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How Do I Help My Chumped Son?

broken heartHi Chump Lady,

You’ve helped me before, I’m wondering if you could help me help my older son.

He’s 18 years old and getting ready to go to college. His girlfriend (dating almost 2 years) started college a few weeks ago and last week abruptly broke it off with him, apparently because he got mad at her for not calling him when she was supposed to. (She suspected he was cheating on her, but didn’t say anything).

Then she sent him a few pics apparently with hickeys on her neck from some new guy (she confirmed when he asked her). He then just replied “Goodbye,” and blocked her.

What else can he do? How can I help him? He has been depressed and crying for a week. What kind of advice can I give him?

I feel terrible that he’s going through this pain, especially when he will be moving thousands of miles away in a couple of weeks to start college. I also wished that my kids would never experience this chump pain, but now my older son has.

Anything I could have done or can do to reduce the risk of him being a chump? Any thoughts appreciated.

Thanks!

Alice

****

Dear Alice,

Any time you stick your heart out there, you risk being a chump. There’s no intimacy without vulnerability. So you can tune your picker, but no one can guarantee a heartbreak-free existence.

Best thing you can do as a parent? Set a good example. You must’ve done, because when your son’s girlfriend did all the stupid cheater things — goading him into the pick me dance, DARVO, blameshifting — he said “Goodbye” and hung up.

Gold star!

I know it hurts like a motherfucker, but he didn’t hang around for another kick in the teeth. Well done, Rookie. How to Dump and Be Dumped are important life skills.

No 18-year-old enjoys a teachable moment, especially from his mother, but if you’re going to have a conversation about it, I’d commend him on his boundaries.

He also just got a lesson on how NOT to treat people.

There’s going to come a time in his life where he’s going to reject someone, and when he does, he’ll remember what it feels like to be dumped unethically. That’s a lesson to be compassionate and forthright when ending things. The alternatives — ghosting, or treating people as kibble dispensers (Look at my hickeys! Dance!) — SUCK.

Who does he want to be? Someone who treats people with casual disdain or someone who is honest, even when it’s hard.

I’m sure he much would’ve preferred his girlfriend leveling with him as she went off to college. As disappointing as that would be, it’s much kinder than being played.

I feel terrible that he’s going through this pain, especially when he will be moving thousands of miles away in a couple of weeks to start college. I also wished that my kids would never experience this chump pain, but now my older son has.

Keep it in perspective, Alice. He’s 18. He’s in the rock tumbler stage of life, getting knocked around, figuring all this stuff out. While his ex-girlfriend is shitty, I expect a certain amount of immature, narcissistic behavior from this demographic. Adolescents don’t have fully formed prefrontal cortexes. The whole decision-making parts of their noggins are suspect.

I’m not saying leave them to the wolves and give up on ethical behavior. I’m saying, there’s still a lot of growing up to do.

Kids don’t have the same sunk costs as adults. He didn’t get chumped in a marriage, with children, and a mortgage.  Don’t project your heartache on his heartache. He has no idea what you went through and that’s a mercy.

Having been an adult chump, however, does give you empathy and perspective.

You know not to blame him for his misfortune.

You know that showing up and being present matters.

And you know that he’s a wonderful person, who loves with his whole heart, and clearly this ex-girlfriend is a delusional loon.

My son has been through a few painful breakups. He doesn’t share a lot with me, but each time I tell him, “You’re a stock that trades high. Never forget it.”

I tell people here that too. And I mean it. Never, ever lose sight of your worth. Just because someone else can’t see it, doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist.

The best defense against heartache is to know your worth. Rejection is out there. No one gets out this world unscathed, but self-worth means you pick yourself back up and offer the world another chance at your fabulousness.

When you know your worth, people can try to push your boundaries, but you shut it down because you know you’re allowed to have boundaries.

I think your son intrinsically knows this.

“Goodbye.”

Nice job, Mom.

Ask Chump Lady

Got a question for the Chump Lady? Or a submission for the Universal Bullshit Translator? Write to me at info@chumplady.com. Read more about submission guidelines.
  • The best defense against heartache is to know your worth. Rejection is out there. No one gets out this world unscathed, but self-worth means you pick yourself back up and offer the world another chance at your fabulousness.

    I am saving these 2 lines. Thank you, Chump Lady!

  • I am so glad he had the self-respect to not dance. And hickeys? Sooooo classy.

    Would your son feel comfortable posting here? I think CN would like to give him a cyber hug.

    • When I was chumped, I asked myself what sort of breakup I would have wanted. That later informed me when I dated a fellow during my “single season” (between widowhood and remarriage).

      I dated a guy who would have inevitably been a poor long-term partner but he was cute and I was vulnerable. I learned he was poly and intended to remain so regardless of my awesomeness.

      I sent him the nicest “We Are No Longer Dating” email and I was quite proud of it.

      Additionally, when my now (non-cheater) spouse and I were dating were dating in 2013, he found in his stuff a number of letters I wrote him when we dated in ~1983. Among them was the “you are being transferred from the boyfriend zone to the friend zone” letter.

      When he set the letter in front of me, he expected me to be delighted and I was anxious. He asked me why and I told him that the silly girl who wrote those is gone and the mature woman I am will likely be embarrassed by her. When I read the breakup letter, though.. I was proud of my forthrightness and kindness in how I handled it.

      If a person is ghastly and has behaved horribly, a kind breakup is not needed but if you just realize they aren’t for you, it’s important to be clear, kind, respectful, truthful and firm. They need to know that your mind is made up and pick-me-dancing is not appropriate under the circumstances. Tell them that you hope they find a partner who loves their true authentic self but you have come to realize it’s lot you.

      • I dated a young man when I was in college who was so sweet and wonderful. Kind hearted and so good to me. Yet there was zero spark. He felt like a brother to me and I couldn’t get past that. He kind of sensed it and we talked and I felt awful about it. But I was honest and wished him the best and really meant it. I remember agonizing over telling him and felt sad after because he was fantastic and I didn’t want to hurt him. But at least I acted with integrity. I was 21 and I’m amazed I had the maturity to handle it well, looking back. A shame other people I dated and married couldn’t be that authentic, even in their 40s.

    • M,

      Don’t know if you’re a man or a woman (I’m guessing woman, but I could be wrong!😁), but I thought this Guardian article was fantastic. Thank you very much for giving us the link. I’ve both emailed the link to myself and taken many screenshots to preserve it for myself.

