7 months and still grieving
December 1, 2012 1:08 PM   Subscribe

Has anyone gone through a rough period after a breakup? I was engaged to a fantastic woman, and I lost her from my high anxiety that I carry around with me. It's been about seven months, and she sent me a letter saying that she wishes I would move on because she already has.

We were supposed to be getting married next June and even though I know that there are many woman out there, I don't feel like I am ever going to be in a relationship that ever comes close to this one. Not only did I screw up the relationship, but most of our friends were friends of hers so I don't have a very wide circle of acquaintances at this point and meeting people has not traditionally been something that I do well with. This girl really blew me away right from the start when I met her. I don't think that I will ever find the unique combinations that this girl had. There is nothing I can do at this point, other than start my life over and try and learn from this experience. It's just really sad, because I am not the most social person in the world, and I was very content having her in my life and now she is gone. Any suggestions from anyone? Has anyone gone through an experience like this where you had all your eggs in one basket? I wish I could go back in time and change the things that I did because I feel very negative about any future relationships.
posted by nidora to Human Relations (19 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
This is normal, to the degree that I can say with a reasonable amount of certainty that EVERYONE experiences it.

There is no such thing as "having all your eggs in one basket" because no one person can give you all that life can bring you. Most of us have learned this the hard way, and the breakup has been a catalyst to figuring out how life could diversify a bit.

The antidote to this feeling is a mixture of time, cessation of contact with your ex, refocused attention on yourself and your needs, and a lot of patience.

posted by mynameisluka at 1:17 PM on December 1, 2012 [3 favorites]

I think that you feel like you will never find anyone else like this girl because you don't meet people very often. So even though you know, as you say, that there are "many women out there," you don't have that concrete, tangible evidence of it. It probably *seems* like there are not very many around and the ones who are around are not that great.

It sounds like you don't meet people very often because in the past you haven't developed the skills, habits, and lifestyle that will enable you to meet people way more often. And it sounds like you found a quick shortcut to having friends, which is to just get in a relationship with someone who has the skills/habits/lifestyle of making friends, and just go through them.

It sounds like you relied on this shortcut rather than developing that in yourself. And you became complacent with relying on someone else for that rather than becoming self-reliant.

You should start now to exit your comfort zone and become social, and it is going to take time and work. That's unavoidable. Slowly (probably a period of months) if you work consistently, you will make acquaintances and friends. In the course of doing that, if you are meeting a wide range of people, odds are you will meet someone who you are really into. In a nutshell I think you can solve both your problems by leaving your comfort zone of not being social, and becoming self-reliant in that area, rather than wishing to have your previous relationship back again.
posted by cairdeas at 1:17 PM on December 1, 2012 [9 favorites]

I don't think that I will ever find the unique combinations that this girl had.

Who sends you a letter telling you to move on? I think this would be a good thing.

There is not one person for anyone, there is only the one person you choose to make the one person in your life. That person could be anyone, but it is clearly not this one.

Hang in there nidors. I once had a ticket on your train and it sucks and I am sorry for ypu, but the train moves on.
posted by three blind mice at 1:23 PM on December 1, 2012 [2 favorites]

It's been about seven months, and she sent me a letter saying that she wishes I would move on because she already has.

Are you still doing something that's causing her to tell you to move on (e.g. contacting her or something)? Because getting a letter like this out of the blue, "Why don't I just write nidora a letter to make sure nidora is moving on?" Well that just sounds like someone having trouble moving on and the fact that you haven't moved on in your thoughts... well sounds normal. (Which is NOT to say that she doesn't want to be moved on, or that you should take it as any sort of sign that she wants to be in a relationship with you.) It takes a long time to "get over" someone. You don't mention how long you were together, but the longer you were together, the longer it is likely to take (though this is not an absolute rule.)
posted by Jahaza at 1:26 PM on December 1, 2012 [6 favorites]

Aside from the letter she sent you, what contact have you had with your ex since the breakup? If you're regularly initiating contact, cut it off. Completely. Not just because sending a letter like that indicates that she doesn't want to hear from you, but because it will be impossible for you to move on without first learning to stop thinking about her. (And conversely, if she's regularly initiating contact, tell her that she needs to stop this to allow you the space to move on.)

I've seen this posted here before, and I think it bears repeating - you can't be a fulfilled, happy, complete person within a relationship if you can't be fulfilled, happy, and complete without one. Give yourself the space to become 'complete' - to figure out what you want and enjoy separately from a relationship. Set yourself goals that have nothing to do with your love life & everything to do with leading a fuller life of your own.

