When Should You Break Up With Someone?
There's no hurt quite like heartbreak, but sometimes, it's necessary. Money, sex (or lack thereof), and different ambitions can sometimes put the lid on a relationship.
While there's something to be said for working things out, sometimes, breaking up is the only thing to do.
At the time, it might be hard to articulate why it didn't work out, but there's a reason for the term "20/20 hindsight." Time has a great way of putting it all in perspective.
When you look back on the slips and stumbles that led to your breakup, you'll probably see that the signs something wasn't working out were all there.
And if you're anything like me, you'll probably feel residual guilt.
Don't beat yourself up. There were reasons why it wasn't working out. Have confidence that the break was necessary. It really wasn't supposed to be so much work.
Here are the things that showed me it was time to end my relationship:
1. I Was Always Stressed
Like the old saying about a frog in a pot of boiling water, the anxiety crept up so slowly on me that I got used to it over time.
It wasn't until the relationship was over -- and my heartbreak had healed -- that the knot in my stomach loosened and the tension in my shoulders uncoiled.
Most likely, the stress came from a combination of issues that weren't completely about the relationship. In fact, it was probably pretty likely that a lot of stress from my life outside of my relationship contributed to stress within it.
Money was the main one. I wasn't making enough, and he was making less. Two of my past boyfriends have been crushed by student debt, which limited their imagination for a future.
It was also difficult to scrounge up the savings to do something fun together. Because of that lack of imagination, they were also probably more likely to spend extra dough on beer.
Money wasn't the only thing hurting those relationships, and I definitely don't believe I should have ended it because we didn't have money or my partner was in debt.
When it comes to health, though, I'm a firm believer in everybody doing what is best for themselves.
2. We Were No Longer Emotionally Or Physically Intimate
I am an enormous fan of feelings, as the "crybaby" tattoo on my thigh would tell you. If I had to describe what kind of man I go for, I would probably use the word "weeping" in my description.
It surprised even me then, when I broke up with my first boyfriend because a TV show made him sob.
Again, as with all breakups, this wasn't the only reason I needed to end things. The truth was, we had been growing apart for quite some time. The distance between us was not only emotional, but physical as well.
Sex definitely shouldn't be the only thing keeping a relationship together. However, physical intimacy is like the lubricant that I think most relationships need. Sex makes arguments seem less significant, and it can wipe away a bad day at work with some tangible, physical feels.
After more than two years together, though, early infatuation had worn off, and we had stopped having sex. And pretty soon, that meant that we grew farther apart in other ways, and the distance was impossible to close.
So when I looked over at my boyfriend's tear-streaked face during the final episode of Band of Brothers and yelled at him about how the show was just evil war propaganda, and therefore, he shouldn't be sad? I didn't actually think that it wasn't OK for him to cry.
I was just angry because I used to understand him, and I no longer did.
3. I Lost Touch With My Friends
That first relationship, the one I was just referring to, isolated me in more than one way. It was the first time I had been seriously involved with a person, and as we got together just after I graduated college, it was a period of enormous transition.
During our first few months together, my friends were also going off to other cities to pursue their dreams. I missed them, of course, but I didn't have the strong urge to meet new people the way I would if I was single. I thought that my boyfriend could meet all of those needs.
I was wrong, though, as I would come to learn. Partners cannot be everything to one another, and it's important to have robust friendships outside of them. Otherwise, you're placing a lot of burden on the relationship. Under all of that pressure, it was no wonder that things started to crumble.
I could have made new friends, of course, but my boyfriend was reluctant for me to spend time with other people. He was clingier than I was, and I didn't want to hurt him. So I allowed it, even though I knew it was making me unhappy.
If I had listened to myself then, I wouldn't have made both of us so miserable at the end.
4. He Wouldn't Give Me Space
Now that I've been through a few rough breakups, I think I know that, in a secure relationship, a couple can give one another what each person needs to feel whole in themselves, without relying on the other person.
Of course, I haven't been in a relationship that's actually like that yet, but that's what I hear.
When my first relationship was on the rocks, I tried to take a few steps back to breathe and figure out what I really wanted.
My boyfriend said he was OK with a break, but still found a way to be near me: getting off his commuter bus right outside of the library where I would be studying, drinking at the bar where I was going with my friend, and even going so far as to guilt me into bringing him home to my parents for Thanksgiving.
If things were going swimmingly, I wouldn't have needed so much space in the first place. And I'm not sure that things would have lasted even if he granted it.
But the fact that he couldn't even grant a tiny bit of freedom to me? Well, that told me everything.
5. He Projected His Failures On Me
Even as I write these words years later, I feel guilty. I feel the immediate need to backpedal and say that I don't really think my ex-boyfriend was a failure — that he was successful in all other ways than me.
I want to say, "Guys, I swear, I don't mean it! He was good at his job! He probably has gotten a raise and makes more than me now! Heck, he even has a 401(k), and I have zero money in savings, so he'll actually be able to retire one day!"
See how I do that? See how I make myself smaller?
That instinct runs deep with me. The bolder truth is that I am also good at things, but more than one boyfriend have found little ways to disempower me and take me down.
One boyfriend would always tell me that it was really really hard to make money as a writer. That I could write a book, but it was unlikely that it would get picked up by a major publisher, and even then, I wouldn't make enough to live on.
He also worked in publishing so he would know.
Another boyfriend once cried to me that he wanted to be a writer, and didn't understand why I could do it and he couldn't.
Now, I'm lucky enough to know that I just don't have time for that. The moment somebody tried to make more room for their ego by minimizing mine, I needed to end my relationship.
Your friends will tell you that you were built to fly. Your partner should, too.
6. I Wanted More While He Wanted Less
I can look back at every single one of my breakups -- whether or not I was the person who initiated it -- and see that, ultimately, it came down to one of us wanting more than the other could give.
I broke up with my first boyfriend when I was 24 years old because I wanted more of life. I wanted to grow as a person. I wanted to make new friends.
Yes, I also wanted to experience more lovers, even if it came with more heartbreak.
As for him, he had been settled for a while. It's been over three years, and he still works in the same office and lives in the same house. I moved and changed jobs at least seven times before getting out of that city altogether.
That's not to say that either path is good or bad. It's just what happened. If we had gotten married, it wouldn't have been right.
As a matter of fact, I'm pretty sure he's getting married to the next girl he met very soon. And I'm perfectly fine with it not being me.
My next boyfriend wanted less of an emotional commitment. He didn't want to take trips together and hated saying "I love you." We were not moving toward anything and, with the exception of number four, all of the above symptoms had set in.
Both of those boyfriends were completely different, to the extent that I even feel like I was somebody else when I was with them.
Thinking about it now, that might be the biggest sign that I needed to end my relationship, but I couldn't have known that at the time.
Because first, I had to find myself.