You didn’t see this coming.
Sure, you noticed that the other person was a little sad and upset, but you figured whatever they were going through could be resolved with an honest talk. Then you had an honest talk, and it turned into this. They told you that it had been on their mind for a while, but that they couldn’t do this anymore. That it’s really hard for them too, and that they’re sorry, but that they have to end this.
You push back a little, ask questions (how long have you been thinking about this? Are you sure this isn’t just something we can work out?), maybe cry, but this is the decision of the night and it’s over. You leave their place or hang up the phone, and you go to sleep that night disoriented, unsure of how you’re going to handle the next morning, days, months.
You think—there’s no way this can be permanent. Just some time apart, and you guys will realize how much you miss each other, just like all the other little fake breakups and breaks you guys have had. You’ll get through this. After all, you guys still love each other…right?
So you wait.
You wait for the phone call: the one where, after a few days, they call you in tears and tell you that they’ve realized what a mistake they’ve made. That they’re sorry, that they love you, and that they can’t go on like this without you—all the words you’ve desperately wanted to hear since you broke up. And you, after some heavy measured silence, would speak up too, and tell them that it’s okay, and that you’re glad they called. That you love them too, that you forgive them, and that everything was going to be alright.
You wait, and you wait. But that phone call never comes.
Every time your phone vibrates you grab it to see who it is, but it’s never them. A feeling of sickness in your stomach starts to set in, you step outside and the world feels like its lost its color. You thought that you could do this without them. You thought that you could win this. But in the end, it turns out that you need them. You need them, and what’s more, you need them in the way that you—back in the beginning, when you were first falling in love—promised yourself you never would: you need them more than they need you.
One night, you just can’t stand it anymore, and you relapse. You contact them and tell them that you need to talk. After some heavy measured silence, they say, “ok.” You ask to come over, and they say a small, “ok” to that too. You go to their place. You see them again for the first time since you’ve broken up, and the knot in your stomach grows tighter. You ask them how they’ve been and they say, “alright.” They ask you how you’ve been and you say, “alright” too. Then you brush aside the small talk and start to talk about how you’ve been feeling.
You try to temper yourself, and to discuss this like a rational person, but the more you speak, the more you find yourself breaking down. You’ve been hurting, badly, and you want them back. Just give you one more chance, you say. One more chance and everything will be different, you swear. You’ve changed since the last time you’ve talked. Those insecurities of yours? Gone. The things you would do and say that annoyed them? Gone. You have so much love to give them, now more than ever, and if they just accepted it they would see how happy the two of you could be, together. How can they not see how good things were when they were good? How good they could be now?
Your monologue gains momentum and grows more reckless, more painful, like a train that’s gone off the track and is approaching a cliff with its passengers looking out the window and starting to scream. In your desperation, you start to say things that you don’t even know are true but that feel true in the moment: that you’ll never meet somebody as special as them, that your life feels empty without them, and that you can’t do this anymore. You’re crying now, sobbing, and they’re five feet away but a million miles apart, unwilling to touch or hold you, unwilling to give you the physical comfort that you so desperately need.
And then you stop. You’ve betrayed yourself enough already. You imagined on your way here how this would all go down, that after you gave them your heart in the palms of your hands like this they would realize what a mistake they’ve made. That they would break down too, and say “I’m sorry, I love you, I feel the same way,” and that you guys would kiss and hold each other and everything would be okay and beautiful again.
But they have only silence. After clearing their throat, they start with, “I’m sorry,” and they tell you that they’re hurting too. That this isn’t easy for them either, but that they really meant it when they broke up with you, and that no matter what you say, do, or promise, they’re not getting back with you.
A small voice comes from inside of you: “never?” All the memories you’ve shared, what were those for? The secret language, the love games, fuck it how good the sex was? Did those mean anything to them? Against your will, you start to get angry. How could they do this to you? They told you that it was okay to fall in love, they told you that they would catch you if you fell, and now they’re ending this without even giving you a second chance? And the other person starts to cry, and you feel guilty and they feel guilty, but it’s over, it’s all over, and they tell you through tears that they’re sorry but you have to leave.
Relationships are crazy, how one night you can be making love and the next day that same person won’t even touch you.
The pattern might repeat: the phone calls, the going over to their place and the devolving into an argument, but they stick by their decision through it all. And it starts to sink in: the fact that no matter what you say, what you do or how desperately you try, this person is not getting back with you. You want to feel angry, you want to feel betrayed, and more than anything, you just want to have them back.
