Break-up Remorse: Reconciliation?
June 8, 2011 1:32 PM   Subscribe

For 5 years, I was in a great relationship with a fantastic woman. Never crazy with infatuation, but never, ever bad. Shared values, great time together, all-in-all great. Story ends when LDR, move to a new city, and new person contribute to my decision to end things. Now I'm not sure what to do and looking for resources, related journal articles, advice from strangers. A lot of details inside.

Relationship background: We had mutual friends in college and began dating right afterwards. For me, there was never the spark/crazy infatuation/crush that often starts things out. Things were just good and easy and happy and continued to be for five years. Love grew. Shared values, shared life plans, shared sense of humor, shared interests. She was my best friend. No compromises. We planned to spend our life together, but weren't in a hurry to formalize the commitment. Sex was never great. Just okay.

What happened: She left our city to begin a two-year grad program in a city 4 hours away. I had one year left of my own program and could not move with her. She had options in our city and in cities that were more convenient, but chose based on program fit. Some resentment occurred immediately. The first year, things were hard for me, and less hard for her. Then, I was offered a job in NYC after I graduated. This fit in with our grand life plan together. I moved with plans for her to follow when class finished.

The transition was hard for me. I was unhappy and isolated. Distance continued to be really difficult. I became close friends with a new woman. Strong, crush feelings developed. While Id noticed other women before, Id never had a crush on anyone else for the entire 5 years. Crush was all the things a crush is: sparky, exciting, intense attraction, close connection, etc. Alarm bells went off. Something was wrong. I asked for a break in the relationship. I started therapy. I started sleeping with the other woman. I broke up with my girlfriend (approx Feb). My new narrative was that we were good companions and friends but weren't meant to be together forever.

Now: Ex-girlfriend is terribly depressed. I am terribly depressed at having caused her this much pain. I have started a new relationship with the other woman. It's going well, but I miss my ex very, very much. I was in a good spot until my ex called 6 weeks ago and asked about getting back together and I realized how devastated she is. I feel devastated too. So guilty, and so sad for our ruined life plan, so sad for her, and I miss her. I know these things are normal. You spend 5 years sharing your every thought, feeling, emotion with someone, of course you're going to miss them. New girlfriend knows about this and has said she can take me "healing." What I dont know is whether I've made a huge mistake. Ex-girlfriend was good and steady and things were great and could have been good forever. I still love her, certainly, and things could still be good, maybe. Things are great with the new girl too, and we also share interests and values (though fewer shared interests) and great communication and she's been my best friend in the city since I've moved, and the attraction is much, much stronger, and I love her too. But did I frame this wrong and let restlessness ruin something great? Or are these feelings of missing and guilt and buyers-remorse just par for the course?

I know that there aren't right/wrong answers and the internet can't solve my problems (which I created), but there's a lot of smart folks out there who might have some insight.

Questions are:
1) Have you ever successfully reconciled with an ex after one of you screwed up and caused a lot, a lot of hurt? How did it work?
2) Any similar situations out there or general advice?
3) Any literature on emotional decision-making anyone can recommend? Sometimes I feel like the rational/logical thing is, and what my head wants, is to reconcile with the ex, while what my heart wants is to be with the new girlfriend.

Maybe I'm just a jerk who screwed up and wants to whine about it. And you can tell me that too.

Respond here, or you can email me at
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (20 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
and the attraction is much, much stronger

If this is really true, then you are better off staying with the current girlfriend. You were with the other person for five years, if you are human and normal I wouldn't expect you to completely move on in five weeks, or just five months.

Tell your head that it is o.k to want familiar things, but that your heart (and maybe the penis) will be doing the thinking now.......

P.S (The best literature I have read on following your feelings rather than your head came from the book called "Finding your Own North Star") I loved it. Give it a try.
posted by The1andonly at 1:39 PM on June 8, 2011 [3 favorites]

I was in a good spot until my ex called 6 weeks ago and asked about getting back together and I realized how devastated she is.

Keep reminding yourself you are in a good spot. This is guilt making you question your decisions.
posted by Dragonness at 1:41 PM on June 8, 2011 [1 favorite]

Maybe it's enough to say that you're at different phases in your life?

Can you go back to your ex and be happy? Probably.
Can you stay with your new girlfriend and be happy? Probably.
Can you ride out your current relationship until it ends and find happiness with someone else altogether? Probably.
Can you even possibly someday get back together with the ex and pick up where you left off once she's in the same spot in life as you? It's not out of the question.