      It will be helpful if I ever want to give someone more credible information on what infidelity can do to a person (since it cannot help but lead to heartbreak, at least if one partner is sincere in their love).

      Other than the writer humorously (I sincerely hope it was in jest) hoping we all come back as meadow voles in our next lives (meadow voles are as the article puts it, “sluttier” than their more monogamous prairie vole cousins, because they’re less connected to their mates biologically) and a female scientific writer trying some psychedelic drug(s?) to get a better understanding of her heartbreak following her husband leaving her after twenty five years together, I thought this article was spot on.

      The only other thing that was sad about it was the note that the “Heartbreak Hotel” was only open for women.They mentioned women have a particular context in which betrayal happens to them (I’m paraphrasing), which is why it’s women only.

      Well, so do men, as CN shows. There is a reason faithful women have the stereotype of being cheated on by callous men. I know it happens. A LOT.

      If I had the money (and therefore the time), I’d open up a Hearbreak Hotel for guys. Then go on to open a place for all chumps and heartbroken people to discuss what happened, so everybody could see it’s not just one gender affected, as well as work together to get through the heartbreak.

      I do subscribe to the idea that men are biologically inclined to wander. But genetics or gender alone doesn’t define a man, or anyone on the gender spectrum. Your environment shapes you equally, I think. And that affects everyone.

      But many faithful men have been cheated on through time as well. It frequently seems to take only a callous partner, who’s selfish, ambitious, and cowardly enough to see who will join them in looking for perceived greener pastures together, for a short or long time.

      And as women rightly gain equity in the world, I feel it’s becoming more frequent that women are feeling emboldened to cheat and/or leave their faithful partners just like many men have done. It doesn’t make it right, no matter who’s doing it, or what their status in life may be.

      I know I’m probably rehashing what a lot of you here already think. But this story of an 18 year old son getting chumped, and this very good article on heartbreak and its real physical and mental effects made me want to state clearly to myself and to CN how I feel.

      It’s important to not lose sight that it’s everybody on the gender spectrum that gets affected by these awful, callous, selfish, cowardly people, their actions and the heartbreak that follows.

      Heartbreak hits everybody. Including men. I wish this 18 year son, better luck, a better picker, and the fortitude to suffer through future heartbreak. It absolutely sucks, but we all know you can come out thriving in the end. And that’s powerful, in a healthy way.

      • “I do subscribe to the idea that men are biologically inclined to wander.”

        So are women. Seeking multiple partners optimizes the chances of healthy offspring. Encouraging mate competition by cheating insures that the strongest will prevail and pass on those genes.
        Evolved people such as yourself know that biology is not destiny and that we can and should exercise free will and reason to counteract that programming. However, biology is often used as an excuse for shit behavior, most often by men. You rarely hear a woman claim a biological inability to be faithful. Women, due to conditioning, tend to use the fulfillment of emotional needs excuse.
        IMO, cheating is always about emotional drives, but not the ones cheater’s claim. Due to their unhealthy psychological makeup, they are emotionally driven to seek attention, validation, and to use and abuse others. They enjoy deception. It’s like a drug for them. Human sexuality is mostly emotionally motivated to begin with, and that’s true for both genders. If cheating was about a biological drive cheaters wouldn’t partner up. They’d just stay single, have many partners and be honest about it. I wish there was a way that those of us whose emotional motivations are about connection and intimacy could find each other and avoid the abuse-o-sexual freaks.

      • Women’s biological capacity to wander is evident in the fact that, throughout history, the most intense and violent prohibitions and punishments against adultery were put on women. Why crate a legless dog? It wouldn’t be that surprising if both genders turned out to be a little more equally “wayward” than is currently perceived if certain social strictures were removed. Our ape ancestors– male and female– were pretty indiscriminate. There are some evolutionary arguments that we evolved to become far more monogamous than our ape cousins but we’re also a hypocritical species, so you might say humans generally expect monogamy from partners but don’t always live by the same rules. Cheating is the expression of that double standard. Otherwise it’s what? An open relationship. Cheating apologists miss the point that cheaters don’t want their partners to exercise the same sexual freedom that they do.

        I get kind of lost in all the evolutionary apologias for cheating because it’s not like you can study human in a lab setting. Free will and different social structures provide too many variables. But we can get glimpses of general tendencies and it’s not always what apologists hope for. For instance, there’s the interesting finding that people in general are less promiscuous in a safer environment and start having sex later. Dangerous societies with scarce resources and/or violent childhood home environments seem to encourage what social scientists call a “fast life strategy”– a sort of indiscriminate and aggressive “live fast, die young, leave a lot of offspring” mating pattern in both genders because, for whatever reasons (poor health and subsequent impaired fertility, high murder rate, threatening social context), people have a sense of shortened lifespan and sense they have a smaller window to breed. In other words, one could argue that cheaters/cheaters (or anyone using aggressive or indiscriminate mating strategies) have lower self-perceived life expectancy and may actually be less healthy than non-cheaters.

        If you could create a model world which somehow maintained perfect gender equality– free from harassment, stranger danger, slut-shaming (aimed primarily at women), rape, domestic violence, pay gaps, bias in education, unequal hiring, unequal distribution of domestic labor (and added great childcare subsidies)– I’m not sure men would turn out to be more sexually driven or that much more driven to cheat.

        For better or worse, testosterone seems to be the risk-taker/overt-aggression hormone throughout the natural world. Men commit the largest share of interpersonal violence. That probably wouldn’t change even in an equal society because even psycho-killer, fratricidal female hyenas have more testosterone than males of many other species. On the flip-side men are more likely to commit feats of daring to save strangers and arguably more equipped to do this due to greater physical strength. If anything you could say that men would be more prone to create the coercive circumstances under which a lot of cheating occurs. Imagine the condition of workplace affairs (since most are these days) in a safer society. Would as many men still want to be coercive to cheat? If they’re not eating shit in a top-down, testosterone-drenched corporate structure, would there be as big a need to prove “manhood” through sexual conquest? And would it be harder to be coercive to get sex if, say, female underlings at the office were fairly paid and could look forward to a bright future on their own rather than having to cave to quid pro quo to keep their jobs or poach some financially secure, married oldster to hedge women’s general career insecurity? Would it be so easy for men to cheat if betrayed wives didn’t have to worry as much about backlash for leaving (including violence) or their own and their children’s financial futures?

