What separates the "never-recover-from-this-breakup/shell of my former self" people from the ones who bounce back and love again?
May 30, 2012 9:28 AM   Subscribe

Why is it that some people never seem to recover after a bad break-up or divorce? You know those people...the sort of "empty shell" folks who walk around perpetually sad or simply damaged in some way that keeps them frozen in place. I ask this question on behalf of myself--as I not-so-recently went through a break-up with a man I considered to be THE ONE--but also because I knew someone who had yet to recover from their divorce after eight years.

For myself, it's been eight MONTHS since my break-up, which feels like an eye blink, really. I have done everything "right" that I can think of: Invoked the no-contact rule after the parting, and stood firm on this, with no slip-ups. Blocked him and family on Facebook; severed ties with mutual friends, as I could not even tolerate indirect contact without suffering paroxysms of tears. I got a dog so that I would have something other than myself to think about and a reason to leave the house every day and get some exercise. I do Pilates. I have thrown myself into my work, as I own a business that is in a growth phase. I joined a creative social group and meet with them at least once a week, in addition to slowly making new friends. I enjoy my personal hobbies, I'm writing, I like to read, etc. But I still think of him nearly every day. I still miss him, even though the break-up was necessary. I am surprised that I still feel this way--so brokenhearted--after 8 months. I wonder if I will ever love someone again with the same sort of "through and through, balls to bones" (or uterus to bones, as the case may be) approach.

How do I keep myself from becoming one of those hollow people--the ones who never recover and have just resigned themselves to being alone, but find no joy in that prospect? The sense of defeat with which a bad break-up can leave you forms a dark cloud, and I am TRULY wanting to avoid having my own personal defeat cloud circling over my head for all time, constantly raining on my parade. What more can I do? I'm in my mid-thirties, I'm reasonably attractive and have a lot to offer; and I absolutely DON'T mention the breakup to new people that I meet, and yet, nearing the end of this eighth month, I still feel just slightly outside of things, still monotone, still despairing that I will re-engage with the world full of fire and vigor and hope for the future after suffering such a loss.

So, mefites, what separates the "never-recover-from-this-breakup/shell of my former self" people from the ones who bounce back and love/live again?
posted by exploringoptimism to Human Relations (34 answers total) 52 users marked this as a favorite
Just in seeking clarity on length of time you've had to heal up so far, how long were the two of you together?
posted by batmonkey at 9:32 AM on May 30, 2012

The feelings that you are describing me sound like the grief I went through when my mom died. 8 months was nothing when it comes to grief... I felt that way for a long long time. So I'm approaching this from the standpoint that I suspect you're grieving this relationship, that it made up a huge part of your sense of self, and that you loved him and your life with him in it a whole fucking lot.

So your question about people who never seem to recover and those that do, make me think they have found themselves with a type of relationship "complicated grief"... you should read about it. Its when grief turns into a long term depression they can't see out of.

I think the fact you are asking this question means that you aren't one of those people. I never thought that I would ever not be sad. I wouldn't have relationships with mother type women for a couple of years... but over time (through doing the things you're doing) I processed it.

But this really really sounds like grief.
posted by misspony at 9:37 AM on May 30, 2012 [6 favorites]

I can't answer the "why do some people never bounce back" question, but in terms of your own response to your breakup, I'd say if it was a long-term, serious relationship, then to still have a grief response after 8 months is not at all abnormal, and certainly doesn't put you on a track to becoming a hollow shell.

I don't mean to minimize the feelings you have, but you are doing the right things and more time will help.
posted by crocomancer at 9:37 AM on May 30, 2012 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Actually, it takes about two years to well and truly get over someone. You're not really mourning him, you're mourning all of the hopes and dreams you had together. But it's really neither here nor there.

It sounds like you're doing everything right. You haven't gone all Miss Haversham on yourself, you're out, about, going and doing. At some point, you'll find that you're looking forward to things.

One thing you might want to do is set a goal that will take about a year and half to accomplish. A certification program, or finish a degree or something of that ilk. You'll be working toward something important to you, and at the end of the period, you'll have accomplished something.

One of the smartest things I ever heard was "When you look back on your life, you remember what you did, not how you felt."

