by: Jenn Vicious
Jenn Vicious is the radical community’s Agony Aunt, providing life coaching and social etiquette answers for radical cultures. Need poly, kinky, or queer dating advice, need to to know what to wear to court or a family function (you know, one you have to look “respectable” at), want to understand what to and not to say in some contexts, ask Jenn Vicious.
So recently I broke up with a girl whom I’d been with for almost two years. And even though were no longer together I still feel a certain amount of responsibility for her, especially since she has a lot of personal and mental baggage. But lately she keeps guilt tripping me with her mental health/financial issues in order for us to interact, and while I do care deeply about her well being she won’t let me move on. How can I tell her that I just want some distance without coming off as callous?
A lot of us fall into this trap when we break up, because rarely do we hate the person we just spent a lot of time caring about. We still care about them and their well being. But sometimes that leads to a prolonged break-up limbo in which they still rely on us for emotional support.
Let me prepare you: at some point, you are going to come off as callous. Because no matter how delicate and caring you try to frame your new boundaries, if they don’t match what she is wanting, she is probably going to be pissed and feel like you are letting her down. So, brace yourself. You are going to be a jerk. She might be really hurt by your decision. You have to set your boundaries anyway.
It’s still worth it to try to state your boundaries in a caring way: “I really care about you. And you need to find someone else to support you through this problem” or something like that. It’s important that you be really, really direct and clear. Express that you want her to get her needs met, but that you can’t be the one to help her. Set limits for how much time you will spend communicating with her, and what things you are willing to communicate about, and what things fall outside the realm of the way you relate to each other now.
At some point, you might need to limit the contact you have with her. This means asking her not to call you, and not returning her calls when she does it anyway. For the record, I suck at this part. So, one of my favorite post-break-up tools is email. Email means she can write you whatever emotionally-loaded rant she wants and you can choose if and when to read it, and if and when to respond. I have a really hard time not responding, so I usually talk about the email with a trusted friend so that I can just get the reaction part out of my system. If you are using email, it’s important to give yourself space, and not just rattle off a response right away. Think about whether or not a response is really warranted, and formulate your words carefully—that’s the luxury of communicating through a medium you can edit. Sometimes the only response you need to have is to restate your boundaries.
I also recommend talking to some of your mutual friends about the situation, your boundaries, and why you have chosen to set them. This is NOT permission for you to talk shit on your ex. This is letting trusted friends who care about BOTH of you know about the situation so that they can be supportive. Do not only tell people who don’t like your ex.
So that’s the external stuff. But you have a mental process, too. You are going to have to remind yourself that you aren’t responsible for her or her emotional and/or financial well-being (unless you owe her a bunch of money. In that case, pay her back ASAP and GTFO). There’s no need to be an asshole, or be extra hurtful, but remember that you aren’t helping her by prolonging your break up. You both need to move on, and you both need some space to be able to do that.
There’s this thing that sometimes happens when people break up but still care about each other: they want to continue working on things that were problems in their relationship. Don’t do that. My opinion on it is that if you break up with someone, then you are done working out the problems in your relationship. You are more likely to get to a place where you can genuinely care about each other as friends if you actually stop relying on each other for the same support you provided when you were together. You have to change your patterns of behavior, change the expectations you have of each other when you interact. It isn’t easy, but if you didn’t know that you needed to do it, you probably would have stayed in the relationship.