Breakups: How to deal?
June 29, 2010 8:20 PM   Subscribe

I just ended a 2+ year relationship. I don't know how to bounce back. (anonymous because he lurks)


We started dating in high school, went to the same college, made the same friends, applied to the same study abroad program. (No judgment, please.)

Early in our relationship, he developed a friendship with a girl that I have history with. She is one of those people that just make you crazy, we have always competed with each other and I have always come up short. I told him that his friendship with her, while entirely his choice, made me uncomfortable because she has been willfully malicious to me on multiple occasions.

He agreed, and basically told me that if it made me more comfortable, he would stop talking to her. This was over a year and a half ago, and since we have gone to college and the issue really didn't come up.

Recently, our relationship had begun to fall flat, which I tried to remedy-- being spontaneously romantic, trying to initiate intimacy, etc-- but he didn't respond.

He got a new phone yesterday, today I asked him if I could see it. He said no. Deleted messages. Handed it to me.

(I was NOT trying to snoop-- I was interested in the equipment, not anything else).

Then he lied to me-- told me he was planning a surprise and didn't want me to see.

I knew something was wrong, and asked him to be honest with me.

He told me that he had been having conversations with this girl. Every night.

For me, it isn't so much that he was talking to her-- more that he knew that this one thing would hurt me more than any other, and he did it anyway. And lied. Basically our relationship was shaky, and he cut and ran.

SO-- 1. Am I overreacting?
2. What concrete steps can I take to get rid of the aching feeling in my stomach?
3. How do I handle the fact that all my friends at home, at school, and in my study abroad program are his friends, too?
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (13 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
if he felt no harm was going to come of it, he wouldn't have lied about it. you're almost certainly not overreacting.

regarding the other questions, i will let people more well-versed in this than me step in. the ache passes with time and that's the only concrete i can offer there, and don't worry about what your friends think about this whole thing yet, either, because it will become abundantly clear which (possibly arbitrary) side they fall on soon enough.

(everyone has their own problems, and they're likely going to project a little of their own insecurities on your situation as a way to help them rationalize their own lives. it will quite possibly be not helpful to you or useful to the situation, but there it is)
posted by radiosilents at 8:27 PM on June 29, 2010 [1 favorite]

(anonymous because he lurks)

You know he'd easily be able yo figure out you posted this, right? I mean, you've provided quite a bit of detail.
posted by amro at 9:24 PM on June 29, 2010 [8 favorites]

I know it doesn't help, but just so you know, this relationship was, statistically speaking, unlikely in the extreme to last. When the guy involved is hiding and being dishonest, it makes sense to call it over and start the hard, hard work of moving on.

1. No. Yours seems like an age- and drama-appropriate reaction.

2. None. It's the fucking worst. It goes away with time, like the crying.

3. Ouch. This is tough. Normally, wrenching as it is, the best approach is no contact. That's not really possible for you (that's OK, it's not possible for a lot of people.) If you can't do no contact, then I think you'll find that your friends will rally and be suportive.

Study abroad: if at all possible, I would see if you can switch or swap programs with anyone. Try very hard. Time apart would be the very best thing for you. A broken heart is easier to soothe in a new, clean place not filled with memories.

So you know, while you're going through this breakup, you are developing really critical survival skills that will be a strength for you through your whole adult life. The first breakup can be impossible because you don't know you have the ability to survive, but you learn and it's important.
posted by DarlingBri at 9:35 PM on June 29, 2010

2. What concrete steps can I take to get rid of the aching feeling in my stomach?

Avoid the impulse to manage or control your emotions. The fastest way through it is to just feel your feelings. It will be hard for a while.

As much as possible, remember to take care of yourself.
posted by eddydamascene at 9:36 PM on June 29, 2010 [2 favorites]

