Surprise! She's leaving me. Help me be graceful under fire.
January 2, 2011 11:29 AM   Subscribe

On New Year's Day, my partner abruptly ended our four-year, cohabitating relationship. I had almost no warning, and will probably never fully understand why. I believe she is making the wrong choice. Give me advice on how to gracefully accept her decision anyway, and hold on to my sanity in the process.

Anonymous because my mefi handle is known to work colleagues and my ex.

Not sure whether any of the following is relevant to my question, but here's our backstory:

Together for four years, living together for two. Both women; I'm in my mid 20's, she's in her late 20's. Our friends consider us the model couple, the they're-gonna-get-married-someday couple. There is nobody else in the picture for either of us. We have always been loving, affectionate, supportive, and respectful toward each other.

Over the past few months, we had started to discuss two upcoming big Life Decisions: whether to move to a new city, and when to start trying for kids. We aren't in exactly the same place on these two issues, but I think there's enough wiggle room to resolve these to both of our satisfactions. I had planned on proposing once we'd figured this stuff out.

Unfortunately, she believed that these preliminary discussions, and the fact that we didn't immediately agree, indicated that we are heading down different roads. Despite the fact that she still loves me (or so she says, and I believe her), she has convinced herself that we're not right for each other. Until yesterday I had no idea, as she kept this revelation to herself and gave no hints that anything was wrong.

Intellectually, I recognize that there is nothing I can say or do to make her change her mind, and that the correct thing to do is gracefully accept her decision. At the same time, both my head and my heart tell me that she's wrong to throw away what we have without making a good-faith effort to resolve these two Life Decisions, so I'm struggling.

For what it's worth, she offered to move out, and I accepted. Haven't worked out the details yet.

My question: How do I accept her decision with grace and dignity, without lying to either of us or otherwise compromising my own integrity?
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (16 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
The best medicine here is time. After she moves out, don't have any contact with her for a long period of time. Several months at minimum. Get a new hobby. Rearrange the furniture in your apartment. Take a trip. Dye your hair a new color. Take care of yourself for a while.

I think you're absolutely right that you'll never know why she made the decision she did, and you may never agree with it. That's true in pretty much any break up. This is going to suck for a while. But you will be okay.
posted by decathecting at 11:37 AM on January 2, 2011 [4 favorites]

Who says you have to accept it with grace and dignity? Be as furious and disappointed as you are (if that's what you're feeling). Don't vent at her, as that won't benefit either of you, but you don't need to be Mother Theresa either.
posted by Wordwoman at 11:40 AM on January 2, 2011 [27 favorites]

It sounds like you have objections you feel she hasn't heard. What would help me would be to let myself make one last attempt (and only one) to say them. I might write a letter explaining it. Then, the ball is in her court on that, and you can go into mourning knowing that you did everything you could to explain why you felt the breakup wasn't necessary.

with grace and dignity, without lying to either of us or otherwise compromising my own integrity

Make your position clear and then stick to it, but only try once more to persuade her. She has to make her own decisions.
posted by salvia at 11:40 AM on January 2, 2011 [1 favorite]

There's nothing disgraceful or undignified about asking her to clarify her thought processes. If you think you couldn't maintain composure in person, you can e-mail etc. The phrase "you owe me at least that much" is a cliche, but it certainly springs to mind here.
posted by foursentences at 11:51 AM on January 2, 2011 [2 favorites]

It's not undignified or ungraceful to tell her you thought these obstacles were manageable and could be overcome. But you have to accept her decision -- if she says it's over, it's over.

Are you asking how to be externally graceful and dignified, or internally graceful and dignified? Externally, don't try to make it a big argument because it's her decision. Internally, I think it's okay to be pissed off and hurt for a while, and time will be the big thing that helps.
posted by J. Wilson at 11:59 AM on January 2, 2011

Firstly: if she doesn't feel this is right for her, then it's not the wrong choice. It's simply her choice. As long as you think of it as a big mistake, it's going to be that much harder for you to move on as part of you will continue to hope she can be "corrected." This simply is not something she wants for herself. And that is usually the hardest part to accept when a relationship ends. Unlike salvia, I do not recommend trying once more to persuade her. For many people, it's extremely difficult to drum up the courage to end a long term relationship. Pleading with her is only going to make it even harder on both of you, and if she actually does come back, the chances of it working out aren't great. I don't want to be bleak, but acknowledging this is the first step to healing.

