17th Jan 2018
Image’s Agony Aunt Rhona McAuliffe might not be a trained therapist but she does have very big ears, quite a long nose and a gaping heart. If you have a problem that won’t just go away, she’d love to hear it.
I’m still in love with my ex. We have a child together so I have to see him all the time. He’s a great Dad and never lets our son down. We were together for seven years and I know that he has no interest in getting back with me (we split up two and a half years ago and he’s engaged to the girlfriend he’s been with ever since) but I can’t seem to move on. In my mind, he was ‘the one’ and I don’t think there’s anyone else out there for me, not that I’ve any interest in meeting someone new. I think about my ex before I go to sleep every night and always end up in some kind of family reunion fantasy during the day. Writing it down makes me sound more pathetic than I am – I haven’t told anyone how I feel – but enough is enough, I need to get a grip on myself. New year, new me etc. It’s just not that easy to turn my feelings off. To top it off, his fiancée seems like a great girl and my son loves going to stay with them. I don’t want to break them up either so I really don’t know where I’m at. Stuck in a rut, Dublin.
Oh, Stuck in a Rut, right now I don’t know whether to hug you or blast you with the full pelt of a fireman’s hose to wake you out of this nightmare! Your mail reads like a twisted episode of Black Mirror, where the heartbroken girl is programmed to relive the same day in perpetuity so that she never has to face her own reality but is simultaneously hexed to torture herself with impossible fantasies. And yes, getting back with your ex is an impossible fantasy. It also doesn’t sound like something you actually want? Or at least you don’t want it at the expense of your ex’s new GF, which seems to be in line with your martyr-ish levels of selflessness.
Since your breakup, two and a bit years ago, I wonder if it’s suited you to suspend yourself in this limbo? I suspect you’ve prioritised the emotional wellbeing of your son – and possibly your ex – over your own mental health and bounce-back? Maybe you’ve coped by not expecting anything of anyone, even yourself, content with the scraps of good will that come your way? It seems that you’ve consistently put yourself last and found comfort and escapism in unrealistic ideals. So the fact that you’ve reached your super-gal limit, that you’re now ready to move forward, is a serious milestone. All the better that it marks the start of a fresh, new year.
In truth, there’s no time limit on conquering heartbreak or ‘getting over’ a long-term love. The general advice is to sever all contact with that person until your life has evolved to a point where you can imagine hooking up for a coffee and it is not weird, or loaded with expectation. This could be anything from one month to two years to never, depending on the relationship intensity and fall-out. Unfortunately, going your separate ways was never an option for you and your ex. You share a son and have had to stay in regular contact which muddies recovery from the off.
The first thing I would suggest is establishing a more ‘professional’ relationship with your husband, at least until you disentangle from him emotionally. Distance yourself a little, draw a line under the past and communicate cordially in relation to your son. Be less available to him in an effort to tune out of his world. Write a list cataloguing the reasons why your marriage failed. Return to this list when you feel vulnerable or nostalgic. To have a proper friendship in the future you will eventually need to forgive him for the part he played in the dissolution of your marriage but right at this moment, you just need to remember why you’re not with him.
Try focusing on yourself, distracting yourself with short and long-term ‘goals.’ I know, the G-word makes me cringe and seems to debase everything but it works. Learn a new language, finish your book, go to that yoga retreat, run a half-marathon. Whatever it is, commit yourself to new beginnings and switch up your day-to-day routine. Plan adventures, exciting things that you can do while your son is with his Dad. The fact that your ex is devoted to your son is fantastic and means you are assured time off from parenting, with no responsibilities. Embrace it. I’m also not suggesting a ‘reinvention’ here, a Miley Cyrus-level transformation from Hannah Montana to the tongue-waggling, naked person on the wrecking ball. Be chill with it, just get back to you.
Meanwhile, try to vanquish the notion of The One and especially the concept that you have loved and lost your soul mate. With approximately two billion adult males on the globe right now, it’s crazy to think that you have to hang up your boots. Dan Savage, the brilliant American sex columnist, journalist and author, has a long-standing theory that most of the potential partners we meet hover somewhere around the 0.74 mark, and that over time we round them up to 1, or more specifically, The One. The round-up might involve a combination of endurance, biological clocks and familiarity or it might be prompted by a character quality never valued prior to meeting that particular 0.74. So, love is always a compromise, I guess is what he’s saying.
If you still can’t shake your ex, take inspiration from US rapper and essayist, Dessa. After a particularly hard break-up, and as part of an experiment to see if she could obliterate the feelings she still had for her ex, she worked with a team of neuroscientists in New York who were investigating reciprocal and non-reciprocal love. After six months and multiple MRI scans to map ‘love’ in her brain, the team of researchers ultimately succeeded in taming Dessa’s emotional response to her ex. ‘If you love someone and he loves you back, you fan those flames.’ She says. ‘If he doesn’t, you hire a team of neuroscientists to put them out.’ Or I can pop around with my fireman’s hose?
Write to Rhona at [email protected]
Photo credit: Tyler McRobert, Unsplash
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