Alone again, naturally - help me cope with a fresh breakup
October 14, 2016 1:45 AM   Subscribe

After my recent question about a long distance relationship going awry, it has ended. He broke up with me and I didn't try to stop it. I know it was the right thing, and break ups are never easy, but I'm finding it really hard to cope. Please help me find some hope in all of this.

My long distance relationship of a year recently hit a rough patch, which I sought advice for here. There ended up being more to the story (of course), including that he'd been on dating websites and messaging women for months after we were exclusive.

I was willing to work through it, he wasn't. He broke up with me. As soon as the words 'I can't do this anymore' came out of his mouth, I knew I wanted the relationship to end too. I told him if he left, he'd better be sure, because there'd be no more second chances. He left and got on a plane. That was a week ago.

We spoke briefly on the phone to finalise some logistical stuff. At one point he started to say he didn't know if he'd made the right decision. I reminded him that he'd made the decision though, and told him I had to go. Since then we've been no contact.

I've thrown out all our pictures together, deleted him from Facebook and fought the hourly urge to text or call him. I've told my family and friends what happened to avoid backsliding. I know the right and only thing to do is to move on. Relationships require trust and ours is well and truly shot. In moments of clarity, I feel like I've dodged a bullet finding all this out sooner rather than later. When the breakup happened, I felt relief and like a great burden had been lifted.

But now I miss him terribly. We used to talk for hours a day and there's a gaping hole where that used to be. Imperfect as it was, I did feel like I got love and affection from the relationship. There are many things about him that I'll miss. A little part of me desperately wants him to call and say he's made a terrible mistake.

I'm turning 30 soon and the future terrifies me. Starting over terrifies me. I'm leaning on my friends and family, trying to focus on work, not drinking too much, trying to remember to eat and take care of myself. But I feel such grief, despair, anger, sadness, regret and loneliness. Even embarrassment, for not listening to my gut sooner.

Please help me find the light at the end of the tunnel. What did you do when you found yourself in a dark place like this?
posted by wreckofthehesperus to Human Relations (15 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
You can escape into a good book for hours at a time. Novels can be great. If you want some great spiritual advice, try the works of Pema Chodron.

And rest assured that this level of anguish doesn't last long. To speed things up, don't dwell on it, and minimise moaning to others, even if they're sympathetic. Cultivate an image of yourself as a tough, brave person. This is SO much more stylish and attractive than being a droopy person who has to be comforted all the time. Get your game face on.

Breakups are part of life, and congratulate yourself on handling this one well, and learning a lot from it.

In a few years your dismay at turning 30 will start to seem very comical. (It IS very comical.) Imagine yourself at 50, looking back at your 30-year-old self. What would you tell her?

Other stuff that helps: getting a great haircut. Trying new lipsticks. Reminding yourself that at least you don't live in Aleppo. Making a donation to charity. Giving blood.
posted by Grunyon at 3:31 AM on October 14, 2016 [5 favorites]

Best answer: It's really, really painful to let go of the good things about a relationship, even when you know that the bad things are deal-breakers and ending is for the best. You know that this is universally true, that's why you asked us, right? So I'd say, first step is, accept that it's painful and probably will be for a while.

I think one of the things that is most searing about breakups is that they can press all our buttons--they can activate all our deepest fears, and the weak spots in our self-regard. It can be so easy to be paralyzed because of what, deep down, we fear this turn of events reflects about us. In your post, the part about turning 30 and feeling fearful and embarrassed speaks to this, this internalizing.

So I'd say, be gentle with yourself, and let this be a time to learn about those sore spots and work to heal them. When my marriage was failing, which was really emotionally searing, I read a lot of books, and some of the absolutely most helpful were by a writer named Steven Stosny. His book Living And Loving After Betrayal would probably be helpful to you, with some really excellent coping techniques and lots of good stuff that works on healing those old wounds. It was really, really helpful to me.

I'll offer a testimonial about that, actually. I recently ended the first relationship after my divorce--we dated for about 10 months and were in pretty deep, emotionally. But a few things were not sitting right with me, and after a (fairly small) incident that illuminated some dynamics I really didn't want to engage with, I ended it. It was sad and hurtful, and I still miss the good parts and feel lonely. A really big difference is that, while I'm sad and disappointed, I'm not hurt or angry: it feels like the decision I made was supporting my best self, and feels pretty good. The relationship ended but that ending didn't feel like a failure. The stuff from the last two sentences is new to me, and feels like I've really grown in the right direction. The book I referenced above, and others by the same author, were really, really helpful in getting me here.