In the grand scheme of things, your grief has only lasted a short time. You will find someone to love and who loves you, if that's what you want, but only when the time is right and you're really ready.

Until then, enjoy the journey.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 9:39 AM on May 30, 2012 [35 favorites]

Peeking back at your other question, it appears that you were in your relationship for four years. Eight months is not a lot of time to move beyond a four-year relationship; those bonds run deep, and can't be healed so quickly.

I think you're doing everything right; you just need to do more of it, and for longer.

I divorced a few years ago, and one thing that I heard / read at the time (probably in Pema Chodron's great When Things Fall Apart--go check it out) was that events in our past cease haunting us when we have learned everything we can from them. The "haunting" is the brain trying to make sense of the trauma. Sometimes it never happens, and you're caught up in it forever. Sometimes it happens quickly. But in my divorce, I found that it receded from its prominence in my mind when I really thought about it and meditated on what it meant in my life. I felt sad when I felt sad, and angry when I felt angry, and that was OK. I didn't try to tell myself that I should be doing better. I was doing how I was doing, and that was the best I could hope for.

And I did get better, and fell in love again, and am happy.
posted by Admiral Haddock at 9:39 AM on May 30, 2012 [17 favorites]

Why is it that some people never seem to recover after a bad break-up or divorce? You know those people...the sort of "empty shell" folks who walk around perpetually sad or simply damaged in some way that keeps them frozen in place.

I don't know anybody who has been permanently damaged by a breakup or divorce, and I can't think of anybody I know who has never been through at least one. I trust that you'll get through too. Eight months isn't a long time in the scheme of things.
posted by Wordwoman at 9:40 AM on May 30, 2012 [2 favorites]

1. They don't actually get out there and date. It's okay if you're still not ready for this - yet.
2. They were starving for the other person to give them something they need to give to themselves.
3. There was something extremely traumatic about it beyond the ordinary - I know somebody who discovered his wife was having an incestuous relationship with her father, and that two of their three children weren't his. He has never dated since, and that was 30 years ago. I'm guessing this didn't happen to you. Something traumatic could have happened to others and you just don't know about it.
4. They don't think it through properly and integrate the lessons. Another way of not doing this is to never be single.
posted by tel3path at 9:42 AM on May 30, 2012 [21 favorites]

8 months is not a long time, depending on how long you were dating. My general advice is to fake it 'til you make it. The belief that there is one person out there for you is ridiculous, and maintaining that attitude is without a doubt the reason why people become "shells". Think about it this way: You have a problem that is hurting you. You know you did the right thing, but then you keep telling yourself that this is still the right person for you. Does this sound familiar? It's a huge flaw in many people's "self help" regimine for anxiety and/or depression. It's really quite hard to train yourself out of these negative thoughts, and after a long time, they can really change the way you perceive yourself and the way you interact with the world for the rest of your life. This breakup was the right thing to do, according to you, but it sounds like you are holding on to a very false negative belief that will doom you if you don't get help. If you can't train this out of yourself alone, seek help with a therapist. This is what they are trained to do.
posted by two lights above the sea at 9:43 AM on May 30, 2012 [1 favorite]

I think two years is a reasonable amount of time to regain equilibrium (not necessarily "get over", but "get more or less upright") after a serious relationship. It's not just about time to grieve and recover, but time to consider the lessons you want/need to take from it.

I've known a few people who do the "empty shell" thing, and in every situation they were pretty much an empty shell beforehand, too. It's not really about the breakup, it's about the person. You don't sound like that kind of person.
posted by Lyn Never at 9:45 AM on May 30, 2012 [6 favorites]

Seconding Wordwoman -- I don't know anyone who has been permanently damaged by a break up, and I'm 42 years old. I should know some empty shell scraping around somewhere, but I don't, including me, and I've gone through some nightmarish stuff.

I think the emptiness you're describing is either short term or quite rare. Not that it never happens, or never could happen, but I don't think eight months is very long to get over something major like that.

You might get some comfort from this Joe Biden speech from the weekend. He's talking about death, but a lot of it applies to loss in general.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 9:47 AM on May 30, 2012

From my observations, the people who don't recover are the ones who don't ever get to the point where they realize that the relationship should have ended or would have ended anyway. You, by the way, are already not in this category because you said you knew it needed to end.

