BRENT STOLLER

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Advice for the Modern Man: The No. 1 Rule About Breakups

Breakup

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(Question has been modified for space and clarity.)

I broke up with my girlfriend three months ago, but we still talk and hang out. We were together for almost a year, but there was always a distance between us due to my insecurities. I eventually ended the relationship because I thought she was cheating on me.

We recently had a talk, because each of us is trying to get over the other, but it doesn’t seem to be working. We both still have feelings for each other, but I think she’s afraid to be with me again in that way for fear of getting hurt.

How would you handle this situation?
–Guyinlove; Atlanta, GA

Each year, my wife, Emily, and I celebrate the anniversaries of both our wedding and our first date. I’m guessing this type of thing fades, that in time, your observances shift solely to your marriage.

But for now, if someone asks how long we’ve been a couple, I specify that we’ve been married for almost two years and together for over eight.

What I don’t subtract, though, are the two months we spent broken up in the early stages of our relationship.

That breakup was entirely on me. Like you, I was rife with insecurities and fears and emotional walls. And in an attempt to protect Emily from the hurt I was sure I’d eventually inflict, I preemptively ended things.

It was a turn of events that’s emblematic of all that I despise about myself. Which is why I’ve never liked talking about it. I’ve been more comfortable to act as if it never happened, even when calculating the duration of our relationship.

But the more I’ve thought about it, the more I stand by our decision to include that separation in our count. Because without that time apart, we might not still be together.

Though they were painful, those two months allowed us to be by ourselves, which allowed us to evaluate what went wrong and what we wanted going forward.

That’s, in part, what a breakup can give you. It can give you the 30,000-foot view of your situation, a perspective that’s inaccessible from inside the relationship.

Unfortunately, you and your girlfriend haven’t given yourselves the chance to see it. You say you’re broken up, yet you talk and hang out as if you’re still a couple. And not surprisingly, it’s gotten you nowhere.

While it’s probably what you don’t want to hear, what the two of you need is a break — a real break. No (physical) contact, no communication. It’s time to hit the reset button.

Doing so could lead to one of two results: It could spell the end, or it could inspire a new beginning. Though nobody knows what the future holds, we do know the present is not working — for either of you.

How she can benefit from a break

You said your ex is afraid to be in a relationship with you, because she’s afraid of getting hurt. That’s understandable. Your behavior has provided numerous causes for concern.

We’ll get to that behavior in a minute, but from her perspective, she has to figure out if these concerns are simply red flags that can be overcome, or if they should serve as deal-breakers. And in all likelihood, the only way she’ll get that clarity is to get some distance from you.

Emily and I have never talked about it much, but I have to believe getting some distance from me helped her. Though she didn’t want to break up, hearing the things I had to say — about how I struggled to connect with my feelings, how I wondered if I’d ever be emotionally capable of getting married — had to have given her pause about our future.

And that time alone gave her the chance to reevaluate.

I also believe that, on some level, my initiation of the breakup demonstrated to her that I was a decent guy, someone who would never do anything to purposefully hurt her.

So when I showed up two months later in search of another chance, she was able to believe I’d spent that time apart addressing my issues. She knew I wouldn’t have asked her to take me back if I hadn’t changed.

Which gave her the confidence to thankfully say yes.

How you can benefit from a break

My breakup with Emily was an admission of defeat. Throughout the four months we had dated to that point, I worried that I was so emotionally closed off that I’d never be able to become the person with whom she deserved to be.

And when I ended things, I resigned myself to that fact.

But once I was relieved of that self-imposed pressure, and my stunted growth was no longer getting charged to her tick-tock tab, I was free to focus on solving the problems that were holding me back.

I went to therapy. I talked to confidants. I stared at my bedroom ceiling, trying to determine where I’d gone wrong, and what I could do to make myself right.

Like me, you have insecurities, insecurities that are so strong they led you to break up with your ex because you thought she had been cheating on you. (I’m assuming this was never confirmed.)

That’s not healthy, and it’s likely indicative of deeper issues that are not only sabotaging your romantic relationships, but other aspects of your life, as well. Those issues should be addressed before you date anyone, your ex included.

Not only that, you have to figure out if you want to be with this girl. It’s difficult to tell from your submission where you stand; one sentence you’re saying you want to get over her, the next you’re implying you want to get back together. (Of course, your screen name, Guyinlove, gives us a hint as to your true motivation.)

When Emily and I broke up, I knew she wasn’t the problem; I was. And I knew that if I were to ever become emotionally competent enough to reach the altar, she would be the one standing across from me. It was Emily or bust.

This connection I felt to her was only confirmed during our time apart. I couldn’t get her out of my head. I was reminded of her by everything — songs, TV shows, even the NBA playoffs. (Her hometown Lakers were playing my hometown Rockets.) Suddenly, seemingly every other car I encountered on my commute was a blue Toyota Corolla, like the one she drove.

But who knows if I ever would’ve noticed that stuff — and the meaning behind it — had I not stepped back from the relationship?

While this semi-broken-up limbo you’re in might be awkward, it also feels familiar. Your day-to-day life is just as it was when you were officially together. And you don’t want to let that go.

Believe me, I get it. But if you can find the courage to do so, you’ll almost assuredly come out the other side in a better place. You’ll gain the insight you need to figure out what you want, what you need and where you go from here.

That’s what happens when you put in the work to become a stronger, healthier version of yourself.

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This article originally appeared on the Good Men Project.

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