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How do you put past relationship "guilt" behind you and would contact after a breakup be a good idea?
September 19, 2012 11:31 AM   Subscribe

The nutshell: how do you put relationship mistakes/guilt behind you? And contact with her would be a bad idea, right? (We’ve been broken up about 3 months now with no contact, except for one email exchange about two weeks after the break up).

I still feel "guilt" about a break up. Maybe it's not guilt, but it's sort of what it feels like.

I knew when I broke up with her that I wish I didn’t have to. We dated for 7 months and it just never took off for me, reached that next level. But I thought I could work on it. I thought if two well-matched, kind, smart people just worked at it, then romance would naturally arise. And it didn’t really. There would be flashes here and there, but I could never get certainty about it. It’s almost like I don’t want to be part of the problem – the problem being people just not feeling it, not feeling the sparks. I’ve always thought that was crap and to a certain extent still think it’s usually crap (maybe an arrogant thought on my part).

It was such a terrible feeling of having someone be head over heels for me and I so badly wanted to feel that way about her, but it wouldn’t happen. I don’t know what I could have done differently (by the end, attraction fell out of the bottom of it and it felt so terrible to be so lukewarm about her). It wasn’t a perfect relationship (I was probably still emotionally hung-up on an ex, she was really uncommunicative, she was grumpy a lot at the beginning, maybe we spent too much time together, etc.).

But I still feel bad that I sort of betrayed her because of how loyal, solid, understanding, supportive, and easy the relationship became. We were able to work through those issues at the beginning and get to a very stable point. I know I shouldn’t feel pity. But I do feel something like guilt. I wish I could fix things.

I sometimes think about contacting her. Not to get back together, but just to know what’s going on in her life and let her know that I still really appreciate her. I always stop myself though because that sort of contact seems unfair to her and selfish on my part. I hope she finds a guy that is cheesily in love with her. I was her 11th break up and so she’s become sort of jaded, and so I almost want to interview the next guy that dates her just to make sure he’s not an asshole and over the moon in love with her, because she’s dated some real tools and I hurt her badly.

The nutshell: how do you put relationship mistakes/guilt behind you? And contact with her would be a bad idea, right? (We’ve been broken up about 3 months now with no contact, except for one email exchange about two weeks after the break up).
posted by yeahyeahyeah to Human Relations (24 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
 
I sometimes think about contacting her. Not to get back together, but just to know what’s going on in her life and let her know that I still really appreciate her. I always stop myself though because that sort of contact seems unfair to her and selfish on my part.

You are right. It would be unfair, and you'd be doing it for selfish reasons.

Keep up the good work. This is often the harder bit for the dumper, but remember that the breakup itself was harder for her as the dumpee.
posted by Sidhedevil at 11:36 AM on September 19, 2012 [6 favorites]


Well, think about it this way: You are being much kinder by ending the relationship after a few months rather than stringing her along and allowing her to believe you felt something you didn't.

And you know you shouldn't contact her. If you get back in touch, you're going to make it harder for her. Don't do that.
posted by something something at 11:37 AM on September 19, 2012 [2 favorites]


I've been on both sides of this, it's no fun for anyone. If some part of her still wants to get back with you, it's cruel to be contacting her as it gets her hopes up. If no part of her wants to, then contacting her is pointless.

Getting in touch with her isn't going to fix it. She knows where you are, if she wants to talk to you she will.

(I actually asked a question about a guy who kept contacting me after he broke up with me, if that gives you some insight into what might be going on on her end - here)
posted by Dynex at 11:44 AM on September 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


how do you put relationship mistakes/guilt behind you?

Time, focus on getting in touch with yourself, see other people. One day you will hopefully make a really strong connection with someone else which has all the things that were missing this time, and you'll see that you were trying to drive a car that had no motor and you will forgive yourself for failing to make it work.

if two well-matched, kind, smart people just worked at it, then romance would naturally arise. And it didn’t really

That happens. So much of a match is about compatibility with respect to personality types and values and emotional baggage and just feeling comfortable and safe enough to open up if these things feel like they're aligned. Both people can be wonderful shining stars and still be unable to connect at some deep level for any number of reasons. One can feel sadness at this but one need not feel guilt. You gave it an honest try. It's not you that failed because your love didn't match hers. It's your relationship that failed because the connection between you wasn't strong enough or deep enough. You can forgive yourself.

contact with her would be a bad idea, right?

