Moving on from a bad experience

Great letter yesterday. I pretty much thought about it all night.

Anybody ever been to Columbus?

Ten years ago, I went through a rough patch when I discovered that my boyfriend was cheating on me with a married friend of mine. I was angry and humiliated, but I managed to let it go. I moved on with my life and went to law school. The three others involved in this nastiness (my ex-boyfriend, my ex-friend, and her now ex-husband) did pretty much the same thing. The four of us all stayed in the same town, and I would see them often. At first I hated them, but eventually I began to tolerate them, then I felt a grudging respect for them and finally a certain fondness. Ten years, after all, is a long time to be mean and angry.

The problem is this: In the past two years these three people have gotten married and had babies, they’re all very close and friendly, and their families spend a lot of time together. I have not had a serious relationship in 10 years, though -- not, however, for lack of trying. Over the past 10 years I’ve been on countless dates and had several short, ugly relationships. One of these awful guys was physically abusive, one disappeared suddenly, one married a stripper, and one had a secret wife and baby in another city. Anyway, I’m no longer dating.

My problem is that when my ex-boyfriend, my ex-best friend, and her ex-husband all got married and had babies, my furious, angry rage of 10 years ago returned, only much, much worse. The sight of these people made me physically ill. When I was 30 I felt hurt and sad and embarrassed, but also relieved to be free of a man who was (let's be honest) a jerk. At the time I believed that someone better would come along, but now I'm not so sure. I’m 40 and I haven't been on a date in almost three years. Three months ago I was offered a job in a different city in another state, so I grabbed that opportunity, packed up everything, and left town.

So here I am starting over again at age 40. I'm trying to get some perspective on what’s happened, I'd like to find peace or at least some understanding. I would also like my life to be different. Moving is a start, but I'm wary of just repeating the same old mistakes but in a different zip code. Do you have any advice?

– Beatrice, Columbus, Ohio

We had a reader who recently mentioned that her problem was "two-pronged." I'd like to come up with a three-pronged plan for you, B. I love prongs.

Prong 1: The therapy prong. My favorite prong. I'm not blaming you for dating a string of awful men, but I do want you to sit down with someone and discuss whether you could have exited these relationships earlier than you did. Is there a way to better spot the bad so you can leave before it gets very bad? What did you learn from these relationships? How are they tied to one another? How can you move past them?

Prong 2: The dating/friend prong. You haven't been on a date in three years, and now it has become a "thing." An "I don’t date" thing. The longer you go without dating, the scarier it's going to be when you start up again. I like the idea of online dating in your situation because it gives you some control, and because as soon as you get a bad vibe or notice that someone's in-person story doesn't match their profile, you can bail and start over with the browsing. It's also something to do and a good way to get to know a new city. Consider it an exercise in confidence-building. As for friends, they are so instrumental in the dating experience. I don't care if you haven't made friends in Columbus yet. Call your old law school friends and use them as sounding boards as you date. They have your best interest in mind and will be the first to come to your aid if something seems off. If you don't have a group of friends for this, getting one should be your priority. Join a professionals group. Join a bike club. Join something that helps you meet people who can be your support system.

Prong 3. The happy prong. George Herbert once said that "living well is the best revenge." Easy for him to say. He was a priest. And back in his day, people only lived to be about 40. But he does have a point. All you can do is enjoy yourself and not make any assumptions about the lives of the trio of people who messed up your life a decade ago. Don't assume that their lives are any more perfect than yours. Don't assume that you know what their marriages are like behind closed doors. Focus on figuring out all the things you can do that will make you laugh throughout the day. Focus on your new home. Your anger is justified, but it isn't a good use of your energy. You have a new life in a new city. I bet they're pretty jealous.

Readers? Any more prongs for Beatrice? Are my prongs the right prongs? Did she simply suppress her anger and now it’s back to haunt her? Discuss.

– Meredith