How do I forget this guy and move on?
June 7, 2012 11:28 AM   Subscribe

It's been years and I can't forget this guy. I don’t know what to do. Please help.

I met this guy maybe six or seven years ago. We worked together. We both liked each other at the time, but due to many things we never got together. I ended up leaving the job, but maybe two years after I left we ended up reconnecting and there was still a lot of chemistry. We tried to date, but things just didn’t work out. Random meetings and the like probably lasted for about a year. He ended up doing some really mean and inappropriate things and I ended up cutting all contact with him. That was over two years ago. I still think about him all the time. I have no idea what to do. Since him, I have not been able to have a relationship with anyone else. I can’t seem to get him out of my head. Please give me some advice.
posted by deeba to Human Relations (17 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
What were the mean and inappropriate things?

I think you should spend some time focusing on what you discovered he is really like after you got to know him better, vs. the Fantasy Guy you were (mis)perceiving when stuff was all flirty between you and the masks were still on.

That should fix the problem. Accept he's not that bright sparkly guy you thought he was. There is no future of happiness with this guy. He's not who you thought he was.

That's it. That's the secret.

Fantasy does not equal reality. Embrace reality!

PS - Start looking for the nice sparkly guy you thought this one was. He's out there! I promise!
posted by jbenben at 11:35 AM on June 7, 2012 [2 favorites]

Is he literally the only reason you have not been in a relationship with anyone else? Find him, and kill him. Otherwise, start dating until he's out of your mind - eventually someone who doesn't do mean and inappropriate things will supplant his place in there.

I have a feeling you obsess over him because he did those bad things and not the good, and when you cut contact it still left him with the last word, the upper hand, whatever you want to call the feeling that you never got to give it back to him. You don't have to- if he mistreats people in his life, he's already doing much worse than you. No need for revenge.

Good luck.
posted by MangyCarface at 11:36 AM on June 7, 2012 [3 favorites]

Response by poster: The mean and inappropriate things were lying, disappearing, blaming me for everything, etc...
posted by deeba at 11:42 AM on June 7, 2012

This is one of those things (at least for me) that requires distance in terms of both time and relationships. You've got the time aspect, but the other aspect is that you have to put relationships between your past and present.

He was a jerk. An incredible jerk that you still can't get off your mind. You need an emotional palate cleanser.
posted by SNWidget at 11:43 AM on June 7, 2012

What part of this is really causing it to stick with you, do you feel slighted? Do you blame yourself? Did it recreate something from childhood?

And what is it exactly you're imagining when you say you can't stop thinking about him? Are you having revenge fantasies where you get him back for what he did that wronged you? Are you getting back together and all is forgiven? Does he come to you grovelling for a second chance?

It's common for people with OCD or depression to develop these harmful thought loops. Is there any chance your obsession is a symptom of something else? Have you considered or received any type of therapy in the past?
posted by Dynex at 11:47 AM on June 7, 2012

And here's the bad news. Sometimes we must accept that the people who come into our lives will always keep a small corner of ourselves with them.

We move on. Its as much a decision as a feeling. We find new people. We acknowledge our memory or the sudden unexpected return of a flood of emotion for that person, EVEN in the midst of falling in love again.

But we turn our faces away from that feeling, riding it all the while knowing that it does not mean that we cannot move on and start working on and enjoying new relationships.

Remembering him does not equal never dating again or not having a boyfriend whose company you enjoy and who is far better than him in practical compatible terms.

The mind plays funny tricks, sometimes it makes the heart cry.

Don't stop moving forward and going out.
posted by infini at 11:48 AM on June 7, 2012 [18 favorites]

First off, good for you for cutting off all contact! That can be very difficult for you, and it's a great sign that you did this.

Next, I wonder if part of the problem is that you've never reconciled your old workplace crush with the guy he turned out to be? Perhaps he's living in your head as the guy from years ago -- when we don't see people much, we're allowed to project all sorts of things onto them that probably aren't real and are probably better than how the person actually is. So maybe you're still longing for the guy you thought/hoped he was instead of the guy he turned out to be.

I also think time will help. It always does. Cutting off contact is excellent. But maybe don't punish yourself for still thinking about him. Don't beat yourself up about that. I suspect you need a distraction, in the form of dating or something else to occupy your brain.

CBT can help with this sort of thing to. Good luck. I promise time will help.
posted by bluedaisy at 11:49 AM on June 7, 2012

Response by poster: @Dynex I think it's all of the things you mentioned. Sometimes it's revenge, sometimes it's getting back together even though I know in reality I don't want to be with him. After him I did go to therapy to gain some insight into my poor relationship choices. It helped, but no enough it seems...
posted by deeba at 11:51 AM on June 7, 2012

How to Break Your Addiction to a Person, by Howard Halpern, is a fairly helpful self-help book on this topic.
posted by Sidhedevil at 11:55 AM on June 7, 2012 [1 favorite]

Do you have a good friend who knows the ins and outs of this? Whenever I had the rose-colored glasses on about my ex (who was emotionally abusive to me) and started pining for the person who I thought he was when I met him, I called my friend and she'd basically give me a monologue reminding me of why I left him and why I deserve so much better. She is very good at this and I always ended up laughing and feeling a ton better. Eventually those thoughts disappeared and I moved on. Way on. Of course, with the support for said friend, family, therapy, and meeting mature men with healthy relationship abilities.

This will pass, and I hope soon! You deserve a guy who will not blame, disappear on you, or lie.
posted by retrofitted at 12:00 PM on June 7, 2012 [1 favorite]

I met this guy maybe six or seven years ago

Your previous post indicates you are 24. That means you were 17 or 18 when you met him? And 22 the last time you dated?

