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Dear John: Breaking Up Is Hard To Do (Like, Really Hard)

Wednesday, November 21, 2012


What’s your problem? Write to John at [email protected].

Dear John, 

My boyfriend broke up with me about a month ago after being together for eight months. The relationship was the happiest time of both our lives, and we fell in love almost instantly.

We both are starting our freshman year of college and I went to school about four hours away. His reasons for the break up were that he felt that he was becoming so dependent on our relationship that he was losing himself and that he needed time to grow up and experience college without feeling sad, guilty, etc. if he was having a good time without me. I accepted his reasons and suggested that we should spend a month not talking to one another so we could both "find ourselves.”

Well, that month will be over in about ten days and it's obvious to say that neither of us were able to stay out of contact with the other. He contacted me about every four days just to talk, and we've been having a long phone call about once a week to see how the other is doing. I talked to him today and we talked about his family, school, memories, and how he was feeling about our situation. He said that he missed me terribly but that he thought he still needs time to grow up and that being apart for now is what's best. He reassured me that he doesn't want to break up just so he can go out and hook up with girls but that he sincerely wants to figure out what he really wants in life. He said that neither of us can know what the future holds, but that he wants me to be a part of his life in any way, shape, or form. I trust him completely and knowing his character, I know he's being genuine. I understand this and fully accept his wishes, but I'm just worried that transitioning to being just his friend will be the hardest thing I've ever done, especially because the future is so uncertain. I realize that when we see each other in about two weeks that we'll be in great need of a long talk. What should I say? How should I be feeling? Finally, what would be best for me to do?


Thoroughly Confused 

Dear Thoroughly Confused,

What would be best for you to do? What’s best for you.

You spend a lot of time in your letter talking about his feelings, what he wants, what he says, what he thinks – what about you? What about what you want? What about your feelings?

Here’s what this looks like to an impartial observer. Your boyfriend is either very confused (generous interpretation) or manipulative (less generous one). You’re both quite young, so I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt and assume it’s the former. The bottom line is the same, though: he doesn’t want you to be his girlfriend; he just wants you to be there whenever he feels like emotionally dropping in. Is that okay with you?

He doesn’t want to be together. That’s his prerogative. But he has to own the consequences of that. It’s completely unfair of him to say, in effect, “Look, we’re broken up, but I still like you as a friend, so no matter how painful that is for you, I expect you to be available whenever I want to talk. And since you wish we were still together, I suspect you’ll be okay with that.”

If he has decided he wants to break up, you have to do what’s best for you. That’s all you should be concerned with right now. And for most people in your situation, the best thing is to have no contact with their ex because they need time to accept that’s it’s over, grieve, and move on.

Deliberately or not, he’s dangling the possibility of getting back together in front of you. He wants to keep you close, but how close will be exclusively up to him. I know it’s expressed in gentle words, an acknowledgment of how great you are, how much he cares about you, and so on. None of that matters.

Do what’s best for you. Maybe someday you can be friends. But not right now.


Dear John,

On a train ride down the East Coast a month ago, I struck up a conversation with the girl in the seat next to me. Three hours later I was in love. Unfortunately, I went to get something in the food car, it took a while, and when I returned to my seat, she was gone.

I really want to get in touch with her, but here’s the thing: the only reason I know her full name is because I looked at her train ticket, which had her name printed on it. She only introduced herself by her first name. I found her Facebook page, but is it too weird or stalkerish to contact her that way, tell her I really enjoyed talking with her and see if we could possibly do it again? I had a bad experience recently with a girl I thought I had made a great connection with only to find out I was very mistaken, and I don’t want to scare this one off. But maybe I’m overthinking? That’s why I’m writing to you, I guess.


Stranger On A Train

Dear Stranger,

I must admit I’m curious: when you say you learned her name by looking on her ticket, was her ticket out? Was it in her purse? World of difference there…

I think it’s fine to contact this woman on Facebook. I don’t think it’s weird, but it could quickly become so if you don’t keep it simple and to the point: you enjoyed chatting with her on the train ride to Richmond or wherever, and you’d love to pick up where you left off some time. (I assume she lives somewhere near you and she wasn’t returning home on this trip south, right?) She probably doesn’t remember whether she told you her last name or not, so don’t get into convoluted explanations about how you tracked her down. It’s easy to find people on Facebook, and I think it’s a safe, not-too-intrusive way to initiate contact with someone you don’t really know.


Dear John,

My wife and I have a disagreement about something – actually, we have disagreements about a lot of things, but I’m writing about one particular one!

I grew up in a household where my parents fought more often than they agreed, and my brother and I hated it. I’m in my forties now, but I still remember being a really small kid and trying to distract them or change the subject when they were fighting – anything to make it stop. So today, I will do whatever I have to to avoid putting my two kids through that, including letting her say some pretty nasty things to me without retaliating if that’s what it takes. It’s very hard though.

My wife sees this differently. She says it’s misleading – “lying” – to kids if you pretend everything’s great when it’s really not. According to her, arguing in front of them shows them that marriage is hard work; it’s normal to disagree with your spouse; and two people can fight and still love each other. What do you think?


Biting My Tongue

Dear B.M.T.,

It all depends on how two people disagree. I think it’s great for kids to see two respectful, loving parents rationally expressing two opposing points of view, whether that culminates in a compromise or even agreeing to disagree. No one can think it’s remotely good, though, for kids to see the two most important people in their lives insulting each other, losing control, dredging up old grievances, and simply trying to verbally bludgeon each other into submission. To do this in front of kids reflects a serious lack of discipline on the part of the parents, possibly coupled with a subtle invitation for the kids to see how stubborn and unreasonable the other spouse is.

So which is it in your house? If you’ve set up a dynamic where your wife feels free to tee off on you because she knows you won’t respond in front of the kids, that doesn’t sound like a great environment for any of you.

John is a middle-aged family man from Providence. If you learn from your mistakes, he’s brilliant. Write to him at [email protected].


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