#1050: “Closure Is A Thing You Get To Make For Yourself.”

Hello Captain,

I’m in a bit of an emotional pickle and I was wondering if you had any advice.

It’s kind of a long story but I’ll simplify as well as I can;

For 5 years I was in a relationship with a very good man. He was supportive and loving throughout some incredibly difficult times and although we certainly had our problems (both of us bought our family and mental health drama into the relationship) we were not just boyfriend and girlfriend but each other’s best friends for all those years. Living in a town we hated, in a university that was draining us, and surrounded by people we didn’t like, it was like me and him against the world.

However, last year around November we broke up. He ‘pulled the trigger’ as I put it but it had been something that had been on the cusp for a while. I had been questioning my sexuality for a while and shortly after our break up I came out as a lesbian. He was surprisingly supportive throughout all of this although I’m sure it was incredibly hard on him. Aside from my sexuality we had other problems as well, we were fighting more and laughing less, his anger which had been a problem in our relationship since the beginning was still a problem I had near completely lost patience with.

We both promised each other we’d do what we could to be friends. We’d only a couple of months earlier moved in together (we needed to get out of our previous living situation and I had hoped that moving in together might ‘fix’ me) and at first it seemed ok. We still laughed and went out to dinner, he’d point out girls he thought I’d find cute, we’d joke and make fun of each other the same way we always had. It seemed too good to be true. Well you know what they say…

After not too long a time that stopped, I’m not sure exactly why, but things became distant, and then hostile. There had been tiny glimpses of this before, (for example, I mentioned to a friend that he’d been the one to ‘pull the trigger’ and he said ‘yeah well you had the gun shoved so far down my throat that I didn’t have a choice’. He later said this was a badly worded joke) but nothing huge and whenever I’d ask he’d play it down.

But after a short while the living situation became very difficult. For a while I was scared I would be homeless because he said he wanted to move out and I wasn’t sure I could cover rent and everything all by myself (things we’d previously halved), I tried to explain this to him that I needed more time to figure a living situation out as i have no family in the city where we live and no where else I could have stayed. He got very angry and didn’t seem to care about the homeless possibility. We were in his car having a chat when this happened and he screamed at me, getting very angry as I had seen 1000 times before, and at one point when I got out and walked away he screamed “times running out”. He moved back in with his parents (something he blames on me because he says I made the living situation so hostile and tense that he had no choice but to move out) and thankfully I can cover rent and bills, though I don’t exactly have much left over afterwards.

Very shortly after he started dating a girl I know and although it felt weird at first, I’m glad he’s found some happiness, and the girl is a very sweet person who I’m sure won’t hurt him.

One of the last times we spoke I asked him how he felt about me. I told him that I can take him going from my boyfriend and best friend to my ex who i have a friendly or casual relationship with, but I couldn’t take him going from being the centre of my world to someone who seems to hate me and isn’t in my life at all. He told me that he never thought I’d hurt him, and the way I’d handled coming out and everything after hurt him and he has to protect himself. That broke my heart. We might not be together anymore (I have a girlfriend myself now), but I’d take a bullet for that guy. It breaks my heart to think that I hurt him, I certainly didn’t mean to, and I cant believe he feels like he needs to protect himself against me of all people.

I’ve been wondering what, if anything, i can do about this situation for a while. The trigger for this letter was two dreams I had in a row (I’m not the type to read into dreams but these are a little on the nose). In the first his girlfriend had a baby and my ex told me that I needed to pay child support for some reason, he seemed very annoyed with me when I questioned why I had to give him money. In the second (that I had just last night), he asked me to get something for him but I couldn’t do this, I was late to meet him and tried to explain that I couldn’t get what he wanted just yet. At first he seemed fine with this, then he took me somewhere else (his mom was in the background telling him he ‘should have done this to begin with’) and started saying horrible things to me. I asked if he hated me and he yelled ‘of course I fucking hate you, you deserve everything you get’. There are currently concerns that I have a swelling in my brain and in the dream I asked ‘what about the tumour?’ and he said ‘I hope it kills you.’ I woke up crying.

I messaged him the other day but didn’t get a response and this is par for the course pretty much whenever I try to speak to him now.

Do you think I should tell him about these dreams? Ask him again how he feels? If not, how do I deal with these very painful dreams and feelings?

Any advice would be appreciated,
I didn’t mean to hurt him.

P.S. His parents have caused more drama by insisting that I owe them money for things they bought us as a couple (his mom even wants the mattress back that she bought us), I have tried to be civil and offer them money. They’ve even argued that I should give my ex our fridge even though I paid for half of it. This does not make our situation any less tense.

Dear I Didn’t Mean To Hurt Him,

Hallo, Love. You are having a fairly normal-amount-of-difficult breakup grief about someone who has been really important to you. You say the breakup happened last November, so it’s possible that the Anniversary Effect is at play here. Add in a health scare, the looming winter holidays, and it’s a pretty strong breeding ground for a case of The Regrets.

Please, don’t tell this guy about your dreams or ask him how he feels about you again. He’s not responsible for the things he does in your dreams, and he’s clearly trying to get some emotional distance from you and the end of the relationship. It’s time to limit contact with him, definitely limit contact with his parents (“Ex and I will work out any stray money/possessions stuff between us, thanks.”), and then get on with the work of grieving the loss of this relationship and moving on.

“We’ll definitely be friends”/”Of course we’ll stay friends” can be said during a breakup with every good intention of following through. Of course it’s weird to imagine this person who was so very important to you, this person you lived with, this person you talked to every single day, this person who was there for all these important milestones and “you and me against the world” moments, etc. will suddenly one day go *poof* from your life. How absurd! And yet, sometimes it’s just too hard to stay close in the aftermath despite everyone’s best intentions.

I know not everyone works this way, but with any significant ex I’ve stayed friends with there has needed to be a period of low- or no-contact after the breakup while I reset my life and my heart. I’ve needed time to grieve for the relationship that was. I’ve needed time to figure out if I actually want to be friends and what I want that friendship to look like before rebuilding something new on the ashes. If there’s stuff to be angry about, I’ve needed some room to allow myself to get as angry as I really feel. I’ve needed time to break the habit of reaching out to them, of saving up funny things to tell them throughout the day, of running to them with every trouble or piece of good news. Anytime I’ve tried to rush that process, one or more of these things happens:

  1. Hanging out with them is really good. Almost…too good? I’m reminded of all the good things about our relationship. We hug. They smell good. Soooooo good. Oh god, I miss them. I miss them so much.
  2. I am still so angry. So very angry. And there is so much angry stuff to talk about. I know, let’s hang out, as friends, and talk about all the painful angry stuff that went wrong between us. You know, from a safe distance. As friends. Really angry friends.
  3. Oops we had sex. But now we’re both crying? Why are feelings.

You’re experiencing a version of #1 and your ex is experiencing a version of #2. (You both seem safe from #3. Small victories?) Living together as roommates after the breakup kept the pressure on both of you to stay entangled with each other and it meant that you didn’t get any time or space to properly grieve. It may have been the only decision that made sense at the time (awkward roommate situations > homelessness) so I’m not throwing blame at either of you, just, you didn’t get that space to regroup and clean out the debris of the old relationship before trying to build a new friendship with each other. Even though you’re dating other people, the messy feelings about each other remain.

I can’t promise you’ll ever rebuild any kind of friendship with this person in the future. He seems pretty angry and pretty bent on avoiding you, and that might not ever change. And, he’s allowed to decide that he doesn’t want to be friends anymore. I know that’s not what you want to hear, but one thing a breakup does is give us permission to stop working on a relationship that isn’t working. He has permission to stop talking about feelings with you if he wants to. He has permission to be pissed that he’s living back with his parents and you’re living in a place with a fridge that in his mind half-belongs to him and sleeping with your new girlfriend on his mom’s mattress. He has permission to tell a story about how he loved this person and it just really didn’t work out despite everyone’s best efforts and he thought they’d be friends but now that it comes down to it he just can’t. If he’s angry and hurt about the way things worked out between you, he has permission to feel those feelings, even if they aren’t nice or fair. You don’t have to be friends with your ex, even if you thought you would be.

You have permission to do all this stuff, too. I think that as some more time passes, you’ll get pretty angry, too. You’re already starting to process some of the terrible things he’s said to you and figure out that maybe he wasn’t all that friendly when he was your friend and partner. The ways you were not right for each other (beyond the obvious sexual orientation stuff) will become clearer the more time and distance you get from the relationship. It hurts, and change is hard, and there’s no way to make it easy or quick. Time passes, and you start to care differently, and then you start to care less, and it feels better.

So, what to do with all these feelings and dreams in the meantime?

  • Tell them to a therapist or counselor.
  • Pour them all out in a journal.
  • Tell a friend or friends. These friends can’t be your ex or your new girlfriend.
  • Work on meeting new people and building a support system that isn’t built around him or dependent on any one romantic partner. I totally get the impulse to panic at the thought of going through a scary health thing like possible tumors without your ex, since he’s been such a big part of your support system in the past. He can’t help you with this, though.
  • It sounds like the unresolved money & stuff questions are really weighing on both of you. Figure out what would resolve this in a way that you can say “Ok, that part is over, I have dealt with it as fairly as I possibly can and I don’t owe him anything.” I don’t know what the specifics of that look like or what’s possible in your situation, just keep in mind that sometimes the cheapest way to pay is with money.
  • Stop contacting him. Hide his feeds, stop monitoring any social media, give him space and yourself space. If he reaches out and wants to be friends down the road, you can evaluate what he says then. You can’t chase him or dream your way into a friendship right now, so take it off the table as a thing that must happen. It will be nice if it happens. You’ll both be fine if it doesn’t happen.
  • You still have a lot of love for the guy and you might for a while yet. Good news, you can send good feelings and good wishes someone’s way without sending them directly to the person. You can say to yourself “I hope great things happen for Ex” and put that thought out into the universe without sliding it into his DMs.
  • You can daydream. You said you bonded while living in a town you hated. Do you like the town you’re living in now? Do you like your job? Your friends? Do you like your life? In a perfect world, where would you live, where would you go, what would you do? If you start journaling about your dreams and your feelings about your ex, do some daydreaming sort of journaling, too.
  • Be really, really nice to yourself.

If you tell this guy about your dreams about complex emotional stuff between you, insist that you remain friends, ask him about how he feels about you, etc. it will only delay the healing process even more. It’s been a year since you ended things. Can you make a decision to at least try to leave this relationship, for better or worse, in 2017 and not carry all this work into 2018 with you? Closure is something we make for ourselves. I think he’s trying as hard as he can to make it for himself. Let him, and make some of your own.





134 thoughts on “#1050: “Closure Is A Thing You Get To Make For Yourself.”

    1. Yes, this. LW, this person is no longer your partner. That means that it’s no longer their job to support you through tough emotional times. You need to save talking about your dreams and emotions for your ‘team you’–friends, family, the people who are able and willing to support you without worrying about his side of things. Your ex is busy with his own post-break-up feelings, and also has opted out of being your ‘team you’ (at least for the time being). If you feel like your ‘team you’ isn’t strong enough right now, this is a great time to focus on building up your friendships; it’ll hopefully distract you from thinking too often about your ex.

      On a separate note: please stop ‘repaying’ his parents for gifts, talking to them about the future of possessions, etc. They have no stake in this. Things they gave are gifts, and the fact that they gave them doesn’t mean they get a say in where they end up eventually, much less get them back or get repaid if they don’t like what you do with them. Things you own jointly with your ex, you guys should sit down and have one discussion where you divvy everything up, and then done. No one but you two get a say, and once it’s done, it’s done–no more ongoing discussion, no guilt trips over who got what, you agree and then it’s done.

