Well this is a whole new kind of horrible
September 29, 2014 5:51 PM   Subscribe

My wonderful relationship is over; it's ending with love and kindness on both sides and is as amicable a break-up as I could imagine. But it's so, so much more awful than I thought it would be, please help me figure out how to keep it together.

We were together for three years, lived together for two. We're in our early thirties. It was an extremely loving, helpful, inspiring relationship all around. We ended mostly because of circumstances and timing—I'm ready to move forward with commitment and family, he's at an important phase in his career that requires years of top-priority focus. I want the flexibility to move because of my own very specialized work; he's entrenched in a professional community here. Etc., etc. We wanted a future and thought we would be teammates working through this stuff together, but after many months of discussion we've decided that our goals are too different for now and it's not clear that we'll ever catch up to each other.

So we decided to break up. It's not an I-love-you-but-I'm-not-in-love-with-you situation on either side; it's more like I-love-you-so-much-but-we're-holding-each-other-back-and-it-sucks situation.

I've been thinking about these things for months and am the one who initiated the final break-up while he was sure that we could figure things out. Now that it's done we've flipped; he's sure that this is the right thing to do and sees it as an opportunity for major personal and professional growth, while I'm more heartbroken than I can remember being since I was a kid. I've been with people for longer than this; I've had horrible break-ups with horrible people and been pretty horrible myself; I've broken up where it means creating dire life crises, and nothing has ever felt this bad. It's been two weeks and I'm still a disaster, hiding to cry in the bathroom at work and not sleeping or eating and bursting into tears every time we talk or I talk about it. I have intense feelings but am not generally very demonstrative of them and I hate it. It feels like uncontrollable grief, which is silly because no one died or even went away—I know we'll be friends after we get through this first part and everything will eventually be fine.

Can you please help me with:
  • Short-term triage for making it through the day, especially at work where no one wants to see their boss crying all the time;
  • Coping strategies for being in the same house for a few more weeks without looking to him for contact and comfort, as I would about anything else;
  • Longer-term, sorting out why this is so much worse than any other break-up I've been through and how I can be more resilient about these things in the future;
  • Just general advice for getting my shit together, not mooning around and obsessing over getting back together or why things didn't work, or on logistics. Like, we've been very private with this so far and we're both dreading telling our respective dads, who somehow become BFFs and talk on the phone with each other a couple times a week.
I have very good friends who have been perfect with everything and who I've stayed with on and off during all this. I exercise and am trying to eat right and not drink too much. I betook myself to the loft, so at least we're not in each other's faces all the time at the house, but there's only one bathroom and and no good way to avoid each other. I'm trying to do the right things, but I would still so appreciate any advice you have to give me. I know it will get better but I really need to figure out a way to make it less terrible than it is right now.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (25 answers total) 29 users marked this as a favorite
I went through something oddly similar. Here is how I survived:

-You need to live in different places ASAP. And you need to sleep there, that's it. Come home exhausted and ready for bed. Bring work out clothes to work. Have dinner at friends houses. Remind yourself this is temporary.

-You say you are doing this, but I can't stress it enough: Stay healthy. Eat right. Avoid drinking to excess. Hangovers trigger bad feelings that trigger needing to be comforted by the wrong people.

-Plan small, brief get together at places that won't remind you of him. (That might be tough.) Try a new restaurant. Go for a walk in a different section of your town. Start a new routine.

NOT RECOMMENDED: Jumping into bed with someone else too soon.

Just tell your dad. You will feel so much better.
posted by mzwz at 6:04 PM on September 29, 2014 [12 favorites]

Short-term triage: bathroom/smoke breaks, lunch out of the office. Separate yourself from it as much as you can

Same house: don't be there. Crash with friends, family, get a hotel. Whatever's remotely feasible.

Why it's worse: because there isn't any one horrible thing that meant you had to break up, it was just a slow grind.

Not obsessing: find something else to focus on.

The dads: you tell yours and he tells his and the dads can sort out their relationship.

