#1197: “He broke up with me but hasn’t moved out yet. How do I not ruin our last chance to make this work?”

Hello Captain,

I (she/her) and my partner (he/him) had been together for three years. Most of the happiest moments of my life have been with him, and we planned our futures together. I don’t value being in a relationship for its own sake, and I’ve only ever wanted this kind of thing with him.

In recent months there weren’t so many of those happy times. We were just ok, with some frustration with each other from big outside stresses coming home with us and making home stressful as well. Last weekend I took stock of everything and realized I really did need to change what I was doing at home, that I was taking him for granted, and that he was worth it.

Yesterday he told me he no longer wanted to be with me and asked to move into our spare room while he found somewhere else to go. It appears that he also took stock of everything, and came to the opposite conclusion. He acknowledged the things he was doing to contribute to a tense home life, taking most of the responsibility. I think it’s more 50/50.

I let him know how I felt, and how much of our frustrations were my contribution. I suggested that we could take some space and try to come back realigned, since we both seemed to have had realizations about our habits. He said he felt better hearing my piece, but that he didn’t want to keep working on this.

I don’t want this to fall apart. I feel we’re teetering on the edge. He said he’s not open to trying, but he clamps down when pressured and reconsiders later. Before this he was still saying he was glad we were lucky enough to meet. I feel strongly that this is not totally shut, but it will be if I fuck up.

My feelingsbombs! are a problem, and I need to stay back. Especially as he is in a high stress period at work for the next two weeks. He’s reserved and needs to come around to this in his own time. But “let’s communicate” is my primary mode, and I have FEELINGS. And he’s home still! Which I feel is better than asking him to go now, but I don’t know how to act. I’m terrified of chasing him away. This is my last chance. What do I do?

Thank you

Hiding and Seeking

PS context: I am talking to friends and my therapist to get out the FEELINGS, but it’s more all-consuming than they can reasonably cover.

Hello Hiding and Seeking,

I’m sorry you’re going through this and very glad you wrote to me.”Missing someone who is still right here” is its own special kind of hell.

I have some suggestions about how you can start to feel better and process this, but first, since you asked about what to do with all the FEELINGS, I actually think it’s very important to tell you this: Behaving with total decorum so your ex won’t hear your crying from the spare room or finding the exact non-threatening, acceptable words and mode and presentation for your feelings isn’t going to be the deciding factor on whether this breakup sticks or anything else.

You don’t want to detonate a bunch of feelingsbombs! in his direction, and that’s probably wise, Heather Havrilesky recently wrote an “Ask Polly” column about a person who sends long feelingsletters after a breakup and I cringed in self-recognition for all the times my younger self, starving for love and connection, decided “I know what will fix this! I’ll write down ALL THE WORDS!” Let’s just say that there are some very patient and forgiving gentlemen in the world who might be very surprised if they heard who was writing this site. “Wait, ‘Captain Awkward’ I get, that’s incredibly apt, but it’s a blog…about…having good boundaries…and giving people…space? And encouraging people to…break up…if things aren’t working? And reassuring people that breaking up is…not???…the end of the world?? And she tells people that they…shouldn’t…make dramatic gestures? And…WHO…did you say writes it again? Nope, there’s only one person in the whole world with that first and last name. You’re sure? I think I have to sit down.” 

Apologies to the boys of my youth, thanks ever so much for not selling my needy midnight emails to BuzzFeed or posting them Reddit thus far, I’ll understand and forgive you if I get incredibly rich and famous someday but the social safety net has finished collapsing and you need the cash. In the meantime, I’ve learned my lesson and these days I try to recycle my mistakes in case they can help others.

Not for lack of trying, I have never once persuaded anyone to keep loving me, to stick around, to stick it out, to try again, in a way that took, in a way that could be depended on. Saying all the words didn’t help, writing them down didn’t help, holding them in didn’t help.

And when the shoe was on the other foot, when I was the one who decided to leave and then let myself be persuaded for a while, it was always a mistake. Everything that hurt still hurt, and then it hurt again, later, like a badly-set bone that can’t heal clean unless it’s re-broken. Everything that cost still cost what it cost, and then it cost double the second time around. [Life Tip: When the captain of the team of movers you regularly hire to move apartments jokingly tells you to consider buying a place and not moving so much because he’s had to disassemble and reassemble your shitty futon three times in less than three years with an ever-diminishing supply of intact hardware, it’s a sign you should re-examine the “Heartbreak: Hard Reboot!” line-item on your budget.]

You wrote:

“He said he’s not open to trying, but he clamps down when pressured and reconsiders later.”

I can’t be mad at myself or anyone for loving people deeply and trying very hard to make things work, and I’m not saying that people never break up, work on their own problems apart, and then happily reconcile. But I don’t feel good at all about the times I tried to apply pressure or audition to retain the interest and affections of people who had already made their choices. I never once repaired or preserved love by applying pressure, I just added a layer of shame and sorrow when I think of those people now, how I hurt them by not taking them at their word, how I betrayed both of us by staying when I knew it was a lie, when I knew that part of me would never stop checking for the exit signs like a little kid who can’t stop shoving her tongue through the brief bloody window opened by a freshly-lost tooth.

And that is the thing I want to tell you the most: Remove pressure. From yourself. From both of you. You are worried that if you share your feelings “wrong” you’ll mess this up, and that if you share them “right” there’s a chance to save it. A totally understandable feeling, desire, wish, hope, and you asked the lady who helps people say hard things for help, good call, this is my wheelhouse, but I can’t help you do that. It’s not because I don’t want to, I so wish I that could do for you what I couldn’t do for myself all those times I tried to find the exact right way to say “Stay with me and I’ll try to be the person you need.”  I can’t do it because it’s out of our hands, Hiding and Seeking, it’s out of our hands. You could be absolutely perfect, you could become all the things your former partner specifically said would be exactly right for him, you could find the golden ratio of speaking up and staying silent about all the right things in exactly the right order, you could even send me a list of all your best private jokes and relationship touchstones and I could write you a dazzling, personalized speech that strikes a breathtaking balance between “maintaining a quiet dignity” and “being vulnerable and real…”

…and he could still go, or rather, keep going, in the same direction he already went, i.e. already gone. 

From your letter:

“I don’t want this to fall apart. I feel we’re teetering on the edge. He said he’s not open to trying, but he clamps down when pressured and reconsiders later. Before this he was still saying he was glad we were lucky enough to meet. I feel strongly that this is not totally shut, but it will be if I fuck up.”

You’re not “teetering” and “fall apart” isn’t future tense right now. You know him best and you spoke from your heart already and he left anyway. That’s where we are. Whatever was teetering is already in pieces on the ground, the choice right now is “Is there any Krazy-Glue in the junk drawer?” vs. “Can you hand me the dustpan and broom.”

“But Captain Awkward, what about Kintsugi, the ancient Japanese art of repairing pottery with gold?” you might ask. “This article says it ‘celebrates each artifact’s unique history by emphasizing its fractures and breaks instead of hiding or disguising them…(and) often makes the repaired piece even more beautiful than the original, revitalizing it with new life.’ We could get back together and repair our relationship and it could be even more beautiful than before!”

It could. People reconcile sometimes. So you could sweep the (metaphorical) shards of the relationship up carefully and put them in an (emotional) Ziplock bag for safekeeping in the hope that your ex shows back up with some (symbolic) gold dust and epoxy (i.e. his free unprompted desire and choice to win you back) someday, but until or unless that happens, it’s not a bowl anymore. It’s something that used to work, something that was certainly precious and beloved, but today it can’t even hold soup or ice cream or cereal or anything that comforts and sustains the very worthy and important person who urgently needs to figure out some things about comfort and sustenance for herself (i.e. un-metaphorical you).

You asked:

I’m terrified of chasing him away. This is my last chance. What do I do?”

Answer: You can’t “chase someone away” when they already left. That’s so awful, because you want him to stay so bad, but can you also let it be just the tiniest bit liberating, can you at least let me imagine for you a possibility where it’s liberating, where you get to STOP auditioning for this person’s love and STOP working so hard on all the problems you were both struggling with these last few months and let go for a minute?

‘Cause you don’t have to transform yourself into the world’s most chill and accommodating person right now! If he’s going to come back to you (which is neither especially likely or even a goal I have in mind), let him come back to stressed-out you, angry you, the real actual you, the one who feels her fucking feelings, the one who would prefer to talk things over, in detail and at length, thanks, sorry if that makes people uncomfortable sometimes, but this is how you work best. I believe you when you say you wanted to stop taking him for granted and change some things up around the home front, but presenting a tidy, edited model-you is not the answer.

You get to detach. You get to stop trying. You get to say “Fuck it, I tried my best, I’m happy to work on the things we talked about if you want to stick around and try because I do still really love you, but this is me, this is what you get, you’ve had three years to get to know me, I know that I’m imperfect but I’m also pretty fucking great and I did my absolute best to love you. If you think you’ll be happier apart you’re probably right, anyway I’m tired of talking about it so I’m about to cry a lot and watch 10,000 episodes of my favorite television show without your usual running commentary, the spare room’s all yours, if you see any snack food in the apartment from now on kindly assume that I purchased it for my sole enjoyment and get your own, also, your Aunt Laura was bugging me on Facebook to get us to finally RSVP to the family reunion this summer, I’m blocking her racist ass as of :checks phone: :presses buttons: right now! Whew, I’m still so sad but I do feel some relief! So, anyway, you’ll have to handle Aunt Laura from here, also don’t forget to PayPal me for the cable bill, good talk!” 

When your ex said “he didn’t want to keep working on this” I’m so sorry that your loving, loyal heart and busy brain translated that into “But what if I keep working on this REALLY HARD?” (Honestly, so relatable, I love you so hard right now, you don’t even know). It’s time to let go of the idea that you – by being a better roommate or addressing whatever was causing the unhappiness and stress at home, or by carefully and deliberately doling out your big scary feelings in digestible pellets so they won’t startle him – are the one who can control how this ends. Because that’s what’s happening, your world is falling apart, and you’re looking for something you can control, and “don’t have Too Many Feelings or fuck up how I express them” feels like that thing. You want to nail the audition for remaining as this person’s girlfriend, an audition that will presumably last from now until he moves all the way out.

What you actually probably need is to get this guy the fuck out of your space (or get yourself to your own space, a place he has never set foot and is not necessarily welcome) so you can fall apart in peace and quiet and without the pressure of worrying that if your grief is too loud and weird it was the thing that drove him away forever, like “Oh crap, sorry I was sad wrong.” You need somewhere to sort out the task of getting on with the rest of your life, whether it includes your former partner or not. Since that’s pretty hard as long as he’s crashing in the spare room, how do we get you at least part of the way there?

Let’s talk action items:

Step One: Accept that this breakup is real. Any and all suggestions I have for what to do now start  with this. He broke up with you. He told you he doesn’t want to work on it anymore. He is done. If he changes his mind, okay, you can decide at that point if you want to try this again. But until he says, unprompted, “I’ve changed my mind, can we talk about starting again?” the kindest thing you can do for everyone is to believe what he’s already told you. Taking a loved one’s word for it when they tell you what they want is actually an incredibly loving and respectful way to behave.

Step Two: Make some lists. If you knew for sure that this was really over, what would you do to take care of yourself?

  • What do you need to get done today/tomorrow/this week to keep yourself on track at work or in other parts of your life?
  • Do you need to cancel some shit? [Upcoming vacations, holiday stuff, financial transactions?]
  • What are smart choices for you about money?
  • How would you handle the finances and logistics of separating households? Where would you want to live? Would you want to find a new place of your own or stay after he moves out?
  • Would you want a time limit on how long he camps out in the guest room?

Think about it, scribble some things down, it doesn’t have to be fancy or complete, just organize your thoughts about your own self-care for a second, knock out the tasks that keep you solvent and at least minimally functional, and then talk to him.

Script: “I’m not happy about this, obviously, and I wish we could work things out, but I want you to know that I did hear you when you said you wanted to stop working on it. Can we take few days to let the dust settle and then sit down and figure out the finances & logistics of moving, etc.?” 

Step Three: Get some space (temporarily). You wrote to me yesterday, it’s Thursday now, can you ask him to bunk with a friend or family for the weekend and give you some time alone, or is there somebody you could stay with for a few days? When figuring out who should leave vs. who should stay, it’s okay to ask for whatever is most comfortable and convenient for you. You didn’t dump anyone, maybe you’re the one who gets to sit on your own couch surrounded by your own comforting and familiar knicknacks right now.

Script: “I know we have a lot to sort out, would you be willing to crash at [Elsewhere] for the weekend to give us both some mental space and then we can sit down on [Day] and hash out the plan?” 

If the idea of him or you staying somewhere else right now made you panic and think “But I don’t want him to gooooooooooooooo, I want him to staaaaaaaay, once he goes or I go it becomes real!” and also “Crap, how does she know that’s what I was thinking?” don’t freak out, I’m not a mind reader, I’ve just done this a lot before.

Your ex is a nice person, generally, yes? Not an asshole? You trust him not to empty out the bank accounts and move all the furniture if you turn your back for a few days and vice versa? Honestly, even if you do trust him, lock down your money right now and, if you’re the one who ends up leaving for a few days, take your passport & essential documents with you. Think of it as “developing a habit of prioritizing yourself” if that helps.

Here’s why I think you should grab some space, even if it’s just for a few days, if you possibly can. It is a way to be nice to yourself. 

It’s really, really hard to break up with someone and still be living under the same roof. So many of the things you might otherwise do to lick your wounds and adjust to the new normal involve solitude and privacy.

