Hello there, Captain Awkward,
I’m a young person and I recently ended my first relationship. We did truly love each other–even though I’m young, I can say that with absolute conviction. But there were many serious problems in the relationship: they had a horrible, rude friend who would flirt with them constantly (one time she actually kissed them on the cheek while in front of me) and despite my begging they refused to do anything about her. They were into Nazism, which I know sounds bad but they were more into the German Nationalism and never hated anyone, so I convinced myself it was “okay” even when it gave me the heebie-jeebies. However, that wasn’t even the biggest problem in our relationship, which was that they never seemed to care. They would say that they loved me, which I’m sure was true, and yet while I was fighting constantly with my semi-abusive father about them (who yells and feelings-shames me), they refused to even tell their family about me. They would go on and on about their interests and never asked about mine. We went on two dates during the whole two years that we dated, and I had to initiate both of them. They never had time to talk to me and they never could just spend time alone with me, despite how willing I always was to make time for them.
Yet, looking back, I can’t help but think that I didn’t do as much as I could have. Sometimes, they were just worth it. Sometimes they would be sweet and I could really understand why I fell for them. They certainly wouldn’t mind taking me back; they told me that they would always love me and in the week it’s been over they’ve been radiating Cher Lloyd vibes. And I don’t think I could ever really find anyone else who loved me and understood me like they did, since I’m very geeky and I have hobbies many people would consider weird. They were really the only person that I can ever imagine tolerating every part of me, and I don’t know what to do now that I broke it off. Not to mention every person that I’ve been going to about this has been hinting to me that maybe I made a mistake, which I can’t help but start to wonder as well.
What should I do? Did I make a mistake?
Am I walking away from Sephiroth or Cloud?
Dear Am I Walking,
I am confident that you can do better than a self-centered Nazi who won’t tell anyone in their life about you, won’t ask you about your interests, never has time for you, and who makes you do all the emotional and logistical work in the relationship.
You didn’t make a mistake by breaking up with them, quite the opposite. Think of this not as losing a partner, but as finding your self-preservation instincts wherever life with this person had buried them deep within you. Think of this as a learning experience, where you learned that someone saying they love you doesn’t necessarily translate into them being a good fit for you. Hopefully you will never again in your life settle for so little affection, and hopefully the next time someone says “I’m a Nazi, but not like a BAD Nazi, I’m just really into the idea of something that has ‘Nazi’ as one of its descriptors,” Future You will run away laughing a laugh that is also kind of a scream.
Easy for me to say, right? Not so easy for you to feel.
Breaking up hurts, even when you are letting go of someone who was inattentive and incompatible. Maybe especially when you are letting go of someone who fucks with your head to the point that you believe that you not only deserve to be treated so poorly, but that you will never find anyone but them to do it. There can be a lot of shame when you break things off with someone you know was a bad partner, like you’re not allowed to mourn for them or seek sympathy for being without them. There’s also a fallacy that being the one who initiates the breakup somehow insulates you from regret or grief, as if the dump-ee is the only one with the right to mourn. Of course you can feel sad and have regrets! Take all the time you need to nurse the grief and the hurt, but please do not go back to this person. Be alone until you feel relieved to be that way, and when you are ready, date literally anyone else.
Every time I’ve ever broken up with someone I loved, it felt like the end of the world for a little while. Even when I knew they were wrong for me, even when I did the breaking up, even when I knew it was the right decision, even when it was a person I now describe as “a three-dimensional interactive display of how bad I was feeling about myself at the time” or the person (different person, sadly!) who inspired the Darth Vader Boyfriend tag. There have always been second thoughts, loneliness, missing the way they smelled or talked or kissed, or even just missing the fact of having a partner, of being able to say “I can’t tonight, because my boyfriend…” and feel like I belonged to something. This person is your first love! Of course you are going to have feelings about losing them!
What I can tell you is that time heals. Sometimes time heals in spite of you, like, you’ve gotten good and used to wallowing and this breakup has given you a convenient locus for all of your negative emotions about life and yourself, when your brain and your body collectively decide “we are so bored with feeling like this, the sun is shining, let’s go get tacos and love again the stranger who was yourself.” (Text only version). Your broken heart and your sense of humor will grow back, I promise.
I want to highlight one of the fallacies you’ve inherited from this relationship:
“And I don’t think I could ever really find anyone else who loved me and understood me like they did, since I’m very geeky and I have hobbies many people would consider weird. They were really the only person that I can ever imagine tolerating every part of me, and I don’t know what to do now that I broke it off.”
There is no hobby you could have that is so geeky* that you deserve to be ignored and neglected by a shitty partner. As Commander Logic writes in her post on Geek Relationship Fallacies:
GRF5 “We are the only members of our species.” – This is closely related, but not identical to GRF4, and I call it the Facehugger Fallacy, but you can also consider it the fallacy of “The One.” The idea here is that your geekdom (or non-geek love) is so super-special and weird and idiosyncratic that you are the only two people on the planet who could possibly love the other person. In addition to the regular human impulse to not end relationships, this fallacy can really make it hard to acknowledge when a relationship is not actually working. “Who else will I meet who has memorized the works of Tolkien AND Talking Heads AND Eddie Izzard? IT WILL NEVER HAPPEN AND I WILL DIE ALOOOOONE.”