Yes.

that sort of contact seems unfair to her and selfish on my part

It is. Trust your instincts here.
posted by PercussivePaul at 11:44 AM on September 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


I don't think it's the worst thing in the world to make contact. 3 months is rather a long time of no contact for a relationship that lasted only 7 months. The question is, what do you hope to get out of contacting her? Do you want to be best buds? Do you think you could be best buds? If so, contact her. Do you want to see if she's recovering from the devastation that was your leaving her? If so, don't contact her.
posted by MetalFingerz at 11:47 AM on September 19, 2012


Some of your guilt comes from hurting somebody who was a smart, kind person, and that's fine - normal even. But I wonder if some of it also comes from not understanding why you couldn't "feel it". Your sentence about thinking sparks are crap makes me think that you might want to get a little better at identifying what you're feeling and respecting those emotions. You can do that on your own; I found therapy really helpful for convincing me that being rational and smart didn't mean being able to control my emotions, and that that was ok.
posted by ldthomps at 11:48 AM on September 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


The part of you that wants to contact her is the exact same part that's responsible for you having been in this relationship in the first place. I understand the impulse not to want to be the bad guy, but sometimes that's the kindest thing you can do for someone.
posted by Ragged Richard at 11:49 AM on September 19, 2012


I wish I could fix things.

Time and distance fix things, not you contacting her.

Also, it may not be possible for you to take any action that would result in a 'fix.' This is a likely situation.
posted by the man of twists and turns at 11:55 AM on September 19, 2012


I don't think you should contact her because I think your reasons for doing so are selfish - you don't want to get back together, you don't want to be friends, you just want her to tell you that you aren't a bad guy for not being her guy.

It's okay that this didn't work out for you and her and it's fine and understandable that you feel badly about it, but you put it behind you by moving forward and making better choices in the future, not moving backward and re-addressing it when nothing has changed. There's nothing to fix -- nothing was broken, you just weren't a good fit.

Just because it wasn't really bad doesn't mean that it was really good.
posted by sm1tten at 12:00 PM on September 19, 2012 [4 favorites]


It's OK to be sad for both of you but I think guilt is misplaced. Falling or not falling for someone isn't something you can control. Additionally, if you had stayed with a woman you didn't love just because she loved you or breaking up is hard, you'd be that asshole who posted about how he'd been in a relationship for ten years and lived with his partner who now wanted to get married and have kids because she was 39 years old and he was too chicken shit to break up with her and just kept putting her (and her future chances of having kids) off.

You are not that guy. You did the right thing. You can feel sad but not guilty about that.

You will not be the last guy your ex loves. She presumably deserves to be with someone she can go the whole nine yards with. That guy is not you and you did the right thing to get out of the way. Please stay out of the way.
posted by DarlingBri at 12:11 PM on September 19, 2012 [10 favorites]


let her know that I still really appreciate her

This is an instinct that comes from a place in you that I know is decent. But my guess is: she doesn't care. She doesn't care that you "appreciate" her. What hurts her is that she felt it and you didn't, and there is nothing you're going to say about "appreciating her" that's going to make that less so. It's the kind of "really, I think you're great" comment that, when you've been dumped, makes you want to punch people in the eye. (Figuratively.) I tend to agree with everybody else that while your conscious intent is kind, what you really long for in your heart is not to be the bad guy. And when you've hurt somebody, even unintentionally, you're entitled to civility, to move on with your life, not to be sandbagged, and so forth. But you're not entitled to have her sign off on the breakup or say she understands. The assuaging of your guilt is going to have to come from you and your confidence that you did what needed doing, not from her.

