Dear Captain Awkward:
About two weeks ago, I was broken up with by my then-boyfriend of nearly two years, P. I did not see it coming, at all. A week before, he had invited me to his family’s reunion in the summer, and he had spent the previous weekend with me.
P and I met on a dating website, after I had been single for a couple of years. We seemed to click right away, he was very attractive and intelligent, and was fun to converse with. The only major problem in our relationship, that I could tell, was that he was bad at emotional intimacy. Like, way bad.
When he broke up with me, he sent a bunch of mixed signals. The few times we saw each other or talked during the first week after, he was way physically (& not platonically) affectionate, and was telling me all about how his day was going. Needless to say, it was confusing.
I spoke with a friend who is mutual friends with P, and she confirmed that nobody knew that P was going to break up with me, and that P was being a sad panda about it. He said (to my best friend) that I should get in touch with him when I was ready.
I ended up talking to my therapist about it, and she suggested that I figure out why he had broken up with me. Initially he said it was because he didn’t feel the way for me the way he thought he should, but all of his actions pointed away from that. So, I texted him to see if he was open to talking, and off we went to our favorite diner.
That talk, to say the least, ended badly. He hemmed and hawed and gave weird reasons (didn’t want to move in together, which was odd because I was nowhere near ready for that either), only to change his mind the next second. Then he said, “I just never saw myself with somebody like you.”
When I asked what that meant, he mumbled something about my “eclectic” fashion sense. Then, he blurted out, “I guess I always saw myself with somebody more conventionally attractive.”
This obviously hurt. In the beginning, I often wondered how somebody like me could land a guy so freaking hot. And now, cool! All my fears and insecurities came true! Awesome!
I got angry, and told him that there was no way, none what so ever, that we could be friends after this. He got sad, and was practically pleading with me. He apologized a bunch, promised he’d be a better person in the future, all that. When I left his car, I told him that he could consider himself free from me, and I went and ugly-cried all over the place. I deleted and blocked him from everything, disabled a lot of my social media accounts to avoid lashing out at him.
In the process of that, I came across a post he made on Reddit, asking how to forgive himself after he had hurt somebody, mentioning how he was never proud to be seen in public with me, and how he knew from the beginning that he was settling for way less than what he wanted in a partner, namely in the looks department.
It’s less than a full day later, so I know it’s too soon to make huge declarative statements but: This has utterly messed me up. Like, I’ve always been aware that I was less than cute by society’s standards but I’ve never had a hard time getting dates/hook ups/relationships, so I figured I was doing okay enough. Now, I have to deal with the knowledge that a man I was in love with for nearly two years, who introduced me to his family and friends, who seemed to have no problem having sex with me, secretly wished I looked like somebody else. From the get-go.
I guess my question is: How to I survive this? I can’t look in the mirror without bawling. I’m so nauseated that I can barely stomach food. I am hating my body and my face a lot right now. And I know I shouldn’t feel that way, that this anger should instead be directed at him for being such a jerkface, but it’s easier to point it at myself.
For right now, I am so turned off to the idea of finding somebody else, even in the distant future, because now I’ll always be wondering at the back of my head: What if this hypothetical person will also lie to myself about loving me and having sex with me while actually being embarrassed by me?
I want to shake your therapist. She fucked up when she counseled you to pursue more answers from someone who dumped you. Please show your therapist this comic, and tell them it’s from me. I don’t think you are any of the things the break-upper lists in the comic, by the way, just, the act of asking for the reason someone doesn’t love you anymore means you’ll get the reasons that someone doesn’t love you anymore.
You did right by blocking P and cutting him out of your life. Stick to that going forward! I just wish you’d done it before that awkward diner meal, because honestly, your refusal to believe or accept his stated, face-saving, feelings-saving reasons for the breakup is the only reason that you know the hurtful ones. “I am not feeling it anymore” = good enough reason to break up. “I am breaking up with you” = good enough reason to break up. Whatever reason the person tells you is a good-enough reason. More important than the reasons are the facts, in that, you are broken up now. You cornered the dude, and you made him explain, he tried everything he could not to tell you, but you kept pushing, so he eventually he did. Hopefully you will never do that again, and hopefully you will counsel friends who come to you after breakups to never do that, hopefully people reading this who were on the verge of doing that will stop themselves from doing that and your story can help someone else. We can’t put spilled milk back into the glass, so let’s move on to what you can do with this information you obtained.
If P was so un-attracted to you, he should have peaced out after your first date and not wasted two years of your fucking time. So what you have here is a) ONE DUDE’S OPINION, not the opinion of all future people who are not him, not the opinion of people who have loved and lusted for you in the past b) one crappy, cowardly, lazy dude’s opinion. Here’s the deal – if P was having sex with you, he WAS attracted to you. If he stopped being attracted to you, then breaking up was the right thing to do. My take is that this isn’t so much about attraction, this is about perceived status, about seeing you as a “thing” that is somehow the measure of his own worth. You weren’t good Trophy Wife material (in his opinion), oops! That’s way more about him than it is about you.
So any time that “What if this is what it will always be & feel like?” voice comes into your head, counteract it with “Just one dude’s opinion, man.” One crappy sexist dude who is no longer in your life. I know it stings. I know it hits you right in your own insecurities, which is why he didn’t want to tell you initially, and why he said it in the end – It’s a conversation-stopper! So what, you dress quirky and don’t look like an airbrushed magazine cover. You can tell the story where this Adonis of a perfect man broke up with you because of your looks, or you can go with the story you told me about how you dated a really handsome dude who was bad (like, way bad) at emotional intimacy and good at compartmentalizing, one who broke up with you out of the blue because of his OWN insecurities, not anything about you. You are too awesome to be someone’s How Do I Emotions? tutor!
Other people are not P, and P. is not worth hating yourself for. Put the anger where it belongs, on him, in your rearview mirror. Be nice to yourself and give yourself permission to grieve. Take care of yourself as you get over the breakup. Have no further contact with him, don’t go looking for his username, and let a lot of time go by. It will get better, and the day will come when he has no power over you at all.
There are some lingering questions that you might want to talk over with your therapist at length as the feelings come up, but ones that I want to give you some preliminary answers to now.
“Why didn’t I see the signs that this was coming?”
It’s easy to feel stupid when you’ve been blindsided. A bomb went off in your life, how could you have missed the ticking? The answer to this one is: Because he didn’t want you to see any signs. He deliberately acted like nothing was wrong while he made up his mind, because he wanted to keep the “option” of you open while he decided what to do. He wanted your love, affection, sex, attention, time, the happiness & security of having a ‘girlfriend’, etc. while he made up his mind. That’s on him, not you! Either he really was undecided, or he was faking it to keep you interested for as long as it suited him. He engineered it to be this way, and then creepily was touching you up a week after you broke up, because he still felt entitled to your affections. Gross.
“What if I can never trust someone’s interest in and desire for me again?”
That one is kind of up to you, and to time. One dude’s opinion, unfortunately reinforced by a body-hating, body-shaming culture, is not everyone’s opinion. And it doesn’t have to be your opinion, though it may take some hard work on your part to fight it. May I recommend a coloring book?
“How can I feel better again?”
Be around people who make you feel good, and do things you love to do and that make you feel good. These are things you can control, so reach out to your friends and ask for brunch, ask for days at the movies or the museum or biking or staying up watching TV. Go swimming, get a massage, get some great pajamas and some awesome-smelling lotion and other stuff that makes your body feel great. Seek out body-positive online communities. Throw away your conventional fashion magazines, don’t consume media that hates on you. Love yourself way better than that P-dude ever, ever could.