Dear Wendy
Dear Wendy

“HOW Do You MOA?”

On your site I see the advice to “MOA” all the time. Nine times out of ten I generally agree with it and am yelling the same thing at my computer screen. However, I find when I’m in a situation when I need to “MOA” I can’t flip that switch in my head that gets me moving on. When I look up on advice online, it sounds like this is some innate quality that everybody has. But I don’t. So, I guess, what I’m asking is: can everybody else flip that psychological switch and move on (meaning there’s something wrong with me) or is this something that everybody says to do but precious few people have the ability to do so easily? — MOA Impaired


Your question reminds me a little bit of yesterday’s column in which the LW complained about being miserable in the new town where she lived with her husband. In both letters, there’s an assumption that happiness and personal growth and fulfillment are easily attained and if you aren’t attaining those things easily, there’s either something wrong with you or something terribly wrong with your situation. You even use the phrase “flip a switch” as if that’s all anyone has to do to get over a broken heart or an unfulfilling relationship, friendship or lifestyle. Honey, if everybody else were flipping switches left and right and you were the only person who had any trouble moving on, I’d never have any letters to answer.

Of course, “precious few” have the ability to move on easily. That’s because moving on is not easy. It’s really fucking hard, actually. It means leaving the comfort and relative safety of the known for the scary and unfamiliar unknown. It means giving up on a hope that things as we know them will eventually get better and accepting that the only way things will improve is if we make some big changes. It means putting work and effort into creating the happiness we want, rather than passively waiting for happiness to happen to us. Does this sound easy to you? It’s not, and for that reason a lot of people get stuck in patterns that no longer — or never did — work for them— patterns that keep them feeling totally unfulfilled and miserable.

So, HOW exactly do you break those patterns? How do you MOA, you ask? You just do it. You set the intention and you do it. You make a goal, figure out the small and big steps you’ll need to take to get to that goal and you simply start putting one foot in front of the other until you get there. If you fall, you pick yourself up, dust yourself off and keep on moving. If you slip and backtrack, you turn yourself around and keep moving forward. If you get stuck and feel unable to move, you go back to the intention you set for yourself and envision your life as you wish it to be. You meditate on that happy state of being you want for yourself and if you can’t get there alone, you reach out and ask for help. You ask your friends and family for help, you seek out mentors who have traveled the path you’re on, you go to therapy and work through whatever issues are holding you back and keeping you stuck, and you move on already.

We are humans and we’re not meant to live alone without any influence from anyone else. We’re meant to thrive in communities — communities of people who help one another. So ask for help, dammit. Ask for help when you need it. And for God’s sake, if you’re in a position to help someone else, offer your assistance. If you recognize someone struggling with the same issues that have plagued you, or stuck in the same rut that once stuck you, reach out your hand and pull that person up. It’s your job as a functioning member of society; it’s your duty as decent human being to be of service when you can.

Life is not easy. It’s not meant to be easy. I can’t say I know exactly what life is meant to be, but I know it isn’t to live as easily as possible. Where are the rewards in that? Where is the personal growth and fulfillment in always taking the easy way? I suspect, instead, that life’s greater meaning is to solve problems. Why else would we be faced with a long series of problems — one after another after another after another — if we weren’t meant to solve them and grow from them and teach others the lessons we’ve learned? If you’ve ever seen the look of joy on an infant’s face when it’s solved one of its earliest “problems” — how to fit the round peg into the circular hole, for example — then you know that what I’m talking about. We are here to solve problems and to celebrate solving them and to revel in the space between those problems — those rare, wonderful, fleeting moments when livin’ truly is easy. It’s the effort and work we put into creating the happiness we want that makes us really appreciate the moments when we feel it most deeply.

*If you have a relationship/dating question I can help answer, send me your letters at wendy@dearwendy.com and be sure to follow me on Twitter.

