Tips on getting through a complicated breakup
August 13, 2020 9:35 AM   Subscribe

I have diagnosed anxiety and compulsive disorders that are making me second-guess and regret a breakup every few minutes of every day for the last 4 months — how do I break the cycle?

In 2018 I was 43 and started dating somone who was beautiful, educated and compassionate. I appreciated her willingess to go along with any plan and to be very sweet and agreeable.

As time went by, I slowly noticed she really didn't appreciate absurdity and spontaneous conversations in the same way I enjoy them with friends. She was pretty shy and limited in the topics she could talk about to the point of being repetitive. She was also a slow meticulous thinker and, to be honest, deeply naive and inexperienced and insecure about a lot of things. It really started to eat at me because I felt I was being inwardly critical, yet I couldn't deny that these things made me restless and doubtful.

Because of abandonment issues from childhood, she also patrolled my Instagram a lot for any photos of pretty women, refused to talk about my exes, and eventually broke onto my laptop to search for evidence of any cheating etc, and ended up finding photos of my ex on Dropbox. That was the beginning of the end.

Yet we had a great sex life. And shared so many similar likes and dislikes around culture, music, etc — but that was mostly on paper. She was highly concerned with getting through a lot of childhood traumas and we talked a lot about that. But when we went to dinner or a bar, she basically made googoo eyes at me, agreed with anything I said, and made the relationship entirely about me while eschewing her own desires to be creative and work less hard — which were also my values, honestly. Yet it was hard to tell if they were her values because she was so timid and "polite," even after a year and half of dating.

So essentially, I became her Higher Power and things were very imbalanced. This started eating at me too, I wasn't sure how to right the ship. But I was afraid to break up with her toward the end regardless for fear it would hurt both of us. And that we were in our 40s and may dread going back to dating.

So after some tense few months last winter, we just stalemated and stopped communicating. I assumed we were doing "no contact" for awhile, working on ourselves, and might reconnect in a month or so. Naive on my part to assume that.

Then covid happened. In April during quarantine, she started texting me a lot, asking how I was doing, updating me on her life. It was pleasant. I asked her how things were back in our old neighborhood. 3 hours later I got a text: "Well actually I've been dating someone for awhile and we're up her in Maine for awhile." It turned out she had met someone on Tinder a week after we'd broken up, during a time when she still claimed to love me and I was "the best boyfriend she'd ever had."

Immediately that very day, I started chainsmoking (after 4 years of quitting), pacing a lot, totally spun out in disbelief. I was totally alone quarantining, scared, with very little contact with anyone. This was the most jarring news I could have expected. Almost every minute of every day since, I have spiraled, been "jealous" and obsessed, thinking about how we could have solved our problems — even though a year ago, I was totally trying to just escape the relationship and start over.

It does not make logical sense. I know everyone has a "grass is greener" mentality sometimes and thinks about What Could Have Been. But I have been doing this in nearly every breakup for 20 years which has to do with low self-worth, abandonment issues from childhood of my own, and an inability to forgive myself. And I have compulsion issues which means my mind cannot control the racing, repetitive, consuming thoughts.

I am doing all kinds of therapy, SSRIs, CoDA meetings, etc. But this is 4 months later and it is ruling my life every day. She is moving in with this guy in September which seems insanely fast and impulsive. It eats at me despite the fact the relationship had frustrated me so much. I hate this. I cannot control my own brain and its contradictions.

Has anyone out there really taken meaningful steps to just "let go" in a way that actually sticks?
posted by critzer to Human Relations (21 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
Response by poster: I am well aware of my own mistakes here btw and am extremely hard on myself, so I can only ask for compassionate responses if possible.
posted by critzer at 9:44 AM on August 13, 2020 [2 favorites]

Best answer: What would happen if you accepted what you feel and what you've been through? If you gave yourself the compassion you're looking for here? You could change the narrative: from these hard times you're in as being something you're doing wrong, to something that you're finding really tough and needing a lot of time and conscious effort to get through and heal from. That's ok. It's hard to lose a relationship and then find the other person has "rebounded" really quickly. 4 months isn't a huge amount of time to get over something- even if (maybe especially if?) the thing was something you felt ambivalent about. Regardless of the downsides of the relationship, you've still lost something- the person herself, the good things you enjoyed, the feeling of stability and comfort of being with someone. Just because it wasn't Perfect doesn't mean you're not allowed to mourn it.

