How do you get over such a huge loss?
December 4, 2012 8:44 AM   Subscribe

How do I escape these mental traps post breakup? FYI: I'm in therapy but I'm turning here for extra insight and tips about combatting mental distortions.

TL/DR: skip the background section to the mental traps listed at the end.

Background on the breakup:

Although we're late twenties we were each other's first loves. I was his first relationship because he'd been unable to commit to any other girl. We were together for a year and a half. He said many things very early on that he ended up reneging later. He saw us getting married, having children.

He changed about six months ago into cold, selfish and erratic. The change coincided with his acceptance into a prestigious program that turned his life around. I was the one who encouraged him to apply and spent time helping him polish his application. In general when things were going well for him he would cool off and when things were going badly I would hear from him.

I spoke to him a few of days ago, and he said he's already mostly moved on. He told me he's being "doing really well" since we stopped talking in the last week and he has "closed the book on us." I asked him if I ever cross his mind and he said "not really, no." Only a week ago he was telling me he loved me and missed me so much. At this point he no longer contacts me but sometimes I weaken and contact him, which makes me feel pathetic. It's been hard because he was still basically treating me like his girlfriend for awhile after we broke up, telling me he loved me, calling me every day, using his pet name for me.

Aside from him I have one friend. I'm shy and socially awkward so it's always been an ordeal for me to make connections. I'm around enough people at my job, but none of that contact has led to a friendship. I asked someone I work with recently how I come across and the first thing they said was "quiet and awkward," so it's not just my perception.

I know the generic advice is to get out there and meet people, but for me it won't be a matter of just joining clubs and making some friends within a few of months. It's reasonable to expect it make take me a few years of effort to make a single new friend or two. And that may require some sort of focused social training. Whenever I've tried to do this in the past I've never made any headway, and have usually given up after a few months.


How do I escape these mental traps?

1) I'm obsessive and haven't processed past breakups in the healthiest way. 2.5 years after my last breakup I still feel damaged by it. I no longer miss this ex at all but I still get a real twinge in my heart when I think back on his total rejection of me and the knowledge that he never wants to speak to me again because he felt I was too clingy post breakup. I got over him as a person and no longer miss him but my self esteem never fully recovered. I did all the things you're supposed to do -- therapy, tried to make new friends, took up new activities -- but something went awry mentally in however I processed the trauma. With this breakup there is the potential for more damage because I really loved this ex, while I was lukewarm about the earlier one. Basically I have a helluva time feeling like yes this is the right choice for me, I can and will do better than this guy.

2) He was the only guy of my type who has ever returned interest in me, so I'm doubtful that I'll find another like him who doesn't have his problems and also likes me. I tend to be drawn to guys who are intelligent, creative and also have a slight edge. Guys like this rarely like me, and it was so refreshing that he did. Given that he was literally the only guy I ever felt a deep connection to (despite having had 6 or 7 boyfriends), what's the chance that I'll find another connection like that and one that's actually healthy in time to get married and have kids? (I'm almost 30 now.)

3) I keep thinking that by not contacting him I'm making it easier for him to move on, and I'm afraid that will extinguish any chance we ever might have of rekindling our relationship down the line.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (12 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
First off, he sounds like a jerk! I totally hear you though, it is tough. I knew a person that was shy and socially awkward, I don't really know if you are, but she was. She was pleasant, but we just didn't really connect, but, she wanted to be my friend and always asked me to hang out. I gave her the advice to try some meetups and after a few she fell into a crowd. And, she met a guy there who she is no longer friends with, but he introduced her to others. Sometimes, that is all that is takes. I'm shy too and I am always amazed that when I put myself out there it is not always that bad. For me, one on one is best- better than large group settings. So hone in on making one friend and connection with one person. Also, I think volunteering and a hobby would help. it always helps to share a common interest. I had a hard time meeting people too. i hate the bar and club scenes, but on a lark I went with some work folks bowling, and a month later i was on the team and had a whole new pool of people. Also, I took a knitting class and I met a cool again common interests.

It's reasonable to expect it make take me a few years of effort to make a single new friend or two- Ok that has to be a cognitive distortion girl!! I am sure that you are a good friend, and that you have great things to offer in friendship. BTW- there are girlfriend meetups- at least there are in my big city, if you wanna find something really structured.

Are you doing CBT in therapy? If so, rip out and do a thought record on the things you brought up in this post. If your not doing CBT- check it out!!
Good luck You can do it
posted by TRUELOTUS at 9:02 AM on December 4, 2012

3) Rekindling your relationship sounds like a bad idea - this guy seems to have relied on you to fix his life, and when it was going well was mean. You deserve better than mean. So don't contact him because it's the right thing for You.

2) I've only really, truly connected with one guy of "my type" ever (I'm 40). However, since then I've met a guy who isn't as much "my type", and yet is an awesome, happy-making, delightfully good fit. We didn't have the same "connection", and I realize now that that's a Good thing. Some of the excitement from the edge in my type was just Bad for me. You can definitely find someone else, possibly your type, possibly someone a little different and a healthier choice for you.

