Ask Team Practical: Cheating and a Cancelled Engagement

I proposed in September and she said yes. Then I moved to another city for work and traveled home every weekend.

I found the distance incredibly hard, and the job was boring and lonely. My fiancée was finishing her degree, so we didn’t have full weekends together because she needed to study. I encouraged her to make new friends and tried not to be jealous when she joined a social group.  She was depressed and had started spending more time with one of our female friends. At first, I was happy she had someone there to chill out with. I trusted my fiancée; I trusted that she wouldn’t lie to me, and she wouldn’t do anything to hurt me.

But I did start to feel worried and jealous. I asked her about their relationship, but she said there was nothing between them. Then, I found text messages proving otherwise. I confronted her and she told me she was in love with this woman, and it had progressed from friendship to much more.

Initially we were going to work it out and use this as a catalyst to work on our problems and hope that living together over the summer would bring us back to ourselves. However a few days later she told me that she was no longer attracted to me and hadn’t been for a year, and that she wanted to sleep around and not have to work on our relationship because she was too young to have to do that.

I feel broken. I thought we were going to spend our lives together. I still think that if she were willing to work for us, then we’d have a good chance, though of course it would be hard to trust her. But how am I going to ever be able to trust anyone? I can’t focus at work and I feel guilty crying on my friends all the time, none of whom have been engaged.

I know APW is primarily a website for people in successful relationships but I need people who have that, who have been heartbroken, who are my “people,” to tell me how to survive being broken and alone. Please help me.

Heartbroken Ex Wife-to-be

Dear HEW,

I’m so sorry this happened. Your question makes me ache for you. Lady, this is a big deal. You may feel bad crying to friends or you might feel funny writing into a wedding blog (side-note: this website is NOT only about “successful relationships”), but it’s important that you see this for what it is. You’re mourning. You’re grieving the loss of an anticipated future. That’s major.

Once you’re able to recognize what’s really happening here—a sort of grief process—it won’t seem too far-fetched to think about going to a counselor (and it shouldn’t). An objective perspective, methods for coping and healing, and a small feeling of closure by talking things out are all really valuable benefits of meeting with a wise professional.

Your big plans for the future (a wedding, a life with your partner) have fallen aside (at least for now), and when that happens, it’s easy to feel aimless. It’s time to formulate a new plan. Start a big project, plan yourself a trip, set some sort of goal for the foreseeable future. Create something for yourself to look forward to with anticipation and to absorb some of your time and energy. When your thoughts turn down that repetitive path of, “why?” and “what if?” redirect them; refocus on picking out a new swimsuit for that vacation or designing a logo for your new blog.

You’re valuable. When someone doesn’t recognize your worth or treat you with respect, it does not mean you’re any less valuable. It means they aren’t wise enough to know when something is precious, or they aren’t mature enough to know how to handle it with care. The flaw isn’t in you, lady. Very often, the way people treat us tells us more about their problems than it does about our own. In this instance, you gained some real insight. I’m not talking about the lying or the cheating—people make mistakes, couples recover. But, a reluctance to work through the hard bits in order to make something better? That would have been in a problem in the future if it hadn’t come up now.

I want to avoid barraging you with all the usual platitudes. “Time heals all wounds,” and “That which doesn’t kill you makes you stronger,” and “There are plenty of fish in the sea.” These all seem flippant, of course, and don’t help in the moment. But they’re clichés for a reason. You can get through this. Slowly. With the help of some other fish swimming around you.


Team Practical, what are your thoughts? How do you move past the pain of knowing that someone has betrayed you? What words of advice and comfort can we give our dear HEW?

Photo: Julie Randall Photography

If you would like to ask Team Practical a question please don’t be shy! You can email Liz at: askteampractical [at] apracticalwedding [dot] com. If you would prefer to not be named, anonymous questions are also accepted. Though it really makes our day when you come up with a clever sign-off!

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  • Excellent advice Liz. I’ve survived one world ending break up, and then another one that was also terribly hard and challenged my faith in love, and myself, and everything. What saw me through was as follows:

    1) making sure to take extra good care of my self- partially motivated by the desire to be extra sexy but also motivated by wanting to do good things for my brain so I didn’t fall too far into a big deep depression I started exercising more & eating healthier. I also tried to drink less as alcohol is a depressant – this actually helped a lot, and was good for my self esteem to boot, as long as I kept it focused on health (mental and physical), not strictly weight loss focused. I’ve been down that path too & it only makes things worse.

    2) Actually my first world ending break up prompted me to rekindle my intrest in photography – and now I’m a professional photographer, and very happy. Finding a new hobby or rekindling an old one can help you to focus your emotions and mix with new people.

    3) I moved – I left behind the places people and things that reminded me of the old relationships and started trying to build something new that just belonged to me. That isn’t always possible for everyone but it worked wonders for me both times.

    Best of luck to you. Most of us have been there, and it is hard. I eventually came to see the first break up as the best thing that ever happened to me – the second one- that was just life being cruel really, but it helped me to get to where I am now, and so I suppose I’m glad for that. Lots of hugs.

    • Suzanna

      Yes, Lauren! I second these pieces of advice. The worst breakup I ever went through, I was so angry. And I felt weak and helpless. So I trained for a triathlon. Not only did the constant exercise let me burn off a lot of that anger and made me feel more powerful (and kept me busy), but having a relatively short-term goal to reach for, and then accomplish, did wonders for my well-being.

      • SarahToo

        No matter what, remember to be gentle with yourself…treat yourself the way you would treat a really dear friend who was going through something similar (often we’re rough on ourselves in ways that we would never be with the other people we love).

  • Fenn

    Whenever I go through a devastating loss of a relationship, I give myself a very specific set of time to wallow. For me, it’s generally a weekend. (I like to move on fast and to get on with life, it’s my way.) In that weekend, I go into full-on mourning/wallowing mode. I might talk to friends, but I’m more likely to put on my pjs and lie in bed for three days straight. This time is generally full of bad romantic comedies, movies that I know will make me cry (I need a catalyst for crying), and Harriet the Spy. (Harriet the Spy and chocolate milk can cure almost anything, I am positive.) I also eat a lot of chocolate, turn off my phone, and avoid facebook.

    For me, I need the time alone to feel whatever I’m feeling without worrying about anyone else. I don’t want advice. I don’t want comfort. I want to let it all out. I can take a break from the world and just avoid life. It feels good and it really rejuvenates me.

    I’ve also been known to use this time to go on a road trip, by myself, and spend time alone in nature.

    I’m just saying that you deserve that time to mourn and to wallow, whether it be a weekend or a month. YOu deserve time to feel whatever you want to feel without judgment from anyone else. You deserve the time to feel sad, to feel really, really sad and maybe also angry. To let your emotions rule you for a moment so you can get through those and move on to something else.

    And then after that, you can take as long as you want to heal. You’re on no one’s schedule here. You heal when it’s right for you and not for anyone else.

    • Carolyn

      “…you deserve that time to mourn and to wallow, whether it be a weekend or a month. YOu deserve time to feel whatever you want to feel without judgment from anyone else. You deserve the time to feel sad, to feel really, really sad and maybe also angry. To let your emotions rule you for a moment so you can get through those and move on to something else.”

      When my best friend and I were roommates, and needed time to vent or stew about, well, anything at all, we set the microwave timer for five whole minutes and called it the Wallow Clock. You can say anything you want, no one can interrupt you, and you can be as bratty, awful, meek, sad, mopey as you want to be, and you can sob as much as you want when the Wallow Clock is on.

      This is no way is meant to downplay the awful, gut-wrenching THING you’re going through, HEW. My heart breaks for you. But you’re strong – stronger than you may think – and you can put on the Wallow Clock as many times as you need, for as long as you need to, to get it all out. And when you come through the other side, you’ll know how strong you were/are already.

      • You do need to let yourself mourn and grieve, but you shouldn’t feel guilty for crying all over your friends about it. They’re you’re friends. Its what friends do! Even if they haven’t been engaged, they’ll still be aware that this is a HUGE deal and want to help you through it.

