Ahhhh, the breakup where a dude wants to both sleep with people who aren’t you and remain the center of your world. A classic!
I could really use some advice. Or a kick up the a** perhaps. I’m not sure. Anyway this is the story of me (she/her, 33) and my partner Dave (him/he, 25). Super condensed version of events: we met through mutual friend, were friends for a year, started a FWB situation and then then he asked if I would be his girlfriend. I’m 8 years older than him and aired my concerns with him on that front and he repeatedly assured me it ‘wasn’t an issue’. We’ve been together for four years. His family love me and I love them, we get along famously. Me and him have achieved a lot, and I’ve supported him through some serious rough patches. He’s always been one to hedge his bets, but he pushed for commitment initially and didn’t start to voice his concerns until around year two. It was just stuff like what if when you’re 40 you look super old and I’m still in my prime? It hurt my feelings and made me feel like rubbish but in the end we worked so well together it kind of got pushed aside. He was even talking proposal earlier this year.
Not so anymore. Dave has got a life coach (of the ‘quit your job’ and follow your dreams kind), is going back to college and has decided he needs to move out and break up wth me as the romantic/physical attraction just isn’t enough to be satisfying. I’m absolutely devastated. I love him with everything and this is the only relationship I’ve ever had, I have given up a lot for him and helped him through serious depressions and anxiety (including a stint in hospital) and now he’s doing well and suddenly I’m….not good enough? I was so busy being part of the Dave show I don’t have any of my own friends or hobbies, and right now I feel too broken to want to try to pick up either.
I know I can’t make him love me the way I love him (and as embarrassing as it is to admit that pains me) but how do I possibly recover from this and trust anyone ever again? I’m 33 and I want a family, I feel like I’ve wasted valuable time with him. I’ve been looking into solo motherhood by choice. I’m a total mess. And he’s still here! He calls me all the time! It feels like nothing has changed except apparently he’s leaving. I just don’t understand how he can be so blasé about it all.
I’ve made an appointment with my Psychologist, I’ve reached out to old friends and I’m talking with my family. But I still feel like I’m about to fly apart…..what else can I do? I also have ADD which of course makes me even more sensitive to rejection and isn’t helping.
My mum thinks Dave will come slinking back when his new reality hits, and right now I’d be silly enough to take him back. I want to take back some power and help myself. But I don’t know how! Please help!
Bruised and Confused
Dear Bruised and Confused,
Since Dave keeps communicating with you pretty much exactly as he did before you broke up, I’m guessing that somewhere in the breakup conversation, you and Dave promised you’d always stay friends. This makes a lot of sense! You started out as friends, you didn’t want to break up with him and staying friends means that you don’t have to lose him from your life. He cares about you and knows you’re very upset right now, so he might be making an effort to keep in contact because he thinks that’s the way he can be kind and helpful. There’s also a long habit of you being the person who’s most up for hearing how his day is going (life coaches charge by the hour, I’m told), and now that he’s gotten the hard, awkward part of breaking up out of the way, why not enjoy all the good things you still share? After all, you’re such good friends!
Dave is allowed to decide that he wants a different life; he is allowed to break up with you. What Dave maybe doesn’t get to do is tell you that you just aren’t sexy enough for him and then keep calling you up every day like you’re some nurturing placeholder.
Okay, it is possible to be friends with exes sometimes, but I’d like to make the case for a cleaner break where you take at least a few months completely off from interacting with Dave before you attempt a friendship. This means that if he still lives with you, it’s time to get him out and change the locks and passwords. If he’s out of your place, and just calling and texting all the time, it’s time to tell him you need a clean break to think about things and you’ll get in touch in a few months when you’re ready. Then delete his number from your phone, use your unfriend/unfollow/block settings liberally, including hiding the social media feeds of all his family members so you won’t be pinged with constant reminders or be tempted to keep tabs on what he’s up to. Tell a few trusted people you’re broken up and that it’s okay if they quietly spread the news so that you don’t have to run a gauntlet of “Where’s Dave? What happened? Ohhhh, but you two were so great together!” every time you interact with your family and social circle on the upcoming holiday Zooms.
Whatever his good qualities, Dave sounds like an awful lot of work. You say yourself that your own friendships and interests got subsumed into The Dave Show (“I have given up a lot for him…”). If you and Dave are still talking all the time, there is not only a long habit of being his cheerleader and comforter-in-chief, there’s also a strong temptation to try to win him back. If you can just keep the lines of communication open, prove how great and supportive and cool you are, maybe you can squelch down all your angry, hurt, still-in-love, messy feelings so that they’ll be safe and acceptable enough to not scare him off or come across as “needy” or “bitter.” Let him realize how much he needs you, then he’ll see that you’ve been the right one all along!
I know this logic well, and it never works. I mean, your mom is probably right, he will come back eventually, because in the wild #ThisFuckingGuy often tells people he’s not attracted to them anymore and then comes back specifically to have sex with them. They never come back when you wish they would, or because you were patient and chill and understanding enough, it’s more that they have a sixth sense for when them getting dumped by their latest crush or fired from their latest venture lines up with the exact moment you’re about to happily move on with your life, and they’d like some confusing sex and unconditional sympathy now, please.
