Can you help me understand the end of my 2.5 year relationship?
May 8, 2014 5:25 PM   Subscribe

How do I move past this constant feeling of regret and sadness? I blame myself, we mutually ended a 2.5 year long term and long distance relationship (UK and Canada). I can't believe she's gone from my life, we decided to go No Contact because I read that it is the healthiest thing to do and she's just gone, I can't comprehend it. I'm [M 22], she's [F21]. This was my first relationship with anyone and her second. I'm so inexperienced and that's why I feel that I messed everything up. I keep thinking about all the happy memories we shared together, I can't get them out of my head. It feels like we came to a permanent solution to a temporary problem, it was so sudden. I guess I'm looking for validation by asking this question which is probably a bit cheap so I apologise for it. I know I should just let this all go, but it isn't easy, I've never had a break up before. I really want closure but I know that will have to come from me.

We broke up last Friday, it felt like it was mutual at first but now it feels like it was more her that wanted it than me. It feels like we rushed into a decision, we wanted resolution that day, I'd had some bad news that morning which was unrelated to it but it didn't help. We talked about continuing in the relationship but we made it clear that we were both unhappy and had been for just over a month - we hadn't communicated this even though we were usually great communicators. We'd both gone through some big changes, me coming home and moving house, her living on her own in the apartment I left behind (previous AskMeFi question). She really came out of her shell after I left, cut her hair and became more outgoing, developing as a person and making new friendships.

In hindsight though, I'm really upset because we didn't even try addressing the problems we were having, lack of sex, passion, feeling more like friends than lovers, not putting enough effort into the relationship - complacency I guess. Although from my readings, these are perfectly normal things to go through! I really think these problems could have been at least attempted to be resolved when we spoke that day but we didn't take that option.

She also said that she didn't want to do the distance anymore and that she was tired of waiting to see me and wanted to be with me but in the same place. Due to financial reasons, we weren't going to be able to see each other till August and even then it was just a week. When we lived together for six months, it was really hard because I felt like I put my life on hold and was mostly unemployed which put pressure on her financially. I told her the truth that I found it hard to look into the future of the relationship and that I was happy living in the present with her. I wasn't sure if I wanted to try living with her again because of hard it was to find unemployment, does a relationship have to always have a shared future? Also, we both have had and do have occasional mental health issues (anxiety, insecurities, depression etc.) which made things hard at times.

We spoke again on Monday and it was clear that it was over, she didn't regret her decision - she felt it was right for the both of us but I regretted mine, she wanted to move on. She seemed relieved. It was very clear, I told her I wanted her back and was willing to change things but she wasn't interested. She told me that she still loved me but that her feelings had changed.

How do I deal with this pain and internal turmoil? I regret my expression of unhappiness with the relationship so much and I feel like I gave her a false impression of how bad it was for me. I've been reading advice about how it's important to work on relationship problems and to not make hasty decisions which is exactly what we did wrong. I'm blaming myself (unhealthy I know) even though it takes two to make a relationship work.

The trouble is if she doesn't want a relationship, then effectively it doesn't exist anymore, I told her that I accepted this even though it was horrible to hear. She told me she wants to be alone and that she isn't ready to date anyone else for a long time. During the relationship she frequently expressed to me that she needed to be alone a lot of the time (probably why long distance worked so well!) and that she had trouble with boundaries and losing her sense of self when we were physically together and felt that she was losing herself in the relationship - this was definitely an unhealthy for the both of us.

Despite all the trouble at the end we were extremely compatible in a lot of ways: shared ideals - music tastes, she had so many attractive qualities, good communication - no issues with trust or faithfulness. Things did change at the end but that didn't have to be permanent. She told me that I hadn't done anything wrong and to not be so hard or blame myself.

I've read a lot of old AskMeFi posts about similar experiences but none of them fitted what I'm going through exactly, I'm aware that I'm probably a bit deluded right now and in denial but I think that's because everything is so fresh in my mind.
posted by fallingleaves to Human Relations (13 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: How do I deal with this pain and internal turmoil? I regret my expression of unhappiness with the relationship so much and I feel like I gave her a false impression of how bad it was for me. I've been reading advice about how it's important to work on relationship problems and to not make hasty decisions which is exactly what we did wrong. I'm blaming myself (unhealthy I know) even though it takes two to make a relationship work.