When you have your own space to retreat to, there’s more room for relief to start to crawl in among the grief. The person you loved and love still with your Golden Retriever of a heart may be absent, the hopes and dreams you built with them in mind may be smashed, but you can also start to be free of all the tension, free all the little compromises you made to share space with another human. I know it’s cold comfort when you don’t want to be broken up, but sometimes the only comfort to be found at first is “I have permission to fall apart in complete and total privacy” and “I miss this person desperately but at least I do not have to also smell their farts while I process what the hell just happened.”

 It’s also one of the ways you can be very kind to your former partner. He’s tried to be honest with you about how he wants to leave and so far you’ve been like “Great, let’s work on all our issues so we can stay together!” and he’s been like “Y, tho” and also “No.” Consider that while you walk on eggshells about how to win him back or at least not alienate him further, he is also walking on eggshells, wondering if every conversation that starts with “Do you need the shower or can I take mine first” is about to turn into hours of “Oh good, we’re both crying again” or “Can’t you see how charming and wonderful I am and remember all the good times we shared? Look how hard I am trying to be who you need me to be!”  

Clearing out for a second (or inviting him to do so) sends the message: “Dude, I’m sad, but I’m not going to watch you with huge pitiful eyes and make you talk about our relationship every second, it’s okay to watch TV and start packing up your shit.” NOT THAT YOU WOULD DO THAT just it would probably comfort him to know he wouldn’t have to WORRY about it for a day or two. Remove pressure. 

Still not convinced? Let me try an appeal to the “don’t leaaaaaaaaaaaaave me” brain: You want him to be sorry and miss you? Cool. Let him miss you. And see if giving yourself a chance to smell only your own farts for a few days helps that tiny spark of relief shows up.

Step Four: FEEL YOUR EFFING FEELINGS, EVERY LAST GODDAMN ONE. It’s time to tell your therapist about them (good job!), write them all out in a diary or a letter (that you don’t send,  covered at length already), summon friends/family who you generally trust to adore you and only be nice to you to take you out for pancakes and listen to your tale of woe (sounds like you’ve got this handled), and find safe, supportive outlets that are not your boyfriend to talk with because it’s healthy and good for you to get it all out there and be affirmed and reminded that how lovable you are does not reside in the decisions of one formerly extremely promising dude.

Also think about ways to be out and about, especially while you’re still sharing space: Go to the movies, sing the house down at karaoke, actually show up to some of the 10,000 improv shows and theater events people are always inviting you to (No? Just me?), swim/run/walk/bike if that’s your thing, call your friends with cute pets and/or cute small people and spend a little time giving belly rubs and blowing bubbles.

But don’t do it to impress this guy with how well you’re holding it all together or to help you prepare for your audition to still be his one and only. It sounds like you’ve actually done an awesome job so far of communicating with your ex-partner and telling him how you feel and what you want. You were clear, direct, passionate, truthful, honest, self-aware. You did your best. If you cry a lot in the aftermath, well, someone hurt your feelings and made you upset, you don’t have to hide that in your own fucking home.

Step Five: Make some ground rules. If you have to share the house for a while, figure out what will make that bearable. Can you share your respective schedules so there are predictable, set times when each of you can have the place to yourselves? Do you still eat together? Who cooks, cleans, pays bills, does chores? Can a closed door mean “I don’t exist right now?” Is everything that lives there that needs to be fed and watered and have its poops dealt with being properly and consistently taken care of? Can everyone be cool and actually NOT invite new dating or sex partners to the shared living space for at least the next month/without further explicit clearance and discussion? Be businesslike and specific, like you are two brand new roommates negotiating a temporary pact.

Step Six: The rest of it. This part is about making a series of choices about caring for yourself, prioritizing yourself, making sure that the decisions you make about where to go next won’t leave you broke or stranded, that your well-being and comfort won’t suffer to preserve the comfort and well-being of someone who left you.

It’s about reimagining your own dreams and plans and investing in your own potential without having to account for another person’s priorities.

It’s about learning from your mistakes and the things that didn’t work about this relationship without punishing yourself, about owning the parts that were because of you and making room for the idea that while you were willing to live with his particular shortcomings in exchange for all the good stuff, maybe in a future relationship the shortcoming-to-awesome ratio will be an easier fit for what you need. You didn’t waste anything or hurt anything by loving somebody in a way that didn’t last all of forever.

Think of Step Four as the second-act makeover montage in the romcom, except you’re not trying to attract or impress someone new or find just the right shade of lipstick (though knock yourself out if that’s your thing, one person’s waxy lip-prison is another person’s stunning armor), you’re just trying to learn the lesson we all encounter, partnered or single, as long as we’re alive, which is how to be at home again and again and again in our own giant, loving, loyal, beating, irreplaceable hearts.

Bonus Content:

Here are some of my personal “picking up the pieces” greatest hits:

“My friends reminded me to practice self-care, a well-meaning comment that I found unintelligible. Getting a manicure or a massage wouldn’t fix this. Nothing would fix this….

…Buying those pajama pants was the moment I finally understood self-care. It wasn’t a sheet mask or a manicure or a bubble bath; it was admitting to myself, *Things are bad, and they are going to be bad for a while.* It was dressing not for the life I wanted, but for the life I had.”

It’s such a sad, honest, true essay. I can’t wait for the book she’s writing about showing up for people in your life.

  • New! Instant Classic! Lizzo’s new album “Cuz I Love You” is like one long master class in the art of being nice to yourself and telling yourself you fucking rule. She’s her own “Soulmate”, thank you very much, and she has no time for distractions named “Jerome.”
  • Music: I got to see Neko Case live last week, she’s just the greatest, I can probably plot whole years of my life by which of her albums got me through it, try “Set Out Running” when you’re looking to wallow in regret and “Hold On, Hold On” when it’s the middle of the night and you’re sitting by yourself in a car just so you can sing as loud as you actually need to. “I LEAVE THE PARTY AT 3 AM, ALONE THANK GOD…”
  • Poem: Frida Kahlo to Marty McConnell by Marty McConnell, “…leaving is not enough; you must stay gone. train your heart like a dog.” 
  • Poem: Where would this blog be without Love After Love by Derek Walcott. I know. I link it a lot. But…just read it. Have I linked to that or to Rilo Kiley’s “Breaking Up” with the video by those adorable college kids more times on the site? Who can say?
  • Poem: What Cowboys Know About Love by Louis McKee. It’s not wasted just ’cause it’s over.
  • Music: Eileen Rose’s “Pretty Good Man” is the ultimate theme song for the fantasy of what happens when someone comes crawling back (don’t they always come back, but never when you still want them to?) and says everything you ever thought you wanted to hear. Counterpoint: The Womack Sisters’ “Darling” is both AN ETERNAL BOP and a great “Get gone and kindly stay there” anthem.

I don’t share these things because they cheer me up. I share them because at one time or another they provided a shock of recognition, like “Kilroy was here” scrawled on a bunker wall or “nolite te bastardes carborundorum” scratched into the closet baseboard, they said “you’re not the only one who came through here” and made me wonder, heck, maybe there’s light up ahead, I should keep going and see.

Be nice to yourself, Hiding and Seeking. If you do nothing else, be nicer to yourself than anyone else has ever been before now. If this is the end of this relationship, it’s not the end of the good things in you that once felt so lovable and bright. The happy memories you made with this person were real and beautiful, and there’s a good chance they’ll look beautiful to you again someday when their edges are smoothed with gold and patched back into your story, part of you forever but no longer serving as the uncertain, leaky, vessel for your astonishing future life.  ❤

167 thoughts on “#1197: “He broke up with me but hasn’t moved out yet. How do I not ruin our last chance to make this work?”

      1. Yes, truly one of the best answers yet: compassionate, smart, practical, utterly honest and beautifully poetic too.

    1. Yes! My heart is just breaking for this LW, but the Captain’s answer is so wonderful and compassionate.

  1. “if you’re the one who ends up leaving for a few days, take your passport & essential documents with you.”

    Letter writer, this includes a copy of your lease! If he decides to change the locks on you you’ll need your lease to prove to the police that you in fact have a right to be there.

    I hope you never end up in that situation, however…this person is no longer your partner and, as CA beautifully writes, you need to look out for you now even more than before.

    1. Yes… A long-term couple I knew broke up. He didn’t do anything illegal, but he prioritized his finances over hers, and speed of disentangling over cooperation to the extent that it really caused her financial stress. As he had the larger income, he could have afforded to be more generous, but he just wanted out.

      LW, you and your partner now have different priorities. Make you the first priority with you.

    2. Good catch. Not that she couldn’t prove it otherwise, property/resident manager, etc., but having the lease in hand is just easier if it comes to that.

      I am of the firm belief that like giving children toys that make quiet instead of noise, doing things proactively that make life easy not hard is the way to go whenever possible.

    3. …this person is no longer your partner

      That sums up what I wanted to say.

      Even so, let me expand a bit. My ex husband was (and presumably still is) a good man. He tended to think in terms of “us” and “them” though. Once we separated, I was part of “them.”

      Your ex, dear LW (and he is your ex, he’s said so), may not be as stark as my ex. He may still be kind, but he won’t be putting you first anymore.

      Jedi hugs.

      1. Yes. I would even add that, beyond basic human-to-human compassion, once you break up it’s reasonable to become one of “them.” Everyone is rightfully telling LW to look after herself; it’s only fair and reasonable for him to look after himself, too.

    4. This is good general advice, I’m surprised I’ve never heard it given to anyone before. One thing I have going for me is that I’m always, always careful with this kind of thing, even during a relationship that isn’t overtly ending or anything. I’ve seen people turn really nasty to partners unexpectedly, so it’s something I sort of always assume is a possibility that you always keep a pin in somewhere in your mind. That’s… Dark, but it doesn’t have to be. It’s never “I’m going to keep my important docs and cash somewhere he doesn’t know about because what if he turns on me,” but more “I’m keeping this where only I know about it because only I *need* to know about it.”

  2. This is so compassionate.

    LW, I just want to say that I was in a position rather similar to yours, some years ago. And I did a bunch of the things you shouldn’t do. I did overwhelm the guy into staying in the relationship a few more months – and it was a mistake, and it was awful. He had already checked out (he had actually developed feelings for someone else). As CA describes, I spent those months desperately trying to be who he needed me to be, to get him to fall back in love. All it did was wring out an already-painful time, prolong the inevitable, give us both more opportunities to hurt each other and be hurt before he finally did leave. And while it may not be true in your case, looking back on mine, it was a hella unhealthy relationship! I wish I had just let him go quietly when he’d first tried to break it off. I regret what I did.

    This is absolutely awful for you right now – but you can’t make him want to be there if he just doesn’t want to be. You can’t fix the relationship out of sheer force of will on your end. Shifting your emotional focus from “try to get him back” to “grieve the loss” truly is the best thing you can do for you AND him.

    1. My mother had a truly awful image that comes to mind around situations like this: “Cutting the cat’s tail off an inch at a time. So it doesn’t hurt so much.”

  3. Not the LW, but I absolutely needed to read the Captain’s response. I’ve sent an embarrassing number of Feelings!letterbombs in the past two months (in my defense, it was my first new relationship in a decade, so I had plenty of time to forget all the lessons I’d ever learned about NOT doing that). The kintsugi reference was especially on-point, as that was something she and I had discussed in a different context in our relationship.

    Anybody got a metaphorical zip-lock bag I can use?

  4. The only thing that I will add is

    Make a list of all the things you wanted to do with your romantic partner that he wouldn’t do or pissed, moaned and groaned about. Also make a list of shit you did just because you were his girlfriend that you really disliked. There are always some of these things in every relationship. And it can help see some of the benefits of getting out of the relationship.

    And… in terms of functioning while getting through this. Set a time to grieve. Give yourself an hour a day to just cry and rail against the unfairness of it all (people you love SHOULD love you back – it does kinda suck that life doesn’t work that way). When you find yourself losing your shit at work, grocery shopping, in the restaurant or in the theater, tell yourself you are saving it for your grief hour. I promise you that sooner than you’d think, you won’t feel the need for a grief hour and can cut it down to a half hour and then eventually you will feel like you don’t need to spend even 15 minutes grieving over this.

    1. Co-signed! Revel in not having to do all the things you disliked doing, but did just because you were his girlfriend. The turning point for me during my last brutal breakup was when I realized I had all my three-day holiday weekends back to do whatever I wanted with and NOT sleep in his twin bed at his parents house and watch his friends from high school get wasted!

      1. When my college boyfriend and I broke up, I was delighted to be able to make plans with my friends without checking with him first. Like that was the greatest thing EVER.

      1. A (quite lovely) boyfriend of mine purchased a giant opera package deal to go see The Ring Cycle, all 17 hours of it, on every day of a single week, booking up my entire spring break during grad school almost a year in advance. Which is awesome and cool? And a good friend often sings a part in it (which I have seen, it’s great) But my whole spring break. I am a casual “I’ve seen some operas” level fan. My whole break.

        Then we broke up. We stayed friends.

        A few months later he wanted to know if I still wanted to go to the Ring Cycle.

        And I still missed him really bad and was kind of regretting breaking up and maaaaaaybe we could make it work if we tried again?

        But how bad I did NOT want to go see the Ring Cycle, how relieved I was to have that week of time back was my guide.

        1. Eesh. That’s a big commitment to expect of even a more-than-casual level opera fan without first checking with them.

          For me? I never had to go to a NASCAR race again and sit in the loud and the fumes for hours, eating weird junk while entertaining myself by finding the best mullet in my sightline.

          1. For me it was that and not having random spectators call me “n-word” (which he never seemed to notice).

          2. Yiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiikes the people being racist is bad enough, your partner pretending not to notice is awful, so awful.

