No matter what time of year it is, it’s difficult post-breakup, especially when we wonder whether someone cares about us, but times of the year like Valentine’s and Christmas/The Holidays are exceptionally difficult. We like to feel that we meant something, that we were important, missable etc, but at this time of year, that urge increases as the post arrives and there’s no card from them, our phone beeps and there’s no text message, or we refresh our email and check our junk box and there’s no email, or we look for signs of life from them on the likes of Facebook and see that they’re moving on or that they look happier than we are. We secretly wonder if they’ll show up over the next week or so. If they’ve moved on and we haven’t, it will eat away at us and if they haven’t changed (or we think they have with someone else) or we ultimately don’t end up hearing from them, it’s felt as a blow to our self-esteem.
Don’t they care about me? Didn’t I mean something to them? Don’t they miss me? Am I so easy to replace?
Years ago when I broke up with my ex, even though it was me that ended it and even though I had a long list of reasons, it galled me when he wasn’t exactly hunting me down to say he missed me, trying to get in touch, or hurling himself on the floor begging me for mercy. Despite being the dumper, I actually tried to make him have some discussions with me about the relationship, because you know, it’s what people do. We ‘should’ be working to be amicable and actually, if he had any desire to be a better person, he ‘should’ desire to learn from his mistakes, I thought. But most of all, I needed that validation that he missed me, that he cared even though truth be told, I didn’t miss him and I cared but if I dig deep, I cared about how I looked in the context of him not caring. i.e. I must be unlovable, I mustn’t be good enough because the prince wasn’t hopping on his horse and blazing in to rescue me, whisk me off and live happily ever after.
His lack of effort to keep in touch ate away at me and even though I was moving on, I hated being The Person Whose Ex Didn’t Care Enough To Beat a Path to Her Door. One day I got him on the phone and I let rip and we had an awful argument which I managed to do with clenched teeth in a low voice in the office. As I listened to myself I suddenly wondered what the hell I was doing and then wearily he said, “I don’t know what it is you want from me. You left me. You finished it with me…”, and deep embarrassment hit me. In hindsight, I recognise that I was emotionally demanding and getting hijacked by my ego. I was having a pop at someone who I’d left, who wasn’t able to meet my needs, and who I was now very unhappy with for not pandering to my ego and making me feel better about my decision. After that, I left him alone.
Don’t they care about me? Didn’t I mean something to them? Don’t they miss me? Am I so easy to replace?
They very likely did care about you and possibly even still do, but the relationship is over. Not moving on with your life does not equate to still caring about someone. It means that you may be stuck and hurting. Pain is not love.
You did mean something to them but you may have different ideas of what that should be and even so, it doesn’t mean they have to chase you around.
They probably do miss you and hopefully it’s for the right reasons but sometimes, as many a Baggage Reclaim reader can attest to, they miss you for the wrong reasons however, whatever the reasons are for someone missing you that doesn’t mean that it’s right for them to chase you or try to get back together – if you didn’t think the relationship was working, it was with good reason. Unless those reasons have gone, they can miss you all they like but it doesn’t change the issues in your relationship.
It’s not about being easy to replace – who people get involved with is not about ‘replacements’. You don’t own them or the ‘spot’ in their life.
Once the relationship is over, hard as it is to hear, we have no right to make emotional demands on ex-partners. We have no right to expect them to prove how much we meant and we shouldn’t really expect them to stroke our ego because we don’t like it when they expect it from us.
Part of the reason why we look for validation from our exes and wonder if they still care about us is because we are in pain, we likely haven’t moved on, and we like to think that our exes are also in pain and that they haven’t moved on. Of course when they have and we haven’t, or we deem it ‘too soon’, we think, How can they just move on as if I don’t exist?
One of the lessons I learned from my various relationships is that we’re not clones of each other and that just because we share a relationship with someone and may even believe that we think alike and that we’re ‘soulmates’, it doesn’t mean that we can’t each have very different ideas about how we should behave after the breakup, and one of the biggest sources of friction is where we think that the other party isn’t ‘considering our feelings’. While I certainly feel that there’s a respectful period, particularly where mutual friends are concerned when it’s the ‘done thing’ not to flaunt your new relationship or your happy single life, there is a limit and a line that shouldn’t be crossed.
We cannot control other people. You will also find that if you found it tricky to control them in the relationship it’s even trickier to do so out of it.
Control isn’t a word that a lot of people like to hear but a large part of why we get sucked into wanting affirmations of the other person’s care is that we want to control them, which in turn distracts from ourselves. If they’re caring about us in the way that we deem appropriate then it will feel like we still have some sort of emotional tie to them.
When they move on or they don’t run around trying to demonstrate how much they care, we feel out of control. This is because we are still hurting and struggling to move on, and them not contributing to the emotional pot makes us not only feel away about the pain that we’re holding onto but also makes it even harder to hold onto any last illusions we may be clinging to.
People can care, but they can care from afar.
When a relationship ends, we cease to be at the centre of that person’s thoughts, decisions and life, and that’s part and parcel of breaking up. The relationship is broken.
Part of grieving the loss of the relationship and moving forward is not distorting things by putting yourself at the centre of their actions.
