Welcome to “Ask Ada,” a weekly series in which we answer all those burning questions you’d rather not share aloud. Buckle up for some brutally honest advice!
I just got out of a serious relationship and I don’t know how to get back up in there… I’m scared that the next one will be a mess as well…
I know it doesn’t feel this way right now, but you deserve to give yourself some major props right now. As a society, we have a massive problem with encouraging people to stay in dead and broken relationships, so anybody brave enough to face singledom deserves to be recognized as such.
I’m also telling you to give yourself major props because one of the reasons so many people stay in dead relationships is that… well… dating sucks. Even when it’s not wall-to-wall awful, it still sucks. And I say this as someone who met her current partner on a dating site.
You’re about to enter a very strange time, my friend. You’re offering yourself up to be judged, and judged harshly, by any human being that strikes your fancy (and a few others that definitely don’t). So, I hope you’ll forgive me if I focus on shoring up your self-confidence right now and leave any specific relationship tips for later.
Returning someone’s stuff and blocking them on social media is good practice even if you parted on amicable terms. You don’t need any reminders of what you describe as “a mess” when rebuilding. I don’t think your ex would notice or care, and you can always reverse the decision at a later time – preferably when you can think back to the relationship with perfect indifference.
Next, I want you to make a list of things you like or would like to do. It can involve specific ideas – paragliding, backpacking in Vietnam, crossing Europe by train – or more abstract life goals, like getting a law degree. Don’t constrain yourself right now, just write them out (I suggest sticky notes) and then, once you are done, order them from the ones you can accomplish tomorrow, to the ones that are going to take a few years.
This is your desire roadmap. Or a bucket list. Or life wish. Whatever you want to call it, I don’t care. What I want you to do, please, is tackle it.
Start with the easy stuff and then work your way out. It doesn’t matter if some of it is expensive or will take prep work – you can put in the motions to make it happen, like saving for a big trip, or taking career decisions that will put you on the path to what you want. Extra points if it’s something your ex would hate – but not too much because this is for you.
In relationships, we make compromises a lot. The longer we stay with someone, the more entangled we become, the more difficult it is for us to just do something that makes us happy without guilt. We start to favor easy fixes – cheap thrills, excess drink, endless complaining – over the hard work of changing a life we dislike. And Mikkel – I don’t want you to regret your youth.
Also, not to belabor the point, but your ex is your ex for a reason. Keep that in mind as you are moving forward. Every time dating disappoints you, every time you feel down and discouraged, every time your friends set you up with someone unsuitable, you will be tempted to think that your old relationship wasn’t too bad.
This is a dangerous road to be on.
It leads you to try to replicate what you used to have with someone else, never mind that they are a human being with dreams and desires. It’ll make you transpose your ex onto every new prospect, and compare them unfavorably. It’ll lead you into reading too much into casual rejection because this is how your ex used to do things and the ex was horrible so therefore they are horrible too! It’s self-sabotage at its purest.
And, on the late nights when loneliness gets too heavy, you will be tempted to call your ex and try to give it one more go. You’ll think you can do this better this time around. Not because you have grown and changed as a person, but because the unknown is too scary.
Resist the urge.
How you resist is up to you, but it helps to have goals other than dating to focus on. It helps you build a life you enjoy regardless of whether there is a partner there or not. Also, it gives you things to look forward to. It builds up your ability to laugh off the knocks and tumbles of dating. It may be trite to say that a sense of humor is a turn on, but relationships don’t last very long with people who take themselves too seriously.
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