Two of my favorite blogs issued posts yesterday based on reader comments that could have been written by me (I had to double-take both of them). One concerns recovering emotionally from a breakup and the other a relationship rut at a key time. Both are quite germane because of big personal events:
I ended my LTR two weeks ago.
In the last handful of years, I got dumped by the woman I thought I was going to marry, found game through the back door, left graduate school early, moved across the country to a city in which I knew literally one person, wrangled my way into two good jobs and fell in love again. With the possible exception of the first item, in all that time this was the most difficult thing I’ve been through; I appear to have gone through the Five Stages in a random order.
Did you ever date someone you discovered you didn’t like, and the breakup was just the fulfillment of an inevitability, a moment of unalloyed relief? This was not one of those cases. It was an incredibly difficult decision. This isn’t an “I love you but I’m not in love with you.” It’s more like an “I love you but I need to make a rational long-term decision that gives me the best chance to live a happy, productive life.” In the end we wanted different futures, and we were too far apart on how we led our lives. I was in a pattern where I was thinking “if this or that issue was solved I’d be a lot more amenable to going all the way,” but the list got so long that I eventually reached the conclusion that I was wishing for a different person. And asking her to undertake such changes under the blackmail of a breakup wasn’t going to be fair to her or to me.
We had an absolutely wonderful first eight months or so, we both thought we’d hit a home run. I’ve come to believe that part of the reason it was so good is because we were both pretty interesting people when we met – we had good friend groups, we liked our jobs, we had side hobbies and a sense of abundance. We packed more into that time than into the year and a half after that – because we made a classic LTR mistake: we gradually backed away from all of that with the pretext that we had each other and that was enough. And in my opinion, I backdoored myself into a codependence scenario – not only was my life not as interesting as I wanted, I was hesitant to push issues or (eventually) break up because I felt like I was all she had.
Finally, breaking up is hard simply because even in cases where it’s the wrong situation to be in, you literally can’t imagine your life without that person.
Enough about me, on to the posts. Susan Walsh addressed a commenter under the nom de guerre of “Robinson.” He’s been struggling with emotionally detaching after getting dumped by his first lay.
My ex girlfriend broke up with me 6 months ago (we dated 3 months) and unfortunately I am still emotionally suffering from the break up. We are very different people, although we did have a mutual interest in wildlife biology. She enjoys getting wasted, smoking weed and hooking up (she likes the attention). I have avoided drugs throughout most of my life and have never hooked up. Our differing values were not compatible and are what led to the break up.
Sounds like a story I’ve heard before. As the master of esoteric interests, I find it’s easy to develop one-itis for a woman who displays an interest in military history, classic alternative music or fine meat cooking.
As a male, I’m embarrassed (sarcasm) to say that at the mighty age of 24, I lost my virginity to this girl. I was brought up on the values to seek meaningful relationships and I do believe I achieved that in this case. The problem is that I can’t seem to get past this girl who I don’t even want to be with anymore. Since I lost my virginity to her and put a lot of effort in the relationship, I still can’t seem to shake the feeling of a sort of innate obligation to take care of her, be there for her and love her. Why do I still feel that way when I really want nothing to do with her? Could there be a biological explanation? Or do you think its more likely to be environmental?
First, I want to say that now that you’ve lost it, no one will care when you lost it.
Sadly, I have complete empathy for your deep feelings of abiding love. Some men are born with this trait; I certainly was. We want to believe the best about people, that the people we love can turn their lives around. Those are also messages blared to us through the media. Culture is constantly “qualifying” us to be Real Men(TM), to be better than the slobs we see in beer ads, tapping into our natural desire to please and warping it into a phony “non-judgmentalism” that tells us guys we are supposed to just deal with histrionic, indolent behavior because “girls just gotta have fun.” Add to that the cultural anxiety about mid-life crises and men leaving their middle-aged wives for younger hotter tighter (a pattern not at all borne out by the divorce statistics, BTW) and you’ll find a crop of young guys who desperately want to show their bona fides as “Real Men” by sticking by their women when the right choice is to find a field to plow that might actually bear some harvest.
