I feel like I'm stuck in a moment.
March 11, 2014 5:07 AM   Subscribe

I’m currently broken up with a woman I’ve been in an on and off relationship with for the last 4 years and I want to finally close the door, let go and move on.

A couple of months ago my ex ended the relationship. We met online. We’re both middle aged and have previously been married and have grown up kids It’s the third time she has done this over the last 4 years. Each time previously she has ended it and then months, and in one case a year, later got back in touch and we carried on where we left off. I think she ends it because ultimately she doesn't love me, even though when we were together she tells me she does. As you can imagine it's very confusing.

In the off periods I have found that I have been obsessed with her. Not in a stalking sense as I always go no contact after break up, but just in my head.
Previously in those periods I have tried online dating and other things to absorb me. I even tried counselling and hypnotherapy, but I still thought about her way too much.
I don’t want to do all this again as I feel it didn’t work, it costs money and it filled me with self loathing that I had given her so much power over me.

My problem is that I feel myself in a kind of limbo, feeling like she may be in touch again. I don’t want to be in this limbo and I know that this relationship was unhealthy for me

My questions are:
1. How do I stop obsessing?
2. How do I let go?
3. How do I move on?

Has anyone been in a similar situation and if so how did you deal with it?
posted by blokefromipanema to Human Relations (16 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
You need a break-up ritual.

Change everything around you.

1. Block on social media, phone, etc.

2. If you can, move. A new place means a new life, with new people and new places. Even if it's just one street over, it's wonderfully refreshing.

3. If you can't move, move the furniture. Rearrange your things, it's spring, now is the perfect time to do this.

4. Spring clean. There is something soul-satisfying about down on your knees scut work.

5. Change your bedding. Donate your old sheets and comforter/duvet. Head out to Ikea or Target and pick up new. New curtains too. It's Ikea. Go nuts.

6. Overhaul your wardrobe. Pitch things that are old or worn out, pitch any clothing she gave you as a gift. Now, don't go broke, but buy some new things.

7. Now, call your buddies and plan a weekend road trip. Someplace fun and tacky, Vegas if you can, or a near-by approximation. Camping if you swing that way. Play cards, drink beer and Mountain Dew and eat Dorritos.

8. Reconnect with your friends.

9. Go for a degree or a certificate, nothing like school to re-focus your mind.

When you look back on your life, you remember what you did, not how you felt. It's FUN to mope around, but at the end of the day, what does it get you? Sure, you're going to miss being in a relationship and you'll miss your ex, but those feelings will pass faster if you have something to work towards.

Good luck!
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 5:17 AM on March 11, 2014 [11 favorites]

1. It’s the third time she has done this over the last 4 years.

2. I know that this relationship was unhealthy for me

Wash, rinse, repeat.
posted by three blind mice at 5:46 AM on March 11, 2014 [1 favorite]

when i had this cycle with an (ex!) partner, i made a little button with a waffle, and a circle with a line through it. like no smoking, only "no waffling".

i wore it on my coat so i saw it every day. people would often ask me what it was and i just said "no waffling" (i didn't get into the whole story about my ex; it was none of their business, i just told them i decided to be more firm in my resolve around my life).

it totally helped! it was like a talisman.
posted by andreapandrea at 5:46 AM on March 11, 2014 [7 favorites]

Date other people. Multiple other people. It will help you realize this person isn't all that special.
posted by BibiRose at 5:58 AM on March 11, 2014 [5 favorites]

Is there something she could do to make you happy to be with her? Ask for it. Finding out you will never get what you want may help you move on.
posted by Dr Dracator at 6:00 AM on March 11, 2014 [2 favorites]

In additional to so.e of the great comments above I might add some typically counter intuitive advice. You should contact her once last time, in writing (NOT in person) and pre break up with her for the next time. Be polite and firm. Make your position as if you were still or assume to be returning to an on-again state and then break up with HER. I think this will not only end the cycle (the most important bit) but it will put the control back in your hands. You did it. You resolved. You improved your situation.... You you you.
posted by chasles at 6:15 AM on March 11, 2014 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Each time previously she has ended it and then months, and in one case a year, later got back in touch and we carried on where we left off ... I don’t want to do all this again as I feel it didn’t work, it costs money and it filled me with self loathing that I had given her so much power over me.