  1. Captain said, “He has permission to tell a story about….”

    This resonates with me because of my own breakups with two significant exes. I didn’t have to agree with their story about our relationship, about me, about our breakup, about the status of anything. I didn’t have to agree! AND I didn’t have to convince THEM to agree with my version of things! I didn’t have to get them to stop telling other people their version of the story. I didn’t have to work at it till there was only one unified relationship story among us and our families and friends.

    I stayed with both of them longer than was healthy for me, and longer than I would have if I had known that THEY DIDN’T HAVE TO AGREE WITH ME that me leaving was the best thing to do.

    I didn’t have to address their issues about me leaving. I didn’t have to address how they felt about the relationship or things within it that they were still angry about. I just didn’t! It didn’t make me a bad person. It was just not resolvable.

    I didn’t have to achieve peace and resolution before leaving and cutting off contact. I didn’t have to feel resolution! And neither did they. (Especially not when they clearly were not able to do things that contributed to resolution, even though they said they were trying; their actions and words did not actually contribute toward this end.)

    He no longer holds the ability to help resolve this for you. It may seem like he does, because the dreams were about him and unresolved issues, but he isn’t the one who can help you with them. Knowing his feelings won’t change anything for the better for you. It will only add in another painful variable (his reaction, which you can’t predict and so far seems to bring pain) to your life, and once that variable is gone you will still have to address these feelings, this grief, this fear, this need for support for current and future struggles, and a need for celebration of small and big victories.

    I wish you the best. And I hope you find activities and people and situations that nourish you and support you and bring you joy and peace.

    1. This is a fabulous comment.

      When I broke up with my first boyfriend, it took me such a long time to accept that we had completely different versions of the break up story and that in his story, I was definitely the villain. I truly never meant to hurt him and felt exceptionally guilty about it for months. But trying to assuage my own guilt by continually contacting when he made it very clear he did not want me to was so not okay. I look back at myself at that time and cringe. We probably never would have been friends after our breakup, but my behavior afterwards did not help. LW, you have a version of your story together that may look very different from his and that’s super hard! You may be the villain in his story (maybe forever, maybe only for a little while) and he is 100% NOT the person to process that with.

      I definitely agree with others who suggested journaling about all of these feelings. Something I wish I had known about during the aftermath of that breakup were Morning Pages (http://juliacameronlive.com/basic-tools/morning-pages/). These are 3 pages of stream of consciousness writing that you do every morning when you first wake up. They have helped me process so many things without bringing them into my entire day. And create a really lovely ritual of expressing and then containing your thoughts, knowing you’ll have another chance to do so tomorrow morning.

      I wish you well.

    2. I sometimes wonder what the story my ex tells about our relationship and its end sounds like. I bet it’s some version of me being a frigid [insert epithet of your choice here] who withheld affection and forced him to move to a city where he didn’t know anyone except my family, who all hated him (okay, this part was, by said family’s accounts, the 100% objective truth), and – of course – me. I’m not sure how he explained away the gap in his resume from those years in which he was doing nothing but playing computer games all day (well, he’d occasionally cook, wash dishes, or do laundry if I begged him enough…he wouldn’t let me do any of those things myself), but I’m sure that was my fault somehow.

      My version is, uh, not kind, either. But luckily, we haven’t been in contact since shortly after the breakup. I don’t know whether he’s found some kind of resolution, and frankly, I don’t care – I don’t wish him ill, but that sub-basement level of goodwill is about all I’m willing to grant him after the wringer our relationship put me through.

      If nothing else, I hope LW (and you, too, Lizards80!) at least finds the same level of apathy I’ve reached nearly five years after our time together became past tense. Yeah, sure, friendship is great, but if it’s not possible anymore (which it probably isn’t…I identified more with LW’s ex’s reactions as described in the letter rather than hers, and suffice to say I have no interest in sharing a zip code with my ex ever again, let alone hopes, dreams, and secrets), there’s a definite power in being able to say, “He’s almost certainly painting me in a bad light, but I am impervious.”

  2. It seems to me that you’re still in the headspace where all your relationship problems have to be discussed and explored and squared up between you. But you two are not a partnership any more. You don’t have to give him his say on how you feel about him, and likewise he’s allowed to think all sorts of unfair things about you. I think your subconscious may be trying to tell you this. Have you had a good therapeutic session where you just… insulted him?

  3. I would actually go further than Captain Awkward and say that closure is an entirely fictional construct that doesn’t occur in real life.

    Novels have to end by the final page; TV shows have 22 or 44 minutes to entertain or moralize. This necessitates some kind of ending, some kind of closure that we all too often assume is part of real life as well. But it’s another of those concepts that exists only to make fiction possible and, bluntly, marketable. Pride & Prejudice ends with Darcy and Lizzy’s wedding not because it was the inevitable conclusion of the series of events but because Austen intended her satire to end that way. Had it ended with Lydia’s elopement nobody would have bought the book. Real life is messier; Lizzy and Darcy might never marry—

    —and in fact in one of the most fun P&P fics I’ve ever read, Lizzy never actually marries Darcy and is well on her way to marrying the Duke of Wellington

    —or Lydia might never be found and made respectable.

    It doesn’t seem that closure was even on the table before the popularization of printing and the advent of near-universal reading. You see this in religion, even; nowadays religious people often express the consolation that evildoers will answer for their sins (whether that be in front of a god or through ‘karma”), but back in medieval times that concept was starkly different; they assumed everyone, including they themselves, had to answer for sins. Of course they thought greater sinners would be punished more, but they also thought that the worst people could be redeemed in life and might not be punished as harshly.

    I have for myself found that expecting closure for anything, anytime, even from myself, has been an exercise in futility and lost happiness. It’s not an easy thing to give up and I don’t know how you get there except by deliberately choosing not to look for closure.

    1. Closure may be imaginary, but endings aren’t. And they can be abrupt and exquisitely painful. Closure is accepting an ending i think, and we have to do it for ourselves. We just sometimes hope someone can make it easier to accept by explaining it or softening it in some way. If you define closure as *liking* an ending, or having an ending be tidy or painless, then yes, it may be impossible to attain.

      1. Yes, this is so true. I was in love with someone for five years, but it was on-off and quite tumultuous. We eventually broke up, but I still loved him. During that time, I always hoped that the ‘closure’ I would get would be us getting married and living happily ever after. Turns out, the way it really ended was that he married someone else, which I don’t *like*, but it’s still an ending, and I accept that and have moved on. (I’m still single, but happily so, now.)

      1. Well, it’s the end of one’s courtship period, and in a time when the brief interlude between reaching socially accepted adulthood and marrying was a woman’s equivalent of today’s job search process, courtship was one of the most universal subjects to write about. Marriage was a job; the only job a woman of the gentry was realistically allowed to have (with a few vague backup plans like paid companionship which were just not-jobs enough to be respectable). And the courtship period was the time in which a woman tried to get job offers, and chose among them.

        So it was definitely the end of something, and something important. But it had better not be the end of a romantic relationship or your marriage is in grave trouble, which it sounds like is what you’re saying.

        1. I guess what I mean is that the real universe is not really a collection of discrete stories. It’s humans, looking back on our lives, that piece the million different events into stories. And those stories overlap and are subjective.

          So unless both people die on the day of their wedding, it’s a choice to say that that’s the end of their story.

          It’s not an illogical choice to say that there is _a_ story that ends there (the story of how two people ended up getting married), but you could also write a story of how their first child came to be born, or of how meeting Elizabeth led to Darcy changing his views about how to be a good guardian for his sister, or the story of their relationship, or the story of Elizabeth’s relationship with her sister Jane, or the story of her emotional growth in her adult life, or even just the love story between Elizabeth and Darcy, of which their courtship would just be one part.

          Their lives and stories go on long after the author chooses to end the book.

    2. Those are some really interesting thoughts on the history of the concept of closure. I will say on the religious aspect, the differences you describe are real, but as a Christian I would say they boil down to “Christianity was more common then.” (Or at least in medieval Europe.) Because what you described is basically what we believe.

      1. I really should have specified that I was thinking of Christian and Jewish thought; I don’t know enough about non-European spirituality to say whether other cultures have the same mindset, although I believe the spiritual concept of karma is very different from the modern Western notion of it, which seems entirely antagonistic and fixated on retribution.

        1. Judaism has never, except in the small pockets of thought where it borrowed from Christianity out of osmosis and self-preservation, taken the position that one answers for one’s sins after death. One’s sins make one a lesser person, and that is an inevitable and direct consequence and one which is negative in itself… but lots of people never suffer anything *else* for their sins in this life, and there is no definitive view in Jewish thought of what, if anything at all, happens after death. Could be a form of judgment, could be a non-judgmental rebirth or afterlife; could be we don’t exist and nothing happens at all. The only thing Judaism says with any clarity on the topic is that it’s not appropriate to dwell on it, and we should be thinking about how to make the world we’re in now better for our being here.

          1. Thaaaaaaaank you. I was trying to explain to someone why I and my fellow heebs do so much volunteer/do-goodery/philanthrophy stuff but never try to convert anyone. It’s not to rack up point with Angry Sky Daddy for the afterlife or score converts or save anyone else’s ‘soul,’ it’s just because doing stuff that makes the world a better, less hurtful place for others is a requirement of Judaism. There’s no “because” after that sentence like there is in Christianity (because Heaven, because converting people).

      1. Oooh that’s probably A Dalliance with The Dukehttp://archiveofourown.org/works/9848762/chapters/22100921

        It’s amazing.

      2. It’s part of a suite on AO3 called “An Ever-Fixed Mark” by AMarguerite, which is sort of a choose-your-own adventure story with three possible endings. The ending in question is called “A Dalliance with the Duke”.

        It’s amazing.

    3. I really needed to read this. My sister and I don’t talk to my mother anymore after, just in the last couple years, slowly coming to realize how deeply and selfishly she’d hurt and used us all our lives. A couple days ago I found out that she’s blaming us for the estrangement, had done zero work on figuring out why her two daughters would cut her off, and is sure we’ll be sorry when she’s dead.

      And the whole thing is so weird because… Yeah, there is no closure here. I don’t want to punish her with my silence (except in my particularly bad moments), but when I think about reconciling even enough for a civil, distant relationship… I know she’ll violate my boundaries. It’s what she does. She does it to reassure herself that she can. She’ll take even the most grudging, partial, conditional contact from me as confirmation that we’re “ok” now and go back to being terrible. It’s not safe for me.

      That idea of neat, pat closure is probably contributing to my discomfort with this situation more than I’d ever thought about. In the end, everyone makes up. That’s how it’s supposed to work right?

      It’s not really the job of pop culture to prepare people for the real world, I guess… But its need to stay relevant but also keep people coming back is a hell of a potion for unrealistic expectations.

        1. Oh my God. That first paragraph is *exactly* what’s happening here. Down to the part about negotiating, warning, partial reconciliation followed by going back to no contact, me bringing up stuff from the “distant past” that “never really happened anyway,” even blaming my new husband! Though with my sister, she’s blaming the fact that she’s getting divorced.

          And yeah, where she’s talking about how the parent refuses to be disempowered, etc. That’s exactly how my mom is feeling.

          I’ll stop now so as to not completely derail the conversation, but THANK YOU! This looks like just what I need.

        2. Issendai is the best. It’s really validating for adult children of toxic parents, and helps even a little bit in understanding their bizarre mindset and why they’ll (probably) never change.

      1. I had the same situation with my mother. There was never any “closure,” in the sense of a moment when we came to an understanding and things felt resolved. Now she’s dead and there won’t be. There’s just “this is how that story ends.” The story of me and my mother is over; the story of me goes on, including the part where I process my residual anger and my sheer relief that I will never have to deal with her again.

