First serious breakup at age 35. How to cope?
January 28, 2014 9:54 AM   Subscribe

My girlfriend of 2 1/2 years dumped me. It was the first serious relationship of my life. I am 35 years old. I'm scheduled to see a therapist next Wednesday, but I need some help coping in the meantime.

First, just to get this out of the way : I am not suicidal. And although the breakup has made me depressed, I would not characterize my normal state as "depressed". I do, however, suffer from Pure O OCD, so I do have a problem with recurring thoughts, and that may be making my mental state worse. I actually set up the appointment with the therapist before I got dumped; I picked this therapist specifically for his experience dealing with people who have Pure O and other forms of OCD.

Second, I ask ahead of time that you please be gentle with me. Perhaps you see elements of yourself and past/current partners in my story. You may feel emotionally charged about that. But please remember that I'm a human being, I'm in a bad state of mind right now, and I need some help.

Third, since this is a long question, I will mark out the part that you may want to skip if you're in a TL;DR mood.

This was my first serious relationship. It was actually my first relationship that lasted longer than 4 or 5 months. We fell in love. We spoke about marriage in a matter-of-fact way, as something that was destined to happen. We promised to be there for each other forever.

It was a unique relationship. She was 10 years younger than me. A few people were judgemental about this, but her parents were not, and neither were the people who knew us well. Oddly, we both had about the same level of relationship experience going into it : her longest relationship had been 9 months. We were very different people. I'm extroverted, she's very shy and introverted. But we always saw our personalities as complimentary, or at least we used to.

We had some pretty serious communication problems. She would say that things were okay when in fact she did not feel okay about things. Issues in our relationship would come up, and we would discuss them until we reached a resolution or a compromise. She would say that she was okay with the resolution or compromise, when in fact she was not okay with it. She would be upset about something and keep it to herself for months, and then only bring it up once she'd reached a boiling point. She would rarely volunteer her feelings about things; if I noticed that she was unhappy about something, it was up to me to keep asking her questions until she'd finally reveal her thoughts. We had talked about these tendencies, and I had identified them as things that could destroy our relationship. She would grudgingly agree, but then do nothing to improve her communication skills.

To be fair, she did say that I was a difficult person to argue with. She said I was very opinionated, and didn't make her opinion feel validated. Part of me didn't get this, because half the time the only way I could even get her opinion was to ask her questions until she would finally reveal it. But there was truth to her complaint; I can be very opinionated. I'll argue an issue's logical points without thinking about the emotional side. This is something I need to work on. However, when we broke up, she admitted that she pretended to be happy with resolutions or compromises simply because I had tired her out on a given subject. This does not strike me as healthy.

A few months ago, we almost broke up. She informed me that, during a weekend apart, she had considered breaking up with me over a bunch of things that had been bothering her over for last 8 months. This really threw me for a loop, because it meant that for those 8 months, I thought she had been happy, when in fact she hadn't been. And it dawned on me that I had no idea when she was happy or when she was just being quiet. It made me re-evaluate things, and not in a good way. My mind was in a bad place for a week. My OCD came back briefly. However, we stayed together because it seemed like we'd found a way to work things out. I asked her to please, in the future, tell me about things that threaten our relationship, and not to just wait until things got really bad. She agreed that this was something she needed to change, and was very sorry for doing that to me. Of course, she didn't change.

I mention this because when she broke up with me, I asked her, "Why didn't you bring up [X, Y, and Z issues] before?" To which she responded, "Last time I did that, you flipped out and your OCD came back". I couldn't believe that was her takeaway from the situation. I "flipped out" because she had been keeping serious issues to herself for 8 months, not because she confronted me with them. I was very clear about that at the time. I mentioned this again when we were breaking up, but I don't know if I got through.

The night we broke up (last Wednesday), I knew something was up the moment I walked into the room. I asked, "Are you breaking up with me?", to which she replied, "Kinda." We proceeded to talk about [X, Y, and Z issues], and were able to talk them through pretty well. I asked, "Do you still want to break up with me, or do you need to think about it?" She said she needed to think about it. However, after I got home and realized she'd already picked up all her stuff, something in me clicked. If this is what it took to make her communicate -- a breakup threat --- then we really shouldn't be in a relationship. I called her up and broke up with her.

At first, I felt really good about the breakup. I was glad that I would no longer have to deal with our bad communication dynamic. She promised to stay away from my friends (they were all my friends, she didn't really bring any friends to the relationship), which was good.

