We like to feel that we meant something, that we were important, “missable” etc. At this time of year though, that urge increases as the post arrives and there’s no card. Our phone beeps, and there’s no text message. Or we refresh our email and check our junk box, and there’s no email. We look for signs of life from them on Facebook and see that they’re moving on or that they appear 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. 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 like 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 despite my long list of reasons, I hated that he wasn’t hunting me down to say he missed me. He wasn’t trying to get in touch, or hurling himself on the floor begging me for mercy. I actually attempted to make him discuss the relationship because, you know, it’s what people do.
My view was that we ‘should’ be working to be amicable. I felt that he ‘should’ desire to learn from his mistakes. But most of all, I needed validation that he missed me, that he cared. Truth be told, I didn’t miss him. I cared, but if I dig deep, I cared about how I looked in the context of him not caring.
I must be unlovable, I mustn’t be ‘good enough’ because the ‘prince’ hasn’t hopped on his horse and blazed in to rescue me. Yeah…
His lack of effort to keep in touch ate away at me. 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. 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…”. Deep embarrassment struck.
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. My ego hated that he wasn’t pandering to me and making me feel better about my decision. I left him alone after that.
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. 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 the relationship wasn’t working, it was with good reason. Unless those reasons have gone, they can miss you, 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 can’t expect them to prove how much we meant and we shouldn’t really expect them to stroke our ego. We don’t like it when they do this stuff to us!
Part of the reason why we look for validation from our exes and wonder if they still care about us is that 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 too haven’t moved on. Of course, when they have, and we haven’t, or we deem it ‘too soon’, we wonder, 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. 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. One of the biggest sources of friction is where we think that the other party isn’t ‘considering our feelings’. While there’s undoubtedly 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.
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. Them not contributing to the emotional pot makes us not only feel away about the pain that we’re holding on to 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 that they’re getting on with their life (and possibly respecting your wishes). They may be giving you enough credit to assume that you’re not playing games. They didn’t think that you cut contact 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. This isn’t about not caring; they hadn’t healed from their 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. Every love interest can’t 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’ve been and done in the relationship with you, it may mean that they didn’t care enough. If you accepted less than who you are and what you need in this relationship, then you already know this.
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. Some people 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.
- Emotionally unavailable people have a limited capacity to care because of their avoidance of their feelings.
- Expecting an abuser to become caring 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 bother now that they’re out of the relationship.
The chief reason we concern ourselves with why someone who mistreated us in the relationship isn’t treating us well outside of it is that 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 and galvanise someone into being ‘better’ by withdrawing. 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:
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, but that they may also be too good for us.
Validate your own perception of the relationship. 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 what 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 chasing you like a blue-arsed fly?
What would constitute them caring about you?
- Pestering you morning, noon, and night and you having the opportunity to ignore them?
- Asking you for sex?
- Saying “I miss you but I can’t be with you/I’ve met someone else”?
- Going “OK, I’ll change into the person you want me to be”?
- Saying “I won’t be with anyone else until you are with someone”?
- 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 while also having enough self-respect and self-preservation to not 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. They may have low self-esteem and do things that are fundamentally 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 yourself that they don’t care about you. If you have instances of them showing care in the relationship, even though it may not have been enough, it shows a level of care. It doesn’t cancel out any pain experienced, but it adds some balance to your perspective. Note, it also doesn’t mean that you should go back!
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. You will focus on nurturing yourself.
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