The only way out is through.
posted by RainyJay at 6:07 PM on September 29, 2014 [5 favorites]

It feels like uncontrollable grief, which is silly because no one died or even went away.

But someone did die. The people you were to each other in that relationship, you will not be those people again. And the future you envisioned with each other has died. This is why you feel so bad. It is grief. There is no matter of being more resilient next time. To be so would be to not love as deeply or hope as purely.

Be kind to yourself in your grief and give yourself time. A long time. Not weeks, but seasons.
posted by unannihilated at 6:08 PM on September 29, 2014 [112 favorites]

Wow, let me start by saying you are an inspiration. I know it might sound odd, but congratulations. You have made a decision that is logical, and rational, and selfless and selfish at the same time. Well done!

Angry breakups are so much easier because anger is a much easier emotion to process than sorrow. I think you can be absolutely comfortable in the knowledge that you are allowed to feel every bit as awful as you do. Sometimes you just have to feel it and let it do it's thing. I'm sorry, I know that's not a solution to your problem.

My husband died a few years back, and I was unhappy with our relationship at the time. Does it help to know I envy you? You are two adults who have decided to end your relationship and move forward, but you will still be in each others lives (I believe that from what you have written), and you will have many happy memories, along with life lessons you have learned.

You are grieving, and that's that unfortunately. If you need to have a cry at work, then just do it. Explain the situation to those who need to know and go with it. It will pass quicker if you just allow yourself to feel it.

Same at home, explain to your (now ex) partner that you need space and time and if you are upset then you can't do anything about it other than to let it happen. I read somewhere about giving yourself 10 minutes a day to be sad and then get over it, but that's terrible advice.

I would advise against putting pressure or time limits on yourself. You'll get over it, I promise, but nobody can say how long that will take. Write letters, call friends, talk to yourself or a pet. But try not to talk to your ex, just leave him out of it as much as possible.

You will get your shit together, but not today, not tomorrow and not next week. Things will sort themselves out as time goes by. Stop being so damn rational lady!

You are incredibly strong and smart and obviously a wonderful person. You'll get there.
posted by Youremyworld at 6:12 PM on September 29, 2014 [18 favorites]

A great little book to help you through the initial days is "How To Survive the Loss Of A Love" by Peter McWilliams and Melba Cosgrove. You can buy or download it. It has a section on what to do if you are suffering and need immediate triage.

Don't be afraid to see a therapist for a session or two to help you process the loss.

Best of luck to you.
posted by Jandasmo at 6:13 PM on September 29, 2014 [4 favorites]

Agreed -- the grief you're feeling is very legitimate. You've lost a future life, which is like a loss of yourself. You've lost the children you might have had. There's little that's more important than these things. Not to bring you down or anything; just give yourself permission to be ripped apart by this and feel the sense of loss. It is going to hurt like hell, and it should.
posted by PercussivePaul at 6:15 PM on September 29, 2014 [6 favorites]

The only thing that can make this less terrible is ice cream and chocolate. Think of it this way, at least there wasn't any nasty or negative parts for the breakup, like cheating. Find solace that you are doing the best thing for yourselves and each other to break up amicably and go your separate ways. For now, learn to live as one, yourself, outside of the couple you were once a part of. It could be worse, it could've dragged on for yearrsss. Just breathe deep, have fun, and exercise. Yoga is great. Listen to music, treat yourself to a massage. The truth is, the only way out, is through it. You'll be just fine.
posted by lunastellasol at 7:04 PM on September 29, 2014

It feels like uncontrollable grief, which is silly because no one died or even went away—I know we'll be friends after we get through this first part and everything will eventually be fine.

It's not silly, and minimizing it won't help. You aren't friends now, and there is a long road between here and there that you can't just skip, no matter how much you want to.

For the short term: When I found myself wanting to burst into tears in moments where I just couldn't (because it was the wrong place, because I didn't want to, etc.), I just chanted in my head "Not now, not now, you can do this later." Denial is a double-edged sword but this is a time when it can be really useful. Hone it.

