Try to forget my name
December 11, 2008 9:56 AM   Subscribe

I broke up with a boy recently - broke his heart, to be precise. Badly, unfairly, selfishly. For reasons that, while I recognize as illogical to outside parties, are entirely unavoidable for me. I wouldn't change my decision. I won't reveal all details. But he attempted suicide over this, and I've been feeling nonstop nausea thinking about this situation. I can't stop blaming myself for driving someone to this degree of... brokenness.

We were together for nearly a year, and I've known him for several. Mostly long distance, but we managed to spend a lot of time together, face-to-face. Weeks upon weeks, over the course of our relationship. Originally I wanted to take things one step at a time, just going day-to-day without making huge plans for our futures. Over time, that failed - we grew closer together and formed grandiose visions of what our lives would end up being, how entwined the branches would grow. We made promises, swore we were each others' whole world, and never took a step back, never tried to gain perspective.

I was happy. Truly, honestly happy. And that's why in part, doing this made no sense to him. It didn't click that recently, whether consciously or unconsciously, I took that step back and became scared of what I saw. It would make no sense if you're still running, looking forward. I didn't want to be the center of someone's universe anymore, I didn't want promises weighing me down. I don't know why this is part of the explanation - I don't want to be justifying anything. I'm not a victim here, as he told me.

But his suicide attempt was extremely real. He's in therapy now, in a "crazy house" as he described it. He had no family and no close friends other than me, which made the break all the more unbearable, and makes me feel all the more guilty for ruining his life after building it up so high. He gave me a call to explain where he now is, but also mentioned that he still sees no reason to live, and may very well make future attempts again. I'm devastated, physically sick, and I ask him to be careful, to take care of himself - he asks me dismissively, "Just so you don't have a suicide on your conscience, right?" And I think, he's right, what a selfish reason...

This post needs to go somewhere. I'm sorry. I have a small group of people close to me that I've been talking to about this, to keep my head above water, but every time I do I just think about him being alone right now and I want to break down. I can't take him back; I'm in no position to start a relationship again, especially with someone who requires that much attentive care at this moment. And that makes me feel guilty too.

How do I deal with this? How do I not have this weigh on my conscience if I receive terrible news in the future of him accomplishing something stupid? After all, I praised him - I called him my everything - and then I took it away "just" because I was scared of that pressure. Is that even excusable..? I'm worried about getting close to other people now, in the case that they become similarly attached and then so horribly devastated if we part.

My mind is a mess, and parts of me keep repeating almost as a mantra, "This is nothing compared to what he's going through. You have no right to complain." And yet... this is driving me insane. Any words of advice, anything, would be highly appreciated.

Thank you.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (54 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
Let me get this straight. You're the reason he's in a managed care facility right now - and you're communicating with him over the phone? That's like smuggling heroin into a rehab clinic.

You need to give him his space. From my experience, people don't typically take their own lives because they were injured by another. They do it because they feel the world would be better without them. This doesn't really sound like the situation your ex is in - but either way, you are the absolute last person on earth who should be trying to "help." You quit the relationship - so quit the relationship.
posted by Baby_Balrog at 10:08 AM on December 11, 2008 [4 favorites]

I think it will weigh on your conscience, fairly or unfairly, because you a human being clearly sensitive to the emotions of the others and aware of your impacts on them.

I say this not to say "it's your fault!", because clearly it's not, but in some ways it is an affirmation of your decency that you feel guilty or feel bad about what he is going through. At the same time, you have to realise that anyone who attempts suicide clearly has emotional and mental problems that transcend your immediate relationship to them -- you may have been a trigger, but you cannot be the cause of their underlying emotional fragility.

You may indeed go through breakups again, and perhaps the other party will be devastated, or perhaps you will be the one who is devastated. In either case, it is highly unlikely that either party will become suicidal, and such a fear based on experiencing a relationship with an individual suffering from mental illness as being representative of ALL future illnesses is illogical.

In sum, I guess I am saying that this sort of 'guilt' is natural and in some ways good. I would be much more concerned if you had no emotional response whatsoever to a former partner attempting to take his own life. Nonetheless, his mental issues are not your responsibility, and you cannot be sucked into a relationship that you do not what to be in based on threats of self-harm by the other party.
posted by modernnomad at 10:09 AM on December 11, 2008

uh, all future relationships. sorry.
posted by modernnomad at 10:11 AM on December 11, 2008

Well, I'm not saying that you have issues - but a little therapy would probably help on your side. It sounds like he is emotionally abusive and "passive aggressive", so frankly I would lay too much stock in his threats...
posted by jkaczor at 10:11 AM on December 11, 2008

First, let me say how sorry I am that you're in this difficult situation.

