Dealing with an ex who lives upstairs
December 22, 2010 1:00 PM   Subscribe

I'm looking for advice in dealing with an unfortunate living situation related to my ex.

We dated from July - mid October. It was a short, but very intense relationship. Things ended due to unfortunate circumstances which involved her sleeping with someone else and then lying to me about it. It wasn't cheating (there was some miscommunication about our exclusivity), but it certainly felt like it to me. The lying made it impossible for me to trust her, even though she lied for a good reason (she didn't want to tell me about sleeping with someone else until after an important business meeting I had). Since that happened I've been getting "flashbacks" (imagining what she did) and bursts of anger, although that has been less intense as time goes on. I'll feel good for a day or so and then something will trigger visceral images of what she did and I'll feel like I was punched in the stomach. I'm not bothered by the people she dated before me or the people she is or will date after me, but I'm having a lot of trouble getting past what she did while we were together.

We haven't spoken since October. She wanted me to be in her life, but I can't be her friend right now. I would be constantly waiting for the other shoe to drop (her meeting someone else), and don't want to watch her give the affection that she once gave to me to someone else, while I transition to just another one of her male friends. I know that other people are able to be friends after a breakup, but this isn't an option for me, at least without a long break. I loved her more than anyone else I've ever dated.

Normally I would break contact and move on. In this situation, however, things are a bit more tricky because she happens to live directly above me. Moving is not an option. We're both in our early thirties and live alone. I can hear her walking around and occasional laughter, but I can't hear conversations. I can hear music that she plays and might be able to hear her having sex, but this could just be my imagination.

I feel trapped in my apartment and I feel like I can't relax. In other relationships, I could move on by going home, throwing in a DVD and forgetting about her. Now, though, I'm constantly on edge. Whenever I leave or enter my building I'm nervous about running into her.

I'm looking for advice on how to deal with this living situation and also how to deal with what feels like cheating.

I really appreciate any thoughts or advice you might have. Throwaway email is
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (20 answers total)
Why isn't moving an option? If you're in a lease you could talk to your landlord about getting out of it, given the situation. Or perhaps you could sublet.
posted by orange swan at 1:04 PM on December 22, 2010

Moving is always an option.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 1:05 PM on December 22, 2010 [8 favorites]

I know from having gotten involved in condo disputes that it can be really disruptive when it feels like your home is constantly being invaded by those people upstairs that make you Feel Bad.

The things that have helped me have been to:
- play my own music when I'm home - it drowns out the noises that I subconsciously am listening for, and boosts mood.
- invite friends over to my home - it helps those friendly interactions to take the place of the bad memories.
- be cordial but curt when I run into those people - by taking the high ground I can feel good about myself.
posted by ldthomps at 1:07 PM on December 22, 2010 [3 favorites]

Then you need to find a new activity/hobby that keeps you away from home. A lot. And one that tires you out so that when you are home you are sleeping instead of listening to what's going on upstairs.
posted by Eicats at 1:07 PM on December 22, 2010 [4 favorites]

Would your landlord let you move to another unit in the building?
posted by charmcityblues at 1:09 PM on December 22, 2010 [4 favorites]

I hate to say it man, but...this is basically gonna suck until you move. Time and distance are really the only way to get over someone you've loved hard, and I've tried many hacks. Get away and allow your mind to be occupied by something else entirely. As long as you're underneath her, that pit in your stomach isn't going anywhere.
posted by Lutoslawski at 1:16 PM on December 22, 2010 [1 favorite]

Some tough love here, from someone who has been in a similar position: Cowboy up. You were with this woman for what, 3.5 months? This is not the love of your life. It's a hassle she lives upstairs, but just do your own thing--she's just another stranger in the building.

Believe me, I know where you're coming from.

My ex of 15 years cheated, and we ended up having to live in the same apartment building for two years after the breakup. It's far from ideal, but just go and live your life and don't mope around thinking about her being upstairs. If she's making noise and it's distracting, wear headphones. If you see her in the lobby, just ignore her like you would the old guy in #3B.

Move out when you can.
posted by Admiral Haddock at 1:17 PM on December 22, 2010 [7 favorites]

moving is only not an option when you secretly don't want it to be. otherwise, it's an option and one you need to use.
posted by violetk at 1:29 PM on December 22, 2010

I'm looking for advice in dealing with an unfortunate living situation related to my ex.
Move. Everything else is details.
posted by caek at 1:32 PM on December 22, 2010

Mod note: From the OP:
I can move in March, but not until then due to financial and logistical difficulties. I understand it's a priority, but I can't move immediately.
posted by mathowie (staff) at 1:35 PM on December 22, 2010

You seem to be suffering from an unhealthy obsession. I mean, you only dated for a few months, and you have been broken up since October!

