Being outwardly single for a few years now, I’ve had my fair share of memorable breakups. There was the one with the organic dry cleaner down the block who ruined my favorite (formerly) oversized winter sweater. There was the one with my neighborhood gym after a trainer exercised my number too much. And there was another with Diet Coke, which took the longest and was most painful. The worst part is that I see him everywhere.
When a friend called me to lament a recent breakup, that was about all I had to draw on to empathize with her.
“I’m sorry,” I said. “It’s just been a while since my last real relationship.”
There. I was forced to say it. With an apology attached, nonetheless. As if it didn’t sting hard enough. I almost felt like chasing it with, “At least you had a boyfriend to break up with you.” But then I realized how ridiculous and unhelpful that sounded.
In an age where we embrace casual hookups, defer "getting serious" and eschew the labels, single people often find themselves breaking up with people they were never even technically seeing. It’s more of a slow fade-out that involves fewer text messages and a heavy presence on Tinder.
Dating has taken on a certain fluidity; there no longer exists a standardized set of rules for every relationship. You can casually sleep together for months and still not call yourselves a couple.
You can go on multiple dates without having sex and never intend to go any further. And you can have an entire relationship that is largely based in your head until one day you decide you’re over it. And then you’ve really broken up with someone who you never had.
The lack of concrete expectations has some of us enjoying bachelorhood while others are mourning boyfriends and girlfriends that never really existed.
Technically, we weren’t a couple. Our relationship largely took place in the evening hours, but we still communicated and planned like we were together.
When people asked though, I said I wasn’t seeing anyone because I wasn’t really. A missed night out didn’t require an explanation on either of our parts, but we invariably always ended up together anyway.
We never mentioned being exclusive, so why did I feel like I was owed a “there’s someone else” phone call when I found out who she was? And worse, why did I feel bad about our barely-there breakup?
I felt stupid for feeling sad about a pseudo-relationship that now seemed more serious post-breakup than when we were actually sleeping together.
It was harder to move on from a guy I wasn’t exclusive with than it was from a long-term boyfriend. It might seem like the latter is more excruciating (He was your best friend!), but I’d argue that the former takes much longer and requires more effort.
Think about it: After dating someone for an extended period of time, the return to singledom is fresh and exciting. The romantic world holds possibilities, potential bachelors abound and new freedoms.
After you break up with someone you never had, your life returns to almost exactly the same it’s been the whole time -- which makes it even more difficult to get over.
The solution? Finding someone else to fill the shallow gap. It’s not necessarily challenging and since you never really got to know your former flame anyway (save for a few hours of pillow talk and shared meals), you’re less likely to miss his personality and more likely to miss his physical presence.
It’s a surface-level replacement system that perpetuates our singledom by preventing us from getting deeper with any one person.
I ended things last week with the homeless guy I used to buy an extra box of cereal. Or rather, he ended things with me and ironically moved.
And two weeks ago, I broke up with my waxer after she left one brow looking perennially puzzled. And before that, I had to say goodbye to my dealer who was shorting me an eighth.
This threat of breaking up constantly hangs over our heads, forcing us to withhold our vulnerabilities and always love with a little bit of detachment. And when it finally happens, what’s the appropriate response to healing from a non-breakup-breakup?
Definitely by not being dramatic. That means remaining friends on social media, keeping your profile picture the same for at least a few days before you switch it to one of you in a bikini and acting non-confrontational when you see him again at the bar.
In private, however, it is perfectly acceptable to turn up the ballads and ugly cry into your pillow. And then drink a lot of alcohol and flirt up a storm like you just got out of two-year relationship. That’s called a Tuesday.
All jokes aside though, there is an upside to this suspension of traditional boyfriends and girlfriends. If you’re the one doing the deed, the breakup is pretty easy to navigate.
Just stop seeing or communicating with the other person, no explanation necessary. I tend to be really mature about the whole thing and cease responding to text messages, post more photos of myself having fun and then run away when they spot me at a party. And yet, I can’t say I don’t consider it when they still ask to meet up in the future.
Because that’s the thing about breaking up with someone you never had -- there is always the possibility of getting back together.
Photo Courtesy: 500 Days Of Summer