38 comments… add one
  • avatar

    MellaJade June 28, 2011, 3:13 pm

    Hey LW,
    Just as Wendy advises – its the point of making the decision and following through. Recently I dated this guy for 2 weeks (short, I know) and as much as I enjoyed the attention I just knew there were things I didn’t like about him and that it was definitely not going to work out. I was sad to do it but after a crap date and some dissrespect I decided it had to end. Since it was a super-short term and most of our ‘relationship’ was conducted via text anyway, I felt comfortable texting “D, I just don’t see this working out. Let’s just be friends”. Fait accompli.
    My divorce however, was much more difficult. In that case, to MOA we agreed to the decision, sold our house, informed the families, found new places to live, etc. When you love someone for a long time but finally realize that you’re no longer happy in that relationship it is a kindness to you both to find the strength and conviction to follow through on the hard decision. Best of luck to you!

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  • avatar

    cdobbs June 28, 2011, 3:18 pm

    i’ve always dreaded having to break up with someone, no matter how badly i wanted to. i just hate hurting someone else. usually i would chicken out and let the relationship go on way too long. but life is too short. you just gotta be an adult and do the responsible mature thing (no matter how bad it sucks!).

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  • avatar

    lk June 28, 2011, 3:35 pm

    1) Decide to MOA – I believe that every experience teaches a lesson, so there can be no such thing as regret, mistakes or failures. Deciding to MOA is not quitting, it’s just the next step in your life.

    2) Grieve – let yourself cry like a fucking baby. I personally cannot control my tears (at work, in public, whatever) so I just act like I’m not crying & if people ask I just say, “I’m just sad & I can’t stop crying,” & then carry on with my conversation as if there weren’t monsoon tears raining down my cheeks. I teared through an hour long meeting at work the other day & it went just fine because I communicated with my participation & body language that I was having a simultaneous emotional experience separate from my work life that did not diminish my value to the team.

    3) Debrief – think about the negatives & the positives.

    4) Imagine your ideal future self – incorporating the things you have liked about your past selves as well as the lessons learned from the present challenging situation.

    5) Take action steps – whether that’s starting a new journal, picking up a new sport, joining a new group or simply going to the grocery store.

    6) Smile – remember that only you know you aren’t happy & smiling can even fake you out. Also fake laughter leads to real laughter.

    7) Surround your self with positive affirmations – such as notes to yourself, music you like, people who are supportive…& I think it’s just fine to talk to yourself & give yourself a pep talk or make fun of your own moping sad face (have you seen that video where the little girl is standing on her bathroom counter yelling at her reflection about how great she is???).

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    • avatar

      lk June 28, 2011, 4:36 pm

      http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qR3rK0kZFkg

      “I like my haircut! I like my pajamas! I like my stuff! I like my room! I like my whole house! My whole house is great! I can do anything good!”

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      • avatar

        TheOtherMe June 29, 2011, 9:48 am

        YES! This video was a few years ago and that same girl was recently on Tosh.0, she’s still pretty cheerful!

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    • avatar

      Fairhaired Child June 29, 2011, 8:19 am

      Great advice!

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  • avatar

    callmehobo June 28, 2011, 3:56 pm

    Do you know why it’s so easy for us readers to shout MOA, especially when it seems so obvious and you wanna hit the LW for not seeing it?

    Because unlike the LW we don’t have these all those tricky things called emotional investments.

    Yes, it is very easy for you to see when someone else needs to MOA, and YES, it’s always harder for you to do it yourself. If it was easy why would so many women and men stay in obviously toxic relationships? Moving on is difficult for almost everybody. It is normal for you to feel conflicted- but if your gut is telling you to get out, well, there is probably a pretty good reason.

    PS- Even if you are better off for moving on, chances are you’ll still feel pretty sucky after leaving. This doesn’t always mean that you made a bad decision- it just means that breaking up sucks.

    Good luck, LW!