The first time you fall in love is the biggest boom of all of them, because all of the feelings are so new. Couple that with the fact that the last guy you broke up with is always the one you think about, and it's not weird or unusual that you're still hung up on him.

I don't mean to belittle all of that but in your situation, the cure is: date your ass off. Crush on other people and get your heart mini-broken when some great guy doesn't call after a great 1st date and just basically go give your heart and your nether regions something else to focus on.
posted by DarlingBri at 12:02 PM on June 7, 2012 [5 favorites]

Deeba, this doesn't sound like a poor relationship choice problem. Did you have a good rapport with your therapist? I think you would benefit from looking at how to break your thought cycles and exploring why you keep coming back to this. There's a decent chance it has nothing to do with the guy you are stuck on.

When you say you have not been able to have a relationship with anyone else, have you dated? Is it a lack of interest in other people, or a lack of effort in meeting other people?
posted by Dynex at 12:34 PM on June 7, 2012

It's not him you can't forget - it's the guy you wish he was.
It's like having an imaginary awesome guy in your head, and this dude is just a guy who reminds you of that vision. But he's seriously not that unforgettable in reality. Focus on reality, and let him go.
posted by aimedwander at 1:17 PM on June 7, 2012 [4 favorites]

Do you have any older relatives or friends (like your parent's age) that you can talk to about this? One thing that has helped me while I've been going through a breakup with someone who exhibited some similar behavior is hearing awesome, successful, well-adjusted, happy, and married-with-adult-kids women tell me about the miserable boyfriends they had before they met their husbands.

It's nice to hear these stories from folks who have been around the block because while they acknowledge how miserable it is to end a relationship with a person who treats you poorly, they also are positive proof that it does get better and there are other fish in the sea and all that.
posted by newg at 1:51 PM on June 7, 2012 [1 favorite]

Ruminating on either his good or his bad qualities, what you should have done, what could have been, etc, keeps him in your brain. This also includes talking about him.

Keep busy, learn new things, meet new people, challenge yourself a bit and get out of your routine. Don't leave space for him to exist there anymore. It will take time, and he'll keeping 'coming back', but it will diminish over time.
posted by mleigh at 4:35 PM on June 7, 2012

This pretty much nails it:

It's not him you can't forget - it's the guy you wish he was.
It's like having an imaginary awesome guy in your head, and this dude is just a guy who reminds you of that vision. But he's seriously not that unforgettable in reality. Focus on reality, and let him go.

However, I'd add a couple of adjustments in line with one of my favorite cliches: "There are only two kinds of experience in life - successes and learning opportunities. Some life experiences can be both, but they're all at least one or the other." Given your description, this past relationship wasn't a success, so what have we learned?...

For me, at least, that's always been the essential strategy for coping and moving on: Identify the specific things you learned from this relationship then apply them to your future relationships with other people. To do so requires both what you're currently doing (recalling, reflecting, and ruminating on the past) plus abstracting away from that particular set of experiences more general principles/values that help explain what made you happy, fulfilled, or otherwise longing for what took place back then. If you're not consciously doing the second part, sometimes our brains won't let go of the first; hence, perhaps, the situation you're struggling with.

At a practical level each time events or experiences from your past relationship come to mind, try writing down what he did that made you happy/satisfied as well as what hurt/turned you off. Do this repeatedly but in language that generalizes beyond the specific event; that is, not so much what *he* did then but what *someone* could do now to make you happy, etc. As the list expands, use it to monitor and eventually curtail memories of your past relationship as they arise: rather than censoring a given memory outright, when it comes up, simply tell yourself, "okay, that's enough - now I get it" (assuming you in fact do; it can take some time and practice to really pin down what triggers our reactions, good and bad, within a given relationship).

Beyond helping you push back against unwanted thoughts when they occur, the principles and values from this list can also serve at a practical level going forward: You might use them as the basis for crafting a really accurate and thus appealing personal ad for on-line dating. (If you troll through any of the okcupid threads around here, you'll see quickly that the biggest weakness in most personal ads is vagueness, not being able to articulate specifically what you want and don't want in a potential partner. Well, what you're struggling with currently represents a potential shit ton of insight to overcome that problem.)

In any case, as I get older, I find more and more that learning is perhaps the best, if not the only way to make peace with the past and so to heal and maintain hope for the future. If you're feeling stuck in the past, maybe there's more to be learned back there that can help you with your future.
posted by 5Q7 at 7:33 PM on June 7, 2012 [2 favorites]

I find when I am ruminating over something, my thoughts are disorganized and unhelpful. But it feels like there should be something there. It's like a problem that you never quite solved. I would pick a night, put on some music, get some good snacks, and grab some paper. I would try to organize my thoughts on the subject (this guy/this relationship). I might have lists of the good things, the bad things, things I should have said, fantasies, what would Eleanor Roosevelt say, etc. I would take as long as I needed. When I felt finished, I would throw it all out. Maybe I would have one list that was "Lessons I learned" that I would keep.
Then, I would work on replacing him in my habitual thoughts. Do you tend to think about him at certain times or in certain places? I would come up with 3-4 alternate things to think about. They should be interesting, hopeful, and essentially simple. But you should be able to work out all sorts of details. I need to write these down. I need to have them on index cards. If you start thinking about him, think, "I figured that out already, now..." or "There's nothing else there, so... new thing" Try to preempt the thoughts if possible. I would start thinking about one of my old rutty topics everytime I walked down this one corridor at work. I started purposefully thinking about one of my new! exciting! ideas! before I opened the door to the corridor. It started to work!
Thinking about him has become a habit or a hobby for you. You were awesome and stood up for yourself when he treated you wrong. Now, treat yourself right and get yourself some new habits and hobbies that don't make you feel awful.
posted by classa at 8:17 PM on June 7, 2012 [2 favorites]

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