I actually happen to be going through a breakup at the moment where nearly the exact thing happened, but my ex-boyfriend was the on your side, and I was on the side of your ex. While I was telling one of my friends last night that, yeah, my heart is pretty much shattered and it hurts like hell and I am still reeling from the shock and hurt of being abandoned by someone who called me his everything just a couple of months ago, I also know that I'm also fundamentally okay and doing whatever it takes to move on with my life and put this behind me. A little bit at a time, it's working. Breakups hurt--that's why everyone dreads them. The healthy response is, I think, to accept that and move on, looking forward to healing and finding something happier.

It's so unfortunate and so sad that your boyfriend has felt driven to try suicide, and I'm glad he is getting the help he needs. However, I don't think it would be fair to blame yourself for his actions. If he is dealing with the hurt from your breakup this way, I'm guessing he probably has other issues (like depression) going on that have nothing to do with you. Just a suggestion, but during this difficult time, I hope both of you seek individual counseling. Best of luck.
posted by anonnymoose at 10:12 AM on December 11, 2008 [2 favorites]

"wouldn't" - he is manipulating you emotionally.

How young are you guys? Time definately adds perspective.
posted by jkaczor at 10:12 AM on December 11, 2008

When I was 20, I broke up with my boyfriend and he attempted suicide a few months later, on what would have been our anniversary. At the time, I was counseled to look after myself first. The main thing was to recognise that what he did to himself was not on me - it was his choice, his doing. (also, I kept reminding myself that it was an incredibly dick move of his to do it on our anniversary - an example of the manipulation that I'd broken up with him for.... maybe sounds harsh, but it kept *me* from feeling overwhelming guilt). The other thing was that I kept away from him. I didn't see or talk to him for about a year afterward, despite the fact that about 80% of our friends were mutual friends. I didn't need to see him blaming me, and I'm sure he didn't need to see me to remind him.

This was 15 or so years ago, so I can't really remember what else I did. Threw myself into schoolwork, i think. But the main point is that it's not your doing. His behavior is his own. You have to learn to be a little cold, I think.

Good luck, it sucks.
posted by gaspode at 10:17 AM on December 11, 2008 [2 favorites]

(Crap, on your side, I mean. Sorry--my brain and typing are so fried from writing papers.)
posted by anonnymoose at 10:18 AM on December 11, 2008

Without knowing you nor having the pertinent details of why you really decided that this relationship wasn't for you, it's a bit tough to formulate a response to this.

That being said, in my opinion, I do believe you owe the guy a very thorough explanation - regardless of how illogical it might seem - for your decision, if one has not be offered up to this point. Whether you like it or not, your decision has ruined him, at least for the time being. It sounds like he may have some dependency issues possibly but it also sounds like he was very much into you and this relationship and really had no fathom of what was soon to be coming from you. I'm sure he's understandably devastated. It is extreme for him to attempt suicide, but it does point to his total and utter sense of loss, confusion, and maybe even purpose.

Did he have any indication from you prior to the break-up that you had these concerns/reseverations about the relationship? In other words, did you talk to him about your feelings, or did you just tell him cold-turkey one day?

At first blush, I do feel that some of your responses (again, from what I can gather in your post) to him have been a bit selfish. That only serves to twist the knife (so to speak) in what is already a very deep wound.

Personally, I think that if you had a relationship with this guy and he was your friend before, you should be a friend to him now - so long as he wants that and understands the limits - and try your very best to be understanding and supportive. It was his choice to pursue the suicide route - it was not a rational choice - and you should show utmost concern for him and his well-being, but in terms of guilt in that area, I don't think it's warranted.

This is a tough one. I wish you and your friend the best moving forward.
posted by karizma at 10:18 AM on December 11, 2008

I broke up with a boy
We were together for nearly a year
he attempted suicide
He gave me a call
I'm devastated.
How do I deal with this?

Just getting all the facts straight there. So to address each in turn:

1. It happens. People break up with each-other. It's not that big of a deal in the grand scheme of things.
2. Especially if you were only together a year
3. Let that be the last communication. If you have to, write him a letter or email that says whatever you want to leave him with and then never ever never nerver speak to him again.
4. Of course you're devastated. Only time and distraction will help you to realize it's not your fault. Breaking up with someone isn't victimizing them. It's just the way shit goes sometimes.
5. Deal with it by hanging out with friends and being creative in whatever way you can and eventually dating people in a more rational and less melodramatic way. It's cool to feel the adrenaline rush of being in love, but that rush is possible without all the histrionics and drama, I promise.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 10:20 AM on December 11, 2008 [2 favorites]

Leave the poor guy alone. He'll be better off if you make a clean break. Whatever happens regarding his suicidality is his problem. Hopefully you'll both come out of this wiser.
posted by RussHy at 10:20 AM on December 11, 2008 [3 favorites]

It's not your fault that he chose to attempt suicide as a result of you doing something you needed to do. Please don't beat yourself up over it.
posted by smalls at 10:22 AM on December 11, 2008 [2 favorites]

There's a scene in "The Wire" when one cop tells another cop feeling guilt over their partner getting shot, more or less, "Personally, I hate your guts. And I'm telling you this isn't your fault."