        So I wonder if changes to social structures might reduce a bit of male cheating. It could also increase female cheating because women wouldn’t risk any more social fallout than men. But would rates in general plummet even so? The remaining cheaters would be doing it less as a response to unequal power dynamics. If cheating is abuse and abuse is about power, would cheating be as much mean fun for disordered people?

        In relatively peaceful societies (doesn’t say much as things stand in the world) there’s such a huge curve in the expression of “hormonal tendencies” among humans. It’s arguable that a more equal world might allow gender outliers– very nurturing men and ultra-go-getter women– to let their hair down so to speak. Organizational psychologists have found this to be true in more equal work settings and have even found great benefits to a balance of power in terms of gender including greater cooperation and reduced interpersonal aggression. Vive la difference– men and women in general may bend a bit this way or that in terms of expression and skill sets but the balance apparently creates something organizationally ideal.

        Primatologist Richard Wrangham who studied chimps and bonobos in their natural habitats for decades concluded that human gender equality would reduce war. But he makes the case that, since we descended directly from the Clockwork Orange, rapey warring chimp and not the kinder-gentler hippie bonobo, it would have to he a conscious plan of long term social engineering to reduce aggression in society and increase parity. He points to some hopeful piecemeal examples of this conscious strategy.

        So, anyway (yada yada) if reducing violence reduces promiscuity on a societal level and inequality– as well as cheating– is arguably largely kept afloat by aggression, I suspect equality would probably reduce cheating rates. There might be more consensual poly but perhaps not as much interpersonal abuse in the name of sex.

        • I love medieval history and in the middle ages, the dominant view was that women were super horny and had to be kept under control. Medieval illuminated manuscripts are full of depictions of women cheating on their husbands (often with demons). The idea that women don’t enjoy sex as much as men/men are more prone to stray came into prominence in the early modern period and is a product of the enlightenment, as is the idea that women belong solely in the domestic sphere (medieval women did all kinds of jobs, according the the records we have).

        • I looked up domestic violence rates in Sweden which ranks top in gender equality and it was 7% males and females in equal parts. America whose gender equality fell to 1988 level’s are women 23%, men 13%.

          • Chumpolicious– It’s very hopeful that Sweden’s (highest percentage of women in government) stats seem to be generally lower than in other countries. In countries without stiff penalties for domestic assault, rates can be as high as 67%.

            But I think Sweden’s even-steven rates might be because researchers were using the Strauss DV scale measuring only “incidents,” not background and injuries. Pretty universally, 85% of serious injuries in DV conflicts are to women. 87% of DV-related injuries to men are apparently from women defending themselves, usually after long histories of abuse.

            But Iower general rates are great. The equality debate still rages on but in more “PC” terms so this stirs up more stealth forms of bias, such as the expectation that a marginalized group be not merely morally equivalent to everyone else but actually morally superior in order to “deserve” equal rights. This crops up a lot in civil rights discussions. I don’t think women will ever be equivalently violent to men but they certainly can be aggressive although largely in covert ways. Cheating would fall under this heading– aggressive and abusive but not necessarily violent. So you could say women are not morally superior, just less injurious.

        • HOAC – It sounds like you read Richard Wrangham’s book “The Goodness Paradox”. I quite respect Wrangham’s work on other subjects (his book “Catching Fire”). But any overly speculative theory slides down the slippery slope towards the worst “evolutionary apologias for cheating”. Wrangham’s “Demonic Males” model fits too easily into that demented idea of female hypergamy, that evil entered the world because women prefer to cheat with bad boys, but need to find some nicer man to raise the ill-gotten child with.

          You can see how this idea lets cheaters off the hook. Rapacious men are only protecting themselves from women’s evil nature. Women cheater see it as natural. Women/men who don’t act that way are either hypocrites or their morality is some form of weakness. This particular idea took the Manosphere by storm a ~decade ago: https://www.wehuntedthemammoth.com/2013/05/16/hypergamy-how-the-harebrained-notion-of-white-nationalist-f-roger-devlin-took-the-manosphere-by-storm/#more-8670 No wonder so many Incels were obsessed with cuckholding.

          Evolutionary Psychology gives this kind of unproven speculation a scientific veneer, so some people are fooled. I think it is part of why Dan Savage went off the rails. Savage was a big promoter of “Sex at Dawn” when it came out, but now his name is no longer displayed prominently on that book’s Amazon page. “Sex at Dawn”s vision was less toxic, since it was more about egalitarian free love instead of how cheating is central to human sexuality. But such speculation justifies awful behavior.

    • I read the article the other day– very interesting. Heartbreak certainly does feel like a medical event, especially after 20 years of marriage. The alarming report that 15% may never recover reminds me of the Jacques Brel ballad The Desperate Ones that’s been covered by every arty blues singer, and torch songster ever since. https://impossiblepoems.blogspot.com/2015/04/jacques-brel-desperates.html

      Let he who threw the stone at them
      Stand up and take a bow
      He knows the verb “to love”
      But he’ll never know how

      I had the rock tumbler experience from high school dating through college and before getting married. I won’t get into the tiresome vignettes of teen and post-adolescent romance but I never wanted to be the one to cast the stone at a decent person so I was generally a nice breaker-upper. I would list off all their great traits that I thought guaranteed them future happiness and I meant it. I was clear to myself about the reasons I didn’t see a future so there was no need to demonize the other person or do a “gotcha” and exaggerate or fabricate some mistake they made in order to make myself feel better. I genuinely wanted those people to move on and have amazing lives. I felt I was a decent person and deserved the same. On the receiving end of a breakup, I noticed that when someone was honorable about breaking things off and kind on their way out, there might be tears for half a minute but recovery would be relatively swift.

      But the disordered don’t seem to like endings like that. They seem to want tears forever. They don’t necessarily want to be the ones to wipe the tears away (boring) but they want the feeling of being irreplaceable and that their former “properties” would be too wrecked to be “purchased” by anyone else. It’s like those who never truly love also never truly let go and would like to think they have the option of circling back around and reclaiming the “property” any moment they deign to do it. Or not. But they don’t want anyone else “buying the deeds.” They tend to be scorched earth at the end regardless of how innocent the partner in question had been.

