respect after getting dumped?
April 23, 2012 9:40 AM   Subscribe

Does the person who did the breaking up typically look down on the person broken up with? How can I stop worrying about this issue?

It's been more than a month since my ex broke up with me, and I'm doing a lot better. It was an amicable, if one-sided, break-up: he wasn't sure, after a year, if he loved me, and plus I was his first girlfriend, so he wasn't going to be satisfied until he had a point of comparison. We both agreed that we'd like to be friends again after a period of no contact.

I've been doing pretty well, moving on with my life, getting back into old hobbies and finding new ones, reconnecting with friends and family. I still think about him every day, which I think is natural at this stage, and I'm happy that I've gotten to the point where I don't feel sad when I think about him, and I no longer want to get back together with him.

The only problem is that I do have one lingering obsessive thought: that he never really "knew me", whatever that means, either because he didn't try hard enough, or because I was always hiding my "true" self from him. This may be a sign of incompatibility, or this may be a personality flaw that I need to work on, but I don't show the majority of what I am, I expect people to come dig for the qualities and quirks beneath the surface, and I took it as a sign of disinterest that he never tried as hard as I wanted to find out more about how I thought, what I was interested in, what made me awesome and unique.

In the days after the break-up, this made me feel like his lack of love for me was partially my fault - we got along so well, maybe if I'd just been more open with myself, I'd have been an actual person to him, and he would have loved me. Or conversely, if I had been more reserved - not falling in love with him until he put in the effort to get to know me - I wouldn't hurt this much now, and maybe he'd see me as more of a challenge, more interesting. I also had this idea that it might work out if we got back together, only this time he would try harder to get to know me, and somehow that would ignite his feelings for me.

I'm now at the point where I realize that none of this makes sense, but even though I've worked through a lot of my issues, somehow I'm still obsessed with the idea that he never really knew me, and that means he never knew the stuff that made me awesome. I still think he's a really cool person, and respect a lot of things about him. I would like him to feel the same way about me, especially when we become friends again. But I can't help but worry that he thinks poorly of me, and maybe thinks of me as lesser than him. I mean, he broke up with me, so essentially he was saying, "I can do better," or, "you're not good enough for me," right? Along the same lines, I no longer feel bad about the idea of him dating someone else - I just hate the idea of him dating someone else, and thinking, "Gosh, this one is so much better than my ex."

Note that this isn't really a romantic issue anymore. I have pretty low self esteem in general, and I worry a lot about what everyone thinks of me. All of my friends think I'm somewhat amazing, and I hate the idea of being friends with someone who might not respect me the same way.

I know I didn't give out a lot of details about the quality of our relationship, but I think that's incidental to the issue. He clearly liked me - at least in terms of what I did for him, and how I made him feel - but I wonder if even that might make him look down on me, that I was always doing things for his sake. I guess it's hard for me to think back clearly to how it was, and in my mind it's turned into him enjoying being around me, but not respecting me, whether or not this was really the case.

tl;dr - does the guy who broke up with me necessarily think he's better than me? Is there anything I can do to stop worrying about this, or any way I can reframe the issue in my mind to make it feel a little bit better both right now and when we become friends again? (Is this a normal thing to worry about, or is it just my low self esteem playing up again?)
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (21 answers total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
This is your low self esteem playing out again.

Now, if you're worried about whether you did a good job of representing yourself in the relationship, and of opening yourself up to your ex-partner, those are skills you can work on for (and in) your next relationships.

Maybe get some professional help for your low self esteem. Or self-help--I know I must seem like a broken record with the Facing Codependence recommendation, but that's because it was one of the things that helped me start to break a multi-decade cycle of self-loathing.