Find a way to live somewhere else as quickly as possible. Put stuff in storage and take a short-term sublet, or an extended-stay hotel, or something.

I also drowned myself in bad-but-good television. A lot of it. It was distracting when I couldn't concentrate enough to read or pay attention to much else. Find a show or shows and binge like heck.

Tell your dads. You must. Sooner rather than later.

Good luck. I'm sorry this is so hard. I know how much it sucks. It will pass. Really.
posted by rtha at 7:09 PM on September 29, 2014 [3 favorites]

I know how you feel. It's horrible - it's like a death, a sudden death that you're completely unprepared for. One day you know who you are and where you belong in the word, and the next... you're in free fall. Nothing feels right. And nothing seems like it will ever be right again.

It's certainly the most painful thing i've ever been through (and am still going through).

I god divorced less than a year ago - actually it's only been about seven months since we physically parted ways - and it's still incredibly painful. Don't get me wrong, it's better than it was in the beginning: The first week I basically had non-stop panic attacks... by the end of two months it was just a few times a week... now I don't get them at all. I initially had to literally drink myself to sleep; Now I can go to bed feeling fairly calm. I still have nightmares; I still wake up feeling terrified, and alone, and scared of the future. I still feel aimless, and "left out" of "normal" life - watching couples stroll in the park while I'm walking my dog still makes me feel sad and alone. But... there are good hours. Good days. Once in a while, even good weekends. I don't know how long it will take for you to be okay - i'm still not - but I can promise that there is some hope.

Most of the 'coping strategies' that have been suggested to me by friends (and others on this site) haven't really worked - often, I suspect, because i've been too damned depressed to actually even try them. But a few things that have helped, a tiny bit:

- Actually going out and doing something with friends, or in a group. It still feels mostly meaningless, but it's better than sitting home alone, and those few hours of distraction are a welcome break from otherwise full days of grieving. I went to a few writers MeetUps and while I didn't forge any 'meaningful' connections, it was nice to at least make small talk with people who don't know what a sad ball of misery I am otherwise. Oh, and going out means you have to shower, and get dressed, which always does ultimately make you feel a bit better than sitting around in rumpled pajamas.

- Reading MeFi posts. It sounds pathetic but here we are :). Reading other people's questions and answers about getting over breakups, surviving depression, finding love again... it's one of the most helpful activities late at night when I can't get to sleep. Other people's stories have given me a tiny bit of hope that maybe I will also be okay one day.

- Short-term planning. Like, setting a goal for something I want to have accomplished a few weeks or a month from now. I'm trying to study French and work on a short story - setting little deadlines for myself helps me stay organized and keeps me from spending too many days laying around miserable in bed.

- My dog. She's amazing. She makes me feel loved and needed; she's there wagging her tail when I come home, and she's always ready to cuddle. She's not a replacement for human companionship, but when I can't bring myself to do anything at all, just being able to lay next to get and pet her is something.

Good luck... this is absolutely horrible, I know. I hope we both make it out ok.
posted by nightdoctress at 7:12 PM on September 29, 2014 [9 favorites]

A lot of folks have suggested staying away from him for the next two weeks as much as possible. I get that, but I went through something vaguely similar and I suggest another alternative.

This is the end or death of a relationship, not the end of love for each other. I think you should consider taking the next few weeks together and mourn the passing of the relationship together. He was/is your confidant and a person with whom you would have worked through other big events in your life.

I stayed friendly with the woman I dated for 9 years but did not marry. When we finally did end it for good, we were both able to talk about it for a few weeks. Did it hurt when I was alone with my thoughts or after we stopped communicating? Sure did. But we had talked about it enough that I understood and appreciated her thoughts on it and I hope she mine.

Jump ahead 23 years, and we are both divorced and very friendly. If I were living in her city, I would be dating her again. She actually became good long distance friends with my ex about 5 years into my marriage.

