When Judas repents: Forgive or tell her to f*** off?
May 14, 2016 11:49 PM   Subscribe

Is forgiving someone who has hurt you before and believing them when they say they won't again just naive wishful thinking? Or is it a virtue of the brave and the only path to maturity? The rest of the drama inside.

We were in a tumultuous relationship for three years. We hurt each other a few times along the way, in ugly ways; there was lying on both sides (but a lot more on hers), fights over pride, insecurity and lack of trust, hurtful words and calling it quits when the conflict got too big to contain.

At this point you are naturally thinking that this is the embodiment of a bad relationship, and anyone involved in it is an idiot at best. But at the risk of sounding banally cliche, we loved each other very much, and despite all that happened, that love never went away or even shrunk.

We were two complicated, immature people making a lot of mistakes, but we had a tremendous amount of fun when things were good, we created amazing things together and we built each other up (when not cutting each other down). I saw her in my future and she saw me in hers, and she would often tell me I make her happy in ways she has never been before, a sentiment which I wholeheartedly shared. But we also sensed this black shadow over our future, of our issues and shortcomings never being resolved.

And like many troubled relationships, we broke up and got back together a few times and every single time it hurt a little more. The last time we broke up, because of yet another argument that escalated into a full blown fight, she told me some very painful things. She used against me something I had told her in absolute confidence, and she did that as a way to negate what I was saying and make me look irrational.

I was heartbroken to hear that from her lips, from this woman who adored me and seemed to have unshakable faith in me, even during times when I had no faith in myself. In a way, it felt more like a breach of trust than a lie or even cheating would. I told her it's over for good, I untangled our lives and deleted all her traces from mine and mine from hers.

I retreated to lick my wounds and come to terms with it, when I found out that, just a couple weeks after our break-up, she was already moving on with the ex we had argued about before (because of him contacting her more often than I felt comfortable with).
It was nauseating to witness, but I could do nothing but accept it. In my heart I never wanted anything but happiness for her, so I handled it with whatever grace one can muster to handle such things and did my best to move on.

I dated and worked hard to keep busy, accomplished some goals I had set for myself and half a year later, I was at a comfortably numb place where her memory wasn't a daily torment. Then suddenly I came home one day to find a package outside my door, and I knew immediately who it was from.

The gift was something I had wanted for a long time that only she knew about. Inside was also a long letter of explaining, and essentially saying how sorry she is, how she got with him because she was in pain and didn't know how to handle it alone, how she broke it off shortly after she realized what she was doing, and that she wants us to try again.

This is stirring feelings more uncomfortable than the breakup. On one hand, I want nothing more than to see her and believe her that we will be ok. On the other, I want to tell her to go f*** herself, I've seen this play before and I have no evidence that the fifth time will be a charm. It took so much energy and work to be in a place where the idea of us not being together was tolerable. I don't think I could go through it again. Yet I keep wondering what if? What if this was the time that turns it all around, where we have finally grown up and get our happy ending? I don't want to be a fool blinded by denial, but neither one that goes to bed with pride and cowardice as company.

I guess I'm asking you to answer the equivalent of "What is the meaning of life" for me, but how do you decide you've given enough chances and how many chances is it wise to give to someone you love?
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (34 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
You've broken up multiple times for a reason. I would listen to past history far more than words of intent.

I've known stable couples that broke up once, worked out their issues, and got back together. I don't know any that have ended things repeatedly and had it work out well, other than eventually figuring out they needed to go their separate ways.
posted by Candleman at 11:57 PM on May 14, 2016 [15 favorites]

Love yourself. Be kind to yourself. Don't throw yourself in front of an oncoming train because the train promises that it will stop in time, pinky swear! Love yourself enough to choose stability and mental health. Think about all the ways that being in a tumultuous relationship has made your life harder and more difficult. Sleepless nights. Distractions from goals and maintaining other friendships.

If part of you is saying "RUN" listen to it!

And figure out what's going on with yourself that you're craving this level of instability and chaos in your life.
posted by stoneweaver at 12:00 AM on May 15, 2016 [20 favorites]

Agreed. You're likely going to get a unanimous chorus of saying to move on. You're bad for each other, and the fleeting good times aren't worth the bad. Don't answer, just move on. If you have to, block her on the various mediums you are connected.
posted by [insert clever name here] at 12:03 AM on May 15, 2016 [4 favorites]

Maturity is not doing instant gratification but seeing the dangers and learning from experience what hurts you and what heals you.

