Updated: Dec 29, 2019
It's called a break-up because it's broken...but let's be friends?
If you’ve been doing "okay", and okay in quotation marks means:
1.) You have accepted that your ex- is gone, you’ve picked up the pieces of your heart and started building you a better life, focusing as much as you can on being independent, doing things that you love and enjoying as much as you possibly can, trying to be as productive as you can in a way that will pay off for you in the future in the direction that you want to go (or at least, not in a direction you DON’T want to go)...
2.) You see the relationship realistically, you acknowledge the faults you had and the ways you could have handled things better but, you no longer suffocate yourself with blame, nor do you make their bad behavior about you. Yes, you can affect someone, but ultimately they choose how to respond. If they chose to respond in any way that is cruel or degrades you as a person, or treats you with disrespect, that reflects on *them* as a person and how *they* handle situations and ultimately who *they* are. You no longer take credit for their moral character, good or bad...
3.) You no longer feel desperate for your ex- or for company in general—you can be alone, even if you don’t love it or necessarily want to be, even if it doesn’t feel as fun or exciting, you can do it and it doesn’t debilitate you—in fact, you enjoy it more than you admit...
4.) You forgive (codeword for: accept what happened as now unchangeable) all involved. You allow yourself to feel everything that you feel: sorrow, loss, anger, disgust, fondness, whatever…but you don’t let it poison you or dominate you. There is space between you and the situation. You see things for what they were: a blend of good and bad, and the emotions become balanced in that the fondness, the missing, the old love is balanced with the disgust, the anger, the indignation. You can be realistic about what happened because you can see it in its entirety instead of alternating black-and-white absolutes. Therapists would say that you now possess "object constancy"; in layman's terms, you are objective...
5.) You know what you want and you know what you can and can not tolerate. You have these "boundaries", not because you like to talk a big game and snap your fingers, but because you literally can’t function healthily without them—you’ve seen what happens, you’ve seen how bad things can get without them and you literally can’t live like that anymore. You love yourself as demonstrated by your healthy actions, which have built a solid sense of self for you to stand on. You are your own emotional house. You get all the validation that you *need* from YOU...
Chances are, if you are okay, and moving on, oftentimes AS SOON AS you are okay and moving on...
Your ex-, especially if they are a narcissist, will reach out and offer to work things out with you.
That's some incredible juju. THEY KNOW. David Snyder calls this "entrainment". I like how he puts it: "It's physics...It can't not happen."
I want to put a disclaimer here: under NO circumstances do I recommend that you even consider answering the call, text message, looking their way in the grocery store, or the possibility of them being in your life at all if any of the following apply:
1.) Any physical violence or intimidation, a fascination or obsession with violence, or a bad gut feeling about the same: If your ex- ever physically harmed you or attempted to harm you or others including and especially animals, used physical intimidation, or had a serious obsession with violence/rape/torture/anything gruesome (for example, enjoying graphic descriptions of the same in books or television, *needing* to feed this into their brains), or if you just have a weird, inexplicable internal voice shouting “DANGER! DANGER! SOMETHING’S NOT RIGHT!”, absolutely put as much distance between you and them FOREVER. I say this for the same reason I would warn you not to try to keep a rabid animal as a housepet. These people are DANGEROUS. The news is full of victims who were maimed and/or DEAD because the neon-lit warning signs were ignored. You will not win with a sadist, and the fact that you would even consider this a possibility is a sign that you lack serious self-love or a grip on reality. Remember: Intuition is the last voice you ever get the chance to ignore.
2.) Natasha Adamo reminded me of this one, and I couldn’t put it better than she did if I tried: if there is a weird relationship with one of your ex-’s family members, a relationship that makes your skin crawl no matter how much you try to excuse it away, relationships that make you feel like you are competing for your place in their life: RUN THE OTHER WAY. Your relationship with this person will never be anything but HELL ON EARTH and there is absolutely nothing that will change that. I haven’t been in that kind of relationship personally, but I’ve seen people who have been. This will NOT get better. Save yourself. STAY AWAY.
3.) Natasha Adamo also covered this impossible situation as well: if you ex- has a deep, dark hidden secret, again, you’re not going to win. If it’s a deal breaker for you, move on.
