How do I accept the fact that I destroyed a relationship that was very important to me?
March 18, 2012 9:14 AM   Subscribe

How do I accept that I destroyed my relationship, learn to forgive myself and eventually move on to something new? Lots of snowflake details inside.

I'd been living in Japan for the last several years, and started a relationship with a really sweet girl about 2 years ago. We moved in together only about 4 months after meeting, (big mistake, I know), and while there were bumps in the road, things were generally really, really good. She was dedicated, very affectionate, extremely beautiful, very easy to get along with, and the type of girl that made people tell me all the time that a girl like this is once in a million, so don't mess this up.

Well I messed up. I had an okay job in Tokyo but was 29 years old, (have now turned 30),feeling extremely insecure about not having made more of myself, questioning if I was as smart or as capable as I'd thought, (which also made me depressed and made it difficult for me to open up and show her how much I cared about her), and that led me to move back to the States to start a 2 year grad program, in international relations, focusing on Japan and trade in East Asia, with every intention of coming back to Japan to be with her during the summer for an internship, and then for good when I finished the program. I started in September. We tried to do the long distance relationship thing, with me visiting when I could, and she was supposed to be coming out here to visit me later this month. However, I have a hard time at showing my affection even when I'm right next to someone sometimes, and did a really terrible job of making her feel loved and appreciated once we started the LDR. She recently broke up with me and has now told me that she's in a new relationship with a guy that she is totally crazy about.

Even though we only officially broke up a little over a month ago, based on what she's told me since in a stream of emails and phone calls where I've tried to convince her to come back to me, I know that she's gone and never coming back. Honestly, I can't blame her either. I left to come over here and did a really terrible job at trying to make the long distance thing work. Even before that, I was bad at expressing my affection and she had feelings of insecurity even before I left.

The thing is, as bad as I was at showing her how I felt, I loved her, and even though I don't blame her for leaving, miss her like crazy. I know that I lost her because of what I did, I know that I lost a pretty good life because I was insecure and came here to do grad school. What makes things a little more difficult is the fact that, in order to get beyond this all of the advice I've read says to cut as many ties as possible to give myself some space to recover. However, even before I'd met her, I'd dedicated my life to studying Japan, learning the language, and I have to go back to Tokyo next week to interview for internships. If I cut all of that off, then I would be giving up on the direction I've chosen for my life, so I don't feel like I can do that, but I think it's going to be extremely painful to go back to Tokyo and not be able to see her.

As a man who never expected to be single at 30, who fully expected to be with this woman for a long time, and whose really worried about how I'm going find happiness again, how do I accept that because of my actions, I lost someone really important to me? How do I move on from there? I've been a depressed, almost non functioning mess for the last few weeks, although I'm doing a bit better at the moment. I'll be starting therapy for the first time when I get back from Tokyo in a couple of weeks, but what else can I do? Any help would be much appreciated.
posted by farce majeure to Human Relations (22 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
First of all, I think you need to cut yourself some slack. It takes two to tango, and these feelings are totally normal for breakups of any kind.

If I cut all of that off, then I would be giving up on the direction I've chosen for my life, so I don't feel like I can do that, but I think it's going to be extremely painful to go back to Tokyo and not be able to see her.

I think that when you do return to Tokyo, you need to do so without seeing her. It will be extremely painful, but it will be the first step in you moving on with your life. You're right; it doesn't make sense to cut out part of who you are, but that part has to learn to live without her.

As for actual things you can do, I know this is trite, but feel the feelings. Really wallow. You're experiencing grief and to self-medicate or turn away would prolong the agony. Also, I don't hear much about a non-girlfriend support system, either in the States or in Japan. If those people exist for you, I'd lean on them—that's why they're in your life. If not, I'd start to get out into the world and stitch together the kinds of relationships that can serve that purpose for you in the long-term.
posted by mynameisluka at 9:22 AM on March 18, 2012 [1 favorite]

Well, the first answer is therapy. A good therapist can help you process your grief over the end of this relationship and help you address your insecurity issues.

