#1029: “I know this relationship is over, why can’t I let go?”

Dear Captain,

I am currently with someone whom I know is completely toxic for me. He’s selfish, emotionally unavailable, dismissive of my needs and feelings, and apparently very depressed due to recently losing his career and having trouble finding a job. Even when things were good, he spent most of his time alternately being unwilling to talk to me about any of my concerns or telling me whatever he thought I wanted to hear to shut me up. I’ve caught him in various small lies, and at this point have no idea what big lies he might have told me. I don’t even know if I believe him about the depression. Sometimes it just seems like a convenient excuse to treat me badly and to not come through on absolutely anything he promises me, even something as small as calling me when he said he would.

I’ve also been making a massive fool of myself. After watching him piss his career away, blame everyone but himself, and mislead me as to what happened and how for months, I still persisted in: (1) staying with him; (2) paying for shit, like a vacation we took together and other material things he needed; (3) letting him refuse to address any of my needs except to say I needed to stop talking about them because I was stressing him out; (4) putting up with increasingly neglectful or hostile behavior; (5) watching his drinking become more and more of a problem; and a bunch of other things it shames me to even think about. Not to mention the times he pressured me into sex after I repeatedly told him I wasn’t comfortable with it, or the time he picked the night there was a death in my family to spend an hour yelling at me for constantly “attacking” him with my insecurity.

The result of all this is that I am now an intensely insecure, obsessive mess who can’t seem to stop texting or calling him. I’ve tried to break up with him twice now, and both times I went back less than eight hours later. I’ve lost 25 pounds from the stress alone, and the quality of my work is beginning to suffer because I’m so distracted. For the last three nights, I’ve been up into the late hours trying to get a hold of him, and when I do get a hold of him what follows is a tearful (me) and bored/hostile (him) conversation where I demand/beg to know why he’s treating me so badly when he keeps saying he loves me and he just keeps saying he doesn’t know or that he does love me and wants to be with me, he’s just depressed and really needs me to shut up about this.

By this time, I’m actually quite surprised that he hasn’t just broken up with me. It came close once, when he started saying things like maybe he couldn’t give me what I wanted right now, that maybe he wasn’t ready for a serious relationship, that he had too many problems and it wasn’t fair to me, so forth and so on. It was very painful to hear, but then when I tried to confirm that he was breaking up with me, he reversed himself again and said he did want to be with me and he did love me, he just needed some space to figure himself out and think about his problems and try to figure out a way to deal with his depression. So now the situation is that we are going no contact for a few days while he thinks himself through. When I told him I wasn’t going to wait a few days for him to break up with me, he said that wasn’t what he was doing and even made plans to see me after the days were up. Except then he told me that he’d be taking two of those days to take an overnight drinking trip with some of his friends. One he specifically told me he wasn’t going to go on. When I said that this was bullshit, he backtracked and said he wasn’t sure he was going and that he was going to think about it, and then refused to discuss it further and just demanded his space.

I managed to go two hours before I broke no contact because not knowing whether he was going on the trip was killing me. He wouldn’t answer, so I left a text. I’m determined not to do more than that, but I need help.

Captain, I feel so awful. I feel like the most pathetic person alive. I don’t understand why I’m so desperately chasing someone who’s so terrible to me. He has nothing to offer me emotionally, intellectually, or materially. Even the physical part isn’t appealing to me anymore, because I always feel so pressured to “help” him relieve stress by getting him off and that inevitably makes me feel like it is now my only function in the relationship, seeing as how he doesn’t enjoy spending time with me, talking to me, or even holding my hand anymore.

I am not perfect by any means, but I think I’m better than this. I have plenty of outside confirmation that I’m attractive, intelligent, interesting, and desirable. I turned down two other, far more accomplished and stable men for my current partner. And I still have my very demanding, high prestige career, the same one he threw away with his drug use. I have good, supportive friends (who are rightfully tired of listening to this shit), a loving family (who are basically begging me to end it with him), and a work environment in which I am doing very well (I’m up for a promotion). I travel, I volunteer, I’m politically aware and socially active. I work hard and face my problems directly and believe in open and enthusiastic communication.

I’m so disgusted with myself. Why do I keep going back? Why am I so invested in a relationship that is at least embarrassing and at most abusive? When I think about being without him I feel such despair, but why? For all his behavior toward me, it’s not as if I actually have him now.

Captain, I’ve decided that this is the last time he’s going to lie to me. I don’t want this anymore. I don’t want to be this sad creature I’ve turned into. I am not going to accept being treated like this. But I need help. How do I maintain no contact when it hurts so much to not be with him? How do I resist reaching out at those moments in the middle of the night when I’m lying awake mourning what could have been? How do I get it through my head that he is not going to change, that the way he treats me shows me who he is, and the man I love doesn’t exist?

I’ve read through your archives, and I want to follow the advice I see there, I really do. But I just can’t seem to apply it on my own. I miss him, and I grow weak, and I rationalize everything and convince myself that maybe he’s just depressed and it can be different. How do I overcome this? I’m okay during the day, when I have things to do and people I can talk to, but what do I do in those intense moments when I’m alone and it feels like I’m about to die if I don’t talk to him? How do I break free of this?

Please help.

Hi. Here’s a poem.

The dude is depressed AND addicted to alcohol AND a terrible boyfriend for you. It’s not one or the other. You are telling yourself the story of The Guy Who Would Be So Perfect If Not For That One Thing. It’s a compelling story. It’s the Pied Piper of stories. I’ve told this story to myself, too (and made all the people around me want to claw their eyes out listening, to it). It’s a depressingly common story and it has its hooks in us deep. It’s affirmed by so much of our media and popular culture, every time some morose asshole on TV reforms temporarily for the sake of some long-suffering woman in the name of “true love”, every time some woman puts in the work and then more work and puts in even more work because maybe redemption will come and she has to try because “relationships take work.” “If I can just love him better/give him some more time/accommodate him more, he’ll be kind to me and I won’t have to do the terrible work of kicking myself free of him/starting over.” It’s a powerful story but it’s not the only story and it doesn’t have to be your story anymore. See it for what it is and write that ending. You’re the only one who can.

These things are true but won’t be true for you until you believe them. I’m going to say them anyway:

  • You can do better than a boyfriend who doesn’t treat you with kindness.
  • “Alone” is better than a boyfriend who doesn’t treat you with kindness.
  • There will come a time in the future when you will not feel this lonely and sad and addicted to this person. He will be a memory with no power to hurt you anymore. If you can cut him off and let enough time pass, you will detox and heal from this. You have to believe in that future. You’re the only one who can get there. You can get there.

You have given us a very smart clue about some ways you can break this cycle forever, do you know what it is? It’s the knowledge that *when you’re alone at night* you feel lonely and terrible and bored and sad, so that’s when this magical device that will let you text and call and hack away somehow at the loneliness (your cellphone) starts glowing like a beacon.

What you have right now isn’t a love affair, it’s a habit. This dude is “biting your nails and gnawing your cuticles” or “popping those pimples that won’t come to a head, the ones you KNOW will not be fruitful but you squeeze at them anyway” or “buying lots of produce for these elaborate meals you plan to cook and then letting them slowly liquefy in your produce drawer.” These habits aren’t evil and don’t hurt anyone but ourselves and we lapse into them when our resources run low.

He is a habit. You had the habit of being with him, of seeking his approval, of trying to make it work and now you have the habit of using him to beat yourself up with at night, to give a shape and a name to your loneliness.

You know exactly when and how this habit manifests most often. Maybe if you can change the circumstances around those moments and how you deal with them, you can get a handle on the habit and build a new one. To do this we’ve got to disrupt the pattern where you are alone and up all night climbing the walls and reaching for your phone, so, let’s talk strategies:

A. If you can’t be alone at night right now, don’t be… at least for a few nights. See if you can stay with friends or family for a little while. Or, if you can afford it, invite some good friends to crash with you in a fancy hotel or get away for a few days and pamper yourselves. Your friends will probably be pretty happy to participate in Project Darth Vader Boyfriend Detox. NO DARTH CALLING OR DARTH TALK. Be with friends for a little bit. Remind yourself you have lots of love in your life. Three nights that you don’t text or call this dude are three nights closer to being done forever.

B. Find support. Does your employer have a confidential Employee Assistance Program (EAP) you can call? Can you find a counselor to talk to?  Or talk to an Al-Anon group (distinct from AA, for families and loved ones of people with alcohol addiction)? Where can you safely unpack all the feelings and history and anxiety that you have around this without shame or without making you feel like you are overburdening your family and friends? You’re not sleeping at night, you’re having intrusive thoughts of this dude, you are compulsively subjecting yourself to his indifference. It’s okay to call in the cavalry here.

C. Plan out your evenings. Whatever your current evening routine is, change it the fuck up. If you are having a hard time getting to sleep, see if adding some form of exercise after work will literally tire you out. Plan out your meals so they are enjoyable and you look forward to them. Buy a stack of books you’ve been wanting to read and read them before bed. Do things to help yourself wind down: Stretch, write a few pages in a journal, take a nice shower, lay your clothes out for the next day, wash your face, etc.  Talk to your doctor about a mild sleep aid if you think that will help. Try out the Sleep With Me podcast.* You’ve got to sleep.

*If you use your phone as an alarm clock, buy an alarm clock that is just an alarm clock. You’ve basically got to ban your cell phone and any way of contacting this dude from your bedroom at night. This may be incompatible with podcasts, even excellent ones.

D. Change your environment. Take a look at your bedroom. Do you like it in there? You said you have a good career and are about to be promoted, so I don’t feel bad suggesting “throw a little money at this problem” solutions to you. Do you need a new bed, one that he’s never seen or slept in? Do you need to clean every surface of the room? Do you need new sheets and awesome pillows and the best pajamas? Do you need to rearrange the furniture/hang some lovely art/put fresh flowers next to the bed at night? Involve a friend or hire a person from a service like TaskRabbit so you have a buddy and make it part of the project of falling back in love with your life.

E. Plan for relapses. Maybe you’ll wake up in the night and claw your phone out of the drawer you stuck it in and want to text him. What if you add the Crisis Text Line to your phone contacts? If you’re tempted to text or call Darth Dude at night, you can text them instead. A nice human will text with you until the moment passes. They will listen to you and not judge. They will help you get one more day without texting or calling him. We’re doing this one day at a time.

F. Block his number on your phone so he can’t call or text you. Then delete the contact from your phone. Block his email addressBlock him everywhere. Block him on all social media platforms and lock down your security & privacy settings in general.

G. Get his stuff out. Put any stuff he has in your house in a box and ship it to him.

H. Acknowledge sunk costs. Decide that any money you’ve given him or spent and any stuff you left at his place is gone forever. Letting this go, replacing whatever it is will be the cheapest money you ever spent in your life.

I know that you can do this. You don’t know yet that you can do this, but I do, and so does everyone else who has ever done this. We’re all here on the other side of those shitty partners who made us feel so lonely and those late night desperate-sounding emails we wrote them and those self-deprecating stories we tell about our younger selves who put up with all that shitty behavior. We’re all here and we’re cheering for you. We’ve got a cosy spot by the fire for you, with a comfy chair and your favorite drink and comfy pants and someone friendly saying “Aw buddy, tell me about it.” You’re almost there. You are so, so close.








258 thoughts on “#1029: “I know this relationship is over, why can’t I let go?”

    1. Every time I see your post, I try to visualize myself at a campfire in the dark, far away from here. Where none of this matters and I’m safe with friends who don’t know him and are just happy to be with me.

      Thank you.

  1. I heartily second the captain’s advice about finding new hobbies that will keep you busy at night– anything from evening poetry readings to looking for new local bands to joining night bike rides (fun, good exercise, and will keep you occupied and having a good time with a big group of people!) might do the trick. If you find that you weaken at specific times might a drunk texting app help? The kind that will prevent you from calling certain numbers within a certain time frame might be a really good temporary solution until you’re out of the woods.

    Please don’t be disgusted with yourself. There’s a reason every advice archive has answers to lots of questions like this– we all think that the easy solution is easy until we’re faced with doing it ourselves, and until the advice that seems so sensible in response to a 200-word letter has to be applied to a problem that feels like it’s a torrent of a million words happening inside your head at every moment. Actually going through with it might seem like the worst thing in the world for a little while, but it will get better, and you will get better, and one day you’ll look back and your life will have changed so much that the person who wrote it will feel like a stranger. And I don’t think that’s a bad thing.

      1. There are some (Drunk Blocker for Android is the one that immediately came to mind for me) that are specifically intended to stop you from drunk dialing people, but now that I’ve thought about it something like Keep Me Out (another Android app, sorry, I know less about the iPhone market) or a similar app might actually be a better choice– they tend to totally lock you out of your phone (except for emergency calls,) for a set period of time, and some come with other features like only letting you into your phone with a password, or blocking certain apps. I highly recommend them if you ever need to make sure you’re off your phone for a certain amount of time! I mostly use mine immediately after I’ve posted a new piece of creative work so I don’t obsessively refresh for validation XD

        1. Seconding this! I was thinking about these types of apps while I was reading the post too. I use an Android one called Offtime, which locks you out of whichever apps you choose for the amount of time that you choose. It’s good because you can still use other whitelisted apps if you want to, like podcast apps or pinterest for pretty pictures. It also has a feature where you can deactivate the Offtime by long pressing and waiting 15 minutes. But if you want you can turn that feature off so you really truly cannot get into those apps until the time period is up.

          Though if you want to still be able to text or call friends and family and support lines, you may prefer to use a drunk dial app like commenter pc mentioned, just to block you from specific numbers. 🙂

          Good luck LW! We are rooting for you! ❤

          1. I think I need the one that does specific numbers. I can’t just disable texting or calls, but maybe something that makes me think for a minute before I do anything will help.

            Thank you for posting. Just knowing that kind people are rooting for me helps so much.

        2. Sorry this isn’t related to LW, but thank you for mentioning those apps. I didn’t know they existed and could really use one right now. (Fighting a depressive episode and having a major problem focusing on work, and I keep getting sucked into phone games for TOO LONG as a coping/avoidance mechanism.) Thank you!

          1. @onyx Am going through something extra difficult right now – have found it helpful to adapt a principle from UFYH. I’ll spend 20 minutes working and then 10 minutes playing a game on the computer. (I can’t bear to write about what I’m going through, but trust me it’s HORRIBLE). Sometimes turning to a coping mechanism is all I can do and using the 20/10 structure means that not ALL the time is getting “wasted”. Getting stuff done in the 20s, not least cleaning and tidying when I am at home, is helping me to feel better and that I can make a difference to something. Good luck!

    1. I don’t know how realistic this is for your life, but could you leave your phone at work in a locked cabinet for the night, or with a friend or family member? And maybe your laptop too, so you can’t email him. I suggest this because I have been in a place similar to this, and I found my way around apps and other things I set up to keep myself from obsessively texting/online stalking/emailing.

      I know that those are somewhat drastic measures – and that they legitimately might not be possible – but if they are possible, it might help get you through this part of the break-up where you’re white-knuckling it.

      Good luck to you LW. You absolutely can do this, and you did the right thing by reaching out. Perhaps printing out the letter you wrote and keeping it close at hand can serve as a reminder of all your reasons to leave when you start to feel that addictive pull back to him.

      1. Oops! Meant to post this as its own separate comment. I’m all for using the apps mentioned above; app technology has come a long way from the days when I experienced this, and the ones described above sound a lot less hackable.

      2. Yeah I was going to suggest that when she goes and stays with a friend or family for detox, she give them her phone and laptop at night. I have a friend who went through this, and that helped her.

      3. Unfortunately I can’t be away from my phone or computer for work-related reasons. I did spend a couple of nights giving my phone to someone to keep until morning, but that’s really not feasible now. I think I’ll try a drunk dialing/texting app next, but for now I’m not sure what else I can do.

        I don’t really online stalk, but I do seem to be having a real problem not texting or calling. So far, the idea of giving him more of that kind of possibly permanent evidence has kept me from emailing again (I gave in once), but I can’t just forget his email. 😦

        I’ve been keeping this thread open and reading it again and again. Hearing other people’s experiences and encouragement really has been helping. I think I’ll start writing letters or a journal or something too. Maybe when the pain gets really bad, it’ll help to remind myself of all the shit he put me through.

        1. Dear LW, When I’ve wanted to limit usage of problematic apps on my phone, I’ve had good luck moving them off my home page (possibly into a subfolder). I’ve noticed that my finger automatically hovers over the old location and if you put a distracting game or mindfulness app there you may pause long enough to change the habit. Best of luck!

      1. gmail has an UNDO????
        …. mine is now on. No more sending attached please find… oops hit send without attaching, ok here’s the attachment.