Do what makes you happy. If you're thinking of getting back together with the ex because you "owe it to her", don't. You won't be doing her any favors to reconcile under duress. She'll get over you, and you'll get over hurting her. Be happy.
posted by scarykarrey at 1:43 PM on June 8, 2011 [2 favorites]

It sounds like your contemplating getting back together with the ex is just the guilt talking. It's perfectly normal to miss her and feel guilty for hurting her, what matters is whether or not you act on it.
posted by biochemist at 1:45 PM on June 8, 2011

I broke up with my husband a few weeks into our engagement. We stayed apart for almost a year (despite working together) (yes it was awful). I was a mess the whole time! I got into a new relationship, and while parts of it were great, overall it just didn't feel comfortable. Eventually, that relationship ended, and mr. editrixx and I got back together, and the rest is history. It took a LOT of careful work to get us to a place where he trusted me. So. It can be done. But that's us.

As for you: yeah. You might have made a mistake. Who knows? But it's done. No matter what you do, you'll wonder if you made the right choice--so make the choice that you think you'll feel the best about and then commit to it. She wasn't the only person in the world you could belong to, and neither is the new girlfriend, and you weren't and aren't the only one who could make either of them happy. If the mister and I hadn't reconciled, I think I'd still be happy today, and so would he. We just wouldn't be happy together, which is what made me realize I wanted to be happy with him.

On preview, basically, what scarykarrey is saying. With a side of "if you REALLY want to, you can get back together."
posted by editrixx at 1:46 PM on June 8, 2011 [3 favorites]

I can speak to #1. My relationship was not five years but closer to three, and as soon as I put my foot toward us being back together, I knew that it was a bad idea. He knew it was a bad idea. It just opened up everyone's old wounds and resentments. And right now you are looking back on this relationship the way I looked back on that one, I think - with very very rose tinted glasses. Let it stay that way. Allow yourself to remember that time as lovely, and don't dredge stuff up again. That is my advice to you.
posted by Medieval Maven at 1:47 PM on June 8, 2011

Respectfully, yes, you're just a jerk who screwed up and wants to whine about it.

Listen, no one in this life can make up your mind for you. Only you can. Or you can postpone it, try to have your cake and eat it too, and cause people a lot of misery while you vacillate. Keep moving forward and know thyself.
posted by Nixy at 1:51 PM on June 8, 2011 [3 favorites]

What I dont know is whether I've made a huge mistake.

And you'll never know this. You can what-if yourself to death, or at least to total paralysis. FWIW, I don't think you're a huge jerk - you didn't cheat on your ex, or (I assume) tell big lies about how you were "just friends" with the new interest. What happened to you is totally normal, and you seem to have handled it in the least shitty way possible, given the breaking up. Yes, it's normal to be sad, and to feel guilty, and to doubt your decisions and choices. None of that will go away or not happen if you break up with the new girlfriend and get back together with the ex.
posted by rtha at 1:55 PM on June 8, 2011 [1 favorite]

If you're thinking of getting back together with the ex because you "owe it to her", don't.

This is telling, and may be a good way to check.

It sounds like the biggest reason you are contemplating getting back with your ex is because she is in a bad place right now and you feel responsible for that. However -- what were your feelings about your ex before you heard from her?

-- Were you wishing that you could get back together even then? Then maybe there's something to trying to rekindle things after all.

-- Or were you happily enjoying your new life and current girlfriend? Then that's what it is you want for yourself right now.

So ask yourself -- before you heard from your ex, what were your feelings about the situation back then?
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 1:57 PM on June 8, 2011 [2 favorites]

Nah, you didn't really make a mistake - you followed your dream and you're living. Your only mistake was to naively think that you two would make it to your dream life together. Sometimes to follow your dream, you have to make sacrifices. And in a literary turn of events, it sounds like both of you deprioritized your relationship in order to achieve the dream you shared... as if you were adapting "Gift of the Magi" for a modern audience.
posted by jph at 2:02 PM on June 8, 2011 [1 favorite]

On the continuum of preferring SECURITY to RISK, where do you fall? During the five years with your ex, you were peaceful and secure. Is that the model for a happy life?

Thrills come with risk.
posted by ohshenandoah at 3:05 PM on June 8, 2011 [2 favorites]

I feel devastated too. So guilty, and so sad for our ruined life plan, so sad for her, and I miss her.

