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September 27

Exes don’t help exes through breakups

Filed under: Advice — posted by Breakup Girl @ 8:18 am

Making a mess on August 17, 1998

Dear Breakup Girl,

You must be the hardest-working superhero on the ‘Net. I’ve been reading your column for about three months now, and find what you have to say provocative and sensible. Here’s my big question: how does one deal with guilt? I need a little help.

Obscenely short fact roundup: G and I were engaged, but not particularly happily (you know: he asks you to marry him, then gets freaked out when you start thinking kids, house, future…) He started getting itchy feet, and wanted to break up (sow his wild oats, find someone with a body type ‘more his ideal’, the usual nonsense). So, I agreed, and we moved apart back in October.

I then (not having read BG’s website) broke a number of BG’s rules for breakups: it was long, slow, and messy. I was lonely, and depressed, and we spent far far too much time together. We also kept sleeping together sporadically, which was always followed by a few days of being utterly depressed to the point of it affecting my work and quality of life (thank you to my roommate for making sure that I ate!). All I wanted was to stay friends and to get on with my life (which I couldn’t do when we kept sleeping together). I had made it clear that we weren’t getting back together, but he kept saying that we weren’t and why couldn’t friends sleep together, etc. I wasn’t in a good space. (I should add that he was trying to date some woman in December, but it didn’t work out.)

Move ahead to March: I’d been very very depressed since October, but came to some realizations and told G “one last time and no more.” Really meant it too. It was like a little switch had gone off in my head, and whatever was holding me back had gone away. The next day, my movie buddy comes back from a trip and spark! We start dating (believe me, I wasn’t looking for it to happen, but I’m sure glad that it did). Now, I am happier than I have been in a long long time.

Problem: I tell G. He goes ballistic. Psycho. Not physically violent: if he tried that, I’d turn him into a pretzel. Just emotionally vicious: he’s a little immature emotionally, and the new S.O. (J) is close to G’s family. He’s pulled some sh*t too, that I never expected: read my diary to find out what I’d been doing with J, such like. It’s been hard to remember what I liked about him, sometimes, and I’ll admit that it would be a lot easier to tell Mr. Hostility to f**k off. However, given J’s closeness to G’s sister’s family, it’s not really an option.

Now, I’ve been trying to work with G, so that he doesn’t feel abandoned, but I don’t think that I’m doing such a hot job. It seems that nothing that I do is enough: I can’t give him what he needs, he says: he wants me to stay over sometimes, and doesn’t understand that I can’t do it. He wants me to see him on the one weeknight that I always have reserved for J. He gets me so twisted around emotionally it’s like all I feel is white noise, and I can’t explain myself to him. This only makes it worse for him. He feels that he only gets the dregs that J doesn’t get of my time, or that I’ll only see him when J is busy (some truth there, but I’ve been trying to see him when J is obviously not busy — J is very understanding). I’ll also admit that he makes me so angry sometimes that the last thing that I want to do is spend time with him, and so I don’t: again, makes it worse.

Now: am I doing more damage to G by talking to him than by not seeing/talking to him for a few months, until he gets some space/distance? If I did take the space, am I abandoning him again, and taking the “easy route” out? How do I stop feeling guilty that he feels so out of control and miserable? The guilt is really hard to take. I feel like I broke off with him, rather than him with me, and that I’ve not displayed very much character or friendship.

What do I do? Reading over this letter, I have a pretty good idea, but just need some external reinforcement.

— K

Dear K,

Yes, I bet you do have a pretty good idea, but here’s some reinforcement anyway: the relevant elements of the previous two letters. Plus this IMPORTANT BREAKUP GIRL MAXIM: exes don’t help exes through breakups. Especially not while they’re still sleeping together. You cannot be the physical therapist steadying your ex’s elbow, talking him/her through every halting step. It just doesn’t work. Especially because it’s often more about absolving your guilt than anything else. Guilt, my dear K, is part of the rough, quicksandy territory of breakup aftermath. As long as you have been fundamentally kind, respectful, and human/humane, his reaction is not something you did. I promise you, exes are entirely capable of feeling out of control and miserable all by themselves. And sometimes the best way to display “character” and “friendship” is to let someone wean themselves off their crutches.

Breakup Girl

P.S. Thanks for the kind words.


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