What to do when you have left someone shortly before an anniversary and birthday....?
September 1, 2008 7:45 PM   Subscribe

Two weeks after my girlfriend treated me to the most thoughtfully-indulgent birthday weekend imaginable, I broke up with her. Just a week has passed since we went our separate ways, but that means two weeks until what would have been our three-year anniversary and three weeks until her birthday, upon which I would otherwise be reciprocating her generosity. Is there anything I can do or say or give to mark the occasion appropriately?

We were together almost three years, but in my heart there were obstacles preventing me from seeing her as the person with whom I might spend the rest of my life. As she is twelve years my senior at nearly 42, one of my worries was that the longer I stayed with her, the more I was forcing her to sacrifice aspects of life such as having children that I suspect, deep down, she would like to explore. I refused to co-habit with her and latterly found myself treating her with less than the respect she deserves, while hating myself for doing so.

She spoiled me rotten on my birthday, not just in terms of extravagant generosity but also in terms of lovingly-planned, meaningful gestures. To some degree I think this may have been a catalyst in my decision to end it with her. It was clear to me then that I owed it to her to set her free to find someone who will care for her and commit to her as deeply as she did to me. She railed against me for making an executive decision, but this was my choice. A choice made partly from selfishness and partly from love and a desire to see her have and be everything she wants.

Ending it with her and seeing her in pain was the most gruesome experience of my life. The past seven days have been the longest, most agonising and empty I can remember. I worry about how she is coping, how she is doing at work, whether she is being looked after and whether, like me, she is mentally looking ahead towards our anniversary that was not to be. Staying away from her, and not making contact, has been excruciatingly hard, though I am just about achieving that.

My previous long term relationship ended with me being the dumpee after eight and a half years. That was painful but in retrospect nowhere near as hard to bear as this breakup, of which I am the architect. I guess the mixture of love, loss, guilt and anxiety that I am feeling now is less palatable than the fragrance of fresh possibilities I could sense last time round. It's admittedly only been a week but I haven't been able to think of moving on or being with anyone else, even though two women have thrown themselves at me in the meantime.

Time and space will heal us, I am sure. But in the meantime, how do I address her impending birthday? I would feel it uncaring if a good friend or long term partner failed to acknowledge my birthday at all. And as I sit here amidst the many wonderful gifts she lavished on me so recently, it would seem preposterous not to offer something in return.

Is a simple card the best way to deal with this? A heartfelt letter? Do I approach offering my company, or continue to keep my distance, as she does from me? Do I avoid things I know she would like, because they are things that would be associated with "us"? Do I avoid offering my company and my presence? Will a useful, practical or fun gift entirely lose its charm because of the context in which it is received?

I don't want to intervene in a way that will cause her anguish. And I worry about offering her something that could be interpreted as symbolic, or that will later be looked upon as an icon of pain rather than beauty.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (43 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Give her the gift of leaving her alone. Really. As The World Famous says, contacting her--especially since she didn't initiate the breakup--is just going to really mess with her emotions. At most, send her a card--but I'd seriously consider what I'd put inside that card. Discretion is necessary.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 8:00 PM on September 1, 2008 [1 favorite]

I disagree with TWF, and I think she'd want to hear from you. Don't send a present, because it would be "an icon of pain rather than beauty" - but a card or an email to say happy birthday would be nice. Super casual, though - don't make it anything like this post. There's no way you can reciprocate the amazing festivities she gave to you, so don't worry about it.
posted by moxiedoll at 8:02 PM on September 1, 2008

Don't play with her and don't toy with her, which is what getting in contact with her will do.

Give her the gift of you not not having anything to do with her.

Which sounds like it would do you some good too since you're so distraught about it.
posted by Ookseer at 8:05 PM on September 1, 2008

Seriously, leave her alone. The past 7 days have probably been hell for her too. If she wants to acknowledge what would have been your anniversary, she will. Personally, I prefer my one long-term ex-boyfriend not tell me happy birthday. I hope she is spending those days with some awesome girl friends that make her feel a lot better. And I hope you have friends you can rely on too.
posted by IndigoRain at 8:23 PM on September 1, 2008 [1 favorite]

If you must do something, a simple card. Nothing sappy. Absolutely not heartfelt. Do not offer your company on a special day--it's just confusing.

