Subscriber OnlyYour Wellness

‘My ex said she wanted to marry me – so how has she moved on so quickly?’

Ask Roe: I’m still grieving the relationship, and can’t even think of being with anyone else

'The way she’s performing grief with me and acting like she still cares but then sleeping with other people feels really manipulative.' Photograph: Getty

Dear Roe,

I am a woman in my late-20s and was with my ex-girlfriend for 3½ years. We broke up a few months ago, after a lot of conflict and communication issues. We really tried to make it work as there’s a lot of love between us, but ultimately decided the relationship wasn’t good for either of us. I do believe we share a deep soul connection and we both said we wanted to remain best friends. We even spoke about becoming “aunts” to each other’s future children. However, since the break-up I’ve been really hurt by my ex’s behaviour. At group events she won’t properly speak to me, even though over text she agrees she misses me and wants us to be able to connect. She agrees to meet up only to cancel at the last minute. We both said we couldn’t imagine seeing anyone else but it got back to me that she’s already slept with someone, and when I confronted her about it she hung up.

The way she’s performing grief with me and acting like she still cares but then sleeping with other people feels really manipulative, like she’s toying with my emotions. The fact that she’s already sleeping with someone a few months after ending our relationship where we discussed marriage and children is also making me doubt that she ever loved me. I’m still grieving the relationship, and can’t even think of being with anyone else right now. I never thought she would behave like this, and it’s really upsetting. I don’t know whether I should call her out on her behaviour and cut her off, or hope that this is just a bad patch and keep trying to create the friendship we both said we wanted.

I say this with love: you need to stop. This woman is not your girlfriend any more, and she is not your friend. Maybe she will be, one day, but for now she is very definitively your ex-girlfriend and you need to start accepting that. Right now, you’re demanding the emotional intimacy and sexual and romantic exclusivity of a girlfriend, and the casual comfort and close access of a friend – and that’s not fair to her, and it’s not good for either of you. You need to recognise the reality of the shift in your relationship and start acting accordingly, putting boundaries in place so that you can both respect each other and protect yourselves emotionally.


I don’t blame you at all for finding this break-up difficult. Three and a half years is a long time to be with someone, and it’s obvious there was a deep and intense love there. It’s completely natural that you’re hurt and grieving and missing her and mourning the future life you had planned together. But by keeping such close tabs on her, you’re not actually letting yourself grieve this relationship and start to heal. Emotionally, you’re relentlessly picking at a wound, constantly reopening it and refusing to let it even start to heal.

We have a lot of myths around romance and emotional maturity, including the idea that immediately becoming friends with an ex is a type of superior emotional evolution. But many people need time and space from exes before they can re-establish a platonic relationship that feels comfortable and healthy. Needing that time and space isn’t a sign of emotional immaturity, but of emotional awareness; or recognising what you need and putting necessary boundaries in place to allow yourself to heal and move forward.

From your letter, I don’t think you’re being honest about what you actually need and want. You still have very non-platonic feelings for your ex, but instead of letting yourself move through them, you are using the guise of friendship to hold on and try to control her behaviour and the situation, when you need to start focusing on letting go.

We can often fall into the trap of thinking that there is a good, moral response to a break-up, and a bad, immoral response. Inevitably, our response is the good one, our ex’s is the bad one. This type of black-and-white thinking is a way of protecting ourselves as we navigate a break-up, because if we cast ourselves as the good, well-behaved, long-suffering victim, then they’re the selfish, uncaring villain who probably never loved us anyway. These roles give us a sense of security and indignation – and painting someone as a villain and being angry at them can feel easier than grieving someone we still love and respect. It’s also a way of trying to exert control over the inherently destabilising nature of a break-up; if we set the rules of good behaviour and demand that our ex follow them, we can feel a false sense of control over the situation and them, when the difficult reality of a break-up is knowing that we no longer have the same place or influence in their lives.

I see this kind of black-and-white thinking in your letter. Your ex isn’t genuinely expressing a mix of emotions; she’s performing. She’s not navigating a new need for space; she’s being manipulative. Her decision to sleep with someone three months after your break-up isn’t a normal thing that a single person is absolutely allowed to do; it’s an unthinkable act of callousness from someone who was probably never capable of love in the first place.

Keeping tabs on what your ex is doing in the aftermath of a break-up and judging their actions isn’t fair to them and it’s not good for you

I don’t see manipulation or performance or callousness in her behaviour, I see her trying to meet your requests for closeness, then belatedly setting the boundaries that actually feel right for her.

In regard to her sleeping with someone else, this will likely be an unpopular opinion, but I believe there is no correlation between morality and the speed with which someone has sex or starts dating after the end of a relationship. People are different and process emotional events differently, and that’s okay. Some people start emotionally processing the end of a relationship while they’re still in it, so are more prepared for its end. Some people find that sex or dating helps them feel more confident about the future during a big life upheaval. Some people may only process the end of a relationship as they have different experiences with other people. Some of these choices may be more or less helpful to the individual’s emotional and mental health, but none of them are morally wrong – and, importantly, they’re really none of your business. They might feel hurtful, but they are the choices of a single adult. Keeping tabs on what your ex is doing in the aftermath of a break-up and judging their actions isn’t fair to them and it’s not good for you.

My general rule of thumb for serious relationships is that exes can consider being friends in two years. You may move slower or faster, but you need to take a significant period of time apart, heal, have experiences with other people, then you can create a new platonic relationship with perspective and awareness, two things you understandably don’t have immediately after a break-up. Send your ex a final message saying you’ve realised you need some space, you wish her well, but will be keeping your distance. At group events, be polite but focus on other people. Tell your friends you do not want to know anything about her dating life. Mute or block her on social media. Find yourself a good therapist so you can start to process the break-up and think about what you want, moving forward.

Once you stop focusing so much on her behaviour, you can start focusing on your own emotions – which will be scary and difficult, and necessary. I’m sorry this is a rough time, but you will survive this – but you’re going to have to let go of some control and start letting yourself heal. The only way out is through.