Jekyll and Hyde
November 23, 2010 12:05 PM   Subscribe

How do I cope with an ex that wasn't who I thought they were?

My ex broke up with me less than a week ago and has been very cold and distant. We dated for a year and while it had some rough patches, it was a generally loving relationship. The breakup came suddenly. Prior in the day, we had made plans for the weekend and holidays.

I understand the need for no contact but I experienced something severely traumatic, something that involved the ex too, and needed comfort. The ex treated me as if I had done something wrong.

On top of all that, the ex is starting to date again, less than a week after the break up. This was the first serious relationship for the both of us. We are both casual daters. How do I deal with feeling like one among a string of partners. The last time I spoke to the ex, they seemed like a completely different person. I'm shaken up and feel like I'm not only mourning the loss of a relationship, but also of a person I once knew.
posted by showmetheway to Human Relations (22 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Every person you're in a relationship with is defined at least partially by that relationship. When you're no longer in that relationship, then the person is different as well. Just something you have to learn to deal with.
posted by Etrigan at 12:08 PM on November 23, 2010 [8 favorites]

I'm sorry you are hurting. Going through a breakup is very tough. I know it's hard not to focus on the other person in the equation right now, but now might be a better time to focus on taking care of yourself. It's tough for me not to ruminate on things sometimes as well, what helps me, is if I write them down. The act of writing down what is bothering me allows me to put it out of my mind, if just for bit, to allow me to handle other important things. Good Luck.
posted by Brent Parker at 12:15 PM on November 23, 2010 [3 favorites]

You don't get to decide how someone who is "your ex" should act. Your ex's definition of what your ex should be like is just different from yours. Hard, but true.
posted by ThatCanadianGirl at 12:19 PM on November 23, 2010 [3 favorites]

This may sound a bit harsh, but he's no longer in your life, period. His personality, attitude, actions and opinions have nothing to do with you anymore. The best thing you can do is move on.

What would you gain if he was still loving and considerate? Would it make your break up easier? Every person reacts to break ups in different ways.

Really, you cannot and should not change his behaviour. Focus on you, take care of yourself and try to banish him from your thoughts.
posted by Tarumba at 12:21 PM on November 23, 2010 [4 favorites]

* or she.
posted by Tarumba at 12:26 PM on November 23, 2010

You are totally mistaken if you think going to the person who hurt you for comfort is a good idea.

This person stomped your heart. Looking to this person to help soothe your wounds or provide "closure" is misguided. You're not thinking straight right now. This person will only hurt you more.

I have no reasons why this person suddenly acted this way. Yes, I know it was shocking. So is finding out that someone cheated on you, or stole money from you, and or any number of betrayals I can think of. I'm sorry you dated someone for a year and they betrayed you so harshly. I know that must have hurt.

I'm going to tell you 2 things. Are you ready?

#1 - You should be angry someone would dump you in this manner with no warning. Someone who would do that to you should be on your "never speak to again!" list. Do you know why? Because if you go back for more of the same B.S. and trauma from this guy, then that's what you'll get. We don't want that for you. This person has shown themselves to be untrustworthy in the intimacy department. Take the situation at face value and be glad the betrayal wasn't worse. When someone acts like this to you - delete their number, block email, defriend on facebook, etc. Take care to show yourself that you have your own back. I'll say that again louder, TAKE CARE TO SHOW YOURSELF THAT YOU'VE GOT YOUR OWN BACK.

Find comfort for this trauma from trusted friends, only.

Bonus: you'll heal faster using this method.

#2 - Stuff like this has happened to all of us. We've all given our hearts to the wrong person. It's OK. It's OK. You'll be OK, see #1.
posted by jbenben at 12:34 PM on November 23, 2010 [32 favorites]

As for your ex, who knows. They may be going through some unpredictable psychological change, or they might be just changing in the gradual way we all do (and they've just abruptly let you know about it, even though they have suspected for a while). Of course it's possible that there is something more sinister, that they were lying to you all along or something of the sort -- but really that is less likely than the first two scenarios. The only thing you can do is to think about how you want to respond to the change, what you will do next. It's natural to want to figure out what happened on their side, but remember that that is just speculation and try not to let yourself get too bogged down in it.

Breaking up is hard exactly because you need time to get used to a whole new reality -- not having your ex in your life anymore. Even though you know it's over, it will still just take time while you are adjusting. I'm sorry it hurts, I've been there and I know it sucks. Hang in there, take it easy on yourself, try to stay busy so you don't dwell in harmful ways -- it will get better with time.
posted by LobsterMitten at 12:35 PM on November 23, 2010

I'm shaken up and feel like I'm not only mourning the loss of a relationship, but also of a person I once knew.