Last, one technique that I learned from those books, though the whole thing is worth reading. The mantra Improve, Appreciate, Connect, Protect--to be used whenever you're at the end of your rope and don't have any idea of what to do. Improve anything, appreciate anything, connect with someone, protect someone or something. None of this has to be related to whatever is hurtful to you in the moment. But any of those actions work to short up your own self-regard. Improve anything: your kitchen by washing the dishes, your comfort by putting on socks, your art skills by practicing drawing. Appreciate anything: the color of your favorite pillow, your cousin's sense of humor, your healthy body. Connect with anyone: call a friend, text your mom, get coffee with a colleague. Protect anything: your financial security by moving some money to savings, your roses against the upcoming winter, your dog by putting on a leash when you go outside.

Hang in there.
posted by Sublimity at 3:48 AM on October 14, 2016 [49 favorites]

What helps me is to replace the things I miss the most. I get massages because I miss physical touch. I find friends I can text the random fairly boring things I want to share with a partner, or I post them on Facebook. I go out socially to give me more time to talk to other people.

One thing that always tends to hang me up is wanting closure; wanting my ex to truly hear and acknowledge all my feelings/ experiences and feeling like I can't move on until they do. Since this won't happen in most relationships, finding ways to let that go is an important part of recovering for me. So keep that in mind and address it if it's an issue for you too.
posted by metasarah at 5:12 AM on October 14, 2016 [4 favorites]

Best answer: Your post reminded me about a time when I broke up with a terrible long distance boyfriend and proceeded to mourn and second-guess as if he'd been Prince Handsome of the Wonderfuls.

I think that LD relationships are very easy to miss and romanticize, even when they were bad, because... stay with me here, I'm kind of working it out as I type... because being in a bad LD relationship isn't as -obvious- as a regular one. When you're in a regular, failing relationship, it's actively unpleasant. You have evidence of that unpleasantness in your face, and there's an immediate lifting of that burden when they're gone. In an LD relationship, it's much easier to whitewash the situation and remember only the good times, because you have less actual contact overall. As a result LD relationships lend themselves to projection and fantasy.

Anyway, hugs, I've been there, just remember time will heal this and you will laugh at yourself and wonder what on earth you were thinking.
posted by fingersandtoes at 6:13 AM on October 14, 2016 [7 favorites]

Please help me find the light at the end of the tunnel. What did you do when you found yourself in a dark place like this?

When my marriage broke up I trained for and ran my first Ultramarathon. Running for 10-15 hours a week tends to fill in the time nicely. Trail running in particular requires you to be present. If my mind wandered off to some miserable place, I generally found myself on the ground with skinned knees and a mouth full of dirt. Being physically exhausted helped me sleep. Dropping 30 pounds quickly and being really, really fit got me a lot of opposite sex interest that I certainly hadn't been getting in my marriage.

Anyway, I'm not sure what you see as self care, but exercise and the associated endorphins helps.
posted by TORunner at 6:35 AM on October 14, 2016 [4 favorites]

Sometimes, all you can hold on to is this: you'll feel different in ten days, three weeks, a month, six months. Just run the clock out a while, as healthily as you're already trying to do. If that means watching ten seasons of Midsomer Murders or reading the entire James Herriot collection, so be it. Distraction passes the time. In a few weeks, your brain will have rewired and you'll be better able to focus on a volunteer project or some kind of study or self-improvement.
posted by Lyn Never at 6:41 AM on October 14, 2016 [3 favorites]

That dude treated you like shit. Look back at the first answer to your last question. It's spot on. He had all the agency in your relationship. He even broke up with you even after further lying was exposed. It's all been on his terms.

