In the first instalment of her new agony column, Auntie Pam answers a letter from a reader struggling with an ex who is being cold, mean and inconsistent
Ask her anything! Introducing Ask Pam, the new advice column from Dazed’s in-house agony aunt and trained psychotherapist, who is here to answer all your questions on life, love, sex, relationships, work, and more. Got a problem for Pam? Email her on firstname.lastname@example.org.
I was in a messy on-again-off-again relationship for three years, which I ended about 12 months ago. I really loved them, but I couldn’t handle how inconsistent it was: sometimes it was amazing, but then they could be really elusive and closed off. They didn’t like to talk about their feelings or communicate much, and it never made me feel very good about myself.
After I ended it they became kind of mean. They would bitch about me behind my back and say horrible things. But when I would bring it up with them they would be cold and dismissive and make me feel like it was all in my head. I still love them but feel like there’s nothing I can do now. They obviously don’t want me in their life and I can’t get past their defences. How do I move on and stop letting it all get to me?
Can’t Shake This Demon
It sounds like you really tried, and are still trying, to understand them ❤️. Three years is a long time, especially when it comes to romantic love, which can so easily feel like the only magic worth pursuing.
Inconsistent relationships are difficult to navigate. The human mind needs organisation and coherence. Psychologically, as we experience the outside world, we distil these experiences into generalised prototypes that we hold within as internal representations. These allow us to prepare for what may happen next, which provides a sense of safety. From this safe place, we can explore and grow.
If a partner is inconsistent this stable base becomes almost impossible to create. Of course, this doesn’t mean you can’t be sexy and spontaneous! The stability provided by consistency is precisely what allows you to play. It’s like sailing through a storm versus sailing through calm water. Good luck being hot (or having sex) while your boat is being turned upside down, flooded and you’re drowning! A calm sea is sexy.
And now let’s talk about the loss. When a romance ends we can feel a huge sense of loss; a loss not only of the person but also of those feelings. That person summoned love, and enabled your ability to love. But if you can get your head around the concept that there are many forms of love, and redirect the romantic love you had for them into ‘soul love’, you will be able to move on. By soul love, I mean allowing yourself to love them as a person without wanting anything in return – your soul loves their soul. You wish the best for them even if they aren’t yet able to wish for the best for you.
You may have a beautiful friendship one day, although it sounds like they aren’t ready for that yet (and maybe never will be). And that is OK/sucks for them. People have different ways of grieving. They may need to be angry with you for a period of time. In fact, their anger towards you may also be the only thing that still holds them to you and they aren’t able to let go of you yet, so that anger, in a twisted kind of way, becomes sacred. If they let go of the anger they would also be letting go of you. Know that it really is not about you, but them.
You said you still love them which shows me that you are already able to ‘be the love’. To love with no need for a recipient – like the sun, which shines whether or not someone, or something, is there to receive its light.
Today is Valentine’s Day. As the whole fucking world becomes heart-shaped, let us remember and also celebrate some other forms of love, alphabetically.
Agape: selfless love that you extend to all people. Later translated to caritas, the Latin for charity.
Ludus: playful love, like flirting, dancing, being silly! You can have this with anyone. Ovid used it to describe the playful relationship between parents and children. You could have Ludus with your dog (or someone else’s dog if you don’t have a dog, like me). Ludus with a cat might be harder – they purr one minute and try to scratch your face off the next. (Sounds like someone we know?)
Philautia: self-love. This can be narcissistic when its end is only to enhance the self, or altruistic when the ability to self-love enables the love of others. Aristotle wrote, “All friendly feelings for others are an extension of a man’s feelings for himself.”
Philia: deep friendship love. Wanting for someone else what we think of as good – a bit like the soul love I spoke about earlier.
Xenia: means hospitality in Latin. Giving love to strangers, being welcoming and warm (basically the opposite of the Tory party).
Soooo dear reader. How do you move on? You accept that their behaviour is about them and not you, wish them the absolute best and really believe it (Philia) – and have a boogie!