There are a few stages in a breakup, I think, and they can happen in any order. You can break up, then realize it needed to end, then stop being sad (most common), or switch those around in any way.
The point is that being sad for a while (even a long while) doesn't mean that you won't get over it. In my opinion it's the ability to see what the problems were in the relationship that would have broken it up even if it hadn't ended when it did.
I had a relationship that ended years ago, and then eventually I stopped being sad about it, but it still took a really long time after that before I figured out why it never would have worked long-term. For that time inbetween the mourning and the figuring it out, I was ok, dating other people, not miserable, etc but I was still holding out some hope that we would rekindle things. And I still believed that our relationship was a good one and that he should realize that. It took a while for me to see why that was wrong, but I did, and after a few more relationships, I am happily partnered.

For you, it sounds like the breakup happened and you already know why it had to, so you have the two most important steps in moving on and being happy in the future out of the way. Sounds silly because being happy is the one thing you don't actually have right now, but you're in a great position to get there.
Breakups suck pretty much no matter what. You were used to having this person in your life, and you had dreams of the future together that now won't happen. Everyone needs time to readjust in terms of who to call and tell a story to, what to picture yourself doing in a few years, who to bring to that concert, etc. But you will cycle through that and be less sad and be able to move on at some point, because you know what you need in a relationship and that you did not have it quite right the last time.
posted by rmless at 9:49 AM on May 30, 2012 [8 favorites]

Best answer: In my experience, a lot of the time the length of breakup "recovery" has a lot to do with how that person processes and moves on from their (good and bad) experiences in a more general sense. Some people are more inclined to ruminate on and reexamine the past, questioning old decisions and wondering what might have gone differently if they'd chosen another path. Others are more forward-thinking -- the "what's done is done" types who don't really think much about what's behind them and aren't interested in might-have-beens.

People on the latter end of the spectrum tend to deal much better with breakups, because once the initial pain and disruption are over they move on to the next thing and don't look back. There are also some major disadvantages to this kind of attitude left unchecked -- if you don't think very much about past mistakes and mishaps you're less likely to learn from them, and you often end up being much worse about things like staying in touch with old friends. But with breakups? Yeah, it's way easier.

Of course, we can only change our basic outlooks on life so much, so I'm not really sure if the general types I described are actually helpful in terms of trying to move on from your own breakup. But I will say, from what I've seen and lived through anyway, the more you can force yourself to look forward and think of the future -- or honestly, the PRESENT -- and the less time you spend wondering about what-ifs and could-have-beens, the more likely it is that you'll be able to pick yourself up and move on to the better things after you've had some time to mourn.

That said....You may never have the same uncomplicated, joyful experience of falling in love without any doubts again, but that's okay. That's part of getting older and wiser, and it means that you're a more complex and nuanced and sensitive person, not that you're jaded and broken. Keep making friends, keep being creative, don't be afraid to let your pain inform what you write but try and find some self-indulgent silliness and joy there as well. Read great books and talk to great friends about them.

You are your own person. You aren't your divorced friend. It hasn't even been a year. You're going to be fine.

Best of luck.
posted by Narrative Priorities at 9:49 AM on May 30, 2012 [15 favorites]

Well, for a start, 8 months is not long at all. For a major relationship, I agree that 2 years is about normal. Second of all, I think people who buy into the concept of The One are going to have a harder time finding future hope in this kind of breakup. (In general, I find it helpful to remember that all relationships fail, until one doesn't.)
posted by DarlingBri at 9:50 AM on May 30, 2012 [1 favorite]

What telepath said, esp. #2.

Also: "... the ones who never recover and have just resigned themselves to being alone, but find no joy in that prospect?" ... I think one really important aspect is to not "resign" oneself to being alone. Learn to accept the real possibility that, yes, you may not end up finding trueloveforever, because sometimes things are not under your control. But if you truly believe/know that you can derive real, meaningful, and sufficient pleasure from your own company, and from being around friends and family, a big weight gets lifted. That weight seems to make a huge difference when it comes to being open to relationships and realizing who is/isn't right for you.

