falling out of love the wrong way
December 5, 2022 10:35 PM   Subscribe

After a breakup this year, I went through a long period of time where I hated myself and put my ex on a huge pedestal. Now, after lots of therapy and self-work, I’ve knocked him off of this pedestal but to the point that I’m kind of disgusted by him and I’m concerned by this.

Caveats: I’m processing this with a therapist who I have a great relationship with. I think I’m overthinking this and mostly I’m looking to expand beyond the bubble of ideas around “healthy breakup processing” I’ve found myself in.

I’ve written about this breakup before but to summarize briefly: first relationship, ended this February because he didn’t want to stay together after college graduation (but did until then?? yeah right, as if). I was heartbroken, really struggled for a while, hated myself, believed that I had broken this relationship by being too insecure, too anxious. Kept him on a huge pedestal during the relationship. He is not a bad person and wasn’t even that bad of a boyfriend - just not the one I deserve and need.

After lots of therapy and focus on building my relationship with myself, I’ve gotten to a point in my processing where I can accept a number of things, including:
- I was not the only source of problem in the relationship. We were both contributing to an unhealthy dynamic.
- I was trying my hardest to address this dynamic with the tools that I had at the time. I’m proud of myself for this. He was pretty much not really doing anything - not helping or hurting.
- We were not as compatible as I thought. We had really significant differences in values, priorities, and communication styles that we were not able to compromise on.
- The relationship did not end because of anything I did, but because he didn’t want to be in it anymore. And I don’t want to be with someone who doesn’t want to be with me.
- The relationship’s ending has been a major blessing in disguise and has freed me to truly, for the first time in my life, focus completely on myself.

This all feels great and is the product of so much hard work and I’m really proud of myself for that! But I’ve started to become troubled by some of the new feelings that I have towards my ex and the relationship. Most significant of those is how lowkey disgusted I am by him? Disgust may be a strong word—extremely turned off might be more accurate. I used to adore every single aspect about him; I thought that he was the embodiment of perfection. As I’ve fallen out of love, though, I can see that he’s just some dude and he’s really not that impressive at all (actually kind of annoying; he drinks a lot and is kind of obnoxious and I just??? Don’t like him as a person anymore)— and that my standards should be WAY higher (and in fact, they are now, and I’m quite happy with them). I think some of this is natural, but the intensity of my feelings towards him don’t feel natural. It doesn’t feel right to me that I don’t want to touch him with a ten foot pole.

I’ve been reflecting on why that doesn’t feel right to me and I think it’s because I’ve only see two stories around the right ways to handle breakups that ended relatively amicably. The first is that you take space and then become friends to recover what was at the core of the relationship and does not need to be lost. The second is that you take space and then decide to amicably part ways, with nothing but good wishes towards each other. I am not interested in either of these things. I don’t think I really want to be friends with him and I don’t think friendship was at the core of our relationship. When he broke up with me, he told me I was his best friend but he in no way reached my definition of a best friend. And this whole idea of “nothing but best wishes”—I can’t genuinely say that I feel that way. I don’t wish him harm, of course, but like, I don’t feel this kind of zen peace towards him. Honestly, I still feel a little resentful towards him at times for deciding that he was better off without me, but that’s just pride/ego speaking.

Where I’ve landed is: I don’t hate him but I certainly don’t like him. My whole view of him has changed. I don’t want him in my life. I would be fine not speaking to him ever again; there are moments when things remind me of him but I don’t feel compelled to reconnect. I’d rather just note, ah, that reminded me of him. Ok whatever. And move on.

This makes me feel guilty though. I feel like I’m falling out of love the wrong way, like it’s cruel of me to have lost respect of him in this way — especially since I loved him so much at one point. Does that mean that that love was not real, that I was just in love with the image of him and the romantic fantasies I built up out of naïveté and insecurity? Did I ever really know him? Was the year that we dated just totally fake? These questions feel frustrating and overwhelming because of what they imply, that I spent a year and sacrificed so much for…nothing.

