Shouldn't I be over this already?
August 2, 2011 3:08 AM   Subscribe

I ended a six-year relationship last December. I know I was totally justified. It's been seven months; when will I stop being worried sick about her?

I moved across the west coast to be with my now-ex girlfriend. We were both 30 and had only carried on the long-distance thing for a few months before we decided to move in together. The context of what was wrong with the relationship will probably make her sound much worse than she actually is as a person...but we all break up for reasons, right?

There was immediate financial dependency on her part, which I thought was temporary. She wanted to start her own business (artistic stuff). I told her she had to have a job; she reluctantly acquiesced, but was never consistent about helping with bills and even irritable about doing it at all. As a substitute teacher, I'm plainly not well-off -- and I certainly can't call myself greedy when I went into a crap-paying profession in the first place. Yet I always felt guilty about wanting her to hold up her end of things.

Eventually, that first job ended through no fault of her own. She focused on her business for about a year or two with no other income after that with my encouragement, because I could hold things up at that time on my own. When the time came that I couldn't do that anymore (partly because she kept needing me to help her with business expenses on top of our living expenses), I told her she needed a job again to at least fund her own activity. She swung a corporate job that paid even better than I could make if I had a regular contract teaching job...and then sort-of helped with bills for awhile.

Our living situation changed. We moved into a house with a housemate and she started paying an equal share of the rent, which made me feel a lot better...but the utilities came down on me alone, and they were awful in the winter. And then that corporate job disappeared with the downturn in 2008, once again through no fault of her own.

Then there was the open relationship aspect, which was her idea. That started up about a year & a half after we got together. It was how she had always been before me. At first I was horrified (I had repeatedly been dumped for other guys), but after awhile, I just decided that I didn't really care. I was sure she wasn't going to leave me for anyone else, and I was right...but it didn't help that the stable, married guy she started seeing (yes, his wife knew) gradually turned paranoid, controlling and emotionally abusive. He was doing genuinely stalkerish shit at the end, and when they finally broke up he launched several revenge schemes.

I eventually started seeing someone else, too, who never once made any move to get me to break up with my now-ex. We're still together and everything is wonderful. (FWIW, she knows how I fret over the ex, and she says that given how we were together for six years, it's natural that it will take a long time to un-learn all these habitual behaviors.)

Anyway. The ex absolutely loved me. I have no doubt about that. She wanted to be with me forever. Never lied to me about anything -- she's one of the most fundamentally honest people I've ever met. Big heart for underdogs. Incredible work ethic, be it for an employer or for her own business; she just adamantly doesn't want to be a wageslave, which I can appreciate. Bright, energetic, creative, lights up the room when she's happy...but it's gut-wrenching to see her cry and it's hard to be around her when she's mad, and she was mad a lot, even though it was almost never anger toward me.

She was absolutely crushed when I broke up with her. I really, sincerely wish I could surgically remove that day and the following weeks from my memory. I stayed in the house for three & a half months to help her make the transition to getting new housemates. (She really needs the space for her business...but while the business does make money, it's just plain not enough or steady enough to support her year-round.)

My problem now is that I keep worrying about her finances and her well-being. She has worked very, very hard to hang on to what she has, but matters have become steadily worse for her. I can't just cut her out of my life. We had three cats and I am absolutely still responsible for them, I still go see them and I still love them (and anyone who thinks that's crazy can kiss my ass). Further, our social circles & activities overlap many times over.

I really want to get to a point where we can be good friends. It means a lot to both of us. We're still emotionally close, but I keep actual contact with her down to once or twice a week at the most (sometimes less than that). But when I see her hit lows, I want to go rescue her and yet I absolutely KNOW that I can't keep saving her, both because it's not right to me and because I just plain don't have the resources anyway.

I'm not in love with her anymore. I knew that was over, and I knew that was why I had to end the relationship. But I still love her like family and I can't tell if that's crazy or if it's not. I have a wonderful relationship with someone new who is supportive and independent, I pulled off a successful self-pub of an urban fantasy novel, I have wonderful friends and a job I genuinely enjoy despite the crappy why can't I get past worrying about my ex? I understand that her problems are hers, and that she would be fine if she'd suck up some unpleasant but mature, adult responsibilities. My head totally gets that; why can't I make the emotional adjustment? What do I have to do to make that happen?
posted by scaryblackdeath to Human Relations (25 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
You need to stop seeing her, at least for a while. You're still in an emotional relationship as long as you're with her twice a week. I know it's hard but how can you move on if you constantly feel like you have to prop her up? That's not your role anymore - you decided that already so be kind to both of you and let her go.
posted by Jubey at 3:26 AM on August 2, 2011 [7 favorites]

You guys haven't broken up yet.

