advice is what you want when you already know the answer


I know you’re hurting. I know that pain, the intensity of it. I totally know.  I need to tell you this: advice is what you want when you already know the answer. And you do. You know the answer. You just don’t like the answer, and that’s understandable.

Intellectually, you know all of it. You know the advice you’d give a friend describing your exact situation. You know what your younger self would tell you to do. Intellectually you know that the pain will eventually dull, that there will be someone else, that you can move on, but in the living, you want time to fast-forward to "over it." You don’t want to live through it. It’s too painful. You want to feel better, even if it means a band-aid. And yet, you never want to go through this pain again. You want to do anything you can to prevent this from happening again. And the sad fact is, you can’t.

You’re afraid of the unknown. And so is he. It’s why he’s given you the mixed messages of let’s work it out, let’s make this work, then waffles back to, "I just don’t think we’re happy" and "This just isn’t working." He actually knows that part is true. He knows that it won’t work, that deep down, he doesn’t feel it, yet every time he fears the unknown, fears regret, he reneges and tells you he wants to work it out. Or he hears how upset you are and wants to ease your pain. Or just worries if he’s making a mistake, so he waffles. It doesn’t matter. What matters is that you already have the answer. It’s over. And it stings, and there’s an ache, and you feel lost without him. But, you’re not.

Just because one person doesn’t think you’re right for them doesn’t mean you need to change. It doesn’t mean you’re broken or damaged. It doesn’t mean you aren’t good enough or that you’re some failure. It’s ONE PERSON. I know you thought he was "the person." But he’s not. He’s a person. And so are you… your own person. You need to take care of her now. No one died and made him God. Your desperate, "I’ll change all those things you wanted me to" attempts need to stop. You want to change something, then change your perspective. Figure out what led you here, and learn from it. Yes, you have shit to work on. We all have things to work on, and with the next person there will still be things to work on, sometimes the same things, sometimes all new anxieties or issues bubble to the top. It’s never going to be perfect, but it’s not supposed to leave you feeling like shit more than you’re feeling like "the shit."   

You do not want him back. What you want is safe. You want what you know. You want what’s easy. You feel unsteady and you want a security blanket of promises. Only one person can give you that, and you know who she is. You want to be wanted. You want all those feelings you felt at the beginning. You want to hear that you’re beautiful, that you’re amazing, that he feels soooo lucky to have found you, that you’re clever and adorable and that he can’t think of anyone but you. No one will ever compare to you. Ever. He’ll never ever stop feeling that way, he’s sure! You want to hear all of that, so much, mostly because you’re getting your sense of worth from him, not from you. You wouldn’t need to hear all that if you knew it, if you felt it, if you believed you were already those things. You need to give that to yourself now, no matter how frightening it feels. It’s an ending, but it’s also a start.   



  1. Thanks Stephanie, I needed that like I need a slap in the face. My best-friend had this same conversation with me tonight. It's hard sometimes to be so strong. It's like I need a deck of flash cards with unattractive reasons…why not to do this again for the last time- so that every time I give it a second thought, I would have a hand full of reasons. I really needed to read this tonight. I think I'll read this post again tomorrow, and the next day, and the next…Thank you.

  2. This was beautifully written and oh so true.
    And I really hope this was just a writing exercise and not an update on your relationship…

  3. I couldn't agree with you more.

    Okay, so I'm male, but the same thing applies. My first wife walk out on me and believe me the emotions are just the same.

    I took custody of my girls and amazingly we made a good life again. I've now been re-married for over 22 years, so it must have been the right thing to happen.

    There IS life after divorce.

  4. I'm not sure what this is really about in context to you, so I won't assume anything.

    For me personally, it really hits close to home. I'm essentially going through the same situation only with a friend. I realized that when we were close and "happy," I didn't like who I was. I could be mean and cruel just like my "friend." And I don't want to be that person EVER AGAIN. And you're right, just because one person feels that way doesn't mean the rest of the world does too. I'm done, and while I've been so upset about it over the last few weeks, I realized that I'm finished being hurtful to myself because someone else doesn't like me.

