How to get over my feelings about my ex's conduct?
August 11, 2007 6:49 PM   Subscribe

Having trouble dealing with an ex's post breakup conduct.

In March 2005, I began dating a woman I'll call Carey. I thought she was a 'good girl'. She was religious, went to Bible study, etc. We were both virgins, and remained so because she didn't want to have sex before marriage. We fooled around in other ways, but never had penetrative intercourse.

At first, the relationship was fun and fresh, but as we got deeper into it, Carey grew more and more paranoid and passive-aggressive. She would constantly think that our relationship wasn't going well, she would cry for no reason, etc. Another sticking point was that Carey had this huge issue that she couldn't discuss with anyone. It would cause her to get upset and cry. I felt bad, because she wouldn't tell me what was going on and would cry about it.

I admit that I was not faultless. At the beginning, I had told Carey some lies about my past to seem more experienced than I actually was (she was my first girlfriend). I decided to come clean about my lack of experience around the 4 month mark, because I wanted our relationship to not be built on lies. I also feel like I sometimes tried to solve all of her problems, and might have been a little more brusque with her than needed.

I attempted to break up with Carey in August 2005, but she was very emotionally and mentally fragile, so I held off. These warning flags were there all through our relationship. She didn't have many other friends, was very needy and clingy, and counted on me to keep her company, whether in person or on the phone.

Anyways, we ended up breaking in November 2005. We attempted to remain as friends, but Carey had the idea that we would get back together again. Whenever we met, it was drama, and she finally confronted me about where our relationship was in February 2006. I told her we weren't going to get back together. She cursed me out really badly when this happened. After a couple of more similar calls, I decided it would be best to break off all contact. So, we agreed to meet and exchange our things. At our meeting, she verbally tongue lashed me for an hour, blaming me for all that had gone wrong, crying, asking if we could try to make it work, etc. She ended up pushing me out her door when I was leaving, and then made as if she was going to run me over in her car in the parking lot.

Subsequent to the breakup, I worried about Carey's well-being. We had one mutual friend, and I stayed updated on her life. A few months passed and I found myself not thinking about her as much. I had a couple of rebound relationships which didn't go anywhere. I met a wonderful girl who I love with all my heart this past March. We get along fabulously.

But, in speaking to mine and Carey's mutual friend, I found out that soon after we cut contact, Carey got into a friends with benefits relationship with a guy at work. She also dated another guy who had a kid shortly after that. It seems like she's been hopping from man to man ever since we broke up. This totally went against the sort of person I thought she was. Our mutual friend said it's because Carey can't deal with being alone.

I'm having a really hard time dealing with her post-breakup conduct. I feel like she was not the person I thought she was. I also find myself thinking about whether she's out having sex with all these guys. We never had sex because of her feelings on the issue, but it seems like she may have compromised on that if she's going with so many different guys.

I'm seeing a therapist who's helping me deal, but I admit it's been tough. My new girl has been very understanding, but I don't want my inability to deal with my ex's conduct to harm my new relationship.

If any of you guys (or girls) can offer advice on how to deal, I would really appreciate it. If you need to ask any follow up questions or provide advice privately, please e-mail me at askmefi at yahoo dot com.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (34 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
One thing I will say in terms of protecting your new relationship is that talking about the old relationship and all your subsequent baggage to the new girl will probably make her feel that you are not over Casey. If you really love your new girl, don't cause her uncertainties by whining about your EX's behavior. I think if my boyfriend was all upset over his ex-gf's current behavior, I would seriously doubt his ability to be in a forward-moving relationship with me. "Is he thinking about her again?" I'd say keep your convo about Casey exclusive to the therapist's office, not on your dates/ at home.
posted by zoey08 at 7:03 PM on August 11, 2007

"I had a couple of rebound relationships which didn't go anywhere."

Maybe she's doing the same thing. Honestly, I don't think you should "do" anything about it since it sounds like initiating further contact with her will just send mixed messages to her. Yeah, she might be making decisions she will regret (but maybe she won't, maybe her earlier lifestyle was one she no longer feels comfortable with), but that's for her to decide. Also, if she can't deal with being alone, she's not going to realize it and thus start to address it, if you swoop in and and try to rescue her from herself.
posted by Oobidaius at 7:08 PM on August 11, 2007

I had a *very* similar relationship with a girl I dated for about 3 year, although she wasn't clingy and she had a lot of friends while we were dating. She was prone to being really really sad though, and would occasionally just break down totally. She really ones that "first love" thing that's so very very hard to get over.

