when you’re the “somebody that they used to know”

Posted on September 21st, 2011

Today. This. Dedicated to Pete.

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I saw Gotye play live a few months back. The most sublime experience. He played about six or seven instruments during the gig, dancing between each one. It was a dance, I tell you! More than six million people have viewed this on Youtube, so apologies if you already viewed it. But I reckon it’s special. It’s my soundtrack to today.

This song is drenched in the kind of sadness we all know. Rejection. With a double coat of (feigned) apathy.

The sadness of when the other person looks like they’ve “won” in the hurt game, because they seem to just not care – sending a friend to get the records, treating you like a stranger. You don’t see it as their hurt playing out. You see it as them moving on without you. You lost. They won because you were nothing. We never see it clearly in the moment.

Told myself that you were right for me
But felt so lonely in your company
But that was love and it’s an ache I still remember

Definitely an ache I still remember…we convince ourselves of all kinds of things when we don’t want to be left behind in love. This spoken as someone whose experience flies in the face of the “it’s takes half the length of a relationship to get over a deep love”. I take double.

What do you think? Is the pain of being “somebody they they used to know” about feeling like you lost? And because they won, they somehow know more than you about life and love and everything, and always did, and so now you’re left without their “knowingness” on TOP OF IT ALL…on your own?

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  • Kevin

    Sarah do you have any feelings on how Kimbra’s verse affect’s the meaning of the song? Pretty important balance to the idea of one person ‘winning’ that he puts forward in the first part of the song I reckon.


    picardie.girl Reply:

    I agree – especially having watched the clip now.


  • Sam

    YES, YES, YES…all of the above


  • Stellaaaaaarrr

    Seriously, I think you’re onto something.

    I am the same, I take double the time to get over someone at LEAST! In fact I am still attempting to get over the disentegration of a year and a half long relationship that ended almost three years ago. It wasn’t even that good to be honest, and despite knowing that at the time I still poured my heart and soul into it – for who exactly? I’m still not sure.

    He moved on within months and has had at least two serious relationships since then, as well as no doubt (knowing him) a string of meaningless flings and casual encounters. I still feel like the “loser”, despite the fact that I am the sort of person who is always looking for the “real” and “meaningful” connections, and he is the sort of person who has no real capacity to let someone in properly, and will no doubt end up with some titillating trophy wife who is too stupid to recognise all his bullshit.

    He always had to be the “big man” – the coolest, toughest, trendiest and most desired… and most of all he always had to “win”.

    I think that it hurts me so much because despite him being one of the most selfish people I have ever met, he seems to have “won” in the game of finding someone – or several someones – new, and moving on, while I feel so stuck here in the the middle of nowhere – the land of the lost singleton.

    I think that hurts more than the fighting and breaking up ever did.


  • Sian

    A line from “Somebody that I used to know” by Elliott smith many years ago resonated with me when my long term partner broke up with me

    “keeping ahold of what you just let go”

    Kind of sums up that pain of being dumped and watching the other person move on so quickly which makes you fee like what you had together didn’t impact them like it did you because they’ve just let it go and moved on while you’re still holding onto what you had because the relationship meant something to you.


    fawn Reply:

    Thanks for bringing this up. I thought the same thing upon hearing this song the first time. Hopefully it is a conscious homage, but I guess it could also be chance. RIP E.S.


  • Monkey Mia

    I actually linked this song on my Facebook page a few weeks ago and called it “my life in song form.” 🙂

    My last partner who I was with for years asked me to move in with him, told me he wanted to marry me, told me he wanted to have a family together 2 days before the break up… then found someone new about 3 weeks after I moved out of the house. Harsh? Yes. Painful? Absolutely.

    This makes me feel quite relieved though. Even though he lied, even though he may have cheated, even though he promised me the world and let me down. If he was just a silly little boy in a man suit isn’t it better to know NOW? Rather than in 5 years time when I’ve invested so much more energy (and possibly marriage/kids) into the mix? I got lucky. His new girlfriend is the one we should pity… she doesnt know what I know, but one day she’ll find out. I send her love whenever I think of her, and hope things are different for her.