Then, the next time you meet somebody who blows you away (and I doubt your ex is the only person who'll ever do that) you'll be less tempted to succumb to the high anxiety you reference, and you'll be more likely to blow her away in return.
posted by littlegreen at 1:43 PM on December 1, 2012 [6 favorites]

One of my friends has recently been through a really bad divorce. He has done something good for himself and very systematically dated every single single woman he knows, including me and some people he almost doesn't know. I would never be interested in something more serious, but at our dates, we talked about a lot of different stuff, including the lady he has ended up seeing now. Seeing me, even when knowing nothing would come of it, gave him a channel for venting about ex and talking about new lady. And generally getting told he is a loveable person, which he is. I was impressed by his maturity and general pulling him self together in spite of a really bad time. So if he hadn't quickly met someone great, I would definitely have introduced him to other friends.
posted by mumimor at 2:02 PM on December 1, 2012 [1 favorite]

Has anyone gone through a rough period after a breakup?

I laughed when I read that. Not derisively, but sympathetically, because yes, we all have.

The most important thing for you to do to get over this is to cut off all contact. She shouldn't know whether or not you've moved on. The fact that she does indicates you two are in too much communication. The best thing or you is to close off all channels of communication.
posted by Ragged Richard at 2:07 PM on December 1, 2012 [6 favorites]

I will tell you what worked for me. My experience is handling a divorce after 10 years with a woman, who I'm still friends with.

There is a period where everything is too raw and horrible. Like the volume of negativity is set to max, and it's hard to see how you can ever be just normal again, let alone happy. In my case, when I was here, I cried nearly every day and felt physically ill. It's a dangerous time. You can't trust yourself during that time, and it's important to have some part of you that minimizes the hardship and avoids potential damage. If you are in this state, then consider the following...

* Be around friends you trust. At least once a week, more as needed.
* Don't plan or attempt anything big, like a new job, moving to a new city, dating. If it seems like you have a Big Idea that will fix your life, postpone it. Put it on hold until you get through the storm.
* Find one or more harmless activities to fixate on. E.g. video games, writing (something else besides the relationship though), reading, canning food, work. If it's something that you can get deep into, so much the better.
* Exercise helps like you wouldn't believe. A gym membership is nice because you see lots of other people around you walking a treadmills, lifting weights--it's an upbeat atmosphere. It's self-improvement, which lets you have one part of your life not going to shit. And the activity will combat physical depression. Like that crappy feeling you get in your stomach that seems it won't go away? Exercise, my brother.
* Drugs and alcohol. You know, I drank more frequently after the divorce, so I won't be a hypocrite, but you really have to be aware of addiction behavior. Get the stuff out of your house if you need to.

Once you get past the Raw Horrible period, then you can start to trust yourself more. I'm guessing that's where you are now, since it's been 7 months. But I put the above part just in case you're still there or fall back into it. I understand that you are still thinking a lot about the woman that left you. In my opinion, it's time to build up some other things in your life that have nothing to do with romantic love and relationships, because that will give you a more robust self that has better defenses. You shouldn't be looking for anything from this woman. You should be building yourself up. And when you feel strong enough, go back out and find love with someone else.

You said something--that you will never "find the unique combinations that this girl had". You know what? That is true. Because everyone is unique. I'm sure she was special. Maybe she was fantastic. But you will be amazed at what other qualities you find in another woman. The woman I'm with now, when I tripped and knocked over a fan, instantly started laughing in this delightful way, not caring if the fan was broken. And while my ex-wife has many wonderful qualities, this lightness in the face of troubles is not one of them. So when you get to a point where you can look for love again, there will be beautiful displays of character and personality waiting for you in new and unique combinations. Have a little faith, and make yourself better now. You are preparing yourself to be the man that will find a great woman.

Finally, and I think this is maybe the hardest thing to do and maybe even controversial... You have to be so damned honest with yourself that it hurts. This only applies to after the Raw Horrible period, where a little self-coddling is just surviving. There are times when you just have to be alone with yourself, see yourself naked, realize your limitations, faults, the ugliness of yourself, other people, and human nature. It makes you feel terrible, but after a while, there are no bad surprises left in your mind that will ambush you, and it keeps you level. If you bury all the shit, it will come back up, so it's better to deal with it, despite the pain. Talking to friends about self-analysis, in my experience, does not help very much with this. Friends are a comfort and validate you, but they aren't good for analysis. I've never done therapy--maybe it is good for this part, but I'd worry about getting dependent on it.