Don't get me wrong -- people want to not be the bad guy because they recognize it's bad to hurt people. But as you say, you did hurt her. It doesn't make you wrong to have broken up with her, but you did hurt her, and it's your job to tell yourself it couldn't be helped, rather than her job to reassure you that she understands it couldn't be helped.

Leave her alone. "I appreciate you, I hope you're well," this all going to make it worse. Trust me. She'll only hear how bloodless and detached it is and how relieved you are to be out of the relationship. Leave her alone. Your intentions are honorable, I think, but you won't help her. If she needs to dislike you a little, quietly and without taking it out on you, then she's entitled to that.
posted by Linda_Holmes at 12:23 PM on September 19, 2012 [14 favorites]


Please, please don't contact her. You sound like a good dude, but when you tell someone who was in love with you that you "appreciate her" -- even though that comes from a lovely place, and I understand what you mean -- it will be a punch in the gut for her, and it could come off as kind of patronizing, which I don't think is what you want, or how you intend it. But that is how it could easily read to her.

You did the right thing. Not contacting her is also the right thing. Please keep doing the right thing.
posted by Countess Sandwich at 12:30 PM on September 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


I came to the conclusion that some things just do not work and it isn't about "trying harder". It can be hard to see it with a relationship because it is kind of a nebulous mental model type thing but it is a real thing nonetheless. Yes, relationships take work and not working at it really will cause it to fail, but some things are just such a poor fit that it pretty much can't be worked out long term, even if there was enough fit to make a go of trying for a while.

For me, analyzing the hell out if what made it a poor fit helped me make my peace with it, in part because it helped me figure out which pieces to try to replicate and which to try to avoid for future relationships. Not understanding the particulars was very painful and frustrating. Spending the time to figure it out gave me clarity and ability to let it go and move on.
posted by Michele in California at 12:42 PM on September 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


If it's really about cleaning up your own feelings and trying to make her feel better about who you are, then don't. There's nothing to be gained there, just let time take care of it.

However, if you have a sincere wish that the two of you can maintain some kind of friendship and want to find out if that's possible, I am actually in favor of this. This does not mean "friends" who never interact with each other but claim to be friends, nor does it mean bedtime buddies, nor does it mean friends just until one or the other of you finds someone else. Spend some time thinking about that, and I think there's a good chance that you'll discover you don't want to be friend after all. But if you do, and *if she does as well*, then I can promise you that it's possible.
posted by LowellLarson at 12:46 PM on September 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


Please don't contact her. She will contact you if and when she wants to. At three months out, things are hopefully looking up for her and that will just re-open the wound.

Everyone makes mistakes in relationships, everyone feels guilty about those mistakes. The perspective time and distance brings heals a lot of that pain.

Because I had such a similar breakup play out in the past few months, down to me being the uncommunicative girlfriend and eventual dumpee, let me share that I, too, have loads of guilt regarding the relationship. Yet another reason to not contact your ex; she's not only working on forgiving you, but also herself.
posted by peacrow at 1:07 PM on September 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


Re the contacting her part: I have done this a couple of times. Once, I contacted someone (fairly promptly -a day or two later?) to apologize for being so ugly while dumping them and explain that the ugliness was partly because I had recently been in a car wreck. That was not the most warm fuzzy experience but I think I did the right thing.

I had two concerns: 1) that it was unnecessarily harmful to him and he shouldn't have to carry a shitload of baggage because of bad timing and unfortunate trauma that had nothing whatsoever to do with him (I was the victim of a hit and run) and 2) I had been such a bitch about it that I was concerned it might come back to bite me. So I felt like even if I weren't a compassionate type, pouring poison in the wound on the way out the door was not a wise thing to do for my own sake. I wanted to draw the poison out so the wound could heal normally and not fester, for his sake, for mine, and for the general welfare. There is enough shit in the world as is. I didn't really want some other woman paying the price for my brain shart.

The second time was a more serious, long term relationship which occurred during my divorce. I dumped him in part because he was pushing for a level of commitment I could not give him. My divorce was going to take the time it took. There wasn't anything I could do to change that. So I felt he also was kind of a victim of circumstance and I felt bad about it.

