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Hello:

Almost two years ago -in January 2009- I was supposed to marry my fiancé with whom I have had a five-year relationship. Three weeks before our wedding, I just called her and cancelled everything over the telephone. That was a very mean and coward thing to do. I inflicted a serious emotional harm on her (and on myself too).

A couple of months after I did such an awful thing (I can’t find a better word for that kind of action) I called her to apologize for what I have done. I explained her that I committed such a grave error because I was terrified of getting married. I wanted her back, but she refused me.

Since then I’ve tried to gain her love again, but she just do not care for me anymore. I accept that as a fair outcome for my reckless behavior. I just deserve to be refused by my ex fiancé.

What I haven’t been able to do until now is to cope with my regrets and my endless sense of guilt. I just can’t believe that I did what I did. I feel awful and unworthy of anything.

I don’t need a priest or a shrink to deal with this internal turmoil that is taking my soul over. I need philosophy the help me understand and deal with my sorrow, but without getting indulgent. I don’t want indulgence or pity. I want a serious, fair and moral way out to this situation I am in. I want my soul back.

Can you help me please?

Jules

January 4, 2011

Response from Allen Stairs on January 4, 2011

I hear two things in what you say. One is that, quite understandably, you want to deal with your sorrow. The other is that you want a "serious, fair and moral" way past your situation. But I'm not sure these amount to the same thing.

When it comes to curing heartache, philosophers have no special expertise. A philosopher could offer you some obvious platitudes, including the suggestion that if you are really having trouble coping, there's no shame in seeking professional help, but a philosopher is not a doctor of the soul

On the other part of your plea, there may be a bit that a philosopher could say. You've accepted — intellectually, at least — that your former fiancé has lost her regard for you and that this is something you brought on your self. She is entitled to get on with her life, and the right thing to do is to respect that. But you're also looking for some way to atone and make amends.

Making amends may not be possible, because making amends isn't the sort of thing that can just happen one-sidedly. Your former fiancé may well not want to take part in the process and may feel that she owes you no such thing. A serious response calls for respecting that; a serious response calls for respecting her right not to be a party to your own attempt to get past what you've done. It would be fine to write to her (writing is less intrusive; and by writing I mean a real honest-to-goodness letter) and make clear that you will not intrude anymore. You can reiterate your regret; your can wish her well. But you can also assure her that you will leave her in peace, and you then must do just that.

Perhaps some day she will want to see you again; perhaps she won't. That is up to her and not up to you. Making it clear that you accept this and acting accordingly is a serious and decent way to bring your situation to a kind of formal close.

That's the philosophical part of the advice. I hope it doesn't seem unbearably austere. Following it may be difficult, though it may bring its own sort of release. That said, I do hope you'll take seriously the possibility that if, even after doing the right thing, your misery gets in the way of living your life, you should seek out the help of someone skilled at dealing with emotional pain.

Response from Gordon Marino on January 14, 2011
If a friend were to tell you the poignant story that you relate I doubt that you would tell them that there ought to be no end to their guilt, that getting spooked by marriage and backing out is a sin that can never be forgiven. Think of yourself as a friend. You apologized many times. You have suffered.You did not by any means destroy your former fiance. Truly, it would be irrational to keep torturing yourself and if it is irrational no amount of reason is going to assuage the guilt. Perhaps though it isn't all guilt. Emotions are not as easy to individuate as things in the world. Perhaps there is a strong admixture of regret for not being with her, of missing her and feeling alone, maybe that is what you need to deal with the most and that could be very hard and painful. I hope very much that you get your soul back- it sure sounds as though you have a lot of it.


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