But things got progressively worse over the next few days. I've been drinking A LOT. Sunday night, I sent her a very long text message basically saying, "We can work it out, I'm prepared to meet all of your demands and then some." Yesterday morning, she agreed to talk by phone, even though her initial plan was "no contact for a month". She was quite resolute about wanting to break up. I tried to make the case that our relationship was basically sound, and that we just had some fixable communications problems. Finally she said, "I don't want to fix this". And so far as I'm concerned, that was the end of it. She asked me not to contact her again. I don't foresee us getting back together.

I realize now it probably wasn't a very great relationship. It was a relationship where I had to do all the work : pay for everything; organize our social life; initiate and guide all of our emotional communications. I loved her because I was able to reveal my true self to her; I had never felt that kind of acceptance before. However, she was never truly open with me, and now I wonder if she really did accept me or if she was just keeping quiet. Recognizing these facts doesn't make me feel better, though.

I feel terrible. I can't concentrate on work. I'm drinking a lot. All I can think of are the good times we had together. This was the first serious relationship of my life. I have no experiences to guide me here. I'm estranged from my family, which is a good thing, but it means I don't have any family members to talk to. I've already burdened a number of my guy friends with this, and they've been helpful, or as helpful as they could be. But still, I have this sickening feeling in my chest, and I can't think of much else. I have an appointment with a therapist next Wednesday, but I need to somehow deal with myself in the meantime.

So what to do now? How do I move past this and get on with my life? Any coping skills or advice you have will be welcome.

And is there any lesson to take away from this relationship? I would like my next relationship to not have the same communication issues. I realize that I need to work on being less opinionated. Will it be difficult to find someone who doesn't have the same communication style as her?
posted by apostate street preacher to Human Relations (32 answers total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
I'm drinking a lot.

That will not help. It will promote you feeling sorry for yourself, for one thing (for anyone, I'm not trying to accuse you of wallowing in self-pity or something). You need to find more constructive ways to distract yourself. Rearrange all your furniture, go running until you collapse. Watch every episode of Star Trek, anything. But basically, this hurts because it is a painful experience, and there is no way around that. You can't out-think it.
posted by thelonius at 9:58 AM on January 28, 2014 [6 favorites]

It will get better. This is going to be a tough time, but it won't be like this forever. Allow yourself to feel bad for a while; it's okay and normal to feel bad when a relationship ends. And - this is important - if you're drinking a lot, you aren't really feeling and dealing with your emotions. Stop drinking and wallow on the couch and watch shitty TV or whatever else you find comfort in doing, but do it sober.

You'll get through it.
posted by something something at 10:02 AM on January 28, 2014

This was the first serious relationship of my life.

The first heartbreak is the hardest, because you have never felt that devastated before and you don't have the experience to know that as life-ending as it feels now, you will survive and it will ease. It takes longer than most people think, though.

I feel terrible. I can't concentrate on work. All I can think of are the good times we had together.

This is 100% normal.

I've been drinking A LOT.

Also normal but potentially problematic if not managed. Put a time cap on that behaviour. Today, for example, would be a good time to end that.

Will it be difficult to find someone who doesn't have the same communication style as her?

Jesus God no.
posted by DarlingBri at 10:04 AM on January 28, 2014 [12 favorites]

I've been there--had my first real breakup at 33 or so, when my SO of 15 years had an affair--and it definitely sucks big time. I felt like I would have been better off had I had a number of breakups along the way to show that I could rebound. Without those loves lost, I felt like there was no way I could be sure I'd make it through, or find someone else.

I made it through, and I found someone else.

There's no magic to getting through, it's just time. Meditation and friends helped me along. I always strongly recommend Pema Chodron's When Things Fall Apart"--she's a Buddhist monk and the book gave me some tools to be kind to myself.

I found someone wrong kinda quickly, and then found someone very right some time after that. We're married and very happy.

Take it easy on the drinking, give yourself time to feel sad, or angry, or whatever, and know that you, too, will make it through and find someone else.

Good luck.
posted by Admiral Haddock at 10:07 AM on January 28, 2014 [8 favorites]

I feel terrible. I can't concentrate on work. I'm drinking a lot. All I can think of are the good times we had together. This was the first serious relationship of my life.

