Sunday, November 19, 2006
Dismaying Story #84: Painful Love Letters
My girlfriend broke up with me this past summer. I'm not "over" her and I don't think I ever will be. It was kind of an unpleasant breakup, as all are, but we agreed to be friends. I am not going to look for another relationship for a long time because, after this experience, I decided to wait a few years and my parents will arrange a marriage for me as is the custom in my family.
Is it a bad idea to read love letters that this ex-girlfriend wrote to me? Something tells me it's unhealthy. Another part of me says that keeping and reflecting on the good memories is okay. I think part of it is that the letters act as evidence that she loved me. Is this a guilty pleasure that I can afford? I don't think it's wrong per se, but it does make me miss her more. It makes me think of that time we were together and wish that it had lasted.
Signed, Not Over Her
Dear Not Over Her,
The love letters are not your problem. They are simply one way to jog your memory about the relationship you had. You currently have other things that make you think about the relationship, such as when you get up in the morning or when you take a breath. Your problem is that you are having trouble letting go.
You were obviously quite smitten with this girl right up until the time of the break up. Now you are left with all these memories of the great feelings she brought out in you, as well as profound regret that these feelings cannot continue. You are grieving the loss, which is why it hurts to look at the love letters.
A period of mourning is normal after a break up. Eventually, though, you must move past this phase and accept your changed circumstances. In your case I can see at least two factors that may make this difficult for you. First, she is no longer in your life as a partner, which means that you are working only from memories of her. It can be easy in this type of situation to idealize what happened, to forget any of her mundane or less-than-perfect characteristics (other than those you find endearing) and remember only the good. Some people build up an image of a "perfect" ex-partner in their mind.
Not only does that make it hard to let go, but it can lay the foundation for future relationship troubles. Regardless of whether your next relationship begins spontaneously or is arranged by your parents, you still have to make it work. That will be more difficult to do if you are constantly comparing your partner with an idealized memory. No one can live up to such unrealistic expectations, which means you may be dissatisfied for all the wrong reasons and have problems as a result.
It's news flash time, my friend. Your former girlfriend is not perfect either. If you were to get back together with her, over time you would find out she has the same range of wonderful and not-so-wonderful characteristics as the rest of us. Many people have the experience where they fantasize over a former partner, only to bump into them years later and find out that they don't match the memories at all.
If you want to see where this could be headed, read Dismaying Story #44: Hang On Tight about a woman who tried to reconnect with an old flame she had been fantasizing about for twenty-three years. Also check out the comment left by The Memoirist. These stories provide firsthand accounts of the troubles that crop up when we never really break up with someone in our mind.
You say you have decided not to enter into another relationship for some time. This is the second factor that increases the difficulty for you. Oftentimes the best way to get over one relationship is to discover an even better one! Your decision to wait may work out for you, but you should be aware of the additional difficulties this can create.
I can assure you with complete confidence that this former girlfriend is not the one for you. You see, she doesn't want to be with you. Her reasons don't matter. Any good times you shared in the past do not change this about her. You deserve a partner who wants you back, so you need to accept that this relationship is over and move on. Once you have truly done that, you will find that reading the love letters may be poignant, but will no longer be painful.
All the best,