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  • avatar

    SGMcG June 28, 2011, 3:59 pm

    Warning: This is not a method I would recommmend for everyone since it sometimes creates baggage than gets rid of it, but it worked for me. For me personally, my body has to actively be doing the act in order for the heart and mind to follow. In my slutty past, I would label this as a “severing fuck” and by performing the severing fuck, it was easier to get out of the mindset of a broken relationship and MOA accordingly. Now LW, you doesn’t have to TAKE IT TO THE EXTREME like I did, but I feel performing a DEFINITIVE ACT in reaction to the initial pain of recognizing the MOA situation, whether defriending them on FB or filing the divorce papers, does help someone develop the courage and strength to MOA.

    The ultimate goal in MOAing is to develop a relationship with yourself that you can be proud of again. One has to really actively work on MOAing and finding positive affirming acts that helps one develop the strength, courage and relationship they want with themselves again. I think the only way to truly MOA is to really invest/believe in it. I read somewhere that it takes 30 days of repetition to make a task become a habit so I imagine it takes a similar amount of time and work to break that habit too, if not more. Rather than make it one grandiose gesture of MOAing, if you look at it as little checkpoints towards the goal of MOA, then I think that “flip the switch” moment won’t be necessary – because it already happened.

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    • avatar

      Jess June 28, 2011, 4:44 pm

      I’ve done this. I *knew* i wanted to break up with my boyfriend but I just couldn’t get the balls to do it. I mean I tried, but he always convinced me to stay. So I cheated on him, and it made it so much easier. As soon as I did it, the relationship was OVER in my mind and my heart. And I didn’t even tell my ex.

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      • avatar

        SGMcG June 28, 2011, 5:09 pm

        I know a girl friend who did the severing fuck while in the relationship just to make it move along – that additional label of cheater created serious baggage for her. In my instances, we already did the formalities of breaking up, but the longing was still there. I knew that if I manipulated the man enough, I could probably tap that again, even though it would have been the WORST thing to contradict my goal of MOAing. What the severing fuck did would condition my body to recognize that my ex is no longer game by having it conditined by someone else. Once the body was in check, it was easier for the rest of me to follow.

        Again, I don’t recommend it for everyone. One ultimately has to find the things that work for them. Yet that’s part of the journey which is MOA – developing that relationship wit you again.

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    • avatar

      haggith June 28, 2011, 5:29 pm

      i didn’t know that this technique had an actual name! i did it once. i didn’t cheat but it was extremely difficult to break up even though we had already said goodbye. maybe he thought i would come back to him, after all he was my first and i really, really loved him but it was becoming a burden. so i did it with someone else and in my mind it was “i can do it with someone else, i’m free.” it was liberating and my first step to really move on with my life.

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      • avatar

        SGMcG June 29, 2011, 1:02 am

        I don’t think there’s an actual name for it either. Yet I’ve always called it a “severing fuck” because it was a quick and dirty, to-the-point description of the act and it’s purpose. Other people I’ve discussed it with may call it a rebound. However, my label of “severing fuck” immediately recognizes that the next person I got intimate with after I MOA is in all likelihood someone I may not want to have a commitment from as well as recognize that I may potentially not be ready to have a committed relationship again. Yet having the severing fuck encourages my desire to go on a sexpedition of my turn-ons/physical needs with potential others after I MOA’ed from someone.

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      • avatar

        Fairhaired Child June 29, 2011, 8:31 am

        I also would tend to do this! If i broke up with someone, I usually had like 1-3 random “Fwb/ONS/Multiple Night Stands” in between actually dating someone. My fastest turnover was crying my eyes out while I demanding my bf (now ex) choose if he wanted us to stay together or not otherwise I was through. Crying as I drove myself home (1hr away) and then crying for another 3 hours before getting a text from my “back burner FWB” asking if I wanted to watch the Tudors.And then promptly going over there to make out etc. (so about 5 hours grieving before the “severing fuck”).

        Now I’d like to note that “back burner FWB” and I never cheated on any of our relationships with each other, and could hang out “normal” and not be sexual if we were dating someone else and made that clear. Plus I fucking loved the Tudors.

