When I was 13 or 14 years old, I bought my first-ever “scandalous” book at an English used-book store somewhere in Europe. It was called Still Life With Woodpecker by Tom Robbins. I was a virgin, and the book was the most erotic thing I had ever encountered.
In particular, I remember one part, where the author imagines different scenarios revolving around how to make love stay. My favorite is the one that involves telling love the world is on fire and peeing out the window.
It's that image that I always return to when, in the middle of a breakup, I look back on everything I felt when I first met my partner and wonder what happened to my passion. Were there signs my relationship was over? Where did the love go?
It can be difficult to determine the exact point that love decided to up and leave. It might be that the love isn't gone entirely, but if you are doubting its presence in your relationship, it's likely that it has one foot out the door.
As for how to make love stay — well, I don't have the answers for that. All I know is that when love decides to leave, it's already made its mind up. It isn't coming back again. Here are some feelings that love takes with it when it is time for it to leave:
1. You Stop Feeling Seen
I've written before about how relationships are like mirrors: either growing with you, shattering in light of betrayal or deceit, or falling away altogether until a new one — with somebody else — grows back in its place. When love has left the building, the mirror has shattered. It feels like you and your partner are consistently on completely different wavelengths. Maybe you used to intuitively know what the other was thinking and how they were feeling, and now, you feel closed off to one another's emotions.
Maybe you feel like your partner has changed from the person they were when you first started dating them — and you don't think the change is for the better. Or maybe you are the one who has changed and outgrown the mirror that used to reflect you.
If you consistently feel like you are no longer able to see yourself reflected back when you are talking to your partner, that might be a sign the love you once felt is drawing to a natural close.
2. You Stop Feeling Excited When You See Them
When my first long-term relationship was coming to a close, I took a two-week trip to San Francisco. During that time, I noticed that I stopped being excited when I heard from my boyfriend. The friend I was on vacation with observed that I actually recoiled from my phone when he called me. I didn't miss him at all.
When it was time to return, it felt like I hadn't been away long enough. He was so excited to see me, he got on an early bus to meet me at my parents' house, where I had flown in after California. When I heard that I had to go to pick him up at the bus station earlier than expected, I wasn't thrilled or charmed at his eagerness. I was actually annoyed that I had to wake up before 8 a.m.
The two weeks had felt like an eternity to him, but I was actually reluctant to go back to the life we had together. Six months or a year before, I would have been over the moon to see him. I wouldn't have even needed an alarm to wake up. Two weeks would have felt like way too long to go without kissing him.
At the time, I thought that the excitement would eventually come back — or maybe that it was natural to fade the longer we were together. Then, I looked at my parents, who have been married for over 30 years. My mom can't even leave the house without my dad texting her a million times. And while that might sound suffocating, she loves it. She looks forward to seeing him every day because he is her loved one.
Excitement might not be the same as the thrilling butterflies in the stomach that happen when you're first falling for someone, but it is definitely still there if the relationship is working. A little quieter, for sure. But real.
When it goes away, though, that means your relationship might be over.
3. You Stop Finding Their Flaws Charming
Every single person in the universe has flaws, and if you have been in a relationship for longer than three months, you both have revealed them to one another. While those flaws might cause a bit of a jolt or an upheaval in a relationship, they eventually smooth out. Even if they cause you some annoyance, you know the person you're with is worth being mildly irritated once in a while.
Depending upon how long you have been together, you might stop noticing the flaws or being bothered by them entirely. When a relationship starts coming to an end, though, the flaws come back — and they seem more jagged than ever.
The things you were once able to look past, such as your partner's habit of leaving toenail clippings all over the bathroom floor or his tendency to retreat for hours at a time to play video games, become major annoyances, each one a nail that is snagging a sweater sleeve and threatening to unravel the whole garment.
Your colossal annoyance really isn't about them, though. It is about you and how you are feeling in the relationship.
Something else is under the surface of your boiling resentment, and you either need to investigate it or let the relationship go for the good of you both.
4. You Stop Imagining That You Have A Future Together
When you start out in a relationship, the potential future is a glossy, shiny magazine cover that you are hoping to step into. Gradually, as time goes on, this impossible dream becomes a little more hemmed in by reality. You understand your partner's limitations — as humans tend to have them — as well as your own. Even though you might recognize your future won't be a cakewalk, you understand that you and your partner have a lot to look forward to experiencing together.
When a relationship is on its last legs, though, it becomes difficult to see beyond the next week or month. You are probably questioning whether you are going to be together this time next year, or even this hour the following Tuesday. Even if you haven't reached that level of despondency, you probably feel bored or trapped when you imagine your future with your partner. Perhaps you even feel limited, like being with your current boyfriend or girlfriend is preventing you from meeting someone else who might be a better fit.
If this is a case, then you owe it to yourself to explore the other possibilities that your future holds either by breaking up or, if you must, taking a break. Just be sure you tell your partner what is going on with you first.
5. You Don't Feel Turned On Anymore
The first phase of a relationship — infatuation — often means you can't keep your hands off one another. My ex used to come over on his lunch break to have sex, and then, we would hook up again at night. By the end of our relationship, though, we had gone at least three months without having sex. Maybe longer.
Sex isn't everything in a relationship, and it definitely shouldn't be given all the weight it already has in how we, in a collective sense, view love and relationships. If we gave sex a little less importance, then we wouldn't find ourselves in two-year-long relationships with partners who were absolutely incompatible in every way except for in bed.
While sex might not be everything in a partner, it is definitely still something, though. In addition to being pleasurable and fun, it's like the lubricant to a relationship that makes issues like petty arguments dissolve in waves of good feeling.
When the sex is gone, then what you have with your partner is basically what you would have with a live-in friend or housemate. The emotional intimacy might still remain, and you might still be supporting one another. You might decide to stay together anyway, or open up your relationship to other people — or you might decide you are better off just being friends.
And if you aren't having sex, and you can't even call yourselves friends anymore, then that means your relationship is probably over already.
Diagnosing the issue won't change anything about what has already happened. You and your partner have grown apart, and unless both of you are willing to really fight for your relationship, you're better off calling your arrangement what it is: over.
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