  5. Wow. This brought me back. You so clearly described what I think every single one of us has went through at some point.

    I'm going to email this to my friend who has been trying to get over a break-up for the better part of a year, to no avail. I've run out of things to say- maybe reading this will help.


  6. Its amazing how alone one feels after being dealt a huge blow by the person you chose to be by your side, yet you seem to know perfectly all about it … I'm 25 and have been married for the past 18 months … about a month ago I caught my husband at our favorite bar with his niece's 16-year-old best friend. Suffice to say my world changed in the span of 30 seconds. I left him and our house that night and haven't been back since — I've had ample time to think it all through and I realize my mistake: I loved blindly. The recipient of that love was someone who could not reciprocate. I made the mistake of setting the bar extremely low for him and too high for me. I'd wake up, caress his hair, get ready for work, work long days, rush home after my hour-long commute, cook for us, spend time with him, flatter him, love him, shag him wildly. I arranged trips, I bought him presents, I included him in my activities, whether they be charity events, concerts, plays, gallery openings, or friends gatherings. I opened my world completely to him and requested nothing from him. He accepted and accepted and accepted. He loved accepting — so I figured he loved me too. That gets the "Most Erroneous Thought of a Lifetime" award.

    Everything feels like it was just an act. Just a way to pass time. Just acceptance of all that I was giving. All the closeness, all the thoughts that he was my best friend, that he was my caretaker, that he was my leaning post, that he was my support system — all of those thoughts that were making me, at one point, rationalize another potential forgiveness, but have now been obliterated into smithereens. I realize now that the past three years have been spent with a stranger whom I only really know at this moment. The realization that you've been selling a lie to yourself, when everyone else saw it clearly totally blows. He wasn't the one lying — it was my stupidity making me lie to myself. He never became someone else — he was always who he is, but I chose to see him in a different light. He was nothing and I chose to see him as everything. The error was in me.

    Infidelity had creeped its head before we got married and he swore he would change. I gave him the benefit of the doubt and since we got married, things seemed ok. I let him convince me in the past that it wouldn't happen again. I chose to think he could change because he loved me. But he neither changed nor ever loved me. He only copped up to things when caught, when presented with irrefutable proof. My acceptance was merely me evading change. It was me evading the disheartening irrefutable fact that he never loved me, never would love me and was merely using me for his own benefit. Once again, my stupidity ruled. Here's a guy who sees nothing wrong with his adulterous behavior, whether physical or emotional. When someone sees no wrong in their actions, how can they be expected to change it? Being deceived by others is a bitch — but being deceived by your own stupidity wrapped in love, is just insanity.

    I finished drafting my legal separation agreement and I go back home tonight. I was dreading seeing his smile, hearing his sugar-coated words that I've been a sucker for — but this post was the slap in the face that I needed and I thank you ever so much for it.

  7. Excellent advice but we all have trouble doing it. I have yet to meet a female who has mastered this way of living life in her own rites. It's a shame, and I hope for the sake of all the little girls out there the tides are changing.

    This was exquisite, btw.

  8. I hope that this isn't present tense, but if so, very brave of you to write about it so honestly. I especially liked your idea about he's not "the" person, he's "a" person. So true.

  9. Oh, my. Yes. Thank you. He is just ONE PERSON – even if i *did* think he was *the* person. And i do wish it would quit hurting . . . but you're right . . . i'll heal.

  10. I hope this isn't something you are going through now and is from your past. I'm sure I'm not the only one…I really needed to read this today.

  11. This post is not about my marriage. Sorry if it appeared that way. Sometimes I post and don't want to have to explain it, if that makes any sense. I don't want to have to begin a post with, "Here's an email I sent to a reader today," because really, it shouldn't matter. I'm just putting it out there. I also don't want to be misleading, which is why I'm posting this comment.