Love is not a tortured film of predetermined destiny with only one possible coupling. Love is possible with more than one person over a life time and with different types of love.

Maturity is recognising this and not going back. Thanking her for the good times, the lessons, the joy, and moving on knowing a right person for both of you is not here and not now.
posted by taff at 12:16 AM on May 15, 2016 [20 favorites]

I wasted five years of my life on a relationship that deep down I knew would never work out. I could have been enjoying myself, I could have been growing, all I needed to do was swallow my pride and admit it was a sunk cost.

Repay this woman for the good she once did for you by setting her free from this toxic cycle.

Act like the person you want to be, not the person you became when you were with her. Rather than thinking about trying again as 'the virtue of the brave and the only path to maturity' (dude...) or rejecting her offer as 'telling her to go fuck herself' (dude!), send her a short, friendly note explaining that you're not good for each other, that you're sorry for the pain you caused her and that you wish her all the best. You might also want to return the gift - whatever will cause the least pain and drama.
posted by Busy Old Fool at 12:49 AM on May 15, 2016 [20 favorites]

Move forward. "What if"s are the pathways to madness.
posted by destructive cactus at 12:50 AM on May 15, 2016 [2 favorites]

forgiving someone who has hurt you before and believing them when they say they won't again

These are two different things. Forgiving someone doesn't require you to believe anything, and forgiving someone doesn't require you to get back into a relationship with them.

All this talk of pride, cowardice, bravery -- look, you don't get a medal for suffering through a relationship that's not working. Get away from this mindset. Why does it have to be brave to get into a relationship? Maybe it's more brave to have the strength to be on your own.

There are more options than these two polarized choices of starting a relationship again or insulting her. If you want to be mature, don't tell people to go F themselves when you could write a message saying you don't think the two of you are a good fit and you wish her all the best. Maturity is made up of many small choices and you aren't going to suddenly become mature because you got into a relationship with anyone.
posted by yohko at 1:18 AM on May 15, 2016 [45 favorites]

What if this was the time that turns it all around, where we have finally grown up and get our happy ending?

It's not. You haven't. She hasn't. You can't do all that much growing up in six months. She's yanking at your heartstrings, because she knows you still love (some things about) her. Be the stronger person here, have healthy boundaries, and actually for real move on. You are doing both of you a favor.

Or, fuck it, get back together, and remember in vivid detail why you guys keep breaking up.

(just kidding, don't do that. run.)
posted by ananci at 1:24 AM on May 15, 2016 [1 favorite]

When the it's put like that - no. You shouldn't be with someone you don't trust.
posted by gt2 at 2:04 AM on May 15, 2016 [1 favorite]

You guys have come together and broken up on multiple occasions. On every occasion, you must have thought "this time is different, this time is it, this time it will work." But you are making the rookie mistake of confusing wishes with actions. Wanting it to be different won't make it different.

You are also making the very young mistake of thinking that because you love each other, this will somehow work out. One of the marks of maturity, or growing up, is recognizing that love is not enough to make a relationship work. Love is a feeling but a relationship is a choice. Pack it in and go no contact to give each other the best chance of moving on.

Nothing this time is different. Nothing has changed except that you're carrying around even more painful relationship baggage. You two don't have better communication skill, less drama, or more conflict resolution tools at your disposal. It is not going to work.
posted by DarlingBri at 2:08 AM on May 15, 2016 [8 favorites]

I recently went through this recently. I get it. You ache for her and miss the good times and don't want to make the wrong choice.

But I will say one really good excercise is that to remember to not confuse drama with love. The fluttering of your heart when you read the letter? It's likely anxiety and not love. Real love is stable and kind and deepens.

It will take time. I am not over her. But I am less over her a month later, and the month before that. I am grateful I ended things before they got worse.
posted by pando11 at 3:05 AM on May 15, 2016 [4 favorites]

I agree that this sounds like one to move on from.

