Ask Stef: I Wrote a Letter to My Ex and They Blocked Me. Should I Reach out?

Dear Stef, 

I’m exactly 3 months into the post-break up phase, and things don’t seem to be getting much easier. If they are, these moments of hope/motivation/joy are short-lived with my darker moments taking up most of my days, forcing me to bury this darkness just to get through my day-to-day tasks and interactions with others. All my insecurities and traces of unhappiness that were present during the relationship — but my ex’s presence in my life definitely alleviated this— are starting to drown me preventing me from enjoying the love and company of friends and families and, essentially, my life. Without going into each and every detail of our two-year relationship, my ex was my best friend, my confidant, my rock and my first true love. I do want to venture out and say soulmate, even.

What makes this break up harder than imagined comes down to a letter. I sent a very lengthy letter about 3 weeks after our break up opening up about how I was feeling during our conversation that led to the break up, feelings and thoughts I’ve kept bottled up for some time now (we were long-distance for about a year) and how I was willing to keep an open line of communication — not necessarily stating a desire to get back together but rather to open up a space for dialogue. I called my ex the day I sent the letter off to alert them that it was on its way. I made it a brief conversation but they expressed a strong interest in reading it and continuing such dialogue upon receiving and reading the letter.

A few days later, they texted me to say they had received the letter but had not opened it yet. They texted me again about a week later to say they had read the letter a few days ago and had been meaning to let me know but wanted to read it again, which is why reaching out had been difficult. I explained simply that there was no time stamp on the letter and that I understood given the length and gravity of the letter. They thanked me for understanding.

Since then, I’ve heard nothing and we’ve had zero contact. That month felt excruciatingly long, I kept thinking about the letter and what I had written wondering if I had said something wrong (everything came out of a sincere place of love and hurt). After about a month, I resumed to normal life putting any feelings of sadness and confusion on the back burner to focus on schoolwork and finals. Sometime in or around finals, I found myself on one of their social media networks (which they rarely use) only to find that they had blocked me. At this moment, my heart sunk and I haven’t really been the same since.

Was this their answer to me? Or could the blocking be a way for them to create their own space and move forward from the relationship without having to actually speak to me? For the past two weeks, this has been pervading my physical, emotional and mental spaces to the point where it’s been the premise of my most recent dreams at night. Should I reach out?

I managed to muster up the courage to attempt to see them at their workplace–where I learned from a co-worker they no longer work there—but can’t do the same with a phone call. With the start of a new year and semester, I find myself wanting closure (if this, in fact, is “it”), and after that type of letter, I would like some type of response.

Longing For A Response

Dear Longing For A Response,

There are so many things I want to say. The part of my heart that feels so desperately empathetic to your situation wants to put you somewhere safe, coddle and reassure you. But the part of my heart that longs for your resolve needs to be honest with you. Your ex is moving on. Now you need to do the same.

I’m sorry. I’m going for the band-aid effect here.

I know you want a response. I know you spilled your heart into this letter, and you feel you deserve something in return. And probably, you do. But the reality is that they aren’t obligated to give you one, and their actions (not responding, blocking you) are screaming that they aren’t going to. This sucks. I know it does.

Is this their answer? I believe it is.
Should you reach out? No.

I want to touch on several things now. I think a partner should most definitely bring out the best in you, but they shouldn’t be the reason for your shine. I worry that you are attempting to validate yourself through your relationship. While I don’t doubt this person helped you realize some things about yourself and feel confident about those things, they weren’t the source. Those things are still true about you even if your ex is not longer in the picture. Try to remember that. There is a recent post by a fellow Mender that I want you to check out called Start a Best Possible Self Diary. I really encourage you to do this because I think you will find out how wonderful and strong you are on your own through this.

I know you feel broken. This is so hard. The end of the world is the only thing that makes this pale in comparison. But I strongly believe that if this ex were your person, that response you are longing for would have happened long ago. I want to leave you with this quote by Elizabeth Gilbert about soul mates:

“People think a soul mate is your perfect fit, and that’s what everyone wants. But a true soul mate is a mirror, the person who shows you everything that is holding you back, the person who brings you to your own attention so you can change your life.

A true soul mate is probably the most important person you’ll ever meet, because they tear down your walls and smack you awake. But to live with a soul mate forever? Nah. Too painful. Soul mates, they come into your life just to reveal another layer of yourself to you, and then leave.

A soul mate’s purpose is to shake you up, tear apart your ego a little bit, show you your obstacles and addictions, break your heart open so new light can get in, make you so desperate and out of control that you have to transform your life, then introduce you to your spiritual master…”

I think Elizabeth perfectly describes a great love that scrambles things up for you. She nails it completely. She says (with much retrospect) what we all need to hear after heartbreak. This love might feel like your “soul mate” or your “destiny” right now, but really, it’s a chapter in your story. On that note, if you haven’t read Eat Pray Love: DO IT NOW. This is the perfect break up recovery book. But it is also the perfect “find yourself and make YOU the best version of that person” book. WIN/WIN. Sometimes we need a swift kick. And sometimes it isn’t so delicate.

Now, write two more letters. One to your ex. Be angry. Be upset. Cry through it. Say everything you said to me, and probably more. Then burn it. Or bury it. This letter isn’t FOR them.  It’s for you. Get it all out and discard it. Write the next letter to yourself. Maybe this can be the first entry in your journal. Or maybe this is on a piece of paper you keep in your purse or on your desk. Talk to yourself lovingly. Talk about where you want to be in one month, three months, six months, etc. Tell your future self how proud you are and that you love them. Remind your future self that everything is going to be okay, and nothing will ever feel as bad as it did in the moments of writing this letter. Pull that letter out and read it whenever you need some reassurance.

I really want you to thrive again, on your own, and I know you will.

Stef

When You Fall In Love With Someone’s Potential

“I have a history of making decisions very quickly about men. I have always fallen in love fast and without measuring risks. I have a tendency not only to see the best in everyone, but to assume that everyone is emotionally capable of reaching his highest potential. I have fallen in love more times than I care to count with the highest potential of a man, rather than the man himself. And then I have hung on to the relationship for a long time (sometimes far too long) waiting for the man to ascend to his own greatness. Many times in romance I have been the victim of my own optimism.” – Elizabeth Gilbert

As much as it pains me to admit, this is the truth of my life. Hopefully, just for now. Hopefully, not for much longer. It holds true with my romantic relationships and my friendships. I tend to be overly forgiving of any and every thing. If I love you, it’s forever. There have been few, very few, times in life someone has done something to me that has caused me pause in this habit.

I’ve had three great loves of my life. So far. In all of them, I’ve lost myself completely. I’m still waist deep in one of them. All of these men have had the greatest potential to be…well, great. Potential. I see potential in men like I see a nice smile or good jeans. All of the men I’ve loved in my life have had the potential to be amazing. Athletes, musicians, artists, what have you. They had the potential to be “the one”. If only they were ready. If only they weren’t so focused on their career. If only they weren’t so afraid of my love.

I will make excuses for you until I am out of breath and my heart is about to stop beating if I love you. I will blame myself and find every reason that your excuses are valid. I will let you love me only when it is convenient…because I know one day you have the potential to love me as much as I love you.

