I'm in a love recursion, and the equation just won't quit.
December 8, 2011 12:47 PM   Subscribe

Can't get an old flame off my mind. (She's been there since the flames died out.)

Five years ago I split with my First Great Love. It was a torrid affair, all Romeo and Juliet... okay, gayer than that. Think Juliet a dos. We were star-crossed lovers separated by distance, poverty, naivete, and the weight of our pasts.

The loss of her came as a real shock to me... I was very young, only 20, without the emotional resources of a tried and true adult. She came along at a time of tremendous personal growth and opened my emotional floodgates, showing me doors to worlds I had never seen before. She was also my first artistic role model-- the creative impulses she fanned were the underpinnings of my own visual practice, a lifelong pursuit to which I am now hopelessly betrothed. In short, we sparked.

Here is the kicker. I really, truly grieved when we parted. I asked her not to contact me, deleted her presence from her life-- encircled myself in new friends, new activities, and the shroud of study. But it was like she had died. I cried morning and night for almost a year, felt her presence beside me in the night... saw her on the street, despite 500 miles of separation... dreamed of her constantly, couldn't eat or sleep or talk. The break happened so suddenly on my end, and though I can see the burgeoning fractures now it was like we went from full blown moony eyes to stone cold in a night. I wanted to call her every day but I respected that it was over, so I didn't, and I tried to move on.

It still hasn't happened. I don't know what more I can do. Since that first year of longing, I've rebuilt my life in a thousand different directions... moved cities, changed jobs, taken steps to be the person I want to be. I'm a practicing visual artist now, something I never even knew I had in me! I have a wide circle of acquaintances, a few deep and satisfying friendships, I travel and play and have great control over my life. I've enjoyed my fair share of dates, flings and fucks... had two serious relationships with people I really respected and admired... even enjoyed some positive periods of abstinence, where I worked on myself and was happy.

But nothing compares. I have never in any facet of my life felt a stirring like I felt for that girl, not even in my work (though I am getting very close to a day where it will surpass her, which gives me hope). My body and my memory crave her like a drug. It's ridiculous! I'm missing a person I don't even know! Really, I have no idea who she is now, what she's doing, how she's changed. I feel crazy. I hate that her shadow casts itself over my life. How do I get rid of her? Time is failing me, it's not quick enough. Even cognitive behavioral therapy doesn't get her out of my dreams.

I thought love like this was fairy tale crap. I don't even believe in "true love," just more good or less good matches. Yet Red Riding Hood is really the Wolf; I'm tired of being bitten. Nobody I know has gone through this. Drama, hang-ups, deep love, yes... grief and obsession... but not like this. In the back of my mind I still feel that everything I do is in some way connected to her. I don't even know what I'd do if I actually saw her. She betrayed me deeply, hence the break.. but also we were just at a point where we needed to be independent agents in our own lives. Ah to be young and stupid. I can hardly believe sometimes that *this* is the most formative experience of my life so far. The impact still rattles my skull.

I feel again and again like I have finally kicked her from my core, and just when I feel safe her image crystallizes and returns. Has anyone gone through this? Will time really salve? Do I need a lifestyle shock, or a swift kick in the arse? I'm very hesitant, but-- maybe I should try to contact her? Perhaps it would put a dose of reality into my wildly overblown neurosystem.

I don't know what else to try. I feel like I've already made a complete 180 from the person I was when I knew her, and yet my growth remains stunted because she is constantly on my mind. I MISS her, her oodles of eccentricities, the physical kick-in-the-gut every time we touched... and also the way I FELT around her, the passion. (Even as I see now that the way we interacted was sometimes childish, and not always the healthiest or most supportive.) I feel like I met the right girl a decade too soon. Five years! Something has to give!

I need real, concrete strategies to cleanse my psyche. Keep in mind that the only tokens of her I have left are the ones in my head!
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (22 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
uh, why not give her a call and meet the new her? she's on this giant pedistal in your head- it might help to meet the person she is now and stop feeding your trippy love-fantasy. It's been five years, all those little things and attitudes that you think are made of magic may have changed. You've changed a ton- the person who you have changed into may not dig the person she has changed into- maybe this new you wouldn't have dug the old her either.

SO yeah- contact her.
posted by Blisterlips at 12:55 PM on December 8, 2011 [4 favorites]

This Might be one of the rare cases where contacting her on someplace like Facebook might actually demystify her current self enough that you could let go a little. It may be that you're clinging more to the formative experiences and the extreme emotion of the time, and are projecting all of that on to the woman. If she's no longer the Amazing person that you remember, or is amazing but no longer spell-binding, that might this a lot easier.
posted by ldthomps at 12:57 PM on December 8, 2011

If you are looking for "real, concrete strategies", one place I would start is by dialing back the poetic language about her LIKE WHOA.