To be clear, I'm expressing no opinion of you personally - because I don't (couldn't) have one. The point I'm making is that you could have been the coldest, nastiest breaker-upper of all time and this still wouldn't be your fault. Not even remotely.

Whatever pain he's in, wherever it came from, there's nobody's name on his suicide attempt but his. And frankly, his "so you don't have a suicide attempt on your conscience" is a profoundly shitty thing to say that I refrain from condemning only because he's obviously in a real bad place right now.

In your situation, feeling guilt is natural - even unavoidable. So don't try to fight it. But never forget that feelings aren't facts.
posted by Joe Beese at 10:22 AM on December 11, 2008 [9 favorites]

Leave him alone. You aren't helping him (or you) by stringing him along. Tell him that you won't initiate or accept contact from him, because he needs time on his own to heal. Then live up to that promise. No contact.

Next, get your own mental health in order. There's a reason you were attracted to him and fed his obsession. You need to get that under control.
posted by 26.2 at 10:27 AM on December 11, 2008 [4 favorites]

He is manipulating you emotionally.

You are allowed to break up for "selfish reasons".

(for what it's worth, I have no idea what the other posters are talking about with your "selfish responses". From what you've told us, he is the one being a total prick right now--and no, a suicide attempt does not excuse you from being a total prick, and in some cases, is an indication of it.)
posted by shownomercy at 10:27 AM on December 11, 2008 [13 favorites]

karizma: When you've broken up with someone there is nothing terribly selfish about staying away. The selfish thing is thinking that they will eventually be your buddy and forgive you. He won't. He may hate you forever. It's usually better for both parties to cease and desist the dance of self-destruction that got them to this extremity in the first place.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 10:28 AM on December 11, 2008

do you have any form of corroboration that he is in fact in a managed care facilty?
posted by Wilder at 10:30 AM on December 11, 2008

1) Break all contact with him for at least 1 year.

2) You did nothing wrong. You did not, as you put it, "ruin his life." If his life is ruined, which it doesn't seem to be, he did that to himself. You did not do it.

How do I not have this weigh on my conscience if I receive terrible news in the future of him accomplishing something stupid?

Break contact. You are not obliged to be this person's personal psychotherapist.
posted by ikkyu2 at 10:30 AM on December 11, 2008 [8 favorites]

Also: Gregory Bateson was once asked for comfort by Person X feeling guilt over the suicide of a loved one. He asked them to imagine that the suicide, challenged by St. Peter to explain why he was there ahead of schedule, said "It's all X's fault." Bateson said that the suicide now has to demonstrate that they didn't have free will but X did. "I submit," he said, "that you both had free will - or neither of you did."
posted by Joe Beese at 10:32 AM on December 11, 2008 [6 favorites]

Oh dear, this hits close to home. My very first serious relationship should have ended after the first year. It doesn't matter the reasons I decided I needed to leave, but when I told him he grabbed a bottle of Advil off my desk and dumped it in his mouth. Drama, crying, 911, police, ambulance, sitting in the hospital while they fill his stomach with charcoal and him saying he still wants to die... Unfortunately in his case, the hospital folks let him go after a day or so with a recommendation to see a therapist, which he never did.

In my case, I did the dumbest thing imaginable. I took him back. I felt all the guilt you did, and I let that guilt take over. I told myself that happiness is self-made, if I just let/forced myself to be happy with him I'd eventually feel it. That what he was going through was my fault and if I cared about him at all I should stop that hurt. What a terrible idea.

A year later, I again realized I needed to leave. This time I knew what to expect. So I left, ran away really, during spring break. Left our mutual friends to deal with the multiple threats to kill himself.

While Baby_Balrog is right that you are the last person who should be trying to help, realize that your ex will use this against you as well. When I left mine the second time, he (and frankly, our friends that were left with the mess I left behind) was very angry that I chose not to try to be his friend and help him through it. No matter how many times I told him "every time you see me, you try or threaten to kill yourself, can't you see I had to get away for both our sakes?" he still held it against me.

Listen, I know he's going through a lot. But that does not mean you need to subjugate yourself to him and his troubles. Relationships end. People in relationships have the right to end them, for many and sundry reasons - hell, for no reason at all - even when promises have been made. It sucks, but it's life.

