Help me find Eternal Sunshine for my not so Spotless Mind
September 24, 2015 10:50 AM   Subscribe

My 8 year relationship just ended and I am trying to figure out how to move on. I know all of the general stuff from other threads and articles, but there are a few specific things that I am having a hard time with. Details inside

I just broke up with my Fiance about 6 weeks ago. We have been together for 8 years and engaged for a few. We both love each other but could never get on the same page. I love her so much but we just can't make it work. I broke it off numerous times over the last 8 years. This is the first time she did. The relationship is definitely over. That is not what this post is about. This came "out of the blue" to me and hurt worse than when my Father died.

I will mention off the bat that I have bad OCD/obsessive thinking and anxiety. I am dealing with this.

This was my first "real" relationship. I am 35 and she is 45. She left her husband for me (she was in an unhappy/abusive relationship. I met her when I was 25 (an immature 25) and feel like my whole life has been her. It is hard to be without her for all the normal reasons but especially for a few specific reasons.

1) She was my best friend. It isn't just that I lost a girlfriend and a lover, but this woman was my best friend. Even today when things happen (Hey, did you hear that such and such happened?) my first instinct is to text her. We agree that being apart is important to heal. The thought of her becoming "a stranger" and not knowing each others lives devastates me and I don't know how to deal with that.

2)EVERYTHING is linked. We have spent so many years together that everything is "ours". I didn't really drink wine before her. Wine was something we shared. Now every time that I drink wine I think of her. There are shows that we watched. Places we went. EVERYTHING reminds me of her. ART is huge to me. We went to tons of museums and concerts and I introduced her to so much music and it was such a significant part of our relationship. Art has always helped me, but now it hurts so much to consume it. She was really into animals, so every time I see someone walking their dog I think of her. ETC ETC

I look at everything I have to decorate a new apartment and it is all linked. The clothes I have are concert shirts from shows we went to or stuff she picked out. I often listen to Stars of the Lid to calm my anxiety, but a couple days ago was a concert that we were supposed to see last week and now all it'd do would remind me of her. I am inundated daily - even hourly - which reminders. Earlier I received an e-mail that vinyls that we are owed from a recording session that we went to last Fall are finally shipping :(

How do I listen to music? How do I watch the next seasons of all of our shows? How do I "reclaim these things" as mine and not have them be painful?

2)How do I enjoy this time period when I am recovering. I'll love the Fall. I had all these plans for us (concerts, my Brother's wedding on the beach) and now she is gone. I can't even enjoy a beautiful day because I can't walk with her on a nice Fall day. I'm going to be at the beach house all by myself without a partner when all of these other people are together. I have no friends and all of my Family moved away. How do I find some semblance of enjoyment right now?

3)I am 90% sure that I am going to move in the next couple months to my Family down South. I live in NY. I made a profile to look at women (I know I know, too soon) but I need companionship and to talk to people. Being completely alone is too much. My OCD, etc is kicking in. My Girlfriend and I both loved the same stuff and had the same taste in everything. It seems like all of the girls are in NC are into sports and reality tv and fifty shades of grey. I feel like the odds of finding someone who wants to go see art films and listen to Godspeed you Black Emperor are slim.... Again, Art is such a huge part of my life. I don't want to go see Maroon5 and watch network TV. I am aware that this makes me a pretentious asshole.

I am scared I won't be able to find someone like this in Charlotte.

4) How do I share these things with the next girl without feeling like I am betraying my girl? We shared these things so intensely. How do I stop viewing her as my Girlfriend? How do I not compare others to her? The thought of being intimate (not sexual) with someone seems so odd and wrong.

I know that this going to take time (scared to even think of how much it'll take) to "get over" I want to look back and treasure and feel good about it all, but how do I deal with the above?

Thank you in advance.
posted by kbbbo to Human Relations (22 answers total) 15 users marked this as a favorite
Time. It will take a lot of time. Consider seeing a therapist to help talk things out.

There's a fairly big alt-scene in Charlotte. It won't be NYC but you'll find friends and eventually companions.
posted by Candleman at 10:56 AM on September 24, 2015 [1 favorite]

Man this is hard. I'm currently separated after 25 years of marriage and while everything is still in flux, I'm definitely staring into the abyss.

