the one left behind
December 3, 2013 8:38 AM   Subscribe

I've been seeing a lot of stories from people who left their relationships so that they can go on to be better versions of themselves, because they felt their ex held them back. Is there anything from the perspective of the ex that got left behind?

I'm thinking published work of any genre and form, but anecdotes work too.
posted by divabat to Human Relations (39 answers total) 19 users marked this as a favorite
I doubt that there is a whole lot of documentation from that perspective because to the person getting dumped it was just their partner breaking up with them. The break up didn't hold any extra meaning and importance in the way it did for the person who ended the relationship. The motivation behind why the person decided to end the relationship doesn't necessarily have any implications (aside from now being single) for the one who got dumped.

For what it is worth, I broke up with a boyfriend for that reason. I felt he was holding me back, being with him represented me settling and not living a life I knew I could have and deserved. The breakup was frankly a key transforming moment in my life. I can't imagine my breaking up with him holds much extra meaning to him, at least no more meaning than if I had broken up with him because he had terrible BO and chewed with his mouth open.
posted by PuppetMcSockerson at 8:51 AM on December 3, 2013 [6 favorites]

It's been a while since I saw it, but I'm pretty sure this is the instigating plot for Forgetting Sarah Marshall.
posted by phunniemee at 8:54 AM on December 3, 2013 [9 favorites]

Nick Hornby's "High Fidelity" might do if you don't mind a fictional take.
posted by MonkeyToes at 8:58 AM on December 3, 2013 [11 favorites]

More fiction: The Accidental Tourist by Anne Tyler.
posted by Kriesa at 9:00 AM on December 3, 2013

Here is my anecdote:
My ex unexpectedly left me after 5.5 years and while I was stunned, I also took it as the time to rebuild my life (because due to my financial dependence, everything was in freefall for me once he bailed). I don't think he was holding me back. But with him gone, I couldn't be lazy and let his problems be the center of my life.
posted by mandymanwasregistered at 9:01 AM on December 3, 2013 [1 favorite]

Michael Cooper got dumped so Elizabeth Gilbert could go eat, pray and love.
posted by mibo at 9:02 AM on December 3, 2013 [4 favorites]

Self-Link Alert: I was broken up with for this reason, and wrote about it here. The main difference from other breakups was that I didn't have the comfort of hating him... I'm pretty damned logical and he HAD given a very valid reason. (We got back together... eleven days later. I don't think that's typical. And now, 6+ years later, whenever I'm pissed at him, I think to myself "Perhaps you should've taken a little MORE time to grow as a person, jackass!")
posted by julthumbscrew at 9:02 AM on December 3, 2013 [1 favorite]

I got dumped by a woman who decided she wanted to become a mystic and was certain she "wouldn't be accepted by the astral plane if she were associated with me."
I thought it was a pretty convoluted way for her to express that she just wasn't into me anymore, but I just said, "Ok," and wished her the best.
A couple of months later I learned from a mutual friend that she was serious. She'd moved to Idaho. To become a mystic.
posted by Pudhoho at 9:03 AM on December 3, 2013 [27 favorites]

Not really sure if you consider it essential that the person "leaving" has to regard the leavee as "holding them back" ... I mean, isn't any unhappy relationship "holding back" the people in it?

But anyway, Claire Bloom has a memoir about her relationship with Philip Roth and its breakup that might fit your requirements, called Leaving a Doll's House.
posted by jayder at 9:06 AM on December 3, 2013

I got dumped after a lengthy long distance relationship for a bunch of reasons, some of which were actually my fault.

It was so she could progress professionally and in her personal life, et cetera. Travel internationally, go to fancy east coast ivy league grad school, all that stuff. She ended up not doing that so much.

After 3-4 years of protracted depression and extended suicidal ideation, eventually I went on to Do Great Things.

That's life, kids.
posted by hobo gitano de queretaro at 9:08 AM on December 3, 2013 [9 favorites]

Also, there may be fewer representations of this because people often lie/fudge the reasons behind their desire to break up. How often do people say "It's not you, it's me" when really it totally IS you. Know what I mean? So, if the break-upper didn't say outright "I am dumping you because I feel you are holding me back" then the person left behind wouldn't necessarily know that they were being left behind.
posted by PuppetMcSockerson at 9:10 AM on December 3, 2013 [2 favorites]

Yeah, I suspect there's not a lot written from that perspective because no one wants to read about people who have been crushed like a bug and want to kill themselves.
posted by Melismata at 9:10 AM on December 3, 2013 [7 favorites]

There is this common thing where unhappy person afraid to deal with internal sources of unhappiness sees that unhappiness reflected in their partner and focuses on them as the source instead. And I think that complicates the narratives of such stories.
posted by mandymanwasregistered at 9:13 AM on December 3, 2013 [24 favorites]

As I recall, this is part of Annie Hall. Annie Hall (Diane Keaton) first appears to be ditzy, but when Hollywood calls to launch her career, she realises that Alvy Singer's (Woody Allen) neuroses are holding her back.
posted by Multicellular Exothermic at 9:23 AM on December 3, 2013

Response by poster: If it helps, some context: I'm the ex that got left behind. I didn't get any indication that she felt I held her back until after the breakup (the breakup was for a different reason). There's a lot of complications about all that that I won't get into right now.

