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Dear Miss Information,
I recently got dumped by my girlfriend, a couple of weeks before we were supposed to move in together in a brand new city. Now, I understand that these things happen, and that sometimes things just don't work out. I am attempting to make my peace with that, but there are still several barriers between me and a clean bill of emotional health. First off, her rationale for breaking up with me (via letter, I might add) was that she just doesn't love me anymore. That's pretty hurtful, right? The kicker is that she offered to pay her side of the rent without living with me, which is a real shot to any perceived self-worth I may have had. I've never had high self-esteem, and I have been pretty self-destructive and depressed in the past. Even though I've been working on getting better (going to therapy, exercising, writing), I feel like this will send me back into an awful cycle.
Also, since she's not coming to live with me, I'm going to be all alone. I don't know anyone in the city, and I don't feel strong enough to go through the superficial process of meeting people and hanging out before I really get to know them. I feel like I need to be around loved ones who understand my patterns and can help me to pull out before they start consuming me again. So I guess what I am asking is how I can be my own best friend while dealing with low self-esteem, or failing that, how I can facilitate friendships that will help me to break my patterns? I know it's a big ask, but I figured it would be worth a shot.
— Slowly Approaching Disaster
Moving to a new city is actually a gift — a really great chance to start over. Get to work and enjoy your blank slate! Might I suggest joining a book club?
Okay, gross, I’m kidding. Can you imagine? I’ve been given a lot of hilariously dumb advice this week, so I figured I’d pay it forward. (Spoiler: Haley Joel dies at the end.)
In all seriousness, this sucks — but it’s not without its silver lining. For starters, your letter demonstrates a lot of self-knowledge and strength, which makes me think you’ll do just fine. Oops, I guess I tipped my hand there — you can probably stop reading. Ugh! I need to lay off the spoilers.
As for seeking relationships that can help you pull out of bad patterns: don’t try. You’re not moving to rural Poland, are you? As long as you’re on the grid, you have access to the people who already know and love you: use the phone, Skype, email, or friggin' FarmVille as much as you need to feel connected and supported by those at home. Then re-frame your friend search in your new city: you’re not looking for people to support or help you (two big friend-turn-offs, I might add) — you’re looking for companionship and the occasional bowling partner. Strong, supportive relationships will grow over time, but you can’t come at a potential new friend with a series of homework assignments from your therapist and a suggestion that you work on “trust falls.” While you’re in transition, lean on the support you already have, and look for fun, entertaining relationships on the ground.
A great way to meet people with whom you will likely get along is to volunteer in something you feel passionate about: volunteers are already a self-selecting population in that they’re devoting themselves to some common good, so you’re likely to meet substantive people that way. Ditto an art class, a free lecture, or a bird-watching meet-up. The more specialized the activity, the more likely you are to meet like-minded people. I can almost guarantee you’ll meet more interesting characters at a talk on spiders’ defense mechanisms than at a screening of The Avengers. It’s hard when you’re starting from square one, but remember: almost nobody has “too many” friends. Almost everybody feels awkward standing around the refreshments table, and almost everybody would love to talk to a cool stranger for ten minutes. Don’t make yourself feel like an outsider or loser because you don’t know anybody yet. Also, know that not everybody is “friend material:” a large percentage of these interactions may fizzle, and that’s fine. That’s just part of sorting the friend-wheat from the friend-chaff. Set yourself up as best you can in your new city with the things you can control: a local therapist, a stress-free home, and a reliable internet connection. Embrace the fact that feeling grounded will take you awhile, then try your best to enjoy the process. Who knows; it might end up being a nice “blank slate” after all.
Dear Miss Information,
As a gay man, I've had a hard time finding individuals serious about committing to a long-term relationship. I did, however, meet someone a while back a couple years younger than I, and we really hit it off.
Things were going well and we were seeing each other almost every day. We would go see movies together, go to dinner, be physical and intimate. He was the one to make us an official couple and it felt right. Every time we were together it was as if nothing else mattered.
Things quickly changed, however. In the span of about a week, we went on a few dates, then fell into periods of silence. We’d talk and he’d tell me he loved me, and then two days later our texts would be terse. Eventually, out of the blue, he broke up with me.
I'm not really sure what happened: just a week earlier things were drastically different. In the break-up, he told me he didn't feel as strongly for me as I felt for him. He mentioned he had been thinking about it for a few days. But his loving comments the previous day, and the fact that he was close to bawling his eyes out while telling me this made me think otherwise. I was pretty upset; and, caught off guard, I wasn't able to ask the appropriate questions I should have to get closure. He dropped me off at my house. This was a few days ago.
I'm having a hard time understanding what really happened and what went wrong. Many friends have told me that they think he's done something and feels guilty for it so instead of facing it and telling me, his only option was to leave. I'm not sure what to do. I'm having a hard time getting over it, and still don't feel there was really any closure.
— What Went Wrong?
Dear What Went Wrong?,
This letter as I’m running it is about ½ its original length. The original’s wordiness is important, which is why I bring this up. A good relationship requires no footnotes, asterisks, or qualifiers. For instance: “My boyfriend, Stan” versus “Stan, the guy I’m kind of seeing.” The first includes one descriptor; the second includes six. The more stable a relationship becomes, the fewer words it should require.
Of course, you’re mourning: I get that you wanted to leave no stone unturned. But the very existence of this windy tome means that the relationship is DOA. If a relationship is strong, it won’t require two paragraphs detailing its nuances. Why he broke it off is irrelevant — as are the tears in his eyes, what he was wearing, and how many birds were in the trees. He told you the relationship can’t work. Trust him. You can’t Rubik’s Cube a dysfunctional relationship into a functional one.
However, it’s worth pointing out that I’m running the question — giant edits and all — because this is something most of us can relate to, especially in a still-young relationship. This happens all the time in dating, and it sucks. One day it’s great and the next day it’s over, and of course, most of us blame ourselves. Did I wear my cool leather jacket too much? Not enough? Was I too open about my POGS collection?, etc. This is nothing you did, nor is it anything he did; it just didn’t work. Energy spent constructing maps and charts and conspiracy theories is just wasted.
Also, what is with your implication that, because you’re gay, the odds are stacked against you? Liking boys is no excuse for having to arm-wrestle an unwilling partner into loving you. There are plenty of gay fish in the sea. Cut this one loose, and find one who gives you the stability you need (in one paragraph or less.)