This is not meant to pick on you, I have a hunch that by speaking of her as "juliet and Juliet" and by talking about this incident as "Red Riding hood was really the Wolf", you are unintentionally reinforcing this in your own head as "The Big And Epic Love Of My Life That Was Always Meant To Be". Talking about it in the way you've done here is making it big and epic in your own head, and maybe THAT is what is cementing it in place.

Seriously -- go back and read not WHAT you've written about her, but HOW. If how you've written about her is honestly the way you're thinking about her, then...that mental dialogue may be really painting a poetic picture, and it's easy to fall in love with poetic pictures.

Try changing the internal dialogue to something way more mundane and see if that helps: rather than "We were star-crossed lovers separated by distance, poverty, naivete, and the weight of our pasts," try "we had a lot going against us but tried to make a go of it anyway". Rather than "though I can see the burgeoning fractures now it was like we went from full blown moony eyes to stone cold in a night", try "it felt like it came out of nowhere, even though now I can kinda see that it was starting to fall apart earlier".

Again, I'm not saying this to pick on the way you write -- instead, I'm wondering if maybe the way you've written about this isn't a clue into the way you're THINKING about this. And if you really are still in a mindset where you're thinking about this as A Big Drama, it'll be all passionate and exciting -- and it's hard to let that go. but if you talk and think about it like it's something kind of ordinary, maybe it'll not seem....so dramatic, and so interesting. Important, yes, but not so...exciting any more. And it'll be easier to let go bit by bit.

Try that. Good luck.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 12:59 PM on December 8, 2011 [46 favorites]

Speed dating. Or yes contact her and once she tells you shes married, maybe that will give you motivation.
posted by amazingstill at 12:59 PM on December 8, 2011

Yeah, that was pretty overwrought, dogg, but it's okay. We've all been there.

People tend to remember the best parts and not the bad things or the even worse very mundane times. You're certainly a romantic, though you take some verbose pains to claim otherwise, so you'll probably do this a few more times in your life.

How does the song go... "I can't take my mind off of you... til I find someone new."

Either call her up or go on other dates. It really won't remake the heavens either way, I promise.
posted by OnTheLastCastle at 1:11 PM on December 8, 2011

Nthing contact her. You realize that you have no idea who she is now. I guarantee ya she is only an inkling of the girl in all of your fantasies. Assuming no expectations on your part, I don't see the harm in seeing what she has been up to. She may be pregnant with her 4th child or, hell, she may be sitting around dreaming about you, too. (But don't count on it).
posted by allnamesaretaken at 1:11 PM on December 8, 2011

I agree with contacting her, and that's never something I recommend because it's unwise for the person doing it and unfair to the person being contacted. But every rule has exceptions.

I went through an experience. I can't say it's similar to yours, because everybody's different and yours honestly seems a bit more intense. But still, similar...I remembered the good parts and they shone, and sure, I remembered the bad stuff too (so I thought I was being realistic) but they seemed far de-emphasized. I felt silly and regretful for perceiving the bad parts as 'badly' as I had in the moment. Et cetera. You know the drill. I'm sure you've analyzed all this in your head.

Anyway, it helped me to learn things about her life since. More specifically, it helped me to learn about the choices she had made after our relationship ended. It's not that she made terrible choices or got into crime, drugs, or anything like that. It's just...the choices she made, they aren't choices I would have expected or liked. One way of looking at it is to say, "The person I believed she was, wouldn't have made those choices." But I think it's simpler to say that they're choices leading in very different directions from where I want to go. It helped me to realize that the world is full of people walking in all kinds of odd and angled directions, and she and I didn't really share a direction for very long. We shared a leg of the journey (to torture the metaphor)...but based on the choices I've made since, and the choices she's made since, it's not just that we are in different places. We want to be in different places.

That's a big deal, and the realization helped me clear out a lot of emotional baggage and move forward, lighter. I'm really glad for it. Of course, there's the danger that you'll contact this person and discover that you still have a lot of things in common and maybe it will just reinforce what you're feeling now. I guess I'd advise you to take that risk. Partly because this worked for me, partly because it apparently worked for others upthread...and partly because what you're doing now isn't working for you.

Good luck.
posted by red clover at 1:26 PM on December 8, 2011 [1 favorite]

+1 on "dial back the crazy poetic language". The Empress makes a good point.

