Dear Sil Lai:
I was engaged for 3 years and then walked out because I was looking for the “perfect” relationship/engagement. At the time, I was worried about what other people thought of his social standing, career and other external factors. However, I now realize that those things don’t make you happy. Our relationship wasn’t always smooth sailing…it was definitely a bumpy ride, but I still find myself constantly think about my ex and dreaming about us getting back together. I’ve asked but he won’t commit to seeing me. He said that I hurt him and he’s getting himself together financially and educationally. Every time I’m out with someone else I compare them to my ex. How can I move forward and allow myself to love again?
Moving on can be challenging, especially when you’re questioning your decision (which it sounds like you’re doing). Coulda, it’s brother Woulda and first cousin Shoulda often become our best friends when a relationship ends because hindsight, as they say, is 20/20 vision. You mentioned that there were other issues in the relationship that caused it to be a “bumpy ride”. While you didn’t go into detail about what those issues were, it sounds like those issues were a contributing factor in your decision to end the engagement.
It’s through our losses that we can learn some of life’s most valuable lessons and you’ve learned an important one: how you feel about the man you care about is more important than what “everyone” else thinks about him. It’s true that some people are raised to place a high premium on their partner’s social standing or profession. But I’ve seen time and time again over the years that the content of your partner’s character is ultimately more important than if he plays golf at a private or public course—or at all. This is something I’ve learned the hard way.
I once broke off a relationship with a man I really cared about but knew wasn’t right for me. Still, that knowledge alone wasn’t enough for me to move on. For a couple of years after we split up I found myself being an avid player of the “compare and despair” game. I’d meet someone new and then line them up next to me ex: “Jack is smarter.” “Jack knows me better than anyone.” “Jack has better pectoral muscles.” It seemed for a while that no one was ever going to be able to measure up to The Perfect-In-His-Absence-Ex. It took some time, but I eventually figured out that I wasn’t fixated on Jack because of his superior intellect and muscle tone, but because deep down I was terrified of letting someone new in my heart.
Once I realized that it was fear that was holding me back from moving on, I was able to begin the process of letting go, which included the following:
- Stop “spinning” fantasies: It’s easy to romanticize the past, especially when you’re still single (I like to call this phenomenon “relationship amnesia”). If you find that going down that road, stop and backtrack. Play the whole tape through of your relationship and your ex…not just the good parts.
- Create space: To move on means to let go, which means you need to do whatever it takes to create the mental and physical space for this to happen. Unless you have children or joint business ventures, there is no reason for you to keep in contact with your ex (for the time being). It’s time to cut the ties that bind you to him, which means no more calling “just to say hello”. Don’t email him articles that you think will be helpful for his career. Stop sending him text messages every holiday.
- Stop comparing: It’s a game they’ll never win. You see, the deck is loaded in your ex’s favor, for it’s hard to fight a the Ghost of Relationship Past. One of the most valuable tools we have at our disposal is our perspective. The next time you find yourself comparing, STOP. Every person has their strengths and weaknesses. If you’re fixated on your ex’s strengths, you’ll have a hard time appreciating those that are sitting right in front of you at the dinner table.
- “Duty” date: You may not feel like getting out and meeting new people, however if there’s been a fair amount of time since you and your ex split up, consider “duty” dating. Don’t focus on whether or not each new date is “the one”. The purpose of “duty dating” is to get comfortable meeting and spending time with new people. Focus on making a connection and establishing a friendship before jumping into a relationship. Remember, friendship first. Romance second.
- Forgive yourself: No one is born with great relationship skills…they are learned over time, either from experience or our family of origin. No matter what you tell yourself, there was a role you both played in the relationship not working out. Learn from the mistakes you’ve made and forgive yourself for making them.
The saying “If you love someone set them free. If they don’t come back to you, they were never yours in the first place.” may sound sappy and trite, but it’s real nonetheless. You’ve grown in the time since your last relationship. Take the lessons you learned and make sure that when you get in your next one that you don’t place such an emphasis on your friends’ opinion of your man’s profession or bank account. And if you do find them looking down their noses, it might be time for you to make some new friends.
Sil Lai Abrams is EBONY.com’s Relationship Expert and the author of No More Drama: 9 Simple Steps to Transforming a Breakdown into a Breakthrough and a board member of the National Domestic Violence Hotline. Follow her on Twitter: @sil_lai and connect with her on Facebook. Want Sil Lai’s advice? Email SilLai@ebony.com to have your love questions answered in a future column!