December 12, 2010 2:51 PM   Subscribe

How can I enjoy things that are tainted with memories of my ex?

My ex dumped me (hard and badly) after a long (10+ years) relationship. In that time I came to have many new interests that he sort of introduced me to. Now, everything I used to enjoy is tainted with memories, and even new things remind me of him; how he introduced me to this band, how he used to love these places in the city, how he would have loved this new outfit/band/movie. I can't even be sure if, for example, I like Steampunk, because he liked Steampunk, so I don't know if I like it because of him, or I like it on my own, or I don't like it because it reminds me of him. Even my own art and stories and stuff were influenced by him, and I feel like I can't work on my books or art any more because characters and images owe something to him. I feel like he's still there, haunting and ruining everything I try to do, and there's no "me" anymore, just "me and him" or just "him". Help.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (23 answers total) 23 users marked this as a favorite
I completely sympathize, and I've been in this position with interests of mine . What I would do is cut your losses. Don't try to enjoy a few certain things that completely stink of him and his ideas -- you know best which these are. In a few years, you might feel comfortable enjoying them again. There will be other areas in which you can decide that you're striking off in a new direction, getting into the work or influence of a new historical period or different author, etc. And, of course, I highly recommend getting into something that you know he would hate.

Best of luck to you.
posted by Countess Elena at 2:55 PM on December 12, 2010

You can't. Sorry.

Take some time to figure out who you are and what you like, away from who you were.
posted by mhoye at 2:58 PM on December 12, 2010

This will get better. Really, it will. One day, all the stuff that is now OH MY GOD MY EX AND I USED TO DO THIS will just be itself again. Time will smooth the edges.

Set the things that are most painful aside for now and concentrate on the things that give you joy. Then eventually the other stuff will lose its painful associations.

Seriously, I know this sounds like trite nonsense, but it's really true. Time will heal you.
posted by Sidhedevil at 3:04 PM on December 12, 2010 [14 favorites]

Take some time off from the things you used to do with your ex to explore all those things you didn't do because he didn't enjoy them. Surely there are things (music, art, fiction, movies, TV, even friends) you used to like that he didn't enjoy, so you gave them up. This is a good time to see whether you still like them. Then, later, you can go back and try the things that you did together again. Some of them you'll like, and some of them you won't. You need some time apart to figure out what part of that enjoyment is yours and what was reflected enjoyment from him.

I used to go to a particular folk (Celtic) music bar with my ex and abandoned it when I got divorced (we were together for 10 years, married for 5). Not quite a year after we split, I got asked on a first date there to listen to a band my ex and I had enjoyed. Going with the new guy and hanging around with him and his friends as a support group made it possible for me to figure out that I still liked Celtic music without the ex in the picture. Now I've been married to the guy who took me back to "our" bar for a decade, and the bar became his and mine, not mine and the ex's, even when I ran into the ex and his second wife there.
posted by immlass at 3:06 PM on December 12, 2010 [6 favorites]

You have to desensitize yourself. I know this sounds cheesy, but you have to make new memories with your favorite things. You're allowed to like things that he introduced you to and if you were together for ten years you can't pretend like he hasn't influenced your tastes and interests. The best way to get over associating things like music and restaurants with your ex is just to expose yourself to them. That's also the best way to figure out if you like things on their own merits or if you just liked them for his sake. My experience has been that it gets easier over time and with exposure. It's gonna be hard at first, but you might as well start the process now when things are kind of hard anyway.
posted by yogurtisgenocide at 3:07 PM on December 12, 2010 [2 favorites]

Time, resolve and determination. Here's what worked for me:

Pick one thing, like a band for instance. Tell yourself "he will not take this away from me. This band has value to me beyond him. I want to and I will appreciate this and he will not intrude;" Every time you remember that particular band or have some lyrics come into your head, remind yourself of that resolution: this thing is yours and goddammit, it will remain yours. In some time, sit down and try to listen to a song; the memories and feelings will naturally come flooding in and you feel them and you let them go. Yes, you sat under a tree and listened to this together on his iPod but that is over but the song remains. Maybe the first time you'll be able to get through thirty seconds before having to turn it off. The next time you'll get to the chorus. Eventually, you'll be able to listen to that album and instead of it reminding you of your ex, it will remind you that you are a strong person who can overcome the worst. And the album will be yours again, and this time with considerably different and better associations.

It doesn't have to be an album, of course. It can be a book or a place or whatever you choose. The important part is that you make a promise to yourself that you will take this thing, whatever it is, out of the context of the relationship and into the context of a thing you like, plain and simple.
posted by griphus at 3:17 PM on December 12, 2010 [2 favorites]

The thing that has worked the best for me is making new memories with the things that I used to consider "his-and-mine". So that band he introduced me to? I went to see them live, on my own. That movie we watched? I got my friends round and we watched it together. The new memories overshadow the old.