I ask because I keep running into resources from people who felt their ex held them back, which stung. The only other resource I had was a close friend who I had a long-term relationship with which I ended for reasons that had not much to do with him. He worried that he had held me back, which I vehemently disagreed with, and he's been amazing support through the whole thing.
posted by divabat at 9:28 AM on December 3, 2013

When my Dad stated to be financially successful, he started dating the girl who'd dumped him in high school because she was the daughter of the town judge and he was the son of the town drunk. (He was married to my mother at the time, a woman he spent a lot of time and energy mocking and belittling, and generally accusing of holding him back, when it was only through her constant encouragement that he even started at his company and applied for promotions in the first place, and through her frugality and creativity that we were able to build up the savings that he eventually stole and hid.)

They planned his exit for a long time so he could get assets hidden, but she got impatient and started forcing his hand, following us around and making her presence known. The divorce proceedings (100% his idea, Mom begged him to work it out) lasted about a year and were very rough.

I only saw her clearly once, when my sister pointed her out on a weekend outing. My mother had always taken great pains over her appearance, to preemptively fend off the inevitable negative comments from Dad. This woman, on the other had, looked like a complete mess. Dad had always excoriated Mom for her weight, but his mistress easily outweighed her by twenty pounds. He had always made racist comments about Mom's hair (she couldn't have been whiter without albinism), but his mistress's was a wad of frizz. Mom had to make or make over her own clothes to save money but was always as neat and pressed as the picture on the pattern envelope. The mistress was in designer labels, but nothing fit or matched, and she looked like a bag lady.

They got married a few months after the divorce, but they only stayed married for about a third of the time my parents did. I ran into her years later at a museum open house; I only knew who she was because I heard her introduce herself to someone else. I fully admit that I was predisposed to not give the best interpretation to anything she said or did, but things like, "crackpot," "shrew," "do you have an indoor voice," "that poo smell is you, isn't it," "cackler," and "did you really just say that where people can hear you in this century," kept popping into my head. It's the only time I've come close to feeling sorry for my father.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 9:35 AM on December 3, 2013 [10 favorites]

After 8 and a half years, I was dumped because my boyfriend felt I would never allow him to be an adult. I worked full time to support us and did most of grown up paying of the bills and so forth.

He was right. I never let him have a chance to be an adult who could take care if things because I was pretty confident he'd let me down. 6 months after he moved out, I paid his electric bill so it wouldn't get cut off. It was then that I realized I needed to walk away and let him sink or swim.
I realized that I need to trust my partners more and choose partners that I can trust. I'm happily married now and my husband and I are a real team that share the work of life and adulthood. It took me some time to learn how to do that, but I'm so thankful my ex did what he did and left. It helped me be a better and stronger person.
As for him, last I heard he was still treading water.
posted by teleri025 at 9:38 AM on December 3, 2013 [5 favorites]

I think this is what The District Sleeps Alone Tonight by The Postal Service is about. It's a really pretty, lonely song.

For what it's worth this is why my ex husband wanted to divorce me, but it turned out to be a huge disaster for him and a real boon for me. So in this case I get to be the left behind ex and the person doing great things.
posted by spunweb at 10:14 AM on December 3, 2013 [4 favorites]

I am the Cancer - a song by Sloan
posted by St. Peepsburg at 10:23 AM on December 3, 2013 [1 favorite]

I'm sorry that happened to you. :(

In Jerry McGuire his girlfriend dumps him for holding her back. Other than looking like an asshole yelling "SHOW ME THE MONEY!" things ended up pretty good for him.
posted by PuppetMcSockerson at 10:24 AM on December 3, 2013 [1 favorite]

My friend's wife had a whirlwind affair with a famous writer, then left the marriage to move in with her military officer boss, with the idea that without my friend she'd have more money, a more upscale social circle, and more time for creative work.