        (end derail)

        1. There’s also a Google Lab extension that looks for phrases that indicate an attachment and warn you if you forgot to attach something! I don’t remember the name, but it’s a lifesaver.

    2. “we all think that the easy solution is easy until we’re faced with doing it ourselves, ”

      Often, the solution is very simple. (in your case: break up. Don’t contact him.)

      But “simple” does not equal “easy.”

      And, inside “simple” are hundreds of steps.

      There’s a theory that to explore infinity, we shouldn’t reach outward, to the stars. But inward, to the earth, to our substance (DNA, RNA, nucleotides…). Inside the simplest thing are complex truths.

      So, when we are our most powerful, we are able to simplify. (of course, that’s also when we can go the most wrong, sometimes).

      All that to say–this isn’t simple, or easy. And yet, it is. You just have to find the way for YOU to make it simple.

      I’m so w/ the Captain–get your friends enlisted. Have them meet you after work and help you plot out some interesting evenings, etc., and ask them to help you enforce the discipline on yourself. You need to go “cold turkey”–good friends will help.

      1. I would be *delighted* to a help a friend through something like this – especially if it was obvious to me how much better off my friend would be without their terrible boyfriend. I’ve had so many friends with terrible significant others. Nothing would bring me more pleasure than helping kick-one to the curb. I would line-up a friend/family for the first few nights, but also put it out there that you’ll be looking for lots of stuff to do for the next few weeks. It doesn’t have to be fancy – when I was sick and couldn’t go anywhere on my own, my neighbor used to take me with him to run errands. It was really helpful to get out of the house and out of my head for awhile.

    3. Unfortunately, my evenings are pretty circumscribed. After a certain time I’m really unable to go anywhere, so I’m just sitting there losing my mind. I think that’s a big problem for me right now, that I can’t actively distract myself until I’m tired enough to go to sleep. Which has already led to me doing something I shouldn’t.

      I’m going to look into drunk texting apps. I really can’t be locked out of my phone in any way right now for reasons tied to work, but if there’s something that, I don’t know, forces me to just hesitate and think for a second before I call/text anyone, maybe it’ll help.

      It does feel like the worst thing in the world. Despite knowing with all this certainty that he’s bad for me, despite all this proof he’s provided me that he is an awful partner, that this isn’t just his depression or his drinking but something about who he is…I still can’t seem to let go.

      Thank you for talking to me. I want to believe you that it will get better. I’m trying to hang on to that idea.

  2. LW, I HAVE BEEN THERE. My ex, fondly referred to as Fucking [name redacted] by my dearest friends, kept me on a hook for 5 fucking years of a toxic cycle of make ups and break ups. Even after I had nominally let go but kept telling myself ‘it was just the timing that was wrong’, not his hideous treatment of me.

    Long story short, he MARRIED HIS EX AND NEVER TOLD ME, whilst still trying to sleep with me ‘for nostalgia’s sake’ (actual quote). I found out because I happened to meet a colleague of his at a party who a) told me he had married his ex, and b) had retconned me out of his entire history (‘wait, when did he date you? I thought he has been dating [ex] since college?).

    In the end, I’m glad he was so egregiously terrible because I had managed to rationalise away every other terrible behaviour, but even I couldn’t rationalise away that. I now refer him to the cannonball that missed me, because up until then, I still think I would have gone back if he had shown up with an engagement ring. I KNOW, SO BAD. But I couldn’t let go.

    You will survive this. You will look back and wonder how he infested you with such vicious brain weasels without you noticing. But my god, the extermination of them will feel SO GOOD.

    1. “My ex, fondly referred to as Fucking [name redacted] by my dearest friends…”

      A good friend of mine once referred to the guy from whom she was in the process of disentangling her life as STBX — standing for “Soon-To-Be-Ex,” and pronounced (of course) “Shitbox.” 😉

    2. I call my toxic ex Voldemort, because then I think of the epithet “he who shall not be named,” and that reminds me to limit how much I talk about him. Not such a big deal 6+ years after the breakup; huge deal in those first couple post-Voldemort years. (And also I call my dog “the girl who lived” because she has a little scar just off-center on her forehead.)

      1. Oh my gosh Cheese Mistress, I do exactly this. The “who shall not be named” and my closest friends also call my awful ex Voldemort. It really does help in stopping to talk about them. So glad we have this to use!!!

  3. Also, if by chance you don’t have a pet but you would like to have one, now would be the perfect time. I’m recently separated from my husband, and it’s an immense comfort to reach out at night and pet my cat and listen to her purr. I talk to her a lot, too. She’s a great listener. She never judges; she just gazes at me with her big, wise eyes as though she’s thinking, “You’re a good human. I like you.”

    1. I also got my cat right after I broke up with my toxic ex! She made everything so, so much better. (Also, my ex didn’t like cats, so I kinda felt like I had traded him in for her. It was a good trade.)

      LW, if you aren’t sure you’re ready for a lifetime-of-pet commitment, many shelters love to place animals in foster homes. I actually fostered my cat first, and then adopted her after I realised I was never, ever letting her go back to the shelter. But whether or not you end up adopting, fostering is a very important thing to do and imo benefits everyone involved 🙂

      Whatever choices you make, I wish you the best of luck and all the peace and contentment in the world. I believe in you.

      1. Heck, there are variants of this idea which don’t even involve live animals. When I decided to divorce my first husband and I wasn’t in a position to get a pet, one of the first things I did besides hiring a lawyer was to buy a stuffed animal which had caught my fancy. I have him still, ten years later. He’s a big, floppy green monster with a big red nose and random scruffy patches of other colors all over him, and he’s ugly and adorable and he was the thing I reached for in the night when I desperately needed something to hug, and could not afford to let myself get into a tizzy by imagining my ex in that role.

        My monster’s name is Maddox. I explain, when people ask me why, that it’s because it’s his job to get mad at anybody who mistreats me, so that I don’t have to use up my energy getting mad at them myself. He does it for me.

        The friends who were with me during my divorce understand perfectly. 😉

    2. LW, _do not let my comment guilt you into fostering a pet if you are not in a place to_, BUT: this is a great week to look into this, because foster networks are still trying to make space for pets displaced by the recent hurricanes. So that’s an option if you want a right-now pet but maybe not a forever pet – so long as you’re willing to take the pet to adoption events (more distraction!) or meet with potential pet owners (nothing keeps my brain from wandering into old bad habits, by the way, like knowing someone’s going to come to my house during the weekend at some point).

      While I’m commenting here I’ll throw in some other thoughts: I had a bad pattern of reopening contact with exes when my work schedule was way off kilter from friends’ and I was often alone for long periods of time. I actually had to get a volunteer job for my weekday off to get my bad habit under control. Taking a yoga class or doing another group, out-of-the-house, rude-to-check-your-phone mindfulness activity might be a really good stopgap! Or otherwise make a list of things that you can do instead of text him. You can see a 9:45 movie. You can text that crisis line. You can REALLY clean your shower grout. You can make a cup of tea and make yourself wait until it’s brewed, and then until it’s steeped, and then until you’ve finished it, taking deep breaths the whole time. Every time you wait out the urge for even a minute and do something to distract yourself is progress and a job well done, even if it only works for that minute.

      One other throw-money-at-it suggestion: Kindles are just clunky enough and bad enough at accessing the internet that I’ve used them before as my communication-free media device. Kindle Fires are good for Netflix, and there are LOTS of good free audiobooks available on librivox.org that you can load onto a classic black-and-white no-chance-of-texting-or-emailing Kindle. You might consider leaving your phone at home for certain periods of time (just go to Target and smell all the candles before you decide whether you’re going to text him! Target is open pretty late!). Or get an emergency-use-only Tracfone to keep in the car that’s super difficult to text from.

      1. Additional animal-related suggestion: if spending time with animals appeals to you but you can’t foster or adopt right now, do you live or work near a dog shelter? They might need dog-walkers!

        1. Or someone to take care of the adoptable cats. I did that for a while, as did my kid, taking care of, cleaning up after, and socializing (read: playing with) the adoptable cats from a local shelter who were housed in a pet store to advertise them as adoptable/make adoption more likely to happen.

          Or some other sort of shelter pet care. There are species- and breed-specific pet rescue/shelter organizations out there (the closer you are to a large city, the likelier it is to find a specific sort of critter-rescue), so if cats and/or dogs aren’t the OP’s cup of tea (or OP is allergic or whatever), there might be a chance of finding volunteer work with some other sort of animal shelter/rescue group.

      2. You can also listen to podcasts on a Kindle! Look in their app store for podcast apps and subscribe to the shows you want as normal.

    3. Ex and I broke up while on a trip to see family, though it had been brewing for years. When we returned home, I went directly to a previously planned cat-sitting gig. Somehow, the cat knew on a nightly basis how in need of cuddles I was and calibrated her closeness to me thus. On one particularly rough night, she climbed under the covers with me.

      I am not in a position to own a pet, but I have found it helpful to pet-sit when I can; addressing my touch-hunger via dogs and cats makes me much less likely to call Ex.

    4. Was about to suggest a cat too!
      Can’t get up and (do thing you don’t REALLY want to do) when CAT IS PURRING ON MEE

    5. Please, please don’t do this. My dearest friend came out of a toxic, abusive relationship and immediately got a rescue dog to deal with her abandonment issues. The dog is a nightmare and has bitten multiple people hard enough to send them to the hospital, including children. But because her need to feel unconditional love and to have rescued something, rather than feeling like the victim, she does not recognize how dangerous her animal is. My unwillingness to be around the dog has caused a rift between us that may never heal (how dare you not love that which I love and has saved me). She has swapped one abusive relationship for another.

      Please consider pet ownership in the same light as jumping right into another relationship. If you need time to right your ship and rediscover you, you wouldn’t start dating a new boyfriend tomorrow. Pets feed into our need to feel needed, and have that excuse to run home to feed/walk/let out rather than socialize (or answer questions about your breakup). They can be hugely isolating.

      Just something to think about.

    6. At the very least a pet is a great distraction.

      If you aren’t ready to commit to an animal for life you could also look into fostering. Many animal rescues need people to take care of animals receiving medical care, babies or just animals that don’t do well in a shelter environment.

      The novelty and change to your routine a pet brings can be great help with other changes. (I will say not all cats start super cuddly, so I am hesitant about the cuddling replacement. They are all their own animals. But they can bring you joy in their own unique ways!)

  4. Dear LW,

    I suspect that as each day without him passes, and as you fill each day and night with people and activities that are not him, the ache will diminish.

    For now, though, I can’t push hard enough for at least a few days (and nights) with company.

    Jedi hugs if you want them.

      1. Thirded.

        When I left Darth Ex for good, one of the things that kept me from caving into his pleas to come back was going to hang out with a friend who was working nights at a convenience store. The place was usually dead an hour or so after the bars closed, friend liked the company, and I liked having somewhere to be on rough nights.

  5. You can do this LW! We believe in you!

    Something I think is good if you can’t sleep, or you’re desperate to look at your phone in the middle of the night, is doing a puzzle, one of those big 1000 piece ones. It just keeps your mind ticking so you’re not staring into space thinking about how much you want to pick up your phone, and it’s kind of soothing and tiring too. If it’s a picture of something you find relaxing, like a garden or some cute animals, even better! Maybe a prop like that could help you to break the habit of texting, in addition to all the Captain’s great suggestions?

    1. Jigsaw puzzles, games, books, movies, giving internet strangers advice and jedi hugs – pretty much anything that can distract you and isn’t itself harmful is good. 🙂

      when sleep is really important, I find sudoku is the one game that I can fall asleep playing. it’s just so… methodical. 🙂

      1. Seconding the sudoku relaxation/distraction method, if you naturally enjoy these things. I use it to quiet my noisy-brain, because the world just narrows down to a 9×9 box. It’s 100% logic, 0% emotion, there’s no subjectivity (it’s either right or not), and because I do it on paper there’s no prize for finishing it fast – or finishing it at all.

        So pleased to hear someone else out there also has the same go-to solution!

    2. An audiobook of a well-worn story (one where you won’t prop your eyes open with sticks to avoid dozing off and missing something, because you already know it back to front) can help too. I got through six months of mind-crushing financial anxiety without significant sleep deprivation by listening to the entire Harry Potter series in bed, as read by Stephen Fry.

      1. This, +100000. For a good six or seven years of crippling depression, sleeping all day and lying awake going slowly round the bend all night, the thing that helped me recalibrate was Stephen Fry reading Harry Potter. Familiar, soothing, reminiscent of childhood, not distracting, and above all else, something safe to take up the space usually filled with black-and-red noise.

      2. I’ve often done something similar with movies. I’ve cussed out Netflix a few times now for cutting some of my favorite “watch till I nod off” titles.

  6. This sounds like trauma bonding and it’s a very real thing. People who come from emotionally abusive households are especially vulnerable – kind of like Stockholm Syndrome, the abuser hurts the victim, then gives them some kernel of “love” to cling to. The brain is conditioned to think the problem is the solution, and it’s absolutely an addiction. Something I found extremely helpful was Co-Dependants Anonymous, or CoAD, basically a 12 step program for people addicted to toxic relationships. I was super skeptical until I went to my first meeting- and other people who were suffering from the same unconscious and seemingly involuntary behaviors I was just floored me. LW, nothing is wrong with you. You can get through this, and over him. Promise.

    1. Hi, came here to also mention trauma bonding. The idea of it can be a bit contraversial within the domestic violence advocacy sector, but reading up on trauma bonding was a key way for me to realise why it was so hard for me to leave my abusive relationship. And that’s exactly what this is LW, an abusive relationship, and a core aspect of abusive relationships is that they are hard to leave. You’ve been broken down by this relationship and its hard to centre yourself or think about your needs because you’ve been putting yourself aside for so long, its hard to think in terms of your own needs now and walk away. And your partner has reinforced the idea that you should be putting yourself aside. That dismissing your sense of yourself as a person who deserves care and respect and consideration is a totally reasonable and normal thing to do. But it isn’t, and the more you practice walking away (I viewed every time as practice, and tried to notice how much stronger i was getting each time) the more you will remember that you deserve respect and care, and it will become easier to not orientate yourself around him.

      Be gentle with yourself. This is a scary and difficult process, and so mant of us have been through it and understand it. Its clear that you have worked through a lot of this and are nearly there, you’ll break through soon

        1. @working hypothesis perhaps contraversial isn’t the right work. The term is contested by some that feel it removes a woman’s agency and ignores the way they continually resist against the abuse. I personally feel like the two can co-exist.

          1. Gotcha. Thanks for explaining. My own experience suggests that they can co-exist also… certainly I recognize aspects of my own experience in the way people typically describe trauma bonding, while also feeling that I was attempting to resist my partner’s abuse throughout the relationship.

    2. I don’t know if this is the same as trauma bonding, but this made me think of a very common tendency I have seen in myself and others: to look to the person who cause us pain to fix that pain, to make it good again. To me it makes sense: If they made the hurt, they also have the power to undo the hurt! Or so says part of my brain which is forever 5 years old.

      When people wrong us, we want them to acknowledge us, recognise our pain, apologize, and change their ways, and especially in relationships it is so easy to stick around wanting, waiting and hoping for that to happen. Of course, asking the person who hurt us to help us fix it could be a sensible and healthy thing in an otherwise healthy and good relationship, but when the other person is abusive, or just simply incapable or unwilling to do something about the pain, it becomes part of a dynamic that keeps us trapped in cycles of hurt.

      LW, is there some other place you can go to heal the pain and right the wrongs he have done to you? Can someone else tell you the things you wish he would tell you? Can you tell them to yourself? Can you find someone else to treat you the way you want to be treated? Can you treat yourself that way? Maybe write a pretend letter from him to you, saying all the things you wish he would say, things that would give you closure and allow you to leave?

  7. What was helpful for me when I left my ex-husband (who was equal in assholeness to your boyfriend) was to remind myself to do the OPPOSITE of what I my impulses were telling me to do. I kept telling myself that it was sick behavior on my part that kept me in it so long and that only different behavior would get me out of it. So I just kept saying to myself “do the opposite” until those impulses went away. It didn’t take that long either, because once I cut him out, life got so much better.

    1. I’ve been doing a version of this recently. I keep saying to myself that nothing will change until I do something differently. Right now it doesn’t really matter what, so much as it breaks-up my patterns.

  8. Oh, LW, I just want to give you all the Jedi hugs, if you want them. Or a nice, comforting hot drink.

    My ex was similar to your boyfriend–anxiety/depression, career issues, emotionally unavailable, and also making me pay for stuff, however indirectly. Around the end of the relationship I was trying to be so supportive and compliant and understanding to the point where I was small enough to be a pebble, and it didn’t work. I got dumped anyway.

