Almost two years ago, a guy I was head-over-heels in love with broke up with me quite suddenly. We met through the dating app Tinder and had been dating “short distance” between New York and Philadelphia for about six months. We saw each other for days at a time but often weeks apart. Being with him was easy—we seemed to approach life the same way and were constantly laughing, touching, and talking. He taught me about beer, and I taught him a little French.
The breakup itself was awful. I wasn’t ready for things to be over. I didn’t want things to be over. I was genuinely shocked that this man I was so crazy about was so completely sure that our relationship was not worth continuing. After crying, talking, and crying a lot more, he left, and I closed the door behind him. That was almost two years ago, and we never saw each other, spoke, or texted again.
A full-on communication stop after a breakup is rare these days. Aside from social media stalking, many ex-couples continue to actually communicate—trying to stay friends. In fact, a 2015 poll reports that of the 1,241 U.S. adults surveyed, more than half said that they had tried to stay friendly with an ex, even if they also said that a full communication stop is better after a breakup.
The truth is, staying friends after a breakup doesn’t often heal wounds; most of the time it prolongs hurt through a low-quality friendship. According to research, exes who remain friends tend to have less emotionally supportive and less trusting friendships. They also tend to care less about one another’s happiness. Objectively speaking, this prospect doesn’t seem very appealing. But I know firsthand how strong the draw to remain friends with an ex can be when you’re heartbroken.
The truth is, in the hours, days, and weeks that followed our breakup, I didn’t know I had laid my eyes on my ex for the last time. I figured there would be texts to check in. I imagined regrets and maybe one day a reunion. Luckily, because I was the one who had been dumped, I let my bruised ego lead the way and waited for him to reach out. I wrote him a letter I never sent, and I waited some more.
Looking back now on our full communication stop, I see three things really clearly.
Social media made it hard to resist reaching out.
I was so sure that this was not the end of our story that I didn’t bother to untangle myself from our social media connection—which was solely through Instagram. In the course of our courtship I only posted one photo of the two of us and tagged him just a few other times. He never shared anything that included me. It wasn’t really his “thing,” so what did I have to worry about?
Of course, less than six weeks after we split, he went camping in upstate New York with another woman and splashed it all over Instagram. This felt like something akin to being hit over the head with a frying pan forged from my own insecurities. I was angry, jealous, and wildly sad. If moving on came this naturally to him, and he was doing it so publicly, how could I possibly appear to care?
As the months went by, I did what sad, dumped people do. I looked through my phone at our text history, at the cheesy selfies of us kissing or riding his tandem bicycle through the streets of Philly. I wallowed in the memories of the good times (pretending not to see the red flags that often present themselves in hindsight) and threw massive pity parties for myself that involved lying in bed for hours binge watching his favorite show on Netflix. Even after I unfollowed him on Instagram, I would pull up his account (it’s public) and study all the photos of him with his new girlfriend(s). The proof was in the highly filtered pudding: He had moved on. And on. And on.
I cringe to think of how many sleepless hours I spent wondering why, exactly, my ex never got in touch with me after we broke up. Was I that forgettable? Did he mean way more to me than I did to him? Why wasn’t I worth caring about anymore? What’s wrong with me?
My pride kept me in check and prevented me from making embarrassing late-night phone calls and sending texts that I’d instantly regret if he didn’t reply. But still, the temptation was there, and I know stronger women than me have fallen prey to the torture of watching your ex move on via Instagram and Facebook.
Eventually, the silence was the answer to all my questions.
Soon enough, we had been broken up longer than we had been together. Then a year passed. The pity parties were replaced with rational consideration of the faults in our relationship while running along the East River. Our text history was inadvertently deleted when I lost and replaced my iPhone. All those questions I asked myself late at night were finally put to rest with the hardest breakup pill to swallow: It wasn’t really about me.
Learning to see the beauty of our cold-turkey breakup felt like coming out of a fog—the clarity was cold but bright. Without any communication, there were no more questions. There was no digital limbo where our connection could continue to exist. He didn’t tag me in weird memes out of the blue or send me text updates about his pregnant sister-in-law. We weren’t trying to be friends; I didn’t have to pretend I could handle that or wonder what it meant. I was free. I had been free for a long time.
Now I can see how my own choice played a role.
To this day I don’t know why my ex never reached out after we broke up. At this point I no longer care, thankfully! But, it’s important to acknowledge that there were a lot of circumstances that made this total ice out easier for me. We didn’t share any friends. We didn’t live in the same city. I’d never even left so much as a pair of earrings behind at his place. He disappeared from my life instantly and all at once. Online dating—and connecting deeply with people you never would have met otherwise—makes this pretty easy to do.
When I was in the thick of it, I felt resentful and wounded when my ex didn’t end up contacting me. I put it all on him—he had made a choice to cut me out of his life swiftly and mercilessly. I clung to my identity as the victim. However—and you probably already realized this as you were reading—I could have reached out, too. I could have texted him, called, or sent that letter. But I didn’t, and that’s a choice I made. What felt like pride then looks like strength now. He hurt me deeply and I found a way to protect myself going forward.
Transitioning from feeling as if I was “holding out” by not getting in touch to making a self-care choice took some time. I am not here to tell you that it’s the easy path. To be totally honest the only proof I have is in hindsight. I know now that if we had stayed in contact without ever getting back together, I probably still wouldn’t be over him. Instead I’ve lived my life, met new and better men, moved way on and retired this relationship to the spot in my brain where I collect all my hard-won life lessons.
Photo Credit: Jordan Voth