How to mend a broken heart
December 1, 2009 8:11 AM   Subscribe

HeartbreakFilter: Help me come to terms with the end of my relationship and quit being in denial.

I’m a 23 year old second year law student, and he’s a 26 year old grad student. We’d been together for a year and a half (the longest relationship for either of us by far) when he dumped me last Sunday. I’m completely devastated after my Thanksgiving was ruined (I was supposed to have spent the day at his mom’s house like last year) and with finals starting next week, I’m a wreck. Help me adjust to my new situation.

He was my first real love, and I was not expecting the relationship to end, especially not so suddenly. We seemed so compatible, with similar tastes in movies and tv and we got along great even when just hanging out together. We met on OkCupid but had real life friends in common. It was just a fabulous connection both physically and mentally when we started dating right before I started law school and he went back to school for his PhD.

Some problems starting cropping up in my second semester of 1L year; I’ve always been fairly high strung with some issues dealing with anxiety. I would get really upset over little things, sometimes related to him but often just situational stressors from school. I mean, he was my best friend and I felt safe revealing my insecurities and fears to him. Conflict is rough on him, but he was always super sweet and calmed me down when I got upset and cried over something small.

The anxiety issues kept happening, where I’d pick a stupid fight over something ridiculous maybe once a month or so. To me, I’d get mad really quickly but it would also blow over quickly, and I didn’t hold grudges. Apparently, he struggled more with the conflicts and thought I didn’t seem happy with him. I was, and I tried to assure him of that. We had a fight in mid October about this, where we agreed to try taking a break, since he wanted more space (we usually saw each other everyday, and spent most nights together). After we agreed to the break, the next day he called me and apologized and asked me to come over. Everything was fine for a month until last Saturday.

The same sort of stupid fight happened Saturday, but instead of blowing over, on Sunday I went over to his apartment to see him and apologize, and he dumped me. He said that the relationship didn’t feel quite right and that if it were meant to be it wouldn’t be so hard. He said he needed space and that he kind of felt like he was losing his identity. But at the same time he kept telling me he loves me and hugging me. We were both crying, and I’m ashamed to say I begged him to give it another chance, but he refused.

Now, a week later, I’m still devastated. I’ve tried to contact him a few times, through calls and texts, but he won’t answer his phone. I know that I caused these problems by leaving my anxiety untreated for so long. I started back on Lexapro which helped me through a tough situation a couple of years ago; with the anxiety medicine, even after only a week, I’m not so concerned about the little stressors that used to bug me. I just want to give the relationship another try when I’m not so hung up about the little things. It was always just little things we fought about, nothing major.

I’m still majorly in denial about the breakup, too. I dream about him every night, and getting back together. It just doesn’t seem real to me, and so many things in my apartment and just life in general remind me of him.

After this long saga, my questions are mainly, how can I get over this sense of denial? I really want to get back together, but objectively it seems pretty unrealistic. How can I convince myself that he’s no longer my boyfriend? How can I stop myself from dreaming about him and reconciliation (I wake up so excited in the morning at first because I think the dream was real)?

Alternately, does anyone have any advice for how to approach him about giving things another chance? I really think the anxiety medication helps me, and I’d like the chance to show him that I’m not going to freak out little things anymore. How can I show him that I’ve changed? I love him so much, and he said he still loves me.
posted by mesha steele to Human Relations (22 answers total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
You might not like to hear my advice but I promise it is gently intended: Wait. Try as best you can to set aside your hopes of a reconciliation, buckle down and prepare for your finals and get through them. Between the breakup, and finals, and pre-existing anxiety, and holidays I think you have a lot on your plate right now. Once you are through the most urgent issue - the exams - you might be able to behave with more calmness.

This calmness, and sense that you have considered and taken time and thought carefully, will be important if indeed you decide to approach him about a reconciliation. This is the part that sounds mean, but if you have been acting over-emotional and "crazy" (quotes because having been through law school and its stresses, I think your behavior is a pretty normal response), then a one-week "I'm on meds and everything will be better" turnaround is not going to be particularly impressive. It will sound "crazy," he will be hesitant to believe you, and you will have major difficulty controlling your emotions. Think about a witness on the stand - the witness who is excessively emotional is far less convincing than the calm, measured and thoughtful witness. Obviously I don't know you or him, these are all just my predictions.

