I’ve been dating my boyfriend for two years. We’ve gone through college graduations, long distance, and finding our first “real” jobs. Now we finally live in the same place (it’s been about six months since moving to the same city). At first, things were great. No more Skype sessions and finally plenty of real time spent hanging out. I love him and I think he is one of the kindest and most generous people I’ve ever met. He always lets me know he cares for me, tells me I’m beautiful, and goes out of his way to do nice things for me.
The catch? Over the past few months I’ve felt myself emotionally checking out of the relationship. I can’t seem to help it. I feel so confused about what I want, and I’ve considered breaking up with him more than once. I find myself wanting more alone time or time hanging out with friends rather than time as a couple. He has expressed to me that he can tell something is wrong and that I don’t seem to be making equal effort in the relationship. The worst part is that I know he’s right and I feel so guilty—like I’m this terrible person for not knowing what I want or being the best girlfriend to him that I could be. I just don’t know what to do. Every time I think I want to break up, I get so scared that it’s a terrible mistake that I’ll always regret—because it’s true, I really couldn’t ask for someone to treat me better than he does. It makes me feel like there’s something wrong with me that I can’t just be happy in this relationship. Help!
—Mixed Up in Missouri
Dear Mixed Up,
Over the last few weeks, I’ve received so many letters from women and girls who were feeling horribly guilty about considering breaking up with their boyfriends. Falling out of love doesn’t make you a bad person. Your letter is framed around the way he treats you. Of course that’s super important, but I say this to all the ladies because it seems to be a theme: try to focus more on how you feel about a guy than on how you perceive he feels about you. Sure, being adored is great, but unless you adore them right back, it’s not an equal, mutually nourishing relationship—for either of you.
Especially for girls and women who have been raised to be super nice and attractive and like-able, I think the dread of telling someone you want to leave comes from two interwoven desires: not wanting to hurt them and not wanting them to be upset with you. Maybe it sounds paradoxical, but you can be a genuinely good person and still hurt or anger another person. There will be many times in your life when somebody won’t like you for whatever random reason, and part of growing up and being true to yourself is learning to live with that—as uncomfortable as it may feel.
OK, so that’s the pro-break up-ish side. On the other hand, here’s something to consider before you ditch an awesome guy. Perhaps your relationship worked better long distance—when you had more time and freedom. Take a pause and think about whether there are ways you could reclaim that independence and space—within your current relationship. Maybe that could reignite the spark?
If you ultimately decide that you need to end it, be kind and honest. Try to accept that he will experience some pain, but that you had a right to make the best choice for yourself.
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