I’m stuck. I’m wading through what feels like mud and tar that hasn’t quite dried yet. And sometimes I make progress, but sometimes I sink deeper. I’m surrounded by this love. This love. Since when is love brown and gooey and completely debilitating?

I can love you. Forever. I can hold you in my heart and send you light. I can keep you tucked into the crevices of my soul because I will always love you. But I have to let go of you and what you have the potential to be. Of what we have the potential to be. I can not force this love on you. I can not make you see what I see.

I can only let you go.

Why You Shouldn’t Settle, Even If It Means Being Single

My best friend from home called me at 2:00AM last night.  Typically, not even a bomb going off outside my house will disturb my slumber, but last night, the combination of ringing and vibrating woke me so I answered the phone.  

My stomach dropped immediately because she never calls, let alone at two in the morning. My first thought was someone died.  Thankfully, she was only slightly tipsy and calling to make sure that we both weren’t going to end up alone even though we are 28 and single.  So as not to discredit my best friend, let me add that she was four or five beers in and “third wheel”-ing it with a couple prior to her phone call.

Wait. Back up. Are we going to be alone forever? I felt a little overconfident as I was assuring her that we were not going to be “those women”. Yet, I know in my gut that we never will.  

And the reason why is simply this: neither one of us will ever settle for anything less than all encompassing, passionate, be all, end all love.  If for some outlandish reason, the universe decides I don’t deserve that again, then so be it.  But I refuse to settle for someone I have luke warm feelings about just to be with some body.

Who wants that? I see people I’ve known for years settling everyday.  I serve drinks to those women at the bar, and I feel sorry for them – not jealous. and as we continued this conversation of fears and trepidations, it became even more clear what I(we) don’t want.  I don’t want to be with a man simply because he wants to be with me. I don’t want to be with a man because I am afraid there won’t be another in the future.  I definitely don’t want to be with a man because I don’t love myself enough to find exactly what I want and refuse to live without it.

So yes, I’m 28 and single. I have had two great loves of my life, and I feel extremely blessed for them both.  However, I will not stumble ignorantly into some lackluster semblance of a love affair for the sheer satisfaction of saying I’m attached.  I will wait patiently here on the sidelines of love until I find that inimitable spark which I know I deserve. and if you’re smart, you will too.

Ask Stef: My Ex Moved on Before Me

Dear Stef, 

Four months after my ex and I broke up, I found out that they have been seeing someone since right after the breakup. I have been doing a lot of healing, but hearing this news just set me back so much. How could they have been happy, in new relationship bliss, this whole time while I was trying not to cry whenever I was by myself? To top it off, several of my friends knew about this new partner but didn’t tell me.

Feeling like a Fool

Dear Feeling like a Fool,

First, I want to address your friends. Try not to be angry with them. More than likely, they were trying to keep you from pain by not communicating this knowledge. I KNOW that feeling of betrayal you are sensing. It’s so much better just to let it go and try not to think into it too much. This kind of omission of truth is most likely because they are trying to protect you. No matter how frustrating that is or how pissed off you are, try to remember it’s probably coming from a place of love.

Now, let’s get to the heart of this. Your heart. That is what is most important here. Everyone grieves and heals differently. And you probably need time and distance and reflection. Other people need to immediately distract themselves with something (or someone) else. Most of the time, when we are still in pain, still wallowing, what we need – or want rather – is for the other person to be doing the same thing. I want to send you all the love and light I can because I know hard this is. Most of us do. It’s the worst, and it sucks. BUT IT GETS BETTER.

I don’t know your ex. I don’t know the person he’s dating. But history tells us that jumping into one relationship before processing the end of the last usually doesn’t end well. Maybe he was so sad he needed to hide the pain by dating someone else. Maybe he was ready to exit your relationship before he ever admitted it. Maybe this girl is just a distraction. You could drive yourself to the brink of insanity with maybes and what ifs if you wanted to. But the bottom line is none of them matter.

But you matter. Your heart matters. Your feelings matter. At the end of every day, we need to take care of you. How do we heal your heart? How do we get you back to good? Let’s focus on that. It’s painful to see him with someone else so soon, and you’re allowed to experience that. You’re allowed to wallow. But then it’s time to pick yourself up and remember that this relationship ended for a reason. Find it in yourself to remember why you were feeling better, and try to get back on that path. Jealousy keeps so many of us from moving on as we should. There is that whole mentality of “I don’t want them, but I don’t want them to be with someone else.”

Forge ahead. You are not this relationship. You are not this breakup. And you are not a product of whatever he is doing now. You are the sun. You are the light. It’s up to you to remember that.

Ask Stef: My S.O. Struggles with Addiction and We Are Expecting

Dear Stef,

I’ve been in and out of my relationship for about a year now. My guy has struggled with addiction, has been in and out of rehab facilities, and is currently in a rehab facility. I recently found out I was pregnant with his baby. I’m not sure what I should do. I am afraid if I stay with him this will be an ongoing cycle and may negatively impact the baby and I. On the other side of the same coin, I feel that the baby not having a relationship with his father may also be negative.

Expecting and Concerned, 

Dear Expecting and Concerned,

This question has weighed on me quite a bit because we are talking about the health and well being of not just you and your partner but a new life as well. Addiction is a hard and painful battle that a person is going to struggle with their whole life. It’s unfortunately not something that goes away after enough treatment. One can be on the upswing and be winning the battle, absolutely – but the fight is always going to be there. That is what you must remember.

I want to break this down into a couple parts. Since you didn’t disclose exactly what kind of addiction your partner is dealing with, I’m going to be kind of broad. I think you should absolutely attend an Al-Anon/Nar-Anon meeting or two (or three). In case you’re unaware, both are for the loved ones of those dealing with alcoholism and other addiction. These are the people who are going to know how you’re feeling better than anyone else. They are going to be able to help you through understanding the difference between loving someone and enabling them. The meetings are all over the world, and there is sure to be one near you. I urge you to go for a little more support and understanding that I can’t give from personal experience.

Now. You are going to have this person’s baby. With or without a romantic relationship, this child ties you to him. So while breaking up with him may mean you no longer feel the responsibility to him and his addiction, this is still your child together. I don’t know all the intricacies and details of the relationship. I don’t know how bad things might be for your partner, but I imagine a person who is fighting their addiction and currently in rehab is probably someone who cares about his future and those that may be in it. Perhaps ‘forever’ in the sense you imagined isn’t in the cards for you and your partner, but maybe this baby will give him something bigger to fight for and change his course.

Let’s get down to the nitty gritty of this relationship. Remove your pregnancy from the equation. How do you feel about your partner? How do you feel about your love for him? Are you exhausted? Do you resent him? Can you be honest with yourself and him? You must remember that you are a part of this equation too, and you need to take care of yourself. Sometimes it’s really hard to remember how you truly feel once all the complicated factors of life start piling up against us. But try! Take a day or a week. Reflect. Remember who you are outside of this relationship and decide if you can be in it and be happy. And don’t punish yourself if the answer happens to be no.