You are emotionally super-charged over an ideal of this girl, not a real person. That's a way of thinking and behaving that's not going to be super helpful in the real world when forming real relationships with real people, but hey, you're an artist. Put this imaginary girl on the canvas/page/block/studio, where she belongs. I wouldn't contact her, honestly. If you really want to stop being obsessed with this image of her, you need to wrestle with what attracts you to that, or to that period in your life, and the real flesh and blood person might not help with that. Obviously some part of you really cares about what this relationship was and meant to you, not what it is now or could be in the future. Go deal with that, in the studio or in therapy.

That said, this stands out at me: Nobody I know has gone through this. Drama, hang-ups, deep love, yes... grief and obsession... but not like this.

You clearly love feeling super-intense emotions. Again: cool, that's probably why you're an artist, it's a legitimate thing to value. But you're edging into distorted thinking here. Don't let your feelings of being special and unique lead you away from empathy and humility.
posted by The Master and Margarita Mix at 1:26 PM on December 8, 2011 [6 favorites]

Nobody I know has gone through this. Drama, hang-ups, deep love, yes... grief and obsession... but not like this.

Most people spend some time obsessed with their first love. You are not special (well, I'm sure you are in many ways, but not in this one). Your obsession may partly be at this point with how obsessed you are. You may be sort of proud of how devoted you are and how you will NEVER NEVER find another person who makes you feel this way.

You might not. But you might find someone who actually treats you right. Wouldn't that be better?
posted by chaiminda at 1:29 PM on December 8, 2011 [7 favorites]

Miss one bus another on the way
posted by Postroad at 1:49 PM on December 8, 2011 [1 favorite]

You were 20 and are now 25? Yeah, something a bit like this started happening to me in my late teens. It was almost over by the time I was 25, but not quite. Keep living your life, having more relationships, and getting therapy if you need it; and come back to this thread when you're 30. If you're anything like me, you are still working on building the emotional resources of a tried and true adult. Current thinking in developmental psych says that adolescence doesn't end until 25 or even later, and I believe it. A lot of stuff happens in the second half of your twenties.
posted by clavicle at 1:51 PM on December 8, 2011

Why did you guys break up? Were those insolvable reasons? Would you just be going through the same shit over again if you tried reconnecting with her?

I get the impression that you live very far away from each other. Is this a case of different countries/no way to legally stay in the same country as lesbians? Or just "nobody can afford to move" or what? I wouldn't re-open that Pandora's box if the same reasons that you broke up are still viable. You already feel bad enough without getting your hopes up right now, and if you're going to end up breaking up again if you tried to reunite, don't bother.

If you absolutely must find out what she's like now, there are now ways via the Internet that you can do this without speaking to her directly, you know.

However, I suspect the only thing that will get you over this girl is falling super in love with someone else eventually instead. I know you've dated others and had relationships, but... shoot, there really isn't anything else you haven't tried at this point, I think. When it comes to people addictions, either the person pisses all over you enough that the spell is broken, or you get a new addiction.
posted by jenfullmoon at 1:52 PM on December 8, 2011

I've been there, or at least to a similar place, and it sounds to me like you have some unfinished business with this person. I say go find her and try to figure it out. I did, after four years of failing to get over her, and wish I'd done it sooner. I was lucky in that she needed the resolution too; your mileage may vary. Side note: during those four long years I made the best art of my life; probably not a coincidence.
posted by jcrcarter at 2:25 PM on December 8, 2011 [1 favorite]

Well, it took me ten years, let's start with that, and hell, I never even met him. Ok, so at five I was pretty good but not great. At seven it was nearly gone. At ten, I was pretty at peace.

Was it any strategy? No, there is no concrete strategy, no. No matter what you do, you can't paper it over. It's a fire-- how does that get papered over?

One thing that did help-- in retrospect-- was the last time he contacted me (though it could easily have been me contacting him). It had become pathetic. He had become pathetic. I mean, really, most people are kind of pathetic, and it's ok, but I had all these feelings and all these needs and unconscious desires, and I knew he was just this messed-up boy, but that last time we talked I actually got it. He was just a boy. The person I thought I needed was 70% my imagination and hormones and passion that needed an outlet, etc. He hadn't improved; he was still at the same emotional place I remembered him being at 18, only now at 22-23, it was a lot worse, a lot more pathetic.

