I’m in my late twenties and my boyfriend has broken up with me. He claimed he felt he had to be physically there in order for me to be happy and it was too much pressure with the Covid lockdown restrictions. He didn’t want to feel responsible for my happiness.
My concern is this: now that it’s over, and I’ve had time to think about it, I’m petrified that a) I have pushed away a really great guy by being too open with my emotions, and b) maybe this was my last chance.
We had connected on a really emotional level; if he couldn’t accept me as I was, who will? Watching all my similarly-aged friends move on with their partners and lives, I fear I will be left behind.
While there’s never a perfect time to go through something like this, breaking up in the middle of a global pandemic has to rank amongst the worst. The restrictions that have been put in place to ensure our safety and the protection of the most vulnerable in our society can also lead many of us to feel isolated, cut off from the people we would ordinarily turn to in situations like this.
We have more time to think and therefore we have more time to over-think and to obsess; two things that are easy to do when we’ve just had our hearts broken. I’m not surprised to hear you describe this experience as a roller coaster!
In your slightly longer letter, you wrote that you have always been a very emotional person but you were open and upfront about this with your ex-boyfriend.
Indeed, he said that he loved your ‘highs and lows’, as you called it, and the breakup has made you think this was a lie. I can understand why this must be difficult for you to process.
There is great freedom and relief in feeling as if we have been given permission to be fully ourselves, and to have that taken away from us can feel like a betrayal.
Of course, no other human being can or should be responsible for our happiness. It’s too much pressure to put on someone’s shoulders, the expectations are too high.
And it’s also a dangerous game to play because relying on your partner for your happiness puts you in a very precarious position. What happens when they’re busy with work or distracted by family issues? What if they’re in a bad mood and can’t give you the reassurance you need in that moment? Where does that leave you?
So few of us learned the skill of self-soothing when we were children and we have become adults who are unable to regulate our own emotions. We constantly look for external sources of validation, none of which bring us true comfort.
Please don’t take that a criticism of you. There were two people in this. If your ex truly felt he was responsible for your happiness, then he was also responsible for allowing that dynamic to form.
You say you are afraid you have pushed this great guy away by being too open with your emotions but you should never have to hide who you are in order to be ‘acceptable’ to another person.
Trying to change yourself by being less open with your emotions is not a steady foundation upon which to build a meaningful, long-lasting relationship. It should be a partnership — you will support each other, rely on each other, hold the other person’s hand when they’re struggling.
We might not always understand why our partner reacts the way they do but hopefully, we try our best to be compassionate regardless. Intimacy, the kind we all crave on a primal level, can only occur when both parties are truly vulnerable with each other.
Here are my deepest fears, we say, the parts of myself I am afraid no one can love. I’ll show you mine if you show me yours. In your letter, you ask if your ex couldn’t accept you as you are, then who will?
Would it help for you to wonder why he couldn’t accept you? That the issue might be his rather than yours? There is no judgement here. We are living in strange times and people are reacting in ways we might not have anticipated. But ultimately, I’m sure your ex wasn’t perfect either — who amongst us is? — and still, you were willing to accept him for who he was.
You deserve someone who will do the same in return. Many panic when they reach their late twenties, the spectre of the big 30 fast approaching. It’s a time for self-reflection, for taking stock.
A time for thinking about who or what you will bring into the next decade with you and what you shall leave behind because it no longer serves you in a positive way. I know it can seem like everyone else has their shit together when you don’t but I promise you, that isn’t the case.
Everyone has their own insecurities; battles they’re fighting which you may know nothing about. That’s why comparing yourself to your friends is a bad idea; comparison is the thief of joy. You’re still young, you have so much time to meet the right person and build a life with them.
But for now, you need to retreat and lick your wounds. You titled your letter ‘Self-Love in the Time of the Coronavirus’ and that’s exactly what I think you should do. Love all the parts of yourself, even the parts you think make you unlovable. Perhaps especially those.
I’m going to leave you with a quote from Glennon Doyle’s memoir, Untamed. “The opposite of sensitive is not brave. It’s not brave to refuse to pay attention, to refuse to notice, to refuse to feel and know and imagine. The opposite of sensitive is insensitive and that’s no badge of honour.”
Own your sensitivity, my friend. It makes you who you are. You’re still young, you have so much time to meet the right person and build a life with them.
If you have any concerns or issues you would like Louise to answer you can confidentially do so by submitting your question here.