Get some friends to come study with you, hit the books with friends and snacks and after-studying trips to the bar for a nightcap (if you indulge), and the time will fly by. Good luck.
posted by bunnycup at 8:21 AM on December 1, 2009 [1 favorite]

Stop trying to contact him, for starters. He's made it clear he doesn't want you to approach him, at least not now. Focus on your finals. Have a good friend take you out for dinner.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 8:21 AM on December 1, 2009 [2 favorites]

take a deep breath.

Heartbreaks usually take about 1-2 weeks of feeling awful and thinking irrationally and unrealistically before your brain recovers from the shock. It's hard to hear, but just tough it out for a little longer, and it'll start to get better.

Two people can continue to love each other after a break-up (and, in fact, usually do), because there's no "off switch" to emotions. You don't wake up one day and say "I 'm over him," or "i don't love her anymore," but these feelings are independent of the rational thought process that leads him to believe the two of you aren't right for each other in a long-term relationship.

So, for now, take a little time for yourself. See some friends that you may have neglected do to relationship, go to some old-time comforting places, engage in the sins of your choice. Probably for a week. Then get back to work full-bore.

Good luck.
posted by Jon_Evil at 8:26 AM on December 1, 2009 [2 favorites]

I’d get mad really quickly but it would also blow over quickly, and I didn’t hold grudges.

I have a couple people like this in my life, and it's unbelievably stressful being around them. One is a family member and the other is a work-related person, so I have little choice in the time I spend with them. Trust me when I say that if someone is sensitive to conflict, it doesn't matter how nice you are afterward or how swiftly you get over it. If you are always one minute detail away from saying something unnecessarily cruel or radiating pure stress, people will be unable to relax around you.

I'm very sorry that you're in this situation, but regardless of what happens, you need to seriously address your inability to keep calm in the face of things that are, as you admit, no big deal really. It will make you a better person to know, love, and work with.
posted by hermitosis at 8:31 AM on December 1, 2009 [25 favorites]

I was not expecting the relationship to end

100% of relationships end. The best-case scenario is that they last for decades and then one of you dies.

I don't say this to be cynical: I'm pointing out that we all need coping skills in this arena.

How can I convince myself that he’s no longer my boyfriend?

Read this book: How to Heal a Broken Heart in 30 Days, by Howard Bronson. And perhaps this one: Don't Call That Man! by Rhonda Findling.

Alternately, does anyone have any advice for how to approach him about giving things another chance?

Don't. He already knows you want to give things another chance; what new information would you be giving him?
posted by Sidhedevil at 8:33 AM on December 1, 2009 [3 favorites]

... how can I get over this sense of denial? ...How can I convince myself that he’s no longer my boyfriend?

Alternately, does anyone have any advice for how to approach him about giving things another chance?

This doesn't sound rational. Which is it that you want? You're not going to start facing the reality of the breakup until you stop scheming of ways to get back together. BTW, you've already approached him about getting back together and he said no. As for the meds helping you, you don't know that yet, and frankly, you sound pretty high-strung at the moment.

One of the best things I ever learned was the realization that nothing I do can force someone to do what I want. All the scheming and planning and hoping in the world will not make someone be with you. Even if you did somehow badger him into getting back together right now, the problems will not have just magically disappeared. This is what happened with the split in October -- the two of you broke up because of the problems in the relationship, but getting back together didn't address the issues. No amount of acting as if everything is normal can make it true.

Just stop, breathe, and deal with your exams right now. After you get those off your plate, you may be able to think about this whole thing more clearly.
posted by runningwithscissors at 8:35 AM on December 1, 2009 [1 favorite]

also: music. Make yourself a course of music that transitions from self-pity to acceptance to empowerment. I suggest starting with Motown and The Band's "It Makes No Difference."
posted by Jon_Evil at 8:35 AM on December 1, 2009 [1 favorite]

First of all, I'm sorry. I know that this is difficult.

The anxiety issues kept happening, where I’d pick a stupid fight over something ridiculous maybe once a month or so. To me, I’d get mad really quickly but it would also blow over quickly, and I didn’t hold grudges.