        I say this as someone who forgets to lean on her friends when I should; it won’t fix it, obviously, but it’ll hurt a tiny bit less and you won’t feel so alone in your pain.

        Good luck, hon.

    • meg

      Also, I mourn for AGES. I mean that literally. Ice ages. And if your brain is built that way, that’s ok too. As long as you’re doing all kinds of good moving on things for yourself during those ice ages.

  • Hillori

    HEW, I am so sorry. Starting over is never easy, especially when it comes as a shock. To add to the stress, now you are starting over in a new-ish city–

    I suggest taking this as an opportunity to really get to know your new city. Traveling home every weekend can put a damper on exploring the nooks and cranies of your immediate surroundings– and the day-trips in the surrounding area. If exploring on your own isn’t your style, grab a coworker or someone you’ve been meaning to start a friendship with.

    As someone who’s moved too many time to count, it is hard to talk about deeply personal stuff with a new friend. Ideally, you’ll make a new friend and have a great time. At bare minimum, you will be out and about and distracted by new experiences.

    Good luck, hun.

  • Liz was spot on when she said this is a grieving process. When I had my world ending break up, I felt ridiculous for not being able to just get over it. “My boyfriend broke up with me” felt like such a teenage problem to have and I think I could have moved through the grieving process more quickly if I’d acknowledged it for what it was and not beat myself up for the way I was feeling. It took me months to recognize that I could really stand to see a counselor to help me through it. I also felt bad about crying to my friends so much and it was really freeing for me to have someone whose job it was to listen to me and be objective. The most difficult advice for me to follow was to make it a clean break. I stayed in contact with my ex, even though it opened up the wound again every time I heard from him. And it kept me from moving on because I kept hoping he’d change his mind. I was so afraid when I finally started dating again that I’d compare every guy I met to him. And I did. It just turned out to be a good thing, because by then I could see the things that had been wrong in our relationship and I could see how the guy I started dating was different in ways that would work much better for me. I was also afraid that I’d never let myself fall in love again. Instead, I fell faster than ever before. As a friend said, “Now you know that even if it ends, you can survive it.”

    Be kind to yourself. Take the time you need to grieve. Don’t let anyone tell you when you should be better or, God forbid, rush you into dating again. I wish you healing.

  • Peabody_Bites

    Oh HEW – I feel for you.

    When I was surviving my worst ever world-ending, faint making, heart break, very far from home, a good friend sent me the following and I have kept it for about ten years because I find it so wise. So here it is, hoping it helps you too. Good luck.

    “I know you’ll be feeling wretched. That’s inevitable, particularly being in a remote location without the old, familiar faces around. Keep busy and distracted as much as you possibly can. When you can’t, when you feel a need to dwell on it or talk it over, I am here for you, on email or the phone. But don’t wallow.

    Take your time. Think about it, but not too much. Be happy. Keep off the sauce [alcohol – but also true of excessive food/drugs/ excercise, I think]. And know that there are many people who love you and who are desperate to make sure you are cheerful and fulfilled.

    Keep your pecker up [a bizarre English expression which sort of translates to keep smiling/don’t lose your nerve].”

  • Excellent advice, Liz.

    HEW, there are a lot of folks in your corner! Healing thoughts, and best of luck in the next chapter to come.

  • Poeticplatypus

    This can be such a hard thing to navigate through. Broken engagements are tough because you are starting to forge a family with another person and for it to just disappear is hard to wrap your head around.
    Sadly I’ve been through this and I agree with the above advise from Liz and other comments. You can and will survive this.

  • Abby J.

    Sending lots of love your way, HEW.

    Liz gives excellent advice. When I went through my world-ending relationship, the first thing I did after he walked out of the door was drop into a little ball on my kitchen floor and sob until my whole body ached. Eventually, I did go to see a counselor, who was AMAZINGLY helpful. She really got me on the path to healing and helped me quantify some issues that I should have seen earlier in my relationship, and I’ve managed to avoid repeating many of those mistakes. (Though not all, nobody’s perfect. :) ) Over the summer when I saw my therapist every 2 weeks, I got involved in creative projects and lots of outdoor activities, and got used to going out to music events by myself. I made friends and contacts in my local music scene totally unrelated to my partner, and it was very healing for me.

    Five years after my big breakup, I’m happily married to a man who is so much better for me than my ex ever could have been. In fact, had I not had my relationship and breakup, I would not have recognized or appreciated everything about my husband that’s so right for me, when my ex was so wrong. So, I’m actually happy it happened now.

    One thing I would strongly urge you to do is use this opportunity for healing and self-growth with the help of a trusted counselor. You owe it to yourself to get kind and compassionate help with the healing process – it may not be something you can do alone. And you are also helping any future relationships you may have by doing this – you don’t want to bring previous unhealed emotional junk into a new relationship. (Trust me on this, because I was only partially successful at it.)

  • Aw, I feel for you. :(

    I went through a very similar thing when I was in college. I lived with a boyfriend, and we got engaged too young and too fast, and about 4 months later, I found out he was cheating on me. Even though HE had proposed. It was really hard to wrap my head around the idea that he had cheated, since just a few months before he had told me that he wanted to spend the rest of his life with me, and it made me feel like I had done something wrong. It was awful (I found out during finals week, and still somehow pulled A’s on all my tests, thankyouverymuch.), and it took me a while to trust anyone.

    But I did. I casually dated for a while, and then decided to just focus on school and my friends. And then I met a guy friend of a friend. He had a crush on my friend, but she already had a boyfriend and wasn’t interested. So we started hanging out, commiserating over how much relationships suck. But then we discovered they didn’t have to.

    I’m marrying him in 4 months. :)

  • KatieBeth

    From someone who’s been there, I just have to say that it’s ok to feel broken, in a sense. I remember that feeling of guilt where I was just crying on people ALL THE TIME and I just couldn’t get my *&$% together, like “Wow, it’s been two days/weeks/months, I should stop talking about this.” You’re reeling from an epic betrayal of trust and you’re feeling alone and exhausted – but you’re mourning the end of a relationship. And if it starts to interfere with you taking care of yourself, i.e. eating, sleeping, functioning – even then, don’t be afraid to ask for help! Realize that your friends are your friends for a reason – they’re the family we choose and it’s part of the job description to lean on them in times like these.

    Also – there were two pieces of advice from the book “It’s Called a Break-Up Because It’s Broken” that really stuck with me after my own world-ending break-up. The first was helpful to think on when I really missed him and would think about calling him, that what happened wasn’t so bad, he was the only one I could ever be with, yada yada yada – “This is the person who looked at you in all your glory and fabulousness – and said ‘No thanks, I’ll try my luck elsewhere.’ Who wants to be with someone with such poor judgment?”

    The second just made me feel better when I thought about how lonely it was being single again – “Someday, you will meet the guy who’s perfect for you – and he’ll say ‘Thank god you’re not still with that jerk!'”

    • Celeste

      a thousand times this ^
      I also second these suggestions:
      1. Moving to a new place (even if only temporary) – after my big heartbreak I moved to Connecticut to work at a summer camp and it helped immensely. Not just the physical distance, but being exposed to an entirely new group of people that had nothing to do with my ex (we had a lot of mutual friends and their friendships became a sort of battleground between us, which was almost as bad as the actual breakup).
      2. A new work or life challenge – this could be taking on a big project at work, finally moving careers like you always wanted to, trying a new hobby, challenging yourself to finally run that marathon, whatever will hold your interest.
      3. Learning how to spend time alone – we often don’t do this enough. Long walks are excellent. Exploring your new home city, going to movies or concerts by yourself, or taking a book to the park are great too. It may sound lonely, but it’s actually quite liberating once you discover that you can do these things by yourself and enjoy them.
      4. A makeover or home makeover – Buy some new clothes, especially if it means trying a new style you might have been afraid to before. Cut your hair (the tried-and-true male response to heartbreak), or dye it. Move all of your furniture around or paint a room in your house. Get new sheets for the bed. Definitely remove and destroy or at least put away any visual reminders of the relationship that you can, at least until you’re ready to deal with them.
      5. Reach out to new people – put yourself in situations where you have to interact with strangers, like taking a class or volunteering. Make an effort to create new friendships.
      6. Express your feelings to yourself somehow – write in a journal, talk to yourself in private, sing to yourself, whatever. This will help when you feel like you’re overloading your friends with your misery. I wrote bad poetry and talked to myself. It helps to get your thoughts out of your head to start to understand them.

