A post-breakup text fight, for when things aren’t quite bad enough
January 15, 2019 3:00 AM   Subscribe

So I did two reaaaaaaally stupid things: 1) got back with a terrible ex, and 2) after re-breaking up with him, failed the breakup dignity test. Hard. Help me get my recovery back on track and stop beating myself up.

The ex features in way too many of my previous Asks. The avoidant, possibly narcissistic jerk who couldn’t communicate. In a moment of loneliness mid-last year, I texted him after months of no contact. Talking led to sleeping together led to spending all our time together led to literal months of arguments and pain trying to make a doomed relationship work. We ended it in December.

I’ve been looking after myself, investing in friendships, spending time on hobbies, going to therapy, and not talking to him at all for weeks. Today my healthy adult regime slipped and I stalked him on social media. I’ve looked a few times since the breakup, but I looked obsessively this time. I saw that he’s back in flirtatious contact with the one woman he always told me not to worry about.

Did I put my phone down, go for a walk, and calmly accept that it wasn’t my business or problem anymore? No dear Mefites, I did not. I sent him an angry text, attacking him for how quickly he’d moved on and for lying to me (and in the process revealing I’d been looking at his online activity ... cringe). He replied and we got into a vicious text fight. Or rather, I got into a vicious text fight with a cold, stone version of him.

It gave me a rush. Adrenaline. Contact. The thrill of fighting after silence. I felt high from it. Moments later, I was consumed with regret. We blocked each other on all social media. The end.

I am now filled with shame. I went low, and I mean LOW. That is not the person I want to be. I also feel like I ‘lost’ the breakup (so stupid, I know) by showing that I still cared enough to look at what he was doing and get angry. In relationship discussions, he would also frequently do this calm, stony thing in and refuse to engage. Gaslighting me and making me feel like the crazy, emotional one. This argument pushed those buttons.

How do I pull out of this shame spiral and really commit to not making the same mistakes again? Should I apologise or say anything to him?
posted by wreckofthehesperus to Human Relations (26 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
Don't apologize. Don't say anything to him. Somewhere inside you know not to; it's just another way part of you wants to keep things a bit open, to end the conversation on the perfect note. We've all been there and it's natural. But there is nothing he can say in response that will make things OK. More likely, he'll give a stony reply (or none) that will make you feel worse.
Consider your own silence a positive, dignified response to what just happened. You don't have to tell him how you feel anymore.
Consider the final text fight the actual break up. The last fight is the final data you need to remind yourself that he does not bring out the best in you. He does not push the buttons that make you the version of yourself that you like most. Tell yourself that last text fight is more data, no more or no less, and you are going to remember what it taught you: contact with him makes you cringe and you have to Just Not Go There.
Breakups are hard and messy. But it won't feel this horrible forever, and will heal faster if you don't contact him again.
posted by nantucket at 3:20 AM on January 15, 2019 [20 favorites]


You are human. I haven't read any of your previous posts but just from this one, you sound so relatable and I want to give you a virtual hug.

My impression is that shame spirals are often about what makes us feel the most vulnerable, not about something that harmed another person. You are beating yourself up because you exposed your vulnerability to someone who responded with coldness and detachment. That hurts.

It's hard to get out of a shame spiral quickly but if it helps, remember that many people you like and respect have probably felt the same emotions you are having right now. Human attachment is a powerful thing. It's easy to lose control of our emotions when feeling this pull. We are literally losing our cool and it takes a lot of willpower and/or experience (including break-up experience) to navigate a break-up with 100% dignity. Look at all the books that have been written on this topic, all the newspaper articles, because we humans all make the same mistakes again and again.

As for what to do

- make yourself a nice cup of tea
- have a good cry if that helped in the past
- call a friend and go for a walk
- read a break-up book if you like that sort of thing. In the past I was greatly cheered by "It's called a break-up because it's broken" - silly but very common-sense and funny
- read all the helpful and empathic answers on AskMetafilter
- don't contact him and don't apologize - imagine he is now far far away in a different universe

All the best.
posted by M. at 3:23 AM on January 15, 2019 [19 favorites]

Should I apologise or say anything to him?
How do I pull out of this shame spiral and really commit to not making the same mistakes again?
By not looking at any ex-partner's social media next time.

Good luck!
posted by Calvin and the Duplicators at 3:44 AM on January 15, 2019 [8 favorites]

Go read through Captain Awkward’s archives ; they’ll give you a distraction but also comfort and a game plan. There’s a lot in there about bad breakups!
posted by diffuse at 4:23 AM on January 15, 2019 [4 favorites]

You're okay. Breakups are just horrible. And I think sometimes part of us wants to really salt the earth to make it harder to go back to a bad situation.