And yeah, grieving a major relationship is totally like grieving a person who died. In many ways, the 2 experiences overlap. 8 months for a 4 year (?) relationship doesn't seem excessive to me at all -- if your best friend or sibling died, would you think it weird that you're still really sad about it 8 months after the fact?
posted by miss_kitty_fantastico at 9:53 AM on May 30, 2012 [3 favorites]

Response by poster: Thank you for all of the really great responses so far! One of the questions above asked how long we'd been together. We were together for four years, but we were childhood friends before hand, so there was an enormous history behind our being together. Memories of our time were not just memories of our romantic history but also of our high school years, where I'd had a huge unrequited crush on him. So, it made a good story, and the stories we tell ourselves about the things that we experience are often times the hardest things to overcome.

Also, I didn't mean to give the impression that I believe there is only THE ONE out there. As in a single soulmate. What I mean is that, of all of the relationships I'd been in to that point, he was the first man I wanted to marry, and felt confident that it would happen. Of course, it did not!

What happens, of course, is that we get burned so badly that it feels like our hearts shrivel up. "Will I ever love like that again?" No. Because I am different, and the someone who may come along will be different as well. This I understand on an intellectual level. But will I ever move past the grief enough to attract others? This is something I have been questioning.

Thank you for saying that 8 months isn't very long! There are certainly other people in my life who are like, "It's been 8 months! Get over it already!"
posted by exploringoptimism at 10:03 AM on May 30, 2012

>severed ties with mutual friends, as I could not even tolerate indirect contact without suffering paroxysms of tears.
>But I still think of him nearly every day.

It's great that you're giving yourself lots of external activities. Still, though, you seem to have a very tight thought-loop running. The way to break out of this is to deliberately, consciously guide your thoughts.

If you're suffering "paroxysms of tears" from the grief/loss you experience just through indirect contact, you very likely have a distinct set of thoughts and images, one linking to additional thoughts and images, in turn linking to more.... all of which automatically pop back up when thinking of the Ex.

The thing is, this sequence of thoughts is habitual but arbitrary.

You can replace it with a different group of thoughts-- consciously map out groups of positive images and ideas, and without analyzing any of them, think and picture them, as quickly as possible... over and over and over again, as fast as possible.

Keep the chain of positive thoughts consistent.

Do this over and over and over again, as fast as possible.

Make every new positive image and thought as big and bright and close as possible.

Do this as quickly as possible, as fast as possible, making the new positive ideas as big and bright and close as possible, faster and faster and faster.

Do this so many times, so quickly, so intensely, that you find yourself getting completely unsurprised by the increasing automaticity of your sequence of positive thoughts.

Brains run on habits-- break out of the state you've been in, by consciously, deliberately, relentlessly, systematically building a new mental and emotional habit.
posted by darth_tedious at 10:05 AM on May 30, 2012 [5 favorites]

I've been told that however long you were with someone, it takes half that time to get over them. So for you that'd be two years.... for me it'll be seven or eight years. I'm about halfway through that and while I'd hesitate to describe myself as an 'empty shell' (although I sure was for the first couple of years) I am still in the "I think of him every day and doubt I will ever feel that way about anyone again" stage. It makes it much worse that he was the only guy I ever even -dated-, so I am a bit of an odd case. I may end up as one of those 'shell' people you describe and I think it's because I've always been very much an introvert and prefer to be on my own; with the way that I am, it was a miracle that I found someone to begin with, and I don't see that happening twice in a lifetime, especially since I'm not willing to change who I am to try and 'land a new man." So be it.
posted by The otter lady at 10:07 AM on May 30, 2012 [2 favorites]

You're doing all the right things EXCEPT that you don't mention anything about dating. I think the best way to not become one of those people who is resigned to being alone is not give up on dating. I know you are still sad and heartbroken, but after 8 months you really ought to try dating again. Set up a profile on OK cupid and go on a few dates. It might suck at first, but sometimes the only way out is through and in your case through means starting to date again even if its not always a ball of laughs.
posted by bananafish at 10:15 AM on May 30, 2012 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: bananafish: I would agree with you! Except...I'm not even really getting flirted with when I go out (with the exception of my married friends, so that's useless). This is baffling (and one of the things that makes me think I'm wearing some kind of "red letter" or stamp on my forehead proclaiming myself to be in relationship recovery! I'm not much of a bar kind of woman, but my social group has a lot of people coming through its doors, and people are aware that I'm single, so....what gives! I've thought about joining Match.com, but I've been holding off, feeling as if perhaps learning to be happy in this phase of my life, with no one by my side, might be a beneficial experience--at the very least, it's the one I seem to be having at this time, so there's that.
posted by exploringoptimism at 10:23 AM on May 30, 2012 [1 favorite]