  • PA

    I would like to echo what others have said, perhaps in a slightly different scope: find out what makes you happy in each moment. Rediscover little things: what do YOU like to eat for breakfast, when do YOU like to wake up in the mornings? Do you enjoy tea? Perhaps you rediscover that you truly enjoy classic movies, or climbing trees, or singing. Do those things!

    Second, like Liz said, you will have to be purposeful about turning your thoughts away from, “why?” and, “what if?” There’s a lot to be said for working through things honestly, but there’s honest grieving, and then there’s beating yourself up – if you pay attention, you can usually tell which thoughts are productive and which are not. When you start thinking negative things about yourself, or asking why – turn your thoughts away. It gets easier over time.

    There aren’t enough hugs in the world for me to send your way. I can’t make you tea, but I’m making you e-tea and sending you e-hugs!

  • Lynn

    It’s cheesy, but I created a mantra that was all about forgiving the person who betrayed me. Thousands of times a day I said or wrote, “I forgive you and release you to the universe.” It took a couple of months–I won’t lie–but one morning I woke up and it was true. I didn’t have to say it any more. It was just true.

    Hugs to you.

    • meg

      Weirdly, in a similar situation, I finally came up with a mantra of forgiving MYSELF (of course, as most human’s do, I acted a fool when I found out, and looking back wasn’t happy with everything I’d done in the relationship) and releasing myself. I had this sudden realization one day that trying to forgive and release THEM wasn’t helping me. I wasn’t in charge of them, and they were not in my life (and oddly, looking back, I don’t know if it mattered that I tried to forgive them, or if I ever really forgave them, or if they ever really deserved it). So I focused on forgiving and healing and changing myself. And *that* was powerful.

      So, obviously, no one way is better than the other, but I thought I’d through in this weird counterintuitive thing I learned that really helped me, in case it helps someone else.

      • Class of 1980

        I am having delightful fantasies that you set their house on fire, or poured wet cement into all their shoes.

        Is that wrong? ;)

      • Laurel

        Yes *exactly.* Because it’s important to figure out what lessons to take from devastating break-ups, but everyone does things wrong sometimes and there’s no point letting it turn into hating yourself. Forgiving yourself is a way of seeing your contributions and not beating yourself up about them.

      • Forgiving the other person can be a big part of the process for some people, but definitely don’t forget to forgive yourself. It’s easy to blame ourselves when things fall apart around us, and whatever happened it’s so important to stop beating yourself up for it and let forgive yourself.

      • Lynn

        I *had* to forgive him. Not forgiving him wasn’t an option, but yes, there was a lot I had to forgive myself for as well. All of it went hand-in-hand for me because I couldn’t get over me and all the things that I put up with or allowed to happen without getting over him and all the things that he did too.

      • Jen

        Meg, I love you for this. There was an Ask Amy (I can’t remember what the situation was) where she recommended forgiving the other person if the anger against them was interfering in your everyday life. I read it soon after my breakup, and it made me wonder if I had to forgive my ex to heal. I like the idea of forgiving myself much better. But it’s hard, because after the breakup I see how blind I was. But I think I’m getting there, and learning from my mistakes. And healing has gone well without forgiving him.

        • meg

          Yeah. I’ve been thinking about it all day. I don’t think I ever forgave that person, particularly as I watched them continue the pattern with other people. And years later, I flat out don’t think they deserved it, nor was it something I needed to offer. Nor do I regret it, or want to forgive them now. Instead, I stopped giving a shit. Not everyone deserves forgiveness all the time, and that’s ok.

          There are other people I’ve happily forgiven. But not everyone deserves it, and you don’t need to do it to heal every time. You do have to move on though. But sometimes not giving a shit is way more powerful.

          Two things that helped me then: The best revenge is a life well lived, and revenge is a dish best served cold. That’s for the (sometimes) non-forgivers among us ;)

  • Kristi

    Hugs to you HEW! I’ve been through a very similar story – engagement broken off due to partner cheating and him having no desire to go through counseling or work on the relationship. I don’t know that I have anything to add that hasn’t been said, but just be kind to yourself. Don’t feel bad to continue to cry to your friends – the good ones will listen for as long as you need them to listen. See a counselor. Try to take people up on social invitations whenever you possibly feel up to it. I was suprised at how many people came out of the woodwork and invited me out and welcomed me into their group of friends at the time when I really needed it. I was in a different town from many of my “best” friends at the time, so that was difficult. But the silver lining was I made so many new friends during that time just by being open to people’s kindness. Last thought – I don’t know how far along in the wedding planning process you were or how important that was to you, but I had to mourn the loss not just of the relationship and future marriage but of the loss of the party and the celebration of the wedding. And that’s okay, too.

  • moonitfractal

    I’ve been in some unhealthy relationships. They hurt like hell when they ended. Once the pain started to wear off (which could take hours or years), I was able to realize that they didn’t feel that great before they ended either. It’s a bad time being in a relationship with someone who doesn’t respect you, no matter how much you love them. With a great deal of time and introspection I was able to figure out what went wrong (hint: it was them and not me) and avoid dating people like that in the future. I was single for a long time, then started dating someone who I’d known for a long time and knew would treat me well. We were in a happy relationship for four and a half years before getting married. This is not to say that it’s been nothing but smooth sailing, but we both respect each other and our relationship enough to not let petty fights destroy what we’ve built. We also respect each other way too much to cheat.

    Looking back, those past relationships were terrible and their ends were terrible: it still stings to think about them sometimes. However, without them I would not have to the tools I needed to find a *good* person to spend the rest of my life with, and without the mistakes I made I wouldn’t have the knowledge or skills I need to make my marriage work.

    • Suzanna

      Seriously. I’ve been in some bad relationships, too, and it definitely helped me to spot some red flags early on with others.

      • Not Sarah

        So true! I have such a strong aversion to overdrinkers and smokers of any kind (after a really long and terribly unhealthy relationship a few years back and a dad who very often drank too much) that I have finally developed a better sense for that.

        Guys who offer me a cigarette or weed won’t get another date. Someone who asks me why I drink so slowly (I’m a one drink in social settings kind of person, but no more) and seems perturbed or buys me another drink without asking if I want another (the answer would have been a polite “no thank you”) or who has > 3 drinks in a timespan of a few hours is not someone I want to go on another date with. The last guy I dated didn’t even drink at all! :)

        I’m pretty sure I’ve lost some dates due to my unstated rules around sex (no, I will not have sex with someone after three dates – that is ridiculously early), but that’s okay, because those aren’t the guys I really want to be with anyway.

  • Jashshea

    Oh, HEW, that’s terrible. Big internet hugs. I’m sorry that you’re hurting.

    I haven’t had many BFs in my life – I’m marrying #3 (or 4 if you count HS, which I don’t for me) in November. Breakup #2 (age 24) was horrible. I couldn’t eat, I couldn’t sleep, ANYTHING would make me cry, I couldn’t hear his name w/o weeping.

    Did I mention that I sat next to him at work?

    I wallowed for months, my roommate threatened to call my mother b/c I wouldn’t eat. I lost probably 15-20 lbs in about 4 weeks – the pictures of me at this time are my least favorite ever – I look hungry and sad. Most calories I consumed were alcoholic liquid. I don’t really recommend this approach.

    Then…it all being “too much” became “less than too much.” I was assigned on a project at work that required me to be 1200 miles away every week. I met new people. I remembered that food was delicious. I remembered that flirting was fun.

    So, I suppose my advice is to find something that makes you feel less broken – honestly, it doesn’t even have to make you full-on happy, but something that makes you feel more alive. For me, during #2 – I did yoga. I wasn’t sleeping well anyway, so I woke up earlier than normal and did yoga. Eventually, it stopped being about not feeling numb and became about feeling stronger physically, then emotionally, then finally it made me happy.

