Dear Fuck-Up: How Do I Move On When the World Is Stuck?

Illustration: Angelica Alzona

Dear Fuck-Up,

Ever since I read your response to the guy who ruined his ex’s life, I have been an emotional wreck. For the past six months, I have done everything in my power to get over my ex.

We dated for five years and lived together for the last two. I was definitely the one with less “sway” in the relationship (read: head over heels in love). I really thought we’d be life partners.

About a year before we broke up, I found out from a friend that he had a secret profile on a dating app. I tried to forgive him and restore trust in the relationship, but I couldn’t overcome my insecurities. Ultimately things ended because I wanted more emotional intimacy and he wanted more independence.

Since then I’ve moved to a new apartment in a new neighbourhood, started a new job, enrolled in an online course and in therapy. I went on the dating apps for about a month before being too overwhelmed and grossed out to continue.

Every morning I still wake up in existential dread that I may never see or speak to my ex again. After I moved out he told me he had to cut contact to move on and I haven’t heard from him since (despite my sending a pathetic ‘let’s back together’ email).

Do you think things will get easier once the future of our social and romantic lives is less uncertain? Or should I just make peace with “the knowledge that there is one person walking the earth who could ruin my life at any time...”?

Love,

A Broken Quaranqueen


Dear Quaranqueen,

I’m so sorry this happened to you. I think it must be terribly difficult to be dealing with a break up under these conditions, even more difficult than usual. I wish I could tell you how to get over someone you love, but I don’t know. I’ve never been very good at it myself but nobody else really knows or has ever known either. I’ve said some version of this in past columns—as have other, better writers in other, better columns and essays and novels and plays—and I imagine I’ll say some version of it again, because despite being an unanswerable question it’s one we can’t stop asking each other. How do I bear something that feels unbearable? I don’t know, you just do.

I will say that six months is not very long at all, hardly any time for something like this, really, and it almost certainly will get easier. Not only because the world will eventually return to something recognizable, but because all stinging things grow dull in time. Everyone knows this, it’s the sort of thing that makes advice columns seem silly—Just give it time! Time heals! You can get as much from your standard inspirational quotes instagram account.

You wrote to me because we also know, even if we don’t like to admit it, that sometimes people really don’t fully get over it. We are suspicious of people like this because it seems to be some failure of healthy emotional processing, some glitch or recursion that leaves them slightly mewling and pathetic. There is a disdain-passed-as-pity quality to a hushed “oh poor Sarah, she’s still hung up on her ex” exchanged knowingly over a glass of wine, a certain muted horror at anyone who can’t just move on. Will this be the case with you? Probably not, because as I’ve said already it’s only been six months and that’s not long at all. But I think the fear is worth confronting anyways, because I don’t believe the hypothetical Sarahs of the world deserve our scorn

Another piece of wisdom that has the quality of an Instagram goes something like: You don’t miss him, you miss the idea of him. It sets my teeth on edge simply typing it. I can picture the dreadful person who leans in, full of confidence and says this to me like it’s secret knowledge. Horrid! Humiliating! Made so much worse because it is unfortunately true!

The plain fact is I no longer know that one ex who managed to get stuck in my brain. I have not known him for years and years. Has he read any good books? Who did he vote for in the primary? Has anyone he loves fallen ill? I have no idea, because a break up is the denial of access to another person’s life and thoughts and feelings. They are foreclosed to you. So instead, what I carry around with me is something him-like but fundamentally not him. It is in our nature to make fictions of each other, even though that’s not a very nice thing to do. It is always disfiguring: We make childhood teachers crueler; teenage rivals more cunning; bad exes more monstrous.

Sometimes, though, we make people much better than they were, as you are already doing to a man who was clearly not worthy of your devotion. In truth my ex sucked! Your ex sucks so much. Truly he sounds like a real shit and I’m glad you’re rid of him. But I still feel an undeniable yearning when I think of my ex and I have come to understand this is as a reflection on me now, not on him then. When something is missing from a new relationship I will find myself pining, I daydream about what could have been when I am unsettled by what is. That’s not such a pathetic thing. Certainly, it’s something I can live with, as can you, on the off chance it happens.

Love,

A Fuck-Up

Got a question? Email bjensen@jezebel.com.

DISCUSSION

By
squirrelthings1

About a year before we broke up, I found out from a friend that he had a secret profile on a dating app. I tried to forgive him and restore trust in the relationship, but I couldn’t overcome my insecurities.

I hate that there is a suggestion out there in the world that the onus is on the forgiver to restore broken trust. These “insecurities” you are feeling? Those are your survival skills. And to be honest, if you couldn’t “overcome” them, it’s probably because your ex did not work hard enough to earn back your trust. This. is. not. on. you.

In terms of you allowing yourself to trust innocent people in the future? You’re doing the right thing. You’re going through all of the motions required to move on, especially with the therapy. Break ups suck. They just do. I wish there were a magic salve. My best break up advice is to fake it ‘til you make it (and you will make it). My best dating advice in a pandemic? Take it day by day. Feverish dating app activity today? Delete the app tomorrow? Back on it a week from now? It’s all acceptable. We receive contrasting news constantly on how to behave from the experts, it’s okay if our actions are similarly erratic.