It’s Harder To Be The One Who Leaves

It’s hard to be the one who stays, so says The Time Traveler’s Wife.

I empathize. I have pined for the unrequited, crawled on broken glass to fix a broken dream and lived a good portion of my teenage years willing a boy to change his mind and come back. There is nothing dignified about the quick fall or slow climb back up; being unable to accept reality nor displaying your battered heart on your sleeve. It is not romantic and hardly noble. It is embarrassing having to publicly piece yourself together, pick up your shame and if all else fails, grab the last cabin of a train and pray no one spots the swollen eyes. Worst of all, it is all degrees of tiring being kept awake by pure yearning and longing.

But it’s harder to be the one who leaves.

Because if your smart decision doesn’t work out the way you have played it out in your head a million and one times, you have no one to blame but yourself. No ‘but he hurt me’ to use as an excuse for lying in bed all day. No warped reassurance of knowing that you always have an outlet to assign all blame for your total misery anyway. You did this to yourself; made your bed to lie in – what’s your excuse?

No one mentions the heartbreakers because there is obviously a clear divide between the ones who break hearts and the ones who get broken. (Except it’s not so simple.) No one talks about how they lie awake in the middle of the night, questioning whether they made the right decision, finally falling asleep from mental exhaustion but with no answers, because no one thinks they have any right to complain. No one asks whether they’re fine, because why should they be anything but good? No one talks about the nonchalant face they have to put up (cue “All Hail The Heartbreaker”), pretending that breaking hearts and dreams is something that came easy. No one wonders whether it hurts as bad to walk away than to be left behind because no one believes it should be painful. At all.

I don’t condone trampling all over an unsuspecting heart and then leaving it for road kill. But in comparison to its counterpart, staying is easy. You cry, you dwell, you fall repeatedly, you eventually get up and get better. Leaving takes courage; it is a one-way ticket for a flight that leaves no room for Regrets or Second Guesses. TC mark

image – Tripp


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  • Thoughtreader


  • Guest

    “Because if your smart decision doesn’t work out the way you have played it out in your head a million and one times, you have no one to blame but yourself.” PREACH. 

  • Tau Zaman

    I’m sorry, but no, having been on both sides: it’s really not. Being responsible and having no one to blame but yourself is torturous enough that it outweighs the feelings of the other person, who arguably had no control over it, or choice in the matter whatsoever? I don’t buy it. 

    • Grace Yeoh

      I feel the same way you do 90% of the time, but I wanted to write something based on the remaining 10% that I feel. The part that no one ever says it’s ‘okay’ to feel and the part that so often goes neglected. Besides, you do realise opinions like this are largely the reason why I was inspired to write this, right? :)

      • Tau Zaman

        I mean, but then why not just be honest about how it’s 10% of what you feel? It’s a very extreme statement to say that It’s Harder To Be The One Who Leave;  period–the end. And then to justify it by saying that the one who leaves can feel guilt, and ponder whether or not it was the right choice. And the ending just implied that there’s no going back. But why? Who’s to stop them from reconsidering, and trying to go back? It’s very likely that the One Who Stays would be hoping for a second chance, at least for a little while before recovering. 

        I just think I would have had a lot more respect for this piece if it were more clearly worded as, “It’s also hard to be the one who leaves.” Because to say it’s harder sounds a little like it’s trying to come out on top in some competition of suffering, where the One Who Stays very clearly has an advantage. 

        But don’t stop writing from things that inspire you. =)

      • Grace Yeoh

        I was a stayer too, once upon a time, so I completely understand how that feel. Nothing like being deserted out of the blue without any forewarning. Being blindsided always hurts, I will not deny that. This is just for those who, you know, were at the other side and feel like they have nowhere to turn to. 

        Anyway I feel like it wouldn’t have as much impact if you were to justify the tiny things in writing that push people over the edge. It would just become way too technical. Just so you know, my original title was ‘Why I Disagree With Ms Niffenegger’ – because well, she wrote The Time Traveler’s Wife, which inspired by first paragraph. But of course, as with any piece of writing, the main goal is to get people to read it. This title seems more apt. People either go ‘hmm’, or ‘wait, I DISAGREE!’ or ‘I really get you!’. :)

  • Lee

    Is this really true though?  Do these people actually have regrets or second thoughts?