I don't know what I can tell you in terms of how to deal. You just go day by day and some days you hate yourself for what you've done and others you realize it's not your fault. In my case, my ex stopped with the suicide attempts, turned to drugs and drinking and found himself a new group of friends, but eventually he finished his degree and moved on to a good job and other relationships. His anger towards me never faded - attempts to contact him to see how he was doing were shot down with once word statements. Deserved, probably (I realize now I shouldn't have tried to contact him, even years later). But the time he said "it's your fault I'm still so screwed up" I had enough and told him off - I said that 6 years down the line from a bad breakup he couldn't still be blaming me for his problems and that if he needed help, it was his responsibility to get it. After that he conceded my point and I haven't spoken to him since. Luckily my almost constant nightmares about it ended around that time as well.
posted by misskaz at 10:35 AM on December 11, 2008 [3 favorites]

I am sorry you find yourself in this situation. Your ex-boyfriend has a serious illness but this illness was not caused by you. However, continually contacting him now might actually make it worse as it will create or exacerbate false hope, which will feed a negative cycle.

If you have made it very clear that you care about him but the relationship is over, then unfortunately there is not much more you can do for him.

As for you, realize that break-ups are always hard. Take it one day at time, be patient, and remind yourself why you broke up with him in the first place. You both will heal, and be stronger & wiser people in the future. Spend a lot of time with your friends.
posted by rumsey monument at 10:36 AM on December 11, 2008 [1 favorite]

Whether you like it or not, your decision has ruined him

Fuck. That. If everyone who got dumped killed themselves there would be no people left. He attempted suicide and is in a facility because he is mentally ill. That's all. And if I were you, I'd see a therapist myself because his words are a terrible burden.
posted by moxiedoll at 10:37 AM on December 11, 2008 [34 favorites]

This may sound harsh, but this is not your problem. This was his decision and you are not to blame for whatever fatal actions he chooses to take.

Stop communicating with him, get some therapy and put this where it belongs, behind you.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 10:37 AM on December 11, 2008 [1 favorite]

Certainly it is natural to have empathy for someone you cared about and even possibly to feel some guilt for the way this went down, even if that guilt is unwarranted. I may be a little harsh here, but my family has been hit by suicide twice, so this is not off the cuff. His decision to attempt suicide has nothing to do with you ultimately. Thousands have their hearts broken and lives shattered by far more tragic things daily and get through those tragedies without trying to kill themselves. If he sees suicide as a viable solution to his problems or says he has nothing to live for, you are not the band aid. It is heartbreaking to me to hear of people that feel this way, but i would be lying if i said i understood what it means to feel kind of desperation, because i don't. He needs people who do understand and understand what it takes for someone to rewire their thinking away from those tendancies and who can give him healthier coping skills. I hope where he is can help him make progress in that direction.
posted by domino at 10:38 AM on December 11, 2008

I see nothing in anon's post indicated that she ever contacted him, or is continuing contact him, so I have no idea what these "leave the poor guy alone" comments are referring to.

People break up everyday, for a million reasons. It's not you, it's him. I second the recommendation of therapy for you. Block any numbers he calls you from, and return any mail he sends you.
posted by peep at 10:44 AM on December 11, 2008

peep: I see nothing in anon's post indicated that she ever contacted him, or is continuing contact him

Well, maybe you ought to read the post:

He gave me a call to explain where he now is, but also mentioned that he still sees no reason to live, and may very well make future attempts again. This was the call where he lamented being locked up in the "crazy house."

Anon shouldn't take these calls. She shouldn't give or receive messages through third parties. She should drop him completely and make sure all their mutual friends know it. When he gets out, she should avoid parties where she knows he's going to be.
posted by ikkyu2 at 10:48 AM on December 11, 2008

seriously not. your. fault. this question is too close to home to discuss it via internets for me, but please seek therapy on your end. now.
posted by ms.jones at 10:48 AM on December 11, 2008

You're guilty to the extent that you apparently preferred being the "long-distance" center of the world for someone who apparently had no friends & family (I doubt that you were dating a complete hermit, but let's go with that). You can deal with it by indulging your emotions a little lesser and being less needy the next time around. And at the moment being a drama queen probably isn't helping the situation (seeing the title of the thread).

He may commit suicide or he may not, that's his choice and not yours. Whether he takes this experience, improves himself and learns something positive from it is again his choice and not yours. Life's rough, you're not the worst that can happen to him.
posted by the_ancient_mariner at 10:53 AM on December 11, 2008 [1 favorite]

I think the "leave the poor guy alone" are in response to the post above by karizma, who seems to be the only voice for continuing contact with this individual, and also is the source of the "your decision has ruined him" comment.

One more vote here for the so-far majority: that's absurd.
posted by clever sheep at 10:56 AM on December 11, 2008

How do I deal with this? How do I not have this weigh on my conscience if I receive terrible news in the future of him accomplishing something stupid? After all, I praised him - I called him my everything - and then I took it away "just" because I was scared of that pressure. Is that even excusable..? I'm worried about getting close to other people now, in the case that they become similarly attached and then so horribly devastated if we part.