I contacted him six months after the breakup and basically checked to see if he was okay. He was all ready to get back together and, while swearing he had changed, promptly began pushing for things which would have gotten him dumped sooner or later regardless. I felt satisfied that dumping him was the right answer and he was not too crushed and life would go on. I declined his offer to jump back in with both feet and stopped worrying about him.

Contacting my exes like that has been the exception, not the rule. I think it can be productive sometimes. But I think you need to be very clear what your goal is (or at least that was useful for me).
posted by Michele in California at 1:34 PM on September 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


I sometimes think about contacting her. Not to get back together, but just to know what’s going on in her life and let her know that I still really appreciate her.

It's none of your business what's going on in her life. If she wants to get in touch with you, she will. If she is still nursing a broken heart, what good would it do her to be reminded that you still "really appreciate her" but aren't crazy about her? And if she's moved on, then why would she care?

I always stop myself though because that sort of contact seems unfair to her and selfish on my part.

It's not unfair (you sound incredibly patronizing), but yes, it's selfish. She was crazy about you, and you're not getting that input anymore. Resist the urge to use someone else to make you feel good about yourself. It's been three months, time for you to move on.

I hope she finds a guy that is cheesily in love with her. I was her 11th break up and so she’s become sort of jaded, and so I almost want to interview the next guy that dates her just to make sure he’s not an asshole and over the moon in love with her, because she’s dated some real tools and I hurt her badly.

Um, wow. If she wants an ex-boyfriend to "help" her find the right guy, I'm sure she'll be in touch.
posted by headnsouth at 1:34 PM on September 19, 2012


I hope she finds a guy that is cheesily in love with her. I was her 11th break up and so she’s become sort of jaded, and so I almost want to interview the next guy that dates her just to make sure he’s not an asshole and over the moon in love with her, because she’s dated some real tools and I hurt her badly.


----------------------

Dude, that is totally weird and controlling and bizarro. You should definitely not contact her, and you should really think seriously about why you're so invested in who she dates 3months after you broke up.
posted by spunweb at 1:45 PM on September 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


Er, let me revise that to "you need to clearly have a healthy goal with good boundaries" and I am not really seeing that here. My anecdotes were offered as examples of how that can be done well, a standard to compare your fantasy against. Not saying "no, don't contact her" just saying that if you want it to be constructive and not catastrophic, you probably have a good deal of work to do between now and then. And if you can't make every effort to make it constructive, then don't do it.
posted by Michele in California at 1:48 PM on September 19, 2012


I sometimes think about contacting her. Not to get back together, but just to know what’s going on in her life and let her know that I still really appreciate her.

Contacting an ex out after a break-up can be done for many, many reasons. I don't think yours are good ones, unless you do it in a way that puts the ball in her court. Like, "Hey, I feel like there was something I didn't get to say to you when we broke up and it's really bugging me. I still think you're a really awesome person. If you ever want to develop a friendship or chat sometime, I'd like that. If not, fine." That's assuming that you'd want a friendship with her.

As far as post-breakup-contact appropriateness... I think it depends a lot on the relationship and the people. I have exes I don't want contact from. I had an ex who was basically FB-stalking me to "make sure I was allright" and blah blah blah -- he was being incredibly selfish, wanting a bff-friendship right after he crushed my heart into little itty bits of squishy tissue. I had to actively shut him out of my life, but he made it clear that he would be sad if he never heard from me again. It took 3 years until I was ready for any contact, and we've had a few brief e-mail exchanges since. We're not friends, we're not friends on FB, and we'll never be close again, and after the initial catch-up there hasn't been much of an exchange, but I'm not opposed to it when he e-mails me.