        LW, the story of you and Boyfriend/bestfriend is over, and it’s time to focus on the story of how you moved on and explored your sexuality and had new adventures, maybe in a new place. BF/bf has his own story, and he doesn’t want you in it right now.

        I think the only closure we get is internal, where we deal with all the complicated feelings and accept them: they exist, they’re complicated, they’re part of your life story, but in a chapter that’s finished.

        Good luck with what lies ahead.

  4. Wow, this guy AND his family sound like a lot of hard work. You’re lucky to be out of this, and let’s hope this sweet girl he’s taken up with doesn’t get hurt by HIM, what with his anger issues and all.
    If you can produce a receipt for the refrigerator, as well as proof that you paid half, show it to his parents and insist on getting your money back if they take the appliance.
    As for the dreams, don’t give them another thought and above all don’t tell him about them. They really don’t mean a whole lot, just random brain electron firings or night-time cleanup of unused bits and pieces. Recurring dreams are a message from yourself to yourself, but you’ve only had these dreams once, so forget about them having anything to do with him at all.

    1. That… doesn’t seem fair at all? I don’t mean to pile on, but if I broke up with someone and they emotionally blackmailed me into STILL LIVING WITH THEM I’d be pretty furious (and lets be honest, that is what ‘you can’t move our or I’ll be homeless’ is). Combine that with the need to try to bottle up that anger just to get through day-to-day living with your ex, and I think an eventual is pretty predictable. We’re not talking about abuse or violence, here, we’re talking about angry comments and raised voices.

      1. Do you mean that I’m being unfair? I’m not clear on that.
        As for the living quarters, LW needs to take out a shared accommodation classified ad and find a common garden variety room-mate. Preferably one she doesn’t feel any physical attraction to.

      2. Look, I think CA’s advice about making this all as streamlined and drama-free and value-neutral as possible is absolutely correct! LW should do everything she can to make space for both herself and her ex and then she should give herself and her ex plenty of time to heal over.

        However! LW just came out; she ended the relationship at least in large part because she is gay and therefore not suited to be the life partner of a dude, even a perfectly nice dude. It sounds like there were other incompatibilities and stressors involved, but it also sounds as though LW’s emerging sexuality was a thing that was being processed, covertly and openly, within the context of this deteriorating relationship. In that situation, I suspect that it would be be extremely difficult to sort out one’s ethical obligations to one’s partner – even outside of the part where lesbianism is treated as this suspicious, marginal, selfish, immature condition that makes you a bad woman.

        It seems pretty clear to me that the ex is at best (and not unjustifiably!) heavily conflicted about how to manage stuff like closeness and interdependency and commitment and so on in a context like this. It also seems like he has a habit of (a) taking this out on LW via anger and (b) framing LW’s need to end the relationship as violent and harmful. (That gun thing was kinda uchhhhhh.) It also seems pretty clear to me that ex’s parents are working through some inchoate bullshit about how promises were made to their son and then broken by this selfish unloving woman who wants to go be gay on their mattress, and they are attempting to intervene in the situation and penalize the person they have deemed the villain by demanding that she return a gently used mattress. (Instead of some amount of money?! Is this a hand-embroidered heirloom mattress? Did this mattress come to the New World in steerage direct from a lowslung bothy farmhouse in Connacht? Is it stuffed with the back hair of Brian Boru?) I assume that they are not explaining their behavior to themselves that way, but they are being deeply inappropriate and unreasonable here and they need to go away. I think, too, that LW is not irrational to be responding to this flagrant parenterference with maybe some feelings about how this is about More Than Just Money, maybe it is actually about paralyzing guilt and shame because LW is Bad (and a Lesbian) and Should Feel Bad?

        LW does not need to fight with them (or ever talk to them again for any reason), or with her ex, but she does not need to take this onto herself, or for that matter beat herself up about being a bit conflicted – or unsure whether the kind or responsible thing to do was to refuse to live with her ex as friends, because he is a great guy and does not deserve this etc. etc. etc. He is a grown ass man. Sometimes, your girlfriend comes out and you maybe eat a couple hundred bucks worth of gently-used mattress money and maybe things suck for a little while because you live in a pricey neighborhood and cannot just buy a condo tomorrow. She is not committing emotional blackmail because she had a hard time managing frank discussions about moving timelines with Ser Angry Dude of the House of Fridgegeld.

          1. I believe you misread the gun comment: LW said “you pulled the trigger by breaking up with me” and the ex replied by extending hermetaphor with “yeah but you already had the gun down his throat.” Her metaphor, not his.

            Saying “if you leave I’ll be homeless” is a giant red flag. I suspect if the ex had been the letter writer, there’d be a lot more attention placed on that by the comments section.

          2. Because its demeaning, dismissive, judgemental & ascribes levity to the emotions of both parties. The OP stated moving in with him might “fix” her whilst he was supporting her new sexuality. She has made it clear she’s confused, he’s angry & both of them have good reason to be so. It would be a difficult situation to negotiate.

          3. Look, I appreciate that we all have preferences for tone and so on – I personally much prefer open-handed snark to your style of engagement, and that is not a moral judgment. But at this point I’m honestly not sure what your problem is, since nothing I’ve said about either her motives or his contradicts anything you are claiming. I’m also not sure what “ascribes levity” means.

        1. I think piny’s right. Breakups are painful and they both were in a lot of pain, but the guy did and said some pretty unacceptable and scary things, and I don’t think we have any evidence the LW “emotionally blackmailed” him. If there was no agreement in place on what they would do if they broke up, and they were negotiating what to do about their housing situation, pointing out the likely consequences of a proposed solution is not unfair. There’s no reason to be that harshly critical of the LW.

          This used to be such a kind and supportive comment space and over time it seems to have gotten a lot meaner and judgier. I wish that weren’t true.

          1. I am noticing this too. We don’t have to solve these stories like perfect detectives or assign blame in order to help.

          2. Hiya, LW here. I just want to clear up something ‘michaelambler’ said. I did not say “if you leave ill be homeless”, my ex had already left. We were actually discussing moving all of the bills and everything into my name, and I was going through some stuff at work and was concerned I wouldn’t be able to afford rent and bills and everything. Homelessness was a possibility because, although my landlords a nice guy, he still wanted his rent paid. I asked my ex if he could give me a little more time before he transferred everything to my name (and then I could pay him back if he wanted) so that I had more time to figure out if I could afford it all, and save money etc. I hope this cleared things up, perhaps I should have elaborated in the letter, I just didn’t want my letter to be even longer than it already was.

          3. Hey, LW/Zara – that is totally reasonable. It might not be workable in every situation, but…if this guy was a plain old platonic roommate and he left you in the lurch like that, you would be entitled to some level of accommodation while you found hundreds of extra dollars in your monthly budget. I’m glad everything worked out, but you were not being controlling or unfair.

            Also…I think this is a different situation from trying to keep a romantic partner in a shared living space. You guys had already broken up. There was obviously a lot of emotional complication, but at this point he wasn’t your boyfriend who wasn’t allowed to move out […and thus break up with you] for Very Important Financial Reasons that Have Nothing to Do With Getting Dumped, Nope Nope Nope.

          4. Yeah. I think the commentariat here prides itself on being astute and seeing to the heart of a social situation/dynamic – which normally is great, and occasionally flips into trying to detect all the ways in which any given LW could be wrong.

        2. If Ex were my brother, I would totally buy into his view of things. I wouldn’t hate the LW or talk to her, but I would look at Ex, a person who is a good person and whom I love, and say, “I’m taking his side. I’m sure there’s two sides to every story but I don’t care. The person whose story I’m believing is the loved, suffering family member.” I would not go on to bother the LW, but I could easily believe that’s what his parents are motivated by, though of course we don’t know.

          As for the emotional blackmail: well, I can’t know without being there, but I have a feeling Ex’s POV goes something like this: The relationship clearly isn’t work, and it’s not working in large part because of factors (not faults! just factors) on LW’s side that are insurmountable. Yet, I was the one who had to do the dirty work of ending a relationship (that I could not fix no matter how much I wanted to), and, after I did all that work and I took on being the bad guy, I was still being told I was responsible for LW’s well-being and expected to continue to provide emotional and financial support.

          It’s quite possible that he read a lot of the LW’s behavior during the relationship as “We are fundamentally incompatible and I want to be broken up, but I don’t want to break up with you” and he went ahead and played the part of the bad guy so the LW could move on with her life. (and he could move on with his.) And after that, instead of giving him some space, the LW did the exact opposite; instead of letting him lick his wounds and think of how hurt he was, she asked him to keep on thinking of how hurt she was. Our societal conventions of break-upper/break-uppee dictate that she was the more hurt and that he, as the break-upper, has the “obligation” to lessen the hurt that he caused. It’s not a fair ask of him, especially given the circumstances.

          I don’t think the LW is abusive or anything like that. I think she was going through a tough and confusing time and she did the best she could, but sometimes the best we can turns out to be really, really bad for other people. (And, frankly, I’m sure he also did the best he could and also ended up really hurting her really, really badly with some of his actions.)

          1. Yes, I think this is fair too.

            Break ups are hard! Typically, both people do some stuff badly and some stuff well and some stuff which is neither good or bad but which still hurts the other person. Both people feel hurt by stuff that isn’t necessarily objectively bad but that doesn’t mean the hurt isn’t real!

            LW, you’ll find your own story here. You’ll find the bits where your ex hurt you and was unfair or unkind, you’ll maybe come to see that some of your own behaviour wasn’t the best it could have been, and you’ll find some which was hurtful and unfair to your ex but which was still justified and reasonable because it’s what you needed to do for yourself.

            The fundamental thing about a break up is that what you needed and what he needed were no longer aligned: that’s the whole point. You can’t *get* them to align.

            Take care of yourself, focus on other people, and heal.

          2. @Adventure’s with Rachel’s take was my take as well. It’s impossible to tell from the description of events whether Ex was an anger-holic who made life unnecessarily unpleasant for LW or a reasonable person reacting in understandable ways to an impossible situation. Without further details, I don’t want to assign the role of bad guy to him.

            I don’t want to assign the role of bad guy to LW either. This stuff is hard. Maybe they both did the best they could with what they had.

        3. I wish to subscribe to your newsletter, and also take out a classified ad in said newsletter about just how great this comment is.

      3. I agree that if I was desperate to stop living an ex and they pressured me to stay longer I’d start freaking out and eventually react with anger, especially if I’d caved to their demands in the past. But that’s not to say the ex’s screaming was ok either.

        1. “his anger which had been a problem in our relationship since the beginning was still a problem I had near completely lost patience with.”
          (…) “We were in his car having a chat when this happened and he screamed at me, getting very angry as I had seen 1000 times before, and at one point when I got out and walked away he screamed “times running out”.” He moved back in with his parents (something he blames on me because he says I made the living situation so hostile and tense that he had no choice but to move out)”

          We don’t have someone who eventually started freaking out after being pressured to move in with their ex, or someone who wanted to move out and couldn’t. We have someone who had anger issues throughout the relationship, someone who responded with escalating anger (and screaming) when their ex tried to distance herself from loud verbal abuse at close quarters.

          This dude also blames LW for “having” to move out, claiming that she (not angry dude who screams?) made their living situation so hostile and tense that he had no choice in the matter.

          I’m sorry, I get that he is not obligated to live with her or continue to support her (and…he isn’t), but:

          1) They both decided, as independent grown-ass adults, to move in together even though they were exes. This isn’t her fault.
          2) He has had anger issues throughout the relationship, and has a habit of responding angrily when things get emotionally difficult. This includes stuff like screaming at his ex-girlfriend in confined spaces. This is intimidating and extremely dysfunctional.
          3) He both blames her for this whole co-living situation, forcing him to stay, and also blames her for the fact that it became unsustainable, forcing him to leave. This is what we call a double bind.