You don't need a therapist, you need to embrace the experience of being human which includes disappointments and things coming to an end.
posted by rr at 10:08 AM on January 28, 2014 [10 favorites]

First: the failure of a relationship doesn't say anything about the inherent worth of the people who were in it. Many relationships made of two awesome people end in failure.

Second: the lesson to take away from this is that you are capable of having good long term relationships, and that you have learned quite a bit about what is not good in long term relationships (scorekeeping, poor communication). You have leveled up, and you're headed on a new adventure with this new knowledge and with new skills.

Third: you are learning that breakups hurt, even when they are for good reasons. Your ex has made a good decision by saying that she wants to be out of contact, and it is good for you to be out of contact with her, too. More contact just drags things out and makes things hurt more. Fill the time you would have spent with her being with others, even if you don't particularly feel like talking.

I'm proud of you; you've made it through your first breakup with remarkably few missteps. The drinking is not a good thing to do going forward (see if you can replace it with some beneficial activity), but it's not the end of the world that you did it.

Is there any way you could get out of town for a weekend to visit some friends in another city? That's what I would do if I were in your situation.
posted by ocherdraco at 10:09 AM on January 28, 2014 [5 favorites]

I was in a similarly life-altering breakup situation a little over a year ago. Honestly, the best thing was to put as much time and distance between me and the toxic relationship as possible. Other things that helped included:

- blasting aggressive metal in the car and screaming along
- crying
- meditating
- crying while meditating
- lots and lots and lots of exercise
- juicing green vegetables (I felt great, physically)
- reconnecting with friends

Other things felt good but maybe didn't help in the long run (but ymmv):

- dating around
- Cheetos
- wine

It was hard for me to imagine being in a relationship ever again, much less a healthy or enjoyable one, and that ended up not being the case at all (am now in a wonderful relationship with a person I'd never have imagined existing, much less loving me). You seem to have a good grasp of what wasn't right in this relationship, and that will guide you in the future. You may find that you have an almost allergic reaction to the first whiffs of [issue] in a potential new partner, which is a good sign that Lessons Have Been Learned. Which is something to celebrate.
posted by magdalemon at 10:11 AM on January 28, 2014 [5 favorites]

Your new job is to be good to yourself, because you are justifiably hurting. Exercise, make good food, see friends, fix things, clean your apartment, help a friend paint a room, do your hobbies that you haven't picked up in years. Keep busy with healthy stuff to give yourself time.

Your questions about how to have better relationships is a great one to explore with a therapist. It sounds like you can learn a lot from this last one. But in the meantime, be really great and gentle to yourself. You need it.
posted by ldthomps at 10:24 AM on January 28, 2014

Breakups suck. It's something that happens, but really, the first big step is for you to acknowledge that it was a big part of your life, and it's okay to feel like crap. You're allowed to grieve the loss of this relationship. The relationship is over; it died, and feeling upset about what happened is totally okay and normal.

But after you've mourned, you'll need to take time to figure out what your "new normal" is going to be. Yeah, it's scary. But you can do this.

Drinking a lot happens, but you had your time for that. Now you'll have to find other ways to fill in the free time you've got now. Pick up a new hobby, redecorate your living room, clean out your closets, whatever floats your boat.

A good therapist is nice. Mine helped me acknowledge my feelings and let me know that it was all right for me to feel the way I felt. But after I acknowledged my feelings, I had to figure out what to do about it. For me, it meant giving myself some time to mourn and let myself go, but only for a specific amount of time (A day, a week, an hour -- depending on the severity of the unfortunate event that just happened). I could still feel sad about it after that time period had passed, but I also couldn't keep fixating on it, either.

You'll figure it out. But please remember to be kind to yourself. This happened, it feels like crap, but it happens. Don't beat yourself up over it.
posted by PearlRose at 10:25 AM on January 28, 2014

If you are obsessing about needing an outlet for the feelings you're having right now, and obsessing about not wanting to burden people with them, I think that you might find comfort in realizing that those people can't fix you. No amount of processing this with your friends or your therapist or an online community is going to put the pieces back together. They'll keep you busy in the interim and hold your hand, and your therapist will help you with your OCD, but that isn't actually the part that is doing the work of getting over the breakup.

