How do you get over being dumped?

My boyfriend said it was over and I've moved on but I'm still obsessed. What can I do?

Published October 28, 2002 5:12PM (EST)

Dear Cary,

I am a 28-year-old woman who was dumped, about four months ago, by my boyfriend of two years (he's the same age). Things started off with a bang: fast, hard, big love, followed by sweet and very satisfying sex, lots of fun times and shared experiences. We shared many friends, took fun vacations, did the same sports, putzed around, got to know each other's families, etc. We got along well, worked out the kinks, shared major principles about life and a vision of how we wanted to live, maintained our own independence, and seemed to have all sorts of other good things I would strive for in a relationship.

It was the third time I ever fell in love and my second "serious, long-term" relationship; it was his first on both accounts. This difference made me nervous at first but I quickly realized that passing him up just because I was worried that he didn't have experience was pretty stupid -- he was special, a great match and, well, you just never know.

Things moved pretty smoothly. He soon made subtle comments about living together, marriage and family. At first I demurred and responded shyly, unfamiliar with having a guy act so committed to me so quickly, but I warmed to the idea as I got to know him and felt like he was a person I could happily spend the rest of my life with. It seemed like we were on a path together that we both felt really excited about and that our love was strong. He bought a house; I was planning to move in when my lease was up. I started to have visions of settling down and getting married and being domestic and all of that jazz -- and it felt good! Our friends said they envied us.

But obviously, all was not well. I can see now that at some point, he started to shut down and didn't offer any of the care or attention it takes to fuel and maintain a relationship and take it further (he seems to think he shouldn't have had to), and generally treated me like "one of the guys." He would complain about sex but wouldn't talk about it when I tried to learn what he wanted or suggested spicing things up. He stonewalled me when I tried to get him to open up or argue/discuss problems or feelings. At the same time, he seemed to desire some magical, romantic relationship. My diagnosis: He wanted love without the work.

It took me a long time to realized this, but as soon as I did, I started to be proactive about working on the relationship and then he came home one day and said he "just wasn't into it anymore." No explanation, no conversation, no desire to take stock and consider our relationship together. Just a frighteningly cold, standard speech: "The magic is gone; it's not you it's me; the passion has died down; it's not as exciting as it used to be; is this all there is?" I was shocked and devastated. I felt like I had just been dumped by a 13-year-old. He left and I've never heard from him again.

Fast forward to today. I've done a lot of good thinking and recognize that I truly am a great person and deserve a partner who treasures me. My friends (and his) tell me so. And I am doing all of the right things: taking care of myself, spending time with people I love, pursuing neglected interests and hobbies, but I am still obsessed with him, the relationship, all of it. I don't think I am actually depressed, but I can't stop thinking about it. I am haunted by the whole thing when I wake up in the morning, at work, at night, and it's been hard to enjoy other parts of my life with this preoccupation hanging over me at every moment.

What do I need to do to start moving on? In my head I know there's more out there, but my heart doesn't get it.

Having Trouble Moving On

Dear Having Trouble,

What I have learned from experiencing mistreatment similar to what you describe is that it takes longer to get over it than you think it should. You are obviously doing all the right things, and I applaud you and admire you for it.

Until you've been knocked around a few times, you can't develop a sense of how long it takes to heal from such things: Trust me, it always takes longer than you expect.

It's a little bit of a paradox that if you were a less thoughtful and more reckless person you might have gotten knocked around enough already. No matter; that's just my little ironic aside. You are doing all the right things, and you sound like a wonderful person. There's just no magical cure for a hurt like this.

I wonder about him. You said it felt like being dumped by a 13-year-old, and that this was his first time being in love. It strikes me as very cruel for him to end the relationship so abruptly. He probably not only lacked experience but has a woefully meager capacity for empathy. It doesn't take empathy to be in love; empathy is quite different from love, in that love can be, as in an infant's love, utterly self-absorbed.

Be that as it may, I wouldn't be surprised if along with your hurt and sadness you also harbored some vivid revenge fantasies. Don't feel badly if you do, but try to shape your anger into a kind of self-protective and vigilant skepticism.

Once you've gotten over it, remember how much it hurt. Remembering the pain will sometimes be your only defense. Young guys can be quite cruel, and you don't deserve to be treated that way.

By Cary Tennis

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