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Hello Dr. Robert,

I was dating this guy for just four months starting back in March. We broke up the end of June after a fight in which he claimed that I never opened up to him and he also felt tense because he didn't know how I felt or what I was thinking. Funny, I thought we had been on the same page but apparently not. I know he was not cheating on me, as he always spent time with me when he wasn't working or going to school. We never exchanged "I love you's" but he obviously had strong feelings for me, and I for him. Well, I did try to "open up" by sending him a couple of letters after the breakup, but he never replied.

Well, fast-forward to three weeks ago. I saw him at his place of work and asked if we could bury the hatchet and be friends. He agreed and the called me two days later. Then two days after that in which we spoke for two hours and he pretty much told me that he'd been upset because he felt that I only ever opened up to him as I would a friend. We were supposed to meet two days later but he got sick with the flu. I visited him five days later at work (it's a public place) but he was distant and when I asked him to give me a call later, he agreed but rolled his eyes. I told him to forget it, but then I called him three days later to find out what that was all about. He was very cold and said he had rolled his eyes because I was chatting with him for five or ten minutes in front of his boss (wasn't aware it was his boss) and that I lashed out at him (my "lashing out" was quietly commenting on the eye-rolling and telling him to never mind about calling me) He basically told me he'd given me three chances in the past (??!!) and that he didn't want to go there, back to the emotional roller-coaster ride and to just leave him alone.

Well, this was almost 2 weeks ago, and I have left him alone. Unfortunately, he's taken up a lot of space, tremendous space in my mind, and I can't seem to stop thinking about him. I am mad at myself that I just didn't play it cool after he called and just waited for him to call me again, instead of going to see him like a love-sick child. Which I am not (I'm in my thirties) What can I do to help myself with this situation? I am tired of waking up with a knot in my stomach and feeling sad most of the time. How do I get over him and the urge to see or speak to him again??

thanks ,


ask dr-robert ask psychologist todos santos ask psychologist dr robert saltzman

Hello, Cherie, and thanks for your letter--

"Dating" is a simple name for a very complex happening--the meeting of two egos--which often proves to be complicated and emotionally fraught. When people meet, the most primal wish of each of them is to be seen, heard, and understood. But often, when a couple begins to spend time together, and become involved sexually, their relationship, which ostensibly seems to be about sexual enjoyment and having fun together, often becomes burdened with all of the fears, anxieties, past disappointments, and other emotional vulnerabilities of both parties.

In other words, "dating," which seems to be a process of "getting to know you," (and which would feel much more satisfactory if one really were being seen, heard, and understood) often is not really focused on getting to know, enjoy, and appreciate another person, but more on putting forth egotistical demands ("give me what I want and act as I want you to act") and on negotiating for the satisfaction of those demands.

Sometimes this egoic negotiation goes on quietly, all but unnoticed beneath the surface, and other times it is blatant and obvious, but almost always it occurs on one level or another. For example, when a woman begins dating, her friends may give her advice on how to best manage the new relationship--such things as: "don't act too eager, be hard to get," or "don't let him have a certain kind of sex until he makes a certain kind of verbal commitment," etc. Clearly this is not essentially different from the advice that the CEO of a corporation gets from his advisors about negotiating a merger with another company, or that Dick Cheney gives to George Bush about how to deal with the Chinese.

Now, I imagine that the fight you had was a part of this process of negotiation, a kind of demand by your boyfriend that you act differently. Unfortunately, I think it was a demand that you could not fulfill, even if you had understood it, and wanted to fulfill it. I think the demand was one that could not be fulfilled, because, although it seemed to be a demand that you be more forthcoming about your thoughts and emotions, I think that was a red-herring, and that your boyfriend's real demand was that you, a woman, become completely unthreatening to him, which is not possible. In other words, although you have not given me any information about the fight, I assume that your boyfriend must have been feeling frightened by some aspect of his involvement with you, and that his saying that he felt "tense" because he never knew what you were thinking was really a coded expression of that fear.

To go a bit further with this, I imagine that his blaming you for "not opening up," was a form of projection of his own fear of opening up any further to you. When I say "projection," I am referring to the well-known psychological tendency among humans to deal with their own shadow material--the parts of themselves they dislike, fear, or about which they feel ashamed--by imagining that they see these things in another person, and then blaming the other person for being that way. For example, if a man is ashamed of his laziness and inability to get down to work, he might blame his girlfriend for being lazy and useless. This has the effect of taking the "bad stuff" out of himself, and putting it into another where he can condemn it without owning it. Projection, in other words, is a method of dealing with guilt, shame, and feelings of inferiority by scapegoating another person with them.

If you understand this, you might agree with me that your boyfriend's blaming you for being unwilling to "open up," really may have indicated that he was unwilling to open up to you. I suspect this because if he really had been interested in knowing you and your thoughts more deeply, he could have approached that in a positive way by asking you questions about your inner world, or asking that you share more with him about your intimate life. In other words, the fight and the blame was his way of avoiding going any more deeply into an emotional involvement with you, and probably not at all an honest attempt to get you to open up to him. I should add that I also imagine that he is not conscious of any of this, and that, if he were asked about it, would have perfectly good reasons why you are not the woman for him.

If this analysis is correct, probably there was nothing that you could have done or said that would have kept him wanting to continue in the relationship; he had "hit the wall," of his own emotional cage, and just could not go any further, regardless of what you said or did. Now you say that you regret that you just didn't play it cool after he called instead of rushing in to see him like a love-sick child. But as I have just explained, I really do not imagine that this breakup was a result of your having played the "dating game" (egoic manipulation, that is) badly, but rather a case of this man's being unable to go any further with you, and I hope that you will stop blaming yourself for a failure which probably was not yours.

As for your present suffering, I am afraid that those blues are part of the price one pays for extending one's fleshly body and one's emotional body to another person and then ending up disappointed in the outcome. Everyone who has ever been through this kind of breakup will tell you that there is not much to do about the sense of rejection and loss except to wait for time to help heal the wound, to spend time with friends if possible, and to understand that it is better that this relationship--this particular egotistical negotiation, that is--has broken down now instead of a year from now, or five years from now, when you would have had so much more of yourself invested in the outcome. However, if after several weeks you do not at least begin to see some light at the end of the tunnel, please consult my article called "Am I Depressed?" for links to several on-line depression assessment tools, and recommendations about how depression should be treated.

Be well.

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