There's some folk wisdom about going to get a hair cut and buying a new pair of shoes when a relationship has ended - and while it is silly, it stands in for something true and important. The work of getting over this type of pain and disappointment is done when you put one foot in front of the other and continue on living. That means nix the drinking. That means schedule yourself to do things, even if you don't want to. That means being social and NOT making the social interaction all about you and all about how miserable you are right now. Go to the gym. Go to the grocery store. Go see a movie. At first, all of these things will feel terrible and foreign and wrong and you'll probably look around you at the shiny happy faces of strangers and wonder how they could possibly be carrying on with their tiny little lives while you're feeling so miserable. But bit by bit, this feeling will change. The pain will fade, and suddenly you'll be over it.
posted by jph at 10:33 AM on January 28, 2014 [13 favorites]

This is one of the reasons why whiskey found man.

Alcohol has helped humans cope with loss. Loss has been part of human existence since Cain. As a species, we overestimate our abilities. Don't worry about going overboard on the alcohol - you're still in physical pain. Just find a bar with a good, solid bartender to drink at. Don't drink alone.
posted by Kruger5 at 10:41 AM on January 28, 2014 [4 favorites]

You sound like you are handling it pretty well, actually. I mean yes, you're in pain. You're lonely. Breakups suck, and too much drinking can be problematic. (It also gives you an "out" for engaging with your ex, which is not a great idea, either.)

But you also seem to have a pretty good idea of where things went wrong and what would work for you in the future. That's pretty good for a week into your first breakup.

Also, trust me, breakups are not really easier to deal with when you have more experience under your belt. Consider that you are near the beginning of your romantic life, and already know what you can change about yourself to attract and maintain a relationship that is mutually fulfilling, the factors in a partner that you want, and that sort of thing. When you're in the middle or at the tail-end of a pattern of making bad relationship choices, it feels much much worse.
posted by sm1tten at 10:45 AM on January 28, 2014 [1 favorite]

The advice being given upthread is solid. As a fellow-sufferer of obsessive patterns, and a recent heartbreak victim myself, don't try to avoid thinking about the breakup. That is impossible. A strategy that will work? Try thinking intently about something entirely different. I've started to learn how to program, and I'm picking up long-avoided projects on my todo list. It's keeping me occupied. I found it was not possible to stop thinking of her unless I was actively thinking of something else.

I recently had a crush end in a deeply unsatisfying way. I did not heal for months and it got really weird---in large part because of my OCD. I obsessed about this woman for 4 straight months. Another component was that I hadn't had a strong crush in over a decade, not since I was a teenager. It took me a full month to realize it was a crush. It's really, really difficult for friends and family to understand what heartbreak is like if they haven't been through it in a while. It's like a different mode of consciousness. It will pass, but it takes a while.

Drinking helps for maybe the first couple of drinks. Honestly, it does; people wouldn't go for the bottle if it didn't work at least a little. After those first couple of drinks, however, you get sad again. You're disappointed being drunk didn't solve the heartache, feeling the heartache acutely, and worst of all, you're drunk (not the best state of mind to problem-solve or self soothe or to take any positive action, really).

Going to a therapist is a great idea. Therapists are extremely, extremely useful in these sorts of situations. Good on you for scheduling. I also recommend exercise; there's a reason why "delete facebook, hit the gym" is a long-running joke on Reddit. Exercise can help so much. The "delete facebook" part is not something I would recommend, but the sentiment is solid. Cut down the communication as much as you can while being gentle with yourself (ultimatums aren't a great strategy). If you have to write her, write her a letter you'll never send. If you really want to send it, you can, but wait a couple of days. The real value is getting the feelings out in a productive way.

Best of luck.
posted by wires at 10:50 AM on January 28, 2014

Maybe this isn't helpful, maybe it is, but in my observation, people don't bloom into the best people they can be until they've had heartbreak and loss and come out the other side.

I would like my next relationship to not have the same communication issues.

Things like this is part of why. You're in uncharted territory, finding out who you are, finding out what you want, what matters to you, finding out what didn't work for you, finding out ways in which you fell short, finding out ways in which you want to be better, and things you can offer.
You're in the blast furnace that forges ore into wealth.
Being in a furnace really really sucks, but it's the only way to become the best you.
posted by anonymisc at 11:13 AM on January 28, 2014 [4 favorites]

This is how breakups feel. It's like a small death that you participated in, and as such you will feel horrible for a while.

