After a breakup, how do you deal with the rejection?
November 15, 2012 9:51 AM   Subscribe

After a breakup, how do you deal with the rejection?

My boyfriend of three years broke up with me via telephone six months ago. During our three years together, we developed a tight group of mutual friends. I thought we were going to end up together. My mom also died of cancer during this time, sending me into a depression which has only been made worse by the breakup. He said we were too different, that it wasn't me, that he needed time and space to figure out what he wanted in his life.

A few months later I saw him out with another girl. I've heard through the grapevine that he's been going out, flirting, drinking, all that stuff. He seems happy.

Me, on the other hand, I've been trying to do all the Right Things. No contact. Unfriended him on Facebook. Been hanging out with my own friends, making new ones, pursuing my own interests, focusing on myself, letting time pass. I can handle being single. I can handle being on my own. But the pervasive thoughts that I wasn't good enough? That he just didn't want me anymore? That after three years he could simply make a phone call and be done with it? That's what's killing me. I've heard time and time again that it's not me. That I shouldn't take it it personally. That it's his loss.

Well, I do think it's me, I do take it personally, and he seems to be managing just fine, so I'm not sure he's lost anything.

How do you believe--really, truly believe--that the breakup was not a result of some fatal flaw on your part?

Some details:
-I am in my mid 20's, he in his late 20's.
-I've just been diagnosed with severe major depression and been described an antidepressant and anti-anxiety medication.
-I have been seeing a grief counselor for 8 months.
posted by thank you silence to Human Relations (23 answers total) 29 users marked this as a favorite
-I've just been diagnosed with severe major depression and been described an antidepressant and anti-anxiety medication.

One strategy -- not the strategy, just one of the things you ought to do -- would be to have complete and absolute faith this stuff is going to kick in (and, if it does not within a reasonable span of time, to be on top of that and up the dose/switch the meds.) The feelings you're having aren't just breakup-feelings, they're depression-feelings and you can't think your way out of those.
posted by griphus at 10:00 AM on November 15, 2012 [3 favorites]

The thing is, there isn't a spectrum of all possible human characteristics ranging from Worst to Best, where you fall at like a 7.34 and he was shooting for an 8.5 or higher. I fall into the trap of thinking that way sometimes, but that isn't how attraction works. Just because you weren't perfect for HIM, doesn't mean you aren't perfect for someone else.
posted by showbiz_liz at 10:01 AM on November 15, 2012 [11 favorites]

I'm so sorry about your mom.

If a friend told you all this about a breakup of hers, would you tell her that it was her fault? That she should feel rejected? Be as nice to yourself as you'd be to someone else in the same situation. It's okay to feel like crap - you have every reason. But when you find yourself thinking that you are worthless because he dumped you, remember that you're not any different from anyone else who has been through a breakup. It happens to all of us at some point, and most of us are worth loving anyway.
posted by chaiminda at 10:02 AM on November 15, 2012 [4 favorites]

Here's what I think having gone through many breakups, some of which were initiated by me, some of which weren't.

When I have dumped someone, it was because of something about them that I decided wasn't compatible with me in the long term. When people have dumped me, it's because of something about me that wasn't compatible with them.

But whatever that thing is in me or in them that was at the root of the breakup doesn't mean that that thing is a flaw. It doesn't mean that thing is a bad thing. It just means that that thing makes you incompatible with that person. That doesn't mean that that thing will get in the way in the next relationship. It could even mean that thing is the feature most loved about you by your next partner.

Nobody's perfect, but what you see as a rejection is really just an incompatibility. Consider it a blessing that maybe this guy did you a favor by freeing you up to be with someone who better deserves you and will make you happier in the long run.

But really, and you've heard this 1000 times I'm sure, it just takes time. Just keep working on keeping yourself happy.
posted by greta simone at 10:02 AM on November 15, 2012 [36 favorites]

I suggest cultivating a curious and skeptical relationship with the voices in your head that say stuff like this.

In general, if they're not talking like you would to a beloved friend who's going through a tough time, it's probably self-hatred and depression masquerading as "tough love" or a "reality check."

When those thoughts come up, tell yourself "This is my depression talking. The voice in my head that tells me mean stuff like this is not my friend, and it is not telling me the truth."
posted by ottereroticist at 10:05 AM on November 15, 2012 [8 favorites]

A lot of what you're dealing with is your depression talking.

Yes a break-up is personal, but it doesn't mean there's something wrong with you. It means that for whatever reason, HE doesn't want to be with you any more.

