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A breakup I had almost a year ago is still defining my life. How can I snap out of it?
By Cait Robinson
Have a question? Email firstname.lastname@example.org. Letters may be edited for length, content, and clarity.
Dear Miss Info,
I'm a university student haunted by my first real love. We technically broke up at the end of 2010. Our breakup wasn't horrendous, nor was there any foul play involved. She and I now live on opposite coasts, and we decided each needed to live our lives in our respective cities.
She was my first for many things and someone to whom I trusted my whole soul and heart during our relationship. We were, as we put it, kindred spirits. It took me easily six months to reach anything I might begin to refer to as "stable." I listened to a lot of Bon Iver through a few particularly dark nights.
For many reasons, my emotions still aren't stable. I have had a constant stream of dreams involving this girl over the last ten months, meaning at least a few times a week. Many are sexual in nature, but the most prominent ones are the ones where she's unresponsive to me, or worse, we're holding each others' faces, sobbing. Despite these dreams, I've been in relationships with a couple of other partners. Nonetheless, the connection with both girls fizzled out after a few weeks, and the dreams ramped up again. In both cases, the breakups made me feel like I was somehow broken and unworthy of human affection.
In the middle of the summer, I went to a therapist to seek help, but he couldn't diagnose anything wrong with me. I agree with that. Still, I don't know what to do. I love the outdoors and I frequent quiet woods often; I maintain a steady yoga practice; I write for self-therapy; I excel in school; and I have a life on the West Coast to live. In terms of this relationship that I'm still stuck on, I've come to a rational understanding. I know that we can't be together and that I should try to grow beyond our relationship.
But despite all this, I still can't shake her. I feel as though she's corroding away the deepest valves of my heart. I fear of my heart growing cold with no more capacity to love. So here are my questions: when does understanding turn into healing? Is it just a matter of time, or of finding the right person to flip my world around again? And will I know when I actually do let go?
— Eerily Tormented
Dear Eerily Tormented,
On paper, you're doing all the right things to get over heartbreak. But your language — not to mention your moniker — paints you as kind of a tortured romantic. Let's start there. There can be a sick pleasure in feeling pain this acute; negative pleasure is, in fact, a very real pleasure. Down in "the deepest valves of your heart," is it possible you're perversely enjoying this pain? Give some honest thought to what your wallowing may be feeding in you. What might you be gaining from the suffering? Why is it so hard to let go?
This isn't a sign of weakness — we all have wounds that we pick at because we sort of like the pain. It's a very human thing. But the real maturity comes in learning how to let go.
Incidentally, I recommend you give therapy another shot, preferably with someone less diagnosis-focused. Good therapy should be about learning to read your own internal compass. If your therapist dismissed you because "nothing was wrong," he may not have been much of a compass-sharpener anyway. And definitely don't look for salvation in other partners. No girl will be able to shoulder the burden of healing you, and when you're consciously or unconsciously comparing any partner to the last one, no girl can possibly hold up. Flip your own world around first, then let in other people.
Your task now, ET, is to shift your self-image from "woodsy poet" to "interconnected, present dude." Angst may give things a sepia-toned importance, but it's draining. You get to decide your own mental climate; start by reconnecting with others and pulling yourself out of your head. The healing will sneak up on you. You'll know you're better when you're living in the present, not picking at an emotional scab.
To this end, we've got to get you away from the Bon Iver. Readers, any suggestions for ET's new playlist?