I will bet you a million dollars that what he thinks of you is "Oh, a nice person, my first girlfriend, we dated for a while, it didn't work out, hope everything turns out well for her."
posted by Sidhedevil at 9:51 AM on April 23, 2012 [4 favorites]

Your boyfriend did not break up with you because he wants to date someone "better" than you. He broke up because he wants to date someone who is a better fit for him than you are. There is no absolute standard of better and worse that you and all other people are judged on. Someone could think you are an awesome, brilliant, gorgeous person and still not feel that special "in love" spark. A breakup isn't a judgment on a person, it's a judgment on a relationship. He felt there was something lacking in your relationship - that has nothing to do with whether or not he thought there was a single think lacking about you.

So yes, this does seem like a self-esteem issue, and working on feeling good about yourself on your own, outside of how other people see you, is the best course.

Finally, you present no evidence at all that your ex failed to respect you. And everyone deserves to be respected by the people they date (at least until after they do something completely despicable). But there are not-great people out there who do disrespect their partners. You may even date one of them someday. But it will not mean there is anything wrong with you, it will mean there is something wrong with that dude, and it will mean you should dump his ass, not try harder to let him see the "real you."
posted by unsub at 9:56 AM on April 23, 2012 [9 favorites]

I mean, he broke up with me, so essentially he was saying, "I can do better," or, "you're not good enough for me," right? Along the same lines, I no longer feel bad about the idea of him dating someone else - I just hate the idea of him dating someone else, and thinking, "Gosh, this one is so much better than my ex."

There's no better or worse overall. There's more compatible. You just weren't compatible enough with him in his evaluation. Not worse than him. There's a huge difference.

I understand this feeling of not feeling good enough because you were dumped. But honestly just because he didn't feel connected to you doesn't mean you can't be connected to anyone. And it doesn't mean that it was all your fault. Breakups like this are just about personality or conflicts about goals. They just happen because people are different.
posted by inturnaround at 9:59 AM on April 23, 2012 [2 favorites]

I think it is entirely possible that the breaker-up feels that they are "better" than the breakee.

But the mental place you need to be in is not to reassure yourself that they don't feel that way ... but to not give a damn whether they do feel that way.
posted by jayder at 10:02 AM on April 23, 2012 [16 favorites]

Does the person who did the breaking up typically look down on the person broken up with?

low self esteem playing out

I would use those words exactly, but the sentiment is right-on. Your relationship ended and now you are having difficulty accepting it. Completely normal.

I don't think the person who initiates the break-up "looks down" on the other person at all. That is a process you may be running in your head:

"He broke up with me. Therefore, I am not good enough for him. Therefore he is better than I am. Therefore he looks down on me."

I read the rest of your post and your mind seems to anxiously be searching for a reason. A narrative. Why? And you just need to tell your mind that it's fine. He wasn't the right person for you, and now it's time to move on. There doesn't need to be a value judgement.

As you mentioned being quite hard on yourself, perhaps you feel the world in comparative terms. He is better than you, you are not as good as he. If that language appears often in your life, then your are looking for external validation.

Another point on that. Being broken up with almost always carries with it more emotional impact than breaking up with someone -- it's a control thing. It's much easier to endure things when we have a perception of control.

If you break up with someone, you made a decision. Logically, even when you miss them, you think to yourself, "that situation wasn't right. As much as I missed it, at the time, I made a decision and I did that for a reason."

When you are broken up with, a decision was made for you. You may think to yourself, "What did I do? Why wasn't I good enough? I should have... I would have... If I had..." That is the lack of control speaking. You want reasons, you want to understand.

The only thing that needs to be understood is that things have now changed. And you need to be gentle with yourself, mourn the relationship for a bit, and then carry on.

It sounds like you need to learn That Age Old Lesson not to care too much what other people think of you. Yes, feedback is important, but there's a rule of thumb that says at any given time, 20% of people like you, 20% of people do not like you, and 60% are relatively indifferent. And don't worry, everyone learns this lesson at a different time in their life. Some early early. Others much later. But I think pretty much everyone learns it.

