How to deal with a messy breakup
February 18, 2008 6:17 PM   Subscribe

What do I take away from a messy breakup?

Hey everyone,

It's Corey. After a long hiatus, I'm back. My first gay relationship ended two weeks ago. Let me explain the details below. All I'd like is advice on what lessons I should have learned from the whole experience.

So he's 33. I'm 25. We dated for 3.5 months and things were going great. We went on weekend trips together, he introduced me to all his friends (whom he said liked me and were extremely kind to me), and just generally had a good time. For the first few months we only saw each other twice a week because we were both busy and not living together. We had a few minor tiffs here and there. Once, when I was busy with work, and under a lot of stress, I text messaged him for two days in a row instead of calling. He was upset that I didn't call and told me that it wasn't too much to ask to have a brief phone conversation every day. I agreed, apologized profusely, he accepted my apology, and it never came up again. I would joke about our 8-year age difference in front of his friends (who also joked about it and hardly seemed to mind, since it was all in jest). He said it was irritating at times but didn't seem up in arms about it. I made fun of his "love handles" in a teasing way once and he said, "If you think you can make fun of your boyfriend's body in bed before sex, then you have a lot to learn about relationships ... granted, it's your first one." I apologized and he said sorry for being so sensitive about it.

Then, two weeks ago, when we had made plans for me to visit his apartment one evening, I called to confirm whether we were still on. He said that he had to talk to me about something important, and so he went ahead and explained that he'd been searching for a new job around where we live for over a year, but nothing turned up, and so the only real job opportunity that makes sense for where he is in his career is in another, faraway state. He would have to begin that job there in 10 months to a year and would be there for at least three years. Meanwhile, I just started a new job and can't exactly pack up my bags and leave with him. He said that our career paths were incompatible and that he would not be willing to try the long-distance thing because it would be too hard for him and we'd hardly see each other. He told me that if we'd been together for longer than 3.5 months--say, 2 years--a conversation about one or both of us making sacrifices would make sense.

I asked him whether there was anything else he wasn't telling me about the quality of our relationship, about me, about my parents (whom I told about him but who are still struggling with my sexuality and about whom he generally seemed anxious), my friends (some of whom he didn't seem to take a liking to), because even if whatever he told me hurt like hell, at least it would be the truth, and I could potentially learn something from the experience as I go forward. He insisted that his decision was purely practical because he didn't want things to be more traumatic than they needed to be a year later when he would have to move and break things off. He said that it had nothing to do with me or my personality or anything I said or did. I asked him whether he would date anyone in our city before he moves and he said, "Well, if I did, it wouldn't be for the long term, but I haven't thought that far ahead." I didn't say anything in response, but once that phone conversation was over, he called a few hours later to say that he really really really liked me and not to think otherwise.

That whole week was hard. I got numerous e-mails, phone calls, and (on one occasion even drunken) txt messages in which he told me how much he cared for me, how sad he was that we couldn't be together, how he couldn't get over me. He said that this breakup was really difficult for him and that even his best friend was surprised that he was struggling to move past a 3.5 month-long relationship. It seemed that, despite his greater experience in relationships and his age, he was having a harder time with the breakup than I was. A week after the breakup I called him to say I think I could try being friends with him (continuing as close friends was his idea) and he said, good, we should play things by ear and thanks for calling. I texted him on Valentine's Day when I was slightly drunk saying, "Happy Valentine's Day." I felt stupid for doing that, but he responded saying "You too!" and that he noticed that I changed my username on an online dating website we both used (and how we both met in the first place). So then I knew he had seen my profile and he knew that I had seen his, which he reinstated a week after the breakup.

I didn't make much of the fact that he reinstated his profile (he had cancelled it while we were together). I figured maybe he was just lonely and wanted to browse or perhaps he would update things once he was getting ready to move. Two weeks after the breakup, this morning, I noticed that he updated his profile: he added a new photo, changed his headline to say that he was looking for "Mr. Right," changed the lowest age in the age range of men he's seeking from 28 to 30, BUT kept the search parameters for the city we live in, not for the city he's moving to in a year. This all led me to believe that while moving to another city was probably a big part of the reason he dumped me, he hadn't told me the whole truth. Either he would rather date someone here for the short-term before he leaves (it's hard to see how that person could be "Mr. Right") or he's not moving at all and just didn't think I was "Mr. Right." He would rather meet other people than wait things out with me for the next year; he would rather call things off a year early.