1. No, I don't think you're overreacting at all. I'd feel the same way.

2. There is no magic, instant solution that will take away the pain and leave you precisely as you were before. But that's a GOOD thing. That's how we grow. As radiosilents said above, the ache does pass with time. However, that does not mean that there are not concrete steps you can take that can minimize it, and maybe increase the stretches of time in which you are not dwelling on this guy, not missing him...dare I say not even think about him in the slightest. From how you describe your activities in your question, you sound like someone who has an active and full life, and is not afraid to challenge yourself and take risks. This is already encouraging. What I can recommend as far as concrete, active things you could try:
*Write it out. tell yourself that no one in the entire world but yourself will ever, ever see this, and go from there. it's a really good way to gain some perspective on something that initially seems to overwhelm your whole world, and it can also really help you vent those emotions that can be damaging if held in for too long.
*Exercise. Not only will you feel better all around, but it's a good outlet for rage.
*Basically, as has been said 9,000 times before on AskMe and every other other venue in the world where the broken-hearted might tend to congregate, you need to occupy the previously guy-occupied space in your mind with other things. I know you said "no judging, please" about the sameness of everything you and he did for quite some time, and that's not what I'm doing here. But I think maybe part of what looks so hard at this point is now, it's no longer "anon+guy," it's just "anon" finding out what "anon" wants and is going to do independently. Maybe you already know what you want out of life, and if so, then this sounds like a great time to start making some significant steps toward that goal. Maybe you have not even the tiniest little clue, and if that's the case, then what you have here is an opportunity to start finding that out by actively trying new things and sticking with the ones that fit you. And, oh yeah, time is a wonderful cure for this sort of thing, too.

3. This one is tough. I agree with radiosilents in that you shouldn't let it consume you, because these things have a way of working themselves out naturally. behave in an adult fashion about the situation and do not seize every available opportunity to tell them all what a wretched assface Johnny was being by talking to this evil harpy. This doesn't mean that you can never breathe one word concerning him, but you know how when you go on job interviews you're supposed to put everything in the best light possible, even if they ask you what you hated the most about your previous position? For instance:
Mutual Friend: "So, anon, WTF happened with you and Johnny? He says that he was just planning a surprise/talking to someone innocently/baking a cake, and all of a sudden you flipped out and broke up with him! OMG!"
NOT a good answer: "Johnny is a stupid fuck and I hate him and I wish that nasty bitch would die and I can't believe I ever had to be born! [sob]"
Possibly a much better answer: "Johnny and I got to a point where we realized that we wanted/expected different things from a relationship. It sucks, but I hope it all turns out to be for the best for both of us. So, did you end up getting that new job/dress/pony?"

Repeat as needed until you're pretty confident of who your genuine friends are, who his genuine friends are, and who doesn't really lie awake nights thinking about it either way. Chances are, many of them will fall into the latter category, and for your sake I hope there are several in the first category. Also, I can tell you from experience that "shared custody" of mutual friends IS possible after a breakup. And it's not so hard to make new ones, either. It would be easier to answer this if we knew whether you were still studying abroad or had completed that, I think. Either way, continuing to live your life actively and productively WILL bring you friends who are engaged in the same type of things, and I promise you will not be lolling about alone on your couch forever.

I know these seem like cliches, but there's a reason why these things get repeated over and over and passed down through the generations, as it were. Time really does heal, getting out and doing things that make you and your world better always help. Take the high road, no matter how badly you want to tell everyone that his dick is tiny, and be as gracious as you possibly can. And there are so damn many good people out there! Keep your head up and best of luck - I'm sorry you have to go through this.

*Also, drink, but not too often. Nothing wrong with getting shitfaced and melodramatic one night. Every night for a month, that's going to be a problem.
posted by deep thought sunstar at 10:01 PM on June 29, 2010 [3 favorites]

If you have enough mutual friends, it is entirely possible to do things in a group that still include your ex. You just end up at opposite sides of the table/crowd/whatever and you talk with the people who are nearest to you. I don't know about you, but if I'm even in a group of more than about 6 or 7 people together, it seems like it naturally splits up into smaller groups of 2-4 for conversations etc.

In high school, we had a couple break up and still stick around in the same group for more or less 2 years (until graduation). The female took it a lot harder than the male, but she used some amount of cynicism and sarcasm to deal with it, and I was happy to be supportive of her without being antagonistic of the male (although we did occasionally make a joke out of his not-so-subtle avoidance techniques--approach slowly, watch him move away, rinse repeat; it didn't even have to be that close before he'd move away). The other guys in the group just acted like nothing particularly particular was going on.

Just think of him as a jackass who isn't worth your time, but don't share that with any but your closest friends and friends who aren't close to your jackass ex. Don't talk about him in general company. Flirt with other guys, make him jealous, have fun!
posted by that girl at 12:04 AM on June 30, 2010

1. No, you behaved appropriately.
2. "I have been dating this dickass for how long? Geeze, I'm pretty young but thank god I'm getting over the stupid."*
3. "A relationship should be based on trust. I found out I couldn't trust him." You don't need to go into details.