I was also born with a strong desire to see something through to a good end, something I’m guessing you might be going through too given your words about investing effort into the relationship. This serves me well on the job, but is poison in relationships, sapping me of opportunity cost and sucking my psyche dry working for a result that will never materialize as I dig beneath the Mendoza Line (the batting average below which it is said a player will never recover). It took me years (yeah) to really internalize and build the skill to leave a bad relationship where I left it.
My relationships in the past did not involve sex and I never felt that strongly about them. I hate to say it, but after being emotionally drained by this relationship, I have the urge to fall for the temptation of hooking up with no strings attached. I know its not the road I should go and I know I will not do it, but why do I all of a sudden have this urge when I have resisted it for so long?
I hate to sound like a sex-pozzie, but part of it could be that you are now sexually “activated” and your rationalization hamster is trying to drive you towards scratching the itch more. Sounds like your subconscious also wants to avoid a repeat of the emotional pain.
I’m curious to know if this happens to other guys who lose their virginity in a relationship. They have a relationship, lose their virginity, relationship ends, the cost of being in a relationship is too high and emotionally draining, they resort to hooking up. What do you think?
Our minds place tremendous value on persons with whom we share defining experiences. I found it surprisingly difficult to de-bond from my high school football team, an unusually tight-knit crew; by the same token, we see ex-military personnel who can never find an environment of trust and teamwork as satisfying as their former unit.
There is an excellent commenter at HUS named Mike C who late last year discussed his brief marriage to his first sexual partner and the difficulties of withdrawing from that bond even amid great mismatch; it is not an unheard of phenomenon. My defunct LTR had dozens of these experiences in the domestic realm. I met her soon after moving to a new town, so it’s almost impossible to go out or even drive down the street without being reminded of her – the site of our first date, restaurants we went to, parks we liked, places I showed her or she showed me, clothes she helped me pick out, even the first Thanksgiving turkey I cooked myself.
As to what to do: there’s no easy advice. Science has yet to give us the oneitis pill, a theoretical gamechanger that would be on par with male birth control. The best thing you can do is build an independent life, and the let your mind gradually fit into it.
Break the chemical bonds she has on you. Try to blow your mind out with dopamine (within limits of course – cocaine is inadvisable). Go for some new experiences. Break your routines. Pick a hobby or personal project you’ve always wanted to do, and do it – with gusto.
One commenter suggested a good weight program. I wholeheartedly endorse that (eat healthy too). Don’t just do your reps and go home, put on some loud music and really go for the “pump.”
Push your social comfort zone a bit. Try a new frame with clothing – if you’re an athletic guy, cop the corduroy-and-horn-rims look of a young English professor (you know, the ones the college girls are always having flings with). If you’re a bit of a geek, get some pants that fit and a few nice dress shirts and pretend you just came from an upscale brunch. Roleplaying – the idea that you DON’T have to be yourself in this costume – should loosen you up.
Play social games with new people. Never introduce yourself – wait for them to do so or to ask you your name. Give people an obviously bogus occupation when they ask what you do (“I appraise used farming equipment for the resale market.” “I’m head of operations at a Christmas sweater manufacturing company.” “I don’t like to make it public, but have you heard of the Sausage King of Chicago?”)
There will be a big tendency towards self-pity. Avoid this by trying to turn every conversation back to the other person. Don’t tell them about your problems; let them shine and absorb their energy. This not only practices your skills as a master conversationalist, it gets your mind off of your own crap. (If they don’t shine, find someone else to talk to…why spend time with people you find a drag or a bore?)
As for dating itself, I don’t recommend a series of meaningless one-night stands/FWB/NSA, but there wouldn’t be anything wrong with a fling (particularly one that didn’t go all the way). Nor with going on a few dates, just some fun experiences with women to let you know there are other girls in the world and you can attract them. This is one thing I wish I had done when I got left high and dry a few years back (send me your online dating profile if you want me to work it over).