The reality of the situation is this: a child is now involved. I’m not sure if you’ve told him you’re pregnant or not. Since you know your partner better than I do, I think you might know how he is going to react and whether or not this is going to trigger him in any negative way. You made this child as a team, and you can move forward as a team even if a romantic relationship is now off the table. Perhaps exposing a child to addiction seems scary and unwise, but I believe keeping a child from their father out of fear is as well. Give him a chance to rise to this occasion.

I want you to know I struggled with both sides of the coin while writing this answer because this is an incredibly difficult situation. You are obviously a strong and intelligent woman for reaching out and asking in the first place. Something as ominous as addiction can be overwhelming for the people surrounding those who suffer from it. Stay strong and don’t be afraid to reach out. I strongly urge you to attend Al-Anon or Nar-Anon meetings as soon as you can for more educated advice and awareness. We will all be sending immense love and light to you in the coming months.

Stef

Ask Stef: I’m Finally Single But Now No One Else Is

Dear Stef,

I recently went through a breakup from a relationship I was in for 4 years and am currently coping with the transition of not having a significant other. Although I do get sad every now and then about that relationship being over, I’m actually very excited to experience life on my own. There have always been things on my list of things that I wanted to do such as going on crazy, friend Vegas trips that I couldn’t do while in a relationship. 

Well, now that I’m single, it just so happens to be that all of my friends are in relationships. And I mean ALL of them. And they all spend their time doing very couple-y things. I’m here left with nothing to do…all alone. Or forced to tagged along as a third wheel, which is not ideal for my current state.  I just want to have fun again.

Vegas Anyone?

Dear Vegas Anyone?

Where do you live? I love adventures (and lists)! Let’s hang out!

I digress. I’m trying to think of where to begin. First, I want to say KUDOS! You had the courage to do what a lot of people find most difficult when a relationship has expired: move on. So even though this next part isn’t proving to be easy, you’re definitely through the worst part.

So, onto the fun. Like I said, I love lists. And it seems like you have one. My advice is to turn it into something tangible. Buy a dry erase board, and write out what you want to do. Create a vision board, and collage it. Or write out each adventure on a piece of paper, fold it up, and put it inside a mason jar so you can pull one out every time you decide to go on one. (I could go on and on, but Pinterest is a literal bottomless pit for “bucket list” ideas.) Once you have your list, start ticking these things off! Give yourself a goal. When I was 23, I made the first big change in my life – after a break up, of course – and I realized how important it was to have small goals. I made a 30 Before 30 bucket list, and I somehow ticked off all of them except one by the time my birthday rolled around.

DON’T BE AFRAID TO ADVENTURE ALONE. Obviously you can’t have a “girls Vegas weekend” with just you, but I’m sure there are things on your list that would be absolutely liberating to do by yourself. In addition, I truly believe an important part of the healing process after a breakup is reacquainting yourself with…yourself. There is so much to learn about the kind of person you are and want to be by doing things alone. Revel in social activity and enjoy the company of others too. But don’t be scared to go it alone sometimes. And while I wouldn’t recommend Vegas, a solo vacation is something everyone should do at least once in their life.

I don’t want to sound harsh, but screw it: your friends also need to get it together. No matter their relationship status, they should be there for you right now. You just experienced a traumatic life change, and that’s what friends are for. They are supposed to get you through the hard stuff. We all get lost in our own problems/relationships/etc. sometimes, but perhaps you can give them a gentle reminder that you need them right now. For an afternoon or a weekend or whatever it might be. And if that nudge isn’t enough, find your tribe elsewhere. Maybe you need to reconnect with other friends who you used to spend more time with the last time you were single. You’ll also find that as you begin to adventure alone, new people will come into your life. And they may be at a more similar life stage than your current friend group. 

You’re a firecracker. I can feel the fun exploding out of you from here. Have a blast, and don’t forget to tell me about your adventures.

Stef

Ask Stef: If They Like Me, Does Timing Still Matter?

Dear Stef,

I recently went through a breakup with someone where timing was the main reason they gave for breaking it off. They were in a really serious relationship previously (about to get engaged) and the fiancé broke it off, leaving them completely heartbroken. I’m giving that context because I do empathize with their situation. That’s the rational part of my brain. But then there’s this other part of my brain that is so pissed. We really like each other. We like spending time together. It’s been months since their breakup. If they really liked me (which they say they do), they would want to be with me. Timing wouldn’t matter. Right?

If Not Now, Then When

Dear If Not Now, Then When, 

Oh, timing. Timing is such a beautiful and terrible thing. It’s either on our side or completely against us. And at the end of the day, we can’t fight it. 

You’re allowed to be a little angry. At timing. Try not to be angry at your ex. It’s hard, I know, but listening to that rational part of your brain – holding onto that empathy for them – is what is going to help you move forward. I don’t have enough fingers or toes to count the times I have met someone who felt really important or significant to me, but the timing was off. Being angry at them never helped anything. You have to trust the universe, or you will spend all your life fighting it.

Here’s the thing, you seem to get it. You empathize with this person. You understand they are going through something really difficult and painful. You care about them and their feelings. You even probably wish you could help. But just as you are beginning the mending process of this breakup, they are still in the process of their own. Sometimes we get caught up in something new before we are ready because it feels so good in the moment. Then we are whipped back into reality only to find we are pushing too hard or moving too fast.

So you’re saying if this person really cared for you, timing wouldn’t matter. Unfortunately, I have to disagree. I think you feel like you need something to blame for your heartbreak. You want a reason other than elusive “timing”. You want something palpable and final like “he’s just not that into you”. Don’t sell yourself short. Don’t make it black and white. Love lives in the grey areas. Allow it to. That’s where the magic happens. My personal advice to you is this: let this one go. Work on your own mending process. Feel all the feelings and cry all you want. Let them finish healing as well. See where you both end up. What happens then will be the true testament to how you feel for each other. And then you can shake your head and laugh in the face of Time because you had the patience to know better.

Stef

Ask Stef: I Am Obsessed with My Ex’s New S.O.

Dear Stef, 

My ex is dating someone new and they are the complete opposite of me. I’ve become completely obsessed with them and can’t help but compare myself to them. The differences between us seem to just highlight the ways in which I fell short in my past relationship, making me feel unworthy and horrible. I even thought about changing my hair color to match theirs. Of course I never went through with it, but the fact that the thought crossed my mind really worries me.

I feel like a big troll constantly checking up on them. I’m so ashamed of my behavior. I want to end my obsession – I just don’t know how to.

Down in the Dumps of Comparison

My Dearest Down in the Dumps of Comparison, 

I’m happy your question came after last week’s because I think it is a perfect example of how social media keeps us linked to the past way longer than we should allow it to do so. The ease with which we can find out what our exes are up to, and with whom, is such a hindrance to the mending process. And so, like I believe we should unfollow our exes after a break up, I also think we should limit the “new girlfriend/boyfriend trolling”.