There is also the element that he is very interested in being friends. He recently reached out to ask if we could catch up over coffee and previously sent me unprompted, not-cheap gifts for my birthday (after I had not spoken to him for literally months). I feel guilty that I don’t want to be friends when he so clearly does because it makes me feel like I’m being a rude or resentful ex and he’s being generous—succeeding in following that first ideal path for breaking up.

And then there’s another more nebulous and confusing element where I worry that the intensity of my dislike of him means that I’m still not over it in some sense. I feel like I’ve internalized this idea that after any negative experience, I should arrive at a point where I feel grateful for it in its entirety, grateful for the people who have loved me even if they don’t love me anymore. But like…I don’t feel grateful for the experience and I’m not grateful that he fell out of love. I know I shouldn’t take it personally and I don’t want to change how he feels because that is neither my right nor my responsibility (nor my desire), but it still annoys me. I feel like I’m failing in processing this breakup by not arriving at this point of gratitude, though. It makes me feel like he and the relationship still have power over me, and I’ve worked so hard to reclaim my power, so that really really bothers me. In addition to this feeling of failure and anxiety, I also feel like it’s a moral failure to be annoyed that he fell out of love with me, to take that personally — I know that’s my ego speaking, but isn’t that bad? Shouldn’t I be *not* taking that personally, isn’t that reaction a bit self-obsessed?

Is this normal? Am I bad person for feeling this way?? My therapist and I have been talking a lot about my tendencies towards people-pleasing, perfectionism, and black and white thinking, all of which lead me to take on a lot of unnecessary shame - and I think I am feeling some unnecessary shame over this, though I’m not sure how to stop. She’s recommended (and is going to help me develop the skills for) self-compassion. So, what does a self-compassionate response to a situation like this look like?

This was very long so thank you for reading and I appreciate your advice!
posted by cruel summer to Human Relations (23 answers total)
Best answer: I don’t think I really want to be friends with him and I don’t think friendship was at the core of our relationship.
-What an excellent thing to recognize! Now you know how important it is for you to be friends with your lover.

I don’t wish him harm, of course, but like, I don’t feel this kind of zen peace towards him. Honestly, I still feel a little resentful towards him at times...
-You loved him once. That doesn't mean that you have to like him now.

just pride/ego speaking
-Don't discount your ego/pride. These things can keep you alive and on track when you are experiencing disruption. You are allowed to have a strong ego. You are allowed to have pride.

Where I’ve landed is: I don’t hate him but I certainly don’t like him. My whole view of him has changed. I don’t want him in my life. I would be fine not speaking to him ever again; there are moments when things remind me of him but I don’t feel compelled to reconnect. I’d rather just note, ah, that reminded me of him. Ok whatever. And move on.
-Sounds like 'ego/pride' has got you back on track. There is nothing wrong with you for thinking and feeling this way. It does not make you a bad person. You are being a good person to yourself for heeding these feelings.

This makes me feel guilty though. I feel like I’m falling out of love the wrong way,
-Yeah, nah. There's no 'wrong way' of falling out of love. There's just your way. (And my way, and their way...). It is not really something under conscious control.

like it’s cruel of me to have lost respect of him in this way — especially since I loved him so much at one point.

Does that mean that that love was not real,

that I was just in love with the image of him and the romantic fantasies I built up
-Probably. But that can be said of everyone's new love.

out of naïveté and insecurity?
-Of course! But you say that as though naïveté is a bad thing. It's fresh. It believes. It is a wonderful burst of life. Don't crush it with thinking. It will deflate on its own soon enough.