1) You've learned good things from that first breakup. Double down this time, maybe with a new therapist and activities and friends. Because this guy didn't love you the way you deserve to be loved, so you will do better by being as good to yourself as you were to him. All that energy you poured in to helping him? Put it in to being your healthiest self, and no matter what else happens, you will be better for it.
posted by ldthomps at 9:15 AM on December 4, 2012 [1 favorite]

There is nothing worse than dating someone who is hot and cold. When I went through a breakup with someone like that I hung up a List of All the Reasons This Person Is Not Worthwhile in a place I would see it all the time. This helped me escape the trap of thinking "but sometimes he is nice!" Add to that list that he is:
1. Overly concerned with his status.
2. Not consistently loving to me, which I deserve.
3. Cold, selfish, and erratic.

Start from there and don't stop until your list is long enough to convince you that you deserve better. Constantly remind yourself that there are people who will treat you right and you are lucky to realize this guy isn't one of them.
posted by saltwater at 9:15 AM on December 4, 2012 [2 favorites]

First of all, cut off all contact, he's told you that he wants to move on and he wasn't particularly nice about it. He's a jerk, and you don't want him back, so don't worry too much about rekindling the relationship.

Just because he's "your type" doesn't mean he's right for you. Once you connect with the right guy, you'll see that "your type" is a funny, creative, thoughtful, loving, sweet, caring and intelligent guy who thinks you hung the moon.

Don't think of break ups as rejections. They feel like it, but that's not what they are. They are just relationships that didn't work out. You didn't do anything wrong, the guy didn't do anything wrong, it's just that for whatever reason, he decided that he wanted to move on. Next time, YOU might be the one leaving. Doesn't mean antyhing.

Go to therapy and get strategies for social awkwardness. All skills are learned, and practiced.

As an exercise, sit down and write out a list of what you want in a guy. EVERYTHING. It should get pretty long. Then compare your old BF to the list. You may be shocked at how many boxes he didn't tick.

Just because someone liked you, doesn't mean that it's forever. It also doesn't mean that you automatically have to like him back.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 9:17 AM on December 4, 2012

[This is a followup from the asker.]
I realize there's a big mental trap I forgot to include that makes it difficult for me to internalize some of the advice I've gotten so far.

I keep thinking that his behavior is my fault and had I been less insecure he would have treated me differently, and that makes me cling to hope that maybe somewhere down the line we could work as a couple. I often tried to have talks about our relationship because I had trouble trusting him given his erratic treatment, and I know this pushed him away even more. He probably wouldn't have broken up with me had I not brought up our relationship so much.

I guess I can't tell if my assessment of him is accurate, and that's partly why I'm turning here for advice. We were long distance for the second half of our relationship and he kept canceling my trips out to see him the day before if there was anything he was mildly annoyed with me about. We only lived a few hours apart, so I could have seen him every weekend but there was always some excuse. When I did see him, he was mostly cold. After sex he would refuse to let me touch him at all. In public when I tried to take his hand he would say "not now" and swat me off. Oddly when we would talk on the phone at a distance between trips he was really affectionate.

But I keep thinking maybe this is because of something I did since earlier on in the relationship he was entirely different?

It also doesn't help that he insists he isn't to blame and that my perception of his behavior is off.
posted by cortex at 9:41 AM on December 4, 2012

In reverse order:

Keep your life on track--don't give up on your visions.
Pay your bills.
Avoid binge eating if you can. If you can't, Ben&Jerry's is a good way to punish yourself.
Stay in touch with your friends.
Avoid "waiting by the phone."
Get through the night...
(This last is the hardest. Fortunately you have to do it only one night at a time.)

Also: it's not about him anymore. Like it or not, he's just another brick in the wall. Quit calling him. Don't pick at your scabs. They will fall off of their own accord, but only after you've healed up a bit.
posted by mule98J at 9:42 AM on December 4, 2012

"We were long distance for the second half of our relationship and he kept canceling my trips out to see him the day before if there was anything he was mildly annoyed with me about."

That is incredibly rude.

After sex he would refuse to let me touch him at all. In public when I tried to take his hand he would say "not now" and swat me off.

And THAT is borderline emotional abuse (and I'm not even sure about the borderline part).

NONE of these behaviors are your fault or the result of any action you took or thing you said. If anything your supposed "insecure" actions (i.e. asking about the status of the relationship) were the RESULT of those behaviors of his, not the cause of them.

However... there a grain of truth to, "had I been less insecure he would have treated me differently." In general, people who value themselves and don't put up with mistreatment in relationships... don't get mistreated in relationships. That doesn't mean that everyone is good to them always, but they aren't with someone for long who doesn't treat them with respect.

But again don't take that as me saying you should blame yourself. Use this experience as a way of learning what you need from a relationship, and next time don't settle for less.
posted by Asparagus at 10:02 AM on December 4, 2012

Seriously? This person is terrible. Terrible. Cancelling planned trips to punish you for being "annoyed"? Running hot and cold on you based on his personal fortunes? Refusing to let you touch him after sex? Physically and verbally disrespecting you for attempting the most minor display of public affection? Being obviously intentionally hurtful post-breakup by telling you things like you never cross his mind?