My advice would be as well as the therapy, meds and support groups- which, while probably necessary for you, also tend to have the downside of keeping you engaged in thinking about your past relationship- would be to try and fill your life up as much as possible. It's harder in the pandemic times, I know, but if you can challenge yourself in some areas that aren't about relationships- a new sport? learning a skill? signing up for a race you have to train for? religious practice?- it might help you move on mentally from this painful rumination, and give you more in your life to focus on than things from the past.

Good luck! You can and will get through this!
posted by Balthamos at 9:50 AM on August 13, 2020 [17 favorites]

Just want to say not to discount the effects of the pandemic here -- 4 months isn't a particularly long time to get over the end of a serious relationship in normal times, but during a pandemic? When you can't do any of your usual activities or go out and meet people and are stuck at home alone with your thoughts 90% of the day? Yeah, that's incredibly difficult. Be kind to yourself. Right now you're probably dealing not only with the upset feelings over the end of the relationship itself, but also the trauma of going through this breakup at the beginning of quarantine. I don't have any specific advice for you but things will get better.
posted by mekily at 10:09 AM on August 13, 2020 [9 favorites]

A couple years ago, I was dealing with a loss and it bothered me all the time. I had an exercise class a few times a week that ended with a 10 minute meditation in the dark. Maybe it was something about the workout endorphins leading into that meditation, but I'd feel a surge of sadness and loss and usually cry as I laid there in the dark. Several months later, one night a new feeling descended - the sudden acceptance of the loss. It's hard to describe it, because it happened more on a body level than intellectually, but it was as if I released the feeling of fighting the loss. I'm still sad, and I still miss that person, but it became okay that they are no longer alive.

One other note about this perspective shift, is that there was an element of newly seeing it from the point of view of the departed person. I had been very much rooted in my own sense of loss, but the shift I describe also included a sense of the other person having been released.

So, you could try a regular meditation and just see what shifts around for you.
posted by xo at 10:37 AM on August 13, 2020 [7 favorites]

Response by poster: @Balthamos I almost teared up reading your response because it seemed to speak to my unconscious. You're right, I can mourn it even though it had problems and I had one foot out the door.

@mekily I think you're right about the pandemic. Those first 3 months was total isolation and me inside my head all day every day without much work to do and of course no coworkers. It was a brutal time to have that information in my head, even though it seems counterintuitive to how things actually went down.
posted by critzer at 10:38 AM on August 13, 2020 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Yeah, Balthamos is right. It's okay to obsess about her. It's okay to feel what you have been feeling. You are allowed to feel hurt or angry or rejected or lost or jealous or whatever else. You don't need to hold yourself to a standard of perfect emotional discipline, where you always only feel the correct things to the correct amount. It would be different if you were acting your feelings out, especially in a way that's hurtful to someone, but you're not. All you're doing is having your own feelings. My god, OP, even your harsh inner critic has to admit that you're allowed to have your own feelings! Right? You're not doing anything wrong.

Sometimes I feel like what I resent the most about having shitty events happen in my life, is that I now have to *deal* with having a shitty event having happened in my life. Oh, great, a complicated breakup. Here come the next many, many months of wasting all my time and emotional energy having shitty feelings about it all the time. Not to mention, many many months of not paying enough attention to my work, not being able to find pleasure in my usual fun activities, being surly and distant with my friends, and letting the dishes pile up in the sink. It's so fucking frustrating. Perhaps this is where part of your frustration is coming from, too. Like, in addition to feeling that you're ~doing it wrong~ when you have feelings, you're also feeling angry that you have to go through this at all. Why did the shitty event have to happen? Why do you need to have these shitty feelings? Why couldn't the universe just give you a break this one time and let you have an easy time getting over her? It feels unfair. The laws of life are merciless. So yeah - if this frustration is part of what you are feeling, I just wanted to validate you and say, fuck, yes, if I were you I would also feel the same. You are not unreasonable to rage against the merciless law of life that extracts suffering from you.

I have nothing to say to you that can take the pain away. I'm so sorry you're going through this. I hope you can be very gentle towards yourself during this difficult time. I hope you can even be gentle to your inner critic --- that poor sap is hurting too, and would probably respond better to a hug than to a shush. Your psyche lifting a lot of heavy weights right now, processing your pain and having all these feelings. Your psyche deserves your kindness and your support for all this hard work. And someday, when you have done the work and borne the grief, you'll wake up and find that things feel a little better, and I hope you treat yourself to a fucking vacation or something. You will have earned it.

