feature image by Zackary Drucker as part of Broadly’s Gender Spectrum Collection.
I am the literal worst at breaking up with people. So much so that I stayed in my last relationship TWO WHOLE YEARS after I knew there wasn’t a future for us because the idea of looking them in the eye and watching them be hurt because of me made me physically sick to my stomach. I have once again found myself in a relationship that it not quite right for me, and yet for the same reasons I can’t bring myself to end it. My partner frequently tells me that they want to marry me/be together forever, and I know for a fact that that is not what I want. But it’s probably what’s going to end up happening because I would rather die than see them heartbroken because of me. I have literally fantasized about what it would be like if I had never met them or thought about moving to the opposite coast just so I could avoid telling them that I don’t want to be with them. How do you do this? How do you put your needs above someone else’s? How do you break someone’s heart without breaking your own too?
Please break up with your partner. Sooner rather than later. No one likes breaking up, and I can tell you right now that it’ll probably be hard and painful for both you and your partner, but you need to do it. If you’re this sure (you say you know for a fact that you don’t want the same things they do), you need to end it. The longer you draw this out, the worse it’s going to be. And I know that it’s exactly that fear that is holding you back, but I don’t want to mince words at all here: You need to break up with them.
You want to know how to put your needs above someone else’s, but you are not actually honoring your partner’s needs right now by staying with them. Even if they don’t want to break up, what you’re doing is hurting them — they just don’t know it yet. I say yet because even though your partner might not know how you’re feeling right now, chances are that if things continue the way they have been, they’ll piece it together. They’ll feel that you’re not fully present in the relationship. You’ll likely become more avoidant the more your wants and needs start to diverge from theirs. And then it will end very messily!
It is not selfish to break up with someone because the relationship isn’t the right fit; it is selfish to stay just because you don’t want to deal with their pain or your own. I’m sorry if I’m being harsh, but I promise I just want what’s best for you and your partner in this situation. By breaking up with them, you are actually putting their needs and your needs first! Your partner deserves to be with someone who is just as all-in as they are. They deserve to be with someone who is honest about their feelings and level of commitment. It might be hard to see it this way, but that’s because you’re living in it and everything is seen in close-up. A breakup will provide space and a more zoomed-out perspective, and while it will suck for a while, I think you’ll eventually start to see why it’s the right thing to do.
What you’re experiencing isn’t uncommon. Plenty of people get involved with someone who is more invested than they are. And in some instances, I do believe that people can grow into love, that people don’t necessarily have to start at the same level of investment/commitment in order for things to eventually work out. I see it happen all the time in situations like arranged marriages. Maybe you hoped your feelings would change, but it sounds like you’re far beyond that point now. You are fantasizing about your partner never having entered your life! I know that these are thoughts and not actions, but when people stay in relationships too long due to a fear of breaking up, sometimes those hurtful thoughts snowball into hurtful actions like cheating. You don’t want to get to a point where you feel a need to sabotage the relationship in order to end it.
Please do not stay with someone — and especially do not marry them! — just because you can’t stand to see them heartbroken. Breakups suck, even when they’re the right thing to do. Breakups suck especially when you still care about the person. But pretending to be invested when you’re mentally checked out of the relationship is not a better thing to do — for either person. You’re probably just delaying the inevitable, and the longer things get drawn out, the harder the breakup will be.