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I was broken up with recently. It was sudden and unbelievably heartbreaking. Especially because from my end it seemed like it didn’t need to happen (common in these situations I’m sure). All that said it was relatively amicable and there’s no hard feelings on either side (I hope anyway). As painful as it is I respect their decision.
Among all the complicated things I’m feeling right now one that looms over the rest is a deep sense that I will never be as happy with another person as I was with them. I know this is ridiculously common after a break up but I can’t emphasize how real and mildly terrifying it feels at this moment. I know no relationship is perfect but you’ll have to believe me when I say it was a really wonderful relationship. I would hope they felt the same at least for some time.
I think a big reason for this is my very first queer relationship was deeply dysfunctional and I was often mistreated. I didn’t realize how bad it was until after it ended, and when it did end I was cast aside like I was nothing. I guess when you don’t have a reference for what’s healthy anything within the realm of “normalwp_postsis going to feel like paradise.
When I think of dating: all I have in my head is this belief that most people are just various shades of the worst aspect of my original ex or that most people don’t want the same things in life that I do or the people I do vibe with I wont be attracted to or [insert any other petty BS here].
I feel That my recent ex was a rare exception. I look at the list of things I loved about the relationship and things I know I need and it feels like an incredibly long checklist no one could hope to fulfill. And I can’t bring myself to accept anything less.
Even though I know statistically it’s possible I question if such a person exists or to have any chance maybe I’ll have to move to another city.
I have no issues being single right now but I worry even when I feel better and choose to date again I’m going to take this negative mentality with me and make the whole experience miserable. Not only that but if there is any chance of us being friends (I would like to but I don’t know how they feel right now) then this is something I’m going to have to deal with.
How do I approach dating in a healthier way? How can I deal with this particular mindset right now whilst I’m in the midst of post break up despair?
I know this is frustrating advice to receive when you’re still very much living in it, in those perilous swamps of immediately after a breakup, but this is one of those things that will feel less acute with time. Especially because the breakup was sudden, I understand why you’re clinging to the good parts of it and then extrapolating from that that you’ll never find someone who is as good of a fit again. This also especially makes sense given the context of your previous bad relationship. I do think time is going to help a lot with the healing process and with getting your mentality in a more positive and open place for dating again, but I think in the meantime, there’s still some intentional work you can do to shift some of your thinking and framing.
For starters, this is something I push a lot in these advice columns: I think we all need to shift away from the idea that the sole definition of a successful relationship is one that lasts forever. This relationship that ended did not fail. The fact that you felt so comfortable and cared for in this most relationship means it was a good relationship. It hasn’t ruined your ability to find someone else. And you’re not doomed to never find someone who makes you feel similarly. Mourn and grieve the relationship, yes. But also don’t view it as a failure or anything holding you back now. I think it’s actually a great thing that you’re so sure of what you want and need in a relationship in the wake of this one. That’s really important growth and self-knowledge that you’ve developed. And it should actually make it easier to start dating (eventually — whenever you’re ready!) again, not harder.
I know you write that you feel like your relationship checklist is too long for anyone to fulfill, but let’s shut that down as well. First, it’s technically true that it’s hard to find one person who can be every single thing we want in a relationship, but that’s true across the board for everyone — not just for you. It’s why friendships are so important when we talk about relationships; partners often can’t provide everything all the time that we need in terms of care, intimacy, etc. Second, I think it’s time to actually put this list to paper, if you haven’t already. And I think using a tiered system would be best. What are your relationship dealbreakers? What are the things that feel non-negotiable? Next, what are the things that are important to you that feel high priority that you would want a potential partner to fulfill at least 75% of? Next, what are the other priorities and desires you have for a relationship that matter but aren’t necessarily dealbreakers or that you can see yourself compromising on? By actually formalizing the list, you might see that, actually, it’s all pretty reasonable stuff to expect in a relationship.
When you do decide to date, it’s not like you’re going to present this list to a potential partner, but I think it’ll be good for you to have it in the back of your head. You can rule out people who don’t meet your dealbreaker needs. You can ask others what they look for in a relationship and see if that’s compatible with not only what you want but what you can provide. Be open to the possibility that some people might surprise you or not fulfill all your needs but satisfy the most important ones and go from there. Having “data” on yourself when it comes to dating is so helpful. And again, I think that’s another good thing you can take out of this last relationship even though it ended. You saw that you could find a loving, healthy relationship after a dysfunctional one. It was possible then, and it’s possible again. Knowing a lot about what you want in a relationship doesn’t make you high maintenance; it just makes you self-assured, actually. I think you can transform this lack of confidence about dating in general into confidence moving forward.
Again, I do think this will take time. You’re still healing from the breakup, and it’s indeed natural to feel this feeling of despair that you might never find happiness again. It is indeed a common post-breakup sentiment, but that doesn’t make the pain of it any less real or urgent. You were happy, and you miss that happiness. You wonder if you can get there again. I strongly believe you can. It’s not your long list of needs or your fear of replicating your previous bad relationship that are holding you back; it’s your seeing those things as impenetrable obstacles that is. It’s okay to bring a lot of expectations to the dating process, so long as you’re focusing on the things that are genuinely most important to you and not just self-sabotaging or turning your most recent ex into an impossible standard for others to meet.
Because you said it yourself: It’s possible you were romanticizing aspects of this most recent relationship because anything “normal” would seem like paradise after your previous one. I don’t think it would do you any good to focus on anything negative in your last relationship, but I think it’s important to remember all relationships have their compromises, their moments of tension, their things to work out over time, especially because we all change over time. Your needs or desires in a relationship can shift. Your recent ex was the right person for you until that was no longer true (because even if the breakup was initiated by your ex, that still means the relationship fit was no longer working, because you don’t want to be with someone who doesn’t want to be with you — or at least, you shouldn’t).
Give it time, but also put some real effort toward reframing and taking pen to paper to write what it is you really want in a relationship. Then step away from that and give it more time. I’m rooting for you to find that happiness again, and I feel strongly that you will. Listen to yourself. Don’t shut down your own needs before you even have a chance to see if they can be met.
You can chime in with your advice in the comments and submit your own questions any time.