  12. Stephanie- I don't know why people assume that just because it's posted now it's about now or your marriage. Common sense dictates that you get a lot of mail about your books, life, etc, and you just write whatever is pertinient to a situation or a person- not necessarily about you. It's so annoying when people just assume- like there always needs to be a hidden meaning. IMO- it was just a post with good advice.

  13. Steph – thank you for writing this. I needed to hear this today. Hell, I needed to hear this six months ago. It has now been added to my favorites to constantly remind myself of where my self-worth should stem from. Hope to see you in Atlanta very soon!

  14. Here's a different perspective. Some of us have really unhappy families. Not saying evil, just troubled. For better or worse, we're connected by birth to people who are depressed, anxious, or hurtful. I too try to bear my unhappy family, because it's the only family I've got, but knowing how harsh it is to be with people I literally don't feel I belong with, it's hard to understand those who would voluntarily hang onto this and not free herself. If people who cause you pain are not your only blood relatives, why would you? Someone please explain.

    To the best of my knowledge, none of us who were born into some kind of misery chose their circumstances. To think that someone out there would actively choose to hang on to people that bring along this kind of prolonged sadness, uncertainty, pain, what have you is beyond me. How does that work? I wouldn't think twice about leaving them. Knowing what I know from my birth family, I would not choose to be in any other unsatisfying relationships. I owe myself that much. It may mean I'm alone for the rest of my life, but it is what it is.

    I'm aware of my own issues, and how this is a little extreme. But if there's even just one single person out there, who's being hurt by someone that isn't really worth fighting for or hanging onto (someone truly one of a kind, maybe a parent or a sibling), please do yourself a favor, and walk AWAY. It is simple. If you chose to get in, you can choose to get out. You have a choice. You do.

  15. I think women's hearts, and maybe even some men's hearts, everywhere just now breathed a little relief and were able to set down at least some of the baggage they've been carrying. It feels good to take a deep breath and forget what we feel by remembering what we deserve.

  16. Thanks for this post. It's only a matter of time before the creep finally dumps my friend and she'll need to hear this. i'm saving this in my "To Do" List

  17. This is something that I should have read after my divorce. I spent so much time wallowing in the fact that the man I'd been married to for almost 10 years didn't want to be with me anymore. I rationalized that if he was the one person who knew me so well and had loved me so much and then just stopped loving me, then I must somehow be unlovable – or have done something so wrong. Luckily time does heal (therpay helps too!)and knowing that nothing in life is guaranteed or forever.

  18. I'm relieved that it isn't about your marriage. I didn't comment when I read this early this morning because I couldn't find the words without assuming what it was, which I don't like to do.

    It is a beautiful piece and I took the time to read it again just now because it's one of those that deserves reading several times to really feel the depth of it. You have once again written the words to answer questions I've never even asked. I have no idea how you do that but it's why I keep coming back.

    That and the total girly crush I have on your red hair.

  19. So true, so true. And your post begs the question – why would I ever want to be with someone who does not want me? Thank you for putting my gut in black and white. You saved a part of my soul this morning.

  20. you're such a damn good friend, stephanie. i have an email from you to me regarding a similar situation bookmarked in my favorites. what sage advice you always seem to bust out.

  21. I could tell right away that it was something you were writing to someone else, a very good friend perhaps. Beautifully written.

  22. You are so that friend everyone goes to when they need advice. Really beautifully written – I almost want to save it for when I need to send it to someone (or myself) in the future.

  23. I think I kept asking for advice because I wanted someone to explain it to me- I wanted there to be a rational reason for my husband’s affair, for the deceit and lies, for his oscillating disgust and love of me…I just needed, I really needed there to be a reason – a reason that I could understand and I was more than willing to have that reason be my failings.

    I love the idea that my younger self would have rescued me- that she would not have been looking to see how I screwed up and how I could make everything better….but that she would have been packing me up and pushing me out the door.

    Instead I was begging David, to explain it to me, to give us another chance, to fight with me…and he would sometimes…it is painful but you are right that he was just afraid of the unknown…he was afraid of the failure…and those were the moments when he asked me to stay.