You know, honestly, if he'd improved, if he could have shown me that he'd grown as a person, I may have been the one who wasn't ready, but I would've considered giving him a chance. I don't think that was ever off the table even though I wanted it to be, simply because it's a lie to say you won't consider it when someone means that much to you, so you may as well be honest about it. Admit to yourself that yes, you'll consider it. And then try contacting them to see where they're at. I don't think I would've achieved peace if I literally never talked to him again after we broke up; a break in communication is healthy, but radio silence forever is not required. If you're that compatible with someone on some level and you're remotely mature individuals, your interaction can only be positive, even if you're not 'friends'.

It's different for me 'cause I did believe in fairy-tale love, so part of the betrayal was him twisting my faith first one way (to infinity and beyond!) and then the other (to oblivion!). When you love someone that much and you're that young and romantic, it's almost inevitable they'll do something to betray you, really, 'cause both of you are going to be stupid and impulsive and hormonal and cruel at times. It's a bit ridiculous to continue blaming an emotionally wild 18-year old for stupid cruel things they did at that age after a certain point. So what can you do? Don't try so hard to get over her, or your own feelings: accept them, accept yourself. That helped. I wrote lots, emoted lots, let myself think about them and work through it, embraced the angst explicitly. Angst is good for art, anyway, so let it fertilize it for you. It sounds like you did that. The only other thing that helps is seeing the other person clearly, and time.

I know it seems like in the 21st century, there should be a magic bullet 'program' for a broken heart, but I'm kind of glad there isn't one, to be honest. Let yourself be glad too, someday. This is who you are now, for better or for worse, though you'll change one day as will we all.
posted by reenka at 3:22 PM on December 8, 2011 [1 favorite]

Think of her, wherever she may be, as really happy. Picture her in a great relationship, doing fulfilling work, being her best self. Imagine that she thinks of you and your past fondly, but she loves her current life. Allow yourself to be happy that she has found happiness. Encourage it. (It might be heartbreaking, at first.) In time, as you picture her happy you will become happy as well, and eventually it will become unthinkable and selfish to disturb what she has for your own desires. And you will learn to seek that feeling of joy for yourself in your relationships.

You loved an amazing person. She's really happy in her life. Isn't that great? You can be happy like that, too. Believe it.
posted by griselda at 3:42 PM on December 8, 2011

Really, I have no idea who she is now, what she's doing, how she's changed. I feel crazy. I hate that her shadow casts itself over my life. How do I get rid of her?

Get in touch with her. You'll find that time and distance can do wonders with the memories of the love affairs we have when we're young, which become so tangled up with all those luminous years when we are first learning who we are that it feels like they inhabit us at a profound level. Find out where she is, what she's doing; chances are, you will find she's lost her lustre and her halo. It's likely you'll find that she's just another person, and that the person who has really captured your memory is a vision, a fantasy, a metaphor even (you are longing for your young self, perhaps).

You are not longing for her, really: you're longing for something in yourself, a part of yourself, that takes her form. Try thinking of it that way; and in the meantime, make art and make art and make more art.
posted by jokeefe at 10:05 PM on December 8, 2011

You need a peak experience that outshines your memory of her, as you are motivated by your passions. Something that goes deeper into you, into your core, than she did. Something religious.

Figure that out and you'll be free.
posted by ead at 10:38 PM on December 8, 2011 [1 favorite]

Try skydiving.
posted by flabdablet at 3:30 AM on December 9, 2011

Another vote for meeting her and seeing her through the lens of time. I did this with my first great love after several years and it gave me the sense of closure I'd been missing, like laying an old ghost to rest. She was still the fantastic person I knew her to be, but I could recognize that we were no longer meant for each other.
posted by arcticseal at 6:40 AM on December 9, 2011

posted by bryon at 8:15 AM on December 9, 2011

Contact her. You need to contact her.
posted by twoforty5am at 8:57 AM on December 9, 2011

I had recurring thoughts about my first love for *10 years* at least after the relationship ended. This mostly had to do with unresolved anger. I had frequent nightmares featuring him, usually where I would meet him again somehow and I would try to scream at him but no words would come out (surprising it took me so long to understand how to deal with such a transparent psychological issue). Thank god for Facebook. I actually Facebook friended him and exchanged some messages, and it completely dissipated the obsession. I can now see him as a normal person instead of what I had built him up as in my mind. I can see some of what I liked about him but mostly I just feel sorry for him because my life now is awesome, and his is kind of sad. I haven't had a single nightmare since doing this, heartily regret not doing it sooner. If she's not on Facebook, I think email would work too. I add this story to reinforce the 'contact her' message!
posted by treehorn+bunny at 10:57 PM on December 9, 2011

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