        2. was he from the school of people who don’t get that their own hobbies aren’t universal?

        3. I went to school to STUDY opera, and I think that would still be too much for me!

    2. Yes! This! My grandfather was a jerk – even the people who loved him acknowledge this. My grandmother stayed with him until he passed away, as people of her generation and culture do. But she still revels in the fact that, the first thing she did after dealing with the aftermath of his death, was to buy a huge, beautiful china cabinet to put her own china in, after decades of having to leave it in a closet because his mother’s china had to occupy the (then only, now smallest) china cabinet. Also, she got contact lenses and chose pink tile for her bathroom (house resale value be damned, it’s what she wanted and she got it), and made it crystal clear to her sons that she wasn’t letting them tell her what to do in their father’s place now that he was gone. I love her so much.

      1. My grandma was sadly pretty far gone with Parkinsons by the time her controlling husband died, but she did tend to refer to him as her “ex-” or “former” husband after his death, rather than “late” or something similar, which I thought was kind of revealing. May we never need the patience of our grandmothers!

    3. Not exactly a breakup story, but long story short, bf’s mom behaved terribly towards me: She consciously double-booked a room she had already promised to me so I essentially got homeless, needed to move temporarily to my parents at the other end of the country and on top of it had a big financial damage.

      Which was a horrible time, but the good thing is: We’ll never meet her for awkward coffee and thinly-veiled criticism of my bf’s whole life and we’ll never go to her on Christmas again! No more trying to be nice for the sake of family! No awkward small talk with her annoying and mansplainy husband! No friendly listening to her long stories of her life (and how her son failed at it). Never again!

      Seriously, that part of it is glorious and almost worth the whole damage.

    4. Ugh, this is part of why this sucks so much: There’s none of this. We didn’t overlap 100% on what we liked, but almost. The stuff we were most enthusiastic about was all the same. And he didn’t complain for the slim number of things that he didn’t like, he would just suck it up.

      So now, all the things I like and that I enjoy the most? … Have his presence in them. So I’m kinda walking around in circles going, what the fuck now? What do I even want now? All the things that were exciting and desirable a week ago feel like trash, including some of my bigger and more exciting plans.

      1. I think, if they 100% feel like trash, don’t do them yet? But the ones he didn’t like, try those. And if there’s a gap when you’d ordinarily turn to each other and share a knowing look, then there’s that gap; acknowledge the painful moment, and then turn your attention back to the thing. And if there are aspects that still feel fun to the other activities, then slowly they will spark your enthusiasm once again, but yes, parts of them will suck at first. It’s ok that they do, and it won’t be forever.

  5. Oh, Letter Writer, I’ve been there, I know how horrible this is. But please let him go.

    Many years ago when I was in high school, I dated a guy. One day we got into a fight (I wanted more from the relationship than he was willing to give) so I broke up with him. Via a 10-paragraph message. Over Facebook. On his birthday. (I have since learned better and have handled my subsequent breakups much more maturely.) Then a few days later I changed my mind and begged for him to take me back, but he was no longer interested. I utterly shredded my dignity trying to get him back, and while I can’t speak for him, I can tell you that the entire process was basically slow-motion torture on my end. Except I could have ended it at any time by just walking away from the situation and I didn’t, because I was sixteen and had some really messed up ideas about relationships. Eventually he started dating someone I was vaguely friends with and I went through all the stages of grief rapid-fire, moved on, and stopped wasting my time on him.

    A few years later, after we graduated, I reached out to him asking if we could be friends and he said sure. So we would message each other about our jobs, our video game high scores, our book collections. Then at one point I started to gush about a guy I’d been flirting with for the last few months and he… did not take it well. He spent the next *hour* (I have the timestamped messages to prove it) trying to convince me that I ought to date him instead, even after I repeatedly said I wasn’t interested. I eventually asked him to not contact me until he got over his crush, but he still pinged me once a month for half a year saying I shouldn’t worry about it and that he was totally 100% cool being extremely platonic friends… which he obviously wasn’t, because the messages stopped not after I repeatedly said “don’t contact me” but after he saw on Facebook that I was dating someone else.

    Please don’t tie yourself into knots trying to get this person to stay with you. It’s terrible on both ends. I’ve successfully blocked out the memories of what I did trying to get him back (and fortunately my message history doesn’t go back ten years), but I still remember the panic I felt, the conversations I had with my friends along the lines of “how do I get this guy to back off without hurting his feelings” (and for the record, my friends were beyond useless – one of them straight-up told me that I had to date any guy that showed interest in me even if I didn’t have feelings for him!) Now, the gender dynamics in my case were different (my ex is a cis dude and I thought I was a woman at that time) so maybe your ex won’t get the panicky feelings (and probably won’t get the misogynist crap), but even so, he is not going to enjoy you trying to talk him out of the breakup. Grieve, take excellent care of yourself, get your stuff untangled as quickly as possible, eventually move on.

    1. People don’t talk enough about the panic.

      That choking fear is so brutal, so unexpected: it’s like walking down the street and having a giant baboon land on your back, shrieking and scratching at you out of nowhere, and the immediacy of the situation makes you freak and run into traffic and spin like a dervish because THIS HORRIBLE THING HAS LANDED ON ME AND I DIDN’T DO ANYTHING! I was just walking along and being me and BOOM.

      It’s so hard to calm that down and get that baboon to climb off you, and it’s okay if you aren’t a “get a shrieking baboon off you” expert. Panic is a normal response to a sudden and drastic change in circumstances. It’s hard to remember to take a breath and get out of the street. But do it as soon as you can.

  6. The Caprains advice is wise and kin. Best wishes, letter writer. I’m pulling for you!

    Just wanted to add a poem suggestion: failing and flying by jack Gilbert :

    Everyone forgets that Icarus also flew.
    It’s the same when love comes to an end,
    or the marriage fails and people say
    they knew it was a mistake, that everybody
    said it would never work. That she was
    old enough to know better. But anything
    worth doing is worth doing badly.
    Like being there by that summer ocean
    on the other side of the island while
    love was fading out of her, the stars
    burning so extravagantly those nights that
    anyone could tell you they would never last.
    Every morning she was asleep in my bed
    like a visitation, the gentleness in her
    like antelope standing in the dawn mist.
    Each afternoon I watched her coming back
    through the hot stony field after swimming,
    the sea light behind her and the huge sky
    on the other side of that. Listened to her
    while we ate lunch. How can they say
    the marriage failed? Like the people who
    came back from Provence (when it was Provence)
    and said it was pretty but the food was greasy.
    I believe Icarus was not failing as he fell,
    but just coming to the end of his triumph.

  7. Dear LW, please listen to the Captain and listen to your ex when he says he is done. I’m sorry you are going through this painful thing. I hope he gets gone soon so you can find a new normal and have peace and privacy.

  8. This is fcking poetry, Cap’n. So heartrendingly beautiful. You really hit it out of the park here!

  9. *applause gif* This is so good. I hope it is a little ray of light to the LW in a dark time. I’m rooting for you, LW.

  10. I am at a similar break-up point except for the living together part & I’m not trying to fix it because I know the pieces don’t fit anymore, but CA’s words hit home on many levels. I can’t do anything to change his mind & won’t try, but am instead surrounding myself with friends who love me & support me & will come over for a cocktail or 2 & some frozen pizza to listen to me vomit out the whole story /slash/ work through another level of grieving and the resulting step toward the light of the future. Did it with another friend 2 days ago, going to do it again with another friend in 2 days & probably several more after that until I am fully back in the sunshine. And when I’m ready, I will try again with someone new. Here’s hoping LW finds her own sunshine!!

  11. If we’re recommending poems, I have one that I recently discovered that speaks to me through this Poetry Rx post, which seems similarly relevant, and I’m hoping it’ll do the LW as much good as it has for me:

    An excerpt from “On This the 100th Anniversary of the Sinking of the Titanic, We Reconsider the Buoyancy of the Human Heart”:

    My heart has an iceberg with its name on it, I told
    Titanic, so I need your advice. Tell me, did you see the
    iceberg coming?

    I did, Titanic said.

    And you sailed right into it?

    It was love, Titanic said.

    And the band just kept playing? And the captain
    stayed at the wheel? What did it feel like to swallow
    seawater? Tell me, Titanic, how did it feel?

    It felt like a hole in my side and then it felt like
    plummeting face first into the ice-cold ocean.

    She’s a straight talker, the Titanic.


    The trouble with you humans is that you are so
    concerned with staying afloat. Go ahead, be gouged
    open by love. Gulp that saltwater, sink beneath the
    waves. You’re not a boat, you can go under and come
    up again, with those big old lungs of yours, those hard
    kicking legs.

    And your heart, she said, that gargantuan ark, that
    floating hotel. Call it Unsinkable, though it is sinkable.
    Embark, embark.

    There are enough ballrooms in you to dance with
    everyone you’ll ever love.

    That’s what the Titanic told me this morning, me, lying next to her on the ocean floor.

    There are enough ballrooms in you.

      1. It’s absolutely worth it to click through to the PDF to read the whole thing. It’s … yeah. “DAMN” is about right.

    1. “You’re not a boat, you can go under and come
      up again, with those big old lungs of yours, those hard
      kicking legs.”

      YES YES YES. Thank you for this.

        1. “That’s what the Titanic told me this morning, me, lying next to her on the ocean floor.” did it for me.

    2. I do not need to be crying at work. This is pretty incredible because most poetry doesn’t work on me.

  12. Breakup-adjacent mostly-success story if any strategies can be gleaned therein:

    A couple of years back, I told a friend I’d been crushing on for a long time how I feel. He was kind but unambiguously (bless him) did not reciprocate.

    I had suspected this outcome. I knew I had a long drive home from where we were when I told him. I spent about half the drive crying. Spent another big chunk listening to a couple of CDs of ALL THE SAD SONGS and crying more. By the time that CD ran out, I was close enough to home that my radio was picking up my favorite stations again. It was a strangely comforting way to transition back to normal.

    I was still sad. However, I’d also scheduled a big road trip that I’d been wanting to take for a while for a couple of weeks after that night, so I couldn’t do much wallowing because I had Things To Do – pack and plan and make calls and be excited.

    Once I was home from the trip and I had spare time again, I’d mostly shaken myself out of the rut of thinking about him in said spare time.

    Treating yourself and being nice to yourself is great. However, treating yourself to something that’s challenging and busy and stressful (but still fun!) can be even better because it keeps you moving until the worst has passed.

  13. Years and years ago, in a situation similar in theme but different in detail, my sister finally said to me (pretty much in so many words): “Why are you not over him? Because he is so over you.” It was like the dawn arriving over a darkened landscape with dramatic redemption music swelling over everything.
    And I learned that, in order to start a new relationship, you have to finish the old one, even if they’re both with the same person and even if that completion only happens in your head.

    1. We ALL need people like your sister sometimes.

      Mine is similarly blunt. I was pining over a guy who basically had ghosted me, and my sis changed my computer background to a recent Facebook pic of him with some girl I was convinced he’d ditched me for. When I saw it and gasped, she said, “Well then why are you turning over your entire brain to this doofus?” Point taken. I replaced my background with a family picture and similarly evicted him from my brain.

      1. You both have awesome sisters. That’s just the right kind of “tough love”. 💙

  14. This is such generous and compassionate advice. LW, I am sorry this is happening to you, it really sucks. It especially sucks to still be living in the same house as your recent ex. That is pain central.

    Everything written here is wonderful. The only thing is add is to get a breakup buddy or two or three. People on your side to offer you support in ways you’ve explicitly negotiated. Figure out what you need (things here: to not live together, to sit with your feelings, to not feelingsbomb him, to be held, to have support with moving, whatever else) and who is best places to be there for you in this. I wrote this piece for my younger self, because ‘your mess is your message’. I hope it might help you to be clear about the support you need:

  15. Hey LW — I’m so sorry you are going through this. I’ve been there — and it is tough and miserable. Living with someone after a break up that is not your choice is especially terrible.

    But, it gets better. My ex and I lived together for about three months after he broke up with me. I cried a lot during that time. Over a year later … I’m much happier than I was in the last days of our relationship and I feel like I’ve found myself again. My ex and I are friendly, if somewhat distant, acquaintances at this point and I don’t regret the relationship or the break up.

    My one piece of practical advice is to ask him to move (or move yourself — but it sounds like the apartment might be your place). You can start mourning a relationship while living together, but it’s much easier to do so once you’ve physically separated.

    Best of luck to you in dealing with this. Whether the break up is permanent or not, remember to put yourself first. It sounds like you might be beating yourself up a little bit for not being “just right” in this relationship, for not being able to fix/save the relationship through the force of your own will. But, we all have good qualities and flaws that we bring into relationships — the right person or people for you will recognize and accept both — and there’s no way to save or fix a relationship if the other person doesn’t want to be there anymore.

    Sending Jedi hugs if wanted. Hang in there.

  16. Here is poem that I have read so often I have it memorized, that got me through the whole ‘if only I try harder, if only I do more in the right way at the right time in the right tone of voice with the right amount of emotion while wearing the right dress…’ phase.


    I have seen the sun break through
    to illuminate a small field
    for a while, and gone my way
    and forgotten it. But that was the pearl
    of great price, the one field that had
    the treasure in it. I realise now
    that I must give all that I have
    to possess it. Life is not hurrying

    on to a receding future, nor hankering after
    an imagined past. It is the turning
    aside like Moses to the miracle
    of the lit bush, to a brightness
    that seemed as transitory as your youth
    once, but is the eternity that awaits you.

