Devastated and confused at the end of a long-term relationship
Q: My boyfriend of seven years left me for a 20-year-old (we're both 26). He has tried to be kind and reassuring, but I can't seem to reconcile that with the wholesale rejection of everything I have been to him, everything I am and everything I could have been. We've had a tumultuous history, but we always worked through our problems and I thought we were going to spend the rest of our lives together.
I tried to reason with him and lay out our entire history, and while he agrees it has been worthwhile and that he was happy with me, it's still not worth it to him to give up this new girl. I don't know if he's only saying kind things to make me feel better or if it's an outright lie. I'm so confused about the last seven years now.
I remind myself that I did my best, and I can't force him to love me. I just get overwhelmed with these feelings of worthlessness and I feel like I'm losing everything. What else can I do?
A: If you're worthless because one person doesn't want to date you anymore, then pretty much everybody on earth is worthless.
A persistent sense of helplessness means it's time to get screened for depression. Until you reach that point, though, don't discount your inherent power to put this loss into perspective.
Every one of us gets rejected almost daily. X will choose not to sit with us, Y will choose not to call us, Z will ignore something we post on Facebook. Minor rejections all, but they're the ones adolescence teaches us not to think about, because dwelling invites complete social paralysis. And that acquired reflex of prioritizing and blocking out is important.
People have different thresholds for rejection, but, just by living from one day to the next, we all leave behind rejections of all shapes and sizes, sometimes without even noticing we've done it. Someone says something unkind behind our backs, and we learn by accident; a potential employer sends our resume to the shredder, or an admissions committee says uhhhh . . . nope; our friend/love/relative realizes s/he isn't happy, and we are identified as one source of that unhappiness.
It's normal to feel hurt, and painful memories rarely fade completely. But it's also normal for a combination of time, careful thought and a well-populated life to work in concert to put these emotional injuries where they belong. Specifically — and rightly — they become the opinion of one person, blended in with the opinion/companionship/reward/satisfaction/enrichment of everyone else you know and everything else you do.
This is the process you need to undertake, consciously. Look around you, and form this sentence in your mind: "I am looking at people who all have been rejected, in ways that would make them wince to this day." Then watch them shop for groceries, hold hands with partners, peck at their laptops in coffee shops, drive their kids to lessons, jog or walk dogs to their digitized personal soundtracks, draw breath after breath after breath.
You two became a couple as teenagers. That at least one of you would grow away from the other over seven years was a likelihood just shy of a certainty. Grieve the loss, yes, and learn from it; envisioning a new future takes time. But in the meantime, stop blaming yourself (and/or, ahem, the new girl's youth) and place this whole disappointment in the "(Stuff) happens" file. It's the fattest one in the drawer.