Did I ever really know him? Was the year that we dated just totally fake? These questions feel frustrating and overwhelming because of what they imply, that I spent a year and sacrificed so much for…nothing.
-Did it feel sacrificial at the time? Serious question. If yes, think if you are willing to make that choice again, and it is a choice. If no, then value what the relationship gave you. There is a next time, another person, a new love, new chances, new choices. And, hopefully in time, old refreshing love that goes on...
posted by Thella at 11:10 PM on December 5, 2022 [11 favorites]

Best answer: Your models of idealized break-ups are not doing you any favours. There's no incorrect way to feel here. It's a strange idea to me that you owe your ex positive idealized break-up feelings and you're a bad person for having a negative view. It's not wrong to still have any feelings. It's not wrong to have feelings of disgust or disdain or whatever else. Maybe trying to force yourself to feel differently is increasing the intensity of the feelings.

It seems pretty clear that you are enormously hard on yourself. This seems like a rumination problem. You can't think yourself out of ruminating. Endlessly examining the ruminations for their truth content will not help you.

A self-compassionate response would involve not judging your feelings and giving yourself the time and space to have them.
posted by lookoutbelow at 11:11 PM on December 5, 2022 [13 favorites]

Best answer: It is seriously okay to dislike this dude. It's pretty rude to say they want to date you as long as it's convenient for them and after that, no more. I mean I would feel kind of used and pissed off if someone did that to me. This 'lets be friends' thing hes doing reads to me as 'lets act like I haven't been a jerk to you so that I don't have to feel bad' which is actually not very friendly. So yeah feeling kind of ugh towards him seems totally healthy.
posted by PercussivePaul at 11:35 PM on December 5, 2022 [10 favorites]

There are thousands of break-up songs expressing abject hatred for a formal object of love/desire/affection. You are doing just fine. Consider that it might actually be healthy to allow yourself to access/tap into some feelings of anger. It sounds like this is your first major relationship/break-up, and you are holding yourself to a lot of arbitrary "rules" about how you are supposed to feel. As others have suggested, practice self-compassion, acknowledge your feelings, and try sitting with the emotions without over-thinking. I know it seems weird to have such negative feelings towards someone that you once loved, and you may be worried you'll feel angry/disdainful towards him forever. This is not the case. In a few months (typically right around the point where you worry that you won't ever feel better), those feelings will shift and you'll remember him fondly or, honestly, with little emotion at all. Find some distractions, talk to friends, try not to "re-play" the relationship and the break-up too much in your mind. The only way out is through.
posted by sleepingwithcats at 11:40 PM on December 5, 2022 [1 favorite]

Best answer: This feels normal and healthy to me. Like, the amount of antipathy you feel towards him now should be equal to the amount of idolizing you felt prior. So, a lot! You need that to cleanse your palate.

Imagine yourself as a wave at the shore, pushing away your doubts about your perfect boyfriend, pushing, pushing - and now the wave breaks and all the annoyances, everything you chose not to see about him, come flooding back with a vengeance.
And maybe you'll flip flop between the two extremes for a bit and maybe you won't. Either is normal.

You'll find your equilibrium eventually.

In the meantime maybe explore with your therapist
- do you often feel like you need to be perfect? Why do you have to be the perfect ex-girlfriend?
- maybe ruminating on your failure to perform the perfect break up is replacing your rumination on how you broke the relationship? Maybe the ruminating is a way for you to hold on to the relationship in your mind? (Not saying it definitely is, just a thing to ask yourself ).
posted by Omnomnom at 12:46 AM on December 6, 2022 [7 favorites]

I think it’s pretty normal to feel low-key disgusted or turned off by an ex. Like Omnomnom says above, it’s not necessarily an indictment of their character, or the validity of your relationship, or your own judgement and taste (though sometimes it feels like all those things!). It’s just a totally natural counterbalancing process that gradually mellows with time. The kind of emotional neutrality and distance that you seek will come with time, it can’t simply be willed into being in an instant... perhaps it’ll take some years, or maybe it’ll be quicker than you realise.

