Cutting off exes not only hurts our former partners but limits our own growth as well.
Most of us don’t blink when a friend says they’ve cut off an ex. But if you’ve ever been cut off by someone you care deeply for, then you know how distinctly painful an experience it can be. While it may be socially acceptable to cut off communication with our exes, we’re not always cognizant of the impacts on ourselves and our former partners. When we cut off, we may do so from anger but often we may be avoiding feelings of discomfort. Furthermore, if the person being cut off has trauma in their background, the psychological impacts can be devastating.
I’m not talking about distancing ourselves from those we casually date or asking for space after a breakup or simply choosing not to be friends with our exes. I’m talking about breaking off all contact with the most intimate person in our lives without civility — refusing to answer the phone, reply to emails, or acknowledge any aspect of their communication or needs — often without explanation.
Few of my friends know I’ve been nursing a broken heart, for nearly two and a half years. It’s not a typical broken heart but one that combines the end of a romance with the bewilderment and sadness of being cut off by a dear and trusted partner without explanation. It’s also one that echoes painful experiences from my childhood.
I met Emma (not her real name) while assisting in her new media class. Initially, we were acquaintances. She would house sit for me and care for my cats when I’d travel. We would occasionally interact on Facebook, often about gardening or winter sports. And, she joined me once for an amazing National Geographic photography lecture. But we wouldn’t begin dating until a year and half after we met. On our first real date, we made soup together with ingredients from my garden. The intensity of our chemistry caught us both by surprise.
Because I was much older than Emma, we knew it was likely that we would one day have to end things. She would often tell me how important it was that we stay friends regardless and “preserve our conversations.” She had a way with words that made me lower my guard and believe in her completely. After I left to travel abroad for a few weeks, she wrote:
“It has been really illuminating to be with someone who is so open, communicative and caring. I want to thank you for that. When I’m with you I feel a similar sentiment to traveling, it’s new and exciting and a little ungrounding while still feeling tangible, relaxing and enlightening. I do really appreciate our friendship, and like you said that is more important to me than anything else… more importantly I just don’t want to let something that has been so good become anything other than that.”