And then there's the most recent, who really really wanted to remain bffs after breaking up with me, and the one who has probably left me the most jaded (seriously, are you my ex??). I wasn't over it, he wasn't over it, but we could have a totally awesome friendship in the future, so I decided we needed to take some time apart. He was being unfair and selfish by trying to talk me out of it, but it needed to happen. We will be awesome friends one day, no doubt, but only by taking the time we both need to get over things. So if you feel like she's had time to get over you, and you want to forge a friendship, or even just chat, put it out there, but prepare for it to not be received well.
posted by DoubleLune at 2:54 PM on September 19, 2012


I sometimes think about contacting her. Not to get back together, but just to know what’s going on in her life and let her know that I still really appreciate her.

The other day I opened up my inbox and found this exact email from a heinous, heartless douchebag guy who dumped me out of the blue after 8 blissful months of traveling together, meeting each other's families, the whole 9 yards because "he didn't ever see himself falling in love with me".

Don't be that guy.

Here's what I did: DELETE. Just as he emotionally deleted me from his life out of the blue. And then I went for a run and then I made sweet love to my amazing boyfriend who I love to bits who at the time of said dumping, was utterly convinced that such an amazing, kind, loving man ever existed. I now laugh at all of that.

You are not dating her. You have ZERO right or say in anything she does any more and that includes what she chooses to do with her time or men she dates. She's an adult. Adults can handle heartache and breakup. You have no responsibility for her. Move on. You made the choice to no longer be with her, and any communication you have with her now may not give you any sort of positive communication whatsoever and would be counter-productive to your interests because it wil probably drag up a whole lotta hurt for her.
posted by floweredfish at 3:52 PM on September 19, 2012 [3 favorites]


n-thing everything upthread in this.

It's like you're watching a movie of yourself:

This is the part in the first reel when Guy is in Love with Girl.

This is the part in the second reel when Guy Realizes That He Isn't.

This is the part in the third reel when the soundtrack kicks in, and the montage of Guy Goes Out Walking Pensively in New York/Stares At Empty Whiskey Glass in Bar/Etc begins.

Cue the sudden realization music.
posted by Lipstick Thespian at 3:06 AM on September 20, 2012


Thanks for the replies so far. I'm definitely aware that I have no business in who she dates or whatever. I get that. My sentiment comes more from a place of wanting the best for her. Maybe that is patronizing. I don't know. I may have said it a bit melodramatically. I wasn't actually envisioning sitting down with her prospective suitors.

Anyway, I can now see that I would have to be much more clear about my intentions if I did contact her. The idea of forming a friendship (maybe more of a rekindling, because we really did treat each other well during the relationship) is a nice sentiment, but the funny thing is that while we were together we both remarked that we had never remained friends with an ex. So, I don't know if either one of us would know what that would look like. I and a friend talked about the whole friends with exes thing recently and she said she didn't know anyone that had done that. Maybe my group of friends is just backwards, but I don't know if I can name anyone who's still friends with their exes.

As it stands now, I'm just going to continue to leave her alone. And she does know where I am, how to reach me, if she wants to find me. I guess I'll leave the ball in her court. It really should be her decision. If I was in her position, and I eventually reached an emotional/mental state where I wanted to contact my ex and be friends, it would be better for me to do it than for than the ex to contact me and maybe make things weird. I can't do anything to help. It's also not my "responsibility" to help. A friendship would be nice, but she may not feel that way, and if she does one day feel that way, then she can let me know if she wants that. That's sort of the thought that's congealing at the moment.

Sorry if a little rambly.
posted by yeahyeahyeah at 8:06 AM on September 20, 2012


"My sentiment comes more from wanting the best for her."

Er, I don't really think so. I am like that but, one word: boundaries. If you aren't marrying her, figuring out what is best for her is her job, not yours at all. Not remotely your place given that you two split up.

Two suggestions:

1) View such impulses as an attempt to assuage your guilt and then own that as your issue and something you need to deal with. It is wrong to fuck with her life in an attempt to make yourself feel okay about dumping her. It amounts to adding insult to injury. It does not meet the standard of making amends.

2) If you are the compulsively helpful type, channel that into volunteer work and away from your ex. If you aren't the compulsively helpful type, then maybe you are merely bored. In which case, get a hobby. And her problems are not it.
posted by Michele in California at 10:05 AM on September 20, 2012 [2 favorites]


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