I can’t break the toxic cycle


The "Mortified" contest is still going on. You have until tomorrow at 11:59 p.m. to enter. I posted details about that contest here.

And, as that entry says, I'll be with "The Bachelorette" guy Chris Lambton at the Cask 'n Flagon tonight for a pick-up line contest. (Wow. I can't believe I just typed that sentence. My fingers actually just curled up in shock.) Chris is a very cool guy, and actually, to promote the event, he'll be doing a chat today at 1 p.m. Feel free to bug him with questions about why he turned down the chance to be "The Bachelor" and about my messy desk. He'll be chatting from here.

I met my now-ex during my freshman year of college. We started dating our junior year. He studied abroad for a semester. I went to visit him. He surprised me with a trip to Paris. We both admitted how "in love" we were.

We dated through the end of college. Mind you, the petty fights, drunken jealously, etc. all got in the way. We stayed together until the dreaded "where do we go from college" stuff set in and it was too much for me to handle.

After much soul searching, I ended it and moved to the city. He also moved to the city -- on his own -- and it only took a few weeks before we found each other again.

Throughout college and into our post-college city lives, we have had the same friends and same nightlife. Ever since we have lived here, it's been an out-of-control routine of seeing each other and then ending it again in the worst imaginable way.

In the process of our breakup, his way to "cope" was to trash my name to family and friends -- anyone who would listen -- but then he'd see me in secret. He would lie to our friends and his family, and I would forgive it because I was focused on trying to fix us, rather than let anyone else get in the way. It wasn't until after the falling outs that I would fully hear all the lies that he was telling. This had always been the routine. We'd see each other for a few weeks and then he would snap and say it wasn't working and that couldn't lie anymore. I encouraged him to just come clean with everyone, but he didn't want to. I'd breakdown, scream, fight, become furious and would be left to pick the pieces, meanwhile none of our friends would know we were even in contact.

I don't pretend to be a victim in this. I know what is right and what is wrong, but when one "I love you" comes out of him, I melt. I'm back at it, the emotional abuse and the one-sided feelings. Most recently, we started contacting each other after spending the summer apart, and he convinced me it was different this time. I was brought around our friends for a short period of time, without secret, before he snapped again and shut me out of his life. All he says is that he loves me but doesn't know what he's doing and why he can't figure out what he wants. There are two antagonists, two victims, and two people who can't seem to let go. And in the two years we've both lived in the city, it has been impossible not to see each other, even if we're not talking, because we travel around with the same large group of people from college.

So my question is, I've done the "give him space" thing, I've done the "I don’t deserve this" emotional roller coaster, but no matter what happens or how I vow to never let him back in my life, we find a way back to each other. What do I do now to stop this toxic routine from continuing? Will he ever figure out what he wants?

– Toxic Roller Coaster, Boston

TRC, not long ago (I can't remember when – does anybody else?) we had a letter from a person who couldn't snap out of her routine, and I told her to keep participating in the cycle, because at some point, she'd just get sick of it.

But your circumstances are a bit different. You characterize what you're putting up with as emotional abuse. I just can't condone you sticking around for that. You're also lying to your friends and having your name dragged through the mud. I can't condone sticking around for that either.

My advice is to tell everybody everything. Tell your friends and family every little thing that has happened with this guy in the last two years. Part of your problem has been accountability. If no one knows what's going on, there's no one to be accountable to except yourself. Once you say this stuff out loud, you'll not only have to hear it, you'll have to look at the faces of the people who love you. You'll have to see their concern and disappointment. The people in your circle of friends, assuming that they're good friends, won't want to be out with two people who are being awful to each other. They won't want to let you and the ex anywhere near each other. Right now, no one knows about the cycle of destruction. As soon as they do, they won't want to be a part of it.

After you tell your people what's going on, expand your circle. It's always lonely when you first move to a city, but you've been here for two years now. If you never branch out, you'll never meet new men or new friends. You need both. Join a club. Play some recreational floor hockey. Start creating a world without him.

Readers? How do you break the habit? Why hasn't she told their mutual friends? What's going on here? Discuss.

– Meredith