But personally, I don't see what you did that was so horrible. Sometimes people's lives just take them in different directions and it's sad, of course, but it's no one's fault. Beating yourself up for your insecurity ending the relationship because you wanted to further your education seems like a stretch and pretty unnecessary.
posted by lunasol at 9:24 AM on March 18, 2012

and whose really worried about how I'm going find happiness again, how do I accept that because of my actions, I lost someone really important to me? How do I move on from there? I've been a depressed, almost non functioning mess for the last few weeks, although I'm doing a bit better at the moment. I'll be starting therapy for the first time when I get back from Tokyo in a couple of weeks, but what else can I do?

You will find happiness again. You are a human being and not perfect. You are learning and growing and things like this happen to all of us. You were unable to show affection in the way that you thought you should and now you are beating yourself up. We do with what we have at the time. Your inability to be open did not happen overnight. It's something you have to work on and understand. For some, it can be very difficult being vulnerable. Though, to build deeper connections, you must. Feel the fear and do it anyway.

It is completely normal to feel depressed and remorseful. Now that you are feeling a bit better this is a good time to move forward and learn from your mistakes. You can take this experience, feel gratitude that you learned such an important lesson, and grow. In your next relationship you can be more open and loving -- if you choose to be.

All is well right now, even if you don't feel like it. Everything is how it should be. She is happy. You are wiser. Look forward and do not dwell. You cannot change the past, only learn from it, and do better now and in the future.
posted by Fairchild at 9:28 AM on March 18, 2012 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Been there, done that, as they say. In my experience, the various anti-depression recommendations - work out, cold showers (!), make new friends - work up to a point, especially the last one: nothing like pouring your heart out to a sympathetic intelligent ear. But none of them cures the sense of an almighty irreparable fuck-up impacting your imagined future (lost irreplaceable wonderful person) and your sense of self (how could i be such an idiot?). The only thing that cures that is time, very gradually, and, eventually, getting to know someone else who will replace her. You will do that. I do recommend cutting contact; in my case contact continued, and so for a long time I never got her out of my mind, which interfered with my feelings for others because of the implicit comparison I was always making. But going back to Tokyo, if you can cope with it, sounds good: you need to re-conquer that place and learn to enjoy it again.
posted by londongeezer at 9:31 AM on March 18, 2012 [5 favorites]

You know how you make yourself feel better? By learning from what you consider to be a mistake, and growing. Everybody makes mistakes and has regrets. But learn what you feel you did wrong, make adjustments, and come back a better person. If she is crazy over some guy a month after you were with her, well maybe that's just the way things had to go with her?

Now, learn what you want to change about yourself, and do it before you meet the next person that comes along that you have feelings for. Hell, you could even end up back together with her again. But work on yourself. As was said, beating yourself up won't help. Take that desire and make yourself better. You're 30, not 60.

on preview - what Fairchild said.
posted by cashman at 9:31 AM on March 18, 2012 [2 favorites]

If you were able to find happiness once, that's actually pretty compelling evidence that you'll be able to find it again. You're in a better position than someone who has never experienced love like this, because now you know for a fact that it's really out there, and you know what it feels like (though it will certainly feel different with different people).
posted by hermitosis at 9:34 AM on March 18, 2012 [5 favorites]

Stick with no contact.

Also, have a closer look at what, exactly happened here. It's never completely on you to "not mess up" a relationship. In a healthy one, the other person values you as much as you value them. From your opening paragraph, it looks like you've accepted and internalized being in a one-down position. Equality is really the only template that will work.

She agreed to move in with you after only four months. It's just as much on her as it is on you. What did she say with respect to going long distance? Did she think, like you, that it was going to work? If so, then I think you need to chalk this up to bad luck, a learning experience, whatever. If your discussions with her were only about your failures, rather than about it being a situation neither of you were prepared for when you agreed to it, then I think it's a sign you need to be more discriminating with who you date.

Sometimes you make the best call you can and it turns out you're wrong. This isn't "messing up" any more than not being able to perfectly predict the future is "messing up."

I think the best thing you can do is make a list of mistakes you made and try not to make them again.