If you don’t want to be friends with him, I would suggest polite but consistent avoidance or non-contact, perhaps with a brief explanatory text saying, eg. “Thanks so much for the [gift] but I’ve decided I need some space, so please don’t be offended if I’m no longer in touch. Appreciate the kind thought and I wish you well.” Or something like that. You’ll probably see him in a supermarket in a decade, wandering the aisles, and do a slightly awkward hello… then walk away with a feeling of curious surprise that he has no impact on your emotional state whatsoever. Or maybe not. But either way - all totally normal.
posted by Weng at 2:26 AM on December 6, 2022 [2 favorites]

Best answer: You might be interested in the concept of "toxic positivity". It describes the societal pressure to disavow negative feelings of anger & resentment, and replace them with gratitude.

Toxic positivity can feel oppressive, especially when used by someone to avoid consequences. "Yes, I treated you badly, but I am not interested in hearing your rage and disappointment. Please only express gratitude and optimism to me. Btw I lost that item you lent to me. But good vibes only! Namaste."

Great work on getting to the point of disgust with your ex! That is an excellent milestone. Consider celebrating it. It takes me months to get to the point of disgust, and I often rely on tricks like making a list of their selfish behaviors to re-read.

Your ex's behavior this year was not considerate. Think about if you were in his position. How would you treat someone that you've romantically declined? Would you buy them gifts and ask to meet up, knowing they weren't over it? That seems like stringing-along.

How would your ex behave if you took him at his word and treated him like a normal friend, including asserting boundaries? E.g. "Sure we can meet up for coffee, but please don't do behavior X (one of his habits that annoys you). Also, since we're just friends, I can't wait to tell you about this amazing guy I have a crush on. He is so smart and has read so many interesting books! Yes I know you don't like books. That is one reason you and I will both be happier with others!" That is normal friend-talk. Would your ex be happy because you moved on and also he can learn from you and become a better person? Or would he be annoyed because he wanted the ego boost from watching your starry-eyed adoration?
posted by cheesecake at 4:30 AM on December 6, 2022 [8 favorites]

Best answer: I can relate to a lot of what you've written--I also put my ex on a pedestal, blamed myself for the end of the relationship. I am also a people pleaser with a tendency towards black-and-white thinking. Therapy helped me see that I was not solely to blame, and in fact I realised how emotionally abusive he was. I was angry with him for a good couple of years following this realisation. Even more, I was angry at myself for wasting eight years on him. And then I was angry that I couldn't just get over it and move on. It felt like, if we couldn't be easy breezy friends then it's me, hi, I'm the problem it's me.

Turns out, I just had to give it time. The anger and revulsion were necessary to counterbalance the fawning and insecurity I had gone through while we were together. It was part of the process of gaining perspective and regaining agency: having the power to hate him after the fact helped me overcome my feelings of self-hatred and powerlessness while we were together. Now, I feel pretty neutral towards him, if I think about him at all. He's still friends with my friends so I could know lots about his life if I wanted to, but I never ask, so I have no clue where he is, what he does and how he feels. It's a peaceful feeling, when I see a question like this and remember that.

You're fine, OP, hang in there!
posted by guessthis at 4:53 AM on December 6, 2022 [5 favorites]

Best answer: This seems pretty normal and healthy to me. If there is a challenge for you right now, I'd say it's not in changing the way you feel, but in learning to sit with BIG feelings like this and let them happen, with compassion for yourself, rather than feeling an urge to minimise them, argue them away, or rationalise yourself into feeling differently. Your feelings are your feelings, the more you can let them happen, the better you'll be able to process them and move on in due course. It can be hard and scary, especially if you've not done it much before. But it's a useful thing to do. I find listening to the audiobook of Pema Chodron's When Things Fall Apart a really helpful handhold for this (even though things haven't exactly fallen apart for you - quite the opposite by the sound of it. But she talks about dealing with Big Stuff without trying to shy away from it). Or maybe look into Kristin Neff's work on self-compassion, if the biggest challenge is being kind to yourself while feeling big feelings.

