Today, we have a question from a reader who finds herself having been passed over for another woman – an event that has happened to her before and that, thus, has left her feeling devastated.

She writes:

I just turned 50. A year ago I decided to explore online dating after 10 years devoted to being a single mom. Still in the midst of coping with a painful rejection from a man I met there with whom I had a lot in common, but who decided there was ‘no chemistry’ after we explored a friendship (and was sexually impotent with me), I messaged another man who appeared to have similar values and interests. He responded very strongly that he was captivated by my profile and picture, and that he was soon moving to my city for a new job.

We chatted and emailed for 2 weeks. He was up front telling me that he was just out of a long term relationship and had some dates that went very well with another woman who lived here on a previous trip, but he wanted to meet me, too. ( I have always been skeptical of too much interest right away from men who don’t even know me yet, but he was incredibly romantic and charming and we just clicked even before we met.) We met/had our 1st date the day he moved here.

For 6 weeks he showed me everything I’ve never had in a man, and have been missing out on. Kind, attentive, respectful, passionate wonderful in bed, liked me for things I want to be liked for. I trusted him and started opening up with him in ways I have never before. Then I noticed him getting distant, and asked him if we needed to take a break, was he seeing/needed to see other people? (It was then I found out that he had been seeing the other woman he had mentioned all along, and he felt himself in a huge dilemma because he couldn’t be so close to 2 at once. He acknowledged that we were on the verge of an exclusive relationship. I felt like I was on an episode of the TV show “The Bachelor.” He chose the other woman, but indicated the he was ambivalent suggesting that we give it some time, see how we feel, he never has actually dated much (married for 14 years before his recent relationship) and needed to date. He said he felt dirty being involved with 2 women at such a level.

I was shellshocked, and incredibly sad. He was very kind and empathetic and apologized for hurting me. That only made it worse, because it showed his quality. I knew it was probably final, but hoped maybe in the future he’d come back. 3 weeks later, I impulsively initiated an online chat, he said he had been thinking of me, we talked on the phone briefly, and the next night I found flowers at my door that he had brought himself with a card that only said “I hope you’re doing well”. I emailed him a few days later that I missed him. He responded in a joking way. I then talked to him and was rather angry telling him the flowers were an ambiguous message and was there something unfinished between us or not? He said he didn’t mean to be ambiguous and “No”, but texted me a few days later wishing me well on a community event I was coordinating.

I feel like a fool, he was only being kind after he broke up with me, have been crying for 6 weeks now, am miserably depressed, think about him constantly, and check to see if he’s on the online dating site. He is. I can’t stop hoping there is still a possibility for us.

I am in despair about ever having a relationship. I am 50. I have had 2 other painful experiences in my life where men I was involved with have explicitly chosen another woman over me, and I know that is why this is so hard, in addition to the loneliness of the past 10 years. I am told I am very physically attractive, and young looking, and I get tons of online dating interest, but I can only think of him. It was only a 2 month relationship. What’s wrong with me to feel this pain so intensely? I have even started smoking again. Help.

And our response:

Hello and thanks for sharing your story. First of all, I’m very sorry to hear about this painful situation.

Here is my take on it and I don’t think it will surprise you. I think it’s something that you know but maybe just need to hear from another party to reinforce for you.

This man sounds like an honest man. He was up front about the fact that he was just out of a marriage and seeing other people in addition to you. He is in an exploration phase, unsure of even who he himself is at the moment, much less what he wants. I think that explains the sense of confusion around all of it. That confusion makes it difficult and can lead to people ending up hurt. But he was genuine enough to share this up front.

My sense is that being a caring person he really does feel badly about anyone getting hurt. But there was no simple way for that to be avoided. By being open with everyone involved (at least that’s what I’m gathering from your story) he did what he was responsible to do. Other than that it just sounds like a situation where it isn’t possible for everyone to win.

But, in the end, I feel like this is one of those situations where your best move is the same regardless of what is going on with him. Whether there is any hope of him coming back to you or not, in both cases it seems in your best interest to back off from the situation. Pressuring him would only make you seem less attractive and the other woman more attractive so it would probably diminish any hope that existed. And if he is sincere in telling you that there is actually not any chance of getting back together, then it would be a waste of energy.

If you needed to, I wouldn’t find it too much to simply prepare one last letter letting him know that you are interested and do want to be with him, but have to move on for now. After that I wouldn’t contact him anymore – certainly not in the foreseeable future until you were far past this pain.