  • Chi

    Excellent advice.

    A well regarded therapist, a couples guru who teaches others aspiring to be gurus themselves, once told me that I should experience three to four vigorous heartbreaks before settling down. Check and check.

    Heartache is often accompanied by self reflection and growth, two things I have always thought to be at least a bit painful. I know it is difficult to see while you are in the wading through this sorrow, but a newly shut door usually brings light to ones that have been open all along.

    Take the time and make the effort to heal properly. Hugs.

  • Class of 1980


    No matter how wonderful a person you are, it doesn’t mean every person you meet is a good fit for you. Happy beginnings don’t prevent a mismatch becoming apparent later on.

    Your ex-fiancee wasn’t willing to work on the relationship because she recognized the mismatch, but was too chicken to tell you for a year. She also recognized that she didn’t even want a serious relationship right now. And she inadvertently let you know she doesn’t do honesty well.

    She told you the truth, even though it took too long. Believe me, you DON’T want her to work on the relationship since it’s wrong for her, which means it’s also wrong for you. You dodged a bullet.

    If you take away from this experience that you can’t trust anyone again, you’ve learned the wrong lesson. The lesson isn’t that you can’t trust anyone. The lesson is to hold out until you meet the person who doesn’t want to live without you.

    One way you will know it’s the right person is that it won’t seem like constant work on the relationship is necessary … or at least it won’t feel like work. It will feel clearer and easier than you’ve experienced before.

    Now that you are not tangled up with the wrong person, you are available for the right person. This is a win-win, even if you can’t see it yet.

    • Jashshea

      Exactly, exactly, exactly. Wonderful advice. HEW – Come back and read this when you’re feeling less raw. And then read it again everyday.

    • meg

      This. Yes. This is an open letter to the world.

  • Class of 1980

    Let pain and pleasure be your guide next time. This is from a relationship advice article I read ages ago and it’s right on.

    THE BIG ONE – High pleasure / Low pain
    A FRIEND – Medium pleasure / Low pain
    ACQUAINTANCES – Low pleasure / Low pain
    CRAZY LOVE – High pleasure / High pain
    THE ENEMY – Low pleasure / High pain

    You are looking for The Big One.

  • Oh, HEW, so many internet hugs. I have been there and I have felt broken and like my world was over. But it wasn’t – and it got so much better, more quickly than I ever thought it would.

    I think all the advice folks have given above is good and what worked for me is going to duplicate what’s been said before, but here it is:

    Talking to a therapist. This doesn’t work for every one, some people just don’t feel comfortable with therapists, and I respect that, but if it works for you or if you haven’t tried it before, it’s worth a try. It really helped me to have a place to vent with someone who had absolutely no agenda (not even the agenda of a friend who wants you to feel better). I cried A LOT in therapy, but it really helped me, to get the sadness and anger out, to gain a little perspective, and also to clearly identify things that I would want to be different in future relationships, so I didn’t perpetuate a pattern.

    Saying yes to everything. If a friend asked if I wanted to make plans, I said yes. If I read about something that sounded interesting to me in the paper, I went. It was work. I am a homebody by nature, but it’s easy for the sadness to overwhelm you while you are home alone – and going out/being active was a good distraction.

    Revelling in “me” things. This was especially satisfying if they were things my Ex had hated. I love to read, and my Ex thought it was rude and anti-social if anyone else was around (a sure sign that we were not meant to be!) – so I read A LOT. In public, in my house, read and read and read. My Ex also hated Thai food and I… did not. So I ate a lot of Thai food. Etc, etc. This was how I started to see the good in the break-up. (And the break-up was a good thing, not least because not long after I met my awesome, now wife. But it’s very hard to see it when you are in the thick of things).

    So cry all you want and know that things will get better – and there are a lot of strangers on the internet rooting for you.

    • meg

      Say yes to everything. I love this advice. Particularly because in the hard place, our instinct is to say no, but it’s the wrong instinct. Plus, in relationships we are not always in a position that we CAN say yes to everything, so leap on the chance to say yes, because now you can. You’re FREE!

      • THIS. All of this. When I broke up with my ex, I decided to continue therapy to deal with some of the mechanics of grief. That really helped. I also let myself wallow – my roommate at the time helped with this, and also with such mundane things as letting me call her when I was done with work, because I was so used to calling my ex that when I couldn’t call him I didn’t know what to do.

        I absolutely said yes to EVERY chance to do anything that came along. When I look back at my scrapbook and journal from the summer after we broke up, there are so many movie tickets and concerts and dinners with friends. I was still grieving hard, and it took me a few years to really “get over it” – but making myself do things, even if I didn’t really feel like it, was a huge help, since my natural tendency is to cocoon and drop out. I also read a book called “The Year of Yes” by Maria Dahvana Headley that was very inspiring in this respect.

        (Side note: Carrie – I loved the Mysterious Benedict Society too! You should check out the Theodosia series by R.L. LaFevers. Very, very well done YA.)

  • Nicole

    Solidarity, HEW.

    Three months ago my fiancee told me she had serious doubts about getting married, wasn’t in love with me anymore, and had feelings for someone else. We broke off our engagement and separated. This is my first major heartbreak (and dear sweet lord is it major) so I don’t even real advice or assurances for you at the moment.

    However. This is my current List of Things That Seem to Be Helping in the Thick of It:

    1. Spending time with people who make me laugh so hard I get dizzy.
    2. Kittens/babies (if kittens/babies are Your Thing).
    3. Doing exactly what I want to do with pretty much every hour of the day.
    4. The ‘Crazy Ex-girlfriend List,’ where I mentally keep track of the psychotic/hilarious things I could do to my ex or The Homewrecker, so I don’t ACTUALLY do these things.*
    5. Avocados.

    Many, many hugs from afar!

    *I’ve designated a time limit on this one. I’ll be retiring this 3 months post-breakup.

    • Class of 1980

      “Avocados” must be a typo. Surely you meant “Chocolate”. ;)

      • Liz

        Mmm. Avocados WITH chocolate.

        • Nicole

          I like where your head’s at.

    • Remy

      That sounds way healthier than how I handled my hardest breakup. Props to you. And yay, avocados! They fix lots of stuff.

    • Lynn

      Crazy ex-girlfriend list! My best friend sent me a steady stream of completely evil things I could have done…some of which she’d actually done. Mostly it horrified me because I couldn’t imagine doing those sorts of things, and it reminded me that I was in fact a good person that something bad had happened to.

      There were a few, though, that I kinda wish I’d had the guts to do & picturing those was gratifying.

      • Nicole

        I am horrified that I neglected to add “Dance my Face Off” to this list.

    • meg

      Kittens! Babys! And a crazy Ex list! This is the most fun helpful advice so far!

  • Margaret

    HEW, my God. You’re going to survive this, isn’t that a wonder? It doesn’t seem likely now; this is HUGE and HURTY and AWFUL and ALL-CONSUMING and is making every single person who reads the story go, “Are you F@%$ing kidding me?! How dare that woman do that to HEW!!!” But the wonder of it all, the tiny miracle this this heaviest tragedy, is that you really and truly are going to get through it.

    A few ways to make that easier have already been mentioned, but must be repeated for emphasis:

    1. Don’t talk to her. Delete her number. Delete her email. Delete her Facebook. Do not make excuses. Do not think that you’re the one person who can keep in contact and make it through safely and in a reasonable amount of time. You’re not. (None of us are, that’s the thing.) I’m really freaking serious, don’t half-ass it, DELETE the stuff. Do not read her blog. Do not lurk her Twitter. Do not google her. It is VITAL. “Your heart won’t heal right if you keep tearing out the sutures,” to quote The Postal Service.

    2. Getting to know your new city is awesome advice, and when you feel up to it, you should totally do that. Join groups. Cultivate your own interests. Don’t try to meet people, you’ll meet people no matter what! Just make sure you’re, for lack of a better term, “doing YOU.” And super pro tip? Once you have moved on and do take a leap and get into a new relationship (SCARY! FOREIGN! EXCITING!) don’t stop cultivating yourself :)

    One last thing: your friends are there to support you, and they will support you, and your talking about your situation will not bother them. The caveat is this: if you are repeatedly doing things that are known to further damage you, and are not really absorbing any of the advice you are soliciting, and are wallowing in a pattern and refusing to really help yourself once you’re strong enough, that’s when they’ll drop off. And they’re right to; sometimes it takes being blown off by friends to show a girl she’s crossed a line from grieving to behaving badly.