Anxiety issues or not, you are in charge of your actions. Picking pointless fights is for children. When you have a real problem, you discuss it. I am not surprised that he quickly grew tired of the pointless-fight/make-up cycle.

It will take time for you to realize that he is truly no longer your boyfriend. Focus on your schoolwork as best you can and spend time with your friends. This is a learning experience. Good luck.
posted by Optimus Chyme at 8:38 AM on December 1, 2009 [2 favorites]

Not to be the "Get thee to a therapist!" MeFite, but when I was in a similar position after a similar breakup, I found it to be the perfect time to start seeing a therapist-- both to help me through the breakup and to deal with my history of anxiety and depression. It wasn't a fast fix, but it was the right decision, and the stability of weekly emotional support was really nice, even when I felt at my worst. Your school probably has at least some free mental health service-- maybe look into that?
posted by oinopaponton at 8:49 AM on December 1, 2009

It sounds like he has convinced himself that you two are not going to work in the long term. I'm not sure why he has formed this opinion, but you should respect that. Stop trying to contact him for now. He's probably taking the advice to "make a clean break" however well-advised that maybe. Take this as a sign to spend some time working on yourself for yourself, not to make yourself "dateable" to him again. You are both in high stress periods in your lives with grad and law school, and you both have limited long term relationship experience. This is very difficult trial for any relationship, no matter how well equipped you are. He may still love you, and you still love him, and as much as we all want to be romantics, love may not be enough. Theres no reason to think badly of the times you had. Just realize that those times are past.

As for how to move on from all this, you'll hear this cliche over and over, but time really does heal all wounds. To get over the denial, how about you start thinking about dating again? I don't mean jump right into a new relationship, but maybe start thinking about guys you meet as potential dates. Again I don't think you should actually start dating on a serious basis, but getting yourself into that mindset, and maybe even being excited about it can help you move on and feel more independent. Build up friendships, hobbies, things that make you feel like you. Redecorate your apartment, try a new hair style, maybe a new activity or sport. You have a lot of things to look forward to. The best thing you can bring into any relationship is the best you, you can be.
posted by fontophilic at 8:50 AM on December 1, 2009 [2 favorites]

Well, that sucks. I'm always sorry to hear about the end, particularly when finals are around the corner. But I would use that cram time to forcibly push Boy from your mind. In all likelihood, sadly, you will not reconcile--but if you do, the three-week delay to deal with finals will not stop you two if you're "meant" to be together. On the other hand, in the far more likely (sorry) event that you two never reconcile, you will most assuredly find someone you love even more in the future, and passing your exams is really more important in the long run.

Over the past couple of years, my marriage inexplicably spontaneously combusted after 15 years together. It was a horrible, wrenching experience. One of the things said to me in that process was that everyone has to have a first love, and everyone has to lose their first love. Mine just took a bit longer to lose. But if I can get through that, you can get through this--and you'll have gotten that dreary trial by fire out of the way. And, N.B.: I'm in a new, very happy relationship--one does, in fact, move on.

Specific advice: Try some of the great fun music in this thread I posted last year. Drop me a line if you want specific law-school related encouragements!

Good luck!
posted by Admiral Haddock at 8:51 AM on December 1, 2009 [1 favorite]

This comment might come off as a little harsh, but I think you should read it if you want the possibility of reconciliation.

He said that the relationship didn’t feel quite right and that if it were meant to be it wouldn’t be so hard. He said he needed space and that he kind of felt like he was losing his identity.

This looks like the crux of it. It sounds like he loves you but he hates your relationship and the way you treat him. He needs more space, and less fight-picking, and less anxiety. You have not respected his needs. His status as your "best friend" is not a good rationale to dump all your anxieties on him, especially in a way that is obviously so unpleasant to him.

You probably understand the fight-picking and anxiety issues, at least to some extent. Your current behavior indicates that you do not understand or desire his need for space and his own identity. Another type of person might be able to carve out all the space they need. Your ex-boyfriend clearly is not that person. Some people find it really hard to say no to someone they love. It seems he relies on having a natural fit with people rather than constantly having to reassert his need for space. You do not have this natural fit. By contacting him repeatedly you demonstrate that not only do you lack this natural fit but you do not respect his stated wishes for your relationship to run differently. Every time you contact him he is reminded how much better off he is without you.