    How could the kind of person who is a total jerk to their ex have “won” anything? You cant do that to another human being (especially someone you loved) unless you have some serious issues. They have to live with their bitterness and misery every day for the rest of their lives, whereas their issues are out of my life now and no longer affect me. I get to live with ME. And I’m pretty positive and awesome, just FYI.

    Let go of the idea that you “win” anything simply by being part of a couple, and you will always win. You have you. That’s wonderful!


    Erica Reply:

    I had a similar expereince Mia, and your thoughts are really wonderful, I get to live with ME, brought a little tear to my eye, Thanks for the inspiration!


    picardie.girl Reply:

    That is lovely, Mia. What a great sentiment! You ARE awesome 🙂


  • Eloise

    I used to think that. Now, I think it can be anything – you may have had less self-esteem than you thought – you may have relied on that person more in the first place, than they did – you may just take more time in healing – or you may just heal differently – just because they seemed to have moved on faster, doesn’t mean they are better off.

    Maybe the feeling of losing, the emptiness, the sadness, or whatever it is you are feeling, could be a blessing in disguise? You always hear about people triumphing over tragedy – people who lose their business, go bankrupt, and then become millionaired by being more simplistic and creative, or going back to doing the things they love. In break-ups, don’t we all become closer to our friends? Don’t we eventually do more things for ourselves?

    I’m still very young – I had a two year relationship which ended three years ago. For about two years I was still very upset. I eventually moved on, by going overseas for a month with a friend to travel, focussed on studying (now doing a double degree with a Masters in Speech Pathology) and plan to take two years off to do ‘eff-all’ and live life. I have a boyfriend now who lets me do whatever I want and I let him do whatever he wants (we are still, however, monogomous of course). From my previous relationship, where I felt I lost, taught me that… I may have lost in the short-term…. but I am a winner now. My ex and I don’t talk, but if we bumped into each other we would now say hello – he is off overseas having a blast with his friends, and I am finishing my degree next year and will be doing the same.

    So basically what I am saying is… they may win the battle, but you can (both) still win the war – take your time with the break-up – feel the pain that is being ‘somebody they used to know’ – and then let go of it and ‘get to know’ somebody else!


    Sarah Reply:

    Prior to reading this post I was having a bad week, struggling with thoughts of my ex and what he is doing – is he dating someone else, does he still think about me, does he want to get back together even!

    Even though deep down I know in my heart it wasn’t meant to be and that if I am patient with life something so much better and “right” will come along, it’s the lonely nights that are upsetting and remind you of what a relationship involves.

    But after reading your post Elouise, I am blessedly reminded of what is to come in life and that indeed myself and my ex were not right for one another but both are likely to have learnt a valuable lesson from our time together and the way in which it ended!

    Basicall what I am saying is from each opportunity there is an experience and from each experience something can be learnt! 🙂


  • No, it’s not about winners and losers, that’s time-bound, a winner today may be a loser tomorrow. It’s more complex than that. ‘Somebody’, ‘Someone, ‘Old friends/ Old lover’s’ and that word ‘ex’…’ex’ what?..So simple to say but the story behind the song is often deeper…that’s what I love about this song and also Adele’s ‘Someone Like You’. Why do these songs resonate with so many people? We’re hearing these songs and then thinking ‘a bigger story’. And that’s why I wrote a novel, ‘Two Roads East’ about the ‘pain’ and the toll it takes on the one that’s left behind. In the story, when two old friends meet again in the HImalayan Kingdom of Bhutan after almost two decades of anxiety and anger after taking two different roads – sparks fly! One of them lives the outwardly perfect life in Byron Bay and the other is now a Washington human rights lawyer, previously they were lovers in their early twenties. He tells himself that the way he chose to leave her so long ago was his ‘greatest life failing’ yet when his Byron Bay wife, a well known lifestyle journalist, asks who ‘the person’ is in the background of a photo he keeps on his home office wall ..he tells his wife that ‘the person’ was ‘just another traveller’. She’s not even relegated to the ‘Somebody that he used to know’ category. It’s his very simple answer to a more complex story that he doesn’t want to ‘get into’, because it will expose a vulnerable truth of his life that he can’t even mouth the words to!


