Ask Stef: Did I Confuse Love with Something Else?

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By Stefanie Marshall


Dear Stef,

My dearest and I were together for only six months and I feel dumb for not being able to recover from our breakup and for getting so attached to somebody whom I barely had the time to get to know. Somebody whom I initially thought would not be a match for me. Somebody whom I allowed myself to fall for even though I was aware there was no hope for us, for various reasons, one of them being a visa expiry. But I hoped. I hoped when I shouldn’t have.

After the most wonderful surprise birthday weekend away they organized before going back to their home country for work for a defined period of time (it wasn’t visa expiry yet and it’s still not today), they broke up with me with the almost cliche "I love you but I have to leave you". By text message. I foresaw it would happen on the day they would fly home, but expecting it did not make the pain more bearable.

A week after abandoning me (there is no another word for what they did), they reached out to me. Several times. To make sure I was OK and to let me know more about the reasons why. Telling me how much they enjoyed their time with me, how much they felt alive with me, how much they love (present tense, yes) me but that they couldn’t grow more attached to me in light of past childhood events and the visa expiry. They even asked me to forgive them. I would ignore them at first, but then I would give in.

This led to six months of me being full of hope that I could show them we were meant to be together. And as soon as I would get close to making them realize what I thought was evidence, they would push me away again. And every time I would start accepting that there was no hope, they would reach out to me again. They pushed me back for the last time about a month ago and that time I reacted with a very harsh retrospective on our relationship, which they did not like: that everything was a lie and that they had been manipulating and using me.

Since that day, they have been reaching out to me regularly, asking me not to hate them, telling me they love me and miss me and that they are sorry (but that doesn’t mean they want me back). The last time was tonight. Twice. Some friends tell me they are stringing me along to obtain what they want and others say they do love me but they have an issue with attachment. The only thing I know is that the last time they pushed me away was the last time they will ever hear from me.

But despite all of the above and that I decided to shut down emotionally, I still have that small part of my heart that refuses to think that there was never love between us. Living without hope is a challenge. I am scared of forgetting that love, whether it was real or a lie, because there was something so beautiful there. Something that seems unachievable with somebody else. I do not want to stop feeling the pain because that would mean the love I cherish so much, that flame, would have died. And that perspective is unbearable. They were my first true love (or so I think from the maybe faked, maybe illusionary, intensity)

Family and friends are worried about my attitude towards the breakup, even more so because I live alone in a foreign country. Their opinions are biased and some do not want to make me feel worse for being used. Some think telling me they did use me will make them “the bad guy” and eventually make me move on. Is this all wrong? Does it sound like they did in fact use me? Or that there was no love? Or that I confused love with something else?

A Hopeless Case
*This question was edited for length

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My Dearest A Hopeless Case,

You remind me very much of myself, and perhaps that is why this is hard to answer. My initial reaction was just to sigh and gush and lament, “OH MY GOD I KNOW HOW YOU FEEL.”

And then I stewed and stewed on your questions. On your situation. I have read your words over and over. Turned them over in my hands, wrapped my mind around the curiosities, and I have had such a difficult time finding the words I know you need to hear.

First, I want to say: you are so very obviously capable of great love and great forgiveness. Keep those qualities close to you. Hone them. Never forget you have those powers within you. You are right about one thing: living without hope is quite a challenge. Especially when you have a heart like yours.

I wrote an essay many moons ago about how I fall in love rather recklessly and how I hold onto that love just as fiercely. I forgive easily, and hand out second (and third and fourth) chances like peanuts on a one way flight. So I know where your heart is. I know why you kept letting them back in. I understand completely how you feel every time they reach out and dangle that sliver of hope in front of you. That sliver of hope is our Holy Grail. We worship it. We love love. And we love the person attached to it. You are not alone.

But as with most things in life, when you repeatedly do the same thing over and over without different results, you reach a breaking point. It seems as if you have arrived there. There is nothing WRONG with this, to answer your first question. There is nothing wrong with you. In fact, you should be proud of yourself for finally saying enough is enough. It means you have reached the point where you allowed yourself to remember what you are worth. You have decided: no more. You have chosen to take back your energy and spirit and to channel it back within.

Your situation is a bit more daunting than a normal breakup. You are far from your comfort zone, family, and friends. You are in a strange place alone, which amplifies the already painful alone-ness that comes along with losing someone you love. But you are strong. You did fine before this person came along, and you will do just as well again. I don’t know what your timeline is, but as I tell everyone who writes in and wonders “What do I do now?”, you focus on other things. You go hiking. You paint. You try to meet new friends. Hobbies and building new relationships can be so beneficial during the breakup process because you feel a sense of accomplishment.

I could give you my opinion on whether this other person used you or loved you, but ultimately it doesn’t matter. To me, this other person sounds confused. There are probably many more layers to their detachment than even they are ready to deal with at this time. I think their inability to stay gone speaks volumes about their feelings for you, and also their confusion. Sometimes we feel great connection with people, but the timing is so off that all we can do is let go. Perhaps they aren’t ready for the challenge this relationship presented. Perhaps there is something in his past that keeps them from committing. It’s hard to say without all their cards on the table. But you have to remember this: love is easy. Relationships are hard. You need to be with someone who is up for the challenge. Unfortunately, Timing doesn’t always stand on Love’s side.

Lastly, your feelings for this other person were real if you felt them. Just because it didn’t work out the way you planned doesn’t mean everything was a lie. Don’t feel the need to discount everything you put into this person just because they couldn’t give it back to you. You don’t need to make them “the bad guy” to move on. And you don’t need to know WHY they chose this as the end. All you need to do is let go. You can hold them close to your heart, send them light, and then let them fly. Try to take back your freedom to love a little bit at a time. You will find the way again. And one day, hope will fill your heart and explode out of you with a force you didn’t know it could have. 

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Stefanie Marshall

Stefanie is a writer and a hopeless romantic. Probably both because of the other. She likes her whiskey neat and her men bearded. Mostly, she's told she's the good kind of terrifying.

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