          She absolutely needs to cut ties and stop making her life his problem (or vice versa) but it is not fair to describe this as him “caving to her demands.” He has agency, too.

          1. Yeah the descriptions of his anger/behavior kind of freak me out to be honest. He doesn’t sound particularly safe to be around.

      4. If they signed a lease together the likelihood is that the ex had obligations to pay the landlord X$ in rent until the end of the lease whether or not he actually lives there and this amount easily outweighs “used mattress”’or “half a refrigerator” money. There can be uncomfortable financial realities when a relationship ends without anyone blackmailing anyone. If I moved out of my place right now without warning Mr. Awkward would justly be worried about affording rent and might say some upset things. I have had to pay rent or kiss shared purchases up to Jesus when leaving a roommate situation after a breakup. It can happen without anyone being mean or evil. Ex wasn’t obligated to stay, so he didn’t.

        I am noticing a troubling trend in wanting to assign blame to people in letters and designate someone as a villain. This ain’t Reddit.

        1. I think this is where I’m coming from, Captain. I get that we all bring past experiences to the table, but I loved that Awkward space used to be about mutual support & finding the best path through difficult situations, take from the letters & comments what you will. The tone has become so. fucking. militant.
          I feel like Rapunzel in Tangled yelling at all the thugs, “Find your humanity!”
          There are so many good people in this space with loads of great things to say & share. I wish more of it was coming from a place of growth & positivity. I know & I’m sorry that bad shit does & will continue to happen to some of us more than others. This place used to feel so much better, though.

          1. I am frankly puzzled, Angle-a, and I really hope you won’t take this as an attack because it’s not meant that way at all. But some of what you said above, especially about how this place used to be about mutual support and now feels so much meaner — I totally agree with.

            But I plain don’t understand your objections to Sony’s comment, which seemed to me an appropriate and fair defense of the LW. And your comment about how her comment disturbed you really seemed dismissive and almost mean, to me…

            …and I’m not at all saying this to make you feel defensive and I hope you don’t, I actually just hope you (or anyone!) has insight into what’s going on here.

            Like, how do we both feel CA commentariat has gotten meaner, but we feel oppositely about whether point’s comment is good or mean?

            I am genuinely puzzled about this.

        2. That LW’s ex’s parents are going after her for stuff like half of a fridge instead of letting their son and the LW work stuff out between them squicks me out. I have been in several relationships where money was used as a weapon during breakups (if you break up with me I won’t pay you back slash let me use the money I owe you as an excuse to prolong our contact and drag shit out as long as I possibly can, etc.).

          If the ex is on the lease with LW, he has an obligation to figure that part out. If they’ve gone halvsies on stuff like appliances I think the LW should make a good faith effort to repay her ex if she’s keeping said appliances or mattresses or whatever. But using stuff like the appliances or rent as leverage? A lot of people do it, but it’s not cool. And there is a certain amount of, as the Captain said, kissing stuff up to Jesus when you break up with someone. It sucks, but c’est la vie.

      5. As has been pointed out, this is pretty blame-ridden and probably not helpful for LW (which is why we’re all here, no?)

        Also there’s a difference between being forced to live somewhere and being forced to pay rent for somewhere. He could move out, and still agree to cover a certain amount of rent. In some areas, 30 days notice is a thing. In some areas, the leases are binding for months. Depending on your renting laws, I think it’s only fair that both roommates are on the hook for the same amount of time. If there’s a minimum amount of time for landlords to respond to a sudden change, than that time is a BARE minimum for renters who have significantly less power, money, and flexibility.

    2. Also, I find that the dream engine tends to be much more metaphorical than my real-world brain; dreaming about person x or place y usually means _something_, but my brain reaches for shortcuts. Which I don’t always understand… but I understand enough to know that they are not literal, even when they’re persistent. ‘Take out the recycling’ means ‘deal with something’, not ‘go to the dump’.

  5. I think the dream about him wanting child support is about both of you being in new lives, but he wants both the whole refrigerator and the mattress set back, instead of splitting the costs or taking one of them back. Work out the financial stuff with him, not his parents, if you can, and then give him space.

  6. Aw, this is so hard.

    I had a similar experience, being broken up with by an ex i was really close to and coming out soon after. I don’t know if this is true for you, but for me it made things easier in a way, but also harder? I felt like our break up was completely understandable and not really anyone’s fault- like, I wasn’t miserable with YOU, i was just romantically uninterested in your entire gender! I was really ready to draw a gauzy veil over the whole unfortunate thing where we tried to be together and preserve all the stuff I liked about our relationship, the book sharing and closeness and breakfast spot finding and all. I was hurt and confused when my ex responded to my friendly overtures with anger and distance, because he was still important to me and I wanted to still be important to him.

    What I had to realize is that, even if a break up was truly inevitable, against everyone’s best efforts and intentions, people still can walk away from it being hurt and angry. My story about our relationship was “Yeah, I was in a long term thing with a man before I realized I was gay. I still care about him very much, but it was never going to work.” His was more like “i loved someone very much, and they never loved me back. After a couple years beating me head against that wall I ended it, and now they are out and happy and I am miserable.” Like the Captain said, i didn’t have to agree with his story or try to change it or comfort him about it- trying to do that would be destructive to me and him both, you know? I just had to let him go feel how he was gonna feel about things, and work on my own self. It’s very sad, but that’s how break ups are.

    Best of luck to you, LW. We’re all rooting for you over here.

    1. My last breakup was also similar to this – not with my ex, but with his mother. I’d been living in her home with the ex (then just my friend), since I’d just moved to the city and needed to look/save up for a place. We became very close, and got even closer once I started dating her son. She was introducing me to her friends as her “adopted daughter-in-law” and “the daughter she never had.”

      When I broke up with her son, that relationship disappeared. It took me a long time to accept that it was her right to end the relationship, and that I’d made that choice by choosing to date, and then break up with, her son. I’d dumped her son, she didn’t have to still be close to me.

      The close friendship I’d had with my ex before we dated has gone back to where it was, which is excellent. But his mom and I don’t speak anymore. Our stories of the relationship are always going to be different (“she was an important mother figure in my life, and she broke it off when I dumped her son,” and “we were close, but then she dumped my son so I cut contact”), and that’s okay.

    2. @ ‘Gabriel’, that really does speak to me. It sounds like we were both in a very similar position. I do feel guilty because once I accepted myself and came out, my anxiety dipped and I was really happy. I feel like, even though I didn’t do this on purpose, he maybe noticed my happiness and took it as a slap in the face. My counsellor did say that he went through his break up, but im only going through it now, because when we initially broke up it didn’t feel like a real break up initially, because it was overshadowed by the excitement and nerves of coming out. Thank you for your kindness, its nice to know im not the only one whose been through this sort of thing 🙂

    3. Also relevant: As a lesbian, breaking up with a man has the potential to lose you no core components of the relationship. All the things that you want and value in the relationship – the platonic love, the shared interests, the emotional support, cohabitation – are still entirely possible within a friendship. So in the ideal world, you could break up and nothing would really change because all that you want is still on the table.

      From the other perspective – a heterosexual man being broken up with by a woman – a pretty fundamental core of the relationship is suddenly lost. If he is a person who feels some connection between sex and love (as do most allosexuals), a core component has just been removed. The same goes for all the intense romantic feelings that someone has for someone they are really into. There is no way a friendship can emerge without a significant restructuring of what you mean to him and how he relates to you. To him, it is not just an exchange of labels, it is a shifting of romantic and sexual love to platonic love.

      I’m not saying this makes anyone bad or wrong, and I’m not trying to dismiss the deepness of your fondness for him (romantic love is not greater than platonic, just different), but I think it could be a contributing factor in why you’re reacting so differently.

      1. I’m…really not trying to be mean here, but this comment, while well-intentioned, seems insensitive. Lesbians are not generally oblivious to this, particularly in the context of men who actually were romantic and sexual partners prior to their coming out. LGBTQ people who come out usually don’t assume that everything will be just fine except the expectation of sexual intimacy will just magically disappear and no longer create any guilt or shame or conflict and everyone will be platonic besties. And like…that’s not how it works on either side, the…ramifications of their history together are not something that she’s exempt from because she came out, it’s not not a factor in all this – even absent the fact that like LGBTQ people can’t just treat heteronormative concept maps for love and sex as negligible or non-central.

        I do not think that LW is ignorant of the fact that her ex saw her as a romantic partner, and that sexual intimacy was a really big part of that for him. Based on what she is saying in her letter, it sounds like she is painfully aware. It seems like he is expressing his anger and hurt and sense of loss, too, and that she is taking some of that onto herself. She is, after all, having anxiety dreams about owing a fine to his new girlfriend because his new girlfriend gave him a baby. She talked about hoping that staying in a closeted partnership might “fix” her, which does imply that she saw her inability to share and provide for his emotional/romantic/sexual needs as a form of brokenness. I suspect that part of her separation process will involve learning to prioritize her own emotional/romantic/sexual needs, being less judgmental and shaming towards herself for wanting what she wants, and less overly concerned with protecting her ex from his grief.

        And I don’t think it’s helpful to talk about this particular form of incompatibility in such an apolitical way. Every relationship is different, but it is inevitable that homophobia and heterosexism will be pertinent in a scenario where a woman breaks up with a live-in serious partner because she comes out as a lesbian.

        1. Hi piny. Thanks for taking the time to answer. I did worry when I wrote my first post, and even now I’m not sure if I just worded things wrong or if I’ve got my head screwed on crooked. I definitely wasn’t trying to imply that LW is ignorant of, well, compulsory heterosexuality and its demands.

          Let me try again: Years ago, I broke up with my first long-term male partner partly because I felt no sexual desire for him at all. At the time I floated the possibility of asexuality, then homosexuality. I’ve since figured it out (bi), but at the time I was so devoid of sexual feelings for him that attraction to men seemed right off the table.
          That is OBVIOUSLY a different situation from LW’s (for one, I broke up in the absence of something, LW realized the presence of something). But I just… recognized that exasperation LW expresses, that confusion about why friendship is so hard to sustain. For me, even though I knew intellectually that he had wanted things from me I wasn’t willing to give, my own relief was so great that I had to actively remind myself that no, we do not finally have the perfect relation now that he’s not pestering me for sex and romance. Framing it in my own mind the way I did in my comment – that he had to restructure the entire thing from scratch, whereas I basically had what I wanted by virtue of being broken up – was very helpful to me at the time.

          (Of course the logical conclusion was not “baby his emotions more” but instead exactly what the captain recommends “give him space and time to do his restructuring while I go be awesome on my own”)

          But yeah, I was younger and more immature than the LW is now, and not actually a lesbian, and there are probably many other major differences. It is possible I am projecting or just pointing out the glaringly obvious.

          Sorry, LW, if I just managed to pour salt in the wound.

  7. To be blunt, you are making things his responsibility that simply aren’t now that you have separated. He has no obligation to sort out your housing issues or to hurt himself emotionally to make the break up easier for you. If he feels that the best thing for him is to go no contact either temporarily or permanently, he is not required to take your interests into account – that’s what not being together means.

    In regard to financial issues re: joint property, you may well legally owe him something if the items belong to you jointly but that’s between you and him not you and his parents. I agree with Sparky – tell his parents it’s between the two of you and you won’t discuss it with them. However, you should also be prepared to pay him his share for these items (not necessarily reimbursement for the new value but something).

    You may well get through this – I know a woman who was in a similar situation and she’s currently godmother to his child – but I suspect the difference is that she she recognised that once they broke up, he stopped being required to take her feelings into account in the choices he made after that.

    1. “In regard to financial issues re: joint property, you may well legally owe him something if the items belong to you jointly . . .”

      Or – LW may not owe him anything legally. We don’t have any information about the law or jurisdiction LW is in and are not qualified to weigh in.