      Maybe territoriality and dependency are what fill the void where genuine capacity for love was supposed to be when someone is hollowed out by whatever FOO disasters made them this way to begin with. But the interesting thing is that, if you look closely enough at the lives of people like this, they’re also frequently getting rejected and burned and accumulating rage over it. Never expect a FW to brag about the 100:1 rejections they secretly suffer in their feverish hunt for kibble and co-cheaters or just by being generally FWitty. Chumps may never hear about, say, those shiny randos on the morning commute who won’t even look at the FW no matter how FW postures and trawls for attention. The checkout girl or boy whose face drops in disgust when the FW tries to flirt. The new hire at the office whose eagerness to get along is mistaken for flirting and gives an “ick” face when FWs fail to get the cue. The players who flirt with other FWs just to farm their own narcy kibble but have no intention of following through. And on and on.

      I get the feeling cheaters rack up mostly humiliating experiences that leave them seeking more conquests to feel better in an endless vicious cycle. I suspect that what portion of emotional abuse and DARVO FW’s typically unleash on chumps that isn’t about scorching the earth and fostering more dependency in victims is just a matter of using chumps as whipping boys for the cheaters’ frequent bouts of dejection. That’s the risk FWs take when commodifying themselves and commodifying other people on the zero-sum meat market– feeling like a loser most of the time. Those who live by the sword die by it, etc.

      Anyway, just something I noticed in my travels. I thought the arc of the wormy character of Pete Campbell from the series “Madmen” was a great illustration of this. His skirt chasing is always in response to being foiled in some one-upmanship skirmish with rivals in his profession and then his affair with an underling is in response to being rejected by randos and other cumulative wounds resulting from his own choices. He takes his failures out on his wife in the form of snits, depressions, criticism and selfish acts. He also goes berserk when left alone for half a minute. The wife finally leaves him and he seems to adjust but goes nuts when he realizes she’s achieved meh. I’ll ignore the unrealistic unicorn ending of that story line.

      • Hell of a Chump,

        Damn. That’s a lot of info you’ve accumulated. Very interesting, but… I will use my own FW to add to the conversation.

        I am convinced that a large portion of the motivation for my FW XW was both FOO shit (somewhat unconscious, maybe), but for conscious thought? Greed. Plain old greed.

        I remember her looking w/palpable envy/lust at the Maine island house family retreat her rich boss had taken over from his siblings (bought them out, I think). She had always wanted me to get our family a vacation home of some type, and if I had been able to stomach pharmacy anymore, that might have happened (it was also hard to do when every increase in my salary coincided w/her increasing our family spending, again mainly in the name of status). Her then boss and now partner (for as long as the fuckwits can stand each other) had it ready made for her.

        Add to that I had left pharmacy, couldn’t figure out another high-paying job w/enough status to make her happy, I was in full depression because of that, and I was so stressed out from all of this that it pushed me from being pre-diabetic to full diabetic.

        This was a ready made test for character in my mind. I was very slowly working my way out the depression over a four year period at the time of their betrayals. I would never likely earn the bigger money again, but I was working towards providing better stability for our family.

        She had choices. She could have stayed with me to try and work things out. I would have worked w/her. I thought I already was! Or, she could have left me if she was so unhappy, and split up our family, but maintained my respect for her by not screwing around on me and our family and putting us all at risk before leaving me (or if I didn’t, that would have been on me).

        Instead, she chose her option of adultery. This was an almost 49 year old woman, w/a male AP 15 years older. Both pretty smart. One fairly rich. But they both chose to fuck over their respective chump spouses. In my mind, they are both guilty of poor character.

        We all have biological heritage and environmental experiences that inform how we act. But as adult human beings, it’s on us to have grasped what’s acceptable in making a good, moral life, and what’s not.

        We’re all ridden w/faults, big and small. It’s on us as adults to not let those faults get out of hand, and break moral codes that society generally deems abusive and destructive.They failed. To me, that’s the main takeaway. They failed. And they don’t seem to care much about restitution.

        Thanks for adding so much to the conversation, Hell of a Chump. You really got me thinking and interested. Wishing you peace and meh.😊

        • thelongrun,

          Thank you for your insights. If it’s any comfort I’ve got a radar for women like this. It’s not perfect but gets better with time. It’s a defense mechanism I developed working in a narc-ridden industry because hypergamous people aren’t just dangerous to partners but to everyone around them. For instance I actually worked with the real-life inspiration for Debbie Jellinsky from Addams Family Values. I don’t think the original Deb ever killed anyone but the depiction was otherwise spot on. I have so many stories.

          My former mother-in-law was a different version of the same type, more the yogazilla salon hypergamist. Long story short, my kids barely remember grandma and don’t miss her. I’m so sorry for your brush with that death’s head of insincerity. Nobody gets away unscathed around people like that but the sun seems to shine again when their gone.

  • Let him cry for a few days.
    Then help him make a plan for what he’s going to do the first month of college. Pt job? 2 activities? After a week of dads, tell him to set aside ten minutes every morning to feel sad, then he has to work on what he wants the rest of his life to look like. You can honor the sad and insist he get on with life.
    Don’t bash her. She’ll look him up at Thanksgiving.

    • Yes, she’ll look him up at Thanksgiving, so maybe give him a few lessons on “hoovering” and how to resist it. Also “no contact” and “grey rock”. All will be useful tools for this and future heartbreaks.

      • Hoover, yep forwarn him if you can about the hoovering and what he likely can expect from that.

        When I was 18, fw and I started dating when he came home for a two week military leave. We went out on a couple dates, it went well. Then the second week he didn’t call (I think they call it ghosting now).

        At any rate I kind of just shrugged my shoulders and went back to school and figured it was over. A few days later I got a long letter about how sorry he was, but he had to take care of some things that second week; and oh please forgive me, I don’t want to lose you bullshit.

        I showed my mother the letter and she said well if he did it to you once he will do it again. I totally ignored her and wrote him back and well 21 years later I learned he was a long time cheater and con man. I can’t say she didn’t warn me though.

    • Great Advice!

      I wish I’d learned earlier in life that a lot of my prolonged sadness over events was a result of me “pain shopping” for way too long. I think it’s some part of my family legacy that we just hold on to pain for so long that it ruins our lives. I’m so glad to now recognize this important life skill and pass it along to my child. Don’t ever deny yourself sadness and grief, better to feel it than suppress it, but also be able to identify when you’re actively trying to hold on to sadness versus work through it. In the beginning, it can be tough to spot, so giving yourself a timeline, as you suggest, is a great idea. “I’ll allow myself to cry and be sad about this and mope around for 2 or 3 days, and then I’ll get back into the world and confine my sadness to only an hour a day” and so on. It’s a practice. And you have to commit to it and oftentimes have someone keep you accountable.