Best, though, to let this one go by. Give her some space and time.
posted by not that girl at 8:24 PM on September 1, 2008

As someone who was recently contacted by their ex, please, leave her alone. She's trying not to think about you, and you going out your way will only give her false hope of a reconciliation.
posted by Ugh at 8:29 PM on September 1, 2008 [2 favorites]

I agree with everyone who said not to send her anything. I had an ex who would always send me a card or call me on my birthday or something... and it was just weird. At first, yes, it messed with my emotions. Later, it was just... weird and annoying.
I don't think you intend to acknowledge her birthday forever and ever, but I do think it would toy with her. If she has ANY hope of getting back together with you, this will definitely give her more hope.
posted by nataliedanger at 8:34 PM on September 1, 2008

you said you'd feel bad if a good friend or a long term partner failed to acknowledge your birthday, but hello—you just dumped her! you're not in either category at the moment. just because you can't move on doesn't give you the right to keep her from moving on just because you feel guilty for dumping her after she went all out on your birthday. your guilt is your problem, not hers.
posted by lia at 8:38 PM on September 1, 2008

I'm going to have to agree with everyone here who says to leave her alone on her birthday. The way I see it, you have two main options:

1. Send her a card or a gift, and risk giving her the idea that there is some possibility of you two getting back together.

2. Do nothing for her birthday, and make it that much easier for you to stick to your goal of using time and space to move past this difficult period.

If I were your ex-girlfriend, I would much prefer that you stick with option #2. Sure, it would hurt for a little while to not have my ex-boyfriend there for my birthday, but I've also been there with option #1, and believe me when I say that it hurts far more than the effects of being left alone on a birthday. I'll spare you all of the details, but the gist of it is that he initiated the breakup, I grieved for a while and did my best to move on, and then a month later he decided to contact me again. At that point, it felt like all of the hard work I had done to get over him had been for nothing. I had to start the entire process of moving on from him all over again, and because of the added complications from the new contact with him (i.e., over-analyzing every single aspect of what he said to me, and what I said to him, and what it all could potentially mean), it hurt so much more than the first time I needed to give him up.

So please, don't be that guy. You have no idea of how far along she is in the process of getting over you, so give her all the time she needs to do it. That's probably one of the best birthday gifts you could give her right now.
posted by sabira at 8:39 PM on September 1, 2008 [1 favorite]

Nthing the suggestion that you leave her be. Yes, it would be uncaring for a friend or long-term romantic partner to not contact her on her birthday. But here's the thing: right now, you are neither of those things. You're the guy that just broke up with her a week ago. You're no longer her boyfriend, and odds are high she doesn't really see you as a friend right now. Contacting her on her birthday would only serve to assuage your guilt, not make her feel loved and cherished.
posted by palomar at 8:41 PM on September 1, 2008 [3 favorites]

Yeah, it's unfair that she spent a bunch of time & money, but there's no repairing that. Give a nice gift to her favorite charity, and think of it as being in her name. But no, don't contact her.
posted by theora55 at 8:43 PM on September 1, 2008

As someone who has had girls interested and telling them nothing was going to happen, then being forced to interact with them somewhat, I offer you this advise.

Talking to her at all opens up the possibility in their mind that you two have a chance. I know it's not a universal truth, and I know that the level of interaction will differ for people where this is a truth.

But in my experience, interacting with someone you just ended a relationship with is a bad idea. Especially if it was a long term relationship. Especially if it's so close to the break up like your situation is.

There will come a time when she'll be able to handle talking to you again (which is different than actually wanting to talk to you). This isn't it. I mean, damn, you just ended an almost 3 year relationship. Do you really think that 7 days is a proper cooling off and processing period? Plus you did it after what you say was a wonderful birthday from her. I wouldn't be surprised if she wants to, well, insert some pretty nastily violent stuff here.