But I have a feeling that in this case, the thing that needs improvement is your view of yourself and the way you vet potential partners. The way you're talking about yourself here, taking all the blame, and putting her up on a pedestal doesn't look healthy

Did she feel comfortable in her role here, too, as the one on the pedestal, the one who didn't make mistakes?
posted by alphanerd at 9:43 AM on March 18, 2012

I think you should have a long think about whether you "destroyed" the relationship. Drug addiction destroys relationships. Infidelity. Crime. War.

Your relationship wasn't strong enough to survive a separation. It's not the separation that caused the weakness, it just revealed it. If it hadn't been the distance, it would have been money or sex or one day one of you would have woken up thinking, "I'm done."

Two years is a long time and you're not going to be over it in a month, so outbreaks of severe dramatitis are unavoidable, but sooner than you think you're going to start regaining your equilibrium and starting to see this as the two-sided failure it likely is.

Not every relationship lasts forever, and most of them probably aren't meant to (I mean...a month, and she's "crazy" about someone? She's not really mourning, is she?). Look for the lessons in this, use them to make yourself a better partner in the future, and use the experience to define for yourself what qualities you really want in a partner - something beyond loyal and other people telling you how great she is.

You will not always hurt this much. You will not need to forgive yourself, except for how hard you're being on yourself right now.
posted by Lyn Never at 9:52 AM on March 18, 2012 [7 favorites]

Stop blaming yourself for fucking this one up. Your post is full of "I blew it," and I don't see that.

Yes, if you think you're not good at expressing affection, work on that and try to be more affectionate in your next relationship. But the fact is, it's really hard for parties to feel loved and secure in a long-distance relationship, and it sounds like she moved on really quickly. I agree with Lyn Never that what it sounds like what was really going on is that the relationship wasn't strong enough to keep going, and continued proximity wasn't magically going to make it the right relationship for you two to be in.

Go to Japan. Continue on your life plan. Look, you haven't made it so you won't find happiness again. You will. I promise. It's just been a month and you're going to need more time to process this and move on, and it sucks, but no matter what you do it's going to suck.
posted by J. Wilson at 10:07 AM on March 18, 2012 [1 favorite]

Usually when people I know feel this way (one-in-a-million chance, they totally screwed up, &c.), it's because they were with someone they thought was way out of their league, (usually) physically. You do say she's extremely beautiful. If so, you might want to do some reassessing-- thinking about past girlfriends, who's made you feel the most comfortable, who you've been most compatible with communication-wise, what traits you're looking for in your next partner. I believe that you loved this girl, but it was a short relationship and there are probably a few things that didn't totally click.
posted by stoneandstar at 10:16 AM on March 18, 2012 [4 favorites]

It sounds like your priority in life well...wasn't her if you left the country for years. And that you aren't overly good at ocean-crossing LDR's. It sounds like she figured that out.

Next time, you know that if you want to stick with a relationship, you don't move out of the country and think things will stay the same.
posted by jenfullmoon at 10:45 AM on March 18, 2012 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Let her go: her life is her life, and she's made it clear she's not coming back. It's human nature to elevate her in your imagination because she is now unattainable, so be aware of that. She's only human too.

You don't mention it, but I assume you're male. You should probably spend some time dealing with your own insecurities and fear of failure and anxiety about achievement so that this doesn't spill over into, and damage, relationships in the future. Learn to express affection, even if it's a risk and frightens you, and remember that rejection and heartbreak means that you're just like everyone else: we all have our stories, and we all survive; with luck we become better people for it. The idea is to try and balance your feelings of individual confidence with that knowledge.
posted by jokeefe at 11:04 AM on March 18, 2012

Forgive yourself for what you did. Cut all contact so you can have time to heal and grieve, the grieving is important, it sucks but it is important to allow yourself to be sad, not to wallow or end up in depression but to grieve for the end of something that was important to you so you can move on.