    I sent a grand total of two emails post-breakup, and deleted/unfriended him. It sucked. I was horribly lonely for months, and the house hunt I had that summer only partially mitigated things. I was lonely and vacillated between blaming myself for not being psychic and also furious with him as time went on as I realized exactly how much better I deserved in that relationship as baseline courtesy. Planning out evenings, or finding ways to distract myself, like the Captain suggested, helped a bit. This year I got myself into therapy, and while I’m not 100%, I’m at a much better place than where I was this time last year. Having no contact with the ex all this time has probably helped, too.

    I deserved better. And so do you. All the good luck to you.

    1. I dumped him. He didn’t bother to tell me that he decided to go on the trip until he was already on his way with his friends. Ignoring all my calls and texts up until then. So I sent a two-line text and ended it.

      And now I’m sitting here, feeling like I’m going to suffocate and getting tearful. One minute certain that he’s completely toxic and beneath me and another minute wishing with all my heart that he would call me. Why did he treat me so badly? If he didn’t want me, why did he keep telling me that he did? What was the point of all this heartache if he was just going to mistreat me and then not care that I left? He’s on his trip right now, having a grand time with his friends. While I grieve a man who doesn’t exist.

      I did delete all his information right away. Luckily, I don’t remember his phone number. Unluckily, I do remember his email but I’ll just have to have the willpower not to do anything. I also preemptively deactivated my Facebook.

      I know that this will pass. I know I deserve much, much more than he is even capable of giving. It’s just hard right now…and I have to be strong. He didn’t deserve even a fraction of me, and I was a fool to stay so long.

      I wish I could get into therapy, but I’m currently not in a position to do so. I’m lucky to have people I can talk to, though, and my main focus right now is just getting through the next two days without doing anything stupid.

      You are right. We are better than this. We’ll be okay.

      1. I’m so proud of you! As someone who has been through this, I strongly recommend that you follow the Captain’s excellent advice. Call a friend and have them come over or go to their house. Stay with them all night and the next couple of days if possible. Don’t be alone right now – it will be easier to not contact him if you have support. You can do this!!!!

        1. I actually ended up staying at my friend’s house for a couple of nights, as so many urged me. I think this really helped me maintain no contact. My friend also took my phone away from me at night so I couldn’t do something stupid while she was asleep, and that really saved me because there were moments where not having immediate access made all the difference. So far it’s Day 3 of no contact, and I’ve even managed to ignore the couple of messages he sent.

          I’m starting to think you’re right. Maybe I can do this. But tonight will be the real struggle, as I’ll be home alone. We’ll see.

          1. Go LW!! Yes, you can definitely do this!!!! And the terrible feelings will start to wane and then you’ll realize that it was the right decision. And don’t be afraid to stay at the friend’s (or some other friend’s) house in the future as well, because that’ll likely help you going forward. These first three days might be the hardest but you may still feel a need to relapse into contact with him. Friends will help distract you from this need.

            Also, friends are just great to hang out with, regardless. 🙂

            I’m pulling for you!!!! All the best to you!

          2. That’s amazing! I think 3-days of no contact is a real achievement that should be celebrated. Even if you did call him last night – please know that’s okay too. You can still be broken-up. Your 3-days of no contact is still amazing, and you’re still in the process of severing ties. You can do this!

      2. LW1029, you broke up with him! That is so great! I’m sorry it sucks now, but what you are doing now is such a favor to your future self. You can do this, and we are rooting for you.

        1. Good on you!!

          Another vote for Book Your Time. If there is nothing that you have always had an itch to learn, also a vote for dog training class. Training is never wasted, and you meet neat people and get to pet/interact with new dogs.

          Other “stuff”, if you are too distressed to think: jewelry making, costume making or general sewing, car mechanics, silversmithing, art class, pottery. It doesn’t much matter what, just book something.

          Provide yourself with mental distraction and new people.

          Again, good on you. You just accomplished the first and worst step.

          1. Seconding the idea to learn some crafting. I recommend crochet(knitting might also be excellent); once you get the basics down, it can be very relaxing and repetitive. I usually listen to audiobooks or music while I work on a project, and it’s extremely calming. Sometimes I’ll crochet at night if I can’t fall asleep and it quiets my brain down.

          2. I just tried flameworking (glass blowing/working) with propane torches. I’ve also done glass blowing. Complete and total concentration. There is no space in glass work for any external thoughts. And you make something beautiful!

          3. Drawing, singing, any kind of musical instrument you have easy access to, cooking class, dancing, a new language, gardening, volunteer work

      3. Oh, LW. Hello. You’ll be okay. I know this hurts so so much but my experience is that if you can just NOT PICK AT IT it will get better. You’ve done the right thing.

        I’m glad that you don’t remember his phone number. If push comes to shove, you might get a new one too.

        Intermittent reward situations are SO IMPOSSIBLE for most people to step away from. The reason you had a hard time doing this is because it’s a hard thing to do, but if you can give yourself time it will turn into being so much easier than where you’ve been.

      4. [hugs{ I am so, so happy for you I’ve been addicted to a person before. It hurt so, so Fucking much when I finally broke it off. It was so hard to break it off. It’s going to suck, but I promise you it will get better.

        Be kind to yourself. Eat tasty things. Indulge in something you usually wouldn’t. You’re going through trauma and you need to heal.

        You’ll be ok.

      5. You did the right thing, even though it’s horribly painful.

        I can’t tell you how impressed I am by that.

        Jedi hugs if you want them.

      6. Yay! You’re doing great! I have been where you are and in retrospect realized the guy I’d been with had had put me through something very similar to cult indoctrination. I eventually did break away and I do not miss him. EVER. You CAN get through this. I agree with all the suggestions to find something to fill your time or distract you, whether that’s binge reading horror stories, playing video games, binge watching Netflix, sitting in the coffee house and making up stories about the people around you…anything that is NOT your addiction. Good luck!

        1. It hurts like fucking hell, LW, but you can do this. So many of us have been where you were before, and not a single one of us is saying “Wow, I really regret not giving that fucking asshole a sixth chance to treat me halfway considerately.”

          Lucky for me, when my Darth and I finally split, he and my best friend hooked up, which made moving on much easier. But once I was free, I started doing things that others here have mentioned: I took my first (amazing!) solo trips, I went back to school, I took a new job, I started taking classes in random things for fun. And within six months after I left him, while there were a lot of bumps in the road at first, I saw a real change. Suddenly, I started racking up accomplishments: work promotion, acceptance into a college program, my first publication. Within a year, I barely recognized the person I’d been before. Within two years, I’d met the best partner in the world (we’ve been together for over 20 years now). I became a feminist, an activist, and a teacher. I got my BA, went to an Ivy for grad school, won awards in my field, and got a PhD from one of the best universities in the world. The person I am now could never have existed if I hadn’t pushed through those first horrible six months post-Darth.

          I won’t lie. It’s going to hurt like fuck sometimes.

          Mourn for what you lost: a vision of a future that could never have happened. But then start living the life you always wanted to live, and be the person you want most to be. (That’s the person who will attract your future friends and/or partner, too.)

          Jedi hugs!

      7. *\o/* <— that's me shaking pom-poms for you

        Go YOU! You did it! You are doing it! You are MIGHTY!

        It's gonna suck for a while. There's a lotta good adive here about ways to make it suck less. I hope it doesn't suck too much.

        Go YOU! I'm pulling for ya!

        1. *lines up in the LW cheering squad*

          You did the first bit, and you can do this! Even though it’s hard!


          1. *\o/**\o/**\o/**\o/* Now there are four! LW, you’ve done the right thing and even though it hurts and there will be doubts ahead remember that you are on team YOU — and so are we! ❤ Get support, find a way not to be alone and just take care of yourself through this period.

      8. I’m so, so happy to hear this LW! I’ve been where you are and I know just how much it sucks and how difficult this time is. But believe me when I say that it gets better. It may take a long time, but you will eventually get to a point where it doesn’t hurt so much anymore. Take good care of yourself. You can do this, and you’ll be okay!

      9. Just remember: will power is a finite resource. Try to set up some things that don’t require will power in order for to finish.

        1. Will power is a finite resource, but it is also very much like a muscle. So yes, LW, set some things up that won’t tax your will power, but also, whenever you do need to use your will power (e.g. “must… not… email… ex…) it may help you to think that you are both improving your life (it will be so much better without your ex in it!) and exercising/strengthening your will power muscle. The more you stick it out, the stronger you get, and the easier it is to go another hour, another day, another week, without it. Make that your mantra – “the feeling of this being tough is the feeling of me growing stronger”.

          Congrats on taking the first, biggest, toughest step. We are all rooting for you and here for you.

      10. LW, so proud of you and hurting for you all at the same time. Biggest Jedi hugs ever if you want them. I know this is so hard, but your friendly internet strangers are all rooting for you.

        Someone else said this too, but I found it helpful to remember during breakups that they are a kind of death and it is okay to respond to them that way. Whatever you do to deal with death, try those coping mechanisms. And he may have been a Darth, but even the Darth-iest of Darths will have some good qualities or we wouldn’t care about them. Remember that it’s okay to mourn the parts that were good while knowing that as a whole it was toxic.

        This will be much further down the road so ignore if it’s too overwhelming right now, but after my last breakup I gave myself several weeks to deal with the initial raw grief and then I sat down and journaled about what had been broken and what I wouldn’t put up with in future relationships. I looked at some of my past patterns and made a commitment to changing them, resolving that while I’d still make mistakes, by golly I was going to make DIFFERENT mistakes next time. Not that that’s ever a perfect resolution but it did help with recognizing red flags (including things that might be fine for other people but not for me [ie an ex who moves around a lot but I want to stay in one place, that sort of thing]). Best of wishes.

        1. Yes. Losing this relationship, no matter how bad, is a loss you will have to mourn. You will mourn what it could have been, and what it should have been. You will mourn the early days when it was full of promise, and the man he was (or the man you thought he was).

          Something that has taken center stage in your life is gone, and there’s a big empty space to fill. The Captain and others here have given you terrific advice on how to fill it, so I won’t go there. But acknowledging that is is a loss, and mourning that loss, is, I think, a necessary step. You can celebrate your freedom and mourn your loss at the same time, which is confusing as hell, I know. But on the other side of it, you will find yourself again, and all your potential to be loved and be joyous.

          Try to keep in mind that what you are missing/mourning was an illusion, and be as fully engaged in your new reality as you can. Jedi hugs if wanted, and all good wishes.

          1. This took me so long to learn! I guess I always assumed that if I made a good choice, I would feel good about it? Like, my brain would automatically know that it was the right thing to do, and feel better?

            So I kept going back into a bad dating situation because every time I took just one step away I felt AWFUL. What I wish I’d understood was that I was still in the grip of the Bad Relationship Cycle, and that’s why I felt bad. I hadn’t cleared it out my system. The feeling didn’t mean I needed to go back, it meant I needed to get further away.

            After my mammal brain stopped SCREAMING at me for blocking that person on every form of communication I got some relief fairly quickly, but there were still a couple of really bad days in the meantime.

          2. Mrs. Morley, you’re right. LW and anyone else getting out of a bad relationship can process it in whatever way is best for them. It’s 100% okay to feel what you feel.

            Mourning and grief are one way of processing, and I think many people (such as purps) don’t realize it when it’s happening. “Bad situation is over! Why am I still miserable?” If you think you’re ‘supposed’ to be happy and instead are feeling grief, it’s confusing and can make you question your decision.

            I found it to be a necessary step, and one that is often not acknowledged or honored, but you’re absolutely right, not everyone will go through it. My bad.

          3. Mrs Morley: “I want to disagree a little bit.

            A person doesn’t have to mourn or grieve or reflect.

            It’s ok not to.”

            So that’s… a totally true statement that doesn’t really seem to relate to this particular LW. In her original letter she said, “When I think about being without him I feel such despair, but why?…. How do I maintain no contact when it hurts so much to not be with him? How do I resist reaching out at those moments in the middle of the night when I’m lying awake mourning what could have been?… I’m okay during the day, when I have things to do and people I can talk to, but what do I do in those intense moments when I’m alone and it feels like I’m about to die if I don’t talk to him? How do I break free of this?” Then when she says that she broke up with him, she says, “And now I’m sitting here, feeling like I’m going to suffocate and getting tearful. One minute certain that he’s completely toxic and beneath me and another minute wishing with all my heart that he would call me. Why did he treat me so badly? If he didn’t want me, why did he keep telling me that he did? What was the point of all this heartache if he was just going to mistreat me and then not care that I left? He’s on his trip right now, having a grand time with his friends. While I grieve a man who doesn’t exist.”

            If she had written back saying something like, “I broke up with him and it stings a bit but mostly I feel so FREE!!” then we would all be high fiving and cheering and telling her way to go. Which is part of what she’s gotten as a response, which is great, but since so much of her posts have been related to (in her words) grieving and mourning, that’s also appropriate to address in the comments, especially since that seemed to be a large part of why she wrote in.

          4. @Jackalope,

            I wasn’t arguing for the sake of arguing, although I was probably projecting.

            Even if you’re miserable and can’t sleep and want Darth back, knowing Darth is – Darth. Even then, mourning may not be the way you want to frame your reactions. I think the LW may mourn all kinds of things, or perhaps she’s filled with rage and despair and mourning a loss isn’t accurate.

            And that’s why I said that mourning isn’t required.

      11. LW, I am so, so proud of you. I wish I had your conviction and courage to do the same back then.

        If it helps: I didn’t go into therapy until we’d been broken up for a year. You don’t have to go right now, if you can’t. Just be really, really good to yourself–you’re probably drained from giving a lot of emotional labor to someone who didn’t reciprocate, and it takes time to fill that back up. If you need to take breaks, that’s fine. If you need help, please ask for it. You deserve support.

        You did the right thing, and while it hurts like a bastard now, I promise that in time, things will get easier.

        1. “you’re probably drained from giving a lot of emotional labor to someone who didn’t reciprocate, and it takes time to fill that back up.”

          I really needed to read this. I could have written this letter a year ago when I ended things with my now ex and drained is exactly how I felt for this whole year. A few months ago I met this amazing person who I have fallen in love with. Yet I don’t want to be with him, because I do not have the spoons for the responsibility a partnership requires. That sentence really gave me a lot of peace and reminded me to trust my instincts, even when no one else gets it.

          1. Yeah, I’m coming up on 2 years since my last break up. I was so drained that I’ve only recently begun to consider dating again. Most of the time, the idea of being in a relationship just makes me feel tired.

          2. I can’t claim all the credit; a good friend said that to me shortly after my own breakup, when I was feeling tired, sad, and in physical pain. They were right, and there was the additional side effect of being somewhat surprised when people expressed heartfelt appreciation of what I did for them, since I was so used to not expecting anything back (despite getting angry in the relationship when I was treated shoddily!).

            I’m almost two years out; I can *kind* of think of dating again in the future, but it’s still an abstract concept. Maybe once I’m done with therapy.

      12. LW, you did the right thing and I am cheering for you.

        The next little while will be shitty. Even good changes can be scary and stressful. You will grieve for your lost time, and lost fantasy of the guy you thought he was, and lost self-confidence. You can’t get the time back, and the fantasy was never true, but the self-confidence will come back.

        But even with things being shitty you will probably start to see some things getting better right away. Whenever I’ve been in that terrible immediately-post-break-up place, feeling like the whole world was falling down around my ears, I still thought to myself “At least I’m not dealing with ex’s bullshit.”

        In my last breakup I had to move out of the apartment I’d shared with my ex, and I moved in with a friend temporarily and got to help her with her problems, which was a useful change of routine. My friend and I also watched the entire run of Downton Abbey over a 10 week period and I called my mom almost every night for the first 3 weeks post break-up. So reach out to other people and try to spend your time on things that are not thinking about your ex.

      13. dear LW, WELL DONE. you have made that first, impossible step and it is HUGE and I hope that the chorus of support you have in these comments helps you not just today, but any day in the future that you think, ‘oh god, have I done the right thing?’. bookmark this page, and any time you’re feeling that ‘what if’ gnaw at you, come back and reread all of this instead. read down all these people saying ‘I survived this and you will too’ and ‘you deserve better’ and remember that your awesomeness shone through this letter enough for all these strangers to come and say YOU’RE AMAZING, YOU CAN DO THIS.

        not just because you are amazing and you can do this, but also because this asshole has spent a lot of time putting doubt in your head about how amazing you are, and the answer is: strangers on the internet cheerleading you through saving your own life amazing. not ‘I’ll call you when I feel like it and then tell you to shut up about your emotions’ or ‘you just don’t UNDERSTAND my DEPRESSION’ or ‘honey can you just hold your hand here while I -‘; you are something much, much bigger than all of that.

