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Q: A month ago I broke up with my (now ex) girlfriend of a year and a half. And it sucks. She was the first and only person I’ve ever been in a relationship with, ever had sex with, and the first girl I even kissed. And I absolutely still love her, but I broke up with her because I wasn’t sure if I was still IN love with her.
We’re currently in fairly different places in our own lives right now, and the passion seemed to fade from our relationship a few months ago. I was scared to be in a relationship where it didn’t feel right, where I was getting naggy, and where she was getting annoyed. I was scared to stay in this relationship just because it was comfortable, and because it was my first relationship, I was scared that I was missing out on something better. I’m beginning to think that I needed a break, not a break-up, and I’m terrified I lost the best thing that ever happened to me. But I can’t tell if I miss her, or I miss the idea of her, and I don’t know how to separate the two.
Hello tiny daffodil! Breakups are rough, and they’re a specific type of rough when you are the one who instigated the breaking up. You feel shitty, but also question whether you’re allowed to feel shitty, and whether other people’s also feeling shitty is all your fault. And in your case, you’re questioning whether you should have even made this decision that made everyone feel shitty in the first place.
Breakups are also not an exact science — actually they are very far from being a science at all, they have virtually nothing in common with a science — and so all I can tell you is from my own personal experience! Maybe it will resonate with you, maybe it won’t. The only way we can find out is to forge boldly on!
What you’re trying to figure out is pretty tricky: you’re feeling bad, but are you feeling the normal kind of bad that you’re supposed to feel after a necessary breakup, or a different kind of bad that means you made a mistake? Only you can know for sure, but based on my unscientific, totally personal and subjective anecdotal evidence-gathering, here’s a survey of the possibilities. Feel free to see if any of them resonate with you.
Am I a bad person/did I hurt this other person?
The latter might be true, but that doesn’t mean the former is. If you broke up with someone, you probably did hurt them. But we hurt other people all the time — sometimes thoughtlessly, but often necessarily. And hurting someone by breaking up with them is a much more loving decision than hurting them by staying in a relationship in which you resent them more and more each day — which is what it seems like you’re gesturing to with “I was getting naggy, she was getting annoyed.” This feeling doesn’t necessarily go away but you do understand why it was necessary, with time, and forgive yourself for it.
I miss them a lot.
Yes absolutely you do! You care/d about this person a lot! They are probably still a really great person who makes hilarious jokes and has a really cute belly button. Ask yourself, though: you miss the person, but do you miss the way you felt around the person? Someone can be really wonderful, but your relationship can still be at a point where you feel shitty when you’re around them. If you felt like cake pops and fairy lights when you were with them, you probably wouldn’t have broken up at all. Think honestly about how you were doing around them: if you know that it wasn’t great, then you can miss them but still not need to be with them.
I miss being in a relationship a lot/being single is so hard.
Sure, being in a relationship has lots of nice perks. Someone texts when you’re on your way home from work to ask how your day went! If you cook, someone else does the dishes! You have someone next to you on the couch when you marathon Kitchen Nightmares! But again, how did you actually feel when you were in that relationship? When your person cleaned up after dinner, did you think to yourself “how glorious! what a blessing I have here in this person, and how truly our love for each other is embodied in the act of cleaning up the kitchen!” If you did feel that way, on a day to day basis, then maybe you should still be in that relationship. But if you did not feel that way, then probably what you miss is the fact of having a support network, someone to check in with; probably what you’re feeling is loneliness, not for this specific person but for having a person. That’s totally normal, but doesn’t mean you should try to get back together with your girlfriend. Instead, be honest with your friends, and ask them to be there for you right now, and step up the girlfriend-ish behaviors to keep you from feeling alone right now.
Did I overreact/make up reasons to break up?