I'm figuring you've had the conversation, but you haven't gone through the separation part of ending the relationship. It's utterly vital to do that. Until you do that, you'll never be able to move on, especially after 6 years.

Cut the cord. Give her the cats, stop seeing her and let your brain adapt to the new situation. You can't be emotionally involved with someone in the way you are and move on at the same time. And until you move on, you'll be emotionally entwined with her and keep worrying about her.

Also, you might want to consider that you may be mildly codependent.
posted by Solomon at 4:10 AM on August 2, 2011 [16 favorites]

What are you getting out this relatioship? Do you enjoy her percieved dependance? Being the emotional back-up is clearly feeding you in some way. If she's the crazy, creative, charismatic type it might be because you enjoy feeling like you're part of that vision, that energy. Work out what being needed by her does for you, then either accept your role or go find it somewhere else.
posted by freya_lamb at 4:12 AM on August 2, 2011 [2 favorites]

I'm sure she was delighted with having an open relationship with a guy picking up the majority of the bills.

I think you need to cut off contact completely and let her sink or swim on her own. I'll let you figure out what to do about the cats.
posted by knapah at 4:32 AM on August 2, 2011 [4 favorites]

You spent six years subsidizing her life. You've already done more than you should.
posted by amro at 4:56 AM on August 2, 2011

Seeing her once or twice a week is keeping you stuck. If the cats are the issue, it might help to genuinely share custody -- for ex., you take them for 3 months, she takes them for 3 months -- instead of this visitation arrangement. My ex and I do this and our 2 cats are fine with it. I still take a little emotional hit when I see him and I can't imagine how difficult it would be if that were happening twice a week.

It might also help if you frame this as letting her go so she can find herself, find someone who's better for her, etc. Consider the fact that this arrangement is keeping her stuck too. Good luck.
posted by Majorita at 5:03 AM on August 2, 2011 [1 favorite]

I ended a six-year relationship last December.

No, you didn't. But you should.
posted by mhoye at 5:26 AM on August 2, 2011 [15 favorites]

Seriously, this is the worst way to break up: the non-break-up break-up. You stopped sleeping with her and you're not speaking to her day-to-day, but you're still involved.

You need to cut off communication for like 6 months and, if you'd like to check in with her at that point, go ahead. But you keep going back into her world and it's just not healthy. It's like you're picking at a scab. Let it be. Heal.
posted by inturnaround at 5:33 AM on August 2, 2011 [3 favorites]

you need to break up wioth your ex and move on with your new partner

it is only for so long she will put up with your emotional attachment to your ex

you need to act like a man: decide and act on your decision

you either cut the ex and move on or leave your new partner and get back with your ex if that what you really want.

you can't sit with one behind on two chairs - it never works - eventually you will fall between the two on the ground
posted by avtodorov at 5:50 AM on August 2, 2011 [3 favorites]

You current partner does sound wonderful. She's being very patient with you while you continue to pour energy into a relationship that should have been over months ago. I could see myself being patient and supportive for a great guy in this situation (and you sound like one), but also carrying real feelings of frustration and maybe sadness about the situation.

Let go of your ex. Tell her that you're going to have to break away for a while for your own good. Offer to take the cats (for several months or a year) if that would make it easier for her to focus on her own life for a while, rather than you being responsible for them while they live with her. Then go be with your partner, and give her and your relationship some of the attention that you've been funneling into your ex.

I hate to say this because you think so highly of her, but it sounds like your ex was using you to some extent, and continues to do so. She needs to learn how to be okay without you (and she definitely will), or find someone else to help her out of her jams and subsidize her ideals.
posted by swingbraid at 6:12 AM on August 2, 2011

The point of breaking up with someone is to, you know, break up with them. I am pretty good at remaining friends with my exes -- one part of that is you need some space when the breakup is new to figure out how to deal with the new situation. Some of that is emotional -- it sometimes takes months for you to be able to admit anger or irritation or jealousy or exhaustion or whatever the exact state of affairs that ended your affair consisted of -- some of it is just getting used to not having the other person around.

You are not being mean to not have to think about your ex's finances. It's not your problem any longer, and you need to focus on your current relationship.
posted by GenjiandProust at 6:29 AM on August 2, 2011 [1 favorite]

N'thing the notion that you are probably codependent.