Today can be on your terms and every day from now on. Take every minute of your day that would have been about him and fill it. Talk to friends (not about him), exercise, learn something new, become an expert at something you do at work. Make no room in your life or brain for him. Right now this will be hard, in time it won't be hard to do, in a long time it won't be any effort at all. Eventually it will require effort to even remember how he fit into your life.
posted by French Fry at 8:12 AM on October 14, 2016 [3 favorites]

Best answer: At one point he started to say he didn't know if he'd made the right decision. I reminded him that he'd made the decision though, and told him I had to go.

Save this sentence somewhere, even if just in your own mind, back it with ivory and cover it with gold, and be proud of it for the rest of your life. He betrayed you, left you, and you STILL ended up in the power position with more dignity and resolve to burn than most people ever have. Everybody gets advised to be that strong but few of us can actually do it.

Right on the cusp of 30 is a shitty time to have a bad breakup, I remember very well. I found it very cathartic to read cold bleak books about murder and watch the Alien movies a lot.
posted by queenofbithynia at 8:40 AM on October 14, 2016 [8 favorites]

What did you do when you found yourself in a dark place like this?

Packed a sleeping bag, a hammock, a djembe and a tarp into my rucksack and went hitch-hiking. Found a beautiful spot in the north of NSW to sling the hammock under the tarp. Stayed there for three days, after which rain set in and dribbled down the hammock ropes and soaked the sleeping bag. Got back on the road and hitch-hiked some more. Couch surfed in Sydney with a crew who'd given me a lift, until their house-mates complained. Hitch-hiked some more. Smoked too many rare herbs. Played my drum. Chose not to take up an invitation to go to bed with a couple of friendly gay farmers who gave me a 100km lift and a roof for a night. House sat for a friend. A month later, got a room in a 10-bedroom shared house. Six months later, met the wonderful woman I'm now married to.

Came to the conclusion that it wouldn't have mattered much what I did, and that the main thing that got me through the pain of being dumped was just staying alive until it had faded to a dull ache.

I don't know of a good way to be dumped. All of them pretty much suck. But none of them will kill you unless you let them, so don't let them.

You have all my sympathy.
posted by flabdablet at 8:43 AM on October 14, 2016 [4 favorites]

I took up running, not just round the block but hours and hours until I was exhausted. Also a lot of writing (diary style, Facebook ranting, whatever, but don't send it to him) and the company of good friends. And I took a dog for walks. Dogs never get bored of hearing your tales of woe.
posted by intensitymultiply at 9:47 AM on October 14, 2016 [1 favorite]

Finding contentedness can stem from a couple of different places now. Some are passive, others more active. I encourage you to treat yourself with extra loving-care right now. Then, review yourself wholly and without reserve right now. Find any areas of resonance that make sense to you. Maybe more importantly: hold them close to mind so that you might better pursue them.

The foremost agency you'll have towards finding peace right now will be acceptance of every & all of your natural feelings... issuing yourself some settling awareness that it may be all one can do to feel things in tumultuous waves at times. Try finding ways of (every so often) expressing it uncompromisingly for yourself - self-doubts and all - because you will enter these spaces. Often, I've found that in fomenting these areas of concern, in leading my way through it for myself, I'll catch myself aware and at a dissonant space - one where I might be blaming myself. Here, is where I ask whether it is certain, totally true, or right to do so. Here, I compromise that there are things I might or should have done better, but it ultimately will be okay, even if not-perfect.

Secondly, you're going to want to open yourself up to healthy things that enter you into flow states, or towards moments of awe, in order that you might exist outside of yourself for a little bit. The privation of your current head-space is exactly what you need right now: not 'removal' from it, per se, no; but instead, finding superlative new realities utterly, entirely out of it, in order that you can explore some new heart-strong territories, and create some new mental models, allowing you to grow in distinctive ways. Search for things that get you "in-the-zone," even as simple as all-encompassing exercise... Swimming. Rock-climbing. Friends can help you through this. When you love outside of yourself, you grow more within, even if you're not noticing it.