That said, you asked about the possibility of forgiving after a bad relationship. That's a topic I've thought a lot about. The best thinking and writing on the subject that I know is Janis Abrams Spring's book How Can I Forgive You. Very much worth a read.

She says that genuine forgiveness requires active participation of the offender, to own the responsibility to make right the things they damaged. And also, the hurt party has a lot of self examination to do too, to gain an understanding of how they contributed to the bad dynamic, and to take their own responsibility when it's appropriate.

I urge you to read the book and think about it, because it's really good stuff. However, you are very cavalier about your own bad behavior (is it really ok that you lied, because she lied so much more?) that, from what you wrote, I don't think either of you has it in you to be that emotionally mature.

The author writes at length about the other alternatives--cheap forgiveness, refusing to forgive, acceptance. I encourage you to read them, try them on for size, see where you land... In the notion that this is probably a better way for you to grow some of that maturity.
posted by Sublimity at 3:58 AM on May 15, 2016 [5 favorites]

Sometimes there is a difference between forgiving someone, and letting them back into your life. It is very, very possible to decide to forgive someone, once you've gotten to a place where you have accepted that they are wounded and hurt and that their actions come from that and you can't stay mad at them - but at the same time, you also decide that for your own protection, you should not associate with them.

I think it may be THIS KIND of forgiveness you may want to do.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 5:17 AM on May 15, 2016 [9 favorites]

She may want to try again, but can she make any assurances that things will be any different? Has she really admitted to herself that she can't control herself and gone into any kind of program of healing and recovery?

She is sorry, she can't do it alone, she wants to try again. Is she thinking about what's best for you, or what's best for her? Was that letter about you and your life and your emotions, or about her?

I think if she was genuinely coming from a place of atonement, her apology would feel like a gift, and it would be unconditional. There would be no tugging at the heartstrings, no promises of a better future, and certainly no requests. It doesn't look like that to me. I doubt anything would be any different if you tried again. I'm sorry.
posted by PercussivePaul at 5:21 AM on May 15, 2016 [3 favorites]

I think when you've called someone Judas, it's a good sign you've reached the point of no return.

Seriously, according to the story, he betrayed God/Son of God to the Romans and he's the bad guy, more than Pontius Pilate or the Romans who executed him, and for thousands of years it was considered appropriate for all Jews (Yehudim) to be condemned to being a wandering marginalized people as a consequence for their rejection and betrayal of Jesus (by Yehudah) even though that betrayal was, according to belief, part of a larger plan to permit Jesus to save everybody.

So if you're in a place where you're seeing yourself as the betrayed Jesus and her as the Judas, I think it's time to walk away. The trust and respect is gone and the drama is sky (heavens?) high, and you probably need a two millennia cooling off period and maybe a new scapegoat before considering rapprochement.

It's ultimately not in her best interest to be romantically paired with someone who sees himself as the altruistic messiah forgiving her her trespasses and welcoming her back into the fold, even if she thinks she wants to get back together. Go find someone who hasn't sinned yet -- there are plenty of fish in the sea.
posted by Salamandrous at 5:35 AM on May 15, 2016 [6 favorites]

She used against me something I had told her in absolute confidence, and she did that as a way to negate what I was saying and make me look irrational.

The gift was something I had wanted for a long time that only she knew about.

So, check this out. These two acts probably feel like completely opposite things, but they share a core. She hung on to pieces of knowledge about you that only she would know, and deployed them to her advantage. Once to hurt you, once to win you back. Both times, she's aimed carefully and fired right into a weak spot with I know you. That sort of intimate knowledge of another person can be a powerful tool - a weapon, if used maliciously. It is not a sign of love.

A true gift would be something given out of kindness, with no expectation of repayment. A mature person in her shoes would have thought "I'd really love for Anonymous to have this banjo, but he'd know it was from me, and that would stir up all sorts of painful feelings, so it would be better if I didn't send it." Or "I wish I could have another chance with Anonymous, but I've already burned that to the ground. I can't fix it and I need to move on."

Trust is earned slowly, through hundreds of small, boring actions, minute by minute, penny by penny. Anyone who knows what you want can buy you a gift. Anyone can say the word "sorry." Anyone can feel bad about how they've treated another person. It takes a lot more work to rebuild trust, and there's no evidence that she's done, or will do, any of that work.
posted by Metroid Baby at 5:52 AM on May 15, 2016 [66 favorites]

I guess I'm asking you to answer the equivalent of "What is the meaning of life" for me, but how do you decide you've given enough chances and how many chances is it wise to give to someone you love?