  • Mia

    All too deep for my little head today. But a great topic and comforting to know we’re not alone with our pain (although it damn well feels like it).

    Hang in there Pete & everyone else who’s hurting. Time is a wonderful healer and in years to come, you’ll look back and laugh at how things turn out. Take the time now to reflect and think positively about the future.


    Mia Reply:

    p.s…I also don’t think it’s healthy to listen to sad love songs as it’s only reminding us more of why we’re hurting


    Jason Reply:

    It’s not healthy to listen to sad love songs in any situation!


    Sam Reply:

    Same with reading self-help books! Just there reminding us we we’re not ‘normal’.


  • There’s small l love and there’s me.
    And in my experience small l love has needed to drag small m me to my knees a couple of times to introduce me to the big picture.
    So that I may Love ..
    and to Love … I must experience Surrender .. to the uncertainty of a vast universe in which I am alone.
    and Acceptance of my place in it.
    And from there I look for Connection .. raw maybe, but definitely awake.

    I see relationships as a bridge to this awareness.
    A place where compassion can grow.

    Dumper or dumpee in the long run becomes irrelevant.

    Winners and losers belong in game shows and sporting events.

    We ache, we feel .. we experience loss, we grow ..
    and if we are really lucky we might eventually find someone to walk this path with.
    In love and in Love ..


  • Jane

    To me, how long it takes us to get over someone strongly correlates to what they’ve shown us about ourselves. I took ages to get over a very short term relationship because the relationship held so many mirrors up to who I was and who I thought I was (ouch), other longer term relationships have taken less time because in so many ways everything was learnt before it was ‘officially’ over.

    Every relationship we have changes us in some way so maybe the ‘someone you used to know’ is also the you, you used to be in the relationship? And losing a bit of who we were when someone leaves always sucks a bit.


    picardie.girl Reply:

    That is a really good point about the learning, Jane. That totally explains why you can be left reeling after a short relationship – if the learning has been swift and it’s all over quickly, you end up way off balance and it can take a long time to correct. Thanks for that.


  • Little kids don’t stick around and dwell on friendships that end up in the toilet. They say ‘you’re no fun to play with’ and trott off and make new friends and find new people to play with. Somewhere in the growing-up-ness of life, we seem to learn that things MUST work out, and if someone leaves us, that we’re a loser. It hurts yes. It feels like we might never get over a person. Yes. But it doesn’t make us a loser.

    We spend our whole lives leaving people… we leave friends in primary school, high school, uni, we leave our parents, we leave jobs… and yet, when somebody leaves us, without our permission, we flounder.

    I find it comforting to think about the people, places and relationships that I’ve chosen to leave. It helps me realise, okay – this 1 person has left me. But thats part of life, the coming and the going. It hurts. But I can move forward, even if at snails pace by rallying my friends, picking up my chin, putting on my best healing hat and making a bloody big effort to realise that perhaps ‘that person isn’t so much fun to play with anymore if they don’t want to play with you’. It takes a lot of time, but if you plod you will get there.

    Relationship break ups change us, some for the better, some for the worse. The other person will never know the better brighter stronger kinder wiser and more wonderful person that you become once they are gone and you heal, but that’s their loss. For me…they only know the old me. Not the current one.


  • I wonder if you’re dedicating today to the same Pete that I am..?