My friend was crushed. But he stopped smoking, stopped drinking, lost 25 pounds, and seems pretty happy in a new marriage after a pretty rough few years. Living well has definitely been the best revenge.
posted by mochapickle at 10:29 AM on December 3, 2013 [3 favorites]

As a person who was dumped for being kind of a shitty life partner (I drank too much, I'm terrible with money) I think all this is helpful if it is reframed. My gf and I broke up after six years because she wanted someone more reliable. This is perfectly valid, we are still friends, etc... But it made me feel like a real failure. A failure to her and a failure at life. However, one month after she we broke up I started a band for the first time in 12 years and it was one one of the best feelings I'd had in a long time. Did my ex keep me from starting a band? No way. She would have supported it. But I was deep in that relationship, up my own ass, and also trying to keep her happy, that there was no way I could do it. Once that was gone, I was able to see that the relationship, not necessarily her, was also holding ME back but for totally different reasons. I'm still sad that I was a failure and still sad that we couldn't make it work emotionally, but I'm ecstatic I'm having the opportunity to be creative and successful at it.
posted by josher71 at 11:07 AM on December 3, 2013 [11 favorites]

I got left behind thirty years ago--the pregnant woman in tow was a dead giveaway.

I saw pictures of her later online and I haven't stopped smiling to myself since. [He married his Mommy!]

The main thing is this; if this is you who got left behind, rest assured, there's something better for you down the road--you may not see how this can be, but trust me absolutely-- you'll be better off alone than if were stuck with someone who sees you as a liability.

I've followed my ex from a distance and come to realize I would have been horrifically
miserable in the life they've lead.

On the inside, tell them to kiss your ass and get on with making a brilliant life for yourself.
posted by AuntieRuth at 11:13 AM on December 3, 2013 [4 favorites]

I just finished I Have Fun Everywhere I go, by Mike Edison. One of the stories he tells in there is about a bipolar girlfriend who eventually leaves him behind. He supports her emotionally and financially through law school, because he's in love with her. She dumps him right before her graduation ceremony because she doesn't need him anymore and she sees his employment as an editor at a pot magazine as a liability to her nascent career as a lawyer.

A funny and painful movie on this subject is Rid of Me, which may still be on Netflix now. A young quirky woman moves with her bro-y husband to his isolated hometown, where he reconnects with his old friends and she struggles to fit in. This emphasizes their differences and his friends clearly dislike her. His life gets better and better, while hers gets worse and worse. He eventually leaves her for one of his old flames. The rest of the movie is about how she deals with this.
posted by rhythm and booze at 11:43 AM on December 3, 2013 [5 favorites]

The ex saying someone held them back is the ex choosing to center things on themselves. They wanted out, you no longer need to go along with their framing.

You are now the context! Center this on what is good for you!

To get to this point, you may need to face down some things that make you uncomfortable and wrestle them into some sort of peace. I had a month of being numb and just trying to survive, find a place to live I could afford, secure employment (my job was supposed to end at the time). Then the next month or two was reading a lot of Captain Awkward columns and comment threads (the comments there are super helpful for civil discussions from many perspectives) and Ask Polly.
posted by mandymanwasregistered at 11:44 AM on December 3, 2013 [2 favorites]

That was the pivotal point in the story The Ramen Girl.
posted by patheral at 11:58 AM on December 3, 2013

A girl I was dating told me she wanted to get married before a certain, not too far-off age. I knew this was a common preoccupation but she kept pressing the point. We had been together for maybe two, three months. One day, I just said I wasn't going to marry her by her deadline, and that I didn't really know if I wanted to ever get married. She cried and said some mean things about me, then she dumped me. I was a little shell-shocked for a month or two afterward; I convinced myself that I had done something awful to this girl by leading her on, and that I shouldn't date anyone unless I had my whole ten year plan worked out.

A few years later, a friend of mine got engaged to a guy she had been seeing for a little over a year, and a few months before the wedding, he bailed, saying that he didn't think he was ready for the marriage, that she had talked him into it, that he was just trying to make her happy, etc. She was understandably devastated, and it took her a year or more to get her life back together.

And that was when I realized that I had done that girl I dated an enormous favor by refusing to sign up for a quick engagement that I did not want, even though, at the time, it seemed like I had been the jerk who didn't want to commit to the relationship. Being truthful is always, always better than making someone happy temporarily but at the cost of losing the honesty in your relationship.
posted by deathpanels at 12:37 PM on December 3, 2013 [6 favorites]

I have a friend who was dumped because her ex had just lost interest and couldn't admit it. She put tons of work into trying to fix things. The ex spent all his time elsewhere and none on maintaining or even participating in the relationship. Super nice person who was, unfortunately, living a life of constant rejection.

After the dumping, her life considerably and almost immediately improved. It ended up being one of the best things that ever happened to her. She's now happily remarried to someone who is a much better fit.

