The breakup itself was relatively quick and painless. After months of fighting and sleeping in separate bedrooms, it was as if we had both hit our breaking point. It wasn’t like the breakups you see in the movies -- no smashing of dishes or calling of names. No hysterics. No tears. Just two broken people who had finally had enough. I had moved in with my boyfriend to save money, and now, we were breaking off our engagement.
The words “I can’t do this anymore” were uttered almost in a whisper. And then they were out there. The five words we had been thinking for who even knows how long; the same five words neither of us had ever wanted to say. They hung there for a moment in the air, almost as if they were waiting for me to take them back. Waiting for me to reach out and yell, “I didn’t mean it!” and frantically shove them back in my mouth where I could chew on them for another six months… or a year… or maybe forever. But I didn’t. I let them linger. They stayed between us as we stared at one another, the silence so palpable I could feel it in my bones. There was nothing more to say. The words were out there. I was done. And so was he. Calmly, he reached for my hand and in that moment, we both knew it was for the last time.
For too long, we had been living on borrowed time. That night, as I took off my engagement ring and placed it back into the box, I wondered how we let our relationship get to that point. Except deep down, I knew exactly what had happened.
Our relationship began in the winter of 2014. We had both recently moved to Austin, Texas from our respective hometowns to work as in-house writers for a media company. Almost immediately upon my arrival, I knew I had made a mistake in renting a one bedroom apartment in a brand new, luxury building downtown. My first paycheck at my new job wasn’t enough to cover rent, so I paid for the remaining portion on my credit card. I knew it wasn’t sustainable. I spent excessively on brunch, happy hours, clothes, and music festivals, which meant I struggled to keep a roof over my head. I was 23 and I was dumb.
One night, over an expensive dinner that I couldn't afford, I confided in my new boyfriend that I was broke. He told me he had similar struggles as he paid off his student loans, splurged on nights out, and had constant travel expenses as he went to friends' weddings. We were both struggling in the most stereotypically millennial way possible: we felt we deserve lifestyles that we couldn't afford and hadn't earned. And, then, over far too much overpriced merlot, we hatched a plan. We would move in together to save money.
I remember waking up the next morning to a huge sense of relief. Finally! All of my money problems would soon be solved. His lease was up in two months, at which point, he would move in with me. My rent and utilities would be split in half. It was as if I had been kissed by the financial fairy. Who needs Dave Ramsey when you’ve got a boyfriend?
Unlike me, though, he woke up feeling uneasy. We’d only been dating for five months, and while the financial freedom that cohabitation would bring would be awesome, wasn’t this all happening so soon? But I persisted. I became a constant whisper in his ear, touting all of the benefits that moving in together would bring. "You're never at your apartment anyway," I'd tell him. "Why not just live with me?" Eventually, my nagging paid off. Literally. In July 2014, we began officially living together.
Within a month, I was paying off my credit card. We could go out to dinner and plan vacations guilt-free, thanks to all the money we saved by living together. But our hastily-made decision hadn't gotten us off scot-free. Our newfound cohabitation brought along a whole new set of problems.
It quickly became apparent that my tiny, one-bedroom apartment was really just meant for one person and not two. We were on top of each other all the time. He was messy. I was even messier. He thought the TV in the den should be used for watching sports; I thought it should be used for watching Real Housewives. The paper-thin walls meant that one of us going to bed earlier than the other was simply not possible. The closet was too small. There was only one shower. There was no room to breathe, no possibility of a brief reprieve or escape from one another.
The apartment got messy — fast.
And then there were the bigger problems. We not only lived together, we worked together, too. Essentially, we were together 24 hours a day. And then there was the issue of our parents. Neither set were happy with us living in sin. As soon as we broke the news, the questions started piling up: "Well, are you engaged?" "When are you getting married?" The weight of our decision was clear. We had rushed into things, and now, there was no going back. From the moment he moved in, our relationship was on the fast track. We had simply wanted to live together to save money. Had we unknowingly signed up for marriage, too?
There were good times, of course. You don’t stay that long in a relationship if there aren’t. But looking back, it’s easy to see how one decision seemingly snowballed. We wanted to have fun, we wanted to save on rent, we wanted to not worry about our debit cards being declined at happy hour. We spent two years living together. The love was real — I know it was — but I can’t help but wonder how much of was forced. We were really, truly happy or were we simply as happy as we could be, given the circumstances we'd forced ourselves into?
It’s crazy to think how one seemingly small decision can change your life, but it can and it did. Living together and working together, despite its drawbacks, became our new normal. A few months after he moved in with me, we made the decision to upgrade to a two bedroom apartment. Sure, our rent would increase, but it was worth it if it meant that our relationship would improve, right? Very naïvely, I think we were both hoping for that move to solve all of our problems. In retrospect, it was really just an expensive Band-Aid. Almost immediately, we took to separate living quarters. Two bathrooms! Two walk-in closets! Two different bedroom TVs! Our excitement over our newfound, bigger space turned into a home life that involved being more apart than together. Within a few months of moving in to what we thought would be our relationship’s saving grace, I was sleeping almost exclusively in the guest room.
Looking back, it’s hard to imagine how a couple so clearly at the end of their rope could ever even entertain the idea of marriage, and yet, there we were. Sleeping in separate bedrooms. Cold and distant with one another. I dealt by drinking too much; he dealt by playing video games and ignoring my drunken tirades. We were so alone… and yet so together in our misery. By this time, we were both working as freelance writers, meaning that our expenses were once again adding up. But despite the growing distance between us and our dwindling savings, we got engaged.
It’s hard to walk through the timeline of events even now, almost three years later. Retelling the story makes me feel ashamed and stupid and so unbelievably vulnerable that it makes me want to cry. Sometimes I still do. I felt like I had gotten myself into a situation in which there was no way out. I felt like the only option was to keep digging and digging. I felt trapped.
The engagement was the beginning of the end for us. By that point, our mutual misery couldn't be hidden any longer. We were going through the motions, hoping and praying that the other person would stand up and say "enough." Finally, I did.
The day he moved out, I remember him saying he kept waiting for things to get easier… and that just never happened. And he was right. It seemed as though our entire relationship was one obstacle after another. We were treading water, just trying to keep afloat and stay alive — and that’s no way to live.
For far too long, we had been holding back the words “I can’t do this anymore,” I think because, on some level, we felt as though that was the bed we had collectively made. The moment it was said, though, a weight was lifted. We were free. Free from our past. Free from our mistakes. Free from each other. Free to set out into the world and find genuine happiness.
My biggest takeaway from my past relationships, specifically this relationship, is that nothing, seriously, nothing cannot be undone. You don’t need to run away from your problems, but good God, you don’t need to run toward them, either. For too long, I was unhappy because I thought that was what I deserved; I had made my bed, I then had to lie in it. Dejected had become my new normal… and it almost became my forever. But there is no such thing as too late. There is always time to right your wrongs.