Everyone will say time. But to quote a song I wrote a few weeks ago, time is a healer, but time is a thief. Even as you're getting on your feet again and beginning to begin the beginning of starting your own life, you will hate that process because it's taking you further from her. But everybody's right. Time.

The hardest thing is the only thing: Be patient. Don't pain-shop (check her FB, page through old photos, etc.). Don't hold back from forming new relationships. They won't replace her, but you need to get comfortable with the fact that there are Other Women in the world and some of them might be fun to hang out with. You'll fall on your face a few times, you'll get some bumps and bruises, but it'll help you see yourself as "me" instead of "us."

Don't contact her, even (esp) from the depths of your sadness, or out of joy of sharing something amazing that's happened to you. If you do this it will set you back MONTHS. When you're tempted, look back at the past month, review how sucky it's been, and ask yourself if you want to relive that. The next month might also be sucky but it might be better also. Renewing contact guarantees the suck.

And finally, none of the advice you're getting here will help. But asking the question and reading the answers will feel like "doing something" for you, and so you'll do it. And then you'll continue your journey.
posted by stupidsexyFlanders at 11:11 AM on September 24, 2015 [25 favorites]

If you are in need of companionship, please spend this time trying to find friends.

Part of the reason this is hurting so much is, as you admit, because this woman made up too much of your life.

Trying to find someone to replace her is not the answer. It will not help you heal now because you will, as you already know, do nothing but compare everyone to her, only magnifying your loneliness. Building a real life for yourself will also help you better weather such storms in the future.

It is, also, quite frankly, grossly unfair to the women on these dating sites (and wherever else you are trying to meet women), who are expecting interactions with people who are ready to date and want to get to know them, not people who are using them to stave off loneliness who spend half the time thinking about how they don't compare to someone else.
posted by unannihilated at 11:11 AM on September 24, 2015 [17 favorites]

I really feel for you - I asked all these questions when my last serious relationship ended. I thought I would never feel normal again. I'm afraid my answer is going to sound a bit wet, but it is the truth: it just goes away. It becomes the past. The other people in your life start taking up more of your time and your relationships with them improve. You miss the things that were "ours" and start doing them on your own, or with a mate, despite saying you'd never be able to see them without being reminded. You even start developing new interests and friends, ones you might never have found if she had still been in your life. Yes, for a while, everything will hurt and everything will remind you of her, and I think to an extent you just have to write that time off. At some point she will seem so far away and unimportant. And that's when you'll be ready to meet someone else.
posted by intensitymultiply at 11:16 AM on September 24, 2015

Again, Art is such a huge part of my life. I don't want to go see Maroon5 and watch network TV. I am aware that this makes me a pretentious asshole.

No, this does not make you a pretentious asshole at all. What would make you a pretentious asshole is if you decided that everyone who likes things different from what you like isn't worth speaking to or knowing. Liking what you like isn't pretentious.

One thing that will probably help as you work your way through is trying to stop negative chatter like that, if you possibly can. I sometimes do that by making myself go back and rephrase things; for example, if I find myself thinking, "God, why did I do that, it was so stupid" I'll force myself to go back and say to myself, "Oh, I wasn't paying attention; it would have been better to try such and such instead" -- just a more neutral phrasing. As you already know, the next few months, at least, will be really hard, and you're already in pain; no need to make things harder by telling yourself bad stories about yourself.

I'm really sorry you're going through this. If possible, try to keep busy by taking up new things -- cooking, crochet, whatever. Just stuff you never tried before that won't make you think too hard of the past. All the best to you.
posted by holborne at 11:16 AM on September 24, 2015 [1 favorite]

It is, also, quite frankly, grossly unfair to the women on these dating sites

I get your point but I disagree. Be honest in your profile about what you're looking for, and you'll be fine, because there are women who are also looking to just meet opposite sex humans to hang out with to stave off loneliness. Just don't mistake other people for your personal therapy dolls.
posted by stupidsexyFlanders at 11:17 AM on September 24, 2015 [3 favorites]

This is going to hurt a lot, but you'll get over it.

In his essay on mourning, Freud pointed out that we live in both an internal world and an external world. In good times, the two overlap for the most part. Internal reality lines up with external reality. The pain of mourning consists of the huge gap between the two.