Think about this. If you had given her a wonderful birthday and she broke up with you, would you want something from her telling you happy birthday?

More importantly, would you want something to commemorate what would have been your 3 year anniversary which now isn't because she ended the relationship? You already broke her heart once. If you really care about her like you said you do, then there's no reason to rip open that wound again.

Being nice isn't always about getting something for someone else. Sometimes the best thing to do is to just leave someone alone. This is without a doubt one of those times. It would be uncaring to put her through that again.

At best you'd start her healing process all over. At worst, you'd get her thinking that you maybe want to get back together, in which case you'd have to break up with her again.

So do nothing, and live with feeling like a jerk for it. You're probably not one, but to her I'll bet you are. And as far as this conversation is concerned, her opinion is the only one that matters.
posted by theichibun at 8:46 PM on September 1, 2008 [5 favorites]

Send her a generous check, with a note stating that you appreciated so much what a happy birthday she gave you, and you'd like for her to treat herself equally richly. Keep it brief and kind, but not affectionate.

If she doesn't want to accept, she won't cash the check.
posted by Ambrosia Voyeur at 9:08 PM on September 1, 2008 [3 favorites]

Please, please don't do anything. I had a boyfriend of two and a half years break up with me a week before my birthday, and he showed up because we had pretty much the same friends and he thought it would be mean not to.

It completely ruined my birthday to have to see him while I was still so miserable. I ended up crying in front of everyone.
posted by Nattie at 9:17 PM on September 1, 2008 [1 favorite]

There is likely nothing she wants to hear from you except that you didn't mean it, you messed up, and you want her back.

Anything you send to her will either be:

A.) An opportunity for her to hang on, thinking that's what you mean, and you'll come around soon, only delaying the inevitable reality of that not happening, or

B.) A reminder that you are not going to do that, ergo a knife in the wound.

I know you want to undo the hurt, but you can't. Only time can -- time without contact from you, I'm sorry to say.
posted by pazazygeek at 9:19 PM on September 1, 2008 [1 favorite]

I have absolutely no experience that relates to your question, but, putting myself in your ex-girlfriend's shoes: if I poured my heart into celebrating your birthday only to be dumped soon after the event, I would not want to be contacted by you on my birthday. That would only add salt to wounds, and your birthday sentiments would mean nothing to me (or mean nothing good, at least). If you were still on friendly terms and had contact with her, it would be one thing, but, like The World Famous says, unless you're wanting to get back together, it might be best to let it go. Looking at your last paragraph, I think any intervention (even a simple 'Happy Birthday' email or card) could cause anguish, and any present or offering could be misinterpreted as being symbolic. These are just my thoughts, though, since I don't know your ex-girlfriend.
posted by Mael Oui at 9:24 PM on September 1, 2008

If she doesn't want to accept, she won't cash the check.

Ha! If I were in her shoes, you better believe I'd cash that fucking check, so you better be careful. Like others say, I think it's best for you to leave her alone.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 9:37 PM on September 1, 2008 [7 favorites]

If I were in her shoes (and I have been,) these are the things that would be running through my mind if you *didn't* contact me:

"After 3 years, he's already forgotten me after 7 days?? He really *didn't* love me, did he?" - and this can either lead to the conclusion of - "What a jerk, I'm totally better off", OR "I'm not worth it to him"

Given the way you ended it, with her not being happy about it, I do think that NOT giving any acknowledgment of her birthday will make her more depressed. My suggestion is what others have said above...a card, maybe an email (and nothing reminding her of what she did for you...in short, nothing reminding her of your relationship.) But you have to strike a balance between making it sound too detached and making it too personal, which only you know how to do, based on your previous relationship.

Also, for your own sanity, because you clearly are going through a lot, try not to agonize over this too much, and take care of yourself
posted by Eudaimonia at 9:53 PM on September 1, 2008

Ya know, as I read this, all I see is about how guilty you feel. It's hardly about her feelings or what will be in her best interest. You just want to be able to sleep at night.

