a powerful smell

Hi Lisa—

The relationship you had with your ex clearly is weighing upon your mind. The heavy emphasis upon the odor of sex, that “everyone can smell,” is a reference to public awareness of your break-up, after a very long (eleven years) period of “courtship.”

The inclusion of friends, family and co-workers signals their support during a difficult time. The uncomfortable “public airing” of your sexual history, however, also lets us know that feelings of shame and embarrassment are present. Specifically, do you feel that you made a mistake to give yourself so fully to this other man—without the assurance of a commitment? Is this what your mother might think? Are you now socially embarrassed at having arrived at this predicament? Do you feel “used” by your ex, and is your break-up “everybody’s business?”

If the public awareness of your break-up is making you feel like you’d like to “run for cover” (return to college) to re-claim a bit more privacy for yourself, an alternative course of action is to give yourself credit for the excellent career you have built, and to work tomorrow to continue to create the values you want in your life. The relationship turned out to be unfortunate—and perhaps you did make some mistakes (we all do)—but that does not mean you should allow this man to continue to determine the course of your life.

Dear Dream Doctor—

Your analysis put a different twist on this dream for me. The sad part is that my relationship with this guy ended when I was 27, and that was 12 years ago. I do dream about him frequently, so obviously I am still processing.

To answer your questions: I feel I did make a big mistake by giving myself to this person without assurance of a commitment; my mother could read right through him and she despised my emotional dependency on him; I do feel socially embarrased by the entire thing. I am still single, and I have experienced a few short-term failed relationships since then, and I know that everyone knows I’m alone without male companionship. I’m not sure if I think the breakup is everyone’s business, but it made me think now that perhaps people look at me in that way and I just don’t realize it.

I did take the entire blame for the relationship failing, and to this day I still walk around with that. It sounds like I still need some closure on this; perhaps I’ve been afraid to really face my feelings about it all along; this blocks me from true happiness all around.

Hi Lisa—

All relationships are two people acting together. If there was a failure to communicate with your ex-fiance, you must understand what role he played in that failure. You will find it personally liberating and vindicating when you acknowledge that both parties are responsible when relationships don’t work. There’s no blame—there’s just different people with different values and abilities. It didn’t work, and it is time to move on.

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