I sent him an e-mail this morning calling him out on this. I said it was insensitive and cowardly for him to have broken up with me over the phone. I think a face-to-face conversation was in order. He's an adult and needs to be mature enough to deal with the unpleasantness of it all. Secondly, he obviously didn't have the courage to tell me that the relationship just wasn't working for him quite beyond the fact that he's moving in a year. He had told me early in the relationship that this job in another state was on the horizon and that he was excited about it but that nothing was set in stone so we should keep dating. Never once did we have a conversation about something seriously problematic in our relationship. Nor did he consult me about the (specific) possibility of our relationship ending because of this move; he just made his decision and told me by phone. But obviously if, as per his profile, "Mr. Right" is still in the city we're in and at least 30 years old, then he just didn't think I made the cut for him and he didn't level with me about it.

I told him that he was dishonest for doing so and handled the whole breakup very poorly. I feel insulted, betrayed, and disgusted that after a week of pitiful messages I had to learn that I just wasn't the one for him but that he didn't have the courage to tell me. I told him very specifically on the phone when he was breaking up with me to tell me the cold, bitter truth. That would have been so much better than hearing something sugarcoated, only to learn the nauseating truth two weeks later. I understand that we all hide some of the truth in situations like these to avoid hurting people's feelings, but I told him very specifically over the phone that I'd rather he do that than tell me something else which was a lie. My words were, "Please don't hesitate simply out of a desire to avoid hurting my feelings."

I actually said in my e-mail that I do not want to continue as friends with him, that I forgive him, wish him the best, and good bye. I don't know how to look at all this any other way. I can't believe he led me to think he really cared about me for so long only to be dick enough to update his profile like that knowing full well that I would see it. Now, I modified my profile too, but I'm not moving and will be in this city for quite a while; that's a key difference. Also, I feel insulted that he would rather date other people in our city for the next year rather than stay with me. Perhaps he is planning to change the profile parameters to the city he's moving to in the next few days (or whenever) but it's hard to see why he would begin looking for potential dates in a faraway state he's moving to a year ahead of time. It seems to me that, no matter how you slice this, he's the villain.

My question is, what do I take away from all of this? I feel so disappointed in myself for not seeing any of this coming. I thought he was such a great guy. I never thought anyone I was growing to care and love for could do something so contradictory, confusing, and hurtful.


posted by cscott to Human Relations (8 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
What can we take away from a loss? Strength. Any loss is the steps of grief (the number of steps seems to vary). Know them and profit from them. On the back end you want to be in control of your life. You will grieve your loss, be sad, be angry, but after all that you want to take control, which is best done on unrelated things like making sure that your living space is neat or whatever, your work is all on time, your diet is healthy, or whatever little aspects of control (and conquer) you can muster. As the pain subsides and you are OK, and perhaps even better than OK in a few areas, then you have just grown. Life is a series of these challenges and as you get aged, they become no less painful, but all the more routine.
posted by caddis at 6:33 PM on February 18, 2008 [1 favorite]

Well, first of all, dude, it's not your fault. I mean, unless you're psychic, no matter how smart you are, no matter how well you can read people, odds are you're going to get it wrong once in a while. This is doubly true in matters of the heart. It makes you do the wacky.

Secondly--and this is my own experience, not representative of the entire human race--it seems like the older we get, the more likely it is that we'll act like a-holes. Yeah, there's wisdom and enlightenment and all that, but it seems much more common that people get beaten down a little bit by their disappointments, and they turn a bit selfish, a bit guarded.

And so there again: not your fault. People have their own stuff to deal with, and it's unfortunate that sometimes their loved ones get caught up in it, but it's nothing to do with you. Which is not to say that you yourself were irrelevant; obviously you meant something to him or else he wouldn't have taken the things you said so personally, wouldn't have made the effort--however deceptive--to be sort of decent about the breakup.

I'm a girl and most of my friends are girls, and so I don't claim to know exactly what the dynamics of your relationship are/were, but I do know that sometimes people just act like dinks and there's nothing you can do about it but rise above it.

You seem to know that it's over between you. The best advice I can give you is this:

It's not your fault (I can't stress that enough), and you'll be okay, you'll get over it, honestly you will, and most importantly, don't let the bad stuff that's been done to you turn you into a bad person. It's not worth it, and clearly we have enough jerks as it is.

I'm so sorry that he hurt you, but you're still here, you're still breathing and all. Better off without, if this is what you're getting from him.

posted by melodie at 6:35 PM on February 18, 2008 [1 favorite]

Do you have someone to talk about all this? You clearly have a lot on your chest and need to express it all. Some friends enjoy hearing all the gory details for the fifth time, but really this is the ideal role for a therapist/counselor. The issue here is not "what did the guy do, exactly?" but rather, "how do you feel?" and what are you going to do about it?

