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It’s probably too late to subject them to the PowerPoint presentation now.
It’s probably too late to subject them to the PowerPoint presentation now.

SocietyMay 23, 2024

Help Me Hera: Is it too late to yell at my ex?

It’s probably too late to subject them to the PowerPoint presentation now.
It’s probably too late to subject them to the PowerPoint presentation now.

We ended on good terms last year, but I saw them recently and, well, turns out I’m furious. How do I deal with my rage?

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Dear Hera,

Last year I ended my first and only long-term relationship after a good few years together. It was a mutual decision made on good terms, though we are no longer in touch.

Since then I’ve moved on, helped by therapy and some other really lovely relationships. 

The problem: I saw my ex while out and about the other day, which didn’t seem noteworthy at the time. But now! I can only describe it as feeling all the anger and frustration I felt at them, but never properly expressed, coming out at once.

And it’s pointless! I have no one to be mad at – I’m not about to get in touch just to be grumpy. That wouldn’t be fair. But I am also already sick of just seething when I would really like to just get it out and then forget about it!

Do I just have to go down to my local void and yell into it?! How do I get past this?

Fuming in Foxton

[PS I’m not actually in Foxton. This was just catchy and anonymous]

A line of fluorescent green card suit symbols – hearts, clubs, diamonds and spades
Dear Fuming,

The longer I live, the more emotionally sophisticated everyone seems to get. Our collective standards get higher with each passing year. The problem with high standards is they’re impossible to live up to. It doesn’t matter how self-actualised you are. 

Anyone embarking on a long-term relationship can never be truly prepared for what’s to come. Every relationship is a strange and ultimately haunted castle, the shared reality of which is impossible to convey to anyone beyond the ramparts. When you break up with someone, that shared reality vanishes. And there’s nowhere left for all the feelings to go. 

You sound a little surprised by your own anger. But you also say this is your first long-term relationship break-up, so I want to reassure you this is extremely par for the course. The aftermath of a break-up always lasts longer than you think. The second you finish congratulating yourself on how wise and enlightened and emotionally stable you are, you’re guaranteed to be overcome by a rage so powerful you could burn down a heritage church with your naked eye. 

Unless your break-up was triggered by an earth-shattering betrayal, it’s normal for the anger to arrive belatedly. In the first months after a break-up, there’s so much tedious weeping and administration that you just don’t have the capacity to be properly mad. Especially if you’re trying to end the relationship on good terms. It’s also normal to feel so overwhelmed with the pathos of it all that you prematurely offer apologies or forgiveness you’re not actually ready to dispense. Then six months later, when you think you’ve turned a corner, the anger arrives.  

This belated anger is particularly frustrating because, as you say, there’s nothing you can do about it. You can’t call your ex and let them have it, because they no longer have an obligation to sit through a PowerPoint presentation itemising their flaws, or even to care about your hurt feelings. Not to mention that they probably have an equally long list of complaints regarding your personality defects that you may not want to hear. 

Anger, in its purest form, can feel a lot like clarity. But I’m here to tell you you’re not thinking straight. You’re still suffering from extreme emotional jetlag. I’m not saying your anger towards your ex is unjustified. But it’s probably not the whole picture. In fact, the first year after a break-up is too soon to attempt any kind of genuine friendship, unless you’re a lesbian and it’s an important part of your cultural heritage. Reacting too soon in anger is like burning a bridge you don’t know you’re only halfway across. It’s a lot easier to rekindle a friendship later, when you haven’t laid an official complaint against your ex at the Human Rights Commission. 

The first year after a break-up is rough. Often there’s nothing you can do but be patient. That doesn’t solve the problem of what to do with all your horrible feelings. I wouldn’t suggest buying a foam bat and taking it out on inanimate objects. There’s been some interesting psychological research that suggests that smashing car windshields with a baseball bat doesn’t offer catharsis, it only increases your desire to smash car windshields with a baseball bat. But there’s no point berating yourself for feeling mad either.

I think you have to strike a precarious mental balance between simultaneously allowing yourself to believe your ex is a spineless human worm who destroyed your life and would do everyone a favour by falling down the village well, while also secretly knowing that you’re an unreliable narrator whose perspective isn’t currently to be trusted. 

That doesn’t mean you can’t be immature. This exact situation is what friends are for. Go out with your friends who liked your ex the least, and have a good rant about all their bad habits and undiagnosed personality disorders. Go for a long walk in the rain while listening to Korn. Institute an official sulking period, and block out a month or two in your calendar. Sit by the window in your bathrobe like a scorned king in exile, wishing pestilence upon everyone. 

And know that, eventually, the feeling will pass. But in the meantime, if you run into your ex at the supermarket, keep that shit to yourself. I think you’ll be grateful in the long run. 

Best of luck,


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