As for coping, when you move out go no contact and keep yourself as busy as possible. Not much else can be done. Time is what heals most wounds.
posted by 724A at 7:21 PM on September 29, 2014

1) Speaking as a guy, I always found it helpful to drown my tears in another girl's bosom. Do you have any ex-boyfriends, or friends-with-benefits types that you enjoy having sex with? Sex can go a long way. Don't rule it out. Plus it tends to come (no pun intended) with somewhere else to crash, which would definitely be good for you right now.

2) Get out of town. Do you have any vacation time coming? Where you are now, aside/in addition to the brutal reality of being under the same roof--right now everywhere you go is some place you've been before with HIM, HIM, HIM, HIM. Geography can be relentless...

Anyway, true story: I got dumped by a girl when i was living in philadelphia. Deciding I needed to get the fuck out of Dodge, I called an old college roommate who lived in Miami and said I was coming to visit. I stayed 7 days, met Sylvester Stallone (he's short--like 5'7") and bought Carmen Electra a drink. Being there, being way away from anywhere/everywhere she and I had been in love together--it helped.

3) don't rule out some valium or lorazepam. Call your doctor and tell the truth: that you're all fucked up, beside yourself, sick with heartbreak, cowering in the toilet at work. 10-14 days of a good anti-anxiety drug can do wonders.

Take care, whatever it takes.
posted by BadgerDoctor at 7:29 PM on September 29, 2014 [1 favorite]

Longer-term, sorting out why this is so much worse than any other break-up I've been through...

I think it's so much worse this time because you guys weren't supposed to break up.

I would revisit your premises.
posted by Jacqueline at 7:30 PM on September 29, 2014 [32 favorites]

It's worse than your other break-ups because you don't want to break up. You're in love. You're only breaking up because you're choosing your careers over your life together.

It's worse because either (1) your relationship didn't mean as much as you thought it did, or (2) you're making the wrong decision.
posted by J. Wilson at 7:40 PM on September 29, 2014 [33 favorites]

Frankly, I'd be heartbroken too, if my partner all of a sudden said, "hey yeah! my career would be great without you!"

Because that's what is sounds like you are saying. He wants his career more than you. What the fuck? You wanted your own career, he wouldn't give it up, and now you are at an impasse, right?

And he, being so loving, is willing for you to give up your dreams in order for him to continue on with his career. How loving. No. And now you're crying your eyes out over this schmuck! Please. He is a jerk. And you are being too nice to him.

Move out and away, right now. Leave this situation. You do not deserve someone who will give you up so easily and let you cry your eyes out in his own house (your house!). This is too sad for words. You need someone who will treat you better. The way to deal with a guy like this is to give him the back of your ass and that's the best he's ever seen of you and let him regret it.
posted by Marie Mon Dieu at 7:43 PM on September 29, 2014 [11 favorites]

general advice for getting my shit together, not mooning around and obsessing over getting back together

Serious question: what would be so wrong with getting back together? It seems like a compromise could happen: you stay put in your current city for a few years, bf agrees to commitment. You continue to pursue your career locally, he does his focus thing. You continue to advance, as a team, toward familyhood. You have time for that.

I'm usually a loud advocate of women prioritizing career over love...IF staying in a relationship means limiting your career. It just sounds like you want the option to be able to move, but not that your career will take a long-term hit if you stay put.

Think too about how pretty much EVERYONE has more than one career in their lifetime; and sudden unexpected life changes (disability, etc.) can do a total reset of career track, and life priorities.

Jobs come and go; careers shift and change. I just wonder if you both are prioritizing something (short-term career advancement) that you will regret longterm.
posted by nacho fries at 8:42 PM on September 29, 2014 [8 favorites]

Longer-term, sorting out why this is so much worse than any other break-up I've been through...

Because nothing broke. I'm not saying you didn't break up for a perfectly legitimate and logical reason, but your emotional self just can't process that.

No one did anything horrible, no one drifted away from the other person. There isn't any obvious emotional wrong or hurt to point to like there would be with cheating, or apathy, or some kind of lack of actual emotional caring/support.

