This column first ran in John Paul Brammer’s Hola Papi newsletter, which you can subscribe to on Substack.
I had my heart shattered a few months ago, and I still haven’t fully recovered.
I had (what I thought was) a great relationship with a wonderful man. He never brought up any problem he had with me, and he constantly reiterated how lucky he was. When he abruptly left, he said it was due to his declining mental health. Even then, he said I was the greatest person in his life, and asked me not to disappear. I asked him if he was cushioning the blow and pleaded for honesty. He reiterated that he was being honest — he wanted to be my friend, I made him a better person, I’m the sweetest person he knows. He said that my support was so helpful to him, and he wanted to remain in contact.
In the months since, I have doubled down on therapy. I’ve read books, listened to podcasts, tried to foster my other relationships, taken myself on dates, and cried and cried. I’ve tried to get myself to a place where I could truly be his friend and support his life choices (even if they aren’t the choices I’d like him to make).
And you know what? He hasn’t reached out. Not once.
He always responds when I reach out, but it’s usually just him talking about stress or work. I’m happy to hold that space, but I worry that he’s just placating me. I’m just doing what was literally asked of me. Light contact, not disappearing, etc. If he had originally asked me to lose contact, I’d be gone.
I feel an overwhelming sense of grief and shame. This is the second heartbreak. Was I just some naïve kid? Should I not have believed him? I understand he couldn’t be in a relationship, but I thought we meant something to each other as people. Why say (while crying) that he wanted me in his life, and then not reach out? How could I have gone from “the greatest person” to nothing? Did I do something wrong? Did I punch his mom?
I feel valueless. I feel disposable, like a CVS receipt. And now, how will I be able to trust what others are telling me? I worry that I’m in The Truman Show, and everyone knows the secret: I don’t really mean anything to anyone.
If the most incredible and loving man was able to lie so convincingly to me, how do I trust other people? How can I trust what anyone says? I just want authentic connection and to see my loved ones succeed. I don’t want to be messed around with anymore. And I don’t know if it’s worth trying.
I hope you, and your heart, are doing well.
Hey there, AD!
I think you’d remember if you’d punched his mom. Punching someone’s mom is something you really have to commit to as it is incredibly likely to permanently alter your dynamic with that person. Readers, please reach out to me before you decide to punch someone’s mom, and I’ll probably tell you not to. Unless it’s necessary. In which case, we can discuss technique.
How shall I word this? There are people out there who are outwardly soft, who come off warm and cuddly, who self-deprecate and fill your ears with sweet words, and they suck. They avoid conflict and necessary conversations and drag things out longer than they should because they want to have their cake and eat it too.
They want to be liked without having to like you back. They want to call off relationships without having to be “the bad guy” and make a clean break. I’m not saying these are bad people, per se. I’m sure they’re battling demons of their own and have issues that lead to behavior like this. But I’m saying this kind of person can cause a lot of confusion that leads to suffering.
When you mention that he never brought up any problems, well, that’s not necessarily a good thing. In every relationship, there will be issues, and they ought to be brought up and discussed with mutual respect. No dynamic is perfectly smooth all the time, and keeping your problems to yourself can fester into resentment.
I don’t know exactly where it came from, but it seems like for years now there has been a cultural trend of, oh, what to call it? Let’s say “therapy-flavored everything.” Not considering another person’s needs becomes “self-care.” Avoiding conflict becomes “radical softness,” or something. The colors and figures of the ads on the subway are all but kneeling down and cooing over me while rubbing my back, saying, “there, there.”
This is certainly not me coming out against therapy. I would actually say therapy itself doesn’t have much to do with it. It’s more that people have figured out how to boil down the trappings of therapy to a concentrated syrup and are infusing it into absolutely everything to make their behavior seem “healthy” or their products seem “like your friend.” It’s an aesthetic justification for stuff they were going to do anyway, only, hopefully, they can feel better about it now, and you can’t argue with it.
All around us, there are things that give off the vibe of kindness, but aren’t necessarily kind. Him calling things off with you and moving on might not have felt kind in the moment, but it would have spared you some suffering.
Take the nice words off the table. Take away the “you’re the greatest person in my life” and the “I don’t want you to disappear” and the “you make me a better person.” Is he treating you that way? Does he make you feel that way? No? No. So it’s up to you to recognize that and move on.
Thing is, you actually don’t need this guy to be a bad person or need him to do something outwardly evil to cut him out of your life. You’re not happy in this dynamic. That’s enough. I think you’re holding on because you don’t want to believe it was a waste of time, don’t want to believe that you “fell for it” by buying into his kind words.
But, you know, it’s not really about that. If you enjoyed your time together as a couple, you can keep that. There’s not a winner or a loser here. It’s just not working anymore. Take whatever lessons you can from the experience and keep it pushing. You will meet other people, and when you do, you’ll be able to better identify what you want and don’t want, what your red flags are, and how you communicate. That’s life.
You will trust again. And, yes, you might get “messed around with” again. Some things are inevitable. But when it happens next time, you might have learned a thing or two about how to identify and handle it, even if it’s dressed up as kindness.
I actually find CVS receipts pretty intimidating. They are so long, and they take their sweet time coming out. Kind of powerful.
Con mucho amor,
Originally published on January 5, 2023.
This column first ran in John Paul Brammer’s Hola Papi newsletter, which you can subscribe to on Substack. Purchase JP Brammer’s book Hola Papi: How to Come Out in a Walmart Parking Lot and Other Life Lessons, here.