Oh, and maybe you can take a break from contacting your ex for a while? Try it for a month, see if it helps you feel any better.
posted by MiraK at 10:40 AM on August 13, 2020 [10 favorites]

Response by poster: When she got back to the neighborhood a few weeks ago, I emailed to say it'd be nice to just sit in a park and catch up. We hadn't seen each other in 6 months and so much had happened. It was only then that she dropped it that she had dated him a week or so after our stalemate and that they moved/quarantined 10 weeks later, and that they are fucking moving in together on Sept 1.

On the one hand, I almost wish I'd never contacted her because I think that really set me off. Yet we went through so much together, it seemed weird not to. But I would have rather not sat around for months, again, wondering how it had gone down and where she was now. At least I have the information now. And I'm deeply suspicicous of the rebound factor and fact she phrased it as, "I haven't lived with someone in 15 years, and I'm almost 40 so it's time to lock some things down." Again, that just sounded really odd and impulsive and maybe not quite authentic...? But perhaps I'm just bitter.
posted by critzer at 10:52 AM on August 13, 2020

Best answer: Nthing that you get to have your feelings.

Pandemic brain seems to intensify certain things. I am thinking about my relationships - friendships, familial, romantic - in whole new ways. Often a little obsessively. And even in normal times, like you, I tend to obsess over breakups and it's rough. I have to give myself a lot of time to get over them.

I'm finding/have found the following helpful:

How to Be An Adult
Intense exercise that requires focused concentration
Grounding techniques - there are tons of resoruces, here's one
Hobbies. I have a couple that can get me into a calmer, more relaxed frame of mind when I'm upset.
posted by bunderful at 11:21 AM on August 13, 2020 [3 favorites]

This sounds very familiar to me. I had a major breakdown years back when I a person I had dated and was currently occasionally sleeping with told me she was seeing someone new. Caught me totally off guard because I had broken up with her! I knew we weren't good for each other, so why did it hurt so much?

I've linked these experiences to my attachment style (avoidant, more or less) and have found some pathways forward through that frame. I highly recommend the Attached book that bunderful links above as an entry to these ideas.

The short of it for me is that there's a deep deep lack that I carry with me always, a yearning for deep intimacy. Relationships help with it but I often end up let down by the person — they're not really right for the need I have, they don't get all the things correct. I also tend to come up with Reasons why that is, a narrative about who the other person is that makes the ending make sense for me. The thing is I can still carry some piece of them, and that narrative, that helps me feel okay about my lack, about why they weren't right and about the things that will feel right. When my ex told me about their new partner I think I flipped out because the narrative totally collapsed and alllll these feelings of deep loneliness came rushing in.

I don't have any Answers, but the book has helped, as has the understanding that the root is the deep deep yearning and need that I have. I am attending to that in more ways now — deepening intimacies with friends, choosing better people to be around, and learning how to share the loneliest feelings with people so I don't end up needing a partner to be just perfectly right in all the ways (hint: they never are!).
posted by wemayfreeze at 11:52 AM on August 13, 2020 [6 favorites]

I appreciated her willingess to go along with any plan and to be very sweet and agreeable.

she was so timid and "polite," even after a year and half of dating.

I'm deeply suspicicous of the rebound factor and fact she phrased it as, "I haven't lived with someone in 15 years, and I'm almost 40 so it's time to lock some things down." Again, that just sounded really odd and impulsive and maybe not quite authentic...? But perhaps I'm just bitter.

this is a very clear progression when you isolate these three sentiments and order them. and I think it has a bit to do with why you feel so upset, even now. The thing you said (to yourself) you were sick of about her--that she was so agreeable to the point where you didn't know if she was doing & saying what she wanted or what you wanted--has changed. she is now doing what she thinks is best for her life, even though it sounds "odd" to you and is not what you have chosen for yourself. She has changed enough to trust her own desires over your opinions. She is either more impulsive than she used to be, or she has learned to trust and follow her impulses. but you are not the beneficiary of the changes you longed for so much, back when you were together.

this is a very common pattern, whether the problem in a relationship is a genuine fault in the other person or not. in general, people learn from experience easily enough--but they don't have the ability to exhibit that change until they are in a new environment: not the one that did the teaching. A woman who has trouble standing up to her partner as an equal can change, but the time-tested way of changing is to leave and start fresh.

