#1205: Can apologizing to your ex be constructive?

Ahoy Captain,

I (she/her) was recently dumped by a guy (he/him). It’s now been about a month since we broke up, and we only dated for a few months. Since we split, I’ve been reflecting on some things that I wish I had handled differently in our relationship. We got lunch together a couple weeks ago and then he asked that we not talk for a couple weeks. I’ve respected that, but the end of the couple of weeks is coming up and we were hoping to be friends again. Should I try to apologize for things that I wish I’d done differently? Or is it better to just let it go and assume he doesn’t want to talk about it anymore? I don’t want it to turn into re-hashing old difficulties, and I don’t want to apologize if the only reason is so that I feel better. But if it might help him and our future friendship, I want him to know that I realize I wasn’t perfect and I aim to do better.

The longer version, if you want it:
I’ve mostly had polyamorous relationships in my life, and when I went into this one, I made an effort to show him positive aspects of polyamory and give him resources he could use to learn about it more as an option. At the time I’m not sure I was entirely clear even in my own head about what I wanted, but in retrospect I think that I would have been happy being either polyamorous or monogamous (we were monogamous throughout our relationship and I was happy with it). What I wanted was for him to make an effort to learn about and consider options other than monogamy, because I didn’t want to treat monogamy as the default, and I wanted to feel that he had some understanding and respect for my past relationships (e.g. didn’t think that polyamorous relationships couldn’t be serious and committed, when I’ve had serious and committed polyamorous relationships). Instead I gave the impression that, while I was happy with our relationship and willing to be patient, being polyamorous was ultimately important to me. This ended up making him feel like he was solely responsible for deciding whether or not he wanted to be polyamorous, and that our relationship couldn’t continue if he decided polyamory wasn’t for him (which is ultimately what he decided). He spent a while being anxious about needing to make this decision, and I’m afraid I didn’t listen to him enough in that time.

So basically what I want to tell him is: I’m sorry I put you through all that anxiety and made you feel like you had to figure it out on your own. I think I kind of assumed that I knew what was best for the relationship, and if I’d been a bit more humble, I would have approached it more as something we could figure out together. I know it’s too late for our relationship, but I think in the future, I’ll make a lot more effort to approach this issue as a discussion where we both consider different options and decide together what works best for us. I appreciate all the thought and effort you put into this, so I just wanted you to know that I acknowledge that and I wish I’d made it easier for you.

Does that sound at all helpful and constructive in moving forward? Or does it sound like it’s mostly self-serving on my part, and would mostly just re-open wounds and re-ignite arguments?

Thanks Captain.
-Ambiamorous Apologies

Hi there, Ambiamorous!

What if the last time the two of you talked about uncomfortable relationship and breakup stuff WAS the last time, and the next time you see this guy you could skip ahead to the “being buds” part? What if the best way to alleviate the anxieties you felt you caused your ex during the relationship is to not keep bringing up the stuff that was making him feel anxious? You could tell him how you wished you’d approached things in the past and intend to approach things from now on, or you could just show him – by doing it.

My strong sense is that this guy does not want to talk about polyamory, your insights into how relationships work, or rehash what went wrong between you, possibly ever again. My reason for saying this is that you hung out once since you broke up and then he was immediately like “MORE TIME/SPACE.” Unless he brings up the topic of the relationship, what went wrong, his feelings, etc. unprompted, I’d hold off on offering him reassurance that he hasn’t asked for. And to be honest, unless he enthusiastically contacts you wanting to hang out the second this “A Few More Weeks Of Space” break is up, I’d tack on at least another few months before getting in touch from your end. When and if you do cross paths, think short “coffee,” “lunch” or “a slice of pizza”-level of casual hangouts in venues that discourage emotional chats to test the waters and ease back in.

It’s not that apologies between exes are never useful or welcome, it’s that you weren’t together that long, you’re counting the days until you can talk to him again, and you’re planning out what you’ll say, which all signals to me that you are still pretty invested in this whole deal. It was only a few months, it’s been over for a month, it was just one of those things that didn’t work out. The things you learned from this relationship are valuable and constructive – for you – to take into your romantic future. Sometimes insight has to be its own reward, you don’t need to have an exit interview. Take your insights to your friends/therapist/diary/bartender. Sing sad songs at karaoke. Imagine what he’d say in a perfect world and then write a scene where you say what’s in your heart and he says what you want him to say and then close the notebook. Next time you’re dating, say stuff like “I’m pretty sure I’m polyamorous at heart ambiamorous, can you work with that?” and look for people who say: “Cool, tell me more about that,” with gold stars to the ones who have already done the reading. 😉 Closure: You can make your own!

Breaking up gives everyone permission to stop working on the relationship that used to exist. Ideally when people stay friends after dating, the friendship that forms is its own new entity because they have so much in common otherwise that romantic or attraction feelings become unimportant to sustaining the bond. It’s not the end of the world if you do still want to speak your piece, it doesn’t make you a bad person to want to clear the air, just…I don’t think he wants to talk about this stuff anymore with you or that he’s been waiting for an apology. If I’m wrong about that, no worries, he’ll let you know by bringing up the topic and you’ll be all set to go. In the meantime, sounds like he’s trying to let the whole couplehood thing get further away in the rearview mirror and find a new way of interacting with you. You could do worse than follow that lead.