So my advice is to just leave her be. It's possible that she is grieving just like you. It's also possible that she could have realized early on that she's better off and has moved on. Either way, chances are good that you're the last person she wants to even think about on her special day.
posted by arishaun at 11:14 PM on September 1, 2008 [1 favorite]

If you do give her *anything*, including a letter, it will be cruel and unnecessary punishment for the poor woman.

A choice made partly from selfishness and partly from love and a desire to see her have and be everything she wants.

Yeah, every time I've done this I've ended up regretting it a few years down the road.

Sounds like you're feeling the regret a little sooner. But after that? You need to let her go, not drag it out.
posted by tejolote at 12:01 AM on September 2, 2008

It's far too soon after the breakup for you to acknowledge her birthday - it would be incredibly cruel to do so. I understand the guilt entailed in ending a relationship, but it would be far more about you than her if you were to try and make a gesture right now.
posted by The Light Fantastic at 12:41 AM on September 2, 2008

Is there anything I can do or say or give to mark the occasion appropriately?

My ex-husband asked me for a divorce *on* our third wedding anniversary and moved out three days before my birthday.

He gave me a gift that is the most bittersweet thing I have ever received, and it made the loss that much worse to have this physical proof that he still knew me so well.

Leave her be. It's over, let it heal. At best, giving her *anything* would be rubbing salt into the wound, at worst, it would be pouring lemon juice on it.
posted by grapefruitmoon at 2:32 AM on September 2, 2008 [1 favorite]

I heard a comedian the other day whose opening joke was, "Have you ever called an ex to wish them happy birthday, just because you know it will ruin their day?"

Don't be that guy.
posted by NotMyselfRightNow at 3:57 AM on September 2, 2008 [2 favorites]

Eudaimonia : If I were in her shoes (and I have been,) these are the things that would be running through my mind if you *didn't* contact me:

"After 3 years, he's already forgotten me after 7 days?? He really *didn't* love me, did he?" - and this can either lead to the conclusion of - "What a jerk, I'm totally better off", OR "I'm not worth it to him"

And this is exactly why you SHOULDN'T contact her. Under the circumstances, one of the most likely long-term results is that she ends up resenting you for many, many years. To her, you're going to be Jerkface, who toyed with her for three years, couldn't commit, and ended things miserably. I think you recognize that fact, and part of your reason to get in touch is so that she thinks a little better of you.

I'm sorry to say it, but one of the most responsible things you can do towards her is accept your role as Jerkface, Destroyer of Relationships. If you contact her for her birthday and do something nice, it rips off her scabs and makes it harder for her to feel angry at you, but that also makes it harder for her to recover her sense of balance and self, and thus harder for her to move on, and thus worse for her overall. You can think of it as a selfless sacrifice on your part if you like: letting her resent you so that her heart mends more quickly. Or, if you want to be a bit more brutally honest with yourself, you can recognize that in this relationship, you really objectively are Jerkface, and that you'd just compounding the injury if you tried to deny it.
posted by grimmelm at 4:38 AM on September 2, 2008 [3 favorites]

The mind has ways of turning things to its own purposes. A seemingly thoughtful gesture can actually be a way of selfishly dealing with one's own feelings of guilt.Be certain that whatever you do, you are fully mindful of this.
posted by Ironmouth at 6:25 AM on September 2, 2008 [1 favorite]

I just have to say: For the love of god, please do not send her a check. If my ex-boyfriend mailed me a check after dumping me, I'd feel insulted. There are social implications when a man gives his female companion cash in exchange for her services (your birthday festivities ... possibly the entire relationship, by extension) Despite your intent, you'd just be begging for a misinterpretation.
posted by coizero at 6:31 AM on September 2, 2008 [2 favorites]

I agree with all those advising you to leave her alone, now and in the future. Sure it's going to be a shitty birthday for her. But you can't help her by contacting her. Go to a counselor if you keep feeling guilty or consumed with thoughts of whether she is coping well and address your guilt in that way. If you have her interests in mind at all you will leave her be and allow her to get on with her life.
posted by aught at 7:09 AM on September 2, 2008 [1 favorite]

Nthing the "don't do anything" responses. Further nthing the notion that you're making this about you and not about her.