    I’m so sorry. My heart goes out to you. You are going to get through this. It’s so big right now it might not seem possible, but you are strong and you are going to be OK.

    • Class of 1980

      Going “No Contact” is a beautiful thing.

      I got out of a “Crazy Love” situation (see above) and “No Contact” saved my sanity.

    • Claire

      Such good advice. All of it.

      • YES. YES. YES.

        The first and only time I did the “no-contact” thing, it worked really well. Did it make it hurt less? NOPE. But it certainly limited all the interactions that can muddle the healing and self-growth process. I deleted everything and everyone from all the social networking sites. I also forbid myself from thinking of ways that it wasn’t over. The daydreaming that it could NOT be over is almost as bad as contact, I think.

    • Not Sarah

      In addition to deleting her facebook, I would recommend blocking her/her super close friends on Facebook/gtalk for now.

      When my ex and I broke up last fall, I deleted him on Facebook, Google+ and LinkedIn. I also blocked him on gtalk, as well as all of his friends that were also sort of mine. I hid all of his friends on Facebook from my news feed. I’ve slowly unblocked some of his friends on gtalk when I realized that I didn’t have any problems with talking to them. But I doubt I will be able to unhide them on Facebook, regardless of whether I want to see them because I don’t want to see photos of him pop up on my news feed.

      He always went bouldering with his friends on Tuesday nights, so I avoided the gym on Tuesday nights. I’ve finally started going on Tuesdays sometimes again and it’s fine. I even accidentally acknowledged him when I saw him there on a Thursday evening (my night) last month. So I think that’s a good indicator of how well I’m doing with the situation now :)

      If you’re anything like me and memorize phone numbers easily, deleting her number wouldn’t help. So that’s one thing I don’t do after break-ups.

    • meg

      NUMBER ONE NUMBER ONE NUMBER ONE. I have this iron clad rule that you cannot ever really heal without no contact. And at first, no contact feels like pure hell. And then, it feels like pure freedom. Contact just feels like constant low level hell that never goes away, and it is a trick.

      Block everything. Tell her that’s it. Or don’t tell her. That’s the brillant part about no contact. You can just never pick up a call or a text again.

      One of my friends changed his ex’s number in his phone to “DO NOT ANSWER” so he never picked it up on accident as an unrecognized number. Brillz.

      • ItsyBitsy

        “One of my friends changed his ex’s number in his phone to “DO NOT ANSWER” so he never picked it up on accident as an unrecognized number.”

        I did the same thing!! Admittedly, though, I waited until I accidentally answered my ex’s call not once but twice. Which is why I recommend this route to EVERYONE.

        HEW, I’m so sorry that you have to wade through this sea of awful and am sending you internet hugs. I don’t have much to add to all of the other wonderful suggestions. Just know that you have a whole mess of people rooting for you.

      • Class of 1980

        Going “No Contact” without telling them sounds so much more fun than announcing it. So mysterious.

        What an opportunity I missed. Damn.

      • Just came across this quote and thought of this advice to HEW: “When a man is out of sight, it is not too long before he is out of mind.” — Thomas Kempis
        I echo it from my personal experience as well, sans gendered language. Not only will it help you heal to go incommunicado with the ex, but it really does keep your self esteem in tact more than the alternative. I feel like my greatest cringe-inducing memories post break-up are when I did not heed this advice. Yikes, even now some blood is running to my face as I remember some phone calls and emails and conversations I wish I would have kept in my heart or another safe place.

  • Oh my dear, I am so sorry.

    My previous marriage ended due to my husband’s cheating. And I was lost for a while. I have often felt broken, myself, because I wonder if I will ever be able to fully give my whole self the way I did before.

    My first advice, stolen from Dorie in Finding Nemo (sorry) is this: Just. Keep. Swimming. For me that meant doing whatever the hell I wanted for several months and ignoring real life. I was fortunate that I was able to do so. I had kept our disaster of a marriage a secret, so another way I healed was telling the truth to my family and friends. And I dated a little, which helped me remember that I was not the problem.

    And I don’t know you or your partner, but for a long time I felt that way too- that if he’d work on it we’d be okay. We would never have been okay. I would never have trusted him as far as I could throw him. I don’t think I would have ever been able to believe in him again.

    It is hard to trust again. Really hard. And I worried I would really mess up my current relationship because I was unable to do it. A good therapist really helped. REALLY helped.

    Best of luck to you, and many good thoughts coming your way.

  • Lucy

    I had a 4 year relationship where I was living with the person and suddenly broke up when we were on the verge of engagement ( or so I thought).

    A wise woman at work who had lived with partners, married and divorced and had difficult breakups told me that breaking up and divorcing were just as hard for her. She said that I shouldn’t feel embarrassed about being heartbroken because whether it is a breakup, the calling off of an engagement or a divorce, the feeling is heartbreak and the dreams that go with it.

    I think that sometimes your dream of the future is a longer mourning process than the initial heartbreak. So like the other commenters said, definately take time to mourn the heartbreak, cry on friends shoulders and then try to imagine a new future. Something you can get excited about.

    As for the trust issue and the unwillingness to work on the issue. I think you will find that right person you may look at this whole situation and appreciate it because it makes u appreciate them that much more.

    Lastly so glad you wrote in. This site is about supporting each other :)

  • Claire

    Several years ago I was devastated to discover (also via text messages) that my former fiance and boyfriend of 9 years was cheating on me with a “friend” from work. I had never questioned all his late hours at the office or the necessity of his business trips. Suddenly realizing how extensively I had been fooled was humiliating. With each new admission, I felt as though I were being punched in the stomach. I called off the engagement.

    I second the advice to make a clean break. We tried to stay friends for awhile, but that just kept the hurt fresh and the wound raw. Putting a stop to the emailing and phone calls really helped me close that chapter and move on. It may sound silly, but defriending (that’s a word, right?) him on Facebook felt freeing and helped me stop wasting emotional energy looking in the past and feeling upset about his rebounds.

    Giving myself the time and space to wallow was necessary. But after a month or so, I started forcing myself to go out and at least pretend to enjoy life. Walks by myself, going out with friends, saying yes to invitations, etc. I agreed to a Yosemite camping trip with friends (totally outside of my comfort zone) and focused on getting in shape for the hike. Climbing to the top of Half Dome became my goal and when I did it, it felt like a turning point.

    I also kept a journal and started counseling once a week to give me an outlet for my grief and emotions and to have dedicated time to process the huge life change. Given the circumstances, my initial reaction was to blame him for everything. Gradually, I tried to recognize my part. [This part is touchy. Please know that I am NOT in any way implying that any of this is your fault whatsover! This is just me sharing my own personal experience and what I found helpful.]

    As I examined the long-ignored fissures in our relationship, I tried to honestly examine my own role in what happened and take responsibility for the ways in which I had failed to nurture the relationship and my partner. I acknowledged the ways in which each of us had failed (which is different from taking the blame or saying his affair was my fault). Somehow, for me, this exercise helped me stop feeling like a powerless victim. I took the opportunity to work on my own issues and learned some important lessons about myself and how I could break some negative patterns and grow as a person.

    You do survive and move on. You won’t feel broken forever. You won’t always be alone. Not long after that break-up I met my husband. I had a better idea of the qualities I needed in a partner. And going through that heart wrenching break-up actually gave me some insights and skills that have helped make me a better partner to my husband.

    • Liz

      It is really important to acknowledge what we can do differently in future relationships. Sometimes the only take-away is, “Protect myself better,” but that’s a big, good thing to learn in itself.

