Miss Information 

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 missinfo@nerve.com. 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?

Commentarium (34 Comments)

Oct 22 11 - 12:25am

ET's letter made me realize that the person I consider my Big Ex -- the one I still think of when I think about how love feels -- last kissed me three years ago. Not what you want to hear, I know, but I think that kind of overwhelming love just doesn't come around all the time, certainly not once a year. I haven't stopped being able to enjoy current relationships, or other things going on in my life, but no, I haven't met anyone who has eclipsed him for me. I don't think that's a bad thing. After all, if it was so easy to fall deeply in love with whoever whenever you needed to, it wouldn't mean very much at all.

Oct 22 11 - 6:49am

I realized recently I tend to really overromanticize 2 of my ''big exes'', when objectively, they weren't that great at all. Not seeing them for a while really makes me forget their bad qualities, which there were plenty of. For myself, the key has been to ask how I would feel if I lost the person I was with - and if I feel like the thought hurts, I know I'm in a 'major' relationship. I don't, on the other hand, expect butterflies and hormones to be quite as strong as when I was younger.

Oct 22 11 - 8:32am

This couldn't have been better said! I feel that most people do this, myself being totally guilty of it as well.

Oct 22 11 - 12:42pm

I'm with dinocopter on this one. I've over-romanticized my ex that I'm still a little hung up on 6 months later. There were more problems than I wanted to admit, and I was blind to a lot of them.

The problem is that I can't fabricate how happy I was. I can't pretend like I wasn't at a high point in my life. Everyone could tell, from my parents to my friends. I was totally and completely committed. The relationship only really lasted 10 months or something like that... it seems so STUPID to still think about it. But ET's line here:

"I listened to a lot of Bon Iver through a few particularly dark nights. "

Was both hilarious and true. The EP Blood Bank is great, by the way.

Anyway, I know that time really does heal everything. And I've taken some steps that stopped my nightmares (though I had one last night... awesome), I've slept around a lot, proved that I can still have a girl be into me. Now it's just a question of finding the right one. I really don't want to wait 3 years because I loved being truly in love so much. But we'll see I guess.

Oct 22 11 - 12:51am

Listen to The Wedding Present! The "Seamonsters" album!

I used to listen to American Music Club when I would blame myself. Now I listen to The Wedding Present and blame her.

Oct 22 11 - 12:58pm

I really love "Dare" off of that album.

Oct 22 11 - 1:55am

I was hung up on THE BIG ONE for a really long time. Spanning through two serious and major relationships,t here would be occasional backslides. I still think of that person now but it's with more of a.. how do you say.. annoyance. When I truly thought of situations objectively, let's face it, not THAT amazing but I had really dressed it up in my head. After I started letting critical thinking interrupt my sad music and pining sessions, my brain started loosening it's grip. It took a few years but I did get there!

Oct 22 11 - 2:33am

hey, i hate that you're feeling this way but i've certainly been there before. my advice: find something amazing to live for. it sounds like maybe you were kind of living for this girl you used to be with, which would of course make breaking up hard... harder than it is on it's own. what i learned during my most recent breakup was that in life, you can't just live for one person. you need to have passion for life in and of itself. find an activity that's cathartic, and one that excites you. for some it's art. others it's a competitive sport. for me -- it's travelling. it's fulfils me. take on a new experience or conquer a fear. it sounds like cliche bullshit, but i really mean it. i suggest you start setting goals for yourself (big or small), and see if that helps.

Oct 22 11 - 2:34am

Put on some Motorhead and fucking grow a pair.

Oct 22 11 - 5:33am

"His repression is between him and his god"...oh religion...ruins (sex) lives all the time.

Oct 22 11 - 9:13am

OP#1, say this out loud: "No one is irreplaceable." Does the idea shock you? It shocked me. Say it again: "No one is irreplaceable." Say it again: "NO ONE is irreplaceable."
Getting over someone is made difficult when you put them on a pedestal. Take them off that pedestal. Open your eyes and realise that, yes, while it was a great and fulfilling relationship while it lasted, (1) it's OVER and you have to move past it (2) it was by no means a miracle. You WILL move on and you WILL have more amazing and fulfilling experiences and relationships.
You're young, my friend! Begin living this life you have.