These are the hardest kinds of breakups, and that makes sense, and there's nothing wrong with that. I'm not saying this to discourage you.

This is somewhat similar to how a lot of LTRs end, but a bit harder because you're both still right there.

I think you've gotten a lot of good advice, but i mostly wanted to add some reasoning and explanation as to why this is so hard.

I also disagree with the premise above that he didn't really care about you if he agreed with your reasoning. I think he said that entirely to make himself feel better, since you initiated this, and he was on the side of trying to work it out. Agreeing with you is to explain away to himself, logically and emotionally that this can make sense and that there's a reason for it to happen. He's just going "Well, you gave me reasons why this is a good thing, and they're right, so i'll just roll with that to avoid melting into a pile of molten lead"
posted by emptythought at 8:47 PM on September 29, 2014 [10 favorites]

Day-to-day triage: Give yourself space and time that you need. Keep exercising. Don't drink, and be conservative about giving yourself food-based treats. Give yourself other treats, like a weekend away, time with friends, a nice manicure or massage or a good book to read. If it would help, get really good at looking good. There can be a lot of satisfaction in knowing you're hot/hotter than ever/healthy as anything, even if you're hurting on the inside.

Mindfulness meditation can help keep the obsessive thoughts at bay, or at a manageable distance from your everyday functioning. I found trashy memoirs to be incredibly helpful at making me thankful for my own lack of addiction/scandal/poverty/public humiliation, and they were good page-turners to they occupied space in my mind while I waited for the time to pass.

After you're through the period where you're crying or on the verge of crying all the time (it will pass), get on OKCupid, or whatever, and see what other options you have. Even if only to remind yourself that you're not going to die alone and there are lots of exciting people to meet. Go meet some of them if you want; keep it light; don't hook up before you're ready.

How to share a space with your ex: (assuming there's a good reason you can't move out soon, and can't or don't want to stay with friends in the interim) Reframe the situation to yourself, and to him if possible, as remaking your relationship into a friendship, and seeing each other through the transition. I had to stay in a house with my more recent ex for three months after the breakup, and today--we are good friends and hang out regularly--I'm thankful for that period for "forcing" us to adjust. If we'd gone no-contact, I don't know that a friendship would've emerged.

This is hard, and your grief is legitimate. Take care of yourself.
posted by magdalemon at 7:48 AM on September 30, 2014

Sometimes the amicable separations can be more difficult when you don't have more egregious actions to place the blame on.

I asked a similar question early last year, and many of the answers from this community were very helpful. Although the etiology of the breakup was very different than your situation, I used some of the suggestions within to keep me afloat until the requisite time passed. I wish you well.
posted by Asherah at 7:56 AM on September 30, 2014

I'm with Jacqueline and J.Wilson. IT might feel so bad because it's wrong. Sounds like you are pursuing your career right now in the same place as him. Yay! stay together!

A former coworker passed away last week. 1 other coworker and 0 management went to her funeral. Your career will never value you as much as you value it. Stay adaptable in work and solid with your good people. That goes for you and him.
posted by WeekendJen at 10:57 AM on September 30, 2014 [1 favorite]

Be patient, take really good care of yourself, and forgive your exes
Good luck
posted by dinosaurprincess at 12:42 PM on September 30, 2014

Are you sure? I agree with Jacqueline and J. Wilson that this grief is a big signal to you that you may want to re-adjust your priorities. My career is really important to me, and I never want to make this choice, but I think if life's developments required the decision between one or the other, my Bear would always come first.

Is he sure? Really sure? Because if you aren't ready to give him up, but he is ready to give you up, then you are stuck with this anyway. Not so if he is simply trying to do his best to deal with your call.