        I hear and understand (as I’m sure do all of us who’ve dated guys like this) the anguish in your questions of ‘why did he do this, what was the point of it all’. I or one of us could write analytical paragraphs of Why Dudes Do This, but at a basic level, he treated you so badly because he’s a guy who treats people badly. when you ask ‘if he didn’t want me, why did he keep telling me that he did’, the sort of awful, one-day-useful-to-possess truth is that as far as he’s concerned, he did want you, and this – this bad relationship where you were miserable and exhausted and used and disappearing – is what he wanted you for. and I’m so sorry, because, see paragraph above; you are a hundred thousand times more amazing than the person he wanted you to be.

        one of my best friends just left a dude after ten years, and watching her realise how incredibly small he wanted her to be, and how vast and multifaceted she actually is and can now go back to being, has been one of the most beautiful, powerful things I’ve ever seen. you are better than this guy and the tiny world he lives in and I hope you get through the next few days safely, whatever that means for you. every day you survive without him is a day you answer the question ‘can I survive without him’ with ‘OH WAIT YEAH I TOTALLY CAN’.

        1. Kheldara, that is one of the most precise word-captures of an awful truth that so many of us have had to work out, and I’ve got to quote it for emphasis:

          “he treated you so badly because he’s a guy who treats people badly.”
          “when you ask ‘if he didn’t want me, why did he keep telling me that he did’, the sort of awful, one-day-useful-to-possess truth is that as far as he’s concerned, he did want you, and this – this bad relationship where you were miserable and exhausted and used and disappearing – is what he wanted you for.”

          The truth of that gave me goosebumps and made me furious again at my own Darth Exes – without whom my life is a million times happier these days.

          1. Seriously. That is am amazing comment that I’m writing down in my journal. It was like a lighthouse shining through the fog.

          2. Yes to this. How sad for him that this was the sort of dynamic that suited him and reads to him as “good relationship”

        2. That’s really it. I’ve been wondering the same, because the actions and the promises were at such stark odds with each other. It’s because “he’s a guy who treats people badly” and “he wanted an emotional punching bag more than a girlfriend.”

        3. Certain kinds of people (let’s be real: usually men rewarded by the patriarchy for acting this way) really like it when all the static and suffering and, I’m going to say it, emotional labor of being in a relationship with them is _yours_ to deal with and not their business. And they tend to create intermittent-reinforcement situations to keep those systems going. It’s a kind of relationship externality. It’s like if the relationship was a factory that made plastic dinosaur cups but also vented a lot of stinking exhaust on the nearby village. You get to deal with the exhaust, they get the dinosaur cups, why SHOULDN’T they be happy?

          1. I couldn’t agree more. And attempts to get a mutually satisfying workaround are met with how they’re not *trying* to cause all that smoke, or how we just *think* it’s that bad.

      14. YES!!! LW, that is such awesome news! Well done! Those three words at the beginning of your comment are the best three I’m going to read all day.

        *Hang on in there*. I’ve always remembered a comment I saw one person on a newsgroup make to another after a breakup – “It won’t hurt forever, it just feels that way.” Right now, the pain is so all-encompassing it’s impossible to imagine a time when it won’t be there. Hang onto the belief, the knowledge, that there *will* come a time when the pain is past tense. At first you’ll be free of it for a few minutes at a time, then for hours at a time, then you’ll have good days… and then you’ll realise it’s all a horrible but faded memory, and firmly in your past where it belongs. Keep on hanging in there and putting one foot in front of the other and, most of all, taking care of yourself, and you will get to that day.

      15. “I grieve a man who doesn’t exist.” That’s actually a really good way to put it, LW. ❤

      16. This isn’t true for everyone, but for a lot of people, “I will do X” works better than “I won’t/shouldn’t do Y” because the brain doesn’t focus on the not. “Not emailing Darth” is a thought about email and about Darth, and keeps him in mind.

        Given that, it might help to come up with active distractions or other things to do, and think of them that way. You aren’t “not emailing Darth,” you’re watching a video about 18th century cooking. Try to reframe “I won’t stay up late” as “I will be in bed with the lights out by eleven” or “if i am still awake at 10:30, I will run a warm bath, soak a while, and then go to bed.”

        You might start taking yoga classes, learn Swahili, or take up sky diving to keep yourself busy, but once you’re doing it, that’s a chunk of time where instead of thinking “avoid Darth, he’s bad for me” or “I need something to do on Wednesday night so I don’t brood,” you’re thinking about yoga poses or Swahili words for things like “walk” and “coffee.”

        [This isn’t Darth-specific advice, but even people without a Darth in our pasts can brood counter-productively and need ways to get out of those mental ruts.]

      17. You did it! You can do this!!

        There may not be a Why to explain his behavior. It may be useful to dig into the Why of how it worked on you, to break the pattern for next time.

        After my bad breakup (and so much therapy) I’ve noticed a bunch of friend relationships that replicate some of the same dynamics—the way my dad snaps at me, the way my mom doesn’t listen, the way a friend dismisses something I love. Noticing this doesn’t mean I cut everyone out of my life, but it’s an opportunity to practice boundaries that are really coming in handy now that I’m starting to date again.

        You don’t have to worry about any of this now, of course. Just congratulate yourself on taking a hard first step and rest up for the next one.

      18. LW, if you’re still reading these comments, I’m so happy for you that you ended things with someone who doesn’t treat you well. I just wanted to suggest, if you haven’t thought of it already, the Captain Awkward Forums are an excellent place to go for some break-up support and solidarity. Don’t be afraid to post and ask for support if you’re having a hard time or post about your successes so we can give you virtual high-fives.

      19. I never comment but LW, I feel for you SO HARD on this one. You clearly did the right thing and I’m so sorry it hurts. I wish I knew you so I could help. When literal complete strangers are nicer to you and care more about your well-being than your spouse it is definitely a sign that you should dump that jerk. BUT! Literally complete strangers will probably be willing to help you too, and not just here! Friends are great and I’m sure they also want to help you but in a pinch literally anyone hearing this sadness from you will probably be willing to offer you company or comfort or a distraction. It’s a great time to make new friends too. And I don’t know that any of this was helpful but I just want to send all of the best possible wishes to you!

      20. My shrink told me, “It’s a big ego trip having someone go crazy over you”. And it is!
        I wondered (for years) how someone that said they loved me could hang me on a yo-yo string like they did. There is no sense wondering, dear good person, because they are no longer in your life, but you can rest assured there is something twisted about it, something concerned with meeting their own warped ego issues.
        “That’s not love”, was a simple statement from a good friend that finally got though my obsessiveness.
        Let it go, write him off, and know that your future self will look back on this as the time your brain did not work. Recalibrate it for people that give too, not just take. You are far from alone, as the good Captain said, and we all know you will get past this and soar in your future sky’s the limit.

      21. He treated you badly because he treats himself badly and that’s how he treats everyone. He wanted you around as a focus for his rotten behaviors so he didn’t have to admit how bad things have gotten (“If she stays I can’t be that big of a prick!”)

        His morass of problems and shittiness are his demon garden to deal with. You don’t have to take on the hopeless and fruitless task of trying to weed and water it until it blooms with roses and decency.

        And you aren’t stupid, and you aren’t foolish or ridiculous. This is not “the best you’ll ever get.” Breaking a bad habit is hard; and the biggest fallacy of our culture is that doing the right thing is always pain free or feels good. Doing the right thing is often riddled with doubt and exhaustion, but the payoff is the exact opposite of the bad habit.

        You have a big, shining, brand new life now. Take your time to wander its perimeter, breath in the scent of a wind that doesn’t carry anybody else’s endless problems of their own conjuring. Think how great your favorite chair will look here. How you can finally buy those matching bookcases and get rid of that ugly rug. Eat Mexican/Thai/French food every night. Donate money to causes you support.

        You’ve done it. The reward takes getting used to, that’s all.

      22. Congratulations on breaking up with him and deleting all his information. If you haven’t yet, I would suggest changing your phone number and blocking him on your e-mail and social media so he can’t circle back again and try to reel you in.

      23. LW, when my toxic ex who made me ruminate on “Why did he treat me so badly? If he didn’t want me, why did he keep telling me that he did?”, my antidote was a friend, who I was visiting a bit later, and who treated me well. We often take our sense of self-worth in part from how others treat us, and someone who should treat us well instead treating us badly gives both cognitive dissonance and a sense that we’re not worth much. In my friend, I had someone who treated me well — showed me around, actively cared about what I thought and wanted, clearly valued me highly. My friend showed me what someone caring about you should really be and feel like, and broke my need for crumbs from my ex. It helped my self-esteem recover enough so that when I returned, and my ex tried to keep me on the hook with even smaller crumbs, I wriggled free, walked away and managed to stop myself from looking back.

        You have good, supportive friends — can they do this for you? Not you visiting them, necessarily, but them giving you that sort of attention in the short term, proactively being there for you and doing things with you. It can be a very useful distraction, keep you away from your phone and ruminations, and also help you rebuild how you feel about yourself.

      24. Go you! You did and are doing a really hard thing, LW, and you deserve to celebrate that.

        Sadly I couldn’t find a way to block yourself from sending email to a certain address, but you can update that contact and change the name to something like “STOP DON’T DO IT” to remind yourself not to email him.

        Or, and this might be a little weird so feel free to ignore it: what if you create a fake email account with your ex’s name (and maybe some random numbers so other people don’t accidentally email it) and send everything you wish you could say to him there? You could even login to that account and send yourself replies saying what you wish he would say/ what he would have said to you if he wasn’t such a jerk.

        I was a fool to stay so long

        Hey, that’s a little harsh. I totally get feeling foolish, I felt foolish too for staying with my dirtbag ex for as long as I did but you know, we’re all doing the best we can. If you and I had been ready to leave earlier then of course we would have, but it takes as long as it takes and there’s no way to force it.

        1. There is a definite difference between being a fool and feeling a fool.

          LW, you are not a fool. You are a human being doing, as Mel said, the best you can.

      25. Congratulations!! We are SO proud of you!!

        I know it hurts. Oh, dear gods, do I ever know. I walked away from the most intense, passionate relationship I’ve ever had, because after she nearly smothered me to death it didn’t matter how much I loved her; it mattered that she was going to kill me if I didn’t get out of there. The first few days, I had a friend come stay with me and it really helped, but it felt like I was breathing in knives with every breath for a while there.

        You will get past this. You are strong. You’ve done the hardest part already, and even though each night will still hurt for a time, they’ll get less and less awful. I promise. I know you know this already — you’ve made it pretty clear that you know everything we can say about what it’s like, and your own wisdom is your best defense right now — but sometimes hearing it over from the outside can help reinforce it all. Especially, I hope, when it’s coming from people who have done what you’re doing and succeeded at it… as many of us have. As you will. As you are doing right now.

        One suggestion: if you find this community a useful and supportive place (as we’re certainly trying to be!), maybe consider the Friends of Captain Awkward forums as a place to go post when you’re feeling like you can’t stand this and you have to talk about it Right Now? The Jedi Hugs forum is a really good place to post requests for encouragement and get them from many good people, at any hour.

        You’ve got this!!

      26. Kudos to you, LW! You CAN do this! If need be, come back and read all these comments every single night to remind yourself that you deserve better, you can do this, others have done it.

        I left a 20-year marriage at the start of this year, one that I pretty much knew from the start wasn’t a good choice for me. So believe me, I know how hard it is to walk away! But having done it, I wish I’d done it years ago. I am far, far happier now. Some things that helped me:

        1. Thinking about what feels really decadent and rewarding to me, and doing it. I love good food, so I ate out a lot. I scrimped and saved in other less-fulfilling areas, so I could splurge on that. I love taking long walks, so I did that. I revived my childhood practice of waking up on a weekend and reading in bed before getting up. In particular, if there’s something that brings you a lot of pleasure that he wouldn’t do with you or maybe even criticized you for, do it–do it lots! My ex really didn’t like socializing at all. Sometimes he’d join me but always seemed so uncomfortable and bored that I’d leave much earlier than I wanted to. If I went out by myself I’d often get texts saying things like, “Are you ever coming home?” That made it hard for me to relax and have fun. Now I go out with friends and stay out as long as I damn well please. It feels positively liberating. Treat yourself. Give yourself gifts and cut yourself slack and basically treat yourself the way you’d treat your best friend if they were hurting this much.

        2. Reading a lot of stuff about emotional abuse, borderline personality (he wasn’t diagnosed, but a lot of traits were familiar and it had a lot of good advice about setting boundaries), and advice columns like this one. Reading over and over again that this kind of behavior is NOT healthy and not acceptable helped me steel myself to leave. I also found a book called “Too good to leave, too bad to stay” to be VERY helpful in my decision to walk away (and stay that way).

        3. Distraction. When all else fails, have a TV show on hand to binge-watch, or an engrossing mystery novel, or a craft, or something else that you can immerse your brain in when you start to obsess. For me, it helps if it’s something that’s not terribly mentally taxing (because it’s hard to focus on something difficult when your mind longs to obsess), but is something really engrossing. Trashy media FTW.

      27. Your relationship sounds like someone with an anxious attachment style trying to chase around someone with an avoidant style. This is well known to be pure misery. I say this because you really emphasize the mystery of your own behavior. This doesn’t have to be all or even most of what is going on, but learning about that might be helpful to you. The book “Attached” is a fairly simple read but enlightening for people with insecure attachments because it gets you to see and confront how it really doesn’t have to be that way. There are things you can do to become more secure in attachments, but just learning about this pattern is very useful. In your case, the gross simplification would be that you obsessively chase him just because he ignores you and disrespects you. That’s the substance of the relationship, because of your unconscious beliefs or “internal working model” of how people relate to you. It’s how you “attach.”

        1. Well, but dealing with an abuser creates anxious/insecure attachment even if it wasn’t a pre-existing condition – they literally try to create that as part of the gaslighting and power dynamic; and plenty of anxious vs avoidant pairs are not abusive while dealing with the difficulty of these dynamics. Intermittent reinforcement creating addiction and trauma bonding seem a lot more relevant here than attachment style.

          1. Thank you for saying this, Violet. That was my personal experience–that the anxious attachment didn’t start until the abusive gaslighting/power dynamic began. During the honeymoon/grooming period, I was hardly worrying because things were presented as reliable and stable. (I’ve read “Attached” as well, and wish the writers would have added a section on abusive relationships.)

      28. You’re strong, and powerful, and so astute – you said:

        “While I grieve a man who doesn’t exist…”

        And that might be the very most important part of all of this! The person you were in love with, the person who *deserves* your love, doesn’t really exist anywhere but in *your* heart. That happens to everyone; *everyone* sometimes sees the people in their lives as better than they actually are. It takes great wisdom and humility to accept when we haven’t seen someone accurately.

        Good for you, LW. You can do it.

      29. Congratulations! I know how agonizing this period is. I survived this period by staring at a wall, subsisting on yogurt, not having a cell phone, and working an intense and busy show for the first weekend. Best of luck rallying your people and getting pat this. And you are not a fool for staying this long. There is a reason we stay, a hope for the possible future, the reasons you fell to begin with. We are not fools for not leaving sooner. Emotions are hard and loneliness sucks.

      30. LW, I know this is really really hard – I was in your position in college and was in a terrible, toxic relationship for two years that, towards the end of it, really felt like (was) an addiction. Like your ex, my ex-boyfriend was also an alcoholic/substance abuser who sabotaged every opportunity because of his addictions and was dealing with some mental health stuff as well. It was equally baffling to me about why I could not quit this relationship that was SO bad and making me SO unhappy. It also didn’t help that I was in college and didn’t have much of a Team Me – my high school friends were at their own universities and I hadn’t really made a lot of friends in college because I was spending all my time with my boyfriend, so I didn’t even really have anyone to talk to or process it with except for one long-distance friend, AND I was also dealing with what I later realized was chronic depression that wouldn’t be diagnosed until years later.

        All this is to say, I feel what you’re going through!

        One thing that really helped me was keeping track of when I most wanted to contact him – I’d go from being okay and happy during the day to a weepy mess at night – and what triggered it, like certain songs or feeling lonely, and then finding something else to do, even if it was just going to the library and leaving my phone in my dorm room so I couldn’t contact him.

        I highly recommend finding a hotline or helpline to call when it gets really bad – those counselors are there to listen, and even if you just tell them, hey, I just need to talk to you for ten minutes to get past this urge, they’re there for that.

        I know you mentioned that you aren’t in a position to get into therapy, but there are some other options – look for a support group (I go to one and it’s helping) in your area. If you live in the U.S., a lot of Health and Human Services departments offer support groups, some hospitals offer them, NAMI has them, and often domestic violence services will have associated support groups on a variety of topics.