This was my story. My girlfriend broke up with me a month ago. While we were sitting in her room, she told me that it was for a number of reasons, but they all essentially boiled down to the fact that she didn’t know if she loved me anymore. As she said that, I realized suddenly, with how honest she was being, that I didn’t—I couldn’t—date her.
As much as I wanted to lean across the bed and kiss her, and tell her that all the problems in the world could be solved right there in my arms, to do that would be to fuck things up in the long term. If I got back with her, I would be dating somebody who was unsure about me. And whatever emotional turmoil she felt about me now wouldn’t go away. It would be buried under the instant gratification of intimacy, and it would eventually resurface. And when it did, maybe it wouldn’t just be turmoil, it would be resentment, resentment at the fact that I was holding her back by guilting her into staying in a relationship with me.
If you love somebody, you’re supposed to what what’s best for them, right? So how come when our lovers tell us we’re no longer the best things for them we freak out? Maybe it’s an ego thing. Maybe it’s because we’re holding onto the belief that we are the best things for them, and that they just don’t realize it.
But I guarantee that if somebody breaks up with you, and sticks with it long enough to override all those probably-still-remaining feelings of attraction towards you, they really believe that it’s the right decision for themselves. And even if you disagree, you need to let them figure that out on their own. They can’t figure it out if they’re having sex with you. They can’t figure it out if they’re sleeping in bed cuddled up next to you. They can’t figure it out if you’re taking them on dates and kissing them on the forehead and telling them how much you love them. That shit’s confusing as hell. Intimacy is like the superglue of human relationships: it makes us stick together, whether or not we’re of the same material.
It’s far easier for them to stay with you, and to hold on to that comfort. But they’re choosing the harder route for a reason. You’ve told them that you’ve loved them before, and to love someone is to want them to be happy. And you want them to be happy, right? So when they tell you that for them, being happy is not being with you, then that’s just something you might have to accept.
I broke up with my high school sweetheart and she loved me into my next relationship and I always told her that it wouldn’t be the same because I didn’t like her anymore. She was so upset about that but now I understand how she felt. She called me the other day and we talked about it. The conversation was short, as conversations between former lovers always are, either long or short.
I explained to her what I’m explaining now: that even if we were to have gotten back together, it just wouldn’t have been the same, because I wasn’t attracted to her anymore. Free from her feelings from me, she agreed. It was just hard, she said, and it was her pride mostly, not letting her accept the fact that I no longer wanted her. She should have been glad, she said, that I found somebody else who made me happy. And, free from her feelings, now she was. It was just hard for her to let go.
But no one told you that it was going to be easy. The hardest thing in life is to bounce back after a loss—that of a friend, family member, or romantic relationship.
But I think, that the biggest test of a relationship between two people is what happens after the breakup. If there was something meaningful there, more than just physicality, then it can take the beating and eventually emerge as a friendship. If you love somebody—and I mean, really love somebody—it goes beyond more than just possessing them via dating. So show them that by accepting and understanding why they broke up with you. They’re going with their feelings, and they can’t control those. You don’t have to hang out with them, you don’t have to talk to them, but don’t hold it against them.
Find ways to occupy yourself in their absence. Be productive. Write in a journal, read a book, hang out with your friends. Don’t try to fill the void with someone else immediately; use the time alone to learn more about yourself. If you “do you,” it’s a win-win situation: either one day they’ll see that and feel attracted to you again, but even if they don’t, you’ll have grown and set yourself up for something even better, even more beautiful, in the future. You’re going through the five stages of grief right now; take solace in the fact that the final stage is acceptance. Maybe what attracted you guys to each other will eventually pull you together again, but not right now.
When I was younger and more idealistic, I had this thing about love, that I would always be fine because how could you want to be with someone who didn’t want to be with you? Love, I felt, was an agreement between two people, and if one didn’t person want it, it wasn’t love. And then I grew up and experienced heartbreak and I wanted to be bitter and cynical about thinking that.
But what I realized recently, is that I was right all along, in a certain way. You can’t be in a relationship with somebody who doesn’t—or doesn’t know if they—want to be in a relationship with you. You know, in your heart of hearts, that that wouldn’t make you truly happy. And it wouldn’t make them happy either—the fact that they broke up with you is a testament to that. As much as your heart urges you otherwise, you know you don’t deserve a relationship with someone whose heart isn’t really in it. No one does.