Shaking off surprise news about an old flame
May 19, 2013 9:13 AM   Subscribe

Seven years ago, when I was in college, I fell in love for the first time, and fell hard. We both made lots of mistakes because of youth and inexperience, but at the time I really wished that we could have tried again. He broke off the relationship suddenly, partially because he said he didn't think he'd ever get married or have a family. For a few years I thought of him as "the one that got away." Years later, I am in a good, happy long term relationship, that is healthy and that I enjoy. Via my alumni magazine, I recently found out that he got married about a year after we were last together, and that he's got children. I should be happy for him, but instead I feel like I've been punched in the gut. This doesn't make sense. What can I do to move my thoughts onward, and to stop thinking about what could have been when what I have is good?
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (17 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Try to reframe your thinking a little -- he's not the one who got away, he's a man who decided that you weren't the person he wanted to be with, and thankfully owned up to that fact in a timely manner. Aren't you lucky that he broke up with you when he did, instead of wasting your time when his heart wasn't in it? You're in this great relationship with a person who loves you and wants to be with you, instead of having been strung along by this guy from college. Bullet dodged!
posted by Narrative Priorities at 9:18 AM on May 19, 2013 [5 favorites]

I think this happens to almost everyone at some point. Just let yourself feel your feelings for a while. You'll get over it.
posted by something something at 9:24 AM on May 19, 2013 [7 favorites]

A line from "Sunscreen" is something that has helped me deal with the what-ifs - and god knows I've had a lot of them in life:

"Whatever you do, don’t congratulate yourself too much, or berate yourself either – your choices are half chance. So are everybody else’s."

He's happy. You're happy. And there's no way to know that this would be the case if you stayed together - maybe it would, but maybe not. You never know where life will take you.
posted by azpenguin at 9:44 AM on May 19, 2013 [9 favorites]

Seconding the idea of reframing your thinking to something along these lines: think about the lessons you learned in that relationship, all the maturing and growing up that you accomplished because of the relationship and the breakup. An ended relationship can be perceived as a failed one, or it can be perceived as a learning opportunity, and it seems like you have moved on and learned things.

When you're feeling gut-punched, try to draw upon those positive feelings about the great place you're now in and also bear this in mind: (and I know this sounds like I'm contradicting myself, but...) just because he's married does not mean that he's happy.

A marriage and kids does not mean that he's matured and grown they way that you have.
posted by kinetic at 10:06 AM on May 19, 2013 [1 favorite]

Ooh what a pickle. Only you can choose to cease to be obsessed with this individual. I would invest in some counselling if your own efforts to modify your thinking fail.
posted by BenPens at 10:06 AM on May 19, 2013

I don't think it is fair to hold someone to who they were seven years ago. Think of all the ways you've changed, for better or worse. How would you feel if an ex was angry at you for not being the same way you were seven years ago? This is about some guy out there, living his life, while you are daydreaming about the fantasy of what could have been.

The best solution is to go out and live your life, and be in the moment as much as possible. Don't dwell on the past too much.
posted by cakebatter at 10:07 AM on May 19, 2013

One thing that I have learned: what people really need (as opposed to what they think they want) from their relationship partners is inscrutable and very different. I've had a number of friends who broke up with the "perfect" partner, and then got together with someone I would never have guessed. And those unexpected matches have been stable, longterm, happy relationships. The people they chose were good fits for them in ways that I couldn't predict.

Another: people keep living their lives and changing, even when our mental image of them hasn't changed. ("How can you be a boring banker now, when you used to be a wild child?", "How can you be so chill now, when you used to be so angry?" etc) It sounds obvious but - for me anyway - having this kind of discovery is always just a little jarring.
posted by LobsterMitten at 10:10 AM on May 19, 2013 [11 favorites]

What can I do to move my thoughts onward, and to stop thinking about what could have been when what I have is good?

I suggest moving thoughts onward by focusing on whatever it is that is troubling you most in the here and now. We don't think endlessly about a person in a photo in a magazine which we won't meet again unless there is something else we don't want to think about.
posted by Ironmouth at 10:18 AM on May 19, 2013 [1 favorite]

That was quick. Maybe his girlfriend got pregnant and they had to just get on with it. Maybe he had a near-death experience and decided not waste time. Maybe she had to marry him to stay in the country and it all worked out. Maybe not. Thing is you can't know how he got from you to there. You're hurt and angry because the script changed and it feels liked he lied to you but he probably meant everything he said at the time, just something changed afterwards.