Look at the order you list your own priorities in. If you don't have a way to spend some time with her and see if there are any stronger feelings under there, then there's really no point in lingering over this.
posted by hermitosis at 3:45 PM on June 8, 2011 [1 favorite]

It sounds like things were only ever ok at best between you and your ex. Both of you had the chance to prioritize your relationship and both chose not to (choosing career in cities that involved leaving your partner). There's nothing wrong with that (career is important too) but if you go back, you've already had a taste of what life will be like. And you left it last time. If this current woman is making you happier and you're in the same city with a better chance of making it work, why wouldn't you see where it goes?

From your ex's POV, there's nothing like seeing a lover move on to make you question what you gave up. Of course she wants you back. For some women, few things are more attractive than a man you can't have. But when she had the chance to be with you, she chose a LDR instead. Don't listen to your guilt. You will both be fine and happy eventually. Move on.
posted by Jubey at 3:47 PM on June 8, 2011

Dude, I don't know. I'm not you, but here is what I have to say: You will always have crushes. I've been married for 3 years and every now and then some girl comes along and kind of freaks out your brain and all of a sudden it's crush time.

What separates a good relationship from a bad one is your ability to say: My relationship is worth it. I love my partner. We will do great things together. Our strength, together, is better than a brief, thrilling fling. My father always used to say, "Just because you're on a diet doesn't mean you can't look at the menu". And while that's a bit crude, the metaphor holds- It is hard to be on a diet and you must, must, must believe that it's worth it.

In a long term marriage or relationship there will be a thousand What If's and you can spend decades torturing yourself with them- Lots of people do. You have to have the faith and conviction that your relationship is the one you want.

When people ask me why I got married so young (I was 24), I always say it's not because I love my wife, although I do, very much, I married her because beyond our love was a functionality. There will be days when you wake up and you just don't like that person very much. Or they've been on your back about something for a few weeks. And all the love in the world won't make that better- It's your ability to function even at low points.

Ugh, I'm getting off track. My point is that capital L 'Love' is important, but you will be in 'L'ove with many, many people. There are far fewer who can offer you the absolutely necessary and far more subtle compatibility that,I think, leads to long term relationship success.

So, I don't know what you left and what you have, but don't buy into that weird nu-culture love narrative that's like IF IT AINT FIREWORKS IT AINT LOVE.
posted by GilloD at 6:41 PM on June 8, 2011 [28 favorites]

It seems like a lot of your question is about guilt. If you reconciled, would you have guilt and sadness about hurting girl #2?

It seems obvious that LDRs and being alone are difficult for you. I wouldn't try for reconciliation until you were in the same city.

Generally, I think it's good advice to evaluate one relationship at a time, rather than via comparisons. It's too bad that you didn't have time to break up for a non-crush reason (assuming a break up was in the works).

Or are these feelings of missing and guilt and buyers-remorse just par for the course?

Regret, sadness, and guilt at losing/destroying the life plan you shared are part of many breakups I've had.

That doesn't deny the possibility that a life with the old person could have been great, maybe even better than a life with the new person. But is it also possible she wouldn't even be open to reconciliation?
posted by salvia at 8:44 PM on June 8, 2011

If you have compassion for your ex, you will tell her you are not interested in getting back together and you will cease contact with her for a while. LET HER HEAL!!

You have a gf now and it's great. I agree this is guilt talking, and possibly your ex made some pretty persuasive arguments, yes? Don't fall for her guilt trip, you'll only be prolonging her sadness.

Rip the band-aid, tell her it is over for good, and give her closure.

I understand why you are feeling like this, but it's bullshit - especially if you were happy with new gf before this unsolicited phone call put these thoughts in your head.

I'm sure this is a valid and important part of processing your previous relationship. Congratulations on making the right decision to end your previous relationship. Move forward confidently with new gf, who is the only one you admit to loving in your post. Dude! You're allowed to be happy and have a partner that excites you. Enjoy your life!
posted by jbenben at 9:10 PM on June 8, 2011 [2 favorites]

Love grew.

Some resentment occurred immediately.

Distance continued to be really difficult.

Strong, crush feelings developed.

Completely apart from whether you should go back to your ex or not, I was really struck by the number of passive voice references you made to your own actions in this description. You say "resentment occurred" instead of "I was resentful." You say "Distance was difficult" instead of "I had difficulty with the distance."

It's possible to construe this as just a writing device, but I think it's worth looking at. Where is your agency here? Things don't just happen to you. YOur life doesn't just "become" things, and you aren't just a passive witness to events. What role did you play in these things? In the development of "Strong crush feelings" - who did they develop in? You? THe other person? Where is your agency?

