Dear Captain Awkward,
I’m writing you, because I feel like I am stuck and I don’t know what to do.
So, I’ve been with my boyfriend for about a year and a half now, but for the last 6 months or so, I’ve thought about breaking up with him. I love him, he’s a great person, and it feels good and safe to be with him. But I am simply not in love with him anymore, and even though I know it is normal for a relationship to lose some of the spark it had in the beginning, I can’t help but feel like I am somehow wasting my time staying in this relationship.
But here’s my problem: First of all, in many ways my boyfriend is very dependent on me, as he doesn’t have a lot of close friends in the city where we live and his family lives at the other end of the country. He has told me that he went through a long period of depression a few years back because of feelings of loneliness and his job situation at the time. While the job situation has gotten a lot better since then, he still has very few friends that he can really talk to, and I sometimes feel like he is putting a lot of pressure on me to spend more time with him.
He constantly tells me how much he loves me, and sometimes he’ll say things that makes it seem like I am the only source of happiness in his life. While I know this is not true, I feel really scared of what will happen to him if we break up.
To make things worse, his brother is getting married next week and he’s told me how much he is looking forward to me being there with him. But I just feel like a voice in my head is screaming NO!, whenever I think about it, because I don’t feel comfortable going at all with all these thoughts about breaking up in my head. But I also don’t want to hurt him right before his brothers wedding day.
So I guess my question is: How do I break up with my boyfriend without feeling like a horrible person?
All the best,
A confused Dane
Dear Confused Dane:
There’s no awesome time to get dumped, but let me make the case that now, soon, before his brother’s wedding day is the best possible time to break up with your boyfriend:
- That voice in your head is screaming ‘NO!’ is a friendly voice that loves you. Its screaming will only grow louder the closer you get to faking your way through a big family party. What happens when some well-meaning relative asks you, in front of everyone, “When will YOU TWO be having YOUR BIG DAY?” and you’ve had a few drinks so you yell “NEVERRRRRRRRRRR!!!!” in front of everyone?
- You’re worried he’ll be lonely and have no one to talk to, but a week he’ll go to the wedding and be around his family, where he can be petted and comforted by them. You’ll get that weekend to yourself to do your own grieving and recovery.
- If you do the breaking up now (and bow out of going to the wedding) you won’t be in all the photos of the event that the family will frame and look at forever.
If you break up now, you might hear “I can’t believe you did this right before my brother’s wedding!” If you do it afterward, you’ll hear, “If this is how you felt, why didn’t you tell me before we went to my brother’s wedding?” If he doesn’t want to break up with you, it will always be the wrong time for him – the summer solstice, his birthday, your birthday, the cat’s birthday, that important Work Event y’all RSVP’d to, Halloween, Christmas, Valentine’s Day, Maundy Thursday, etc.
You’re worried about triggering his depression and it’s true that stressful life events can kick off a depressive episode for people who suffer from depression, so the end of an important relationship might send him to a difficult place. So can the change of seasons, hormonal changes in the body, certain medications and a million other factors that we don’t know about. Part of dealing with depression is learning to handle its recurring, cyclical nature and to put in place treatments like therapy and medication for when things get hard. I’ve had depressive episodes after hard breakups, but in no way was the person breaking up with me at fault for that!
Additionally, if he feels sad and lonely after you leave he has many choices about what to do, from calling a counselor, talking to his family, talking to the few close friends he does have, writing sad poetry, taking long walks, and doing the slow, awkward growing that we all do when our lives change and we have to go inside ourselves for a while. Bottom line: You can neither prevent his depression indefinitely nor cure it with continued reluctant girlfriending.
We have got to teach young people, ourselves, our friends, and everyone we know some things about love, loss, and loneliness:
- Breaking up with a romantic partner is not the end of the world.
- Disappointing someone (by breaking up with them) is not the end of the world.
- Being in a romantic relationship is not a cure-all for everything that’s hard in life.
- Love does NOT conquer all when two people are incompatible and don’t make each other happy.
- You can’t logick or argue someone into loving you and you can’t logick or argue yourself into loving someone even if you can put together a really good case about Why We Should Be Together.
- Romantic love is not the only important kind of love. We need lots of kinds of love and connection in order to be happy and healthy, and we need to value those connections at least as much as we value romance.
- If you choose to make your partner your sole source of companionship and emotional support, that doesn’t create an obligation for them to be that sole source for you. Resist the Siren Song!
- “You’re the only source of happiness in my life” is not a compliment, it’s a snare.
Here’s your breakup script, should you choose to deploy it:
“[Boyfriend], you are a great person and very important to me, but my feelings have changed and I am ending our romantic relationship.
I’m so sorry to do this to you right before the wedding. I know you were looking forward to being there together very much, but I also know that I can’t attend that event with you feeling the way I do.”
Take responsibility (my feelings have changed), tell him what is happening (I am ending the romantic relationship), and address the “upcoming wedding” elephant in the room (I won’t be going).
He’s going to say some stuff, like:
- “How long have you felt this way?”
- “Why are you leaving me?”
- “Did I do something wrong?”
- “How can you do this to me right before my brother’s wedding?”
- “Can’t you at least come with me?”
- “Won’t you reconsider?”
- “But you’re the only person in my life, what will I do now?”
- “Is there someone else?”
None of these are wrong questions or terrible or mean things to say. These are pretty normal reactions to being broken up with “out of the blue” (how it will seem to him). I think the right thing to do when he asks them is to thread the needle between Honesty and Too Much Honesty. For example, you say you’ve been out of love with him for about 6 months, so if he asks “How long have you felt this way?” does he really need to know that you’ve been sort of faking it for a third of your relationship? Or would “A while – I wanted to give us a chance so I waited until I was sure about how I felt” get the job done? Now is not the time to list all the annoying stuff he’s ever done or to try to convince him to change certain behaviors or attitudes, so if he asks why you are leaving him, you can keep reiterating “My feelings changed” or “I just know that it’s the right thing to do for me.”
Do watch out for “negs” from him, statements like:
- “I knew it was too good to be true.”
- “I knew you didn’t really care about me.”
- “I knew something like this would happen someday.”
- “I knew someone like you couldn’t really love someone like me.”
These kinds of self-pitying statements are designed to prompt you to argue with them and prove to him that they aren’t true…by maybe changing your mind about the breakup. You don’t have to give any answer if he says stuff like this, or you can just keep repeating, “I’m sorry, I know it hurts, but it’s the right decision for me.”
Say your piece, hear him out for a bit, cry it out a little, hug it out a little, and then make a plan to be somewhere else so everything can sink in. For example, if you live together, make a plan to spend the night at a friend’s place after you deliver the news so he can have some space.
It will probably be and feel awful, while it’s happening and right afterward. He will feel awful, you care about him, so you will feel awful. Also, don’t be surprised if it’s like that thing where you’ve needed a haircut for 2 months but the day of your hair appointment your hair suddenly looks AWESOME and you question all your decisions.There is grief and sad songs and second-guessing everything ahead, probably for both of you. Please believe that the awfulness will pass, for both of you. When people say “time heals all wounds” these are precisely the kinds of wounds that they mean.
Some bittersweet songs about leaving and saying goodbye to light your way:
(Guess what decade(s) I came of age and listened to the radio in!)