Many people here are saying that maybe someone else would be a better fit for you. And maybe they are right.

Wait at least a month. Do not contact him at all during this time. Really. See out how your medication makes you feel. Develop another support system so that you are not reliant on a potential significant other. Don't refer to your boyfriend as your best friend. You need another best friend. And a therapist.

After this time you should carefully consider whether you want to get back together with him and whether you think it could work. If you go through the whole month assuming that the answer will be yes, then you're doing it wrong. Think not just of the pros of being in a relationship with him but also the cons, for you and for him.

If you still want to get back together with him after this time, then write a long letter detailing how you love him and why. Then comes the hard part. Write that you know you have not treated him well and that this has been very hard for you and you have changed. That you will not pick fights with him anymore. Come up with a better way to address your conflict and say that you will do that instead. Write that you will not dump your anxieties on him anymore because you are on medication and have developed your own support system. Lastly, admit that you have not given him enough space in the past, and that you know it is hard for him to assert his need for space. Say that if now on you will be the guarantor of space in the relationship. That you would not attempt to see him more than twice a week unless you discuss otherwise. If he takes you back, that is. Say that out of respect for him this is the last time you will contact him unless you hear from him otherwise.

Keep in mind that this probably won't work, but it has a much better chance of working than contacting him now or never contacting him again. And at the very least he will probably appreciate that you will have finally understood him.
posted by grouse at 9:01 AM on December 1, 2009 [3 favorites]

Right now what you need to do and what will make you feel best in the short term are the same, throw yourself into preparing for your finals. When you think about him just use that as motivation to get back to work, it is productive and it will give you a short term distraction from what is honestly a major trauma emotionally speaking.

After that please just do yourself and him a favor and keep your distance, be proactive about your own happiness and just give it time, I promise you will get better, everyone does.
posted by BobbyDigital at 9:53 AM on December 1, 2009

"Another type of person might be able to carve out all the space they need. Your ex-boyfriend clearly is not that person."

Nthing this a million times.

I've been through a VERY similar break-up. Happened the Saturday after Thanksgiving last year. I'd been stressed out (working my first year as a lawyer!) and had picked at him a lot. We'd been so close, seemed so compatible in lots of ways, really REALLY felt a strong emotional connection. Yet we'd been see-sawing back and forth with me getting annoyed, antsy, and pissed of at him for seemingly no reason while I was extremely stressed over 12-hour workdays.

I cried for a month. Then I went to Japan with a girl I'd barely known before the trip for a week and a half. Then I realized how much fun I'd been missing with that guy. Then I flirted and met TONS of new friends and dated around for a couple months. Then, sooner than I expected or, honestly, really wanted - I found someone else.

New guy does not create the feeling of tension in me that old guy did! He's more energetic (like me!), less attached (unlike me, but forces me to detach a bit, which is good!), and all kinds of other things that make it work better than the last relationship. For all the emotional attachment I had to last guy, new guy is much more of a real, dependable person who'll be there for me when I'm upset by doing concrete things to make my life better and by giving me space to get my shit done, rather than just placating me. But enough detail!

The point is! If you want to contact your Old Guy, by all means go for it - it'll push the relationship further into the ground, which it sounds like is a good thing. If you really want some kind of future with this guy, then don't contact him anymore and let him reach out to you. But mostly, you're going to be fine. It's going to be painful as hell for the next month or so. But I bet you anything you're going to start having way more fun after finals are over and you can get out and live life without old guy holding you back.

Also, at some point you're going to feel mad at this guy. You're going to start realizing all those nothings you were upset about actually did tie back to something. Also - you're about to enter finals as a law student (normally rough, but especially so in this economy), and he dumped you right before Thanksgiving? What an asshole. Sorry, but really, if he cared for you at all he'd wait till after your finals, just before you went back to be with your family for the holidays. Instead he did it at an awful time. When you start feeling angry, let yourself really feel it.