You blocked him on social media - that's good. Next - block and delete his number, because the likelihood of some good, positive thing happening from keeping him as a contact is quite small, compared to the rather high likelihood of more pain. Anything else you can do to avoid further interaction? Do that.

When I feel shame it helps me to go re-watch the Brene Brown TED talk on shame.

And I don't know why exactly but I always feel better after I get some sleep. Now is not forever. Drink some water, take a walk if you can, and go to bed on time. It will be better in the morning. You are not alone.
posted by bunderful at 4:29 AM on January 15, 2019 [13 favorites]

Don’t apologize. Just let your feelings be. Notice how you are feeling and affirm each feeling, for example, “I’m feeling embarrassed. That’s okay. Everyone does something they regret some time. This feeling will pass.” When you catch yourself beating yourself up about it, change up your scenery, go for a walk or get some other exercise. When you find yourself missing your ex, remind yourself that some day you will be in a healthy relationship with someone who accepts you and your emotions.
posted by mai at 5:05 AM on January 15, 2019 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I didn't know this before a few months ago but your behavior is normal. The brain is odd in that it wants us to behave in ways that are completely unhealthy for us despite being a truly brilliant mechanism of survival. Apparently heartbreak and the loss of an important relationship, even a toxic one, can lead to withdrawal symptoms similar to the most serious of drug addictions. You got your fix and now you feel disgusted about it much like a drug addict would after months of sobriety.

The advice I took to heart when dealing with a similar issue is that you must treat your ex like a former addict would treat a drug that will cause them indelible damage: Don't blame yourself as weak for giving in, just realize you have to make a conscious effort to fight the behavior your brain is making you engage in. When you do this you'll feel empowered because A: you will stop feeling shame for not being able to resist what your own brain is making you do despite your wisdom and logic against it and B: you will come to the realization that your addiction isn't because this person was "THE ONE" that is worth fighting over but because your brain doesn't want to let go of whatever chemical deluge this person provided.
posted by Young Kullervo at 5:33 AM on January 15, 2019 [26 favorites]

Best answer: *more hugs*

It's ok. You're ok. No one is dead or seriously injured, no wars between countries have been started, no weapons were deployed. Your shame is letting you know that you don't want to do that again, and it sounds like you've gotten the message, so it's ok to let it go now. Feel it, and let it go.

You're human. You did a not-that-horrible human thing. Humans also get to learn and grow and recover from mistakes. *hugs*
posted by lazuli at 5:55 AM on January 15, 2019 [18 favorites]

I found it helps to remind myself that I don't have to deal with the person anymore. I think some part of the urge to fight or apologize is an attempt to shift the dynamic to avoid future pain, e.g., to tell him he's a jerk for doing a certain thing so that he won't do it to you in the future. Well, no need to do that -- he's never going to be able to do it to you again, because you're never going to have contact with him again!

The relationship that still has relevance here is the one with yourself, and I think that could be part of the angst. You to yourself: "how could you let me/us get hurt like that again?? I thought we agreed we were protecting ourselves by avoiding this jerk!!" That's where I think there is a conversation to be had. You have to acknowledge that you let yourself down and look at why, as a positive step in forgiving yourself for the mistake and as a way of solidifying your commitment and ability to protect yourself in the future.

You only have to fight with or apologize to him if you're going to have continued contact with him -- if the easiest path to a pain-free future is by fixing his treatment of you. But an easier path is to make peace with yourself as someone fallible who lashed out in the heat of the moment and to build trust with yourself that you won't contact him again.
posted by salvia at 5:58 AM on January 15, 2019

This behavior and this mindset - knowing you should avoid your butt-munch ex, but giving in anyway - is so normal that Dua Lipa wrote a whole song about it.

Forgive yourself for now, and block any way of contacting him or watching him going forward so you aren't tempted. Let yourself feel what you feel; the different parts of you are processing the situation in different ways, and need to get those feeling-chemicals metabolized. (I mean, not to the point that you burst into tears at work and rend garments, but let yourself do what you feel you need to do at home.)

I once said that a good way to think about your feelings may be like they're a cold or something - just something you have to let run its course a little, and you work around it. The medicine you take for a cold doesn't actually cure the cold, it just soothes the symptoms while the cold runs its course. Some things actively make your cold worse - just like calling your ex would make your breakup worse - but everything else is more of a way for you to work around the cold.