      1. That’s why I said ‘may well’ rather than ‘do’. My suggestion later in the paragraph that he is owed something was on moral rather than legal grounds – if he helped pay for something or the LW accepts something belongs to both of them (such as the gifts from his parents), my personal opinion, not based on any knowledge of the law where the OP lives, is that he is entitled to either a fair split of the items or cash compensation.

        1. + 2 This is the kind of place where taking the moral high ground can put you in a better position even if you’re not obliged to do it. Return the mattress completely and buy a cheap one, and pay boyfriend for half the fridge. Instantly you remove one source of awkwardness. I appreciate that this may be financially tricky for the LW, but it sounds like boyfriend is not in a great financial place, either. If LW has parents who would happily lend her the money required for a cheap mattress and half a fridge, it could be well worth asking. If LW offers this to boyfriend (NOT his parents), he might well say no, it’s fine for her to keep both. But either way this issue would then be closed.

  8. Like the captain says — you need time & space. Either the two of you will head into entirely different directions & lives, or *after enough time had passed* the anger and hurt may have ebbed enough for the better parts of your connection to evolve into a friendship. This process is one you can’t rush; trying too soon inevitably makes the breakup harder, not easier. IDK whether your ex has bigger anger issues, but it seems entirely possible that the way he’s been lashing out is mostly about him separating from you–something he tried and failed to do in a gentler way. And living together after a breakup is, like, 18th-level mage stuff. It takes a LOT of emotional steadiness for that to work. It’s not your fault or his that you couldn’t pull it off.

    Come to some final decision re the fridge, etc,; I second the suggestion to work that out through him (in a calm, pragmatic way) rather than going thru the parents. It may be a hassle, but that feels like the last tether to cut. Then you can both get some distance and perspective. Time will tell whether you two become friends again or not. And even if you don’t, you can still wish him well with all your heart.

    1. Does the ex even want the fridge? It sounds like it’s just his parents that are butting in, while he doesn’t want any/much contact with the LW. Let the ex contact the LW about the fridge, and then they could work something out. Even then, I think the LW should keep the fridge and not pay or trade anything for it. The ex walked out on her after they made a joint decision to move to a new place, leaving her to pay the rent and bills, which she could barely afford. Meanwhile, he moves in with his parents where–presumably–he’s not paying much in the way of bills. His half of the costs of the fridge/mattress/whatever should be considered contributions towards his half of the rent/bills at their former shared house.

      1. This isn’t exactly my thought on the financials.

        It seems like ex is angry about his currrnt situation but (rightly, in my opinion) not expecting compensation for anything, just as LW isn’t for rent. Not sure why so many commenters are so focused on this as an issue.

  9. LW the captain is spot on. Dial your contact with this guy way back, at least for a couple of months. If you have to talk to him about something (like the fridge), keep it short and to the point. Don’t give into the temptation to FEELINGZBOMB in the middle of discussing what to do about the fridge.

    Also, do yourself a favour and also go no/very low contact with his parents. There is absolutely no point interacting with them and doing so will just cause you extra stress that you don’t need.

    One more suggestion: If it’s feasible, take up a new hobby/sign up for classes for an activity that has absolutely no connection with your ex in any way. This can help you meet new people to go for casual social outings with so that you’re not sitting at home missing ex.

  10. Last letter we were talking about writing and creative work and finishing or not finishing stories. Could you write about this relationship as a short story, novel or play? I would read it. I would love it. Remember everything you can about the arguments, who said what, and use that for dialogue. Same for the good supportive times. Start with accuracy, then embellish on the basic story. You don’t have to be fair in fiction. Exaggerate where that makes you feel better. It also makes for a more interesting higher-stakes story. Change things around if that makes you feel better also. You could use the dreams for alternate endings making them magical. Pour out your feelings into a journal, then see if that journal is the beginning of something productive and wonderful

  11. Things that are definitely true:

    He feels hurt.
    He is not answering your messages.

    Those are things you cannot resolve, because they are his. You can’t reach into his head and make it not be happening. His reasons may well be unjust or inaccurate in your eyes, and still you can’t change it.

    That is SO hard, and such a grief, when you still love the person. In your words, you’d take a bullet for him. I bet there aren’t many people you can say that about. How can this person, someone so important to you, think badly of you? How can you be losing him? Everything he’s said and done to indicate friendship since the breakup must be ringing so loud in your ears right now because that’s what you want to be true. All the good, loving parts of you want to make things better and at the very least leave everyone feeling OK about the breakup. That’s what most of us want when we talk about closure, I think. That’s what the dreams sound like to me, too – you feel entangled, obliged and wronged all at once, you miss his friendship and his good opinion, and you want so badly to straighten it all out so things feel right again.

    It’s not what closure actually is, though. Closure, or the closest thing to it in real life, is when you accept the impossibility of making that happen. If the planets align just right and it happens to go that way for two particular people, that’s great – but there is so much going on in a breakup, and even more when you had to keep living together afterwards. More aspects, more and more stray emotions than anyone can control. All you can do is face the situation as it is and respond to it as best you can. Part of that means letting go of specific hopes. It’s hard, and sad.

    You can’t make him feel better. I suspect he isn’t going to make you feel better, and he doesn’t have to (he does need to never, fucking ever, scream at you again, though, and I do wonder if one day you’re going to feel REALLY angry about that). Feeling better is something you eventually do all by yourself.`

  12. The urge to cling to the good parts of a relationship, no matter how bad it got in the end, is so hard. It’s a big part of why I strictly enforce a minimum 6 months of no contact after a break-up, no matter the circumstances. It sucks in the beginning, but I’ve found that’s the time it takes me to really begin to process my emotions and decide whether or not I’m even interested in welcoming someone back into my life at even the most casual level. Also, it’s a sad truth that no matter how intense a relationship was when you were together, breaking up means never getting that back. Even if you eventually get back to the point of being “friends,” your relationship is permanently changed.

    LW, I really hope you can take this time to allow yourself to feel ALL your emotions about this person and this break-up. Like the previous comments, I’m also betting you will find a lot of your own anger once you move past the initial sadness and idealized image you are still holding of your ex. Another huge red flag in your letter was the “us against the world” mentality. That is such a dangerous trap to fall into, it both intensifies your dependence on the person and isolates you from everyone around you. Please use this as an opportunity to also explore and re-engage with that world instead of continuing to see it as an adversary that you have just lost your only protection from. I promise there is so much more good out there, in a few months you will look back on this very differently from where you are now.

  13. I’m going to gently (I hope) point out two red flags here. The first is coming from him: Yelling at you in the car.

    The only time a man ever hit me, he started by screaming at me in a car. And when we talked later about what happened, he would concede only that he shouldn’t have hit me. That he shouldn’t have “lost control.” He refused, till the day I moved out, to accept that he lost control BEFORE he hit me. That screaming at me from two feet away in a tiny space in a car is never, ever, EVER ok. You said his anger issues started long before? I believe you. And seriously, fuck that. Fuck defending and excusing that. I hope darknes someday you’ll look back on these feelings and marvel at how much you were willing to tolerate in the name of love, the same way I marvel that it took me several months to leave after that incident and that he ended up kicking *me* out.

    The second is coming from you. Don’t do the “If you leave I’ll be homeless” thing. That is really emotionally manipulative. If a friend of mine told me that his girlfriend said that to him, I’d tell him it’s a red flag and to get out, and that he’s not obligated to stay in a toxic relationship/living situation just to protect her and enable her dependency. You are a grown woman and you can handle this. You’re not homeless – You’re even managing his half of the rent, something many of us would not be able to do if we suddenly lost our roommates!

    I agree with the Captain that you guys need to spend time apart. This is not healthy. His anger, your threats… If you were trees, you’d be growing around each other’s trunks right now. Uproot, go replant yourself, and give each other the room you both need to grow. That certainly looks like what he’s doing.

    1. Thank you Fishmonger’s Daughters. You’ve addressed the things I thought in a succinct & fair manner. Bravo!
      The only other thing I noticed was the “us against the world” mentality. It’s very codependent.

      1. Urgh, yeah good point. I remember feeling that way about some of my most toxic past relationships.

    2. There’s a difference between ‘sorting out someone’s housing issues’ and ‘giving them time to sort them’. The LW seems to have made the mistake to see moving in with their ex (which happened before the actual break-up, but after cracks had appeared in the relationship) as a long-term solution, rather than a short-term one (which would have involved looking for a new place immediately). That, too, could have been seen as a betrayal: first you say you move in with me, then you’re leaving me with the bills almost immediately?

      As I understood it, the LW said ‘I need more time to sort this’, which does not strike me as manipulative; but the next step ought to be “I want one month (two months, depending on location/income) notice before we give up the flat” rather than ‘we’ll continue as we are indefinitely’. Housing is hard. Being homeless is hard. Needing time to sort things out is normal. But it needs to have an endpoint, and you need to make a concerted effort *to* find somewhere else. You cannot get more time from your landlord after they’ve asked you to move out, so you need to treat a notice from an ex-partner in the same way: we agreed I’d move out after two months, therefore I’m moving out now, whether I have a permanent place or not. By that time, all your stuff should be in storage (if you haven’t found anywhere permanent), your bags are packed, and you’ve got somewhere to go, however inconvenient. Or else you have a roommate lined up or found another way to cover the whole rent and your ex moves out.

      ‘We’re split up as of now, you need to be out tomorrow/by the end of the week’ does not strike me as the act of a decent human being when you know full well the other party does not have a place to go to. Because the person doing the splitting up picks the time and place, and the other person – regardless of knowing that it’s not working out and a separation is on the cards – does not have the luxury to make concrete plans, so that’s an asshole move.

      It sounds to me as if communication had broken down a long time before the actual split; because when it’s not possible to discuss ‘this relationship isn’t working, how are we going to solve the living situation’ chances are that you weren’t talking properly anyway.

      (And this is the only time I’ll ever praise my ratbag ex: they were an arsehole in many ways, but they did not leave me in the cold when my housing situation collapsed. I got out as soon as I could, but it still took several weeks.)

    3. All this using homelessness as an “abuse” tactic feels really classist to me. The reality could be that if he stopped paying rent, she would become homeless.

      As I said above, it’s important to add that him continuing to pay the rent (that he is probably legally obligated to continue paying for a certain period of time, unless he squirmed his way into this without LW covering hers butt legally) does not necessarily mean he can’t leave her. He doesn’t need to physically occupy the place he’s paying rent.

      If he doesn’t have the financial freedom to pay rent and move out, well then, he can hardly expect LW to have the financial freedom to suddenly be able to double her own rent.

      Financial realities are real.

      1. What LW’s ex owes to whom depends on their lease and how tenancy law works where they live. He might owe money to the landlord. He might not. But he definitely doesn’t owe his ex financial support, because she’s his ex. It wouldn’t be healthy or appropriate for him to take responsibility for keeping her housed.

        1. If she wasn’t ‘ex’ but merely ‘roommate’, would you say that he could simply move out whenever he felt like it and not paying one penny more in rent? I’d say that if someone agrees to rent a room, and pay x amount in rent, I am counting on them to keep that contract, and I want proper notice (whatever was agreed) from them. Whether that’s one week, four weeks, or whatever. If we signed up for a six month lease together, I expect you to pay your share of six months’ rent OR to find someone else to take your place and pay the rent. And I’d be happy to look for a different roommate and for you stop being responsible for your share of the rent as soon as such a person moves in – but if you simply say ‘I’ve decided to walk barefoot across Australia’ and move out tomorrow without paying next month’s rent, I’d be PISSED OFF.