  • I think Liz has got some really sound advice for you. Get busy! Go do all the things you wanted to do before but never did for some reason or other. Do the things that your partner was never interested in doing. Meet new people. Join clubs. Take up hobbies. Travel. Have new experiences. Make a list and get going. That’s how I got through the end of a long relationship anyway. I kept so busy I had no time to think about it and before I knew it I was having the time of my life doing all the things I’d always wanted to do. At the end of the whole thing, when I was able to slow down and I stopped thinking about it so much, i was a better person. I was happier. And I knew what I wanted out of my next partner. It’s really hard right now. Really hard. But once you’ve given yourself some time to mourn, get busy and start doing! And don’t forget it’s step by step, step by step.

    ps. I also saw a counsellor to forgive myself for the many ways I blamed myself for the break-up. It was immensely helpful.

    Much love & good energy to you!

  • Cleo

    I’m so sorry that you’re going through this, HEW!

    Besides all the great advice given before me, one thing I do that always helps me heal is to make a playlist/mixtape about the relationship. And I have my method down to a science…so here it is:

    The first song on the playlist is something that makes me feel good that the relationship is over (I like “Since You’ve Been Gone” by Kelly Clarkson and “Enid” by Barenaked Ladies).

    The rest of the first half of the playlist is all songs that remind me of my ex, of our relationship, of good times, of bad times, maybe some of his favorite songs. This is the wallowing portion of the playlist.

    Then, in the middle of the playlist, I put one song that I feel defines our relationship, a theme song if you will. The song has to mean something about the relationship while making me glad it’s over/feel revelatory about the relationship.

    The second half of the playlist is full of songs that make me want to dance and sing and feel like a rockstar. They can be about moving on, about new love, or just pure fun (Livin La Vida Loca anyone?).

    The goal is for you to go through the stages of grief while listening to/making the playlist and then coming out the other side feeling happier.

    I typically like to go somewhere public and do something else while listening to the playlist the first few times (the gym is my favorite, but I’ve also gone to the zoo and walked on the beach), just so I feel too self conscious to get stuck on the wallowing part (but I’ve also cried on the bus so there’s that).

    Anyway, lots of love and hugs to you, HEW! You’ll get through it!

    • ItsyBitsy

      This is brilliant.

  • Lots of good advice above, but I’ve gone through my share of devastating break-ups and come out healthier and happier on the other side, so I’ll throw my two cents in.

    I gave myself a list of things I had to do. It was something like this, but longer and more specific:

    1. Dance it out.
    This was advice from my dear friend, and whether in dance party or dance lesson form, somehow this always helps immensely.

    2. Treat Yo Self
    Get a pedicure, buy fresh flowers, eat dark chocolate, take a vacation to Costa Rica with a friend, etc. Just take really, really good care of your body, mind and spirit.

    3. Reconnect with friends. Chances are they’ve missed you tons when you were busy spending all your time on whats-her-name. You need them, and they will feel good for being needed. This will bring you so much closer.

    And, this wasn’t on my original assignment list, but…
    4. Know that great things are on the way. Great things that you couldn’t have without going through this heartache and misery. I’ve seen this in my life and in my friends’ so consistently. Massive, devastating breakups can be the greatest blessings.

  • When we were just out of college, my boyfriend of 3 1/2 years called me to tell me that he wanted to take a break. he also felt like he was too young to be settling down, and that the distance was way too hard.
    The best advice I received at the time was, “When an otherwise good guy, breaks up with a great girl, for immature reasons, he will eventually come back. It might be two weeks from now, it might be five years from now, but someday you will get that call and he will say ‘I’m sorry, I screwed up, I should have appreciated what I had.’ Your job is to be over him enough by that point, that you can make an informed, intelligent, reasoned decision about whether you would be interested in giving it another shot.”
    That advice really helped me focus on me, and on my growth.
    It may help you to tell yourself, even if your ex does come to her senses, and realize how wonderful what you had was, and decide that you were right and this relationship is worth the work. It will never end well unless you’ve done your job and you’re ready to approach the decision with both eyes wide open and a clear head.

    • Not Sarah

      Thank you. This is EXACTLY what I need to hear right now.

    • meg

      Or move on enough and protect yourself enough that if they ever do come back, you have the self respect to say fuck off. This might be way better.

      • It might be. But the point is, in the moment you don’t know. In that moment after a break-up, when you are having a hard time letting go, and wishing that the person would just come to their senses, it helped me get out of a cycle of “what if” thinking and get on the path to recovering and self refection to think about moving on as the best thing for both of us and the healthiest thing no matter what the eventual outcome.

    • Class of 1980

      I am very skeptical of this “coming to their senses” thing.

      Most people only come back because they miss having somebody; not because they specifically miss YOU.

  • Anonymous Coward

    I once had a relationship that I hoped would lead to marriage. We’d discussed it in a light-hearted way (kinda tough to do when your partner’s still getting over a nasty divorce), but I was prepared to take things slowly. She was constantly declaring her love for me; I didn’t feel like I was pushing anything. A few years into it, though, it became clear that she was still stuck on her ex, and didn’t feel that she could continue in a relationship until she worked that out. (Oof, Rebound Girl.) We ended it in a reasonably amicable fashion. But my heart broke a little. I spent six months before I felt even the slightest bit interested in dating someone new.

    In my case, it wasn’t like she was a bad person. Or had treated me badly. There was still a painful period of adjustment! Because I couldn’t entirely avoid her in the community, I leaned on a couple of “my” friends (not ones we had in common) who didn’t mind me occasionally bursting into tears. And, yes, this happened — including once in her company a few weeks after the breakup. Argh. So embarrassing. I didn’t want to be the crazy ex. (That position was already filled more than adequately. And, as LGBT community is so, er, interwoven, I had to deal with HER, too.) A little after that, I happened to see a picture of my ex on Facebook from the same party I’d been weepy at, where she was more than a little intoxicated and making out with a complete stranger half her age. I was shocked by the blast of pain and RAGE I felt. I mean, I knew I was upset and that I missed her, but the depth of this emotion was utterly appalling to someone raised not to show vulnerability. Especially when it felt out of proportion to the breakup (she didn’t cheat on me, we hadn’t moved in together, etc.).

    I guess the point of sharing the story is to say, HEW, that you’re not alone with your pain. Don’t feel ashamed of your feelings. Others have been through it — some more, and some less. That is NOT to minimize what you’re feeling, but to emphasize that it is possible to survive the pain. It totally sucks right now, and the suggestions above to be gentle with yourself are right on. Just know that people are dealing with this all the time, and have been for a very long time. We deal with it in different ways, but most people do heal over time.

  • Oh G-d, HEW, I’m so sorry. This sucks. I went through a similar thing myself.

    In addition to the excellent advice posted above, I’d also like to suggest making lists and writing letters.

    First: a list of all the things you HATED about the relationship. And a list of all the things you loved about the relationship. Note which aspects you can be glad to be rid of now — and to avoid in the future — and what to look for and cultivate in other relationships.

    Also: writing a letter to my ex that I DID NOT send helped in the healing process. It was a useful way to process my feelings, grieve and even be grateful for some parts of the relationship.

    Finally: In the thick of break-up hell, it helped me to write a gratitude list daily, or as often as possible. Like, writing down everything I was grateful for in my life (from my mom to good food to the beach, etc). It could be big or little things. But writing positive things down regularly helped take me out of a really despairing place and into a more peaceful one, at least momentarily.

    Good luck. Internet hugs and virtual Kleenex. You are strong and will get through this. Even though Liz didn’t want to say it, time really does heal wounds. xoxoxo

    • The list! I am glad you mentioned a list! I had a hard break-up, and I had forgotten about the list I made of good things about the relationship and bad things. I made it and realized that the bad far outweighed the good. I folded that list up and carried it around in my pocket for a while. When I found myself feeling sad, I could pull it out, re-read it yet again, and remind myself that the bad things far outnumbered the good. That really helped me work through the pain.

