Dear Wendy: “My Thoughts Are Consumed With My Ex”

Guest columnists and contributors are generously sharing their talents and insights while I’m taking some time to care for my new baby. Today’s letter is answered by freelance writer, Rachel East, AKA ReginaRey.

About six months ago, the man I thought I was going to marry left me unceremoniously for another woman. During the aftermath – the moving out and settling of affairs — he acted cruelly and horribly, cementing the split and making damn sure I didn’t come back. I spent much of the next few months depressed, having constant nightmares about him, unable to get out of bed and constantly self-medicating, because the reality of my situation was too much to face. I work freelance, and have been accepting just enough work to scrape by, wishing the end of every gig to come so I could get back into bed. Slowly, I have been scraping out of this. I saw a therapist for a bit. I started dating a nice man who makes me feel loved and is kind enough to both give me my space and be there to help me heal. I was working more, dedicating myself to my jobs and beginning to hustle for new clients. I found the inspiration I had been missing to move forward with my pet project. I had been making new friends, reconnecting with old ones and looking ahead. Seemingly, I had forgotten all about him.

And then I received an email from my ex nonchalantly asking if we could be friends again. The grapevine quickly informed me that him and his new love had split. At first I felt palpable outrage — how dare he contact me so casually. I felt like I was owed an apology, or at the very least an acknowledgment of how badly he’d behaved. I did not respond; instead, I blocked him from contacting me and searched my psyche for the schadenfreude that was sure to come. Instead, I’ve fallen very quickly back into depression. My thoughts are consumed with him and I am once again flattened by the sadness and miss him desperately. I’ve asked the man I’m seeing to give me space, because I don’t want to lay this on him. I’m lost and I don’t know how to pull out of this again.

Although I know with every fiber of my rational mind that I should not contact him and that no good can come of having him in my life, my brain is trying to find ways to rationalize the following statement: If he is no longer with her, it stands to reason that he should be with me again. I feel hurt that he hasn’t tried to get back together with me and sad that he destroyed what we had to pursue something that turned out to be so fleeting. I want to shake him and ask him, “Was it worth it?” I want to remind him how wonderful we were together, before the hurt and the betrayal.

What do I do? How do I heal and get back, at least to where I was before the email came in? Reaching out to my ex for closure is not an option; I feel that any contact with him right now would push me deeper down the hole. I also live in constant fear of running into him, or worse – ending up on a job together (we are in the same industry). I can’t regress every time I am reminded of his existence. I know that time is always the answer to these things, but I’ve never been fragile or delicate, and this feeling of being a walking house of cards is only making me feel worse. Please advise. — Pulled Back In

First, let me applaud you for your strength. You’ve recognized how badly he treated you, you asked the other man you were seeing for space, you’re refusing to get back in touch with your ex – these are accomplishments that many women don’t make after a bad breakup, and you’re doing it. This is a very good foundation for healing.

But the problem is: How do you separate what you know (“He’s cruel,” “He treated me badly,” “I cannot talk to him.”) from what you feel (“I want to ask that ass if it was worth it!”, “I want him to know how badly he betrayed me!”)? One of the best things you can do is get back into therapy. You said you went “for a bit,” which leads me to believe you’re no longer going. Perhaps you thought you could handle the breakup on your own, and for a while you did. But the fact that he sent you dovetailing again proves that you probably still need the positive support of therapy. There’s nothing wrong with you for being set back by his sudden communication. We’re all fragile after breakups, and getting unexpected communication while you’re still trying to heal is enough to set any person back. Don’t feel weak or think you failed. Think of therapy as a weapon you can use to combat the negative effect he’s had on your life. Consider it a way to get back your strength, your confidence and your energy.

And let me assure you – you’re absolutely right for not reaching out to him for closure. But that doesn’t stop the barrage of questions you have for him. The thing is, you may never know why he left you. You may never learn if he regrets it or if he’s sorry. But remember what you did learn from this experience: he was cruel to you. He treated you awfully. He unceremoniously left your relationship for another woman. All of those actions reflect a poor character. When you find yourself wondering the answers to those questions, remind yourself that through his actions he already gave you the best answer you could get – he told you what kind of a person he truly was.

What would happen if you re-defined your ex in your mind? Instead of this person who broke your heart, he’s a man without much moral character, who might never know the joy of a lasting relationship: “I feel sorry for him because he has poor character. I pity his cruel nature and inability to be faithful. It’s sad that he betrayed someone he loved. I feel sorry that he might never learn from his mistakes.” If you start thinking like that, you get to take the power back. You get to be in control of your emotions again. You get to be the strong, emotionally intelligent person with power and a choice about how you feel. As for him, he gets relegated to the category of insignificant, pathetic people you can’t help but pity. It’s kind of hard to feel trampled on by someone while simultaneously thinking about how pathetic they are.

Carry those thoughts with you to ward off the sadness and despair. Eventually, you actually will feel sorry for him. And eventually, you’ll be glad he showed you who he really was, because it means you didn’t have to end up with him.

ReginaRey (Real Name: Rachel East) is a full-time Events & Promotions Coordinator and a part-time freelance writer focusing on dating and relationships. One day, after tackling grad school, she plans to be your Marriage and Family Therapist…because the only thing better than talking about relationships all day is getting paid to talk about relationships all day. You can check out her weekly column here and follow her on Twitter @MissRachelEast.