Whatever happens, it does seem that one of the things you could work on in therapy is greater comfort making decisions, owning them, and accepting accountability for them, good or bad. It might be that you've made a mistake, but you're entitled to make mistakes - you're entitled to feel things, make decisions based on those feelings, and even experience regret when your decisions don't bring you the satisfaction you thought they would. You're even entitled to renege if you think that's truer to who you are - to say "This whole thing was a mistake, I want to stop and start over in a new direction."

It might be this is just a verbal tic that helped you in writing the description, but please do consider whether it reflects a broader thought pattern in which you are watching the world pass you by, and you don't feel responsible for or accountable for or participant in the things that happen to you. You are. You're steering the ship - you might fuck up, you might not, but you are making the decisions, and it's OK to do so, even if they only seem right just now and later on you realize they were wrong. Take some agency; recognize you're the decider, as it were.

I had a great therapist once, in a similar situation, and his advice was "put both feet in." He told me "You're trying to keep one foot in the safe world where you really don't take your decisions seriously, and one foot in the world where you really commit and go forward. It's not fair to your partner to have one foot in and one foot out. Whatever you decide, put both feet in." You can retract a foot later. But while you're in something - please be in it, for real.
posted by Miko at 9:12 PM on June 8, 2011 [27 favorites]

So let's say your ex moves on and goes on to have a great life, new partner or not. And your current isn't with you anymore for whatever reason and she goes on to have a great life, new partner or not, and you're single. Who would you want more to have back? .......... If your first thought is "I don't know!" or "both!" you have more thinking to do.

Miko's got a great point, as does GilloD: "don't buy into that weird nu-culture love narrative that's like IF IT AINT FIREWORKS IT AINT LOVE." Though I'm not sure what nu-culture means. :D As far as I'm concerned, this idea has been around forever.

It sounds like you had a great relationship with your ex. Did you try to work on the sex stuff? If not, why? I don't know if you're just not including details, but it doesn't seem like you worked together on the problems of the move, distance, isolation, resentment. Presumably you made those "grand" plans with her because you wanted to, not just because you were together for a long time and you were "supposed" to, blah blah.

So what happens when you're in the dumps and you're not communicating properly and things are unresolved? An enticing new creature comes along. This seems to happen a lot for some reason. Anyway, at least you broke up with your gf first before going out with her (I think?) instead of having an affair.

You have to decide what you want. Even though you broke up with the ex, it doesn't seem like you made a clean break. If you stay broken up, then at least talk to her about why you made the decision that you did, that you're very sorry, you care for her, but you guys just aren't the right fit (if that's true). You miss your ex probably because you didn't grieve for the relationship properly. You got caught up in the excitement of the new woman with the sparkiness and that was a good distraction. You and the ex have to have some closure: it is over. The ex has to move on.

I find it interesting that it was only when your ex called that you were sad about the ruined life plan. When you broke up with her, you weren't sad then about it? Again, was this a plan that you wanted, or did it just look good on paper?

If you want to get back together with her, you have to be clear about what your problems were and commit to working on them. Be honest about what you weren't satisfied with sexually. Let go of the idea that things have to be all fireworks. And if you get back together, then you have to break up with the new woman. You probably won't like that idea, but like Miko said, you have to have both feet in no matter what.
posted by foxjacket at 9:05 PM on June 9, 2011

i tend to think getting into a relationship is like going to a new restaurant, and current relationships are like eating at the same restaurant the rest of your life. you know what you like about the restaurant you go to all the time and what you don't like. you know there are a lot of new restaurants out there that may be better, but you don't specifically know if that is true or not. your friends might even tell you the mexican ones are better, but you don't really know. hell you may even like the newest one the first time, second time, even 10th time you visit, but find out after a dozen times the food gives you gas. no matter, there are always going to be new restaurants you don't ever get to go to, so if you find one you like it says a lot.

i think if things are steady and comfortable, that's more than a lot of people ever get out of long-term relationships. the divorce rate is high, so if you're comfortable and steady with someone and love them, that says a whole lot these days.

it sounds to me as if curiosity got the better half of you, coupled by strong long-distance emotions that are never a good thing. i don't think you screwed up, but i don't think you made a better decision. you probably would have continued to have completely static emotions about the ex for the rest of your life (if things really were that steady); whereas this new girlfriend, and potentially more to come, may be a little less steady and comfortable at times in your relationship. the compromise could be better sex, more physical attraction, or maybe she's just a better cook.
posted by only4u at 3:37 PM on June 15, 2011

Odd advice, but flip a coin. Assign one heads and the other tails. You will know the moment before you lift up your hand with out a doubt what outcome you want. Don't look at your coin, but peruse what will make you happy.
posted by becomingly at 10:31 AM on June 29, 2011

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