It's A Pleasure
My Boyfriend Straight-Up Ghosted Me After A Year Of Dating
I'm worried I won't be able to trust anyone ever again.
Q: I got dumped a week ago. Well, did I get dumped? How do you categorize being ghosted by your boyfriend of over a year? I feel crazy! And sad. And my brain can only process it so long before it goes into denial mode because, again, WTF?? As much as I love my friends, they haven't been super helpful because they're just as confused as I am.
I know I didn't do anything wrong, but I keep racking my brain for something I did. I honestly think any sort of closure would only hurt more at this point. It's also super hard because I keep trying to reconcile who I thought this dude was with how things ended. Like, was there some giant red flag I missed? He was always a little flaky but he also always apologized and made things up to me. I don't like the idea that I shouldn't have trusted him and taken him at his word, but I also feel so naive. And very, very hurt.
I'm worried I'm going to struggle to trust anyone ever again. I don't know how I'll be able to trust my own judgment of people, given what happened. I hate myself for wondering if I'm ever going to find someone again. I feel weak for feeling hurt when I suspect my ex doesn't feel much of anything. Also, a slightly related issue: I'm struggling to be mad at this dude even though I should be so angry at him, and I'm really not sure why.
I would love any advice on how to make this suck less, because nothing I'm doing now (distracting myself, spending time with friends) is helping all that much.
A: First and foremost, I am so, so sorry. I am virtually certain that there is nothing that you did to cause this. And frankly, even if there was something that you did, he had the option — the glaringly obvious course of action, in fact — to simply talk to you. He could have said, “Hey, you did X, which unfortunately is a dealbreaker for me.” Or, if this was a potentially fixable issue, he could have said, “I am concerned about Y. What can we do to solve it?” This is the kind of communication you deserve. To steal a phrase from Jury Duty, this guy beefed it.
So what are you meant to do?
Your first (and second and 432nd) task is to feel your feelings. Womp womp! Big bummer alert! All the emotions you described in your letter — sad, hurt, confused, scared, naive —you’re going to have to really sit in those feelings. You shouldn’t make rumination your best friend; this will not take over your life forever. But in the short term, you do have to wade through this experience. Moving on is not about forgetting or letting go, it’s about processing.
How though? The first step is noticing and labeling how you feel, which you’re already doing: You say you feel weak for being hurt, and you’re sad that you’re not angrier at him. Those are great things to take note of! And then, when the timing is right for you, really sit with those things and experience them. That might mean crying or screaming into a pillow. It might mean analyzing everything 22,245 times with your closest friends and coming to the conclusion once again that there was no reason for this to happen. That might mean staring blankly at your bedroom ceiling while you play a John Denver song. (Just me?) But allow yourself to feel difficult, uncomfortable feelings.
You do not need to do this 24/7. You are allowed to feel sad/bad/mad and acknowledge the feeling without inviting it in for tea. You can wave to it from your front door and be like, “See you later! Thursday? 7 p.m.? Talk to you then!” My therapist once suggested scheduling a time to feel bad about things, and though I didn’t always do it, simply knowing that I could put a thought down in order to work, hang out with my friends, or walk my dog without panicking was lovely. Just like “Catch ya later, guilt! I know where to find you!” And then do your best to put the feeling down. When it comes back to your mind, shoo it off; you will find it later.
So, embracing tough emotions but pushing them away sometimes — is that contradictory advice? Kind of! But that’s what will help you heal. Think of it like this: You aren’t meant to become a dictator of your feelings. You’re more like a sweet kindergarten teacher wrangling a bunch of 6-year-olds with varied interests. You’re allowed to go cry in the bathroom at work sometimes. Give yourself grace.
One day, you might look back at all this and think, “Thank God that ended.”
When you’re in a place to actually do some processing, meet your emotions with curiosity. You’re already doing this in the letter you wrote, but ask yourself additional questions and explore the possible answers, too. Are there other times you’ve experienced this feeling? What does this remind you of? What are you afraid of? Is what you’re afraid of likely to actually happen? I would bet not! I bet your brain is feeling extra fearful because it’s in turmoil. It is extremely unlikely that this was your last real shot at romance.
When I’m having trouble sorting out my feelings, I try to ask myself: What’s your best-case scenario? What’s the worst-case scenario? (Try to be realistic — your best-case scenario can’t be “I forget about this and am never hurt again.”) Then think about what concrete steps you can take to avoid the worst outcomes. For example, if you’re afraid you’ll be alone forever, make more feel-good plans with friends. If you’re feeling unworthy, remind yourself how capable you are. Try something new that’s challenging but not impossible for you, like making croissants from scratch or training for a 5K. Also, consider what steps you can take that lead toward (or at least close to) your best-case scenario.
If you’re having a hard time answering these questions, I recommend journaling and therapy. They are almost clichéd suggestions at this point, but it’s because they’re generally effective at helping people sort out how they feel and why.
Emotions often are a sign of how safe or secure we are (or feel like we are). It’s hard to feel good when the ground has been ripped out from under you. It’s like if you get in a car crash, it can be hard to feel safe driving again for a while. That is a normal response to a traumatic event. Your brain likes to feel safe! So find things — and people — that make you feel loved and secure. Make blanket nests and take bubble baths and hang out with your oldest friends. They don’t have to say the right thing about this guy. There is no “right thing” to say that will give you any answers or bring any closure. The closure is that this guy is a f*cko. He’s gone. You still have a lot of great things in your life.
Take note of how your feelings shift over time. One day, you might look back at all this and think, “Thank God that ended.” Or maybe, “I’m glad I learned how to be on my own.”
Please, I am begging you, remind yourself frequently that this is not about you. It’s about him. It hurt you, but that doesn’t mean anything about your value or what will happen in future relationships. This is not feedback from a trusted source; it’s bad treatment from an immature dipsh*t. Put a sticky note on your mirror: This is not my fault.
As for how to trust again? Well. My overall suggestion is to pump the brakes. Think about moving slowly. OK, now even slower than that. Give yourself the gift of time. Try not to fill the void left by this guy with romantic attention. A new relationship might make you feel panicked or clingy or paranoid right now, like you need to grip on tightly to keep a person from leaving you. That’s not a good start to anything. Instead, be patient with yourself. Remember who you are without this guy, and remind yourself that you’ve been worthy of love this whole time.
When you do start dating someone new, remember that your job is not to try to ferret out the truth about them as fast as possible — don’t go Columbo on their a** and try to weed out the red flags. Your job is to show up, treat someone well, and see if you like spending time with them. They should do the same.
There is always the chance that something ends again, and ends poorly. That could happen. Your task isn’t to prevent that. Instead, your task is to not let this discourage you from loving people — others, yes, but most importantly, yourself.
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