4.) If there are other irreconcilable differences, or things you can’t get past, move on. This is not the love you are looking for. For example, if one of you can’t think of a more miserable hell than exchanging freedom and money for having children, and the other is basically living for the hope of having babies, this is a recipe for resentment and just about every awful emotion imaginable on a daily basis. No matter how perfect they are in every other way, this is not your soul mate, and you will grow to hate each other. These kinds of diametrically-opposed life-altering issues are not going away.
5.) If you realize that a relationship with this person is not what you want anymore, it’s okay to move on. Don’t force yourself into something just because you were out of your mind with desire for it at one point but aren’t anymore. It’s okay to let go.
6.) If they compulsively and pathologically lie, cheat, steal, or have a life-altering addiction: again, this behavior may never stop. This is hell. You are going to end up with a disease and/or penniless. You will have no security and an even broker heart. They need to fix themselves first.
Don’t even waste your time.
IS THIS WHAT YOU WANT?
I was going to a completely unhelpful therapist at one point in my life, and the only thing I can remember them saying was the last appointment I went to with them (they let me pay them for the privilege of simply letting me vent to them and offering nothing) was: “You have to decide what you want.”
My ex- didn’t fall into any of the above irredeemable categories. And yes, when I was finally okay, and didn’t “need” them anymore, they called and offered to work things out.
And I was absolutely pissed and I gave them a piece of my mind for over an hour, letting them know just what I thought of them and how they treated me.
And crazily enough, they actually sat there and took it, which was surprising because at the end of our relationship, they would cut me off and dump me for a mild comment about their hair…they would cut me off and dump me for any reason and no reason.
They would discard me and tell me, “Good-bye forever”, disappear for a few days, a week or two, and then offer to give me “another chance” to do better. Or I would call and beg for "another chance". I was constantly abandoned and it was insinuated that I wasn’t “good enough”, one of my worst fears.
That’s what had helped me to be okay, the fact that there was really nothing to go back to, and I really had no intention of going back. There was pretty much no way I could go through that again. I was better off and happier once they left.
Until I wasn't. You know how it is.
That’s why it sounds so crazy that 3 weeks later, I decided to end the internal war of attrition my heart was going through.
I was tired of being strong, I was tired of missing them, I was tired of the depression that was always lurking in the back of my mind, and I was tired of the nightmares.
It was fine when it was necessary to stay away when I knew they didn’t want me and there was nothing there.
It was much harder when the possibility of working things out was on the table.
Because as cruel as I felt they had been, and I had sunk to the lowest lows of my life, I also had the highest highs of my life with them as well.
Emotionally unavailable relationships are always like that, and the highs feel even higher because the lows are so low by contrast.
BUT, it is true too that they had taken an interest in me and cared for me when no one else on Earth did.
Thy had offered me what I needed when I needed it.
The redeeming qualities they had are exactly what I want.
And most importantly, I felt strong enough to not need them for what I thought I needed them for, any longer: validation, self-esteem, unconditional love, etc.
All the things I now give myself.
I felt strong enough to accept what is and let the shortcomings go instead of eat me alive. I knew what I want now.
Lots of people have written about how narcissistic exes will contact you when you are over them because they want validation and they need to feel in control again.
And I totally agree with that. They also say that things will be 100% on the narcissist’s terms, and that’s true too. And yes, you will get all of the outrageous blame, and they will claim to be perfect.
Things will be SO 100% on the narcissist's terms that you will even have to do a special indirect verbal dance-around to ever resolve any conflict with them (if you want to save or maintain a relationship with a narcissist, this article by Doctor and Gestalt therapist Elinor Greenberg is a God-send, click that link honey!).
And you'll have to settle for a reparative token in lieu of a real heartfelt apology.
There have been people I let go of after years of wanting them, but once I was done, I was done. I ended up rejecting them, and I never once regretted it.
It’s not that I can’t do it, and that’s a really powerful realization.
But I realized I was not done with my ex-. And I realized that I WANTED what they had to offer at that moment.
Maybe you are in the same situation.
I started talking to them again because I that’s what I wanted. Not what I needed because I was couldn’t take not being with someone, not because I needed validation, not because I couldn’t deal with the unpleasant aftereffects, but because I just wanted what my ex- had to offer and yes, I love them, and even though they hadn’t changed, I had.
