Interview: Do I miss her? Or do I miss the relationship?

This is an interview with Carl, an old friend from my uni days. I wanted to interview Carl because he’s been in several long-term relationships and he’s lived through several breakups where he wasn’t the initiator. I met up with Carl when his last relationship came to an end and I was struck by how he was approaching the situation. He was completely open, honest and frank about what had happened and how he felt. He was very much wearing his heart on his sleeve. He had also called up close friends to come out with him so he could share his story, have fun, and do something probably a bit crazier than he would have done had he still been together. All in all Carl left the impression with me that he knew what he had to do. See the transcript of the interview below:

Jesse: Am I right in saying that you have not experienced a breakup that has really turned your life upside down?

Carl: No, it’s never done that, no. That’s right.

Jesse: The problems that my readers tend to have are ones where their lives are completely disrupted. But it’s also interesting to hear from someone for whom this wasn’t the case. How is that possible? How does such as person approach the same situation? So for me it’s interesting to understand what goes on in your head that is different for you that doesn’t make this a truly disruptive event in your life. Where you’re not in denial about what is happening and you’re not obsessed with questions about what your ex-girlfriend may or may not be doing or thinking. You know what I mean?

Carl: I think that the problem with the phase you described where the guys are like: “Why is she doing this and that?” That’s actually really egocentric, because one has the feeling that she is really focused on you or working to diss you, to make your life miserable. That’s that whole phase. That’s not the reality.

What I tend to do — naturally I think — is that I try to empathize with her, I try to put myself in her shoes. So I think to myself “If I were her at this point, would I be doing the same, or am I doing this to diss Carl?” And then I realize, no, that’s neither here nor there. Why would she move heaven and earth in her life just to make my life miserable. What kind of sick person would you need to be to do that, you wouldn’t have a life of your own.

Jesse: And then you realize that it’s an unrealistic thought you were having.

Carl: Yes, then I realize it’s an unrealistic thought and then I can let it go.

And maybe that doesn’t work for others because they still can’t let it go. But again, that’s egocentric because then you still believe that her world revolves around you. And that just isn’t the case. She’s just trying to move on.

I mean, it may be the case that she is like that. There are women that would just want to make your life miserable. But that’s because they themselves are still in denial and they still have some type of fixation on you.

Jesse: Yes, I think you’re right. The guys that are are obsessed with questions pertaining to what their ex-girlfriend is thinking and doing are still holding on. I don’t think that these obsessive questions fall it into one specific chronological phase, but we should view them more as collection of questions.

Carl: Yeah. I always try to put myself into her situation. What is her reasoning, so to speak. Can I understand it? Is it reasonable? I’ve never had a really difficult breakup, one that came out of the blue, where her reasoning turned out to be completely incoherent.

With my previous girlfriend I did want us to continue to try a little bit longer. But she didn’t want that and then I’m fine with that. I’m not going to try and cling myself to her or drag her into my cave or anything. That’s not going to work.

Jesse: So what gives you that power to be at peace with that? Why is that so clear to you?

Carl: For me it’s clear, because if I continue along those steps, I don’t progress in life.

Jesse: And in that moment you realize this is one of those moments that if I were to continue here, it won’t get me anywhere?

Carl: Yes. It’s a dead end street.

Yeah, it’s a bit difficult to understand because it’s also an intuitive thing.

Jesse: Yes of course.

Carl: And it may sound like I’m super tough, but it wasn’t like that. Of course there were nights that I was crying and asking myself: “Why is she doing this?” and “Why” you know? “Why is this happening to me” — I’ve had that as well. But with me that stays very limited. In general I don’t think I look for where she’s at fault. I think that perhaps that’s where it starts.

Jesse: Can you say more about that?

Carl: I could find fault with her, but if she decides that she’s now in a phase where she’d rather be alone. Then, I can empathize with that, that she is taking that step. If I’m no longer part of that, then that’s very unfortunate — that’s a feeling I would bring up in that moment, during the breakup “talk”, and you cry because she is going to leave you and you’ve had a fun time together. But at the same time I feel that if that is better for her, than that is exactly what she should do. At that point I can also put myself in her shoes and understand it from her perspective.

