This problem first appeared in the Observer.
I’m 15 years old and last June I started dating a girl at my school. We were together until January, when she dumped me. During the summer the relationship did not mean much to me, but, as the year progressed, we became closer, and I was starting to love the fact I was going out with someone so pretty and clever. We often did stuff together, but there were many times when she just didn’t want to interact with me. There was one particular boy I started to get worried about and she was forever pulling out her phone in front of me to arrange her next meet-up with him.
I talked to my friends about my jealousy and even arranged a meeting with the school counsellor to try to curb these emotions. She broke off our relationship because she said we no longer acted like best friends and she didn’t have much fun with me any more. I have since found out that she is with this other boy. I feel terrible. Everyone at school knows my situation and I am not embarrassed but upset that I have never got so much as a “how are you feeling now?” from peers. I know that this is just a standard case of teenage heartbreak, but how do I get over her?
There is something strange about the language of this letter and I’m wondering whether this is an adult writing on behalf of their son. However, if it’s genuine then stating your age and starting at the beginning of the story is interesting. Your first line is about when the relationship began and you say you started ‘dating’. I’m not sure whether this means you began a physical relationship or not. You say she ‘dumped you’ which I know is normal language, but it is a brutal way of putting it and suggests that you feel very angry and casually, contemptuously discarded. (Red flag of possibly contemptuous mother is waving here). You say that during the summer the relationship ‘didn’t mean that much’ to you and it is only when you say you started liking and appreciating her that you began to find her distant. You say you ‘started to love’ the fact that you were together, but it sounds as though these feelings were just beginning. At his point you began to feel insecure.
You suggest that she was deliberately taunting you by making arrangements to see the other boy while you looked on. You then became aware that your jealousy was becoming a serious psychological problem. However, you did what many people do when faced with unmanageable feelings – you tried to get rid of them. You do not say you saw a counsellor and talked to friends in order to examine and understand the feelings. You wanted rid of them. She said some cruel things to you (assuming you are relating what she actually said and not what you felt she meant) and left you feeling awful but nobody has been sympathetic or helpful.
It seems to me that there are a few things going on here. Firstly, you only began to feel insecure and jealous when you became properly involved with this girl, though by this point you had already been with her for some time. It is likely that she was upset by your initial lack of enthusiasm and was indeed trying to make you jealous, causing you similar pain to the pain you may have caused her when the relationship ‘didn’t mean that much’ to you. The fact that you got overwhelmed by insecurity once you felt involved suggests that you have real problems with intimacy – that it terrifies you. Up to that point you were protected by your own indifference. Of course, being intimate with someone means you have something to lose and that is terrifying for everyone, but in your case it sounds as though losing her, or that possibility, overtook enjoying being with her whilst allowing her to be separate. It sounds as though you would like to have been able to control her so that you were not in danger of losing her. This then becomes self-fulfilling. She successfully made you jealous but, rather than that making you appreciate her more, it made you obsess about her mind not being under your control. I suspect that you did not have a secure attachment to your mother and that, as an infant, you were frightened of losing her full attention (or maybe you did lose her full attention to a sibling, to depression or any number of other things). You will need to look at why intimacy means overwhelming fear of loss for you.
You say your friends have been unsympathetic but I imagine that is a result of what you have said to them. Maybe you have seemed angry rather than sad, or maybe they remember the time when you were in the relationship but not very excited about it and so (wrongly) disbelieve that you are really upset. Perhaps they saw your jealousy and fear rather than love and affection and therefore imagine that you what you lost was fairly toxic for you anyway.
It seems to me that your early defences against the involvement scuppered the relationship. Then, your reaction to genuine involvement was controlling and led by fear. Afterwards, I imagine (just from the way you behaved in the relationship itself) that you talk defensively about what happened so that people are not really sure whether or not you are hurt or just angry. We all tend unconsciously to engineer the reactions we expect. You expected rejection when you loved and then you got it. You expect lack of sympathy and you get it. It’s important to look at how your own behaviour effects the responses of those around you and also how you choose your partners and friends. Are you selecting people who reject you because that’s what you expect based on experience in early life?
You are not buffeted by fate. You are acting in a way that makes the outside world mirror your inner world.
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