Savvy Minds: Ask Dr. V – Relationship Escape
Dear Dr V
I recently went through a very bad breakup with my now ex-boyfriend. I have no desire to get back together with him, no desire to even maintain any kind of contact with him at all. However, he owes me money. A year ago I loaned him just under $300 to pay some of his bills, and he never paid me back. In fact he says he doesn’t have to pay me back because I told him it was a “gift” – which I never did. Along with being a dead beat, he’s got a really bad temper, and to be honest I am kind of afraid of him. He’s never hit me or anything but he has thrown and broken stuff when we’ve had fights. So here I am now, a year later still short my $300. All I want is my money and to have him out of my life. What should I do?
Though I am sorry to hear both about your unhappiness with your recent relationship and its turbulent end, I am happy to see that you appear to have resolved to move beyond it and get on with your life, with the exception of this $300. I think the question you have to answer for yourself is, how much is $300 worth to you?
Now of course, I realize, $300 is A LOT of money, really no matter who you are. Again though, we have to ask the question, what is it worth to you?
Here’s what I mean: In the few words it took to ask your question, you’ve already revealed the depth of dysfunction your ex-boyfriend brought to the relationship, specifically, I’m thinking of his obvious potential for physical violence. I hope you realize how truly blessed and fortunate you are to have escaped from this relationship at least physically unharmed. So when I ask how much is $300 worth to you, would you say it’s worth not having a broken collarbone? Worth skipping a trip to the emergency room or having your life turn into an episode of COPS? Is it worth your life itself? There’s a great moment in the film A Bronx Tale where the main character is advised (albeit by a Mafioso kingpin) that if he lets a deadbeat get away with owing him some cash, that’s how much it will cost to have that person out of his life for good. I believe you are in a similar situation.
I think what’s more important here is for you to look inward and consider if you are perhaps trying to get more than just $300 back from your ex. Money can often be a powerful symbol of the dynamics of power and control that manifest between people, both on the macro level like we’re seeing in today’s headlines about the various financial crises, but also just as strongly on the intimate level. It’s possible that in your heart of hearts you perceive this money to be the time and effort you devoted to the relationship, and as it hasn’t worked out, of course you’d like it refunded. I can’t say that I blame you, and if only we could get those things back. But I would discourage you from believing that the time and energy put in to this relationship was “wasted.” Hardly. You sound like a very intelligent and strong woman, and I’m sure (or perhaps at least I hope) that this relationship has taught you much about yourself and what drew you to a person like your ex in the first place, and furthermore, I hope it’s provided you with a roadmap on how to avoid making these same missteps in the future.
Still though, the feeling of things being unresolved remains with you. Rather than pursue a concrete resolution in trying to get this money back, why not seek a more abstract, but no less effective, solution? While you may indeed be finished with the active part of this relationship, from what I can tell it seems like there is still much about the experience for you to digest and learn from. My advice is to set aside as much time as you need to for inward reflection and contemplation on the matter. Write a letter that won’t be mailed to your ex, or even to yourself, explaining your feelings. This would serve the dual purposes of both giving you a feeling of empowerment by taking an actual physical action, and also, you might be surprised at the revelations that flow from the point of your pen (or pop up on your computer screen, if you prefer). If you are completely out of contact with this man as you say, then the only emotional hooks in you are the ones you are tugging on. If saddling up on the old counselor or therapist’s couch is something you’re comfortable with and able to do, it might be worth it for you to have a guide helping you on the road ahead.
Breaking up is rarely easy to do and almost always a painful process. While you do seem to be well on your way to moving past this unpleasant chapter in your life and getting on with things, I hope that you are also able to recognize and honor those things inside you which still need resolution and closure related to this relationship. I think if you can put your energy towards forgiveness of this financial debt, you may find that much of the other unfinished nastiness of this breakup will evaporate along with it.
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Note: All information in the Ask Dr. V column is for educational purposes only. For specific medical advice, diagnosis and treatment, please feel free to email Dr. V, or consult your doctor.
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