I know this is hard. I’ve been through it. I wrote a piece on Medium about it a couple years ago. It was an open letter to my ex-boyfriend’s ex-girlfriend. I wanted to write out the urge to look at her life. In the midst of dealing with our relationship ending, I became infatuated with her instead of dealing with the heartbreak. It became almost a reflex. I didn’t even understand it, really. I would look, be upset, compare and torture myself, and then swear I would never look again. So please know that I understand on such an intimate level what you are going through. After I wrote the piece, I swore to myself I would stop lurking. I was torturing myself for no good reason. That story is my most viewed piece on Medium, and I don’t think that’s a coincidence. I have so many women reach out to me to say thank you for saying what we are all ashamed to admit. You are not alone.

There is that extremely accurate sentiment “Comparison is the thief of joy”, and I was handing my joy over on a silver platter. So don’t. You must not compare yourself to this new person. The reasons for your breakup likely have zero to do with why they chose this new person. Your mind is playing tricks on you by trying to justify your broken heart. When you have something solid and tangible to blame, it makes it easier for your mind to process what happened. It’s not easy for the brain to comprehend the idea that someone just stopped loving you. The head and the heart don’t play on the same field. But if you can make a list of all the ways this new person is “better” or “different”, then you have something the brain can handle.

When you get the urge to go down the rabbit hole, try to remember these things. Remind yourself that it has nothing to do with this new person. Take a deep breath, reach into your heart, and quiet your mind. Instead of peeking at their instagram, post something yourself – something that makes you happy or feel good. Maybe you can put a friend on “troll patrol” so whenever you think you want to snoop, you text a friend who encourages you not to.

Another option to consider is taking a few weeks off Instagram (or whatever app you are using the most) altogether so that you aren’t tempted to snoop. If you’re really addicted to checking all the time, you may need to go cold turkey until the urge subsides. Sometimes we just do what’s familiar, sort of like how so many of us just start typing “facebook” into our browsers when we’re online without even realizing what we are doing. So think about it. If you were trying to quit smoking, would you still buy the pack of cigarettes and lighter, and light the cigarette (but just not inhale)? Probably not. Avoiding all triggers is safer.

I hate to say something so trite as “stay distracted”, but the easiest way to break a bad habit is to replace it with a good one. Every time you feel the urge, replace it with something else that is good for you. You aren’t going to be able to move forward and heal until you let this habit go. And it will feel so good when you do. I believe you can do this, but you have to believe it too. I am sending you all my love and light.

Stef

Ask Stef: I’m Scared of Being Alone

Dear Stef, 

I’ve been in a relationship with my partner for 5 years. Parts of our relationship, mainly the sex, are great but I have been growing and continue to grow in a direction opposite of them, while they haven’t done much of any growing.

I find myself crying silently when around them because I’ve noticed just how incompatible we have grown. There have even been instances when I had prepared myself to break up with them, but I always ended up backing down. I don’t want to go through the pain of a breakup. They are my best friend – I’m just not in love anymore. And I don’t want to be alone. I’m so used to sleeping in their bed every night – the thought of sleeping by myself in mine is so depressing. Being single again terrifies me.

I feel like I’m torn between two opposites and I’m terrified about making the wrong decision.

Stuck in Familiarity 

Dear Stuck in Familiarity, 

We, as humans, hold on to a lot of things for much longer than we should. Our emotional attachments to people and things are what make us, well, human. But sometimes, like you said, we grow beyond those attachments. Change is one of the only things we can count on happening, and emotionally, we need someone to evolve with us. It seems that’s where this relationship has fallen short for you.

Recently one of my very closest girl friends went through something similar. Like you, she knew herself well enough to recognize there was an issue. She hadn’t fallen out of love with her partner, but she saw the potential for trouble in the future. She was growing quickly in a much different direction in their time together. Her worries were similar to yours but hadn’t yet come to fruition. “He’s my best friend…I don’t want to be alone….Dating is scary.” However, when I asked her to map out their future if she stayed with him anyway, things seemed a bit scarier. She realized how much of herself and what she wanted would be sacrificed for the relationship and eventually made the extremely hard decision to break up with him.

I’m unsure which is harder: breaking up with someone you are still in love with or breaking up with someone you care about but have fallen out of love with. But both suck beyond the telling of it. We don’t want to hurt the people we love, but in these scenarios I always feel the “band-aid effect” is best. It will hurt a lot at first. For both of you. And it will be hard. Then it will be like letting out the breath you didn’t even realize you were holding. You will feel more like yourself than you have in a long time, and then you will rocket forward into the beautiful unknown.

Let’s talk about before that though. Because I know that’s what you’re worried about. I can’t tell you how to break up with them. Or when. And yes, it will be tumultuous. It will be scary. You’re both going to cry. But one of you has to be strong, and because you realized this first, it’s gotta be you. As I always tell Menders, submerse yourself in other things that are beneficial to you. Spend more time with your family and friends. Take up a new hobby or go on a small adventure – especially anything that makes you feel empowered by yourself. That seems to be your weak spot. You are most worried about losing this partner – this other limb – you’re so used to having. Remember what it was like before them. Remember yourself. You’re in there trying to break free. That’s where this sadness and anxiety is coming from.

Lastly, remember this: every moment you hang on for longer because you’re afraid to date again or because you don’t want to sleep alone, you’re being unfair to this person I know you care about immensely. Holding on when you aren’t “in it” with them anymore is an emotional betrayal. There is someone out there for them just as there is for you. Give yourself and them the chance to find it.

“You have five minutes to wallow in the delicious misery. Enjoy it, embrace it, discard it, and proceed.” – Cameron Crowe, Elizabethtown

Stef

Ask Stef: Do You Stay Friends with Your Exes on Instagram?

Dear Stef, 

Do you stay friends with your exes on Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat?

Still Following 

Dear Still Following,

This is a question I often ask myself. Whether it be a long term relationship or a person you briefly dated, their presence in your social media can be daunting. Especially if you’re like me and you check it regularly. I definitely believe the kind of breakup you experience influences what action you should take when it comes to social media afterward.

The more brief the relationship and casual the breakup, I find the more room there is for social media interaction. Perhaps you dated for a few months and decided it wasn’t working. You ended amicably, friendly even. I think continuing to stay “friends” via Facebook, Instagram, etc. is completely acceptable in those situations. No one is risking feelings being hurt, and it’s simply another person passing by on your feed.

However, when the breakup is intense and sad and brutal, social media only hinders you from the ultimate goal – moving on. I’m a firm believer, especially when you’re the “dumpee”, that you should sever all ties, social media included. There is nothing helpful or healthy about the ability to keep tabs on your ex via the glorious Internet. It’s only hurting your own feelings, and it’s unnecessary torture for your already broken heart.

Sometimes cutting those ties, even ties as trivial as social media ones, are the most important in mending. As that old saying goes, “out of sight, out of mind”. And while it might not be THAT easy, it is absolutely easier than seeing your ex having the time of his life cliff diving in Hawaii via Instagram while you eat an entire gallon of Ben and Jerry’s Chocolate Fudge Brownie ice cream and watch The Notebook for the 87th time (Is that just me? Oops).

Always err on the side of your own heart and its well being. One day, when your heart is whole and healed, and you and your ex are in happy, healthy places, perhaps there is the possibility of a friendship – even if it is just a Facebook one.

Stef

Ask Stef: My Ex (Who Cheated on Me) Wants To Get Coffee. Should I Go?

