Double Take: Teen breakups are tough but essential

Breakups can be hard for teens to deal with — particularly in the age of technology when they find their exes on Instagram with someone else — but Dr. Wes says it’s essential to weather breakups successfully, and even to welcome them, if you’re ever going to find a stable, long-term relationship.

Dear Dr. Wes and Gabe: The guy I was dating told me he didn’t want to be with me any more because he didn’t want to be in a relationship. Three weeks later I saw on another girl’s Instagram that they were together. I don’t understand if he lied to me or changed his mind, and it’s made me really upset.

Wes: “Not wanting a relationship” or “not putting a label on it” has become the go-to explanation (or perhaps, excuse) for many guys, and an increasing number of girls, to maintain the gifts dating offers without any of the costs. In breaking up with you, your ex was, at best, inaccurate in his assessment of his own relationship needs. Once he moved on he found that he really did want to be in a relationship — with someone else.

Alternatively, he may have tried to let you down easy by taking responsibility for his lack of interest in dating you without really coming out and saying that. He may have wanted to say “I don’t really want to be in a relationship with you,” but couldn’t and instead decided to end that sentence before it got completely awkward. That might seem like a nice gesture, but as you’re finding out, partial honesty is the same thing as dishonesty and what really happens in this scenario is that your ex spares his feelings and discomfort, not yours.

On the third hand, your guy may have started or was close to starting another relationship before he ended things with you, which would be the height of dishonesty. Unfortunately, as teen culture moves increasingly toward casual sex and eschews coupling, the value of relationships is diminished and people feel freer to cheat. I have no idea if that applies to your ex, but it is a common reason this whole scenario goes down.

Regardless of his underlying reasons, you need to reconsider your situation. The point of dating is to figure out who you don’t belong with, and in this regard, your ex did you a huge favor by ending something he wasn’t really committed to. Seeing things this way is tough when you’re hurting from a breakup, but it’s essential to weather breakups successfully, and even to welcome them, if you’re ever going to find a stable, long-term relationship.

Gabe: People often tell themselves and others the things that they want to be true. Repeat it enough, the logic goes, and it will become true.

I suspect this is the case with your ex. He wanted out of this particular relationship for an arbitrary reason, so he tried to convince himself that he didn’t want to be in any relationship and fed it to you when he decided to finally break it off. I cannot gauge for sure his underlying reasons for the breakup, but my guess is that he was making an excuse not only for you, but for himself.

If so, he’s being both honest and dishonest at the same time. He wants to believe he doesn’t want to be in a relationship, but he actually does — just not the one with you. It’s hard to understand anyone’s intentions at a transitional period in their life. However, I would definitely agree with Dr. Wes that he acted without adequate concern for your feelings, and too much for his own.

A good breakup is, of course, easier said than done, but those involved should make an effort to communicate their real intentions, even if it’s uncomfortable. That awkwardness can easily save some egos on both sides and reduce the sourness that remains, while giving you a better idea of what really went wrong and how to change your approach in the future. Being honest with yourself and your soon-to-be-ex is the easiest way to ensure that you don’t leave a trail of broken hearts.

— Wes Crenshaw, Ph.D., ABPP, is author of “I Always Want to Be Where I’m Not: Successful Living with ADD & ADHD.” Learn about his writing and practice at Gabe Magee is a Bishop Seabury Academy senior. Send your confidential 200-word question to Double Take opinions and advice are not a substitute for psychological services.