          This is not about ‘keeping her housed’. This is about holding up his share of any shared housing bargain that was made – ‘we can afford this place if we both chip in x; let’s move in together’ and then, once that starts looking like a Bad Idea, to extract himself fairly and over a mutually agreed timescale. Rent may be traded for his share in items they bought together, and I don’t expect the agreement to continue indefinitely, but just because you broke up doesn’t mean all of your responsibilities are dust. (See also: pets, children, any other responsibilities, financial or otherwise, they’ve entered in together).

          1. THANK YOU. LW might not have phrased it in a way that some commenters are liking, but if my husband left me right now and then refused to pay his share of the rent (on a lease we both signed!) at least until I found another roommate, I too would be out in the cold. Just because you break up doesn’t mean you can just walk away from your legal/financial obligations.

          2. Yup. This. I rent out part of my house to a roommate and part to a romantic partner. Both have the same obligations to me under the terms of the lease (re: paying rent and giving me a certain amount of notice before they leave).

            If my partner broke up with me, he still would owe me rent and notice. If I broke up with him, I don’t have the right to demand that he continue living with me because finding a new roommate is a PITA or it would make things financially tight to have the room empty, and if I wanted him to move out, I’d still owe him the amount of notice we agreed on in our lease. The change in our partnership status doesn’t do anything to the terms of the lease.

      2. I guess the reason why I keep, “If you leave, I’ll be homeless,” on my mental list of emotional abuse phrases that ping red flags for me is because every single time I’ve seen it used, when the person actually *did* leave, by some miracle, their ex did NOT end up homeless! They crashed with family or friends for a while after they were evicted, or they borrowed money until they could get a replacement roommate, or they had to sell something or get a smaller place. I’ve never heard someone use that phrase who ultimately ended up in a shelter or on the street or in another unsafe situation.

        So, it was a lie. And, in many cases, it’s a lie to punish a reasonable action (breaking up, or moving out of a shared housing situation) that an abuser dislikes by evoking a deep sense of shame. Only a monster would make someone homeless. That shames the person into staying longer than is mentally healthy.

        I don’t think it’s an abuse tactic 100% of the time. But, I do believe that it is often enough that people need to be wary. If someone says this to you, put your guard up.

        1. They crashed with family or friends for a while after they were evicted […] So, it was a lie.

          No. Crashing with friends and family, paying for a camping site, moving from hostel to hostel, sleeping in your car, impromptu petsitting – they’re all ‘being homeless’. They’re just not ‘living on the streets’. (I make no judgements about safety; moving in with strangers at short notice is inherently unsafe – usually it works out fine, but it’s not a given. A while male computer programmer is statistically safer than a broke trans woman of colour, because he has more choices.)

          I’ve been [briefly] homeless several times, mainly for landlord/rental agency or client/employer reasons. I’ve always been lucky enough to have a car, money for storage space (and, see car, the opportunity to easily store my belongings). I’ve had people letting me crash in their caravans and on their couches, I’ve had money for camping/hostelling, so overall I was ok (I could use a friend’s address to get my overdue cheques sent to; I could deal with clients over my mobile phone, I could work on my own laptop in libraries). Without a car, difficulty would have been dialled up 500%, and without an income, as irregular as it was, finding a new place would have been much harder.

          Also note that there seems to mainly have been a time lag between the initial notice of ‘you have to move out’ and the time when that person actually DID move into another situation, which gave them (needed) time to organise something. That doesn’t mean their original statement was a lie or that their fears were unfounded. (It also doesn’t mean that it wasn’t manipulative; I don’t know those people. You do.)

          If someone is abusive to you and you need to get them out of your living space – or break a lease you had together so you can get away and Be Safe – that’s one thing. In which case I’m hearing it less as ‘I’ll be homeless’ than ‘here’s a rational reason why you can’t leave me’. If someone is abusive, they’ve used up their right to me caring about them.

          So from where I’m coming, ‘If you leave right now, I’ll be homeless’ is merely a statement of fact whereas ‘if you ever leave me, I’ll be homeless/won’t know what to do/will kill myself’ is emotional blackmail. What’s important is what the next step is: because once the possibility of homelessness is raised, it’s up to that person to make plans to avoid (and/or mitigate) it. Then – if you split up for reasons of ‘not compatible’ and you basically still like the other person – you set up a time plan, and you don’t extend it unless *you* really want to.

          Last but not least, I have a lot of empathy for the sheer panic of ‘I thought I was settled and could process stuff in my own time, suddenly I’m flat hunting at short notice OMG what shall I do’ and if, up to now, you’ve been emotionally intimate with another person _and you’re still living with them_, blurting that out is probably EXACTLY what I would be doing.

          I don’t want to minimise the guilt trip as an abusive technique; I’m sure that ‘you can’t split with me, it’ll ruin my life’ is used A LOT, but I wanted to lay out why the LWs words does not ping my red flag radar at all.

        2. Everything Friendly Hipposcriff said, and also: they had already broken up. I know that this new platonic relationship wasn’t actually viable, but LW was not using this as a way to keep her ex in a relationship he wanted to leave. They broke up and then decided, together, to move in together as platonic roommates. It’s not fair to her to talk about this as though she manipulated him into it. He is an adult. He decided to move in with his ex all on his own, and that means that he is responsible for the financial and logistical obligations he incurred when he signed a lease with his ex.

        3. Again, just because it worked out for the people in your immediate circles doesn’t mean it will work out for everyone. That’s why I think this discussion is bordering on classism. Homelessness exists, it happens to some people, and not everyone has access to the support systems you are describing as last resorts.

          I’m not ruling it out as an abuse tactic, but I think it is also important to acknowledge that for some people. this could actually be the reality. And erasing that is classist.

  14. You described your ex as supportive and loving through some incredibly difficult times. You said later, when dealing with the living situation, “He got very angry and didn’t seem to care about the homeless possibility,” and that he screamed “times running out.” Did he mean that time to find a roommate was running out, because he had told you he intended to move out?

    After a breakup, old patterns change. He’s not required to mitigate or help with whatever choices you may face. He gets to decide that he will put his energy toward handling his own choices and well-being, rather than toward yours.

    The sentence “It breaks my heart to think that I hurt him, I certainly didn’t mean to, and I cant believe he feels like he needs to protect himself against me of all people” caught my eye. People get to protect themselves wherever they deem it necessary. If somebody is shocked and hurt that I feel a need to protect myself against them, they’re usually confirming that drawing a boundary there was a good idea.

    You’re uncomfortable with how he’s feeling. A number of people, myself included, have left romantic relationships later than we might have done if we hadn’t been trying to make the other person agree with us that a breakup needed to happen. This delay has generally not contributed to the happiness of anybody involved in the situations. He’s hurting over how it all went. It might not be comfortable for you to know that he’s hurting, but he gets to hurt. Building your new life will almost certainly help take your mind off his choices and feelings, which are out of your control.

  15. Omg Cap the “really angry friends” stage is where I am with my ex probably 45% of the time. We’ll trade jokes and memes and then suddenly I’m livid because he had the audacity to make a plan about his life and mention it to me. Meanwhile I moved cities and am dating and am making tons of plans, and he’s nice about them? Why am I so mad??? Why wasn’t he nicer when we were actually dating?? There are no answers to these questions! He’s doing his best to give me breathing room to be mad while still being there to share in silly stuff occasionally, and even though he Did Some Wrongs, I appreciate that. It will make it easier for us to figure out what friendship might look like down the road.

    It is so hard, LW, to be in an emotionally transitional space. It feels like we’re stuck there, like things won’t or can’t change. I think Cap’s advice about trying to leave the Relegislating of the Relationship in 2017 is a great one. The two of you may never have consensus on where you are or why it happened or whose fault it is, and that messy unresolved feeling is ok for as long as it lasts. I hope your heath stuff turns out ok, and you’re able to focus on making sense of your feelings for yourself. Leaving him out of it will ultimately be a better way for you to heal.

    1. I remember the Really Angry Friends stage! I only ever experienced it with one dude, but man did I pull some entitled shit. After we broke up and he started dating someone new, as he got closer to her he wrote an adorable little story on his livejournal about a prince who’d found his princess. Only problem was… He wrote me out of it! The nerve! He’d only had two serious girlfriends before her and he mentioned the other one but not me? Where he knew I could read it? How could he be so callous???

      I remember tearfully telling at least one friend how hurtful that was, and I think I eventually told Ex. I don’t remember how he handled it, which means it was probably not satisfying, which means he probably shut me right down.

      Anyway, almost 20 years later, he has a lovely family with that girl, I’ve got an amazing husband, and we’re still internet-tight. So all’s well. 😉

      With your ex, have you ever considered a no-contact period? Like, maybe the contact keeps the anger fresh and raw and that’s why it sometimes boils over? I know with Ex and I, I didn’t really start to recover until I drifted away from his group of friends, thereby limiting/ending contact by default. I think there were a couple years where we each did our own thing. When our friendship rekindled, it did not resemble what we once were to each other. The hurtful stuff we had done to each other was not applicable to the friendship we developed, so less relevant. I wonder if the things that suddenly make you feel livid do so because they’re reminiscent of hurtful things he did while you were together? Maybe it’ll be easier on you to ease back?

      1. I’d counsel against decided ahead of time no-contact period. Not that I don’t think it’s a great idea when it works out that there’s no contact for, say, a year, and then a move towards becoming friends again. If it does eventually work that way, terrific. The problem is that too many people would see the time period as something to be waited out without ever properly moving on. I put myself in that camp. If I’m going to be totally honest, I’m probably still hung up on my first boyfriend from 40 years ago. This despite our both having 30+ year relationships of our own. Maybe it’s closer to say I’m still hung up over the boy he was when we were 18, or the man I illusioned myself into thinking he was. One way or the other, if the brief contact we’ve had and the reports from friends are any indication, he’s not such a great catch. He’s not evil or anything. He’s just not that great, more like dreadfully ordinary, and certainly no one I have much in common with. When he ditched me, it was awful. I did plenty of things wrong in getting over him. We agreed to stay friends, but he didn’t answer my half-hearted attempts to see him. It wasn’t quite as smooth as I’m describing it, but the basic idea is that we did have a pretty clean break. I see now what a kindness that was. I think that if we’d agreed to a no-contact, I’d have waited until the period was up and still held hopes that we’d get together at the end of it.

        I’d tell LW to believe that the ex is gone, gone for good, gone forever. Sure sometimes things change in the long long future, but don’t count on it. Even the friendship part is gone. Definitely the anger part is gone. I think somewhere deep inside we have trouble getting over relationships because we believe that believing it’s totally over now somehow negates what we had and what we learned when it was good. Not so! Just because it’s over now doesn’t mean the years you were friends don’t count. They’re still important. That’s why talking it out with a therapist and writing it out in a journal are such important tools. They help you sort out memories, not forget them.

        As for assigning blame (elsewhere upthread), there’s no need to do it, but boy is a thing. It’s in the society; it’s in the courts; it’s certainly on the internet. It’s like one person can’t be right unless another is wrong. The possibility that good people are doing their best to navigate difficult circumstances isn’t given nearly enough credence.

        1. I’m so glad you said this and I second it whole-heartedly! I know people mean well, but ‘maybe someday’ sentiments can do an awful lot of damage. I see multiple comments here just like the ones that justified my unhealthy mindset after a breakup with my first love. Holding on to these strands of hope delayed my healing for the better part of the next ten years.

          ‘Maybe’ enabled a lot of magical thinking. Instead of letting our story end, I was telling myself a revised edition of the fairy tale, wherein he would still someday play a part in my Happily Ever After. I carried around a Chicken Soup for the Soul story about first-loves, because it “came to me at just the right time” and I empowered it with immense predictive significance. I was seeing ‘signs’ and grasping for meaning in the smallest of things, finding reasons why we needed to interact. I collected ‘things to show D just how important he’s been to me all these years’ in anticipation of the day he would come back into my life. I even showed up at his wedding – years later and completely uninvited – to watch through a window in the church, sobbing to the depths of me, telling myself it was because I just needed to see in his eyes that he was actually happy.

