Q. I’m writing to you from “down under” (Australia). My query is this: My partnership of five years came to an end in January of this year. He’s in his early 50s, I’m in my late 40s, and we have no children.
We’d separated because, try as I might, it felt like I was the only one who ever put the effort in to communicate and talk through issues. He’d lost his mum when he was young, and although he seems to have it all together, beneath that surface he is a needy teenager who wants to be mothered and, in particular, wants sex. I felt so weighed down by his never-ending need for love and affection. It seemed like no matter what I did, it was never enough. Plus, I did everything for us. I am a very, very busy academic and need caring too. Although I love being a nurturer, it wasn’t equal.
About a year ago, I lost both of my parents very suddenly, had to pack up and sell the family home, and I also changed jobs amid the turmoil. Throughout this process, I had to step back from him because his focus still seemed to be on what he needed, and he seemed upset that I wasn’t mourning by giving him attention. Long story short, while I still loved him, I ultimately felt drained.
He also tended to be secretive. When we first got together, unbeknownst to me, he was seeing someone else, but shored up the relationship with me before jumping ship. This past summer (your winter is our summer), when we were on again for the holidays — at his request — I said, “Please don’t see anyone else while we’re spending this time together. We need to work out what we’re doing.” He swore he wasn’t, and was even continuing to ask me if we could get back together properly and make a go of it; however, turns out he was seeing someone else. By the end of January, before I knew about the latter, I dug deep, really thought about the future, and opened my heart, saying, “OK, let’s do whatever it takes to get this relationship on track.” After sleeping with me, his response was essentially to ghost me. Just like that. After five years. Presumably, sex was a last hurrah for him and now he’s jumped ship to the new partner. I was left blinking, shattered, completely heartbroken.
Put simply, I have been eviscerated by this. I’ve done everything logical: accepted it is over, tried to fill the enormous gaps in my social life, etc. The problem is, his holiday home is directly behind my home. The back of my home is comprised of large windows, and so is his. Our homes look directly into one another’s, and although I am doing everything I can to just accept this situation, repair, and move on, at any moment he could turn up with his new partner. This situation is literally on display, like a cruel scene from “A Clockwork Orange” — like I’m being forced to watch it. I have spent thousands of dollars trying to build my rear fence up to create privacy, but the entirety of his living quarters upstairs are lit up — my bedroom looks into it. It is as though he is lighting up his new life and making me watch.
We also live at the beach, so when I go out for a run I feel as though I’m jumping at shadows — they could be anywhere. All of this seems to be surfacing as I am also wrangling with the reality of being a woman in her late 40s who has no children and who, while fit and accomplished and (I think) attractive, is going through the process of turning somewhat invisible. How do I genuinely accept the reality of this situation and still manage to heal and rise above?
A. I wish I knew more about Australian real estate. You shouldn’t have to move, but if your place no longer brings you joy, and you’ve thought about leaving anyway, you could do it.
That said, if it’s way too difficult to pick up and find another property, all I can say is: Get a good landscaper and a ton of house plants (even fake ones), buy more curtains, and create new memories where you live.
The last part is key. This breakup is huge because you did so much work to try to be with this man. Now he’s nearby — with a new partner. Of course proximity doesn’t help. I would imagine you’ll need more than a year to heal. Please don’t feel bad about the timeline here.
After more months — and more experiences without him — you will start to forget he’s over there. I say this as someone who worked with an ex years ago. At first, our shared cafeteria was like a haunted house. Sometimes he would appear out of nowhere, from behind a wall or counter, holding a turkey sandwich, and I’d spiral.
But at some point, and I can’t even remember when, all of those feelings went away. I was even happy to run into him because it was like, “Oh, hey, I know that guy!” Once I realized we weren’t great as a couple, I could enjoy him so much more.
Some version of that will happen for you, I swear. Part of the journey is learning to be hopeful again. You’re hot and in your 40s and you live near a beach. To that I say, “Congrats, my friend!” You are not invisible! It might be difficult for others to notice you because you’re distracted by grief and other complicated feelings, but otherwise, you’re basically this incredible catch who’s in a cloudy emotional space right now.
Treat yourself to a vacation elsewhere, if you can. Maybe get on a dating app and flirt. Have a good party at your place, and make amazing holiday plans.
Believe me when I say that from the outside, your future looks bright.
You spent 99 percent of your first five paragraphs on how unhappy you were with him. The rest of it was “how dare he?” and “I’m being tortured.” It’s not that I can’t relate. I reacted this way when I was 22 and found out that my boyfriend of a year had been cheating on me. I advise you to get a therapist for objective feedback/advice and support and to help work on some of your beliefs, such as “It’s like he’s making me watch.”
I was an absolute mess when my dad died. I can’t imagine a partner complaining that I wasn’t giving him enough attention/sex afterward. I would have ended things right there.
Instead of you blacking out your windows and raising your fence, be petty. Walk around your house nude. Sunbathe topless. Make the new girlfriend force HIM to black out HIS windows and raise HIS fence.
You shouldn’t have to move or buy blackout curtains, but you can try to look on this as a positive. Think about how not drained you are feeling anymore and enjoy the heck out of that!
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