You made your decision, it's time to live with it. That means you're going to experience periods of feeling like a cad; that's not entirely inappropriate as you just broke someone's heart. Don't make it worse by trying to make yourself feel better at her expense.
posted by DWRoelands at 7:49 AM on September 2, 2008 [1 favorite]

Breaking up was your decision; now wallow in it. This is what you wanted, remember? Contacting her now would be totally selfish, and I strongly suspect you already know that. You've given her the gift she needed, by your own admission; she'll get over you. I would.

You'll be fine, don't overworry it - women are throwing themselves at you, afterall.

(Accch; your tone is just so grating. You really, really need to spend some time alone to get over yourself.)
posted by heyho at 9:23 AM on September 2, 2008 [1 favorite]

My ex tried to give me a Christmas present about two weeks after we ended our four year relationship. The ending was supposedly mutual, but mostly his doing. I moved out of our shared apartment, and he bought me a nice wireless router so that I would have wireless in my new place.

That one gesture, which I'm sure he only meant to be a peace offering, an "I hope that someday you won't be so hurt that we can't be friends" gift, was like rubbing salt in the wound. It basically felt as though he was saying to me, "you can't have me, but here's an electronic gadget that you wouldn't need if I hadn't broken your heart." A fun gift might have been worse, because then it would have said, "I have made you feel like crap, but I hope that this toy shows you how lighthearted I feel about the whole situation." And don't even get me started about how bad a sentimental gift would have been: "I care about you enough to buy you this bauble, but not enough to love you." The money/check suggestion is the worst of all. It says, "I don't love you, I never loved you, here is payment for services rendered during the time I pretended to love you."

Basically, if she's feeling bad about the situation, anything you send her or say to her is going to be interpreted in the worst possible light, the light that makes her feel worst and reads your actions to mean that she is unlovable. The best thing that you can do for her is to stay away until she no longer feels that way.
posted by decathecting at 9:59 AM on September 2, 2008 [2 favorites]

You want to acknowledge her birthday/the anniversary for *you* not for *her*. If you feel bad, deal with it yourself. You made the decision, so step up and deal with the consequences.

Getting in touch with her really has a low probability of making her feel happy or good. Seriously, it sounds kind of hollow to me to hear "Thank you so much for treating me so well. I know I dumped you, but I just wanted to call and tell you Happy B-day!!"

She hasn't contacted you. Respect that. You don't have the right to contact her now.
posted by KAS at 11:25 AM on September 2, 2008

More of the same. Leave her alone. It's waaaaay too soon to be in touch with her and it will just give her hope that you might still want to be with her. Not to mention that most people don't give gifts hoping/expecting that those gifts will be reciprocated... No need to "pay her back".
posted by Mookbear at 12:56 PM on September 2, 2008

Seconding heyho.

Your post comes off as pretty narcissistic--particularly that part about two women throwing themselves at you (which makes me wonder if your post, with all its flowery words ("icon of pain"? Please.), isn't pure fiction). Surely you could have sensed her deep feelings toward you before the thoughtful birthday celebration she gave you?

If you had a problem with a 12-year age difference, could you not have discussed it with her before now, say, sometime in the three years preceding, instead of making an "executive decision" on your own?

And what is all this stuff about how you "suspected, deep down," that she wanted to explore having children, so you therefore drew the conclusion that you were in her way? Did she say that? Your post gives no clue at all to her feelings, except, by golly, that she threw you a terrific birthday party and you're surrounded by the gifts she gave. Face it. You broke up with her because you'd already left her in your heart, but you didn't have the decency to tell her until your eyes were suddenly opened because she did something nice for you? Methinks you checked out of this relationship a long time ago and now you want to justify your actions to strangers on the internet.