As others have said, his actions are neither your fault nor your responsibility. However, I'll beg to differ with anyone who keeps going and says that you did nothing wrong. The last sentence that you wrote above makes it seem like you did absolutely nothing to make this guy fall in this obsessive love with you, but other things you wrote make it clear you did lots of things to make him fall that hard for you: namely, mirror every thing that he was doing. You were saying "You're my everything" right back at him.

If you're worried about people getting so attached to you, consider whether it would be reasonable for an average person to become so attached based on the things you are doing. If you don't want someone to get this attached next time, then make sure you stick to your guns on taking things slow. I think you had an idea of how you wanted this to play out, and then you gave in to how he wanted it to be.
posted by 23skidoo at 10:57 AM on December 11, 2008 [2 favorites]

If your ex-boyfriend is still suicidal he's exactly where he should be; inpatient in a mental health facility where he will be provided with the opportunity to engage with a psychiatrist and a social worker regarding what kind of help he'll need to thrive when he returns to the community. At the moment that he acted on his suicidal impulse his situation went from break up angst to a full blown mental health crisis. His situation should be treated as an ongoing mental health crisis until he is no longer complaining of depression and suicidal ideation. You didn't mention having any mental health expertise, nor would it be prudent for you to have any involvement in your ex-boyfriends mental health services even if you did. So, with all do respect and in the kindest possible tone, I would suggest that you back away and let your ex get the help he needs right now. There's really nothing constructive that your involvement can bring to the table right now, I'm truly sorry to say.
posted by The Straightener at 11:10 AM on December 11, 2008 [1 favorite]

I'm going through the same thing right now, and I'm still trying to figure out whether it's better for me to take a hike and let him sort himself out on his own (if only so that my presence/something I say doesn't cause him to backslide), or whether I can be of any help by sticking around. Like, does he need a friend? Can I be that friend? Or does he need to vilify me, imagine me as a monster, and use my betrayal as motivation to find what makes him happy?

As far as your situation goes, if the only reason you left him is because you became afraid of how co-dependent and committed the relationship was, he's not going to understand your point of view. It's going to be nightmarish for him. But your first responsibility is to weigh your own mental well-being against his. If you're feeling non-stop nausea about this but nothing you do is having any effect on him, you have GOT to cut your losses. Sticking around to listen to emotional blackmail/verbal abuse while your being there only raises his blood pressure isn't doing a valiant thing.

If you can find a happy medium where you are having a noticeable positive impact on his feelings and you aren't beating yourself up continuously, or if you leaving would only make things ten times worse for him and not make anything any easier for yourself, stick around. But don't be afraid to reevaluate if it takes a toll on you.
posted by lizzicide at 11:11 AM on December 11, 2008

Quite frankly, he doesn't sound all that stable prior to the obvious REALLY unstable moments. It sounds to me like he came quite damaged, and there is a good chance of those types of people being clingy/and or manipulative for whatever reasons. Again, you didn't break him, so you don't have to fix him or even pick up the pieces.

Also, my opinion is to not stay in contact with him; it sounds like hes likely to take the inch you give him and use it as a stick to beat you in the head. Repeatedly. You deserve better than that.
posted by Jacen at 11:11 AM on December 11, 2008

Every day thousands and thousands of couples break up without anyone attempting suicide. When someone broke up with me, I didn't for one second consider suicide. His decision to do that is not your fault and is reflects something much bigger than you; you just got wrapped up in all of it. Stop blaming yourself. Go easy on yourself.

Also, you are definitely justified in feeling upset about all of this. A friend of yours has a terrible illness and almost died. That's tough enough, but also, he's blaming it on you. That's tough. I'm sure he's in pain, but this isn't a pain contest where only the worst-off get sympathy: you deserve care and support for what you're going through. I'd get some help from a therapist -- friends are great, but some situations call for a professional.
posted by salvia at 11:12 AM on December 11, 2008 [3 favorites]

People who are stable and healthy don't generally attempt suicide over a break-up, even if the dumper is being selfish/illogical. They may get drunk, stare at TV for hours, punch walls, cry, and put up passive-aggressive status updates on Facebook. They may be unhappy for months. They may be so upset that they need to seek the help of a therapist. But they cope, usually successfully. Your ex has other issues going on, the semi-obsessive nature of your relationship with him and his with you is a small indicator of some of them, and he needs to resolve them with people who can provide medical care and psychological therapy.

I echo everyone else who has said not to allow him to call you to blame you or manipulate you into an apology. You are not doing him any favors if you permit it. He needs to learn that he is capable of controlling the way he responds to tremendous stresses. He almost certainly does feel unexpectedly betrayed, and perhaps that's right, but he will not be a healthy adult unless he gains the ability to handle very bad shit, and more importantly, to feel that he has the ability to handle very bad shit.