That, and memorializing, rite-of-passaging, and ascending-beyond, which goes hand-in-hand with the first two. You must ultimately grow to experience yourself as a new person through this, and indeed because of it, but ideally no more 'owing' your newness to it than to any other part of your life. It is a part of you that has shaped you; and the beauty can still be yet to begin. It's going to be hard, and you'll feel just ruddy through parts of it, in trying to churn through it, but it is a good process all-in-all. You are okay. Life will continue to be just as serendipitous alongside you. You'll work to give yourself space to be alive in it again.
posted by a good beginning at 9:55 AM on October 14, 2016 [2 favorites]

As you progress out of the immediate survival stage, which is of course legitimately very painful regardless of the quality of the ex, start considering how to build structures of meaning in your life so that you have somewhere else to look for it besides relatively short-term LDRs with guys teeming with red flags (adding the facts up, it appears he was not faithful to you, ever, during this relationship). Women in this culture are encouraged to have that kind of emptiness in their mind and heart which will supposedly be filled by a boyfriend. But it's actually an accommodation for predators and general losers; if you don't work on building yourself up, you are likely to find yourself in repeats of this kind of relationship.
posted by praemunire at 10:34 AM on October 14, 2016 [6 favorites]

I'm 29 this year. A year ago I had the worst break up of my life. Couldn't eat, couldn't sleep, my mom commented that I would throw up whenever I tried eating. I feared losing him and I lost him. Fast forward to now - the feeling of terror is gone. I wouldn't have survived without the love of my friends and family, and love of myself for me. There is a huge gaping hole in you now -- it's meant to be filled by those who can love you better than those who could not. I look back today and am amazed that I have not only survived, but that I have grown, in ways I would not have with him around. I still miss him, but I am okay without him. And so will you in time from now. It is not to say that the days ahead will be fraught with pain, but there will be days of laughter and strength, and that even in days when you think you're over it, will still be filled with struggles. But you will remain. And you will be glad. It's time for you to take up the rest of the space which he did, in loving you. The future doesn't scare me so much now as it did a year ago, as it is doing for you. You will be wiser than before, and you will be ok without him. Hugs.
posted by eustaciavye87 at 11:12 AM on October 14, 2016 [5 favorites]

It helps to do something to improve yourself, not because there was anything "wrong" with you in the relationship, but because it gives you a positive takeaway from an unavoidably-lousy time.

Like, get in better shape, learn a new language, take a painting or woodworking or cooking class, take time to develop a really healthy work/life/diet regimen (and follow it), build or make or do something tangible and with visible or measurable results.

You have these gaping extra hours in the day and spinning cycles in your brain: use them for something other than dwelling on the past or marrying the sofa and Netflix.

That way a few months from now you can look back on this otherwise-dead, miserable period and say "Well, hey, at least I __________ out of it, so I'm better off!"
posted by rokusan at 1:51 PM on October 14, 2016 [1 favorite]

This might not be what you want to hear, but you can, in fact, become friends with exes. My absolute best friend and closest confidante is someone I tried to have a romantic relationship with years ago (gosh, almost 15 years ago).

I didn't realize at the time that the closeness and joy we had together didn't have to conform to the relationship that I suppose it sort of looked like--we'd sort of cuddle and take a nap at the park after a weekend movie, and I thought that meant "boyfriend" because it looked like "boyfriend." But we were a terrible, incompatible match in terms of romance and the kinds of homelives we'd imagined for our future selves. We didn't talk for almost two years after we dated (for eight or so fraught months) because it ended painfully. We argued, I went silent, and we more or less ghosted on one another. But I thought about him constantly and missed his presence in my life. I missed his humor especially. I'd find myself hearing a funny line, and instantly thinking of him, and wanting to share it with him. But I didn't.

We bumped into each other at a FUNERAL which was awful and hilarious and we both recognized that. But we got to talking. And we said those thoughts aloud: I don't want to be your man, but I want to be your friend. And we talked for hours, shared a ride back to town, and agreed to meet up for a movie a few days later. On the way to the movie, we talked about how nice it was to have a platonic park cuddle buddy and that none of our other friends were up for it. After the movie, we went to the park and cuddled and both fell asleep.

I realize this is all anecdote, but he was the first person I dated with whom I resurrected a post-split relationship. After him, I tried it more times. And I got the feeling that many of us probably date people who are very suited to being our friends but maybe not quite right for that little capstone role at the top of the heap. And, sure, it may never happen with a particular ex, and if it does it may take a long time, but it can happen. One day you can text him that funny thing you heard and say, hey, you doing ok? We should have a friendly catch-up.
posted by late afternoon dreaming hotel at 3:17 PM on October 14, 2016 [1 favorite]

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