          I built everything around that ‘maybe someday’ hope. I anointed as sacred the empty place where he was not, as if he were, to leave plenty of room for the possibility of him. So I held everyone at a distance, lest they take his place as the person who understood me best. The thought of really letting him go, of losing any and all connection to him, of accepting the break up as him being gone from my future? What if I was closing a door that he might someday want to walk through again? I couldn’t betray my hope – the only thing that kept it real – by letting go.

          ‘Maybe’ was a prison that fed me poison.

          Almost 20 years later, I realize just how miserable I would have been with him, and how toxic he would be in my life now. I thought he was my savior because he was the one tiny crumb of happiness I had while starving in a diminutive existence. Experience had kept my dreams small, but fulfilling them would have confined me, trapped me in a suffocating way of life, and left me forever deprived of the nourishment I needed to thrive. So today I’m thankful to be free to grow like ivy, in all directions. It would have pruned me into nothing to stay within the bounds of his life. Our connection would have become a shackle. I surpassed the level of happiness I had with him by so far, the life I imagined with him now looks like abject suffering. I thought our intersection was an alignment. Now with more data points, I can marvel at how far apart our trajectories really were.

          So, LW, my advice is to let yourself dream bigger and hold out hope for something better. He will always be an important part of your life: your past. Your years together are a brick in a foundation that will launch you, but he will not be making the journey with you. Accept that and release the ties that bind.

          1. Maybe we need a whole new category of stories to counteract the chicken soup ones. We could call them the “prison that fed me poison” stories– though I suppose no one would read them with that title much as I love it. In these, the happy ending would be that moment when the lost-in-love characters realize how much better off they are after being dumped. In some, they’d realize they dodged a bullet because the ex is dangerously horrible. In others, they’d realize the ex isn’t that bad, just not right for them. Other story lines could involve finding new love or finding out how wonderful their lives are without a romantic partner. You could have a poignant moment when the main characters think back to a good time and a lesson learned without hurting because they’ve moved on. Lots of possibilities.

  16. Dear LW,

    Once we broke up, my exes were no longer on Team Me. That’s not true for everyone’s relationships of course, but it seems to be true for you and your ex.

    So, no, don’t tell him about your dreams. Don’t offer comfort, or seek it from him.

    It’s possible that you and he will be friends again. Someday. Don’t put your life on hold waiting though.

    Jedi hugs if you want them.

  17. About the dreams: best book I know about dream interpretation is Gayle Delaney’s “Living your dreams”. It’s not one of those “If you dreamt of X, it means Y” type things, but a framework for exploring what the dream metaphors mean to you personally. Underlying idea is that you know more than you realise, and sometimes that wisdom comes out in dreams.

    1. Oooh, thanks for the tip. I love the idea of dream interpretation, but that X = Y thing always turned me off. Like, an image of your loved one in a lake is going to mean something different from what the book says if, you know, you or they once almost drowned in a damn lake. (Or if you just read the Akata witch series, which is like Harry Potter set in Nigeria and features a lake that occasionally pops into existence out of nowhere and stalks the hero and tries to drown her, but I DIGRESS and also everyone should read that series because it’s seriously rad).

      Point is, a framework for understanding dream metaphors makes much more sense.

  18. LW, I hope you find some solace, either in these comments or just in time. I’ve struggled with similar issues and it’s undeniably really, really hard. Let yourself feel. Deal with the practical realities, yes, but whatever else you do make sure you allow yourself to grieve, get angry, and move back and forth through all the emotional stages of processing such a big life change. Close things in a little box in your head when they get too much for you to function, but then let them out again so that you can feel and process and, eventually, move on. You do have to feel things, but you don’t have to feel them all at once. Be kind and patient with yourself. You’ll get there. I believe in you.

  19. Hey LW, I still have awkward dreams that turn into terrifying nightmares about my ex… and we broke up 5 years ago. There are a lot of articles out there on “what does dreaming about your ex mean” that say really sweet things – like missing someone, missing the anticipated life together etc. But nightmares about an ex are different to happy dreams.

    One thing I recently read about dreams that has been helping me is: everyone is your dream is just your own brain. Your ex isn’t appearing to you in your dreams, it’s just your brain dressing up something (an issue? a feeling? a belief about yourself?) as your ex. I also read in the same article that people tend to dream about their ex when there are life situations going on that remind them of that time with that person. So, for me, it’s a feeling of being unhappy and feeling unable to do anything about it (it was a terrible relationship by the end).

    1. Hey Tawg, I love the way you’ve articulated nightmares as ‘your brain dressing up something’ – and only partly because it made me think of the Boggarts in Harry Potter! I will now proceed to dress the population of my nightmares in my Granny’s large fancy hats, and maybe that will help me realise that it’s all only a projection.

  20. With my last breakup, I was the person who was in the angry friends stage. Ex and I agreed to still be friends, and I really thought that’s what I wanted. But as time went on and I got some distance from the relationship, I started fully realizing all the things about it that had made me mad but that I had downplayed or overlooked at the time for the sake of preserving the relationship. I was just so angry about it all. One day when we were talking about it all, I finally told him that I was angry and I needed time and space. I asked him not to contact me unless I contacted him first. He agreed to that.

    It was just over a year before I contacted him again. I needed the time.

    Now we are on fairly cordial terms. We live in different states and we will never be as close as we once were, not even half as close. But we check in every couple of months to say hey and catch up. It’s a little sad that we can’t have that closeness anymore, because he really was my best friend during the time we were together. But it’s what works for the this post-breakup stage our friendship is in now.

    LW, give him time and space. Give yourself time and space. Try to come to terms with the fact that your friendship with him will be different moving forward. It’s possible it might not even be able to continue. But if it’s going to continue, yeah, everyone needs time and space and permission to live life without expecting each other to be or act any certain way.

  21. Hi LW,

    The Captain has good advice ❤ I don't know if you've read most of the posts on this site already, but there was a post in another blog that CA made a post about, talking about how to heal after a breakup. I've found it helpful often. You need to let yourself heal! And accept that it takes time.

    Regarding dreams, I'm not an expert, but I do think dreams aren't literally about what they're about. Like, the person in your dream who looks like your ex, who said he hopes your tumor kills you? That's a voice that lives in your own head! It's just using your ex's face. There might be a voice of self-loathing that you've long buried– maybe the voice of every lesbophobic bully you've ever met, maybe other people too, maybe just you. Just because that voice looks like your boyfriend doesn't mean it's completely, or even mostly, your perception of your boyfriend.

    So how do you find the source of that self-shaming, self-hating voice? How can you counteract it with self-love and build self-esteem? There are many possible answers, and you know you best. CA's suggestions– journal, therapy, make new friends–are all good places to start. Personally, I've found that I can give my self-esteem a boost if I spend an hour making something, like a quick drawing of a doggo (for example; something that is just fun and not capital-A Art at all) and then I show it to a friend who I know will be impressed. Bonus, that hour was spent thinking about and looking at dogs, not thinking about my ex!

    I wish you the best moving on with this post-breakup. I know this has been hard for you. But I believe you can do it. Good luck!

  22. I see people give the advice “be nice to yourself” but I never quite understand what that means. Is that like, treat yourself? Or give yourself a break and don’t worry about being perfect?

    1. Part of both, I think?

      Part of it is that especially those of us who have been raised in societies inculcated with the Puritan Work Ethic, it’s hard to feel “deserving” of nice things. It’s almost easier to think about what we’d do for a friend who was going through the same thing. If your best friend were going through a messy breakup, what would you do for them? You’d sit and listen and reassure them that they’re good and lovable and say “screw that person for not being better for you” and get them ice cream and watch movies with them until they felt better. So “be nice to yourself” is a reminder that you can do all those things for yourself.

  23. On a totally different note, it’s worth remembering that dreams are literally just semi-random firings of neurons, combined with our forebrain’s muddled attempt to make those inputs coherent. Attempts to find deep meaning or insight in that process will basically always be fruitless (except in the same sense you can find meaning in tarot cards or flipping a coin).

      1. Hey unchartedworlds, I really dislike people saying “citation needed” outside of academia. “Citation needed” reads as really passive aggressive and not productive for this discussion. It’s also unclear to what you are referencing: do you disagree that dreams come from the forebrain or that explaining dreams are fruitless? If you don’t agree with amblingon or feel that they are misinformed, you could offer them differing information or link some reading. “Citation needed” without any context reads to me as rude and condescending, even if you didn’t mean that.

  24. Oh, wow LW.

    The Captain gave you some great advice. I want to point out a few things to help you move on:

    1) According to your letter, your ex has anger issues. Lots of space from him is an excellent idea.
    2) Your ex’s parents have zero boundaries. Yes, they paid for a mattress and a fridge. Those are gifts. You and your ex can decide what to do with them.
    3) Staying in that place and trying to make a friendship happen with your ex is not allowing you to truly move on, your new girlfriend notwithstanding.

    I am not saying these things to paint your ex as a terrible monster, though those are red flag behaviors, to me. But you’re broken up now and if there was ever a reason to get away and stay far away from someone, any one of those would do. All three are the trifecta of “Get Out of Ex’s Orbit NOW”.

    Now, my dirty lens: When my romantic relationships end I am not eager to be friends.This isn’t because I hate the person but I want time and space to move on. I don’t want to talk with them about their feelings or dreams they have had or anything else. Even if your ex didn’t have problems with anger, I’d still say to move on and give him space because it’s the kind thing to do–to him and to yourself.

    Work out your living situation and figure out who gets what. Do this sooner rather than later, for your own sanity. Then delete his number and block him everywhere on social media. Do not contact him again. Build your own support system, cultivate friends, and talk to your friends (and possibly a therapist) about your feelings about him–don’t talk to him or your girlfriend about him/your breakup/your post romantic relationship.

  25. Thank you so so much for publishing this reply (and all the comments) when you did, Captain. I’ve read your entire archive, but never commented before – but I had to say thank you thank you thank you because this was the letter I needed today.

    I broke up with my live-in partner for the 2nd time, 3 weeks ago, and yet again it hasn’t stuck – he treats me like we’re still dating and I am acting like I am completely accountable to him. He’s overriding my physical and mental boundaries, and has started isolating me from my friends and other partners (we’re poly), because he doesn’t want me to leave. He does realise this is bad behaviour if I push back on it – which I often can’t do whilst living with him and always having him in my space and head, and because I feel so so guilty for wanting to leave him, when he wants me to be his life partner. I’m experiencing intense stress symptoms (IBS) and if I hadn’t had actual experience of past mental health problems, I would be doubting my sanity.

    The idea that I don’t need to stay to give him any f****g closure, and that he doesn’t get further say in my narrative, or the innermost workings of my head and heart, is such a bloody relief, you have no idea.

    1. That sounds really hard, and your ex’s behaviour around this sounds extremely sketchy. Should you need a virtual Team You In My Pocket, I cannot recommend the Friends Of Captain Awkward forum enough. I really hope you manage to extract yourself from this very stressful situation soon. Many jedi hugs to you.

      1. Thank you 🙂 I posted a little before the break up actually under a different username, to get some help, and that was super helpful.

        I’ve been isolated a bit in real life after trying to leave and failing and finding that embarrassing to admit to close friends. It’s my first breakup with a cohabitant and oh my is it different and harder. Thankfully this weekend I got out to family, and have my key documents and possessions etc. all out of the house now, so feel a bit more in control.

        The behaviour is sketchy, but there are mitigating factors – very long story, and not an excuse, but I entirely believe there is only goodwill and (very misplaced and paternalistic) concern on his side.