So just give your feelings a bit of space. Once you're feeling less charged you can always drop him an email to say you saw his good news in the mag and wanted to say hi, then wish him well and move on. He might be glad to catch up and you can assuage the curiosity a bit, but if not you'll have let it go with grace.
posted by freya_lamb at 10:25 AM on May 19, 2013 [3 favorites]

He didn't want to marry YOU, and knew it, so he dumped you and found someone he did want to marry. What a gift! Who would want to be with someone who doesn't like you enough to marry you?
posted by These Birds of a Feather at 11:13 AM on May 19, 2013 [6 favorites]

It sounds like it's upsetting you now not because you didn't wind up together but because you found evidence that he liked someone else better than he liked you. No shame in getting riled up by that, we all know that response even if it's not the most logical part of us. For me, the only way to deal with that level of my brain is to talk back to it in its own language, "So what, he's not the judge of how great I am."
posted by third rail at 11:18 AM on May 19, 2013 [1 favorite]

Men who are ambivalent about you but keep you around are just using you. To his credit, this guy didn't use you and objectify you.

But you have to understand to respect yourself enough not to pine over guys who don't want you. You're better off. Yes, it's easier to stop liking/loving someone after they break down your fantasies over the course of a long and intimate relationship, but you need to understand the reality of what would have happened versus the fantasy. He didn't want you. That's okay. There are plenty of dudes you would want to be with. You are that to him, and it's okay.
posted by discopolo at 11:49 AM on May 19, 2013 [1 favorite]

Actually, you DON'T have to feel happy for him. Feeling happy for your exes when they move on, in my opinion, is like reaching a certain level of nirvana that some of us plebes just never get to experience. You're allowed to be hurt.

But he's not the one who got away. You know how I know? Because he didn't want to marry you back then, and everyone deserves someone who wants to be with them as equally as they want to be with that person.
posted by thank you silence at 1:12 PM on May 19, 2013 [3 favorites]

Very recently I came across this bit of dialog from the series "Hemlock Grove":

"In a life that's long and well-lived there's going to be pain and darkness that can't be understood by those who live day-to-day like it's any other. You loved her, she loved you, and you're never going to be the same. And these are all good things."

I found it a beautiful message of accepting life as it is. Maybe you will, too.
posted by trinity8-director at 2:29 PM on May 19, 2013 [4 favorites]

Oh, been there. What has helped for me has been to realize where our life choices have diverged and parted ways irreconcilably. I once loved and lost these guys, but we're all different people now, and with different people.

For instance, I would not choose to name my daughter what one ex named his, and I'm proud that I understand the significance of wearing a kipa, as my husband did at our wedding, and don't dissolve in mirth re: the "funny little hats" (seriously, that's just embarrassing). Another ex, the one I had one of those pacts with (if, at some point, we both find ourselves single and living in the same city, etc.), is now living in my city, but I'm happily married, and he's a born-again Christian (total dealbreaker). A third ex, who stopped speaking to me because of something judgmental I'd said about a mutual friend, is now apparently in the business of judging people just as harshly, while I like to think I've grown up a bit and moved on from that nonsense. Etc.

Anyway, two out of three of those guys, who were all important in my life at a certain time and who defined a lot of my personal mythology, are now married themselves, and all three have made life choices that make it easy for me to say "WTF?" and move on. Go ahead and dig a little, Google a little, and you'll probably find that your ex has made life choices that wouldn't work for you, either.
posted by limeonaire at 5:07 PM on May 19, 2013

Yes, please understand that this is extremely common. Saying "I don't want to settle, I don't/do want children, I don't want what the same things you want" is an easy way to provide an excuse not to tell the truth in these situations, which is more commonly "I'm not into you any more. I don't want you. I don't want this." Pretending it's irreconcilable differences rather than a problem with the individual is less likely to cause hurt and disruption in the moment. Nobody really likes telling someone they don't love them any more.

My ex-wife was always absolutely adamant that she never wanted children, which suited me down to the ground because I felt the same way. She had her first kid about two years after ditching me, and a second shortly after that. God knows how many she has now. It was
painful to realise that it wasn't kids she didn't want, it was me. But having realised that I have been able to understand the situation better and to know that nothing I could have done would have stopped her leaving. I could have said I wanted kids after all; she would still have left. It wasn't my not wanting kids that was the problem. It was me. It was us. We were done.
posted by Decani at 4:19 AM on May 20, 2013

Doesn't it suck that all the people who were important to us in our lives, when we've severed ties, don't just go in a box and stay there until we're ready to remember them?

It happens with friends and lovers. "You mean when you moved to a new town that you made new friends?" The nerve.

Cajole yourself out of it. You know it's irrational.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 7:53 AM on May 20, 2013 [1 favorite]

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