I don't know where you got the idea from that people should always be best friends after a break-up (even an amicable one!), I don't think it's particularly a cultural norm, so maybe you've just picked up that idea somewhere randomly and have convinced yourself it's what you should be aspiring to, as a stick to beat yourself with? Definitely sounds like a perfectionist thing, exacerbated by rumination.

Good luck, this sounds like an awesome step forward for you!
posted by penguin pie at 5:26 AM on December 6, 2022 [3 favorites]

Best answer: I remember your previous questions and honestly I'm so pleased for you that you've come this far - it sounds like you're on a normal, healthy, completely okay recovery-from-breakup path!

There's a decent chance that at some point your pendulum will swing back toward complete indifference. Someday (and I'm talking years, in my most relevant case it was decades) you may hit a point of "wow, we were both very young and very ill-equipped and doing a reasonable facsimile of the best we could with the poor emotional tools we had at the time, and I have some compassion for both of us now in far-away hindsight." Or not. Either way is fine! All of these options are absolutely fine.

You are not a bad person or bad at breakups if you do not choose to be friends or even friendly, now or ever. You are not a bad person if you do not feel grateful, now or ever, for an experience that was so incredibly painful for you. He is being a pushy person for prodding you multiple times re: some sort of renewed friendship - once was fine, but gifts AND trying to get you to see him again, when you have given him no positive response to the first overture, is bad behavior on his part, not yours.

The nice story where everyone stays good friends after a breakup makes for a cute ending montage in a movie. In real life, it's a wonderful thing when it happens but it's by no means the default expectation. It can work, sometimes, when the people were truly friends to begin with, and then it's more like letting part of the relationship go while finding a new way to honor the other part of it. When the other person was treating you badly such that there was no real core of friendship there to begin with, then when you cut away the romantic relationship, there's no remaining friendship there to preserve and rebuild. Then it's just "creating a new friendship with a near-stranger who you already know treats people badly," and why would you do that to yourself when you could go make new friends with a clean slate?

There is literally no way to fail at a breakup except to go back to the person (and even then, usually that's just a temporary failure on the way to the real breakup), or to somehow disregard their boundaries re: the breakup (which is what HE is doing, not you!). Everything else is just processing the breakup, and there's no way to fail at that. Everything you're doing, saying, and feeling is a completely normal part of working through the difficult emotions that come with the end of a relationship.
posted by Stacey at 5:40 AM on December 6, 2022 [4 favorites]

This all sounds pretty normal to me, except that you are probably overthinking it by a mile, but this is AskMe so that fits right in :)

You just had a breakup. Being disgusted by the person is probably helpful for moving on even if it's way out of proportion with his actual degree of grossness. And it's your first breakup, which just makes it all seem even more normal. If you're still overthinking it in a few years then that might be concerning (or at least inconvenient) but my bet is that you won't be.

I am in my forties so I have had a few breakups. A few years after high school I met up with the first guy who broke my heart when I was in his town, after a few years of not being in touch, and I left thinking, "all of that for him?" I mean, he was a fine person but he wasn't made of either magic or carbonized evil, which are two things I definitely believed when I was fifteen.
posted by eirias at 5:54 AM on December 6, 2022

I was in a pretty serious and pretty good relationship with a genuinely great guy in my early 20s. We'll call him Sam.

We were together for 2.5 years and he broke up with me. There's a good argument to be made that if life circumstances were different or if my mental health at the time were better, we would have broken up later for a host of different reasons but it doesn't really matter. Point is, we broke up at a time where I still felt warmly about him.

I moved well on with my life, was perfectly happy not to be dating him anymore, and eventually didn't think of him at all. Only if I'd go someplace or do something that we had done together would he come to mind, and again I'd think of him warmly.

And then about 3 years ago right before covid hit I was at the symphony. I had arrived early, but not early enough for the pre show talk, so I was hanging back outside the door just people watching. When the pre show talk finished, the doors opened and people came pouring out. And who do I see but Sam, barreling out at high speed. I almost moved to say hi, but then 4-5 steps behind him I saw his wife, trying to catch up, scrabbling with her coat and bag and program. He hadn't waited for her at all. (And he wasn't heading in the direction of the toilets, if you're trying to form a charitable thought.)