So yeah, make an appointment with someone ASAP and see if that helps sort this stuff out.
posted by Forktine at 6:39 PM on February 18, 2008

The best lesson you can learn here: look ahead, not back. You don't get explanations for break-ups. People leave. Relationships end. Shit happens. Trust me, I've gotten dumped a whole mess of times. It's terrible, and every single time, I have wanted to call, write, ask, beg, whatever, for a reason.

Sadly, there's not one. Never. I know, you want to know why. You want a solid answer. But even if there was one, would it make you feel better? Is it easier to let go if you know you're too young, too short, too blond, too whatever? Either way, you're heartbroken. His mind has been made up. Your job is to accept and move on. Trying to rationalize it is just one more way to fixate on something you should be leaving behind.

Another part of looking ahead is avoiding contact. It was wrong of him to keep telling you what a hard time he was having because it denied you the distance you needed to get past him. Next time someone leaves you (it'll happen), cut ties completely. No more calling, texting, looking at his MySpace profile... nothing. Every point of contact will make it harder to let go.
posted by Help, I can't stop talking! at 6:45 PM on February 18, 2008 [1 favorite]

My question is, what do I take away from all of this? I feel so disappointed in myself for not seeing any of this coming. I thought he was such a great guy. I never thought anyone I was growing to care and love for could do something so contradictory, confusing, and hurtful.

Well, this is the downside of romantic relationships. Breakups suck and sometimes it feels like your heart has been ripped out of your chest. You're not doing it wrong, though. It just doesn't always work out, and that's just the risk we take. And you wouldn't want it to not hurt, because if you're that jaded, you don't really get to experience the exhilaration of the good parts, either.

The contradictory stuff is because it hurts to break up with someone too. He's rationalizing and justifying and maybe not being the best version of himself, but this is sometimes what you do to distract yourself when you're willfully causing someone else pain because you believe that it's best.

Try not to obsess over his online profile or read too much into it...this way lies madness.

Go out with your friends, start a new project, keep yourself busy. You're going to be okay.
posted by desuetude at 7:53 PM on February 18, 2008

It sounds like you take your personal relationships very seriously (romantic and otherwise) and value honesty highly. This kind of idealistic personality is vulnerable to being hurt, because many people simply do not share your values. They might say they do, even think they do, but they thrive on the gray scale of life, while to you it's all about blacks and whites.

When you get disappointed like this, step back and tell yourself: "This person was not all that he said he was. He took the easy road rather than tell the truth, said things that made him look and sound good but that he could not live up to, he fooled themselves as much as he fooled you."

Someday you will find a partner who is not a game player, but a decent, honest soul like you. That doesn't mean your relationship will be a success, but at least if it fails it will give you a chance at closure, dignity and the continued friendship you want and deserve. And when you do find your life partner, it will be sweeter for the little heartbreaks you suffered along the way.
posted by Scram at 8:46 PM on February 18, 2008 [1 favorite]

Hi Corey!

That whole week was hard. I got numerous e-mails, phone calls, and (on one occasion even drunken) txt messages in which he told me how much he cared for me, how sad he was that we couldn't be together, how he couldn't get over me. He said that this breakup was really difficult for him and that even his best friend was surprised that he was struggling to move past a 3.5 month-long relationship. It seemed that, despite his greater experience in relationships and his age, he was having a harder time with the breakup than I was.

In spite of his dating profile having changed, you shouldn't jump to conclusions that the above is somehow invalidated. I think as people get more experienced, they can become better at nipping even good things in the bud if there are obstacles for a long term relationship, otherwise they get too emotionally invested & spend too much time heading down dead ends. Think of it as tearing off a band-aid. Perhaps he knew that breaking up with you after 13 months would be a lot more difficult than doing so after 3.5...?

"Looking for Mr Right"? Don't read too much into that. For a start, it doesn't necessarily mean that you're Mr Wrong. As far as you're concerned, your status is perhaps more like Mr Coulda-been, if not for the impending move. His purposes behind writing that? Seriously, who knows? To come across as a romantic? To try to find somebody who can move to his new city in ten months?

You may never know the answer to this, and nor do you need to. That relationship's over, you had some fun, got some runs on the board (does that metaphor work for baseball, too?) and can now start hunting around for somebody else. And when doing so, always assume that your next relationship & partner will be an improvement on the previous one. That usually turns out to be exactly the case, in my experience.
posted by UbuRoivas at 9:43 PM on February 18, 2008 [1 favorite]

Hi Corey. I'm so sorry it worked out this way for you. I have a long answer I'd like to give, but bed is beckoning, so the short version: men are cowards. Gay men triply so. Your lesson: keep being a sweet, open person, and don't fall into the gay bitterness trap.
posted by dirtynumbangelboy at 10:23 PM on February 18, 2008

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