  • As much as you want to, you cannot shield others from pain. I tried to protect my sisters, and my sons. CL is right, the most important thing you can do is be the sane one. Show up, set an example, have tissues and toilet paper on hand. Listen to the heartache, but remember it is not yours to fix. You can prepare comfort food, give them a soft place to land, at first. But remember your job is to patch and relaunch.

    It would be nice if your hard work and love would be appreciated and reciprocated. Don’t count on it. I was told I was the worst mother in the world, too strict, and that I didn’t want my children to have ANY fun when they were teens. I was told by my sisters that for SOME reason, I just didn’t like any of their boyfriends. (The same boyfriends who later broke their hearts.) It was over a decade later that my son’s changed their tune and realized that the meanest mom in world history had actually done a pretty good job raising them under difficult circumstances. My sisters were some of my earliest attempts to “fix” others, and right past wrongs. I was 10 and 12 years older than they were, and in retrospect I was still trying to right wrongs perpetrated on me and my younger by two years brother by giving my sisters an escape hatch from my father’s tyranny.

    My sisters struggled, and had to find their own way, eventually. One matured into a hard-working, loving, dependable woman. The other grew to be very selfish and manipulative, turned out to have bi-polar mental issues, and abuses alcohol. I still love them both, but I gave up trying to fix them long ago. Instead, I learned to focus on fixing my own problems, and develop boundaries. I am as close to my family as it is healthy for me to be, and unfortunately (for them), I am no longer as “useful” as I once was. Occasionally I am thanked for some specific thing, but unfortunately (for me) my mistakes at trying to fix others set unrealistic expectations for my eternal usefulness. It is difficult to provide understanding and to help others and then realize that reciprocity is sometimes just the stuff of dreams.

    Good luck with your son but realize he will have to learn to rebound and set boundaries on his own. It is your job to love and support, but not fix your son. He is in charge of completing his own development. To me, it sounds like you did a good job setting up his foundation of values. Just be patient, time will eventually help him heal. Some scars do make you stronger. When you learn hurt, you also learn empathy. If his life were perfect, he would expect perfection, and that is not realistic.

    • It is true… you cannot shield others from pain and I’ve learned that attempts to do so often backfire dramatically.

      I love the idea of using this as a teaching moment to help him learn how to break up gracefully. More than likely in the future it will be a skill he will have to use and doing so with integrity will be important.

  • It’s awful to witness my daughter in pain, and especially awful when that pain is caused by someone hurting her, but crying is a good thing and it means her emotions are wired properly and she is healing.

    That the writer’s son responded by saying goodbye, blocking her, and is now expressing appropriate feelings for the situation sounds like he is on the right path for the circumstances, distressing though it may be for mom.

    My response as a mom would be to offer to help with tasks of living (cook, clean, do laundry, etc), and be available to listen or talk, and refer outside help.

    I have also been in similar shoes as Traitor X husband broke our daughter’s heart too.

    I have never felt so strongly like hurting another person than I did when I saw her cry because of what he did. A few months after he left, we were at the library attempting to do her fifth grade class family history project. 😪

    She very understandably was having trouble with this project in light of our situation. She asked if we could go out to the car so she could cry. So we went out to the car so she could cry. She said, “Daddy is hardly ever around anymore,” in a ragged agonized voice. Jesus Christ. There must be a god because my thoughts about those selfish motherfuckers if acted upon would have qualified me for prison. That was easily the worst moment of my life. But being there for her while she cried was all I could do. Tears are healing.

    Her fifth grade teacher was a chump. He was expecting a baby with his new wife. His cheating jerk FW XW was getting divorce number two from her “soulmate” cheating accomplice.

    He excused my daughter from the family history project.

    Therapy has been a regular ongoing part of my life since 1985, so when this happened my therapist, who had been our marriage/family therapist, recommended I get my daughter her own therapist, which I did immediately.

    I’ve done all the footwork to secure and apply the first aid for their actions (Traitor X and his stash of fuckbuddies).

    Traitor X, who blew up her life, has never done anything to dress the wounds he inflicted.

    • 👆🏻👆🏻👆🏻 Very similar experience. I hate what XH did to me, but the feeling I have about what he did to our four kids is so strong that I will feel physically nauseous if I allow myself to recall the details. It’s been 8 years since Dday but the shit sandwiches for them keep coming. XH’s drug addiction and alcoholism are progressing and his selfishness and disregard for them is increasing. The birth of our first grandchild this month has revealed anew XH’s antisocial behavior. I have no choice but to show up and be the best sober, sane parent-grandparent I can be, and I’m grateful I can.

      • Congratulations on your new grandchild Mother C!!!! I’m so totally besotted with my little grandson I’m even making myself sick (but I wouldn’t have it any other way)! And yep, look at what FW is missing!

    • I know what you mean about “thoughts if acted upon would qualify me for prison”. It’s one thing to navigate betrayal as an adult with a fully formed pre-frontal cortex. But to observe the effects of betrayal on my children – their dad’s betrayal, our family friend’s (the AP), and eventually abandonment by our circle of mutual friends – words don’t do justice to the rage I feel.

      Was out running an errand with my 11yo recently, strolling through Walmart, when she said “I’m just wondering…” I slowed down to listen and noticed she had tears in her eyes. “Dad had to have known he would hurt our family. So why did he do it?” I had no answer.

    • PS.

      The thoughts I get whenever I run into anyone telling me or her not to cry or feel sad, or when or how long I should feel/express it, also if acted upon would qualify me for jail. I would never violate someone by telling someone how to feel, or when or how long to feel it.

      “What to do when you feel _______” is the skill I have been taught in my years in counseling.

      I spent an incredible amount of time and money in therapy undoing that indoctrination the damage caused by being told how to feel and when, and how long to feel it. 😡😡😡😪😪😪

      Feelings are. In the past I have had to take a bathroom break at work, excuse myself for a moment, or somehow put on hold until I was in a safe space, or cry and feel sad while doing the task at hand, but ignoring feelings and otherwise attempting to control/not feel are the skills and in the realm of cheaters and I refuse to live there, or tell someone else to.

      • “I would never violate someone by telling someone how to feel, or when or how long to feel it.”

        Exactly. Just let people feel whatever the hell they’re going to feel without judgment for as long as they’re going to feel it.

