I’m 30 and can’t get over my break-up with my fiancé. Together for five years, engaged for two, we split up at the beginning of last year.
I initiated the end as our relationship was making both of us unhappy. When we began, I fell completely in love and we were extremely sexually attracted.
But despite being intellectually matched, meaningful conversation was never there. I put that to the back of my mind because of the strength of my feelings.
During the first year he treated me with a lack of respect (flirting with other women in front of me) and I complained but put up with it, which is out of character for me.
However, after that year it was as if he realised that he loved me, too, and his behaviour improved. A few months after we got engaged, I started to have doubts.
The conversation and ‘connectedness’ that matter to me were absent. We didn’t feel like good friends or a real team. He was mainly interested in talking about himself and rarely asked questions.
There was only sexual intimacy; he wasn’t really interested in anything I enjoyed, nor in some of the bigger questions of life. He admitted he found it difficult to listen to others; often when I talked he seemed ‘elsewhere’.
In time I went off sex, despite still loving him. This led to increased resentment. I was able to have great conversations with a guy at work — which highlighted the issue. I would frequently cry and feel lonely and eventually became attracted to other men.
Relationships need hard work, but surely they shouldn’t be that hard? I suggested the split, he agreed, I moved out.
For the first couple of months I was almost relieved. Then realisation hit. I asked if he felt that we had done the right thing or should try again, but he seemed focused on getting on with his life.
Not long after that I started seeing someone I’m still with — kind, considerate, likes to talk etc.
However, I still keep dreaming about my ex, feel guilt and sadness over our break-up and sometimes think I should have tried harder.
My new partner would be upset if he knew how I feel — and I value him. Was I expecting too much from my ex?
What can help me move on? I believe I’m experiencing grief, but the force and intensity of it is bothering me. I thought that things were meant to get easier.
It seems that coming to terms with our break-up is harder now than ever, and I don’t want to carry regrets around for the rest of my life.
What do you think I should do?
This first appeared in the Daily Mail.
You say you ‘can’t get over’ the break-up in the first line of your letter, suggesting that you expected to be able to put a long and serious relationship completely behind you. You were together a long time, yet it sounds as though you were hoping to delete the whole period without serious mourning.
You say the relationship wasn’t ideal from the start and you resented the way he treated you, but you seemed to feel that you should put up with it. You waited for him to have an epiphany about his feelings for you but, once he had, you say you began to have doubts. In fact, you had doubts before that, (no depth of conversation) and perhaps you didn’t believe the apparent change in him, his ‘realisation’.
So, though you already felt things were not great, you stayed with him, adding complaints about him to your list. Now he is selfish, there is no ‘connectedness’ and eventually you no longer find him attractive.
You waited until you ‘connected’ with someone else in the office and until you found other people attractive before you left. You mention ‘increased resentment’ yourself and ask why you should have to work so hard. This sounds a bit petulant as though you were somehow required to stay in a relationship you’ve already said wasn’t ideal from the beginning. Or did you only really go off him once he was fully involved in and in love with you? Was this too hard to believe, perhaps because of your own feelings of lack of self worth (which you then project into him, finding endless faults there)?
Finally you break up and he moves on. You are with someone more suitable but now find yourself looking back to this relationship as the answer to something. Now you are dismissive about the new man who ‘likes to talk etc.’ and still seem a bit petulant – ‘I thought things were supposed to get easier.’ Now the contemptible aspects (again related to your own lack of self worth) are projected into the new man while the old is idealized.
You seem to have an ideal man in your head and the ideal is simply someone you’re not with, can’t have or who is not interested in you. Much of your letter lists the faults of your ex such that it’s not initially clear why you stayed so long. You maintain an ideal in your mind and now blame yourself for having tossed the perfect man away – only perfect because he is not there. I wonder if you feel you deserve to be with someone who actually values you.
It seems to me that this ideal man fantasy is a strong defence against ordinary intimacy in the present and against your own feelings of inadequacy. While the perfect relationship is elsewhere you don’t have to invest in your current relationship because you have nothing to lose. You are protecting yourself against loss but it has been unsuccessful because the loss is there anyway. You hoped that by leaving a bad relationship you would avoid feelings of loss and mourning and you are surprised that this hasn’t happened. What you keep losing is a fantasy of an ideal and more and more of your self-esteem – this is genuinely painful.
Now some wild conjecture:
I wonder then about your father. In fact, I almost wonder if your father is still alive or if he played a large part in your life. It feels here as though real men are always destined to be inadequate while a fantasy perfect man is always just out of reach. Was your father always just out of reach? If so, this might explain the slightly childish tone of the letter. You sound like a little girl who is being denied something that is important to her. But perhaps you were not allowed to say quite how important it/he was? Perhaps you felt you were supposed to dismiss your real needs as trivial and move on without processing your feelings of loss? This might also describe why you allowed the ex-fiance to treat you badly – because on some level you feel a bit worthless, not really worth staying around for, and so defend yourself further against attachment by maintaining a fantasy.
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