Advice Column: How To Move On From A Lying Ex
I am looking for advice on moving on from an ex boyfriend. I know everyone has their crazy stories and thinks they are all terrible and I’m sure you have heard worse, but this ones a real kicker.
We met in college and dated for about a year and a half. When we first started hanging out he told me he had an older brother die in a car accident while he was in high school. He lied. The whole time we dated he let me believe this about him and feel sorry for him. He always added to the story and I always thought something was funny about it but why would someone make up such a horrendous lie? It was a touchy subject so I never brought it up to anyone else. One time when I was visiting his hometown he took me to the “place of the accident”. He proceeded to always add to this lie by telling me stories about him and his “brother” from when they were young.
The whole year and a half he proceeded to put me second all the time to his friends because drinking on the weekends was more important. I am not one to go out drinking like he was. Everyone told me they saw I wasn’t happy but I thought I loved the guy. We would talk about the future and how we wanted the same things in life.
When we broke up he told me he needed time to just figure himself out and be him for awhile; he didn’t want to drag me around while he did that. He wrote me a sappy letter telling me how he will always love me and that he knows he has to do this now so we can have a future together. A month later was when I found out he lied about some other things so I asked about his brother because my curious mind couldn’t find an obituary, news article about the accident, or anything. He said he had no idea why he made up this huge lie. I also found out he told his girlfriend before me the same exact thing.
Well, it has been almost a year now since we broke up. He is dating someone new and I’ve been talking to a new guy but I feel like my past is holding me back from the relationship I deserve with this great guy. At this point I’m not sure what to do anymore. I know my ex boyfriend is a dick and I should stop thinking about him, but it seems like I’m forever hung up on him.
Please any advice can help,
Forever Hung Up
Dear Forever Hung Up,
Your letter is not about your ex being a dick. If he were a dick, you would have stopped thinking about him by now. But you are thinking about him. Almost a year later, and you’re reaching out to me, too. You said you shouldn’t be thinking about him though. Has someone told you that? Often our friends do.
They reiterate that you’ve gone through something lousy and asinine, something unfair and wrong. They call him a liar which makes you suspicious that maybe even his love for you was a lie, that it was obviously a lie. Of course, you were already thinking that but now your friends have just escalated this self-consciousness and now you just feel smaller and even more overlooked by even more people that you’ve let come close to your heart.
My God, you haven’t even experienced real love! You know nothing! Has the enemy within you told you this before? I bet. I bet you feel cheated out of your own romance, your own feelings, the deep and sacred emotions of your life. You fear for yourself, for the foolish side of you that falls for these dicks, these sociopaths, these spineless liars so unlike yourself but who are very much your ex, and then you fear for the courageous side of you, too. The compassionate side. The side of you that falls in love with stories, even though those stories are lies, the side of you that falls in love with wounds, even though the wounded has created those wounds to cover up the ones that not even he has the heart, let alone the courage and compassion, to get close enough to to understand, to make peace with and resolve.
But that’s because of his own intimidation, and his intimidation should not create in you a fear that did not exist before. Actually, should is the wrong word. You’ve already told me you should stop thinking about him. And, in my opinion, that’s already one should too many. So, I’ll take my should back and I’d like to challenge you to do the same for yourself. Give yourself permission to think about your ex, be it a long time or a short time, think about your relationship with him for however long it takes to think deeply enough. Because, here’s the thing, whether his intimidation should or should not create a fear in you matters little. It matters little when the reality is his intimidation, the wounds he has and the lies he’s used to guard himself against his own hauntedness, can create fear and insecurity and suspicion in you, and the point of you reaching out to me and my reaching back to you is the same: we must relieve you of this transgression. More than greater love with this new man of yours, you deserve to have a spirit unencumbered by lies and shoulds and the shameless deceit inflicted by a single man. Or, in this case, a sad sack.
So, let’s start there. Your ex is not a dick. Dicks can be forgotten. Your ex has been someone you’ve had to endure. He’s a sad sack, an inept person who causes feelings of pity or disgust in other people. You are disgusted that you have looked dreamingly into the eyes of a man who has taken you to the faux death site of his faux brother. That’s disturbing as much as it is disgusting. To be sure, your relationship started with — and quite possibly, in his mind, was sustained by — pity for him. Pity that his brother died. Pity that his brother was plucked tragically from this earth. Pity that, now brotherless, he feels more alone in this world. Pity that he’s a man who could be haunted by events and the emotions attached to them, a man who’s grieving and therein should be given both the support and space from you, his faithfully understanding and patient girlfriend, whenever he should need it, whenever he should call upon you to adore him or push you aside so he can chug beer and forget his pain like any grieving young adult would want to.