  • Kelliliu

    A thousand amens to the good advice given above, especially about deleting the ex’s phone number, getting busy in a new city, etc. I’ll add one more thing… After my terrible, wrenching breakup, I thought that I had to start hating all the music, food, and movies, even all the opinions that the ex and I had enjoyed together. I nearly threw out my U2 albums because they were his favorite! But then I consciously chose to separate good things from a bad relationship, and it was very healing. It allowed me to realize that I had grown through the relationship, and though it had ended badly, there were good things to pick out of the ashes, things that had survived the fire. After having many (many) big, ugly cries, remembering that good things had come out of the season allowed me to carry them forward without regret. I wish for you the same peace out of the present turmoil, and the comfort in the present that comes from knowing that such peace will eventually come.

  • Zephyr

    Let me tell you a story.
    My high-school sweetheart and I had been engaged for together for three years, engaged for almost one when I found out that he had been cheating on me with one of my friends. We spent the next year in a horrible back and forth love triangle before she walked away and he and I got back together. We resumed our relationship, but not our engagement, and spent the next three years trying to make it work. I know two couples who worked really hard and managed to come back together after cheating and so I know that it is possible, but it did not work for us. I was ashamed at the person that I was during those years. I went through his stuff while he was at work, read over EVERY number on our phone bills obsessively looking for one from her town and even followed him when he went out with his friends, hiding out in the car to see if he left with anyone. Ultimately, we decided that we were not one of those couples who could make it through betrayal and I left. There were days that I could hardly breathe through the pain and the grief and the wanting him back. There were days that I was gripped by absolute rage that he would have done this to me, to us. It took me a couple years before I was ready to even contemplate dating again.
    HOWEVER…everything that they say about the getting stronger and the light at the end of the tunnel is true. When I met Faisal, I found that I was throwing myself into love and into trust with a fearless abandon that I had never encountered in myself. Because I knew my own resilience and strength in a way that I would have never known before. If Faisal cheats on me or leaves…it will be horrible and painful and I know that. But I also know, that I will be ok. I know how to get back up and put myself back together. And that knowledge allowed me to step forward in to love, in to trust, in to intimacy with confidence and without reservation.

    Betrayal rips your heart out and the pain is intense. Liz is absolutely right in saying that you are grieving the loss of something precious. Grief is different for everyone and I’m sure you will find out what works best for yourself. For me it was writing. I started an anonymous blog and poured my heart out to total strangers. I couldn’t do counseling until later because I was simply too raw to sit in a room with someone and cry. But later, my counselor was wonderful and helped me in so many ways.

    But the thing I wish someone had told me was…give yourself time, give yourself space and give yourself freedom to feel. Don’t beat your self up for “taking too long to get over it”. Don’t try to push yourself back in to dating until you feel ready. Give yourself permission and space to grieve.

    Have faith in your strength and have faith in your worth as a partner, lover and friend.

    • KatieBeth

      “I was ashamed at the person that I was during those years. I went through his stuff while he was at work, read over EVERY number on our phone bills obsessively looking for one from her town and even followed him when he went out with his friends, hiding out in the car to see if he left with anyone.”

      Yeeeaaah, I may have done “d) all the above” at one point when I was still with a total jerk…it did not end well…actually, I take that back, it did end well because I’m not with the @#$hole anymore!! I also learned a valuable lesson – if you feel the need to look, you found the problem already.

  • Lturtle

    There is so much good advice here already, I am sure what I have to share will be redundant. But in the interest of helping if I can here is my two cents.
    This is a grieving process. Let yourself grieve. Give yourself the time and space to acknowledge what it is you have lost. By this I mean the future you were building, the dreams and plans you were focused on. It took me much longer to get over losing the life I had planned, than the partner who betrayed me. I could get mad at the ex-partner and think of all the ways he was wrong for me, but I still wanted that rosy future we had planned together. Your future is still bright, you will find new dreams, make new plans. And they will be YOURS, which means they will be even better.
    Make a list. (I love lists, if they aren’t your thing then don’t bother) list things, not central to the breakup necessarily, that are evidence of why your ex was wrong for you. She never took out the garbage? Reason #317 why you don’t want to be with her anyway. I did this out loud to friends whenever I thought of something (one at a time usually) made a joke of it whenever possible rather than actually writing out a list. But it helped to counteract the “what ifs” when I was missing the ex.
    Talking to a counselor can be really helpful. It is just one more way to take good care of yourself. No shame in it. One other thing that I do during hard times is to tell myself “just keep putting one foot in front of the other”. This is my way of acknowledging that things suck, and they will for a while, and even thought it’s hard I just have to keep going until one day when it isn’t so hard. Which isn’t very nice to hear (or to do really) but is true.
    And lastly, so many internet hugs to you HEW. This site is not just for successful relationships, it is for a community of people in all stages of life and relationships. And this community loves helping each other. It is full of people who I don’t doubt are happy to be a shoulder for you to cry on, a good hug, someone to take you out dancing or show you a good hiking spot. If you’re in the Pacific NW I volunteer to do all of the above.

  • AmeLeigh

    Just wanted to say, you’ll be ok HEW! It sucks and it hurts but you will end up ok! All of the advice you’ve been given form us is totally spot-on with what I learned from my engaged-breakup but I’d like to stress the “unfriend” advice. My ex and I tried staying friends after we broke up (he hadn’t been physically cheating but he had been emotionally cheating) and it was horrible. I was so upset about the whole situation all I could do was pine over him and be unhappy so when things fell through with the other person and he crawled back to me I hadn’t been able to move forward at all and I took him back just because I was lonely and missed him and hadn’t tried to get myself in a better place. It was one of the worst mistakes I’ve made but I learned a few valuable lessons. Such as, even if you reconsile and make-up, your relationship has changed because of this event and that may be someplace you aren’t happy spending your time anymore.

    Also, forgive yourself for having baggage (if you need to). I’m currently engaged to a wonderful person who is helping me through some baggage I have from before. Nothing too serious but trying to seperate current things from hurtful things that had been said or done before. Also,I had heard through a mutual friend my ex had gotten engaged a few months after we did, I perposefully spent some time revaluating how I felt about the whole situation – it just made me relieved so I didn’t feel guilty about him being alone when I had found someone wonderful.

  • AnotherCourtney

    The last earth-shattering heart break I went through taught me how valuable my friends were. One of my dearest friends, who lived in another state at the time, called me every day for weeks. At first, I ignored most of her phone calls, and she would leave me voicemails along the lines of “I know you’re hurting, so you don’t have to call me back. I just wanted you to know someone loves you.” Eventually, I started answering and asking her “WHY??” over and over. Many years later, she’s still one of my very best friends.

    Another good friend made it his mission to get me a hobby. He’d make a date with me to play basketball/go for a run/workout at the gym, and if I didn’t show up, he’d call me and make (friendly) threats until I dragged myself out of my apartment. I was working out almost two hours a day because of this guy, and I got in great shape. That’s a great pick-me-up after a breakup.

    My point is, don’t be afraid of leaning on your friends. That’s what they’re for in a hard time like that. And to anyone who has a friend going through something awful, use these as ideas for how to help. That’s what I’ve done. :)

  • April

    Lots of good advice has been shared – yay for wondeful APW’ers!

    HEW, I just want to send you oodles of internet hugs and good thoughts. Take care and be gentle with yourself.

  • Suzanna

    One more thing that may help keep yourself busy, make new friends, and possibly find a new hobbie/career: volunteer.

    I LOVE volunteering. I suggest this for anyone, anytime– but especially if you’re going through something tough. Doing good for the sole purpose of helping others (or the environment, or animals, or what-have-you), I find it absolutely uplifting. Focusing on others can sometimes actually lead you to discover new things about yourself.

    • KW

      After my first real heartbreak, I signed up as a volunteer at the local children’s hospital to distract me from all the “what if” thoughts. My initial commitment was for 50 hours (approx 6 months) and 7 years later, I’m still doing it. I think it is an excellent idea to at least give a try and have recommended it to other friends.

      HEW, I want to echo what everyone else has said about giving yourself time to grieve and no contact, at least in the beginning. I was friends first with the man in question, and since we had dated only 2 months, we did the “let’s be friends” thing. I will never do it again, even though he and I truly are good friends to this day. What could have taken me weeks to process and grieve and let go took me 5 years instead (ouch, it is painful to admit that!). Most of those 5 years I thought I had let go and we really were “just friends” and then my heart would remind me from time to time that I hadn’t completely let go after all. And that was with just a 2 month dating relationship with no promise of a future together.