    • Sunset

      Yes we do.

    • Christine

      Yes. I had to do this just last night. I spent most of the night crying and wondering if I did the right thing by leaving. It hurts for all parties involved.

    • diana salier


  • Limweiqi

    Singaporean writer! How rare! Hi fellow Singaporean!

  • ...

    this was so pedestrian / bland. thanks for the 1 min i will never get back, ever.

  • Jellyolliffe

    I love this! Hits the nail right on it’s head.

  • Ryan

    I REALLY want to send this to my ex (the one who left) cause it so perfectly describes him. 

    It’s funny, because he has always hated the thought catalog.. mostly because it’s so often right. 

  • Anonymous

    this is bullshit, except for the second paragraph.

  • Carmella Osborne

    So true, I think.

  • Annie

    The second paragraph is awesome and probably the one most people will relate to simply because no one like to think of the alternative, myself included. So, with that in mind, this seems like a self-sacrificing piece of bullshit. The people who leave, who have “courage” or whatever it is, don’t invoke our empathy. I get that leaving in scary, but like Tau said, you have control over the situation. It feels like this piece was written as a way to make yourself feel better or to stop second guessing your decision.  I’ve been in both situations, and the soul-crushing, torturous, stomach-wrenching feeling every single second after you’ve been left, yeah, there isn’t anything harder than that. 

  • guest

    Having been on both ends, it was way harder for me to walk away from an OK relationship because I knew I wanted more than this person could ever offer. It hurt so bad. and the next guy I dated did the same thing to me. Relationships are hard and painful regardless of who does the breaking up but we all bounce back to do it all again.

  • Jenn Johnson

    I already loved the piece a few paragraphs in and then you go and mention “all hail the heartbreaker” aka the theme of my forlorn heart. 

    I was the blame for my last break up which was crushing. Now a few weeks later and seeing him with a new girlfriend is KILLING ME and makes me really upset, but I’m the only one to blame. I’m still hoping my “grand” plan works out which is why I initiated the break up to begin with. 

  • Janelle

    Being the one who stayed is easier not because it’s less tough to handle than leaving; it’s because you know that your sadness is justified. People empathize. But it’s harder to leave because, let’s face it, comments on this page demonstrated how little people feel for the one who leaves. It is possible to regret and be hurt even if you’re the one who left. Unless you’re a jerk who left for someone else, initiating the break isn’t pain free. You drench yourself in guilt, tolerate people’s accusing glares, feel terrible about breaking someone’s heart, and no one empathizes with you.

    • Janelle

      Sorry, correcting myself. Unless you’re a jerk, even leaving for someone else can drown you in guilt when you think about breaking the other person’s heart. This is the person you once cared about. Surely saying the words that would kill him/her hurts you too.

      • apw

        The best is when you see your ex getting over you, talking to other people, becoming romantically interested… all the while you are still not over her and becoming more and more consumed by the ‘what if?’  That is when shit starts to really hurt.

  • Anonymous

    Thank you.

  • Anonymous

    I loved this piece, but reading the comments was fun because I got to see who’d been broken up with recently!

  • Laurenk

    So true. I try explaining this to people. I was a mess of regrets for a whole year after I dumped my boyfriend. And you feel like an awful person for making someone upset. Thanks for this

  • Samie Rose

    You should make this longer. It’s good.

  • Mr. Ian M. Belcurry

    damn, good

  • Broken

    I wish I hadn’t read this, because now I’m forced to think about whether or not the boy who broke my heart (several times over) lies awake at night feeling awful about how he treated me. I honestly think he does no such thing, but even the inkling that he does makes me wonder if he wants me back. I don’t want to think about that. 

    As much as it kills me to say this… but you know, all that “He’s Just Not That Into You” crap makes a good point. If you want someone bad enough, you make it happen. Otherwise it’s not worth your time. He doesn’t want me back. If he did, he would have made that happen a long time ago. I can’t keep doing this to myself. I need to get over it.