A relationship isn't all about you. Get some counseling before you enter another. Please leave her alone.
posted by apartment dweller at 2:44 PM on September 2, 2008 [4 favorites]

Agreed. The best present to an ex that recent is the peace of not having thoughts of you pushed right in her face.
posted by CwgrlUp at 3:08 PM on September 2, 2008

I cannot comprehend how you've gotten to the age of 30 without gaining the intution that hearkens unto you, "Don't be an asshole and use your ex's birthday as an opportunity to simultaneously assuage your own guilt, prove to others your status as one of the great Nice Guys, and put her in a position where you could concievably spin any negative reaction to make your ex look like an irrational, ungrateful, psycho hose beast."
posted by Coatlicue at 3:13 PM on September 2, 2008 [4 favorites]

If you contact her now it would almost certainly be construed as an attempt at a reconciliation on your part. You broke up with her, so you don't get to decide when and if you two reestablish contact.

Also, this is her birthday right after a breakup. If I were her friends I would be dragging her out of the house to have a good time. You call, she's going to spend the rest of the night sobbing, not getting out and over you.

Don't try and be the nice guy here. I realize you want to do the "nice" thing and you feel like an asshole for dumping her. But you looking like the "nice guy" actually makes it worse for her. Right now you need to be the asshole, not the perfect sweet guy who even called her on her birthday after you broke up with her. If you call her/send a present/or god forbid a check, you are doing it for you, not her.
posted by whoaali at 7:17 PM on September 2, 2008 [1 favorite]

I think your decision will be indicative of how you really feel deep down inside. If you send something then it probably means you are not ready for it to be over. If you let the day pass then you made the right decision to go your separate ways thus communicating it to her clearly.

You have to suffer too and this is where you get to reap the punishment of your deed.
posted by bkeene12 at 8:03 PM on September 2, 2008 [1 favorite]

Time and space will heal us, I am sure. But in the meantime, how do I address her impending birthday?

You answered your own question - you address it with time and space. You do nothing and you leave her to celebrate it however she wishes, without regard to you or the guilt you seem to be feeling for breaking up with her.

If you really want it to be over, let it be over. Don't torture her on your birthday or what would have been your third anniversary. It's over. It's not your third anniversary anymore.
posted by crossoverman at 10:07 PM on September 2, 2008

Don't torture her on your her birthday

There - fixed it for me!
posted by crossoverman at 10:09 PM on September 2, 2008

You only want to do something for her birthday because you feel guilty for being an asshole. Stay away from her, don´t contact her. Go do some volunteer work, donate money to charity, buy some bags of groceries and leave them anonymously on the steps of a family having trouble making ends meet, pay the toll for the 5 cars behind you, and go sit at home feeling smug.
posted by yohko at 11:08 AM on September 3, 2008 [2 favorites]

Right now you need to be the asshole.

You said it, Whoaali. Whether NOT contacting her on her birthday will mean a lot to her or make her angry and hurt, it's the best choice. Even if she feels hurt and angry that you didn't acknowledge her special day, those emotions will become a catalyst for her to use when moving on from you. If you truly care about her, you will allow her to do that and not allow your own feelings of guilt, loneliness, and pain to cause you to do something that would slow the process.

If you can give each other utter space for a long while, there will be a time to say "Yes, I really did care", but that time is not even close to being now.

You have to suffer too and this is where you get to reap the punishment of your deed.

...And I don't think your "deed" is something to be punished. If you knew you couldn't spend the rest of your life with her, you were right to end the relationship. Maybe you should have done it sooner, but there's no use saying "shouldhaves". Just do the right thing now.
posted by florestine at 5:40 PM on September 10, 2008

Dude - I would send her a huge vase of flowers to work "from a secret admirer who thinks that you're beautiful". That way, she is left with hope on her birthday and doesn't have to think about you at all. It's a win win.
posted by citystalk at 7:11 AM on April 15, 2009

I would send her a huge vase of flowers to work "from a secret admirer who thinks that you're beautiful". That way, she is left with hope on her birthday and doesn't have to think about you at all.

Not only is this idea cruel and incredibly creepy, it's also at least 6 months too late! I think you hit the trifecta on this one.
posted by The Light Fantastic at 12:17 PM on April 15, 2009 [1 favorite]

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