Going back to Japan will be hard but a lot of people live in the same town as the person they broke up with, Tokyo is a big city avoid places you might bump into her if you can and go and catch up with some old friends. All the traditional advice about keeping yourself busy. Learn the lessons this experience has to teach you and remember them in your next relationship, because you will have other relationships.
posted by wwax at 11:56 AM on March 18, 2012

I think you need to cut ties with your ex but not with the country, city and language that form so much of the rest of your identity. To cut out so much of yourself is to create an even larger wound that you must heal. If you can, look at your upcoming trip to Tokyo as your opportunity to renew your relationship with it on your own terms. Choose new haunts, kick around in different neighborhoods, etc. You will experience memories, and that may cause you anxiety - but anticipation of bittersweet feelings is often worse than the feelings themselves. Let Tokyo remind you that your life is much more than one relationship.
posted by SakuraK at 12:14 PM on March 18, 2012

Response by poster: Wow, thanks to everyone who's posted here. I'd like to pick some best answers but honestly all of these seem like really strong advice. Thanks. Having started grad school only in September and being so busy, I honestly haven't really had time to meet anyone or even start to form a support group until just recently, and as I'm still just getting to know people at school I don't want to be the guy who bombards them with his personal problems when we haven't even formed strong friendships yet. So askmetafilter is kind of taking on the role of a support group, and it's very helpful to get this feedback. Thank you for helping me get outside of my head and see this from a more rational viewpoint.
posted by farce majeure at 12:26 PM on March 18, 2012 [1 favorite]

You are just growing up! You've learned an important lesson - that a relationship is more important to you than professional status, and that you may have to stretch a little emotionally as you learn to commit. Now you will be ready when the next great girl comes along, and you won't let her go.
posted by yarly at 12:36 PM on March 18, 2012 [1 favorite]

About the going to Japan thing--eventually things take on a new context and it doesn't hurt as much. I'm sorry. This sounds really tough but I think you're doing relatively well.
posted by the young rope-rider at 3:16 PM on March 18, 2012

There are free resources for students on campus, you should take advantage of that.
posted by curiousZ at 8:23 PM on March 18, 2012

I'd say, forgive yourself on the basis that you did the best you could at the time. It sounds like you learned something major from this breakup that will help you in the future. You didn't know it before. That's a lesson to be grateful for. Not a reason to beat yourself up. If you want to get more out of this you could spend some time asking yourself why you made that mistake. You know why you came back to the States, but why were you not good at showing your love? I'm sorry for your loss.
posted by salvia at 8:57 PM on March 18, 2012

Also, I agree with everyone else saying. the failure probably isn't exactly what you're saying it is, and may have been inevitable.
posted by salvia at 9:04 PM on March 18, 2012

Best answer: Honestly, I don't even really see a failure. I did sort of the opposite of this: right after college, instead of sticking around in my favorite city or planning for a career, I moved back home to try to make a relationship work. I was feeling fairly isolated and boxed-in, but she was there and if there was a chance, I wanted to take it.

Well, that didn't work, and so I fled, and now I live across the country and am doing ok. So everything works out for the best, right? Well, no. Things hurt a lot, but you also do the best you can with the choices you have. We have no idea if this relationship would have survived had you stayed in Tokyo. But we do know that you would have continued to feel insecure, inadequate, and alienated, and we can infer that that might have created extra pressure on the relationship to last, because look at what you've suffered and given up.

But you didn't do that. You did the risky thing and acted to do something for yourself, not wait for someone else's love to fix things. You probably didn't do everything right in this relationship, but neither did she, because no one does. It really sucks that you're going through this, and I'm sorry. But for me it's a good sign that you got here in part because you were trying to make your life better. When you were feeling low, you weren't passive about it. That might not seem like much to you right now, but I think it's a very good thing.

One other thing while I'm rambling. It's not that this woman or that one is one in a million. It's that the two of you together are; that's the rare part. Right now it feels like you alone lost something and you alone are standing still. But that isn't what happened. You were half of a cool relationship too, and you're still here, which means you're already halfway there when it comes time to try again. That's about as big a headstart as anyone can get. Good luck.
posted by Errant at 6:44 AM on March 20, 2012 [3 favorites]

Response by poster: Hey everyone. Thanks again, it really helps to get this advice. Intellectually, I know that at some point I'll be ok. Just working on getting myself to that point emotionally at the moment. Just for the record, I've decided not to go back to Tokyo this time. It's just a little too soon. I still have some emotions that I'm dealing with, and I think it's probably better if I sort those out first. I'll be back there this summer though.

Thanks again.
posted by farce majeure at 2:30 PM on March 20, 2012

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