This is one of the most difficult breakups I’ve had. I’m not even sure it counts, as we never said he was my boyfriend, but wow.
I feel like my soul has been having a migraine ever since. It’s probably my second worst breakup ever, and the Number One breakup is hard to beat, as it involves a fatal house fire, and me being homeless for 6 weeks.
It’s embarrassing it has affected me so much, when I’ve only known him for five seconds. I’ve had breakups of 3-5 year relationships that have felt like nonchalant cartwheels compared to this.
At the moment, he is the screensaver for my brain. The second I’m not completely concentrating on anything, my mind wanders back to him. I can’t even remember what I used to spend my time thinking about, before I met him.
I’ve been thinking about why it’s so bad, and why I fell for him so very hard.
In CBT, we often use ‘Theory A’ and ‘Theory B’ to reframe a problem.
Theory A is the belief you automatically have, the obvious one. It’s the most understandable way of seeing things, but it makes you feel bad or scared.
Theory B is an adjusted, less threatening interpretation of the situation. Believing Theory B is a bit of a shift away from Theory A.
For example, if someone has lots of panic attacks, when their heart starts racing, Theory A might be “I’m having a heart attack and I’m going to die.” This would be a scary thing to think, and would make their heart race more.
Theory B would be “my heart is just racing because I’m having a panic attack.”
If I’m working with someone with health anxiety, Theory A might be “The problem is I have cancer”. Theory B is “The problem is, I’m worried I have cancer”.
With Body Dysmorphic Disorder, Theory A would be “The problem is my appearance”, whereas Theory B is “The problem is my body image”.
My Theory A is “I love him so much because he’s the perfect man for me” or some soulmatey bollocks like that.
I really don’t want this to be true, because it means the rest of my life is going to be a massive disappointment. If Theory A is true, I’m worried I’ll never get over him.
Theory B might be “I love him so much because he had lots of good qualities and lots in common with me, but also the timing and situation influenced my feelings”.
I really hope this one is true, because it means one day I might meet someone else and be happy with them. If the intensity of my feelings was partly down to the situation, and not him, it makes him feel like less of an irreplaceable superhero and more of a normal man I can get over.
The evidence for Theory A, that he is my soulmate, is
- every date I’ve been on, since him, has been a crashing disappointment
- Normally when I’m falling in love, I think well, we’ll see what happens but with him it felt different. I felt so excited.
- We clicked so much, he felt like a boy version of me. I never wanted to stop talking long enough to kiss, because I enjoyed the conversation so much
- Except I did want to kiss, because he’s the best kisser I’ve encountered, and his kissing style perfectly matched mine
- He seemed to understand me better than any other boy has. I would say obscure comments and expect to have to explain them, but he would understand and say something even more obscure
This the argument for Theory B, that it was partly the situation that made me love him so much.
Firstly, I feel like my unrestrained excitement means that he was The One, because it was different how my previous relationships have started. But maybe my enthusiasm means something else.
On our first date, I did text my friend saying I loved Whippersnapper. But I was drunk, and I love everyone after a few drinks. Actually, the next morning I texted her again, saying I liked him but thought we were at different life stages, but would see what happened.
I think it was when he texted me that night saying our date was ‘awesome’ and that I was ‘so funny and gorgeous and intelligent’ that I started getting carried away myself.
Maybe I’ve previously been out with more cautious, measured people, and we’ve been cautious and measured together, whereas this time I got caught up with his enthusiasm.
I’ve been thinking about past breakups. The only other man I’ve had such intense feelings for, was the Glamorous Adulterer – the married man I had a fling with in 2012 (I’m well aware this was terrible behaviour.)
He was always completely clear from the start that he was never going to leave his wife as he was happy with her (which does raise the question why he spent so much time with his hands in my underwear, but still).
I felt so crackers about him because he was completely unattainable.
Whippersnapper was single and gave the impression he was attainable – he would tell me how much he liked me and said was open to a ‘super-serious relationship, if it came along’.
However, although I just said that I got caught up in his enthusiasm, I think actually, underneath it all, he was a tiny bit achingly unattainable.
It was mainly the cancellations. I recently went on a date where I texted the guy at 6:30pm saying “do you want to keep me company for dinner?” And he said “sure” and 90 minutes later we were having dinner in my local pub.
I loved the simplicity of it, but of course, when I walked into the pub and saw his face, I was never going to be as overexcited as I would be if we’d had a week and a half of shillyshallying, cancellations, trying to second guess him and being on tenterhooks.
