Ask Polly: My Boyfriend Dumped Me For Following My Dreams

Dear Polly,

I feel like such a cliche: I can’t get over my ex.

We’d been dating for 2.5 years when I was awarded a full scholarship in a city across the country, to a school I’d literally DREAMED of attending since high school, to pursue a lifelong artistic dream. His entire life — extended family, small business, and industry was in this city, coming with me wasn’t really an option. He hated that I had to leave, but offered his full support: he would stay in our house so I always had a place to come home to, and while I was getting my masters, he’d build a nest — focusing on his small business with the aim of buying a home for us, and I would return after school to start a family. That was the plan.

The first semester we missed each other like crazy. He was able to visit about twice a month, and I came home as often as possible, which amounted to about 8 weeks from September to January. In many ways, it strengthened our relationship because we realized how much of a team we’d become, and we talked more on the phone, about our dreams, goals, values, etc. We spoke earnestly about getting married.

I was home for winter break and it was pure bliss. We never left each other’s side, and went engagement ring shopping. We went on vacations. Leaving was painful, but I felt like our relationship was stronger than ever.

And then… everything changed. He started travelling, a TON. He was neglecting his business and running around the world. He’d always loved travel, but this seemed excessive — literally 6 countries in 3 months. I became a stopover for him on his way to and from his vacations, and when I got him he was usually tired from ten-hour plane rides and jet-lagged. He complained that I couldn’t come home as much, even though I was up to my eyeballs in grad work. When I told him that so much travelling didn’t feel right, like he was pulling away from me, he responded that he was getting his yayas out before he was settled with me in a couple of years. On one of these trips, he travelled with a friend and friend’s younger (by just a couple of years) sister. I thought is was odd, but trusted him — he continued to write love letters, we continued to talk everyday, sometimes 3 times a day, and, well, I was in love with the man.

You know what’s coming.

The week I was preparing to come home from my first year of school, I was trying to sublet my place, finish finals and papers, and get home to him. He wasn’t available as much, even telling me that I would have to find a ride from the airport. After I FLIPPED OUT about this he agreed to pick me up, but we fought the whole way home. We were split up within the week. I felt completely blindsided, as did everyone around us. His mother said that she was sure he was planning to propose, and his friends and siblings called me with their own surprised consolations. He told me that I had abandoned him, I had moved away from him, and that he couldn’t bear to be alone for so long. He basically blamed the entire demise of the relationship on me, saying that he tried his best but it was all just too hard. Even though I’d come home for the summer — 4 months — he was already over it.

Long(er) story short, I found out that he was dating friend’s little sister — the one who travelled with him a few weeks prior. She’s also worked for him at his small business, and while she and I weren’t close, I counted her among friends. I was DEVASTATED. I felt so betrayed, so dumb, and in a fell swoop, I lost my house, my home (he’d originally moved into my place, and he still lives there — he refused to move!!) my future, my friends (our families and friends were so meshed, he still hangs with half of them regularly) and my ability to trust other people, and myself. I feel like he got everything, I lost everything, and I don’t know what I did to deserve this.

A year, lots of therapy, and an advanced degree later, I still don’t know HOW THIS HAPPENED. I’m not okay. I miss him, or who I thought he was anyway, but I’m also still so, so angry. At him. At them. We don’t speak — whatever limited contact has been cold. He is clearly better than fine without me. I feel old, undeserving of love, and an enormous amount of guilt — if only I’d stayed, hadn’t pursued my dream (which seems so silly now), if only I’d valued what I had instead of chasing a life that wasn’t mine, been more this, less that… I know, cognitively, that this isn’t true, but my heart/feelings have yet to get the memo. I now live in a city I didn’t intend to live in, far from my support system (my friends in previous city),with a fancy degree, jobless and broke. My family is completely fucked (story for another day) so they are not a supportive option. I miss my old home, my lifestyle, my close knit crew of friends. Moving back is not an option — it’s a tertiary city and job opportunities are quite limited for my field; I’d been banging my head against a glass ceiling as it was before I’d left, and was pretty much coming back to start a family with him.

I’m in my early 30s, and it seems like EVERYBODY is blissfully engaged/married/starting a family, or the VP of their company, etc. I’m starting completely over, fighting for entry level jobs, with no relationship in sight. I go out, I have fun, I flirt, I date — from outside appearances everything is awesome. I’m in therapy, meditating, and working towards a healthy mind. But inside I’m miserable. I don’t know how to shake this past hurt, how to let go of the guilt, the anger, the betrayal, and even begin to hope for a family, a home, a thriving career. All of those things seem so far away. I want to stop being the victim of all the things he did to me, I want to trust myself again to make good decisions, and I desperately want to trust that everything is going to (ever) be okay. I want to MOVE ON. If I’m doing everything right, but nothing’s working, what do I do?