I don’t know! Truly, no one but you can ever possibly know. But I do know that as human beings — especially as emotionally and psychologically complex, empathetic human beings — we have an amazing capacity to rewrite how things happened. This is especially true when the events in question are internal, about our feelings and reactions. We all do it constantly. When you have broken up with someone and maybe hurt them, the incentive to do so is large. If you as a person feel you have a history of being impulsive or making decisions that you later don’t understand, then ok, fine (but maybe talk to someone and look into that?). But in my (again, totally subjective) experience, people’s sense of inertia is very strong — they’re much more likely to come up with flimsy reasons to stay in a situation than to leave it. If you’re really worried about this, think on it, talk to friends, talk to a counselor if you want — but also consider trusting your instincts! Many big decisions we make in our lives have the same trajectory — we feel like we can’t possibly do the thing, right up until we know we HAVE to do the thing, and then immediately regret doing the thing because how could we possibly have done the thing, and then with time realizing that the thing was absolutely what we needed. Give yourself the time to know whether that’s the case.
Am I missing out on a really good thing/would this relationship have had a happy future?
Literally no one knows the answer to this and stewing about it is a great way to make yourself miserable. It is possible, I guess, that this person you broke up with was going to be your soulmate. But it’s also possible that you’re engaging in some very black and white thinking — this person was going to be The One and your life with them would have been Happy, but now you’ve ruined it and so your life cannot be Happy. That isn’t how it works! That’s never how it works. We make a thousand choices every day, and no one choice determines your entire future. Furthermore, we make each choice with the very best information we have. The information you had at the time told you this was the best thing to do, and that’s all any of us can say for ourselves. It’s possible, probable even, that this relationship might not have been a total trainwreck. If you had stayed in it, or if you get back together, maybe you would end up being together very long-term, or married. That still doesn’t necessarily mean it was the right thing to do, though, or that it would have been the best thing to have ever happened to you. It’s dangerous to assume that the longest relationship is also that happiest or healthiest one. There are lots of ways to be happy; this breakup doesn’t mean that every other avenue isn’t still open for you.
[Thing] used to be a real problem, but one/both of us have since worked on [thing] in a substantive way.
This might be the case if your breakup had a specific cause that was internal to the relationship — one of you was going through something personal, you were having specific communication issues, one of you was turned into a demon gargoyle made out of stone on top of a New York skyscraper haunted by a Babylonian apocalypse deity, etc. If this really is the case, and one or both of you have truly turned the car around on the issue, that’s great! It’s probably the best reason to reconsider a breakup. If your relationship was solid besides this one issue, and it’s been resolved, then go at it, you crazy kids. A word of warning: sometimes, even if the problem itself is over, the aftermath it caused in your relationship is too much to get over, and that’s just how it is and it’s no one’s fault. Also, sometimes our desire to believe that problems we’ve had in our relationships are solved is so great that we’re willing to be overly optimistic. It’s worthwhile to hold this to a high standard of scrutiny: a text from one person to the other saying “babe, I’ll never do it again, I promise” is not quite enough.
Probably there’s much more you could be feeling, like days and days more. Our post-breakup hearts are large, they contain multitudes. But the overall point, I guess, is this: you will notice that my commentary on these situations trends towards the cautionary. That isn’t because I don’t believe that anyone should ever get back with an ex ever, but because I know that breakups are hard and painful, and most of the time if we go through them it’s because on some level we know it’s for the best. And because more specifically for you, when I look at what you’ve written here, you’ve given multiple (solid!) reasons why you wanted to break up. You didn’t write anything about what was still good in the relationship, or what you wanted to gain back by re-entering it. Instead, you talked about being scared that you lost out on something. Being scared after a breakup, especially after such a long relationship, is 100% normal — but it’s not a great reason to jump back in. If you do decide to reconnect with your ex, it should be because you actively desire the relationship again and think it would be best for both of you to be back in it, not because you’re scared not to be in it.
It’s up to you! Everything’s up to you, here. (Except for what’s up to your ex.) You need to take time and energy to figure out what you want — talk to friends, journal, whatever you need — and decide what you think is going on. If you do decide to talk to your ex, make sure you’re 100% sure of what you want, because few things are more unfair or cruel than having an ex reach out just to say they’re not sure if they want to try again or not. Godspeed, questioner, and I have faith that you’ll know the right thing to do.
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