Your ex-girlfriend is all over your internal reality, and she's simply not present externally. You are constantly getting reminded of her in your familiar environment, and constantly being slapped with the reality of her absence. Again and again and again. Ouch. If you work at filling your environment with new people and things, the pain of missing your ex will kind of fade away. In Freud's jargon, the reality principle will win out. But it's hard to do new stuff when you're distraught.

Moving might be good, in that it will remove a lot of the external cues of her. OTOH, it might make you feel a lot more lonely -- if you have no friends down in NC you'll likely have a lot of time to wallow in grief. This can be ok, but it can take up a lot of time.

Therapy can help. Time will help. If you're into self-help stuff, there's a book I often recommend - The Reality Slap
posted by jasper411 at 11:19 AM on September 24, 2015 [3 favorites]

Re: dating sites - there are a lot of people who are just on them to chat and flirt, probably quite a few who have just come out of serious relationships, and a chat and flirt is good for the self-esteem and to help you see that there are people out there who could be right for you (one day). Just make sure your profile makes it clear why you are there, and that you don't engage with people who are there looking for a serious long term partner only.
posted by intensitymultiply at 11:25 AM on September 24, 2015

This is a good time to start something completely new. Learn Portuguese, take up rock climbing or block printing, volunteer to help sick children or teach at a prison, join Toastmasters, take up bagpipe lessons.

Basically: do something difficult, new and absorbing. Push out of your comfort zone, get your adrenaline running a bit, meet new people, having something new to talk and think about, reinvent yourself.
posted by vunder at 11:27 AM on September 24, 2015 [6 favorites]

This is a good time to start something completely new.
Yes! This is the time when you want to start adding pieces to your life that have nothing to do with her. I remember reading something on MeFi that said getting over a breakup takes "one month for every year you were together" and while I don't believe in absolute rules I think it's fair to think that you cannot expect this feeling to go away quickly. But you want to find something to throw yourself into as a hobby or pastime, something that's all yours, because that will help you pass the time as you move into this new phase of your life.
posted by capricorn at 11:31 AM on September 24, 2015

I so totally get what you're saying. I remember a time when I would sit on the bus crying because the bus would pass a restaurant we used to go to. The bus passed it every day. I cried every day. It went on for a long time.

OF COURSE your first impulse is to text her. One of the hardest things about breaking up is that you feel in need of comfort and you instinctively want to reach out to the usual comfort-giver but that person is the one who caused you to need comfort and isn't available to provide comfort. Try to develop some anger toward her. Sometimes anger can help you power through the hard part, and it definitely helps with motivating you to keep your distance.

I really wanted that brain wash, the eternal sunshine thing, the spotless mind. This is coming from someone who has always vehemently believed that everything adds to your character so nothing is wasted, no bad or good experience is completely without merit. And I was like, yeah nope, I would have been better off had I never met him. Today, I look back on my relationships and think that I'm a better person for them and I'm generally happy with who I am.

I will tell you this. I haven't seen or spoken to him in 9 years. And I know perfectly well I don't want to see or speak to him. And on some level I'm still sorry that it couldn't have worked out, even while I know that it could never work out with the actual person I was involved with. So yeah, time. And sometimes that means just feeling sick about the whole thing. I saw stupidsexyFlanders' quote from his song, so I'll quote from Joe Henry: Time is a lion, but you are a lamb. And Jackson Browne:

Time may heal all wounds
but time will steal you blind
Time the wheel
Time the conqueror

It's just really true. Hang in there.
posted by janey47 at 11:46 AM on September 24, 2015 [6 favorites]

I'm coming in to add "Time" with everyone else, but I'll also share a couple things that I have collected along the way, for this sort of grief. You're basically having to remake yourself (or to be slightly pretentious, your Self), and that hurts like hell. No way around it. :(

In a different thread on the Green, someone once wrote about how they completely fell apart - whether due to the loss of a relationship, or because someone died, I can't quite remember. Anyways, the way they came out of it was to start where they were: Go home, eat pizza, watch TV, cry, sleep. They did that for a few months, then changed it up when they were ready: Go home, eat slightly healthier sandwich, watch TV, cry, sleep. Next, they moved to: Go home, walk around the block, eat sandwich, watch TV, cry, sleep. Etc. But this was slow! Over the course of months! Sometimes you just need to wallow, you know? And then slowly build yourself back up.

