Need help moving on with a difficult break-up and resolving related anxieties. Snowflakey details inside.
November 9, 2012 8:27 PM   Subscribe

This is a big ask: help me find out how to healthily move on, be comfortable with myself and have an inkling of ambition. I've had a little trouble moving on from this one relationship, and I think some perspective would be nice. It is also related to various anxieties I have now. Snowflakey details inside. Sound advice deeply, deeply appreciated.

I've thought of posting here about this many times, and I've always given in to the temptation to get into the big story of it, but about 3 years ago, got talking to a girl online, met at a few convenient IRL occasions, talked & Skyped a lot, decided to get into a relationship. Two quite happy (and slowly dipping) years later, last November, she goes to university, grows distant, cheats on me, we go on a break for a few days, she cheats on me again, same guy. Things get ugly. Various arguments about whether we were on a break while she gets fixated on convincing herself she made the right decision (her words, 9 months after this) by jumping headfirst into stuff w/ the cheatee. They break up two months later, another relationship starts up, which breaks up too two months later. In the middle of all this, she gets diagnosed with depression and has a couple of worrying suicidal episodes. She wants to stay friends. I had unhealthy and emotionally masochistic inclinations to constantly want to know about her relationships. That second relationship was the last relationship she'd had, but she's got physical with a few people since then, on various levels.

During all this, various conversations about subjects that really needed boundaries came up, and she'd said I had bad breath a lot, even after brushing/mouthwashing, which is why she'd wanted to kiss me less as our relationship went on, all the while talking about the various hotshot guys who she's had great kisses & sex with etc. Yeah, that was all desperately in need of a little self-restraint on both our parts.

Anyway, since we broke up, we've tried to stay good friends, but it's involved a lot of effort on my part which in retrospect, I should have put towards trying to get a good time of no-contact down. I'd say we're relatively settled in feeling like good friends now.

Nothing romantic has really happened in my life since we broke up. Now I'm on an exchange year in another country, and a few days ago a girl I've been hanging out with made it clear she was attracted to me, but I felt somewhere between nervous, unattracted (maybe?) and very anxious about kissing and being physical. I really want to get over this.

I should mention that since about June, she's periodically told me she's still in love with me and all of that was a mistake in one sense, but she's glad we broke up because she needed the time to herself. Right now she seems to be, in a 'no-pressure' kinda way, hoping for things to go again for us once I get back in July. I do have to admit that she seems a lot more self-aware and self-assured than she did when we were together. She occasionally jokes about us one day patching things up and getting married. In fact, since our break-up, she's become quite religious, but thinks I'm the only non-Christian she could ever marry. writing this, i guess our conversations are still a little too comfortable in areas it should avoid.

But, because of all the little bumps our break-up went through, I feel building resentment at myself not having been involved with anyone else. I almost feel like I've forgotten how to kiss a girl or be intimate with someone, which feels kind of emasculating.

I guess what it boils down to is, how do I stop constantly comparing my romantic life to hers? Or not be anxious about getting a little physical with new people. I really do feel like it might be helpful for me not to get too serious with anyone, and I know the 'right person' might be alright with a rusty re-learning curve or whatever. But I do just feel like I'd be good for me to just be a little more casual with a person or two before thinking about that.

I've tried to start going swimming regularly in an attempt to feel more comfortable in my own skin (I was never that physically fit) but I'm quite terrible at it. I'm making progress with occasional lessons, but it's all quite dispiriting.

She still sort of feels like my best friend too, and the feeling is mutual, but at the same time it feels like we're both growing to be two different people, which feels quite painful.

Especially since most days, I'm having a good time on my exchange year, but sometimes I miss how easy it was being with her in comparison to my other friends or new people I've met here. She feels similarly, even though she seems quite popular at university.

If anyone's made it all the way through this, thanks a lot for reading. It probably reads really haphazardly and i'm sorry about that. On another note, I find it hard to generally be motivated to use my time doing the things I find worthwhile (reading good books, watching good 'arthouse' films, generally getting to know the city i'm on exchange in) - I tend to waste a lot of time just browsing the web/staring into space. I also have no idea what I feel like I'd want to do with my life/be good at, which probably has a lot to do with wasting a lot of time to the point of dulling my own receptivity to enjoying anything. Both of these probably encourage a certain kind of mopey idealising the past and fear of the future.

anyway, sorry about that - thanks for any advice in advance. if there's something I feel's worth adding, I will do!
posted by lethologues to Human Relations (12 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Um, it sounds like she's both a little flaky and quite possibly toying with your emotions to indulge her ego. There's still plenty of opportunity for that no-contact period. I honestly can't count the number of great, wonderful, interesting friends I've grown apart from at different times in life, and it's really fine. Sometimes I meet them again later, and we easily renew our acquaintance, and it's just like old times. And in a couple of memorable cases, I don't, because I've realized they were actually not so great for me to be around. It sounds like it would be fairly easy for you to shut this down gracefully for a while, if you think you might benefit from it, since you're so far apart.