        There are also other options for counseling, like Internet-based and text-based therapy, so your only option it’s necessarily the “traditional” going and sitting down for a hour option.

        LW, you can do this! but you don’t have to do it alone.

      31. *offers Jedi hugs*

        He said all those things because he felt like it was convenient to have you around and hurt you and also you bought him things, not because he felt like treating you kindly or trying to make you happy.

        It was never the depression.

        He was unworthy of you. You’re doing better already.

      32. If therapy not’s realistic right now, could you do a workbook on CBT? Many library’s have them, so this could be totally free option. I’ve used the one with a big smiley face on it and have heard good things about it from other people as well. CBT helps you separate feelings, thoughts, and actions. It might help break the cycle of feeling lonely and contacting your ex.

      33. Congratulations, and know that there are a thousand internet strangers rooting for you.

        One comment: you’re going to grieve, and grieving is often non-linear. Overall you will trend toward healing, but sometimes there will be bad days, even when you least expect them. That doesn’t mean that you’re not doing it right, or that you made a mistake, or that you’re broken. It’s just normal.

      34. YES LW!! Everyone here is so so so happy for you and the new fun life you have opened yourself up to! Your line “He didn’t deserve even a fraction of me” is amazing and if I’m ever in this situation again I will be sticking it onto my bathroom mirror to remind myself that we are both so much better and stronger than our weak moments. I know it’s probably still super hard and you have a lot of feelings crashing on you but honestly it’ll come in waves that’ll get further and further apart and one day you’ll notice that a wave hasn’t come in a long time. All the love and support in the world to you 🙂

  9. What if you replaced contacting this guy compulsively with doing something positive compulsively? Like, every time you feel the urge to contact him place compulsively place $1 in the Fabulous Vacation You Will Take Without This Guy Fund, or compulsively donate to your favorite charity?

  10. The captain sure put her finger on it. This is a matter of breaking a habit by starting new ones. Do you like dogs, ever had a dog, or live in a place where you can have a dog? May I suggest a dog as a great habit breaker/new habit starter?

    You’re up in the middle of the night. Your dog will not mind waking up with you and going for a walk (or an indoor ball toss).
    You need exercise in the daytime so you’ll be tired at night. Your dog will gladly accompany you on that exercise.
    You need to meet new people. They’ll be found at the community center where you go for a basic dog training course.
    You need a new topic of conversation with strangers since all you can think about is Ex. People listen to dog stories.
    You’re lonely and breaking your resolve to call Ex. Dog is there!

    1. Or a cat, if the OP’s lifestyle/living situation isn’t dog-friendly for some reason. (This is meant as “offering an alternative,” BTW, not in any way to diminish Clarry’s comment.)

      Cats are nocturnal (usually), and adopting an adult cat (whose personality is set, unlike a kitten, cute as kittens can be) who has a fairly chill, cuddly temperament would give the OP a companion who isn’t super demanding (in case, say, the OP’s job requires irregular hours or leaves the OP low on energy at the end of a workday). A youngish adult cat would still be up for playtime even at hours that could be described as Ridiculous O’Clock to humans (or at least those humans who live on a daylight-waking schedule). And a cuddly cat might well be game for being held and snuggled, if the OP needs physical comfort of that sort.

      Or some other sort of pet. There are plenty of options, and maybe researching what sort of pet is best for you (OP) and/or looking for adoptable pets in your area would give you some distraction before you even get a pet.

      1. If you get a pet, PLEASE do the research first, and take care of the pet properly. Spay/neuter and go to the vet as necessary. If you get a dog, make sure you train the dog. Even if it’s one of those teeny yappy dogs. Most of those were originally bred to hunt vermin; if you don’t train them properly, they will bite. If you get a cat, make sure you have scratching posts/cat trees, litter boxes, toys, and high-up places for them to sit. Playing with cats makes them nicer and more cuddly.

    2. Dog IS there. If Dog is possible and desirable for LW, Dog (or Pet of some kind) might be the best thing in the world.

    3. Pretty much any pet is awesome 🙂

      Guinea pigs aren’t nocturnal/diurnal – they nap throughout the day/night like babies. Eat, play, sleep, repeat. I often find my piggy up and playing in the middle of the night. And nothing will increase your veggie intake like having to make salad every day for piggy! (also *piggy* squee!)

      If furry animals aren’t your thing there are sooooooo many options. Some might need a license but they’re often not difficult to acquire. It will depend on your state/territory laws.

      Remember – Sarah Connor has an iguana. Sarah Connor is badass.

      Even just researching different pets, their needs and setup, local regulations etc will be a great distraction. Instagram is chock full of pet accounts and you will easily lose yourself cooing over all the animals.

      1. I have lived with both iguanas (past) and rats (past) and guinea pigs (present) and I second this for small animals if dogs/cats aren’t practical (with the caveat that iguanas can be a handful and require a lot of care but they’re still worth it).

    4. As a tremendous dog-lover and amateur behaviorist, I second the pet suggestion, but would caution that *nobody* adopt a pet while they are *currently* suffering deep emotional turmoil. Let your people help you through the worst of it, then, when you’re on the “mend,” get the pet.

      This isn’t just about not making a “major change” during an upset, but also because certain dogs – particularly traumatized dogs, as might be offered by rescues – can sometimes react to a human’s acute anxiety and suffering with excessive protectiveness or aggression. The last thing anyone who’s suffering needs is their dog biting someone to “protect” them (or whatever). Not saying that’s always what happens, but it can be a risk.

      Which isn’t to say that getting a pet after a painful life event isn’t an excellent suggestion! Just that you want to be in a calm(ish), forward-thinking headspace while you’re selecting and building a relationship with a furry family member, and perhaps that you should have a pet-savvy friend help you choose a pet with the right energy and/or fit for your lifestyle.

      Again, LW, you’re a boss. Absolute best of luck.

      1. Good point there. It’s better for everyone (people and pets) if the adoption of a pet takes place when the household/person/people aren’t in crisis/crisis-recovery mode.

  11. Oh goodness, I really feel for you, OP!
    I had an enmeshed relationship like this with my kid’s dad & suffice to say, it was one of the hardest things I ever survived. I took up therapy & used boxing as a physical release & discipline.

    I don’t want to diagnose, but the article link describes the relationship dynamic well & is interesting reading.


    Particularly the part about loaded attachments & what they can suggest about yourself.

    Hope I haven’t overstepped here, you can & will survive.

  12. LW Can I suggest some ways of thinking about this/images/metaphors that might help?
    You could think of yourself as in a dark valley now, a valley that seems almost impossible to leave. However this letter, your own courage in reaching out and the Captain’s excellent advice has created some light for you and set your feet on a path out of there. You might stumble (it is dark after all) or need to go back a little to find the path (maybe more than once) but between you, your team you and the advice you get here you have a process that will help find the path and keep going till you are out the dark and living the life you want.
    Another way to think about getting clear of this toxic mess (just an analogy) is to compare it to giving up smoking. Most people who quit don’t do it in one single step (cold turkey and never again) but try and fail an average of four times before it becomes permanent. You sound so down on yourself about going back to him. Would it help to think about those attempts as a positive steps forward to finally quitting/breaking up for good and not something that means you are weak?

    Final point; sleep is crucial is for your health, both physical and mental. If you can prioritize sleep and self care it will help you with every other part of your life and give you strength to use the Captain’s strategies.
    You can do this and you will!

    1. ^This is exactly how I framed my own Practice Attempts, and it helped a great deal. I recognized that it would take me a few tries and I didn’t beat myself up too much when I backslid.

    2. YES, like, if you are a visual person you might be doing this without even knowing it, creating a metaphor for yourself where there are no “good” options of reaction. For example, in my analogous situation, I kept thinking I was backed into a wall that I *had* to get through, or, more often at the edge of a cliff where the only “logical” thing was to jump off – which probably meant death / the unknown. Both of those are obviously terrifying views. I eventually changed this (somehow? with the suggestions of a counselor) to being in the middle of a forest, where I could stay weeping forever, or, if I could find the strength to, I could get up and walk away, create a path out of the dark of the forest. Part of one of many mantras was this idea I could make a path, I could walk away.

      Nighttime is the worst, all our defenses & willpower are naturally so low. One thing I practiced and practiced was the idea that NOTHING I could worry about at night when I was trying to sleep was worth the thought. It’s so hard to keep a helpful thought in mind when you’re tired, so maybe leave a journal by your bed, with a written reminder: nothing that is a panicky-worry-anxiety is worth thinking about at nighttime. If you can’t convince your night-time self of this in the moment, then you could try to convince yourself that nighttime is for sleeping, and write a note about the panic-worry, and tell yourself you’ll consider it only during the light of day. Then, in the day, you likely will have enough will-power to see more clearly.

      I know you can do this. And I know you will. And it may feel REALLY awful at some times, but, YOU CAN DO THIS and one day you will look back and be so filled with gratitude that you did.

  13. Oh LW all the emotional support in the world to you. I had something similar where I knew a guy was utter trash, but the routine cycle of ending it, then letting him back in my life to basically hand me more reasons to end it again was, just as the captain sad, a hard habit to break. Especially when you’re used to your love life being difficult and upsetting, you forget that healthy love lives aren’t. They have conflict but they shouldn’t give you a constant pit of dread where every moment of communication is filled with anticipation for a modicum of kindness and decency that might not turn up.

    I don’t have much advice to add to the Captains, but one thing I would say is that mobile phones are AMAZING, but they do feed into this weird thing we can have about constant contact and anxiety about when someone will text. Maybe just start scheduling breaks from your phone. It doesn’t have to be about him, but just enjoying some time when you are genuinely unreachable and have your attention all to yourself. That way you start to wean yourself off the addictive rush that comes with ‘that shitbag has validated me by giving me a smidge of attention!’ (No shame, totally been there.)

    Also re sleeping, I need to listen to things to fall asleep and so my phone would usually lie by my bed. This means I’m a chronic nighttime social media scroller and have finally managed to break the habit by getting a little Bluetooth speaker, sticking a podcast or YouTube playlist on and and leaving my phone in the next room, letting the sound come through the speaker by my bed. Maybe that could work for you? Distract your brain a little AND make it harder to reach for your phone in a weak moment. (Maybe write ‘REMEMBER HE’S THE WORST’ on your door in case you actually get out of bed to go get it.)

    I’m sorry you’re going through all this, and I can’t tell you it’ll be easy, but imagine the two scenarios five years down the line: You still trapped with something who makes your life a misery, or you doing whatever you want to do, free and happy and relying on nobody for scraps of emotional availability, maybe even with someone else who can be a partner you deserve. You can do this!!!

      1. They do. I have one bought fairly recent.
        Sony still makes walkmans, and they are now mp3 players (that’s what I have)

      2. YES! Get one, LW!

        I have a land-line. From the Dark Ages. And a laptop and an Ipod. Frankly, it’s nice.

        1. It IS nice! I have a landline as well, and it really helps me have more time…on my laptop!

  14. Just to add to the Captain’s excellent sleep advice, from a reader with chronic sleep problems, here are three things I prepare for when it gets really really bad:

    1. Have a sleep regimen. This is part of sleep hygiene, which you might already know about. It means that you decide on a bedtime and a pre-sleep routine, and then you do that routine at the exact same time every night. It’s a way to replace bad habits / fallbacks (like texting) with comforting habits / fallbacks (like the next chapter of that romance novel or thriller).

    2. Have nice sleep accessories. If you have the cash, spoil yourself a little. Get a nice fluffy top blanket. Buy some soft, goofy pajamas. If you like smells, get a bunch of bath bombs from Lush to put in your pre-sleep bath (this is my favorite relatively low-cost self-care object). Make the routine as relaxing as you can, and remember that it’s cool to be kind to yourself.

    3. Have a call list. It sounds like you have great friends. Ask them if they would be willing to pick up the phone and/or text with you in the middle of the night. I have a list taped on my wall with these names & phone numbers and the hours it’s ok to contact them. I only use it maybe once every few months, but it makes a huge difference to know that someone who loves me has volunteered to be on the other end of the line.

    I wish you every good thing, LW.

  15. Just wanted to chime in to say, I’ve been exactly in this place (twice actually, once with a man who is very not a Darth but I just needed to break my own addiction to before our breakup could move on to a good place, and once with EXACTLY this “seriously I KNOW he treats me like shit WHY do I keep wanting to text him ALL the time?!?!?” feeling/awareness). Captain’s advice is spot on; I just wanted to reassure you that a) you aren’t some terrible person for feeling these conflicted feelings (personally it helped me to recognize that it was truly an addiction I was struggling with and like any addiction, breaking it was going to be hard as hell at first) and b) it WILL get easier as time goes by without contacting Darth. I know that seems impossible now, but I haven’t had even the slightest desire to randomly reach out to my Darth in over a year…maybe two now, I’ve actually *stopped keeping track* because he simply isn’t even on my radar anymore! It’s amazingly freeing and I promise, you too can and will get there, but I won’t lie: it’s a painful slog at first, through some long nights that is you fighting your every instinct to just pick up the phone. But we all believe in you! Hold fast to your friends and hang in there.

  16. I once had a relationship that sometimes was like an addiction. When I finally ended it, I needed some serious intense distraction to stay away and fill the void. So I ran for city council.

    Yes, that’s not the most normal of breakup coping activities, and I would never have admitted to a constituent that that’s why I pulled the trigger and ran. But by golly, it worked.

    My advice is to take on a very big and important project that has its own external timeline. Other things like that: plan a large fundraiser for a cause you believe in. Volunteer to run a class at the old folks home or library. Found a professional organization or networking group in your field, or plan a conference. Since it’s the right time of year to join someone else’s campaign (if you are in the USA), become a super-volunteer on a local race, or organize people to volunteer remotely for an out of state race. Big projects that involve external deadlines and accountability to others / the public. You got this!

    1. Wow. That is pretty much the most awesome emotional distraction tool I have ever heard of. I am in awe of you.

  17. LW, I was you, a few years ago. I let the same type of man reduce me to nothing and it was incredibly heart to break this cycle. I even went to a psychiatrist (besides regular counseling) asking for meds just to dull the pain of breaking up. The words she said to me rang very true: ‘Your brain is going into grief mode when you move towards a break-up. Every single time it is as if a loved one had died.’ The knowledge that he’s not really dead but within a texts reach made me relapse over and over. At the end of the day I managed to quit this habit with the help of a dear friend. I spent the nights at her place until I could resist calling. I did all the steps the good Captain listed, purged every sign of him from my life. From a paranoid anxiety-riddled, obsessing mess I managed to return to the strong independent woman that I am. He called me abusive for leaving him. Go figure.
    I made it out, you can do it too! Lots of love.

    1. Dulling the pain of heartbreak –
      I was in heartbreaking pain over a guy about a month ago. Read lots of things online on how to feel better. Physical pain and emotional pain activate the same regions of the brain, so scientists did a study where they treated emotional pain with the same pain killers used to treat physical pain, and it worked in the study!
      So I set myself on an ibuprofen regimen, and it worked for me! I was surprised at how well it worked. Is still working.
      Last winter, I had a bad, painful sinus infection. I would take pain killers at 6am, and then by 10am, the pain would be back and I could take more medication. This sinus pain lasted at least a month, and I got used to the rise and fall of my discomfort.
      When I started my ibuprofen regimen for heartbreak, my emotional outbursts and tears actually followed the same rise and fall as with the sinus infection pain.
      Maybe this was a placebo effect, but I thought I’d mention it. I would have taken anything to go from that constant terrible feeling, to feeling more functional. Not that it was all smooth sailing after that – I saw my guy on accident and ended up missing two days of work.

      1. Fascinating!

        I have a chronic pain disorder which, among other things, sometimes gives me physical-feeling pain that doesn’t seem to originate in any particular area of the body. What it feels like is “I hurt,” but when I try to think about WHERE I hurt, I can’t find it anywhere. For a long time, it never occurred to me to use painkillers for this kind of pain, because it didn’t cross my mind that it could actually work on pain which “wasn’t real.” A very good doctor explained to me that just because it didn’t have a fixed location didn’t mean that the pain was not real, and so I tried aspirin… and it did wonders. I use ibuprofen now, which does even better, and occasionally prescription painkillers, but I’ve never treated the “unreal” pain as anything but literal physical pain again. It always responds as such.

        So I guess I shouldn’t be surprised to learn that emotional pain is just as real, and responds in exactly the same ways. I *am* surprised, because we’re trained not to think of them as the same… but it makes sense that they really would be. Thank you for posting this; it’s really useful!

  18. +100 to moving your cellphone out of your bedroom. It made a huge difference in weaning myself from different self-destructive habits.