*No, I don't think you're stupid but you're probably feeling kind of stupid since you did trust him and if he couldn't keep one simple promise . . well, what else has he been lying about?

If your ex is really lurking, here's a message for him:

Dear Dickass:
Good thing she went Anon on this or EVERYONE would know who you are and you'd probably get an earful because being a DICKASS ain't cool. Why are you such a dickass? Because you wanted to be caught and you needed to make ANON the bad guy here and make her pull the trigger. Why else did you keep the evidence on your phone?? Next time you do this (and you'll do this again because you are THAT guy), be man enough break it off yourself.
posted by jaimystery at 4:24 AM on June 30, 2010 [6 favorites]

Augh, that sucks, I'm sorry. But you ask us not to judge the two of you for basing your life around each other and then spend the entire question judging the girl and him to the point where it's difficult not to see him as a douche: you tried to be spontaneous and romantic but he didn't respond. That he lied, and hid things from you, and did the one thing you asked him not to do - a year and a half ago. Okay... but that's only your side of this.

The two of you were in a long term relationship. You loved each other enough to take a very big leap of faith, and you held on to each other even when the relationship was falling flat. Then he hurt you - a lot! Do you get to leave him? Yes! Do you get to judge him? I'd say no. Either make the effort to understand why might have done what he did, based on what you know about him, or just let him go. But being hurt is not a free pass to think of anyone as a jerk, especially not someone you've loved and probably still do. Forget free pass (you can of course think whatever you like about him), I just don't know if judgment is the right way to work through your own pain and keep your friends.

Blame is very seductive in such a situation, I think: to believe that you did the right thing because he "turned out" to be an inconsiderate and selfish jerk. You can take that route, but the only person it will affect and upset is you. I suspect (of course I could be wrong) that not only was the relationship already ending, but that you were already hurt by that and by his lack of responsiveness to your efforts to make it work.

That sucks - I've been there myself. But given the commitment you two seem to have made to each other (I'm not judging), I can imagine that it would be very hard even for him to break away from you, too - no matter how unfulfilling the relationship was becoming. In a sense you had taken responsibility for each other's happiness (by agreeing to go to the same school, having the same circle of friends etc), and leaving you high and dry and in pain would have been a difficult step for him to take, and it's understandable that he didn't bring it up until you did. Yes, it's a lie... but there are a lot of motivations for lying. I don't think his motivation was to hurt you. He just wanted out.

That could also be why he began talking to that girl. Kind of for the same reason you're here, on this board -- looking for some validation for his needs, to find the courage to do this painful thing, and to build some kind of alternate support system that didn't rely on your mutual friends. Now, maybe that girl villianized you, or maybe she just agreed with him that yes, he didn't seem happy in the relationship. Maybe she even somehow conveyed that she was better for him than you. But remember that this is a girl that you basically forbid him from talking to - by giving him a choice between you and her. When he was invested in the relationship and in you, of course he chose you. When things began to fall apart, so did that reason for not speaking to this girl. You made a choice out of it, not him. And again, she only had his side of things, and she sympathized with him. Just like the people on this board are sympathizing with you.

Breaking up with someone whose happiness is so tangled up with yours is very difficult. You both sound very young, which might not have much to do with this except that you're both still very much in the process of discovering who you are, and there isn't really a very convincing reason yet (even two years in) that he could've found to keep himself in this relationship when it wasn't working. For young people, the world is dizzyingly full of options; as soon as the grass on your own side begins drying up it's difficult not to get pulled to greener pastures. People change; and when they're young, they change a lot before they get to a place that they're actually content with.

You most certainly did not overreact by breaking up with him. But the blame, IMHO, is an overreaction. Don't rationalize your behavior without trying to rationalize his. Or at least recognize that he definitely has his reasons or rationalizations for what he did. Not because you should be a saint, but because you can't hate him without hating yourself or thinking of yourself as a fool or victim. You're neither!

And when it comes to your friends, don't - under any circumstance - make this any kind of "choice" between you and him. If you value and want to keep your friends, cut them some slack (this is going to be difficult for them too, just in terms of time and convenience, if nothing else) and don't make it harder for them by *insisting* that your version of things is the right one. I agree with the advice above that you shouldn't try to find support in these mutual friends, and instead just try to take the high road. They will be grateful for your understanding and offer whatever support they can.