Do you think moving is the answer? I may sound mean, but I think you should seek therapy.
posted by twblalock at 1:42 PM on December 22, 2010 [6 favorites]

I'm going to disagree with most people here. Moving should only be a last resort, unless you were considering moving anyway or aren't particularly attached to your current place and don't find moving to be a huge pain in the ass. I think you should be more focused on moving on metaphorically, rather than literally. Remember that the best revenge (or way to get over an ex who hurt you) is living well.

If you do move, consider carefully if they place you are moving to is truly somewhere you want to live, or if you are just telling yourself it is because you want to escape where you are now.
posted by [citation needed] at 1:42 PM on December 22, 2010 [1 favorite]

There are a couple problems that need to be solved here.

An ideal solution plays out like this: You move, and you get therapy. Since you said moving is not an option, I will not suggest that. What I will say, though, is that it might be an idea to lend some critical thought as to why moving isn't an option. Would it be impossible, or just very difficult? Be honest with yourself. Very difficult is manageable, and worth it in the long run. So that's the first thing.

More pressing is the fact that you seem to be maybe obsessing a bit, intentionally or not. That's actually kind of normal in this case. You care a lot about her and you're reminded of her presence constantly. You're imagining what she's doing without you. You're imagining she's having sex. There's a whole narrative in your head that doesn't actually involve the real her. See, the thing is, all of this, and the sense of possessiveness I'm getting from your words - most of it's really not that unusual given that it was an intense relationship, you broke up around two months ago and you have no space you think of as safe; if you leave your apartment you're afraid of seeing her and if you stay in your apartment then you're kind of haunted by your imagination.

Well, like I said, maybe think a little harder about whether moving is an option or not.

But if it isn't - and even if it is - you might want to give some serious thought to therapy. Find a therapist, talk to them. You'll sit down, they'll ask what's up and you'll start pouring things out. It's good, it'll help.

It'll help because there's a lot going on here that is both outside the scope of a brief relationship and also outside the scope of a response on this site to answer with any completeness.

You were with her for three and a half months. You loved her more than anyone you've ever dated, you (I'm gathering) hadn't made it clear to each other about whether or not you were exclusive, and when she slept with someone else you felt betrayed enough to break up, despite loving her so much. You couldn't trust her but you also didn't want to try to rebuild that trust. And the thing is, you acknowledge that she wasn't really in the wrong by sleeping with someone else and that she had a good reason to lie about it.

So, okay. I'm gonna spitball here. Just throwing some ideas out, and maybe I am wrong in what I'm seeing, and if I am then please tell me. I'm working from sketchy details and I don't know precisely what happened. But from what I can put together, here's what I'm guessing happened.

Things were going great with this girl, you were having a blast, so on, so forth. She spent some of her time in the company of someone else, let's assume he's a guy. Let's call him Ralph. Why not. So there's this guy in the orbit of her life as well. Now the fact that she lied about it means that it came up. She didn't call you one night to let you know, "Oh, by the way, I just wanted to let you know I didn't sleep with Ralph." I'm guessing maybe there was a lead-up to it in conversation. Maybe you saw they had chemistry, maybe some other sign. Maybe you asked her point-blank if she slept with Ralph, or something along those lines, and maybe the way you phrased it or your general tone indicated that the correct answer was no, and here she realized there were some clashing ideas about exclusivity, that she'd done something that would upset you quite a bit, and that her options were either say "yes" and fuck up a big business meeting for you - thus giving you two things to hate her for - or lie and then tell you afterwards, maybe limiting the damage. Not saying that's valid but it may have been her process.

But eventually you found out, however you found out, and the guess I'm making - once again I am only guessing - is that you maybe kind of flipped your shit a little, in a way that set off alarms for her. And that's maybe why she just wants to be friends now.

Like I said, I'm just spitballing here. I've really got no idea. All I have available is what you've said.

So! Here's the deal. You're asking two questions: what to do, and how to deal with the cheating. The answer is that you won't be able to make any meaningful progress in dealing with this until you figure out why your reaction to it was so strong when you know full well that her actions were nowhere near the betrayal you registered them as. Figure that one out, and start to make some peace with it, and you'll find you're not so tormented by visions of the life she's having without you.

Do you find that issues of trust come up a lot in relationships? Something to think about.

But it's best thought about in therapy. Figure out where that visceral reaction came from in the first place.

It'll take time, though, and in the meantime you're in an environment where you don't feel safe. So go out with friends, and when you're home, get some big old headphones and catch up on your Netflix or whatever. But really, move if you can. Move even if you almost can't.

Or as an alternative, you're gonna have to talk to her. It's painful and scary, I know, but you need to say - listen, I just want you to know, I'm sorry things went the way they did and I just kind of need a little space while I work some things out, both pertaining to our relationship and my own issues with trust or whatever. You're a great lady and I don't want us to dread seeing each other.

Scary as it is, it will stop the nervousness at the chance of seeing her, because it will have already happened under circumstances you can control. And if you run into her, she'll smile and wave and you'll do the same and you'll both go about your business. Like I said - scary and painful but so much less so than the thousand little daily deaths of the alternative.