WS may feel like The One, but really, is The One someone who seems enthusiastic but is just a bit unreachable?
I think in my life, I’ve had three breakups that felt like this – where it almost felt like a devastating addiction.
Besides WS and the Glamorous Adulterer, there was also I guy I went out with when I was 22, who I spent months pining for after it ended.
The similarity with all three men was the timing – the timing of when we got together and the timing of the breakup.
With all three, I met them at a time when everything else in my life was a bit bleak. With the guy when I was 22, I met him on my last night out before my final year exams at Uni. We spent a month texting each other, all day every day, while I revised in the library, before we had our first date, the day after my last exam. Even though it was kind of a great time in my life, living in a house with 8 friends, I didn’t cope with exams very well. His texts really cheered me up, and I was well on the way to loving him before our first date.
With the Glamorous Adulterer, he’d been my boss for a year or so, then I left, and shortly after that my ex-boyfriend died. I knew for certain I was only doing it to distract myself, and he convinced himself he was doing me a favour by giving me a distraction.
With WS, I only recently realised that after breaking up with Matthew, I actually felt a bit depressed. It was hard living together, work was hard and I felt down, and like a failure, because of being single again.
In all 3 cases, life was a bit grey, then they came along, and I gripped onto that bit of joy like it was a life raft.
Then there was the timing of the breakup. With all three, it ended after around 4-6 months.
I’ve had much longer relationships, that had horrible endings in different ways, but this breakup-timeframe seems to have a particularly crazy quality to it. It’s long enough that it really is love, not just infatuation, but it’s early love. It’s just about still in the honeymoon period, when you’re still idealising the partner and don’t know many bad things about them yet. The emotions are at their most intense, because it’s just before they’ve stared levelling off.
Obviously, when a relationship ends after years, it’s a lot more devastating. It changes your future life plans. You might have spent years thinking you’d be together until you die. You might even have to support children through it, as well as trying to cope yourself. I’m not saying this is as bad as that.
However, our brain chemistry contributes to the crazy quality that breakups in this phase have.
Brain scans show that when we’re falling in love, it is Dopamine City in our brains. Dopamine is a brain chemical related to pleasure, motivation but also addiction. Parts of the brain that are also related to addiction, ADHD and OCD are active in producing and receiving dopamine when we’re falling in love (the ventral tegmental area and caudate nucleus).
There’s an evolutionary benefit to falling in love. The most loved up cavemen and women had the most sex, and then pair-bonded to successfully raise their children, so their loved up genes got passed on.
With both the GA, and the guy from when I was 22, I really have looked back, after the dopamine has worn off, and thought oh my God! He was just a normal man!
Lack of closure
It’s tempting to think that how painful the breakup is, is directly related to how good the relationship was. If it hurts this much, I must’ve lost something amazing.
But I think they can be quite unrelated. With the guy when I was 22, after we broke up, I moved to a new city where I didn’t know anyone, and started a job with a lot of quiet periods on a ward, so I had a lot of time to think. Facebook had just been invented, so it was the first time I had the chance to spend hours staring at photos of an ex with their new girlfriend.
At the time, I was convinced he was Jesus, combined with Romeo Montague and Mr Darcy. Now, I literally cannot tell you one positive quality this guy had (if I really try – he had nice hair, I liked his parents and the sex was pleasantly straightforward).
I think part of why the current breakup is so bad, is not because he’s perfect, but actually because he’s handled it really badly. All the difficult but kind things he could’ve done to make it easier, such as not breaking up with me over WhatsApp, and agreeing to meet so we can talk and get closure, he has refused to do.
(With one exception – he has gone out of his way to make clear he is not rejecting me personally, but just isn’t able to be in any relationship; being dumped can make you feel like a rubbish, undesirable person, but he has done well to prevent that.)
But he has done a lot of things to make it worse. I think if you wanted to mess with the head of someone you’ve just broken up with, there are 4 kinds of messages you could send:
- heartfelt messages saying you love them (especially if you never said it when you were together)
- abusive messages calling them a cunt
- messages that make them worry about you (e.g saying you want to die)
- saying “I’m going to tell you something really significant tomorrow”. Then saying nothing the next day.
That would be Day One at Headfuck School (or maybe days 1-4. There’s probably a Library Tour on Day One).
I’ve done things I regret in my relationships (not least to poor Mrs Glamorous Adulterer), but I would never treat anyone like this.
Maybe he isn’t a boy version of me after all.