But we're in love, dammit!
May 31, 2014 1:54 PM   Subscribe

How do you get over a breakup when both people were compatible and happy in the relationship?

Skip to the end for the actual questions, or keep reading for all the snowflaky details.

My girlfriend broke up with me about a week ago. We’d only been together about five months and had been friends for a few months before that, but we had pretty incredible chemistry and both fell hard for each other. The pace of the relationship also sped up when she went through an unexpected and serious medical complication that landed her in the hospital for a month and a significant period of recovery after that – although it was awful, it ended up bringing us much closer and we both learned that we worked really well together through hard times. Though I realize that the relationship was short and that more time might have exposed some problems or incompatibilities, at the time we broke up it was pretty damn near perfect. We made each other laugh, always had a good time together, and the sex was great. Our communication was the best of any relationship I’ve ever been in – we both felt comfortable and safe talking about anything. We handled conflict really productively, were emotionally giving and supportive of one another and our goals, shared the same values – I could go on and on.

Unfortunately, we got together under less-than-ideal circumstances and, predictably, that came back to haunt us. She had a girlfriend of three years when we met, and although she says that she’d been having doubts for a while, she definitely pulled the trigger on breaking up with her ex so that we could date. Their lives were intertwined, and ever since that breakup she’s felt guilty that her ex, who she was supporting financially, has had her life seriously derailed. She also began feeling more and more guilty about breaking off a long-term relationship so quickly, feeling that neither of them achieved closure, all the things that we both should have predicted when we first got together. I had known for a while that she had been feeling this way, but I was too eager to hear only what I wanted to hear – that although she needed to deal with this guilt and with the lingering issues from her old relationship, that she also really loved and wanted to be with me. When we broke up, she said that she’s confused, that her feelings for me haven’t changed but that she’s in love with two people and that we can’t be together right now. I’m taking her at her word that these are her real reasons for the breakup. She needs to resolve things with the ex, and although she doesn’t seem to plan on them getting back together I certainly realize that that’s a possibility.

I know that I’ll get over this with time. Still, I find myself really struggling with the feeling that there was nothing wrong with us or our relationship – we were great together – but that there was this big outside problem that I had no control over. I struggle with the fact that in retrospect, we never had a real chance. Unlike past breakups, it’s hard for me to temper the sadness of losing someone with the knowledge that it’s ultimately for the best because for me, it’s not for the best. I’m trying to stifle my hope that she’ll take some time and space, reconcile all the bad history with her ex, and come back to me feeling truly able to commit to our relationship. I know that that’s a really, really unlikely outcome but I do think it’s a possibility, and although my first priority is to get over her and move on, I also don’t want to close the door on a future together. We had something really special and I don’t want to throw it away if there’s a chance of saving it.

Bonus complication: I just moved to another country for work – the breakup happened during one of my visits back to see her. I’m not close with many people here, so the traditional remedy of spending a couple late nights drinking and/or eating ice cream and crying with friends isn’t really an option. The dating pool seems to be pretty limited here, so eventually moving on via an exciting new relationship is a bit tougher than it would be in the States. She’s also about to move to another country as soon as her health issues are fully resolved. Because of our jobs it will always be difficult for either of us to avoid spending a period of long-distance with anyone, although we were actually much better off than most because our countries are relatively close and would have allowed us to see each other every three or four weeks.

So my questions:

1. How do you move on from a good relationship that ended for reasons not directly related to a problem with the relationship itself?
2. When (if ever) is it okay to hold on to the possibility of getting back together, and how should that work in practical terms?
3. Do you have any tips for getting over a breakup after a recent move to a place with few friends and limited dating prospects?

Thanks in advance.
posted by exutima to Human Relations (15 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
That sucks, sorry. The answer to 1 and, to a lesser extent, 3: you realize that the other person almost certainly doesn't feel the same way about the relationship or its end (a) that you do, or (b) that they're letting on. (a) is inevitable, and (b) is presumably to spare your feelings, but it ends up making things hurt more.

