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‘My boyfriend of two years broke up with me without warning. I don’t know how I can trust someone again’

Ask Roe: ‘I don’t know how I’m meant to date knowing that I could fall for someone only to be cheated on and left again’

Dear Roe,

I am 27 and I have been single for nine months. I was with my ex-boyfriend for two years. After four months of being official, I found out that he had kissed a girl at a party and I was devastated. We stayed together but my confidence was really knocked by it. I felt like I wasn’t attractive enough for him, but he promised me he was serious about me and that it would never happen again, saying he wasn’t used to being in a serious relationship but did want to try properly.

He really did turn into a model boyfriend after that: he was kind and romantic, and we had so much fun together. I really thought we would end up moving in together and getting married. Last year we went on a holiday for two weeks and it was so easy being around each other and relaxing, but two days after we came home he told me he wanted to break up. He couldn’t give me any reason other than “he wasn’t into it any more” and wouldn’t give me any details. I asked him was there someone else and he said no, but I don’t know if I believe him.

I asked him was there something I could work on or change, and he just said it wasn’t any issue and he wanted to end it. He said we could stay friends but we kept having the same conversation about why we couldn’t be together so we stopped talking. Friends tell me that he wasn’t seeing anyone after the break-up, but he is with someone now. I can’t stop thinking about what I did and why he cheated, and I don’t know how I’m meant to date knowing that I could fall for someone only to be cheated on and then suddenly left without warning.


I need you to ask yourself this question and take it very seriously: what if there is nothing wrong with you, and your ex’s actions were purely about him? Imagine how you would move through the world if you knew that to be true. Does it feel better? Freer? Filled with more confidence and self-acceptance? Filled with more hope and possibility? I thought so. So now let’s get you to feel that all the time, because surprise: there is nothing wrong with you, and your ex’s actions were purely about him.

I understand why this feels like the epitome of a personal rejection. Like many of us, you had internalised that this person’s love for you was proof that you were special, worthwhile, loveable. You began imagining a life together and emotionally invested in that plan. When your ex cheated then left suddenly, he hurt you twice by first making you believe that you weren’t special enough to deserve his loyalty, and then destroying the plans you had for your life. He shattered the grand ambition of love: to make you feel loveable and give you a certain path in life. Through this man, you thought you understood yourself, your worth and your place in the world. Now, you don’t know who you are without him or how to trust anyone again, knowing that the rug can be pulled out from under you at any time.

But that grand ambition of love? It’s actually pretty warped. The idea of a romantic partner being a soul mate, a perfect match, someone who can be our greatest love, best friend, therapist, intellectual equal, perfect sexual partner, emotional companion, the parent figure we always needed – this is a very modern invention, and it can be both unrealistic and damaging. Expecting one person to fulfil all our needs puts a huge amount of pressure on romantic partners to be perfect all the time. It can also cause us to become overly dependent on the validation of one person and to believe that they alone hold the deciding vote: are we loveable or not? As you have discovered, if these relationships break down, that verdict can feel utterly damning.

But no one person holds the key to your self-worth. That’s all yours. Studies on infidelity show that people who cheat rarely completely blame their partner. Many people who cheat report that their partner was wonderful, but they were searching for something lacking in their own sense of self: a sense of novelty, validation, to recapture a part of themselves they felt had been lost or to feel more desired or exciting. Sometimes people don’t feel worthy of love so cheat as a form of self-sabotage or to reinforce negative ideas they have of themselves. The reasons given for cheating or affairs are so often about the cheating partner’s own idea of themselves, their view of relationships and their own self-worth. It’s about them.

In your case, I must give your ex some credit: he said he wasn’t used to the commitment of a long-term relationship and maybe used interactions with women as a form of escapism, validation or a fleeting ego boost. When he realised both that his actions had hurt you, he recommitted to the relationship and became a loving, attentive boyfriend. There is a level of self-awareness there, and a desire to grow beyond his past behaviour. But do you see how his actions – the cheating, then recommitting – weren’t about you at all, but about his relationship with himself?

I don’t think you ever fully believed that, which is why your self-confidence never fully returned and why the break-up has hit you so hard. Your obsessive search for a clear reason for the break-up is still based on the idea that there must be something wrong with you, and if only you could know the exact reason why he no longer loved you, you could change and shape yourself into someone better.

But this isn’t about you. The relationship simply wasn’t what he wanted or needed. That is what so many break-ups boil down to: two good people in a good relationship, but one of them just wants or needs something else – not because their partner isn’t great, but because of their relationship with themselves. He wanted something else – and that’s okay. It’s not an indictment of you as a person or a sign that you’re not worthy of love, it’s about him and his needs.

You’re ruminating on this relationship and avoiding dating again because you’ve created a narrative where you’re not loveable, and if you can just fix yourself and make yourself perfect before venturing out into the world again, you can avoid any future heartbreak. But the hard truth is that some relationships don’t work out, and people do leave. You can’t control that. What you can control is making sure that you don’t leave yourself – and for the past nine months, you’ve abandoned yourself. You’ve stopped being kind to yourself, you’ve stopped respecting yourself, you’ve stopped engaging with the world in the ways that makes you feel joyful and excited and like yourself – and that’s what’s making this break-up extra painful. He left the relationship but your left yourself, and until you know you won’t do that again, dating is going to feel too risky.

Focus on you. Find a therapist, reconnect with your friends, do things that bring you joy and try something new. Enter a new relationship with yourself and treat yourself the way you would want a partner to treat you: with kindness, attention, love and respect. Commit you yourself and promise to not abandon yourself again. Build up your sense of self-worth and treat it as sacred – this is yours, and is never again to be surrendered to another person. It’s time to make your life about you again.