A similar post I read a few days ago captures this pretty eloquently:
How to Lose Weight in 4 Easy Steps. Read it. (It's an intentionally misleading title)

You may be OCD and you may have anxiety, but you are going through one of the great Human Conditions, and your responses are very typical. That's not to say your pain is not unique - it is! - but to say, you are human. You are linked to every other human on this planet in the way you are processing this loss, this grief. Sometimes when I'm very alone and feel like I'm at the bottom of a dark pit, I am comforted by the fact that others have been in this pit and survived. Others eventually climbed out. In time, I will too.
posted by RogueTech at 12:31 PM on September 24, 2015 [11 favorites]

So much of a relationship is built on habits and rituals. This is the time to actively establish new ones. Always had breakfast together? Start going to a coffee shop & become a regular. Explore a new genre of music. Find activities that challenge you and offer measurable points to aim for - exercise, learning an instrument, mastering a language all require focus which is very helpful when grieving.

It is going to take time to feel balanced again. When you are used to having such an intimate touchstone it can be hard to know how to relate on a more casual level.

This is a wonderful opportunity to learn to enjoy your own company. You will become happier and have more to offer the new relationships that will come into your life.
posted by cat_link at 1:06 PM on September 24, 2015

One of the best bits of advice that I got when my ex and I separated was that you need to at least experience one full calendar year without that person before you know who your new self is. Since you only know how to experience life events as one half of a couple, you need to get through each of them in turn and learn how they work as a single person. So you'll have to re-invent your expectations and rituals for events like Fall and Christmas and birthdays and concerts and everything else that might happen in a year. After that year is over, you'll have constructed at least the framework of a new life that works for you.
posted by octothorpe at 1:08 PM on September 24, 2015 [4 favorites]

Any close relationship that is 6 months or longer will bring much grief when it ends. My marriage ended after 21 years. I remarried 5 years later. I am now married 32 years. At this stage you simply are living the past; eventually this will change.I wish you joy and happiness and am sorry about your present unhappiness.
posted by Postroad at 1:20 PM on September 24, 2015 [3 favorites]

Also, I would recommend reclaiming things that matter to you and building associations with them having to do with you and not solely with you as a couple. You can't do that immediately, but when you're ready see if that helps. I wore this goofy thing on a first date with a guy I adored. After the break up I could never look at it without thinking of him. Eventually I wore it out in public with a buddy just to reclaim it as mine. I also did that with our favorite movie palace and a few other things that I so deeply associated with my ex sweetie pie. Just as you love art, I love movies. For a while I sacrificed seeing movies at my favorite place because of all of those triggering memories. And then I said screw it, and started going alone to reclaim the place for myself. Not immediately, but eventually. I'm really happy that I was able to reclaim stuff that mattered to me while doing new things as well. I am taking a blues harmonica class right now, for example. It will suck for a long time, but it does get better. Good luck!
posted by Bella Donna at 1:24 PM on September 24, 2015

Sorry you're going through this. It's tough. I know.

So one of the problems here, above and beyond the regular 'break-up pain', is that you were totally dependent on your ex. One woman (or, "girl", as you refer to us) should not have the burden of supporting your entire social life. Seriously, that is not okay and is part of why this hurts so bad.

As others suggest, I would encourage you to stop thinking about "the next girl" and start thinking about your social life. You need to build up your social support. You need friends -- plural. And you will still need these friends after you start a new relationship.

Read books on making friends, make a concerted effort to improve your social skills, ask your therapist for help as you address this area of your life. Having a social safety net is super important, not only for your personal happiness, but also for your physical *and* mental health.
posted by Gray Skies at 2:19 PM on September 24, 2015 [2 favorites]

My God, stupidsexyFlanders! I love you for "beginning to begin the beginning of starting" and for "pain shop."

OP, listen to the savage lovecast. Pay for "the Magnum"--you're worth it. There are years of archived shows. Immerse yourself and wallow with abandon. Every week, week in and week out, there is another stunned, battered, reeling, crying sufferer of another nightmare love wreck because this experience you're having is universal. Week after week after week they straggle in, sobbing, and are helped or not and straggle out again and the listeners comment in the comments and the brokenhearted people are showered with love and very occasionally they come back months later to report and when they do they are always better.
posted by Don Pepino at 2:26 PM on September 24, 2015 [2 favorites]

I'll just talk about the music and associations issue.