Drinking a lot makes the pain worse and usually makes it last longer. Some people kind of perversely enjoy that feeling, but at least own that it's not helping. It's not medication, it just a form of self-harm. (The "hit the gym" thing is a real thing - working out enough and being busy enough so you can sleep real effective productive full-phase sleep at night is pretty much the only real self-medication that works. Alcohol in particular wrecks healthy sleep.)

This is all easier to get through if you don't fight the pain. Instead of making bad decisions in a wild effort to ease the pain (that's all breaking no-contact is), just let it be.

It's good that you have a therapist appointment, especially if you're prone to perseveration (which is a normal part of breakups, the brain goes into a very tight re-contextualization process, but it's smart to anticipate bringing in some support/backup if you are prone to obsessing to start with). You will survive this, and you will start to digest the lessons you have learned from this, and one day you will actually be glad you went through it. But it is the fee for entry that you feel like shit first.

I'm sorry for your loss. It sucks.
posted by Lyn Never at 11:14 AM on January 28, 2014 [2 favorites]

Alcohol is a depressant -- you are actively making the pain worse by drinking too much. Try to eat somewhat healthy (easy comfort food is ok, even cake and chocolates is better than drinking is for your mood) and to get a regular amount of sleep. When you feel like you want to crawl out of your skin, take a walk outside. Something about being in fresh air and around nature (if you can reach some) can really calm me down when I'm super upset. You are doing fine. It's going to hurt, a lot, but it will slowly feel less and less bad. Be patient with yourself. Hugs to you.
posted by chowflap at 11:22 AM on January 28, 2014 [1 favorite]

You're in the blast furnace that forges ore into wealth.

Nicely said, but when you're in the furnace you're in HELL despite promise of future returns.

I had a wife who dumped me when I was 34. It wasn't the first time, but it was the hardest time. It gets better. Let me fast forward 20 years for you:

I realize now it probably wasn't a very great relationship. It was a relationship where I had to do all the work : pay for everything; organize our social life; initiate and guide all of our emotional communications. I loved her because I was able to reveal my true self to her; I had never felt that kind of acceptance before. However, she was never truly open with me, and now I wonder if she really did accept me or if she was just keeping quiet.

Recognizing these facts doesn't make me feel better, though.

Recognizing these facts - and accepting them - makes all the difference in the world. You didn't have what you thought you had. That perfect girl, that perfect relationship was an illusion that you are better off without.

And is there any lesson to take away from this relationship?

No. Even lessons become baggage. Leave it on the platform and give yourself a fresh start with someone new.
posted by three blind mice at 11:22 AM on January 28, 2014 [1 favorite]

There's lots of good advice here about handling your breakup. But, perhaps because you asked people to go easy on you, I'm not seeing one part of the advice I think you really need.

YES, there is a lesson to take away from this. If you don't learn from this relationship and this breakup, you are doomed to repeat yourself and have the same problems in future relationships.

Communication has two parts: expressing yourself and listening to the other person express themselves. You are apparently not very good at the latter, she is apparently not very good at the former. I can see why this would be a difficult combination!

You need to get past focusing on her inadequacies and really see the part you played in this and stop minimizing it. You need to become a better listener. You need to not steamroll over the other person's thoughts, feelings, and ideas. You've couched it in terms of your being "logical" or "opinionated", but that's not actually what it is. It's that you are not really, truly listening to her ***and making her feel validated***.

You need to learn how to put your own concerns aside and REALLY listen to what the other person is saying. Summarize what they've said to make sure you understand. Look at things from their perspective. Stop leaping in with your own judgements and opinions and first see the validity of hers.

If you invalidate your partner, yes it's very likely they will be hesitant to talk to you about anything sensitive.

If your therapist is attuned to this, perhaps they can help you with forming a more validating communication style. If not, perhaps you could try reading about it, or attending a workshop.
posted by mysterious_stranger at 12:25 PM on January 28, 2014 [7 favorites]

Don't drink, exercise, hang out with your bros, and if possible, go out on casual dates with people much different than your ex. Travel can also help if that is an option.
posted by BabeTheBlueOX at 2:11 PM on January 28, 2014

Yeah I get the sense that you really want her to communicate because it helps you. You're like: She is unfair! To me! I could not have known! She tricked me! Girlfriends are supposed to tell you A,B, and C and if you do A, B, and C they aren't allowed to break the contract! Etc. I get a kind of overthinky over literal vibe here, like, "this is the blueprint for relationships." "These are the steps." But relationships are really more nuanced than that, and a lot of it is going to be about wanting your partner to be happy even if you disagree about her complaints, etc. Just listening doesn't mean you have to start fixing. Sometime listening IS fixing. Men especially tend to struggle with this, and need things to be more about "doing" IME. I mean, disclaimer about generalizations and all.