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    • avatar

      melanie June 29, 2011, 9:27 am

      As long as the person on the receiving end is aware that’s all it is. Not okay if you’re using another person to help you MOA.

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  • avatar

    justpeachy June 28, 2011, 4:16 pm

    I think through most of Wendy’s columns, she’s established that the safest way to move on from something/someone is to cut them out of your life. Period. Trying to wean yourself off of a person makes things infinitely harder. I don’t care if you see yourself being friends with this person, cut them out until you have moved on. Take their phone number, write it on a scrap of paper, put it in a ziplock bag, and freeze it in a block of ice and if in six months/one year/five years you can think about them without throwing something or bawling, set it out on your counter to melt. And while it’s melting, if you have any second thoughts, put in back in the freezer for God’s sake!

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  • leilani

    leilani June 28, 2011, 4:29 pm

    Yeah, I know very few people who can truly move on that easily. Even the ones that come to mind are quite possibly just better at faking it than others. I’ve had tons of trouble moving on in the past–I’ve broken with the same guy 5 times, but even though I knew logically that I needed to move on, I could never bring myself to do it. But the thing is, I could bring myself to do it, I just wasn’t making myself. When it got really, really hard, I allowed myself to cave and hang out with him *just this once*, which of course just felt good for the afternoon and kept my emotional attachment going strong in the future. The only thing that changed the last time is that I just held myself to a higher standard. I realized that I was definitely too old for this and I was a lot smarter and stronger than my behavior suggested.

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  • avatar

    oldie June 28, 2011, 4:32 pm

    The way to MOA is to do it definitively, cleanly, and immediately after you make the decision that the relationship isn’t working. Unless you think your partner is a physical threat in the case that you leave, do the break up in person. Be friendly, polite, but firm and clear. Don’t extend the hopeful olive branch that your partner can fix what is wrong with the relationship so that you can continue. Don’t say anything painful to your partner, but be clear that you must end the relationship and give as close to the real reasons as you humanely can. You might throw in some comments about your partner’s positives. Don’t try to be friends. Make a clean and total break. Perhaps you can be friends some time in the future, but you can’t MOA, get your life back in order, and remain platonic friends at the same time. I’ve tried. It doesn’t work. Once you’ve moved on, it’s very important to stay busy so you don’t have time to brood, get overly depressed, or crawl back to an unworkable relationship. Force yourself both to do the things you enjoyed, even if your current frame of mind makes them not very joyful and to learn new skills or develop a new hobby or volunteer effort. Get out among people. Reconnect with the friends you let slide during your relationship. Remind yourself that you did the right thing in MOA. Know that you are a competent person and that this competence will return shortly.

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    • avatar

      justpeachy June 28, 2011, 4:51 pm

      I have to disagree with your methods a bit. I broke up with my ex over the phone because he was very persuasive and I knew if we were in the same room, he told probably talk me into giving him a second chance. And every time afterward that I saw him in person, it was so much easier to keep telling him no because I’d already done the hard part of telling him it was over.

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  • avatar

    Jess June 28, 2011, 4:38 pm

    i love you wendy. will you be my therapist?? seriously if you get tired of this website you should be a life coach.

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  • landygirl

    Landygirl June 28, 2011, 4:45 pm

    I just saw this on Huffington Post, it fits with this subject.

    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/therese-borchard/toxic-relationships_b_885528.html

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  • avatar

    kerrycontrary June 28, 2011, 4:52 pm

    Wendy, you’re third paragraph on how you obtain a goal by figuring out the small and big steps it takes to get there is advice that a LOT of people need to take in all aspects of life! If you want to do something whether it be get out of an unhealthy relationship or get your PhD the process is the same. Great advice once again!