    I had lived with his idea of me, and all my bad qualities, for so long, that I could no longer see myself- no longer hear myself. Accepting that this was not my failing, and trying to figure out how I got there has taken me the last 18 months and I am still not resolved yet. I still steal peeks at my wedding photos and try to imagine what it would be like to be back with him…to have him in my life, in my bed at night when I go home. Nothing has ever felt as right to me as my love for him…accepting that the feeling of right does not necessarily mean it is right is totally confusing and at times still overwhelming.

    Now I have to find peace in my life where I am now and stop mourning the life I imagined I would have….

  24. This isn't from the past. I emailed Stephanie last night while in the thick of it. I called my mom my sister and even my dad. They say its always real when you call daddy and say he broke myheart. At first he needed space so I left thursday Sunday I come home and its I miss you, I love you I want this to work. Monday after work it's you aren't the one, I don't see a future with you and the rest. So I emailed Stephanie who can only be described as a stranger/close friend. And oh my god the girl emailed me back at 11:30 at night. Shes amazing. You are amazing. You're right he isn't God. But I love him so much. And I miss him. And its only been a day. We have been together off and on since freshamn year of college, after college I am debating going back home and I don't. I stay here and start a life with him)I am only 24 and I know one day I'll be 50 and telling some young girl "you don't know heartache. let me tell you a story" But how do I get there when breathing hurts. When I don't want to get out of bed. But I am here, and not texting him so thats a start right?

  25. This is so beautifully written – so gut-wrenching true. It makes me sad that so many women (and men) confess to needing it right now.
    One of my bad-apple boyfriends gave me the best advice I ever received…"Don't depend on me for your happiness." It didn't hit me until he said it that I was even doing that. Once I realized it, and stopped, life got easier (and he was soon gone.)
    That being said, I still have something to add to what you wrote at the end, ("You want to hear all of that, so much, mostly because you're getting your sense of worth from him, not from you. You wouldn't need to hear all that if you knew it, if you felt it, if you believed you were already those things.")
    Even when we know our sense of worth, know how wonderful we are, I think we still need to hear it from the person we're involved with (and they need to hear how wonderful they are from us.) Not that it changes what we know to be true, but it's still a type of need. I think so, anyway…from my own experience. If they can't do that, even when you point it out to them, then they'e just sucking energy and life away from you, and that's when you need to go.
    And by the way, Crystal – I know exactly what you mean about lying to yourself about your husband, but from what you wrote, he did lie to you, also. He promised you he'd be faithful. Please don't take all the blame on your own shoulders.

  26. I never assume you are automatically meaning yourself. I assumed it was more of a letter to someone that needs to hear the hardcore truth. It's well written. I've been there. I agree with another commenter, there is LIFE after divorce. One person's take on you is never enough to assume they are correct or that they are the only person who might ever appreciate you. I concur on your post entirely. Tough love for a tough situation. Bravo.

  27. How do you always know how to respond so well to something that has happened to so many of us? Let's just say this is what I needed right now.

  28. This is such a great post. Exerting so much confidence and is such great advice to us all too…. And don't we all need great advice once in a while…

  29. CRYSTAL:

    "When someone sees no wrong in their actions, how can they be expected to change it?"

    that's a very hard truth to realize: but it's so right on. if you really believe all the stuff you wrote in your comment then i think you're way ahead of the game. all that stuff is hard to really BELIEVE even if you KNOW it's true. you sound like a very kind and strong person and i think you're very lucky to have walked into that bar, to have SEEN your husband there, doing what he was doing. that way you can't talk yourself out of who he really is. and although it was very painful: i think it sounds like a blessing, one that probably saved you a lot of time and future pain.

    good luck little trooper!
    chin up! chest out! no surrender!


  30. Cece- I was you. The whole "met in college" thing. Unfortunately I let it go until I was almost 26 when he finally broke my heart for the last time. I have very few regrets in life but wasting 5.5 yrs, making a home with someone who was never "sure" about us is my biggest of the few. I'm 34 now and married to the greatest guy ever. As hard as it is- everyone is right- all you're doing is wasting precious time, energy & sanity you can't get back. Good luck and stay strong!