The feelings you're experiencing are totally normal. It will suck for a while, trust me, but you just have to keep telling yourself: if she doesn't want to be with you, that's her choice and you can't make that choice for her. So, the best thing to do is say "Hey, she made her choice, but I'm still awesome, and I will move forward and keep being awesome and meet someone else who wants to be with me." Because that's the truth.

In the future, maybe you'll think back on your behavior in this relationship and realize that there are things you should have done differently. Sure, there probably were, and you can work on changing those things or behaviors for the next time. But you know what, it's NOT YOUR FAULT that this ended, because she could have given you time to work on things, but she decided that she wasn't interested in that, so it's over. Because of her, not you! And again, that's okay: she's made her choice.

You're so young. I know you don't think so, and like this is the end of the world, but you're young and you will rebuild your self-worth and find someone else who is wonderful and amazing and all of the things you miss about this relationship will come back one million fold. Maybe it will take a month, maybe a year, maybe a decade. But you will come back from this. It just needs time. So don't blame yourself, pick up your head, say "I'm still awesome, and I will not let this make me feel not awesome", and move forward with your life. The pain will fade, and life will get better.
posted by The Michael The at 5:42 PM on May 8, 2014 [6 favorites]

It's understandable that you're taking this hard, but I think you're going to be okay, because you laid out a large part of the answer you need in your own question. You don't have to blame yourself for not being exactly what she needs right far as I can tell from your post, neither of you did anything wrong, per se. I think you just need some time to work on yourself, and appreciate yourself for who you are: you seem better equipped than most!
posted by StrikeTheViol at 5:43 PM on May 8, 2014

I only read as far as "last Friday."

This takes time. Time and time and time and time. There is no quick fix except for temporary distractions, like calling your friends to commiserate and possibly having several one-night stands. You need to adjust to life in a new context and give yourself time to mourn both the loss of the relationship AND the loss of yourself in a 2 1/2 year relationship. As wonderful as any relationship ever is, we all make concessions and compromises, so ask yourself -- was there ever anything that this relationship kept you from doing or experiencing? Go do that thing.

OK, I read a little bit more. Once the immediate pain is over (which will take time, if I didn't mention that already), you can go back and dissect the apparent problems -- distance, lack of sex, trouble with boundaries and her lost sense of self. Don't even try to make sense of this right now because it gets jumbled up with the pain. It took me several years after the end of a 7 year relationship to be able to objectively think about what I could have done differently and what truly wasn't my fault. Here, you're blaming yourself for everything, so let the agony dissipate before you really try to sort out what went wrong here and how to avoid it in the future.

I strongly recommend keeping a journal through painful breakups. You might cringe when you read it in 10 years, but in a year it might be helpful to flip through your immediate reaction while you're trying to navigate future romantic pitfalls.

On a personal note, that seven year relationship I mentioned started when I was 19. Two years later, I felt I was losing myself and our sex life was kaput. We got married instead of breaking up. It did not end well. Right now all the "might have beens" look dreamy and comforting, but this break up is for the best.

Good luck -- and remember, just time.
posted by mibo at 5:43 PM on May 8, 2014 [3 favorites]

Best answer: It doesn't sound like it was a hasty decision on her part, and it doesn't sound like the problems she had were ones you could have easily fixed. So stop beating yourself up by reading internet advice about how to save dying relationships, focus more on reading about how to be a healthy happy single person after a breakup. It sounds like you understand a couple of key points already, which is better than most of us were doing at your age. Just remember, you are doing the right thing with the No Contact plan - so don't communicate with her again as it will only delay your healing process.
posted by treehorn+bunny at 6:13 PM on May 8, 2014 [8 favorites]

Remember that every relationship you have will end. Every single one.* And every ending will involve pain except for the one that ends because you die and then only if you die suddenly and unexpectedly. Nothing is wrong with you that you have sorrow and regret over the end of a relationship, and you haven't done anything wrong. Sometimes there's no why except that it didn't work.