Immediately I was hit with a wave of rage and revulsion. Suddenly it came back to me every time during our relationship when Sam had done that to ME and I had just let it slide even though it pissed me off so much. I was mad at myself, disgusted by him, and felt sad for his wife, a lady I didn't even know. And then I realized I felt sad for myself, too. I've well let this go at this point, but I'll ask you--do those warm feelings toward him still linger when something reminds me of that relationship? They do not.

My point is that it's totally normal to feel whatever feelings you have after a relationship ends, and at any time. Humans are complex, emotions are complex, and it's all normal and ok to let yourself feel your feelings and work through it.
posted by phunniemee at 6:02 AM on December 6, 2022 [3 favorites]

Best answer: Another way to think about this:
Breaking up (and being broken up with) is hard. It's so hard not to cling to a relationship even if you cognitively know you're better off without. It's so hard to turn off that source of validation ("I am loved! I am worthy of love!") and rely only yourself to prop yourself up.

Your brain is helping you stay on track by focussing on all the things that are wrong with this guy. Every time you feel disgust, every time your brain puts the worst possible interpretation on whatever he's doing, it's your brain saying "SEE! You're totally better off without him."

Is that unfair to him? Maybe, but a) who cares and b) it's good for you and c) he totally got the benefit of this effect when you were still a couple.

Because what love does is put the best possible spin on everything he does, sometimes completely bypassing reality.

When you were in a relationship, your brain did what it could to give you reasons to stay. ("Oh, he doesn't really drink too much. Oh, when he said X, he really meant Y. Oh, when he does this awkward thing it must mean he loves me, he's just bad at expressing it.")

So embrace the disgust, it's helping you do the right thing.
posted by Omnomnom at 6:15 AM on December 6, 2022 [1 favorite]

Best answer: This all seems extremely normal to me! You put him on a pedestal by repressing all your anger, sense of self-worth, annoyance at his annoying features, etc. Now that you're not doing that, all the things you didn't let yourself feel are no longer in check. Maybe he's actually kind of awful, maybe he's actually just a decent but young guy who is still figuring out relationships like a lot of people in college. Time will tell, and that's okay.

Also, "reaction formation" - to misuse a psychoanalytic thing, hating him is a great barrier to loving him again. You've moved from truly loving him to needing to defend yourself against falling back into loving him, so your mind is protecting you, so to speak, by making you disgusted by him. It's an exaggerated response that will, most, likely fade away over the next months and years as you move past your old feelings for him.

Another thought: when I was in my early twenties, a few months or a year was a really long time because it was a much bigger percentage of my total life and in particular a much bigger percentage of my life as an adult. (I was thinking about this because of growing out my hair and how much less annoying it is now.) A strong feeling that lasts a few months is relatively short-lived from a "should I worry about this" standpoint.

Honestly, I had a long, long crush on someone which just sort of...ended...recently when I really internalized that I was way more in our friendship than they were . As I say, I'm an old - and for about a month, I was intermittently angry at that person, and for a few hours when I next saw them I actually had waves of anger/repulsion. This was totally irrational! (As I knew at the time.) It went away pretty fast as the crush itself receded and now, if anything, I feel better and happier about being friends. The whole anger thing was just my ego protecting itself as it re-knit into a "not having this crush" form.

I find it helpful when I have inexplicably strong reactions to say to myself "this is just my ego protecting me, it's not real" - stupidly mad when someone is Wrong At Work? The ego. Mad at an obviously stupid slight? The ego! Changing myself and thus feeling hypercritical of people who are not changing themselves? The ego, giving me motivation! It's just that old ego, sitting there squooshily in my brain (this is actual brain science) protecting the whole.