It's one guy, not the world. It's not about you, it's entirely about him.

The thing about breakups is that they're rarely equalateral. Two people don't usually simultaneously decide to end it. One person decides and it sucks for the other one.

After six months the sting should be out of it, at least to the point where you're happy mostly and only sad occasionally. (The holidays are MURDER!)

He's out having a grand old time because he had the opportunity to disengage and to move on before you did. If you had broken up with him, then you'd be in that position.

What would have happend if he had come to you and said, "I'm not happy anymore, I'm not getting what I want out of the relationship. If you do these things:

a. Become involved in Roller Derby
b. Get a degree in Home Economics
c. Give me a blow job every morning.
d. Watch every NBA home game with me

If you do this, then I'll keep loving you and we won't have to break up." I mean it sounds silly when you put it like that.

For whatever reason, he wanted to be single. There's nothing you could have done to prevent the breakup.

We all have fatal flaws. People love us anyway. You're allowed to be imperfect. I'll be the other girls he's dating have terrible flaws. But they don't matter, that's how it is with relationships.

Acknowledge that he was an important part of your life, but that he's moved on.

You don't have to move on at the same pace as he did. It's okay to be sad and feel bereft occasionally.

You sound like someone who's getting her act together. When that evil voice in your head says, "You whined too much, that's why he left" say back to it, "I'm perfectly fine the way I am, he left for his own reasons and they don't have anything to do with me." Keep saying it, eventually, you'll come to know it's true.

Hang in there.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 10:07 AM on November 15, 2012 [11 favorites]

I'm really sorry you're gong through this. I have experience with depression, and I full well know how it makes you feel, how it makes you doubt your own value, how it makes you question everything about who you are and what you mean to the world.

You seem to be doing the right things — keep up the therapy, keep up the meds, remember that anti-depressants can take a long time to kick in.

When you find yourself crying in the shower that's ok, but also find a way draw that line between in the shower and out.
posted by o2b at 10:12 AM on November 15, 2012 [2 favorites]

During my 20s, I tended to view problems in releationships as occurring either on one side or the other of a line that separated my responsibilities from those of my partner. It wasn't the best way of looking at things, and nowadays I see that there's a vast neutral zone filled with the many, many, many mismatched beliefs and preferences people can have while remaining healthy and functional, even if they're not right for each other as partners in an intimate relationship.

On the one hand, it means things are a lot less cut and dry, but on the other, it means that the issues that lead to a breakup need not be cast in terms of flaws on my end or their end. Things are a lot easier that way.

So, try to look at things as though their neither your part nor your partner's, and, if you still believe you somehow failed your partner, focus on how to change and be a better person instead of beating yourself up over it.
posted by alphanerd at 10:13 AM on November 15, 2012 [1 favorite]

I'm so sorry you got hit with so much unfair loss all at once. That is incredible difficult. Severe major depression is no joke and it is not going to make any of this easier.

You say you've been prescribed meds, and are seeing a grief counselor. Are you trying, or have you thought about Cognitive Behavioral Therapy? Do you have an advocate who can help you think through your dark thoughts?

I think, in some ways, it is a totally natural response to look inward to try to see how you made this happen (I have a spoiler for you: you didn't make this happen). Losing your primary relationship and your mother at the same time is so much at once, for anybody. In many ways I think your psyche tries to find a way to find the flaw within yourself in order to let you believe that you can fix it, and therefore something so painful and awful never can happen again.

At least that's why I think I do it sometimes!

Six months is not a long time after these losses. In fact I think this is the valley where it is probably the hardest. All of the outpouring of sympathy you were getting is probably drying up... the moving on is happening left and right. But you had your whole life turned upside down, and are just getting a look at it all after experience all of that grief.

You are not perfect and you are also not broken. There are things you did that probably led to the demise of your relationship and it was also completely out of control. It wasn't the right relationship for you - there is something better for you!

You are searching for a way out of all of the grief and depression and it sounds like you are doing a wonderful job.

Try to think of it this way. What if it was about you (I skipped to the end: It wasn't)? What would be different if you knew that?

I think what you need to do is really search, try to focus on and get to the bottom of why you're fixated on this relationship ending, and how it's evidence that there's something wrong with you. I say this so that you can peel the layers of the onion back and see that there's really nothing wrong with you! There is nothing wrong with you.

