bad thinking back at the sheer intensity of it. Sometimes I feel sorry I ever met him, or at least that we got involved like this, sometimes I’m happy that I have at least felt this huge love/passion once in my life and just hope that it will stop hurting this much to have forsaken it. I cried again when I read your answer, but thankyou.

  44. I hope this is still open, because I need it so very bad. My boyfriend and I broke up yesterday after nearly a year. What prompted it was me telling him that I didn’t make him smile anymore and that made me sad. The discussion ended with him saying he didn’t love me, and was only just comfortable with me and was unhappy with himself and didn’t know why ( so the standard responses followed, changing his appearance, changing jobs and now chucking his girlfriend)

    I’ve been struggling with a pretty crippling depression and was doing my best not to burden him with it. He was my source of calm in a city I’m not sure I want to live in anymore. I don’t have a lot of friends there and I freelance. Now he’s gone and I’m at a loss. I’m bad enough to where I shouldn’t be left alone and I’m not sure where to go from here. Any advice?

    1. Jedi hugs to you and each of your 101 demons! You have a lot of short-term and long-term options, though I know that added onto depression and loss, thinking about any decision can feel like a burden as much as a gift.

      For the long term, you could begin brainstorming the kind of place you might want to live next and collecting (writing about? Talking with friends about? Drawing or pinning pictures of?) memories or dreams of those places that most appeal to you.

      For the shorter term, on top of the loss of your relationship, it sounds like you’ve identified that calm is one of the things your relationship provided that you will need. What else has brought you calm in the past, and what can you do to approximate that?

      Here are a few examples from my experience of finding calm in the midst of loss, loneliness, and depression. I’m hoping perhaps one will resonate or remind you of something that centers you.

      I love rabbits but my rental (and schedule) didn’t allow pets; so I located a pet store where a rabbit rescue held weekly adoption fairs and I would try to drop by when I could to pet and watch the bunnies. Cuteoverload.com could provide some temporary calm at other times. 🙂

      Also, I grew up religious and feel more centered at a church service, when singing with others and listening to people talk about their struggles and calling for social justice; after several years of not attending church, I have now found a congregation that fits me, and attending often helps me feel better. Several years ago, I was also fortunate enough to live around the corner from a Metropolitan Community Church, and when I would come to a service once in a while they even welcomed my cis/het self warmly, with no questions asked.

      Finally, I have found ways to indulge in passions that I’ve heard other people say center them, that I’d never really felt it was the right time to try: e.g. drinking various teas; learning to paint; running; NaNoWriMo; reading Jane Eyre and other fiction I had assumed was too pretentious to be interesting (yay libraries!); singing in a choir; marathoning sci fi shows and series I had lost track of; paying attention to local birds and the night sky… Some of these clicked more than others with me, but it felt good to have something novel and positive to focus on and to mention if others ask casually what I’ve been up to. These interests also provided great subjects for dry, non-fiction reading material that helps me get to sleep; curiosity was the only emotion I attached to the books, not stress, pathos, resonance with my life, nor the urge to stay up irresponsibly late in order to finish the book. 🙂

      Talking with someone you trust can also be calming, and I have worked on cultivating relationships where I feel OK asking for help (thanks, Cap’n, for “use your words” and so much advice on figuring out who feels worthy of a particular level of trust!). I was also surprised to learn from this very website that phone and online chat helplines are usually very, very willing to talk about any type of problem: https://captainawkward.com/2013/03/01/guest-post-what-to-expect-when-you-call-a-helplinehotline/#more-5271 I’ve filed that info away for the next time I’m feeling distressed but can’t think of anyone who is both available then and would respond constructively to my situation. (Know that it can take some time to get through to a live volunteer if it is especially busy or they are short-staffed, and a few of the Awkward Army did not get the welcome they needed and should expect through the first helpline they tried.)

      101demons, you deserve happiness and I believe it is in your future. You sound like you are awesome (you read Captain Awkward!) and have found ways to make your way through tough situations before (You have the skills and gumption to freelance! You recognize depression and know the resources you need to deal with it!). It’s most of a day after you posted–if you are alone now and feel like you shouldn’t be, I hope you contact a helpline or someone you know. More Jedi hugs for you!

  45. My fiancee and I finally separated last week, after a few months of waffling on that point. I’d had enough of her submerging her feelings and problems, because either I’d have to play therapist for her or deal with the fallout of her not confronting her issues. And this happened, when, after we agreed to remain primary partners but also date other people, she slept with someone, I felt weird, and then she refused to tell the other lady to leave so we could talk.

    I feel like our whole relationship was a lie, like she was settling for me and I’m now her back-up girl. So I told her I’d had enough, and that we could have coffee in January to start over as friends.

    It’s just really hard, guys. I didn’t want to leave her. I didn’t want us to move into separate places and give away our pets and our home together. I didn’t want to cut her out, since just being in the same room as her makes me feel so safe. I’ve had to move back in with my parents, since after the breakup my life went to shit (I sorta…was not my best and got myself fired, I moved in with not-great roomies, I ended up in debt, etc.), and all I want to do is call her and cry in her arms and tell her I want her back. I wanna call her in a month and try a relationship again. I know I can’t, though. I have to take care of myself. I have to be fair to myself…but this whole situation is just so fucking unfair and gross.

    Also, if anyone here wants to tell me that I set myself up for disaster by attempting non-monogamy, please don’t. Seriously: just don’t. Your criticism will fall on deaf ears and make me feel crappy, so…yeah don’t.

    1. You didn’t set yourself up for disaster by attempting non-monogamy. Non-monogamous relationships rely MASSIVELY on open and honest communication, and if attempting it for the first time there needs to be a lot of that so that all people involved can feel their way through and make sure no one is getting hurt.

      It sounds like you are doing the right thing though, which takes SO MUCH guts when everything hurts so badly. Concentrate on yourself, getting yourself together and loving yourself. I know it’s hard but it is so worth it.

  46. If someone you love, a really close friend, realizes you are worthless & not good enough to have in their life, what if everyone else in your life might realize this too? It’s terrifying. And how do you go through life, on a day to day basis I mean, in work and relationships and just living, when you are worthless and not good enough to be in people’s lives, since everything you do might be the thing that ruins everything? And that everything I do is flawed, not in the way that people will love you anyway, but in the way that will ruin everything if I make any missteps. I feel like I am getting more unstable over time, not healing. I believe it’s not possible for a person to accept or come to terms with being worthless & not good enough, and so if that is the reality, then, what do you do. I know it’s the reality because someone I love, who was a really close friend, and who knew me really well, knew my heart & soul, that’s what they saw. To heal I have to unravel the paradox. Some of these things must not be true. Either they didn’t really know me and were wrong about me, or I am worthless. I don’t know how I can accept being worthless. Even though I can see it must be true, logically.

    1. I am so sorry you are feeling with this, but your comment set off all kinds of “Please talk to someone in some kind of counseling fashion” bells for me. One person’s like or dislike is not the only way a person’s worth is measured. Please take this seriously and seek some help, you do not have to feel like this.

  47. I’m in the thick of heartbreak right now.

    I dated someone who I loved deeply for 3 years, all long distance. We couldn’t do the distance anymore, it seeped into everything and tainted it all. There was never enough. I loved him deeply despite that and we tried very hard. There were many incompatibilities and towards the end I was very unhappy–but I don’t feel relieved or happy now. I feel so hurt and devastated. We were planning a life together and had fought so hard and so long for us. I’m having a very hard time dealing. Your posts are helping a little, but I’m really struggling.

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