If you're still ready to ask "how high?" when she resumes contact and says "Jump!" then your no-contact period has clearly not been long enough.

This time around, resolve to block her completely for five years. As well as no-contact, you need to go completely no-response-to-attempted-contact.

She has dumped you repeatedly. That's just cruel, and you can be fairly sure that if she does get in contact with you again, she's just going to end up doing it again. She many have many redeeming qualities, but none of them are worth putting yourself through this kind of mill for.

You now owe her nothing. No explanation. No contact. No nothing. All that power you have given her over you? You're entitled to take that back. Decide to do that, then do that. You'll know you've done it properly if you suddenly feel like the ground has been ripped out from under you and you hurt like hell. So go somewhere dark and rural and howl at the moon for a while until the worst of the sting of it has gone. You're done with her. That's it. Time, gentlemen, please. It's over.

Writing a you-can't-dump-me-I'm-dumping-you letter is a really good idea, but once it's written, doing anything with it other than ceremonially burning it is a really bad idea.
posted by flabdablet at 8:04 AM on March 11, 2014 [7 favorites]

Is there something she could do to make you happy to be with her? Ask for it.

I respectfully disagree with the good Doctor and others who suggest contact. You already know that when it suits her, she'll say things you like to hear - or perhaps merely hint that she's oh so close to saying them and you're almost good enough to hear them. When it doesn't suit her, that never happened and she not accountable for any ideas you have and she goes bye bye.

The advice to set a no contact timeline is fantastic. If after five years you need to reset, then reset. "Never" is the real timeline, but if you can't manage that, then five years is an excellent baby step.
posted by Lesser Shrew at 9:33 AM on March 11, 2014 [1 favorite]

I was involved with a pathological liar for almost ten years. I ended it and restarted it and ended it and took him back again over and over and over, and finally ended it for real in October 2006. I still miss him at times. I still am in some ways in his thrall. I still wish it could have worked.

But that's all emotion. Rationally, from this distance (and even up close I could see this rationally), there's simply no way for me to have had a reasonable trusting relationship with him. It was SO hard to really end it and know it was over and there was no turning back. But you know what? I did it.

I also quit smoking a few years ago, and there are some weird correspondences. Like it really strikes me that the only things you ever become addicted to are things that are bad for you. Have you ever heard of anyone being addicted to broccoli? Or apples? Smoking and bad partners are addictive. And when you try to break that addiction, you feel like you've lost your only friend. Your sleep patterns change, your eating patterns change, you feel like you are lost in the world.

One difference between smoking and bad partners is that with a bad partner, you say to yourself, "Oh if only I were X or Y or Z, they would have loved me." Or you say, "If only they saw how perfect we were together, they wouldn't waste time looking elsewhere." but nah, it's not you, and there's no "why." It just is, and you will eventually be so much healthier that your thoughts of her, like my thoughts of cigarettes and my ex, creep in every now and then but not to such an extent that I would go back. It's been too difficult a struggle to free myself from their clutches and hell no I don't want to go through withdrawal again.

But -- and this is key for you as it was for me -- when we do that back and forth, yes and no, on and off thing with a relationship for too long, we start to expect it to come back after a while. It takes a LOT of willpower not to contact her again, or respond when she contacts you, and our crazy minds will focus exclusively on that one person as being the only potential source of happiness -- why? because we've trained our mind to trick us into letting them back into our lives. Time to retrain your mind.

It's a documented fact (I should cite my sources here but... you know) that the more frequently you try to quit smoking, the less likely your chances of success are. Same deal. Your body/mind thinks, oh, it's okay to start again, in fact it's normal and expected. So really, cutting her off for good and all this time is harder than it has been each preceding time, but do NOT let that stop you, because it gets even harder the next time.

