When you break up with somebody you never officially dated

After the recent the collapse of my fairly serious non-relationship of three months, I got into a discussion with my friends about the art of the modern day break-up. It’s a tricky area. Forget, “It’s not you, it’s me.” Forget letting someone down easy. How do you have an honest break-up with someone when you were never really dating to being with? What are the rules when you’re less “girlfriend/boyfriend” than you are…well, something else?

My personal experience with official, actual relationship meltdowns is limited. In a way, the lack of any “official” breakups in my life is amazing. No emotional turmoil right? I would like to say this is due to some kind of “no relationship” policy of mine, a life completely free of romantic drama and full of educational trips to museums and art galleries, but it wouldn’t take a genius to realize I am lying.

In an age of Tinder and “friends with benefits,” defining your relationship status has the difficulty level of a 10,000 piece jigsaw. The world is full of breakups between people that were never actually a thing to begin with. Thanks to the normalization of modern day hook-up culture, there’s a little bit of a phobia towards committing to anything slightly representative of genuine emotions. Basically, we tend to be a lot more scared of getting into anything with an official label. Or at least, I know I am.

What that means is that I’m always avoiding the kind of relationships where you spend Valentine’s Day together, and always putting off that conversation. You can spend months just hanging out, hooking up, and even spend time making sushi together, without talking about what it is that you’re doing.

One issue of being in this weird status of relationship limbo, is that when someone asks “Are you seeing anyone?,” it’s hard to know how to answer. Since technically the answer is “No,” the rules of starting up something else with someone are hazy. Of course since nothing was ever properly official, we are expected to be all completely chill about our pseudo-relationships, but before you know it, you find yourself crying into your pillow and/or a tub of Ben and Jerry’s. Because here’s the thing: just because you don’t talk about your feelings doesn’t mean they aren’t there. Even if you haven’t put a label on your relationship, you can’t avoid getting your heart broken just because you never called each other cute nicknames and introduced them to your family. These non-relationships are relationships too, even if they aren’t the kind that Hallmark makes cards for.

I don’t have any inspirational solutions as to how to formally move on from this kind of relationship, but I do believe I have some minor guidance in this regard. Stop for a moment and think to yourself. Maybe the reason that you and your “friend” were never official is by previous arrangement between the both of you. But that’s complicated too. Maybe you were saying “yeah, let’s keep this casual” when something in your heart was hoping for something more. Maybe the other person was. Maybe it genuinely started off casually and then evolved unexpectedly into feelings territory. When you are spending time with somebody that you find attractive and interesting, catching feelings is a real possibility.

A thing to keep in mind with a non-relationship (and through a non-break-up) is that communication, even when you aren’t dating dating, is still pretty important. And even though it’s not a break-up like one you see in the movies, you can (to some extent) choose how this phase of your relationship ends. Delete them off every social media site? Throw a fit? Give them the cold shoulder? Convert back to “just plan friends” status, minus those benefits? Any of those are options. After all, you’re allowed to be sad and disappointed even if you weren’t bringing that person as your plus one to weddings.

However you choose to react towards the end of your non-relationship—writing aggressive tweets, uploading that photo to Instagram of you looking a strong 10/10 at that party on Saturday night or rushing out to go on a date with somebody else the next day—you might miss out on actually learning from the experience. And that’s the important part of any relationship, right? . Whether this is about how we ourselves or how other people function under particular circumstances, you hopefully come out with an improved understanding of how to make it work better for the next time. Hey, you might even want to commit to it.

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