Two books have helped me through really confusing times like this:

Feeling Good, by Dr. David Burns
When Things Fall Apart, by Pema Chodron

Good luck and love and light to you.
posted by pazazygeek at 10:13 AM on November 15, 2012 [7 favorites]

I know that it is hard not to think of yourself as the problem, and say "I wasn't good enough" but try to remind yourself that it really wasnt you. Okay- maybe there was something (s) he didn't like about you, but do those things necessarily make you "not good enough"? No. They make you who you are, and you will find someone who loves everything you are. you sound like a wonderful person who has a lot to offer someone who will actually appreciate every quality about you. He is the one that decided your relationship wasn't worth it, and decided to take the easy way out and do it over the phone. Try to take a different approach and thank him for saving you anymore time/energy on someone who doesn't respect and see you as the person you should be seen as. Keep your head up and make a list of all the good qualities that you have- I can tell you that it sounds like you are independent, friendly, adventerous and very strong, celebrate those!

With time it will get easier, I promise you. Write a journal entry putting him "to rest" write what you would say to him if you could, how you would respond, thank him for ending it and close that chapter in your life. Always remember ask yourself if a friend came to you syaing the same things you say about yourself, what would you say to her? Be your own best friend.
posted by love2much at 10:14 AM on November 15, 2012

When thinking back to the times I've been dumped, my decade or so later take on it was, 'thank god.' Not because the guy was flawed, necessarily, but because it is clear through the lens of time that the breakup avoided future pain.

So, time.

The other thing is that my adolescence was seriously FU and I realize now that I am relatively ancient that a number of things related to that were fueling how I dealt with relationships (i.e., in a not good way). Since I sorta got some major distance from the family and am in weekly therapy, dating and the sometimes rejection is a lot easier to deal with. I no longer feel so bereft.

Hang in there.
posted by angrycat at 10:17 AM on November 15, 2012

Just want to add that the reason rejection/a break-up stings is that we often lose a bit (or even a lot) of our self esteem. We take that one person not wanting us and add it to the list a mile long of qualities we don't particularly like about ourselves, to create a whole pie of ineffectual self pity and sometimes even downright self loathing.

What we need to realize is that WE decide how worthy we are. Not anyone else. WE do. We have 100% of the say in the matter, actually.

Please be so kind to yourself. Give yourself lots of love and caring, and put yourself first. You deserve it. We all do. Hang in there. :)
posted by Falwless at 10:18 AM on November 15, 2012 [3 favorites]

Also, people differ, but I think a phone call breakup after three years is seriously a douche move, and may be one of things that you look back later and say, 'thank the lords above I didn't waste any more time with that nonsense.' Seriously, sounds like a cowardly move.
posted by angrycat at 10:19 AM on November 15, 2012 [12 favorites]

Just want to add that you have no idea if he's happy. I broke up with a girlfriend of two years once, had a quick rebound relationship, and THEN went through 9 months of regret and misery after that ended. I'm fairly sure my ex would have had no idea the shit i was going through in my head over it. Hell, it's been 8 years now, and I'm in a very happy relationship, she's married to someone else and sometimes I still regret breaking up with her.

You're doing the right things. When you meet someone new, you'll push all those negative feelings back quicker than you think. Don't feel bad about having them. All of that is normal. Just don't let them cripple you.
posted by empath at 10:28 AM on November 15, 2012 [7 favorites]

It sucks.

It sucks, it sucks, it sucks.

I can tell you full-on that my ex-boyfriend and I were emphatically not the right people for each other. My joke is that we drove each other straight into the arms of our new spouses. I'm happier than I've ever been with my husband, who is open and loving in so many ways that my ex wasn't; my ex has a baby and is apparently relishing that role.

But 4.5 years after we broke up, I still see this guy at least twice a month at a particular event. His friends smile and say hi; he doesn't. I know exactly what he's doing because he told me about his "scorched-earth" strategy while we were dating. And yeah, it hurts, because this guy used to tell me that he loved me.

I'm not particularly successful at letting this go (which my husband knows), but I guess the first thing is to own it and be honest about what you're feeling :P

The second thing I'd recommend is digging down to figure out what in particular bothers you about his rejection. In my case, a lot of feelings I had with my ex were tied up in (don't laugh) the difficult relationship I had with my mom. Both my ex and my mom are super passive-aggressive and didn't give me many opportunities to "prove" myself, and they changed the criteria for success all the time -- all while giving me just enough love and affection to string me along. And that ties into why I'm still feeling the rejection: I'm so used to this pattern with my mom, so it hits certain buttons and automatically wraps me up in the same kind of thinking every time I see him.