(the classic example is a man who won't commit, and his partner finally gets sick of it and leaves, and then he marries the next woman he meets. this happens ALL THE TIME. People always feel awful about themselves--if he or she could do this all along, why couldn't they do it for me?--but it is in fact the consequences of not being able to do it for you that make them capable of doing it for someone else.)

it's also completely normal to accelerate the typical relationship timeline A. if you're sure you know what you want, B. if you're of a certain age and want cohabitation/marriage/children (any or all of those), and C. in a semi-quarantine situation when casual dating around feels and is dangerous. There's nothing inauthentic about a choice lots of other people also make; it's a popular choice for a reason.
posted by queenofbithynia at 12:00 PM on August 13, 2020 [19 favorites]

the classic example is a man who won't commit, and his partner finally gets sick of it and leaves, and then he marries the next woman he meets. this happens ALL THE TIME.

Haha, yes, I used to call myself the "Gateway to marriage" girlfriend because the non-committal guys I'd be in relationships with often wound up marrying the NEXT person that they were with, leaving me spending a lot of time being like "WTF?"

So hey, this is hard and I want to back what other people are saying. As a fellow anxious person, spending a lot of time being like "What is wrong with her? This is weird, right?" is definitely a thing that will push the anxious-brain button in a way that feels good, but I'd like to gently suggest that it may not be helpful. Which is to say "Hey, feel how you feel but maybe be a little curious about why the obsession with she-was-wrong-for-me is just a flipside of the why-is-she-moving on obsession of now" In other words, it's continuing a relationship with your ex, just in a way that is even less satisfying than the one you have now. Not that you can maybe consciously do anything about that, but it's worth putting it on the "Huh, why am I doing this?" list for gentle reflection.

I'm definitely someone who is a deeply lonely person, in some ways, and also in a long term (and long distance) relationship with someone who is... not bothered by this? And that kind of makes all the difference. Like if my anxious mind feels I am one foot out of the relationship, but I KNOW it's a cognitive distortion, he's okay with that just... being true as long as I'm not making him answer for things my mind makes up. Which isn't to say our relationship isn't 100% always awesome, but when it's not, it's not just because my anxious mind is sabotaging it. It sounds like maybe you both were one foot out of the relationship and she decided that your breakup (which you felt was maybe not a breakup entirely but maybe you guys didn't communicate about it that well?) was the springboard to go somewhere new. Which, heck, it happens. It can hurt.

Part of what is helpful for me is compartmentalization (maybe I won't think about that negative thing right now, I can think about it later), doing all the anxiety-managing things, there may be meds that can help with compulsions specifically (really if you're at the "This is screwing up EVERY day" point) that might be worth looking into. And finding other people, whoever they are, temporary fake friends, online flirtations, some hobby group, a gaming group, whatever it is, to give you some distraction while the time passes. Every time you think you don't have to think about that negative thing right now, is a little more time you give yourself to heal up.
posted by jessamyn at 12:15 PM on August 13, 2020 [8 favorites]

Response by poster: Thank you all - it helps.

I know that the added element of, "I'm 45, I 'shouldnt' be single, I hate online dating and starting over, I'm never gonna find someone" is working very hard on my psyche right now. Very hard. But I know it's not the end of the world. I'm just full of dread right now.
posted by critzer at 12:37 PM on August 13, 2020

When you find yourself getting into your head, make an effort to instead get into your body. Even if that means lying on the floor and breathing for a few minutes.
posted by bunderful at 1:01 PM on August 13, 2020 [1 favorite]

There's no way that a breakup dovetailing with global catastrophe doesn't get a little more complicated than normal.

So first off, cut yourself some slack first off on feeling unmoored. Of course you do.

As I have mentioned on MeFi before, I ended a long-term cohabiting relationship just a couple of days before lockdowns started in my area. The breakup was going to happen anyway and it was suuuuuuuuuuuuuuuper going to suck anyway but the pandemic definitely accelerated the timeline and complicated the recovery -- it feels, as you identify in your post, like you can't just go no-contact during a fucking pandemic, not if you give a damn about the person, right?

So second of all, cut yourself some slack on getting in touch with her. Of course you did.

Has anyone out there really taken meaningful steps to just "let go" in a way that actually sticks?

