I’m a 29-year-old woman and broke up with my ex-boyfriend a year and a half ago. We were together for two years and were friends for two years before that. I met him though mutual friends. My ex is a great person but our relationship just wasn’t right for me. We had different ideas of what our best lives looked like and this affected both day-to-day things and our “big pictures”. I didn’t feel like I was going to grow in the relationship and he felt I was trying to change him. I genuinely never wanted to hurt him or make him feel bad for being himself so I ended the relationship as respectfully as I could. He asked for some space after the break-up, and Covid made it easy to avoid each other.
I heard through friends that he has been going on dates so I thought he was starting to move on. But now our friend group is starting to socialise more and he still doesn’t want to see me. When our group first started hanging out again we saw each other a couple of times and he was polite but avoided me. Now he won’t come to any outing if I’m going, and sometimes I’m left out of invites because he’s going. I’m getting really annoyed. Covid was difficult and I want to get back to normality, and importantly, I didn’t do anything wrong in our relationship but I feel like I’m being punished. Whether he’s angry with me or still interested in me, I don’t think it’s fair that I have to miss out on seeing my friends.
I want us all to grow up and move on. I want to reach out to him and have a conversation where we agree to just hang out and not let the past make things weird, but friends told me that’s a bad idea. What do you think?
There’s a belief system known as the “Just World Theory”, where people consciously or unconsciously believe that the world is a fair place where good things happen to good people, and bad things only happen to bad people. For people who believe in the Just World Theory, if something bad happens to them or someone else, they can quickly resort to blame, believing that there must be an explanation, that someone must be at fault. To acknowledge that sometimes the world is simply random and uncontrollable is too terrifying an idea to accept. By believing that being good can keep you safe, Just World disciples believe that they can control their universe.
You are subscribing to a “Good Ex Theory”. You believe that if you were a good girlfriend and a good ex-girlfriend, then you should be treated as such. To you, exes only avoid each other when someone has done something wrong or when there are lingering romantic feelings. You think that you have been mature and rational and respectful, and because you have no issue with seeing your ex, you believe that his desire to not see you means that he is being immature and irrational and disrespectful.
You, my dear, are wrong.
Your ex isn’t being rude to you or bad-mouthing you. He is simply doing what he has every right to do: setting boundaries so that he can heal and move on. He is refusing to return to the “normal” of seeing you constantly because that normal no longer works for him. He is instead creating a new normal, a new life, a new future that does not include you. That may be painful or you but it is his right. It’s a decision that affects you but it’s not a punishment, and there’s a difference. His decision does not mean that you are a bad person or that you were a bad girlfriend, and it does not mean that he is holding a grudge or not over you. You are thinking in extremes because you think he needs an extreme justification. But he needs no justification other than this is what is good for him right now.
There’s a cultural rhetoric that’s been floating around for a few years now, that to prove yourself to be cool and mature, you must immediately become friends with your exes. For some this works and of course that’s fine — but as a cultural idea, this idea is rooted in a judgemental superiority that values cool detachment over emotions and vulnerability. There’s a pressure to not be in any way affected by a break-up; to bounce back to a pre-relationship “normal”. To be seen to have been affected by a relationship proves that you’re somehow weak, or immature, or clinging on. But respecting your emotions, acknowledging what you need and setting boundaries can be a sign of strength and emotional maturity. And being able to adjust to a new normal without your ex can show emotional flexibility; an ability and desire to imagine a future separate from them.
What’s ironic is that you broke up with your ex because you are very different people — yet when it comes to your break-up, you simultaneously expect him to feel and act exactly like you, by being comfortable seeing each other, but also resent him for doing what you did when you broke up with him, ie deciding what he needs. You want him to do exactly what suits you and aren’t respecting that he is his own person who exists and has needs independently from you.
Of course it’s painful to accept that someone you once loved doesn’t want to be in your life. Of course it’s difficult when a long-standing friendship dynamic changes. I am not underestimating that. I also think it’s important for you to reflect on how difficult Covid has been, and how important it feels for your life to return to “normal”. This is such an understandable desire to finally feel in control after the pandemic has left all of us without control for so long.
But you don’t get to control him. You don’t get to demand that he slot back neatly into your life so that you can feel more comfortable or pretend that nothing has changed. You had a relationship, and it ended. Both of those events did change your life and you need to start accepting that and trying to move forward. Ask for support as you do this — ask some of your friends can you have more time with them, and try to also strengthen your support network outside of this friend group, so that you feel less destabilised by the group’s shifting dynamics.
You broke up with your ex so that you could grow and live your best life. Part of growing is accepting change, and acknowledging that everyone has different needs. And your best life does not involve judging your ex for doing what he needs, or blaming yourself for ending a relationship. You are both moving towards your best futures. Don’t hinder yours by resenting how he chooses to shape his.