Stuck in the obsessive stage of a breakup.
March 25, 2013 6:41 AM   Subscribe

I've plateaud in breakup recovery. What wisdom do you have?

I feel so immature writing this - it was a very intense relationship (we worked on a political campaign together, many hours very quickly + pretty intense infatuation have a way of doing that) but it was really only five months (the last of which was weird), and has been a full month since. Nevertheless, I feel comfortable saying that he was my first love, and I was his first...girlfriend. He said love, but I'm not convinced.

He told me he loved me first, and was always the more involved/affectionate one until we started to drift apart a few weeks before it ended. I met his family (replete with grandparents) within weeks, he was scheduled to meet one member of mine last week and never did. He was distant, I felt more off than I realized (and had been for a while), and the end felt mutual and I was upset but more out of sadness than anything else.

After a few days, sadness turned to regret and serious missing. I stopped crying after a reasonable amount of time (mostly after that first week of emotional flashbacks) and I've stopped having those moments where I reflexively go to tell him something and realize I can't.

But now, I'm seriously stuck. I can't stop thinking about how I miss him in every idle moment and I've lost all emotional memory of the things that frustrated me and I'm not even sure if what I miss is accurate. It's been three weeks of this, and it's almost getting worse the more I build him up in my mind. Even as I try to stop myself, I fantasize about ways to win him back or Grand Romantic Gestures or how we're going to become friends and then fall back into another relationship.

I've cut off communication and blocked/hidden him from everything relevant. I've tried to tell myself not to think of him, or limit it to specific times, but I lack the self control and don't really know how to stop thinking about something.

It kind of feels exactly like a weight loss plateau - my emotions have not changed at all for weeks. I need to change/refresh things. I don't really have any opposition to going out and meeting someone random, but I don't have any interest either.

My journaling about this evolved from "some of the stuff that was worrying me is over now. Now I'm just really really sad, but I think that can actually go away unlike doubts and worries and insecurities." (the day of) to "I've stagnated in a wallow-y place" and "Maybe I should think of a grand gesture that doesn't put him on the spot at all" (now).

I'm also really stuck in the "nobody will ever love me again" and "what's the point of this anyways" parts of this. I can't summon any anger, and haven't been able to at any point. I've never felt as cared for as I did with him, or trusted anybody the way I trusted him - honestly I don't think I would mourn the loss of old friends the way I'm mourning this, which scares me. The worst part is, all of the necessary logistical communication (which is over) was wonderful. He's been incredibly kind and understanding, which makes it tough to get mad.

Hivemind, I need your help - how do you catalyze catharsis/cauterization/whatever it is I need exactly? What kind of a timeline should I expect?
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (22 answers total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
Channel that obsessive energy back into yourself. Go take a level in awesome. You have the gift of time that would otherwise be taken up by being in a relationship. Use that time. Spend it on you, rather than on somebody who is not there and is not interested in you.
posted by gauche at 6:47 AM on March 25, 2013 [12 favorites]

In similar situations, I have channelled my grand gesture energy first into obsessive things that he would not see, and then into my actual day-to-day life when that got boring. And it's a cliche for a reason: time heals all wounds.

I made angsty mixtapes, categorized by the way the songs made me feel. Packlists for vacations I couldn't have taken in the relationship. Grocery list without anything he would have liked on it.
posted by RainyJay at 6:50 AM on March 25, 2013

Your post doesn't make it very clear why you broke up. Sometimes it helps to clarify the reasons for the breakup in your own mind, so that when you start to obsess, you can jump back to, "but it's for the best we broke up because of ______."

Other than that I would recommend that you stop thinking about it so much and try to busy yourself with other distractions.

Your feeling that no one will ever love you will pass with time. Especially if you remember to love yourself. Be kind to yourself and remind yourself why you are awesome.
posted by mai at 6:51 AM on March 25, 2013

Oh, honey, three weeks is nowhere near enough time to be over someone. You are in a plateau, yeah, but this plateau is totally normal, and you are absolutely doing everything right - you've cut off communication with him and are journalling about your obsessive thoughts rather than acting on them.

And I also wouldn't worry about not feeling anger - not everyone does. Sometimes there's just plain nothing to get mad about. Everyone is different, and everyone reacts differently and everyone grieves differently - and grieving is absolutely what you are doing.

This will take some time -- the rule of thumb I"ve heard is that if you divide the length of the relationship in half, then that's how long you'll take to start feeling better, but even that isn't a hard-and-fast rule. But you are absolutely handling this the right way, and the rest is just patience. There isn't a shortcut, unfortunately. But you are handling this right.

Good luck.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 6:52 AM on March 25, 2013 [6 favorites]

Recovery Sandwich.

It's gonna hurt. It sucks. It will get better but getting better takes its own kind of work.
posted by Katine at 6:55 AM on March 25, 2013

Yep, been there and done that. And you know what? I'm no longer there.