        Only a few months after D-Day, I remember bristling when one friend (a psych nurse!) seemed upset that I wasn’t “over it yet.” Through tears, I muttered something about how it was all still so fresh. She responded, “Yeah, that’s fine. But I will be alarmed if you are still like this in a few months.”

        What? My trauma and grief are not subject to anyone else’s arbitrary timelines.

        This entire chump experience has taught me that one of the biggest gifts you can give someone else is to let them cry in your presence and just BE. No judgment. Just undivided attention and sincere empathy.

        • Oops. Not “I will be alarmed if you are still like this in a few months” but rather, “I will be alarmed if you are still like this in a year.” It makes no difference, I guess.

          • What I learned in grief counseling, I and my own personal counseling, is that experience of grief is part of life, going through it is real life, not avoiding “getting on with” life, and it has its own timeline unique to each person.

            Most people would never think of telling their broken leg how and when to hurt, but essentially try to exercise that kind of power of will over emotional pain.

            What is essential is to stay in awareness of how I am feeling and apply the first aid I need in response, and respecting that process in those around me.

  • I went through this with my oldest son. They were together 13 years, married 3, when she decided she had “feelings for someone else” (turns out it was the wedding photographer!!!!) and could they take a three month break from each other and have the freedom to “act as if they were single”? It was right at the beginning of the pandemic, the borders were closed, I’m in France and my son was 30 minutes away in Switzerland SO HE COULDN’T COME HOME! He had to book himself into an airbnb for six weeks until the borders opened up. He phoned me out of the blue when I was half way up a mountain and dropped the load on me he was in such shock. I never slagged her off but spent about an hour sitting on a rock talking to him about it. I asked him if he was prepared to be her back-up plan, her plan B, if things didn’t work out with the “guy she had feelings for” and he said no way. So he kindly refused her offer and said let’s just go straight for the divorce. That must have been so hard to do because he genuinely loved that girl. She got the shock of her life as I reckon she wasn’t counting on that being his response. So they separated in June and were divorced on Halloween (???) as there was no property division and no kids, thankfully. She asked if they could still be friends and he said while he wouldn’t ignore her if he bumped into her (he stopped in to see her grandma for coffee and she told him her granddaughter was nuts), he had no desire to do things together. He was very bitter to begin with, but he’s since bought himself a beautiful apartment here in France, has his finances all sorted out (thank you mommy!) and is really enjoying his life with the mates he grew up with! I hope he meets someone else some day but he says he will NEVER get remarried – what for? To have someone take his kids and his apartment away from him? He’ll be 35 tomorrow so he still has time and while I’m sorry he had to go through this, I’m so proud of the way he handled it!

    • I am convinced that “friends” shit is so they can still have some control over the person they shit on.

      As CL has said good chumps are hard to find.

      • Yes, and it’s also so they can tell themselves they aren’t bad people if their victims are willing to be friends with them.

      • You’re probably right – plus the wedding photographer has “form” for loving and leaving ’em so she may have thought she could keep my son as plan B whether he liked it or not!

        • The fact that he was the wedding photographer makes me think she might have been fucking him the entire time they were married. Yuck.

          The plan B thing is so common. FW gets a schmoopie, and APs being the unreliable flakes they are, the FW hangs onto the spouse for when the AP finds somebody else or just gets sick of FW. FW does not really want the spouse, but has trouble being alone. Stringing the chump along or getting the chump to be friends after a break-up is how they keep an option for themselves, one they know is a good appliance they can use and abuse. It’s one of the most despicable things they do. They are enraged when their appliance refuses to be controlled and used anymore, which is why they have a fit if a chump files. It seems like most chumps have experienced FWs who delay the divorce as much as possible, even when they are openly living with the AP. They’ve got to have that control.

          • Well, OHFFS (got it right! Yay!😁), not always. FW XW exit-affaired me, moved in w/rich and married for 40 years AP thirteen days after D-day, spent mid to late spring thru end of 2017 doing whatever the fuck she pleased w/AP while neglecting our kids (especially our young son), but never initiated divorce. Waited on me to do that.

            Here she is, making more money than me for the first period in our married life, has a rich AP, but wouldn’t start divorce. Maybe I was Plan B still. Probably, just in case. But it still pisses me off. She had the better means at the time (still does w/her rich sugar daddy), and she still waited on me.

            Now, thinking back, I remember that she also wanted us to use a mediator. So that was part of it, too. I told her in the fall of 2017 that I had retained a lawyer. Why? To protect myself from her and her AP, who I’m sure was guiding her. They had prepared too much in advance of all this. She didn’t like that. Even though my heart was an open wound at this point, I still thought, tough shit you don’t like it.

            Sometimes they just want everything their way, whatever way that is for them. Mine was too busy living the new fun life w/her AP, and he is rich but at the same time embodies the stereotypical cheap New Englander. I mean, big time. He shops at a dollar store, the fuckwit. And he injured himself and wouldn’t go to a doctor on his insurance (he was making at least $250,000 a year at the time and was chancellor of our state’s college system w/lots of perks like a new car of his choice, for crying out loud! 🤦‍♂️).

            Instead, he says he’ll get a freebie from one of his doctor buddies. My son told me that. So, I have to think he was helping the FW XW think cheap, too. Me getting a lawyer made it not so cheap for her.😂

            We did do mediation, but I don’t feel it was all that helpful. Maybe a little. FW XW embarrassed herself in front of the mediator, trying to tell me where/how I should live. Unbe-fucking-lievable.

            Then we were into the final round, getting the divorce stipulations set in the spring of 2018. She resisted on the small shit. Final hurdle was the fact she had to pay me somewhere between a $110-$120 per month for child support because of the difference in our salaries at the time (I insisted on and got 50/50 custody of our only remaining minor, our son. She didn’t fight me on that. Probably it would have been too expensive to her 😐).

            She didn’t want to pay me anything. My lawyer (a woman) couldn’t understand why, when it was the state that was mandating this via set tables regarding differences in salaries (in retrospect, my lawyer had some flaws, like not understanding how someone could be so selfish in a divorce that they refused to do the right things. I mean, she had been a divorce lawyer for awhile. Surely she’d seen enough of this behavior in that time? Or maybe she was just perpetually hopeful that people would act responsibly?).

