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Love Letters

Q. I just read the question from the guy who got dumped after a 4½-year relationship. My dumping came after a 30-year marriage. After a four-year separation, I’m closing in on a two-year divorce anniversary. And I just got a call from my ex wanting to gossip and “check in.” I told him not to contact me except for things that involve our adult children. The mourning process — the loss of home, hearth, and family — left a huge gaping hole, and it has taken years to move on, slowly reinvent myself, and find joy in the present and embrace future possibilities, including navigating online dating sites.

I’m 63. I met this man when I was 23. Life threw some hideous curves. I still feel the loss and my heart goes pitty-pat when I come home and find a white business-size envelope in my mailbox, hoping it’s a letter from my ex professing his true feelings and regret. Except … I’m dreaming. But why, with so much evidence to the contrary, do I continue to hope that a brick fell on his head and knocked some sense into it?

I hate the consequences of his decision to move out, and acknowledge we did not have a happy and loving marriage. We both grew up with alcoholism in our immediate families. Why is it taking so long to move on?

TRYING

A. “But why, with so much evidence to the contrary, do I continue to hope?”

Because focusing on what you had seems so much easier than the alternative. But I swear it isn’t.

At this point, it’s less about missing what you lost, and more about longing for the narrative you’ve created. You’ve invented a story where that brick falls (without injuring your ex), and he has a revelation. He becomes an ideal partner. He confesses his love by sending you an apology … in a business envelope. I imagine it would be on very nice stationary. What a powerful brick!

But if this man were to come back (he won’t), you’d have what you already had, which was not very happy. Now it’s about focusing on everything you said you’re already doing — maintaining boundaries and learning to get excited about the future. If you’re finding joy in any activity or person (friends included), do more of that. Maybe set a goal for one date (just one!) this summer, if it’s safe.

It’s difficult to move on when you think about the same thing in any empty moment. It’s a conscious choice to shift gears. Every time you find yourself staring at the mail with a sigh, call someone else. Scroll through a dating app. Do an activity that makes you feel happy, without distraction. This takes active training. New habits, etc. Every day, it’s a choice to wonder what you could find with someone else.

MEREDITH

READERS RESPOND:

Accept that this is your new life and he isn’t coming back. That’s the first step. Then find things you like to do and do them. Then find more things to do. Eventually you will find your way but you have to work on letting go of the past first. SETTINGTHEWORLDONFIRE

Sorry to hear that this is your experience. I think you are doing all the right things (not wanting friendly chats, looking online for dates, etc.). I think you should try therapy. I have a friend in a similar situation – years after the divorce her ex is still living in her head — so you are not the only one in this situation. Best of luck to you. FREEADVICEFORYOU

My advice: Instead of remorse, consider celebration. Welcome the memories and accomplishments of your children/grandchildren. You don’t really miss him; you miss the nuclear family. Well, it blew up. Somewhere in the fallout are the kids and their world. Enjoy this in conversation. Kvell a little. VALENTINO—-

It is taking so long because YOU want it to take along time. You are 100% fixated on the past. It’s time to look towards the future and leave your past behind you. JIM-IN-LITTLETON

100% agree that the main thing holding people back from moving on is that they don’t really want to. The key is being able to grieve a loss and be miserable while also wanting that misery to end and seeing yourself being happy in the future. Eventually that shift will occur, but only if you want it to. PHATALISTIC

It’s not easy to reinvent yourself when the last time you were yourself alone was 40 years ago. This is a fabulous opportunity, that not everyone gets, so get to it! Decide who you’d like to be going forward and work at it. I’ve done it, it’s really fun. WIZEN

It’s probably worth going to an [Adult Children of Alcoholics] meeting if you haven’t already done so. Your continued mourning / attachment might be related. ALLUSERNAMESARETAKEN

Go to Al-Anon meetings and learn about healthy attachment. Accept that this man is your past, not your future. SELDOMSOBERBAND

It’s taking so long because it was a long time. Every important thing that happened to you happened during that marriage; you raised a family together. It takes a lot longer to heal a 5-inch gash than a little paper cut. But you do need to realize that you can be happier than you were in this marriage. It was the only thing for you for a long time, but it’s not the only thing in the world. I’m sure this year has been especially tough. Maybe some therapy will help you understand the damage that has been done to your self-esteem and talk through a plan to regain it. We’re all going to re-enter society soon. Embrace it. ASH

Send your own relationship and dating questions to loveletters@globe.com. Catch new episodes of Meredith Goldstein’s “Love Letters” podcast at loveletters.show or wherever you listen to podcasts. Column and comments are edited and reprinted from boston.com/loveletters.





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