You are mourning both of these things. It's a good thing that you are - otherwsie you'd be in denial. Also feeling like you are one just of many people that person will be with -- that is something that might go through somebody's head, who's going through a breakup. And it should.

If it were any other way, you'd never move on.

I hate to say it - but cold and distant is the kindest thing. Anything short of that in the beginning is torture.

Concentrate on you and your future right now. Heal, rebuild - whatever it is - it's all about you right now.
posted by marimeko at 12:35 PM on November 23, 2010 [1 favorite]

(I realize that we don't know the gender of your ex but I'm going to assume it is a male simply for ease of pronoun use.)

I went through a similar break-up some time ago. I remember feeling this feeling you are sharing with us now. It's very much, "Who are you, if you can be this person who is so callous and cruel? Obviously, I never knew you at all... ergo, obviously I've been living under delusions for the last year."

Only with the benefit of time and hindsight can I offer this consolation now: you didn't know that side of your ex because he deliberately hid it from you. If you knew he was a person who could act so cold and carelessly, clearly you wouldn't have been in a long relationship. You weren't living a lie, you weren't delusional. So don't kick yourself thinking, "How did I not see this side of my ex?"

For whatever reason, he went through a thing... something... that made him wake up a few weeks or months ago and realize, "I no longer want to be in this relationship, and rather than handle it maturely, by sharing my concerns and raising some flags with showmetheway, I'm just going to keep it to myself, and make a clean break, like ripping off a Band-Aid, because that will work best for me."

And yes, it was weeks or months ago that he starting thinking about a break-up. Maybe it took up to last week to be ready for Band-Aid ripping... but in his heart, it ended a while ago and he's been preparing himself. (That's how humans work, generally. We make a decision emotionally, we justify it intellectually, and only then we take action.)

You deal with feeling like one in a string of partners by forcing yourself to remember that you weren't that. You were his only serious relationship, to date. Let that count for something. You're not just another notch on the bedpost... for the sheer fact that you dated +1 year.

Your ex likely treated you as if you did something wrong for one of two reasons: either you did do something wrong, and you know what that is but haven't shared it with us....

OR, the option that I'm going with—since if you knew the cause, I suspect you would have told us—initiating a break-up is hard to do and for most human beings it feels like crap, and it helps the breaker-upper feel like less of an asshole when he can convince himself that the other person is somehow to blame.

That isn't fair, and I know it feels terrible, but it's fairly common.

Take care of you right now. Look to a friend or family member to listen to you, and provide support. Don't seek out your ex to provide any further information or comfort. Don't look for "closure"—which usually translates to "I'm the one who was dumped and I want an excuse to keep reaching out to the dumper because I am hoping for a miracle reconciliation."

And remember: no matter how great your ex was, right now he is just a jerk who couldn't be a grown-up about his decision to end your relationship. Big hard decisions are difficult to make, but kind, self-aware, happy people learn how to handle them with grace. Clearly this person was not that. Look at yourself as having dodged a bullet for seeing that side of him sooner... rather than later when you had made life decisions together like cohabiting, marrying, raising children.
posted by pineapple at 12:36 PM on November 23, 2010 [8 favorites]

Forgot to say the other advice about breakups: reach out to your other friends, focus on your other supportive relationships right now.
posted by LobsterMitten at 12:37 PM on November 23, 2010

I know this is terribly difficult, and I'm sorry you're having to go through it. I also know the feelings you're having – this person was your partner for a year! It's perfectly natural for you to want to lean on the comfort you had from them in a difficult time, even in a difficult time like this one.

What you should know is that it's extremely unlikely that you'll get that support from you ex. This is just one of those horribly shocking moments in life when you can't rely on what you thought you could rely on. You will have to look elsewhere.

The most important thing right now is friends. Friends are the only way you're going to be able to move on and have someone to lean on and talk about this with. Talk to your friends about this, spend as much time as you can with them, tell them how you feel about it, cry on their shoulders and watch movies with them and go out and let them try to take care of you for a while. Good friendly companionship is really the best thing in a time like this.

The hardest thing about the timing is the fact that, for a lot of people, this is a holiday season; and family is not as reliably a comfort as friends. Everybody's family is different, but many people (myself included) can't cry on their family's shoulders quite as readily as they can lean on their friends and hope for support. I guess what I mean to encourage you to do is: keep seeking out friends who can help you through this, even if you find yourself surrounded by family.