I'm pretty much over my bad ex. I still think that if he were who I thought he was, and if he were who he portrayed himself as, I would have walked through fire for him. But luckily I can see (even though he still calls regularly, and I don't answer, and he doesn't usually leave a message) that I am much happier without him.

Love leaves scars. And that's a good thing. We want to be permanently affected by the ones that we love. Otherwise, it's not really love. And like any other scar, it begins as a painful wound and eventually, heals to a painless but visible scar. It will always be there to remind you, it will be less painful or not at all painful, but it won't be gone. So in a way, you never get over someone to whom you are so deeply connected, but in that way it is okay.

I wish you well.
posted by janey47 at 9:37 AM on March 11, 2014 [8 favorites]

It's not no-contact if you respond.

Find something else meaningful and time-consuming to do. If you are consumed with thoughts of her, you're not busy enough. Do volunteer work that requires an in-person presence on a regular schedule. Take a class that is difficult and makes your brain work, like a language or the math they're teaching in elementary school now (not joking, it's like looking at hieroglyphics). Join a middle-aged-dude soccer/softball/basketball/bowling league. Do not date as a distraction, that's a jerk move. Be single with yourself for a while until you have standards again.

Because you don't, at this point. Every so often, this woman finds out that nobody else will put up with her shit but she knows she can go to her last choice sucker. Prop yourself up so that when that email comes, you treat it like the spam it is and just punt it to trash and roll your eyes.
posted by Lyn Never at 9:43 AM on March 11, 2014 [8 favorites]

I wrote a long-ish thing here but it really just repeated what Lyn Never said. Don't give this lady another chance to hurt you. You deserve someone who loves you.
posted by chowflap at 12:13 PM on March 11, 2014 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thanks all for taking the time to answer. Whilst the sending the letter to tell her not to contact me again suggestion sounds appealing, and may well help me move on I'm not going to take it.
I don't think it matters what I write in a letter to her, it will scream out 'I still love you'.
I do...but I'm not going to let her know that as she doesn't deserve it.
I have reconciled myself to the fact that i may never gain closure from this relationship, but I will damned well keep my pride.
posted by blokefromipanema at 3:14 AM on March 12, 2014 [8 favorites]

Might help you to ponder the idea that people come as package deals, meaning that we never actually get to pick and choose only those aspects of our partners we find appealing.

There is a fairly good chance that the woman you're currently in love with is not the one who keeps dumping you, but an imaginary person of your own devising who has all her good qualities but none of her capricious cruelty.

Once your wounds are well and truly licked, go find somebody kind.
posted by flabdablet at 3:39 AM on March 12, 2014 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: My ultimate goal is some form of closure. I'm wise enough to know I won't get it from her, but I can get it from within myself. I don't know if this will come from the endless debate in my mind of the whys and what ifs of this relationship, or whether it will simply come with the passage of time?
posted by blokefromipanema at 9:41 AM on March 19, 2014

Best answer: Neither of those.

Whys and what ifs will get you nowhere you haven't already been, and if whys and what ifs are what you're using to fill the passage of time then you'll spend a very long time miserable.

Peace will come when you make a positive decision to draw a line under this thing, then resolve to notice each time your mind launches into a whys and what ifs session and cut that short with "None of that matters now. That relationship has ended. Now let's get back to mending the roof / doing the shopping / playing the drums / shaving the yak / having a life."

At first this will feel weird and unsatisfactory and unnatural. That's because you're trying to build a new habit by conscious attention, and doing that always feels weird and unsatisfactory and unnatural even if it's a habit that has absolutely nothing to do with an emotionally charged relationship. But practice anything for long enough and it will become habitual, just as your present practice of whying and what iffing and endless painful rumination is right now.

You might also find that starting a general mindfulness meditation practice helps you build the internal skills you need to make this kind of adaptability come more easily.
posted by flabdablet at 8:15 PM on March 19, 2014 [8 favorites]

This chapter on dealing with problems is particularly useful.
posted by flabdablet at 8:27 PM on March 19, 2014 [1 favorite]

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