Other than that, see a doctor and/or dentist about the halitosis. That could be lots of things.
posted by Monsieur Caution at 8:50 PM on November 9, 2012

You need to spend some time with her not in your life at all. The relationship you have with her is preventing you from getting into a romantic relationship -- how is that remotely healthy? She's stringing you along and making you jealous, and constantly destroying your self-esteem. Cut her out. For YOU. You owe her nothing. It's never too late to take the "no contact" period you should have had at the end of your relationship.

She sounds like my ex-fiance. "The best person I ever had in my life" -- until I realized he was manipulative and destroying my self-esteem, flaunting his ability to get chicks in front of me, and blaming me for all of his shortcomings and all the problems in our relationship. I cut him out, healed, and eventually we ended up back on speaking terms.

And that girl who's interested in you? Give her a chance.
posted by DoubleLune at 8:56 PM on November 9, 2012 [4 favorites]

Being friends with exes works best for most people if there's a clear no-contact break between the romance and the friendship.

Find a different best friend. Tell your ex you need a no-contact break. Find out from an objective third party (maybe a dentist?) if the "bad breath" thing is accurate (could be tooth decay, sinus issues, low-grade tonsil infection if it's real).

You're not moving on. You need to move on.
posted by Sidhedevil at 9:41 PM on November 9, 2012 [1 favorite]

I guess what it boils down to is, how do I stop constantly comparing my romantic life to hers? Or not be anxious about getting a little physical with new people. I really do feel like it might be helpful for me not to get too serious with anyone, and I know the 'right person' might be alright with a rusty re-learning curve or whatever. But I do just feel like I'd be good for me to just be a little more casual with a person or two before thinking about that.

It sounds like there's some default mode in your brain registering her frequent short-lived "relationships" as definitive steps towards relationship success. If so, take a moment and check that -- frequent, drama-filled relationships are a HUGE sign of instability, not success. She might be getting laid, yeah, but her self-respect, self-esteem, and self-confidence are all taking hits as she continues to settle for less than mutually respecting and loving relationships (and rather than deal with her underlying issues). That's not self-loving behavior. It may seem contrary, but what you're doing right now (introspecting and listening to your instincts) is WAY MORE self-loving than what she's doing. And that will definitely shine through about you with time.

If your gut says not to get too serious right now, pay attention to it. Share this with the new girl too (e.g. "I'm really flattered that you seem to dig me, but I'm not prepared to start anything serious right now. It's nothing on you, I just want to be clear that I'm only interested in friendship for the time being." ... something like that).

She still sort of feels like my best friend too, and the feeling is mutual, but at the same time it feels like we're both growing to be two different people, which feels quite painful.

I think this is pretty normal -- growing into two different people. That's how life goes for many, many relationships. That doesn't mean, though, that you can't value what you did learn with her and what she brought out in you. Something about her made you feel alive in the first place. What qualities were awakened in you by her presence in your life, strive towards awakening them for yourself.

As for the best friend feeling, you will discover it again. DoubleLune and others have well covered the possible pitfalls of hanging onto her for the memory of this feeling, so I'll close with this: You don't know what life is going to bring you, so don't go giving up on yourself and your potential to be happy. Hang in there, and trust that life will happen -- just on its own schedule. Best of luck, lethologues!
posted by human ecologist at 10:41 PM on November 9, 2012 [2 favorites]

Exchange years are hard and alienating, and you do sound kinda depressed, so do all the good self-care stuff: go to bed and wake up at regular times, have very little sugar or alcohol, get outdoors early in the day, get some exercise every day, and so forth. For now, don't be all judgy toward yourself (90 minutes spent watching an 'arthouse' film is pretty much the same 90 minutes of distraction you'd receive from a crap movie) but do try to do more of the behaviors that make you feel better. You might also institute some guardrails like LeechBlock, SelfControl, etc. so that you can get a little help getting off the web. And keep up the swimming. The being-quite-terrible-at-it bit will go away. You could also try yoga as a way of getting more comfortable with your body. There are plenty of men at some of those classes, and it's also a good way to meet women. I guess what I'm saying is that I agree with you that your circumstances and overall mood here are a big part of what's going on ("encourag[ing] a certain kind of mopey idealising the past and fear of the future").
posted by salvia at 10:44 PM on November 9, 2012

Buddy, this girl is 10/10 crazypants. You need to never talk to her again, effective immediately. Her problems are not your problems. She cheated on you twice and doesn't care about your health and well-being. She is not your friend, and definitely not your girlfriend.