    R.S. Thomas

  17. I LOVED every second of this advice. It’s so beautiful and compassionate.

    LW, I’m so sorry you are in this difficult position. It must be so extra hard that you two still live together… I do understand that you are the person who knows him the best here and you know his personality quircks. He tends to clam up when under stress and then gives things a chance – I get that because I sometimes do that too. But just becasue a person has a tendency to do that, does not mean that every decision this person makes is invalid or should not be treated seriously.
    When under stress, I clam up pretty hard and then can rethink things, but if I already thought them through, I probably won’t change my mind. And it seems like he did not make this decision lightly and on the fly. He probably took time and considered many things and decided.

    I’m sure you already know that but your wishful thinking glasses are on and I ohh boy do I understand.
    But I also believe the faster you let go of this idea that just because he has this personality trait, therefore there MUST still be a chance, the better for you. He made himself very, very clear. He is done – you are no longer auditioning.

    It hurts really badly but there is also relief there to be found: that you don’t have to try so hard anymore to make this thing work.
    I hope for the best for you!

  18. This resonated with me so much! I’ve been broken up for about half a year with my first ‘real’ partner of six years. It was a somewhat similar situation actually, so this is something, that could be helpful to you, LW.

    If you were to get back together, would you ever be comfortable again? In the sense of being secure in your relationship? Because you’re thinking so hard about how to keep this guy, that I guess you’d always have the feeling you’d have to be perfect to keep the relationship going. This was me, by the way, because my ex did not straight up break up with me, but rather talked about thinking about doing it for months. And I reacted by always trying to be perfect, so he wouldn’t leave me. I only realized how much stress it was causing me when he finally left for real. And he definitely used it to his advantage, so I’d do what he wanted without him having to openly tell me to and making himself the bad guy.

    Of course people can also get back together in a healthy way. But judging from your letter this is a dynamic you might want to watch out for.

    1. This is…a really, really excellent point.

      My fiance and I separated for about a year, a few years into our relationship. It was not my choice. It was his. And he had good reasons.

      I apologized, I did my best to make amends. We moved in and out of living together for months. I stayed at my mom’s sometimes, then came “home” and stayed with him again, back and forth until some Other Life Stuff happened and he wound up having to move away.

      He left on my birthday. I’m not sure I’ve ever been more heartbroken than I was that day.

      We stayed in touch as friends. I was so, so careful not to push, not to pressure, not to even hint. He knew I still wanted to get back together. If he changed his mind, he knew where to find me.

      (That “let him miss you” bit CA wrote was also excellent advice, btw – he’s told me since that it was being fully apart, separated by a few hundred miles, that made him realize he didn’t actually want to be apart from me anymore. That he missed me. If he hadn’t moved away, would it have happened? Who knows.)

      We did, eventually, get back together. He moved back. We lived together again. We’re celebrating 10 years in September. We’ve got a very strong relationship now.

      But there was definitely a period of time, a couple of years there that I was C O N S T A N T L Y afraid that if the tiniest thing went wrong, it would be all over again. It was insanely stressful. So…definitely be aware of that factor. If he did change his mind, how much energy would you spend worrying and walking on eggshells and reading too much into any tiny hint of a Tone in his voice, panicking any time you had an argument?

      It’s *possible* to get past that and rebuild a real, healthy relationship. I’m proof of it. But it was not easy, and it was not bloodless, and I’m not 100% sure I’d recommend it to anyone tbh. Definitely do factor that aspect into your mental calculus as you’re deciding how to proceed.

    2. Oh boy, I know what you mean because I had the same nagging thing in the back of my mind. Imagining that, let’s say he does come around, am I ever going to feel safe about this ever again? Would it even be smart to accept his apology, knowing in the back of my mind forever after that this could happen again?

      He’s not going to come around, so it’s a non-issue, but oh boy have I meditated on this.

  19. Oh sweet, sad LW. I want to love you so hard right now. I have been right where you are. I have thought, if only I could work twice as hard I could do enough work for both of us and it would be okay. I have wondered, what can I do to show this person that I am worthy, that I can change, that I am lovable and loving in the way they need. I have stood and watched in horror as the person I loved most in the whole world set fire to the entire life and future we had built together with that one single decision. Oh LW it is _so hard_. You are allowed to have every feeling under the sun about it.

    The Captain is right. You have no direction to move but forward, and no one to carry but yourself. Through is the only way out, and I have faith in you. You are SO STRONG, LW. You did some serious introspection and you came to some important new conclusions and understandings about yourself and you are prepared to do some really hard work to make important changes and that is so brave and NONE OF THAT IS WASTED. Your new understanding is still real, still valuable, still yours. It won’t be applied in the way you thought, but you still have it.

    The Captain said, “Go to the movies, sing the house down at karaoke, […] and spend a little time giving belly rubs and blowing bubbles. But don’t do it to impress this guy with how well you’re holding it all together or to help you prepare for your audition to still be his one and only.”

    I say, if impressing this guy with how well you’re holding it together is the only thing that motivates you to do those things right now, that’s okay. Do them, even if it’s secretly for that reason. Be the best partner a person could ask for, _to yourself_. Take yourself out to fun and social places and do rewarding, high-endorphin things. Even if you’re only doing it to show him you can, you will still benefit. Your connection with your other friends will strengthen as you spend time with them. Your joy in your hobbies and physical activity will be there for you, even if your motivations aren’t pure. And as you build the habits of doing those things, they will gradually become their own reward.

    Grief is a chronic, episodic condition and it’s okay to do as much for yourself as you can, when you can.

    When it’s at its hardest, here is a list of six things to aim for on any given day:
    1. Get enough sleep, but not too much
    2. Eat something with vitamins and protein
    3. Get dressed
    4. Leave the house
    5. Move your body (walking counts)
    6. Spend time with someone you like who isn’t your ex.

    Have a friend you check in with every evening and tell them your number for that day.

    The point isn’t that you _have to_ make it to six. The point is that if you make it most of the way to 6 and did nothing else, that day was a success.

    My song for when I am at a six-things point is Keep Breathing, by Ingrid Michaelson:

    The advice to be my own best girlfriend really was the best advice I got three years ago, when i was watching the structures of my life and heart crumble around me. It has broad application, extending far beyond taking yourself out for joyful social activity. Give yourself all the love and compassion and support you could want from the very best partner you could ever have. When you find yourself being down on yourself, ask yourself “would I talk to a partner who I love this way?” When you’ve eaten nothing but BBQ Lays for three days (no? just me? anyway) ask yourself “If your partner who you loved had only eaten chips for three days, would I give them a vegetable? Would I cook them dinner? Or at least buy them a burrito, which, after all, has vegetables in it?” Put in that little extra effort for your own well-being. You deserve to be well loved and well cared for, LW. GIve yourself those things.

    1. Given my username, I have to applaud the Ingrid Michaelson shout-out. 🙂

    2. “I say, if impressing this guy with how well you’re holding it together is the only thing that motivates you to do those things right now, that’s okay.” Yeah, that’s so true. Sometimes doing the right thing creates the right motivation for doing it after the fact, instead of the other way around. Motivation is motivation, even if it’s not noble, no shame in that, just put it aside as soon as you don’t need it anymore and can do better. You could have all the most enlightened quotes hanging on your bedroom wall, but you can’t actually get out of bed until you get angry and think, for instance, about the best revenge being to live well. And then eventually better reasons will naturally replace, “revenge.”

  20. Great advice Cap’n, very RELATABLE. An addendum to step three or five-ish: DON’T HAVE SEX WITH HIM. That may seem dumb and that it goes without saying, but it is so stupidly easy to do while you are both sleeping under the same roof. It won’t make you feel better and it won’t remind you both of how great you are together. It just sends you in a time machine back to the beginning of the break up, and you have to do all the work over again. Not that I would know from personal experience.

    1. Good call! Also, if you do have sex and let’s be real you might, it doesn’t mean you’re a screw-up or that you’re back together. It can mean “I’m working up to goodbye” for one person and “We’re definitely getting the band back together!” for the other partner and as Frankie said, you just have to do the work all over again.

      1. The “I’m working up to goodbye” sex I used to call the “interrobang”, because so often you think of it like that final test of whether you still want to be with the person, and if you’ve reached that point, the answer is always, always no. Nobody who’s checked out is ever persuaded to stay by sex. Usually it just turns you/them/both off even harder.

      2. If you have sex, don’t assume he’s been wallowing in lonlines. Insist on barrier protection, even if you used just hormonal protection before. He may have gone out, gotten drunk and banged (to pick a totally random example) that girl from your writers workshop who has herpes and he doesn’t mention it to you until months later after the second, condom-free interobang. Totally random example…

  21. LW, I am so sorry you have to go through this. I feel you and am myself in a similar position except it’s an LDR and I am slowly learning that for the last few months, my ex has been involved with someone he was unfaithful with and promised to cut off. Point here being that there’s solid proof that this relationship is not surviving that, but I still wanted him back very much and spent days going through all the ways I could make myself smaller, less needy, more available to get him back.

    What really helped me was to write him a letter and allow myself to be as raw and vulnerable as I needed. I spent 2 whole days writing, going through old messages, crying, writing more, rinse repeat. At some point it just clicked: there are no magic words that I could say that would make him want me again, or even understand how much I am hurting. This is something that will happen to him on his own schedule, if ever, and I have no way of influencing that.

    I sent my letter against all sound advice because I wanted to say my goodbyes (again, LDR) and because I did it for me, not because I hoped for any reply, and it was very liberating. You don’t have to send yours but writing it is a good way to allow yourself to feel your feelings (especially if you’re anything like me and tend to swallow them because you’re scared that no one will love you if you don’t). I hope that helps, and Jedi hugs if you want them.

  22. Captain nailed it, as always.
    Hiding and Seeking, there’s nothing I can petsonally add, since this answer is so complete. But I liked the suggested list of poems/music/essays at the end. It’s a comfort to see that others have been where we are and survived, and even thrived.
    I just wanted to add a suggested poem that I read frequently as I watch the tail end of a ten year relationship recede into the distance.
    It’s called “Failing and Flying” and it’s by Jack Gilbert. Give it a Google.
    I’d paste it here, but I don’t want to run afoul of copyright law.
    The opening line:
    “Everyone forgets that Icarus also flew.”
    The dust will settle, and you will fly again if you choose to. I hope that happens for you sooner rather than later.

    1. Jen, it must be kindred spirits day on CA because Dulcinea quoted that poem above!
      Lovely to see so many genuinely inspiring and poignant favourites coming out, MOAR PEOMS PLS

      1. Huh. I hadn’t seen that. Maybe we were both in the moderation queue at the same time. But yes, I’m sure that poem has spoken to many people in similar circumstances. I love all the great poems people are posting in response to this letter writer. New inspiration abounds.

  23. Discovered this poem in college eons ago, and it really spoke to me. It’s not JUST about breakups, but I think it’s appropriate. And OP I wish you all the best in the world. Your happy is out there, and you WILL find it.

    After a while

    After a while you learn
    the subtle difference between
    holding a hand and chaining a soul
    and you learn
    that love doesn’t mean leaning
    and company doesn’t always mean security.
    And you begin to learn
    that kisses aren’t contracts
    and presents aren’t promises
    and you begin to accept your defeats
    with your head up and your eyes ahead
    with the grace of woman,
    not the grief of a child
    and you learn
    to build all your roads on today
    because tomorrow’s ground is
    too uncertain for plans
    and futures have a way of falling down
    in mid-flight.
    After a while you learn
    that even sunshine burns
    if you get too much
    so you plant your own garden
    and decorate your own soul
    instead of waiting for someone
    to bring you flowers.
    And you learn that you really can endure
    you really are strong
    you really do have worth
    and you learn
    and you learn
    with every goodbye, you learn…

    ~ 1971, Veronica A. Shoffstall. Source.

    1. Awww, my mom sent this to me the first time I had a broken heart. It has always stayed with me, especially the lines about kisses not being contracts and planting your own garden. ❤

  24. Dear, dear LW. I am old and have been through some shit. This whole situation sucks, and I am sorry you have to deal with it. And Cap is right, it’s going to continue sucking for a while until you get to the other side.

    What I have to share is this: At some point in the future, you are going to have a different relationship. It might be with a different person. It might be with this person. It might be with yourself. But it will not be this same relationship. This one is done.

    Even if y’all reconcile, it’s not going to be this same relationship. It’s going to be another thing entirely.

    And you are not currently able to have that future relationship. Because in order to have it, you have to be the person you will become on the other side of this experience. As long as you try to hold on to this and try to stop the breakup from happening, you are stopping yourself from becoming that person.

    You can’t pretzel yourself into that person. You can’t fake it, or force it, or study up on how to construct it. You have to walk through the situation and discover who that person is when you get there.

    Best wishes and many affectionate backpats if wanted.

    See you on the other side, dear. It’s a good place to be.

    1. “At some point in the future, you are going to have a different relationship. It might be with a different person. It might be with this person. It might be with yourself. But it will not be this same relationship. This one is done.”

      This is so very important and true, thank you.

  25. This is perfection and so much of this is applicable to more than just romantic relationships.

  26. Hey, LW. I know this hurts. I’m so sorry you’re going through this.

    Your ex has made it very clear that he doesn’t want to stay together or work on things. It sucks, but the best gift you can give to yourself and to him is to hear what he is telling you, respecting his wishes, and using your energy to take care of yourself instead of pushing for a reconciliation that won’t happen (or, if it does, would be under pressure and ambivalent).

    I second everything the Captain said. I also would strongly second the advice to spend the weekend away from him, with a copy of your lease and all necessary documents with you. Get your head sorted out a bit and then establish a date (sooner rather than later) when he’ll be out. It’s not fair to either of you to stay in the same home in this situation.

