Telling The Ex Goodbye, Even if Only in Your Head.

Or, how Medium helped set me free.

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Acamea Deadwiler wrote a powerful, spot on article called, “Closure is Overrated.” After reading it, I sent it to two of my clients who have been working on that very thing with me, and whom I hadn’t completely known how to help. I had long suffered from some of the same obsessions, fantasies and misconceptions she wrote about.

Sophia Dembling and I met years ago to collaborate on a book about this very thing. She was interested in why unrequited love haunts us. We didn’t do that book, though she has since quoted me in another about love. Hey Sophia Dembling, I’m ready now, thanks to Medium.

Tesia Blake wrote, “Why You Want to Be Friends With Your Ex.” Wow, did she ever get it right. She listed the underlying and subconscious negative reasons we try to remain friends with exes soon after the breakup. In my case, that seeking after closure and friendship had gone on for decades. For one of my clients it was twelve years. Another had met her first love at age ten, and had an on and off relationship twenty and then again thirty years later, that left her confused and bewildered.

After years of having a myriad of feelings toward my first love, including anger, grief, longing, compassion, caring and sometimes indifference, I realized through Tesia’s article that what I had truly wanted to know was how much impact I had made on his life. And I will likely never know, as Acamea Deadwiler points out in her article.

While I wish for him a happier life than he has generally experienced, my need for friendship with him has mostly been about me. We consider ourselves friends, but the only thing we currently know about each other’s lives is via FaceBook, and he and I primarily use that professionally these days. So we don’t know much. And how does that make anybody friends?What I have really wanted, I now know, is to be a constant in his life.

I called and volunteered to help him through cancer recovery fifteen years ago. Part of that was, indeed, a desire to help and be present for him. It led to us dating again for a few months, until he once again left me for someone else. A pattern repeated, and I still never got closure. As Acamea Deadwiler wrote, “This idea of needing closure, insisting on a finite end to the matter keeps us from moving forward with our lives as we remain psychology bound to people who have likely already given us ample cause to cut the cord.”

It wasn’t that any of my feelings and literal dreams kept me from later relationships. I married again. I had my son with another man. I had two more long term relationships. But when each ended, the dreams would come back. In them, we were always married again, or thinking about being together again, and it felt completely real and normal. Until I woke up. Even in those dreams, though, I had a sense that for us to be together, I had to make all the sacrifices and accept or overlook his need for other women. In those dreams I am able to do that. There was the sense in the dreams that while there were other women, he was still “mine.” Apparently ownership played a role in my connection. Even as he would come and go in the dreams, just as he did in real life.

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As Acamea Deadwiler notes, when we seek “closure” we are needing to hear what has already been shown through behavior. Our exes have shown us how they feel, or don’t feel, about us. She also agrees with Tesia Blake that, “For ourselves, it’s important to recognize when we’re seeking validation disguised as finality.”

Aha! Validation disguised as finality is what I had always sought. Validation as the first (and therefore more real?) wife. Validation as the woman who helped him through cancer recovery. Validation as the girl and young woman who supported his dreams, although it didn’t feel that way to him at the time. And in all this time, through phone calls during my own crises, through hiring him as a photographer for projects, through dating again briefly, through finding out through one of his friends, at his art opening I had offered to help with, that he was seeing another woman while seeing me, and I was the one he was keeping secret this time, I never received that validation from him.

The only way that I, my clients, my friends and any of you reading who are pining for a lost love is going to receive that validation is inside ourselves. We can choose to look at our contributions to their lives and acknowledge our worth in the relationship whether the other person ever does or not. And they likely won’t. Especially those who are the ones to leave, because acknowledging our worth to them makes them then have to second guess their own choices. And that is painful. People in general avoid dealing with the pain related to their actions, both their own pain and the pain they have brought to others.

If we truly want to grow it is important to separate psychologically from those who do not recognize or acknowledge our worth. And to do that, we have to recognize and acknowledge it first. Even more demanding is doing so without following it up with, “So then why don’t THEY see it and want to stay.” As my therapist told me many years ago, we may never get any answers to why. We never truly know everything about a person, even when they are sleeping next to us for years. We all have deep issues we may not be able or ready to share with those we love while they are with us, much less after they have gone, either through their choice or ours. Accept that and move on.

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Aditja Saxena on Unsplash

While on retreat in Santa Fe in September, a vision came to me of an exercise in letting go. I saw all the past men in my life in a circle around me. Each one was connected to me by a cord, so that I was caught like a fly in a spider web. Because of my martial arts background, I envisioned myself in the middle with a sword. I performed a kata while turning in that circle, cutting each cord seamlessly and with grace. Then I looked around the circle and realized we were all finally free, to go forward, or not. But least we were no longer tied together in a way that prevented any motion, forward, backward or even toward each other. The cords had kept us separate and stuck at the same time. I don’t know if any of them feel it, but I feel free, unshackled, spinning beautifully my own creative web. My validation comes from within, and I am grateful to each of them for their contribution to my life and the lessons I learned. I am also grateful that each allowed me to have an impact on their lives in positive ways, even if they never acknowledge it.

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Psychotherapist, Hypnotherapist. Leans Left. Mindfulness practioner before it was cool. M.Ed., LPC.

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