Relationship Limbo: The Breakup That Hasn't Happened Yet

The worst part is the uncertainty. Knowing for sure is brutal, but when it’s still possible you’re mistaken, the not-knowing makes you boil with asylum-grade madness. It literally feels like insanity—not trusting your own mind, wanting so much to be wrong, every raw suspicion like a stubborn paper cut between your fingers that you can’t for one second not feel. When it turns out to be exactly what you feared, you still can’t believe it, but there’s an odd relief. At least now you don’t have to wonder.

The possibility does not escape you that it was this dread itself that caused the very thing you dreaded to happen. A sick joke: whoever is more suspicious that the other person is keeping secrets is always the one who’s worse at holding things back. This time it’s you. The more you try not to give your fears away, the more they seep out of you. Insecurity begets new reasons to be insecure. You sort of watch yourself from a distance, about to say another thing that makes you look needy and weak. You don’t want to say it, but you just can’t stop, and part of you is filing away this moment of embraced victimhood so you can pull the memory up, post-mortem, and regret it again anew.

When you tell your friends you think it’s ending they say everything is fine, you’re worried about nothing. This is what friends do for you. This is what you do for them. When you tell them what seems off, they give you the most unrelentingly sunny way of looking at the situation, barely allowing for the possibility that you’re right. Against your better judgment you allow a temporary reprieve from the aching conviction that something is deeply wrong.

After a while, though, the transgressions become more obvious. Phone calls and texts go unreturned for far too long. It feels deliberate and cruel. You play the game of who can pretend not to care for the longest. You wonder if you’re the only one “playing.” Sex reverts back to the hard-fought culmination it was at the very beginning and you feel thankful every time, like you won a contest. Maybe it’s in one of these ever rarer intimate moments that you realize how wrong it is to feel so grateful. You are not delusional—you finally acknowledge that something is definitely, definitely wrong. You realize you’re supposed to end this, you’re actively being prodded to do so, but still you can’t stop. You physically cannot stop yourself from continuing this thing that is torturing you.

Partly it’s because you don’t like to lose. You don’t want to be the rejected one, marking a notch in the Visitors column of your own personal scorecard. Mostly, though, it’s because you’re in love. You love how this used to be, and refuse to accept that it can’t be that way again. Maybe if you are a perfect person from now on, you can unring the right bells; not so much fuse back together what’s broken as erase the suggestion that anything was ever broken at all.

It’s no use, though, because it’s not up to you. This distance, this elusiveness—these aren’t mistakes. The decision has already been made, and it’s only a matter of time. A question of who will actually say the words. The issue will be forced again and again until you can’t stand it any longer. Until then, you are dangling at somebody else’s whim and living in a present that’s already crystallized into amber.

Once it’s really happening, and you’re actually having the conversation, it’s almost perversely exciting. You want to scream out, “I knew it!” and call other people to tell them you were right. But even though you know you’re right, you won’t let it fully become real until the very last second. No. Because you can’t do it yourself. You can’t do what your pride demands you to do. No. You’d rather surrender that pride. You already have. Not because this staunch resistance to the obvious will reverse the end result, but because it will buy you just a little more time. Even though this is shattered and ruined, even though it’s clearly over, you have dug your heels in and you refuse to leave voluntarily. The script has been written and handed to you, and it’s your turn to speak, but you will never, ever be the one to say the words. TC mark

image – Nick Karvounis


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  • Ana

    i guess anyone can relate to that, especially if they've had a serious relationship. i really loved your text, it gave me..that. feeling. :)

  • chelseafagan

    Yeah, wow. I'm a million miles away from that place right now, but god did that just bring me back. Excellent writing.

  • Jordan

    Good piece, I feel like these were the thoughts of my ex during the end phases of our relationship (sorry).

  • Polly Ester

    you're a star for finding the words to say all this.

  • jess

    perfectly worded. it makes me sad just reading it, but it makes me sadder being able to completely understand.

  • Anguyen 37

    Completely spot-on. Excellent, vivid writing!

  • Sophia Ciocca

    This is freakily accurate. Amazingly spot-on writing

  • Mauricio

    holy shit. one of the best thought catalog posts by far.

  • Anna B

    Love this.

  • Margolane69

    did you look into my mind and write my thoughts – perfect!

  • Stephanie Georgopulos

    OH MY GOD.

    This was brilliant, amazing, etc.

    I was here. I was THERE. You nailed it, stranger, you basically opened the wound I thought only one person could.

    If you haven't already, get out. Get out of there NOW. It will make you want to die, but a few weeks will pass, then a few months, your life will improve as is wont to happen when you grow, and you'll get better. Better than you ever were.

    Fuck… I can't get over how you nailed this. Damn.

  • lorraine gotera

    You took the words right out of my mouth. Great job.

  • Nikunj Handa

    How did you manage to find the words to explain this! Amazing.

  • heartspang

    First minute reading this and I cried. I'm still in that place. :/

  • kelly bergin


  • Grace Ruttenberg

    it has taken me 2 years till just right now to really understand how im feeling, dude you hit every spot. amazing. thank you.

  • Amber

    this is a great article. i'm currently obsessing over the  inevitable breakup and my insecurities are killin' it. physically and emotionally exhausting. i've read this 3 times–and although it's comforting to know someone could express this shit so perfectly i'm only  perpetuating the dread i feel for the future of my relationship.

  • Marz R

    I was in that very limbo a year ago. It amazes me how accurate this is. Kudos!

  • alexandra

    too real

  • alrightalready

    Well, this just happened to me on Tuesday. Misery loves company, I'm glad I'm not alone.

    • woyteac

      it happened to me on Wednesday ;/

  • Rick

    I will echo the comments that this article is spot-on.  Having lived through this recently myself there is a sense of comfort in knowing I was going crazy through the ordeal.  Now if those last pesky feeling of love and emotion would leave I would be in great shape.  Many thanks to Joe Berkowitz for writing this piece.

    • Rick

      Correction:  I meant to say there is a sense of comfort in knowing I was NOT going crazy through the ordeal.

  • Christine

    Amazing piece. I am here and you’re right-I cant seem to utter the words although I know I need to. Maybe you will help me do it sooner than later….

  • Thought Catalog

    Reblogged this on Serendipity at Its Best and commented:
    I just had to reblog this.
    The feels. :(

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