Advice Column: Why can’t let go of my ex


Hi, I am having troubles trying to coexist with an ex boyfriend i have now dated twice.When we first started dating i introduced him to my friend group and he really gelled to the group. He isn’t originally from here and is now a full fledged member of my friend group which was really difficult to deal with after we had broken up. We haven’t dated for over a year now but we just went through a phase where we were basically boyfriends without a title until shit hit the fan and now its awkward again. i feel like i blame the fact that he’s in my immediate group as to the reason why i can’t truly let him go and keep him close but i’m wondering if theres something else. i know its unhealthy. i just want to know how unhealthy it is or if there’s anything you can tell me that would rectify my situation. thanks.


It sounds to me like you’re having a hard time letting go of this relationship that intuitively you know is not healthy for you (how unhealthy? i don’t know. Lets just say medium unhealthy-it wont kill you but it’s certainly not making you happy). Also, I agree with your gut feeling that the reason you are keeping your ex close by has to do with more than just his association with your friends’ group. So it seems that the first thing to do is figure out what is keeping you in this predicament.

The process of breaking up is one of grief and loss both for the couple as well as for the community around them. ‘Shit hitting the fan’ and the subsequent decision to end the relationship was just the beginning of a long process of adjustment both internally (the feelings that come up for you) and externally (dealing with the social awkwardness of the situation). It’s not an easy process by any means, even when we are completely sure that its the right thing to do, it can be painful and tricky.

Keeping an ex close by rather than truly letting him go is often a way of avoiding the painful emotions that come with loss. Much like in an addiction, we create excuses and use sneaky ways (really we’re trying to fool ourselves) to not look at the pain that’s there. Other ways of tricking ourselves out of feeling the actual feelings are: rebounding with a new relationship, repeating the same relationship (not using a title this time=very clever), blocking all thoughts of the relationship out of our mind, or covering up a negative feeling with food/drugs/sex…

Like with any other human experience, there is the layer of a general experience (what’s that old song? “breaking up is hard to do”) and then there’s the layer underneath which is essentially “what is the hardest thing for me here?” This is the layer where you attach your unique personal meaning to the general human experience of grief. Your meaning has to do with your internal makeup (how your brain is wired) which includes your past experience, your ideas and beliefs about love and relationships and breakups, your value of yourself (self esteem) as well as your ideas about this particular situation like ‘its unhealthy’, ‘its awkward’, i’m trying to co-exist’, ‘shit hit the fan’, etc. So while you want to remind yourself that this is supposed to be hard, you also want to explore what you personally might be hooked into here (where are you stuck?)

Here are a few questions to ask yourself:

  1. What is the worst part of this situation for me?
  2. What would healthy look like in this situation?
  3. Where am i at in the process of letting him go?
  4. Where am i stuck?
  5. What am i getting out of being stuck in this place?
  6. What is my biggest fear in this situation?

Here are some things to keep in mind:

  • Be gentle with yourself. Don’t try to get rid of uncomfortable feelings, instead try to comfort them like you would a friend.
  • Figure out some clear temporary boundaries for yourself and then communicate them to your friends. These can be “I don’t want to be in the same parties as him for a month” or “I don’t want to hear about him this month”. Making a boundary temporary helps your friends understand that this inconvenience will likely pass and it allows you to reassess your needs a month later and adjust the boundary as needed.
  • Remind yourself that breakups are just tough messy and shortcutting the toughness just means that its going to be even tougher later.
  • Take care of yourself by finding the balance between not avoiding a bad feeling and not drowning in it. In other words, feel your feelings and gently let them go.
  • Notice what you get stuck on. These are your own hooks or fears that likely come from long ago and that’s where they belong- long ago.

I hope this helps you gain some understanding and relief. Good luck and take care.











Tamar (Tami) Amit, M.A. RCC

About Tamar (Tami) Amit, M.A. RCC