It can be heartbreaking. Watching someone with whom you shared something so intimate slowly (or near instantly in some cases) transform into a complete stranger. Warmth, compassion and conspiracy are torn away in a gust of brutal indifference, leaving only the barren and swept trail of what-once-was.
But is this new-found cold and distance a real reflection of what is? Or is it something else? Is this behavior an attempt to mask their true feelings and move on, or does all this negativity betray the soft, fragile underbelly of remorse? These are the questions I will attempt to answer during the course of this article, as well as explain why I feel that it does make an unfortunate amount of sense.
Defensiveness Versus Indifference
The dumper is usually stigmatized as a remorseless betrayer of hope. But even if the relationship was an unfulfilling one that featured a great deal more lows than highs, smashing a romantic routine is always inherently traumatic.
They will miss you to some extent, even if these feelings lie below kilometers of emotional ice. In fact, it is often the case that the greater the potential for hurt, the thicker the ice will be. Emotional distance is not necessarily the result of romantic indifference.
Although as far as we (as dumpees) are concerned, they might as well be the same thing, because there’s really no clear-cut way of telling. Still, that doesn’t mean we can’t try does it?
- A defensive ex will react emotionally (even if it is anger, resentment or spite) to our attempts at tying loose ends.
- An indifferent ex will usually be nonplussed and placid in the face of our existential plight.
- A defensive ex may not initiate contact, but will respond swiftly.
- An indifferent ex may never respond at all, and if they do, the conversation is usually devoid of openings for further conversation.
- A defensive ex is quick to ask questions.
- An indifferent ex is quick to give you answers.
- And on…
There are never any guarantees that any of these signs mean that an ex is either indifferent or defensive. The dividing line is often so manifestly subtle that we can drive ourselves insane attempting to assuage our own insecurity by making sense of it all.
Regardless, now that I hope I’ve made a compelling point regarding the existence of two common “ex archetypes” (the defensive and the indifferent), it’s time to look at how regret and remorse afflict them differently (and what it may mean for us as dumpees).
The Regret Of A Defensive Ex
A defensive ex is, despite the posturing, very much still in thrall of their past. If there was nothing to regret, if there was no cost to moving on, there would be no need to don emotional armor. They would simply wave their new-found flag of freedom and disappear into the future.
The nature of the regret of this kind of ex is usually denoted by the ongoing introspective war between insecurity and resolve:
- They may genuinely regret separation.
- They may seriously consider mending fences.
- They may be insecure about how the breakup is affecting the dumpee, and whether or not the road to reconciliation may still be potentially open (crumbs).
- They may be torn between their idealization of the relationship, and the promise of their future.
- They may be wary of being drawn in again, of accepting false promises, or heeding their heart (and not their mind).
The regret of a defensive-minded ex is romantic in nature, and not objective and speculative. However, and it bears repeating, a degree of romantic regret is natural, and does not necessarily indicate a fundamental desire to reconcile.
Insecurity will only last so long before the desire to move on to something more fulfilling will prevail (which is why no contact should not be taken too far — sooner or later stress needs to be released, and clarity becomes more important than enduring anxiety, no matter how much they care).
The Regret Of A Romantically Indifferent Ex
A romantically indifferent ex may still care about you (although not romantically), and thus be plagued by a different kind of guilt entirely. After all, at some point, you did share something special.
Their guilt will be over how they handled the breakup, and remorse over how they made you feel. This is particularly common after a moderate amount of time after the breakup, and not quite as common in the immediacy of the fallout.
Once the emotional dust has settled a romantically indifferent ex may reach out in order to smooth their memories out and let go of residual pain, assuming (usually incorrectly) that the dumpee has healed enough to be able to appreciate the intention.
The problem here is that the dumpee is rarely over it, and may misinterpret the communication as a sign that the indifferent ex is regretting the breakup romantically. And a second round of pain and false expectations usually arises, leading to complete separation.
Do Dumpers Feel Guilty?
While I have separated indifference and defensiveness into two sharply divided categories, feelings are never stuck in stone and can change. There is no greater catalyst for the fluctuation of feelings than a breakup, and so an ex can (and usually will) bounce between both of these behavioral poles.
Which, coincidentally, is another reason I urge dumpees to invest in some limited contact. So that feelings have the time to balance-out, and guilt is no longer a destructive variable for emotional confusion (on all fronts).