After we broke up she sort of became the neighborhood bicycle and I could never figure out if she'd always been thinking of being like that or what.

Of course, the girl that I dated was also sexually abused by an uncle and physically abused by her father, something I didn't know until we'd been together almost a year. Then everything sort of became a lot clearer about her behavior.

Anyway, fast forward a couple years and I get this phone call out of the blue. It's her, she's in a foreign country, and she's realized that nobody ever treated her as well as I did and that she'd suddenly realized being apart from me was the last thing she wanted to happen.

Of course, I wanted to get back with her.

Then it sort of never materialized. It's not really possible to rekindle a relationship from 3k miles away, but then she came home and I guess wasn't looking for the kind of relationship I wanted.

Whatever, anyway, TMI I guess, but she's still a fruitcake. I wish like anything I could be involved in her life, even a little bit, but I just don't think it's meant to be.

I think the thing to realize is that people grow and change, all the time. I'm different today than I was a year ago, and I'm 27. I think that it's important to realize that people are only capable of what they think is best for them---at any given moment. You can't define yourself by this girl, and you can't let yourself be judged by who or what she is after you are apart. Furthermore, of course, and a little rougher, you've chosen to cease contact with her, and you really don't have much right to be offended or otherwise by anything she does or says. Of course, that's easier to say than to practice----but she's not how she is because of anything you were or weren't. You might have been a fragile thread that slowed her decline, you might have been the snowball that started the avalanche---the point is that she got herself where she is today.

Now, you just have to decide if you WANT to be involved, which I would not suggest because as friends and especially exlovers it's not our job to be therapists. If you don't, I think it's time to stop looking over your shoulder, because it's going to make you trip over future opportunity.
posted by TomMelee at 7:09 PM on August 11, 2007

You have to let Casey live her own life wheil you live yours. You're not responsible for her any more. That's what breaking up means.
posted by orange swan at 7:10 PM on August 11, 2007 [5 favorites]

I would refrain from any and all contact with her if you can.

As far as Carey herself is concerned, people change...I'm guessing you two were in your first year or so of college? That period is a huge time of change for people- especially sex life. She's (hopefully) trying to move on in your life, as you obviously have. There's no need to drag all that drama back into your life. It can only lead to trouble.
posted by jmd82 at 7:11 PM on August 11, 2007

Move on. She doesn't owe you anything with regards to her conduct and she doesn't have to be anything that you expect(ed) her to be. She is her own person, who is free to make her own choices (even mistakes), and so are you. Stop thinking about it. Stop asking your mutual friend about how she's doing. She's not your responsibility. If she is indeed spiraling down in an emotional rebound, perhaps the mutual friend can help. It sounds however, that you are less concerned about her than you are about feeling betrayed.
posted by pinksoftsoap at 7:12 PM on August 11, 2007 [1 favorite]

Time to move on. Carey's life is her own to live. Pray for her and be grateful you're so blessed. You need to get over her emotionally and mentally. Your mind is your garden - "as a man thinketh..."
posted by wavejumper at 7:12 PM on August 11, 2007

So are you upset by this situation because you're worried about your ex, or because you don't like the idea of her having sex with other people now that she isn't with you anymore?

If you're worried about her well-being, that's understandable, because you don't want her to come to harm, but you're probably not the person to help her with that. You're her ex, and you didn't end on good terms. You might be able to get your mutual friend to make sure your ex has a good support network available, but other than that, I don't think there's much YOU can do.

If you're upset because you no longer think she's "a good girl" (whatever that means), or because you don't like the idea of her having sex with other men, then that is something your therapist should be able to help you with. I second Zoey08's advice to refrain from discussing your ex with your new partner, though--save it for the therapy sessions.
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 7:18 PM on August 11, 2007

I spent a few minutes trying to figure out how to say what hurdy gurdy girl just said quite well. I would like to add something, though:

There's a good chance that the two possible motivations for your behavior aren't completely separate. Even if you do feel that a good portion of you is motivated just by worry for her, you are still at least slightly motivated by the fact that she's having sex with others even though she wouldn't have sex with you.

Even if 99% of you is motivated by the first, that 1% motivated by your own jealousy-like issues will poison any attempt you make to help her. In other words, because you have even the slightest bit of interest in what she's doing for less than altruistic reasons, you are not qualified to help her. That's why others have said the same thing, that it's not your role to save her. Due to your past with her, and due to your continuing issues related to it, you just are not the person to help her. You are not what she needs. She is not a person you can protect.

