Staten Island, NY
I’m so sorry you’re going through this devastating breakup. I can hear how painful this is for you, and you should know that you’re not alone. Most people experience exactly what you’re feeling after a breakup: loss, pain, confusion, a yearning for understanding, and hope for reconciliation. Many think that the only way to feel better is to focus on the breakup—to understand it better in order to “get closure” (or, alternatively, get back together)—but that’s not the best way to help yourself through this.
Instead, it’s important to understand the difference between pain, which is healthy to feel in response to a breakup, and suffering, which many people unwittingly bring to their situation. You have to feel pain—because you’ve experienced a true loss—but you don’t have to suffer so much.
One of the most common ways that people tend to suffer after a breakup is by not accepting the explanation provided to them. The person gives you a reason, but it’s one that you don’t want to hear, so you challenge it. Your ex-girlfriend told you what she knew—that despite all the positive things about your relationship, she wants something else. It really doesn’t matter how specific or abstract or easy to articulate the thing that she wants is, because I guarantee that nothing she could say will satisfy you.
She could say, “I want a relationship where the chemistry is stronger,” and you’d protest, “But we have amazing chemistry!” Or she might say, “I want to feel what my sister feels when she looks at her husband,” and you’d say, “What are you talking about? She looks at him with love, and you said that you love me!” If she said, “I want the quiet rapport they have,” you’d shake your head and say, “But we have that! Just the other day …” You see, no matter how clear she is that she wants something different, you keep telling yourself a story (She said that she loves me), hoping for a different outcome.
No explanation will take away your pain, but an unwillingness to accept the explanation you’ve been given will prolong your suffering. You’ll spend days, weeks, and months going over the breakup in your head ad nauseam, in an infinite loop of confusion, trying to parse what about her sister’s relationship she felt was missing in yours. Instead, to move forward you need to acknowledge a difficult truth: Someone can love many things about you, and still not want to spend her life with you. You can be attractive and interesting and kind and lovable—in short, a great catch—and still not be the right partner for your ex.
Once you let yourself sit with that truth, you can stop the mental spinning, the guessing, the obsession that’s keeping you stuck in a place from which you can’t move forward. When a breakup happens, we tend to be so focused on the present pain—the loss of the daily rituals, the cooking dinner together, the Netflix watching, the brushing of teeth side by side, the chatter in bed—that we fail to grieve for the future. When the present falls apart, so does the future we had associated with it, but we tend to fixate on the present: Why won’t she meet with me? Does she miss me? What’s she doing right now? Is she thinking about me? Of course, you need to mourn the present loss, but there’s a difference between feeling and dwelling. This only delays the work you really need to do, which is mourn the loss of this particular future so that you can start building a new one. Each one of us is creating our future now, in the present, and if you remain paralyzed in the present without adjusting to a new future, you’ll be neglecting the task of making this new future a reality.