If he indeed is in a psychiatric care facility — you need to verify this — then you need to avoid acting as his potential future caretaker. Direct anyone who might be able to form a support system for him to his situation, rather than yourself. If he has any friends/family at all, close or not, one of them might be able to function as his contact on the outside. If he does not have any friends (why? another red flag), he may need to arrange for a mental health advocate. You cannot be his primary helper even if right at this moment he has no others. This is both for his sake and for yours.

Your other job should be to continue talking this out with friends, and to seek out a relationships counselor. If this is one in a pattern of similar relationships for you, you need to learn how to break the cycle. If it's new to you, you need to take steps to figure out why it happened, and how you can prevent yourself from digging way down into a grandiose/pathological type of relationship in the future.

You won't protect yourself by keeping an emotional distance from boyfriends; you'll do it by making sure you don't slip into an emotional distance from the rest of the real world.
posted by jeeves at 11:16 AM on December 11, 2008

Well, maybe you ought to read the post:

I did.

She did not contact him. She was contacted BY him. Yes, she should not take any further calls. Comments like "leave him alone" and "you're stringing him along" are accusatory toward the OP and imply blame on her part.

No need to be rude.
posted by peep at 11:26 AM on December 11, 2008

karizma: you owe the guy a very thorough explanation - regardless of how illogical it might seem - for your decision, if one has not be offered up to this point.

Please, please, please do not follow this advice. Leave. Him. Alone. For at least a year, perhaps longer. Probably longer. This is the best possible thing you can do for him.

My wife informed me that she was having a long-term extra-marital affair on the same day my father died. I desperately wanted to leave this planet. And I wanted her to experience the same shit I was going through, so I did everything in my power to keep talking to her - drag her to counseling - make her tell me over and over again how sorry she was... all of this was disastrous and did nothing to help me heal. What I really needed was for her to vanish - completely disappear so that I could open my damn eyes and begin living my life.

And that's what I did and ultimately that's how we grow out of these things. We live well - we do our best and we become better, stronger, new people. He cannot do this for as long as you are around.
posted by Baby_Balrog at 11:29 AM on December 11, 2008 [4 favorites]

Just a voice in the choir, about breaking all contact for a sizable chunk of time. That won't cure the guilt, but it's the healthiest thing to do despite it. It well and truly sucks to see and know someone you cared about, even past tense, be self-destructive at any level, let alone the final ultimatum of suicide attempts at any level of seriousness.

Everything else sort of depends on aspects of the relationship that no internet strangers are in position to judge. Personally, I find it hard to believe that manifestations of damage didn't show, either ramping upwards through the course of, or steadily throughout, the relationship, and that those manifestations were a large driving force behind ending it. It's very hard for a person to say to someone they truly, deeply love that, despite that true love, there are aspects of them that are terrible...and simply not worth the sheer investment of time and effort and personal energy and pain even if both parties agree that they're terrible and need fixing.

Then again, maybe all that's nonsense and projection.

Going forward, it's a good rule of thumb that a relationship where those in it are each other's Everything and Whole World Forever are generally never healthy ones. Just as people never stand truly alone, neither do relationships, if you can dig it.
posted by Drastic at 11:37 AM on December 11, 2008

First, you need to stop kicking yourself for feeling sad. Does he feel worse? Yes. So do millions of people. People are dying, starving, suffering physically and emotionally. The pain of other people is not a stick to beat yourself with. It doesn't invalidate what you feel. You don't need to punish yourself or hate yourself for being upset. You have a right to complain. You have a right to be devastated. Imagine that your friend comes to you in tears and says, I have no right to be sad! I suspect you would comfort her, not agree with her. Treat yourself the way you treat the people you care about. Take care of yourself. Forgive yourself. Give yourself permission to be unhappy about this.

Second, I agree that you need to cut ties with him.

Third, you are not responsible for him. You're just not that powerful. You can't make anyone in this world do something they don't want to do. You can break up with people to your heart's content in the cruelest possible way without causing any of them to attempt suicide. I (cringe) once dumped a guy at 8 am on Valentine's day. He's doing just fine. I also once wrote a poem about a puppy playing in the park. A few months later, a friend of mine wrote me a letter in which he told me that by publishing that poem on my webpage, I had driven him to attempt suicide. Actually, his severe clinical depression had driven him to it. That didn't stop me from sitting over the toilet crying for an hour, but it's what I focused on and what allowed me to let go of the sick guilt that I felt. You didn't break him unless you personally program his brain chemistry.

Your ex is sick. He needs help. It sounds like he's getting that help. You can't help him. It's not your job. If he broke his leg, it wouldn't be your job to set the bone. If he called you and told you that he broke his leg because of you, it still wouldn't be your job to set the bone.

It's not your duty to sacrifice yourself to anyone's unhappiness. That includes him. You don't owe him your life or your happiness. Sometimes, in life, we make choices that other people don't want us to make. Sometimes we choose against the wishes of the people whom we care for, and they react with anger and sadness. It's inescapable. It's not wrong. It's just a shitty part of this life. It doesn't make you a bad person.
posted by prefpara at 11:37 AM on December 11, 2008 [2 favorites]

Do not contact him in any way shape or form, or by proxy, for at least a year. Do not allow him to contact you in any way shape or form, or by proxy, for at least a year.