First of all, you have no way of knowing that someone will never love you again. Since your ex is not representative of all men, the fact that it didn't work out with him is no indication that it will never work out with anyone else. Your feelings are incredibly common; I experienced most of them, rather intensely, myself, and so have most people who go through breakups. But think of it this way: if everyone who had those feelings stayed that way forever, there would be a lot less dating and marriages occurring. The fact that people go on to have happy and successful relationships after experiencing heartbreak is evidence that your condition will subside.

As for timelines, it's not set in stone. I datd my ex for three years, we've been split up for a year and I would say I am 95% over it. I no longer miss him, want to get back together, care if he dates someone else, or care about what he does in general. I got that way by doing what you're doing--no contact, copious amounts of journaling, and by being incredibly kind to myself. It really does get better, even though I know you can't see that now. You were alive before him, and you will continue to live without him.
posted by thank you silence at 6:56 AM on March 25, 2013 [3 favorites]

Go take a level in awesome

That's just silly. Don't get into a relationship for the next 6 months? Join a volunteer group? These are individual specific, not a one-size fits all solution. Most People have lives to live, commitments, work - they can't just devote their next 6 months to dramatic distractions just to get over a relatively intense but short relationship.

OP: in 3 months you will feel significantly better. In 6 months you will see the finish line.
posted by Kruger5 at 6:59 AM on March 25, 2013 [1 favorite]

Yeah, a month is nothing. I think you're onto something with the weight loss plateau metaphor. It will just seem the same for a while, and then one day you'll notice that feel better.
posted by BibiRose at 7:07 AM on March 25, 2013

You mentioned journaling. Since that can just encourage obsessing, you might back off on it, or switch to a method that if I remember right has been shown by research to reduce depression: Write three good things that happened today and describe why they happened, and that's it. Don't spend time writing stuff along the lines of "I miss him!" or "No one will ever want me!"

You might also write one file in which you list every way the relationship didn't work and why this guy is never going to work. I've got one for an especially obsessive relationship called "Don't Go Back." I read it every day for the first couple of weeks and three months later still look at it occasionally. It helped a lot.
posted by ceiba at 7:12 AM on March 25, 2013

One thing that has helped me with obsessive thinking in the past is to give myself permission to give in to it for a set amount of time. Like, "Okay! For the next 15 minutes you can think about x, you can google, you can write a letter you will not send, or whatever. Go!" Then after that 15 minutes I try to find something else to think about.

It isn't a perfect solution, but it helped some.
posted by hought20 at 7:16 AM on March 25, 2013

My journaling about this evolved from...

Stop it. Stop journaling. It's the psychological equivalent of picking at a scab. Stop it, stop it, stop it.

Pick an awesome, powerful, self-actual used person you admire and respect. Now imagine that person journaling. Worse, imagine that person going back, re-reading the journal and thinking, "Boy, my journaling about this evolved from..."

Having a hard time imagining that? Feels incongruent, right? Your self-actualized person wouldn't do that, right? Exactly. Stop it.

Fine, if you want to write something, blog about your passion project. But your passion project isn't "Examining and Re-Examining Exactly How Bad I Feel in Exhaustive Detail."
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 7:18 AM on March 25, 2013 [9 favorites]

You say it was your first relationship. That's hard. You have no other experiences to back you up re: lovability etc.

A six-month relationship is huge given the context.

Try to start dating again. You need to stay "out there", trying different people, seeing how you are in various situations. Right now, except for this one person, your love-life is theoretical. You need to get empirical again.

Of course you'll be loved again and will love again.
posted by DMelanogaster at 7:19 AM on March 25, 2013

It kind of feels exactly like a weight loss plateau - my emotions have not changed at all for weeks. I need to change/refresh things. I don't really have any opposition to going out and meeting someone random, but I don't have any interest either.

The important thing to remind yourself is: You'll get through it. I know that sounds cliché but it's something most of us have to go through at least once in our lives...and those that are around to tell the tale (like myself) will basically say the same thing. It's hard to see that through the pain, depression, self doubt, and general disinterests however.

The most important thing you need to do right now is to re-learn how to love YOURSELF. You don't need someone else to feel loved, appreciated, or important...because all of that is within you. Getting back into the dating field while not having this sense of self worth only serves to fill the gaps (akin to "rebound relationships"). My advice is to just take your time..whether it's a few months or five years. Find hobbies and interests...make new friends...enjoy life to the point where you wonder if you need a relationship to feel fulfilled. And it is at that moment you're set up to find the perfect kind of mutual friendship and love that real relationships are based upon.
posted by samsara at 7:25 AM on March 25, 2013 [1 favorite]

I like a lot of Mr. Blue's advice. Certain types of activity can give you a lot of relief from obsessive thinking. Boxing lessons are great, for example. You have to pay attention to which punches you are throwing, and therefore you can't at the same time be thinking about your ex, and that can be great.

Volunteering is good too. Especially volunteer work that is more active.
posted by bunderful at 7:34 AM on March 25, 2013

The feeling of mourning is normal. To some extent, you'd invested part of yourself and perhaps a vision of your future self into this guy. It can take time to process that kind of loss and the first time round can be pretty tough. So give yourself a couple more months to grow out of it organically.