- They’ve met someone else; that means they lied to me and that they don’t care about me. It means they met someone else. Everyone deals with things in different ways. Some people dive straight into another relationship, some don’t. Some people do care but the relationship is over and they are free to have a go with someone else.
- They’re not calling me even though I cut contact with them; it means they don’t care about me. It means they’re getting on with their life and actually possibly respecting your wishes. They may actually be giving you enough credit to assume that you’re not playing games and that you cutting contact wasn’t a way to provoke them into changing/chasing.
- They’ve gone back to their ex; that means they never cared about me. Bit of an extreme assumption. The relationship ending may have made them realise that they want to give their old relationship a shot. Relationships ending make us vulnerable. OK and for some people, they go back to their exes because that person is their fallback option. And then yes, for others, they realise they still love their ex. It doesn’t mean they didn’t care about you but it may mean their heart was not healed from the previous relationship.
Don’t be so hard on yourself.
If they don’t get in touch, or send you a Christmas card, beat your door down begging to get back together, or make more of an effort to chase you, it doesn’t mean that they don’t care at all but it does mean that they don’t care enough and there is a difference.
It’s also–and this may be hard to hear–not a game to provoke the person into being and doing what you want. Especially when someone has got used to a cycle of breaking up and getting back together, they may decide enough is enough and that they don’t want to participate in the dynamic, or they may assume that when they feel good and ready about getting in touch, you’ll be there anyway. Be careful – this is a game that never ends well.
Deciding that someone doesn’t care at all invalidates your entire memory of the relationship and the person.
You don’t have to be so all or nothing. Not all relationships are meant to work out and every person cannot be The One. This doesn’t mean that if people don’t jump to your beat or the relationship ends that they didn’t care at all for you, but depending on what they have been and done in the relationship with you, it may mean they they didn’t care enough.
And actually they could have cared a lot for you but your relationship just didn’t work out.
It’s not really very fair to be like, Oh we broke up, you never cared about or loved me. There are people who love each other a lot but they’re incompatible and all the love in the world would not have made their relationship work. That’s because love alone is not enough.
- If you’ve been involved with someone who’s emotionally unavailable, they have a limited capacity to care.
- If you’ve been involved with someone who treated you poorly enough for you to consider them an assclown, as I commented to someone else, wondering why they don’t care enough for you is like putting your bucket down an empty well and wondering why no water comes back up.
- If someone didn’t care about you enough in the relationship, it is a waste of your energy to wonder why they don’t care now that they’re out of the relationship.
The chief reason why we concern ourselves with why someone who didn’t treat us well in the relationship isn’t treating us well outside of it is because on some level, we had hoped that by no longer being with them that it would cause them to miss us and to ultimately treat us better.
Too many people think that love and care is being chased around and having the power to change someone and galvanise them into being better by withdrawing yourself. Exhausting work.
It’s the old adage – you don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone. True…but what people always forget is this:
While we often don’t know what we’ve got till it’s gone, even when we do realise how great/valuable/lovable a person is and what a huge mistake we may have made, in having some level of connection to ourselves, we may also realise that not only are we not capable of being and doing what that person wants from us, but that they may also be too good for us.
Validate your own perception of the relationship and accept that they cared, but that for whatever reason the relationship is over. You cannot quantify how much someone cared for you and literally count it up like money, but you can tell by the relationship you were in. However long you spent together, they’ve likely cared to some level but just not to the level that you needed or wanted. Only you know the relationship you were in. If you felt loved, cared, trusted, respected – why invalidate that memory because the relationship is over and they’re not running around like a blue-arsed fly after you?
What would constitute them caring about you?
- Them pestering you morning, noon, and night and you having the opportunity to ignore them?
- Them asking you for sex?
- Them saying I miss you but I can’t be with you/I’ve met someone else?
- Them saying ‘OK, I’ll change into the person you want me to be’?
- Them saying ‘I won’t be with anyone else until you are with someone’?
- Them saying ‘You were right and I was wrong’?
What do you actually want from them? Write it down, voice it, and then examine how realistic your expectations are.
People can care about you but that doesn’t make them right for you or the relationship.
People can also care about you but have enough self-respect and self-preservation not to want to keep stoking the fire of a dysfunctional dynamic.
If it’s dysfunctional, at some point, at least one of you has to get off the merry-go-round.
People can also care about you and do things that are very destructive to a relationship because they have unhealthy love habits, low self-esteem and are doing things that are essentially counterproductive to the relationship because they either know no better or are sabotaging it in the pursuit of the self-fulfilling prophecy. For your own sake, you don’t need someone like this showing you their ‘care’.
Whatever it is, stop punishing yourself by telling your that they don’t care about you. If you have instances of them showing they cared in the relationship, even though it may not have been enough, it shows that they cared. It doesn’t cancel out any pain experienced but it adds some balance to your perspective.
But outside of the relationship, looking for instances of care is like looking for water in the desert – few and far between. That’s not because they don’t care; it’s because the relationship is over. Let go of your expectations of validation from them and validate yourself. Even if they didn’t or don’t care about you, it’s time you start caring about yourself. When you do, you’ll spend less time trying to analyse the levels of their care and focus on nurturing yourself.