My boyfriend broke up with me yesterday after several months of living together. He hasn’t been the perfect man, as he would often go AWOL on nights out, but I love him nonetheless. He says our relationship became too intense and I was too restrictive of what he did. The thoughts of never being his girlfriend pains me so much. His phone is off and I desperately want to speak to him. He has left me with some false hope that some space and time apart might be good for us, and who knows what will happen in the future – I am now clinging to this and hoping he’ll take me back soon. 


I sincerely hope he doesn’t (and here’s why). I don’t need to ask your age because your letter is suffused with the raw emotional vulnerability of youth and sent me spiralling back to my own similarly painful early romances. I recognised immediately that unhappy tendency to set your personal value by the object of your affections and awful, self destructive, insecurity that ensues when a relationship goes awry. What you don’t realise when you are young and raw, not a hardened old walnut like myself, is that love is wholly irrational, so attaching any level of our self-worth or self-image to the reflection we get from a lover is a big mistake.

Ironically the happiest relationships you’ll experience are when you know absolutely that you can survive without your partner but remain together as a choice. Setting up home with someone you imagine you can’t live without puts way too much pressure on your partner and your partnership and creates a state of dependence that is never conducive to happiness. It was quite a shock to feel your description of angst and desperation zooming me back through three decades. I’m not sure if the pig-headed young woman I was then would have wasted a second listening to some old, self-invented, sage telling me that love makes monkeys of us all, that the more we cling to it the faster it slips away and that the best relationships are based on respect and kindness and a wholehearted desire to make the union work, despite the many great obstacles arraigned against that eventuality.

In short, your ex boyfriends behaviour offers little hope of a healthy happy union. It’s with a certain degree of hopelessness that I’m going to try and persuade you to view this man in an altogether less favourable light. A guy who doesn’t want commitment, who goes AWOL, who is prepared to hurt you and make you feel vulnerable and unloved, is not the right person to set up home with. No matter how miserable you feel, or lonesome you are sitting forlornly around your once shared home, I promise you’ll feel better far sooner without him and much worse if you keep trying to entice him back. For reasons that have nothing to do with you he isn’t ready for a committed relationship and there is no reason why you should accommodate him if it’s what you actually want. You can’t persuade him to love you the way you deserve and no matter how hard you try I doubt you would achieve that goal. The only way you’ll encourage him to see you in a different light is by astounding him with your resilience and independence. That means no late night calls, no pleading, and no promises of letting him enjoy a looser arrangement.

When I was in the beginner stages of my romantic life I lived briefly with a man I thought I’d rather be dead than lose. When he chucked me my mum had to come and rescue me so devastated was I by the prospect of my then long life stretching ahead without him. Within a couple of years our dynamic was the total opposite and I can say, without any degree of self congratulation, that he spent at least two decades regretting his desire to ‘spread his wings’. It doesn’t give me any pleasure to know that, he was actually a really great guy, but it’s important to put such tragic, agonising experiences into perspective. If you can do so in the immediate aftermath, or at least summon up enough pride to move slowly on rather than stalk and beg, your recovery will be all the swifter.

I promise you there are shoals of fish in the sea and it’s only a matter of time before some fine specimen swims up alongside, gives you more than a sideways glance and you’re off in a different direction. Meanwhile, in the immediate future, I suggest you hole up, play sad songs, bore your girlfriends and mourn your loss. The pain will pass and the lesson you’ll learn about choosing a partner who values you rather than tolerates you will put you in good shape for future encounters. This much I really can promise.