Care and Feeding

My Daughter Broke up With Her High School Boyfriend. But I’m the One Crying.

This feels inappropriate.

Older woman crying and wiping her eyes.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by Oleksandra Kharkova/iStock/Getty Images Plus.

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Dear Care and Feeding,

I’m a mom to three kids: two teens and a 21-year-old daughter who is a junior in college. My daughter began dating her boyfriend during her senior year in high school, shortly before the pandemic.

He—and later his parents—became part of our “bubble,” and my husband and I grew very fond of him. He was like a big brother to my younger kids, and I felt very maternal toward him and thrilled that my daughter’s first relationship was with someone who treated her so beautifully. They both attend different colleges in the same city on the opposite coast, though my daughter has been studying abroad since January and will be there until at least June. A few weeks ago, she let us know that she had broken up with him, for all mature reasons: outgrowing her high school relationship, diverging life goals, feeling too young to be in something so permanent-feeling. I 100 percent support her decision as being the right one for her. I completely understand, and I am not even terribly surprised by it.

What I don’t understand and what is taking me by surprise is my reaction to this news. I am incredibly sad, occasionally to the point of tears. I will miss this young man so much, and the thought of his being broken up with over the phone (by necessity!) is heartbreaking. I get misty at the thought that he won’t be at holiday gatherings with us anymore or that I won’t hear the belly laughs from my younger kids when they all hang out together. The long relationship I had at her age was awful and abusive, so I felt relieved that she was in a good one. This feels completely strange and even inappropriate to me. Of course, I haven’t breathed a word to my daughter or anyone else about these feelings—I’ve only been supportive and encouraging. I’m not even sure what my ask is here, except to wonder if this is, for lack of a better word, normal. I recently graduated from therapy after a decade, and this seems too silly to rope my old therapist back in over. However, I feel terribly confused about the profound, out-of-proportion sense of loss I feel, and I would like it to stop. Any ideas or reassurances that this is not as strange as it feels?

—Why So Sad?

Dear Why So Sad,

I don’t think it’s strange for you to feel sadness at the loss of something that brought some sweetness into your life. You enjoyed your time with this young man. Your younger children liked him. Most importantly, he represented something you wanted for your daughter: a happy, healthy relationship that lacked the abusive dynamics that were present in your own life at her age. It’s OK to grieve this and I think you’re being a little hard on yourself for the way it’s made you feel.

I understand why you haven’t spoken to your daughter about these feelings, and I don’t think you should. But you haven’t talked to your husband or any of your friends either. You shouldn’t have to manage these feelings alone. If you don’t feel comfortable talking to one of your loved ones about what’s going on, then I think you should reconsider calling your old therapist.

I know that you “graduated” from therapy, but I don’t think there’s anything wrong with needing to talk to a professional about what you’re experiencing now. I also don’t think of therapy as something we necessarily need to evolve past. There will be events throughout your life that may challenge you in ways that make the support of a therapist compelling. This doesn’t mean that you’ve backslid or somehow failed, just that you could use a little help. It sounds like you fear judgment over your feelings, which is why a therapist might be more useful than say, your husband or best friend. But either way, you need to talk to someone about what’s going on. It’s not healthy to keep these feelings to yourself. You deserve support.


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