It's a long-distance relationship; these things happen even when the relationship seems great for the few days you get to see each other.

2. You don't. That way lies madness. You realize that it could, in the universe of possibilities, happen, but planning for it or counting on it just leads to more heartache.
posted by supercres at 2:22 PM on May 31, 2014 [2 favorites]

1 -- Time.
2 -- Don't. If it happens some day due to unforeseen circumstances, then great. But don't make any plans based on it.
3 -- Get a hobby. Got something you like doing? Someone else likes doing it too. Find that person. Craigslist, put up a flyer at your local [thingyoulike] store, Facebook... there are ways.
posted by Etrigan at 2:31 PM on May 31, 2014 [1 favorite]

1. How do you move on from a good relationship that ended for reasons not directly related to a problem with the relationship itself?

Given that she dumped someone to get with you then dumped you to try to go back and resolve that, I suggest you reconsider your rose colored perception here. I generally am leery of getting with a man currently in a relationship because if he will leave her for me, he will leave me for someone else, basically. And she has already done to you what she already proved at the start she was willing to do to someone else to get with you to begin with. I strongly suspect it was never as peachy keen as you are painting it.

2. When (if ever) is it okay to hold on to the possibility of getting back together, and how should that work in practical terms?

I held out hope like this for a long time over a couple of guys who never actually broke up with me. In one case, there was a terrible misunderstanding and we stopped speaking. In the other, he just kind of faded away because our lives diverged. Otherwise, I think, no, that generally does not work. You need to just get on with life. (And, yeah, those guys did not come back either.)

3. Do you have any tips for getting over a breakup after a recent move to a place with few friends and limited dating prospects?

Make a list of what your needs are that you feel the relationship would fulfill and then brainstorm other ways to meet each of those needs. And be brutally honest with yourself. If one of the answers is "regular orgasms," don't sugar coat it by pretending it was about lurv. Other likely candidates: You got something emotional out of it and it filled some of your time. There are other ways to (constructively) fill your time and there are other ways to meet some of your emotional needs.

For sheer social contact, there is always the internet, no matter how isolated you feel IRL.

Best of luck.
posted by Michele in California at 2:36 PM on May 31, 2014 [9 favorites]

Possibly the greatest post-breakup advice I ever got here was that relationships that end within the first few months can be the hardest breakups because you've broken up during that awesome limerance, everything-is-so-wonderful phase.

You have all this great stuff because in early days, things are great. You never got to the post-honeymoon difficult and annoying parts of being together.

So bear in mind that it's fine to mourn the end but remember that you're mourning something that wasn't going to be sustainable.
posted by kinetic at 2:48 PM on May 31, 2014 [15 favorites]

Well, I think as happy as you seemed, it is a huge problem that she is still in love with her ex. I'm not trying to rain on your relationship, but I really hope you realise that your now ex handled this whole thing in a pretty shitty way. Honestly, that would accelerate the moving on process for me.

Can you skype with friends? Maybe pop home for a visit with some you know aren't going to take you anywhere you might run into her?
posted by sm1tten at 2:50 PM on May 31, 2014 [3 favorites]

Please realize that your experience in the relationship was not mutual.

She was supporting her ex gf, you say? She gave you some bullshit story about guilt and closure regarding your break up??

Long story short - I think at BEST this person is conflicted and immature. But this is not my opinion, just the best case scenario.

My life experience tells me this person is very likely exceptionally self centered, that she was very adept at deceiving you and getting what she needed, that she ultimately prefers her ex gf because she clearly has a lot of power over her, and that you have been (I'm sorry to tell you) used.

She ended the relationship with you because keeping up pretenses with you was too much trouble, not because of guilt and closure.

I know you don't believe me, but I'm ultimately correct.

She is likely somewhere on the spectrum of sociopathy or psychopathy - meaning she doesn't feel feelings the way you or I do.

She used a technique called "mirroring" on you, and this is why you thought you shared the same strong emotions with each other. You don't have to take my word on this - look it up for yourself.