"Love," in this kind of context, is a feeling. It can be a very powerful feeling. Was this by any chance your first major relationship?

But you shouldn't go back to a relationship over feelings. One way to look at it might be: you haven't lost those things that were good about the relationship. You broke up, but you can still honor them. If you keep going back to the relationship though, you will destroy even the good parts. That you can still talk about loving this person now is a good thing. If you go back to a relationship that had become this toxic, you will not have good feelings about it when you break up again.
posted by BibiRose at 6:00 AM on May 15, 2016

You can forgive someone without putting yourself right back in the same situation where they hurt you. You can forgive an ex without deciding to date them again. Deciding to no longer give people a chance does not make you a bad person; good people, moral people, should have boundaries and should reinforce those boundaries just as strongly. Standing up for yourself is both good and necessary especially when it conflicts with what other people want.

Don't use the idea of forgiveness to justify putting yourself back in the same painful situation. It sounds like you're struggling with some ideas of morality (cowardice, forgiveness, bravery) around reinforcing your boundaries and getting away from a situation that hurts like hell (which leads to martyr-like behaviour). It doesn't have to hurt 100% of the time. It just has to hurt enough. And every single time you two have dated, it has hurt enough.

It has only been six months. The likelihood that you have both changed enough to make the relationship work this time is very low. If your disagreements kept escalating into fights, if your fights included using information about the other to hurt them, then you two have mismatched communication styles at best. I would see the package and the note as more of a selfish pursuit of closure on her part and less of a sign she really cares about you; sending an emotionally intense gift with a long letter is not the same as a conversation about why things went wrong.

Stop getting back together to chase the ideal relationship in your head that you think it COULD be and start looking at what you actually had - a relationship that kept being so bad that you kept breaking up and that for some reason kept roping you back in despite how much it hurt you. That's not romantic, that's not healthy, and you can't keep trying to relive something that never existed.

Not every break up is done because you no longer love the person, most of them are because the relationship doesn't work despite how much emotional energy you pour into it. There is a reason for every single time you broke up and even ONE of those reasons is enough to stay broken up. Enjoy the good memories you have, move on with your life and make more with other people.
posted by buteo at 6:27 AM on May 15, 2016 [5 favorites]

Nope, do not contact her. Move on. You can become addicted to drama and that will mess up your life. I did just what you did back in my twenties, go back and forth with a relationship that was mad passionate but wrong in so many ways. I finally called it off and moved out of state so I could be sure to get totally away. I did see him again, almost 20 years later. He was in a relationship, treating the woman in the same rotten way that caused our last and final break up. He hadn't changed. In 20 years, he hadn't changed a bit.
posted by WalkerWestridge at 6:34 AM on May 15, 2016 [5 favorites]

There is some good advice above, however I would add something else - this person's pattern seems to be retreating to an ex every time she breaks up with someone. I can only imagine she said some very similar things to her previous ex to let them know why she missed them vs. you.

The other ex is likely "out of the picture" the same way you were out of the picture when they got back together - however, EVERY fight in the future, I cannot imagine how you don't worry if she's left a package on their doorstep too.

Also - relationships exist where you get all of the good things you mention and do not have the downside of relentless drama and baggage. Hold out for one of those.
posted by scrittore at 7:17 AM on May 15, 2016 [2 favorites]

I've ridden that merry-go-round, and much like you, I was the one who was tired of it and wanted off. One thing that really helped me was physically writing lists of the good and bad. It was a tough afternoon, reliving all of the good times - and bad times. But by the end of it, it was clear that the bad - and the way the bad made me feel - outnumbered the good. But beyond that, I kept that list and whenever I got weak and wanted to contact him, I would read the bad list all over again. It sucked being reminded of the shitty stuff, but it really solidified my strength to stay away. Yeah, I had to "not like" him for a while to get over the hump, but now I can look back at the good times and be glad for them, but I'm also glad I'm not involved in his merry-go-round of manipulative drama anymore. Like Metroid Baby said:

These two acts probably feel like completely opposite things, but they share a core. She hung on to pieces of knowledge about you that only she would know, and deployed them to her advantage.