On the flip side, though, that's been very freeing in discussing things with my husband. My husband has (according to his old therapist -- this became a longstanding joke) "a high tolerance for inappropriate behavior," so talking about my ex isn't off-limits. I do try to be judicious. But digging down has made it easier for me to say, "I'm sad about this situation, so that's why I'm obviously feeling down. But it has nothing to do with our relationship, and I'm really glad you're here to listen and not judge me." It helps that I've given him the same latitude.

I think the main thing is integration, both for yourself and for the way you view your ex. You need to let yourself feel these feelings and discuss them -- rationally, openly (within reason) and thoughtfully. They are real, and they're part of your life; compartmentalizing them because you feel like you shouldn't feel them for one reason or another will get you nowhere and most likely set you back.

But I also think you need to integrate what you know of your ex with who he is as a real person, too. If you badmouth him and make him out to be an ogre, even in your mind, that's at odds with the person you loved, and who loved you. Same with putting him on a pedestal, when you know he could be a dick sometimes. Give him the same leeway you'd give yourself: you're a person, doing awesome things and stupid things and living with the results. You're just doing the best you can.

Encourage other people to be the same way, too. Sure, you can vent or whatever, but don't let people make him out to be something miles worse than he is in an attempt to make YOU feel better. That actually is counterproductive, because then it makes you wonder why you were stupid enough to stick around with someone like that in the first place.

Anyways... I've been there. It sucks. It'll continue to suck. But the best you can do is sigh, shake yourself off, and say, "I learned, I had some good times, and now I can bring something else into whatever happens next."
posted by Madamina at 10:29 AM on November 15, 2012 [9 favorites]

First, I think it might be helpful to consider that you're feeling extra bad about this breakup because there are a lot of other stressful things happening in your life. Losing your mom, being diagnosed with an illness ... the bad feelings from these events will invariably "leak" into how you feel about the breakup. (It's like, when I'm tired, or hungry, minor irritations seem much worse. And this isn't just "gee I want a sandwich" we're talking about here.) So, don't beat yourself up for feeling bad about this.

As someone who has both dumped and been dumped, let me tell you that having to break up with someone you love and value -- that gives you a lot of perspective when someone else dumps you. There were always reasons (good ones) why I chose to end my previous relationships. But it was never a case of "you're not good enough for me". Instead, it was more "You are so great, and so good, I wish I could feel the same way about you. I WISH we could end up together, but we can't, and that's not fair to either of us, so I have to do this awful thing, knowing I'm going to cause a lot of pain to someone I really care about."

Well-meaning friends will say "it's his loss", because... really, what else can they say? It IS his loss -- there will be good elements of your relationship that he will never quite recapture with anyone else. And of course, it's your loss too -- you will never have him in your life in quite the same way ever again. But it's a necessary loss. Perhaps you couldn't fully give him what he needed, but that means HE couldn't give YOU what you needed either. You want someone to love you in the same way that you love them, and you need to let your ex go, painful as it is, in order to find that.

It appears that your ex is moving on, having a good time, totally over it. Maybe he is and maybe he isn't, no one can know for sure. But, again, as someone who has been on the other side, even when I dated after a breakup, even when I was in those first limerent stages of new love, there were moments when I thought fondly of partners past. Sometimes in a bittersweet way, sometimes with gratitude for the good times we shared. I rarely thought about any "fatal flaw" of theirs, and even if I did, it was with the knowledge that the "flaw" was something that someone else would one day find endearing or charming or not even notice.

I'm so sorry about your mom, and that you're going through such a rough time. Be patient with yourself, give the therapy and the meds (and yes, the introspection) time do their part. Keep doing the right things you've been doing. It will get better.

Sometimes good things need to fall apart so that better things can fall together.
posted by Sockmaster at 10:30 AM on November 15, 2012 [8 favorites]

Seconding pazazygeek's book recommendations, and adding The Journey From Abandonment to Healing by Susan Anderson.
posted by Sidhedevil at 10:30 AM on November 15, 2012 [1 favorite]

He dumped you.

That is why you feel worse than him regarding the break up. He knew it was coming. He had time to agonize and grieve and accept things Before he told you. You got to start right then at that moment.

As others have said your value as a partner is not a single number. It's complicated, the things each person in here would love about you or find attractive about you are all different. Some people like chocolate, some like strawberry. It doesn't make one better.