What you feel is that void, that emptiness left when someone you relied on pulled away suddenly. The people you care about will now have to fill that void. It seems unnatural and strange at first, but you'll find that this is a good thing if you go with it.
posted by koeselitz at 12:38 PM on November 23, 2010

I went through something very similar, and after a long complicated on-again/off-again phase I wound up discovering I was unexpectedly pregnant as a result of one of the on-agains. Unfortunately, this discovery came after the final, really difficult breakup and I felt I had to contact the ex to discuss this at a time when he really didn't want to talk with me, and I with him, and the whole thing was just awful. Awful, awful, awful. And then I went to terminate the pregnancy on my own because I was too ashamed to ask a friend for help--not ashamed about the choice to terminate, but ashamed to admit I had had sex with the ex that recently. Oh, it was awful. And I couldn't even call him to yell at him because he was in Paris with the woman he had been cheating on me with and had lied to me for months about whether or not he was cheating on me with her.

Why do I tell you this very soap-operaish story? To suggest that it's highly likely that your current pain, like all things, will pass. A couple of months later, I met my now-husband of 11 years. Eventually, the ex in question and I became friendly again--he is still apparently happily partnered with Paris woman, and I wish them all the best--and indeed I am having lunch with him next week, as is our semi-annual custom. He was a shitty, shitty boyfriend for me, but with the passage of time I have come to cherish him as a smart and funny friendquaintance.

Sometimes relationships end terribly painfully. Sometimes you have to grieve the loss not only of the relationship, but of the illusions and optimism you had about the other partner. It's a horrible thing to go through, and you have my strong, strong sympathy.
posted by Sidhedevil at 12:53 PM on November 23, 2010 [4 favorites]

This has totally happened to me. It freaked me the fuck out. I read all kinds of things into his behavior (including coldness, etc.) that were not entirely accurate. At the same time, it hurt way to much to not be with him and still be around him.

Also consider that he's being this way because he doesn't want to lead you on in any way--

I know it hurts. Time, distance, and finding support from other sources will help.
posted by the young rope-rider at 1:02 PM on November 23, 2010

an ex of mine gave me the best advice after a break up : "i am the only one who can't help you feel better about this."

with the way relationships work, it only feels natural to go to them for comfort, but any amount of comfort given only sullies the picture of not together. it's hard as hell and you have my sympathies. if it helps, imagine the ex as a pod person. your partner is gone and in their place is this other person who put on their skin and is just walking around with it. you want them to be the person they were, but they aren't and can't be.
posted by nadawi at 1:19 PM on November 23, 2010 [2 favorites]

To borrow a phrase from Dan Savage "it gets better..." You are just going to have to trust me about this.

So 12 years ago, I was in my first serious relationship (of two years) and my boyfriend cheated on me and left me for another girl and I felt pretty much like you feel I imagine. The breakup happened in the summer. By the fall, things hadn't worked out so well with the new girl and he came crawling back. And you know what? Really, Really, didn't want him.

And 12 years on? I'm not angry, or upset, or bitter...I'm grateful. Grateful that I ended up with my loyal, wonderful husband and not with that jerk.

So it gets better. How does it get better? Time, exercise, loud angry music, good friends, family, absorbing work, puppies, kittens, hobbies, new friends (see how the whole world doesn't revolve around your ex?), and then some day somebody cute will catch your eye and you'll forget all about what's his/her name. But for now just keep yourself occupied. Whatever you do, don't sit home alone. That's where the moping happens.
posted by bananafish at 1:23 PM on November 23, 2010 [3 favorites]

Echoing those who say cold and distant is exactly what you need. The more contact you have with him, whether it's comforting or not, the harder it will be to get over it. You're confused and upset and scared, but he'll never give an answer to your questions that will make you happy.

Nearly everyone goes through the "Who is this horrible person?" period after a break-up, where they see ugly sides of their partner they couldn't believe existed.

I tried to do the friends-talk-it-out-comfort thing with my ex of three years after we broke up. It was the worst idea in the world for both of us.

You need to go cold and distant, too.
posted by schroedinger at 1:42 PM on November 23, 2010

"What you should know is that it's extremely unlikely that you'll get that support from you ex. This is just one of those horribly shocking moments in life when you can't rely on what you thought you could rely on. You will have to look elsewhere."

I read a story about a man kicking a dog, and the dog, confused, walking towards the man to try to get comfort for having been kicked. I can infer from this that the man had never kicked the dog before. The dog never thought of his master as a dog-kicker. It was only natural to turn for comfort to the one creature he trusted most in the world. Only natural, but not a good idea. It's unfair and it sucks.

You've had the rug pulled out from under you so you no longer know what's real. One minute you're planning fun stuff to do with your partner, the next... you don't have a partner... your living arrangements have just been upended.