As far as why you are obsessed with the idea that he never really knew you. Well, that's a trick your mind plays on you. That is a no-win scenario, a defence from accepting the relationship has run its course. As long as you can play that thought back, you can think of what could have been different -- what you would have done differently -- and you will not accept that 1) you did your best. 2) It didn't work out. 3) It's time to move on. Usually that loop is anxiety speaking. You can quite easily make peace with it, and you will do quite quickly I imagine.

Good luck.
posted by nickrussell at 10:05 AM on April 23, 2012 [6 favorites]

After a one-sided breakup - that is to say, a breakup in which maybe you didn't want to actually break up - a lot of things are normal.

One of these things is to try to think of things in a logical way - to look back on all the things you could have done differently or specific areas in which you think you could have made more of an effort. Things that could change and then maybe it would work out. This is basically the bargaining stage, whether you realize it or not.

That's normal but it's also not where the process stops, because sooner or later, once the sadness wears off and you start processing things, it'll become easier to see that this wasn't right, and trying to change things with the hindsight you have now would only have prolonged the inevitable. The best you can do is to think about those lessons you learned - those things that seem like mistakes now - and think about applying those lessons to future relationships. It may be a while before you can see it that way - you were together for a year and it's only been just over a month, from what you say.

It wasn't right, see, and that's the idea at the core of your question. He didn't break up with you because you weren't good enough - he did it because, as a couple, you weren't right. A good fit, or whatever you want to call it.

I think your ex respects you. He recognized that there was a problem and he made the decision - and this is never, ever an easy decision - to set you free so you could find a relationship that's right for everyone in it. To me, that's a sign of respect. Respecting someone means that you don't want to do wrong by them. He knew this relationship wasn't right, and he did what had to be done. He did this because he cares about and respects you.
posted by FAMOUS MONSTER at 10:07 AM on April 23, 2012 [2 favorites]

I think it's natural for some people to feel haunted by these feelings right after a breakup, because it's such a personal rejection. However, if you know and love yourself, those feelings should fade. Maybe with time, you'll see that you are totally loveable and able to be open and connected and happy in a relationship that works for you, and this wasn't it.

So, my advice is not to beat yourself up about any aspect of this breakup, including your current feelings. Keep doing what you're doing (old and new hobbies and the reconnecting), and maybe add therapy to tackle your low self-esteem. But really, I think it's good that you're asking these questions--to me it's a sign that you're figuring out what this relationship can teach you about yourself.
posted by sundaydriver at 10:09 AM on April 23, 2012 [3 favorites]

When I was young, the people I broke up with haunted me with guilt. They were symbols of how I hurt innocent people because of my own inability to connect. "What's wrong with me -- he's a great person, why can't I just be happy with him?"

Hopefully he doesn't have that particular neurosis, but the point is: whatever he's thinking is about him, and it may well not be what you think it is.
posted by salvia at 10:21 AM on April 23, 2012 [8 favorites]

It's been a month. You're doing your best to move on. You're recognizing things that you did in this relationship which you wish you'd handled differently. You're both doing your best to forgive each other for past faults and be friendly; you also have to forgive yourself. But it's not about going back to fix the mistakes, it's about taking the knowledge of yourself onward into new places and new relationships.
He sounds like a good guy. Negotiating a breakup respectfully is hard - you only have to look around AskMe to see how much advice is spent on how to break up without hurting feelings, how to break up and stay friends, how to break up and be as nice as possible without creating any doubt as to whether you've really broken up, how to explain why you're breaking up without creating "if you fix A then we won't break up" situations... it's just plain difficult. Maybe there are ways he could've handled it better, but forgive him for that. Make the assumption that he meant to break up while hurting you as little as possible, and know that - no matter what you think he might think of you - it's really and truly over.