I wish you the best.
posted by ErikH2000 at 2:30 PM on December 1, 2012 [25 favorites]

When my girlfriend and I broke up (after 13 years together!) I was fairly miserable and I remember thinking and feeling the way that you do; that I'll never find anyone as wonderful again, that I'll never have a relationship like that. That, essentially, the good part of my life was over and now begins decades of solitude and of life being just a pale imitation of what I had.

I will be honest with you: you will never find anyone like her again. But. That's okay. there are other people who are different, who are wonderful in their own way. You will find them. Some people in this thread are telling you to go out and be social and meet lots of people and network -- that's good advice, but what's more important is learning to be happy with yourself alone. learning to enjoy your time by yourself. Learning what you like and who you are without your former partner. Then, inevitably, you will start meeting people -- you won't be able to help it. When the time is right to meet people, you'll know it, and you'll find ways. Some people you'll meet will be lame. Some people you'll meet will become friends. A few people will be very very special.

Meanwhile, focus on your relationship with the one person you'll never be apart from: yourself. Be with yourself, be honest with yourself, be reflective and thoughtful and mindful. Live in the moment. Accept your feelings and own them, but don't let them control you. Exercise. Take walks. Find a beautiful spot near where you live and enjoy the scenery.

You'll never have your old relationship again, but you will have new relationships, I promise you. It will happen when the time is right. And one of these relationships will be just as special as the one you're mourning now. You won't love her the way you loved your last partner; you'll just love her differently. Your life is not over -- just this chapter of your life, and there's another chapter coming, with laughing and joy and good sex and intimacy and companionship. You just have to be patient.
posted by evinrude at 5:11 PM on December 1, 2012 [4 favorites]

Has anyone gone through a rough period after a breakup?

Does a bear shit in the woods?

Look, my rule of thumb is that it can routinely take 50% as long as the actual relationship to move on from a previous one. Certainly for anything less than a timescale of years. You were engaged to this person. It hasn't even been a year yet. Maybe she's moved on, and yes, you will eventually need to as well. But geez man, give it time.
posted by valkyryn at 6:30 PM on December 1, 2012

Yup, yup. I was with mine for six years. It was super horrible to get over. It took a long time. But then one day I thought I might as well give it a shot, and dated a bit. And now I'm with a very fine specimen who is far more wonderful and suitable than the one I thought was "my only chance". Which is exactly what I thought at the time. Like people do. But then you move on to the next thing. Which you will.
posted by Glinn at 6:56 PM on December 1, 2012 [1 favorite]

Has anyone gone through a rough period after a breakup?

Only everybody who has ever been dumped ever.

Don't put deadlines on grieving. It's done when it's done.
posted by flabdablet at 7:15 PM on December 1, 2012 [1 favorite]

My miracle cure? Another girl. Get out there. Hit Okcupid.com, go on a few dates. You will get bummed out- You'll meet lots of amazing women that you just don't spark with. But then you'll meet one who rocks your socks and you'll wonder whatever took you so long.

This is a chance to reinvent yourself. Go drop a hundred bucks at the mall on a new date outfit and meet some ladies. Grief is fine and natural, but if you're like me, it's easy to dig a whole you can't climb out of.
posted by GilloD at 7:59 PM on December 1, 2012

Lots of people in this thread have said everyone goes through this at one time or another. I have known people that have not gone through it -- through sheer luck, best I can figure it -- and they just cannot understand it, at all, and how could they?

But most do get it in the neck, at least once. I have considerable experience with it, I have written about it on this site in the past.

I hate the part where it's so intense that it becomes physical, where I am worn down, actually sickened by it. It's bad enough that it's in my head, why oh why does it have to get into my body? But it does.

I don't know of any shortcuts. It lasts until it's done with me.

It makes no sense whatsoever. But nonsensical or not, I have huge respect for it, having endured it more than a few times. It is real and it is most confusing the first time, or it was for me anyways, as I just did not know what it was, or could be, I didn't have a sense of the contours of it.

One danger is that you'll not allow yourself to love as deeply again, to play only some of your good cards in your next hand of Love, keep the aces back, and maybe especially don't play any cards with hearts on them, because you just are not willing to risk them. Bad move. An understandable move, but a bad one.

If you want the goods in this game you've got to play your best cards, and lay them face up on the table, too, not immediately of course, not on the first date, so not at the first but it's got to be done. Scary. It's not for cowards.

Find your sport. I love yoga and I *love* that mountain bike; even though I don't go on the good trails anymore, I still go all-out on that thing, it is mood-altering for sure. Get a good little mp3 player, set the volume on 11, move your body around, fun fun fun.

