Dear Lovehacker, For a bit of context I’m a university student and I ended up in a relationship with an exchange student. When she first came on exchange she was in a relationship but she broke up with him a week before we got together.
At the time I was concerned about being a rebound but she convinced me that she hadn’t intended for us to happen and that her feelings were genuine. We ended up dating for two months before she went home. (You can probably guess what happened next.)
When things first started we both went into it with the understanding that our romantic relationship would be over when she left as the distance and uncertainty around when (if ever) we see each other again. I also knew that there was a good chance that she would end up in a relationship again fairly quickly based on the kind of person she is.
The first week after she returned home, she still messaged and was seemingly eager to talk. Over the next couple of weeks she started to take longer to reply and would blame the time difference or say she missed my message because she was busy doing something at the time. Three weeks after she left I found out she was no longer single when she posted a photo on social media of her back with her ex.
Since then she has snapchatted me a couple of times but hasn’t made any attempt to discuss it with me and I haven’t replied to any of her messages. I was hurt that she went back to him but can’t hold it against her as I had expected it to happen when I chose to be in a relationship. What’s bothering me is that she chose to let me find out publicly rather than telling me herself. Given that what I liked about her was how much she cared about others, it seems weirdly callous to me.
It’s also brought about a lot of uncertainty about whether our relationship was actually meaningful to her. I can’t help thinking that she just wanted to have an experience with a local while she was on exchange or even that she was filling in time until she could go straight back to him. I have a lot of questions that only she can answer but I don’t know whether I want to hear the answers or if I would even trust what she told me. I was planning to go travelling and visit all the friends I had made but since several of them live in the same city that she does, things are a bit more complicated if I’m trying to avoid her.
Is it fair of me to be upset with her or should I still be trying to stay friends like we had intended? At this point I have no idea how I should act towards her. Thanks, Thousands of Miles Away
There’re a number of reasons why she didn’t tell you. The most charitable explanation is that she knew you would probably be stung no matter who it was she started dating afterwards. I imagine that she thought it would be kinder to just let it be instead of going out of her way to stab your feelings with a tiny knife. It may not have worked out that way, but the things we do in kindness sometimes don’t work the way we hope.
But the most likely reason she didn’t tell you that she was going back to her ex was because, to be perfectly honest, it’s not really any of your business. You guys dated briefly; that doesn’t mean that you’re supposed to get an update on who she’s hooking up with afterwards. You knew that she was going to likely be dating someone after she returned home; were you expecting an alert when she did?
(Hell, even if you’d been dating for a year or more, your ex isn’t really obligated to give you a heads up. It’s nice, depending on your relationship post-breakup, but it’s a bonus, not a requirement.)
But let’s put that aside, because that’s not the real issue. The real issue that seems to be weighing on you is, “What does this say about you?” More to the point: Were you a fling, or was it something real?
My question to you is: Can’t it be both? The fact that you were a fling doesn’t mean that it wasn’t “real”. This wasn’t random chance. She didn’t draw your name out of a hat. She didn’t spin a bottle and hook up with you because the bottle happened to be pointing your way. You met, you hung out, she clearly was into you. That was real.
It wasn’t going to last, but you knew that. You went into the relationship knowing that it was for a very limited time. And that’s fine. Not every relationship is meant to be forever. Not every love story is meant to be an epic. Some are meant to be a short story. Some are meant to be a dirty limerick. That’s fine too.
The problem is when you invest more, emotionally, than a relationship merits. And to be perfectly honest, a two month relationship ain’t that long. You weren’t even out of the “getting to know you” phase, never mind into the “we have forged a bond that will last forever” phase. Making more of it than what it was — a fun two months with a good guy in a foreign country — is just an invitation to heartbreak because you’re building your expectations up to something unreasonable.
Don’t get me wrong: Your pain is real. A relationship ended and that’s gonna sting, no matter how amicably it ended. It’s the holding on to these questions and doubts that’s making it worse for you, and the longer you treat this as a love for the ages in miniature, the harder it’s going to be for you to let go.
And that’s what you really need to do, man. You need to just let go. Your wound can’t heal as long as you’re picking at the scab. You may have questions, but in all likelihood you’ll be better off to let those questions go unanswered, especially if you aren’t inclined to trust her answers.
Should you stay friends with her? Only if you want to. And if you’re holding on to bitterness about who she’s dating after you? Then you’re going to have a motherfucker of a time actually being friends. Right now, you need distance and perspective and that takes time.
Go see your friends. If you see your ex, be polite. Let her go and make your own closure. Forgive her for being less than perfect in handling the post-breakup interval and forgive yourself for loving if not too wisely then well.
This story originally appeared on Kotaku.
Harris O’Malley is a writer and dating coach who provides geek dating advice at his blog Paging Dr NerdLove.