It still hurts, not gonna lie to you about that, but everyone in this post is right when they say that time will heal those wounds. Time, and new memories.
posted by fight or flight at 3:28 PM on December 12, 2010 [3 favorites]

Find groups of like-minded (to you, not to your ex) people who enjoy the things you actually find yourself enjoying, then reform associations.
posted by DisreputableDog at 3:37 PM on December 12, 2010

fight or flight: "The thing that has worked the best for me is making new memories with the things that I used to consider "his-and-mine"."

Had to quote it, because that's the way to go. One of my ex's introduced me to some good music and got me some albums that I'd wanted anyway and just didn't have. The ones that she bought me I kept because, frankly, I told her exactly what I wanted and would have bought them anyway.

The ones she burnt me I made another copy of and gave the copy from her to someone else. That way I got to keep the music but it wasn't stained by her handwriting being on it.
posted by theichibun at 3:46 PM on December 12, 2010

"I can't even be sure if, for example, I like Steampunk, because he liked Steampunk, so I don't know if I like it because of him, or I like it on my own, or I don't like it because it reminds me of him."

If you still like it, I think you like it on your own. Sure, there's a lot of him and your fun with him mixed into it, but part of the value of partners (and friends) is that they introduce us to things we otherwise might not have learned to enjoy. In fact, I think this is (eventually) one of the ways to get past the bitterness of the relationship -- "Well, that wasn't so great, but at least he introduced me to steampunk, so that was nice!" It gives you a constructive way to understand that relationship as part of your life and part of your personal narrative. It wasn't a waste; it was something that introduced you to new things that you now love and continue to do.

But yes, there's a period of suckage where it's all just painful. But that does pass with time.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 3:54 PM on December 12, 2010 [1 favorite]

I'm so sorry, you are obviously hurting very hard right now and all these associations sting something fierce at the moment. But as maudlin as it sounds, time will heal the wound and you'll remember that you like all of these things in their own right, not because (fill in the blank) introduced you to it. Just because he was involved in something that has become part of your life doesn't mean it has to suck as hard as the end of the relationship.

Give yourself time to grieve this nasty break up; making new associations is part of the process.
posted by braemar at 3:58 PM on December 12, 2010

Time, time, time. Lots of time.

It also can be painful to look inward and determine what is you and what is you-and-him. After the end of a seven-year relationship, I discovered that I will love Tom Waits fiercely and forever no matter what, but Goldfrap I can actually live without.

Think hard about things you liked that he didn't, or of slight interests you didn't bother to pursue when you were together. Then try them by yourself and make new memories.
posted by motsque at 3:59 PM on December 12, 2010

Sorry for your current pain but try and just enjoy things in a neutral manner now. When you meet your next significant significant-other, the things that weren't really you will fall away and the things you are actually interested in will serve as a wealth of interest that you can share with your partner and make new memories with.
posted by Morrigan at 4:06 PM on December 12, 2010

Agreeing with everyone else that time definitely helps.

One thing I also did -- when I was on a bike ride or something and happened to go down a street my ex and I wandered down when we were on a fun walk one day -- was, if I found myself getting maudlin, I'd just tell myself "I am reclaiming this place for myself alone now, separate from him." It wasn't an instantaneous fix, but doing it often enough helped keep me focused on moving on.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 4:06 PM on December 12, 2010 [2 favorites]

Here's a bonus for you: I recommend this. I can just about bet money your ex didn't know or like it, and I have used it to "soak up" the bad feelings from breakups before. If it doesn't make you smile, I'll eat my hat.
posted by Countess Elena at 4:08 PM on December 12, 2010

Time and distance (geographic) if possible. Ditto create new experiences. Exercise your mind, brain and soul. Meet lots of new people. Develop some new platonic friendships. Get a pet.
posted by pallen123 at 4:16 PM on December 12, 2010

Get a pet - as suggested above, excellent idea. A family member was going through a break-up and took in a stray dog, best thing for her during this time, took her mind off her heartache. Animals love you and loving them back is very healthy.
posted by sandyp at 5:19 PM on December 12, 2010

This happened to me when I was dumped by someone I thought I'd be spending the rest of my life with. One of the stranger things was that I don't (to this day) recall how I liked pasta before her. I know that she preferred it differently (harder or softer) than I'd grown up with, and I'd grown to like it the way she did. It still bugs me.

A later relationship caused problems when I couldn't get over telling stories. That woman had been such a part of my life and experiences that all of my stories involved her, to the detriment of new relationships. The next woman I dated (who is now my wife) was very annoyed that I kept telling stories with about things I did with my previous girlfriend. The thing was, like you, it had been a long-term relationship.