Ultimately the main thing that makes letting go stick is time. Logic eventually does take root and one's emotions get redirected and the sting fades and other things fill the void (which again, is a more howling than usual kind of void because, it is literally the end of the world as we know it).

In the meantime,
a) get with your care providers and tell them that your meds and therapy are not equal to the current task. See if you can get some help there.
b) examine and identify what's really going on and what's really at the root of your spiral. When your brain is spiraling it's often trying to avoid acknowledging something unpleasant and true.

From here, and I'm not saying this to be a dick, but from here it looks like you thought you were the Boss Of This Relationship and now it turns out you were not. You didn't feel comfortable being her "Higher Power" (gross) but you don't like finding out that you were not ever that at all, you were just a normal human she dated and then didn't date.

What if you rewrote the narrative of your relationship with her into one where you weren't an all-powerful authority-god with a demure woman under his spell but rather just a guy, whose girlfriend didn't really have much to say at the bar, and wasn't really a great fit, but had a lot of good points and losing her is ultimately a mixed bag.

Maybe sit with that story for awhile, see whether it gives your brain less to gnaw on obsessively.
posted by We put our faith in Blast Hardcheese at 4:11 PM on August 13, 2020 [8 favorites]

(Side note: My last relationship was with a man who was very driven and had many accomplishments. I felt intimidated by him, cautious of revealing myself, and hesitant to take the lead. After things ended and the smoke cleared, I realized that - in addition to my own anxious/avoidant attachment pattern - I hadn't felt safe with him and he hadn't known how to create a safe space for me. I don't mean that he was unsafe ... just that we both had issues with intimacy and we just kind of ... heart-blocked each other. Or something like that. I have before and since encountered men with whom I do not recreate this dynamic. Her deal may not be my deal, just sharing the data point.)
posted by bunderful at 4:42 PM on August 13, 2020 [3 favorites]

Response by poster: You didn't feel comfortable being her "Higher Power" (gross) but you don't like finding out that you were not ever that at all,

Higher Power is a really common term in the relationship groups and CoDA world that I participate in and that was very much the dynamic. It has to do with downplaying your independence and forgetting the larger picture of life, spiritually, and instead placing your partner in a god-like role. This was exactly what happened, as she's admitted a few times. She was extremely passive and deferential from day one and the longer it went on (and I sounded the bell about this more than once), the more it started to bother me that she was so timid to just assert herself and loosen up. I was good to her and affectionate with her, but I was, in fact, in that higher power role even though I did not want to be — I wanted equality.
posted by critzer at 5:16 PM on August 13, 2020

Best answer: Once upon a time I dated a guy and fell in love with him hard and fast before I even really knew what was happening and I loved him completely. I certainly hadn't loved anyone like that before (and I had loved before, I really had) and I'm not sure I'll ever love like that again.

It was magical and it also made me overlook some concerning elements of our relationship, like how controlling he could be, or how difficult it was to get him to compromise, or how much I was shrinking myself into something I didn't totally recognize with him, something that fit into his life while leaving the life I had built for myself behind. One day he shifted from loving to strange, cold, distant, almost cruel. I tried to talk to him but he denied it, turned it on me, and made me feel unreasonable and crazy. Within a month he had broken up with me for someone else. Within four months he was living with her.

It was the hardest, most painful, biggest mindful of a breakup I've ever had. I am someone that thinks in puzzles, in logic, in reason. I seek to understand everything I see, to make the world fit neatly together, to approach life with a formula I know how to solve. Yet here I was with something that, at its core, made no fucking sense and simply could not be understood. I didn't know what to do. I lied awake at night, searing for an answer, but here I had a formula that literally could not be solved. It still bothers me if I think about it too much.

I'm just over a year out now and I still think of him often. Part of me still loves him and always will, I think. But I can tell you that in a year I have gone from crying every time I think of him to a better version of myself. I like to think that I rebuilt myself in the ashes he left behind and came out stronger.

My point is, it's okay to wonder. It's okay to accept that you still love this person. She was important and real and she mattered.

But it also okay to take that love and care that you felt for her and place it somewhere inside of you and shut the door on it and just keep going. It will always be there. You do not have to deny yourself of it and you do need to need to poke and prod and pull it, living in a world of what ifs. I did--I spent a year wondering why, until one day I accepted that my love for him was real and what we had was real, even with all the red flags and problems. I stopped hating him and stopped trying to contort the situation in my mind into something different, something with duller edges, something that couldn't hurt anymore. And I took my love for him and I just kept going. I vowed to be the best version of myself in his wake.

