How do I find myself after a 9 year relationship?
March 26, 2013 1:37 PM   Subscribe

My fiance and I have recently parted ways after a near 9 year relationship and it seems as though I've forgotten how to function.

To give some background, we began dating when I was 17 and now that I am near 26 the problem, in a nutshell, is that we have grown apart in many ways and while I am deeply, and will always be, in love with him, we've had our share of issues lately and I don't see myself being the happiest me with him. When I first made the decision that I was going to end things, I was very excited about the things I would be able to do with my life without holding myself back because of our now very different goals and interests. Also, we have still been talking on an almost daily basis because we still have a few months left in our lease, all of my stuff is at the house (I've found a place to stay but still have to go there to grab things from time to time), and we have pets together...and he refuses to give up on our relationship so is frequently texting me that he loves me, good morning messages, etc. Yes, I know that recovering from a 9 year relationship break up will take time, and there will be good moments and really bad ones as well...and it doesn't help when the person you broke up with won't let go-truth be told, I don't think I'm 100% sure that I want to let go.

And I am also aware that the fact that we are still communicating is not the healthiest, for either of us for the place that we are in. At this point, I have a very demanding job, no sense of home, and am missing the one constant thing who has been there for me for 1/3 of my life. I feel more lost, sad, empty, anti-social, and generally depressed than I ever have before. I've been trying to fill my life with friends, dinners, music, and other hobbies, which is helpful and therapeutic, but doesn't quite do the trick. I know this is your typical, break up and feel sad story and the things that I am feeling are normal, but nonetheless, I would love to hear advice, suggestions, and life experiences from others to help pull me through.
posted by KnittingBer to Grab Bag (7 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
Time time time time time. And distance. You still have a lease together but you need to get your things out 100% and decide what you're doing with the pets. 17-26 is a hugely important time of growth & change & experience so you're going to ache for sure. Plus since it sounds like an exceptionally calm and drama-free break so you don't get to gain some distance riding the anger wave. So time and space are it.

Be patient with yourself, give yourself time not only to hang with friends and do your hobbies, but to get to know yourself and maybe dip your toes in some new hobbies and friend-groups. You haven't been on your own since the boyband-crushing years. Getting reacquainted with yourself will help you find your way.
posted by headnsouth at 1:48 PM on March 26, 2013 [1 favorite]

You may have to feel like shit for a while. It won't all be bad - there will be bursts of revelation just as there will be moments of sitting in the fetal position in front of the refrigerator - and it will change and improve all the time.

he refuses to give up on our relationship so is frequently texting me that he loves me, good morning messages, etc

This falls in a gray area between abusive and temporarily insane/he will be embarrassed about it later. You can cut him off for your own mental health, or cut him off for his own sake, but one way or another you may need to cut him off for a while.
posted by Lyn Never at 1:54 PM on March 26, 2013 [4 favorites]

You need to figure out if you are going to proceed with getting out of the relationship or give in to his desire to continue it. Then pursue that course wholeheartedly for a time - 3 or 6 months. If proceed, cut off contact to the extent you can, tell him to stop texting you, really make a clean break. It's not fair to either of you to stay in the gray area longer than you have to.
posted by rosa at 1:58 PM on March 26, 2013

Yeah, it sucks. And it will continue sucking for a while.

One thing that I think will be a common refrain is that you need a no-contact period of a few months. Get all your stuff moved out. Rent a storage locker if you need to. Tell him not to contact you. Don't reply if he does.

Also, keep yourself busy. Do all that stuff you were going to do.

I decided to get back on that horse and started dating right away. It was hard, and if I'm honest with myself, I wasn't great dating material at first, but it helped me reset my head. Might not work for you.
posted by adamrice at 2:03 PM on March 26, 2013

Wow, do I feel you... My first time LTR also lasted from age 17 to age 26. (We had the additional wrinkle of having married, too.) So... everyone's journey is different, naturally, but to some extent, I have been to the same place. I think you have your head on your shoulders in the right way by looking to rediscover yourself and by understanding that having grown up alongside this person, your very idea of self may be hard to extricate from him.

Here's what I learned: it's okay for it to feel very weird, bordering on forced, as you try out new things, new interests, and new groups of friends. It's okay to let your idea of "being yourself" become pretty fluid. We contain multitudes, as they say, and you may be surprised to find sides of yourself that weren't prominently displayed while in your LTR.

Dating is tricky, because it really helps you get out there, try new things and new people, and reset your expectations, not just for romantic relationships, but for friends. That said, you are going to feel batshit crazy and almost totally ill-suited for relationships for a good long while. The good news is: you aren't as crazy as you suppose; you're probably pretty normal for anyone, post-breakup. The bad news is: you are probably even less suitable for a new relationship than you suppose. That's okay. What you need now is to learn to enjoy yourself again in the company of new people... not to find a new fiance.

As for the staying-in-touch thing... I'd probably nip that in the bud. That isn't to say you should cut off contact, if you're not ready. But it really doesn't do you any favors to have the person you are trying to separate yourself from maintain contact at a serious romantic partners level. Maybe try rationing it out. Tell him you need to take a step back, but you'll call to check in every week or so for a while and see how that goes. You may find after a while that you are less and less involved in these checkups.

Wishing you all the best.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 3:32 PM on March 26, 2013 [1 favorite]

One other thing:

I don't think I'm 100% sure that I want to let go.

Few people ever are. but, compare for a moment, the number of people you know who felt they broke off things too too soon with those who felt they broke them off too late. See what I mean?