*Most will end because one or both of you wish it. A few will end because one or both of you dies.
posted by janey47 at 6:31 PM on May 8, 2014 [5 favorites]

Time, time, time. You can spend the next 3 months dwelling on it or you can spend them perfecting artisally churned butter and you will feel approximately the same in 3 months. It takes the time it takes.

This is not helpful, I know, but you're probably going to royally fuck up (or have fucked up by the other person, or mutually destroy) at least 2-5 more relationships in your lifetime. We just don't get good at these things without learning from mistakes.

I am sorry for your pain, but if you can just do your best to face forward and shuffle in that direction, you will reach daylight sooner than you think.
posted by Lyn Never at 8:48 PM on May 8, 2014 [1 favorite]

Breaking up can be hideous and unbearable. I'm sorry you're going through this. Sorry to repeat what was said above, but the way you're feeling is totally normal.

Also, it's a huge change and that in itself is really stressful. You can't live the way you were living prior to last week. You have so many habits that are now obsolete.

Even if it feels fake, create a new routine. If you don't like something about it you can change it -- but you need things to do to fill the void. It doesn't have to be anything involve -- maybe watch a movie every evening, take a walk every afternoon.

I'm so glad you have the concept that closure comes from you. You can have no meaningful resolution if you're looking to her for it. Keep telling yourself that. Right now isn't the best time to daydream about the good times -- try to pull yourself into the present when you start thinking about the break-up or the relationship.
posted by wryly at 8:49 PM on May 8, 2014 [2 favorites]

Best answer: I hope you don't find this framing too grim, but in a way, your girlfriend died. She still exists as a person of course, but as your girlfriend she is no more; the relationship has passed away, and so the pain and sadness you feel stems from that sense of loss. The reactions you describe -- compulsive rumination of the good memories, regret about the decisions made, what-if scenarios that could have averted this -- sound very similar to what happens when we mourn the death of someone close to us.

And here's why this way of thinking has helped me in past: would you expect yourself to feel okay, to any degree, if your parent or best friend had died just a week prior? Of course not. You know if that happened, you'd be hurting for a while. It would also be okay that you'd need to hurt for so long, because that's just what it takes to survive a loss. What I'm trying to say is, thinking of this as a Loss might help you to accept the pain of the loss, because loss is irreversible and inevitable, and deserves to be mourned.

This is your first break-up, which is usually the toughest one for most people. The closure you desire will come in time, just as it would for any loss. It's encouraging to see that you already grasp some important insights about relationships and yourself (e.g. importance of boundaries and communication), even if it seems you haven't emotionally accepted all of these insights yet. But you know? That's alright. At one week removed, you're not in a position to accept them yet; you eventually will though, and doing so (whenever that happens) will do a lot to help you move on.

I think the thing to focus on is just making it through this mourning period. Do you have any trusted friends or family members to talk to about this? And if it came to it, I don't think there'd be any shame in talking to a counselor or therapist about this, if you don't start to feel better after more time. Also, there's only so much thinking and ruminating and emoting you can do on any part of your life before it burns you out, so also consider forcing yourself (or having a friend join you) to get some exercise - any sort of strenuous physical exertion that will put your attention on your body rather than your thoughts (and the endorphins won't hurt). Just make it through this stretch, and things will get better.
posted by obliterati at 8:51 PM on May 8, 2014 [3 favorites]

Can you help me understand the end of my 2.5 year relationship?

No, not really. Nor can I help with your inner turmoil. I can feel a twinge of that awful, can't-eat-can't-sleep, can't-go-more-than-ten-minutes-without-thinking-about-it feeling, though.

I'm in the process of moving, and yesterday I found several "journals" (in air-quotes because they were not very good journals: I usually only wrote in them while I was falling in love, and then again only when a given relationship had just ended) circa my early/mid 20s. I felt a bit of that gut-churning misery while paging through them, as well. That, and a sort of embarrassed affection for myself as I was at that age. I thought I'd thrown them away during my previous move, but apparently I hadn't. I almost threw them away again -- one was actually in the trash -- but decided to save them. Why? I'm not sure. It's not like they have legitimate historical value, or describe a stunningly unique experience. Quite the opposite. Almost literally everyone feels those feelings, at some point, and many of us repeatedly.

