In pain

She broke off our wonderful relationship with no warning. How do I get her back?

Published November 19, 2003 8:14PM (EST)

Dear Cary,

Me -- very late 20s, urban, educated, loving family, great friends, outgoing, great job, perpetually smiling for all the right reasons. Am told repeatedly by female friends that I'm a great catch and get many offers to be set up. Haven't seriously dated anyone for three years because I needed that time to mature personally and emotionally, finish school and start my career, and have a lot of fun. After plenty of dates, flings and silly hookups, I've learned a lot about what's important to me in a woman I would want to have a strong and happy relationship with, and I'm patient enough to wait for the right person to come along.

Her -- my age, incredibly beautiful, great sense of humor, wonderful personality. Go on several dates, things move nicely, and relationship develops. We get along beautifully, have a great deal in common, my friends like her (and vice versa), we finish each other's sentences, we see each other about every other day, I make her laugh and smile. The words I hear most from her are "You're so sweet to me, thank you."

Two months into things, in the middle of a party, she "freaked out" (her words) and says she can't date anyone right now, including me. Says she wants me "in her life" (her words again), but can't be my girlfriend right now. Says the most important things to her are her friends and that she can't juggle them and a boyfriend at the same time.

I fully respect her decision and am not mad at her, but I'm upset for two reasons: 1) I'm a fairly perceptive guy, and neither I nor anyone else around me saw this coming. There was never any tension, misunderstanding, spats, weird feelings, odd body language -- absolutely no warning signs at all. And it's not like she just got out of a relationship -- she's been single for almost two years. 2) It's been about a month since she ended it, and I am still so hurt. I have never felt this bad before and don't know how to deal with it. It is painful just to think of her, to see and hear things I associate with her. I have everything going for me in my life, and now I want to share it with someone. I don't think I'll ever meet anyone like her again.

Is there anything I can do to convince her to take me back? Is the best thing to leave her alone and know that the only way things would ever pick up again is if she wants to date me again and contacts me herself? And regardless, how do I get over the pain?


Dear Bewildered,

Welcome to the land of the dumped. Here in this dusty vacant lot, dazed survivors of clumsy uncouplings warm their hands at barrel fires and ask each other, "What happened? What the fuck happened? What in holy goddamn Sam Hill happened?"

You were broken up with in the middle of a party by a woman who emitted no smoke, steam or seismic rumblings prior to her eruption. She just blew. Well. We have heard of such things. There are 8 million stories in the land of the dumped. But while you may find others to whom this has happened, you will find no one who can tell you why. That is what it is like to be in the land of the dumped: You are like a character in a story by Franz Kafka, persecuted, ridiculed, but prevented forever from knowing what you have done wrong, whom you have harmed, what makes you a target of scorn.

Because it eases the pain, however, we fight back the only way we know how, by making up plausible stories of our own. One plausible story, for instance, is that your love has suffered a complete mental breakdown and at this very moment is strapped to a hospital bed somewhere high in the hills outside of town, being fed intravenously while nervous doctors confer.

Another, perhaps more plausible story, is that your own recent history has come home to roost, that in dating widely you offended certain women, whose stories of perceived mistreatment only recently reached your beloved and caused her such despair, such doubt, such a feeling of betrayal, such sheer unbearable cognitive dissonance that she simply could not go on living a lie.

Or perhaps it is something more like this: If you have only recently decided, privately, to pursue long-term relationships instead of the fun and casual relationships you have become accustomed to, it's possible that you failed to signal this -- that your outward courtship style is still that of a man just out for a good time. Therefore, that was the kind of woman you attracted. In short, you may have been dumped by a female version of your former self, a woman simply out for a good time, who became spooked by your hints of some greater, more enduring commitment. You may need to take some time to reevaluate your new approach, to recognize that you've now got to look for a different kind of woman.

So think deeply, my friend. Peer into your own depths and ask yourself: What are the signals of fidelity and commitment, and how can I recognize them?

It was crude, it was clumsy, and it was probably driving her crazy that she wanted to break up with you because you were so perfect in every way but she just wasn't ready. So she was a little scared, and a little immature, so she maybe had a little too much to drink as a way to find the courage and lo and behold, after that final drink to put her over the top, everything became both warm and fuzzy but also crystal clear: She couldn't do it. She couldn't keep heading down that road with you. She wasn't quite ready for it all. So she blurts. She makes a scene. She dramatizes. She "freaks out."

And you, my friend, are in the land of the dumped.

As a side note, it may help to consider how important is the element of timing. There are two elements to commitment: One is finding the right person, and the other is timing. Are you both at the right point? Are you both ready? Just because you find the right person doesn't mean you're both ready. I think being ready may have nothing to do with whether you're Mr. Right or not. It has to do with her: Has she had enough heartbreak and laughs yet, has she had enough insane fun and games, has she been taken by storm just one too many times, are her beaches pitted with the boots of too many landing armies, has she seen enough morning bathrooms to categorize a nation of men by shaving cream, razor styles and amount of tiny hair fragments on the sink, has she heard every line whispered and murmured and felt every manner of rough and callused hand reaching down her shirt, has she tired of throwing the penalty flag for unnecessary roughness and late hits?

I think you get to a point where you become willing, and it's an internal process. If you are lucky enough to meet the man or woman of your dreams at the right time -- the very day you become willing! -- so much the better. But it's not likely. You may have already unknowingly dated many women who were absolutely ready while you were not; because you were not ready, you may not have even picked up their signals. Because you were still into fun and games.

I'm sorry for your hurt. You'll get over it. You'll meet somebody else. You'll find someone just as pretty, just as much fun, who is not only everything you've wanted in a woman but also ready to take the plunge. So try not to fall again until you can see what's at the bottom of the cliff. If you're going to fall, you need to fall into deep water.

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By Cary Tennis

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