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  • avatar

    AKchic June 28, 2011, 5:12 pm

    I’m a Virgo, and well, not very good at being a “girl”. When I need to “move on”, I do. I just decide that it’s over and that’s it, it’s over. I’m done, and that’s that. There are no tears, no second thoughts, no indecisions, no thoughts of going back. Sure, it may take me a while to get to the point of “I’m done”, but by that time, I’ve thought it all out and know WHY I’m leaving and I’m rational about it. I know my reasons why and that’s all I need. I’m calm, cool and collected and I have my plan of action and I follow it.
    As a part of moving on, I do clean my home, reorganize a bit, sometimes re-arrange cabinets/rooms to suit my new status. I’ll work on the yard, do some home improvement projects, work on the truck, etc. Take the kids camping, whatever.

    None of this girly-movie stuff of bingeing on ice cream and liquor while watching chick flicks on the couch. No weird stuff like that. No goofy “reclaiming” ceremonies where you burn your memories of the guy.

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    • avatar

      haggith June 28, 2011, 5:37 pm

      i think you’ve seen too many rom-coms that have made you believe that’s “the way” women mourn and move on. and i don’t think what you describe “man”‘s way to move on either… it sounds more like the way people who are not too invested in a relationship move on.
      … just wait

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      • avatar

        SpaceySteph June 30, 2011, 12:45 am

        Agree. I only stuff my face when I’m happy. When my ex dumped me, I hardly ate anything, let alone whole cartons of ice cream, and lost about 10 pounds,

        I think PEOPLE are different, not boys are different from girls.

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  • Firegirl32

    Firegirl32 June 28, 2011, 5:26 pm

    Or you decide to sleep on the couch for months…crying yourself to sleep. Trying not to fight in front of your kid. Try to keep routine, well, routine. Then you decide you just can’t do it anymore and you break. You nand your kid leave. And your therapist will tell you that you aren’t crazy for leaving a (now medicated) paranoid schizophrenic. Sometimes it takes the extreme, the hardest part, to make you get off your butt and leave. It isn’t always following steps. I agree that’s probably a lot less messy though. 🙂

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  • avatar

    MJ June 28, 2011, 5:28 pm

    This is kind of close to my heart at the moment…
    I was dating a guy, we were keeping it casual (because he wanted to) and it was fun. Lots of warning signs, lots of indications that this would never be anything long-term or serious. I told myself it was okay, that I could deal, because I liked him. Now I knew I needed to MOA. My friends and everyone I talked to agreed I probably needed to MOA, if not now, then at some point.

    Dude up and moved out of state (350 miles away) and while we both agreed we were mostly done, I still went and visited him. And offered to come visit again. Until I made him say we were done…and I am STILL TRYING TO MOA!

    All that to say, I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t pull the plug, or the trigger, or whatever. I had to have him do it for me. And that sucks, because took away all my power and agency and made me look pathetic and desperate for crumbs.

    So, LW, you are so not the only one. It’s easy for all of us to sit on a website and see the problems and the side of the story we have and scream MOA, but it is one of the fucking hardest things in the world to do.

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  • avatar

    rainbow June 28, 2011, 5:38 pm

    wendy, i’m used to you being right and/or levelheaded, but this piece was something else. it was fucking beautiful.

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    • avatar

      IcedVentiRedEyeGuy - in Chitown bay-bay! June 29, 2011, 10:00 am

      Agreed.
      I cried.

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  • avatar

    dumb newbie June 28, 2011, 6:36 pm

    For the life of me, I can’t figure out “MOA”. I know it means to dump someone, but I don’t know what the letters stand for. Help!

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  • avatar

    Shannon June 28, 2011, 7:38 pm

    What helps me MOA from a relationship is to think about what was good and what was bad about the relationship, so I can seek more of the good and less of the bad in the next one. For example, if a guy is a really good listener but won’t commit, and that relationship doesn’t work out, you’ll know for the next one to pick a guy that is a good listener AND is equally commited to you.

    It also helps to look back at your own behavior. For example, if you call a guy a lot and he breaks up with you from lack of space, you know with the next guy to match his pacing.