I agree with bananafish somewhat... even if the dating doesn't go perfectly, even if it's stressful, it occupies that part of your brain that thinks about romantic possibilities (and, hopefully, sexual situations.) It is easier to get stuck in a ruminating pattern if there's nothing else in that mind slot, you know? You're probably going to be thinking about the last person you kissed, when you think about kissing; it'd be nice if that was someone other than your ex.

But I also think that 8 months is not so long, and if you really aren't ready then don't force yourself yet. If you're neutral on the idea, if it seems weird but not awful, then give it a shot.
posted by fingersandtoes at 10:27 AM on May 30, 2012

People like this often find each other and go on to have less intense but still very satisfying relationships. There is a reason why "the one who got away" is a cliche. The persistent feeling of wistfulness and vague sadness regarding a prior relationship is very common.

Once you have great sex with someone who finds you attractive you'll start getting flirted with and approached again. You just have to hang in there until that happens.
posted by the young rope-rider at 10:44 AM on May 30, 2012 [3 favorites]

Thank you for all of the really great responses so far! One of the questions above asked how long we'd been together. We were together for four years, but we were childhood friends before hand, so there was an enormous history behind our being together. Memories of our time were not just memories of our romantic history but also of our high school years, where I'd had a huge unrequited crush on him. So, it made a good story, and the stories we tell ourselves about the things that we experience are often times the hardest things to overcome.

My mom never really got over my dad's death, hasn't dated in the 20 years since other than a few awkward first dates, hasn't really considered it. Losing a spouse is incredibly hard, and their relationship was thorny and tumultuous. But I've noticed that she has this tendency to mythologize their relationship (which I honestly always suspect was her inclination, even when he was alive), and her sense that losing him was part of this grand narrative has meant that she doesn't and hasn't really made room in her life for anyone else.

But I don't think you're anything like her. It sounds like you're healthy and happy being single for the time being, and when you're ready, I say, go for the online dating thing--try to just put yourself out there and meet people. The best relationships have a foundation of friendship, you know? Not everything has to be high pressure, finding the one. But just considering possibilities. I think open-mindedness is really important, and I think you're on the right track.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 10:59 AM on May 30, 2012 [3 favorites]

I'm kind of in the broken shell camp and it's definitely probably more of a global personality-thing.

If you are conscious of it and actively trying to avoid it you will probably be fine. The best solution is obviously to meet someone else so I hope eventually you can do that. I hope eventually I do too!
posted by bquarters at 10:59 AM on May 30, 2012

Oh, wow, yeah, you are very early on in moving through this process! You are totally doing everything right, and I do believe you will find the intensity of your response fading over the next several months.

I helped heal some lingering cracks over past relationships with therapy and get myself hop-skipped through the tatters of the very last one with CBT techniques, and otherwise just do my very best to focus on the positives in my life beyond a romantic relationship with anyone and work on projecting the contentment and confidence I'm able to conjure (so, sometimes less, sometimes more). This has helped me dispel the little grey cloud that used to float over my head vis a vis my obviously gapingly wounded broken heart. It doesn't always work, but I have far more people comment on my positivity and upbeat demeanour than when I used to allow the disappointment and hurt to linger.

No matter what you do (and, again, you are doing so much of the right stuff already!), may your heart heal well and truly, leaving you the lessons learned and a fresh horizon full of hope.
posted by batmonkey at 11:34 AM on May 30, 2012 [1 favorite]

I dated a guy for 1.5 years and I was devastated when we broke up. Not quite the four years that you had, but trust me that I had a broken heart and I really thought he was the guy for me.

I started dating again only a couple of months after we broke up. I wasn't really ready, but I'm glad I did because I ended up meeting my husband, who turned out to be a thousand times better for me.