    It helped me to write out my self-care plan to implement when I felt the very beginnings of that itch. And it also helped me to name the feeling – i.e. “I’m feeling lonely”, rather than “I want to txt Darth” and then I could do self-care / emotional first aid for that feeling (when lonely, txt friend A or walk to coffee shop, when sad, wrap up in comforter or make tea, etc).

    I also find it useful to soothe as many senses as possible (either before or after a relapse) – it turns out this is a mindfulness trick too – when you’re aware of input from all 5 senses you’re in the present moment. Fragrant tea is my favorite – it hits all 5 senses abs the ritual of making it is grounding.

    Good luck LW. You’ve got this.

    1. I so second what Cleo said!! This really worked/works for me.

      When you want to reach out to him, first ask yourself:

      1. What is the emotion(s) you’re feeling right then?

      2. What is the need that’s currently unmet?

      3. What would help you meet that need and what’s the best thing to do with that emotion (loneliness? do something comforting or hang out with a person or animal or post stuff online to meet loneliness with connection; anger? exercise or write to validate and express the anger, etc).

      (Because contacting him is never going to result in any of those needs being met, ever; but the fact that you still do it shows an unmet need that is valid and deserves to be met. I may or may not totally have had several very similar relationships)

      So I picture your thought process/journaling/talk going something like:

      “I want to contact him right now so bad (or, just an image of going over to your phone/laptop to email him).

      Ok, what do I feel and need?

      I feel loneliness and heartache and terrible longing for loving acceptance and companionship, and a sense of hopelessness that anything can ever be done to meet those needs.

      Ok, what do I hope contacting him will do for those feelings?

      By contacting him, I am extending my hope that those needs can be met. For a few minutes, I won’t be stuck in that despairing place; I will at least have hope.

      Ok, what else can I do to try to meet those needs in a way that doesn’t involve contacting him?

      _______ – fill in the blank with the many excellent suggestions you’ve received or anything else you come up with.

      Ok, how did that work?

      ______ (It was boring; it distracted me for a little while; I made a new friend; drank too much; I learned a new skill I think I would like to explore further; I contacted him anyway but it was 2 hours after I originally wanted to and i was able to recall the email; I have gone three days without contacting him and all the people at target know me as the candle smelling at midnight person; I reorganized a drawer at my place that I’ve been meaning to get around to and have a sense of accomplishment, etc)”

      And write those things down and read them every day, several times a day. I needed these types of “rehearsals” or “training” when I was feeling not-as-horrible so that I could be ready to act on them when I was feeling more-horrible/vulnerable/more likely to text ex.

      It helps me to be well read up on what works for me and how my thought/emotion process works, and how certain resources/actions work for me or don’t. This is so that you can be ready when you’re in a particularly vulnerable place of not having connections to other resources, or having them but not feeling connected to those resources. By doing this, you’re strengthening a new habit – building new muscle and new neural pathways – very similar to training for an athletic event or a chess tournament, but probably harder.

      You can do this. You ARE doing this. You have the courage to name what he’s doing to you and how it makes you feel – it took me 15 years into a toxic relationship/marriage before I was brave enough to even admit it to myself!!!

      With you, and cheering you on.

  19. You are not alone in this! I’m a total stranger and I’m rooting for you and support you with every fiber of my being. Your story is so close to mine (even the abuse during a family death) that it scared me to keep reading, but I feel joy knowing you are so close to freedom. If you can’t bring yourself to block him everywhere, have a friend do it for you. Surround yourself with love and support. This is a time of celebration, you’re going to be free! I literally screamed, “I’M FREE!!!” after my Darth breakup and I hope you foo, too. I cannot wait for you to feel it.

  20. Consider getting therapy. There may well be something in your family history or childhood experiences that lead you to clutch so desperately to someone that you know isn’t good for you. This will help you to avoid falling into this pattern again with another partner later on because you’ll learn to recognize what causes you to do this.

    1. Agreed. It might not even take therapy, maybe just an awareness of a pattern you’re repeating could do the trick.

      I was in a relationship like this and breaking it off is HELL because it feels like you’re addicted. I even broke up with mine, didn’t speak to them for a whole year, dated someone else for half of that year, and STILL reconnected with them at the end of that year. I tried so hard to break out of it but somehow I only became the “dry drunk” of being with them. As it turned out, I had to get to the point where I truly believed that it was never, ever going to work out no matter what.

      What I think helped me not to repeat it in the future was identifying the pattern I was replaying in my life and the hole I hoped they were filling. We all experience things in our parents’ relationship or something similar where we subconsciously think, “If I could get a shot at this, I would do it right.” So we repeat the pattern; it’s our brain’s way of going back in time, in a way. But the ending always comes out the same. You have to get to the point where you see that letting go isn’t losing a battle, it’s breaking free of a misery-inducing time warp.

      1. Quietly stepping in to add to your last paragraph re: repeating the pattern. I think what you’re describing could be called Repetition Compulsion. I learned this term from a book called Toxic Parents. Only mentioning this because I find it nice to have a word/phrase to describe that impulse to return to situations/dynamics because we think “this time, it’ll work” (and it’s not always a conscious thought).

  21. I’m going to go with a slightly lighter piece of advice than others here and say – don’t do any body modifications that you can’t undo the next day. No tattoos, no piercings, no hair cutting or dyeing. Stressed out hair cutting has never ended well for me. Like… you’re dealing with a lot. You don’t need a haircut you hate too, lol.

    1. On the flapside, I still have an ear piercing that I did myself in 1997 when I was 19 and decided to break up with my bad-idea boyfriend. It’ll be 20 years next month and it still represents “screw this nonsense and put yourself first” to me! 🙂

      1. I’ve done stuff which was clearly “I am angry and am going to take away a part of myself which you particularly liked” (a very, very angry haircut) which I … not so much regretted, but it was ugly and I had to live with it, and stuff which was “you were holding me back from trying this thing that I wanted” (blue hair!) which I loved.

    2. Assuming funds aren’t an issue, I’m actually a huge fan of a cathartic hair dye. You can always dye it back if you hate it, even the next day.

      1. Yes. Hair changes are temporary. They can be a good option if you want to make drastic changes, because they can be drastic but not permanent. Don’t do anything permanent in this state!

  22. I know it’s probably because I’ve been reading the “Dirty John” series in the LA Times, but I just want to sweep LW off to a Get Away From Him and Have No Contact Island for a month.

        1. Ooof, yeah, like: “You know, it’s funny; when you look at someone through rose-colored glasses, all the red flags just look like flags.” which also ….


            I mean, really. The whole thing underscores to what extent women are told to discount their real feelings, to prioritize a romantic relationship over “being alone,” and to qualify real red flags as “Oh, he’s just ___.” Add in the Christianity rhetoric, and it’s even worse.

          2. Thanks to those who mentioned this series! I’d not heard of it, but I’ve read the whole thing now, and….Aaaaaauuuugh!

  23. I could have written a letter very like this letter a few months ago. I’m really glad someone already mentioned trauma bonding. This guy is keeping you hooked on purpose.
    I have two books to recommend. _Psychopath Free_ and _Becoming the Narcissist’s Nightmare_. I am not trying to diagnose your ex, but those books helped me immeasurably. There are also a lot of groups online for survivors of toxic relationships and the folks there will understand what you’re going through.
    Find something, not someone but something, to fall in love with. The perfect rescue pet, a volunteer opportunity, a class. I have recommitted to my music since the breakup and gotten so much out of that.

    1. I haven’t read Psychopath Free, but I’ve read Becoming the Narcissist’s Nightmare, and a great deal of it has nothing to do with the specific nature of one’s toxic ex. It’s got to do with filling your own needs so that someone else can’t use them to draw you back into a relationship which is bad for you, and that’s something that has to do with *you* and your own needs… it barely matters whether the ex-partners is a technical narcissist, a garden-variety jerk, or a decent person who’s really bad for you. It’s still about meeting your own needs in other ways so that the ex can’t try to slide in and fill the gaping holes before you can stop them.

  24. Because I’m a terrible nerd I’m going to suggest a terrible nerd idea: games! Games on your computer or tablet are incredibly distracting (because they’re meant to be) and might help you get past the urge to call him and into the urge to go to sleep already, or at least the urge to keep playing that game for just 10 more minutes. There are some really interesting games out there that are NOT all about shooting things, let me know if you want suggestions. I’m a huge RPG (role playing game) myself, and I can tell you it’s really, *really* hard to stop when I just want to finish one more quest 🙂

    1. That’s an excellent idea and I wish I had known you when I was having my troubles!

    2. Ni No Kuni is a cute PS3 game where a young boy has to get over the trama of losing his mother by healing the hearts of other people (with his magic powers). It’s an old game and not too expensive, if you have a PS3. The idea that “so so many people have hurts they need help getting over” may be helpful for you, in this context. It’s a very, very sweet game.

      1. I’m not a gamer, but that sounds so sweet! I love the idea of being able to help others overcome heartache. (I step up to do so when somebody I love is in need, employing my not-at-all-magical empathy and listening ears.) 😊

    3. For smartphone/tablet users, room escape games can be a good kind of consuming distraction. Oh look! This thing I found just might be the key to my next breakthrough!

      I highly suggest The Room and sequels, Forever Lost and sequels- both are a bit eerie but are not meant to scare you, House of DaVinci is a newer fun one, and if you like surreal, the Cube Escape series is addictive. Not-room-escape, but Monument Valley is a peaceful and delightful puzzle game that is complicated enough to consume brain power but not so complex that you want to throw your phone at the wall.

      1. Ooh, I’ll have to check out Forever Lost! I’m already a big fan of the room, Cube Escape, and Monument Valley, so I bet it would be right up my alley. Thanks!

      2. I second The Room and its sequels (The Room: Old Sins cannot arrive fast enough for me), Forever Lost was good but I got frustrated in more places than I did with the Room, and Monument Valley and its sequel are amazing because they actually require the player to look at the world in a different way than we’re used to.

        I haven’t played House of DaVinci or Cube Escape.

    4. I used various smartphone games to get through a few personal rough spots, including depression, infertility and pregnancy loss. It’s like a method of self-soothing. I tend to prefer puzzle games, but those kind of terrible/kind of awesome Big Fish hidden object games are ridiculous and immersive and there are approximately 1,000,000 of them.

    5. I recommend Yes Chef! (very cute match-three game with adorable animation), Dream Daddy (support indie game developers and also there’s the option to play as trans characters and discovering everyone’s secrets is super fun just ugh this game is so cute), and Fruit Ninja (take your anger out with a katana on innocent, delicious looking fruit).

    6. I’ve just started to play Civilisation V (I was a big Civ2 fan, did not find the changes intuitive) and it’s a perfect thing to fall into (though I did need someone to talk me through what’s normal and how a game was supposed to work – all these other civilisations so close to my home made me nervous!). It’s tremendously addictive, it has this ‘just one more turn’ quality (there’s always something else happening. Once you let go of the idea that you need to understand and process all of these things, it doesn’t even take _that_ much brain power, though it can be overwhelming at first.)

      And best of all, it’s completely immersive without being so tense that I feel a need to walk away (this happens sometimes with RPGs like Skyrim. I love it, but I have to be in the mood).

      For your phone I recommend PokemonGo. It has a lot of weaknesses as a game, but it hands out intermittent rewards, and you get a lot of rewards for _having it open while you’re out and about_, which means that it’s less likely that you will check your phone/texts/other social media. You’ll miss out on hatching that next egg if you do! You won’t see that super-rare Pokemon in your neighbourhood if you have another app open!

      Otherwise, you could take up programming and obsess about _that_. If your brain wants to obsess, give it something positive. With time, therapy, and overall getting into a better state, you might quieten down obsessive thoughts, but right now, redirecting them to something fun (or productive) is much, much better than feeling guilty for having brainweasels.

    7. A variety of game recs that keep me occupied and do not require a second player to make a move for you to keep on keepin’ on:

      – Solitaire Tri-Peaks
      – Huuuge Casino (fake money, don’t worry)
      – Mario Remix
      – Zynga Poker (also fake money)
      – Futurama: Game of Drones
      – Plague
      – Evil Apples (team game of Cards Against Humanity, basically)

    8. Annnnd… many games, these days, are designed to be highly social. If you try out an accessible MMORPG, for example, there’s a ready made community of people there to get to know. If you’re stuck at home after a certain time at night for work reasons (sounds like being on call, perhaps?) at least you can play video games with people who are awake and potentially friendly. Sure, some are toxic jerks, but I have made a *lot* of friends via online gaming, who have helped me through a lot of hard times when I didn’t have anyone local on Team Me. Sitting in a voice chat app like Discord, talking to new friends while shooting zombies or bravely defending innocent peasants, can be highly diverting and provide a whole whack of really positive social interaction.

  25. I did it in 1992. I read through my diary entries from that awful time and feel so bad for the woman I was then. It took a lot of practice, but I finally did it. The last time was literally an hour at a time. “I will NOT call him,” “I will NOT go visit him” and somehow, someway, I did it. I was so surprised to read this and so sorry, too. Someone else is going through exactly the same damn torment. The things he said to me are so like the things the LW is hearing that I can’t help but wonder if there is an Asshat’s Handbook out there. I love you, no, I don’t, yes I do, I need space, I’m a drunk, no I’m not, and on and on. But I did get away from him, got into therapy, found an awesome guy I have been with now for 24 years. I did it, you can too and I am rooting for you, honey bunny.

  26. I want to reaffirm for you the magical rightness of Not Texting Him No Matter What. You arrived at this conclusion yourself, I just want to signal boost what you already know.

    Not Texting Him No Matter What is a shimmering tower of pure light, or if you prefer, a perfect, obsidian black hole from which no light escapes.

    It will heal you. It will heal you even on days when you aren’t sure it will heal you. It will especially heal you on days when you think that one final round of negotiations with him, or one parting under different circumstances, will make you feel better. Not Texting Him No Matter What is still perfect and right and better than that.

    It will heal you even if there comes a day when you have already messed up and texted him. Even if you texted something absolutely glaringly egregious that absolutely needs to be addressed with more communication. Magically, it does not need to be addressed, because Not Texting Him No Matter What is either glowing there incandescently with its warm hum of light, or holding you invisibly in place with its dark gravity.

    How can Not Texting Him No Matter What DO all that? How can it be always, always good, sometimes mysteriously good, sometimes good when you have started to doubt that it is?

    I don’t know. It’s a mystery, like the event horizon.

    This is the kind of thinking that helps me when I need to Not Text Somebody No Matter What.

  27. You’re not alone. I went back so many times, until I didn’t. Sending you hugs if wanted and whatever magic made it click that **** no longer had power over me. Lean hard on all those people who love you and want better for you – cash in those favors and get their support right now – you’ll need it and they’ll be thrilled to give it.

  28. *waves from the other side*
    Hi, love. You got this. You are a mega badass. You can do anything you set your mind to. Be brave. We’ll all be here ready and waiting for you.

  29. Jedi hugs, LW. You’ve got this and I’m glad to see you dumped him. I see the same dynamic going on in my dad’s relationship with his girlfriend. He’s as bad as your Darth Ex, including not addressing her needs, but she won’t dump him. It’s moved beyond her idea that she needs a man in her life by now.

    Some stuff that helps me fall asleep is listening to my ipod. I also have a 20 lb weighted blanket that is even more essential to falling asleep and staying that way for me.

    I’ve been doing Inktober (daily sketches with a pen) as a way to keep busy while finding a job. It takes me a while to plan out a daily drawing and even doing a one off sketch keeps me really busy. Maybe that’s another thing that can work for you.

  30. I have two Darth’s and frankly I miss them both still today, 10 and 15 years later, happily married to the man of my actual dreams, cuddled up in bed with my horses outside.

    I thought I was only worth the scraps they gave me, I thought I would never get the life I wanted unless I put up with their crap.

    But I was worth more, and I got the life I’ve wanted since I was 10, by working hard, being fucking lonely, (I once posted on Craigslist that I wanted to be fucked so bad my skin and soul hurt, the responses I got sobered me up v. quick), and trying so so hard to remember I was worth more.

    I see so much of my younger self in you, knowing you’re worth more but not believing it. Knowing you need more, but not believing you’ll find it. It’s hard. It’s damn near impossible. But i found my unicorn, the guy who fits me like I need, and he found me, and so many people do find those people who make them happy to think of, instead of like you’re drowning every second they’re not paying attention to you.

    I want to reiterate. I STILL miss my Darth’s. Not all the time, not every day, but every so often I see a post from a friend of a friend, and they are happy, and I feel a pang. Not because I still want that life but because at pine point I wanted that life more than anything else in the world. And I didn’t get it.

    I got so, so, SO much more.