    I think the other thing you have to be careful of in getting over someone is becoming addicted to sadness. I had a bad break-up a few years ago, and it wasn’t until I was receiving a facial when the beautician said to me “You need to make the conscious decision to throw off your security blanket of sadness.” And it was so true – once I consciously decided to really move on from this person – rather than merely going through the motions of moving on (collecting CDs, dating etc) – then I had the power to allow myself to be happy and to thrive. I do believe that sadness and mulling over a past lover can be a deliberate tactic to avoid moving forward in life. Kind of like procrastinating. We all need our own time, but I think attaching labels like “I take double the time to get over them” is limiting yourself and creating a structure that may not really be appropriate – but you trap yourself in it by saying it aloud.

    I think you need to think more in terms of “I recognise the value that person added to my life, but things have changed and I want to continue moving forward with my life in a happy, healthy way”. You don’t need someone else to make you happy or healthy. (Break-ups are different to a sudden death of a loved one in that way).

    I also think Kimbra’s addition to the song adds a bit of clarity around why she cut him off, for what it’s worth. Sometimes people simply do not deserve your time or energy any longer – whether that energy is positive in the form of love and patience and understanding, or negative in terms of thinking angry thoughts in order to move on (or sad ones, in order to not move on!).


  • Wow interesting topic, thanks for sharing Sarah!
    If I had to base the ending of a relationship on a win or lose scale I would say by taking the time to learn and grow from a relationship and not jumping in another hoping it will make things better. And by healing and becoming a better person you are definitely a winner… even though it may hurt like mad. And even though an ex partner moves onto another relationship quickly, it doesn’t mean they are doing better, sometimes it can be the opposite, they are just avoiding what’s really going on and trying to find happiness through external situations.
    I have found these types of relationships have taught me lots about myself and by loving and accepting me, I have attracted a wonderful husband into my life. I can now look back and say my past relationships were a blessing and helped me to be the loving person I am today.


  • Linda

    …and afterall, one must take faith in the saying “…this too shall change…”


  • Monkey Mia

    Rachel, you are SO right. “You can get addicted to a certain kind of sadness” as the song says.

    Grief is a process, but there comes a point where you need to choose to place down the baggage and leave it behind. Carrying it all your life doesn’t serve you. Louise Hay has some brilliant exercises in You Can Heal Your Life to help this process, that book has been so instrumental in my recent break-up healing. I have a little altar in my room dedicated to helping me get over the break-up. I have printed out your column Sarah, where you interviewed Louise Hay, and its taped to my wardrobe door where I see it every morning. Plus there is a poem by Charles Bukowski & Gala Darling’s Radical Self Love Manifesto next to it. On the other side I have my meditation candle, my stack of spiritual books, my manifestation mirror and a toy puppy. (Just because.)

    Sometimes I think I wait for someone to come along and say, right, now it’s safe to let that go. I remember about 6 months after my dad died, I was watching that sitcom Just Shoot Me, and for some reason it just hit me that I didn’t actually need to wait for permission in order to let go of the pain. I could just put it down and keep walking. Leap, and the bridge will appear. xx


  • I blogged about this a couple of weeks back, but from her perspective.

    It gave me such an insight into the end. I got chills. When I left my ex I had to leave, never turn back, leave everything behind, ignore his calls, there was no other way. I didn’t even send friends for my stuff, I just left it. Anything left there is lost.

    Sometimes it’s all you can do. Sometimes things have gotten so bad you can’t do anything but break away, you have to run. Not answer calls, emails. Not let them reach you at work, at home, no matter how much they try. Sometimes you have to cut them off, treat them like a stranger.

    Sometimes, you have to be somebody that they used to know.



    Jessica Reply:

    Amen. And I, as a stranger, am proud of you for managing to do that. It’s tough, but not doing it is tougher.


  • Wow. I needed to read this today. I identify with you, Sarah, and several of the commenters here, too.

    I am currently struggling with that feeling of being, well, the only one that feels. It seems as though my sadness is amplified by the Other Person’s apparent happiness.

    I’ve never dealt well with things that haven’t been resolved satisfactorily. Like the lyrics say, to send your friends to collect records and to give your ex the silent treatment or the cold shoulder IS to stoop low.

