Hello Captain Awkward,
I’m feeling quite stuck in a romantic situation and am hoping you can help.
Last year I took a job in a town 5 hours away. To my surprise and delight, a co-worker who I had a secret crush on messaged me daily after I left and from there she admits she is attracted to me. Problem being, she is married. The texting gets intense- sexting 24/7. After a few weeks, I drove up to the city and we spent the weekend with each other, in bed together for most of it. She was racked with guilt, I felt guilty too and also guilty because I had feelings for her and she insisted no feelings were to be involved in this. Guilty feelings made way for more and more of these weekends and trips together- we saw each other most weeks despite living in different cities, having an intensely passionate and sexual relationship for over a year.
I didn’t want to sneak around forever and wanted more of a relationship. She told me for months that we would have that, and she was in the process of separating. However one day she announces she can never leave him and get a divorce. Also, she doesn’t want to disappoint and be disowned by friends and family. I was upset but carried on with the relationship because I just didn’t have it in me to leave.
Before we got together, she had planned to live overseas and travel. I would get upset as the time loomed closer when she was due to leave, just as we were getting serious. She reassured me that it was for the best- a way of separating from her husband so we could together. Yet, only a week before she left, she informed me that he had taken a job over there and was going with her. Nevertheless, she insists they aren’t really together, just friends and she will come back to be with me in a year’s time.
I was upset and angry, although accepting that I am ultimately responsible for my own unhappiness about it because I did get involved with a married woman.
I am still in love with her and want to be with her. However I know it’s best for me to leave this all behind. Yet every time I do, she guilt trips me so hard into staying and staying in contact while she is over there- making it impossible to move on. I was hoping Captain that you would be able to shed some light on an escape route out of this and some potential scripts for when she guilts me into staying.
You can start to be free of this relationship in 5 minutes and some simple (but not easy steps):
One: Tell your ex not to contact you anymore. “It is time for a clean break. Do not contact me again.” Do it now.
Two: Block or filter all communications from her. Block her on social media. Block her on your phone. Filter emails into a special folder that bypasses your main inbox or set up a rule that deletes them on arrival. Do this now.
Three: This weekend, give yourself the entire time to wallow in memories of the relationship and grieve for it. Read old love letters & emails. Put Gladys Knight and Adele on repeat. Sing along. Cry. Write her long letters (that you do not send). Watch things that you watched together.
Four: At the end of the weekend, purge your online spaces and your home of anything that is from her or particularly associated with her. Not like, your couch (“That’s the couch where I first thought about you!”), but any gifts she’s given you, books she’s lent you, any of her stuff that’s there goes OUT. Call a friend for moral support through this if you need to. Maybe that friend will hold onto the box of stuff for a while if you can’t quite put it in the dumpster yet.
Five: When she contacts you again (she will contact you again), do not reply. Every time you reply to her you buy yourself another month or two of continued interaction. Know that she will be able to smell every moment when you start to be a little bit happy, the second you meet a new person, the instant you are vulnerable, and she will choose then to break her silence. Exes have a special sense for this sort of thing. Ignore her.
Six: Whenever you are tempted to reply to her or contact her, distract yourself somehow and then reward yourself somehow. Sometimes you may need to say the Bene Gesserit Litany Against Fear or some other mantra you repeat to yourself to remind yourself of what happened. Maybe try “I loved her, and she loved me, but in the end she didn’t choose me. I am sad. I might be sad for a while. I am taking good care of myself by ending the relationship. I will let time do its work, and someday this will heal.”
Seven: Practice excellent self-care, whatever that means to you. Enough sleep, good food, purging your wardrobe of ill-fitting pants and shoes that never quite broke in, regular haircuts, medical & dental checkups if it’s been a while, tidying up your space, a new houseplant, buying yourself flowers, listening to music that makes you happy, coloring pretty patterns, journaling out all of your feelings each day, exercise if you are able, calling good friends and close family members and people who make you feel good, avoiding people who sap your energy and make you feel bad, saying no to draining and annoying tasks to the extent that you can, trying new things, learning new skills, taking a class, volunteering, kicking ass at work. If your dream is to live abroad and travel, this seems like a good time to make it happen. Sometimes a new sky and a new challenge can speed up the mourning process.
In the meantime, know this:
When an intense relationship falls apart…
Grief is normal.
Withdrawal from the drug of attraction and passionate love and drama and conflict is normal.
Guilt is normal.
Feeling at loose ends about what to do with all of the time and space she took up in your life is normal.
Anger is normal.
Longing is normal.
Remembering only the good parts when you feel low is normal.
Second-guessing everything is normal.
Intrusive thoughts of her and the relationship are normal.
(Relief, numbness, or whatever emotions you actually feel are also normal – there are a lot of normals!)
All of these things are normal for a while, and then you find a new normal.
Let her have her unhappy marriage. Let her have her indecision. You deserve better than lies, endless delays, and whispered secrets as your normal. The good qualities that made this charismatic person fall in love with you are in you. They don’t belong to her, she didn’t create them when she noticed you and loved you, and she is statistically speaking not the only person in the world who will feel that way about you. If you let time do its work, if you practice distracting yourself from thoughts of her and disengage completely with contact from her, if you can keep yourself from believing the lie that you will be friends someday, you will not feel trapped and sad forever. Your mind and body and heart will get bored with the problem of her, and they will move on to other topics and projects. The anticlimax when that starts to happen will feel almost cruel. You’ll think “Is she forgetting me, the way I am starting to forget her? That’s not fair!” Hold fast to yourself and your resolve to let it end. Hold on a little while longer. Someday she will be a story that you tell from a great distance, as if everything in it happened a century ago to someone else.