At that point the focus becomes you and the terrible abandonment/inferiority that this is stirring up for you again. There are no magic words that I can say to fix that. But it does help to understand where those feelings come from. You mentioned having felt these feelings stirred up in earlier relationships where someone was chosen over you. Quite possibly this feeling of being passed over for someone else – of being “less than” – goes back even further.

The silver lining of these feelings is they can help us trace back to events that we have forgotten and not resolved and sometimes at least get some understanding if not resolution.

Sometimes I think these unearthings of painful feelings end up serving as nothing more than a strengthening phase. You can get through this hurt. It is almost a form of withdrawal. And if you take it day by day and work through it rather than run from it, it will pass in time leaving you even more resilient.

Some find it helpful as this withdrawal-like phase is going on to read books like those we recommend that validate those feelings and keep them aware of what is real and what is being magnified by the unresolved emotions reawakened from the past. Some find it helpful just to keep busy and distract so as to survive another day not going back to the source until they are strong enough to face the pain itself. And this can always be a good time to find a good therapist to help you through it.

I think this sets the stage for how to respond. If you (or anyone reading this) have any follow-up questions, feel free to leave them in the comments.

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Today we have a question from a reader who had an affair for a year, which recently ended. She is having an extremely painful experience trying to get over this relationship and asks:

I am currently dating a man for 12 years and last January 2012, I met this man. We talked on the phone a lot, and since he was a carpenter, he said he could do some work for me. I knew that was just a way of getting to know me.

As time went on, he took me for drives and we had many fires in my firepit all summer long. Very romantic. I didn’t intend on cheating on my boyfriend, but I did. I feel like a very bad person because I have better morals than that.

Dec. 22 of 2012, I told this man that it had to be over. I was starting to get severe anxiety over it. I had a nervous breakdown and had to go to the hospital which my real boyfriend took me to. He has no clue that I had this affair and I can never tell him about it as he would be done with me and I don’t blame him for that.

I did fall truly in love with this other man and the breakup in Dec. has caused me severe anxiety with nausea. They first put me on tranquilizer and now I am on 20 mg of prozac. It has been 5 weeks today since the breakup with this man. I guess I have only been in the relationship for a year and really didn’t get intimate till this summer which I do mean we had sex. So it has been a year since I have known him.

How long do you think that I will get over this breakup? I am still with my boyfriend of 12 years but he doesn’t understand why I have severe anxiety. I told him it was over work and he seems to believe it. This has been really unbearable. And believe me I will never be unfaithful again.

Please give me some advice.

God Bless.

And our response:

There are a few pieces of advice/information I have to offer you.

Whenever the reaction to a relationship is so overwhelming and intense, you have to wonder what it’s dredging up from the past. Usually the type of symptoms you’re having where you are nauseous and so anxious you need hospitalization and medication as a result of a breakup have to do with some underlying attachment issues. That might go back to your family or other experiences in your younger years that left a wounding.

It may be that the reason this connection was so intense for you, even when you already have a longstanding boyfriend, is that this new person triggered to the surface wounds that your boyfriend does not. So there was a strong drive to explore and heal those together. When the relationship ended, it left those surfaced wounds raw and exposed along with the realization that they would not, at least at the moment, be healed in this relationship.

The best way to understand the symptoms you’re having may be to think of it in terms of withdrawal from an addiction, as we talked about in a previous piece on this site. I’m sure you can see how a lot of the cravings and feelings and other symptoms involved are analogous.

I highly recommend these books to help you understand that addictive nature of the situation.

How to Break Your Addiction to a Person by Howard Halpern How to Break Your Addiction to a Person by Howard Halpern – This book will help you make sense of and get through the withdrawal pain you’re feeling right now shortly after the breakup.
Facing Love Addiction: Giving Yourself the Power to Change the Way You Love by Pia Mellody Facing Love Addiction: Giving Yourself the Power to Change the Way You Love by Pia Mellody – Will help you explore the roots and pattern of the addictiveness.

Luckily, as with other types of withdrawal, if you have the proper support you need (which it sounds like you’re getting, at least to an extent) you can get through it and come out on the other side. But withdrawal is always a very painful difficult process that you have to take one day at a time.

One thing you might consider doing is looking for online forums of people going through relationship withdrawals as that might offer you somewhere that you can – anonymously if need be – get some support from people who recognize how painful this process can be.

As far as exactly how long it will take to get through that phase, as we’ve said in our article on the topic, it really isn’t worth asking that as focusing on that question is like watching a boiling pot. It is understandable to want to ask and try to figure it out, but it only keeps you locked into the feeling. Focus on getting through each day and processing the withdrawal, finding the support you need to get through it intact and the passing of the pain will come upon you like a sudden surprise one of these days. And whatever you do, if you are determined to move on, don’t have any contact with this other person, not even indirect contact like checking their online pages and so on. Focus anywhere else, as difficult as that might be.