    Unless your partner/ex-partner is abusive, they deserve the respect of communication and resolution. A block-you-out, ignore-your-calls ending isn’t really the “clean break” that you might think it is. It’s probably the most deeply scarring, hurtful, unfair, degrading, and difficult to move on from.


    Dani Reply:

    Amen to that!

    Even though I have moved on from my last relationship and am seeing an amazing guy who is just the bees knees, there are still times when I can feel that happiness being sapped by the anger I still feel towards my ex and the way he ended things.

    Although, I promise that there is a point where that feeling lifts, and you realize that as much as you deserve an explanation; anyone who has lied and ignored you and not been honest about their feelings is unlikely to be able to give a satisfactory reason for why they acted the way they did.

    (And then they contact you two years down the track to apologise for being so awful, and you feel vindicated, but really, you’ve moved on.) Sending hugs & light your way. x


  • Stacey

    YES it’s all about winners and losers! If it wasn’t like this it would mean feelings don’t exist and people just go their separate ways when they are finished. But that is never the case. Someone will always have feelings and someone always gets hurt. And it’ not fair and it sucks! I did feel lonely in his company, especially when he never looked me in the eye and held a proper conversation. But I was just too caught up in the idea of him and us and how much fun we had; how much fun I was having. Then all of a sudden it was done. I didn’t mean enough to this person for them to not care about me when kissing another girl. I felt like he had chewed me up and spat me out – and quiet messily. The communication stopped. He never contacted me after he told me. Still to this day we have never spoken about it and whenever I see him he treats me like we have never met. It’s like we never happened. I took double the time and an overseas holiday to move on. I was the loser in this situation. I hurt a lot. I cried a lot. After time I discovered how important it was to be my own best friend. At the end of the day, I can only rely on myself. I started to enjoy everything again more and thinking about him less. Now I look back and I release I am not the loser in this situation anymore; I am the winner. Because I know that I deserve better than being an after-thought. I want to be the thought. I have been the thought before. I know I can be the thought. And after my little journey through heartbreak I am winning with my newly acquired knowledge, self-respect and happiness. Now he is literally somebody that I used to know – and I’m not worried!


  • Emma

    Oh I so do take at least double the time to get over a relationship as well… But I wouldn’t have wanted it any other way.
    Love your inspiring blog Sarah, thanks for this!


  • Oh God yes! Every word of it. I’ve lived that pain of rejection for the last 12 months: rejection by a friend I so loved and cared about deeply. In fact, they are the only person I’ve loved. It took me *2 years* to get the courage to tell them and 2 monthly for them to turn their back on me. I never even got a goodbye – just a “I don’t want to continue the friendship” text. Almost 3 years in total we were close friends. I’ve had to bury my feelings for them so deep but every now and then they resurface – it’s a bad ache!

    So thank you Sarah – I needed this. I was almost convinced what I was feeling was wrong.

    And while Gotye (and countless others) gets to write a song about ‘exactly’ what I have felt all these months, I get told to “just walk away” by so many people. I don’t know whether that’s irony or just cruel.

    Deep love for another and the rejection that follows: if you can say “just walk away” then I challenge you that you’ve never actually experienced it.


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  • D.

    Oh dear… I pretended like I “won” in this relationship game, but it’s never a good feeling, ever. You convince yourself that it’s good you got rid of that person, but there is a certain emptiness you can’t shake off.


  • First of all, love your blog and your column in Sunday Life. If I don’t read any other part of the paper all week, I make sure I at least flick to that. 🙂
    Secondly, love the song. And totally identify with the lines you included. I came out of a short doomed ‘relationship’ in around October last year, and when I think back now, I was so lonely in the three months we endured each other.
    Definitely don’t like feeling like the ‘somebody’, that is for sure!


  • Sara

    Nothing to do with this great blog, but I was just over on Leona Edmiston’s facebook page and saw you are hosting a Spring Garden Party in October. I hope you are going to announce details here also as it looks like a wonderful event for a fantastic cause.