    I don’t know what your living situation is–if you both own your place or if you’re renting, and if it’s a rental, if one or both of you is on the lease. If you both own, I’d consult a lawyer to make sure your financial interests are protected.

    I’m so sorry. This sucks.

    1. Maybe I’m reading too much into this, but believing what he says he wants and respecting his boundaries isn’t a gift to her ex, it’s a basic part of respectfully interacting with another human. I certainly have empathy for LW, and most of us have done things that don’t paint us in the best light in the context of a tough breakup. But LW has already ignored her exes wishes (by treating the relationship like it’s not over) and admitted to pressuring him to stay, and I worry that framing the respect of explicit boundaries as a gift seems to minimize the potential harm of ignoring them

      1. Typically I’d be stronger on that point but when the LW wrote the letter, it was a day after her partner said he wanted to break up. She’s in denial (like many people in this here comments section have admitted to being when this happened to them).

        If she’d been on him for days about this my tone would have been different.

  27. If he isn’t going to move out, you need to move out as soon as possible. There’re too many feelings involved, and you and/or him might not be okay with the other having a date or hookup over or such even though it technically should be okay as long as he’s being respectful enough to do certain things in his own room and vice versa with you.

  28. I think all of therapy is worthwhile but in my experience I look back and just remember a few real nuggets that were transformative. I am sure I have mentioned this one here before, but I think it’s worth a repeat in this situation. I spent a lot of time struggling with a relationship that wasn’t what I wanted it to be and I expressed my continued frustration at how, despite all these pieces and portents and signs, it was not what I wanted and I Don’t Understand. My therapist said something on the other of “sometimes it’s a lot less important that we understand than it is that we accept.”

    For me that acceptance – though I’m not sure in honesty I accepted then rather than chewing on it for even longer – was the starting point of making the mental and life changes that let me be happier and let that relationship go through its various stages to get to a good one where both of us were happy with who we are to each other. It didn’t end up being remotely the relationship I wanted then, but it’s a good one and I got to be happy. Eventually. But there was no substitute for accepting that the relationship required us both to be in agreement about what it would be, regardless of my desires or understanding.

    1. “sometimes it’s a lot less important that we understand than it is that we accept.”

      Right in the heart. This is so wise.

  29. Wow Captain! Amazing! I’m going through a similar breakup (we didn’t live together but the split was as one-sided as it can be and I very much understand the LW’s “I can fix this how do I fix this I NEED to fix this” mentality) and this is exactly what I needed to hear.

    LW, I just want to let you know that you’re not alone, we’re in this together. My ex broke up with me a little over a month ago and I already feel way better than I thought I would by now, but that doesn’t mean I don’t have days where I just replay everything in my head and think of the words I could text him that would make him come back. But there are no words. The only thing that texting him would do is bring his name up to the top of my recent messages. The best thing I did to heal was go no contact.

    No contact will probably look a little different for you since you’re still living together, but find a space for yourself that doesn’t include him. Whether that’s moving out, staying in the bedroom with the door shut, only communicating with him about logistics and not That Awesome TV Show You Both Love and Look We’re Talking Like Everything is Back to Normal Maybe He Wants to Get Back Together. Do whatever you can to separate yourself from him.

    Right now, at the very beginning, it’s so hard to see the light at the end of the tunnel, and I’m still in the thick of it so I can’t say that it’s going to 100% get better because it hasn’t happened for me yet, but know that eventually it’ll only kind of hurt sometimes. That’s where I am now at least. It kind of hurts sometimes. Hopefully it’ll bring you comfort that someone else is going through this journey as well. It helps me to realize that almost everyone has felt the way I feel now, and they’ve all survived and the world still turns.

  30. Wow. You just helped me make sense of my (slightly large number of) breakups, and gave advice it’s taken me 40 years to learn the hard way. Thank you.

    1. Hi Karen, I deleted the duplicate, sometimes comments get snagged in spam filter or mod queue, I liberate them as soon as I can, no worries! Thanks for the kind words, glad the post resonated with you.

  31. I am sure I have read this poem on this site before but here it is again:

    Wild Geese, by Mary Oliver

    You do not have to be good.
    You do not have to walk on your knees
    for a hundred miles through the desert repenting.
    You only have to let the soft animal of your body
    love what it loves.
    Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
    Meanwhile the world goes on.
    Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
    are moving across the landscapes,
    over the prairies and the deep trees,
    the mountains and the rivers.
    Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
    are heading home again.
    Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
    the world offers itself to your imagination,
    calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting –
    over and over announcing your place
    in the family of things.

    1. Well, I Have Lost You by Edna St. Vincent Millay

      Well, I have lost you; and I lost you fairly;
      In my own way, and with my full consent.
      Say what you will, kings in a tumbrel rarely
      Went to their deaths more proud than this one went.
      Some nights of apprehension and hot weeping
      I will confess; but that’s permitted me;
      Day dried my eyes; I was not one for keeping
      Rubbed in a cage a wing that would be free.
      If I had loved you less or played you slyly
      I might have held you for a summer more,
      But at the cost of words I value highly,
      And no such summer as the one before.
      Should I outlive this anguish—and men do—
      I shall have only good to say of you.

  32. All of your hormones and neural pathways want you to stay in this relationship. All of your internet friends who are reading your letter and feeling pangs of recognition and compassion (we have all literally been there) do not.

    Every movie and tv show you’ve watched since you were very young has taught you, even if you consciously do not believe these things, that there is just one person in the world for you and that you have to fight fight fight for your one true love or else face a lifetime of loneliness.

    There is no such thing as one true love. There is only yourself, what you want to do with your precious cosmic seconds on this planet, and your choice to allow someone else the privilege to join you for a good number of those seconds.

    There is also no such thing as a lifetime of loneliness if you’re cool with yourself. In fact, if you look at a lot of single people (there’s a lot of them in their thirties), they’re pretty pumped to be able to do things like make their careers a priority, move if they feel like it, get a cat without asking anyone’s permission, keep the butter at room temperature and not in the fridge like some heathen, burn the candle their ex hated, and have the whole bed to themselves.

    I promise there is a happy ending here for you but you gotta go through some shit first and I’m sorry.

    1. “keep the butter at room temperature and not in the fridge like some heathen”

      This made me cackle. I remember when I moved out on my own…the moment when I put the first roll of toilet paper into the holder in my new bathroom and realized in a flush of tingling glee that there was no longer anyone to grumpily switch the roll to the underhanging position and tell me with irritation that “I keep putting the roll on upside down.” Since then it has been 12 glorious years of overhanging toilet paper and I still appreciate the freedom.

      1. Not sure if “keep the butter outside the fridge” and “get a cat” are what you’d call compatible lifestyle decisions. You might have to prioritize there.

        1. That’s what butter dishes were made for! Also, training cats to not go on the kitchen counter (it CAN be done, I swear).

          1. Ours have been trained to not jump on the counter…when they think we are looking.

            We’ve totally caught them when we’ve come home from somewhere and they didn’t hear us come in!

          1. My parents’ cat is small and round and old and she does not jump on things!

      2. I get angry at your just thinking about the toilet paper… what kind of person does that? *grumbles*

        1. Someone who ignores that the patent for toilet paper apparently shows the roll end in front, not underneath.
          Or that fancy hotels overhang the paper.
          Or that people with long fingernails hate underhanging paper.

          The only legit reason I’ve heard argued for underhanging is “temporary kitten/toddler deterrent, so I don’t come home to an 18″ high cat/kid nest made out of slightly damp, shredded t.p. in my bathroom,” but I find SHUTTING THE BATHROOM DOOR works, too.

      3. I live in a humid, swampy Southern area and as much as I’d like to keep my butter out of the fridge and in a nice dish, we get roaches the size of a man’s thumb, and they can flatten themselves to squeeze into things, and I do not want tiny bug toe-prints on and bites out of my butter.

        There’s also the problem of the butter literally turning into soup because it gets up to 110-120 degrees Fahrenheit outside, I am not made of money, and no apartment air conditioner ever made can really make a dent in that kind of heat. It can keep you from getting heat stroke, but that’s about it.

        It’s not truly civilized–it’s akin to the microwaving of a cup of tea on the list of kitchen sins–and it isn’t my preference, but chilled butter is better than gross butter or no butter plus a huge greasy mess to wipe up!

  33. Letter Writer, I know this is probably not the advice you wanted, but it is good advice. It is the advice you need. My heart is bursting with sympathy for your situation because I know how raw and awful and panicked those moments can feel, and I know how strong the urge is to swoop in and repair it all, to try to save the thing you love. Your pain comes through in your letter and I wish I could buy you a coffee or hand you a puppy to pat or do something to help things feel better. But I also urge you to listen to the Captain’s advice, not only for your ex-partner’s sake, but for yours.

    I have been in the position of your ex-partner. I spent a very sad few months sleeping on a futon in the office of an apartment that I had moved into with a person who I thought was the love of my life and then grew apart from. What started as small incompatibilities grew and evolved to a point where the relationship was no longer totally harmonious, but still a source of happiness…and then it continued to change, until I was unhappy and wondering how to fix things…and then it continued to change until I no longer wanted to fix things and I just wanted out. I still cared about him immensely. When I left him, I still loved him. But I was really, really sure I needed to leave. That was twelve years ago and never once have I doubted that it was the right decision.

    I dreaded telling him. Dreaded it. I told him months later than I should have, because I was so scared of hurting him, felt so guilty about it. So I spent months daydreaming of ending the relationship before I finally told him I wanted to end things. And he was unhappy, and wanted to try again to fix things. But by the time I told him about it, my mind was made up, and him trying to talk me out of it, asking me for my reasons, only hurt us both more.

    Your ex-partner may have told you on the first day he thought about leaving, or he may have been thinking about it for a longer time. Either way I encourage you to believe that he means it, to believe that it is final. It is the kindest thing you can do for both of you. If he does reconsider, it will never ever be because you convinced him. We cannot talk people into wanting to be with us. All you can do is accept his choice, live your life as if you believe him, and then see what happens. Maybe he will change his mind, maybe he won’t. If he does, maybe you’ll want him back and maybe you won’t.

    But you need to acknowledge where you are in the breakup timeline: you’re post breakup. I’m so sorry, but it’s true. He probably still cares about you but you need to start thinking of him as your ex. Connect with everyone who loves you: family, friends, sympathetic coworkers. Marshall your favourite books and movies, go outside and look at plants and the sky, write or draw or make little origami frogs. Call people you’ve been meaning to call, take long hot showers, sleep in on the weekends, and make a list of things you want to do in the next five years. Take care of yourself, remind yourself that your life is about you, not him, and that it does not stop because he leaves. I hope you find happiness and peace in little moments that grow day by day.

    1. “may have told you on the first day he thought about leaving, or may have waited for a longer time…”
      My money is on longer time! LW, it sounds like you are telling yourself that everything was perfect before the last few stressful months when neither of you worked hard to keep the relationship healthy. That story is comforting in that it gives you agency—thinking you messed things up by your action/inaction—but right now it’s causing you white hot stabby wincey feelings of regret. And it’s surely not the whole story. It certainly isn’t your ex’s version of the story, he’s surely not saying to himself “I was in a perfect romance but then we had job stress and my partner didn’t arrange enough Date Nights and therefore I irrevocably fell out of love.” I recommend you pick a simpler story: “it sucks but my partner has decided to end our relationship,” instead of one that falsely pins everything on what happened during a small fraction of the relationship.

      1. For this and Mir’s comment above– I responded to CA’s post below being still very hostile to his decision and the way he moved through it. I wish I could revise it because I was more saying how shit feels and not so much acknowledging the reality, because the reality is stupid and shitty and right now I hate it. There’s how you feel and what you know is true, and I know y’all are right. But it doesn’t *feel* right still, and I appreciate all these comments because they’re helping bring that around. So thank you for this, because it really helps nudge me forward to read it reframed. I am a little embarrassed about what I commented before because of how belligerent it sounds on its own, just the feelings and none of this acknowledgement.

        I get, logically, why my persistent feeling that he should have waited longer and tried more is rooted in my reality and not his. There’s not always *reasons* for things that you can just tally up and litigate and say “well these reasons aren’t good enough yet and you must do # months of Hard Work before you’re allowed to be done.”

        I’ve drifted away from people who loved me before, I have had the experience of just one day really knowing and looking under and around that thought and not finding any other reservations. But I’ve always done that examination, looking under and around, and waited a little to see if the winds changed, because sometimes they do and sometimes they don’t. His report is that he forged on as soon as this reared its head, so there’s a feeling of being discarded here that overlays knowing that if it’s what he wanted then there was no “fix.” This feeling that yeah, if that’s his decision then no other decision is right, but then a conflicting anger that I also deserved every ounce of attempt at a different outcome and how dare he not give me that. Like you say, I wish anything and everything could have been attempted to see if any of them worked, and along with those wincey feelings of regret for me are little stings of insult for him.

        1. I liberated your comments from moderation, apologies and thanks for both your letter and your patience.

  34. Man, I want a time machine so previous me could have read that. That was *beautiful*

  35. Your mileage may vary but one of the best pieces of advice I have ever received is: if you break up and you want to be taken back… Give it one month. Be single for one month. Just a month.
    If you want to try again after a month then maybe try.. But a month of being out of a relationship will more often than not give you clarity on what wasn’t working and what you actually want from future relationships.

    After waiting a month, one time an ex told me that dumping me had been a mistake. But during the separation I realised nothing was going to be any different the 2nd time round! The person I had tearfully begged not to leave me wanted me back and I said no.