It’s also about not engaging in a struggle that isn’t necessary. Take it like a man you could say. Swallow it. It’s sort of like accepting blame, but at the same time not really. You can also blame externalities. Since this is the best for her, it makes the breakup circumstantial — the fact that it is happening now.

Jesse: You truly respect her when she says “This is what’s best for me.” You respect that.

Carl: In the beginning that is the point where you start questioning her — has she really thought this through? And if she’s really thought it through, and it’s better for her, than out of love for her I can say “If you think this makes you a happier person, who am I to take that away from you?”

Jesse: Of course.

You said before that you always, sort of, saw the breakup coming. Is that correct?

Carl: Yeah, more or less. I don’t think it ever really comes out of the blue.

Jesse: Yeah, or you live in a self-made illusion.

Carl: That could be true, that she’s no longer wearing her rose-tinted glasses and that you’re still very much wearing them.

Jesse: Exactly

Carl: That goes back to what happens during the relationship. I cannot wear rose-tinted glasses if she’s not wearing them as well. If she’s not behaving along the same lines as I am — I couldn’t stand for that. Towards the end of the relationship it’s also part of how I phase down. In some sense that might not be healthy and you should go for it fully. But in the first relationship that’s where I really got hurt. That’s when I told myself, I’m not going to do this in in the same way again. That’s when you learn to keep your feelers extended — not constantly, like “what if this doesn’t work out”, but beware if you’re much more in love than she is. Live in a bubble with her as much as you can, enjoy it, but… In any case I think it’s destructive if you’re in a bubble and she isn’t. You’re just going to get annoyed, and vice versa. If you’ve got a girl around you that’s overly in love, that’s annoying.

Jesse: Yes, one of you has lost touch with reality.

Carl: Yes, one of you.

Even in the first relationship, I could sort of see it coming. It was your typical first love, puppy love story. Big plans for the future together. Always thinking in terms of “this is it, this is her.” I think that’s the case for a lot of guys, and girls. Ultimately I was able to see fault with that. At that point you’re not really concerning yourself with her, you’re only concerning yourself with yourself. You’re super happy with yourself and your situation and you lose touch with reality which turns you into a very annoying and clingy guy, for her. A breakup then becomes the logical next step.

Jesse: Exactly. You’ve mentioned a couple of things, but what you mention in the last part is that because you lose yourself in that first puppy love, you lose touch with reality, which she then finds annoying, which drives her away, and the result is the breakup.

Carl: Yeah. If at some point in the beginning there’s an imbalance, something’s not right, or you have to fight for it excessively, or she let’s you fight for her — it won’t work.

It sounds very cheesy, but it has to come from both sides.

It has to be 50-50 or it really won’t work. That’s the lesson that I learnt.

With my previous girlfriend at some point the feelings of being in love diminished. It was also a bit circumstantial. It started when I was still at university and then I started working. Also a typical pattern, right. At that point I experienced a different reality than her. Your worlds no longer align and then at some point you just break up. She also went on a three month internship in Japan and then you don’t see each other for three months. At that point I was still living in my college city, enjoying the end of my college days. During this whole time we had little contact and then, well, you grow apart. With her, it was really the classic “growing apart” story.

Jesse: I think what you also see is that when your lives are at the cusp of a new chapter, for instance starting college or the end of your college days. Right before, during or right after you tend to often see that something goes wrong, because the dynamic changes.

Carl: Yeah. Look at the freshmans. There are so many relationships that end during the transition from high school to college life. Also, but slightly less pronounced, between student life and working life. Especially when there is a difference, when one is still in college and the other is working. You’re on different planets.

Jesse: For sure.

Carl: Those people, I believe aren’t the ones that have a difficult time with their breakups though. I think that those that are, were either living in a bubble, or they’ve found an unstable person.

You do have women whose default mode of operation in life is highly emotionalized. One of my ex-girlfriends was like this, she was really random at times. But that’s not a good example because I broke up with her. But in that case it was clear to me, this is not going to work out.

In every relationship I would learn a bit more about what I was looking for in a relationship. Typically this would go from a more adventurous girl to a more stable girl and back again. After all that a breakup isn’t all that painful anymore.

Jesse: You mentioned that each relationship taught you something. Especially your first relationship taught you a lot, is that right?

Carl: “What exactly did I learn” is the question, right? What I certainly learned — and it sounds very cheesy — is that if you can’t be yourself in the relationship, it’s not a real relationship.