Fetal Position On The Kitchen Floor


You are not in control of what happened, and you never were. You didn’t make it happen. Your boyfriend freaked out. He was going to do that before or after he married you, and he chose to do it before. That part is good. Think of Don Draper: He wants a wifey who has no life. You aren’t that person. I know that your boyfriend was probably pretty nice in a lot of ways, but ultimately, he was going to have a problem with you pursuing your dreams. Whether your dreams seem arbitrary and fucked at the moment or not, that guy’s shitty attitude about you becoming your own fucking person wasn’t going to work for you over the long haul.

And let me just add: I don’t like that guy. He was a fucking dick. I mean, “Find a ride home from the airport” instead of “I’m dating someone else”? Screw him. Only a tool does stuff like that. Believe it, sister.

You know, I had a boyfriend who was super-dreamy once. I was very young and he was very handsome and funny. But he didn’t really love listening to me speak as much as he loved listening to himself speak. He talked about boring shallow shit, too. Most of his dreams amounted to some extension of his ego: he was going to own a bar with red leather booths. He was going to cook something that I found amazing. He was going to have tons of fucking money someday. Not hideously bad, but really not my style. Plus? I like talking, a lot. I should’ve known a long, long time ago that I needed someone who found my talk talky talk talk delightful.

And look, men like that are out there! Some men love the talkers. Yes! Some men love women who are very smart, who have lots of fucking ideas spilling out of their crazy heads at all times. I know you don’t believe me, but it’s true.

Do you know how deeply wrong it is to put your light under a bushel? Or a basket, like Ping the duck? That’s why it’s a goddamn cliché in the first place. I live a good life these days. Why? Because I never, ever censor my obnoxious personality. I don’t have to! I have a husband who likes my messy, preposterous self, and I have two kids who like me (for now), too. And I own a closet full of dog treats, and that makes me popular with my dogs.

You dodged a bullet, plain and simple. You’d better stop repeating this bullshit about what a dreamy angel this dick was, and start telling yourself the truth, that he was about to fuck your life over in a giant way. That guy is going to get married and then get divorced in short order. He’s not an honest one. He’s shopping for perfection. (I could be wrong, but that’s what my gut says.)

And even if he’s Prince Charming, he’s not your guy. He could see that. So you couldn’t see it. Time to stop taking it personally and move the fuck on. This stuff happens to most people 4 or 5 times in their 20s and 30s. You’re only struggling with this because it probably hasn’t happened to you before. Welcome to the human race, princess.

You need to blast your air horn a little louder, if you ask me. This thing about “healthy on the outside, hurting on the inside” makes me suspicious. In addition to your therapist, you might need to find a kind of new-age huggable woman healer, too, someone who’s going to give you a little bit of common sense advice that you need to hear, plus she’s going to be a soothing presence who talks you through your bummer moments and conjures the positivity of the universe and lays hands on your or something along those lines. I know that sounds stupid, but there are those times in life when you need an optimistic person with wooden jewelry around her neck to get metaphysical and talk nonsense and be the weirdo mommy you never had. Therapy can be very clinical. New age healer types sometimes loosen up the stodgy, overly intellectual part of you that keeps thinking and thinking and thinking in circles. You need to just sit and feel ok with the world, like Ferdinand the bull.

You have to own who you are, in a big way. That’s the part you’re not doing yet. You need to back up the tape to where you gave up on your dreams, and you need to believe in your fucking dreams again. This dickhead didn’t compromise your entire life by not letting you have babies. You’re going to have all the stupid pants-shitters you can stand. But you have to believe in who you are and what you want in order to get there.

Can you trust me on that? You have to give yourself what you need first. You need to believe in yourself in a vacuum of Prince Charmings. That’s step one. Step two is, beat them off with a fucking stick.

Believe it.


Hey Polly,

I’m in a bit of a situation. My girlfriend’s little sister has been living abroad, and is coming home newly pregnant (will be about 10 weeks along by the time she makes it home.) Her sister is 23, which is not old, but is not young either, she is still considering her options but pretty sure she wants to have/raise the baby. She is in a relationship with the guy who got her pregnant, but he also has several other children that his mom is raising. He is not a long-term life partner prospect for her, as far as she or anyone is concerned.

However, she is pretty likely going to have a baby, and it will be a biracial baby, which is a thing her parents are going to Act Weird about, (as socially conservative white folks) which is particularly important because she will be living with her parents at least in the short term (probably). So I am in a (gay) relationship with her older sister (for three+ years) and her sister/my girlfriend is generally being sweet/supportive/trying to gently encourage her sister she should probably have an abortion. My girlfriend has been holding it together through the day and coming home and crying all night until she goes to bed at about 12:30 to 1 a.m. every night. Mostly I hug her a lot and try to tell her that it will be okay, but mostly she is not ready to hear that it will be okay.

My girlfriend and I generally have a pretty solid relationship — communicate well and often, are generally respectful and loving and fun together. But all the crying is wearing on me, and she says that she’s “grieving,” which I think means she’s grieving the life she thought her sister would have. I also know she has this strong sense of shame and judgment from her parents, which I get is a thing that is real, but also; they are all adults now. I am trying to be supportive, but am starting to avoid her/spend time outside of the house because a) all of the crying is wearing on me, and I am better equipped to be supportive when I am not around it all the time and b) I am starting to get irritated, because ultimately, it’s her sister’s decision, and my girlfriend can choose what level of support she offers, but I ultimately feel like she needs to deal with the fact that she may well be an auntie in 6 months, and her sister will need both of us as allies in what will be a challenging task. It will definitely change her life but it will not wreck it forever. I don’t know. Maybe crying is her way of dealing with it? Maybe she is at the depression phase of stages of grief and will swing around to acceptance in a little while?