He's just a guy. Sounds like a nice enough guy. But just a guy. Take the experiences he's given you, the lessons you've learned about yourself because of him, and be the person you are - a person who he is most definitely NOT better than.
posted by aimedwander at 10:21 AM on April 23, 2012

His breakup reasons don't seem to contain any disrespect. Even if he phrased it in the most polite and kind way possible, they would sound different than what you wrote here.
posted by salvia at 10:32 AM on April 23, 2012

What helped me was internalizing this:

1) You can't read his mind.
2) You can't go back in time and change anything you did.
3) You can't make him tell you the truth about how he feels about you.

And then having this exact conversation with myself each time my mind started to turn over the idea that I was somehow Not Worthy of him:

1) Maybe he really does look down on me.
2) That would really hurt.
3) I can't really know the answer to that.
4) I know that I like and respect myself.
5) I know that my friends like and respect me.
6) It's okay if he looks down on me. I'm going to be okay.

Eventually I got into the habit of limiting my thinking on the topic to these particular phrases. Over time, I got sick of thinking them and stopped entertaining the question of his opinions about me at all.
posted by rhythm and booze at 10:46 AM on April 23, 2012 [7 favorites]

There's no particular reason in this (or any) breakup to believe the breaker-up feels superior to the breakee. In fact, I'm pretty sure if you trawl through the breakup stories here on AskMe, you'll find cases where the breaker-up feels inferior to the breakee, ie "I'm not in her league, so should I just break up and get it over with before my heart gets broken worse?"

Some couples aren't a good fit. Some couples love each other but drive each other crazy. Some people aren't at a stage in their life where they make good relationship material. My wife and I have observed that it's a good thing we didn't meet when we were younger, because we would not have gotten along at all.
posted by adamrice at 10:47 AM on April 23, 2012 [1 favorite]

It's your self-esteem - honestly, even if he Did think he could "do better" that would just make him immature and kind of a jerk. Work on being your awesome self, and seeing how awesome you are, and you'll be Happy to share that with your next romantic interest.
posted by ldthomps at 10:55 AM on April 23, 2012

I do have one lingering obsessive thought: that he never really "knew me", whatever that means, either because he didn't try hard enough, or because I was always hiding my "true" self from him.

IMO this sounds like the biggest lesson you can take away from this relationship experience. I think you're projecting somewhat onto him your own disappointment in yourself, realizing that there were more ways in which you could have been shining if only you had been more self-aware. It may be a helpful exercise for you to catch these thoughts as they happen and spin them around: are you frustrated because he never really knew you, or because you never really knew yourself well enough while in the relationship?

It may be very well worth your time to journal/brainstorm/etc what are these qualities in you that need to be better brought to light. Living well generally seems to be the best revenge, so get your "revenge" on the disappointment by getting better at being this person who you feel is still struggling to come out, from deep down inside.

any way I can reframe the issue in my mind to make it feel a little bit better both right now and when we become friends again?

Be thankful he was solid enough as a boyfriend to make you aware of what you're fundamentally unhappy with in yourself (which really from what you describe, isn't all that bad and pretty normal). Self-awareness is a grossly underestimated gift these days, and you don't get it in many places. Now that you know better what the internal problem is, you're much more equipped than you may currently realize to start tackling it.
posted by human ecologist at 11:00 AM on April 23, 2012 [1 favorite]

I have been in a similar situation, as the breaker-uperrer, and can say that absolutely, without a doubt, that I in no way look down on her. In fact, its quite the opposite. We are still friends, she is awesome and I respect her and love her to pieces and think she's one of the most wonderful people I've ever know, but, unfortunately, WE just didn't work out as a couple.
posted by Diag at 11:49 AM on April 23, 2012 [1 favorite]

I mean, he broke up with me, so essentially he was saying, "I can do better," or, "you're not good enough for me," right?

I'm more of a vanilla ice cream person than a strawberry person, but that doesn't mean that I think strawberry ice cream is bad. I just don't prefer it.
posted by empath at 11:58 AM on April 23, 2012

I have been in a similar situation, as the breaker-uperrer, and can say that absolutely, without a doubt, that I in no way look down on her. In fact, its quite the opposite.