You're not stagnating - just changing in ways that you don't yet have a yardstick to measure.
posted by bonobothegreat at 7:52 AM on March 25, 2013 [2 favorites]

It took me about a year of feeling plateaued about the breakup of my 15 year relationship (it had a lot of obsessive codependency in it and the breakup was sticky and messy and prolonged).

Along the way I took two multi-appointment therapy runs and I have a very supportive (trained as part of her upbringing by two therapist parents) girlfriend who lets me talk a lot about the breakup when I need to.

Take time before you call yourself stuck. Like everyone else says here, you'll get through it, but you probably need a lot more time than you're giving yourself.

Also, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy helped (and continues to help) me control the obsessiveness. Be careful though - CBT can also keep you from feeling what you should or slow you down from processing out all the shitty feelings you need to get through or get rid of, so be sure to make time to do that too.
posted by kalessin at 7:58 AM on March 25, 2013

Seconding Cool Papa Bell. I wasted a LOT of time on journaling and examining my feelings. Go do something awesome. Every great person has been where you are and gotten over it and done something really amazing in addition. Do it!
posted by 3491again at 8:34 AM on March 25, 2013

Every big breakup I've ever experienced has nudged me into working with a therapist or counselor for a spell. That helped tremendously and gave me a context and sense of support for facilitating healing.

I find a lot of the suggestions listed here, tho well-meaning and 'fun' are quite unhelpful. Some of them could be constructive as an adjunct to therapy or counseling, but not as a single option.

Obsessive emotional pain related to an 'other' is an acute form of suffering; especially when we berate ourselves for 'not getting over it sooner' or 'it was only a brief relationship so why am I still hurting' etc.
posted by zenpop at 9:52 AM on March 25, 2013 [1 favorite]

and has been a full month since.

All I needed to read is that it has only been a month. IMO you are pretty much right on target for feeling the way you feel after only a month. Give it another month or two, I bet you will be feeling quite a bit better. It just takes brains a while to change their habits.
posted by cairdeas at 10:53 AM on March 25, 2013

One of the best ways to forget something is to engross in something else. When I broke up with a girlfriend of 2 years, I made a decision to be assertively social. I had never been an initiator, so I started inviting people to my apartment for dinner, going to concerts, and finding things to do. I was suddenly more confident, had more friends, and had more than enough to do.

That didn't make it all go away; I still had moments of doubt in which I felt adrift and continually ruminated on the situation. It didn't help that I had a cubicle job that left me largely isolated and feeling unproductive, and most of my hobbies were introspective (reading) or escapist (sports fandom).

So, I recommend volunteering somewhere rewarding. I had a good experience with The Boys & Girls Club. They were pretty laid back and were excited to have someone show up for 2.5 hours a few nights a week to play with kids and take out the trash.

Also, do you have any hobbies? Play any sports? Are there time-consuming chores you could do or start, like gardening? I just read Life Work, a short book in which Donald Hall waxes poetic about how time spent lost in work is endlessly rewarding. I feel like that is, somehow, the secret to happiness: an hour spent playing soccer or working on some electronics passes so much more quickly than an hour spent in my head or on the internet.

At the end of the day, you'll be okay. It might be too soon to feel that way, but keep on keepin' on and, eventually, you'll have built something better than this intense, promising, and confusing guy.
posted by Turkey Glue at 5:02 PM on March 25, 2013 [2 favorites]

The intense relationships are always the hardest (in my opinion) to get over. I dated my ex for about a year, and like you, it was super intense, codependent, etc. We spent a lot of time together and when it ended suddenly, it was like I had to wean myself off a drug.

The best advice I can give is to just keep pushing forward. Allow yourself a certain portion of the day to do nothing but ruminate over the failed relationship. I know, easier said than done. I never thought I would get over my ex, but I did... a year later. It will happen for you too. Just take each day as it comes.
posted by Butterflye1010 at 8:08 AM on March 26, 2013

One thing that helped center me during a recent traumatic relationship event was overdosing on Cheryl Strayed's Dear Sugar anthology, Tiny Beautiful Things. It encompasses this grand scope of people problems, and her voice is amazing. It brought me back to earth to experience all these real stories of other people journeying through their own lives and heartbreaks.

In particular, I hysterically laughed/wept my way through the following paragraph:

Then you’d sob and sob and sob so hard you couldn’t stand up until finally you’d go quiet and your head would weigh seven hundred pounds and you’d lift it from your hands and rise to walk into the bathroom to look at yourself solemnly in the mirror and you’d know for sure that you were dead. Living but dead. And all because this person didn’t love you anymore or even if he/she loved you he/she didn’t want you and what kind of life was that? It was no life. There would be no life anymore. There would only be one unbearable minute after another and during each and every one of those minutes this person you wanted would not want you and so you would begin to cry again and you’d watch yourself cry pathetically in the mirror until you couldn’t cry anymore, so you’d stop.

Her description of the overwhelming sadness was somehow so perfectly ridiculous and yet completely empathetic, and there was something wonderful about that. I read it over and over again, and still seek it out every week or so, just to touch base with the feelings and then move on a little bit more.
posted by redsparkler at 2:40 PM on March 27, 2013 [5 favorites]

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