Figure out what your Sudafed is (journals? trying new recipes? blasting Alanis Morrissette and having dance parties in your underwear?) and take a hit of that when you need it.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 5:59 AM on January 15, 2019 [3 favorites]

I like the visualizations suggested in this (funny and wise) comment as a way of letting go of these difficult feeling. Try to be gentle with yourself. You're doing your best.
posted by merriment at 6:09 AM on January 15, 2019 [2 favorites]

How do I pull out of this shame spiral and really commit to not making the same mistakes again?

Block him everywhere you can. Delete all his contacts. Delete past texting history. Delete photos. DO NOT CONTACT. EVER.

The good news is that now you really know that this guy is Bad For You. You're halfway there! That was the hard half! The other half is simply time, waiting it out.

And about the guilt and shame -- hey, it happens to all of us. As said above, think of *this* as the final breakup, as shaking out all the last feelings you needed to get out there. Now, with the human anchor cut loose, you can focus on you instead.

Good luck. It's not as bad as you think. You're a good person.
posted by Capt. Renault at 6:46 AM on January 15, 2019 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I sent him an angry text, attacking him for how quickly he’d moved on and for lying to me

I think what you're trying to do is get through to him about what an awful person he is and how much he hurt you - this is what you're trying to win. You're trying to get him to see and acknowledge what your experience was with him, and that if you can do that, then that confirms you are the better person. Take a breath. This is a totally natural response to what happens when you feel unseen and invalidated. It takes a long time to learn that you can't change another person, that you can't make them see what you see, and that you really are better off without toxic people like this. Apologizing just keeps prolonging the contact and you really just need to wash this man right outta your hair.

What to do with the shame spiral? Acknowledge it. Talk to it. Look it in the face and see what's going on there. Do that hard work. Then, forgive yourself, forgive yourself, forgive yourself. And, vow to yourself from now on to choose yourself.

Also, I think some Baggage Reclaim might help you...
posted by foxjacket at 7:10 AM on January 15, 2019 [7 favorites]

I don't have time to read all of the previous responses, so forgive me if I don't have anything new to add.

I was in a similar situation years ago. It sound like you are on the right track. You are human, and I don't think that you should beat yourself up if you slip, but try not to.

No contact is the ONLY way to go. KNOW that this will take time and will be a rocky journey. I didn't want to hear it at the time, but each day that goes by will be easier than the last. Sometimes it is just a matter of "distracting" yourself as time passes. I was engaged to someone and we were together for almost a decade. It has now been years and I can absolutely tell you that it gets better. I didn't believe it when people told me that, but it is true....even if you can't see it now.

I wouldn't look to replace him or date if you aren't ready to. I think that it is good to meet people and see that there are other people out there. Just be "ethical" and don't date someone if they are ready for a relationship and you aren't.

I think that being social and working on yourself is necessary. Not only to distract, but to enrich yourself. You will then be a better partner for your next SO as well as just being a better person.

Good luck and keep telling yourself "This hard now, but I will get better. Even if I don't believe that now"
posted by kbbbo at 8:10 AM on January 15, 2019 [1 favorite]

Omg We have all done this. It's kind of an awesome dating rite of passage to flip out on an ex and flame put spectacularly... congratulations!

You've WON the bad break up story telling contest... Two years from now.

Don't apologize, feel powerful that you are not stuck being a nice girl all your life... You can be nasty but you are choosing to be nice. That is a stronger position to come from.

Lastly I love that episode of Sex and the City where Carrie yells at the friends of an ex at the bar after said ex dumped her via post it note. She totally acts the crazy part and her friends have her back.

You've been crazy Carrie. Metafilter are the friends. So don't worry. We've all been there.
posted by St. Peepsburg at 8:49 AM on January 15, 2019 [7 favorites]

Best answer: People will try to shame you. “OMG you contacted him? You looked at his online activity? You had an emotion after being treated like shit by someone??”

The point of “no contact!!” isn’t to make you feel shame! It’s to help you heal. So you told him he’s a loser, so what? Sounds like he is, or at least he was to you. People online love to look at other people’s relationships from a coolly detaches place and tell you what to do because it makes them feel in control, like THEY’d do precisely the right thing. Most likely, not!