Keep yourself busy.

The end.
posted by Damn That Television at 12:08 PM on December 11, 2008

I do believe you owe the guy a very thorough explanation - regardless of how illogical it might seem - for your decision, if one has not be offered up to this point.

Here's the problem with this: The guy is mentally ill. Whatever you say will be filtered and twisted through the illness, so even if you had an ironclad reason for breaking up, it wouldn't matter. He hates himself enough to die, so anything you say will become "I was right, she hates me too, I am not worthy of love, the world is better off without me."

This is why you should not be in contact.
posted by desjardins at 12:33 PM on December 11, 2008 [6 favorites]

Well, you can ask yourself, "Was I an ass?" If you were an ass in the way you treated him, fine, realize that. Don't do the same thing in your next relationship. But realize that at this point, there's likely nothing positive you can do for him, and by continuing to communicate with him you may, indeed, be acting the ass further.
posted by klangklangston at 2:40 PM on December 11, 2008 [2 favorites]

I'm devastated, physically sick, and I ask him to be careful, to take care of himself - he asks me dismissively, "Just so you don't have a suicide on your conscience, right?" And I think, he's right, what a selfish reason...

My opinion is that killing yourself to make your ex-lover feel bad is pretty much a dick move. It's like crying to get what you want... times 700 billion.

Whatever your initial reason for breaking up was, his actions have entirely vindicated breaking up with him: It turns out, judged on the basis of his actions, that he's a dick.
posted by Mike1024 at 3:01 PM on December 11, 2008

Suicide is a symptom of mental illness. The illness is responsible for the attempt. The breakup may have been the trigger, but that is still not your fault. Had you stayed with him, it would likely have been something else, sooner or later.

Look at it this way: if he'd suddenly been hospitalized with a diagnosis of Type I diabetes, would you be blaming yourself for ruining his pancreas? No.

I would definitely recommend counseling for yourself though--there's no doubt that a suicide or suicide attempt close to you can throw you for a loop, and there's no shame in getting some professional, appropriately detached help in dealing with that.
posted by stevis23 at 3:35 PM on December 11, 2008

I don't have any advice except to say I'm so sorry you're going through this.
posted by small_ruminant at 4:04 PM on December 11, 2008 [2 favorites]

I do believe you owe the guy a very thorough explanation - regardless of how illogical it might seem - for your decision, if one has not be offered up to this point. Whether you like it or not, your decision has ruined him, at least for the time being.
No. You do not owe anything to anyone. You do not owe anything to anyone – especially not to anyone who has tried to emotionally blackmail you.

It is a sad thing when anyone attempts suicide, but this is not your fault, nor do you owe him anything.
posted by qvtqht at 4:16 PM on December 11, 2008

I'm sorry too, it's horrific. I think your guilt is natural and anyone would be questioning their handling of this situation, but please do not indulge the guilt endlessly. Let go of him and his behavior. You don't need a reason to break up with someone, and even people who get dumped without a reason can accept it, over time. He clearly has a lot of his own work to do and it does seem he could manage it better without communicating with you.

The same is true for your work. Do see a therapist. There's a reason why you were attracted to this intensity and drama and went along with it to a great degree. That is worth exploring. I also want to note, though, that the things you call "selfish," that you can't explain about why you initiated this breakup, were, quite likely, the healthiest part of you putting on the brakes before things took a different turn. As gaspode says, you do need to put yourself first and you can honor this impulse to end what might have been (just guessing here) an overly enmeshed and codependent relationship.

The same is true for him - his act was dramatic and desparate, miserable and cruel, but it did succeed in one way - it got him the professional attention he needs. He will have the tools now to heal. What he does with them is absolutely and unequivocally his choice. He doesn't need your help to heal right now, maybe never, and you can't fix what's wrong inside him, and you never could. I wish you both health and happiness.
posted by Miko at 4:57 PM on December 11, 2008

Well, yeah, you did intentionally hurt him. You should accept some responsibility for that. But you had every right to dump him, even if it did hurt him. You should not accept any responsibility for his reaction.

IMHO, you should deal with him as I think you should deal with any toxic person -- and make no mistake, he is a toxic influence -- drop him like a hot rock completely and permanently. I disagree with the arbitrary "one year" that some folks are recommending. No contact ever again. You may choose to tell him that you're cutting off contact, or not. You'll be better for it. Whether or not he is better for it should not be particularly relevant.
posted by ten pounds of inedita at 5:04 PM on December 11, 2008 [1 favorite]

So I'm going to give you my kneejerk mental health professional reaction here. This guy is manipulative and has serious personality problems that have been there all along. There is a certain kind of suicide attempt that is aimed at an individual as revenge or in order to manipulate. Whatever you do, DON'T take him back. Don't have contact with him. Don't let him pull you in deeper to his problems and his needs. He will only continue to hold this over your head. He's trying to make you feel guilty. Right now is the time to end this once and for all. If he contacts you again from the psychiatric facility, tell him you will not speak to him again or have any contact. Tell him you wish him well and hope he recovers, but you will not be involved. Tell him now while he is under the care of professionals so if he gets worse they can see it and maintain his safety.