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Sometimes after a breakup, we might come to feel we were responsible for what happened and wonder “Should I contact my ex to apologize and let them know how I feel?”

Today we respond to a reader who asks just that question.

The reader writes:

Hello,

I am writing to you today because I have a dilemma! My fiancé (a 4yr relationship) just left me for his ex a little over a month ago and 5 months from our wedding day! As soon as it happened I told him that this was the best and it would make us better people. I naturally blamed him for this whole thing but I realize now that it is as much my fault as it is his.  I have a lot of stuff to work out on my own and find happiness within my self. I really want to thank him and apologize to him for making this split! I would have never left him and known how much I need to grow! I love my ex and i want him to have happiness and if that is not with me that is fine!

Anyway I am writing to you because I need advice…I want to call him or even email him and let him know how thankful I am of this situation and apologize as well! My friends have advised me to not ever talk to him again an let him drowned in his guilt but I have never been a person that can watch others suffer. I feel that this will give me the closure I strive for and allow me to move on and find the happier me! Is it a bad idea? I have been debating about this for a few weeks no and finally know its time! I feel that in order to move on I have to forgive. Should I proceed or just let everything go?

Oh and I work with my ex so it’s making things awkward because he won’t look at me!

And our response:

Your letter is a good example of how breakups can spark enormous insight and self-growth when we respond to them by not only looking outside us at the other person, but also within. But part of that insight comes from looking deeper to be sure what the real meaning of your experience is.

Your ex left you after 5 months of marriage and, as a result, you now more clearly perceive your role in the relationship’s end.

The first question is this:

“Is what I am experiencing in line with reality?”

In other words, is it true that you played an equal, if not the greater, or at least a significant role in causing the breakup and do you really owe him a thank you and an apology? Or is what you are experiencing stemming from a defense mechanism, whereby you were actually treated unfairly but are unable to handle the despair and anger that this might cause you to feel and so it is easier to blame yourself and feel apologetic and thankful, a tactic many people who are mistreated, in ways ranging from minor to major abuse, employ, sometimes consciously, but often unconsciously.

Only you can answer this, perhaps with the help of a counselor or therapist if needed. But it is worth seriously asking yourself how what you are feeling can best be interpreted. Think about whether you have been hurt in the past and if you have had a tendency to handle it poorly so that you may have developed a perceived need to replace difficult feelings with more acceptable ones or if you have perhaps used that tactic before.

Obviously if what you are feeling on the surface is a mask for your true deeper feelings of despair and anger and resentment, then this would change your actions considerably.

However, if you analyze this more and really believe that you played a significant role and are authentically thankful and apologetic, and not just covering up deeper painful emotions, then this is a whole different story. Obviously if you believe forgiveness is part of healing then by all means forgive within your own heart.

But then two more questions arise.

The first one is:

“Why do I really want to contact my ex to tell them about this?”

Is it really to help reduce his suffering and get closure yourself? Or is it to actually keep the drama alive?

Your unconscious will sometimes trick you into doing things that are not healthy, like stoking the flames of a relationship that is not good for you, by convincing you that it is really for good reasons. So just as you need to figure out if you really believe you are responsible and owe him a thanks and apology, you also need to figure out if you really are wanting to contact him for the right reasons or not.

There are valid reasons to consider contacting your ex.

If you believe it will truly help the other person heal and you care about them, then that may be a reason. But you should also be careful to consider that you might be ripping open a wound by doing so more than healing it. Unless you are sure that they are currently in a state where they would want that apology, it may not really be about them at all.

If you believe it will help you, that also may be a reason to make contact. But then you have to consider:

  • Whether you’re even right that it will help rather than just stoke the drama again and pull you back in even more
  • Whether it will come at the expense of the other person and whether that is worth it.

One thing that can put these issues related to the first question in perspective is realizing that, if your goal really is to just tie up some loose ends, you can always contact your ex later down the road after things have settled down more. If you feel like you’d only want to do it now while things are still healing and suspect you wouldn’t care very much down the road, that could tell you that your mind is manipulating you somewhat into keeping the drama alive under the guise of something healthy.

Once you’re clearer on the real reason you want to contact your ex, then you are ready to consider the second question:

“Should I contact my ex to tell them about this?”

After you’ve better verified how accurate your perception of the situation is and investigated what your motives are and have really considered the potential consequences of your actions – all of which might take you some more time and space to figure out – then the answer to this question will hopefully also be clearer.

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