Q: For two summers, I’ve traveled to work on a small organic farm. There, this woman and I had this amazing romance, including lovemaking during summer thunderstorms and dancing naked in the fields! It was all very romantic, and this spring, I moved across the country to live with her. I soon discovered that she was infatuated with a man living several hours away. She even pointed out ways she wanted me to be more like him. After a heartbreaking month feeling worthless, foolish, and ignored, I left. In retrospect, she showed signs of her self-centeredness on the farm (such as compulsively talking about herself) and a habit of dropping friends instead of working out conflicts. Somehow, I still long for her, and I can’t bring myself to unpack my things because they remind me of the love we shared.
A: The opportunity to dance naked in the fields with some hot hippiechick does explain some of the allure of your “hay-cation.” Still, my ancestors clawed their way out of some peasant existence in Eastern Europe not that long ago, so if I’m going to pick lettuce, it’ll be from a menu handed to me by a guy who also asks whether Madame would like more wine.
How could you not see that you were just another crop to be rotated? Well, because you allowed yourself to fall prey to “confirmation bias,” our tendency to seek out information that confirms what we want to believe and to shut out information that says, “Come on…really?” When we make up our minds about something — especially something that shines up our self-image — we tend to make them up like beds with the sheets glued to the mattress.
Understanding this tendency is the best way to root out the ugly truth, the one suggesting that the summer romance is just a summer romance, since trying to squeeze love (or a scrap of empathy) out of a narcissistic person is about as productive as trying to squeeze orange juice out of a desk lamp. Sure, in the moment, it’s more fun to believe “She loves me, she really loves me!” but forcing yourself to take a few skeptical walks through the less than ideal bits about a woman can help you avoid spending a long winter weepily harvesting everything in sight at another farm — Pepperidge Farm.
To begin giving yourself a much-needed hippiechick-ectomy, unpack your things. As long as they’re together in your suitcase, they’re about her, but a lone shirt back on your shelf is just a shirt. And because research shows that trying to suppress thoughts makes the little buggers come back with a vengeance, use a surprisingly simple trick discovered by psychologists Jens Forster and Nira Liberman: In trying to stop revisiting a thought, admit that doing this is hard, which actually makes the unwanted thought far less likely to bubble up. You should also change the story you’re telling yourself. You weren’t loved by her; you were fooled by her. She might have run naked through the kale, shouting, “Shall I compare thee to a locally-sourced summer’s day?” but a woman who loves you doesn’t let you move across the country so she can spend a month comparing you unfavorably with Chad from the food co-op, with his wind-powered toilets and biodegradable sports car.
Q: My girlfriend and I broke up, and I want to move on, but she keeps trying to talk to me. I finally told her that we cannot talk anymore. She said that if I’m unwilling to talk to her, it means that we never had a relationship at all. I feel bad that she’s hurting, so I pick up the phone sometimes, but I have nothing to say, and I’m weary of the drama.
A: There comes a time in a man’s life when he’s so desperate to be abducted by aliens that he goes to Roswell and tries hitchhiking: “Yer galaxy or bust!” But don’t stick your ex with all the blame. After all, nothing says “I never want to speak to you again” like picking up the phone to have yet another conversation about it. Talking probably seems kind, but giving her what she wants in the short term is cruel in the long term because it gives her hope — and reason to call back. Answer one last call. Tell her only that you will no longer be answering her calls and that you need to move on. If, somehow, she sneakily gets through, gently reiterate that message and immediately hang up. Sure, it’s a stock plot of chick flicks, a girl annoying a guy into loving her. Unfortunately, if this were a movie, it would be the sort shot by your doctor using a tiny snaking camera, with your girlfriend typecast as the polyp.
Advice Goddess Radio: Dr. Heidi Grant Halvorson on using science to set realistic goals, maintain willpower, and succeed.
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