In short, you can short cut years of pining away for this person by understanding deep in your core that she was in no way, shape, or form what she pretended to be.

The clues to the truth behind what I'm telling you are all over your narrative.

You might start with a book on Amazon called "The Sociopath Next Door" (or similar title) there are also HEAPS of websites out there detailing this phenomenon you've experienced.

Sorry for the bad news. I promise you'll bounce back. Getting familiar with the truth helps.

Get googling. Don't wait.
posted by jbenben at 2:58 PM on May 31, 2014 [5 favorites]

You just moved to a new country. Can you take a deep-dive into the place where you live? Language, history, customs... if there is a tourism industry there, jump into it with both feet. Schedule all-day treks and weekend classes. Read literature by authors from that country and learn to cook its finest cuisine. Are there nearby countries? Fly there on long weekends. Even if all you want to do is stay in bed and cry - give yourself a few of those days but then get out there. Talking with other people from other cultures will get you out of your head a little bit.
posted by rogerrogerwhatsyourrvectorvicto at 3:07 PM on May 31, 2014 [2 favorites]

Never hold on to hope about getting back together. Not ever.

I think, first, you need time, and second, you are likely wearing some rose colored glasses still.
posted by J. Wilson at 3:23 PM on May 31, 2014 [1 favorite]

the traditional remedy of spending a couple late nights drinking and/or eating ice cream and crying with friends isn’t really an option.

Actually, you sound like a really good person, and with blackouts and Ben and Jerry's out of your reach, maybe you're actually in a great situation. In some ways, you sound more mature than your former partner, and if you stick it out and keep taking care of yourself, you might unexpectedly find yourself in a great relationship, or just flat out having a great time in a different country. Embrace the change. Kind of sounds like this woman is weighing you down. I honestly can't imagine her not having created confusion in other parts of your life, perhaps in a way a little unbeknownst to you.

Pity and love are not the same thing. And maybe this sounds crass, but feelings (especially mixed ones) are overrated. Showing up in the right way really counts. "I'm confused" and "returning to an ex that I used to financially support whose life has been seriously derailed" is not showing up. Nothing you can count on. Putting people on standby while you "figure out" your feelings? The whole spectrum of comments doesn't sound that promising. When you signed up for this, did you really want to be with someone who makes major decisions in a confused state? You're probably dodging a major bullet here. Healthy relationships don't require this kind of work.

You're also free to form your own opinions about what is happening during this breakup. You don't have to entirely take her word. Use some common sense. Maybe figure out one or two things that didn't work. Be really nice to yourself and protect yourself. Be very polite to her and you won't have anything to feel guilty or apologize for. Keep contact to a minimum (or eliminate it altogether) and you'll throw yourself into a better chapter of your life. Make new friends and do things. Talk to your friends about how you're feeling. So important.

And drop the "we never had a chance" thing. I had a girl pick me and break up with me. Worst feeling ever. Ask the universe for that splinter in your heart to be removed. One day at a time if necessary. Half the songs on the radio are about lost love. You're human. Welcome to the human experience! When the going gets tough, keep going.
posted by phaedon at 3:51 PM on May 31, 2014 [20 favorites]

I think relationships are as, or perhaps even more, dependent on the circumstances being right as the person being right. If you can accept that, it makes it easier to understand these sort of situations.
posted by AnnaRat at 4:07 PM on May 31, 2014 [11 favorites]

Find some expat groups. It may keep you in your cultural ghetto but at least you can make friends and be active. Internations might be a good place to start and then look for meetup groups in both English and the local language to meet locals.
posted by Che boludo! at 5:05 PM on May 31, 2014 [1 favorite]

I'm kinda thinking this was a rebound/excuse to end the other relationship or maybe even hurt said ex. It leaves you holding the bag, and its miserable.

3) be single for a while. Explore, live, have fun, get to know yourself more.