Write everything down that you feel about him. I still have notes and it's incredible to see how I was writing about all my mistakes over and over for a few weeks until, like magic, I started focusing on all the crap he'd done and how his personality was actually an awful fit for mine. I think there are some "oh no I lost a wonderful guy" posts in my metafilter history, also. It'll be interesting and enlightening for you to look back on your writings later, and it really is somewhat soothing now, too.

Finally, he said he "thought [you] didn’t seem happy with him" because you probably were not. I know you feel so strongly for him, and there is a huge hole in your right now - you might even feel kind of crazy and almost like an addict who can't get their fix. But the feelings and attachment are not the same as really liking how you interact with someone. You'll find someone more compatible on a daily basis, who you will also love, and that love will end up going much deeper.

Practically speaking, in some ways having a lot to do right now will be good - put your nose down and focus on studying as much as possible. Give yourself time to cry each day, too, though. It's going to be hard and there's no way around that. But think of it like hunger when you can't get to food, or like running and thinking you can't go any farther, only to run a little more - the emptiness/sadness/pain will come, then fade, then come again, and each time you'll get through it. Or maybe, like an earthquake - lots of aftershocks but they're a little less rough each time.

On all your "how" questions like how to stop seeing him as your boyfriend - the answers are above, and also, that it's just going to take (1) time, and (2) a little reflection, most of which will be done in earnest once time has passed so you're less emotionally topsy-tervy.

Prognosis a year out - from my perspective, I'm MUCH happier. How I feel about my ex is still somewhat emotionally charged, but the feelings only come up when I think about him, which is rarer and rarer. I am a bit changed - less heart-on-sleeve like, but also less likely to put up with someone who won't deal with me as ME, and who has the bad qualities of my ex that used to drive me crazy. So overall, it was a growth thing. And you're going to grow from it too, and be more of a well-rounded human being who's had an amazing, painful, crazy experience that anyone else who's had a painful breakup will be able to relate to.
posted by lorrer at 9:55 AM on December 1, 2009 [10 favorites]

(MUCH happier than I was in the relationship, that is, let alone compared to the month or two after the relationship!)
posted by lorrer at 9:58 AM on December 1, 2009

Also - you're about to enter finals as a law student (normally rough, but especially so in this economy), and he dumped you right before Thanksgiving? What an asshole.

There is no good time to dump someone.

What's the alternative? He waits, knowing that he wants to dump her? What does he do in the meantime? Stop talking to her at all? Then she worries about what's going on. Hang out with her anyway, while trying to hide a fire in the dark? Then she wonders what's going on. Then maybe they fight some more--it's not easy to study for exams while you're fighting with someone, either.

He is not an asshole for being honest with her as soon as he knew what needed to happen. There is no good time to dump someone.
posted by massysett at 10:09 AM on December 1, 2009 [8 favorites]

Sometimes doing the right thing feels creepy, but it may still be the right thing to do. Don't call him. And remember, absence makes the heart grow fonder--it is a cliched, but true.

Don't give in to your knee-jerk reaction to get him back out of panic. I have been in that same spot, and as much as I totally craved that person, it was not the right thing for me.

Trust that life will work out for you. It will.
posted by chocolatetiara at 10:11 AM on December 1, 2009

1. Study for finals.
2. Give yourself time to change, don't rely on the meds to do it for you.
3. Study for finals.
4. Give him a little space, send him a message saying you are there for him when he wants to talk.
5. Study for finals.
6. Give yourself time to heal and get used to being more independent. It's not easy, but time helps a whole lot.
7. did I mention that studying for finals is a good thing? Not only for your grades, but it also keeps your mind and your heart busy.
Good luck!
posted by Neekee at 10:31 AM on December 1, 2009

I went to law school for a brief period of time, and it turned me into a miserable shrew. Picked fights with my well-meaning boyfriend, felt a huge amount of pressure and took it out on others... it's a tough setting, especially someone who is already susceptible to anxiety. There seem to have been some communication issues here. You weren't regulating your behavior...he wasn't telling you how he really felt about things...and he hit a breaking point.

This is going to hurt. There's no way around it. Sometimes it takes months to get over something like this...sometimes it takes years. There's no way of knowing. You just have to do it. You're going to have obsessive thoughts about him. You're going to cry. You're going to dream about him. You're going to miss him. You mentioned that this was your longest relationship to date, so I'm assuming you've never had a breakup this painful. Welcome to the breakup club. It's a shitty place to be, but everyone drops their membership at some point. Human beings move on. It takes time and work, but we do. You can, too.

