Dear Therapist..."Can I Keep My Ex in My Life?"
I keep engaging with my ex boyfriend and it’s doing my head in. He hurt me at the end of our relationship and we are trying to be friends but each time he says something insensitive, I freak out. What should I do? He keeps letting me down and just when I expect him to say something, he disappoints me yet again.
You are in the unchartered territory of exland. It’s undefined and the responsibility is nebulous. Where do you want this to go? Are you looking to get back together or work through something?
Setting the agenda might help — if it’s to understand something about the past, be clear with yourself about what you are wanting and what may not be possible. Closure isn’t always possible and sometimes unfinished business remains complex. You can get clarity apart from him, very possibly. Or you might seek complexity — leaning towards chaos can be addictive.
Your disappointment in his insensitivity suggests to me that you’re wanting more from him than what he’s offering. Have you asked him to be sensitive or does that not feel possible? Exes can be friends but when there’s hope for something more, the posthumous romance can be haunting. You may find yourself continually feeling hopeful and disappointed by this guy. If your wish to be friends is about you wanting to remind yourself of who you are in some way, bolster yourself and ask what it is you would like to convey to him.
Exes are not good mind readers, and strangely we often believe the opposite — that an ex knows us well, that we know them — even when we do in some ways, there’s often uncertainty about what comes next. If you have a grand narrative plan (and don’t we all, whether it’s a sense of tragedy or resolution?) be honest with yourself that you are living your own life and you can’t write the story for him. He won’t follow the script if you do. Nor should he write your story.
Charlotte Fox Weber is a verified Welldoing psychotherapist and the author of What We Want: Understand Your Deepest Desires and Live a Fuller Life