Down the road a bit, you'll be fine. Just takes some work. I'm sure you can do it.

Good luck.
posted by FAMOUS MONSTER at 1:46 PM on December 22, 2010 [2 favorites]

Ah, having now seen the OP's followup - okay then, forget what I said about reconsidering moving. You're going to have to talk to her. Tough, I know, but it's the best solution. I promise.
posted by FAMOUS MONSTER at 1:48 PM on December 22, 2010

Loud music and earplugs. Maybe move where you sleep so that it's not right under her bed when the time comes?
posted by jenfullmoon at 2:01 PM on December 22, 2010 [2 favorites]

I think you should get out of the house as much as you can until you are able to move into a new place. Spend a bare minimum of your idle time at home.

Volunteer. Exercise. Join a Meet-up group. Explore a hobby. Surf the web from your laptop at a coffee shop - or use a computer at the library.

Make the world your living room and you won't have to worry about hearing the person upstairs.

And when you are at home make sure you are busy - cooking, cleaning, reading, making things, organizing your closet, or whatever.

Turn a fan on or play some white noise when you sleep. Getting out of the house and keeping yourself busy at home will help you with getting to sleep quickly.
posted by cinemafiend at 2:05 PM on December 22, 2010 [2 favorites]

Make a list of distractions. Every time you hear activity, look for something else you could be doing, like listening to music on headphones, reading a book in a different room that's not right under the noise, calling a friend, going for a walk, washing dishes, playing a video game, cleaning the bathroom, playing music you love loud enough that you don't have to hear the activity upstairs, but not loud enough to be a jerk.
posted by theora55 at 2:30 PM on December 22, 2010

It's almost January. March is just a little more than two months away. That's enough time to concentrate on finding a new place to live, and if you spend a lot of time involved in finding just the right place, that may be a better sort of obsession than imagining what's going on with your ex.
posted by xingcat at 3:58 PM on December 22, 2010 [1 favorite]

Mod note: I've actually done a lot of looking for apartments in my life, so I'm going to make a parable: When looking for a place to live, you spend quite a bit of time imagining things that don't turn out to be true ... or they are true, but not as you had hoped and pictured. You see a place with a "for rent" sign on it, and jot down the number. You notice from the outside that it has a big, beautiful picture window, and that's a major selling point for you. You call the owner and he tells you the place has two bedrooms, living room, dining room, and a patio in the back. It sounds pretty perfect. You imagine a light-flooded living room and seeing that nice view every day; you imagine grilling on your own little patio surrounded by greenery. You're thinking how nice it will be to turn that second bedroom into a home office. You can see yourself living there; you're even planning out what your new route to work will be, and what local shops will be handy in the new spot.

But when you see it, it turns out that the view really is great, but the room has low ceilings and dark panelling. It doesn't feel spacious or light-filled at all. The second bedroom is tiny, with no windows. Ditto, the dining room. And the patio isn't all that green, and isn't private at all. It opens straight out into a back area with everyone else's little concrete slab patio — not remotely like the intimate little garden spot you'd been imagining. Of course, you don't rent the place. It really only had that one great feature going for it, which was not enough.

So, you're naturally disappointed, but what did you lose? You lost a little time, and you lost the apartment that you had created in your mind: the one you wanted it to be, but that didn't really exist. So, too, with this relationship. Based on early impressions, it seemed like it might be great, but turned out to be not at all what you hoped and imagined. You didn't lose love, though. You lost your imaginary love — the love you hoped that you would find there. The reality was different than what you pictured, which is more often the case.

I hope that viewing things this way will help, because I can definitely tell you that when you find the perfect apartment for you, it will be better than what you ever imagined about the other place, and you could walk by the other place every single day of your life and never be wistful about what could have been, and always so very grateful that you didn't end up there. ALSO A PARABLE :-)
posted by taz (staff) at 9:46 PM on December 23, 2010

Get enough of that pink sheet styrofoam to cover the ceiling of your bedroom, or the whole apartment if you can afford it, and find some way to attach it. If you want it to look better you can wrap fabric around the panels before you put them up. Covering up the joints between the panels will block even more sound, but you might not need to bother with that, and it's easy enough to add tape once they are on.

(IIR there was a project in Make or ReadyMade to do this on a wall, you could use that as a guide but may need to attach the panels in some other way, or if this isn't affordable attaching some old blankets to the ceiling with a staple gun should help a little bit, although it might not help your rental deposit.)

If you've only been able to do one room, rearrange things so it's like a studio apartment in there. Otherwise, rearrange your furniture and put in some colored light bulbs. You won't hear her and it will feel like a whole new apartment.

All that will probably do more to help with the other half of your question than rationalizing about how you ought to feel about her actions.
posted by yohko at 4:44 AM on December 24, 2010

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