As Nina Simone once wisely said (sang), “You’ve got to learn to leave the table, when love’s no longer being served.” I love this quote because it really sums up the difficulty that comes along with the decision that it’s time to break up with someone. Many of us have been in the position where it feels like a no brainer that a relationship isn’t working, but frequently these situations can fall into a gray-ish area that depend on context before we can choose whether or not to continue to date. The best thing to do if you’re feeling unsure about where a relationship is headed is to communicate. And ask yourself honestly if you’re feeling fulfilled. While on the road to figuring those things out, here are some of the signs you shouldn’t overlook.
You’ve run out of things to talk about
There’s a big difference between comfortable silences and staring at your partner across a dinner table without the slightest inclination or desire to want to chat. I’m not saying that every minute has to be filled with lively, Gilmore Girls-level banter—everyone has days where they’re tired or just don’t have much to say. But if it’s a regular theme, and both of you don’t seem that happy to be there, take note.
It kind of stands to reason that if you’re choosing to hold back from communicating that’s a sign of something deeper. Ask yourself why. I know if I’m not possessing the desire to converse with my person about anything, that is signaling a lack of interest on my part. Unless your couple life norm is to sit in silence the majority of the time, this is a clear cut sign it’s time to reevaluate what’s happening.
You don’t miss them when you’re away
This is something I’ve experienced that was so guilt-inducing, I briefly believed that I might be the most awful human being on earth. Years ago I had a boyfriend who had a family function the same weekend I had a wedding to attend. The first night I accidentally left my phone charging in my room, but so enjoyed feeling free from the attachment of it that I spent the rest of the weekend barely checking it. And even after three days apart, I felt no urgency to rush back and reunite with him. I’m not saying you should be desperate to spend every second with your SO, but after a few days apart I usually cannot wait to see them in person and catch up on what we were both up to while we were away from each other. It made me see that it wasn’t fair to be dating him when his presence in my life seemed to be something I could easily live without.
It feels like something is missing
This may be the worst sign of all. When it’s almost impossible to pinpoint exactly what it is that is making you feel off, but your gut says something is. This is the sneakiest of signs because it’s the easiest to overlook especially if you love the other person. You can chalk up that uneasy feeling in your stomach to indigestion or residual stress from school or work and avoid the idea that it’s directly related to your relationship. Because facing it means the worst kind of breakup.
It is so hard to break up when you love someone without a clear succinct reason why, except that you know instinctually that something doesn’t feel right for the long term. It could be timing. You may not be ready for all that the relationship entails. You may also never figure out why, you just know something is missing. I have been in this heartbreaking position and to this day it haunts me. But sometimes it’s necessary to do something that is going to hurt terribly, because your gut is telling you that it’s the right thing for your life.
You feel alone even while you’re together
A friend of mine once told me that she would lie next to her boyfriend at night and feel incredibly alone even with him mere inches away. When I asked why she stayed with him or if she could talk to him about what she was feeling, she shrugged and said she’d rather feel alone with a boyfriend than without one. Plus she didn’t want to burden him with what she felt were her own emotional issues. Being with someone should never make you feel that way. And if you don’t feel comfortable sharing those feelings or working on them with the person you’re dating, you are probably not in the right relationship for your personal needs.
You look for reasons to pick a fight
I had a boyfriend who after a year together started picking fights with me over the most ridiculous things. As tiny and trivial as which Instagram filter I chose to use. These seemingly inconsequential arguments began to morph into larger ones where he would always end the discussion with “well maybe this is trying to tell us that we’re not compatible in the long run.” At first I laughed because of the silliness of what sparked the fight but I soon realized he was just terrible at communicating and looking for a reason to break up. And if you’re fighting all the time, that’s a pretty respectable reason to break up. My advice? Skip the stress of fighting over non-issues (the dress WAS gold and white OK?!) and address compatibility issues head on.
You hide them from your friends and family
When you’re young it’s easy to use the excuse “they just don’t understand” if your friends or family disapprove of your relationship. But if you find yourself keeping your SO separate from your closest friends and family, you need to ask yourself why they’re not understanding. I can say from my own experience with this, it was because objectively they could see that I was head over heels in love with someone who was not respecting me. They knew I deserved better and tried repeatedly to tell me. Your friends and family love you and want the best for you, they don’t aspire to arbitrarily break up your relationship. Remember that if they are trying to intervene in your affairs. Integrating your partner into your inner circle isn’t always going to be seamless, but it really shouldn’t lead to you participating in deceptive behavior or having to lie about where you’re going and with whom. Who are you protecting and why do you need to be?
You make excuses for bad behavior
I’m sure I don’t need to stand here and preach about how cheating and lying are solid reasons to break up with someone. But there are plenty of other hurtful behaviors that are also grounds for a break up. The danger here is becoming so afraid to lose someone that you convince yourself that little things your SO is doing make up for bigger transgressions. One of my serious boyfriends chose to go to Atlantic City with friends instead of staying in town while I had to attend the funeral of a childhood best friend. My friends and family were horrified at his reasons for deserting me and I tried to placate them by showing them a necklace he had bought me shortly after, which in no way makes up for what he did. But at the time I felt like I was in the throes of an emotional freefall and I was fighting for some sense of stability–afraid to lose him on top of everything else that was happening in my life.
But you know what? We are worth putting first. Our needs, what we are feeling. Never forget that. We all deserve to be in loving, supportive and understanding partnerships. Relationships are tricky, sometimes mind boggling experiences that always teach us things about ourselves and what we want in a partner. We may never get it 100% right, but we can always do our best to take care of ourselves as we try.