        Either way it’s been a useful reminder for me that abuse/control in polyamorous relationships can manifest in really different ways, and that I could probably do with some more reading on that subject!

        1. My experience is that there are virtually always mitigating factors, and the further we get from a situation, the better able we are to see that those mitigating factors aren’t as important as they seem when you’re closer to it.

          Virtually no one is a cartoon villain. The vast majority of even problematic relationships aren’t bad all the time, and our feelings about people are often really complicated. The existence of some good things and genuine concern doesn’t make bad behavior okay, and it doesn’t mean that there’s not some malice or manipulation, too.

          I don’t know your ex. However, what you’re describing is deeply problematic behavior, and qualifying it by saying, “but he can see that when I push back, which I can’t do when I’m around him because he gets in my head and I doubt my sanity” is really, really not ideal. I find it useful to keep in mind that sometimes details can sometimes obscure a situation, not illuminate it.

          All the Jedi hugs.

  26. Ooh boy. I honestly think you meant well, LW – I do. However, I think your need to have a perfect painless breakup where you were in no way the bad guy and in no way lost your relationship with your boyfriend (including emotional and financial support) is turning this into one of those cringe-worthy farces where someone just won’t stop trying to fix something and keeps making it worse and worse (kindly note the below clip of Mr. Bean trying to fix a painting).

    You didn’t want to be the Bad Guy who did the break up. Ok, yeah, but you were also coming out as a Lesbian, so it’s kind of de facto a break up. Accordingly, while his metaphor was tasteless, it’s not particularly inaccurate. You didn’t want to lose him as a friend. Ok, yeah, but then you stayed living with him, and when he wanted to move out, pressured him to stay by talking about how you’d be homeless if he didn’t stay with you. Now, it’s not right that he started screaming (and if you were still with him I’d say that alone was a breakup-worthy offense). That being said, I think having an ex (who came out as not attracted to my gender but insists that I’m the one that “pulled the trigger” on the breakup) tell me I couldn’t move out because s/he’d be homeless would be the one thing that could make me start screaming.

    After all this, you still won’t let him go and demand he spend more emotional energy on you because “It breaks [your] heart to think that [you] hurt him, [you] certainly didn’t mean to, and [you] can’t believe he feels like he needs to protect himself against [you] of all people.” Well… you did, and he does. You need to stop. You broke up with him because you’re a lesbian; now you need to accept that he’s hurt and let him go grieve and heal however he needs to.

    If you let him go and let him deal with his hurt feelings, there might one day be something left of your relationship to salvage. But you keep tearing open his wounds because you don’t want to accept that he’s wounded and there’s just gonna be a lot more screaming.

    Again, I’m not saying that everything he did was right, or even justifiable. I’m saying your refusal to give him space is making it exponentially worse. Let him go.

    1. This sounds like an accurate read of the situation. It’s hard to accept when we’ve hurt someone important to us, and it gets even harder when they don’t forgive us and need to end the relationship. But that’s how it goes sometimes. LW’s ex has a right to withdraw, and it really sounds like he needs to right now. LW, you aren’t a terrible person just because you hurt someone and lost a friend. You can take it as a lesson learned, remember him fondly, and move on.

    2. It seems like a reasonable reading is this:

      For LW, the problems in the relationship came from the “in love” parts. Breaking up means they lose the “in love” part and just focus on the “love” parts which is what LW seems to treasure most about the relationship. Relationship gets better in all aspects for LW.

      For Ex, the “in love” was the part he most treasured about the relationship, and the problems were because of the “love” part replacing the “in love” part. Losing the “in love” part was painful and that pain makes other aspects of the relationship worse for him.

      He’s not trying to hurt you by needing space any more than you’re trying to hurt him by not being in love with him. It’s just that your feelings for each other, which both strong and positive, are so different that they can’t coexist.

  27. I have to say that the dreams struck me as important here. They seem to be giving two messages: you are not responsible for him and you cannot please him. So going to him now to discuss the dreams would defeat their purpose. Trust yourself, trust your subconscious, it’s working hard for you…

  28. Just wanted to address something not many people have mentioned: I hope your health issues work out smoothly. Do you have good access to medical care? Have you seen doctors about your concerns? Are you taking care of yourself with the same dedication you would show to a loved one who was in the same situation?

    I have made it through a couple of health scares which thankfully both ended up being nowhere near as serious as I thought. I know how stressful they were for me. I’m an anxious person and my health worries made my anxiety about everything else so much more intense. Stress and anxiety are powerful things, and can make many ailments worse. There may be a chance that some of the worry and fear about your medical situation is being redirected to thoughts about your ex, because health is a scary uncontrollable thing and maybe your brain is just grasping for feelings of comfort and control, reaching out to old familiar sources of comfort, and trying to fix things that seem more manageable than possible tumours.

    My advice is to focus on your health and well-being as much as possible right now. Go to bed early, get quality sleep. Don’t drink too much caffeine (it often increases anxiety!) and try to eat food that makes you feel strong and nourished. Do things with your body that feel good, whether it’s an intense workout session or a slow walk at night or a stretching session in your apartment or whatever. Go to your medical appointments. Ask questions of your doctors. Be an informed advocate for your own care. If you have to go to the doctor for scary medical stuff, take a loved one with you for support if you can, and if you can’t take a real person, get creative: a stuffed animal, a favourite music, or whatever. I have a friend who imagines that Galdalf is sitting with her during all of her chemo sessions, telling her stories and saying encouraging things like when he cheers up Pippin in Gondor. She says she finds it deeply soothing.

    You cannot fix things with your ex right now because he doesn’t want to try, and that’s his choice. So for the foreseeable future, he’s out of the picture. The thing you can work on is YOU. It’s your best investment in a happy future. Reconnect with people you love who you haven’t talked to in a while. Find out if there’s a counsellor or therapist you can see. Re-read favourite books, make a list of all the things you dream of doing in the next five years. Make a special dinner for your girlfriend as a surprise. Pet a fuzzy animal. There is a lot of good in the world that has nothing to do with your ex. Find it, collect it, and fill your life with it.

    And whenever you find yourself thinking about him, just take a deep breath, and let the thought or feeling exist for a moment and then float away. Feelings happen, memories happen, and that’s fine. But you need to remember that we don’t need to DO anything with those feelings and memories. Just notice them, and say, “huh, interesting” and keep going.

    1. “try to eat food that makes you feel strong and nourished. Do things with your body that feel good, whether it’s an intense workout session or a slow walk at night or a stretching session in your apartment or whatever. ”

      That is the best non-diet-culture way of describing those things that I have heard.

  29. I know it’s really hard when an ex that you still care deeply about is super angry at you. I think it is pretty common that the anger gets kicked into high gear in the aftermath of a break up, when the other person is moving forward in their life, as you were in exploring your new found lesbianism. Captain focused a lot on his right to be angry, which I agree with. However, she didn’t comment about how you are apparently feeling badly for hurting his feelings. Just so you know, post break up you had every right to move on with exploring this new, exciting aspect of your life, and from what you said about his initially supporting you in this,deep down he also knows this is true. Unfortunately, being stuck still living together through this phase made the situation infinitely worse for him. So you can cut him some slack but you should also cut yourself plenty of slack too. It’s not your fault the circumstances were less than ideal. He’s hurt that you didn’t take care of his feelings like you would have if you were still a couple, but you weren’t still a couple. Yes, you could have done things differently, but you did the best you could in the moment. Please don’t feel bad.

  30. Dear LW, another thought about the dreams. I am the queen of hilariously literal dreams – you can tell *exactly* what I’m stressing about from them. (For example, I’m dealing with some wedding planning stress, and I had an amazing dream that my mom was running around setting all the table centerpieces on fire and I was chasing her with an empty fire extinguisher, and then I ripped all the beads and pretty embellishments off my wedding dress with my teeth.) When I’ve broken up with an ex, I tend to have frequent, vivid, very unpleasant dreams about them for at least a year after the breakup. In my case, I think it’s because I try so hard to stay calm during a breakup that all my anxiety and fear burst out in my dreams. I certainly don’t have to (or want to!) talk to them about it (largely because by the time I break up with someone, I’m like lalalala I’M FREEEEEE!), but my point is that my dreams are ultimately about me and my feelings. I don’t think dreams are meaningless, but I also don’t think their meanings are exact or for anyone other than you, but sometimes they can tell you a lot about you and where you are! Maybe consider starting a dream journal – write down your dreams and maybe write about how they make you feel and what stressors they are bringing up for you? If this doesn’t sound like your jam, no worries, but I hope this might be a useful way for you to reframe them.

    Congrats on coming out! And congrats on beginning to move past your old relationship – keep at it, and I promise it will get better with time!

  31. LW, if it helps, I still have dreams about my Most Significant Ex – we broke up for good ohhh over ten years ago.
    Every time I wake up, I’m like “really, Subconscious? You chose to use That Guy’s face today?” – but it has nothing to do with him and everything to do with my brain.

    If the dreams bother you, write them down, draw them out, process them with a friend (not your girlfriend) or therapist – but he couldn’t be any less responsible for – or interested in – what your brain creates by itself when you’re asleep.

  32. LW, this must be a really sad and disorienting time, and I really sympathise. The Captain and Commentariat have given great advice, and I know you’re going to be ok.

    I recently had to spend a few days with a friend who’d been dumped by her BF, who was experiencing a severe bout of mental illness.Now, she had her reasons for being in an enormous amount of pain. And for all that time, she kept going over the fact that it didn’t ‘feel’ over because he wouldn’t talk to her and ‘explain’. But being broken up breaks that contract between people. So no, it was no longer this guy’s job to be her first port of call to be soothed and reassured. Likewise, it wasn’t her role to make everything ok for him, the way she had been doing for years.

    So now would be a good time for you to realise that you get to be in control – and you now no longer have to worry about his anger issues or other instabilities, just like he is no longer obliged to crisis manage where you’re going to live. It’s great that you have love in your life, and a girlfriend on Team You, but it’s also a great thing to be your own support network. You are worth investing all the time and energy you used to spend on him, on yourself, your interests, your passions.

    The dreams, the fridge, and even (perhaps) your feelings about your sexuality, are now just features of a past reality you’re no longer living in, not a hallmark of the problem. And there could be immense freedom and joy in that, even if, for a while/for ever, that life goes on without him.

  33. LW, I had a chance to read through the rest of the comments and saw that you’ve gotten a lot of flak for the, “if you move out, I’ll be homeless,” remark. And…yeah, that was not the best thing you could have said, but it’s worth noting that *he* the choice to say, “Tough luck,” or, if he was feeling generous, offer to stay until you could find a new roommate but not a second longer.

    It’s also worth noting, I think, that there’s no such thing as a perfect break-up. Even when it’s mutually agreed that going separate ways is best for everyone, there’s a feeling of loss for at least one party, and there’s at least one part of it that someone wishes had gone differently. Hopefully if you’re ever in a position where you’re going through a break-up and can’t cover all the expenses on your own, you’ll consider posting an ad for a roommate instead of trying to work that situation out with a brand-new ex who wants out.

    Oh, and I would recommend sending your ex’s parents a cease-and-desist letter in some form, if you think it’s appropriate (that is, if you’re reasonably confident that they’re not going to take you to court to sue over possession of your fridge and mattress…if you think they are that petty, disregard this paragraph). Tell them that hounding you for money over gifts is obsessive and completely inappropriate and that you will no longer be accepting communications from them, then block them electronically. Mark all letters from them “Return to Sender.” If you think they are shitheaded enough to sue you over used household goods, see if there’s a lawyer working pro bono or for a reduced rate in your area who can handle their missives and help you reach some settlement that will get them out of your life for good.

    Take care of yourself, LW. I hope your health issue is a manageable one.

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