Look the real issue here is your depression and the lose of your mother. That's a once in a lifetime tragedy. Your breakup is not. But it's likely much easier to think about, which is why you are fixating on it so much. The medication should help, if it doesn't tell your doctor.
posted by French Fry at 11:04 AM on November 15, 2012 [2 favorites]

I have broken up with no less than three guys who were amazing and wonderful, and if pressed I couldn't give you a real flaw about either of them. In one case, I tried to stay because I couldn't imagine how to break up with someone when my only reason was that I wanted to spend more time on *me* - I mean, how do I say that without being an asshole? I don't know about your situation, and maybe he is doing great and maybe he's not, but a relationship has a lot more going on than a list of one person's characteristics at a given point in time.

All of that said, I get it, and I get why it hurts. I have an ex that dumped me and I know deep in my soul that he is not going to do "better" than me, and I really think he knows it too. I really, truly believe that it wasn't me - but - It still pains me, almost 6 years later it can bring little tears to my eyes for a minute. It hurts because I don't understand it, it doesn't make sense, it's not what I wanted, and I don't get how I could have loved him so much and he didn't love me at all. Some breakups hurt worse than others, it sucks and it's not possible to rationalize.

Your depression, and your mom's passing, aren't making this any easier on you. However, I really believe that this will get better for you. Hang in there.
posted by mrs. taters at 11:12 AM on November 15, 2012 [7 favorites]

My strategy was, when dumped and refused a reason that wasn't utter bullshit, was to construct a reason. I figure if he wasn't straight with me, it gave me license to think whatever I wanted. The reason I constructed was a hell of a lot less flattering to him than I'm sure the real reason is.

It got me through the rough times at first. Eventually I was able to see all of the incompatibilities after the feelings of rejection started to ebb. I have much more charitable feelings toward him now, but villianizing him helped.
posted by peacrow at 11:16 AM on November 15, 2012 [2 favorites]

NB: I kept the constructed/imaginary reason private. Except for my closest friends, I just pretended I was cool with his crummy reason (a standard variant of the one you were given). I made sure I never really convinced myself of it; just kept it as a way to console myself when I started ruminating.
posted by peacrow at 11:23 AM on November 15, 2012

How do you believe--really, truly believe--that the breakup was not a result of some fatal flaw on your part?

Instead of trying to convince myself that I wasn't the problem, I try to figure out what the fatal flaw really was, because frankly, sometimes we do things that are crappy/inappropriate that really shouldn't be done again. Sometimes it is someone’s fault, and sometimes that someone is you.

So I think back to all the things I did in the relationship that I am not proud of. I don't mean thinks that "he didn't like" but things that I didn’t like about myself and my behaviour. Then I promise that I will get myself straightened out and never ever do it again.

The beauty of this is that with every relationship, I get better at: choosing mates, communicating, sharing, and loving. Sometimes when someone dumps me I think "I wouldn't change a thing, I am proud of who I was and how I acted," other times I think "man I'm not proud of the way I X. I'm not going to do that again."

Basically, I trust myself to know if I did something wrong, instead of trying to convince myself that I was entirely awesome and it was all his fault or an incompatibility (unless it really was).
posted by Shouraku at 2:10 PM on November 15, 2012 [2 favorites]

"How do you believe--really, truly believe--that the breakup was not a result of some fatal flaw on your part?"

I don't.

A friend of mine had a classic sports car that got totaled one night while he was at home sleeping. A drunk driver came along and plowed right into it. Regardless of the reason his car got totaled, it was gone. No amount of "I shouldn't have parked it on the street that night" was going to change what happened, and my friend knew it. His. Car. Was. Gone. None of us can go back in time to undo the past, which makes the search for blame little more than an exercise in self destruction.

Regardless of the reason your relationship ended, it's over. You can't undo the ending. You can't undo anything that led to the ending.

My friend moved to a condo with a garage even though he doesn't have a car to park there yet. What should YOU do? You can't change who you are, but you can find someone you're more compatible with, flaws and all. Wait. Did I just say you're flawed? Damn right I did. You're flawed. And so am I. And so is everyone else. And that's 100% A-OK! I promise! It's all part of being human, and being human is a pretty awesome thing to be. We're all flawed. It's part of the magic when two people really click. Our flaws cancel out.

Best of luck to you!
posted by 2oh1 at 2:38 PM on November 15, 2012 [3 favorites]

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