‘I’m Still Bitter Over My Breakup’

Illustration: Pedro Nekoi

This column first ran in John Paul Brammer’s Hola Papi newsletter, which you can subscribe to on Substack.

¡Hola, Papi!

I’m five months out from my first major breakup, and I’m having trouble sorting through my feelings. We were long-distance for about a year, got to nearly two years together (going to different universities for grad school is rough), and she broke up with me right as she moved back to our home country and as I was writing my dissertation. 

I’ve gone through waves of grief that are pretty normal for the first big breakup: staying up until 3 a.m. typing and retyping the “take me back” message, recording and rerecording long voice notes about how we were good once and could be again. I never sent these (I’m proud of that), but I recently ran into her and found I have this odd mix of resentment and longing that’s curdling my heart.

I’m blessed to have understanding friends and family who’ve been wonderful, and I’m genuinely happy with where my life is at the moment. Work is going great and I’ll hopefully be starting my doctorate soon. But every time I think of her, these bitter vines wrap around my heart and pump it full of subtle venom. Part of me wonders if it’s the last remnants of hope for reconciliation and rekindling of love. Part of me worries if this is the start of a dark and hateful road that will drive me to a life of misogyny-filled solitude. Another part wonders if these are the negative emotions that I suppressed during our relationship to try and keep everything working. 

Maybe it’s the centrist in my head wanting balance, maybe it’s the fear of becoming a mini Andrew Tate, maybe it’s the part of me that hopes she’ll reach out to reconnect. No matter how you look at it, this resentment is not something I want to keep. Do you have any advice on how to work with, or on, or against it? Do I talk it out with a therapist? Do I do something completely anathema to my nature and start clubbing every night? Papi, what do I do?

Perturbed Postgrad

Hey there, PP!

It’s not every day someone writes me a letter expressing concern over becoming an incel. For the record, I appreciate it. I’m glad you came here and not whatever digital Mordor they’re pumping incels out of these days. It’s not Reddit anymore, is it? Reddit is so “surface web” now. Anyway, you’re not in danger of being radicalized into anything here at ¡Hola Papi!. Not yet. “Phase two” is still a ways off …


Can’t believe this happened to you during your dissertation. Sorry about that. But it’s clear to me, between your comments about Andrew Tate (explainer for the uninitiated/less online here) and centrism, that you view the world through an explicitly political lens. It’s true that bitterness can lead us to reactionary politics, but it’s also possible to be upset over a breakup with a woman without becoming a misogynist. I’m pretty sure. I only did it once myself, and that was high school.

What I think we should do, and you’re on the right track here, is disrupt the “personal grievance to ideology” and do some introspection. That begins with acknowledging your feelings. Resentment is a perfectly expected, natural emotion following a breakup. To love is to risk being wounded. Like all living things, we are more vulnerable when wounded, more susceptible to infection. We’ve got to disinfect and dress the wound.

A lot of people out there, not just men, can acknowledge that someone has hurt them, but can’t acknowledge that they’re hurt. That might sound odd, but it’s much easier to wrap one’s brain around “a bad person did something bad to me” and a bit harder to grapple with “I need to heal.” I think for men, specifically, they aren’t encouraged to share their feelings or be vulnerable in any way, and so they bottle it up where it sits and rots and eventually expresses itself in violence or hostility.

It’s cyclical logic: Someone hurt me. I’m angry. I should be angry at that person. This flattening of nuance, this simpler narrative, is extremely appealing, and I think it’s how people find themselves in hatred for individuals, which often leads to hatred of entire groups. It’s commonly misogyny, but not always. Those people are ruining everything is a line of thought I’ve seen play out across multiple identity markers.

I’m something of an internet mole. I love exploring and digging through dark tunnels on the web. Before I’m an American, I’m a nosy person. I’m well versed in “red-pill” culture, a culture that holds that it’s actually women who subjugate men in society, and men need to wake up to it and reclaim their power. Women have cleverly manipulated the system to make men’s lives worse. We must get revenge on women.

Through all the bluster and bravado and, frankly, the deep sadness, there’s a question at the center of it all: What do I do with my pain?

Red-pillers, as I mentioned, say to blame it on women, the true culprits, and to use it as fuel to make yourself big and strong so that you can place yourself above them, somewhere where they can’t hurt you again. Sounds a little pathetic, doesn’t it? To be so utterly piloted by your fear of being hurt? But that’s what pain does. It can turn you into an absolute creature if you let it.

I grew up in the countryside, and we had so, so many bugs in the house, including scorpions. Have you ever stepped on a scorpion, PP? It’s nasty business. I used to do it, somehow, but I’ve since regressed and become too squeamish. Andrew Tate would disapprove! But when you crush a scorpion, the tail gets a mind of its own. It starts blindly stabbing all over the place, seeking a target.

I think pain is like that, PP. It just wants a place to put the venom. It doesn’t always care where. If you let the pain call the shots, that’s what you become. Just a stabby, angry mess. So what’s the alternative?

No, you don’t have to go clubbing every night, although getting out there and having some fun isn’t a bad idea. Yes, you should definitely talk with a therapist. But mainly, you need to get the poison out. You’re not a bad person for having the poison in you. You’re not a bad person for hurting or for being angry. It’s what you do with it that determines what kind of person you are.

I like the way you put it, “working with the pain.” I think that’s a great way to approach it. The pain isn’t your enemy, nor your friend, but a reality that you have to acknowledge. Often, people won’t recognize that it’s pain that’s motivating their actions at all. They get into a habit of letting it do what it wants, and it starts controlling their lives.

Hang out with friends and family. Be open and frank with yourself. Recognize that it takes time to recover from a breakup, especially your first big one. Do not contact your ex. Block her on everything. Yes, you’ll feel resentment for a while! But you will eventually move on, and those feelings will fade, and the wound will close. My hope is that, when it does, you look back and are proud of how you navigated being hurt.

If you do become an extreme misogynist, though, please become one of the “reclusive, solitary figure obsessed with fishing and whose only true love is the sea” types. They are among the least dangerous, and even on occasion produce worthwhile novels.

Just doing some harm reduction here.

Con mucho amor,

Originally published on January 17, 2024.

Purchase JP Brammer’s book Hola Papi: How to Come Out in a Walmart Parking Lot and Other Life Lessonshere.

‘I’m Still Bitter Over My Breakup’