So there's one vote for at least trying the online dating.
posted by bananafish at 11:52 AM on May 30, 2012 [4 favorites]

Best answer: I had a pretty rapid-fire series of major breakups in the first several years after I graduated college (fell too hard, too fast, for too many people) and by the third one I had worked out a practice that, for me, was shockingly effective, including dealing with a 3-year relationship.

I realize in hindsight that having so many emotionally devastating breakups that I actually had a systematized way of dealing with them is incredibly ridiculous. But what I also realize with hindsight is that the system directly addressed the things I was desperately seeking in these relationships, helping me fill those voids and indirectly making me less reliant on others for said void-filling.

Anyway, here was my method:

1. Be touched. I find physical contact extremely emotionally reassuring. Every week, I'd get a manicure, a pedicure, a chair massage, or get my hair blown out. This had the nice upshot of making me feel more attractive, too.

2. Boost your ego. Even if I wasn't emotionally ready to kiss someone, let alone have a relationship with them, I put a bare-bones version of my profile back up on my preferred online dating sites. It was a wonderful balm to simply see the influx of interested guys. (I've written before on AskMeFi about how the most important thing I've ever learned is that being loved once means you can be loved again. That doesn't mean it didn't need external reinforcement.)

3. Remember that you've loved before. For me, each breakup was a palate-cleanser for the breakup that came before, in the sense that breaking up with X made me emotionally capable of reading old emails from X-1, etc. Going back through those archives — sometimes multiple times — helped me realize how much each relationship helped me grow and develop as both an individual and a partner. It also reinforced (see #2) that I would love and be loved after this relationship — just as I had loved and been loved after previous ones.

4. Let yourself mourn, but face forward while mourning. Other people have said this more effectively in this thread. Maybe it's my inner philosophy major, but I believe that there's something tautological to a breakup: if your relationship ends, it's a pretty reliable indicator that there was something wrong enough with the relationship to end it. (That can be because someone is a dick, or because love is gone, or simply because someone is a terrible communicator. But if there's something in the relationship that someone in the relationship reacts to by jumping ship, that is the reddest of red flags.) Let yourself celebrate the wonderful thing that happened, and be sad and sadder and saddest that it's over, and angry that you have to start again, and disappointed that the person your partner turned out to be isn't the person you wanted them to be. But there is nothing you can do to change the past. And you can't change the future unless you have a clear head and a strong heart.

5. Get drunk and make out with people at bars. Worked for me. YMMV.
posted by firstbest at 11:59 AM on May 30, 2012 [28 favorites]

(I feel like I should also clarify that I'm now in an almost-six-year relationship that is absurdly strong and healthy and open-communicate-y, and I smugly believe that a huge part of that is because of what I learned about myself and others from breakups.)
posted by firstbest at 12:08 PM on May 30, 2012 [2 favorites]

You need a fresh start. You need to stop the cycle of loss and regret. The suggestions in this New Year's Eve question really helped me get through some bad times, and from these answers I've crafted my own little ritual and I've suggested it before for this type of situation.

Pick a day that will be your "start over" day. Go out and buy a new candle beforehand, one that has some type of "cleansing" meaning to you. On your day, clean the house thoroughly and get rid of some clutter. While you're doing this, write down your regrets and bad memories on a notepad whenever they come to you, in this case some specific things you want to let go. Tear the entries into individual pieces of paper. Take a long hot bath with relaxing music. Fix your favorite drink. Light the candle. Take each piece of paper, read it out loud, and then burn it in the flame of the candle while visualizing that you are letting go of the remorse and whatever other negative feelings are included on the notes. Get a good night's sleep.

In the following days, any time the negative thoughts come to mind, remind yourself that you let that go, and then think of something else.

I am not a new-agey kind of person. I would have laughed at you five years ago if you suggested that this would work for me. But it really did help. I hope it helps you, too.
posted by raisingsand at 12:43 PM on May 30, 2012 [7 favorites]

Get plenty of exercise, and masturbate. A girlfriend of mine once told me that doing enough of the latter gives women an an aura, a vibe, whatever, that makes them more desirable and attractive to men.
posted by mareli at 12:44 PM on May 30, 2012

I may be one of these "shell" people. I had a long-term relationship in my late teens that lasted into my 20s. I loved him more than my own life and was willing to do anything to make the relationship work. He took serious advantage of me and devastated my plans for my life, my mental health, and my ability to relate to others. I believed that our relationship was the only one for me in my life with a teenager's certainty and passion, but stuck with it far too long with the loyalty of an adult.