    I have no sympathy for those that leave. It’s not an act of courage. It’s an act of cowardice.

    • Anonymous

      That’s ridiculous to say  it’s cowardice to leave someone you don’t care about or don’t love or don’t want to spend the rest of your life with.  

      • Kate

        Cowardice if the person you are with doesn’t at all mind you don’t have feelings for them. I lived this article as it is so true. I get a fair bit of male attention and while initially I see positives in them that they may be a good marriage partner in the end I see they are just not right for me and it kills me to have to break it off because by that stage I care about the person but I know in my heart they are not right for me. I don’t think there is anything wrong with wanting to find someone who is perfect for you and who you know you can spend the rest of your life with being genuinely happy. What’s wrong is when people do not care about the person and break up with them in a cruel way whether that be by just cutting them off without reason or cheating on them. Those are terrible things to do to someone who loves you and ones who do it generally are only caring about themselves

    • Guest

      You can love someone and not want to be with them. But I suppose it’s a complicated situation that unless you’ve been there, it’s difficult to wrap your head around that possibility.

    • Nonny

      How on earth is it cowardice? Not that I consider it courage, either. It’s something that’s necessary. Are you really saying you would rather stay in a mediocre or bad relationship then end things? In a relationship where the other doesn’t love you like you love them? One where the other person doesn’t want to spend forever with you? Sometimes relationships don’t work. We have the opportunity to go out and find the one that does. Where both people are fulfilled, happy, and head-over-hells in love with each other.
      You can’t look at it as being victimized. If someone left you, yes it hurts…but it also frees you up to find someone who would never want to leave you.

  • Asia M

    Funny, I don’t believe in unrequited love. I also don’t think that breakups are ever as one-sided as we think. Sure, one person has to say the word, to make the decision official. But a relationship, by definition, is two-ended. If one wants out, it means there’s a global problem. It is never only “me” or “you”, it’s always some kind of “us”.

    So, I don’t know if it’s harder to be the one who leaves, but it’s certainly not that different from being the one who’s left. In both cases, dreams are shattered, and hearts must heal. Someone mentioned control, but once again it’s a two-person deal. If you hurt me till it breaks my heart and I decide to leave you, I may have control over the act of leaving you, but you had control over my heart when I gave it to you in the first place.

    I don’t agree that people who get dumped are blameless, or that people who walk away have only themselves to blame. If someone’s hurt you, they’re the one who drove you away. Never let anyone blame you for saving yourself and surviving.

    • Richa Kashelkar

      Thank you Asia M. You made me well up… You said exactly what I was feeling :(

  • Guest

    Sometimes you want different things, things the other person can’t give you and despite how much you love them you know it won’t work. It’s the worst feeling breaking someone’s heart for a reason neither of you can solve.  It’s hard to do the right thing and takes a lot of courage but because you’re the one to leave you don’t get to play the victim and feel miserable. Our hearts are broken too and we’re left wondering if the person we just left will be the one we let get away and then we will only have ourselves to blame. 

  • nick lachey

    it’s the hardest thing i’ll ever have to dooooo
    to look you in the eye, and tell you i don’t loo0o0o0ve you

  • Anonymous

  • Nonny

    I’ve broken up with a few people, and while it hurt me to see them upset I knew I was doing the right thing. The relationships weren’t right, and while we could have gone on for years, probably, in our mediocre relationships they would have eventually fell apart because something was missing. They weren’t bad people, but I wasn’t happy in the relationships. I wasn’t getting what I needed or wanted. I knew if I wasn’t fulfilled by them, then there was no way I could be giving them everything they needed either.
    They were upset, hurt and angry when I broke it off. For example, one cried while another ceased to acknowledge my existance. But we’ve all moved on. I’m happily married as is another one of my ex’s, I know another is in a serious relationship where I’ve never seen him so happy. Others I’ve lost track of, but I know I did the right thing because we were all able to move on and find people better suited for us.

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