Your ego is protecting you from falling into bad, counterproductive feelings about this guy. It will relax its guard as the situation stabilizes.
posted by Frowner at 6:23 AM on December 6, 2022 [4 favorites]

Best answer: I agree with Stacey: I remember this guy and your complicated relationship with him, and I’m so glad you’re where you are right now emotionally. I know it’s not comfortable or fun but these negative emotions — disgust, anger, resentment, sadness — can be incredibly powerful in a good way. We are able to be more grounded and, hopefully with time, turn these emotions into lessons for the future. The uncomfortable stuff will eventually pass — and I say this as someone with OCD and PTSD who has a much more difficult time than average in this stuff — and you’ll be happier again. But for now, please honor how you feel— you don’t need to explore it necessarily but simply accept that this is how you feel and it’s ok. I’m happy for your progress and I wish you continued growth!
posted by smorgasbord at 6:52 AM on December 6, 2022

When a couple happily married, deeply bonded, mutually supportive couple has a child death they frequently end up feeling a strong aversion to each other, despite both of them wanting to continue the relationship. This is biological. Just like falling in love is biological, falling into loathing is biological. Just like we pick our partners by things we are unconscious of, such as their pheromones and the width between their eyes, and feel like they are wonderful and perfect despite objectively knowing they have flaws, we are capable of have a physiological reaction that feels like loathing to ensure that we do not have babies with the other person.

My guess is that on some level you now completely understand that hopping back into bed with the guy, and then ending up having to raise a child with him would be monumentally disastrous. Your body doesn't trust you not to be manipulated into doing this, and doesn't want to die in child birth, nor to compromise your reproductive potential bearing and losing kids that won't make it, so is giving you a whole bunch of signals that you should not, not, not get close to him again.

And there is nothing wrong with you for feeling this. It's what protects you from being sucked in again. It's what protects you against pining for him again instead of going out and checking other possibilities. It's completely okay to feel like this, as long as you treat him with decent respect and are aware that all it is, is that you do not want to have anything to do with him.

It's nice when two exes can be good friends. It's also your right not to be his friend and accept his presents, the same as it's your right not to be friends and accept gifts from some random guy you didn't go out with. Consent rules say that you don't have to accept presents from strangers and get into cars with them just to be polite, and you don't have to accept gifts and stay in touch with your ex. A final, have a nice life, not interested is the right thing to do with someone you are not friends with, and as you say, you were not friends with him, you were romantic partners. It's perfectly reasonable to feel that you can't and don't want to transition from lovers to friends. If the pair of you had had good friend potential you would have been friends at the time.

It's also possible that you are sensing that he wants to string you along and keep in touch with you as a potential future back-up when and if he decides he wants to pair off, or he wants you as a friends with benefits or even as the other woman/man while he is in his real permanent relationship. Lots of guys try one on with the people they have broken up with, because when they want to have sex it's easier to go after someone who previously slept with them than to court someone new. And sometimes it works to the benefit of both partners when the sex was good. But if you are not tempted to be friends with him or lovers with him again then you are under no obligation to listen to him any more than you are under obligation to listen to a telemarketer.

Of course you feel better if you are loyal, because your loyalty says good things about you, and about the relationship. If you can't be loyal to him, then you might feel that that you shouldn't have been in a relationship with him in the first place. Or you might feel that you are a user. But there is loyalty and there is loyalty, and being bored and resentful while having coffee with him while being unable to think about his nose hairs is not actually being loyal. It's being trapped. Loyalty is where you tell him that if he ever needs help when he is in a jam, you are up for it - four AM pick-ups at the airport - or someone to find him a notary - but not to hang out chatting about what a great thing you used to have and what's going on in your life now.

He basically wants you back. You were his best friend - emotional support and stuff like that, and the one who would tell him he had spinach on his teeth and not think the worse of him for the spinach. He wants everything he valued about the relations again. And you don't want it. Maybe he doesn't want sex, or commitment. He just wants your time, your support, your affection and yet he wasn't able to be a friend to you before even when you were partners.