2) Never. this way lies madness. Let it go. Move on. Be you, be happy, grow. If it happens in the future, well, ok. But DON'T hold your breath. that is entirely unhealthy. Sorry. It sounds like you were more into her than her into you. It happens, and again, is miserable. Move on as much as you can
posted by Jacen at 8:19 PM on May 31, 2014

1.) I suspect this isn't really a case of a relationship that ended for reasons not directly related to a problem with the relationship itself. I understand what you're getting at, but it's not like you were refugees separated by a civil war, or something. Rather, it ended because one of the people in the relationship was either being manipulative (often masked as "confused"), or legitimately not ready to move on from their previous coupling. That was a problem at the very root of your relationship. Just not from your perspective.

2.) It's natural to hold out hope, at least for a while. However, such reunions are extremely rare. More accurately, they are rarely a good or lasting thing (I mean, such an event is occurring with your ex and her ex, apparently; so it does happen). My dad is the more realistic/sensible of my two parents, but every single time I've experienced a breakup -- regardless of the circumstances -- he's advised me that something might change the ex-of-the-moment's mind, or my mind, causing us to get back together. Don't be my dad. Proceed as rapidly as is healthy to the "for the best" mindset. Because it almost certainly is; do you really want to be sloppy thirds? (I was involved with a woman who couldn't decide between me and a close friend... For close to two years. It was a demoralizing, humiliating, extended mind-f*ck.) And anyway, getting back with an ex is rare enough when you live in different neighborhoods; you folks live in different countries.

3.) I can't offer much here. I don't move around much, and I haven't traveled abroad since I was a teenager. I can guess, however, that exploring a new country should provide many distractions. (And maybe more dating prospects than you might imagine; people always love the "new kid.") Heck, you may find that a lot of your attachment to your recent ex was based more on her being a lifeline to a shared home culture, than on actual love.

Addendum: We always carry something from our previous relationship(s) into the next one, whether in the form of painful baggage, or genuinely good things that we miss. I was totally ready to start my current relationship, just a couple of months after my last one had ended. I do have moments when I miss my ex and elements of that experience. But I wouldn't go back to her, at the expense of the woman I love now. I'm a reasonably self-aware grown-up person! You sound like one too, if one who is understandably in a place of shock/rosy denial. Do your grown-up best to forgive your ex for dragging you into her not-grown-up drama, and consider this a bullet dodged.
posted by credible hulk at 9:24 PM on May 31, 2014 [1 favorite]

She also began feeling more and more guilty about breaking off a long-term relationship so quickly, feeling that neither of them achieved closure....

I'm sorry, but this is such self-serving bullshit on her part. I'm not saying she's deliberately lying, maybe she's just really not very self-aware, but this 'closure' thing is overrated.

'Not achieving closure' might make sense if someone is killed in a freak accident, or thrown in prison, or cuts contact with you unexpectedly and completely disappears. Nothing like that happened. She was in relationship, she chose to end it suddenly, and now she's getting cold feet. 'Closure' in an adult relationship is when you break up and cut contact; that's all you get, done.

I also don't believe in being in love with two people at the same time. Loving someone is in the way you treat them, not just how you feel about them, and she's treated you pretty damn badly. If she was in love with you, she'd be with you, end of story. She's either not in love with either of you, or she's still in love with her ex.

Sorry if this was harsh, but I'm sort of being cruel to be kind. You sound pretty great, and I think you will realise with time that you deserve better than her.
posted by Salamander at 10:00 PM on May 31, 2014 [10 favorites]

Considering that she jumped back to one ex for whatever her reasons were, I don't think it's necessarily impossible that she'll want you to take her back at some point down the line, but I'd strongly advise against it and CERTAINLY would not hold out hope for this to happen. Even beyond the things other posters have already mentioned, if your first breakup really was due to matters completely beyond your control, how on EARTH would you ever feel safe with her again? What's to say she wouldn't break up with you again because of a different old ex, or because she decides she doesn't like LDRs after all, or because you have pierced ears and she really wanted someone with unpierced ears or whatever?
posted by DingoMutt at 9:14 AM on June 1, 2014

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