It's A Pleasure

It's Been 5 Years & Yet I Still Keep Going Back To My Toxic Ex

Every time I’m about to move on with someone else, he reels me back in.

Originally Published: 
It's A Pleasure

Q: How do I end this cycle of an on-and-off relationship with my ex? It's been difficult for me to completely break off from them. I started seeing this person in high school and now it's been five years. After graduation we became distant and I started seeing someone else. Everything was great until my ex initiated contact, and a few months later we got back together; then he went quiet again. Every time I want to move on with someone else, he comes back at that very moment. I always find myself going back, but the moment I do, he gets comfortable and the cycle begins again. I genuinely do not know what to do about this, I've reached a point where I don't even want to date other people in fear of hurting them.

A: My friend! My friend! You need Loretta Castorini/Cher to yell “Snap out of it!” at you!

Where are you in all of this? You have absolutely abdicated any sense of responsibility you have. You talk as if you are a puppet that he controls. As if you have no power over your own decisions. Not only is that one of my pet peeves — you’re an adult, own your actions! — but you’re devaluing yourself. You’re robbing yourself of agency! You are not a boat and he is not the current. You are not the moth and he is most certainly not the flame. You are an independent person with total control over what and who you do.

I don’t say this because the choice you need to make is easy, but it is simple and straightforward. The action you must take is obvious — I think you know this. Again, that doesn’t mean it won’t require courage on your part. That doesn’t mean it won’t shipwreck you for a bit. But you have to stop talking to this guy. Ever. Period.

There is no safe amount of space in your life for this dude. He isn’t the hot plate in a dorm room, he’s an open fire. You keep thinking that you can light a small corner of your room on fire and that it will stay contained; it will not. Dating him will consume you (and the metaphorical room) every time.

You do not cut him off when he treats you poorly, and so he’s learned that treating you well is not a requirement you have in a relationship.

Again, though, that’s also putting a lot on him. I suspect he’s fully aware of what he’s doing and when and why. I would guess he knows that if you’re single, you’ll feel vulnerable and you’ll agree to come back to him. And I’m sure he’s aware that you do not require much from him. You do not cut him off when he treats you poorly, and so he’s learned that treating you well is not a requirement you have in a relationship.

It is beyond human to get into an unhealthy or unfulfilling pattern with someone, and to find it difficult to tear yourself away from the imagined future you have created with them. You are not the first person — nor, sadly, will you be the last — to keep going back to a dipsh*t. (We have literally ALL done it.) The part that you have to figure out is what’s making you do this.

You are going to have to answer: why this guy, why this relationship? Because on some (twisted) level, this pattern is very much working for you. It’s giving you something, otherwise you wouldn’t do it. Do you like the adrenaline rush? Do you love the attention? Does he make you feel wanted, if not valued? Do you like emotional highs and lows? Do you feel like you missed out on something that he’s fulfilling? I don’t know! It could be tons of things that I didn’t list! It’s probably a combination of a lot of factors. Think deeply about what you’re gaining from this cycle — then step away from it and chase your own peace and happiness instead.

Just because you shared a past with someone does not mean you owe them your future.

Now, there’s a part of this that I’m hesitant to untangle because I don’t know your own gender and experiences, and only a limited amount about this guy, but I do think that it’s probably at least a little relevant: A lot of people have a difficult time saying no to men, a hard time disappointing them. Male approval is often incredibly socially valuable, and so we bend more easily to the whims (and demands) of men. It’s not always intentional, but it’s pervasive. Maybe this doesn’t play a factor here, but I wonder if you feel hesitant to end this because you don’t have as much practice with saying a flat-out “no” to a guy unless he’s really, really, really, really violating a boundary. If any of what I’m saying does resonate, please know that losing this guy’s good opinion will not kill you. In fact, it will markedly improve your life. It takes practice to get comfortable with the truth that disappointing men doesn’t diminish your value. Perhaps it will make you say no to the next guy who treats you like crap even earlier.

As for the practical side of this, you cut him off completely. Block or mute him on social media so you stop seeing his face. You can let him know that you two aren’t going to be talking anymore if that feels better to you. Try: “Hey I keep getting caught up in a relationship with you and it’s not working for me, so for my own sake, I’m going to need to move on and that means us not talking.” It will suck at first, to be sure. And I strongly, strongly, strongly recommend that you do not date other people for a while. Sit with yourself. Let yourself become yourself without this guy. Regardless, he’s gotta go. Just because you shared a past with someone does not mean you owe them your future.

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