(Also, yeah: definitely, don't dwell on this issue with your current girlfriend.)
posted by Ms. Saint at 7:29 PM on August 11, 2007

repeat after me, "it's not my fault; it's not my responsibility."
posted by plinth at 7:41 PM on August 11, 2007

Not your problem. Not your business.

Why are you trying to ruin the good relationship you have now by giving a shit about some psycho you dumped years ago?
posted by Optimus Chyme at 7:42 PM on August 11, 2007 [1 favorite]

Do you think that it's possible that you miss the drama? Spending so much time in a certain emotional situation can often create feelings like that.
posted by dobie at 8:21 PM on August 11, 2007

I agree with Optimus Chyme... if you broke off all contact with her, then her life now is really none of your business. Maybe she's going through an early "quarterlife crisis." If you truly broke it off because of her acting so weird, then why are you all worried about her now? I'd examine your motives and your feelings in that regard.
posted by IndigoRain at 8:31 PM on August 11, 2007

Not your problem. Not your business.

This bears repeating.
You broke up with her and moved on, despite her many protestations. It may well be that her actions are in reaction to your breakup; that's not your business either.
What's done is done. You're not responsible for breaking her or putting her back together or anything else. Just for moving on and minding your own business and spending your attention on your present partner.
posted by willpie at 8:33 PM on August 11, 2007

I don't like it when people respond with the stock phrase that follows, but it seems appropriate here, so:

You sound really young.

What does this mean? It means you don't have much experience yet with romantic relationships. That is probably part of the reason behind Carey's actions (she sounds young, too) and your feelings about those actions. In my experience, it takes time and practice to learn the skills that being in (and breaking off) relationships requires.

I think you handled the breakup well, considering it was your first. You are right to cease contact with Carey. The fact that you remained concerned about her welfare post-breakup suggests that you are a decent guy.

It sounds like Carey was manipulative of your feelings post-breakup - any contact from you was going to be interpreted by her as a sign that the relationship was not over - not technically, anyway. I doubt she even perceived her actions this way, but that doesn't change the effect they had on you.

I agree with what everyone else has said about ceasing contact with Carey. As for your concern about her shift from "good girl" to, um, "bad girl," put it in context: this was the first relationship either of you had (it sounds like). Of COURSE neither of you are going to remain the people you were back then (and yes, that's a good thing). [Beware dichotomizing people: no one is all good or all bad, all Madonna or all you-know-what, all sane or all "psycho." It's a grey, grey world most of the time.]

Thus, classifying Carey (or anyone else) as "good" or "bad" based on their decisions about sex and relationships doesn't help anyone. Plus, you're getting your information from a secondhand source - you can't be 100% sure of that information anyhow. Why does it matter to you what she's doing now? I don't think it's as easy to move on as others here are saying, but slowly, over time, that will be the healthy outcome. Definitely continue trying to figure this stuff out with your therapist, and realize that in order to resolve your thoughts and feelings you'll need to be honest in those conversations. If at all possible, don't talk about Carey with the mutual friend. If the friend brings her up, gracefully change the topic (e.g., "I hope she's doing well, but I think it's better if we don't talk about that from now on").

Finally, I agree with what other people are saying about not discussing this with your girlfriend. It's good that you guys are close to the point that you could mention your ex, but if you disengage from your worries about that ex you'll have no reason to hash it out with your girlfriend anyhow. And yeah, think about it - if your positions were reversed, would you want to have to hear your girlfriend talking about her ex in a similar way? Doubtful.

I'm glad you have a new, happy relationship - that definitely shows progress and a willingness to continue learning and growing. Remember that, no matter how guilty other people may try to manipulate us into feeling, ultimately we all bear the responsibility of making our own decisions. Your feelings are reasonable, but the best thing for you (and everyone else involved) is for you to continue letting go of the burden you've placed upon yourself.
posted by splendid animal at 8:50 PM on August 11, 2007

What? You want her to sit there and cry over you? Grow up. She's moved on. That's life.
posted by xmutex at 9:06 PM on August 11, 2007

I feel like she was not the person I thought she was. I also find myself thinking about whether she's out having sex with all these guys.

It sounds like maybe you're having a hard time reconciling the person she's become with the person you knew. Or maybe you are doubting your own judgment/ability to judge character given her current behavior. And maybe you're a little jealous that she might be out having sex with all those other guys, but never did with you.