Trust yourself. You don't want to do it. Don't do it. It doesn't mean you hate him or you are a hateful person. It means that you are over him and not ready to step up and be his emotional support person. You're really smart to feel this way. If you did try to be friends with him you'd likely end up tied up in knots resenting any interaction and any time you spend for his benefit and then you would feel worse than ever, not only like you were a mean person, but also that you were being used by him.

You had a good starter, learning relationship, but it's over. You learned that certain things definitely don't work for you and narrowed down what you are looking for long term. Speak well of him and keep on going, leaving him far in your past.
posted by Jane the Brown at 7:40 AM on December 6, 2022 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Something to keep in mind, as you've experienced, is that your thoughts are always progressing and changing. You felt one way a while ago, now you feel a different way, in a few months, you may land in a different place. There's nothing right or wrong about any of it, it's just where you are at. I think accepting that you're always evolving can help lessen the weight of the feelings. Let your body and mind do its thing and accept the phases along the way.
posted by monologish at 7:46 AM on December 6, 2022

Best answer: I feel guilty that I don’t want to be friends when he so clearly does because it makes me feel like I’m being a rude or resentful ex and he’s being generous—succeeding in following that first ideal path for breaking up.

Excellent advice above, I just wanted to note as others have: There is no ideal path for breaking up! Also, he is not being generous. My guess is that he is probably being manipulative. After months of silence, he is wanting to meet you for coffee and has sent you expensive gifts for your birthday? Like WTF dude, cut it out. Leave it be.

Sometimes it is possible to eventually become friends with an ex in a healthy and mutually rewarding way and sometimes it is impossible. His feelings don't matter. Your feelings matter. Just ignore this guy in real life and enjoy the amazing progress you have made and keep going with your therapist. You are doing great, congratulations!
posted by Bella Donna at 8:36 AM on December 6, 2022

Best answer: being uncomfortable with feeling disgust or contempt for someone you once cared for is a good thing about you. but having those feelings isn't a bad thing about you. you are having a strong and delayed negative counter-reaction because you had such oppressively positive feelings about him for so long, but there's no reason to worry that you'll feel this way forever. given more time, assuming he stays out of your life, you'll feel less strongly, and eventually you won't feel about him at all. you can't rush that but you can look forward to it.
posted by queenofbithynia at 9:08 AM on December 6, 2022 [2 favorites]

I'm pleased to tell you that you don't actually have a problem here! One good thing about breaking up with someone is that you no longer have to worry about them. Feel free to walk away from this guy and never think about him again.
posted by Ragged Richard at 10:59 AM on December 6, 2022 [1 favorite]

you take space and then decide to amicably part ways, with nothing but good wishes towards each other

You can still amicably part ways with someone even if you don't actually feel good wishes towards them. You don't have to tell them out loud what your wishes are towards them, or if it's really important to you on a personal level to feel good wishes towards them maybe you can muster up feeling some good wishes towards hoping they get wonderful opportunities in their life that will lead to them moving far far away from you and never speaking to you ever again.

And, sometimes people will performatively pretend like they want to be friends after a relationship, not because they actually want to be friends but because they feel like it's a better look for themselves if they are able to point back to previous relationships and say they are still friends. I wouldn't read too much into the gifts, he might just want to tell other people he's interested in dating that he's "still friends with his ex" and having given someone a nice birthday gift can be a way of performing that without any of the work involved in actually bothering to form a real friendship.
posted by yohko at 1:32 PM on December 6, 2022

Have you considered seeing a psychiatrist? Seeing one doesn't mean there is something horribly wrong with you, it is just that they can prescribe medications, whereas a therapist cannot.
posted by SageTrail at 2:42 PM on December 6, 2022

Check out this comment describing how, for one person, resentment hanging around was a sign that they needed to spend time feeling the feelings more, and pushing them away had not helped (for 20 years). If you're having feelings, you may just need to keep having them until you're done and they will pass by themselves.
posted by lookoutbelow at 6:02 PM on December 7, 2022

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