She dominated the relationship. When we saw each other, when we were intimate — she always determined how that would happen. And I just followed her around like a lap dog. What I learnt is that you can’t do that, because you lose yourself in doing that.

Perhaps what your readers are truly looking for is themselves? Perhaps what they need to figure out after this breakup is: who am I and who am I in a relationship?

I’ve always gone from one relationship to the next. I’ve never just kissed a girl while going out. Never. Never been interested in doing so either. I would much rather drink beers with my buddies. That’s way more fun to me than talking to some uninteresting girl that you’ll never see again. I’m too goal-oriented to do that.

Jesse: I think it’s interesting what you mention about your learnings in your relationships. It sounds like you’ve had some necessary lessons which have brought you to this point and this relationship where you’ve got your feelers extended, you know what you want and you know yourself.

Carl: You learn to express yourself. A lot of people are scared to do so. They’re afraid of losing someone and don’t express what they’re feeling. Then you lose yourself and ultimately you lose the relationship. You’re better off losing the relationship earlier in that case.

Jesse: There is one last topic I wanted to cover with you. Say you’re in a relationship and you’ve noticed that things start to deteriorate. Then your girlfriend comes up to you and breaks up with you. What is the first thing that you do? How do you approach that situation?

Carl: Call up one of my best friends and go on a bender.

Jesse: So call up a good friend and go drinking?

Carl: Yes. You need to share your story. Until that point it was your girlfriend with whom you could share you story, but now you need good friends with whom you can share your story. And you just need to go crazy for a night. And the next day you’ll be hungover, but you’ll feel like crap anyway.

Jesse: And if work takes you abroad and you don’t have any friends nearby. What would you do?

Carl: I’m pretty open in that respect and I would share it with my colleagues.

Jesse: So it’s very important to share your story?

Carl: Yes, suppressing it will kill you. Suppressing is killing. Perhaps you won’t go drinking with your colleagues so you would have to postpone that. The last time I did this with my buddy I had to postpone it as well, because we didn’t live close to one another anymore.

Jesse: So it’s one night of drinking for you, but not days on end?

Carl: That’s right. And I’m sharing my story with many different friends.

When you tell people, you also make it more definitive for yourself. You turn it into reality as soon as possible.

I think some people may not tell others because they think that perhaps she’ll come back.

Jesse: Exactly.

Carl: Yeah, so then you’re suppressing like crazy. That would kill me.

Jesse: Good point. I think that would kill anyone.

Carl: I think it’s important to let the people in your environment know. If you’re going through a rough patch, you need to tell people, also at work. They’ll respect you for saying it. No one is going to attack you for it. So they know what’s going on with you.

Jesse: Do you tell your parents, your family?

Carl: Yes, right away. My parents are perhaps the first ones I call.

Perhaps that forces you to accept the situation. If you start sharing your story, people start having a conversation with you about it. And that sucks, but then it does become the new reality. At that point there’s no denying it anymore.

Jesse: There’s another recurring theme that I’ve identified that I wanted to get your thoughts on. It’s the collection of struggles that can perhaps best be summarized as “not being able to move on”. So the guy accepts that it’s over, does not want his ex back, yet still misses something.

Carl: I think the key question there is “Do I miss her?” or “Do I miss the relationship?” I think that in 99% of the cases you miss the relationship and not her specifically.

Jesse: Can you talk about the distinction between the two.

Carl: You miss the intimacy, the fact you were able to talk with her etc. She was your world and now that’s gone. But that doesn’t mean you can’t have that with someone else. You can have that with friends as well — in a different way.

Jesse: But that’s a good point. If that the first and only time you’ve experienced that intimacy, then it’s hard to realize — and perhaps impossible — that you can have that with someone else.

Carl: Yes and I think it’s typical for the puppy love people to fall into that trap. I think that those that have had multiple relationships know that that isn’t impossible.

You can also ask yourself what was wrong with the relationship and make a list of things you would like to improve in your next relationship. In that way you can knock that relationship off the pedestal somewhat so that your next relationship has to be better.

Jesse: Thanks Carl, that’s it for this interview. Thank you for your time!

Carl: My pleasure!

About Jesse

I've been helping guys recover from their breakups since 2012. Work with me to fast-track your recovery.