  36. Wow. Not the LW, but this is somehow exactly what I needed to hear. Thank you, and LW, sending you peace and light.

  37. Lizzo’s “Good as Hell” has been my second breakup anthem. (My first breakup anthem when My ex was still living in my house and refusing to pay rent and being outraged that I suggested he do such a thing was Rent by Big Freedia. Also a great song for different reasons. )

    LW I know it’s hard to give up on the hope of that repaired relationship with the beautiful gold bits. But clinging to that hope just leaves you in a place of uncertainty and anxiety and pressure. Without that hope, what do you have? Grief for your relationship. But Grief will become smaller with time. The sooner you begin grieving the sooner you can be in a positive place, where you are building something brand new with no cracks in it. The hope is a lie, it’s a delaying tactic, it’s a stall. It can’t bring your relationship back, all it will accomplish is holding you back from future joy.

    Captain thank you for this awesome article that I am bookmarking for all the times I have needed it in the past and will probably need it again.

    1. You’d think after years reading this site and running across all the “This Fucking Guy”s I wouldn’t be quite so gobsmacked anymore, but… he wanted to keep living in YOUR HOUSE without PAYING RENT? And thought this was a reasonable thing to ask an ex? Granted, I can see very limited circumstances where that would be a reasonable request, but given your lack of qualifiers here I doubt this is one of them. The nerve!

      1. Well he had been out of work for 10 years. When we broke up I agreed that he could stay for a little while to “finish” a certification he was studying for. (Which I foolishly assumed meant he was nearly done with said studies. Not actually just starting.)

        He was also relying on me for food and incidentals.

        There was a lot of angry guilt tripping and pouting whenever I asked him to step up. When I told him I needed to know when he was going to move out, and that I didn’t want to have to be a dick about it. He told me not to threaten him.

        It was great.

        But 6 months later happily I am hopefully closing the sale of the house we shared today for a profit today! And I am dating several nice guys who don’t take me for granted. ;D

  38. You did your best. If you cry a lot in the aftermath, well, someone hurt your feelings and made you upset, you don’t have to hide that in your own fucking home

    Amen to that. It’s one thing to expect an ex (or anybody) to be completely responsible for the FEELINGS or fix them or whatever, but it’s okay and normal to have feelings! Bad ones! Big ones! Messy ones that leave permanent rings on the table! There’s no prize to be won for pretending what’s so isn’t so.

    He’s your ex. You don’t have to make this hard for him but you don’t have to make it easy. Let your feelings sit around and watch what they want on Hulu and play whatever music they like. You are allowed to take up space.

    1. Because I posted *my* touchstones. That’s a great song, and now it’s here on the list! 🙂

  39. If you find that you do have to live in the same place with your ex for any extended period of time and can get one, I really recommend a white noise machine. It really made me feel like I had a space of my own when I had to live and share a bedroom wall with an ex for 6 months.

  40. 15 years ago, when I was divorcing, I was on the other side from where the LW is. Some observations:

    1. My ex refused to accept (and still refuses to accept) that I was leaving. The things she did to try and keep me just alienated me all the more and convinced me even more that I could not stay in that relationship. And ever since then, I’ve had to consciously keep her at arm’s length and snub all her attempts to be friendly with me because I don’t want to give her any hope at all that I’ll change my mind. I actually still care about her, even though I know that I could never live with her again, but I’ve had to develop boundaries as thick and hard as the Berlin Wall just to protect myself. For me, it’s painful to have to treat another human being like that.

    Maybe if she hadn’t gone to such lengths to hold onto me, I might have at some point reconsidered. She has a lot of attractive qualities. But then, if she had been the kind of person who could let go, things would have been better in other ways and I would never have felt the need to go.

    2. I had to stay in the same house with her for a year and a half after I’d made it clear that it was over. That year and a half was hell on everyone, mostly because she was unwilling to work out some sort of peaceful coexistence. She kept trying, in various ways, to convince me I was wrong to be leaving, and the kids suffered a lot, too.

    So I can only say what everyone else is saying: if your SO decides that they’re leaving, the best thing you can do is to simply accept that by the time they tell you, the relationship is beyond mending, and instead work on making the period of cohabitation as tolerable for all concerned as possible. Once they’ve reached that point, any attempt to get them to change their mind will just make them want to leave even more and will make it even harder to have a civil relationship afterwards.

    (She/her pronouns)

  41. I have been known to find torture/solace in Radiohead after a breakup. Especially useful for transitioning from denial to grief. “There, There” comes to mind. “Just ’cause you feel it doesn’t mean it’s there.” Ouch, Thom Yorke, that hurts. With repetition it does become silly and absurd. Obviously, this is a technique that varies a lot person to person. Wishing you all the best, LW, in your new chapter.

    1. Ugh, painful and true.

      But yep. If all it took was feeling something to make it real, every tween on earth would be married to One Direction.

  42. My husband broke up with me last fall, but we didn’t move out right away because of reasons that made sense to us both, and then almost exactly a month later he changed his mind because somehow we had gotten closer and started to reconnect. It was lovely for a few months and then he became ambivalent and broke up with me again. I talked him out of that, and this time it lasted a month before it happened a third time. Still, he wavered in the face of my grief and it took a fourth attempt two weeks later to get it to stick. Perhaps counter-intuitively, it hurt more each of the first three times–I suspect because each time it happened I was less and less able to convince myself it wasn’t really happening–and then by the fourth time I had come to my senses and it was mutual.

    It’s been a couple of months since we finally broke it off for good and we still live together for a few more weeks. We have clear boundaries and we are doing our best to be kind to each other. It’s very, very hard, and pretty fucking painful, but it’s SO MUCH BETTER than living in fear of him leaving. I’m actually having the time of my life and looking forward to my future. I wish I had taken that first break-up attempt last fall for the gift that it was and gotten out months ago.

    It hurts no matter what. And then it gets better.

    Good luck, LW. Jedi hugs if you want them.

  43. When I read the title to this, I let out a little groan of recognition and sympathy. I have adhd and bipolar one and have a really hard time consistently keeping my shit together (things being messy around the apartment, forgetting to make appointments, and other legitimately frustrating behavior). My partner at the time was very type A and it was just incredibly aggravating for him. Things would periodically blow up. I was given ultimatums, put on relationship performance improvement plans, and it was so, so stressful. Through panic and sheer force of will, I would pull it together and be great for a couple of months, but over and over again, I failed to sustain it.

    One day, we had this blow out fight because he was mad that I had stuff all over the spare bedroom. And I said, you know, you should love me despite all this. I’ll work on it, but I need you to love me for who I am. (I was very young.) And, understandably, he said, I’m sorry. I can’t do this. I don’t want it to be this way but I can’t.

    It was one of the worst moments of my life, but it was a gift. Unfortunately, I didn’t recognize that. We patched it up and the cycle of me sucking, him getting mad, me getting better, me not being able to sustain it continued.

    And now we’re almost fifteen years into a marriage. We have two fantastic kids. But guess what? I’m still on periodic relationship PIPs. Each time, I go into a panic of self-loathing, feeling like a shitty mom and wife. And now, because I’m a stay at home mom, I face a lot of scary uncertainty if I fail any given audition.

    We’ve held this thing together with bubble gum and duct tape. We have a lot of good times and I love our family. But sometimes I think if he had found his high-functioning soulmate, he would have had a much happier life.And it’s exhausting to go through this audition over and over again, and over time, it’s made me feel like a hopeless loser.

    When you win an audition, you’re signing up for an uncomfortable role that you’ll need to play and play well for the life of the relationship. It can be really tough. Anyway, I just want to send so much love to you as you go through this.

    1. I am sending you all the hugs (if you’re a hugger, and they’re welcome). I had that marriage, where everything he and his family did was The One True Way, and I was always – always – Doing It Wrong. I never would have been the one to leave, but his mid-life crisis was the best present I ever got.

      Not that I’m saying you should get out. Love + your kids can = “worth it enough” so that the answer to the question “is this working?” ends up being “mostly yes.”

      But it would be so much easier on our hearts if we woke up every day to the feeling that the people in our life loved us for who we are, and not just in spite of everything we’re not.

      1. Yeah, I know that calculus. Maybe we’re not a great match. But splitting up would mean seeing my boys less, splitting the money in half, one of us moving out of the neighborhood which we have made a home. And at this point, it seems like maybe it’s better to make the best of things than to split up.

    2. So many Jedi hugs if you want them. My thank goodness now ex did the putting me on trial thing periodically in my previous marriage, and it was so heartbreaking. It’s just such a cruel thing to do to someone. I’m so sorry you are dealing with all that. While it broke my heart at the time in hindsight it was such a relief to have failed that last trial. And now I’m with someone who would never do that to me, despite my having PTSD and other various mental health things related to trauma from my prior marriage.

      Also, for what it’s worth, my husband has ADHD for sure, and likely several other mental health things, and I’d never ever do that putting someone on trial thing to him. It’s just so cruel and I remember how very very awful it was even though it was nearly 20 years ago. I’m so sorry.

    3. Wow, thank you so much for sharing this. Lots of Jedi hugs, if you want them.

  44. This is such a great post & I wish I understood these things when I was younger. An additional benefit to taking seriously & radically accepting when someone breaks up with you is maintaining & enhancing your personal dignity. Second only to the harm it likely caused the person who broke up with me, I regret most the loss of dignity & pride caused by my efforts to not let go & try to recover.

  45. LW, you have my sympathy. All of our sympathies. It gives me no joy to say: “You are no longer part of a couple.” It was not your choice, and it doesn’t seem fair, but it takes two people to choose to be a couple, and your boyfriend has made a different choice. It’s a myth – very much indoctrinated into women from an early age – that if one does, says, and is all of the right things, that one will have the relationships one desires. The reality is that other people frequently make decisions for reasons totally unrelated to that. And despite what some people like to believe, you cannot control the universe through sheer force of will and positive thinking. Anyone telling you otherwise most likely has a book to sell you.

    Take the advice to look out for yourself seriously re: finances, important documents, the lease, shared accounts, etc. Work on an agreement with your ex on when he is moving out and how you will divide up shared property and household items.

    Perhaps it should go without saying that it’s time to stop acting like you are together, but that means different things to different people, and quite often people engage in behaviors that make a break up more difficult. As was recommended in other comments, no sex. I would take it much farther than that and suggest no touching unless absolutely necessary: no hugging, no kissing, no cuddling, etc. CPR okay, if you must.

    Same for activities you used to do together. Stop. Go solo. Forget about tickets or anything paid in advance; better to eat the cost than allow your hurting heart to hang on to the source of the pain.

    That’s the thing, LW. Your ex is the source of your pain now. He may have the source of joy and comfort for you, he may still be on some level. I’m sure he doesn’t want to hurt you, that he would rather not be the source of your pain, but he is, and there is no way around it for either of you. To begin to let go of the pain, you have to let him go. To try to hang on is only going to hurt more.

    LW, please accept that he is no longer your partner. You are not his girlfriend. Even if you can’t fully accept it right now, it’s important that you act like it. You can still be civil, polite, and even kind, but it has to be at a distance. Although it will be some time before he is physically gone, you can stop doing girlfriend things, whatever that means to you. For examples: stop making lunch or preparing meals for him. Don’t do his laundry or otherwise clean and maintain his personal items. He’s just a temporary roommate now, so let him take care of himself. And yes, like the great script the Captain wrote, let him deal with his Aunt Laura and anyone else you’d normally run interference for him.

    Doing this doesn’t invalidate your previous relationship, nor does it dictate the future. This is for dealing with reality as it stands now. Is it possible that you may be platonic friends in the future? It’s possible, but now is not that time. Is it possible that you may get back together at some point? That is also a possibility, but now is not that time. Please note that I have mentioned those as possibilities, but I am not at all giving you probabilities on either of those occurring. The point is to deal with what is now, to take care of yourself now, and to give yourself time and space to adjust to this change and heal.

    Wishing you all the best, LW.

  46. Ah, Captain and LW, this is so reminiscent of where my life was in 2008. I had been with a man for a little over two years, and I thought our life was going well. He broke up with me out of nowhere, and it hurt so damn much. He said a lot of things to me about how terrible my personality is, things I already suspected everyone was thinking anyway, that I’ve never quite been able to shake. We did get back together, after about 2.5 weeks. Not because I begged him for another chance–after two desperate evenings, I didn’t say another single word to him until he reached out to me. I did endlessly write and revise an email that I didn’t send until I responded to his initial message, terrified that if I said “I know you don’t want to date me, but let’s stay friends” using even slightly the wrong language, he would become uncontrollably angry and shun me forever.

    Once we did get back together, though, that set off a whole summer of trying to transform myself into the world’s most chill and accommodating person, scared of making him even slightly uncomfortable, while I was filled with anxiety about the tiniest expression of my inconvenient emotions chasing him away again. He did not want to talk things over, in detail and at length. When I tried to he yelled. A tidy, edited, model-me is all he wanted. And it was hell. Once I got sick of this and stopped the façade, things quickly fell apart.

    1. A friend of mine INSISTED her ex tell her why he was leaving her.

      He proceeded to mention every quirk of hers that she hated. It was not good for her and they were mostly excuses why new-shiny-gf was better than her. Because, of course, new-shiny-gf’s quirks hadn’t gotten annoying yet.

      I think “it’s just not working” or “I’m not feeling it anymore” is kinder.

  47. Anyone remember that episode of Buffy, right before the Scooby Gang graduates from high school, where Buffy saves Angel’s life by letting him drink her blood, and once he’s all healed up he still leaves? That’s how it felt when I was in a similar situation to the LW’s a few years ago. My bf got the flu right before he was planning on moving away and breaking up with me, and I thought that maybe, just maybe, as I took care of him while he lay sick in bed he’d realize that he really did love me and want to stay and work it out with me.