I get it. You're upset, you're a little angry at her. But did you really have no idea she was unhappy? Did she really not tell you? Be very, very honest. Did you maybe just not want to hear it or not think she should be serious about it?

Right after a break-up is a pretty raw time. Maybe you aren't going to be receptive to this advice. Maybe you just need to blame her for a while. But I think you were partially in the wrong here, and I think she was right to end it. It was a learning experience for both of you.

There are, however, plenty of other fish in the sea. Maybe you just need a less sensitive/more straightforward lady. There are lots out there.
posted by quincunx at 3:24 PM on January 28, 2014 [2 favorites]

I agree with mysterious_stranger - the communication trouble here is not all on her. I think your age gap played a part in her being unable to express herself with enough force to get you to hear her. A young woman is more likely to "go with the flow" with her partner's preference for harmony's sake than stick to her guns about the things that are important to her (or maybe that's how she learns what is important). She felt she was better off deferring to your theoretically older, wiser, male approach. Then as time passed, she regretted deferring.

This is not really a fault of her communication ability - just a natural effect of her being young and inexperienced. She will probably take this lesson (as so many of us have!) and learn to stand up for herself in her future relationships.

You might try to date closer to your age. Women in their 30s tend to have learned what is important to them and will express what they will and won't tolerate. The flipside of that is that if you prove yourself intractable, you'll get dumped quicker.

The first breakup is always the worst. The sooner you can stop yourself from divvying up blame and stop seeing the relationship as a mechanical thing that would have worked perfectly if the communication skills had been there, the easier it will be to heal and move on. It doesn't really matter if you guys were in love at one point. It doesn't really matter how or whose fault it is if that love soured. The point is that it was a lovely flower while it bloomed, and now the bloom is gone. Now you are going through a cold winter of the soul, but the good news is that spring may come again and you can find a new flower to nurture. Relax. Read some books, get some knowledge. Let it pass, and try again.
posted by griselda at 3:26 PM on January 28, 2014 [2 favorites]

I can pick out a lot of parallels in your question to my recent experience (currently going through a divorce after my wife decided, 5 months into our marriage and 9 years into our relationship--which was my first serious relationship ever--that she'd made a mistake). So let me just start by saying I feel for you, and it sounds like you are doing as well as could possibly be expected.

Here is the advice I got that thought was the most helpful:

(1) Realize, at least intellectually, that you will get over this, even though knowing you will be over it in the future does not mean you will skip the grieving process. When you are sad, say to yourself, "I realize that I am sad. I can't change that. What do I need to be doing right now?" And then go take out the trash/drive to work/etc. It doesn't always work, but it did help me.

(2) Take care of yourself. Eat healthy meals, work out, don't drink too often. When you are taking care of yourself, your body will just feel better, which will improve your emotional state. The first time I realized I'd skipped dinner, ate something, and immediately was less despondent was something of a revelation.

(3) Lean on your friends. Definitely tell some friends what you are going through, and talk to them about it. It's good to remind yourself that you do have other human connections. And many of your friends will really want to be there for you while you go through this. It's sort of weird which of my friends stepped up, but a few did, and I'm really grateful for them.

Anyway, too much advice is not the solution here. And over-analyzing your relationship right now is probably not the solution either, though I'm guessing that can't be helped. Good luck with this process, and I'm sure you'll be thinking you have a wonderful life much sooner than you can imagine right now.
posted by _Silky_ at 3:28 PM on January 28, 2014 [2 favorites]

And it dawned on me that I had no idea when she was happy or when she was just being quiet.

From what you've described, this sounds like it sums up your entire relationship with this woman. You're undoubtedly better off without her, and vice versa.

You're actually handling this very well/"normally." Good job, you! Work with your therapist, talk with your friends... you'll get through it.
posted by RainyJay at 5:00 PM on January 28, 2014

mysterious stranger : I will not deny the truth of your statement. I don't think I minimized my fault in this, but the rest of it, I agree you have a point. I will not deny your truth.

quincunx : I think what you're neglecting here is that I basically was working with nothing. She gave me very little to work with. In hindsight, yes, I could have been wiser. That goes without saying. Does that really help?

griselda : you're focusing on the age thing here. And it is here i cannot help you. You are wrong. It was not an age thing. There are women her age that are better about communicating.