I have to echo those who say the ONLY choice is to go no contact and turn to your other friends. No-one's ever going to like being dumped, but there are ways of doing it that at least make you feel you've been treated with the maximum respect possible in the circumstances. This isn't it. And I know it sounds odd to say "be thankful the betrayal wasn't worse", but it could have been. What you've seen is somebody showing a callous and insensitive side that you had no idea about at breakup time, and that implies that he was hiding his feelings from you for quite a while. But it really could have been worse: in addition to the scenarios presented above, you could have found out that he really was a person of completely and drastically different character and personality in every way throughout the relationship. As in, you thought he was a teetotalling monogamist but he turns out to be an alcoholic with a wife and two kids in Peoria. Instead, he seems to have come out with unexpectedly heartless, disrespectful, and cruel behaviour at the very end of the relationship. Not that that side of him wasn't always there... but people reveal their faults in tough situations. It doesn't mean their virtues aren't real too. (Also doesn't mean you shouldn't detest and ban the bastard for treating you like this.)
posted by tel3path at 2:49 PM on November 23, 2010 [1 favorite]

I'm in a very similar situation, but on the other side. The last time I spoke with her I knew I didn't handle it the best I could have because its such a sensitive situation. While I want her to be comforted as much as possible I know that if I try to provide that comfort it will only make things worse. You have to find it through friends and continuing to focus on the positive aspects of your life. Maybe find a hobby or some other interest to help your mind stay off the pain. I really feel for you, because I feel awful about what my ex is going through. She may think I'm a jerk but I know that to be distant right now is what is best.
posted by jodawo at 3:08 PM on November 23, 2010

A perspective that helps me is to think about it this way: He isn't a different person. He had reasons to treat you the way he did, and reasons for the way he acted before and after. If you were his best friend, he would have told you the reasons, and they would have made a lot of sense. You probably would have agreed that he did the right thing.

But you're not his best friend. Because of the role that you played in his life (and him in yours), you got hurt by his actions. And the best thing to do is take care of yourself and move on.
posted by alternateuniverse at 3:18 PM on November 23, 2010

The thing that has helped me in similar situations is the realization that the other person checked out of the relationship a long time ago. They did their disengaging and their mourning all private and secret like, and you're left in the lurch - and yeah, that isn't fair, but unfortunately it is what it is and now you have to find new resources. *You* can't imagine life without them right now - but they've spent a long time imagining things differently, distancing themselves, and generally getting over you before giving you a clue. That right there is a shitty breakup.

Give it time. Allow yourself the same luxuries they had - mourning the relationship that was, distancing yourself, developing new avenues for the things you did together, thinking about things as they are and not as they were. Don't try to cope with your ex - cope with your own feelings about the loss of the relationship you had, and mourn *that*, not some newly defined different thing that has changed with the perspective you've gained recently. Hey, you had something that was nice for you while it was nice for you. And then it was incredibly lousy, all in a moment. Don't waste time or energy on trying to figure out how and when they decided they really wanted to be done, and why they didn't act like an adult about it. It's not worth it. Let yourself hurt, get mad, get sad, and then you'll find yourself glad to be rid of someone who would act so callously.
posted by lriG rorriM at 7:25 PM on November 23, 2010 [1 favorite]

recently was guilty of doing something similar myself. I can tell you that in my situation it was not to hurt my ex but more so to truly be as loving as I could. There were many factors involved (children, trauma, limited experience and different goals and expectation) it was making things worse and we often tried to address them But after seeing my ex cry this last time and hearing clearly some statements that were painful I felt that the best thing for that person was that I remove my self from their life. I guess my advice due to the lack of details in the post would be to sit down and think if it was a true malicious act or an act of love and that famous saying "True love doesn't have a happy ending, because true love never ends. Letting go is one way of saying I love you."
I truly feel in my situation this person is better off without me and we were just dragging the pain out. I am not sure if this is possible in your situation but stay strong and know that you have a heighten state of emotions right now and maybe looking at what took place over time, what recently happened was not as negative as it looks. I am willing to say that there is no question in my situation that I truly love this person and that I love them enough that if i can't make them happy that I can only let them go to find what they are looking for that I can not seem to give them. Hope this helps.
posted by 4Spokenwords at 7:55 PM on November 23, 2010 [1 favorite]

Ugh, I'm so sorry this happened to you. I've been there, too.

One way to look at it is this: now you see your ex for what s/he truly is. Could you really have continued to love a person who treats others like this? Would you really want to keep exposing your heart to this kind of treatment? No.

As for the trauma the two of you went through, you will have to find someone else to help you through it. Confide in another close friend or a therapist to recover; once you do there will be one more tie that's been loosened to help you move on.
posted by motsque at 7:14 AM on November 24, 2010

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