            But, my lawyer did provide a shield against the FW XW to a certain degree, and I came out w/no alimony to pay and child support for myself and son. I think I came out of the divorce ahead of her, in certain respects. Certainly compared to the horror stories related here and that I’d heard over time. Of course, I had to lose a wife, lover and (I thought) a best friend that I truly loved to do it, as well as an intact family, so I had plenty of sunk costs to more than counterbalance those wins.

            The FW XW ended up paying the child support (I’m really not sure what got her to pay. Maybe her lawyer finally got through her selfish brain?), which effectively settled the divorce stipulations, and therefore the divorce. Then later paid more to me (unasked for) when she got a big raise at her then job. Then, a year or two later, wanted to reduce it based on her taking a job that paid less (not sure if her losing our local electIons led to that. Might have 🤣).

            Well, that didn’t happen! I told her since I wasn’t the one that asked for the increase, I wasn’t going to help her in decreasing it either.

            Anyway, what I’m trying to say is my fuckwit went the other way they tend to go, which is waiting on the chump to do all the heavy lifting in ending the relationship. She could have easily filed for divorce. But no, I had to do it. I so wish I had had the means at that point to file under adultery, so it would be on the record for the FW XW, but I went the path of least resistance, and filed under irreconcilable differences.

            Wishing you well, OHFFS. Hope things are peaceful and meh-ish in your life.😊

  • It’s half the battle of recovery that he knows he doesn’t deserve the way she treated him, and that she sucks. It’s excruciating to see him go through this, but know that his heart will mend. Fortunately he has the resilience of youth on his side. Perhaps you could acquaint him with red flags to look out for in the future, if he’s open to a conversation about it. He’s just learned the world is not a safe place for the tender hearted, and though it’s a terrible lesson to learn so young, it’s infinitely preferable to learning it after he’s sharing kids and a mortgage with some cheating skank. Just be sure to reinforce his self esteem and just be there if he needs a shoulder. Let him know there are good people out there, even though sometimes it may seem otherwise. He has to do what’s necessary to find them just like any other chump. They won’t be found in bars or at frat parties. They’ll be the idealists, not the party animals. They’re the ones studying hard, doing what they can to make the world a better place and avoiding the usual pitfalls of college life like drinking, drugs and random hook-ups. It’s true that they are probably a minority among college students, but he can find them by doing those things himself and avoiding the partying dumbasses. He knows he has your support, and that’s crucial. So many chumps have nobody on their side, not even their own families or their therapists, and they just get abused further. That terrible isolation won’t happen to him because he has you.

  • **sarcasm*** Love how the chick projected on him first “(She suspected he was cheating on her, but didn’t say anything).”

    Okay to mention that tactic to son.

  • Oh to be 18 and disentangled from a disloyal GF AND off to college!

    Mom, you don’t have to do a thing. He’s got this.

  • No kidding! He handled the situation like a champ, not a chump. And good riddance to the snarky girlfriend who has zero empathy. She’s a loser.

    And CL is right, as always. You set a good example and he acted with greater maturity than his age. And unfortunately, learning from experience is a lot more effective than learning from example. But this particular lesson will save him from a heckalot of grief later.

    When the time’s right, a conversation about how to spot narcissism would further strengthen his chump armor.

  • He’ll do just fine! As long as he maintains that self-respect and doesn’t turn it the wrong way.

    At this age they’re vulnerable and they make stupid decisions, so I just hope he doesn’t use this experience to become one of the “bad guys” and seek revenge or to become a woman-hater.

    Teach him to hold on to this compassion and his pain, it means he’s still got a heart and he’s still human!

  • He’ll soon have so much on his mind while starting college, making new friends, getting a big taste of independence, that he may end up thanking the ex-girlfriend for ending the relationship and saving him the trouble and/or guilt of thinking of a way to do it himself. He’s so young and has so much to look forward to! He also has your love and support, which is such a bonus. Hoping you both have great fun in this exciting new adventure.

    • Thanks. Yes, now he says that the relationship wasn’t going that well and he was thinking of breaking it off at some point.

  • My 25 year old son had one girlfriend, when he was 19, and she broke his heart. She was not the right girl for him AT ALL, but I never said that until he figured it out for himself. She flirted with and hung out with other guys, and let him know about it. Would ignore him, played all kinds of games. She ended up ghosting him. He was devastated. A couple of months later she’s pregnant. He was SO HAPPY to have dodged that bullet. Talk about a life lesson!

  • Am I the only one who thinks
    “she thought he was cheating on her” just flew right out the window? Pretty big matzo ball hanging out there, Alice. Sorry your kid is hurting – none of us want that for our kids. But I’m guessing the demise of his relationship wasn’t exactly one sided.

    • I don’t know about that one, CD. Cheaters so often trot a projectionist accusation out against the chump that I wouldn’t trust what she claimed to suspect. The fact that she went on to torment him with pictures of her hickeys makes her look emotionally abusive and unstable as well. I can’t see him being devastated enough to being crying so much if he was a cheater either. Cheaters trot out tears to manipulate and seldom have the depth of feeling to be truly heartbroken.
      However, maybe it’s different when they are so young since young folks tend to be more emotional.

      • Perhaps..But a little more attention to that part of the story would have given a clearer picture. JS.

    • More than likely she accused him of what she was guilty of to relieve her of being seen as a total asswipe. Cheaters use this ploy all the time.

  • There is nothing worse than seeing your child hurting. All you can do is be there for him. I remember when my son was that age and wanted to be his own man, be independent, etc. I had to learn just to be there and quietly help hi where I could. My son had a few heartbreaks and is still looking for the right girl (his picker is working fine). He is 26 now and I do hope he finds the right young lady one day (hey, I would love to be a grandma). Although he is in the Navy and away from home, he does keep in close touch (and NC with his father) and occasionally I still get the opportunity to mother. Thankfully he is only a few hours away now and has called a couple of times and asked if he can come home and could I make him his favorite whatever (it changes). I am at the point where I know by what he asks for if it is work stress or girl problems. Bottom line is just be there and tune in but don’t pry. He has to get through these feelings on his own. If he feels like talking by all means let him talk it out over cake, ice cream, pasta or whatever.
    Be sure he knows about grey rocking, hoovering and more so he doesn’t fall her her attempt to get him back. Good luck being a mom to them at this age is not as easy as it was when they were much younger.

  • What an awesome chump you raised! I was so impressed with his boundary and that he didn’t feel any need to apologize. It makes me feel sorrow for the 18 year old I once was who did not know these things.