Dear Stef, 

My ex emailed me to get coffee. They cheated on me two years ago, which broke my heart. We broke up when they told me and we haven’t spoken since. I sort of hate them. It’s been hard to forgive and move forward, but I am in an exclusive relationship now.

Things are going well, and I was finally feeling like I was making real progress, but I still think about my ex a lot. Part of me wants to go just to hear them out and get closure. Part of me is curious if they want me back. The other part of me wants to delete the email and ignore them forever out of spite. I can’t figure out which part to listen to. What do you think?

Contemplating Coffee

Dear Contemplating Coffee,

Unfortunately, I think many of us have been in this position, and it never doesn’t suck. That’s not eloquent, but it is the truth.

First, I think you need to decide how important the relationship you are currently in is to you. If you decide to see this ex, you need to be ready for how that may affect it. Love and past relationships are so complicated. Your new significant other may be very understanding, or they may not be. You have stated that letting go has been hard for you. Drudging up those old feelings (even if it does bring you some sort of closure) can be traumatizing for both you and your current relationship. You need to be honest and open with this new person before and throughout any contact with the ex.

Next, I want to tell you: DON’T SEE THEM.

I think closure is just as mythological as the Loch Ness Monster. Sometimes we tell ourselves that all we need is closure to move on, when in reality, we want answers or reconnection. It’s nothing to be ashamed of, but it is something you have to be honest with yourself about.

From your question, I gather you want answers. That’s fair. You haven’t spoken in years, and I’m sure you cut off all communication after you found out about their betrayal. Also fair. But what answers are you looking for? It’s probably the obvious: why did they cheat, with who, how many times, etc. Those answers are only going to torture you unnecessarily. More important, they aren’t going to provide closure; they are going to pull up old feelings of anger and pain that you have been working very hard to move past.

What I’m more worried about is the part of you that wants to know if they want you back. If that is the case, where does that leave you (and your current relationship)? Is your goal to rekindle this romance or to let go of it completely? I want to provide you with insight to both, but I think that you already know the answer. You said yourself it has been hard to forgive, and you cannot be in a relationship without forgiveness or trust.

I think it is time to let go, and I think you know that in your heart already, which is why you are wavering. A return email letting them know you appreciate the gesture but wish them the best may be in order. It’s also fine to not respond. There is so much pressure to respond to all of our emails these days, but maybe you just let it be. Don’t worry about appearing rude or dramatic. This is your heart we are talking about.

I know this is hard. I know you are confused. But two years is a long time, and I would hate for a coffee date to rewind any of your progress. You are the most important person in this situation. Hold your heart above all others. Take a deep breath and remind yourself: you don’t need to get closure from them to move forward. You can give that to yourself.

Stef

Ask Stef: Did I Confuse Love with Something Else?

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

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. 

Ask Stef: I’m Still Not Over My Ex + It’s Been a Year. Is It Pointless to Date?

Dear Stef,

I’m still not over my ex and it’s been, wait for it, over a year. It’s hard even admitting that. I’ve dated, but sometimes I feel like it’s pointless to date when I’m not over my last relationship, so I break things off without much explanation. I still think about my ex a lot. I feel like dating should help, but I spend most of my date drawing comparisons and seeing where they fall short. Should I keep dating and just hope that eventually goes away?

Waiting and Dating

Dear Waiting and Dating,

Breaking up is hard to do. And while that is true, moving on is even worse. And my darling, you aren’t making it any easier on yourself.

What I want you to immediately recognize and quit doing, is comparing these potential partners to your ex. I know it’s extremely hard to do this, but remember: everyone is different, and no one will ever be the exact replica. So time after time, you are going to be left wanting.

Getting over someone you love(d) is hard. Probably one of the hardest things any of us will ever do in our lives. But moving forward when something is over is absolutely vital. I don’t know how long you were together or what kind of relationship this was or why you broke up. But as people always tell me, The Queen of Not Letting Go, it’s called a break up because it’s broken. Something was broken.

There are a few suggestions I have for you. First, attempt to remember why you broke up. Remember the realities of your relationship. Feel them. Let them gut you. Make a valiant effort to stop glorifying what is gone. Next, throw yourself into other projects (not relationships). These should be projects that benefit you. Whether it be creative or healthful or just fun. Take up a new hobby. Start writing. Spend more time with your friends. Spend more time alone. Go hiking. Do yoga. Make dreamcatchers. I’m not kidding – that’s what I did after my last break up. 

There is one thing you are absolutely correct about. While dating is a wonderful distraction, it isn’t where you are emotionally, right now. So don’t do it. There’s nothing wrong with not dating. I truly believe that timing is everything. And perhaps this is the time where you need to focus on you. When you’re ready to take that plunge with someone again, you’ll feel it in your gut.

I know how hard this is. We have all suffered the long road back to recovery. As lonely as it feels, at least you know others are walking their owns paths somewhere too. But I want to say as well: if you continue to try everything and are still finding no solace, perhaps it would be time to speak to a grief counselor or a therapist. There is no shame in seeking professional help. Sometimes we all need help out of the tunnel when we can’t quite seem to find the light.

I do hope you find the light. You deserve whatever is coming next and a whole heart to enjoy it.

Stef

Ask Stef: Why Do I Always Fall for People Who Are Unavailable?

Dear Stef,

Why do I always fall for people who are in relationships? The person I’m interested in now has a significant other, though it sounds like things are not going well. The one I dated before that was married. I always know it’s a bad idea. I’ve seen When Harry Met Sally (‘He’s never gonna leave his wife!’) but I still go for these relationships. Seriously what gives.

Always Unavailable

Dear Always Unavailable,

I went through a very sticky phase in my life where every man I was attracted to was unavailable. Mostly it was like your situation (girlfriend, married, etc), but emotionally unavailable worked just as well. I beat myself up over it. I cried out to the universe, “WHY ME?!” And then one day, someone slapped me in the face with a comment so cemented in reality that I thought I was going to vomit on the spot:

“Stef, you keep going for these guys because YOU aren’t really ready for a relationship. You want a crush and some gooey feelings, but you aren’t ready for the commitment to come to fruition.” 

 I’M SORRY, WHAT DID YOU JUST SAY TO ME?

Oh. Wait. Okay. Yeah, that makes sense.

Now, I don’t know much about your situation. Perhaps you aren’t in the same boat I was. You could be having a terrible string of bad luck. However, in situations like these, you have to give your subconscious a little more credit. There is an underlying reason why this keeps happening. You just need to dig a little for it, and be open to accepting whatever that reason is. Maybe you can make a list of what all these recent people had in common. (The good and the bad.) Then from that, compile what you would really want in a person you COULD date. One who isn’t already attached to another person, or who is incapable of attaching to anyone. 

In addition, what do YOU want in general? In life? Are you happy in every other aspect? Do you love your job? Are you spiritually centered? Are you working towards any goals? Sometimes the timing for a relationship isn’t there because we aren’t in a place to handle it. I’ve been there. Are you?

Let me end this by saying the most important thing: more than anything I’ve said so far, you deserve someone who isn’t going to have you as their “sidepiece”. You deserve someone who will be honest and open and communicative. You deserve a person who wants to give themselves as wholly to you as you would to them. If you always remember that, this vicious cycle will retire itself sooner rather than later.

