What follows is thinking hand-crafted for an adult1 who was broken up with. This person is, naturally, seeking some form of validation. Thus, this person will manufacture both reasonable and unreasonable explanations that permit a reach out to the ex. Not capitulating can feel impossible, but breaking silence can safely be regarded as a mistake in all circumstances and should be avoided.
Reaching out is never truly about what you’ll say; it is about what you want to hear. This is the universe of possible things that can be heard – none of which are worth hearing:
“I made a mistake. I want to get back together.”
“You fucked up.”
“You were great, but just not right for me.”
“I’m sorry for x, y, and z.”
“I have nothing to say. I haven’t thought about you at all.”
“Let’s be friends.”
- Profoundly validating. Everyone wants to hear this. But after the initial ego-boost rush, what good is this really? Do you think people actually change? Or, given the considerable track record of behavior displayed within the relationship, isn’t it safe to say it’s unwise to accept the offer? (Yes.) To be sure, people do evolve in some ways, but rarely (if ever) do these evolutions disrupt the core of who and what someone is. It’s that core which was surely instrumental in the relationship’s demise and can be expected to rapidly return if a reboot occurs. It will be tempting to pretend your situation is unique, that “core” matters were not actually at play, because it’s always tempting to turn toward love (in ANY form), but this wishful thinking should be resisted.
During the breakup, when you were thinking what had been and was no more, you took an honest inventory of the relationship. And if an ex is uttering I made a mistake, that honest inventory must have featured massive amounts of unpleasantness. It can be both easy to focus and not focus on this (depending on the whims your breakup state-of-mind). What’s essential is that you focus on it now and not be captured by the hope that comes with validation. Just remember: there is no plausible reason to think it would turn out any differently this time because cores remain cores.
See, even hearing the best possible thing amounts to nothing more than some good feelings (albeit incredibly rich ones). And if that’s all you’re going to get, you are capable of getting there on your own; if your ego needs external validation, especially from people who aren’t even in your life, you will be forever wanting.
- If this is a surprise, your failures are too large to address here. To not summon an honest self-assessment following the devastation of a breakup is both preposterous and, sadly, all too common. The Democrats response to the 2016 election marks a glaring, collective example of how defensiveness and doubling-down are more comfortable, as opposed to true self-reflection, coping mechanisms. So, again, it’s predictable that an individual will pull the same tactic even to the point of delusion. Worse still, if you’ve already failed to appreciate your fuck-up, someone else stating it will not only not jumpstart the process, but may well plunge you deeper down the pit of denial.
If this isn’t a surprise, what’s the point in hearing it? Because now, having thought constantly about your failure, you can mount a plausible defense? If you do this skillfully, perhaps you could turn the answer into “I want to get back together,” and we already addressed why that isn’t the victory it appears to be.
While we all have blindspots that can only be properly addressed by others, foisting this responsibility onto an ex is bound to disrupt any peace you may have achieved in isolation – without a commensurate payoff. And don’t even think about pulling the I’m doing a favor for my ex by letting him/her vent logic. If your ex needs to vent, the ex can reach out.
- A less validating version of “I want to get back together,” but nice nonetheless. It can also be so confusing that incredulity ensues. If I really was that great, you would want to be with me.
It’s true that “You were great” can be a brush-off to avoid discussing real issues. If that’s happening, you are at least partially to blame for not fostering a safe enough atmosphere for candor. Assuming “You were great” is an honest statement of fact, remember that It’s not you, it’s me really can be true. And making it untrue necessitates one or both people sacrificing their cores (i.e., unsustainable long term).
It can seem impossible that your relationship wasn’t impenetrably special. You saw a graveyard of failed relationships and believed what you had had to be immune to the same destructive forces – just as all of the members of those other relationships thought too. People can indeed reach incredible highs together and it still not last. But of course you already know this, and hearing it again adds nothing.
- In the infinite regress of post-break-up introspection, you will notice sins (some true, some not) your partner committed against you. You may be mad about this. You may consider yourself pathetic for having tolerating all that sinning. Whatever the case, a simply apology will be pleasant.
But then what? What good is any apology really? Do you allow other people to control your inner peace to such an alarming degree that tranquility is only reachable if someone else utters a single, simple word to you? Now, if you are still interacting with someone, apologies are effective in releasing tension and keep the relationship in good order. But you are NOT still interacting with your ex, so these benefits aren’t accessible.
Be more like Jesus and forgive an ex who did you wrong and never apologized. It can feel a bit haughty, but the process is fairly cathartic. Taking this act seriously will almost certainly expose self-centered thinking that simplified an ex’s transgressions in unfair ways. The sins were still sins, but more empathy (which this exercise requires), à la Christ the King, relieves stress, increases peace, and brings you closer to a true understanding of the world. Plus, you are freed (mostly, at least) from desires for an ex to utter the word sorry.
I guess this convincingly erases any lingering hope about getting back together.
This could stimulate inner reflection like “You fucked up,” but it’s reflection that’s always there for the taking if you want it – no need to take on this extra emotional heartache in getting there.
- Ughhh. This is the recipe for a permanent delay in moving on. It makes sense for the breakeruper to desire an ongoing relationship (if you were a good partner), but in 99% of situations it will be a colossally unbalanced one where the broken-up-with will only be opting into friendship hoping it leads to something more.
The danger of this “Hope State” cannot be overstated. Everything will become a sign. Your heart will flutter when you seem needed, just as it will plummet when the ex doesn’t text back fast enough, doesn’t include you in ways you assumed, and, most tragically, dates someone else. The “Hope State” is a purgatory where investment in other paths – like a new partner – won’t be made because maybe, just maybe your old relationship can be rekindled.
There is a tiny allowance for this if both people have actually moved on and found a BETTER partner, but actually knowing this to be the honest-to-God-100%-truth is so unlikely so as to render the entire friendship enterprise untenable.