Oct 22 11 - 11:16am
Seattle Blonde

Brilliant advice, MS. Trust in the process of change; it's incredibly freeing to realize that no one person is irreplaceable. To acknowledge that will open possibilities for love and connection that you wouldn't have thought possible.

I had an ex-like-that, the one that still is in your thoughts as being so amazing and unique....But lots of those thoughts are aftereffects of the experience, and represent my own responses to a situation, as opposed to what he actually was or was like. People can be like drugs: when they make us feel good, they're hard to quit. But that good feeling comes from craving. Once I realized that he was replaceable (not that he wasn't his own unique person, but simply that I could experience life in amazing ways without him), I was able to discover a stability in myself that I wasn't aware of before. It was, however, a conscious decision to approach the world that way: it didn't just happen.

Keep working at it. MS is right; you are young. It does get even more amazing as you get older.

Oct 22 11 - 9:48am

You should really just end it all. And take out as many people as you can with you. atleast you will get on the news.

Oct 22 11 - 10:27am
Albums with impetus

Talking Heads - Remain in Light. Listen to this at least 8 times and youll be hooked into the groove of the positive, afro-beat inspired, poly-rhythmic fun fest.

Im in a similar position, I think, but I find people to be the answer. Every time I have people around me it takes my mind off things but then when youre isolated again you feel it. Each time the feeling seems to lessen though. Just distract yourself. Move on. Either that, or get back together with her, stop lingering in the middle ground. It HAS been a year

Oct 23 11 - 5:30pm


Oct 22 11 - 10:39am

Gahd, it's so simple. Just go have casual sex with about 6 DIFFERENT people...nice, casual sex, not stupid casual sex...realize that different people can offer all sorts of amazing experiences...eventually, one will evolve from casual to serious...

Then, you'll look back and be embarrassed by your whining/pining for "the one." But, I guarantee'ya, after sleeping with two other people, you'll start feeling a whole lot better.

Oct 22 11 - 12:45pm

Haha. See, in my experience, Casual Sex just can't compare to "real" sex. It took 5 more partners before I found someone who could fuck as well as my ex, which was actually pretty terrifying (even though a couple could have been great lays if we'd had more time to step through their body/trust issues... but I digress).

Oct 22 11 - 3:08pm

I actually really understand your feelings. My advice, though, is different from Miss Information's.. I think she has a lot of good points about how we can wallow in our pain without meaning too, I DO think a lot will change once you find someone else. I went through a bad breakup and spent years trying to make sense of it on my blog (http://msmorphosis.com) but it wasn't until I met someone new that I realized why it never had worked with him, and I was finally able to feel really excited about someone else.

Obviously, there was a lot of healing that took place between the hard breakup and my boyfriend now, and I am glad I met my boyfriend after that two years and not during it, but it did take finding him - and feeling that love and excitement again - to really shake some of that lingering pain.

Good luck :)

Oct 22 11 - 3:43pm

LW#1: First, give yourself some credit. Don't let people tell you that a little sex or whatever will make you forget, or that you'll soon think your feelings have been silly, or that you are whining and being a general sentimental weakling. Love is a big deal, and dismissing it doesn't make it go away -- it fucks you up in the long term. You're experiencing grief, which is a very important human emotion. So don't beat yourself up over your feelings. They're real and legitimate. What you will learn over time is how to assimilate this experience in a positive, forward-looking way. It sounds like the experience was worthwhile. You learned; you opened up. It's part of you. When you do meet someone whom you love and who loves you again, that person will love a you that has been formed by that experience. So be thankful. Second, yeah, find a better therapist. You need someone who validates your feelings and listens to you, and who then shows you how to get out of your mental ruts. That is what you (or your school or insurer) pay them for.
LW#2: Spot-on advice, Miss Info. You usually see this letter with the genders switched, but the answer is the same. Get trust slowly, don't pressure, and eventually they'll open up. The whole, "But baby, I want you to come/enjoy it/whatever" is selfish and puts pressure on the non-orgasmer.