  31. I'm just gonna star this so I can send it to people when they need to hear it. We all need to heart it once (one hundred?) times in our lives.

  32. A good girl friend of mine is going through a tough break-up and I sent her this post. She said it articulated every thought that has been going through her head. While it made her cry, it also made her feel better.

  33. I can't even tell you how relevant this post is to me, at this moment. From the title to the ending…wow

  34. Cece, I was you too with the met in college thing, only we were engaged. After the first time he postponed the wedding, I told him it was fine and that we wouldn't mention it again until he was ready. About six months later, he said he was ready so we went ahead and started planning again. Then when I flew home to shop for wedding gowns with my mom, he called to say that he was freaked out, that he "needed space," and would I please move out of the home we had shared for the past five years. At first I was devastated, of course, but then I felt this incredible wave of rage coupled with relief. I was suddenly freed to reevaluate the relationship and my life because I had fulfilled my end of the bargain, and you know what? I found him lacking, not just for the commitment-phobic crap he pulled, but because I realized that this behavior was just one example of his general emotional stinginess. I suddenly wanted more. So in record time, I moved myself and my things out, took my name off the lease, and did my best to disentangle our finances, something that I have to grant he was pretty fair about. Of course I was sad, but my friends rallied around me, and then predictably he came crawling back with a whole load of bullshit about being ready now and changing his ways. But I'd just had enough. Now I wanted the space he'd supposedly wanted. And I realized that all he wanted was what he couldn't have. Then about three months after I left him, I went back to visit my parents in NY for the holidays and met the brother of one of my grad school friends. Despite the fact that I'd always been the cynical type who believed that real love was about hard work, we completely fell in love at first sight. Now five years later, we have a wonderful marriage and a beautiful baby girl. For me, though, the years with the ex-fiance weren't wasted because they enabled me to see exactly what I wanted and needed from a man, and if it weren't for that knowledge, I might have overlooked my husband who does not necessarily look good on paper, but is perfect for me. Cece, I wish you strength and clarity so you can learn what you need from this situation and move on to real happiness in your life.

  35. Stephanie – I read these words every morning when I wake up. I'm tired of seeking validation from anyone other than myself. So many of my closest friends have given me the exact "advice" you write about, but for some reason, when you put this out there it all makes sense.

    I'm sure you get this a lot, but thank you for helping me through the dark place. I hope you truly know that your words are powerful and true and special.

  36. I think that everyone has gone through this in some form or another. It doesn't help it hurt less, but it does help people who are going through it feel less lonely.

    I'm one of the ones who wondered if this was about your marriage, especially after your post about positive affirmations when trying to teach your kids or get people to do things, and I'm glad to learn that it isn't. :)

  37. Beautiful and insightful post…I think a lot of people, including myself, need to hear that every once in awhile.

    My question is though, when things aren't going bad, but just not quite right, when we feel our significant other just isn't at the same commitment level, or doesn't love you quite enough, etc…

    When there is good and bad in the relationship, when do we draw the line between working on the relationship and deciding its time to move on?

    The post really hit home for me, and I'm definitely afraid of the unknown future! I just can't answer that question for myself yet.

    FROM SK: I'm going to avoid the whole "more good times than bad" thing. Every relationship takes work, some more than others. I have to say, when I was married to the Wasband, it took a lot LESS work than my marriage today… but that's because I was married to a "yes" boy, who gave me my way to my face, then turned around and did otherwise. My marriage today is always honest, and I never, not even for a second, worry or feel insecure or wonder where he is, what he's doing out late at some bar. I know he loves me. And for me, what I really wanted in life was unconditional love (or at least close to it–certain things are unforgivable).