Stef

Ask Stef: I Hooked up with My Ex + Haven’t Heard from Them. Now What?

Dear Stef,

I made a big mistake. I hooked up with my ex last month, after a fun evening we had together. We hadn’t seen each other in 7 months (mostly because of me – I needed space to heal because they were “going through a lot of things and couldn’t be in a relationship” – yeah, super vague) and we went to dinner. Everything felt so good and we really missed each other. We didn’t talk about our relationship or our break up at all. Dinner led to a bar which led to…my bed. 

The next day, they hurried out with the excuse that they had so much to do (it was a Saturday morning) and I immediately felt sick to my stomach. I know that I was in control of the situation, and I was the one who organized the dinner, and I was the one who invited them over…but I feel like I’m totally OUT of control. I haven’t heard from them. And I’m just really sad. I feel like I blew it – like I said something I shouldn’t have. I don’t really know what to do next…whether I reach out and see what’s going on or if I just try to forget anything happened (which hasn’t really been working). Sigh. Oldest sob story in the books right?

Sick to My Stomach

Dear Sick to My Stomach,

You’re right. You are definitely not the first person in history to make this mistake. And for that reason, I encourage you not to beat yourself up over this. It takes two to tango and all that jazz. Plus, “everyone” making the same mistake doesn’t make it any easier to deal with the repercussions. But it does allow you to take a little comfort and not feel completely defeated.

Next order of business: alcohol and exes never mix. Inhibitions go away. Emotions take over. And our bodies start responding to chemistry instead of reason. So yes, perhaps you made a mistake, but you lived to tell the tale, and while you may feel out of control and set back, mending is still within your reach.

I know this is driving you crazy. I know you are filled with thoughts and questions. You feel like you NEED answers, like you DESERVE them. You want to know what they are thinking and why they are thinking that and also what they had for breakfast and when you can see them again. Unfortunately, I think their silence is so much more telling than any answer you would get if you reached out.

Sometimes these things happen, and sometimes they mean something. But sometimes they don’t. It’s hard, and you might momentarily feel like you’re back at square one, but keep moving forward. You said you had stayed strong for seven months, and I’m sure you have made lots of progress in that time. Find that. Take it back. This is your life, and you own it no matter what happened that night with this person. Perhaps they will reach out. Perhaps they already have. The two of you can go from there. But if they haven’t, I hope you’ll stop holding your breath. I hope you’ll stop punishing yourself for this hiccup.

Take deep breaths and remember: you moved past this once, and you can absolutely do it again.

Stef

Ask Stef: Is Losing Touch with Friends Just Part of a Serious Relationship?

Dear Stef,

I’ve always been the type of person with lots of friends and lots of things going on, whether it’s trips or events or parties. In my last relationship, though, I was dating someone who was more low key and didn’t like to go out as much. Actually, they used to get upset with me if I wanted to go out and they wanted to stay in and watch a movie. Because of that, I lost touch with a lot of my friends. Has this ever happened to you? How do I “mend” those friendships and also how do I make sure I don’t do that again? Or is that just part of a serious relationship?

Lost Touch

Dear Lost Touch,

The first guy I ever fell in love with was a year younger than me. So when I turned 21 (and all my friends turned 21), he wasn’t old enough to go places with me. That was hard. I let that determine where I went and who I hung out with because I wanted to be with him. Luckily, we eventually found a happy medium and most of my friends were quick to forgive and open back up to make plans and build bridges once more. So I wholeheartedly believe your situation is salvageable.

If you want to mend those friendships, the first step is honest and sincere communication. Apologize. Tell them you were lost and wrapped up. These friends, if they are true friends, will understand. I don’t know that it will be easy. And I can’t promise all of them will be quick to let you back in. But if you are persistent and honest, I really feel you can resurrect these relationships with time.

In any situation where we make a mistake, the “never doing it again” part is the hardest. We are all human. We have trouble breaking bad habits. We get sidetracked. But the fact that you’re aware of what happened is a huge step. In your next relationship, from the beginning, make sure you have “together time” and “alone time” and “friend time” and that you communicate the importance of a social life to your partner. When you start with clear expectations at the beginning of a new relationship, there will hopefully be less friction.

Also, everyone needs a bit of structure in their lives. Communicate with your partner and your friends. Plan your weeks to make sure you are getting all three times: together, alone, friend. And maybe they overlap sometimes. Perhaps Sunday is reserved for brunch with your friends while Wednesdays are date nights with your partner. Maybe Thursdays are movie nights for you and your best friend and Saturday afternoons are hiking adventures with your love AND your friends. I promise, the balancing act is possible.

You asked if losing touch with friends is part of serious relationships. It’s natural to hang out with your friends less in order to accommodate a serious relationship, but a healthy relationship allows you to maintain relationships and activities and hobbies that are important to you. Being in a relationship at the expense of yourself is never healthy. You should each feel comfortable being separate and having your own friends and interests, while happily functioning as a “team.” Step back from yourself for a moment. Did you stop seeing your friends because you were scared that your partner would leave if you didn’t agree? What kept you from communicating with your partner that maintaining a social life was important? You may need to dive into those reasons before you begin your next relationship. And if it’s really important to you that the person you’re with likes to be social too, maybe that’s a quality you look for next time.

We all get swept away by love sometimes, especially in the beginning when everything feels so wonderful and fresh and exciting. What we have to remember to ask is: does this relationship allow us to cultivate what’s important to us? That’s the mark of a healthy relationship. It sounds like socializing with others and maintaining an active social life is important to you, and that should continue to be important even when you’re with someone, no matter how much you love each other. I’m confident you will find that. And that when you’re in the throes of the honeymoon phase, you’ll be able to have your cake and eat it too.

Stef

Ask Stef: How Do I Deal with Mutual Friends after a Breakup?

Dear Stef,

I can’t stop thinking about my ex and it is interfering with my job, my focus, my everything. I work with them, so I see them every day, but other than that we aren’t forced to be around each other. They don’t reach out to me and I’ve only reached out to them a few times under the influence. When we see each other at work, it’s just in passing and we don’t say anything, but we’re cordial and professional. We aren’t on the same projects or team, luckily.

The other difficulty is that we dated for a few years and most of our friends we have in common. We both moved to the city at the same time without knowing people, and we were working together, so a lot of our friends are co-workers. So the problem is that outside of work, I still see them a lot if I go out with that group. It’s been 9 months and I still don’t really feel any further from the break up. I know that I can’t avoid them completely at work, but I could avoid them more socially outside of work. Should I? I don’t want to give up my friends, but I also don’t want to be stuck for another 9 months.

Stuck

Dear Stuck,

My advice almost always is to divorce yourself from the situation completely, but as I’m sure you can’t quit your job (nor would I recommend it), this is a slightly more complicated situation. It sounds as though you have the professional aspect under control. You say you only see them in passing and aren’t working on the same projects. That’s good.

The social and personal aspects are tricky. I have always felt that one of the hardest parts of a break up is the custody battle of friendships, especially in a situation like yours where most of these friends have known both of you for the duration of your relationship. I don’t think it is a good idea for you to be placing yourself in social situations with your ex, especially when/if drinking is involved, but I also realize it’s not always that easy.