We didn't officially “get back together” I guess, but we talked and texted each other during the day, and we agreed to “work things out”, whatever that meant. Even typing that out, it sounds totally lame from the point of view of someone who’s looking for a serious, committed relationship, but I wasn't unhappy to be free.
So what do you do when you’re “back together”?…kind of…sort of…whatever…
1.) Be okay with what it is, and what it is probably doesn’t have a name. I no longer worry about labels, or having it all sorted out.
I’m no longer thinking long-term, they are no longer future-faking.
And they have made it quite clear to me multiple times that they don’t want me to “push things”.
It is what it is, and I’m living in the moment, one day at a time. I no longer care about having it all figured out, and my expectations are at an all-time low, which brings me to the next point:
2.) Pedestals: Get Rid of Them: We had both, at some point or another, held ourselves to, as Natasha Adamo puts it, the lowest standard we could hold the other to: perfection.
Why is perfection the lowest standard?
Because it guarantees failure and subsequent disappointment.
My ex- and I had pedestalled each other at various points and it led to nothing but problems.
Going back in, we were both a lot more realistic about the other. We knew who the other was. We knew what we were going to get.
3.) Have A Sense of Purpose: What is your mission? In Do It!: Let’s Get Off Our Buts, John-Roger and Peter McWilliams explain that you can have anything you want, but you can’t have everything that you want the moment you want it.
Sometimes that never feels truer than with the person you choose to have in your life.
Yes, if you choose someone who is emotionally available and responsible, you will probably get a nearly complete package. I had to accept that the qualities that I loved in my ex- that they had, not that I wished they had are what I was there for, and nothing else.
I loved and admired them for those things, and I accepted that the other things (responsibility, accountability, selflessness, etc.) will probably always be lacking somewhat. And pushing for them will lead to fights and abandonment.
Having spent months alone gave me a chance to reset and decide what I want and what I’ll settle for and what I’ll put up with.
This is what people mean when they say "boundaries".
My ex- was not interested in building a life together. They didn’t stick with things, they bailed, they blamed, they easily felt like they were being trapped. I realized I can deal with those things now. With or without them, or anyone, I’m going to have to support, validate, and love myself, and build my own healthy life independent of them. Will I let them add the magic they have to offer, to my life (since they are not all good or all bad but a mix of both)?
What do you want to do?
The question we have to ask ourselves really is, "Do I want them to be any part of it?"
For me the answer at the time was yes.
A friend of mine called them an “experience curator”, and that’s exactly what they were. They expose me to new and interesting things I wouldn’t find or try on my own. They are someone to talk to and share my day with. They're the only person who ever showed a deep interest in me and my life up to that point, and accepted me for who I was in an unprecedented way, and I realize that’s pretty priceless. And they were someone to pour my attention and affection on (although now in more measured, restrained quantities—I’ll explain further down).
When we broke up, that’s what I missed the most.
This sense of purpose, to enjoy as much as possible AS-IS, and not take the rest seriously...because it isn't serious--if it is undesirable, we can "walk away" (even if just emotionally) and let it be irrelevant--this made it easier to ignore the bullsh*t that used to blow up into huge fights. This is closely linked to…
4.) Accept the things you can not change. I’ve written before about my Parent, who I no longer take seriously because they are an emotionally handicapped person.
I am no longer setting myself up for heartbreak and constant friction by expecting anything different.
I now accepted that their emotional capabilities were in a body cast.
And along these same lines…
5.) Hold back. I once knew a man who had been married several times, but because he had low self-esteem and low self-respect, the only woman he ever loved was the gold-digger who treated him with open contempt and ended up rejecting him and divorcing him.
The reason is, to quote Natasha Adamo, “As long as your self-esteem is low, you’ll never respect anyone who respects you, you’ll only respect those that make you work for their crumbs. You’ll view those who respect you as dumb because they are trying to respect the worthlessness that deep down, you feel you are”.
And again, “As long as you don’t love yourself, you’ll never have any respect for anyone who loves you, just as you are.”
This is so true.
This was true of me and this is true of every insecurity- and anxiety-ridden narcissist to cross your path.
They can’t rely on themselves, so they can’t handle anyone else relying on them for one thing or another, long-term.