  31. I don’t have any advice, dear LW, only major Jedi hugs because that was me six months ago. I also thought it’d be impossible to leave, until I left.
    What followed wasn’t easy, it still isn’t easy, but it feels like *my* life, and not an extension of someone else’s. Loneliness is hard. And of course it’s much more noticeable when the person that goes missing occupied so much of your time and energies. What was very remarkable for me was how quickly I felt like something else was missing: I wasn’t…worried about him all the time. That helped a little.
    All of my empathy is with you, this is so hard. But there’s a way through it, I promise. And there’s an “after”.

  32. Hello

    This sounds very horrible and you sound very brave.

    I just wanted to comment because I don’t think anyone has yet talked about the fact that relationships can be actual addictions. (Sorry if I have and they have missed it.) The above suggestions are insightful and supportive, but if you are experiencing this as an actual chemical addiction, the actions may be hard to take. Thinking of it in parallel with an alcohol addiction can be helpful – knowing the right things to do and being able to do them are obviously very different things.

    I really hope the above works and you are able to stay free. But if you find that you keep returning, there are other resources available. Specifically the following: http://coda.org or https://slaafws.org. In those spaces, you would find other people who have found recovery from compulsive relationship patterns when they thought all hope was lost, and also ways of working to understand and repair the damage to self and find ways to go on. They are not for everyone but if you find this continues to be a struggle then they might be useful sources of help.

    Wishing you all the best.

  33. The Friends of Captain Awkward forum is one of my tools for late nights when I can’t sleep and can’t stop thinking about stuff I don’t want to be thinking about. There’s an “I Need a Jedi Hug” forum which can be a really good place to pour out how great a job you’re doing at not making contact with your shitty ex, and how hard it is. We’ll sympathize, encourage, and help you deal with the cravings until it gets easier. I hope you decide to drop in sometime!

  34. LW, you DO deserve better, and I hope you get it! If nothing else, let me say, so many people have been where you are. No need to think badly of yourself.

    When I found myself back in my terrible first marriage for like the 12th time of trying to break up, I decided I was Doing It Wrong. I mean, I kind of didn’t even like him anymore, and I could clearly see the ways this was hurting me and had to end.( I was reminded of a New Order song, ironically my ex’s favorite: Was our love too strong to die, or were we just too weak to kill it?) Since my attempts to end things seemed to be part of a cycle that ended with me back in the marriage, to break the cycle I had to change the other moving parts as well. In my case I sold house and moved out of state. He followed me but in changing my context I had changed something in me. It was a drastic move, but I’ll never be sorry I did: I got out of the cycle. I kicked free.

    You probably wouldn’t need to do something so drastic, but the kernel is, it might help to change something – something big – that doesn’t seem related.
    Even if you go back to him, remember to take care of yourself: see friends, take walks, pursue hobbies that give you a source of good feelings. You are worthy of love and care.

  35. This was the story of my life. And yet, it can all change in an instant. We obsess over people and things that do not belong to us. We remain in toxic relationships because they help us avoid ourselves.

  36. Leaving a bad situation is the hardest thing – it brings up all these fears and worries about how things might turn out if you leave. It disrupts a secure situation when you’re already tired and miserable. It often takes work. And worst of all it involves a mental 180 from trying really hard to fix whatever it is and accepting that you shouldn’t try any more. It involves no longer trying to win the approval of people who’s thoughts and feelings you used to care deeply about. It involves acknowledging that you were wrong about something and made a mistake. A mistake about something really important. (Learning that it’s OK to make mistakes is part of the battle)

    I have never regretting doing this hard terrifying work of leaving a toxic situation. And I’ve been single for long periods, or unemployed after leaving a job. I’ve never thought “gee I wish I hadn’t left that horrible situation that was ruining my mental health”. Even when things sucked.

    Anyway, yesterday I heard a man in a nearby flat berating his girlfriend for not getting over her Grandma who died. He droned on and on insulting her and belittling her and gaslighting her and all I heard from her was weeping. I wanted to go out on my balcony and shout “DUMP HIM!” at the top of my lungs (but I chickened out). Yelling at you when you’d just lost a family member is truly feral behaviour. You know it already. All that remains is to be strong while you get him the hell out of your life.

  37. I don’t have too much to add here, but I have a suggestion for distraction:
    Make this page your home page for a while. Every time you pick up the phone (every time! Especially if you are about to text!), make yourself read at least three of these comments. After you read three comments, put down the phone and mindfully consider those three comments until the text-craving passes.

    Allow yourself to be reminded that there is a lot of Jedi support out there for you!

  38. My heart breaks reading this because this was me many (many) years ago. Emotionally abusive and absent ex. I started the relationship as one of the most confident people I know. I finished it two years later a shadow of my former self. I find it hard to believe I took it. I remember thinking very early on that I don’t even like this guy, why do I put up with it? I still do not have the answer.

    LW you have my sympathies and two messages:
    1. The captain’s advice DID work for me. Great friends, traveling, self care, work that I loved. My best friend (who still is my best friend 15 years later) actually bought a safe and he would come over in the evening and lock my cell in it. He would then call my landline in the morning to tell me the code (that didn’t stop some tearful late night calls but I had to think about it twice before dialling). Give yourself time. And forgive yourself when you break (15y later and I am still embarrassed I let myself behave like this for someone that wasn’t even real).
    2. My ex did give me some amazing gifts: the gift of boundaries and the gift of appreciating a good person when I meet them. I can honestly say I never let another dude treat me in anyway that was not acceptable to me again. And I did appreciate people (and partners) that respected me and were kind to me.

    I wish you all the best. I promise there is light at the end of the tunnel. You just need to try to cross it.

  39. LW, my daughter and I were listening to the Dear Prudence podcast the other day, the “Sunk Costs” edition, and there were two back-to-back letters about ridiculous asshole Darth boyfriends — one guy who was so disgusted by period blood that he would pout all night if the LW’s period started during sex and another guy who had postponed their wedding something like 5 times. MY DARTH EX WAS BOTH OF THOSE GUYS!!! Not in the details but in the essentials, that was my guy, the guy over whom I went out of my mind with grief when he dumped me in 2008. And hearing those letters, I laughed to think that I once thought I couldn’t live without someone so awful that his awfulness can take up two Dear Prudence letters. Like emilybarnard above, without him in my life, I have so much more than I ever could have had with him — professional success that wouldn’t have been possible (he would have been threatened) and also marriage to a really kind and loving man. It took me a year and a half to stop crying over my Darth — it is so, so hard to get over an obsession — but there are rewards waiting for you if you can make it through. Wishing you the best, and especially huge kudos and congratulations for actually doing the breaking up — that takes such courage and commitment to your own well-being. You’ve done a big thing.

  40. When I was in counseling my therapist encouraged me to “learn to sit with my feelings.” What he meant was that I didn’t have to *do* something in response to the bad feelings or to make the bad feelings go away. Sometimes we make that unwise call or take the extra drink or the drug or stir up drama just to push away bad or sad or scary feelings that we don’t want to experience. But then the ill-advised behavior stirs up a bad situation, which itself creates negative feelings that then have to be chased off with other (or the same!) unconscious but strategic bad choices.

    I don’t know if this applies to you, LW – I only thought of it because of the late night calls. If it does sound like what you are doing, maybe it will help to recognize it when it’s happening: “Oh wait. This is that thing I do because I am afraid (or angry or lonely…) I see you, Feeling. You won’t last forever.”

    1. One of the best lines I ever read (I think from Geneen Roth) was “No feeling, once felt, ever lasted forever. Or even six months.”

      That doesn’t mean, of course, that you can’t love or hate or care about someone/something past a certain point but that the intensity and peculiarity of the emotion is designed to change and evolve once you release your terror over it NEVER ENDING EVER.

    2. Yes, this. I learned of this idea in AA, and it *totally changed my life*. It had never occurred to me before that I could feel something and just say, huh, I am feeling this thing — and not to a damn thing about it. It gets easier and easier the more I practice it.

    3. Yes, this! It can be particularly helpful to sit somewhere quiet and let the feelings come and be aware of what they literally feel like. Is there pain in your stomach? Are your shoulders hunched? Do you feel like you can’t concentrate? Do you just have an overarching feeling of dread? Mentally go through your whole body, from head to toe, and pay attention to how every part of you feels. For me, it’s helpful because it makes me realize that while these feelings are unpleasant, they aren’t going to kill me. They aren’t an emergency. I can experience them and not act on them and be okay. And knowing that I get to choose whether to act on them or not is incredibly empowering.

  41. A huge hearty YES to all of Cap’s advice here, especially the getting away for a few days. I basically spent all of 2016 trying to leave a bad marriage, and even after it ended it still took six months to untangle and move out, so there was a lot of time that felt like purgatory. Trips really helped, even short ones. I also found it helpful to envision the steps I would take to get the life I wanted, the way parents tell kids bedtime stories with a high level of detail to stretch them out—everything from what kinds of clothes I would pack first to what kind of furniture I’d go looking for to how the big trip I’m planning for January will go. Tell yourself DIFFERENT stories in order to live differently.

    Find anything non harmful that activates pleasure centers in your brain and lean into it. My apartment has rainbow rugs now, and I’m getting back into instruments I used to play and learning new ones.

    For sure get a nonphone alarm clock. If you want to try podcasts, maybe get a bluetooth speaker so you can charge your phone in another room but still listen (the Sleep with Me podcast is terrific, as are audiobooks of work you already know really well).

    You absolutely can do this, it will not always feel this way.

  42. Reflecting on my own experience and that of my friends who slogged through the same poison mud – and everyone’s experiences here – I wonder how much of the prolonged agony is just a fear of pain?

    We are afraid of that acute, keening wound of emptiness.

    But at some point we realize we’ve got to put our hands on the stovetop and press *down.* Hard.

    And you know what? It turns out you can take the pain. And it won’t be nearly as bad as we thought it was. Because it’s not deadly. you come out on the other side.

    We can handle childbirth – we can handle this!!!

    POWER and LOVE

  43. hey LW, as a few others have mentioned, there are certainly aspects of this relationship that sounds abusive. You can decide how you label it but that might be a helpful lens for you to reach out and get more support right now. I am a therapist who works with survivors of partner violence and the struggle you are describing is very common. If you feel up to it, I suggest seeking out a support group or person(s) who have experience working with survivors of abuse; this could be a hotline (http://www.thehotline.org/) or an in-person kind of thing (https://www.acf.hhs.gov/fysb/resource/help-fv), or both. GO you for recognizing what you want and acting on it! It is hard but you can do it!

    1. I agree with AnonForThis: as I mentioned before, my relationship sounded quite similar to yours, and the therapist eventually confirmed that it had been abusive. I’ve spoken with the National Domestic Violence Hotline via chat, and they’ve been understanding and helpful.

  44. Al-Anon saved my life and allowed me to make difficult decisions because I’d already married the sod. We are still together but the boundaries are set by me and that’s it.
    Not ideal by any means but when he’s sober I still LIKE him, I neither love nor respect him but now we’re in our 70s that doesn’t seem to matter so much.
    You’re young, you have different choices to make and can find someone to help you make them.

    1. I don’t know the specifics of your situation but some people linked the lundy bancroft book further down in the thread if that helps any, it addresses alcohol use at points.

  45. Glad to hear that you dumped him. I have been stuck in a very similar relationship situation for the past nine years. The cognitive dissonance can be paralyzing, because you aren’t in denial about how abundantly toxic, malignant and painful it is to be involved with someone like this… but somehow, severing ties feels like jumping off a cliff. Finally accepting the fact that I would NEVER be able to convince him to treat me better helped me greatly in my own letting go process. The other thing that really galvanized my commitment to leaving was when I inadvertently came across some pretty incontrovertible evidence that confirmed my worst fears about what he was up to behind my back. This evidence made it painfully clear how little he cared about cheating on me and lying to my face about it. You said you were determined that you wouldn’t be lied to by him again, and had no idea what really major things he might be lying about. That sounds a lot like how I always seemed to feel about my boyfriend, but I could never corner him into addressing my concerns… There was always some reason it was “fucking lame” to bring it up right now, and he hated how always made him out to be such a “bad person”. there is something really crazy-making about not being able to find out the truth about whatever you are most afraid he might be lying to you about. Not being able to resolve the tiny bit of (probably un)reasonable doubt can keep you hanging on, because maybe you really ARE just “insecure”? (You’re not).
    There is a book that can really help you…. It has really helped me, and it really helped my mom finally get out of her 30 year abusive marriage to my dad. It is called Why Does He Do That? By Lundy Bancroft. Here is a link to it on Google books:

    The tricky part right now is the withdrawal, which is not unlike that of a drug. The above book will help you gain enough perspective to resist getting hoovered back in, should he maybe attempt some last ditch effort to convince you that he’s sorry, or ready to change/give you the respect you deserve but never got/ employ whatever “hook” will be most effective on you. You will learn names for the behaviors and attitudes that underlie abusiveness. I guess can’t recommend this book enough… Anyway, I wish you a monsoon of clarity, resolve, peace of mind.

  46. Glad to hear that you dumped him. I have been stuck in a very similar relationship situation for the past nine years. The cognitive dissonance can be paralyzing, because you aren’t in denial about how abundantly toxic, malignant and painful it is to be involved with someone like this… but somehow, severing ties feels like jumping off a cliff. Finally accepting the fact that I would NEVER be able to convince him to treat me better helped me greatly in my own letting go process. The other thing that really galvanized my commitment to leaving was when I inadvertently came across some pretty incontrovertible evidence that confirmed my worst fears about what he was up to behind my back. This evidence made it painfully clear how little he cared about cheating on me and lying to my face about it. You said you were determined that you wouldn’t be lied to by him again, and had no idea what really major things he might be lying about. That sounds a lot like how I always seemed to feel about my boyfriend, but I could never corner him into addressing my concerns… There was always some reason it was “fucking lame” to bring it up right now, and he hated how always made him out to be such a “bad person”. there is something really crazy-making about not being able to find out the truth about whatever you are most afraid he might be lying to you about. Not being able to resolve the tiny bit of (probably un)reasonable doubt can keep you hanging on, because maybe you really ARE just “insecure”? (You’re not).
    There is a book that can really help you…. It has really helped me, and it really helped my mom finally get out of her 30 year abusive marriage to my dad. It is called Why Does He Do That? By Lundy Bancroft. Here is a link to it on Google books:

    The tricky part right now is the withdrawal, which is not unlike that of a drug. The above book will help you gain enough perspective to resist getting hoovered back in, should he maybe attempt some last ditch effort to convince you that he’s sorry, or ready to change/give you the respect you deserve but never got/ employ whatever “hook” will be most effective on you. You will learn names for the behaviors and attitudes that underlie abusiveness. I guess can’t recommend this book enough… Anyway, I wish you a monsoon of clarity, resolve, peace of mind.

  47. Ok, LW, I love you because you are me in at least one previous relationship. That conversation you had, where you thought you were being broken up with, but he kept reassuring you that he wasn’t breaking up with you? That wasn’t an “almost” break-up at all, that was him playing a game to keep you guessing. You’re asking why it’s so hard for you to let go, it’s exactly for reasons exactly like that. He’s playing your human psyche exactly like a violin – we’re all susceptible to this kind of manipulation unless we know it’s happening. This is a great book for recognizing these kind of tactics (and they absolutely are tactics by this guy, make no mistake: he knows exactly what he’s doing to you, stringing you along for the few crumbs he offers, and he enjoys doing it and enjoys your reaction):

    1. +1. This book pretty much saved my life when I was trying to cope with the fallout from an abusive partner.

    2. + A lot a lot a lot.

      I suggest you recommend this book to friends and relatives.

      I asked people to read it and said up front that criticising WDHDT for its viewpoint is not helpful. It is written for the abused person, with the abused person’s needs foremost. The dizzy world it describes, it describes accurately.

      Reading it changed how my family perceived my experience.

    3. Want to give my +1 as well. I try to recommend this book whenever there is an appropriate opportunity.

      TW: abuse

      Reading this significantly changed how I saw my (abusive) dad. The thing that stuck with me most is the quote: “He isn’t abusive because he’s angry, he’s angry because he’s abusive”. I learned that his angry outbursts were largely something he could control, he had chosen to lash out on the family.

  48. OP, you have nothing to feel foolish about! You know what you need to do, you’ve figured that out. It’s the how to do it that’s got you stuck, and that’s entirely understandable–tons of very smart people get stuck on this exact situation. ‘Leave and don’t go back’ is way harder than it sounds on paper.

    Here’s how you do it: Set yourself up for success. There are lots of ways to do this, but maybe try some of the following?