But there is nothing for you to prove here. You get to have a totally different emotional and time investment in someone you thought you were gonna marry someday than you do in someone who just dumped you, and it’s okay to need some time and space to readjust to that fact. It’s not on you to prove what a good friend you can be to the person who broke up with you, that burden is 100% on him right now, and if you tell him he can best prove his friendship by fucking off for a good while, then that’s what he should do. In six months you’ll either still like each other enough to try actual friendship, minus the current anger/longing, or you won’t. At that point, if it’s meant to be, it’s not something you’ll have to try to make happen.
That’s why the first step in getting your power back is to close the curtain on The Dave Show. Let Dave worry about Dave, he’s got places to go and people to disappoint. You’ve got other things to do, like actually feeling all of your feelings, including the pissed off ones where you have a good cackle about what kind of sexist child not only believes that when you turn 40 someday, *he’ll* be the one who is “in his prime,” but also is enough of a dipshit to say it out loud, to you. (Truly, I LOLed. Dave! Bless your heart!)
You are already doing all or most of the right things by reaching out to family, friends, and your mental health support team. If you’re looking for new hobbies, I just stumbled across this person who sells introductory embroidery kits and has a whole online community where she teaches beginners how to do it. I’m picturing “Go tell it to your life coach, Dave” in rainbow letters, made by therapeutically stabbing something with a needle again and again.
I know that losing a relationship you thought was for the long haul disrupts your dreams of becoming a parent, and the prospect of solo motherhood is a huge bummer right now. But if you know for sure that you want to have children soon, researching and planning for solo parenting isn’t wasted time. You’ll either meet the right partner who wants to co-parent with you in the next few years, or you’ll go forward with having kids another way. Either way, you’ll have a good plan, probably some money set aside, and a reliable support network in place, and you’ll be secure in knowing that getting what you most want from your life doesn’t depend on Dave.
You’re going to hurt for a while, probably, and I can’t tell you how long it will be until you’re feeling yourself again, but I can reasonably promise you a couple of things:
You WILL get over Dave. You will not always feel this sad, this attached, this hurt. By far the most probable future is one where you can remember the good times with Dave fondly and view the hurtful, bad, hard times largely through a lens of rueful relief that you’re not with him anymore.
The longer you hold onto “normal” (as in, daily phone calls with Dave and all their little reminders of how easy and good it could be between you), the longer it will take to get over him. Cutting contact for a healthy interval after a bad breakup can be the difference between accidentally slipping and slicing your finger with a sharp paring knife or sawing away at it with child’s safety scissors; it’s going to hurt either way, but one of these things will heal quick and clean.
Your next relationship won’t be like this. You said you were worried about how to ever trust someone again, after Dave promised you that the age difference wouldn’t be a problem. If he could lie about that, what else could someone lie about?
For starters, your next boyfriend won’t be in his early-mid 20s when you meet him, and yes, that does matter. Relationships can work in spite of age differences (long distances, cultural and language barriers, opposite religious traditions, messy family shit, etc.), but there’s a reason we say “in spite of” and not “because of, yaaaaaay!” and I’d argue that you did have an age difference problem with Dave, not because you were doomed to be 40 before he is (#wizenedcrone) or because you are undesirable in any way, but because he had more growing up to do and because what he wanted from his life changed a whole bunch during the first half of his twenties. Humans are actually terrible at predicting and controlling how they will react and feel at some later date, but we keep trying anyway, we keep promising anyway, and loving anyway, and it’s beautiful, really, I love that about us, but it means that people change their minds about important things all the time, especially as we age and our limitless potential is slowly replaced with a series of actions which can be double-checked against our words.
But, speaking of words, all we can really do is take the people we love at their word, at any age. You weren’t silly for believing someone who told you, “I really want to do this,” nor was he necessarily misleading you when he said it. A person who says they don’t ever want children at 23 is telling the truth. If the same person changes their mind at 33, they are also telling the truth. If we married at 23 with the understanding we’d never have children, and then my example-spouse changed their mind a decade later, we’d have a problem, and we’d have to recalculate: Is being together worth one person knowingly giving up something they truly want? The assumption that “all relationships take work” also carries the assumption that all relationships are worth working on, plus a whole bunch of underlying stuff about who is supposed to do that work and how much. But sometimes love isn’t enough or there isn’t enough of it to cancel out everything that’s hard, love doesn’t always conquer all, and the hardest breakups aren’t the ones where one person obviously sucked, they’re the ones where everything would be perfect if not for that one insurmountable thing.
Maybe you didn’t “waste” these years on Dave, is what I’m saying. You loved somebody. You took him at his word when he told you what he wanted and treated him like the expert on his own life, which is what we do for the people we love. It was your first serious relationship, your first relationship, and you learned many lessons, like, how important it is to you to like your partner’s family and vice-versa, and how important it is to know that you are desired. Maybe one lesson can be that relationships don’t have to last forever to be worthwhile, and the love you had is real because it’s in you, it was always in you.
From here, the more you know yourself, the more you commit to the You-Show and taking the very best care of yourself, which includes building a strong support network and centering your own interests, the faster you’ll get over Dave, and the more you’ll be able to look for partners who want the same things you want and who make their attraction to you obvious and consistent. You deserve that, so much, and I’m rooting for you. ❤
P.S. DONATE, REGIFT, OR RETURN THAT HOLIDAY GIFT I AM 95% SURE YOU’VE ALREADY BOUGHT HIM. You do not need that energy right now.