The lesson, I think, is that sometimes the dumping party is holding the dumpee back and he or she doesn't know any better until the dumper is gone.
posted by cnc at 1:13 PM on December 3, 2013 [7 favorites]

I didn't get any indication that she felt I held her back until after the breakup (the breakup was for a different reason).

Blame always goes to the closest person to someone who's in denial about their shortcomings, and I've got a hunch that "you're holding me back" is a rationalization from your ex, rather than a reason because you didn't see it coming.

The last person I spoke to who plead "he was holding me back" at the end of her relationship blamed her ex-boyfriend for enabling her to be an alcoholic, yet didn't talk about anything she was doing to cut down on her drinking. She blamed him for being negative, yet was always talking about his bad qualities, and other people's bad qualities. There was no discussion anywhere from her about her responsibilities for being a good partner, just discussion about how her partner had failed her. I guess what I'm saying is that entitled thinking can translate into thinking that others are holding you back if you don't properly understand how to move yourself forward.

That's the lens through which I'm inclined to view this based on my experiences. I think it reflects very poorly upon your ex that she didn't bring the problems up to you before breaking up.
posted by alphanerd at 1:53 PM on December 3, 2013 [1 favorite]

Casablanca is basically about this -- Ilsa needs to be fighting by Laszlo's side, not stuck in Casablanca with Rick, and part of what gives the movie its force is that Rick knows this, much as he would rather not know it, and he helps her leave him.
posted by escabeche at 6:38 PM on December 3, 2013 [2 favorites]

It's the theme of Black Lab's Gates of the Country.
posted by JDHarper at 6:55 PM on December 3, 2013

Relationships are about two people, and when two people aren't working well together, it holds both of them back, whether they both realize/admit it or not. From that perspective, the only difference between the person who left and the person who got left is that one of them figured out it was bad first...but sooner or later the other would have, as well. That might help you better leverage the resources out there for the people who left.
posted by davejay at 9:47 PM on December 3, 2013 [8 favorites]

Relationships are about two people, and when two people aren't working well together, it holds both of them back, whether they both realize/admit it or not. From that perspective, the only difference between the person who left and the person who got left is that one of them figured out it was bad first...but sooner or later the other would have, as well. That might help you better leverage the resources out there for the people who left.

nthing this. Happened with my wife and I. We were literally killing each other (constant fighting and stress, drinking, weed, bulimia), and I was the first one to see that the only way it would end without one of us dying was for me to go. I knew I would take the hit.

She told me I was the love of her life and she'd never forgive me. When I moved out she was curled on the floor bawling.

Two years later, we're both much, much happier. She finally realized that I left because I just saw it first.
posted by New Old User at 12:06 AM on December 4, 2013 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: Oh, I don't fault her for leaving. If she'd given me a chance to say anything during the breakup I would have largely agreed with her.

It just frustrates me, especially since the notion that I held her back didn't emerge until some time after the breakup, to keep running into stories where the left-behind ex is demonized for holding the other back as if they're doing it on purpose. I did do my best to support her as much as I could. And there's a lot about the way things fell apart that had to do with her, but she's not taking any responsibility - she's just pinning it all on me. Alphanerd your story rings true.

I think my position in this is similar to josher71: I don't think she was holding me back per se, but the relationship wasn't doing me any favors either towards the end despite my best efforts. There was a lot of good, and a lot of pain, and a lot of complicated mess.
posted by divabat at 8:09 AM on December 4, 2013

I have been the person inadvertently holding someone back in several of my relationships. It became a running joke among my friends that the best way to get a job in the Great Recession was to get dumped by like_a_friend. Whether it's something I was doing*, or just the kick-in-the-pants of a breakup, most of my exes have gone on to be way, way more successful than they ever were when we were together.

*Not, like, actively. But my friends think I'm overly accommodating. I just don't like to kick folk when they're down!
posted by like_a_friend at 9:50 AM on December 4, 2013

This is maybe a weird example, but Shel Silverstein's "The Missing Piece" has a sequel of sorts called "The Missing Piece Meets the Big O" which is basically the same story told from the other party's perspective.
posted by speicus at 1:31 PM on December 4, 2013

I'm completely serious here: Legally Blonde.
posted by dekathelon at 4:14 PM on December 4, 2013 [7 favorites]

The poem Faint Music by Robert Haas.
posted by the_bone at 7:19 PM on December 6, 2013

One of the characters in that old Steve Martin movie Parenthood is dumped by her husband who goes on to create a more perfect family. She suffers for a while, and then things change. It's a sweet little story and more realistic than most movies about love and relationships.
posted by Capri at 10:01 AM on December 10, 2013

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