He probably wouldn't have broken up with me had I not brought up our relationship so much.

Yeah well, there's always a market for doormats, the question is, do you want to be in it?

You've got two distinct problems here. One, being shy and socially awkward and having really low self-esteem, is very complicated and I won't trivialize it with any sort of "buck up" response, aside from stick with therapy, and seek a new therapist if you're not making progress with the one you've got after several-months to a year-ish territory, and maybe challenge the idea inside your head that you could only make a new friend by engaging in "social training" for "a few years" which seems really extreme and just the sort of thing to make even trying seem pretty hopeless.

The other one, what to do about escaping from this terrible relationship with this terrible person, is easy: eliminate contact (he is making you feel worse about this on purpose, jeeze what a complete and utter dick), an attitude towards the possibility of renewing the relationship summed up as "never ever ever again". Keep the focus on you because you deserve much, much better.
posted by nanojath at 10:15 AM on December 4, 2012 [3 favorites]

Oh, and to this -

But I keep thinking maybe this is because of something I did since earlier on in the relationship he was entirely different?

I can understand that you feel like you need to have an explanation for his sudden change of behavior, and as a result are searching all of your past actions to see if you can figure out where things went wrong.

Well, here's a possible explanation: Early on in the relationship, he knew that he didn't mean anything to do. If he had been cold and distant with you from the beginning, you would have told him to get lost because he was just some random guy. But later on of course you fell for him and became attached, and by that time he didn't NEED to treat you well, because you were at a point where leaving would be very difficult.
posted by Asparagus at 10:15 AM on December 4, 2012

He doesn't sound very kind. Also, remember that his behavior is his problem. He may be reacting to you, but he has a choice. He chose to be annoyed with you instead of talking things out. He chose to cancel your trips. That's crappy behavior he chose. He had other options. He didn't chose them.

Also, this?

He told me he's being "doing really well" since we stopped talking in the last week and he has "closed the book on us." I asked him if I ever cross his mind and he said "not really, no."

This reminds me of an ex (who I broke up with for many similar reasons you list here). I ran into him a few months after our breakup, and asked how he was doing. He responded that he was doing well, especially since he'd realized that he'd only stayed with me for the last 3 years of our relationship out of habit, not because he loved or even liked me. I will never know for sure, of course, but I'm pretty sure he tacked that last bit on just for that little bit of a knife twist. He knew damn well how I would take it (not well) and it wasn't really relevant, honestly. And yet, 18 years later I still get a bit of pain from thinking about it.

My point is: you two didn't really have a healthy dynamic. His current behavior is reinforcing that you didn't have a healthy dynamic. You deserve someone who will lift you up, not knock you down. You can - and will - find someone else, even if you are socially awkward and shy. There are good tips above for helping with the "meeting someone else" item.
posted by RogueTech at 10:17 AM on December 4, 2012

From everything you have told us about this man, I don't think there is anything you could do or could have done to make him treat you better. He sounds emotionally abusive and frankly nasty. I can't imagine any basically well-adjusted and kind person treating even an insecure partner like your ex treated you. "Swatting you away" when you wanted to hold his hand, not letting him touch you after sex, leaning on you when the chips are down only to act cold when he's feeling more secure - this is NOT normal and NOT the way most people treat one another.

You say this is his first relationship - I bet dollars to donuts he watched his parents treat one another and/or their subsequent partners badly.

In any event, it's not your job to fix him. And if you get back together with him you're just going to be in for the same misery - he is NOT going to turn around and treat you better, he doesn't have the capacity to do so right now. What you can do is treat yourself gently and lovingly, as you would a friend who was going through the same kind of breakup.

Seek therapy if you feel as if your "picker" is broken or you think you might be in danger of repeating this one-down relationship pattern over and over. In the meantime, one way to get rid of the scarcity mentality - "There are so few men that I would be compatible with!" - is to socialize. Not necessarily date, but get out and meet all kinds of people. There are six billion people in the world - the odds are with you, not against you. Find friends and work that fulfills you (or at least doesn't drain you or severely underpay you), a spiritual practice if you are so inclined, get out and do some exercise - leading a well-rounded life is important. Don't ever put all your eggs into one relationship basket even if and when you do find a life partner. The more you make your partner your One True Everything, your sun and moon, the more dissatisfied you (and he) will be.

As for your worm of an ex, No Contact. Do not call, do not email, do not stalk on Facebook, do not follow his tweets - banish him from your life. When someone breaks your heart, it is best to enforce a "no contact and no following on the Internet" rule for at least six months. And if he comes crawling back, say "No. You treated me shabbily before, and I don't want you back. Go away."
posted by Rosie M. Banks at 11:51 AM on December 4, 2012 [2 favorites]

As a certified stranger on the internet, I assert this man was an asshole to you, and you're lucky to be free of him.
posted by ead at 9:08 PM on December 4, 2012

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