My partner and I went through an incredibly rough patch some years ago. Bad enough that I felt very changed afterward, even after we sorta healed up the wounds. There are albums from that period that to this day I can't listen to. Songs that pop up in music streams that make me immediately reach out and change the station. These aren't just songs that felt like feel-bad crutches at the time, they include songs that I loved greatly and just somehow became associated with that time in my life. One of these songs came on recently while I was on an airplane and I just started crying right there, on the spot. (It was this one, if you're curious. Just looking it up was enough to give me goosebumps.)

This is a bit of a reality, and for a lot of people who experience music emotionally it's not something to grow out of. It's defining. Callouses might form, but maybe they won't, you know? It's ok. There are albums I loved when I was getting ready to move away from my hometown that I couldn't listen to for a good decade or so because they made me so nostalgic. Some of these I can listen to again because they bring me waves of the good kind of nostalgia, the kind that I can sometimes admit I like to feel. But other nostalgia isn't so good, like when a song comes on that makes me think of friends who I feel like I abandoned by moving away to take different steps in my own life separate from theirs. Those are still hard to hear, and maybe I'd be ok for them to be hard to hear forever. I don't want to let go of all of my complicated feelings. They're complicated, but they're mine.

But, too, you'll bump into new music that'll fill the void left by these feelings that make you not want to listen to Stars of the Lid and so on. You'll be in a grocery store one day and "Secret in the Dark" will come on and you'll think, holy shit, who is this?? And it'll feel so good right then that you'll go home and look it up and download a bunch of stuff and find out that Monika's in your town next month so you'll go to a show and meet some randos and end up talking about music with them until an hour after last call. And so on.

If it's any consolation, you can have my Bad Song, the one I linked above, and throw all your associations into it, too, and we can all just agree that, yep, it's such a good song to pour your bad times into and then dip into it years from now when you're feeling stable again and need a little taste of those feelings to reflect on how far you've come.

I wish you some peace right now, brother. I'm sorry you're hurting.
posted by late afternoon dreaming hotel at 3:42 PM on September 24, 2015 [1 favorite]

I haven't read all the other responses but I just wanted to address your concern of not being able to find someone who's into the same art/music as you. The thing is, you don't NECESSARILY need to find someone who already knows and loves your favorite artists. You could also look for someone who would be excited about discovering and sharing those things with you for the first time.
posted by a strong female character at 6:52 PM on September 24, 2015 [8 favorites]

On the OCD note, since that's something I understand:

Think of this relationship like a flesh wound you've been picking at repeatedly until it started to get infected. You've known for a while you needed to cover it and let it heal, and now you've done that (the breakup.)

The only way time works from this stage is if you leave it covered until it doesn't hurt anymore. It really sucks doing that -- all you'll want to do for a while is peel off the bandage just a little bit and check on things (googling her, calling her, Facebooking her, going through all the shared items and activities, ruminating without control) and you'll give yourself all kinds of wild excuses why you need to do it.

The good news is, the difficulty level starts at 100%, but every day you successfully white knuckle it, distract yourself, do anything except engage with that wound, the difficulty level will get easier. Slowly at first, then faster and faster. You'll start to feel more confident and you'll stop wanting it so much.

Then the paradox: there will come a time when you don't want to peek under the bandage, you'll forget that you wanted it so much before, and that's when you'll know that you can. You'll have a scar and it won't hurt to touch it. You'll be able to think about her and do the old activities and remember what was good, and you'll think about how it made you who you are and you're glad you at least knew her, even thouugh this one wasn't forever.

All you have to do (simple, not easy) is delay gratification until the object of desire fades away. It will happen, even if you can't believe that it will, as long as you just delay.
posted by dissolvedgirl22 at 7:00 AM on September 25, 2015 [1 favorite]

EMDR is your friend, and it isn't just for PTSD. It works on all kinds of unwanted emotions. I've had amazing results. MeMail me if you want more details or have questions.

Hang in, hang on. It does get better, especially if you take a deliberate approach.
posted by trinity8-director at 2:29 PM on September 25, 2015 [1 favorite]

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