I think I may have saved them because, buried in the maudlin, often-drunken, and frequently totally generic scribbles, there are flashes of wisdom and clarity. And even though -- at the time -- it seemed like I just kept making the same mistakes and hurting others/being hurt in the same ways, in aggregate I can see a larger arc towards growth.

And because, again in aggregate, I can see that it always got better. First time, it took a couple of years to get better. Second time, slightly less than a couple of years. Third time? Roughly a year. (Plus a period of self-imposed, and very content, not-dating, while I sorted my life out.) Most recently? Like, no lie, three weeks.

The next time might not happen at all, or it could end up taking years to get over again. But I know now that I will get over it. And you will too.
posted by credible hulk at 11:10 PM on May 8, 2014 [2 favorites]

Breaking up with someone you really care about is hard, gut-wrenchingly hard, even if you know it is the right thing to do and you both agree that.

That it is hard does not mean it was the wrong decision, nor that your relationship is somehow different than all the others in the world.

Almost everyone breaks up at some point - welcome to the club. It sucks, but EVERYONE goes through it one way or another, and EVERYONE comes out fine the other end at some point. You may still feel like shit for a couple of weeks or even a couple of months. Or maybe even a year. Who knows?

But you're only 22, and I assure you one day you will not feel bad any more, and you will just look back on your time with her fondly, as you move forward in your life with someone new.
posted by modernnomad at 12:51 AM on May 9, 2014 [2 favorites]

I read the whole post, but I think this is the ultimate question at the beginning: How do I move past this constant feeling of regret and sadness? As others have said, time. That is literally the only thing that will help you. What prevented me from going crazy when I went through my break up was thinking that there was a chance that maybe someday we could get back together. Note- I am not suggesting you try to get back together with her. But it prevented me from going insane, until I no longer felt like I wanted to get back together with him. Also, you are very, very young. The relationships that you have at 20 aren't necessarily supposed to be the ones that are last forever.
posted by Enchanting Grasshopper at 2:11 AM on May 9, 2014

There was nothing you could magically do to save a relationship that has run its course. There are no special "If I do X, Y and Z, this relationshp will stay the same and be wonderful." It doesn't work that way.

No contact is the best way, but right now your entire life is in upheaval. You've moved to a different continent, you presumably are living a brand new life. You're feeling this even more keenly because it's nice to have a touchstone during that much change.

So ride it out. It's all you can do. Concentrate on your work, your family and your new life back home.

I'm sorry, it's really sucky, but when you're in this much heartbreak all you can do is keep moving forward. Right now, you're raw. But I promise, as the days go by you'll feel better and better. In a while, you'll realize, "Hey, I haven't thought about Susie in a while. Hope she's doing well." Honest.

You are very young and these things feel magnified at that age. Trust an old broad when she tells you that you were very lucky to have a good relationship at your age, and that it was a blessing because you know what one looks like. So many of us were dicked around at that age.

I always recommend doing things, immerse yourself in something, when you look back on your life, you don't remember what you felt, you remember what you did.

So get a certificate, learn to cook Mandarin food, study Python, join a gym and train for a marathon. Focus on other stuff and soon you'll be able to put your relationship in perspective.

Hang in there. This lady was great for you while you were together, but she is not your only chance at love.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 5:31 AM on May 9, 2014 [1 favorite]

Been there. As others said, time is the real solution but some things that will help:

- volunteer to help people less fortunate
- spend time with good friends, preferably some platonic girl friends
- meet other girls, date, flirt, put yourself out there
- eat well
- exercise
- get plenty of sleep
- travel if you can afford it
- treat yourself to some special things you enjoy -- massages, desserts, etc.
- journal your feelings
- listen to sad songs
- listen to inspiring songs

Know it gets easier and that she's not "the only one" for you. There's somebody just waiting for you to get back to your old self so you can fall in love with them.
posted by pallen123 at 5:52 PM on May 10, 2014

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