Your friends are in a difficult situation too. Some of them may feel like they have to choose, and others may naturally lean one way or the other. Since it has been 9 months since the break up, maybe some of them don’t realize you are still hurting. If you feel comfortable, try to express your feelings with those you trust. I think you’ll find they will be more sympathetic than you know. We’ve all been there. Your friends want to be there for both of you. They understand. And if they don’t, if they can’t make an allowance for your pain, then perhaps they aren’t the friend you want anyway.

I have a few suggestions of what you can do. Try to avoid the group gatherings for a few weeks and see if you feel better. You may eventually be in a place where you can hang out as a group, with your ex, but for now it is probably best to hang out with your friends in smaller groups or just one-on-one, when you know that your ex won’t be there. This may mean sacrificing some fun group outings, but the benefit (moving forward) far outweighs the cost (being stuck).

Next, make every effort to reconnect with your other friends outside of this group. This is a great time to reconnect with your close friends who live in other cities or states or countries, even if it’s over Facebook or a text or a phone call. You may not have your best friend down the street, but they can still provide very important support during a difficult time.

Lastly, make friends outside of your current social circle. Go to new places. Start going to a gym. Join a book club. Go to a cafe alone and say hello to someone who looks interesting. Check out Meetup.com or Facebook or the local paper for public events that trigger your interest. I know it sounds daunting, but finding your own friends – your own niche – will help you move forward. This will definitely take a little time, but you are strong.

I’ll leave you with this quote: “Make friends with people who aren’t your age. Hang out with people whose first language isn’t the same as yours. Get to know someone who doesn’t come from your social class. This is how you see the world. This is how you grow.” Friendships shape your life in a beautiful way. And the best part about them? YOU CHOOSE EACH OTHER. Right now is the perfect time to shake things up, crack your heart open, and see what the world of friendship has to offer. 

Stef

Ask Stef: My Partner Is Friends with Their Ex + I Struggle with It

Dear Stef,

I am in a committed and solid partnership of over 2 years. My partner still keeps in touch with their ex and maintains a close friendship with them. Throughout the first year of our relationship, my partner wasn’t always honest and forthcoming about time they would spend together, which led to issues within our relationship.

They have gotten better about letting me know when they spend time with their ex, but I still struggle with it. I want to be okay with their connection and support them, but I can’t seem to let go of the fear and resentment I feel about my partner’s past dishonesty. Plus, I continuously question to myself whether my partner still carries feelings for their ex. They, of course, deny any feelings other than friendship.

How is one able to completely accept and support their partner’s continued connection with an ex?

Searching For Acceptance

Dear Searching For Acceptance,

I don’t have a history of staying friends with exes as I’m usually too emotional about the breakup to be ready for something that even resembles a friendship, no matter how amicable or who did the breaking. I usually need too much space and time to salvage a friendship. To put myself on the other end of this – where you are – you should know that I am not a person who is typically “okay” with my significant other being close with their exes. Which leads me to my answer.

I think there are two kinds of people: people who don’t even think twice about their S.O. being friends with their exes and people who are uncomfortable with it. Obviously there are factors that contribute to both. For the sake of time and in a sincere attempt not to overanalyze, I’m going to break down your situation only.

First, let’s talk about the past and the issue of trust. Your partner wasn’t always honest during the first part of your relationship. They were probably worried that the friendship with their ex was going to make you uncomfortable, so maybe they hid things that didn’t need to be hidden. We are all guilty of lies of omission sometimes. And since you are still with this person more than a year later, I have to assume you believe that nothing is going on outside of your relationship with your partner. Do you trust them? All relationships require that monumental token, however intangible it may be. Hanging on to that past betrayal will only hold your relationship back. So if you love and trust this person enough to stay with them, you must let go.

Next, you have to ask yourself: are you okay with your partner being close with their ex going forward? If you aren’t and the ex isn’t going anywhere, then maybe it is time to re-evaluate this relationship. If you want to work towards being someone who is comfortable with the ex, then be as open and honest with your partner as possible. Maybe together you can come up with ways to make this easier for you. Perhaps that means meeting or spending time with the ex yourself. Maybe it means putting a limit on how much time they spend together. There are ways to build this into your lives that can hopefully make you more comfortable. It can take time, so be patient.

On the other hand, if none of this works or sounds remotely appealing to you, then maybe the conversation with your partner needs to be more serious. An ultimatum is never the answer. You don’t want a “them or me” mentality going into this. But you do want to make sure your partner is well aware of how hard this is for you. After all, they are YOUR partner now. This is YOUR relationship.

I hope that you and your partner can come to an agreement that leaves you both happy and safe and comfortable. 

Stef

Ask Stef: I Am Full of Doubt about My Breakup. How Do I Deal?

Dear Stef,

What is your way of dealing with doubt?

A little background…I broke up with my partner of 4.5 years because they couldn’t give me forward movement, primarily into the marriage arena. It’s not that they refused to; it’s just that for the last year they couldn’t decide whether or not they were ready to. Marriage, kids and a mortgage were always on the table. We had a dog together. We signed many leases together. We traveled around Australia for a year together.

But when I asked my partner to make a bigger commitment, they got trigger shy and froze up. They couldn’t tell me one way or the other. We went to therapy, read all the right books, tried all the right things, but in the end my partner just wanted things to stay the same. So despite the fact that I love them with all my heart, I broke it off. It was the hardest thing I’ve ever done.

As you can imagine, I am full of doubt. Did I call it too soon? Will they come back to me? Will they propose to the next person they meet?

It’s been over a month since the split. We have to stay in touch because of the dog (and the fear of letting go), and I am struggling. How do I deal? How would YOU deal?

Drowning in Doubt

Dear Drowning in Doubt,

I want to preface this by saying that you are stronger than I am. One of the hardest things to do is break things off with someone you still love and care about deeply. But in the same breath, I want to say that you are brave because it takes knowing one’s self very well to see that your roads are diverging and act on that.

With every decision we make as humans, and especially dealing with love, there will always be doubt. Second guessing can become second nature when emotions are involved. I believe that it takes a strong-willed person to make a decision like you have and follow through with it. So many of us stay just because we are too scared to leave.

It seems as though the bottom line here is what you have already stated: you want to move forward while your partner is totally fine with standing still. You asked if I think you jumped the gun. No. Absolutely not. It sounds like you looked down every possible route before you came to this decision. You didn’t throw in the towel after one discussion.

You also asked if they would come back. I wish I could answer this, knowingly. Perhaps they will see what life is like without you and come running back. However, maybe you both will see what life is like, without being together, and flourish. This is something only time will tell.

Now: the dealing. This is the hard part. This is when you test your resilience. This is going to sound harsh, but this struggle is not going to subside without a little radio silence. And this also means that one of you needs to relinquish custody of the dog for the sake of your hearts, until it isn’t inhibitive to your progress. 

You will begin to deal once you sever the ties. It’s hard and terrible and the last thing you want to hear, but it is necessary. After that, you cope. You throw yourself into your friendships. You begin a new project. You re-arrange and re-decorate your apartment. You start yoga and meditation. You run miles on end. You find some place for that energy and you pour yourself into that.

