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    My Boyfriend Abandoned Me

    By Tom Moon, MFT–

    From a reader: “I was wildly attracted to Cal from the moment we met. I took it slowly because I’ve had bad experiences rushing into things in the past, but after two and a half years of spending almost all our time with one another, I was ready to live together and work toward getting married. He was for that as much as I was, but suddenly he started to act withdrawn and unresponsive. He told me that there was nothing wrong between us but that he was depressed about work and family problems. He got a therapist and started taking antidepressants, but his mood just got worse and worse. He stopped having sex with me, and then he shut down completely. When we were together, he would hardly talk.

    Then one day he told me in writing that he was putting our whole relationship ‘on the back burner’ until further notice. I knew he was hurting, so I tried to be patient, hoping he would eventually snap out of it. I tried to keep my contact with him to occasional phone calls and texts, as he requested. But after more than six months of essentially being ignored, I finally lost my patience. I told him that I wasn’t going to wait any longer and that I wasn’t going to be in a relationship going forward unless he was willing to have at least some face-to-face contact with me. His answer was an email titled, “So be it,” in which he said that he would always love me and remember me, but that he had nothing more to give and we were done. It’s been another six months, and I haven’t heard from him again. Some mutual acquaintances tell me that he’s still in a deep depression.

    I was sympathetic and patient for a long time, but now I’m just angry. Did all his ‘I love you’ talk mean nothing at all? I know he’s depressed, but why couldn’t he let me help and support him in getting through it? How is he going to better his life if he responds to his problems by throwing away what brought a lot of happiness to him? He abandoned me in such a cold way. I’ve seen him out a few times from a distance, and I’ve honored his wishes and stayed away, but I’m thinking I might be able to free myself from him if next time I see him I just go up to him and tell him off. Can you give me some advice?”

    Answer: I can empathize with your hurt and anger, but I don’t think you’ll free yourself from your pain through acting with hostility toward a man you once loved deeply and must still care for. A better approach might be to learn more about depression, including reading some personal accounts of what the experience of severe depression feels like. That might make the depth of Cal’s suffering more real to you, and also help you to take what he did less personally. It may seem strange to talk about not taking something “personally” that wounded you so deeply, but what I mean is that the way he treated you was no commentary on your worth or lovability; it was his response to the depth of his own pain.

    If you have to let go of your dreams of a future with him, that doesn’t mean that you have to evict him from your heart. Zen teacher Thich Nhat Hanh once wrote, “Understanding is love’s other name.” It is when people we care about hurt and disappoint us that we have the opportunity to learn what this statement means.

    The first stages of romantic love are really the easiest forms of love, because they feel so good and meet so many of our needs. It’s when those we love hurt us that we can access the deeper dimensions of our love—the parts that are less about our personal desires and more about experiencing empathy, compassion, and forgiveness for someone else, regardless of what that person can do for us. Going forward, when you think about Cal, don’t just dwell on your own hurt and anger. Remember that you’re both suffering. Be as kind to yourself as you can, but mentally send him well-wishes and kind thoughts through the space that separates you.

    Tom Moon is a psychotherapist in San Francisco. For more information, please visit his website