Miss Information

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I survived an emotional collapse, only to have my boyfriend call me fat. Was I right to break up with him?

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Dear Miss Information,

I'm currently working through what I just described to a friend as "one of the greatest disappointments of my adult life." My boyfriend and I got together a few months before I was supposed to move away for a year of postgraduate study. We tried to avoid getting into a long-distance thing, but we couldn't help how hard we fell for each other.

To cut a long story short, the stress of my year of study triggered some underlying mental-health issues in me. I had a breakdown and was medicated to finish my course, which I eventually did with good grades. Our relationship during that time wasn't smooth sailing, but when I returned home, the real problems started. 

I'd been home a week when he started to berate me about not having a job, and how I'd put on weight during my breakdown. I never asked him for financial support, and the weight I put on was relatively minor. (My clothes are tight, but I'm not exactly constrained to muumuus.) We argued for a few weeks and couldn't see eye to eye. I said we should call it a day — I felt like he was hampering any chance I had of recovering. He agreed. We met to exchange possessions; he told me, with teary eyes, that he knew it was the right thing to do but it was so damn hard. He was desperate to remain close friends. I thought we should cut off contact for a few months at least, maybe longer. I presented an optimistic front and told him that I needed to concentrate on myself.

My family and friends have been magnificent in helping me through. But I'm so torn. I feel like we could have solved our problems if he'd just been nice. We had such a great relationship. I hear about other people dealing with violence and infidelity; we had none of that. But I can't get over his being so callous. I veer between a hope that maybe I just didn't understand his point and that there's a chance for us, and a feeling that I want to throw boiling water over him. 

Maybe I'm just asking whether I misjudged things. Did I misinterpret an attempt at tough love as coldness? Is there hope for us at all, or did I do the right thing in letting him go? How can I get over my feelings of rage? The elation I felt at passing my course has dissipated, and now I just feel like a fat slug. 

— Way-Post-Freshman 15

Dear Way-Post-Freshman 15,

Let's say you spent the weekend babysitting a two-year-old, whom we'll call Todd. Let's say you went to the aquarium and the park and Chuck E. Goddamn Cheese, and you really pulled out all the stops, and Todd had a great time. Then, at dinner, Todd throws a massive fit because he hates macaroni and cheese. Todd's fit, obviously, isn't about the macaroni and cheese at all, but rather a bigger problem that he doesn't have the capacity to articulate — he's tired, he misses his parents, whatever.

Little kids do this all the time: freak out over a little thing totally unrelated to a big thing. More importantly, a lot of adults do it too. I suspect your minor weight gain/unemployment was the mac and cheese in your relationship. It was easier for your ex to blame that than for him to do the necessary soul-searching to decide why he ultimately isn't feeling the relationship anymore.

Obviously, this doesn't excuse his behavior. Nor is it ever acceptable to be mean, especially when something as intimate as body image is concerned. My point is that these things didn't kill the relationship. More likely, your ex checked out of the relationship for his own reasons, and found it easier to blame externals than to turn introspective.

But no, you're not misinterpreting: "tough love" is still love, and "berating" is not a loving action. It sounds like you made some hard decisions based on your own health and stability, which earns you gold stars for miles. But, of course, "responsible" decisions also carry a degree of sucking. Just know that you're doing the right thing by focusing on yourself and regaining stability. Don't keep anyone around you who you think is "hampering your chance of recovery."

Dear Miss Information,

About six months ago I went through the worst breakup ever. I'm twenty-six and I had been with my boyfriend for seven years. I recently tried to start dating again (after a few months of sobbing and a hell of a lot of counseling). I felt like I was finally ready to at least meet some new people and have fun.

I've since learned that dating is not fun. I've never really "dated" guys before, so I feel like I was naïve about the whole thing. I liked one guy, and after the few times we went out (which were great), we were speaking almost every day. Then he stopped speaking to me all of a sudden — and I don't think I came on too strong, since he initiated a lot of the messages/texts/calls. Other guys have huge laundry lists of "must-haves." Online, they ask for photos and then never speak to me again. I get hit on in bars, but I've never had good experiences with that either.

The impression I'm getting is that men only want to date for casual sex or are totally shallow. I'm ready to give up on dating already, and I've barely started. I can't figure out if I'm just not ready or if this is how it is for most people who are new to dating. I'm not sure what perspective to take, or what a healthy attitude towards dating looks like.

— Once Bitten Twice Shy

Dear Once Bitten Twice Shy,

When it comes to dating, much time, energy, and ink is spent on "playing the game" — "Don't come on too strong! Be coy! Play hard-to-get! Tickle his penis with a feather!" All of this advice is noise that distracts from the actual issue at hand. In the wake of any given relationship, down to a ten-minute coffee date, ask yourself: "Did I behave in a way I believe is true to myself?" and "Am I proud of my actions?"

If you answer "yes" to these questions, then, regardless of the outcome, you win. You were authentically you, you did the best you could, and your dignity is intact. (If you answered "no," then examine what went wrong. Were you trying too hard to impress? Were you downplaying your actual opinions? Did you go wild-eyed and threaten to kill his dog? Address those pitfalls and make sure you don't carry them to the next relationship.)

"Failures" are more often circumstance (i.e. he's not in the right place, you're not in the right place, lack of chemistry, whatever) than anyone's individual fault. If he stops calling? That sucks, but it doesn't mean you're not awesome. Maybe he's the not-awesome one. There's no point in dwelling. You're going to fall flat a million times before you find the right person; it's to be expected. (Incidentally, look forward to running into him in the grocery store in six months when you look like shit. That's when it always happens.)

Rather than writing off all men, getting hardened, or turning cynical, chalk up each of these interactions to "learning experiences." If you trust yourself, each interaction will bring you closer to being more authentic, treating others well, and experiencing disappointment without internalizing it. It all adds up to developing the courage to connect with another human without being constrained by fear of failure. It's a tall order for all of us, best summarized by this classic piece of rhyming verse. You're welcome/I'm sorry.