    Needless to say that’s not how it worked out, he ended up throwing cruel accusations at me and disappearing for two weeks before it sank in that he was really going, it wasn’t going to work no matter how hard I tried to hold on. It’s so, so hard to readjust to being single after a years-long relationship, but I bet after the dust has settled you’ll start finding ways in which he was pulling away before you quite realized, that he hasn’t been the partner you needed for a long time. You said “He acknowledged the things he was doing to contribute to a tense home life, taking most of the responsibility. I think it’s more 50/50.” Believe him!! It was so hard for me to reconcile my partner’s actions with the loving person I would have literally trusted with my life, but that was what was happening, and he tried so hard to tell me, with statements just like the one your bf is making. It took a really dramatic falling out before I finally got the message.

    Your bf is telling you he’s leaving, it’s not a negotiation. The Captain talks a lot about how maintaining a relationship is a team effort, but breaking up is a unilateral decision, and it’s a decision your bf is trying to make

  48. My favorite way to deal with the need to scream and cry myself into soggy acceptance of a bad break in life – not just romantic, either – is to get out of town, take a room in a charming little roadside motel with an attached restaurant and have pizza delivered. I’ve already got the sake and marshmallows, so I’m set for a long weekend. Nobody cares if you cry for six hours in the middle of the day, the bed gets made, you can watch monster movies at 3am, and just let it all hang out. This is about you, and like the Captain said, getting free from whatever is snarling up your emotions and thought processes. Italian food helps, never underestimate the power of lasagna. Most important: DON’T TAKE YOUR PHONE. Its just you, a basic room and a big buffer zone.

    1. For me, it’s driving. So, for me, it’s three such hotel rooms for a three-day weekend. Throw a bag of clothes in the car, who gives a shit what’s in it, the only people who are going to see you are the desk clerk and the waiter at Applebees. Load up all the meditative/heartbreaking/moving on music. And drive. Stop by the edge of a lake two states away and cry a bit. Tell him exactly what you think of him and how unfair it all is, out loud and through the windshield as wheat fields pass by. Cry some more. Say “horses!” every time you pass horses. Watch Legally Blonde for the 900th time while eating pizza on the hotel bed. Take a hot bath in a tub someone else is going to clean. Cry yourself to sleep. When you wake up at four in the morning with a stuffy nose and ragged breathing and can’t go back to sleep, get back in the car and drive. And notice when the sun rises, out your car window to your left. Put that rising sun in your pocket and take it home with you.

        1. Different kind of grief, but the year my grampa died and I was taking some of his things to my sister’s place for us to go through, I called them “moo-moos” and “neigh-neighs” (because they couldn’t be moo-moos and horses. And I’m still not sure what to call the herd of buffalo I passed).

  49. I have such profound gratefulness that the captain shares her post-humiliating-breakup-behavior wisdom so freely. I found my diary from five years ago, when I was dumped by ghosting. It is pages and pages and pages of maudlin, occasionally all-caps desperation, just tracking and analyzing my ex’s every move online. “Whatever,” I would write one day, “I’ve decided I don’t care anymore. I’ve made peace with it. If she wanted to talk to me, she would.” The next day I would write, “Today I texted Ex and she answered, but then she stopped answering. I JUST don’t understand why x…”

    For PAGES.

    The diary was a very good choice. The public breakdown on Twitter, where I hoped she would see me in Utter Agony and Suddenly Realize She Had Hurt Me, or at least that someone would see that I was unraveling in every way I thought possible and ask me if I was okay (They didn’t, because no one sees someone rage-vaguing at 3 in the morning and goes, “I need to get closer to that.”) was not as good a choice, but pobody’s nerfect.

    My feelings were so raw. I could sense them bleeding through the pages of this diary. I was trying so hard to understand, to figure out The Perfect Text (sent at the exact right time, saying the exact right thing, conveying both a calm acceptance of the circumstances and a willingness to reconcile, also slightly funny so she’d remember the fun conversations we used to have). I spent a long time bouncing among Being Super Chill And Respectful Of Her Boundaries, Being Publicly Consumed With A Paroxysm Of Misery, and Being Catatonic With Exhaustion From Trying To Will Our Relationship Back Together. I was trying SO HARD. There is nothing like heartbreak, nothing in the world.

    Eventually I also made A Secret Breakup Twitter, where I would put all the thoughts I wasn’t supposed to send to her or continue to drown my friends in, and that helped. And I got a better job and grew up a little, which also helped. And I changed my hair (that was my Ex Hair, this is my Single Hair, it’s The New Me), which I didn’t expect would help, but it did. And eventually I stopped going onto the Breakup Twitter. And eventually I started journaling about other things. (Eventually.)

    I still think of her often with some regret and embarrassment, and I still think wistfully of the good times, and I’d be lying if I said some part of me didn’t still fantasize about how she’d text me again and IT WOULD BE LIKE NO TIME HAD PASSED AT ALL, but I hadn’t realized how much I had healed until I read that diary. And it started with letting go.

    Anyway, LW, I’ll be thinking of you.

    1. OH BOY ZUBAT, I feel all this deep in my bones. If he turned around right this second and said he wanted to get back together I’d tell him to take a long walk off a short pier, and yet I am still periodically consumed with trying to squeak right in between “it’s done and I accept and am fine with that” and “buuut liiiike maybe in the future, if you have second thoughts, lemme hear em?”

  50. Dude. So much of this resonated with me. Idk if we’re allowed to share things like this, (and I apologize if we’re not) but I think over the course of my life…while I may not have found love, I have had the opportunity to absolutely perfect the Heartbreak playlist. It starts at your lowest low and slowly but surely makes it way back toward the light. And then dances in it.

    Here it is, I hope it helps.

    Mix tapes were my love language until I gave one to my extremely wealthy friend Derek for his birthday in 1997 and he laughed and said that he did not own anything on which to play a cassette tape.

  51. Oh LW. I am so sorry. What a giant pile of suck. Please know there are so many readers out there who are thinking kind and gentle thoughts about you right now.

    So many wonderful things have been said and I don’t want to duplicate them, but I will add: I’ve gone through two Major Breakups in my life, each of which took moooooonths. Moving out, moving in, staying in separate rooms, “working on things.” and etc. etc. I did not save either relationship (and thank dang goodness). From those experiences I took away the following: (1) I hated the person I had to become to “work on it.” So often when it got to the point that the relationship was failing I had already contorted myself into someone I didn’t recognize and had already put up with things I’d always said I never would. The “will I be good enough for them to stay?” feeling was such damn torture and honestly, in retrospect, so much more painful than the breakup itself. It wasn’t worth it. (Not to mention, dear LW, that one day you will find someone who will patiently let you feelingsbomb on/around them if that is how you process best and that will be such a sweet, sweet sensation). (2) Several months after the breakup was Finally Final No Really, I would be in whatever stage of recovery and think ruefully “well damn, if only I had actually left and stayed gone the first time, I’d be X additional months separated from the breakup right now.” So when all else fails, maybe think of that – however many months from now you can be breaking up *again* but with all of the additional heartache or you can be checking off the milestone of “first X months without him, accomplished.”

  52. Coincidentally, my (non-binary) son’s* girlfriend just broke up with them, Thursday, and they’re still in the same residence. In this case, they’ll have to move, but she’s not tossing them out right away. They don’t want to try to get back with her, so the practical information here is useful.

    *They’ve noted that their non-binary status doesn’t negate that they are my son.

    1. So, uh, Son found a sublet they can move into this weekend, and now girlfriend *is* tossing them out right away. Well, the practical advice was extremely useful.

  53. What a horrible situation. I’m so sorry for you, LW.

    I’m reminded of the end of my college relationship. (i.e. We started dating 1.5 months in, and broke up about that far after graduation.) I was job hunting and he’d just gotten back from a month abroad with his hometown friends to celebrate, because we had very different backgrounds. He called and said we should break up and asked for a mutual break-up.

    I just remember repeating over and over again, “It’s not mutual if I don’t want to break up.”

    Definitely a main contributor of my instant skepticism when someone insists they’re being perfectly logical and thus you must agree with them. Using emotions is clearly a lesser way of making decisions – or so he always believed. That the ‘logical thing’ always agreed with what he emotionally wanted (or any of that ilk) seems to elude them.

    I spent a month getting the highest alcohol tolerance I’ve ever had, crying, and flirting with friends. By the end of the month, I had a job at a coffee shop and was mostly ready to move on.

    1. It sounds like he had a script in his head for how you should feel your feelings, and darn it you weren’t performing according to his script. How terribly inconvenient for him. Good for you, not letting him gaslight you with his questionable brand of ‘logic’.

  54. Cap’n,

    I married him.

    Though I have not yet consented to the Ring Cycle Holiday, it has been offered/threatened yearly since we married a decade ago!

    As Meatloaf says…I would do anything for love, but I won’t do Wagner.

  55. I one time allowed myself to be persuaded to stick around after I broke up with someone. It was awful. There’s a fundamental power imbalance in such a situation – one person desperate to keep the relationship going, the other reluctantly going along. Ever since then, a clean break, period. It’s better for everyone.

    There’s value in talking about things – with anyone *other* than your ex. They can’t help you.

  56. One line you wrote up there really hit home, about it being a loving act to believe somebody when they say they are done, and hear them for real, and allow them to walk away without protesting and trying to drag them back. Sometimes, when you cannot do something for yourself because you can’t believe that you are more important than this Overarching Love you feel, you can grab hold of the power of that love and do it for them. That’s probably not nearly as healthy as doing it for you, but it often gets you to the point where you can do things for you eventually, and sometimes, that’s the best you can do.

    Dorothy Parker knew about the loving act of accepting a breakup as real and walking away:

    I know I have been happiest at your side;
    But what is done, is done, and all’s to be.
    And small the good, to linger dolefully-
    Gayly it lived, and gallantly it died.
    I will not make you songs of hearts denied,
    And you, being man, would have no tears of me,
    And should I offer you fidelity,
    You’d be, I think, a little terrified.

    Yet this the need of woman, this her curse:
    To range her little gifts, and give, and give,
    Because the throb of giving’s sweet to bear.
    To you, who never begged me vows or verse,
    My gift shall be my absence, while I live;
    But after that, my dear, I cannot swear.

  57. Hi folks, I’m the LW. I read this post as soon as it went up but I’ve had a lot to think about. For one, thank you for this incredibly compassionate and understanding response, CA (and the commentariat!). I was expecting to be told to let him go, to start moving on, but you always have a way of getting right into the core of things in a way that is always unexpected to me, which is why I wrote in. This whole thing made me feel really understood and embraced and I really needed that, so thank you.

    I let it sit for almost a week, then asked him his plans and… So, you’re sure-sure, and you’re going to move out? As I, and I’m sure anyone else, expected, he said he’s got no doubts about leaving. I still think he’s *wrong*, but what can you do. I did talk way too much, and I told him many of my feelings but I kinda thought… Well, it’s not gonna fuckin’ hurt anything now. Unfortunately I also pressured him way more than I meant to, which I gave into at the end largely because… I mean, not gonna fuckin’ hurt anything now.

    As for second-guessing his decision and resolve, honestly, I still do. I still think the “right” (I normally wouldn’t moralize but right now, eh) thing for him to have done is: more before it got to this, and wait longer than he did to see how permanent the drift was. It might have gotten here anyway, but it might not have. Might have turned back around one day, might not have. It felt when I wrote in, and still does feel, like he threw in the towel so prematurely. I’ve drifted from people, so I get it, but he did this *so fast* from the point where he didn’t feel that way that I can’t really fathom it.

    What sucks most is, and I alluded to this in the beginning of my letter, I’m not a long-term relationship kinda person. I like dating and regular relationships and all, but I had zero plans to get married or any of that. Before, I was very happy to be single or dating casually. I wanted to live alone forever. Then I met him, and something just clicked. We were so weirdly perfectly suited for one another, and I felt for him like I thought I just never would for anyone. I really had to mull over each step and whether it was really ok to change my commitment to spinsterhood for this guy, and the decision wasn’t easy even with the love I felt. But I did it when I never would have otherwise, just for him.

    I can’t reconcile that the future that I sacrificed and changed things for is getting yanked away from me and I don’t get a say. Why did something so good just get dangled in front of me, promised to me just enough to make me change my mind about how I wanted my life to be, and then get snatched? I was happy before. And now I don’t know what to do with myself, my goals, because they were pivoted to all include him. Things I could do without him, but he was supposed to be there, and now I don’t want to do them anymore. I don’t know what to do with that, I need goals. It all feels ruined. It’s making me wish we had never met.

    Anyway. We’re working out the lines. I can’t decide if I want to ask him to go sooner (rip the bandaid off?) or let him stay out the month he’s already paid towards here while he plans (time to process and come around to being less devastated?). He has to find a roommate. As some guessed, the apartment is mine. Then what? I have no idea.

    1. And also! I wanted to say thank you to everyone who has shared poems, music, stories, commiseration, and everything else. You are all wonderful and I had to keep leaving and coming back to read all the comments because they hit in sensitive places.

      You all have really poured out so much love and sympathy and personal connections, I didn’t want to sound ungrateful or like the message wasn’t getting through by dumping in a bunch of “well I feeeeel like he’s wraaaang.” I *feel* that way, but it’s not the truth of the thing, it’s just how it feels now while it’s still raw. I held all my unreasonable thoughts and most of the pressure and nonsense back when I talked to him, then let it out here instead. Insert “I just have a lot of feelings” Mean Girls clip here.