You don't have to be 100% sure you want to let go to end things. Breaking up isn't about certainty. Commitment is about certainty. If you were seriously unsure you wanted that commitment, odds are you did the right thing.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 3:45 PM on March 26, 2013 [1 favorite]

Experience: My relationship lasted on and off from ages 14 to 28, all "on" for the last 6-ish years. Due to the fact that our mortgage is intractably underwater and we live in a depressed housing market, we continue to share (separate floors of) a household; we also have a dog together. I am also deeply in love with my ex, they are my absolute best friend in the world. I consider them, very much, to be actual family. But we cannot be romantically involved because they are an active alcoholic and I am so tired -- no, fucking exhausted from dealing with the fallout. Also, as we grew to be adults, my interests expanded to include extensive world travel and school and music and spontaneous adventures and theirs involved getting more drunk and high. For all those years, until the whole "growing apart" process became unavoidably obvious, it was like we were living with something radioactive; our relationship died slowly and painfully (and very, very dramatically).

Ultimately, I broke things off about 2.5 years ago. It took a long time to really feel the pain because my emotional fuses had all completely blown -- but when the pain finally hit, it felt like walking across coals just to get up and brush my teeth in the morning. I had to scream into a pillow every day for a while, just to blow off steam. This has subsided but only to the degree required for successful cohabitation; they are surprisingly cavalier and nonchalant about the current arrangement. We have been sharing the house like roommates ever since.
(Bonus: We were so convinced that This Was It that zero (0) 'in the event of a breakup' agreements were signed -- or even discussed! -- during the purchasing process, so figuring out what to do in this case has been difficult; my ex refuses to hire a lawyer for themselves because "we should be able to figure this out civilly," yet every attempt at civil discussion devolves into a war of some type. So we go.)

tl;dr - I am coming at this from the perspective of someone who has (albeit out of necessity; I have nowhere else to stay and my ex will not leave and we have equal interest in the property, so...) continued to remain in active communication with their ex. In your situation, with the (totally inappropriate) text messaging and whatnot, I think it's for the best that you keep contact absolutely minimal, maybe even with important business matters channeled through a third party.

I won't lie to you and say that it absolutely will be or even that it will start to get easy anytime soon. The past few years have been the most difficult, transformative years of my life -- like trying to run a marathon through molasses, or taking deep breaths at a very high altitude... except at the end, you find that many/most of your preconceived notions about life (yours and all) have been sloughed off by the process. When people ask how I deal with it, I gotta say, "It's a trip, man."

What has helped me:
1. Friends, dinners, music, other hobbies: YES. I'm serious here: Give someone you really trust permission to physically come and drag you out of the house, no matter how much you insist that you must stay home to wallow in your misery, the depths of which few humans have ever truly known. If you're feeling too misanthropic or agoraphobic, invite everyone you like over for a delicious potluck dinner once or twice a week. Slow Cooker Sundays or something. You can even, for a time, respectfully ask that all the other people make the food and clean up after themselves -- you broke up with your damn fiance, so you get a bit of leeway right now. Once you let your friends know you need support, they will make sure you are supported. And make someone your designated "it's totally OK if I call you at 4 AM panicking" friend, just in case.

2. Therapy! Obvious answer, but everyone needs a therapist for at least a little while, it's nbd. They will give you both distanced, clinical emotional support and practical tips, for when you're like, "Wahhhh, I'm always making meals for two and now I don't know how many or how much of which ingredients to use," or "They always made the coffee in the morning, I don't WANNA make the coffee in the morning JUST FOR ONE :sobs:" Bonus: They will do their level best to try to prevent toxic levels of forever-alone-itis from developing, because fuck that shit. Therapy will help teach you that nearly any form your grief takes will be quite normal and that, overall, it will be fine. Because: It will all be fine. Really! It probably sounds like useless pap now, but the first time post-breakup that I truly grasped that concept was rather revelatory. So if you don't feel it yet, don't worry: It's coming down the pike, just for you.

3. Oddly, my co-workers, as well as a couple of people I had only previously really considered nice acquaintances. Granted, I've worked alongside my co-workers nearly every day for over a decade, so we're not TOTAL strangers, but all those folks still let me sob and wail and perform poorly with total respect and commiseration for... shit, months. People from all walks of life came together to drag me up and out and around, when I all I could do was moan and cry. I felt (and often acted) like Bernie pretty much all the time, but no one even batted an eyelash. They just took me out for fruity cocktails and shitty horror movies and let me cry wordlessly if I needed to, for as long as I needed to. If you look around you, these magical semi-secret semi-random people who can help you like that? They are there! Plus, feeling the warmth of their unexpected kindness can get rid of some of the "who am I and what am I doing here?!" existential crisis nonsense.

4. This is (clearly) not even remotely meant to be advice for anyone, but: I literally became a Buddhist. To this day, I barely feel like I had any choice in the matter; during the darkest, most intense, life-feels-like-coal-walking-est period, I was randomly inspired to stroll into what is now my sangha. My heart and mind felt like they were simultaneously saying, "Yes, this is home now," and it has been that way ever since. I have been learning how to try to accept things as they are instead of how I wish they were, that neurotic thoughts are not "real" and that they do not have effects unless or until they are acted upon. I have learned to live with regret, the kind of regret that drowned me for most of my life, and begun to learn to roll with the punches -- and there will be many -- like a buoy on a wave because after all, we are ultimately adrift on the open sea.

Good luck! And congratulations on beginning a new chapter of your life!

You will be fine, you will be fine, you will be fine.
posted by electroshock blues at 12:14 PM on March 27, 2013 [1 favorite]

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