The nostalgia trap
My five-year relationship ended last summer. He was the first person I ever really loved, and I considered him my best friend and family. Now, he won’t even talk to me. I am still very sad, and I often feel like I could cry at any second (which I do at home) when I think about him and all the times we had together. I think he’s pretty much forgotten me. How do people move on?
By accepting that the relationship is not damaged, but over. We all avoid acknowledging that truth after a breakup, but it’s what we need to hear. I know your heart aches. I know you mourn the hope you had for a shared future, but you must stop living in the past. If you’re infected with nostalgia, your mind is editing memories to select those that meet your expectations. You’re not invested in creating love in the world today.
Grieving the demise of a relationship is healthy. However, you are using memories to prompt your tears, driving you into melancholy and, probably, self-blame (“If I was different …” “If I had only …”). It’s an addictive pattern that you must confront and quit.
Redirect your energy into gathering lessons from this relationship. For example, widen your concept of family. Choosing one person to be your entire support system is a recipe for co-dependency. If you have one best friend, that’s a blessing. If you fail to invest yourself in other friendships because you’re overly attached to your best friend, that’s a problem. Another lesson: When a former partner refuses to talk to you, consider your agenda. Rather than conversing with the ease of a friend, it’s likely that your neediness is coiled beneath every word. That’s a common problem after a breakup, and it reduces a conversation to a power play.
Move on by going to therapy while also devoting yourself to new and old friendships. (This means you learn about your friends and share about yourself, but you do not drag out the carcass of your relationship for a show-and-tell of suffering every time you talk to a friend.) No friends? Take a class, volunteer, vacation, visit relatives, go to a 12-step meeting or go on a supervised retreat. Make a list of the things you always wanted to try and then try them. Um, did I mention therapy? It will teach you to be a better friend to yourself.
My best friend of four years recently told me that her therapist said our relationship is toxic and should end. My friend broke off our friendship. She will not return my phone calls or respond to my e-mails. I am so hurt and angry. I have been there for her through her husband’s affairs, her divorce, her surgery and her problems with her children. Now that I need a friend, she’s checked out. Is there anything I can do? Should I contact her therapist?
Let me translate your last question: Should I interfere with my friend’s healing process? Of course not! The client-therapist relationship is a sacred one. You do not have the right to cross that boundary without either an invitation or direct knowledge of abuse. But it appears that your mind is willing to go to great lengths to protect its image of itself. Perhaps you quietly fear that you are toxic. You might be. It’s also possible that the problem is that your interactions mimic one of her painful childhood relationships. So, I suggest that you accept the closure gracefully. And, in the future, remember that true friends don’t keep a tally of what they do for each other.