She's not your problem anymore. It's ok to have empathy and even some sympathy for someone, but it's not fair to yourself if you keep going to save her.

Stop worrying about saving your ex and start worrying about living your own life before she becomes a mental and emotional boat anchor for you.
posted by PsuDab93 at 6:34 AM on August 2, 2011 [2 favorites]

All this:

"Anyway. The ex absolutely loved me. I have no doubt about that. She wanted to be with me forever. Never lied to me about anything -- she's one of the most fundamentally honest people I've ever met. Big heart for underdogs. Incredible work ethic, be it for an employer or for her own business; she just adamantly doesn't want to be a wageslave, which I can appreciate. Bright, energetic, creative, lights up the room when she's happy...but it's gut-wrenching to see her cry and it's hard to be around her when she's mad, and she was mad a lot, even though it was almost never anger toward me.

She was absolutely crushed when I broke up with her. I really, sincerely wish I could surgically remove that day and the following weeks from my memory. I stayed in the house for three & a half months to help her make the transition to getting new housemates."

You're still in love with her, though you deny it. The more time and effort you continue to invest in her, the more you will continue to be in love with her. Co-dependency is a way of putting it, indeed, but I prefer to say it's being in love, because that should make it clear that you are being emotionally disloyal to your current wonderful girlfriend. You have to stop seeing her, doing things for her etc and your emotions will fade. Do you want them to?
posted by londongeezer at 7:19 AM on August 2, 2011

You can't save anyone but yourself. And you should ask yourself, in the secret of your secret hearts, whether the validation you were getting from supporting her and enabling her to pursue her art is something you're having a hard time letting go of.

You can't emotionally divest yourself of this relationship without ceasing contact for a good six months (at least! I'd say probably even a year). This is why you can't stop thinking about her - because you're still involved with her - contact once or twice a week is not quitsville, my friend.
posted by canine epigram at 8:36 AM on August 2, 2011

You could create a kitty custody setup, two months here, two months there.
posted by salvia at 8:43 AM on August 2, 2011 [1 favorite]

um, cats are not kids. Stop using this as an excuse.

Honestly you are not doing either of you any favors right now because neither can really move on like you should. The $ thing will not change- she got you to support her and she will get another one to fill your place- and if you stay around you will end up resenting her for it. You are past 30-do you have 401K? Roth IRAs? If you are not maxing those things out then you do NOT have the $ to be helping ANYbody else stay afloat.

Take care of *you*- you deserve it

PS- I'd like to start a Ghost Hunting business. Probably won't make much so...mind paying my bills for me? I'm still going to be sleeping with other people (like my husband) but since you don't feel you deserve a real relationship that is respectful and equal, and are going to be used my many many many women unless you change
posted by Frosted Cactus at 8:54 AM on August 2, 2011 [6 favorites]

Anyway. The ex absolutely loved me. I have no doubt about that. She wanted to be with me forever. Never lied to me about anything -- she's one of the most fundamentally honest people I've ever met.

You'd be amazed at the things that people lie about.
posted by Melismata at 8:55 AM on August 2, 2011

So true! Especially when they are talking to the person paying their bills!
posted by Frosted Cactus at 9:04 AM on August 2, 2011 [2 favorites]

I've been here, friend, and I'm agreeing with everyone else who says you should break off communication. Yes, there are sweet little cats involved, and she is struggling and needs support, and you feel responsible because you broke things off, and you're in a relationship and she isn't, and you want to be friends because you feel like you won't be the bad guy anymore.

I am here to tell you that she will only struggle until she decides she doesn't want to struggle anymore. She can and will find support elsewhere, and you will be happier and relieved when she does. You are not responsible for her just because you broke it off.

Once you have had a little distance from her, you will stop feeling like the bad guy and gain some perspective. That perspective will allow you to actually choose to be friends with her or not. But that will take some time. It's hard to break off communication, almost as hard as actually initiating the breaking up, but you must draw the line here for your own well-being and for the sake of your current relationship.

Yes, you are putting your current relationship at risk. Right this minute, your girlfriend may be outwardly supportive of you, but inside she is wondering how long she should put up with a boyfriend who clearly still has feelings for his ex-girlfriend. You can do a search through AskMeFi and see how many people have been in your girlfriend's shoes, and you can see that many of the responses are pretty much DTMFA. (The MF being you, here.) And then you become the guy who lost his girlfriend because he couldn't draw a boundary for his ex-girlfriend. Stop being that guy. Stop it right now.