Look, there is more than one person out there who could be a great love of your life. That’s right, A great love. I swear to you, there is more than one person who loves the thing(s) that you love with all your geeky heart. There is more than one person who will find your theories fascinating. There is more than one person who wants to get all sexytimes with you. If you’re dating someone who seems perfect for you, except for the fact that they don’t act like they love you, DUMP THEM. There are other members of your species out there. I swear it.
May I suggest a list of things you might look for in your next dating partner?
- Kind and decent person to everyone they meet.
- Really, really kind and decent to you, always. Makes you feel great, makes time for you, tells everyone they know about you, makes you a priority.
- Doesn’t make you feel like you could never be liked or loved by anyone else. Good partners know that they are lucky to have you!
- Maybe shares some geeky hobbies & interests with you, at very least does not laugh at yours or act like them dating you despite your interests is some kind of big favor.
- You don’t get the heebie-jeebies when you think about their political beliefs.
You deserve to be more than tolerated when it’s convenient for some person. You deserve to be delighted, cherished, adored, and shown as much love and patience and compassion as you show others. This time of grieving is also about regrowing your imagination so that you can imagine good and great things for yourself.
I also want to put a flaming bag of poo on the doorsteps of your “friends” who imply that you made a mistake by breaking up with this person. Of course your ex wants to get back with you, you are like the one person on earth who wasn’t like “LOL WHUT” at everything about them, and their dating pool of people who would put up with them has now shrunk to zero people. That doesn’t make them YOUR soulmate, or your problem, though! If this person is so great, why don’t your friends date them? Script for them: “Ha, I’ve instituted a strict ‘No Nazis’ rule going forward, but you are welcome to date them if you like!”
If I could make some immediate recommendations for you, they would be:
1) Break off all contact with your ex. Tell them, “It’s over, and to heal I need to make an entirely clean break, so please don’t contact me again.” Delete/block communications, do not respond to any communications. You need time and distance from this person to regain perspective on your own worthiness and wonderfulness. I get the feeling that this relationship happened at a distance, so it should be easy to institute blocks on Skype, email, social media, etc. Tell your friends you are done talking with your ex.
2) Find some outlet to process your feelings about your ex, whether it’s a journal or a counselor/therapist of some kind. You need a place where you can grieve for the things about the relationship that you miss without judgment or shame. You need a place to talk about your “semi-abusive” dad that isn’t your (possibly semi-abusive) ex, and to learn some tools for valuing yourself. Are you in school/could you access services through your school? Script for getting started: “I recently broke up with someone who didn’t treat me very well, and I am having a lot of feelings in the aftermath of that and could use a trained person outside the situation to offer perspective.” The counselor will be able take it from there.
3) Practice telling the story of your relationship and breakup. “This was my first love, so it will always be a big deal and important to me in some way. But I realized Ex wasn’t a very good partner for me. They didn’t treat me all that well, so I broke it off. I’m sad, and I miss the good things about them, so my feelings can be all over the place sometimes.”
4) Do some self-care things, especially around your physical self. Get a haircut if it’s been a while. Consider offering yourself as a practice subject at a massage school to get human touch in your life. Dig into the Scarleteen archives, especially about self-love. See also: What You Really, Really Want. Is there a family cat or dog? Snuggle the heck out of that creature, give pets, brushes, treats, walks. Move your body in some way that feels good every day.
5) Those hours you spent chatting/texting/Skype-ing, etc. are going to feel empty and lonely at first.You’ll be tempted to answer the blinky light of the ping and collect your sweet pellets of attention and affection. I highly encourage you to throw yourself into learning something new or doing something you love, and filling that time with pleasurable things so you are less tempted to respond. Put effort into meeting new people, especially people who share your hobbies and interests, but lots of new people in general. Get involved with classes, volunteer work, MeetUp groups. Get out of your abusive home as much as possible.
6) I recently read Jo Walton’s Among Others. It’s about a geek who fled an abusive home situation and her quest for belonging, and I think “Mor” would be a good companion for you just now, Letter Writer. See also: What You Really, Really Want.
You did the right thing by breaking up, dear Letter Writer! Give yourself a lot of time and love while you catch up to that fact.
*There is an obvious joke to be made here given the interests of the LW’s ex, but arguably no human being deserves to be mistreated by a romantic partner. Rejected/left? Yes. Mistreated? No.
Friday, Feb 13: Comments are closed because: your friendly moderator has weekend plans and I think we’ve sufficiently covered both the weird aftermath of breakups and “WTF, Nazis?” Be well, Letter Writer.