If you are sure or if he is, then I'd recommend you 1) move out at once, even if you have to come back for some stuff; 2) go to bed with someone else who is appealing as soon as possible, for sex only; 3) start creating new routines in almost every area of your life, from where you get coffee to your route to work. I.e., breaks this tough need to be implemented strongly or you end up mired in sadness and regret. Move ahead if you must, and strongly.
posted by bearwife at 1:25 PM on September 30, 2014 [2 favorites]

He didn't want to marry you now. That is actually a good reason to break up. You are doing the right thing. It is okay to mourn, because you have something to mourn. He did not love you as much as he or you thought he did because if he did he would have taken the next step in the relationship with you whether or not his career was busy.

This isn't about your career and in your heart you know it.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 8:42 PM on September 30, 2014

Hi there, I'm the OP.

I wanted to thank you so much for the answers; it's given me so much to think about and lots of things that have already helped. I especially appreciate the validation; it made the whole thing much worse for me to feel like I was reacting inappropriately, which I sincerely did but is truly bizarre because I would never think that about someone else going through the same thing.

Work stuff was top of mind for me when I posted, but it's not really about that—there are a hundred tiny-to-huge things that all basically boil down to being at different stages and wanting/being ready for different things. He's working through finding himself personally and professionally; this is one of those times when a big push can drive huge growth. I have had those critical years and periods, too but the most demanding ones were before we met—and now I'm established and more secure and want to move on to other things. The big ones (kids soon or someday, marriage important or not important, live here for him or there for me) don't have easy middle grounds, and however we solve them being together means one or the other of us doesn't get to do something that's really important. Like, he doesn't get enough focused time to figure out his own personal big stuff—important—or I run out of time to get pregnant (health condition that causes early-ish infertility)—also important. We've talked about these issues for almost a year; I've waited and he's pushed past what he's comfortable with and we're still not any closer to being on the same page. I don't want to stay in this holding pattern until we really resent each other or have done (or not done!) things one of us regrets.

And of course it's on my mind that it's possible he's not ready with me specifically, which hurts. I know I would be sure about a life commitment with him because I'm actually standing at the place where you can make that decision, but he's not. And no matter how he feels now or wants the same things "someday", and no matter how much we talk about it now, I'm well aware that there are no guarantees about what happens when he is actually there. I don't think it's quite like Marie Mon Dieu or St. Alia suggest, but it's definitely another place we're out of sync.

I absolutely meant it when I said how amazing the relationship is; we are so happy day-to-day and are fantastically compatible and good for each other—in every way but these really critical ones. So it's awful but I'm sure this is the right thing for now and maybe forever. It would be amazing if a year from now we're better aligned and try again, but it feels like hoping for that now is really just about distracting myself. I am going to take the advice of all the wonderful people on Metafilter and in my real life and just try to focus on taking decent care of myself and getting through this first bit as best I can; I really needed to be told that I could do it. Thank you again for all the thoughts; you don't know how much they've helped me.
posted by sockforaskme at 2:53 AM on October 1, 2014 [3 favorites]

OK, that's more understandable. If you want babies then you do indeed need to cut your losses and move on.

While you should totally be actively on the lookout for your future husband / father of your children, until you're actually married I do think it's worth it to check in on him about once a year to see if he's come 'round. This breakup wouldn't hurt this much if there wasn't something there.
posted by Jacqueline at 3:01 AM on October 1, 2014 [1 favorite]

he doesn't get enough focused time to figure out his own personal big stuff

If those are his words, then I take back my earlier suggestion that maybe you are making a mistake in parting ways. Instead, he gets a big "Oh puh-LEEZ" from me.

"Finding oneself" doesn't require leaving a wonderful relationship. It simply requires a commitment to the process, without the false urgency of needing to figure it all out right away, and the false belief that it needs tons of alone time.

And of course it's on my mind that it's possible he's not ready with me specifically, which hurts.

Here is what I predict he is going to "find" when he "finds himself" alone, without you. He is going to miss you.

He will probably make a play to get you back...but still on his (to my mind) self-absorbed terms. You may want to prepare yourself for him yanking your heart strings.

(I apologize for the blunt tone; it's not directed at you at all. I feel for you in this situation.)
posted by nacho fries at 1:30 PM on October 1, 2014 [3 favorites]

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