Know also that the pain will not last. It just won't. I know it's hard to see this now, but this can be an amazing time for you - a time to be free of the weight of this already difficult and hurtful relationship, to find yourself and new friends and interests, and maybe even to learn some wonderful lessons on your own terms from this relationship. And maybe even find out who your true friends are. At some point, maybe several years down the line, you might even marvel and feel amazed that you had the courage to put this kind of trust in another human being. Just because it didn't work out, doesn't make your hopes any less, well, heroic. So no matter what concrete steps you take to feel less hurt right now, you really have so much to look forward to beyond that. And you don't need blame to know that under the circumstances, you did absolutely the right thing for yourself (and for him, too). You were courageous, in the beginning and at the end.

Again, I'm really sorry. If I was your friend, I would have waited, listened patiently and then maybe, when you seemed more ready, said all these things to you... because I don't think blame is a very good or sustainable antidote to pain, and because I would probably be his friend too and would know his side, and because I wouldn't want you to be unable to value and keep the memory of the good times you two obviously had in the past - because they're part of your own past and choices. But this is an anonymous question, so I wanted to chime in.


This shall pass... and greater, more wonderful and fulfilling things will happen.
posted by mondaygreens at 5:37 AM on June 30, 2010 [6 favorites]

I'm not trying to make light of your situation, but my dad always said, "Guys are like busses, there'll be another one in ten minutes" and "whaddaya wanna date that asshole for anyhow?". I think both apply here. You can do better and time will help. Do something kick ass that you've always wanted to do, so if your ex sees you you'll look all confident and awesome.
posted by ShadePlant at 8:26 AM on June 30, 2010

I know how hard it is to think "All my friends know about this". I went through this when a asshat I was LIVING WITH decided he wanted out of the relationship but didn't have the balls to break up, move out, and then start dating A WOMAN WHO ALMOST MOVED ACROSS THE HALL FROM ME who was also an alleged friend of mine.

i lost all my friends except one. (One was enough.)
I lost all the places I used to hang out.
I lost my favorite local bands.
I even had to drive to work a different way because I didn't want to go buy his or her house and see his car or him or her walking to or from their apartments (we lived within blocks of each other).

I know that at your age, the whole OMFG EVERYONE KNOWS feels HUGE and overwhelming and embarrassing. He picked someone else over you, someone you hated. In my case, he picked someone I helped move, helped with her resume, who i arranged to take out on her birthday when she'd just broken up with someone, because I didn't want her to sit alone in her house on her birthday when she was new to the city and didn't know anything. At the time I didn't see my way through it, but it was honestly one day at a time.

Write, scream, cry, sing, dance, privately. Privately call him names. Privately curse her. No, you don't have to go out with them in public. I stopped trying that when the two of them would start making out like 14 year olds every time I walked in the room. You don't have to put yourself through that pain. Real friends will understand and not try to convince you that you should.

Pain is real; pain is yours; no one here has the right to tell you not to have it.
posted by micawber at 12:36 PM on June 30, 2010

Mod note: From the OP:
Thanks so much for your responses. Some made me laugh, some made me cry, but I guess that's all part of the process. I lost my best friend and my first love in one fell swoop, and 90% of the time I'm just trying to keep on breathing.

I have another aspect of the question that I forgot to mention, and was hoping that some of you would share your insight. My boyfriend's mother has been an absolute angel to me, taking me in and making me feel safe, showing me "stable" after growing up in a very broken family. Is it possible to maintain a relationship with her? There would be no badmouthing of her son, and no bitter subtext. I just love this woman like a mother and am struggling to come to terms with the idea of losing her, too-- although I know her loyalty needs to be with the boy.

Email address is After all, "The only way out of the labyrinth of suffering is to forgive." I'm taking it day by day. I'd love to hear from you.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 1:38 PM on June 30, 2010

I would say you need to wait a significant period of time before resuming contact with your boyfriend's mother. It is simply too likely to be misinterpreted or go awry. Considering how long you have dated this fellow, you might want to wait over a year to do that. By then you may not need to have her in your life in the same way. For now, can you seek out other positive female mentors and supporters? Are there older students in your program that you can talk to? Is there a counselor in the program that you can meet with? Is there a female professor that you would feel comfortable approaching?

Also, I always recommend the same book to girls who are trying to get over a breakup. It seems kind of silly, but I think it can really help.
posted by val5a at 2:52 PM on June 30, 2010

it's absolutely possible. i've had grandparents keep up with my exes for years, and i wasn't even aware of it when it was happening.
posted by radiosilents at 7:57 PM on June 30, 2010

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