    Also, spend more time with others! There are more people in the universe than just guys! Spend time with friends, family, pets, and meet people in the community. Stay updated on current events in the world. I’ve found that expanding my world beyond disappointments in dating really helps put it in perspective.

    Wendy is right that the healing process takes effort. Just like someone in physical therapy has to do excercises to be whole physically again, you will have to do ‘excercises’ of your free will to get your heart whole again. Asking for support is a good first step. Keep going at it 🙂

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  • avatar

    unbounded June 28, 2011, 10:18 pm

    Nice one, Wendy…MOA is for more than just leaving a relationship, it applies to anything you want to change in your life; anything that is making you unhappy and you know you need to change it.

    And like everyone has said, it’s not easy. No switch. No magic pill. But it does take a decision – you have to decide that you want to make a change, that you want something different out of your life, and then you have to decide what that might look or feel like. I guarantee that once you start moving in that direction, it will get easier and easier.

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  • avatar

    MissD June 29, 2011, 12:04 am

    Making the decision to move on, setting small goals and achieving them, choosing to move forward and live that out in your actions day by day-this is what brings you to the inevitable point of actually having emotionally moved on. Recognizing that while you’re taking the steps and making the moves you will still need time to feel over it frees you from feeling like you’ve failed to move on. In summation-moving on is a process, and it starts with the decision to take action. If you remind yourself throughout the process that it’s ok and normal to feel like crap about it, you’ll unburden yourself of feeling ashamed that you’re still not ok yet, that you still are emotionally entangled. I read somewhere that it takes 3 months for each year you’re in a relationship to really be over it, and I think that’s probably about right for many people. It takes time to rediscover who you are on your own. Even if you didn’t lose your own identity in your relationshhip, you still gained a new part based on the relationship that you are having to adjust to losing. So, moving on takes time. And that’s ok. As long as you’re patient with your progress emotionally while simultaneously getting out there and doing what’s good for you, then you’re doing ok.

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  • leilani

    leilani June 29, 2011, 8:47 am

    Also, if you’re looking for more concrete advice on how to move on, what has always worked best for me is distraction. I know some people swear by the “one week to wallow” rule or whatever, but for me, I need to distract myself immediately and continue to distract myself until it isn’t a conscious decision anymore. So usually, I hang out or go out with my friends almost every night possible after a breakup–sure as hell beats lying alone in my bed wishing I had someone to cuddle with. I also distract myself with guys, whether that entails flirting, making out, having sex, going on dates, whatever. It lets me have a little affection and male attention while also reminding me that I can get that other places than my ex. Finally, I try to involve myself in any activities I can so I keep busy and my life still seems full and interesting–last breakup I joined a coed sports league and started writing a lot. All of these things kept me distracted from my misery in the short term, and also built up my life and social circle in the long term. You have so much freedom that you didn’t have when you were with someone…this is the time to enjoy it and take full advantage!!

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  • avatar

    TheOtherMe June 29, 2011, 9:56 am

    For me, it depends on the relationship, if it was a toxic one, or if I felt I deserved better, it’s always so much easier to M.O.A.

    The other times where a breakup tore my heart to pieces, I just tried to keep as busy as I could until I could start breathing again without massive pain. Yes, sometimes it has hurt so bad I felt like I was on autopilot but day by day things got better.
    – I call this M.O.E, ~ Moving On Eventually

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  • rubyroo

    RJKUSER June 29, 2011, 11:41 am

    I just wanted to say that I LOVE Wendy’s reply.
    MOA’ing is never easy, but that’s what makes it feel so good when you finally realized you have MOA’d!

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  • avatar

    airivera June 29, 2011, 2:33 pm

    Good use of the word ‘fucking’, Wendy.

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  • avatar

    melanie June 30, 2011, 9:36 am

    I completely agree with you, Wendy, when you say “I suspect, instead, that life’s greater meaning is to solve problems.” I believe that’s why people that have everything are often depressed. They don’t get the moments of gratification when they’re able to figure out a problem to help them succeed.

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