Oct 22 11 - 4:02pm

To go completely against the grain here: is there any way you and your ex would want to try again, long distance? I think most of the advice on how to get over her has been excellent. But, well, here's where I'm coming from: I also had a great first love, and broke up with him because we were going to be on opposite coasts and I wanted to live my life where I was. I had other serious relationships, plenty of casual sex with decent people, and even some therapy (also "nothing wrong with" me), but SIX YEARS LATER was still hung up on him! Nothing compared. I didn't get closure until I made a total fool of myself and basically asked for him back, breaking the heart of my sweet at-the-time boyfriend in the process. I'm convinced this all would've been resolved much more quickly had we just tried out being together long-distance: either it would've been great, and I would've had my soulmate (yay!), or, more likely, it would've crashed and burned and I wouldn't have had to spend six years of my life idealizing someone who wasn't right for me... Just a thought.

Oct 22 11 - 4:43pm

I agree. I think people have a tendency to take the marketplace analogy for relationships a little too far. They forget that the feelings we share with other people aren't a convenience or a source of entertainment, but rather one of the more important reasons we're here in the first place. But we don't know the ex's point of view in this case. Maybe she initiated the breakup. I think if the LW is on his own here, the best things to do are (1) acknowledge the importance and validity of his feelings and (2) find a therapist who will help him recognize when he is letting the same thing go through his head over and over again and stop.

Oct 23 11 - 2:15pm

I love your way of putting it! And I agree with your opinion of what he should do if he DOES need to get over her.

My stepsister and her husband were actually each other's firsts. They broke up when the went off to college, and then met up again 10 years later, fell back in love, and have now been happily married for more than a decade with a couple of kids. My stepsister said she was always internally comparing her other boyfriends to her now-husband, and none measured up.

Oct 22 11 - 6:14pm

I think, no matter what, your first love remains with you. Comparatively it hasn't even been a year since I broke up with mine, but I still do think of him.

Only, as opposed to warm fuzzy memories like others, it's completely bitter. I hate him. Even though I'm morbidly curious about his deadbeat life I still hate him. He was such a liar, jerk, arrogant bastard. I was so dumb to waste so much time on him. But because I did I can't help sometimes having his ghost replace the person I am with not in some situations. It's just a matter of time, but I don't think I'll stop being angry about how he treated me.

Oct 22 11 - 6:21pm
Dave Van Ronk

listen to Dave Van Ronk, he has depth and a rough tinged edge accompanied by moments of beauty, or Roky Erickson, a man who was once broken but came back from the blue, neither of them wallow in sadness, music is the key. And from my personal experience the difference between wallowing in ones sadness and moving on is all in the attitude, when you have the feeling and attitude that 'no im going to get through this, and im gonna feel good again, and ive made mistakes but im no longer going to punish myself for them', well thats when you've past the equilibrium of choosing to no longer enjoy your pain and move forward to someplace better.

Oct 22 11 - 7:39pm

Well, first off, the reason why you're hung-up on your ex is because you haven't received any closure.

You broke up with her because of distance, NOT because of what either of you wanted. Having dreams of holding her sobbing makes it rather obvious that you think you could have worked out if circumstances allowed it; I've had those dreams, too, back when I was in high school. I was forced to break up with a boyfriend because of an abusive stepfather.

When my stepfather finally left, he and I got back together to see if we could work. We didn't; he was lazy, had a scary temper problem, was unambitious and saw me as the only one who would fuck him, and I glamorized my time with him because I was happy when I was with him. Eventually, I'm the one who ended things with him, because I didn't love him - too much time had passed since we'd last been together, and I had changed into a different person since we'd last been together.

But you're not going to get that closure, OP.

It's possible to give it another go from across the country - my current boyfriend and I have lasted for a year, and he lives on the West Coast while I live on the East Coast. We've had our fair share of challenges (you may remember me as the chick who wrote about her boyfriend's depression), but we got through them together, and our relationship became stronger for it. However, we were both extremely committed to our relationship - almost to an unhealthy level - and we almost didn't make it. The wounds from that fiasco are as deep and bloody as they are old.