I realize the seesaw of emotions this would have created in you. As a young woman, it’s difficult enough to know your place in the world. Add to that knowing your place in your boyfriend’s life — a boyfriend who is, supposedly, surviving the devastating loss of his own blood. How much love can you insist upon? How much closeness makes sense with someone whose impulse will be to cling in one moment and fear you in the next? If I were you, I very likely would have manically reasoned away his “putting me second all the time” by telling myself that, of course he is! He’s grieving! Of course he needs me and then wants nothing to do with me! Of course, of course, of course! Because that’s how humans behave when they’ve lost anyone for the first time. They sabotage anything that comes along and looks like love, that comes along and feels like home.
Maybe you looked a little bit like love. Maybe you felt a little bit like home. You must have because for a year and a half he not only kept up a lie, but added to it. And that’s why love is so bittersweet. We feel at home when we are with it. We get comfortable and a new normal becomes us.
You see, the best of us will relax into this comfort, put down our shields and weaponry, and will discover ourselves with the person who has aided us in accessing this newfound freedom. But the worst of us will not do this. The worst of us will get comfortable being the worst part of ourselves. We will feel so comfortable lying that we will eventually forget our own truth, and we will forget why it is so needed. We will forget where the lie ends and we start. And so, out of our own forgetfulness, the lies won’t stop and we won’t ever really start. The deceit will only compound. Because what’s comfortable, inevitably, becomes second nature. At least, we want it to. That’s why your ex has carried his lies into all of his romances. Because he wants to exist in what he already knows he can control.
He uses faux pity to control how fast and in what nature his relationships evolve. He uses faux pity to also direct the attention toward him in some cases and off of him in others. He is in lust with convenience. How sad. How chaotic. How unsustainable. Genuine attention has probably never, ever come easily or naturally for your ex. Which speaks to why anyone would ever possibly want to grow comfortable in their own deceit, comfortable in making honest love impossible. Because deceit relaxes them from having to learn and then admit to who they really are which often feels like the admission of everything they are not. This is what your ex is up against. He’s up against all he has never exposed, which is most of him. He’s up against a world he has never lived honestly in. It’s a good thing you aren’t sharing in his world any longer.
I want you to see your ex for who he is because that insight will facilitate your distancing yourself from him in your mind. It’s how you will separate the love you are able to give from the love you have only received. If you see yourself as an innocent participant in this story of yours, if you see yourself as a woman who was only wanting to love, who was only trying to make life easier for a man who had already experienced so much pain, then you will be able to move forward acknowledging that you are a valuable, gifted woman. Men will yearn for your substance. Women will admire your abundance. You will help people come into love. That is, if you remain willing to give it, to open up and invest your heart again. Not just in boyfriends but in people.
Right now you are a woman moving through the world naive to all the love, all the potential for connection, that’s being carried within her. This is the perfect moment in your life to finally begin acknowledging yourself, to finally begin thinking, not of your ex and his capacity to lie, but of you and your capacity to love with truth. Tell me, how will you compliment yourself today? Tell me, what impresses you about yourself? Think of it. Write it down. Say it aloud. However you do it, just make sure you begin to. Make sure you begin to thank yourself. Make sure to treat yourself good.
Because you may have been with your ex, but you are not him. You do not do what he does. Celebrate that. Celebrate. And whenever you are hurting, remind yourself of the difference between the best of us who relax into love and the worst of us who relax into self-hatred. Acknowledging the camp you’re in is a reliable way to cheer yourself on and cheer yourself up.
We have to acknowledge what this is all really about though, to acknowledge why this drama has been imposed upon your current relationship and is limiting it, too. The reason is, what you’re hung up on is not what you think you are hung up on. What’s holding you back is not who your ex is or what your ex did. It’s not the memories of him, the memories of his faux pity or even your genuine love. What’s holding you back is all that’s gone unacknowledged. Unrealized. What you’re hung up on is not who he turned out to be but who you’ve turned out to be because of this experience, because this is now apart of your psyche, apart of your reality, your radar, story, and life.
