Adapted from a recent online discussion.
About five years ago, I graduated from college and broke up with my girlfriend, “Penny.” There was nothing wrong between us, in fact things were really good, but we’d been dating since high school and I felt restless and needed to be on my own for a while. The break was everything I’d hoped for. I was able to date around and see what it was like being alone, too.
Penny and I have kept in touch through friends. Now that we’re both single again, I am ready to get back together since I know now she’s the one for me. I was excited when she agreed to meet with me, but when I suggested dating again, she said even though we still have that strong connection between us, she doesn’t think she could trust me not to hurt her again.
I was surprised since I never did anything to hurt her and feel that the time apart did us both a lot of good. Did I actually do anything wrong? I was always honest and open with Penny about my intentions. How can I convince her that I broke up with her for good reasons and to give us a chance?
You can’t. I suggest you don’t even try.
Instead, I recommend presenting a universal truth that allows you to agree with her:
“You’re right. You can’t trust me not to hurt you again (asterisk). I also can’t trust you not to hurt me. And neither of us can count on anyone else to go through life without hurting us, either. To care about someone is to risk getting hurt somehow.
“All I can say to assure you is that I will never take your feelings lightly. I didn’t then and I don’t now and I don’t plan to, ever.(asterisk)(asterisk)
“I won’t pressure you to change your mind. I hope, though, that you’ll think about it and give us a chance to try this again as older and wiser people.”
But, you know …
(asterisk) You did hurt her.
(asterisk) (asterisk) And yes, this part isn’t universal, but this is one thing you can reasonably offer her, as long as it’s the truth.
Readers felt strongly about this one. A sampling:
You broke up with her! When things were going fine! It could very well have been the right thing for you to do at the time, but that does not mean she was not hurt in the process.
— Anon 1
— You are making a lot of assumptions about Penny: You never did anything to hurt her; the time apart did you both a lot of good. Your “good reasons” for breaking up with her are no more valid than her reasons for remaining broken up.
— Anon 2
Also, maybe she is inarticulately trying to tell you she’s not interested in getting back together and feels she needs an excuse.
— Anon 3
— You are completely dismissing Penny’s experience of your breakup. She is right not to trust you.
— Anon 4
Hard to argue with that. Thanks.
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