In this week’s advice column, psychotherapist Ms X counsels a woman struggling to adjust to life as her ex’s straight sidekick.
Hi Ms. X,
I’m a woman in my 20s and a few months ago my boyfriend, who I’ll call Oscar (after one of my all-time favorite homosexuals) broke up with me with this banger: “I love you, but I’d be so much more attracted to you if you were a guy.”
In the weeks that followed I tried to be as kind and supportive as possible. Even though I was still reeling from the break up, I’d do everything from answering his calls at 3am on a Tuesday to listen to him talk with a level of vulnerability, eloquence and insight I’d never witnessed in the roughly 18 months we were together; to helping him select the sexiest selfies for his new Grindr profile.
Oscar is a wonderful guy, and while I’m happy for him, I can’t help feeling like Ross from Friends. His pals found the whole ‘Carol leaving him for Susan’ thing hilarious, and some of mine are no better! There’s a tragicomic element to this situation, sure, but Oscar being gay doesn’t make being dumped any easier to deal with, or make him any easier to get over, or help me take this any less personally.
Here are some of their reactions, so you know what I’m dealing with:
Friend A: OMG, Oscar’s gay?? Haha did he want to have anal all the time?
Friend B: Why are you so down about this? You’re not letting your ego get in the way of seeing the situation objectively, are you?
Friend C: But this is great – now you can say you’ll remain friends and actually deliver on that! He’ll be the perfect gay best friend!
How am I supposed to make the mental switch from ‘boyfriend who I love and am wildly attracted to’ to ‘gay best friend’?! While Oscar still wants to hang out all the time, I find it difficult to be around him – because he doesn’t consider how much his behavior fucks with me. When he does stuff as innocent as holding my hand or tucking my hair behind my ear, all I want to do is push him down on the nearest flat (or bumpy, whatever) surface and, uh, xyz…
I feel stupid for not knowing this huge thing about the person I thought I knew better than anyone else in the whole world, and maybe even a little cheated and resentful. I’ve tried talking about it, but nobody says what I want, nor need, to hear. I’ve tried sleeping with other guys, but it’s been pretty unsatisfying. I’ve tried avoiding Oscar but it’s impossible when our social circles are fused: I’m talking a Venn diagram with 100% overlap here.
Basically this whole fiasco has triggered some sort of quarter life crisis. I’m either doing nothing and being apathetic or doing everything, like quitting my job and moving flats – both in the last couple months – just because. I’m moaning shit like “Nobody will ever be attracted to me again/I’m going to die alone!”, and I know I’m far too young and too optimistic to think like this. I’m just not feeling like me, and I’ve been questioning everything about myself (except my sexuality… heh).
This doesn’t feel like a run of the mill break-up, and the trajectory of the recovery period is like nothing I’ve been on before – it’s one step forward, 10 leaps back. So my question is this: How do I get over him? How do I help him, and our mutual friends, understand what this feels like? How do I go back to being me? Whoops that’s three apologies!
Thanks so much,
So your newly ex-boyfriend wants dick and some of your friends are being dicks. What an appalling coincidence. I donʼt know if we can make your friends smarter, so let’s concentrate on you.
Grief – the kind where the person isn’t dead, they’re still in your life but unavailable to you in the way you want them (up against a wall, by the sounds of it) – is still grief.
You’re experiencing something like motion sickness – there’s a dissonance between your brain and your body that has to be navigated. He’s right there in front of you: you can see him, you can smell him and you can hear him, this person you had been tuned to for 18 months. Instead of acting like the super computer it is, your brain behaves like an old fashioned radar system and says “There he is! Kiss him!” The message that you canʼt have him is yet to get through to the central cortex. I think we need to attach some burners to it and try to push it up into the ‘conscious comprehension’ atmosphere faster.
So it’s reprogramming time. You can try either of these methods or a combo:
1. Spend so much time with him that you are eventually over-exposed. Hear all the gay stuff, everything. Absorb his homosexuality through the pores of your skin so that it becomes an irrefutable fact. He is now all about cock (like you) and thus you can be comrades on the expedition toward great/terrible/meh cock – but comrades is all you will be. Frequent exposure could build up your immunity to his charms and move you through the current discomfort. Ideally you want to get to a place where you can look at him and go “Ah yeah, that’s my ex who now likes guys and whose face I don’t want to sit on ANYMORE”.
* I have to add a warning here, Caller. If Oscar’s gayness at any stage wobbles or becomes a bit fluid – more like bisexual – just be careful because you might feel really really angry. Iʼm not saying it would be “wrong” of him to straddle both paths, but it complicate things if you still have special feelings in your knickers for him. Especially because he left you for cock.
2. The other option is you spend far less time with him. You get out and meet more people – because, let’s face it, some better bloody friends wouldnʼt go amiss. In the course of answering your letter, I discussed it with a colleague who’d recently encountered a similar situation. We’d both been amazed by the friends, like yours, who are all so “right on” about sexuality that they canʼt see your situation clearly: that it is the end of a significant relationship and you are in pain. This other young woman my colleague and I knew felt like her ex basically got thrown a personal Pride Parade and all she got was side eye and bupkis (which is Yiddish for “nothing” or more precisely, shivering shit balls, worse than nothing).
You have every right to be pissed off, not because he is gay but because the person you love does not want to love/fuck you back. That doesnʼt mean you are uncool about anyone’s sexuality, it just means you are in break-up pain. I have to say here as well, I am a little concerned about hard Oscar is making it for you with all the hand-holding and tucking of stray hairs behind your ear. That is a bit confusing for both your big brain and the other tiny brain in your knickers. So if you keep hanging out together you might have to tell him that has to stop.
Finally, I need you to flex those muscles of resourcefulness and get back out into life. Use this time to do an audit of the people in your life. If they canʼt be thoughtful and cognisant of you and your right to pain then it’s time to see a lot less of them. Start doing new things where you can meet new people. This gets easier the older you get – you get better at picking like-minded comrades and not schmucks peddling boxes of bupkis.
You have been delightfully clear with me about how this thing with Oscar has really knocked you on your ass. I spoke a little about retraining your brain out of its “Oscar orientation” but the whole experience seems to have left you quite flat.
So, in the spirit of retraining that big meaty computer of feelings at the top of your neck, have a read of this. It is a lovely explanation of how to shift mild depression. I really do recommend it, even if it feels a bit simplistic.
Let me know how you go Caller.
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