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Image: Archi Banal
Image: Archi Banal

SocietyJune 29, 2023

Help Me Hera: Should I abandon my OE to get back with my ex?

Image: Archi Banal
Image: Archi Banal

There are some situations you can’t eat, pray or love your way out of. 

Want Hera’s help? Email your problem to helpme@thespinoff.co.nz

Dear Hera,

I really want to drop everything and get back with my ex-boyfriend. 

He’s the first and only person I’ve been in love with.

We broke up because I wanted to be adventurous and move overseas and he didn’t (well not right now at least). Our goodbye was suitably dramatic, with lots of crying and having sex and more crying and even a fancy dinner. He said, “being with you these last years has been wonderful”, and I said, “you’re going to be so happy”, etc etc.

I thought that after a month or so the sadness would dissipate and I would be having so much fun exploring that I wouldn’t miss him. Alas. It’s now been three months and all I want is to cancel my year of travel and go home to lie with him in bed and look at the spiderwebs on his ceiling that are too high up to do anything about. 

We’ve been talking a little bit since I’ve been gone and recently he said he hadn’t realised how much he loved me until I left. Is this a good sign or a bad sign? I don’t even know if he would want to be with me after I’ve been so selfish but should I at least ask? Exploring the world isn’t exciting to me if I’m not doing it with him. 

Should I get on a plane tomorrow?

Sincerely,

Anonymous

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

Dear Anonymous,

There are some days it seems unfair we only get one life to ruin. That every opportunity is also an infinity of closed doors, from behind which the sounds of mysterious laughter and Bon Jovi and hoofbeats occasionally emanate. Maybe somewhere in a parallel universe, there’s another iteration of you still counting the spiders on your ex-boyfriend’s ceiling and wishing you were in another time zone. But that’s small comfort, here in this version of reality.

There’s nothing so bittersweet as getting what you wanted and being too heartbroken to enjoy it. No wonder you want to get straight on a plane and come home. But before you pack your suitcase and rush off to the international terminal, you should take a breath.

Breakups are hard, especially when you still love the person you’re breaking up with. They’re even harder when that person rubs it in by behaving with exemplary kindness and wantonly distributing “fancy dinners.” I’m sure it would have been easier if he’d punched your fish tank or started posting passive-aggressive Silverchair lyrics. Unfortunately, he sounds like a lovely guy with a kind heart, which at this precise moment in time can only hurt. 

If this is your first breakup with someone you love, you’re going to be annihilated. But that doesn’t mean you made a mistake. I imagine that right now, you’re feeling profoundly stupid and wishing the Wright Brothers had never been invented. But it was also a brave thing to do. It’s easy to get so swept up in the ongoingness of life you forget to make any deliberate choices, until you wake up one day on your late parent’s Sacramento beet farm, wondering what happened to your dreams of Hollywood. It’s important to go after what you want, especially when you’re young and relatively unencumbered. You sometimes have to be a little ruthless, in order to avoid getting swept up by the path of least resistance. 

You describe your actions as selfish. But your ex-boyfriend made a decision too. It’s fine he wasn’t ready to leave. But that doesn’t mean you chose this outcome and he didn’t. You both decided it was for the best. Discovering what you want and naming it is a good quality in a relationship and a talisman against future resentments. 

I can’t definitively say going home is the wrong thing to do. But I will say that three months after a breakup is almost exactly the most miserable time. You’ve had just enough space to properly miss your ex and just enough time to forget all the reasons you wanted to break up in the first place. But you’re just at the start of your trip. Do you really want to turn around now and go all the way back home?  

OK, you probably do. But how will you feel in a year, when you look back on this choice? Ten years? Will you always regret going home so soon? What if things don’t work out romantically? What if they do work out romantically, and you regret it anyway? What if there’s another pandemic and we’re all stuck inside for another decade, rewatching Ken Burns’ Civilization and performing our own dentistry? And what about your ex? If you get back together, will he always worry he made you forfeit something important?

You can’t reasonably expect your ex to wait for you. But hope is free. If you’re still feeling this way after the initial fog of despair has settled, maybe it’s worth exploring some options. Could you handle long-distance? Tentatively leave open the possibility of getting back together? Is there anything that would persuade your ex to change his plans and meet you at the Empire State Building Observation Deck? I feel like maybe this is bad advice, and I should be telling you to make a clean break. But you can’t always do the ruthlessly sensible and well-adjusted thing. Maybe you’d ultimately have a better trip if you cut off contact. But that’s the kind of advice it’s easier to give than take.

I think this is ultimately a choice about future regret management. The way I see it, the worst-case scenario is you go home early and your relationship doesn’t work out. The next worst-case scenario is you spend a miserable year fulfilling your lifelong dream of seeing the world. Which as far as worst-case scenarios go, isn’t so bad. Even if it means your relationship is over.

Only you can balance which regret is ultimately heavier. But you’ve already done the hard part, which is leaving. Now you just have to do the second hardest part, which is staying gone.

You can’t eat, pray or love your way out of this one. But you don’t have to be happy in order to be interested or enriched or transformed by the world. I suggest you stick it out for at least three more months. Even if it means dragging yourself around cathedrals in dark sunglasses, or crying on the steps of the Louvre. Just pretend you’re in a Sofia Coppola B-roll. Take a lot of bad photos. Buy some ugly, mass-produced fridge magnets. Being miserable overseas is an inalienable right of passage and one you can spend the rest of your life enjoying.

Chin up and stick with it. At least for a bit longer. I’m almost certain that one day you’ll be glad you did. 

Want Hera’s help? Email your problem to helpme@thespinoff.co.nz

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