How Do I Change My Ex's Perception of Me After a Breakup?
My girlfriend broke up with me because I neglected her and because she thought I had a thing for my ex. I didn’t. I just wanted to be friends after years of hatred with my ex. I spent an entire year trying to get my girlfriend back, and she finally decided—very abruptly after we exchanged Valentine’s Day gifts—that she could not forgive me for neglecting her and talking to my ex. How can I change her perception? Was she dragging me along for a year, just waiting for someone better to come along?
He Said: Sounds like you did your due diligence, brother, and you may never really know why she didn’t want to stay with you. But it doesn’t matter who she thinks you are. It’s who you show yourself to be. The best way to show her she was wrong about you pursuing your old ex is to avoid pursuing your latest one. In other words, tell her that while you can accept that she doesn’t want to be your girlfriend anymore, you would still like to keep her as a friend. Then stop trying to get her back.
Limit yourself to one email a week and seeing her maybe once a month for coffee or lunch. More importantly, focus your energy on someone or something else. Date others, hang out with your pals, or do whatever you need to get some distance and perspective on this past year. If you can maintain light, friendly, and occasional contact with this latest ex over a long period of time, she’ll come to understand that you are not the man she thought you were. On the other hand, if you keep pursuing her romantically, which hasn’t worked, you’ll only verify her belief that you will pursue a past relationship at the expense of your current one.
She Said: That was one very cool piece of reverse psychology, which I think should do the trick. But in case it doesn’t, let me reiterate something: Stop obsessing over this most recent girlfriend. I don’t know what qualifies as neglect to her or you, but I’m pretty sure that whatever it is, she could have forgiven it if she wanted. Same goes for the fact that you had contact with your ex. For perspective, some people stay close friends with their exes, and it’s simply not a big deal. And in most long-term couples, I’m sure you would find tales of one or both partners sometimes neglecting the relationship.
These aren’t usually dramatic deal-breakers, and the fact that they were for her—not only during the initial breakup but continuing into a long year of repentance on your part—suggests to me that your girlfriend takes some enjoyment in being in the morally one-up position of victim and that you perhaps have clung too tightly to the role of penitent wrongdoer. Stop apologizing, and instead, take whatever lessons you’ve learned into your future relationships. When you meet the next woman you want to be with, don’t neglect her, and don’t focus much energy on your ex. You can start practicing that last one right now.
Confused? Heartbroken? Curious? Send your questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.