Breakups, even expected and mutual ones, often feel like a kick a teeth, but a breakup feels like a mugging when it comes to light that our ex has been in effect, poisoning the waters by saying things about us that are not true or are certainly exaggerated.
Why would somebody who we shared a relationship with and who we believe that we were loving to, choose to spread misinformation designed to discredit us?
There’s a common misconception that breakups only happen to ‘bad’ people or where something terrible happened, which is akin to suggesting that breakups are an emergency measure reserved for the most horrific of relationship illnesses, when in reality, you could be The Nicest Most Fabulous Person Ever TM and short of only ever being in and staying in one relationship, you’re going to be broken up with and do the breaking. That is of course unless you’re one of those people who always gets in there first, but that’s the subject of another post.
Because of that misconception as well as another – we have to have ‘legitimate’ reasons about the other party before we can break – some people do the dishonourable thing and the moment that they feel in over their head, or the moment that they suspect or decide that they want out, rather than be a grownup and say so, they look to build a case around it, which is similar to deciding that a suspect is guilty with no evidence and then looking for ways to fit a preconceived agenda and conclusion around them. It’s shitty and lazy.
A person who is looking to make a strong case for an exit will manage their way out of it by looking for reasons to justify the decision that they’ve already made, a decision I might add that they’re free to make without having to drag your name through the mud. That’s why I hear from people who feel so damned confused, betrayed and blindsided because they realise that they were in effect set up to fail. This type of ex doesn’t give you a heads up as to what is going through their minds because they have already decided.
When this person shares their reasons with you or you hear it through the grapevine, you struggle to reconcile this version of them with the person you thought they were or the relationship experiences that you had. And of course you want to almost shout this at somebody but you don’t want to look as if you’re losing your marbles or ‘shrill’.
Some won’t go through the whole building a case rigmarole – why bother when instead, they can press the reset button? They can find a quick replacement – probably the glitter that caught their eye – and then just fabricate a story about why you broke up and ensure that it’s juicy or awkward enough that people associated with you both, feel it best to either steer clear or ‘take their side’.
The person who sets you up or spreads untruths after a breakup wants to:
Control who is in touch with you and in fact, sever ties. If they run the risk of you all talking and even comparing notes not just on your own relationship but their past ones, you (and they) will figure out what’s up. They want to preserve a certain image.
Stay deluded and avoid responsibility. Some people always give themselves and others very similar reasons for their breakups.
Save face. Some people overestimate their capacity for a relationship or oversell things and Future Fake. Rather than say, I talked out of my bottom a little too much and got carried away, it’s easier to generate a different ending to things. Unfortunately they don’t learn from the experience and so lack the self-awareness needed to see their actions for what they are.
Keep the harem intact. They may have a bunch of sycophants who value being in the lair so much, they’ll believe anything. If your ex is narcissistically inclined, they’ll be very charming and manipulative but they will also have harem members who will be too damn scared to rock the boat by questioning the claims.
Control you. They discard you, mess with your head, and next thing you know, you’re looking for validation from them and you’re at their disposal because you’ve inadvertently become complicit in their deception by still wanting them despite their shoddy behaviour.
People who don’t fabricate reasons to support their decision to break up – it’s making a decision back to front – or who don’t go around spinning stories so that they can make a fresh start and create a vacuum for their next target (while also ensuring that they avoid the truth about their actions as well as their own part in the relationship), cannot for the life of them fathom why somebody would do this.
Of course what you would do and what another would do – and that includes someone who you had romantic feelings for – are two very different things and that’s a kicker too. We don’t like to think that we loved someone who could be so immature, unkind, and even malicious.
As humans, we have a disposition to concern ourselves with what others think. It hurts when we do our best to be decent people, to love and care generously (sometimes too much so), only for that to be mistaken for weakness and treated like this bad thing that makes us tricky to offload. It makes us feel like fools (we’re not and their actions aren’t our fault either).
A good chunk of the pain felt is around that lack of control over what people think. We feel frustrated, angry and wounded because we don’t feel that we have a right of reply. Even if we speak up, it may just make the situation worse, after all, if these people have decided to believe this stuff, they may decide that us sticking up for ourselves is us trying to convince and convert.
You might be tempted to engage in some reputation management if you have mutual friends or if they’ve gone so far as to say things to your family or coworkers (beyond unacceptable) but you will potentially end up fighting to preserve your image of you with people who won’t matter to your world in a matter of months never mind years plus you will end up fighting to correct an image of a relationship that’s over. You will be trying to control the uncontrollable. The main image that you need to correct is of your ex. It doesn’t change that you enjoyed good times together but they have unfolded in a way that shows traits that don’t make them the loyal, loving, caring, respectful, trustworthy person that you deserve to be with. They’re showing you that it’s the right thing that you’ve broken up.
Some people will surprise you by being taken in by this crap and that will hurt but it’s best to know where you stand. Say your piece once if needed and then let the chips fall where they may. I do suggest however that if your ex is being particularly malicious, that you note any and all attempts to make contact with you (don’t tell them obviously) because it’s evidence of their lies and manipulations. But don’t devote too much time to them because you have a life to live…without them.
The best rebuttal in this situation is to live your life well instead of hiding away or devoting your life to defending and convincing this person or their homies (or cronies). It doesn’t mean that they’ve ‘gotten away with it’ – you cannot force feed your ex or their ‘audience’ the true version of events. Trust that their actions will manifest themselves in their lives in some way and go about your business, probably with your teeth gritted at first.
I still occasionally think of two particular social circles who were misinformed by a couple of my exes. Current me doesn’t give a feck but 20-25 year old me does, so I give her a gentle nudge to remind her that these people don’t matter in her future. These people won’t matter in yours either if you don’t let them.
Don’t engage your ex once their deceit becomes apparent because it will be used against you further down the line, whether it’s them or the people who they’ve spread rumours to. You know that what they’re saying isn’t true – tell yourself this often and internalise this. Once you don’t agree and you’re not handing this person your worth and your future, that’s the bulk of the battle.
Are you ready to stop silencing and hiding yourself in an attempt to “please” or protect yourself from others? My new book, The Joy of Saying No: A Simple Plan to Stop People Pleasing, Reclaim Boundaries, and Say Yes to the Life You Want (HarperCollins/Harper Horizon), is out now.