I was in a relationship with someone for eight years. We were on and off, through high school and university, but we always remained close, even when we weren’t together — usually with the understanding that the timing or circumstances beyond our control weren’t right, and that we might return to it someday.
Around a year ago, we broke up because he said he was overwhelmed with work and didn’t feel capable of putting in the kind of emotional labor required to sustain what was, at the time, a long-distance relationship, and I was tired of feeling resentful. I thought we could work as friends for a while, because my expectations would be different — I’ve always thought that being an adult meant recognizing when other people are trying their best, and accepting that things would be messy and that that was okay.
This arrangement wasn’t always easy, but we seemed to be doing fine for the most part, and we even resolved some long-standing issues. Recently, though, I found out that he had actually gotten involved with someone before our relationship ended. And that he was putting in exactly the kind of effort, with her, that he told me he wasn’t ready for. It feels a little like he substituted our relationship for theirs: I learned that he carried over some of our rituals into this new relationship, that he met some of my expectations (with her), and that they are now facing a lot of the same problems, as they are still dating.
Now, I understand that feelings are complicated, and that it’s okay to for them to change or go away — but the deceitfulness of this has really affected me.
I thought we had a relationship based on honesty and communication, and over the past year, in some ways we’d gotten even closer. I know he regrets his decisions and is trying to take responsibility for them. Nothing excuses this in my head, but I also know him better than anyone and have repeatedly seen how he doesn’t think through the repercussions of his actions despite being well-intentioned for the most part. He says he is willing to do anything to make this situation better for me (even if it doesn’t change the fact that I want to cut him out), including ending his current relationship.
Of course, I understand that there is a third person involved, and I don’t want to invalidate what they have together or reduce her to the stereotype of the other woman just to make myself feel better (maybe his offer is further proof that he hasn’t even learned to recognize what his problem is). At least, for the most part I am trying to also see this.
I feel like my understanding of my own story has been shaken by this revelation, and the process of having to re-evaluate our relationship over the years and what it means now in retrospect has been difficult. What will help me make sense of this? Should I even consider forgiving him and letting him stay in my life because of everything we’ve shared? Losing him means that I not only lose one of the most important people in my life but also a formative part of my history. Or is that what makes forgiveness even more unthinkable? But where do I go from here and what do I learn from this? What are the right questions to ask even?
I hate how clichéd this sounds when I write it out, and how I still remain so strongly convinced of our exceptionalism. This must be somehow different and more real right? Right?
Thank you for your advice.
Dear Where Do I Go,
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