They also can’t handle being loved too much, too freely, too deeply, too often.
It makes them feel smothered and inadequate because they feel unworthy and incapable of reciprocating (unless they are trying to hook you into the love-bombing and grooming phases).
I’m not suggesting that you act with open contempt and hostility (or even that that would work in most cases), which is a pretty low, sh*tty thing to do regardless of your goal, but I am suggesting that you still keep some emotional distance and hold back the floodgates of your feelings and your affection.
Remember that someone who lacks empathy is going to provide minute values of solidarity in your troubles, whether you had a bad day or bought a computer that sucked or whatever your problem happens to be.
If they enjoy computers, they may make some good recommendations, but only because they enjoy it, and not because they care a great deal about your problems.
Again, this is about relying predominately on yourself, and taking and contributing to the good or fun you can get, and being the best person *you* can be. And sometimes the best surrogate parent and psychotherapist too, if you stay, because that is what will likely be required.
I used to be very open and effusive with how I was feeling. I used to *absorb* what my ex- told me and throw myself into the conversations about their problems and showing how much I cared. And you know what? It was never reciprocated and left me feeling drained and alone.
When I would complain about this, they would tell me they never asked me to do the things I did for them (what a slap in the face, am I right?).
They literally told me, “I only care about what I care about”.
Now, I don’t take any of it very seriously.
I’ll still show I’m here for them; I still listen.
I text back, but I don’t feel as crazy as I did before.
There’s space. And that's good too. They shouldn't be my emotional oxygen supply, or my emotional regulator (which I had often tried to force them to be--via E.S.P. no less--and then resented them for not being).
I don’t care as much because there is no reason to drain myself out.
And when dealing with this sort of person, you really can’t.
And if you are self-actualized, you don’t need to anymore because you are focused on running your own life instead of obsessing over someone else’s.
I've learned to say "NO".
6.) Be grateful and let go. If you want to be back with this person, obviously they have some appeal, they offer you something, even if that is mostly just partaking in life with you, companionship, riding shotgun, and reflecting your own vibrant light back at you.
If this is going to last for any period of time, or even if it isn’t, for maximum enjoyment you just have to be grateful in the moment for what you enjoy. (That sounds meta, but is also true).
And if you really missed them, for whatever reason, this will probably happen pretty naturally at first.
Just don’t forget as things go along.
If you focus on what you’re happy with, it will help cover the let-downs.
And every relationship is going to have let-downs.
So internalize what you love and what you’re happy with, and let the rest go. Remember that the negative isn’t about you, it’s about their state in life and where they are at in their emotional development and with themselves.
If they are not in the same league emotionally, and you accept this, it’s alot less frustrating because you no longer expect the impossible from an immature emotional specimen.
The other half of letting go is to “let the dead past bury it’s dead”. Yes, there are times to discuss what happened in times gone by, but if you harp on this constantly, or just "too much", especially in the middle of times that are supposed to be good times because something triggered past trauma (and this *will* happen, possibly quite frequently), you are going to kill off the good feelings that were starting to grow because any time things start to go all right, you drag them back to the painful past.
That's conditioning someone to never give you a good time because you punish them every time they do. Yikes.
(I know about this because I've done it. Double yikes.)
You have to just let go and move on. You’re not back with this person because you want to vent non-stop, you’re not there to relive all the old sh*t in real-time.
You’re there to relive the good times and make new good times.
So focus on the good times and when you feel triggered, honor what you’re feeling, but let it dissipate.
Don’t lash out with reaction.
This can be really, REALLY hard (I know!), but with the help of feeling grateful, it does get easier with time, just as the pain contractions lessened with time when you were trying to move on entirely before your ex- came back to you. So you know you can do this.
The same issues are still there, and they are going to be there. But if you are okay with that because this is what you want right now, that is your decision.
It’s not about the future you might have with them, it’s not about them changing to become what they should be for you.
You are going to have to supply yourself with *everything* that you need, just the same as you did when they were completely out of the picture.
I realized that this is all I want right now, and it’s alright.
But you have to ask yourself, after the initial relief of aloneness and the gratification of a well-deserved apology has worn off:
'Is this, as things are in this moment, what I want in this moment?'
If it is, be satisfied.
If it isn’t, move on.
All My Love,