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‘My Boyfriend of Three Years Just Ghosted Me!’

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Hi Polly,

My three-year relationship with my boyfriend just ended over a few text messages. Just days before he was sending me videos of our cat and pictures of apartments he said we might someday live in together. In the last month, we’ve been long distance since his unpredictable boss decided without any notice to move the entire team to Miami. We hadn’t come up with a plan yet, but there was lots of love and support between us through it all. Then he stopped replying to my texts. Finally, he responds and tells me that he found out about messages I sent to someone he knows. He said he was upset and my messages were inappropriate. I’m frantically trying to figure out what he’s talking about and told him I had no idea. A sign of guilt, he suggested. I should just come clean. He could tell that I wrote the messages, they sounded like me. And, the kicker: “We done. I’m done.” My brain spinning out of control, I responded “What The Actual Fuck” and then all my subsequent messages failed to send, appearing as green bubbles without any sign of a delivered receipt. The rain that followed thereafter is still pooling.

Two years ago, while I was working on a job that required me to leave town for a week at a time, he had an affair with a woman he’d worked with previously. His lack of interest in my work and his inability to talk while I was gone bothered me, so eventually I questioned his fidelity. He denied any cheating, and we moved on. In fact, we moved into a new house together and spent a lot of money on furniture and laid down roots for a future. But when I got pregnant accidentally, he came clean and admitted that my suspicions weren’t “crazy” as he’d suggested at the time, and that yes, he had cheated on me repeatedly with the same person and almost left me for her. He wanted me to know the truth if we were going to raise a child together. I was livid. I was broken and pregnant. I can’t really put it into words. I had thought we were on our way to a healthy partnership, living in a house and at the right age to start a family. But this information came down on me like a mallet. I spiraled emotionally. I also started a new full-time job, one of those around-the-clock jobs that women who are pregnant don’t take because they don’t really allow sleep, water, food intake, etc.

One evening in the midst of my pain and confusion and lack of sleep from working 18 hours straight (that sounds like an excuse, but I am being 100 percent honest), I DMed the woman he cheated on me with, asking her why and how, and expressing my pain. I told her I thought she was a bad person and she was hurting other working women by sleeping with their boyfriends while they’re traveling for work. She didn’t respond right away, and my best friend at the time suggested I message her boyfriend. Wouldn’t you want to know? My best friend asked me. I wrote him a message, and deleted it, wrote another one, deleted it, sent one, deleted it after sending … I was a mess. It was late at night, and I don’t remember how much I sent or deleted, honestly. I couldn’t see straight. The woman ended up messaging me back apologizing and explaining her side of the story and I honestly just forgot about the dude. I walked away from the exchange with the mistress feeling okay about reaching out to her, for both her sake and my own.

I ended up losing the baby. I went through immense emotional pain over it. Family members were aware of the pregnancy, so that made it worse. I plowed through work, saw a therapist and a psychologist and tried to work through the pain and forgive my boyfriend. We went through some ups and downs, mostly due to me questioning whether or not I could trust him and reading his iMessages when he left them up on the computer. But I do feel as though I fully forgave him and did a lot of work to understand his perspective. I grew to love him even more.

So now it’s a few days after that break-up text, and I’ve put two and two together: My boyfriend was talking about my messages to his mistress’s boyfriend. The friend who told me to send the messages has been out of touch because of my choice to stay in what she saw as an abusive relationship, which was affecting her ability to work through her own past abusive relationships.

Mostly I want to know how the fuck can this be happening and which way is up. Why am I being punished for having an emotional reaction to a cheating boyfriend? Okay, that’s me feeling sorry for myself when I know I didn’t handle the whole event like a stable individual. But my now-ex boyfriend followed up by sending me a cruel email ordering me to not contact him, his family, or friends or it would be considered harassment. I wrote back telling him I had no intention of harassing anyone. I’ve subsequently asked him if we can at least say good-bye over the phone or plan a future date to say good-bye in person. He told me no, that he isn’t angry. That he is just sick of me and my bullshit.

I cannot describe how crushing this response feels. I know this means he cares more about how he’s seen by his mistress’s ex-boyfriend, who he’s wronged more than I ever did, than he does about me, a woman who gave him mostly unconditional love and understanding. And that alone is enough of a reason to leave him. I do recognize that all of this must’ve gone down publicly and really injured his ego and I have empathy for that. But how do I work through this when I feel a mix of emotions that include humiliation, guilt, fear of getting a restraining order filed against me, worry about reputation repercussions with my work, and just utter and complete sadness over losing my best friend so suddenly and so painfully?

In his last message to me, he claimed that his cheating is less malicious than my reaching out to this woman’s boyfriend. He called my behavior inappropriate and called me a psychopath.

Am I missing something here? Am I mentally unstable? Did I act like a psychopath in the days and weeks after the news hit me about the cheating? I would send you what I wrote if I could but I didn’t save it and the history of the convo is gone.

