I’m writing because I’m scared to break up with my boyfriend. Not scared of him, he’s a lovely person and would never hurt me, scared of what would happen to the rest of my life if I did. You see, I’m at university, in my second year, and have been going out with him since a month or so after I got here in first year. He’s my first boyfriend – I had never even kissed anyone before him. I’m pretty nerdy and awkward, and he is too, so it was just great that I got to be with him and to meet a whole circle of mutual nerdy/awkward friends. The problem is this: if I ever decide to break up with him, what on earth happens to my friendships with them? They’ve basically never known me as a single person, always with him, and some of them are friends of his that I met through him – we have a D&D group that both he and I take part in, and I really like all of the people there, but they are more his friends than mine and he knew them first. If I broke up with him, would my social life implode too? I don’t want to make people have to choose between being friends with me or with him, and I don’t want to lose friends.
What could I possibly do? I know I’m infected with numerous geek social fallacies about this, but I think our friends are are too and would react accordingly (feel like they had to choose).
When we went through a troubled patch this thought first came to me, and it’s never really gone away even though the problem at the time got better. I don’t want to break up right now, I’m happy as I am, I think. But I’m worried what might happen in the future. It would be hard for him too, and I don’t want it to be. I’m the only person he feels like he can talk about sex with, for instance, and I’ve tried to encourage him to find someone else to confide in but he hasn’t. I’m freaked out that I’m getting more and more entangled in this relationship and it’ll just be worse further along the line if we break things off. I’m also worried that my worrying about this is going to sour what we have now, and I don’t know how to feel better about it. I don’t want to be that person, the no self esteem person who breaks off a good thing because she was sure that it wasn’t going to last. I do want this to last. But I want to have some kind of parachute for if it doesn’t, and to know that the rest of my life isn’t going to run away from me.
Social Circle is Too Small
Whoa, Social Circle, I feel you on your anxiety about what will happen in your friend group because breakups can in fact be awkward, but the way you keep using the phrase “the rest of my life” makes me want to hug you, feed you a little something, and give you a good talking to.
Whatever qualities that made this dude like you and that made all his friends like you and want to play D&D with you (which as we all know is kind of a big social commitment?) are qualities that you had before you met him, that you have now, and that you will have after you break up with him. You = likeable. These friends will probably still like you? But if they don’t, you will make other friends. And you will have other boyfriends (yes, I’m using the Statistically Probable Plural here).
I have been in love – really truly in love – at least 5 times. If I were to count crushes and flings we’d be here all day, so I’ll leave it at five. Some of it was Bad Idea Jeans love. The rest of it was This Is Pretty Great But Not Quite It love. I feel really qualified to tell you about the end of things. Here’s some stuff I know for sure:
- Even if the relationship was a bad idea from the start, completely impossible and unworkable in every way, and/or involved Darth Vader, you still grieve when it’s over. Even if you’re doing the breaking up. Build in a grieving period where you will feel awful and like that was your one shot at happiness.
- That grieving period does not last forever. Time does its work and you move on.
- You don’t have to be friends with your exes! But it’s totally possible to be friends with them, and it’s totally possible to keep the friends you made when you were together. Some exes get (rightly) sent to the cornfield. But one advantage to not dating anyone who isn’t as cool as your friends is that your exes tend to be as cool as your friends.
For example, my brilliant friend L. called me last night from NYC to wish me Happy Birthday and generally catch up. We dated 16 years ago. The end was not awesome, and there were a few years we didn’t talk at all. But listen. He is one of my people forever and ever, he has totally been there in times when I needed him, and we are friends now because we let all the past bad stuff go and just focused on the awesome stuff (It helped that we became grownups, developed boundaries, and stopped “accidentally” doing it). I know I can count on him to never, ever make small talk, and to jump right into what’s real. And through him long ago I became part of the message board where I met about half of my current closest friends.
To give you another case study? 8-10 years ago I dated someone who introduced me to all his friends (though I declined to join the weekly Dark Conspiracy game even though at the time I thought “Wow, he must really like me if he’s inviting me to that!“). Those people are now my friends. His wife is now my friend (and listens to me babble on about crushes on her lunch breaks). Due to some kind of transitive property of exes and friendship, those friends are now also Intern Paul’s friends! And someday he will bring a new lady to a party at their house and they will like her and I will like her.
So yeah, a goodly portion of the people I love most in the world – the people who have stuck by me and believed in me through everything, the ones whose kids will grow up knowing me as Auntie, the ones who took me to Paris, the ones who helped me move, got me jobs, worked on my movies, pulled me out of my shell during sad times, cheered me on during great times, who first encouraged me to write, this amazing urban family – came to me directly or indirectly through ex-boyfriends. I’m getting a little weepy (in a good way) as I write this. Maybe our specific kind of romantic love didn’t last forever, it still changed the whole course of my life profoundly for the better. Love is not wasted in the end.
The advice I have for you isn’t about how to break up with your boyfriend or survive a breakup – the archives here are full of scripts for that, and as long as you are honest and kind and own your feelings fully you’ll do fine. Obvious rules like “don’t cheat on him” and “don’t bitch about him to members of the mutual friend group and make them choose sides” apply.
But your letter is a cautionary tale about what happens when you let your partner become your whole social world, and I think it will be very helpful for you to put a lot of time into making some new friends and developing closer bonds with this social circle. Seek people you already know out outside of gaming, and get to know them. Invite them to things one on one. Pour some love into them. Don’t wait to be asked or chosen. Choose.
Being in your second year of university means that you are surrounded by other people your age, and it will never be easier to find people with common interests. By getting into this particular relationship and this particular friend group so soon, you maybe didn’t try as hard as you might have to form your own social connections, but there is still plenty of time to fix that. Commander Logic (who I may never have met if not for an ex-boyfriend) is a master of friend-dating people and has lots of good advice here. Speaking to your concerns about “the rest of your life,” use your time at university to build your social skills and become better at connecting with people. It’s never too late.
If you make a conscious decision to make more connections with people, it will lessen some of your anxiety about your boyfriend. Obviously your hope is that you will work it out, but it is 100% a-okay if you break up with your first ever college boyfriend, I swear. You don’t need an ironclad reason. “Not feeling it” is a reason.
As one commenter said recently in the TERRIFYINGLY AMAZING thread: “Go out. Meet people. Be awkward. Because you rock.”