I don’t know, Polly. Am I being unreasonable? I have friends who are being fairly supportive, but ultimately I go home to my crying girlfriend every night, and shoot, I wish it didn’t have to be like that. I have had girlfriends in the past who have struggled with pretty severe depression, and I know that people’s lives have ups and downs and sometimes life knocks you on your ass. I guess I just want to know that it will pass, because I can hang for now, and for awhile, but we are on week two of crying almost every moment that she’s not at work, and if I try to make her laugh that usually makes her start crying again. I am not sure what my limits are but I am trying to figure that out before I hit them.

What do you think?

It Might Be Okay

Dear IMBO,

Before we talk about your girlfriend’s crying problem, let’s talk to all the sexually active ladies out there, shall we? Hey ladies! Hi. Listen, if you’re having sex, consider what you might do if you got pregnant BEFORE you actually get pregnant, and share that information with your sexual partner. Don’t wait until you’re pregnant to decide. When you’re pregnant, your body wants you to have a fucking baby. Making a rational decision under those conditions is almost impossible, and delaying that decision is pretty fucked up no matter how you slice it.

Because your girlfriend’s sister is in no position to support or raise a kid without her disapproving parents’ help, I think we can deduce that she’s basically looking for a way to fuck shit up. What better way to fuck with your conservative, racist parents, than by adhering to their pro-life dictates and forcing them to help you raise your little biracial baby bomb?

This situation would depress me, too, because it does change everything. Suddenly your girlfriend has a little sister she sees as doomed, and she’s also got parents whose issues are going to rise to the surface in ugly ways that maybe could’ve been mostly avoided under the previous circumstances. So suddenly she has to face that her family is wildly fucked up, and maybe she is, too. This might be the first time she’s ever had to openly admit that her family is a depressing dysfunctional wreck.

That said, her crying would drive me insane. Still, I think you’re going to be well served to support her for another few weeks and try to draw out exactly how she’s picturing the future. Part of her trouble is that she has no control over a terrible situation. This bomb is going to go off and she doesn’t have any way to stop it. I get it. When you talk to her, don’t skip straight to the part where everyone is fine and it’s all okay, because you’re going to make her feel alienated and lonely, and that will only make her cry more. You have to try to go with her to the scary place and allow her to express the ugliness of it all. Sometimes that means you have to agree, and be quiet, and demonstrate that you can tolerate her tears.

But I’d also strongly encourage her to get a therapist, because if this situation is depressing her this much, there are dimensions to it that even she doesn’t fully understand. Her family is a major source of anxiety and stress in her life, and she feels responsible for her sister. She needs to make sure she has healthy boundaries, now more than ever. Little sister might be looking for someone to save her and the baby. Who knows? Maybe part of your girlfriend’s stress comes from some strange dynamic between her and her sister, where her sister makes a mess and she cleans it up. I don’t know much about them, but I do know that it’s crucial for your girlfriend to feel some clarity about what she can do to support, help, love her sister, and what she NEEDS to avoid doing in order to make sure that her sister understands that this is her baby, her problem, and her life, and no one can bail her out if she decides to have a baby on her own. If she decides to take that on, she has to be prepared to deal with all of the consequences of that decision.

Fuck. Why does it feel like so many kids these days have babies and expect their parents and extended families to raise them?

But look, don’t avoid your girlfriend, as hard as that must be right now. You can take care of yourself, but you have to be honest and tell her that you’re a human being and you have your limits. You want to be there for her (ask her how best to do that) but you also need to know that she’s going to get some help.

Things WILL get better. Your girlfriend is anxious about what’s going to happen next. That’s a big part of this. Once her sister makes a decision and figures out what she’s doing, your girlfriend might relax a little. It’s not her life. Right now she’s tortured because she thinks she can change the outcome. She can try — and if I were her, I’d get on the phone and have a really harsh talk about what life will be like, raising an unwanted baby under her crappy parents’ roof. But once that’s done, she needs to wash her hands of it and move on. Life is just too short to carry other people’s shitty decisions around on our backs. She can be supportive, and helpful, but she doesn’t have to bear this cross.


Do you have a weakness for doughnuts, or a funny job dilemma? FOR FUCK’S SAKE, WRITE TO POLLY AND SAVE HER FROM AN UNHOLY TIDE OF UNWANTED PREGNANCY LETTERS.

Heather Havrilesky (aka Polly Esther) is The Awl’s existential advice columnist. She’s also a regular contributor to The New York Times Magazine, and is the author of the memoir Disaster Preparedness (Riverhead 2011). She blogs here about scratchy pants, personality disorders, and aged cheeses. House on fire photo by Scott Teresi. Poor baby photo by Paul Keller.