Most people in your situation would think they were coping with the loss of a boyfriend, of a breakup. And in small ways, they are. They’ve lost a friend, a confidant. They’ve lost that future that you wrote me about. The talks about wanting the same things in life. You’ve lost the vision of where your life was headed. You’ve lost that and you’ve lost the idea of who you thought your ex was and who you imagined he could be once he had healed from the tragic lie he held over you and convinced you of. Those details are the smallest details, and they are the ones you are focusing on, the ones you are making into everything and fighting the acceptance of. This is why you haven’t healed yet, this is why you are still held back by a boyfriend you seem “forever hung up on”. Because you are not standing up to the biggest loss of all. You are not grieving the reality that haunts you most.
This is your reality: You’ve lost your innocence. That’s what lies strip us of. That’s what boyfriends who lie strip us of. They strip us of our own beautiful naivety. Our own beautiful fantasy. The fantasy that no one is out to fool us. The fantasy that no one can fool us, either. Lies change us in this way. They shatter and transform us. They take believers and turn them into skeptics. They turn trusting people into distrusting people. Paranoid people. People that erect walls and barricades around their heart and go on to never let love in without resistance. Good people give up on people like that. It’s too much work, too much drama, too much distress and self-doubt. That’s what disbelief really is. Disbelief is suspicion and suspicion turns into self-doubt. Good hearted people like you want to be surrounded by those who don’t doubt — don’t doubt others or themselves. Good hearted people like you want to find those who are accepting. Think about it, if your ex were actually accepting of himself, these lies would never have been fed to you in the first place. By the way, I’m sorry that they were.
But it’s not the end of the world. It’s only the end of love as you know it. That’s another reason to celebrate. If you lean in wisely, love will only go up from here. You have choices right now. You can begin having the conversation that your friends have probably helped you shut down. A conversation no longer about your ex being a liar and a dick or how untrustworthy men can be and how doomed you are, but a conversation that gets to the heart of the matter, that reveals what this breakup has provoked in you, what this deceit has stripped you of, what questions this relationship has made you vulnerable to. Like, are you afraid you are a woman who is easy to fool? Angry that you are a woman who now doubts every story she hears? Who plays CIA agent and manically fact checks a person’s life? Have you lost faith in yourself? In your capacity to hunt down the gems of the world? Are you disappointed in your own willingness to overlook those “funny” feelings early on, those gut stirrings that say step away from this red flag of a person right now?
I have promising news. Don’t be so afraid. This is one relationship. This is one liar. You will meet others and you will not meet them, too. You will learn to trust yourself early on and to forgive yourself for falling into relationships that then complicate the romances which come after them. Don’t be mean to yourself about this, about the tangles your mind gets tied up in, about the people whose behavior trips you up and, in most instances, was and always will be beyond your control. You are learning. You are discovering. You are doing what we all are doing as we find our way into greater love. You are getting overwhelmed by those who fall in and out of your life, by the relationships which shake you and your understanding of love at the very core. In truth, it’s better than not being shaken at all. Again, this is your time to be growing through love. To let love in, you’ll have to accept that you’ll be plunging toward growth.
I’m going to tell you something, something that will keep you open and keep you trusting and keep you from becoming the bitter, broken, cynic of a woman that you do not want to become just because this experience with your ex. For my message to work though, you’ve got to believe in it. You’ve got to practice it. Here it goes. Men are not the problem. Certain people become our problems. You have your entire life in front of you, don’t let suspicion ruin the romance of it.
When you think of your ex, it’s okay to think of him as a liar. As a sad sack. But make sure that instead of only reminding yourself of him, of that, you remind yourself of what you felt at times with him. Remind yourself of the moments where your trust was powerful, where your heart was compassionate, where you felt that maybe you were being tricked but you chose to risk yourself, where you chose to give someone a chance. More than being fooled, you have been brave. And that’s all been you. Liars cannot strip you of that. They may shake you up but you’ve got bravery in you. You’ve got trust and intuition. And you will be brave and you will be trusting again. You will trust in men and you will also trust yourself, that you have the instinct to know who is relaxing into their best selves and who is too comfortable living through their worst.
You do know what to do. You just have to let this fallout change your life. You have to let this deception inspire you to never be the deceiver and to never engage love in a way that is half alive. You have to put aside the bad guys and love with all the goodness you have inside of you. You know how to do that. Go do it. Then, do it again and again and always one more time.