I promise you that only good things can come of this. Nothing bad will come of your turning inward and taking care of yourself in a new way. These changes and small steps are only going to make you more aware of what you want and who you are. There is always that old saying, “distance makes the heart grow fonder”. Well, in this case, maybe distance will make the heart grow stronger, for you and for whoever might come along in the future.

Stef

Ask Stef: My S.O. Is Shutting Down. Is It Too Late to Save My Relationship?

Dear Stef,

My S.O. and I had the most amazing, positive and uplifting relationship for two years until they decided to move across the country for a job. That’s when the first and only really major conflict in our relationship began and I didn’t deal with it well. I was left hurt, heartbroken and the sadness turned into anger and resentment. 

While they tried their hardest to stay positive and give me their love and support as I went through the motions of being angry, hurt and resentful, I continually blamed them for the problems in our relationship and rejected their efforts to make things work. I didn’t appreciate them. I chose to dwell on the negative versus appreciate the positive.

After a hard year of distance I decided to make the move to be with my S.O. and work on the relationship, but arrived carrying the same negativity. So they finally told me they had enough and said that they no longer saw a future with me, that they didn’t think we were compatible anymore. Me, the person they once said was their soulmate, the love of their life, the person they wanted to be with forever.

That was the wake up call to me – it was my choice to focus on the negative versus positives in our relationship. So it’s my choice now to reverse that outlook, because I realize now that I can’t hold those feelings and be happy, together or alone. 

So I guess my question is, can I mend a heart and relationship that I chipped away at for so long? How can I get them to be receptive to my efforts to mend things when I can feel them shutting down? I know this for sure – I’ve learned a lot about myself from this experience and will not approach conflicts like this in the same way in the future. I just hope that my S.O. gives me a chance to show them this….

If I Could Turn Back Time

Dear If I Could Turn Back Time, 

I want to say, first and foremost, that you are brave and strong. A move is never easy, especially one that isn’t born of your own volition. So remember those things about yourself as you embark on this endeavor to mend what is broken.

Now, I’m going to say something that won’t be easy to hear. Maybe this relationship isn’t what needs mending.

Let me explain. You love this person. I’m sure they love you. But there is a disconnect. You shouldn’t need to convince them to give you this chance because they should WANT to give it. Aren’t the people we love, and who love us, supposed to give that chance to us freely? Especially when we are admitting we are wrong. 

I understand what you mean when you say you chipped away at what you built with a negative attitude and resentment. And then there is this courageous move you made in order to finally prove that you were “in it”. 

But what about YOU? What about what you want? What about what makes you happy? Whether it be what you’re doing for a living or where you are living or who you are with every night when you fall asleep. What about YOU? I feel like in all the negativity and resentment, in trying so hard to salvage this relationship, and in uprooting your entire life, you may have lost yourself. Finding that sense of self is the only thing that is going to allow forward motion. That is what you should be fighting for right now, not fighting for someone else to give you a chance.

I recently came across a quote while I was trying to find the words to give you.

“People who believe they’ll be happy if they go and live somewhere else, learn it doesn’t work that way. Where ever you go, you take yourself with you.” – Neil Gaiman

Take yourself to where ever it is that you can thrive and find that happiness within yourself. Perhaps then, if the timing is right, and you and your significant other are both willing to open that door again, you can find happiness in a relationship with them again.

Stef

The Story Of My Long Distance Love Life

How many times have you taken a chance on love, or what you hoped might someday be love? How many times have you opened your heart up like a book, loose pages hanging on to the binding for dear life? How many times have you flown across the country or up the coastline for someone you desperately wanted to call home even though they were thousands of miles away? The answer for me is every damn time the opportunity has presented itself.

As a writer, I’m a sucker for a good story. So I open my heart easily, and I wear it on my sleeve like a Girl Scout patch. I give you everything I have from the beginning because I see the story — our story — unfolding in my mind. Perhaps a lot of this has to do with my love for literature and the good old fashioned love story. But for whatever reason, in my history, the story always involves a guy who lives anywhere but where I live. And here we have a brilliant plot and conflict without even trying!

I wish I were kidding. It’s become a running joke between me and my friends.

“I HAVE to tell you about this guy I met!” I gush.

“Where does he live?” They all ask, first and foremost.

I am always filled with pride and relief when I am able to say “LA!” with a smirk on my face. But it happens less often than I would like. Instead, it’s usually, “Arizona, but…” or “Nashville. We knew each other when I lived there…” or “Well, he did live in LA, but he just moved to Portland…” It’s like a sick joke the universe has been playing on me for most of my adult life.

But the story people! The story! Can you imagine? I have ridden the coattails of this story so many times, falling ignorantly and blissfully and pridefully every time. I don’t have an explanation as to why. I can’t resist it. I don’t know why these men come into my life consistently. I don’t know why I refuse to walk away from any of them. I always know it’s happening even as I’m telling my friends I’m not serious or involved. But I’m always involved. Remember — my heart is as open as the Grand Canyon. In my mind, this story is unfolding beautifully.

Before you know it, I’m on a plane. Or he’s in a car. Or we are planning a trip where we can “figure this out”. Fast forward. The distance is too much. Things didn’t feel the same in person after communicating via phone and text for weeks (sometimes months). Neither person wants to move. There’s always a reason. Sometimes there is more than one. The pseudo relationship is over. My heart is in shambles, and I chastise myself for once again allowing this to happen.

I don’t ever regret it, but I get angry at myself occasionally. I wish I could be a bit more guarded. I wish I would think back to the last time I let this happen and remember how it ended. Because it ended. I never do though. I never walk away from the chance at love. I never walk away from a good story. As you can imagine, I am heartbroken more often than your average person.

This hasn’t left me untouched. I have often worried and wondered what is wrong with me. I am the common denominator after all. I keep perpetuating the event by being an active participant. And these men are all walking away from me. Which leads me to believe, inherently, that there is something wrong with me.

I think I am great on paper. These men fall for my words and my personality. They love my free spirit and my positive attitude. They love my open heart and sass. They are enamored by the idea of me. They say and do all the wonderful things any girl would swoon over, especially a hopeless romantic like myself. Then I’m in front of them, full fledged technicolor, real life Stefanie, and they try to escape as quickly as possible.

Perhaps it’s time for me to look inward for the reasons I allow this to be my story. What am I afraid of? Who am I afraid of? My familiarity and ease with my own words may be betraying me. Do I portray myself as something and someone different on paper than in person? Am I sabotaging myself? It seems preposterous to think so as I sit waist deep in my own heartbreak over the last one. His reason for ending it was blindingly apparent even though he wouldn’t admit it to me. And I would be lying if I didn’t admit that a part of me knew he would end it from the beginning.

I’m not sure I can change a life long habit of living my life with an open heart. However, I can take steps to assure that I don’t let this happen again. I can be more attentive when those nagging friends beg me to think about what I’m doing. I can be open to what is right in front of me on a daily basis. And I can walk away from the potential of a good story in favor of the potential of something real.

When I was little, my mom was always trying to get me to color inside the lines. Now I need to remember to fall in love inside state lines.