It might be selfish, but I need to break up with this guy. We’ve been going out for just about 4 months, and for over a month of this time, I have been on the receiving end of hearing about how terrible this guy’s life is and how I’m the only thing that makes him happy.
I have listened, I have offered advice when asked (and I have been asked a lot), I have…probably put up with this for longer than I should have. I am no longer having fun with him.
He goes on and on about how his ex (with whom he has a son) is working behind his back to take their kid to live abroad without his “permission”, or how his work is so hard and he just doesn’t want to go in any more.
On the rare occasion he does ask how I am, he makes it about him again (“I get you. That’s like when I…”). If I try to take a night off to just do me, I get a barrage of messages asking “Did I upset you? What did I do wrong?”.
He admits he’s depressed…and he refuses to get help because he doesn’t “believe in therapy, because therapists just sit there and nod”. I actually find this a little bit insulting, because I’ve had therapy. He keeps telling me that, no, I actually just worked it out myself because I’m so “awesome and strong”.
…No. I worked with a qualified professional for over two years, and I have worked hard to get to the stage where I realise that this relationship isn’t healthy, and I probably need to get out.
I need to break up with him, because on a good day I have just about enough mental health spoons to deal with me. But…I feel bad because, well, I’m his girlfriend. Should I be able to deal with some of his spoons, too?
I know I am not responsible for his emotional well-being, but…how do I tell him nicely that I can’t be with him because I don’t want to go into a spiral myself, but without feeling guilty about him maybe not sorting himself out?
I’ve Been Through This, I Can’t Do It Again
Dear I’ve Been Through This:
You ask if it’s “selfish” to break up with this guy.
I say, you say “selfish” like it’s a thing you shouldn’t be when it comes to taking care of your time and your heart and your own well-being. If you are unhappy, if you are not feeling like you’re doing an equal share of emotional labor, if you aren’t enjoying your time with this person, if you feel drained and annoyed by your interactions, if you feel like you need to break up or even if you just want to break up, those are all really good reasons to break up with this person. He doesn’t have to be an objectively terrible person for you to not want to be with him anymore.
It sucks to feel like you’re bailing on someone in their time of need. However:
- It’s not your fault this guy doesn’t think therapy is useful.
- “You’re the only thing in my life that makes me happy” isn’t actually a compliment.
- It’s not your fault he hasn’t found or doesn’t think he has other outlets for happiness, or work fulfillment, or dealing with his emotions.
- He coped with his life somehow before he met you and most likely he’ll keep doing that after you’re gone. You can encourage him to seek mental health support but you can’t make him go or do it for him and you can’t be his mental health support like you’ve been doing.
- You’re not responsible for shining a light into all his dark places or standing by him through this time. Don’t fall for the “all relationships take work” trope. Y’all just met a few months ago, and it already feels like the kind of work that you don’t want to be doing.
Unfortunately, there’s no way to break up with this person that won’t make him sad or hurt his feelings. What he wants (you) and what you want (not to be with him) are incompatible, and you can’t really control how he’ll feel about it or how he’ll react or whether he’ll sort himself out in the end. All you can control is your own behavior.
So, how can you be as kind as you can possibly be when initiating a breakup, especially of a pretty short relationship like this one?
- Own the decision completely: “My feelings have changed…” “I have decided to end this…”
- Reasons are overrated. If they ask you to tell them the reasons or start suggesting reasons, proceed with caution! The least awkward way to deal with stuff like“Tell me what I did wrong so I can improve,” “You don’t love me because (of thing I hate about myself)!” “You’re really in love with Mystery Other Person, I knew it!” might be to disengage from the specifics of what they say in favor of something like “I’m so sorry, I know this was all really upsetting for you to hear, and I really don’t know what else to say except that I know that ending this is the right decision for me.“
- Be clear and direct about what is happening: “I want to end our relationship” not a vague “I need some space” or “I’m thinking about breaking up” that keeps the person hanging on thinking that there’s still a chance.
- You don’t have to be friends. You don’t have to be friends even if you kinda got pressured into reassuring the really sad person you just dumped that of course you would be friends in order to end the conversation, or if you thought you wanted to be friends but you changed your mind later.”I’d love to be friendly someday, but right now it’s too hard/it doesn’t feel right and I need a clean break.“
- Don’t say “You’ll find someone” or “I don’t deserve you.” In the first case, you don’t know that. In the second case, it’s shitty to turn the moment when you’re dumping someone into a thing where now they have to reassure you that you DO in fact deserve them!
- Plan how you’re going to actually leave the conversation. Are you going to go to a friend’s house right after, or break up in a quiet but semi-public place that’s easy for everyone to leave? If you’re able, I encourage you to do some planning so you’re not in the position of having to urge or kick someone out of your living space after you break their heart.
- Other logistics can (often) wait. If the person tries to immediately and clumsily initiate The Returning Of The Stuff during the breakup conversation, in many cases it’s okay to say, “Hey, don’t worry about it right now. Tomorrow I can drop off (stuff of theirs that you have) and pick up (stuff of yours that they have).” Or make arrangements to use the Postal Service or Mutual Friend Courier Service Or Whatever. There are always exceptions to this, of course, like if you really are trying to never see this person again and need to take self- or expensive stuff-protective action, but if you generally trust everyone to behave themselves in my experience this might be best handled separately.
Hurt feelings and awkward words are gonna happen and at the end of the day there’s no perfect way to do this. Being dumped sucks. Dumping someone that you care about but know isn’t right for you sucks. Being free of a relationship that’s a bad fit is sooooooooooo good and there’s no way to that good feeling except through the temporary suck. If you’ve owned your decision and your feelings, delivered the news as directly and gently as possible, done your best to let the other person save face and deal with the aftermath in peace, that’s the extent of what you can control.
Let’s get that breakup mixtape started, shall we?