Moving your body around is not going to make the pain go away faster that I know of but you get a few hours respite, which is worth gold.

You're might be especially vulnerable just now, so you'll want to watch sport sex, be careful you don't just fall for whoever it is you happen to fall into the rack with. Because if you do fall for them, and then things gets left-handed, it's not adding insult to injury -- it's adding injury to injury. As badly as I want warmth and crave touch, I've found that for me it's best to stay away from lovers until I'm back at least somewhat sorted out.

I've only once allowed myself a rebound thing, the worst breakup I've ever walked; I thought I was dying and maybe I was, it was unbelievable. And a woman who was also rebounding staggered into my path, and we staggered together for a while, and we fell for one another though it was Not The Real Thing or Not A Good Thing or whatever and then I ended up having to end that, too, and both of us continued staggering even more, and that really, really sucked.

Last. Find a way to help someone, to get out of yourself. This is pretty counter-intuitive, or was to me, as I sortof thought that, like, Hey, how can I help someone else if I'm over here so messed up that I can't even blow my nose? But it does work, it does seem to lift me up, put me on my feet for a while, relieve the whirling storms in my brain, if only for a while. But even a short while is worth gold, it's a holiday, it's restorative, it's like soaking a sore body in hot water. And it's not like I've forgotten what's happened or whatever, just that by allowing room for another human being in me I can see clearly again. Or something. I don't have a name for the mechanism other than "Pretty fucking great." and it is definitely that.

It's not going to last forever. One day you'll wake up eased, you'll laugh at a dirty joke, or tell one, or both, and it won't be a bitter laugh, either; it'll be a real one. Maybe you'll notice that you're really laughing about something a dog did, the look on its face when it slipped on that wet floor and skidded, whatever. You'll not remember when it went away so much as just notice it's gone.

Good luck.
posted by dancestoblue at 9:25 PM on December 1, 2012 [5 favorites]

This exact situation happened to me. At 22, I moved across the country from my family because I was in love. After about two years living together (for a total of four years dating), he wasn't in love with me any more. I left that relationship with a shitload of anxiety (the phone would ring and I would panic, thinking that if it were a friend I would have to talk to them OMG!), a job with a shitty boss, 2 friends, and a Game Cube. And a new sense of freedom that I didn't really know what to do with if my Ex wasn't there to show me.

The thing you have to realize is, your universe with this girl was very small. The Relationship took up most of the space in this universe. Now that The Relationship is over, it's just you. You are now taking up a lot of space in your Universe. This is not good.

You need a change of perspective. You have to realize, the Universe is *huge*! There's so much more out there for you to experience! But you can't access it until you break down those walls that were keeping you safe in your small universe.

You're going to be scared to take risks. I can hear it in your description-- maybe internally, you're telling yourself that you're not worthy of another girl as wonderful as her? (That's something I still struggle with today, my low self-worth has been around since I was a kid.) You need to fight the negative self-talk with logic and reason. It's hard to do this alone, so consider seeing a therapist. That's what I did, and it really was the one of the best decisions I ever made. I learned that I wasn't seeing myself and the world clearly through all the negativity and the hang-ups and panicked thoughts. I was stuck in this tiny universe, just spinning round and round and not getting out. Even after years of therapy, when a date turned into a boyfriend, I was surprised at how many emotional defenses I still had built up from the breakup. You will learn to be good to yourself.

I also learned mindfulness meditation (specifically to help against anxiety). With regular practice, I felt like I had a larger perspective on the real universe, and could get unstuck from my tiny metaphorical one. And I felt like I was an empowered being within that universe. Which gave me the confidence and the trust in myself to go out there and start dating and making friends again, and I have found so many people that love me.

I still have some negative self-talk and low moments where I'm negative about the future. But now I have the skills to deal with them, rationally. Some people can get there on their own, others need some help. My suggestions above come from knowing that you have struggles with anxiety, which is a hard place to get unstuck from without help. I wish you all the best in your journey.
posted by sarahnade at 10:17 PM on December 1, 2012 [3 favorites]

What you need to focus on is addressing your anxiety, with professional assistance, until it is properly managed. You can't change the past but you can better your chances in the future by taking care of what is within your control today.
posted by nanojath at 11:07 PM on December 1, 2012

There have already been great, real responses above. I will only add because it's nice to know you aren't alone in times like these.

I know that feeling that you talk about where nothing in all the universe makes you happy. Your brain is rewired and drinks everything in and no matter how good it is, your brain is sad. It's horrible. But it does go away. It will go away. If you ever feel like giving up, just believe me and everyone else, that it does go away. You have to tell yourself that sometimes. And it's true. Just as true as the pain you are feeling.