You need time away from her. None of this "let's be friends" business just yet. Spend more time with your friends. Make new ones. Go visit family you haven't seen in a while. Do something fun for yourself. Volunteer. Stay active. Don't just sit at home. That's the worst. In time, it really will feel better.
posted by katillathehun at 12:10 PM on January 2, 2011 [1 favorite]

Have you said, "I thought that we'd resolve these issues and then marry?" Did you set some sort of timeline to work through the decisions? You're in the "married someday" phase; she's in the married soon phase. That's hard, but not impossible, to reconcile.

It may have looked like you were stalling. If it takes you 2 years to find a resolution, then you've effectively stalled commitment, moving and children for that period of time. When someone's ready to make those decisions, it's frustrating to be with a partner who's stalling. She may have decided it was time to cut bait with you and look for a partner who's on her timeline.

Decide where your head is on this. Understand that you cannot go backwards to "living together indefinitely". Are you willing to move forward faster than you planned? If so, then tell her. Allow her to make decisions that are fully informed. If you aren't ready, then let go.

All this rethinking will give you a bit of peace in the break up. If you can't catch up to her, then you know why the relationship ended. You wanted different things in your immediate future. You needed to find partners who could support that. It'll still sting to lose her, but you'll understand why it ended. Then it'll be easier to wish her well and accept the change.
posted by 26.2 at 12:23 PM on January 2, 2011 [2 favorites]

Therapy. Not in six months or in two weeks, but emergency session tomorrow. Don't know any therapists? Call good friends. Call your GP. Someone will have a recommendation. Talk to someone tomorrow.

A friend of mine was abruptly dumped by her fiancé a few ago for virtually no reason. She immediately, as in the next day, started going to therapy. She said it was by far the best decision she ever made and helped her process what was going on and where she wanted to go in her life. Months later, ironically her ex was having an existential crisis about the break up, and she was able to handle it without going into a second emotional tailspin. Seriously, even if you think you can handle it alone, you can handle it better with the help of someone trained to get you through this.
posted by whoaali at 12:34 PM on January 2, 2011 [1 favorite]

You sound like a reasonable and kind person. I'd suggest trusting your instincts as far as what to say and do. Give yourself lots of time and space to feel all your feelings and to heal.

I just went through a break-up that seems a little similar, though we weren't together as long, and I've found Coming Apart a useful book. It talks about the different developmental tasks you achieve in different relationships. It's annoyingly hetero in its language, but it still seems to apply well to my queer relationships. I've had a lot of friends recommend When Things Fall Apart by Pema Chodron and it's next on my reading list.

I found it helpful to tell my ex that I was disappointed that she chose to end our relationship without trying to find compromises that worked for both of us. However, I'm realizing now that there wasn't any kind of compromise that would've worked because she wasn't in a place where she wanted to compromise much of anything for a relationship. Talking to her about it didn't really resolve my need to be heard by her, but I hope it helped set the stage for us to be friends someday, since I won't be holding back a lot of anger and disappointment.

Be kind to yourself. Take impeccable care of yourself right now. Ask your friends and family to help too.
posted by zahava at 1:58 PM on January 2, 2011

Ugh! Okay...

1. I'm sorry to hear this. How totally crazy!

2. Okay. Real talk time. She pulled a processing fast one on you. You were having a very adult, longterm-forecasting processing session on those two issues. She? Either she was not, or she was also processing this stuff through with a friend or acquaintance or former lover (more likely two out of three, sorry to stereotype!) who helped her misunderstand it, or she was actually hearing these conversations wrong.

3. This is crazy of her. Like, really, people do not up and move out on people because they're mid-discussion on where they will live and when they will have kids and the "plan" isn't totally defined. And certainly not without any indication. And also, if I may offer you the wisdom of being your elder? The "plan" doesn't usually get to work out as it is defined! That's not how life works. The great thing about being gay is that we get to plan all our pregnancies but still, real life intrudes.

4. So to put myself in your shoes, if my partner did this to me (we are sort of similarly situated), I would do the following things:

A. Say "For starters, fuck no, what a load of bullshit, I do not accept what you're saying to me and I absolutely insist that we be locked in this room together to talk until things start to make sense."

B. When that didn't work, I would call in a third party, ASAP. (And order in sandwiches, I guess.)

C. When that didn't work, I would send them on their way and set a meeting date for 48 hours away, to revisit, and would not initiate contact until then. (Though I would receive it.)

What I'm saying is: when a relationship you want to have is taken away from you for no good reason, you fight for it.

And then, when you have fought for it and it doesn't work out, you wash your hands and run away because that means you were in a relationship with someone other than you thought you were. And that sucks. But you need to find out first.