This is not to diminish my role in any of this. I quite clearly failed, as my relationship lies in ruins. Realize I am a failed man, and that my life lies in tatters.

I lay my story before you. Please do not exact your sadness upon me.
posted by apostate street preacher at 5:15 PM on January 28, 2014

Anyway, I admitted that my communication skills needed some work. At no point did I deny this.
posted by apostate street preacher at 5:18 PM on January 28, 2014

Okay, clearly, you are still very emotionally raw and are beating yourself up a lot. You are not a failed man. You are a man who had a pretty standard first relationship experience. Almost EVERYONE, including ALMOST EVERY MAN (except those who marry their first love, which is definitely a small minority) has gone through a breakup. Probably it was even partially their fault. If that was the standard bar for determining failure as a human, like 5% max of the population would be non-failures.

My point is that messing up in relationships is normal, and that is typically how we get better at them.

You were single before her and you were just fine. Have you already forgotten that version of yourself? You existed before this relationship and you will exist after it. It doesn't have to define you.
posted by quincunx at 5:46 PM on January 28, 2014 [1 favorite]

You are not the author of a personal Greek tragedy, this is not a time to exercise poetic imagery ... that language is for everyone else to use.

You, on the other hand, must take this lickin' and keep on tickin'!!
posted by Kruger5 at 5:48 PM on January 28, 2014 [1 favorite]

This is not to diminish my role in any of this. I quite clearly failed, as my relationship lies in ruins. Realize I am a failed man, and that my life lies in tatters.

You're not a failed man! I don't see anything here that indicates that you, or your ex, did anything terrible, per se. Maybe there were some things you could have handled better, and maybe there were some things she could have handled better. Happens to everyone - hell, even people in successful, happy relationships mess up sometimes. In this case it didn't work out, and that's OK, too.

I think one of the hardest things about being in a relationship is that there are no clear lines. I mean, yeah, if someone is abusive, or demeaning, or if you're completely bored by them, you shouldn't be with them. But, beyond that, you're basically making it up as you go along. If something doesn't work out, that doesn't make you a failure.

You'll learn from this. I know it's had to see now, but you will.
posted by breakin' the law at 10:02 PM on January 28, 2014

Read that Pema Chodron book mentioned above. Fastest breakup recovery of like four major breakups I've been through was the one when I really followed her approach. It's kind of the opposite of drinking; it's about being as present for the weird and painful feelings as possible.
posted by salvia at 11:08 PM on January 28, 2014

You are wrong. It was not an age thing. There are women her age that are better about communicating.

Well, no, but it is a maturity thing and while people mature at different rates, maturation usually occurs with age and the experience if often brings. The ability to state one's needs, to communicate openly and effectively, to listen without fixing, and to not steamroll over conflict are skills usually acquired through relationship experience. My guess is that both of you will enter your next relationships with more experience, skills and maturity to allow you to be better partners.
posted by DarlingBri at 4:14 AM on January 29, 2014

I, too, recommend the Pema Chodron book.
posted by evil otto at 7:58 AM on January 29, 2014

I was struck by these statements:

She would grudgingly agree, but then do nothing to improve her communication skills.

She agreed that this was something she needed to change, and was very sorry for doing that to me. Of course, she didn't change.

So... is there any lesson to take away from this relationship?

People don't really change, even if they tell you they will. Even if they seem like they want to. Even if the change they make could change everything: changing is not something humans are very good at.

Couples adjust and compromise and learn how to make their way through the world together, which is why your emphasis on, and understanding of, the root of your relationship's communication problems is good. In your future relationships, you will be better prepared to evaluate the state of things based on what is in front of you now, not what you hope will become true.

Likewise, you may someday witness your ex-girlfriend communicating better with a future partner, or even see that she selects a partner who is more compatible in that way, because she has also learned from this. But her fundamental style will always be the same.

The only other thing I want to add is that the steps to processing a breakup are sometimes eerily similar to the steps for processing death. It sounds from your narrative as though you have gone through some very serious bargaining and perhaps even some denial. And now maybe you are feeling some anger and depression. Acceptance will come, and it will help build you into a better partner next time. And there will be a next time.
posted by juliplease at 9:45 AM on January 29, 2014 [2 favorites]

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