    I think you need to host some events in Melbourne, or at least make sure you do a book launch down here next year cause you are such an inspirational person and it would be good to see the face behind the text!


  • Stephanie

    I wasn’t familiar with that song, so thank you for the introduction. I was dumped quite horribly by a fiance in my 20s, who proceeded to marry an ex-girlfriend within a year. That did smart. At the same time, I remember being sure that eventually I would end up somewhere and with someone much better for me (I did). I knew deep inside that he couldn’t have loved me if he could treat me in that way, and who wants to be with someone who doesn’t love them? I think I mostly felt sad and frustrated that I wasn’t in the place in my development at which I wanted to be, but never felt that he had “won.” Interestingly enough, it was the ending of a relationship with a guy with whom I wasn’t in love at all that gave me that feeling that he had been the victor. It was my ego talking, in that case.


  • H. Rose

    It’s a sickening, hugely regretful feeling when you realize the life you’re leading is not going to be the one you thought, and it’s not going to involve a person you thought it would. I realized at a point that my dear friend had in a sense moved on, and I was latching on to past memories and time spent, when really, I just need to move on with her. I needed to go make other friends, realizing that there is a beauty in risking looking stupid in front of someone to see if they will accept you as a friend. It’s the most vulnerable, terrifying spot to be in; but really, the only person freaked out about it, is yourself. At least, that’s been my experience.


  • Dani

    What I’ve learned by having the s*$t kicked out of me by love:

    1) It’s not time that heals, it’s what you do with that time.
    2) Anyone who can seemingly walk away without caring is ignoring their feelings. You can avoid stuff for a very long time, but you’ll never get rid of it until you make a conscious decision to work through it.

    I choose to believe that really experiencing the pain, the regret, the introspection and the challenging yourself to do differently next time is what makes us wiser, stronger, more compassionate people. And more capable of love in all its forms.


    Jason Snelders Reply:

    Well said Dani. I couldn’t agree more.


  • Shinks

    Listen to Alana Morisette’s ‘You Oughta Know’. It’s angry, it’s raw, it’s real.


  • Danielle

    I’ll have to be completely honest and say I truly lose respect for people who dwell on the past and cannot get over past loves (harsh, I know, but true), these issues interfere with lives and penetrate potential for the future. I think a really important skill to learn, and definitely not one that most people are blessed with. The way I look at it is, people come and go like the tide, they teach you things about life and yourself. Revel in the moments you have had together that have really touched you, smile because it existed and if they are the ones leaving you the key is acceptance. If you are leaving them, it’s probably for a bloody good reason, you deserve better. Don’t ever be crazy – if it is meant to be it will be. With love, timing is pinnacle.

    Your next lifelong partner might be right around the corner, so enjoy the single life. Be free, have no worries and pour your heart and soul into all those relationships that nourish you, do the things you want to do – without having to consult someone else who may not agree 🙂


  • Danielle

    Also – try and leave your baggage at the door when entering a new relationship. I think it’s always important to anaylse and identify negative thought patterns past relationships may have got us into, and banish them for good. Your new love should not bare the brunt of you paranoia because your ex was an ass 🙂 “An eye for an eye and the whole world is blind” – or something like that.


  • Selena

    aahhh! This song and film clip reminds me so much of the situation with my Ex.


  • Sylvia

    I refer you all to this you tube video. Link here:-


    Great topic, some terrific thoughts from you all.

    After a break-up, ask yourself this. ‘What did I learn from this relationship?”
    If you can write the answer down, it will have more impact to helping you heal.
    It’s all about learning the lesson, and moving on and growing. If we know what to do, even though we still have to go through the bad bits, it hurts less…..

    Spread the Love Around


  • tj

    feels good to know i’m not alone, and not the only one to take a million yrs to get over a broken love


  • Nicky

    hurts hurts just hurts


  • Jason’s fan

    Jason Snelders is a convicted stalker and in
    my opinion, a first class loser….!!!


  • Jacquie

    Some of us stay way past the expiry date by a decade, in loneliness and yet not knowing how to get out….