Dear Neil: I’m completely lost about a 10 year relationship. We started dating when I was 28 (at the time he was 37 and working as a surgeon). A month later, he wanted me to move in with him. But one day, when I surprised him with a visit, I learned he had another woman in his life. So I cut off all contact. Four years later, we hooked up again, and once more I discovered another woman, and I broke off the relationship. But we reunited, and—you guessed it—the same thing has happened all over again.
Since the beginning, he talked about marriage and kids. Now I am 38, and neither of us are married. How can I get over this relationship? It’s still hurting me, and I don’t want to end up alone.
Burned All Over Again
Dear Burned: First, you have to decide once and for all that he is bad news for you, and you have to hold yourself accountable for not being enticed back into a relationship with him. Nothing is going to change if you are unable to do that. And the pattern you described makes it predictable that one of you will reach out to the other sometime in the future. This pattern has got to stop if you want to reclaim control over your life.
Getting over the loss of an important relationship is a complicated process, but I will simplify some of the more important steps. You could look very carefully at what your part of the problem has been, so you can make sure you don’t repeat the same mistakes in the future. Explore what that relationship offered you, or what you received from it. It’s important to learn why you allowed yourself to return to the same dynamic over and over again, so you can learn whatever lessons you need to in order to understand your motives and come to self-forgiveness.
Then decide what you are wanting for your future—the type of relationship you seek. And when you are ready to try again, put yourself out there in order to meet new people—and keep yourself out there until you meet someone promising. Then look very carefully at him and his behaviors before you give him your heart.
Dear Neil: Recently you wrote about a woman whose sister was living in a car. Among the things you said was that the sister had very low self-esteem. But she also may be suffering a mental illness, like severe depression or schizophrenia. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, about 80% of the mentally ill are jobless, and about 25% of the mentally ill are homeless.
I am one of the lucky ones. I was homeless for 3 months. My family was not willing or able to help me when I “went crazy.” Most people do not realize that highly intelligent people can often “fake out” people and just appear to be eccentric. So perhaps the sister could try to help her homeless sister get mental health help.
Doing Better in Longmont, Colorado
Dear Doing Better: You are right, and several readers wrote to me suggesting I missed this possibility in my advice. Thanks for catching my oversight.