What I did, and it really did help, is to stop thinking about the things you did as 'the things I did with my ex,' and start thinking about them as 'the thing I did once with a friend.' Don't even give the ex a name in the story, because it's your story, and while there are other characters in the story, they aren't you, and aren't the focus. When you think back on something fun you did, just, you know, think of it as you and a friend, and something you did.
posted by Ghidorah at 5:25 PM on December 12, 2010 [2 favorites]

There's so much good advice in this thread. The posts by Countess Elena, mhoye, Sidhedevil and immlass resonated most with me.

After my broken engagement in my 20s, I had to completely set aside things that were too painful. Friend came over and helped me pack up everything that reminded me of my ex. Others friends helped me re-paint the apartment. It took me a long time before I could return to our shared stuff without pain. Looking back, even though it felt horrible at the time, washing away his memory like that was a turning point.

More recently, my marriage (to a different man) ended. It was heart-breaking for me to be alone in our house. I actually considered selling at a huge loss rather than spend another day in tears, surrounded by this huge reminder of him. But then my cousin and his girlfriend moved in. They're both high energy, fun, positive people and I love them dearly. They were only there a few months, but their presence chased out the demons for me.

One final thought: immediately after a break-up, sometimes it's too much work to get into new things. I've gotten a lot of comfort from re-discovering myself via familiar, easy things from my past: music, books, friends, and activities that have zero connection to my ex. The stuff that specifically reminds me of me.
posted by Majorita at 6:01 PM on December 12, 2010 [3 favorites]

I would like to lend my support to the suggestions that you spend time with things you know your ex did not like and from which you may have abstained (consciously or not) on his behalf. I took an enormous amount of comfort, a few years ago, from the sudden freedom to renew my relationships with marijuana, indian food, and brain-crushingly loud music.
posted by brennen at 8:21 PM on December 12, 2010 [1 favorite]

A friend of mine felt like he couldn't eat at his favorite restaurant anymore because he last ate there with his ex-boyfriend, and their breakup had been so painful. I helped him get over it by making a little ritual out of it -- we co-opted a bit of Wicca and sprinkled salt all around the outside of the restaurant to ritualistically banish the associations with the ex-boyfriend, then went in and made some new associations by having a lovely dinner together.
posted by Jacqueline at 9:53 PM on December 12, 2010 [1 favorite]

Time, and only time, will take the edge off. And even then if the association is strong enough it may never entirely remove it. I went through this after my ex-wife walked out on me. My whole life had been her - us - for the previous ten years, and my environment, my flat, my friends, many of my interests, my favourite places... they were shot through with her. What you have to do is:

1. Figure out which things hurt because of this.

2. Decide which of those you don't really need to do, and stop doing them for a while. Until you feel stronger. Be as hard-assed about cutting these things out as you need to be. The only one I couldn't bear to cut out was skiing. I did that just a few months after the split and I'll admit I spent a bit of time crying on that holiday. I kept getting to the bottom of a run and instinctively looking back to see where she was... damn, that's the stuff that kills you. But I loved skiing so much I refused to let her take that away from me, even temporarily.

3. Do something your ex didn't like but you always kinda thought you might. I went for a three-week holiday in America - a place she'd always vowed she'd never go. I had a great time, because it was so wholly untainted by memories, or by her. It was new, and it was just me. It doesn't have to be a holiday. Maybe go skydiving or something.

4. Do try to get back to the things you genuinely love as soon as you feel strong enough. My ex and I had a special association with, and fondness for, Greece. We'd spent many months backpacking around the country and had actually started making plans to relocate there when the split happened. That was in 1997. I didn't go back to Greece until last year. By myself. It was very bitter sweet, and I definitely had some wobbly moments, which shocked me, it being almost twelve years after the event. I actually feel I did myself no favours by leaving it for so long. I should have laid that particularly haunting ghost years ago, because by not doing so it had become more established, and scarier.

So, tl;dr! Give yourself a break from the worst things, do new things, give it time, then reclaim your old things.
posted by Decani at 4:18 AM on December 13, 2010

I agree with Decani on this.

Take some quiet time to let your mind and your heart settle. Once you feel a little more 'even', start trying new things that have peaked your interest in the past that you haven't yet had a chance to try. Exposure to new things that you genuinely like might help you see what 'old' things are a true fit to you.

Ten years is a long time, so give yourself time to grieve and be compassionate with yourself. You don't really need to draw clean lines around what is distinctly you from your ex at this point - if it is important to you, trust that it will come in time. As much as it sucks, time is the thing that is truly going to help you feel better.

Best of luck.
posted by sassy mae at 12:21 PM on December 13, 2010

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