    I wanted to chime in here today – to chumpnation – I found Tuesday! I found real monkey love! I am not living in a fantasy that this monkey love is for me. But, it was just for me this weekend. And it was so overwhelmingly enough that I finally, finally see that there was a reason for my previous life to be thrown into the chipper shredder. This weekend was more feeling safe and cared about and valuable to another human being than I experienced in total of 40 years of my marriage.

    If you happen to be not quite there yet, and your support people are telling you that there is so much more for you ahead on the path if you can find a way to stay here on earth………. I never believed that. How could they promise this but they had no way of knowing whether it was true? Day by day, there just wasn’t much other choice but to do the work to heal myself because in the end, I was not able to remove myself from the earth, so I stayed and expected nothing more in the future.

    What my support people could see that I couldn’t – is what chumplady keeps writing about – chumps are amazing people. We were the creators and lovers and workers all along. We never stopped being that. We just were buried in someone else’s dysfunction.

    It’s Tuesday! Love to all of you. There are so many days that chumpnation is my safest place.

  • It’s actually kind of perfect that this happened to him now, when the stakes are low (as CL indicates–no kids, no mortgage, etc.). Most of us parents are hard wired to try and prevent hardship for our kids, but that can rob them of the ability to learn the easier lesson early on and avoid a harder lesson later in life. Better that your child learn the value of money by blowing their birthday dough on a toy that they’re bored with in a couple of days than learn that lesson by getting in life-crushing debt for stupid stuff in their 20s.

    Here, your son has the chance to learn about pairing with the right person, having and honoring boundaries, fixing his picker, etc…all without having to balance a job, kids, and other adult life stuff. And as CL points out–he did the right thing! It worked! Good for him and you.

    It sucks to see your kid depressed, but young people experience waves of emotions that pass as quickly as they arrive. If he’s still depressed a couple of months from now, maybe look into that. But for now, just tell him how proud you are of him for having great boundaries and that you love him and remind him of all the great adventures that await him…and that this too shall pass. And, as others have said, to know his worth and set boundaries for the amount of “pain shopping” he’ll allow himself to do. Also, it’s more normal than not for young people entering college as a couple to break up.

  • First of all you respected him and his pain and did not tell him something unhelpful (puppy love/she’s not worth it/get over it).

    One of my favorite quote is from Love in the Time of Cholera, where as I remember it the mother says to her heartbroken son: “Take advantage of it now, while you are young, and suffer all you can, because these things don’t last your whole life.” Not to be cruel but to recognize the deep capacity for the young to feel before their hearts have been scarred and hardened.

    On a more practical note, I suggest these two:

    (1) How to Fix a Broken Heart
    https://www.ted.com/talks/guy_winch_how_to_fix_a_broken_heart/transcript?language=en
    and
    (2) Madea’s Let Them Go

    Both were very helpful to someone that age who suffered as he is.
    He’s lucky to have you as his mother.

  • i think this letter reminds me most of the loss of innocence to the deliberate, cruel actions of my X. and that reminds me of other losses to other deliberate, cruel actions of men–

    i remember when i was young and felt free, moving through my world. riding my bike. then the inevitable violation of trust–a man flashing me in the street. i change after that, as a girl and a young woman. contain my self and my environment, and become watchful, careful.

    it’s the saddest thing, if i think about it.

  • My daughter just left for college. She has a boyfriend a year younger. He is going into senior year. She is going to college across the country. She decided to break it off, being exclusive. But they still talk. She felt like the long distance thing would not work, she is only 18 and he is 17 they do not want to get married at this time. She does Not want to give up he dream school. She would like to be able to get to know other people, and not have to hold back. She loves him and is not looking for a new boyfriend and not into hooking up. He is the first boy who she loves and he is am amazing person. He wanted the long distance thing. The whole thing is tragic really. They are both devastated. She is upset that other girls are interested in him and talking to him. He literally just went and still going through puberty. She saw he is great and now other girls are like wow he is a catch. What can she do? She is homesick, in a demanding major, engineering, and upset that things with him have to change. At the same time she realizes she needs to go to college, is at a top university across the country, and after will serve in the navy and travel the world. It’s her dream. So do you give all that up at 18 for a boy? Some of her friends are going to college close to home and staying with boyfriends. Let’s put it in perspective. They can’t give up this time and get married right now. I think the dad would be more upset if those kids dropped out of college to get married and had a child at 18!

  • My son had his heart broken during his last year of uni. It was a tough time as he was away from home and had been with his gf for 6 years (got together at secondary school). It was long before his FW father scorched our family. My son consequently threw himself into his studies and came out of it with first class honours. He then travelled the world pretty much solo, learnt Italian and had a taste of life that he probably wouldn’t have had if he’d stayed in that relationship.

    I remember being a huge emotional support for him during the breakup. He accepted it though and moved forward. During my discard by FW and then the divorce I asked my son how long his heart was broken for, he replied that he simply couldn’t remember how long just that it was a pain that eventually disappeared. He said one day mum you’ll wake up and it will be no more than a fleeting (although painful) memory that will be crowded out by the great life I’m living.

    Wise words indeed.

    Life ❤️

  • Thanks, everyone, for your comments! Sorry for not replying earlier as my sons and I have been traveling in Europe.

    My older son is doing much better. We’ve been touring London, he has been working out, eating good food (he hadn’t eaten for a week and was losing weight). His close friends reassured him that they love him, told him he could do much better.

    His ex-girlfriend’s birthday passed and he did nothing. But on that day she apparently contacted him through some burner Instagram account (because he had completely blocked her on social media), reiterating that they were just on a temporary break, which he ignored. I told him that means that she just wants to explore dating other guys and if that doesn’t work out she would love to him as a back-up option. I told him not to be anyone’s back-up option.

    He also said he wanted to somehow get revenge on her by telling her mom about her behavior, because her mom adored him. I said that while his mom might be angry at his ex initially, blood is thicker than water. Also, you just don’t want to get mixed up in the drama and show your ex that you somehow care about the relationship. The best revenge is just living well and ignoring his ex-girlfriend. When she wants to get back together again (and she will at some point), he can just ignore her–that will be his revenge.

    Also, to correct something in my original question: My son had originally suspected her of cheating on him (not she had suspected him), which is why he was

    angry at her for not claling him. He was berating himself for getting angry at her because she told him that was why she had broken up with him, when in reality she was already cheating on him.

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