Why Does It Hurt So Bad?

Hara Estroff Marano gives advice on how to stay strong after a break-up and how to handle differing cultures in the way of romance.

By Hara Estroff Marano, published on April 5, 2006 - last reviewed on June 9, 2016

Why Does It Hurt So Bad?

I was married for over 25 years. I met a man just months before my divorce was final; he was 10 years older than I. We dated for one year, were together daily though never spent nights together. Sex was good—not great—because I cared for him. He never would say he loved me or even cared; that was just his way. I was the longest relationship he has had since his divorce seven years ago. Things seemed to be going a little down hill; nothing exciting was going on. I was OK with that. We had friends and I cooked or we ate dinners out. Suddenly, he broke it off with me. He went on a cruise a few days later and met someone. He told her she was beautiful; they were not intimate or even alone together, but he has already e-mailed her asking to meet her again sometime although they live 1,000 miles apart. She works on the cruise ship! This all took place less than a week after the breakup. He knows I miss him; should I call? Should I wait? He is a lonesome man and I know he still cares. I was very jealous of his past, the fact he looked and wanted much younger women. I know my mistakes. Help me!

Your mistakes? Please give him some credit for making his own "mistakes." After 25 years of marriage, a girl can get used to having a guy around, especially one to cook for, if that's your sort of thing. But he wasn't held to high standards for a relationship and he certainly didn't meet them. It's not clear whether you love him and miss him or whether your distress is the result of a resonant wound to your ego. His planning a cruise without you and taking up with someone else so quickly, not to mention his nights elsewhere, suggest that he wasn't terribly invested in the relationship all along. I don't know what you consider your mistakes, but I would like to suggest that you think about higher standards for the men in your life. Not everyone is comfortable making verbal declarations of love, but they should show it unequivocally in their behavior, in terms of consideration, respect, desire to be together, just to name a few. One thing none of us can change is a partner's past. To be jealous of it is not only futile, it suggests a reason why you didn't demand more of Loverboy. Jealousy commonly reflects a weak sense of self and arises from fear of loss. It may have its origins in some actual experience of loss earlier in your life. But that doesn't make it right or useful in a relationship. You need to gain some awareness of what is at the heart of your jealousy. You might do well to ask yourself, what is the most painful thought associated with his past. In the beginning, a little bit of jealousy may make a partner feel wanted, but ultimately it is like a prison. Because jealousy has deep roots in your core sense of self, it is not something that you can banish by wishful thinking. A little counseling with an excellent therapist can set you on a much better path for your next relationship.

Culture Clash

Two years ago, I met and instantly fell for a man with whom I have had a wonderful romance ever since. I knew that he was here from another country, trying to make his fortune and go home to take care of his family. I knew he faced the possibility of an arranged marriage, but over the course of time you begin to believe differently. I thought that marrying him might be a possibility one day and I would move to his country. And if that were not possible, then he would return home and then I could console myself. Now, with pressure from his parents despite at least one more year in America, he has decided we must end all romantic contact. It is up to me whether we sever all ties or remain friends. I have every emotion possible from relief that he will still be my best friend to anger that he will not stand up to an antiquated tradition and choose me, the woman he loves. What is the best way to deal with this? Part of me wants to completely detach so I can begin to heal, but part of me insists on believing that one day, when things are looked at from a different perspective, he may realize the mistake he made. Right now, everything I do determines the nature of our future.

You seem to have a very active imagination and have perhaps read too many fairy tales. It is always wise for two lovers to talk about and compare their fantasies of the future. That's necessary in any relationship to make sure that you are riding the same moonbeams. It's just wishful thinking to imagine that romantic love supersedes all other considerations. Not every culture values individual choice as much as we do, especially when it comes to marriage. And let's face it, our system of searching for some kind of magical soulmate is hardly a model; there's lots of roadkill on the way to that elusive state of marital bliss. In the culture he is rooted in, and in which he plans to spend most of his life, the choice to accede to parental wishes cannot be viewed as a mistake. In all fairness, you went into this knowing that his future would likely hold an arranged marriage. Consider yourself lucky for having found a wonderful guy and enjoyed two exciting years together. But it is time to let him go romantically. It may not be easy to see him as a friend right now, but it isn't wise to burn bridges, either. The world is getting smaller all the time. If he is such a wonderful person, you will probably want to stay in touch over the years ahead.