I don't know if there's a secret formula for breakups. I do know that I tried, and failed, to hate him. The only way I could move on was to accept that I love(d) him in spite of all his flaws and in spite of all of our problems and to keep that somewhere sacred inside of myself, then close the door on it and look the world in the face and just keep going. Even when it hurts. Especially when it hurts. Because someday I promise you it will not hurt as bad anymore.

Good luck.
posted by Amy93 at 7:02 PM on August 13, 2020 [15 favorites]

At some point maybe you will find some grace in an ability to be happy for her. In the meantime, yes, you’re allowed to feel these feelings. But I want to help you get through this with a couple of suggestions:

Don’t be in touch with her. At all. Not just because you were doing okay when you weren’t in touch with her, but because the information you’re getting from her is driving you bonkers. No good can come of continued contact. She may or may not enjoy sensing your jealousy. I suspect anything on-going is bad for you both.

Read the book Attached and read about avoidant attachment styles. It sounds like there were legit problems in this relationship. It also sounds like you might have difficulty with intimacy in long term relationships. That book and therapy might give you some insight.
posted by bluedaisy at 7:52 PM on August 13, 2020 [3 favorites]

Letting go, for me, has usually involved circling around the dynamics until I come to an understanding/perspective that makes sense.

From where I am, it seems as though, frankly, it just wasn’t a good match.

Sounds like your ex wasn’t able to achieve a level of comfort with you that would allow her to be herself with and trust you. I don’t know why that would be - maybe it’s some of her stuff (people-pleasing? Perhaps she was intimidated by you, deep down), maybe it’s some of yours (gently: habits of entitlement perhaps? Did you give her space to talk? Maybe you just have a big personality? I don’t know). No one’s agreeable and deferential 100% of the time - or if they are, it’s going to lead to resentment. (In future, watch for that and consider it a sign to question things going forward. Sure, it’s probably nice to have people let you go validated and unchallenged for ages, but you should be suspicious of that, and you should be suspicious of taking pleasure in that. If that’s been a pattern seen in past relationships, explore that. If it’s just been this one time, it might be more of a her thing.)

(Side note, it may be that she’s not “slow” in her thinking - you may not be aware, but anxiety can gum things right up.)

Bottom line, sounds like it simply wasn’t an emotional fit, it wasn’t going to work, and (I realize it may not feel like it right now), it’s actually a good thing that you’re now free to find someone who’s a better match for you. Someone who is comfortable expressing disagreement, who takes the lead sometimes, and shows that she’s at ease with herself and with you.
posted by cotton dress sock at 7:36 AM on August 14, 2020 [2 favorites]

I think a harsh reality in situations like this (I’ve been in one!) is that she wasn’t being herself in your relationship because she was in love with you and rightly ascertained that you didn’t really like her. You thought she was slow, shallow, limited. She hid herself because she wanted you but got a very clear picture that you didn’t want her, and what you liked most about her was her sweetness and agreeability. So up with the sweetness, down with the “her”ness.

You wanted an equal, but I’m guessing you didn’t see HER as an equal. How can she act as an equal in a relationship where her true self is not valued?

I’m not saying this to imply you’re a jerk, a lot of people don’t realize right away that what feels like chemistry is one person working very hard to be accommodating because they know the partnership is not a good fit, but want it anyway, for whatever libidinal reasons.

So, she moved on (as you both probably should have done much earlier), and hopefully things are moving faster with the new guy because she can be her authentic self. She might still idolize and miss you but the speed of the new relationship could as easily be a reflection of the comfort and ease of it as it could be a sign of dysfunction. Happens all the time.

You probably feel jealous because you wanted her to be herself, but in your mind “being herself” meant... being someone totally different. Someone still sweet and accommodating but with a more interesting, assertive personality. Etc. Seeing her be appreciated— be an equal, or even dominant in her new relationship— very possibly triggers something in you where on a deep level you think you know better than her and that she should not be trusted to be autonomous. Exactly the reason she never felt comfy with you.

Maybe you know all this already. I’m not saying it to be mean, I’ve been on both sides of this dynamic.
posted by stoneandstar at 1:46 PM on August 14, 2020 [13 favorites]

Sorry if you already know this, but this is what strikes me:

"and that they are fucking moving in together"

FUCKING moving in together.