Also, I have broken off two serious relationships, and neither of them were because I didn't think they were good enough for me-- one was because she partied too hard and I couldn't keep up with her, but I'm still great friends with her. Another was because we were together for two years, and our interests were just drifting apart.
posted by empath at 12:01 PM on April 23, 2012 [1 favorite]

So the thing that's hard to understand and easy to forget, is that guys don't have a mental list of awesome things they want in a girlfriend - if they are having a good time and there are strong feelings for the girl, they will probably fall in love. As much as you might try to be awesome and show him your awesome side, the guy doesn't care if you can sing, or draw, or rap, or rock climb, or do stand-up comedy. Guys will fall for girls who don't do any of that stuff, and will for no understandable reason just not have feelings for girls who do awesome stuff. So there is nothing you could've done to show him more of your awesome side - if he had feelings of love for you, he wouldn't have broken up with you. For no understandable reason he might have those feelings for some other girl, even though she'll clearly not be as great as you. It sucks to accept, but it's important to do so to know that there is nothing you could've done differently. You opening up slowly is part of who you are, and you falling for him fast is also part of who you are. Unfortunately, the feelings just weren't there for him.
posted by at 2:11 PM on April 23, 2012 [5 favorites]

Does the person who did the breaking up typically look down on the person broken up with?

I think the person who does the breaking up always fears the person being broken up with will feel negatively toward them, and the person being broken up with always fears the person breaking up with them will feel negatively toward them.

The truth, though, is that people breaking up with someone are totally in their own head about things, and making a drastic life change to make theirs better; they're focused on themselves, and breaking up only increases that self-focus (so they'll feel relief at being done with the situation.) Meanwhile those being broken up with typically turn inward, focusing on themselves and what's wrong with them, as much as or more than the person breaking up with them.

What also happens, though, is that over time people forget the bad stuff and remember (even enhance) the good stuff. So eventually -- six months, two years, two decades -- both people will remember the other fondly. Even if the relationship was abusive, they'll look back and think "oh, it wasn't REALLY that bad, although I'm glad I left/they left."

So put it out of your mind, because you're not in their mind, not the way you think you are. And over time, he and you will both have plenty of time to think (erroneously but sincerely) "oh, it's a shame that didn't work out, because they were a nice person!" -- so no sense thinking about it much until then.
posted by davejay at 2:48 PM on April 23, 2012 [1 favorite]

Oh, and:

I mean, he broke up with me, so essentially he was saying, "I can do better," or, "you're not good enough for me," right?

No, he's saying "this isn't working." "This" being the relationship, not the people in it. Some of the most awesome people in the world can't be in a relationship together. Sure, there's a chance he's thinking "she sucks and I'm awesome", but if he's that immature, well, over time (and more relationships) he'll eventually realize he's wrong about how awesome he is (and about how much all those girls suck, including you.)
posted by davejay at 2:50 PM on April 23, 2012 [2 favorites]

My ex was way smarter than my husband. Way, way smarter, in a lot of ways. Physics PhD. Very clever with words. Creative, too — he composed & recorded music, in a couple of different styles/genres. He probably makes WAY more than my husband does. He was a lot more organized, and less of a picky eater.

And my husband is the very best thing ever to happen to me, somebody without whom my life would be immeasurably poorer.

IMO, when you're with the person who's right for you (which means, in part, the person for whom you're willing to do the work, because any long-term relationship is work) the "objective" standards of what's better and what's worse don't matter. Instead it becomes about questions like, is this person good for you? Does your heart sing when you see them? Do they make you laugh? When you're feeling small and sad and lonely, do they help you feel warm and secure? Does being with them make you want to try for more ambitious goals than you felt were possible before? Do they find ways to let you know that you're immensely important and valuable to them?

I'm married to an under-employed bartender, and I wouldn't trade him for anybody in the world.
posted by Lexica at 9:55 PM on April 24, 2012 [3 favorites]

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