I always hated hearing that break-up is a great time for reinvention, for changing. It sort of is, though. Join a religious organization if you have any inclination, join an intramural league, I hear some places have beer pong leagues if that's your thing, start a new hobby, be around friends (reconnect with old ones), be around family. Try to be the opposite of you (that helped me to stretch myself and try new things; I did the George Costanza thing in real life and was actually helpful).

Don't get discouraged. There will be bad interactions and set-backs. But it's a process and there is success as long as you keep at it. I mean, I used to be so shy and have such social anxiety I would count my words during a day and it would generally be below 100. Now, I teach sunday school classes and do the announcements in front of a congregation of around 150, did public speaking in law school, and have a relatively full social life. I say all this to encourage you. Because I know how impossible it can seem and how you can feel trapped within yourself. There is hope. You just have to persevere, forgive yourself, and understand that do you have deep, inherent worth that someone else will love and that other people already in your life do love.
posted by yeahyeahyeah at 6:36 PM on December 2, 2012

It sounds like there are two schools of thought going on here.

One is that I need to find happiness without being in a relationship and that I need to learn to like the things that I do without having anyone in my life. I could see myself doing this and becoming somewhat of a hermit again.

The other school of thought is that I should start being way more social right now and that the best way to get over a major heart break is to find another person. I'll be honest and say that I don't feel like I'm ready to date anyone yet even though I have never felt so damn lonely before in my life. I want to be more social but I am currently not working and finishing graduate school. Add to that I do not have a type A personality that is extroverted so there is only so much I can do about the social aspect of my life.

How does one develop the skills/habits/ and lifestyle to be very social? I have always felt like that stuff is somewhat superficial in all honesty. Maybe I am superficial for even thinking that?
posted by nidora at 8:03 PM on December 6, 2012

A late answer here, but as someone who also split up with a fiancé and battled anxiety I can tell you that everything you've said sounds really normal in the context of what's happened. Here's some stuff that helped me move forward - Firstly, it took me a long time to accept that I could ever meet someone who I'd love as much or be able to think about marrying, so I felt I'd not only lost a relationship but also my only chance at ev being married. What helped was acting "as if." Pretend, just for a while, that it is ctually possible and that you could theoretically be happy with someone else. Over time it becomes easier to accept and it takes a huge weight off to realise you haven't missed your once chance at relationship bliss.

Also, acknowledging that in spite of the things that caused the break up, you are still someone with some pretty awesome qualities. Sure, you were /are anxious, but it sounds like you're also thoughtful, sensitive and care about making relationships work. And if your ex couldn't appreciate the good things about you, they weren't the right person for you.You don't have to disrespect your ex, but I bet there's things you would have liked them to do differently, and there are other women out there who will not be fazed by things that bothered your ex.

As far as socialising goes, I had a pretty diverse circle of friends, but I had to basically replace the entire social group that my ex and I hung out with AND find a bunch of new friends of my own who won't married and coupled up and had time to do single person stuff. Online groups that had IRL meet ups are brilliant for this, as is grad school (seriously, just having to go to class and interact with people is helpful!) You're wise not to jump into another relationship if you don't feel ready. Just know that when the times comes, you will be fine. Not everyone you meet has to be your next best friend or life partner and sometimes having lots of "superficial" friendships can be a good way of easing into being more social. What I mean is that I have some friends who I genuinely like and are good people, but I might only see if I go to watch a particular sporting team, or in a certain context. Sometimes those light and breezy friendships turn into something more, and sometimes it's just nice to have a broader circle of people to hang out with.

You can work on finding happiness outside of a relationship and still be sociable - in fact, ai ink it's essential. And learning how to be happy on your own is great for future relationships, because you wind up making relationship choices out of love, not out of a fear based in being alone. Spend some time writing down the things that make you happy by yourself, but also the things you want from a relationship. Sometimes us anxious types can forget where our boundaries are, but you deserve a relationship where your needs get met too.

Finally, oNe thing I found was that being anxious, I spent a lot of time worrying and overanalysing what was going on. It can be helpful to channel that in constructive ways, like reading up on communication styles or doing CBT or throwing yourself into study. But it's also helpful to cut yourselves and others a bit of slack - is stuff takes time, but you sound like a pretty balanced, thoughtful guy and I'm sure you'll be fine. Good luck!
posted by rockpaperdynamite at 5:34 AM on December 12, 2012

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