Mostly, will he ever believe that I am not a bad person with malicious intentions? Or will I have to walk through the rest of my days with this albatross, knowing that someone I loved immensely thinks I am the biggest, hugest, most evil shit-pile in the universe? Knowing that my character has been assassinated among all of our mutual friends, his family who I thought would eventually be my family someday, is crushing me. Why does he want me to feel as much hurt as possible during this breakup, and likely, beyond, for the rest of my days? What can I do to dissuade him from hating me? I am totally shattered. I know you won’t hold back from telling me the truth, which is all I need right now.

Fully, Entirely, Utterly Crushed 

Dear FEUC,

Obviously, it was a huge mistake to reach out to your ex-boyfriend’s mistress and her boyfriend. The responsibility for cheating lies with the cheater. Was your behavior questionable and highly inappropriate? Yes. You made some bad choices under duress. You hurt people.

Does that make you a psychopath? Of course not. It makes you a typical, flawed human being, one who had just discovered that her long-term partner wasn’t trustworthy. Throw in the fact that you were pregnant at the time, and that makes it even more understandable. You were desperate to keep your relationship together because you didn’t want to end up raising your kid alone. It also sounds like you didn’t feel comfortable letting him know the full force of your rage and sadness.

This is often the reason why people lash out at everyone but their partner when their partner cheats: They don’t feel like they can afford to address their anger and their fears with their partner, because they know that if they do, they’ll lose that person in the process. Maybe your boyfriend made it clear that he wasn’t good at handling your anger, even when you had very good reason to be angry. The way things have unfolded since then, I can only imagine that this was the case.

So there was no safe place to put your pain without losing everything. You tried to find somewhere else to put it. You tried to find someone else to blame. You were sleep-deprived, confused, pregnant, enraged, yet you were supposed to stay calm, stay the course, stay silent, do nothing.

For your cheating, cheater, cheatifiably cheatarific boyfriend to call your reaction psychopathic is over the fucking top. This, coming from the guy who cheated not once, but repeatedly, causing this whole mess in the first place. And now he thinks that by playing the good guy and defender of his former mistress and her ex, and casting you as a psycho, he can come off smelling like a rose? Tale as old as time, ladies, but no one is buying that sad old story anymore. And if they are, they’re as blatantly cruel and self-serving as your ex is.

Now let’s ask a tough question: Was it the right thing for him to confess that he’d cheated before you had a kid together? There are certainly good arguments for coming clean about everything before you make a huge commitment, but given everything else we know about him at this point, I think his primary goal was to clear his own conscience without any regard for how it would make you feel. I mean, what good does it do to tell someone you cheated repeatedly and almost bailed for someone else, if you’re not remotely prepared to grapple with the rage and betrayal that your confession incites? If he wasn’t making amends and asking you how you felt and giving you sweet little presents and checking in with you emotionally, over and over again in the wake of that confession, then it wasn’t a way for you two to grow closer and build your relationship. It was a way for him to feel like a stand-up guy in spite of everything. Your feelings had nothing to do with it.

Was that true in other situations? Were your emotions allowed into the picture, or were they stifled and shunned? Were your needs addressed with care, or were they treated as inconvenient? (“Why are you slowing us down again with this shit? Why are you doing this to me? How do we avoid this? What is wrong with you?”)

Your ex-boyfriend strikes me as the kind of person who is acutely aware of his own feelings, but has very little knowledge, understanding, or tolerance of other people’s feelings. How else do you explain repeatedly cheating with the same person? That’s not one big, stupid mistake (like yours was). That’s a fucking lifestyle. It takes a lot of callousness to do that. And how do you explain his ghosting you without any discussion? Who texts WE DONE and that’s it? Who refuses to talk? Who spreads shit without even having a conversation first? Who paints himself as a victim even as he’s blocking his long-term girlfriend’s calls and texts? Who calls her a psychopath while acting like a fucking psychopath himself? Who gives her zero recourse to process anything, or stand up for herself?

The start of a pregnancy is not easy, physically or emotionally. It was pretty clueless of him to drop a bomb on you in the middle of that, while you were busy with work, without being prepared to greet the consequences. But I think it’s downright unconscionable to look back at those circumstances and, instead of humbly accepting your role in that mess, to say instead, YOU ARE A PSYCHOPATH.

That is the very definition of gaslighting. Did he secretly feel trapped, cornered by you into raising a child together? Right now, that seems likely. But true to a lying liar and cheating cheater, he figured it was more convenient to play along, never dealing with reality, never entering the fray and working through your problems together. He wanted to decide ON HIS OWN whether to stay or go, whether to leave you for someone else or not, whether to tell you the whole truth or some truth or no truth at all.

And now he’s taking all of his own sickness and using it to paint a picture of a good man done wrong by his psycho ex. Now he gets to play the nice guy and marvel at what a train wreck you are. I wish that weren’t so familiar. But it’s so easy for onlookers to buy that a woman is fucking nuts while a man is innocent and badly treated EVEN WHEN THE FACTS DON’T LINE UP. Your ex is Brett Kavanaugh, shrugging and saying “I like beer” as if that explains everything. Men cheat, right? He was just doing what guys do! But now somehow he’s the oppressed one. He’s the one who got bamboozled by a crazy lady. He ghosted you after three years, but you’re the malicious one.