My advice: let it go. People change. People aren't who you thought. People will do things that you wish, for their well-being or your sanity, they wouldn't. People can be anything they want, regardless of how you feel or what you expect them to be.

Given your post, there are probably some deeper things at work with her that have very little to do with you or your relationship. That should give you even more reason to just let it go, since it's not really about you, it's about her.

I get that it really hurts when you think you know someone, and then they turn around and are a completely different person after you break up. It's happened to me a few times. It just makes you want to shake your head and try to reconcile everything. But really, you can't. You have to let people go, let them make new mistakes, and let them (hopefully) learn from their mistakes.

I'll repeat: It's none of your business anymore, let it go. Good luck.

If nothing else, cut it out for your the sake of your current girlfriend - she has much more patience than I would.
posted by ml98tu at 9:30 PM on August 11, 2007

I've seen situations like this before with girls who were virgins for a long time and then went sort of crazy when they got out of a long term relationship. The way I've always seen it is this: The girl really does want to stay a virgin and being the nice guy that you are she knows that she doesn't have to have sex with you for you to stay with you. You're relationship isn't contingent on it. Once you break up, she realizes that very few 20 something guys are looking for serious relationships, let alone sexless relationships. She's just gotten out of a relationship, she's insecure, etc, panics and starts having sex with guys because she now thinks that is the only way she can get them.

To me this doesn't sound like the case of some sort of personal sexual revolution, where her ideas about sex have evolved and changed, but sounds more like she is acting a bit out of desperation. Which if she is as mentally unstable as you say would make a lot of sense.

Let me just put a disclaimer on this, I'm not saying that everyone that has casual sex does so out of desperation, low self esteem, etc I know a lot of people are perfectly in control and emotionally healthy who engage in casual sex, but it really doesn't sound like the case here.

But regardless of all that, stay away, move on with the new girl, don't let her suck you into her craziness.
posted by whoaali at 9:42 PM on August 11, 2007 [1 favorite]

Let her go. Silently thank her for the lessons she has taught you and move on.
posted by pluckysparrow at 10:36 PM on August 11, 2007

You lied to her at the start of the relationship. Then you dumped her. Now you're upset because she's not living up to your expectations for her. Sheesh.

Her choices are none of your business. She has no obligation to live up to your expectations. None.

Here's how you get past this. Leave her alone. If you run into her or even think about her, then treat her with nonjudgmental respect. Cherish and respect the women you're dating now. Ask your therapist to help you learn how to do that.
posted by 26.2 at 10:58 PM on August 11, 2007 [2 favorites]

You've already chosen to break it off and move on. Don't pick at the corpse of the last relationship and backslide emotionally (and that's exactly what you're doing by getting emotionally involved with her current activities).

Move forward. Because forward momentum is a necessary condition of growth. Become a better person. Change.
posted by DaShiv at 11:39 PM on August 11, 2007

People change.
posted by greta simone at 11:55 PM on August 11, 2007 [1 favorite]

Dude, get over it. It's done. Let her do what she wans to do. Do what you want to do. It's taken more years than I wish to mention to realize this...

Learn from my mistakes. You don't need to justify yourselves to each other.
posted by ASM at 12:36 AM on August 12, 2007

Gee, this sounds familiar. Like, eerily familiar.

I dated a similar girl last year, and finally broke it off in February this year after she tried to get me drunk in order to get me to sleep with her. She came back into my life briefly as a friend (without benefits), until I found out that she'd slept with someone else and not told me about it at some point in the relationship, at which point contact got cut off totaly.

Some girls are just fucked up. Some guys will put up with it, but you don't have to be one. Therapist is good, you might explore antidepressants. (I did, and they helped me a lot.) I'm going to contradict the previous posters who said not to tell your current GF about this -- I think you should have full disclosure with her, and get her help in order for you to deal with it -- that will show her that you're dealing with it and that you consider her to be a partner in her life as opposed to a conquest.
posted by SpecialK at 12:51 AM on August 12, 2007

I don't think she's doing anything wrong.

Additionally, people change, and relationships change people. You might find it hard to live up to the high standards you expect of others yourself as you get older.
posted by apetpsychic at 1:31 AM on August 12, 2007

I feel like she was not the person I thought she was.

Hate to say it, but as much as a shock as this is, it's entirely normal. People look very different from within and without a relationship.