    2. LW, it seems like you’ve done a lot of hard work the past week! Good job. I just wanted to let you know that I’ve also felt the INJUSTICE of breakups! Anger was a useful emotion for me as I walked through rejection. It’s energizing. Sounds like you’re doing a good job of feeling what you feel while moving toward acceptance and grief. Proud.

      1. This is true! When I African Violeted my Darth, for the first month or so, I couldn’t stop thinking about him; all I could do was feel anger instead of sadness and imagine that I was living my better life at him even though he wasn’t there to see it, since that was kind of the point.

  58. Heh, I’m sorry to comment again, I looked over what I wrote a few minutes ago and I feel uhhh it was missing any acknowledgement that this is done and I’m not still trying to cobble it back together. I don’t totally accept it emotionally, but I do logically.

    I mentioned the second-guessing thing because he told me he’d only felt that he was in the “drifted” space for a few weeks. Which, to me, is super not enough time out of several years to firmly want to shit can the whole thing. On re-reading, I realized I didn’t get specific, so it sounds much more like “well he should have fixed it or dragged it out more” both of which are silly. Understandable but silly. But the timeline means I can’t help but feel that he is doing this too soon, which makes it harder to accept as a done deal. Realistically, I would guess he knows how he feels, but it doesn’t sit right.

    But that’s where my disbelief is really rooted and why. Even now I just keep thinking how super normal it is to have a short time where your feelings for your partner dull out, you maybe fantasize about being single, and get the nagging worry of whether that’s transient or not.

    1. [At least, maybe I’m commenting again? I assumed my earlier (long) thing went into the moderation queue but now that I’ve submitted that one, I’m realizing I didn’t see it pop up with the moderation notice thing. In case it got absorbed into the spam filter because I posted several quick responses to people above before submitting it, I’m gonna throw it here also, and CA if this is me double-posting then kindly put this in the round file.]

      Hi folks, I’m the LW. I read this post as soon as it went up but I’ve had a lot to think about. For one, thank you for this incredibly compassionate and understanding response, CA (and the commentariat!). I was expecting to be told to let him go, to start moving on, but you always have a way of getting right into the core of things in a way that is always unexpected to me, which is why I wrote in. This whole thing made me feel really understood and embraced and I really needed that, so thank you.

      I let it sit for almost a week, then asked him his plans and… So, you’re sure-sure, and you’re going to move out? As I, and I’m sure anyone else, expected, he said he’s got no doubts about leaving. I still think he’s *wrong*, but what can you do. I did talk way too much, and I told him many of my feelings but I kinda thought… Well, it’s not gonna fuckin’ hurt anything now. Unfortunately I also pressured him way more than I meant to, which I gave into at the end largely because… I mean, not gonna fuckin’ hurt anything now.

      As for second-guessing his decision and resolve, honestly, I still do. I still think the “right” (I normally wouldn’t moralize but right now, eh) thing for him to have done is: more before it got to this, and wait longer than he did to see how permanent the drift was. It might have gotten here anyway, but it might not have. Might have turned back around one day, might not have. It felt when I wrote in, and still does feel, like he threw in the towel so prematurely. I’ve drifted from people, so I get it, but he did this *so fast* from the point where he didn’t feel that way that I can’t really fathom it.

      What sucks most is, and I alluded to this in the beginning of my letter, I’m not a long-term relationship kinda person. I like dating and regular relationships and all, but I had zero plans to get married or any of that. Before, I was very happy to be single or dating casually. I wanted to live alone forever. Then I met him, and something just clicked. We were so weirdly perfectly suited for one another, and I felt for him like I thought I just never would for anyone. I really had to mull over each step and whether it was really ok to change my commitment to spinsterhood for this guy, and the decision wasn’t easy even with the love I felt. But I did it when I never would have otherwise, just for him.

      I can’t reconcile that the future that I sacrificed and changed things for is getting yanked away from me and I don’t get a say. Why did something so good just get dangled in front of me, promised to me just enough to make me change my mind about how I wanted my life to be, and then get snatched? I was happy before. And now I don’t know what to do with myself, my goals, because they were pivoted to all include him. Things I could do without him, but he was supposed to be there, and now I don’t want to do them anymore. I don’t know what to do with that, I need goals. It all feels ruined. It’s making me wish we had never met.

      Anyway. We’re working out the lines. I can’t decide if I want to ask him to go sooner (rip the bandaid off?) or let him stay out the month he’s already paid towards here while he plans (time to process and come around to being less devastated?). He has to find a roommate. As some guessed, the apartment is mine. Then what? I have no idea.

      Heh, I’m sorry to comment again, I looked over what I wrote a few minutes ago and I feel uhhh it was missing any acknowledgement that this is done and I’m not still trying to cobble it back together. I don’t totally accept it emotionally, but I do logically.

      I mentioned the second-guessing thing because he told me he’d only felt that he was in the “drifted” space for a few weeks. Which, to me, is super not enough time out of several years to firmly want to shit can the whole thing. On re-reading, I realized I didn’t get specific, so it sounds much more like “well he should have fixed it or dragged it out more” both of which are silly. Understandable but silly. But the timeline means I can’t help but feel that he is doing this too soon, which makes it harder to accept as a done deal. Realistically, I would guess he knows how he feels, but it doesn’t sit right.

      But that’s where my disbelief is really rooted and why. Even now I just keep thinking how super normal it is to have a short time where your feelings for your partner dull out, you maybe fantasize about being single, and get the nagging worry of whether that’s transient or not.

    2. Yeah, that timeline thing. Big difficult life-troubles so often happen that way (one day things were normal, the next, boom! everything is f-ed). Breakups, deaths, getting fired. And then it’s so hard to communicate that feeling, because no one else is feeling it and they’re already resignedly commiserating with you in full acceptance of the Event, and you’re like “wait! no! you don’t understand! Why are you so calm???” And hey, if it helps any, I also think that giving a years-long relationship a scant few weeks before shit-canning is super weird. But sometimes super-weird is just what needs to be. Like, maybe it was longer for him. Or maybe he knows he needs to act quickly while he has the courage and clarity, before the wishful mind has time to delude him into complacency. I’ve had to make some decisions that way, because I definitely have such a mind (despite my usually being a lengthy deliberator and procrastinator of tough decision making). That sucks that he’s already acclimated to the idea and you’re on another timeline, all alone and off-kilter. You won’t be forever, you know that, but yeah it sucks and it isn’t fair.

  59. LW it’s selfish for him to remain in your shared space. He needs to leave and not trespass on your good will and feelings by being so selfish. I can’t imagine being rejected in a 3yr relationship by someone who then says oh hey and i’ll Be sticking around until i find something suitable. Doesn’t he have a friend whose couch he can crash? Whether you want to fix it now or not, please evaluate your relationship in light of what he’s doing RIGHT NOW that in no way is remotely kind to you. He’s saying he cares more about his personal physical comfort and convenience, rather than your emotional comfort. I can’t imagine how difficult this is, and I’m so so sorry LW.

  60. Oh, Hiding & Seeking. I can so relate. Ways to do it wrong… I have done most of them.

    Long feelingsdump letter or email where I flagellate myself for all the things I could have done better? YEP.
    Even longer feelingsdump email asking what I did wrong so I won’t do it again? YEP.
    STILL waking up in a hot sweat replaying stupid stuff (like falling asleep at a concert I actually really enjoyed, or being terrified to drive his car in a rainstorm even though he was exhausted because I couldn’t pay the deductible if an accident happened, bringing a much too heavy picnic basket to an outdoor concert, not using my words when I really need to use my words, making a joke that came out a thousand times meaner than intended and what I intended was not to be mean at all, not cooking a meal even once because I am a terrible cook but also not trying to learn to do better, insisting on cooking a meal I actually learned how to make really well after he offered to cook HIS signature dish thereby ruining his well-intentioned surprise and attempt at kindness, AND I COULD GO ON) and mentally yelling at myself for old, old, old mistakes? YOU KNOW IT.
    Continuing to live with the live-in long-term boyfriend who cheated on me for three months while gathering the funds to move out? Yep. It was congenial, but probably not the greatest plan.
    Eating myself into a semi-coma for literally weeks on end and then not being able to fit into any of my clothes? YUP.
    Forgetting to eat for days on end and then having a hypoglycemic fit and passing out in public? MORE THAN ONCE.
    Confiding my heartbreak to people who did not have my best interests in mind but loved gossip? OH YES.

    So many ways to eff things up, and I don’t even have that many serious relationships under my belt despite being menopausal. I mean, sometimes the difficulty settings seem to be set too high. Add to that some perhaps legitimate angst that being introverted, depressed, socially anxious, extremely slow to trust and even slower to be attracted to anyone (none of whom then seem to live within 250 miles of me; 99.9% of male fashion locally is “I Am An Adult Hairy Toddler In Jorts And Red Baseball Hat” which is fine if that’s what you want to wear and no hate for anyone doing what makes them happy and many people look great rocking that style BUT it isn’t MY thing and attraction is weird, IDK, and 99.9% male behavior here is “I Voted 4 Trump and Like Beer, Golf, Sports, Trucks, Guns, Sexism, Jesus, Fart Jokes, Bringing Up Sex Within 30 Seconds, Invading Women’s Personal Space, Republicans, and Shooting Animals, But Hate Books, The Arts, Feminism, Other Countries/Foreigners, Capitalization, Complete Sentences, Grammar & Spelling, The Slightest Whiff of Androgyny, Equality, and Diversity” — look, my urban tribe is VERY underground here, as even our local art school is super conservative and…nah, I can’t roll with that kind of dude, and I’m sorry). I’m aware that most of my issues are ME, and I am old and cranky and like myself just enough that the idea of auditioning 498 really conservative Forrest Gumps who hate black people or vegetables just to find someone to go see a movie (maybe one WITHOUT car chases or gun fights, just once?) just depresses me to my core, but I don’t like myself enough not to blame myself for being how I am and thus not…just…more simple. The old “WHY AM I LIKE THIS?” I’m tired, and dating is like the worst job interview ever only you know during a job interview that the focus will be mostly if you can do a job but heaven knows what Date Guy might ask of you or what verbal meanness will be unleashed toward some innocent party or group of people when all you wanted was a split check hamburger or something and maybe getting to know someone in a friendly way first? So yeah, relationship stuff can be freaking HARD, and it’s NICE when you are at the “I can sit on the couch with this person and eat tacos while only wearing a shirt and my underwear” phase.

    But look at you, you are so much smarter than I am, because you ALREADY KNOW what not to do, and you’re not doing those things, AND you’re reaching out for support, AND you’re just really doing so great, even if sometimes you don’t feel like you are, because you’re grieving and it is hard.

    I am just saying, dating is hard and relationships are hard, and then you find one that doesn’t seem as hard after the first hurdles of difficulty are accomplished, and maybe it is like birthing a baby when there’s discomfort and surprise urine when you sneeze and nausea for no damn good reason and not being able to put on your underwear easily because where did your feet go and then there’s a lot of pain and blood and swearing but there’s also one or more brand new human beings in the room when the worst is over? And that’s pretty good? I mean, I haven’t given birth, but I hear it is typically worth it if you want to do it. And like with a new baby, you forget the surprise incontinence at the Winn Dixie and not being able to eat your favorite dessert because suddenly it makes you want to vomit and having to give up wine if you really like wine, because: BABY. You might even want to do the whole thing again one day, because you totally forget the weird stuff your hair did for nine months and the difficulty of finding pregnant person clothes you don’t loathe.

    But unlike a Yay Baby Moment, sometimes you go from Gruesome Dating Interviews Plus Flop Sweat to Yay Significant Other and back to O Shit, This Isn’t Working. And I GET IT, who wouldn’t want to figure out a way to go back to the part of the thing where you’re at Yay Significant Other instead of O Shit, WHY? but that road only goes in one direction. It’s a stupid road and I hate it, too. I hated it so much I made a lot of mistakes that YOU, Hiding & Seeking, being clearly so much smarter than I was then, are NOT doing.

    You already know what helps. Time, celebrating YOU and things you love to do and love about yourself, collecting your circle of friends, licking your wounds…this is the required next step, and the good news is that one day the sad stuff that got you to do this healing you-nurturing, self-care, important stuff will be so far in the past it will be like baby contractions you can’t quite remember. You won’t remember WHY you and your besties started going to brunch or painting + wine classes or playing board / card games or watching silly movies or whatever you do to heal, you’ll just be doing that thing. Your life will be really good. I promise.

    You’re going to gather your Team You, and make a To Do List if you’re a list person, and you’re going to take whatever time you need to mourn, but you’re not going to be stuck in O Shit, WHY?-land forever.

    I wish there was a way to, like, timeshare grief and heartbreak so your friends and family could take on some of it when you are struggling most, and then when they needed to offload some of their stuff, you’d be there for them, too. That would be really awesome, though maybe it wouldn’t be for the best. It would make it a little easier, sure, though maybe we wouldn’t have that well of past grief inside that we have lived through and survived that makes us more empathetic and kind and wise after we live through it, if we were able to just parcel pain and grief out like M&Ms. Maybe the hard stuff is how we evolve into even more interesting people with battle-scars we can compare and tell stories about?

    There may be no magic words to make this hard part go away, but the hard part does eventually go away, and that is so you find your next Yay Significant Other when you’re ready to and if you want to. If you have ever had one hair color or shape for a long time and then you change it, then if you are like me, when you dream at night, the Dream You in your dreams takes a while to catch up to how you look now, right? But it’s you? And eventually, when you dream, your Dream You realizes what you have butterflied into and adjusts? It’s kind of like that, I think.

    All I know is that you may not think you’ve got this, but you really do.

      1. I surprised myself when it popped up, how very long it was. *insert cringes here* I will do better to be more terse!

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