She will, without a doubt, continue to do this to you and try to manipulate you - that is a huge red flag. It is how she is built and she will always do these manipulative things to you. Will you ever be able to be "yourself" again and tell her deep personal things without fear of them being used against you? Probably not. Do you want that in a relationship? I'm sure you do.

You can see the replies are unanimous here, please do yourself a favor and let it go, you can forgive without getting back together. You deserve so much better, but you'll never find that right person as long as you are tethered to this old person. Get off the merry-go-round and try another ride for a while.
posted by NoraCharles at 7:46 AM on May 15, 2016 [2 favorites]

Maya Angelou had it right when she said, "When someone shows you who they are, believe them the first time." With the knowledge you have, I wouldn't go back.
posted by cecic at 8:46 AM on May 15, 2016 [5 favorites]

Let go with love.

And figure out what's going on with yourself that you're craving this level of instability and chaos in your life.

THIS! What great advice! This is what therapy is for - helping you look at yourself to find the patterns of behavior and emotions that lead to chaos and turmoil.

Best of luck.
posted by onecircleaday at 8:55 AM on May 15, 2016 [3 favorites]

No. She's falling back on you because the relationship she left you for crumbled. Not because your love was strong. I am reminded of a song lyric here, "is our love too strong to die, or were we too weak to kill it?"

I think it's obvious that you are both weak. This wasn't a good relationship, it was passionate and dramatic, but there was no partnership at the core of it.

Partners don't use things against each other. Partners would rather cut off an appendage than hurt each other. Partners live peacefully, boringly with each other.

You enjoyed the drama, but I think you're finding peace is s better place to be.

So box up the gift and send it back with no comment.

Close this chapter of your life. Move on to a relationship where mutual love and respect support you.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 9:23 AM on May 15, 2016 [3 favorites]

N-thing that this is not a relationship you want to re-ignite.

Also n-thing therapy -- the "high drama" way you've written about this relationship suggests you might want to look at what need in you is being met by seeing your life in this way.
posted by pantarei70 at 10:12 AM on May 15, 2016 [4 favorites]

The universal assumption is that you would prefer a "healthy" relationship to this one. I'm not sure that's true. You might prefer this one, even though it will be the way it has always been. Or you might start a new relationship with someone else that recreates this one. It's not like the problem was all her.
posted by Obscure Reference at 11:20 AM on May 15, 2016 [3 favorites]

It took so much energy and work to be in a place where the idea of us not being together was tolerable. I don't think I could go through it again.

Then don't. This is not worth it. You deserve more, you deserve better. You deserve happiness. This person may bring you happiness sometimes, but you know what price you have to pay.

Move on and keep growing.
posted by lunastellasol at 12:05 PM on May 15, 2016 [1 favorite]

A big part of growing up is learning to sit with uncomfortable feelings, and accepting that sometimes there's no right answer.

Whatever you choose to do will be difficult- if you choose to get back together you'll have to deal with the pain that she caused you, and the knawing fear she might hurt you again. But rejecting her will also cause you pain, because there are things about her you still love and miss. Basically, this sucks, and both your options are horrible. I don't say that to be glib, I think it's important to accept that there is no perfect answer that will make everyone happy and cause no problems. Accepting that there will be pain no matter what will help you make the decision that makes the most sense long term, not one that will give you temporary euphoria (a dramatic reconciliation with your ex) or a short term victory (telling your ex to go fuck herself).

From my experience, and given your history, it's probably a bad idea to get back together. I do think it's possible for people to change, and maybe you both have. I also know it's possible to truly love someone and hurt them terribly. But when there's so much hurt on both sides, reigniting the relationship tends to become an attempt to make the other person atone for their past sins, or to gain enough love, sex, affection to repair the damage they did. And it's my experience there's never enough, no matter how much good faith on both sides. It's also extremely difficult to create new patterns of communication and behaviour with someone you have an established (dysfunctional) relationship pattern with.

We seek the teeth that made the wounds. This person who caused you all this pain has suddenly promised to make it all go away. But sadly it doesn't work like that.