It’s so infuriating and so absurd that there’s nothing to do but let it go. Clearly you dodged a bullet. Review your history with this man. Maybe your friend was right. Maybe your ex was emotionally abusive. I wonder if you didn’t make yourself smaller and quieter just to please him. I wonder if you learned to tolerate his lack of interest in your needs without noticing it. Maybe by the time he admitted that he’d cheated, you didn’t feel like you could work it out, emotionally, with him, because you already knew at some level that he didn’t give a fuck about your feelings. I think if you look back at your bad times and your fights, you’ll see a guy who couldn’t handle your emotions. Your anger was madness to him. Your needs were irrational. He was doing you a favor just by sticking around.

If you want to know how women end up acting like so-called psycho chicks, this is often how it looks: We try so hard to be good, every single day — to keep quiet, to stay calm, to go with the flow, even as our needs and feelings are ignored. And eventually? We explode. It’s too much. We lash out in every direction. And then, afterward, we’re so ashamed of ourselves that we try to forget the whole thing, purge it from our minds forever, so we don’t have to face how ugly we became. We would rather live inside the illusion that we can be calm and lovable and put our needs on the backburner forever.

You definitely messed up, and you need to own up to that. But part of that includes thinking about how you made yourself smaller within that relationship. You have to start showing more of your true, ragged, angry self to people or you’re going to explode everywhere again. It’s okay to be an assertive, sensitive woman with needs. Embrace who you are, and stand up for yourself.

But I also want you to imagine building a life and raising kids with this man, only to get dumped for someone else out of the blue. Your ex is fully capable of that. But that’s not all. Imagine that he sues you for full custody of the kids, the house, and half of your pay. Maybe by then he’s unemployed. (He hates his job and his feelings are the only ones that matter, so why not?) He denies cheating and convinces the judge that you were emotionally abusive (abusers are very convincing when they’re projecting, as you’ve already seen). He gets the kids and now you owe him half of your salary.

I know I’m spiraling off into an imaginary hell that will make most of the people reading this write NEVER GET MARRIED across their foreheads in black Sharpie. I just want you to understand how big of a bullet you’ve dodged.

Attention, single people! If your date or partner treats everything that happens as YOUR FAULT ALONE, run the other way. Do not, under any circumstances, marry that person. Some humans not only can’t admit fault, but they experience their own emotions as overwhelming and deserving of sympathy while they experience your emotions as offensive and unfair. I had a boyfriend like this. I have never in my life been so miserable, yet I couldn’t even acknowledge my sadness and loneliness to myself, because that would cause an immediate, unrelenting shitstorm with him. Even when I carefully, meticulously followed his instructions on how I should speak about my emotions (argh, don’t even ask), the mere mention of my feelings offended him. I could not get it right. My perspective was greeted as an act of noncompliance. He was a huge bully who had the gall to call my frustration and my tears “bullying.”

Once you understand who your ex really is, though, life will get so much easier. You’ll end up thanking your lucky stars that you never married him. Terrible exes are a gift that keeps on giving. They teach you how precious it is to find someone who embraces you for exactly who you are.

Soon, you’ll also understand why you’ve been struggling so much for the past few years. It’s incredibly hard to be strong and happy when you’re with someone who hates you for every single thing you do and say — whether they express that openly, or just lie to you and roll their eyes behind your back. Callous liars and cheaters sabotage your life without ever letting you know that they’re doing it. They hate you that much, because they hate themselves that much, underneath all of their bullshitting and denial.

This ex of yours is swimming in shame, or he wouldn’t care so much what people think. He’s swimming in self-hatred. He needs to grapple with that on his own. He has a lot of work to do. I feel for him, but this isn’t your work. And when you start to worry about him — and I know you will — you have to think about whether or not he’s been worrying about you these past few days. You have to wonder what kind of person could demonize someone he supposedly loved for three years. Don’t take responsibility for his experience or his pain right now. Your concern for him is further proof that you were in deep with someone who made you take emotional responsibility for everything that happened to both of you.

You’re just starting to come out of your dark cave, where you were tricked into submission, where you had to be “good” and act calm and be his mommy and never ever address the bullshit he pulled and the ways he hurt you. You’re adjusting your eyes to the light right now. Be good to yourself. Be patient. Talk to friends. Call your family. Be honest about what you’re going through. Give yourself room to feel sad and hurt. But don’t write any more long emails or messages. And don’t turn that shit on yourself. It doesn’t belong to you.

Your ex might want to talk it out eventually, once he realizes that you’re not buying his version of this story. I don’t think you should bother. Lying comes as second nature to him. Everything he says about you is just a description of who he is: HE is inappropriate. HE is malicious. HE is acting like a psychopath. HE is the one who ripped your lives apart.

It’s time to live in reality again. It’s going to feel bad at first. But over the long haul, the scales will fall from your eyes, and you’ll understand where you’ve been. You’ve been in The Bad Place. Now it’s time to get to the good one.


Order Polly’s new book What If This Were Enoughhere. Her advice column will appear here every Wednesday.

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‘My Boyfriend of Three Years Just Ghosted Me!’