    Here's what I can tell you. I think the man should always love the woman a touch more. I think we should respect our needs and wants and not apologize for needing or wanting more. And if they can't give it but are sure they can some day, I'd put a time limit on that (without verbally giving an ultimatum). Someone can love you and not be ready to commit because of the stage in their life, etc. I know many young men who can't commit yet because they aren't where they had always thought they'd be in their careers, and until they're there, they don't think they should marry. And I know others who are in relationships waiting to have an epiphany, to one day wake up and KNOW they're ready for more, and sadly that day NEVER EVER EVER comes unless they're operating under the fear of loss, not of joy. And that is a relationship you do NOT want.

  38. We broke up yesterday. It's been 5 years of ups and downs. I'm feeling like I don't know if I can do this… leave my house today, get on the greyhound and go to my parents. I'm 29 and feel too old to be running back to them. I only want him. I'm right in the middle of the pain. I really needed to read that. Thanks.

  39. This is my life right now. He loves me so much not not enough to give me what I deserve. He can't live with me because he loves me too much to do that to me. This essay is like talking to a good friend. I gave my friend SUAD when she got divorced and I just re-read it. This feels like a lifeline.

  40. I went through his during the summer. I wish you wrote this back then because I was hurting so much. When I finally did hit rock bottom, I hit hard and told him to leave my daughter and I alone because he was taking up so much of my emotional time. He came back.

  41. Although I needed to hear this today too, I feel too scared to even let myself process it. Last Thursday I had to hear yet again that this 7 year marriage just isn't working and out of the blue he just might not love me anymore. Now I can't hear a song, read, watch a movie, or even just think without something triggering such an overwhelming saddness inside of me because this time it really seems like the end. My fear and hurt are crippling me and God I just can't admit this was all wrong and it's over. And I think of such stupid things like who will kill the roaches or make the same corny jokes or leave the porch light on for me if I come home after dark. But those thoughts are just a way to occupy my mind, because I can't think of what it will mean to lose him. To suddenly be a me instead of an us. To be alone with me and the memory of a failed marriage. The memory of what was supposed to be. Thanks for letting me ramble and cry Stephanie.

  42. This post IS amazing. I felt every single one of the emotions described. In fact, I felt so bad about it all – and this post was not written yet! – that I decided to create a website all about moving beyond this kind of pain, getting through it and moving, on without losing one's sense of self or fabulosity. I am still learning how to deal with it every day, and continue to feel bad when I realize that I can't prevent any other woman from going through it, too. That's why I figured, if we joined together, it would make the days go by faster and maybe, just a little bit easier.
    Well done..

  43. I read this again today because I needed it because I am there and the words felt so much stronger today – it felt like you could have written directly about me. You are an incredible writer – you are able to convey so much in words its truly amazing. Thank you for this, thank you for the advice that I already know but don’t like.

  44. I feel the same way, I am there, and I needed to read this again! I’ve read it before, and before, and…..and today it feels good to read it again, no I need to take that step forward, that chance, and know that I’ll be ok.

  45. The conversation started off with that he “just doesn’t know,” he thinks we spend too much time together and that we have been getting really close and all of that scares him. He is 23 years old and we have been dating exclusively for 4 months. We spent the entire Thanksgiving day with his family and the evening ended in this. I told him that I want to be with someone who knows that they want to be with me. I told him that we shouldn’t see each other anymore if he isn’t sure. He replied with “But Meg, I’m just not sure that’s what I want.” I told him that if he’s not sure that he wants to be with me, then we shouldn’t be together. He replied with an “I’ll call you later…I love you.” Typical boy. Oh what to do…

  46. I have this page bookmarked, and I have returned to it again and again over the last couple of months. I will again, I know – I wish it weren’t so, but I have to accept that it is going to take a long time to get through this. This? Exactly what you describe above.

    Stephanie, what you do is let me know that I am not alone – at a time when I feel so very alone, and terrified, that at times it seems I just can’t make it. You do the same for many others, I know (I have read not just many of your posts, but also many of the comments).

    I adore you, applaud your honesty, and thank you. I actually don’t remember how I first found you at a time when I needed to hear you so much – I am just thankful I did. Serendipity maybe.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.