She gets to enjoy the attention from keeping you on lock down while she gets to do whatever and whoever she wants. This is abusive at best. You're on a foreign exchange, you need to exploit that to the hilt and stop wasting time with this emotional vampire.

Move on. It's hard but it gets better. There will be others and they will be better, I promise.
posted by hobo gitano de queretaro at 11:15 PM on November 9, 2012 [8 favorites]

Let me add that when you show up in July, spoiler alert: you will not be getting back together.

Don't ask me how I know this, just accept it. Save yourself another year of heartache.

Cutting off all contact with this kind of person can lead to a dramatic surge in their attempts to suck you back into their morass of pathological dysfunction since they see it as a challenge. Don't be fooled. They haven't changed.

Be strong.

Good luck.
posted by hobo gitano de queretaro at 11:19 PM on November 9, 2012 [3 favorites]

It's not that you need to go no-contact for a while, it's that you need to never ever never be in any kind of contact with this person ever ever again.
posted by jbenben at 12:00 AM on November 10, 2012 [2 favorites]

You keep calling her your friend. She's not your friend. Cut her loose 100% and move on.
posted by headnsouth at 3:26 AM on November 10, 2012 [1 favorite]

I read your previous question: you are in Berlin with a generous grant for the entire school year. If you spend it longing for this nutbag woman in another country, you will regret it a million times. Cut off contact with her entirely and you will not be comparing your life to hers. Then be where you are, which is an AMAZING city with so many social and cultural opportunities. If you aren't meeting people you might try OKCupid to find folks to hang out with.

Also you could try counseling to help you move on--counseling is made for the kind of life situation where you are feeling a bit stuck. There aren't as many counselors in Germany as in some other countries, but they are there.

Good luck, and again, make the most of this year!
posted by sister nunchaku of love and mercy at 6:26 AM on November 10, 2012 [5 favorites]

Isn't it funny how it's always the total headcases who come up with elaborate excuses to treat people badly, but then flip out when they're on the receiving end?

Personally, I think your ex-gf is a horrible human being, and that she is using you as a fallback (both physical and emotional) when she is feeling unattractive because she is in between relationships with other guys. It sounds like you might disagree and think that she just "needed time to figure herself out." Rather than try to convince you of something you don't believe, why don't we test this scientifically? I'm a big fan of gathering empirical evidence and using the scientific method to test ethical quandaries.

Fact: your ex cheated on you twice and claimed that it was the right decision, attempting to justify it with various excuses. So - if you get back together with her - shouldn't you test whether she applies that philosophy as a universal standard? I think you should later cheat on her twice, using similar justifications to what she gave you. If she accepts those justifications and forgives you the cheating, then I think we can grudgingly accept that this women demonstrates a high degree of consistency - she isn't holding you to a higher standard than she has for herself. In fact, if she demonstrates this level of integrity, maybe you should even give her another chance at a long-term relationship.

However, if she flips out simply from being treated the exact same way that she treated you (which I think is far more likely to happen), surely that's proof that she's a hypocrite and doesn't deserve any respect. After all, what sort of person would treat their loved ones in a way that they feel is unacceptable when applied to themselves? Once your ex-gf reveals her true colors, at that point you can just kick her to the curb, secure in the knowledge that you made the right choice. Furthermore, from a tactical perspective, you'll be in a much better position since you'll already be having regular sex with somebody else, so the breakup won't affect you on so many levels. Bonus: you'll also have done a service to humanity by teaching a terrible person how it feels like to be on the receiving end of their own behavior, which may prompt your ex to do some soul-searching and hopefully make some changes.

What do you think?
posted by wolfdreams01 at 6:42 AM on November 10, 2012 [4 favorites]

It's never too late to go no contact. It's pretty clear to me that the reason you're having trouble getting over this breakup is that she's still in your life. You say that you've settled into feeling like good friends now. I'm sorry but that's not true. That's the lie that part of you is telling the rest of you. Which part of you? The part of you that's afraid to move on. The part of you that still wants to get back together with this woman, because getting back something you've had always feels safer than venturing out into the unknown and finding something new. This part of you will sabotage every attempt you make to move forward with your life as long as you feed it. You feed it with contact with this woman. You starve it by removing her from your life.

This will not be easy. She's going to scream and cry and yell and tell you that she loves you, which is dangerous, because the bad part of you, the part you're trying to starve, doesn't want to starve, and so it's going to try to pounce on this potential source of food. Do not let it. Be firm with her and yourself, do not accept any communication from her, block her on every communication platform. Now is not the time to worry about her feelings. If she gets upset because you're not talking to her that's no longer your problem.

This is going to feel shitty for a little bit. The bad part of you is going to be in pain while it starves to deth, and you're going to feel that pain because it's a part of you. But the pain will be gone once it's gone, and that will never happen as long as you feed it.
posted by Ragged Richard at 8:31 AM on November 10, 2012 [5 favorites]

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