    – Don’t wait for him to do another crappy thing and try to do this when you’re already in a bad place; go for it now.
    – Tell your people–your friends, your family, your roommates if you have them, whoever–that you’re doing it. Have them there for you (physically if possible, on the phone/skype/etc. if not). If you think it will help, tell them you’re worried about going back, and ask them to hold you accountable for your decision; some people would find this awful, others would see it as really good motivation to not go back so they won’t need to explain what they’re doing to their loved ones.
    – Find ways to not be alone for a while–is there a friend you can stay with? can you take a weekend and visit your parents? do you have a pet to snuggle? a sibling or cousin who can visit you? Anything that will keep you from having that ‘it’s the middle of the night and I’m alone’ moment is good.
    – The moment you break up with him, delete every speck of contact info you have. Phone number, facebook, email address, other social media, everything. This will make it harder to reach out again–you can find that info again if you need it, but if you have to go looking to find it, then you’ll have time to talk yourself out of using it before you send any messages. (If you’re really concerned that you’ll need e.g. his phone number and won’t be able to find it again, entrust it to a friend before deleting it.)
    – Let yourself be miserable for a while. It will pass, and when it does, you’ll be free. It’s going to suck in the meantime, and that’s OK–you don’t need to enjoy the process, you just need to survive it.
    – Consider working with a therapist. Having an outside, relatively objective perspective on things like this can be really helpful. Also, having a person to vent to is invaluable when you’re going through hard stuff like this, and therapists are really good at listening.

  49. The Darth Dude benefited from the relationship in many ways. His depression, drinking and joblessness will continue and perhaps intensify until something major happens. Reconciling with the LW will seem very attractive to him, for the financial and psychological perks he got from the relationship, as toxic as it was.

    From my experience with dumping a Darth Vader husband, I suggest strongly protecting privacy at work as well as at home. Being “ambushed” by a sorry-ass ” charmer” looking for a reconciliation, or a bunch of unwanted phone calls, texts or flowers, at work is a possibility.

    Another suggestion is being prepared for his enlisting ambassadors (people you know) to pop up and try to persuade you to consider reconciling or “at least, meeting to talk things over”. Meeting is NOT a good idea. Experience: My DV ex-husband showed up at a counselor’s office so dopey on an overdose of codeine (cold pills) that I stupidly took him to our apartment I’d vacated, for his safety. Big mistake. The hospital would have been the wiser choice.

    LW, you have dumped him, and BRAVO! for that difficult act. He has nothing positive to offer you, now or in the foreseeable future. Letting those you have let go from your life STAY GONE is hard, and is the healthiest thing that you can do for yourself.

  50. Hi OP, when I read your letter I thought “Oh, OP sounds soooo close to actually dumping him” and I may have fist-bumped the air when I read in the comments that you actually did so! I know you are hurting and I am very sorry for that but from an outsider’s perspective it is so incredible when someone takes that step and I am sure you have given motivation to many others in similar situations.

    I was also once stuck in a bad relationship for a while, and I just wan’t to say, don’t blame yourself. These things can have a way of creeping up on you, and slowly, your agency becomes reduced. It is hard to reverse that, and often it is most necessary to act precisely at a point where you feel the least able to. It’s a great moment when your ego rebels and says “No, I will not take that anymore!”. It will release the energy that you need to build your life post break-up. I hope there’s much happiness ahead of you!

  51. You can do this, honey. It will suck and maybe one day you might give him another chance and have to start over, but you’ll get through it. You are already seeing his bullshit. It took actual identity theft* for me to stop seeing him as the love of my life who got away.

    It’s been years now and I’ma happy single person. Honestly, being on my own is so much better than putting up with anyone’s bullshit.

    You’ll get past it, I promise. In the meantime rely on your friends and family to be there for you. Find a hobby if you need to fill in time

    *he ran up a phone debt using my license number as ID

  52. Something that has worked for me in the past was putting everything I hated about a boyfriend in a letter to myself. Write your letter to yourself at the time of maximum anger and loathing. Make a list. Draw pictures of how you feel about him. Tell yourself how you will feel in a day, a week, a year, five years if you stay with him. Be loving to yourself in your letter–no beating yourself up, only Ex. Remind yourself of all the great things and opportunities and people that you have in your life and will still have in your life after he’s a distant crappy memory. Tell yourself to stay strong.

    If you’re getting that texting feeling, read that letter. Keep it next to your bed. Our brains have a habit of minimizing the bad times when the good times come around, so for me the reminder of how bad things actually have been was enough to keep my fingers off the phone.

    Congratulations on dumping this loser. 🙂

    1. Yes, yes, I did a similar thing when I had broken up with my ex and was at the point where I wanted to email/call him several times a day to say I had made a terrible mistake. I was doing the “if only” thing where you say “if only X had been better, it would have been such a good relationship.” So I wrote down X. And then Y. and then Z… before long, I had a page-and-a-half long, single-spaced, bulleted, categorized list of all of the ways our relationship had been making me miserable, but written in more positive language, like “… if only he were able to handle conflict without blaming me for things.” and “if he were able to deal with my emotions without shutting down emotionally.” Every time I felt like folding, I looked at that list, I edited it, I moved bullets around. I re-convinced myself that no, this really wasn’t a tolerable relationship. It’s amazing how hard it was. I made it through. You will get there! JEDI HUGS TO YOU.

  53. I just wanted to add to the LW that I’ve been going through a similar situation for a few months now, and I know how much it sucks. I really, really understand the loneliness at night and the wanting to text/message the ex. One thing I’ve been doing is breaking it down – I got overwhelmed with the “never talking to them again” – I was grieving the relationship, and that seemed really hard and so final. So I just took it day by day – “I won’t call/look at their social media/message/text them today” became a goal. I’m now up to trying for a week of doing just that. And when I reach my goal, silly as it sounds, I do reward myself (usually with gelato, but it can be whatever is your choice). Once I make a week, I’ll aim for another.

    It seems silly and simple when I write this, but it’s helping to think of it as having to get through short chunks of time instead of “the rest of my life will be this lonely.” Which I know it won’t, but that’s how it feels in the middle of the night. And I as time passes, I do feel better without the reminder of what’s missing – because I’m thinking of them less.

    Jedi Hugs.

  54. I’ve been here….my mom called him “The Bottomfeeder”. I am an intelligent woman who, in all other circumstances, had no trouble standing up for myself and not accepting bad treatment; he was the exception. None of my friends and family could understand how I could be willing to put up with it. I couldn’t understand it either. I just kept telling them that one day I would be done, and that would be it. And one day I was.

    Life gets better than this. You deserve better than this. Stay strong. In the meantime, much love and hugs to you.

  55. Oh, OP, reading this letter felt like I was looking back into myself from 3 years ago. I just want to add my feelings of love and support. There is an other side, and it’s wonderful here. You don’t have to hate yourself, or torment yourself for not doing “what you should have done” already (as my lovely counselor would say, “don’t ‘should’ on yourself”). You are not pathetic, and neither am I or all these other people who went through the same thing. It’s not a weakness to love so strongly that your heart falls behind where your head is. You’ve just gotta help your heart along, you know?

    I left my asshole ex and after a few sad texts I blocked his number. I woke up at night and called my mom to cry about how I wished he was there. I woke up at night and pet my cat, who never failed to be close by for months afterwards, and watched the saddest shows I could find, and during the day I visited a counselor religiously and jogged with a friend who was happy to have me over for dinner every night. And eventually I met the partner who is now my fiance, who is right now making me coffee and eggs and petting my cat. Having that awful relationship and dragging myself back out of it was one of the best things I ever did for myself. It was like I took all the love I had for him and turned it back onto myself. I never knew I could be so kind and loving to me. It’s a really wonderful feeling, OP. Sending you love and strength.

    1. “It was like I took all the love I had for him and turned it back onto myself. I never knew I could be so kind and loving to me.”

      This is what I aspire to–I can’t undo the cracks that my ex made, but I can fill them with fertile soil and grow flowers, whether it’s revisiting the things that made me happy, talking with friends, or sharing my experiences.

  56. I agree with the advice given above, and that life will get better.

    But I know that if it were me, the thing I’d need to remember RIGHT NOW, while I was still stuck in a quicksand trap of sadness/ depression/ anger/ loss…..etc… is to remember to give myself credit for the small victories. On the other side of the coin, I would need to resist the impulse to criticize myself for the pain that I was going through right now.

    As the entries above show, leaving a toxic relationship is one of the hardest things anyone has to do. You aren’t free yet, and you are in pain – but that can still be true, while acknowledging [maybe even being proud of?] the fact that you did, and are continuing to do, an incredibly hard thing.
    Likewise, don’t beat yourself up for needing to use the strategies outlined above, like keeping yourself busy at night, or using a smartphone app that blocks your ex’s number. Rather, give yourself credit for taking the initiative and working towards developing coping strategies.

    Take it day by day,
    if you can’t,
    Take it hour by hour,
    if you can’t,
    Take it minute by minute etc….

    Use your support system, and don’t beat yourself up for staying, or loving, this guy. Don’t approach the break-up process with self-loathing or shame. Be gentle with yourself, and for taking control of your life.

    Finally, I want to leave you with a quote from ‘Angles in America’ by Tony Kushner – a play that, unlike the majority mainstream fiction, doesn’t downplay the pain often exacted by change, or bury it in a montage:

    “Harper: In your experience of the world. How do people change?

    Mormon Mother: Well it has something to do with God so it’s not very nice.

    God splits the skin with a jagged thumbnail from throat to belly and then plunges a huge filthy hand in, he grabs hold of your bloody tubes and they slip to evade his grasp but he squeezes hard, he insists, he pulls and pulls till all your innards are yanked out and the pain! We can’t even talk about that. And then he stuffs them back, dirty, tangled and torn. It’s up to you to do the stitching.

    Harper: And then up you get. And walk around.

    Mormon Mother: Just mangled guts pretending.

    Harper: That’s how people change”

  57. I want to particularly call out the Captain’s brilliance at spotting The Hour of Darth as being the chink in the obsession. I’ve got a couple of those I’m working on. Boy, until you can spot them, Bad Habits can seem insurmountable!

    1. Yes to this! That epiphanous moment when you SEE the pattern is so helpful and sometimes overwhelming but freeing as it is the first step towards filling the gap another way.

  58. LW, I love how supportive and perceptive all the comments have been. I want to add one more, if you make it down this far: you are doing a hard and brave thing. It might happen that you slip up and contact your ex once. Or twice. Or a dozen times. If that does happen, if you have a rough night and text him or call him, you know what you can do? You can still say, in the morning, “We’re still broken up, I still want no contact.” You are totally allowed to do that. This man is not entitled to one thing that you don’t want to give him–not your love, not your attention, not a second of your precious time. And that is true if you haven’t contacted him for twelve years, and it’s true if you texted him last night.

    I’m not saying you will definitely be in touch with him, just that it might happen because this is really hard. And even if it does happen, the two of you are still as broken up as you say you are, and always will be.

  59. LW, from what you are describing you might literally be dating my ex-husband! And to that I say, get out while you still can, it only gets worse.

  60. LW, let me reiterate one piece of the Captain’s advice: IF you can find a good one and IF you can afford it, consider a good counselor. When I made the choice to see one after a horrible break-up, she was a godsend. Things she did for me:
    — She encouraged me to be gentle with myself. I remember sitting there crying about how bad I had let things get and she pointed out (to paraphrase) that I had just been making choicest that had been working for me up until that point. Now those choices weren’t working for me, and we would figure out how to make new choices that would work for me form there on out.
    — She encouraged me to think about my own needs first and make them a priority.
    — She encouraged me when I made choices that were for my own good and received backlash from my ex (who I was still in contact with at the time). In the end, we were able to laugh about these incidents and my ex’s reactions together, which helped a lot.

  61. I haven’t read through the comments so I don’t know if this was already mentioned, but GET CHECKED FOR STDs. This guy’s behavior has me thinking he may have been screwing around on you.

  62. I’d like to recommend an app called “Mend” that offers a free trial. It sends you a text every day reminding you to check in, and then has a short podcast-y thing and then a little journal prompt and a place to write. There are a bunch of articles from many different perspectives on break-ups, some break-up playlists for different moods, and other neat things. It’s worth checking out! When I would pull out my phone and think about texting my ex, I would go in the app instead. Also, do you know anything about Attachment styles? I can really relate to the way you are writing about this, and as an anxiously attached person myself, would suggest you look into Anxious-Preoccupied attachment and why the pull to Avoidant types can be so strong. Of course attachment styles exist on a spectrum, so this particular guy may have just been triggering that sort of response from you when you are not like that in any other situation, but just in case..you might find it enlightening! Jedi hugs to you! ❤

  63. So sorry this is happening to you, OP, and so proud of you for leaving. I had a really similar experience where I stayed in a relationship that I knew was toxic and actively traumatizing because it was easier in the short term than leaving. It hurts a lot to leave someone you really care about, even when you know that they’re not good for you.
    If you can, try not to beat yourself up mentally. You’re doing a really hard thing. Future You will be so happy that you did. Present You is sad and upset and maybe scared of starting over. Be gentle with her.

    1. I’m trying so hard. I know this is better for Future Me. Without a doubt. However much it hurts in the moment, I know that if I can just go even a week, I’ll start feeling better and this will start to pass…but I haven’t managed it yet.

      You just made me realize that I’ve been beating myself up mentally all day. Wondering if there was something I could have done differently, second-guessing every decision I made, wondering if I should go back like he wants, wondering if any of it meant anything to him, wondering if people can change and maybe if I give him one more chance…no wonder I’m so stressed out right now.

      Thank you.

      1. I checked back here just to see how you were doing. LW, you are doing great! Please be kind to yourself, and know that you have a whole cheering section on the internet, as well as all your great friend in real life. ❤️👍🎉

      2. I’ve wondered all those things too, LW. The answer, for the most part, is no. There wasn’t really anything you could have done differently, and it honestly doesn’t seem like he’s in the mindset to change. I still wonder sometimes, but the farther I get away, the more I realize this was largely out of my hands. Please be kind to yourself.

  64. Hi LW,

    I wish you all the best getting through this hard time. I second the captain’s advice. I’ve recently does some reflecting and realized that I have a pattern of seeking out self-destructive relationships when I am already feeling low and anxious and when I’m looking for a distraction from the heaviness of my real life and adult responsibilities. Sometimes it’s about redirecting those behaviors but it can be so hard when you feel like you just want a hit of something to offset loneliness or when you hate the feeling of being out of control and so convince yourself somehow that if you just did the “right” thing things would be different.

    I have one recent habit-breaking activity that might seem silly but that’s helping for me. You mileage way definitely vary depending on your pop cultural tastes, but, I’ve been rematching some of my favorite Buffy the Vampire Slayer episodes and listening to the hilarious commentary on the “Dusted” podcast. Other podcasts for your favorite books/shows/movies/subjects might help you fill up space with friendly and interesting voices when you need comfort and distraction.

    If you’re looking for a podcast that’s more directly about the issue of breaking up from an abusive relationship, I *strongly* recommend Natalie Lui’s “Baggage Reclaim Sessions.” Her podcast talks a lot about, self-care, setting boundaries, developing respect in relationships, identifying red flags, and maintaining zero contact with exes when necessary.


  65. Are you dating my Ex? UGH, reading this brought back so many bizarre memories for me. It is hard to get away from people like this. They make you feel so responsible for their well being and to relieve their “stress” with physical or emotional support all the while making it seem like they hate you the other 95% of the time. For me, he basically had to FORCE me out of his life (with a third party, totally weird story) for me to actually get the message and snap out of the funk. It was embarrassing to me that this damaged person had to basically give me (an awesome person, probably just like you) the boot. The problem with people like this is they will not go away. My one piece of advice is to stay strong and NOT give in to their manipulations. This guy contacted me for about 6 months after the final straw and every day I fought it and didn’t go back. Eventually the best revenge is living well. Good luck!

  66. I’ve been totally choked up reading this letter, the reply, and comments… so happy that you’ve taken this step, LW!
    There’s already so much perfect advice here, but I’m going to add one small suggestion that kind of helped me in a similar situation. I bought myself a ring to remind myself to be true to myself, value myself, remember how far I’d come, etc. It’s nice ce to have this little positive symbol right where I can see it. If you’re not into rings but love earrings or necklaces, that would do the trick too 🙂 wishing you all the luck and strength you need to get through this.

  67. As a person who has sent some regrettable emails, I have found that a really useful strategy is the “write a draft but wait 12 hours to send it” approach. Usually what seems like a good idea in the middle of the night (or the middle of a dark moment of the soul) is so obviously a bad idea in the sober light of day (or when I’m in a better mood) that I end up deleting the draft to preserve my sense of self-respect. But I still get the benefit of the immediate release that I needed when I wrote it in the first place.

    Hang in there, LW! It’s so hard at first, but eventually, you’ll realize that all that energy you’ve been putting into trying to make this work, and then getting out of it will be yours to pour into things that bring you joy. It will be so much better.

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