But most importantly:

5. This is not the moment to have great boundaries and to be thoughtful and clear and well-spoken. This is the moment to be upfront about your feelings, and to cry and yell and carry on—if that's what you feel. Whatever you do feel—do not detach! Graceful, my ass. There is no way to be gracefully dumped suddenly out of the blue for what seems like no good reason! You asked about holding on to your sanity. The only way to hold on to it is by fully experiencing your feelings and sharing them. If you don't? If you squelch down on them, to be "thoughtful" or "graceful"? You'll end up a twisted loony little thing. Don't do it. It sucks. And good luck.
posted by RJ Reynolds at 2:12 PM on January 2, 2011 [20 favorites]

I wouldn't consider this relationship ended yet. She moved out, if I understand you correctly, yesterday.

I would try to talk this through with her. I would offer couples counseling. I would suggest that she owes you at least a conversation, after four years, rather than unilaterally moving out.

I wouldn't try too hard to be reasonable here. You can be reasonable later.

I would propose anyway. Why not go all in?

Fight for your relationship. Maybe she needs to know how much you want her.
posted by musofire at 2:51 PM on January 2, 2011 [2 favorites]

Same thing happened to me. Except it was 6 years and the breakup happened over the phone while I was in another state to visit family. Let me know if you find anything out. Man it sucks so bad.
posted by msbrauer at 7:04 PM on January 2, 2011 [1 favorite]

I don't really get why you're being so zen. If you wanted to marry her and she thought you had just discovered you were incompatible, then she's operating under wrong information. Don't be all zen, that might make her think you secretly wanted a breakup. Be emotional! Tell her you adore her! Argue passionately to save the relationship! ... (for a maximum of a week, more is creepy, if it doesn't work go back to being zen).
But basically if this is the girl for you and you want her back, you should tell her you were going to propose. I had a breakup for similar reasons, and that might have changed the tide for me. Note that I don't think you should propose (it would be too fast, too sudden, seems desperate & disengenuous). But revealing that you had definite plans to propose might make her think it's worth working it all out. Good luck!
posted by pseudostrabismus at 8:21 PM on January 2, 2011 [1 favorite]

Start living for yourself--do things you want to do, or haven't since she's been gone. Also negotiate fairly, but in your own interest on breakup issues.
posted by Ironmouth at 9:15 PM on January 2, 2011

I agree there's a possibility that this was all over a huge misunderstanding. (Because I am an idiot, I have completely misunderstood where someone was going, and in one case we ended up back and better than ever.)

You should try to correct that.

It's also possible that with the new year, she wanted to evaluate her life and what she want.

If she understood you all along and wants to go, then you need therapy and friends with cocktails (or ice cream or whatever. A long day in the batting cages maybe.)

I am not in any way shape or form suggesting that you “fight” for this, though. If she’s anything like me, she’ll take that to mean she was wrong about you all along and you never actually cared about her at all. You can’t have an honest fight with a person about what they think and how they feel.
posted by Lesser Shrew at 10:51 PM on January 2, 2011

Same thing happened to me, too - 7 years and I was blindsided and had to leave "our" house. It really does suck. I am so sorry you have to go through this. I just have a few thoughts, if, indeed, this is a breakup.

First, it took me a really long time to process all of the thoughts and imagined conversations that were going on in my head, in the absence of my partner. I realized that for my sanity I needed an outlet for those thoughts and conversations, and basically told my ex that I would need to have some really honest conversations to process what was going on and basically demanded that I be allowed to initiate discussions whenever I wanted. We had some good talks when my brain was driving me crazy with my own relationship post-mortem, which was just a handful of times over a few weeks. Like you, there was no way to change her mind, but I fought and gave some solid arguments in favor of trying to work things out, and my protestations fell on deaf ears. At that point I had nothing to lose, so it was really helpful to be angry and confused and frustrated and logical and to yell and cry and say whatever I wanted to say, all of which she took like a champ (I assume, because she felt guilty - YMMV.)

After that, it was over and as much as I tried to stay friends at first, I realized that I was WAY happier not being around her, so, yes, as hard as it is after 4 years, zero-to-little contact is an important step in getting over it. Hidden on Facebook, deleted from phone, IM contacts, etc. If you don't attempt zero-contact, you'll realize quickly that you should. It's a good thing, don't fight it. If you do find yourself at a mutual event, be cordial and drama-free, but that's all you owe.

Lastly, nth-ing TIME. I was so devastated, I thought I would never recover. I got on AskMeFi and everyone said TIME, and they were right. Took me about a year, but it got WAY better and I am 100x happier today than I ever was with her. Hindsight, indeed.

Do whatever you need to do to find some happiness through this ordeal. Good luck and hang in there. MeFites are rarely wrong.
posted by buzzkillington at 1:15 AM on January 3, 2011 [2 favorites]

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