You're not really helping your ex-girlfriend. You're not really helping your current girlfriend. And you? You count too. You're not helping yourself at all. Stop talking to her and feel the relief wash over you. Then go adopt a pair of older cats from the nearest rescue and devote your time and money to them.
posted by aabbbiee at 9:31 AM on August 2, 2011 [2 favorites]

I know a little of how this feels. I was dumped back in February, not a complete surprise but the timing was lousy, and up until *very* recently, I felt totally responsible for the other party's well-being. Screwy, eh?

I ended up having to kick this person out, knowing full well that they would be homeless. I fretted about them constantly and kept letting them sleep on my couch "so I would know they were safe."

But it was their own choices and actions that got them to that place and I had to learn that his problems were no longer my problems. I finally had to say "I'll always care about you but for now you need to go away. You know how to reach me if you ever find yourself in a situation you absolutely cannot handle."

It's normal to care about someone, especially someone you have so many years' history with. But she's an adult and needs to figure her own life out, just like you need to focus on hers. Consider that you may actually be impeding her ability to recover.

Wish her well, snuggle the cats one more time, and then head out. If you were meant to be friends, you'll find your way back to each other eventually.
posted by noxetlux at 10:49 AM on August 2, 2011 [3 favorites]

Uh..."focus on yours"
posted by noxetlux at 10:50 AM on August 2, 2011

Why can't I make the emotional adjustment? What do I have to do to make that happen?

(And how to do it considering the fact that she's friends with all of my friends?!?!)...

Well I'm afraid that, like others have said, you need to distance yourself from her for a while before you'll emotionally detach. But it isn't easy to achieve considering the friends situation and not wanting to burn any bridges there.

So I suggest that you dial the friendship waaaaay back, to practically being mere acquaintances with her when hanging out within your social circle for a good long while. You can certainly be friendly towards her, but conversations should be superficial at best (the latest movies, for instance), and no discussing of personal matters. You'll have to end the 1-2x/week communications too. Basically you should cut off contact with her personal problems, not her altogether (per se)... but for a while it will require some distance from her too. I'd talk to her and your close mutual friends about it and try to get them to understand why you need to exclude that part of her from your life for a good long while.
posted by lizbunny at 11:12 AM on August 2, 2011

It seems to me what you have to do is trust her.

I am okay with you still worrying about her. She's your friend. Your very close and dear friend. I hope you would be equally worried if say, you had a guy friend who was having a cancer health crisis or something.

I'm okay with you taking responsibility for the cats. It would be a lot easier for you if you split custody instead of being the non-custodial parent/pet-owner but if the new relationship has a cat allergy then leaving them in her custody is perhaps the best you can do.

Just what are you afraid will happen to her? Are you catastrophising or are your fears realistic?

Let's say she manages to be unable to pay her bills and loses her home? Then what? Are you afraid that she will end up homeless on the street and get raped? Has this kind of thing happened to her before? Is SHE afraid of this and sharing these fears with you? Is this realistic?

Most adults manage one way or another. Mostly. If she is focusing horrible scenarios at you, then she is dependent on you and deliberately or otherwise manipulating you, and you do need to get some distance. It is not as if you are her only friend or her only lover. With luck if they are decent people your entire circle of common friends will help look out for her. And if they do not that maybe says something about her, rather than them.

If she is not being worried about her future... maybe you shouldn't be worried either. To some people the idea of missing a bill payment and getting evicted is major trauma. To other people it's what you do on purpose four times a year, as it means paying 2/3rds of the same total rent and is a highly economical way to live.

Are there other places she can go for help? For example, can she get help in marketing her product through small business marketing self-help groups? Or could she get help from her own family, from social agencies, from other friends you don't know...? Does she actually contribute enough to merit this kind of help, or is she a freeloader? Some people are so loving and supportive that they are worth giving more to economically, than others who are not much more than a drain on you mentally as well as economically. If you feel you must help her, the best help you can give is to give her the information she needs to solve her problems herself.

If she has serious problems managing her life, this is especially important. Someone with really bad money issues would spend all your money as well as all her own and still end up on the street and might just put you on the street as well. So if her issues are bad, be aware that an important reason not to try to solve them for her is because they are going to be impossible for you to solve. At this point it is time to call in the professionals. To further the analogy, it is much better to hand your friend a phone and tell her to call for a mental health appointment or take her in to Emerg than it is to sit with her, if she tells you she is in a suicidal crisis.

