Thursday, July 1, 2010

Obsessed with Her Ex

At least it's not Jennifer Aniston
Dear Edahn,

I have a friend who still obsesses about her ex. He broke up with her 7 months ago and she has yet to accept one date because she compares every candidate to her ex-boy. She posts facebook statuses intended to make him jealous (which we all know he doesn't care about), she gets drunk and starts crying and texts him and he isn't very responsive, and best of all she hangs out with his friends and then posts pictures online.

He was the first real boyfriend she ever had so I can sort of tolerate her behaving like an irrational 16-year-old, but what worries me more is that they had a sort of movie-relationship that I don't think exists in real life and I think that experience had deluded her into expecting every future relationship to be the kind where you go ice skating together, the guy buys you dinner every night and new clothes all the time, you basically move into his house, take over his friends, and the rest of the time you bake muffins together. As far as every man I know (even the sweet, sensitive ones... even to me, in fact) this seems like a nightmare.

I'm worried that she'll drive every guy away because he doesn't compare to her ex, but importantly, if she ever does give someone a chance (which seems totally unlikely at this point), she'll be disappointed that he isn't Martha Stewart/her gay bestfriend/boyfriend. What do I do to make her open back up?

I think your best bet is to just tell her what you see and what you think and be prepared to offer her a solution. That conversation won't be easy, especially because she has so many walls protecting her desire for that idealized relationship as well as her disappointment, but it probably won't be as hard as you imagine either. Make it clear from the outset that you care about her and can see that she seems stuck. (Better yet, let her volunteer that information first.) Tell her that you want to give her an outsider's perspective, that you're going to be fully honest, and that you want to be able to speak without being interrupted because you don't want this speech discussion to turn into a debate.

Once you have her attention, explain to her everything you told me: that she's idealized her relationship; that her relationship was unstable and probably doomed from the start; that there are other types of relationships people can form that are more satisfying and realistic, albeit less intense; that he's moved on and that she's not going to get him back with any of her gimmicks; that she's unfairly judging her new suitors; and that you're worried about her passing up great opportunities because she's still stuck in the romanticized past. Make sure you end on a confident note, highlighting some of her best qualities and explaining how those qualities will attract a new great guy and great relationship.

Likely outcome: She begins to argue, you begin to want to punch her face off, and you realize after 5 or 10 minutes that whatever you say will get rejected. Try and listen to what she says without trying to convince her of anything. You're just offering your take on her situation. Even if she rejects it, that's okay. You did your job and planted the seeds of skepticism.

Unlikely outcome: In the remote chance that she breaks down and starts crying, tell her you'd like to help her and that you know how. She'll get back on track when she sees what you see, and that she'll see it when her thoughts and feelings relax. Because she's still so engaged and obsessive, her thoughts and feelings keep getting activated, so she has to stop all that: texting, checking his Facebook, talking about it with desperation and even thinking about it. She has to suspend the relationship for at least 5 or 6 months and do whatever she needs to do to accomplish that. When she starts talking about it again, it'll be more to understand it that to revive it, and that's cool. That's healing. If she gets confused, I'd recommend that you recommend that she take a break from all the obsessing as a sort of temporary experiment.

Thanks for writing in!

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