Breaking up is hard to do, but don't be duped by dumpee
Q: I recently broke up with my girlfriend. We got along great but I wasn't in love with her.
I broke the news without warning and she is devastated. She doesn't have many friends locally and her family lives a state away. She feels she doesn't have anyone to talk to and she needs someone around her to function. She made our relationship the center of her life and she feels her life is over.
My worst fear is that she might do something to harm herself or turn into a different person from this experience. I found out after we broke up about the abuse she's had from previous relationships and it made my heart sick to hear about her pain. She claims I'm the best thing that's happened to her and she's lost faith in future relationships. She doesn't like her job, her life or her situation.
I feel I'm responsible in some way. I'm also sad from the breakup, but I didn't want to fake being in love. Is the pain I'm feeling a sign that I was wrong to break up?
Confused in South Carolina
A: My worst fear is that she doesn't turn into a different person from this experience.
I think your compassion is important, and touching. You care about her and she's hurting, and certainly there's no way to argue that you haven't caused some of her pain.
It just happens that she caused most of it herself — surely anyone who has ever made a mess of themselves can sympathize — and she's nevertheless pushing it off on you. That reduces my sympathy to dust. Bad jobs? Been there, check. Stuck without close friends, check, far from family, check, over-invested in relationship, check, harboring painful past, check, check, check, a column of checks.
But what's with her keeping past abuse quiet when you were forging intimacy, but speaking up when she needed leverage? What's with saying you're "the best thing that's happened to her," when her leaning on you helped throw her life out of whack? What's with needing someone around for her to function?
They're all-but-naked bids (there's your next frontier) to get you to return out of sympathy, or even fear. Not love. And she's okay with that?
The following suggest a possible breakup mistake: (1) Dumpee takes it with such strength and sadness and grace that she wishes you well in your new life even though she wants nothing more than for you to stay in hers. (2) Dumpee's absence helps you see the value of her presence in ways you failed to grasp before — and you can see this while maintaining full awareness of what led you to split in the first place.
Becoming the human dartboard for every guilt-missile she can flip at you is not grounds to revisit your choice. It's sad to watch someone struggle with instability, it's scary, and it's hard to resist the pull of manipulation.
The rescue she needs, though, is the one only she can provide, by taking responsibility for the hole she dug, and proving to herself that she can hoist herself out if it — using her resourcefulness, stamina, her long-distance booster club and, if needed, her health insurance.
Your homework: Write an essay, "Ten reasons to be wary of drama."