Anyway, back to my opening paragraph. Why can't you trust her to make her own financial decisions and to take ownership of the results? IMHO people should be allowed to go to hell their own way because trying to stop them only ends up with you getting run over. Quite often they enjoy the journey and end up in a place they want to be anyway. Are you worrying about things that haven't happened yet, or things that are happening? Are you trying to help her pay this month's electricity bill or panicking because she has no income coming in to cover the winter heating?

Is she still being dependent on you? If so, is she aware of this? Is she making any effort to not be dependent on you?

Lastly, is it possible that this is just a habit you have, because you spent so long being anxious about finances while you lived with her? If it is possibly just a habit, then some cognitive behavior therapy might help. You might try asking her not to talk about her finances with you because you are over-involved in them. If you are really lucky it will turn out that you keep asking her questions and setting yourself off and all you have to do is make a stern resolution not to ask her about it any more.

Oh, and be aware that if other stuff crops up in your life there is a good chance you will soon be distracted from your worries about her. It takes awhile for the brain to switch from being bonded with someone to not being bonded with them. So it's perfectly normal for you to be worried about her still after all this time. It has only been six months. That trait of worrying about people even after they are not present all the time? It's called loyalty. There's nothing wrong with you for still caring about her well-being. But I think if you want to honour her and respect her you should keep telling yourself that she is smart enough to manage and will get through just fine.
posted by Jane the Brown at 1:39 PM on August 2, 2011 [2 favorites]

I can't just cut her out of my life. We had three cats and I am absolutely still responsible for them, I still go see them and I still love them (and anyone who thinks that's crazy can kiss my ass).

90% of the time in these relationship AskMes, the answer to the question is right there in the question, framed as the one thing the OP will absolutely not do. I think on some level that's intentional - you know what you need to do, and you came here so we can all tell you that you need to do it. So here goes:

She needs to be out of your life. Completely. You can't see her anymore, and you can't talk to her anymore. You won't feel better until this happens. This means that you have to give up the cats. That sucks, and it will hurt. But not nearly as much as it will hurt to keep this woman in your life. I understand that you love them, but they are making you miserable right now (not intentionally or directly, of course, but still, they are). If you were with this woman for six years, I would say that you need to have her completely out of your life for a year at the bare minimum before you should even think about seeing her again.

It will be hard. I know you don't want to do it. It's also literally the only solution to your problem.

Sorry you've had to go through this. And good luck.
posted by Ragged Richard at 9:32 AM on August 3, 2011

I've been through an uncannily similar situation over the last year in fact the same time frame too. It's nice that you looked out for your ex over the last 7 months, and its good your questioning how to deal with it now because it shows your judgment is in check.

Thing is that boundaries get blurred when you develop & sustain an open relationship with your significant other. I think an open relationship begins this process where your focus tends to be on "other people" rather than an inward focus purely on the two people actually in the relationship. A marriage counselor asked me once if I felt inadequate because my exhusband was so intent on having an open relationship (was always his idea). I definitely think in our case we had become subgrade to one another and were more like supportive buddies going through life together. It was a huge disappointment when we split more for loss of that incredibly tight friendship, I still feel that loss every day, but I can't imagine ever being together again after all that happened.

Because your now girlfriend supports your care for your ex, plus you guys met while you were with your ex, you are in that highly convenient yet unfavorable position where you can continue that type of outward focus behaviour first installed in your previous open relationship (even though its non-sexual). You're actually channeling your girlfriends care for you to your ex. It's a bit unfair.

I think you need to take a good hard look in the mirror and ask yourself what it is you want. Life happens once, where do you want to be now and in the future? I spent a long time sitting on the fence, I thought I lost something important because I was indecisive. In hindsight, I'm glad that's all done and dusted & the book has closed (almost closed). Sometimes you get everything you can out of a situation and your soul tells you it's time to move on and learn something new but your body & behaviorism keep you running around the same old rings.

If you decide to be with your new girlfriend, let you're ex know that you need to cut the cord for a while. She will need the space & time away from you more than you do her so she can get up on her own two feet and deal with her life. Put her in touch with her family or friends. It's not your responsibility & it's not sustainable long term for you OR her, that's probably what your judgment is trying to tell you right now. Don't you have those super rare true friends that you touch base with once a year or even once every few years? It doesn't mean they're not there anymore, their just on their pathway while you're on yours.

If you decide you want to be with your ex, do it for you because its what you want and don't hold back. Just do what ought to be done and get off the stupid fence.
posted by Under the Sea at 6:14 AM on August 16, 2011

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