Suicide is a horrible thing to have hanging over you. It's not your fault whatever he does. This was probably going to happen anyway eventually. You are going to feel guilty. You are going to feel like crap. Walk away. If he tries to contact you in the future and makes any suicidal threats, call the police and tell them. That is the extent of what you can do for him. Oh, and if he continues to call you from the hospital and either won't leave you alone or continues to say he wants to kill himself, find out what facility he is at, google it, and call them. Try to talk to a social worker and tell them what he is doing and that you want him to stop calling.

My sympathies. This is a shit situation all around.
posted by threeturtles at 5:41 PM on December 11, 2008

He's manipulating you. How hard-hearted would you have to be to leave someone who threatens to kill himself? Trick question, because that's the kind of twisted thinking in his mind. He expects you will take him back because of it. Don't take his calls anymore. Make as clean a break as you can. If you're not proud of how things went down with him in the end, file that away as a mistake you won't make again. Same with the whole 'you're my world' kind of talk. I've been in one of those relationships too and it's not healthy.

You are no one's keeper but your own. If he has nothing else in his life then he is in the right place now because he needs lots of help. You are out of that bad situation, so concentrate on moving yourself forward. That's not being selfish, that's not letting him hold you hostage.

NO MORE CONTACT WITH HIM. It's best for both of you.
posted by CwgrlUp at 7:47 PM on December 11, 2008

A lot of people have covered the immediate reaction, but I'd also like to urge you to gather up your friends and loved ones, and make sure that they've got your back. I've been in similarly emotional situations like these (mainly on your ex's side of the equation) and either way it sucks. But having close friends to look over you, even if it's just to be a sounding board or to accompany you to dinner, or let you crash on their bed, whatever - it would be so much of a comfort. Whenever I was in my deepest pits I had my mum come over for a while and that helped.

Honey. I am so so so so so sorry you have to go through this. I feel so bad for you. If therapy is available please make use of it; it will benefit you so much. Comfort yourself. Do something for yourself no matter how frivolous. Let your mind and soul rest.

Here's a massive hug for you.
posted by divabat at 8:05 PM on December 11, 2008

You need a clean break.

I am in a similar situation with a family member, where they relied on me totally. It is a huge burden to bear, even if it is mostly positive attention. I think it is impossible for most people. He was relying on you for happiness rather than himself, and that is not your fault. It is good, in a way, that you didn't let it go further. You can't keep contacting him though. Imagine yourself punching him everytime you make contact, that is what it is like. Your absence is a dull pain right now, but actually hearing from you is sharp.
posted by Acer_saccharum at 8:42 PM on December 11, 2008

I am sorry you are going through this.

Remind yourself as often as you need to:

You can't control his reactions or feelings. You are not responsible for his behavior. If he hurts himself in the future, you will feel sad. You will grieve. It will not feel good. But you will survive. You wil feel the feelings and live through it. You will move on.

Best of luck.
posted by agentwills at 7:25 AM on December 12, 2008 [1 favorite]

I actually had this exact same thing happen in my life about 13 years ago. A guy I had been dating--a terrific guy named Chris--decided he wanted to be my one and only boyfriend. Unfortunately, I wasn't as into him. I was 21 and a just sampling what was out there. At 31, he was more serious than I was about the whole thing. Anyway, shortly after we broke up, he made a suicide attempt. He spent some time in the hospital.

I felt terrible and responsible, much like you, but I decided that the best thing for him would be not seeing me, though I did write him a letter.
His life continued to spiral downward after that. He lost what had been a pretty good job for excessive absences related to his depression.

His first suicide attempt was in April of 1996. By October of that year he was dead from a heroin overdose.
When a mutual friend broke the news, I fell apart. I felt like I had pulled the trigger, so to speak.
The guilt was wretched. I must say, it haunted me for some time.
It is worth noting that Chris was suffering from depression before I ever met him, and there were probably other issues involved in his decision to end his life.
Still, I wonder if ther's something more I could have done.
I hope your friend is better and this isn't weighing so heavily upon you anymore.

A positive outcome might be that you'll be a bit more careful with other people's feelings in the future. Like, try to be sure that someone really is your "everything" before you say so. Try not to make promises your heart can't keep. That shit has a way of catching up with you. I speak from experience.
posted by apis mellifera at 10:48 PM on August 8, 2009

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