Give him space. Stop contacting him. I get that you're missing him, frantic, confused, desperately wanting to fix things. He's already refused...and really, do you really want to have to convince him that he wants you back? Give him time. Maybe he'll come around again and decide he's ready to work things out with you. But be prepared for the possibility that it's over for good.

Sometimes love isn't enough. Relationships are work. Love is work. Some people, upon realizing that it's more work than they want at that point in their lives, decide to let it go. It sounds like he tried and he wasn't as happy as he felt he should be. You have to respect his choice, even though it hurts like hell, and move on for awhile.

It sounds like you've got a lot on your plate. Law school is demanding - focus on your work. Bury yourself in it if you need to. Hide in it. Think about how good you'll feel if you do well on your finals when all of this is over, think about how proud you'll feel that you didn't let this ruin your grades. From what I was taught, law school grades can seriously impact your future...I also know how much work it takes to actually get into law school. Don't screw this up because of him. You'll regret it IMMENSELY when you can't get a job you want because you have to explain a semester of lousy grades. Furthermore, it sounds like your anxiety is pretty awful. Do you see a therapist about it? Perhaps you should. Get yourself together and work on YOU. You are all you have. It's the best thing you can do right now.
posted by blackcatcuriouser at 4:39 PM on December 1, 2009 [4 favorites]

He seems pretty set with his decision, so I think you'll just have to go along with it. Also, he might have actually found someone that he'd rather date, so it's not really possible to convince someone to love you when they really don't.
posted by anniecat at 8:30 PM on December 1, 2009

Some people, upon realizing that it's more work than they want at that point in their lives, decide to let it go.

Seconding this -- and adding that sometimes the reason why your beloved may think it's "more work than they want" is more about THEM than it is about you. One of my best friends comforted me after my last breakup, when I said that I wasn't sure whether my ex really ever loved me, by saying, "nah, I met him -- I do think he really loved you. He just couldn't handle doing that." Love is work --- and sometimes the person you love may not yet be strong enough to love you back and sustain it.

You've admitted that you have had some challenges with anxiety during your relationship -- but he may have had some flaws as well that kept him from loving you back as much as you deserve. It sucks (believe me, I know), but it is ultimately best for you.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 6:39 AM on December 2, 2009 [5 favorites]

Response by poster: I doubt anyone will see this, but here's an update.

Well, things have not improved a month out from the breakup. I actually feel worse now. I tried to give him space, and did go for days without talking to him as I tried to study and focus on finals. I was doing okay, having fun with my study group and friends. After finals were over though, I had a breakdown, and after calling him a million times, I finally met up with him, sobbing. He feels so bad for hurting me, and says he still loves me, but he has doubts about our future. He's interested in dating a grad school classmate (who has had a crush on him for awhile), but says he's confused about his feelings. He says his friends are pressuring him to date this girl, and that I'm pressuring him to give us another chance, and he doesn't know what to do, but is excited by new prospects with someone else. He said that he doesn't know what the future holds for us though, and that he loves me.

I really feel like I'm dying inside. I haven't stopped crying for days after seeing him, and touching and kissing him again. I foolishly have texted him once or twice a day since, which he responds to in a perfunctory manner. I know I'm only hurting myself, but really, the incredibly slim chance of a reconciliation is the only thing keeping me going now. Logically, I know the relationship is over, but I still hope and pray for a miracle.

The Lexapro helped with my anxiety greatly, but now with the added depression, I'm not sure it's enough. I'm on the waiting list for therapy at my school, but won't have an appointment for about a month. Plus my friends have all left town for the semester break. Once I leave my family's house (where everyone says I've been ruining Christmas with my sobbing), I'll be alone for three weeks. I've been trying to distract myself with books and tv and things, but to no avail. I've even been on a couple of casual dates with a guy I knew in college, but it just made me miss my ex even more. I'm just not attracted to anyone else, physically or mentally. At this point I just want the pain to stop.
posted by mesha steele at 10:48 AM on December 25, 2009

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