(1) you're stuck in your rage. Which is very hard to really FEEL, even though you think you're feeling it all the time; It's particularly hard to express it fully with a therapist or in a group. Everybody SAYS you're supposed to express your anger, but most nice civilized people don't want to hear it. So you're stifled and it's locked inside you repeating, repeating, repeating.

(2) Your rage isn't really about HER. Although you "know" that it's about childhood stuff etc., when you obsess about HER you're not thinking about that stuff; you're thinking about HER. It would be good if you could tell yourself, when the thoughts come up, "It's not about HER; it's about how ANGRY I feel about _______________________." Now fill in the blanks. Over and over again. And invoking the past is GREAT, because that's what it's about. (Cognitive-behavioral therapy is going to short-circuit this process and try to bring you into the Practical Present, but that's not what it's about.)

What is it about? Feeling that you were not RESPECTED. ("What? after one WEEK she finds somebody else and it's WORKING?") You're mad as hell at her but yes, as you state, you're REALLY mad at yourself and at WAR with yourself. The part of you that you think is a "loser" (and the girlfriend "proved" this by her behavior, thinks that part of yourself) is at war with the part of you who says "screw that! I'm fine! Nothing wrong with ME! SHE was the boring one! I wanted to reject HER and then SHE gets somebody else IMMEDIATELY, BEHIND MY BACK?! Who does she think she IS??) You thought you were in control, and it turned out you weren't.

IT'S NOT ABOUT HER. It's about the "dynamics" of this story. It has everything to do with your self-esteem and lack thereof = it's about SHAME AND HUMILIATION. In the field of psychoanalytic thought this is called a Narcissistic Injury. This is not calling you "a" "narcissist." We all have narcissistic concerns and needs. That is, to feel we are of value, worthy of respect. You got stuck in this battle in your head and you can't get out of it because you can't win it (because, in your head, her finding somebody else means she "won"), but you also can't tolerate losing the battle (losing the battle = utter despair. You really "are" a "loser.").

FILM REFERENCE: Joe Pesci in GOODFELLOWS (I think). Where he asks, "am I your clown?" A little man who THOUGHT, as he was fooling around, that HE was in charge, but the laughing by his, in effect, captive, TRIGGERED his humiliation and he had to get revenge. (By the way, D. Trump fights this every day of his life too -- no offense -- MANY of us do (can you tell that your predicament resonates with me in a very personal way??)

In a sense, this is a battle between anxiety and depression. Anxiety = fighting. Scared as hell of losing, but still fighting. fighting is thinking thinking thinking. If you keep thinking, you're still in the game and haven't lost yet. If you were to give up the obsession, it would mean, given the state you're currently in, that you lost the fight. Losing = ALL is lost. You have to accept the worst thoughts about yourself.


First -- keep saying, "It's not about her!" and then continue to explore the origins of your fragile self-esteem and propensity to feel humiliated and disrespected. You need to revisit scenarios and then really FEEL how HORRIBLE they made you feel, and how none of it was your fault, and how you were just a vulnerable, trusting person and that trust was betrayed and you were treated like shit. Because you will continue to repeat this pattern if you don't. The best way to do this, I think, is with a therapist, but it has to be a therapist who will do this with you (!) and not try to "get" you to move on, give you "techniques" to stop thinking, etc. You need to be with a therapist who will sit there with an utterly enraged and humiliated person. Hope: many many people have been and are in this same exact situation. You can get over this, but only if you allow yourself the feelings. Some people above have given you good advice, which is, to ALLOW yourself to feel like crap. BUT -- that's not the entire story. It would really help for you to explore WHY this is feeling so terrible, and it's not just because you broke up and it's a pandemic. I will restate the main point once more: You thought you were on top (in control; in a position where YOU could choose) and it turned out you were not on top; rather, it turned out that you were DUPED, a FOOL. You have to look at where this being taken for a fool originates in you.

(by the way this is very much a kid-parent thing: the little kid is lost in grandiosity, play, etc., and then the parent comes in and says "no I"M in charge")

The above is theoretical speculation. I don't know you. And I am not your therapist. I'm speaking not as a form of treatment, but as general information and impressions of life in general. I make no claims that what I'm telling you is literally true or should be taken as medical or psychological advice.
posted by DMelanogaster at 7:57 AM on August 15, 2020 [5 favorites]

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