You may be tempted to throw yourself into your work. It’s a trap, avoid it – it sublimates the problem instead of treating it. Make social commitments that require you to get out of the office at a decent hour.
Finally, you’ll have to find a way to come to some sort of forgiveness. You don’t have to contact her to communicate this, but you don’t want to be in a way where you are operating from a subconscious revenge mindset, where you want to do someone the way she did to you. Don’t let her live rent-free in your head.
I will not lie to you, and in any case you know right now that what I say is true – it’s not easy. There’s waves of intense loneliness, a feeling of abandonment and abandoning, and a generalized sense that the world doesn’t compute, that there’s nothing to salve your mind. You’ll spend time doing interesting things and talking to interesting people and thinking to yourself “I wish she was here.”
It’s not true. There will be a day when you wake up and the first thing you think about ISN’T her. By definition, you won’t notice this day. You probably won’t be able to locate it after the fact. But it will be one of the most liberating days of your life, the day your mind let you go on.
That’s a good segue into our other post. A reader email at Married Man Sex Life was quoted thusly:
I’ve been an avid reader of your blog for some time now, and just recently got the book and started reading it. Even though I’m not married, I am in a LTR of 7 months, and already things have gone downhill, so I’m hoping the book will help bring it back to life. We haven’t had sex for close to a month now, her reasons being too exhausted and stressed from the new job, and not being comfortable with her own body as she’s gained a little weight since we started dating. Even though that may be partly true as she works long hours, Isuspect the real reason is my greatly increased “betatude” in the last few months.
My question to you is – should I tell her about the book and give it to her to read once I’m done, as I think it would help her shed some light on her own behaviour as well, or would that be a bad idea and make me look even more beta in her eyes (the fact that I need to read a book to figure out how to re-ignite the spark). I’m 25 and she’s 21, although she acts much more mature than that, if it makes a difference. Looking forward to your answer, and to finishing the book of course!
I’ll be shorter this time. My take is that problems around the six-month point indicate that for one or both of you, the novelty has worn off, and/or you’re at a comfort stage where you (or she) feel “OK” not being on your best behavior anymore.
One of the great shames in relationships is that people try to justify treating their partner shabbily with some high-octane rationalization along the lines of “well I’m comfortable enough to show you my bad side” or “if you can’t take my worst you don’t deserve my best,” a bunch of Cosmo-esque bullshit. (As if she’d give Matthew McConaughey the same treatment.)
Life changes, bodies change, jobs change, etc – it’s a fact of life, and one of the reasons we should date for a long time before getting married is so we can audition our partners for how they deal with life changes. People who can only enjoy life under a tightly controlled set of circumstances, or only when it’s novel and fun, who don’t show significant adaptability, are not people to bet the rest of your life on.
Now for the advice nobody wants to hear: if things have gone downhill so quickly that early, I think it’s best to simply eject. Sure you should up your alpha but don’t waste it on fixing her. Give up the Captain Save-A-Ho fantasy. Give up the sense of obligation to “nurture” her because you think that’s what love is all about. If you’d been together ten years and things had just started to decline it’d be worth a full effort to turn it around; six months in and you’re probably just not that compatible.
I would use the book less to convince her to shape up (you can’t force her behavior anyway) and more to convince yourself of the type of relationship you want to have (one where sex problems manifest themselves six months in?)
I will break bread with Athol’s answer, though – there is the chance that a lucid and direct articulation of your expectations for the relationship (as relayed in MMSL or any other way you want to present it) will cause her to straighten up and fly right. Quite honestly, due to cultural brainwashing plenty of women who would make great wives don’t know how to present as such because they just don’t know the expectations, and they can’t read our minds. Not every woman is an anarcho-feminist bitch who needs to be gamed into submission.
So it might be worth a try. But you should think it over – do you want to invest long-term if problems are this bad this early? Wouldn’t your skills be better used on someone who didn’t fall out of love with you within the first year?
Take it from a guy who stayed in such a situation far longer than he should have. The initial pain is significant, but you’ll never regret it in the long run.