Haven’t been single since I was 16

Chat at 1 p.m.

Dear Meredith,

I found the column through the podcast. I feel a lot of empathy with your guests; it helps to share the breakup experience with people. I am going through my first. I'm 21, and my girlfriend just ended our five-year relationship. We'd been together since we were respectively 16 and 15, which means almost everything we know about dating, sex, and loving someone else comes from each other. The relationship has been long-distance for a while, but with frequent visits, we made it work through my finishing college.

Enter, Jeff. Not his real name. Jeff goes to school with her, and a few months ago, he made a move. A big, bold, not entirely consensual move. She says his move released something for her – and that Jeff can do things for her that I can't. That's true; we've both been feeling the pain of not being able to see each other physically outside of semester breaks. The long periods away meant we were never super sexually active. I think Jeff will can fulfill a very real need for her. However, her choosing Jeff – who was neither cautious nor respectful of her not being single at the time – feels like a huge betrayal.

I should just walk away from this. The problem is, I will almost certainly see her again in person soon. I am returning home for a weekend this summer. What do I do? Our friends at home are so close-knit. I remain very close with her sister, and our town is of the size that I would need to not leave my house to avoid her. I want to be friends. I'm frankly sick of being sad and would like to move on. Being friends is part of that. I'm just not sure how to speak with her when we do meet in person. She hasn't told anyone, not even her sister, of the audacity of Jeff's move. Keeping that secret hurts; I don't want to hurt her by telling people, but I do not like protecting Jeff, who I think is a bad dude. I need to move on, and we both want to be positive forces in each other's lives. We've been so wonderful for so long. How do I reconcile? Also ... I haven't dated since I was 16. Where on earth do I start?

– Stumped

If you listened to the entire podcast (the last episode, specifically), you know that staying friends with an ex is not a the best way to get over them. In fact, if you make friendship with the ex your ultimate goal, and put all of your energy into making it work, you aren't really moving on at all.

It might be a really long time before it feels natural to be in your ex's life without having to plot, plan, and stress. And for the record, I do believe you can go home without seeing this woman. I'm not suggesting you go out of your way to avoid her, but you can make plans with your other friends without extending an invitation.

You might want to set some boundaries with other close friends, at least for awhile. Maybe you're not quite ready to hang out with your ex's sister. Maybe she'll become more of an acquaintance in the future, and that's OK. Some of the people who were sounding boards during your relationship might not be able to offer as much now. When you go home, reach out to the people who can make you their priority.

As for how to date, well, there are plenty of options. You can try the apps. You can tell your friends when you're ready to be set up. Just don't feel like you have to be on a schedule. You can wait until you're curious – when it feels like it could be fun.

– Meredith

Readers? Friends?