My boyfriend broke up with me on email

After long years of closeness, he cut off all communication. What happened?

By Cary Tennis
Published July 19, 2011 12:20AM (EDT)

Dear Cary,

After a tough breakup, I have managed to rebuild my life, meet a new group of wonderful friends, and become more grounded in myself and my work. I feel pretty good about all of this, but I am still finding it incredibly difficult to get over my ex-boyfriend. I think about him all of the time.

It's been seven months since he broke up with me via email, after years together and talk of moving in and even having a family eventually. I asked him (via email, out of respect for his space) to explain why he wanted to break up. His initial reasoning was vague and he seemed all over the place. He said that he loved me more than he had loved anyone else, felt like I was "imprinted" on him, but he felt unsure of our future together. Very recently, he finally responded to tell me that when things were rocky between us, he had slept with someone else, and the guilt made him hate himself too much to carry on any longer.

I emailed him back, but he was unwilling to continue correspondence. We were incredibly close, and it feels so strange to have things cut off like that. In some ways I am proud of the restraint I feel I have maintained, in "letting him go," etc. I didn't even blow up about his confession, I just thanked him for the truth.

However, it did prompt me to look at his Facebook profile, which he apparently leaves completely open. I quickly noted that he seemed to be corresponding with a much younger girl, who looks a lot like I did 10 years ago (down to hair color and style and general presence -- at least in photographs). It makes sense to me that he would become involved with someone young and pretty, with the passion and intensity that drew him to me at the time. Part of me feels that my age and place in life (32) made me less attractive to him. He is 38 and is a great artist who struggles financially. I strongly believe the thought of having to have any sort of financial burden became a weight on him, although I was perfectly willing to be the breadwinner.

All of this makes me feel like cat shit, honestly. I am still objectively attractive but I do feel that the weight of my career has made me lose my carefree luster. I'm actually pretty proud of myself except for the fact that I feel like I have spun my wheels with this relationship, and it's just incredibly frightening and depressing to me that a deep and real relationship can just snap. To top it off, my grandmother has been diagnosed with cancer, and I have always felt like she is one of the few people I need as an anchor in life. I'm so afraid of her leaving. In many ways I depended on my ex and my grandmother to be not just bedrocks, but sources of creativity and beauty that I just can't find in many places. I feel so deeply betrayed by my ex, and so helpless in terms of my grandmother. I know my ex would just bury all of these feelings and move on to bigger and better, but I am just stuck in the mud and more than a little disgusted with myself as a result. I don't exactly have a question as much as I just need a response.

Broken Up

Dear Broken Up,

I'm very sorry to hear about your grandmother. I know what it's like to lose people you are close to, and to have people disappear on you.

The main point I want to make, and I'm not sure if I do so successfully or not, is that at every turn your ex made the relationship about him, not about you. Even his attempt to tell you how much you mattered to him was emblematic of his enormous self-regard: that you were "imprinted" on him. Such an image is exactly emblematic of the selfishness that is the enemy of all relationships because in a relationship it's not what's going on inside you that is important but what is going on between you. A relationship is not something that goes on in somebody's head. It's interaction between people.

Maybe he didn't want to see you anymore. That would be painful to hear. But he didn't even say that. He made it all about his own guilt.

All on his own, he jumped right to the exciting conclusion: I did something wrong, it's unforgivable, I'm too full of guilt now, so the relationship has to end.

Isn't that irritating? It leaves you out of it, and makes the whole relationship secondary to his own inner whatever.

Do you not want at least to be heard, as to what you feel about this thing? Otherwise, isn't he not only deciding on his own what he did and what he feels about it and what he's going to do about the relationship but also deciding what you think and feel about it?

It's less like he broke up with you and more like he disappeared the whole relationship.

In a relationship of substance and integrity, there's a pact of mutual stewardship that is honored. Sure, the relationship might end, or change. But you don't just disappear the whole thing.

So it may be helpful to you in the future to insist that if you are in a relationship with someone, then you are the one who matters. What matters is what is going on between you and him while you are both in the room.

He may be amazingly creative and inspiring, but so was Picasso. Although many women seem to have felt otherwise, it was not necessary to sleep with Picasso to be inspired by his work.

Citizens of the Dream

What? You want more advice?


Cary Tennis

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