It's been many years. I no longer miss having him in my life because he damaged me so much, but I still have yet to fill the needs he filled for me (in terms of being a stable, secure base for me emotionally, in terms of sexual fulfillment, and in terms of building a life with someone). For a long time, I did not think that I would ever be happy again, and while I have been as happy or happier since, it hasn't ever been because of a relationship. I have not, as yet, loved anyone as much as I loved him.

So... I'm not sure how to prevent in yourself what I am experiencing. In me, it has to do a lot with how completely he took over my life, and how young I was when we met. He was integrated not only in my romantic life, but with my self-concept, my friendships, my career path, my worldview... there are so many things that I have had to rewrite from scratch since we broke up. I've done that fairly successfully, but there are still gaps and things I miss, and no one has yet filled an equivalent place in my heart, no matter how much I wish that to happen.

I also tend to be a somewhat perfectionistic person, and once I decided that he was perfect, it was hard for me to shake that conception and completely reverse myself. I don't like to think ill of him, no matter how much harm he caused by an objective standard, because I loved him so much, and I want to honor that former me, who loved him so much, even though she was terribly wrong.

Despite therapy, I still need many of the things he provided for me and have not yet found any other way to get them. So I'm still hungry in certain ways. Perhaps I will stop being a "shell" when I find other ways to meet those needs.

I'm not sure if this helps, but feel free to PM me for more details. It will be interesting to see if I can help you prevent a similar situation!
posted by 3491again at 1:24 PM on May 30, 2012 [7 favorites]

Just wanted to add -- I also did all of the "right" things. I've been dating, exercise, diet, therapy, hobbies, etc. etc. In fact, I changed my entire life professionally, moved to a new city, etc. But some key parts of my identity are still stuck, and I don't know when or how to unstick them.
posted by 3491again at 1:30 PM on May 30, 2012 [3 favorites]

I've been pretty hollow at times.

Ten years ago, I split up with the only person who could ever love me. I was depressed as well, and the two things combined to leave me in a miasma of self-loathing. I made a few half-hearted attempts to me people but honestly I smelt of despair and death, and I gave up. When I say "gave up", I mean genuine wondering if I would seek out a prostitute or just die in however many years without having sex again. Lots of porn, alcohol, and anger.

If you'd met me then, you'd have stuck me in the "empty/broken" category. I stuck myself in that category.

What got me out of it? Making changes in my life: when you're at rock bottom, you're free to do anything, after all. And, crucially, meeting one person who genuinely liked me and was attracted to me. It was a short, intense, and not particularly deep relationship. It was... fantastic romantic sexy fun.

I'm getting married on Saturday, not to any of the above people. It took me a hell of a long time to start to care about myself, even longer to believe that someone else might care about me, plus some years to get a stable relationship. For most of that time, I was walking dead.

Two things then: Just by asking this question, you're doing better than I was, better than a lot of people.

And remember, those people that you see may be dead miserable, but they're not dead yet. There is hope, and looking for it in others can help you find it in yourself.
posted by Wrinkled Stumpskin at 2:01 PM on May 30, 2012 [6 favorites]

Are you checking every day to see how you feel about this. Are you spending a lot of time thinking about how you're feeling, and when you're going to feel better, and evaluating the state of your feelings? Because, if so, you may be keeping yourself stuck. It's like getting a bruise and then poking it really hard every day to see if it still hurts - it won't heal that way.
posted by Ragged Richard at 8:44 PM on May 30, 2012 [2 favorites]

Hi, I just came across this post on google and I found it very interesting. One of the best discussions I've found online. So I signed up :)

I now 8 months on and in a very similar situation to what the poster of this discussion was in a few months ago.

Don't know if I've come on to late but would be interested to see how the situation is going as it seems as though it's a bit of a dead end.

posted by jayjay001 at 6:06 PM on January 25, 2013

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