It's been a year. You don't love her - you love the image of her. If you got together again now, the relationship would fail, not because you weren't "meant to be," but because you were in the wrong place at the wrong time, and you would ultimately get no closure from such an experience. You are obviously not committed to her enough for the challenges a long-distance relationship would bring; when you're in that kind of long-distance relationship, you sometimes have to cut off a toe to keep the leg attached, as it were, and it's not easy to do that when you're starting a new chapter in your life.

Realize that this saved you a lot of pain and move on. There will be other girls like her.

Oct 23 11 - 11:53pm

Interestingly, no one has said anything about LW2. Probably because the advice was pretty good. With one qualification.
She should let him know the decisions she's come to, regarding not pushing him, and letting him get past this on his own. This is not to guilt him. But this is putting the responsibility where it lies. Regardless of what causes his repression, it certainly isn't her fault, and she shouldn't be made to feel dirty or less than because of her sexual desires (unless it involves squirrels and Doc Martins, but that's another letter). It is also perfectly fair to tell the guy you are willing to help in any way you can, but you are not going to wait indefinitely for him to come around. If he feels pressured by this, then I guess he has a decision to make. But none of this is her responsibility or her doing.

Oct 24 11 - 10:20am
Achey Breaky Heart

"...I've been in relationships with a couple of other partners. Nonetheless, the connection with both girls fizzled out after a few weeks..."

Um, a few weeks is not a relationship.

Oct 24 11 - 11:03am
Not for a Therapist

Therapist are supposed to be diagnosis-focused, because that is all they can be reliably trained to treat. Assuming the therapist made a correct "no diagnosis", they were clearly and honestly communicating with this "patient" that they would provide no more expertise to help him than a friend could. What an honest and open approach to therapy. For goodness sakes, do NOT send this poor guy to therapy when we know they have no specific expertise to treat something without a diagnosis! He will do just as well to find a friend to confide in...in fact http://rentafriend.com/ if he's worried about dumping too much on some one.

Oct 24 11 - 11:47am

The biggest reason why LW#1 should stop listening to Bon Iver is because they are a really crappy band.

Oct 24 11 - 3:39pm

Letter-writer #1, as somebody who was on the other end of that epic first-love relationship for somebody, you gotta let that shit GO. Have you asked her how she feels, how she's been, whatever, and actually listened? It might hurt, but if you look at her as an actual human being instead of a heartbreaker and the love of your life and the subject of all those Bon Iver songs you'll realize that maybe she doesn't have that much power over you.

Also, you might want to apologize for being a douche to her, if you were.

Oct 28 11 - 10:32am

I used to have a neurotic room-mate who would get really hung up on guys, she'd scare the shit out of them with her intensity and they'd run away from her...I used to advise her that the best way to get over a guy was to think about him on the can. She said it didn't work, but I don't think she was trying.

Oct 28 11 - 10:54am

I'm currently in this process of getting over a fairly recent (last 6 months) 'big' ex - we never had a serious relationship but he delights in reeling me back in when he can to make himself feel better. Let it go, move past it and understand you are special for you, not for the person you think your ex made you (the person you are right now, the tortured romantic - that is not a real person. Please stop it and get back to being yourself, yourself is pretty awesome).

It may be easier for you than it is for me because I still have to see my ex a lot, he and his current girlfriend are part of my close friendship group - but I still fully intend to get on with my life and move past the time when this guy and my fantasies about what could be can control me.

Nov 01 11 - 12:12am
Creole Kitty is...

When you fall in love with someone, you give them a razor and a map. You put your shit on the line and hope for the best. Been in your situation, and it just takes time. I do know that person who dumped you is wondering about their decision they made, but you have to be prepared to make the decision to move on and meet other women. You will realize that this was just a pump in the road. You have to hit a few detours or get lost, but you find your way back to main highway. But if I were you right now, I would leave your ex on the side of the road. A better woman will come along who appreciates you. Let Bon Iver go. I like the dude, but his music reminds me of the Shining without the killing.