So of course you feel a bit embarrassed because you let someone not worth it drive you a little nuts. But frankly, you caught them in a lie, you may have made them feel a little shitty (one hopes), and it’s out of your system now. It doesn’t matter! There’s no rule that you have to act like the Lord Jesus Christ every time you dump someone. If it felt good, great, if it didn’t, then you learned something. Ultimately it’s over and cutting him off is a suggestion originally intended to give you distance from his shitty reactions and recalibrate your self-perception. He doesn’t matter anymore.
posted by stoneandstar at 9:07 AM on January 15, 2019 [6 favorites]

As far as how to help yourself not make the same mistake again, jot down somewhere this part of what you wrote:

It gave me a rush. Adrenaline. Contact. The thrill of fighting after silence. I felt high from it. Moments later, I was consumed with regret. I am now filled with shame.

And keep it some place accessible and not easily forgettable, but also not too prominent (maybe as a note or memo on your phone?) The next time you feel the urge to do engage in something like this, whether with the same or another ex, re-read this precis of what you're gonna be in for.

I think you have a very good grasp on exactly what you get out of this sort of behavior, as well as how that hoped-for payoff is very short-lived and ultimately disappointing and not at all worth it. I also understand that it's often very hard to remember this in the moment, so maybe this reminder, as phrased and said (well, typed) so nicely by you yourself, might help you stay centered in such moments.

One way of understanding self-care is that it's your present self looking out for the interests of your future self. So what a lovely and loving act it would be for your present self right now to do this for your future self, if and when she faces this temptation again.
posted by obliterati at 9:26 AM on January 15, 2019 [2 favorites]

You’ve got a lot of self awareness— you admit to enjoying the thrill of emotional combat...
I think part of the ‘shame’ is your Dino brain trying to get you all wound up again so that you have an excuse to make contact again. This time on the pretext of apologizing.
Just walk away this time the way you now know you should have walked away last time.
We’ve all been there— come on over and join all the humans that have done something stupid while ending a relationship.
We’ll keep the light on.
posted by calgirl at 9:39 AM on January 15, 2019 [5 favorites]

^^ this

We all feel that charge for fighting / defending ourselves. That's what keeps wars alive.

The shame spiral is what's tripping you up. Feel an appropriate amount of shame without letting it hijack you and make you act impulsively.

That's what's coming to me. You need to tame this destructive impulsivity. Getting back together. Looking at Facebook. Text fights. Focus your energy on figuring out why you're impulsive and how to rein it in. That will be character growth. What's done is done.
posted by St. Peepsburg at 10:50 AM on January 15, 2019

No, you should not contact him to apologize or for any other reason. but

In relationship discussions, he would also frequently do this calm, stony thing in and refuse to engage

you have to come to some understanding - just with yourself and for yourself - that everything is different now, and this is good behavior from him post-breakup, however bad it might have been inside a relationship. the context makes every possible difference. you may not be able to control your internal conditioned emotional reactions to this, but he is behaving correctly at this point, even if it feels the way it did when he was your boyfriend, when it was incorrect behavior. (You were asserting the intimacy of a partner even after the breakup, whereas he was claiming the boundaries of a stranger even inside the relationship, is one way to look at it. so it may seem unfair that his way of expressing hostility is acceptable now and yours isn't, but that's why.)

knowing how this makes you feel might help you to develop the control necessary to turn on this attitude yourself, in any future conflicts with other people. you don't have to be emotionless inside to be cold and unflappable on the surface. it is both provoking (as you know) and protective, in that you can't be effectively shamed for it even if you're doing it out of hostility.
posted by queenofbithynia at 11:20 AM on January 15, 2019 [3 favorites]

Best answer: failed the breakup dignity test

When I'm feeling a lot of shame, I find it's an opportunity (albeit a highly unpleasant one) to dig into what it is I'm really feeling is so awful about me. Shame is one of those deep primal emotions but it's also one that often lurks in the shadows, so when it floods you you have an unusual chance to try to grasp at, and hopefully by acknowledging soften, its bases. Why am I ashamed of behaving in an undignified fashion? The fact that I was horrible to another person is the surface reason, and it's valid. But, on a deeper level, is it that, having just lost a romance, I'm afraid that I am secretly unlovable and only confirming it by my bad post-breakup behavior? Is it that I fear being powerless and I associate maintaining a front of emotional reserve and control with power? Etc. Your reasons will be specific to you, but when the floodgates open and the shame comes gushing out, once you've managed to sit with it as recommended above, you can get a peek behind the floodgates.
posted by praemunire at 11:32 AM on January 15, 2019 [3 favorites]

You are human. You acted in a very human way. I suggest the following:

