Dear Carolyn: I recently broke up with someone after two years. Even though there were things that bothered me while we were together, I would convince myself I was overreacting, he didn't really mean it, etc.
Now that it's over, I feel like a fool for not having listened to what my body was telling me, and I feel used because I stayed even after I told him what I needed and he didn't make any changes. I'm constantly beating myself up for staying as long as I did and I'm having a really hard time moving on from these two emotions. How do I forgive myself for having been so stupid in this situation?
— Feeling Like a Fool
Feeling Like a Fool: You weren’t a “fool.” The ability to listen to ourselves isn’t innate, it’s something we have to learn. So many other voices from so many sources compete with our own — from parents, sibs, peers, pop culture, teachers, current events, our own wishful thinking — that it takes time, experience and mistakes for us to get the hang of it.
It’s a two-part process as well: 1. identifying the voice as our own; 2. having the guts to listen to it, especially when the action it suggests is extremely difficult to do.
Breakups are hard — as is choosing a path that others don’t want you to choose, or that involves risk of failure or physical or emotional harm, or that goes against the values you were taught by your family, or etc.
So more constructive than flogging yourself is to treat this process (and others to come) as having taken exactly as long as it needed to take. You needed the two years to see the full scope of what wasn’t working. Okay then.
Now your job is to make sure you don’t extend that time by looking backward and shaming yourself. And to take what you learned with you into future relationships — not just romantic, but with friends, colleagues, family. Recognize the “convincing myself” sensation sooner now and adjust your choices accordingly.
Dear Carolyn: This year, both of my parents passed away after long, difficult illnesses. I know I should miss them more than I do, but I feel like I've been mourning for several years already. Does that make sense, or am I rationalizing somewhere? Thanks.
Anonymous: I’m sorry for the difficult years and losses.
What you say makes complete sense. It’s something that has come up for years in this column in the context of breakups: Some people start processing a breakup when it happens, and some start as soon as the relationship starts to fail. That’s why some people can emerge from a divorce healthy and ready to date while others need years to regroup.
There is little practical difference when the grief is over a death. The process starts not when the loss itself happens, but when the person first feels the loss. Sometimes death triggers grief, sometimes a diagnosis does, sometimes the grief is delayed.
Even without a clear case of grieving in advance, there’s no “should” for how much you miss someone. There is only how you really feel.