Also, you need to stop wondering about her sex life. Really. Look away. Have one your self. Don't look there!
posted by fcummins at 1:48 AM on August 12, 2007 [1 favorite]

SpecialK said: I'm going to contradict the previous posters who said not to tell your current GF about this -- I think you should have full disclosure with her, and get her help in order for you to deal with it -- that will show her that you're dealing with it and that you consider her to be a partner in her life as opposed to a conquest.

The poster mentioned that his current girlfriend already knows about the situation and that she is being supportive. I'm not saying he should hide anything from her, just that his continuing obsession with his ex's sex life shouldn't be a regular topic of discussion. It's not healthy. It should be enough for the current girlfriend to know that the poster is seeing a therapist and trying to move forward.
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 2:52 AM on August 12, 2007

"Just stop thinking about it" often annoys me as advice, because even if you ARE able to perform such a deceptively simple feat, you're sometimes left with a hole where the rumination used to be.

You may be drawn to pondering Carey *because* of where it (not really she, since you're only contemplating certain aspects) sits on your spectrum of awareness and influence. There's something luxurious about being able to dwell on things where there's a relation to your life so you have familiarity, but also a detachment so that you avoid rocking your own boat. It can be, potentially, safer and more compact than contemplating much closer murkiness and conflict.

Give some thought to what is missing, or what you are avoiding in your own life to make room for this in your mind.
posted by gnomeloaf at 5:48 AM on August 12, 2007 [1 favorite]

I'm thinking about the title of this post, and wondering where the problem is. This, to me, seems like a fairly reasonable breakup. It's so normal for one party to want the breakup more than the other that I consider it the norm. It's so normal for the dumped to want/try to win the dumper back that it's part of the breakup script.

This woman doesn't sound crazy or like she needs your condescending worry. She took a few months to adjust to the reality that it was over. Then she moved on, met other people (not at all dissimilarly to you) and minds her own business. You should get over your idea that her new life is necessarily damaged and unhealthy, or otherwise much different from yours. You're seeking happiness, and so is she. It's time for you to mind your own business. And if you can, stop applying arbitrary value judgements to her sex life. That is not cool. There is no "conduct" here for you to have feelings about.
posted by loiseau at 7:09 AM on August 12, 2007 [1 favorite]

There comes a time in everyone's life when they have to realize and accept that they're almost never going to respect how other people deal with sex and relationships. Even with the few people for whom it will be your business, you will not be able to change what they do. This particular person's sex life and relationships are absolutely none of your business. She is not in your life.

Assuming she's of age, she has every right to choose to have sex or not. It's her choice. The same goes for her choices in regards to religion and faith. Her "conduct" is not for you to approve or disapprove. At all. You have no control or responsibility over her spiritual or sexual health, or any other part of her life. That is as it should be.

We can't help wondering about our exes, of course. But to be this concerned almost two years after the break-up is a bit much. Continue working on this with your therapist. Outside of that, fake it till you make it. Don't talk about her with mutual friends, don't look at her myspace page, put away the things that remind you of her. In time, if you're really committed to moving on, you will think of it less and less.
posted by lampoil at 7:14 AM on August 12, 2007

There is no "conduct" here for you to have feelings about.

Seconded. You're being judgmental and hypocritical. You're saying it was her decision not to have sex with you, and you respected that choice, but it's somehow wrong when she makes different choices with other people?

Carey was not required to sleep with you. No one, in fact, is required to sleep with you, no matter how wonderful you are. Women who choose not to sleep with you are still perfectly at liberty to choose to sleep with other people; they don't give up their right to sexual autonomy by turning you down.

She is your ex-girlfriend, not a friend. Even if you were motivated by real concern for her well-being (which is often really just simply a cloak for Nice Guy (TM) misogyny), her life is not any of your business anymore.
posted by occhiblu at 8:54 AM on August 12, 2007 [4 favorites]

Your ex acted needy and crazy from when you first started dating and only continued to be needier and crazier as you continued to date. Why are you surprised that behavior has continued? You were dating a crazy person. That crazy person has continued to act crazy.
posted by schroedinger at 8:56 AM on August 12, 2007

How to get over my feelings about my ex's conduct?

Realize that it's not any of your business how your ex behaves, you have no contact with her and her behavior is not affecting your life in any way. Make a decision to focus on your new gf, and don't make her listen to you talk about your ex.
posted by yohko at 12:30 PM on August 12, 2007

"This isn't any of my business." Repeat as needed.
posted by OmieWise at 6:40 AM on August 13, 2007

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