Send him an E-mail stating that you would like to apologize for the things that you said and that going forward, it would be best if you two did not stay in contact. That way the shame may get reduced but you will not have to deal with him.
posted by Ironmouth at 2:16 PM on January 15, 2019

Best answer: Yeah, so the thing you have to do is forgive yourself. Forgive yourself for being a human with emotions. Because that's what's really going on, and that's what you are. You might find it helpful to read about narcissists, if you haven't already. You said he's avoidant, so I'm going to guess you are familiar with attachment theory. Have you read the book Attached: The New Science of Adult Attachment? Even if you've read it before, it might be helpful to read through it again in context of your break-up. It also talks about how to make sure you don't get involved with someone avoidant the next time.

Something I read about attachment referred to the "bungee cord breakup." That is to say, the further you get away, the stronger the pull back. That's not love or attraction; that's an activated attachment system. The roller coaster feels like passion, but it's not real, true love. Someone who is avoidant can make you feel crazy and anxious even if you are normally pretty secure and reasonable.

So there's nothing to be ashamed about. Your attachment system was activated. You were hurt. If you reach out to him, it's not because you are trying to do the right thing. It's because it's really hard to let go. That bungee cord is stretched far. You just have to make sure not to snap back.

So, to that end: try to make it as hard for yourself as possible to know what he's up and what he's doing. It's good that he's blocked you on social media. You should block him, if you haven't already, and you should block the other woman you mentioned. Do you have his phone number? Don't just block him. Delete his number. Delete it. You can't text him if you don't have his number. Delete all your old texts. If you have records of his phone number in your email, delete (double delete - get it out of the trash, too!) those. Purge any way you have of contacting this guy from your phone and computer. Purge photos and emails and anything else you shared that you will go back to.

I can resist a lot of foods pretty easily, but ice cream calls to me. Ice cream in my fridge is alluring beyond all self-control. So, if I don't want to eat too much ice cream, I don't buy it and keep it in the fridge. I have an ex that's like ice cream. I think a little will be okay, but, even though he's bad for me, he's too alluring to resist. This guy is your ice cream, and when you have his phone number, it's like you're keeping the ice cream in the fridge.

Here are some things that have been working for me in moving on from a tough break up where I wasn't thrilled with my own behavior:

Forgive myself (this is on-going).

Journal - by hand! This has been tremendously helpful. I carry my plain notebook with me to work and write long or short entries whenever I am inclined. I haven't been in a regular journaling habit for years, and it's been really helpful for me to process the relationship. Suggested entries include "Things I Hate About Ex In Case I Am Ever Tempted To Forget." Some entries are ranty and others are thoughtful. They are whatever I need them to be. While this isn't the point, it's also a helpful way to look back and see your progress.

Talk to my therapist (sometimes I even jot notes about what I want to talk to her about based on what I've been journaling). She and I recently have been discussing why I feel so connected to someone I sometimes don't even like very much (ugh).

Text a friend when I'm inclined to think about/reach out to ex.

The subreddit ExNoContact has some great resources, too.

Listen, the fact that you even have a way to apologize to him, some way to get in touch with him -- that in and of itself is an issue. You probably can't forget a street address to mail him a card, and maybe not an email address, but purge as much of this from your life as possible to eliminate reminders and possible channels of communication. Good luck.
posted by bluedaisy at 2:20 PM on January 15, 2019 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: You lot are so wonderful. Thank you, truly. There was something useful to me in every answer.
posted by wreckofthehesperus at 6:35 PM on January 15, 2019 [3 favorites]

I think you should do whatever you feel it is that would make YOU feel better about the whole thing. Only you know what was said in that last text conversation. If you said a few things that were out of order then perhaps you should apologise. Not necessarily because he deserves it but because it will prevent you from ruminating endlessly about these things and it will make you feel better about yourself. If he has Whatsapp you could write a simple apology and then once he's read it (the 2 ticks turn blue) you can block and delete him, satisfied that he has received your apology and that you won't be opening up the lines of communication with him by doing that. But I repeat, only do this if you feel it would help you gain some closure. I have been through something similar and I endorse the advice on No Contact. It's the only way forward for your own peace of mind.
posted by blokefromipanema at 9:36 AM on January 16, 2019

Best answer: Forgot to add that engaging in a text fight with this guy illustrates the saying "never wrestle with a pig. You get dirty and the pig likes it."
posted by foxjacket at 10:57 AM on January 16, 2019 [1 favorite]

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