What helped me move on from a toxic, on/off relationship was accepting that I would always miss and love certain things about my ex, but I couldn't have those things in my life without all the pain and misery he caused me, too. And that you can love someone and know that they're wrong for you.

But the heart wants what it wants and it took me many years and many failed attempts to try again before I got to that point, so if you decide to go against the advice here and get back together with this person (I know in my case no amount of wise advice or pleading from friends or family would dissuade me), at least make a condition of another shot with you a few sessions in therapy together. You will both have a lot of fears and expectations that you might not even really be aware of, and if you really want to give yourselves a remote chance of not exploding on each other this time, I think a very conscious effort will be required.

Good luck, I feel for you.
posted by Dwardles at 12:28 PM on May 15, 2016 [2 favorites]

How would she feel about seeing a relationship counsellor with you?

If you simply get back together, you're both most likely to fall right back into old bad habits and probably end up breaking up yet again, which you know you don't want to happen. So, something has to change in the dynamic between you two. It depends on the specific nature of your old issues to determine whether these can indeed be worked on, or if they're inherent to your personalities.

Sometimes communication and interpersonal skills are at the heart of relationship problems, and these can be worked on with a counsellor. Things like conflict resolution - resolving issues between yourselves before they snowball into big arguments, and how to behave and be more sensitive to each other in these arguments. Enabling each other to feel more comfortable discussing tough topics without descending into an argument. And things like being more empathetic to their partner and being less self-centred - sometimes people are just like this out of sheer ignorance and this can be improved with practice.

But it can also be your personalities. Perhaps someone really gets off on seeking drama, choosing to deliberately do things they know will upset their partner. Perhaps they come from a culture where drama and deceit are ingrained and they literally won't understand why seeking to be otherwise would be better. Perhaps they have an underlying problem with monogamy they haven't truly realized yet, that makes not cheating impossible for them. Any number of things that can't be counselled out, this is who they are.

It is up to you to decide whether your former relationship problems with your ex constitute potentially resolvable problems, or if they are most likely inherent personality conflicts that will frankly sabotage all future attempts at a relationship. You could go to a counsellor with her to find out, and then do the work, if she's serious about trying again.
posted by lizbunny at 12:59 PM on May 15, 2016

Forgiveness is a gift. Trust is earned.

Her giving you a gift that really hits a nerve does not prove she is now trustworthy. It does strongly suggest she is manipulative and happy to punch your buttons in order to try to get what she wants. This would not go over well with me.

If you try again, you need to go slow. Do not hop back in bed. Maybe start by seeing a counselor again. If neither of you is willing to pursue the relationship without the no doubt hot sex, then this may be just about the sex and have nothing to do with love.

Love is both a noun and a verb. As a noun, it is about big feels. As a verb, it is about treating each other extremely well. When you say, in essence, "we crapped on each other repeatedly but we still LOVED each other," I hear "there were Big Feels and I value that and I have no idea what actual caring behavior looks like." To me, that suggests therapy, journaling et al are in order. Big Feels do not add up to actual love.
posted by Michele in California at 1:28 PM on May 15, 2016 [7 favorites]

Love isn't the feeling in your tummy. Love is liking someone a whole lot.
posted by Sebmojo at 2:48 PM on May 15, 2016 [1 favorite]

I'm sorry, anyone you call just Judas is not worth your time.
posted by Toddles at 3:47 PM on May 15, 2016 [2 favorites]

You've broken up a few times, and each time has hurt more than the last. Therefore the next time is going to be completely and utterly horrible. Don't let that next time happen.
posted by intensitymultiply at 5:00 AM on May 16, 2016

I've been in one of those relationships before and every day I am grateful for my banal, drama-free life with my husband.

My advice to you based on my experience: every time you think of this person, picture that moment where she said something to you that was meant to stab you where it hurt the most. Picture that moment in as much detail as you can. Nothing is unforgivable. You may choose to forgive her for what she did. But thinking of that moment should make sure you stay on the right track and don't let forgiveness lead you into folly.

It's kind of like the trick of snapping a rubber band on your wrist when you have a bad thought, but less conspicuous.
posted by treehorn+bunny at 6:40 PM on May 16, 2016 [2 favorites]

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