      My heart goes out to you. I hope you find some joy again soon in yourself and your life.

  • HH

    Oh, my heart aches for you and I wish I could give you a tight squeeze and a box of tissues right.this.minute.

    As a recent college grad, transplanted back to my native state a plane ride from my boyfriend-who-was-certain-to-be-my-husband and closest friends, I was working 18 hours days to distract myself from missing them and trying to plan for the future. Our relationship was blissfully wonderful, aside from the distance, until he broke up with me over the phone, which completely blindsided me. Oh, politics- you destroy the good in everything.

    I was shattered. I raged, and cried, and probably should’ve sought therapy but I didn’t. In the next few months, I made some bad decisions regarding rebounds, learned from them (eventually). I called my friends and cried until I had nothing left to cry, and dove headfirst into work to numb my mind and distract me from the empty ache I constantly felt.

    Very, very slowly, I started to enjoy things again, and feel like I was worth more than I was settling for (in bad-decision-rebound-land).

    You will get through this. It SUCKS SO HARD RIGHT NOW. And it will for awhile. Be good to yourself. Look at this as an opportunity to pamper yourself, rediscover your passions, reinvent yourself if you like! The world is your oyster and giving you a clear message to pay attention to you. Above all, know that you are worth far more than you were treated. Do not fall into the trap of thinking that you are no longer worthy of being treated well. Go ahead and lean on your friends- if you don’t, you might lean on people who encourage bad decisions, which leads to poor self esteem, which leads to bad decisions… a vicious cycle that is good for no one. Trust me there.

    And when all else fails? I’ll take a page out of Gretchen Rubin’s book and say “Act how you want to feel.” Eventually, you will fool yourself into thinking that you are happier than you were before you tried smiling at people in the supermarket to remind yourself that your face still was able to do it. You have so many internet strangers sending you love and strength right now- you can do this!

    But it is hard.

    Happiness will find you again- I one day realized that I was really living for me and not looking for love, and that very same week, I met the man who will soon be my husband.

    Still. Hard. Now.

    I wish you peace, and closure, and heaps of ice cream.

  • I *highly* recommend Uncoupling: Turning Points in Intimate Relationships for anyone who’s going through a breakup (or, anyone who’s ever gone through a breakup? so, everyone?) It’s a sociological look at breakups, is totally gender & orientation neutral, and has rung incredibly true for everyone I know who’s read it (um, I’ve been known to send to to friends in the wakes of breakups.) It’s kind of amazing how universal the experience of breaking up is – both in that “oh shit, I am not alone” and also in that “oh shit, I am not special” way.

  • Jen

    I’m very sorry your engagement ended. In January my 5 year relationship ended. We were “pre-engaged,” although he wasn’t serious about it. But I thought we were serious. So while “time heals all wounds” is cliche, it is so true. It still hurts and makes me angry when I think too hard on it, so I try not to. But the constant crying has stopped.

    Some good advice my mom gave me was to allow myself some time every day to be sad, but then try to stop thinking about it. Definitely focus on taking care of yourself. Do things you like. Working out is great for endorphins!

    Some people also mentioned cutting all contact. I totally agree with this. I blocked him everywhere. I even deleted all our photos on Facebook. I hid all the photos and anything else related to him in a chain of folders on my comp. Just because a lot of them were (Disney) travel photos that hold value. Maybe someday I will want them, or maybe delete them. But I think putting everything that reminds you of your ex out of the way is the best for healing.

    Like you, I also wonder how to trust again. I’m still not sure on that one.

  • Julia


    I am so sorry for what you’re experiencing. I’ve actually been through this story, but from the other side: when I was younger, I cheated on and then broke up with my boyfriend of 4 years, who told me in the break-up process that he had been about to propose. Here’s some thoughts for you from that perspective:

    1) It’s not about you, AT ALL.
    Believe her when she says that “she wants to sleep around and not have to work on [your] relationship because she’s too young to have to do that”. Don’t let it hurt you when she says “I’m not attracted to you, and I haven’t been for a year”. If you were an unattractive person, why would she have agreed to marry you in the first place? At the time of my breakup, I was just plain terrified of commitment, and I would’ve dumped anyone — I would’ve dumped George Clooney! My ex-boyfriend was smart, and sweet, and great in bed, and our breakup was absolutely all about my not-being-ready, not about any flaw of his. She might say all kinds of crazy things in the break-up process (I certainly did), but just keep telling yourself that it’s not true, it’s not about you.

    2) She will get what she wants, and you will get what you want.
    After our breakup, I started looking for people to date casually, sleep around with, and generally to have a grand ol’ time. My ex-boyfriend started looking for another serious girlfriend. In a relatively short amount of time, we both found what we wanted. If you are a good person looking to give love and commitment, I promise, you will attract other good people who want the same thing.

    3) She’s acted horribly, but she’s (most likely) not a horrible person.
    It’s probably really hard for you to reconcile the amazing woman you knew and loved with the horrible woman who’s just dealt you this incredibly nasty, painful blow. You may be torn between the desire to make your relationship what it was again and the desire to punch her in the face. Know that she will (most likely) look back on this episode with deep, deep regret and guilt, as I did. Not for breaking up when I wasn’t ready for a relationship, but for the horrible way in which I did it. Don’t look back on your relationship and second-guess everything, or worse, second-guess yourself and your judgment. It was real. The love was real, the good times were real, and her being a lying cheating b*tch doesn’t undo any of that. That said, don’t get back together with her, because her inability to commit right now is also quite real.

    4) It will all work out.
    I know everyone says this and you’re sick of hearing it, but here’s what my story looks like 7 years later: My ex-boyfriend is happily engaged to a great girl. I am happily engaged to a great guy (after a few years of dating casually, I finally got ready for commitment). We are good friends, and there is no pain or awkwardness when we see each other. Now, it took us a long time to reach this point, and of course your story is not going to play out exactly like mine. But at least once, it did work out.

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  • Emily Elizabeth

    I am so sorry you are hurting so much, right now. Just know that you will eventually be happy, and everything will be ok. Keep crying with those friends, because you would do the same for them if they were in your place. I wanted to write to echo Liz when she said to go talk to a counselor. I had a bad breakup in college that put me in a really terrible place, and I was feeling very betrayed and unlovable. I visited a counselor at school, and even though I only went twice, those sessions helped so much. Just knowing that the person listening is there solely to listen, not to judge, but just to listen helped me talk through everything. Sending love your way.

  • HEW

    Thank you so much to everyone for taking the time to comment and share your stories. It does help to hear how other people have survived this, and also why it might happen- thank you Julia.

    I’m writing this just after climbing a mountain for charity. It was planned anyway but it has been helpful to have something to focus on. I have made a list of the bad stuff and will try a good list too. And no contact… I guess I need to do that! I dont want to, but you’re all right, it will probably help.

    And I promise to say yes to things. And to dance.

    There are far too many posts that hit home for me to mention them all. Thank you all so much.
    HEW xxx

    • You just climbed a mountain?

      You are f*ing awesome. Go, HEW, go!

  • Not Sarah

    My last break-up hurt, but not nearly as I’m sure yours did. It took some time before this helped, but maybe you’re at this point. It kind of just helps my general self-confidence too.

    One of the things that really helps to boost my confidence when I get down on myself is to make a list of all the reasons why I’m awesome that he obviously didn’t see. I usually try to make the list as long as possible and keep going until I feel somewhat better. Sometimes the things on the list are ridiculous, but it’s almost always helpful. It didn’t really help super early though it does now.

  • Lea

    Thank you APW for posting this article. This is why I’ve continued reading, through a rough breakup.

  • Maria

    My only break up was with someone who I really, really thought I would be with forever, call it naivety or whatever you want, but I truly believed it. At some point, I realized that the end of a serious relationship results in, quite literally, the loss of a loved one. Take what time you need to grieve, do what you need to (even if it seems silly), and don’t be ashamed. It may not seem like it right now, but you will survive and you will go on and have a happy life and other, better relationships. It may take a long damn while, but it will come.