When you’re deeply committed to someone, the end of that relationship can be devastating. Whether it’s a romantic relationship, friendship, or even removing a family member from your life — breaking up is hard. But it doesn’t mean you’ve failed at anything.
I reject the notion that a relationship that doesn’t last a lifetime is a failure.
It is not a moral failure, even if there is pain involved.
Breaking up isn’t failure, it’s acknowledging that something isn’t working for one or more people. I used to believe I had two failed marriages, but really I had two examples of putting myself first and realizing that I wasn’t obligated to stay unhappy for the sake of other people.
People are constantly learning and growing and developing — especially people with mental health struggles. To be able to say, “I can’t be in this relationship because it’s hurting me” is a huge thing. It is something to be proud of. It is not a moral failure, even if there is pain involved.
Here are some reasons I have had breakups:
- I was deeply unhappy in the relationship and felt incompatible with my partner
- I was demanding more respect and consideration than I was giving in return (yeah, this was the time somebody broke up with me — for very good reason)
- An abusive third party convinced me my partner was toxic to me to isolate me
- My partner was abusive
- My partner had a meltdown every time I tried to express a boundary or concern
- My partner could not support my recovery from an eating disorder and lost sexual interest in me when I gained weight
- My partner said something negative and judgmental about people who aren’t ready to leave abusive relationships and broke my trust
Love isn’t all you need
Love is a wonderful, joyful part of life and it can definitely make life better, but it’s not “all you need.”
Just loving someone does not mean you need to stay with that person. You can love an abuser. You can love your parents when they are unkind and manipulative toward you. You can love someone you’ve spent years with, even though you are no longer in love with them. And you can love someone and not trust them.
It’s important to build relationships on mutual respect, reciprocated intimacy and emotional labor, trust, and safety. You need to be able to talk about hurt feelings without worrying that the conversation will blow up. You need to be able to express your expectations of a relationship without feeling like you’re being “too much.”
If they tell you you’re “too much,” that’s simply not a person for you to be as close with. The answer is less of you in their life, not less of you in yourself.
I have some friends that are “a lot.” I love them so much, but I’m an introvert and their extrovert energy drains me. I still love these people, but I make sure to plan my time accordingly so that I’m not seeing five extrovert friends in the same week one day after another or attending two huge social events in a row. I will end that week miserable!
And I’m not shy about saying “I absolutely want to spend time with you but I am spent right now, can we plan something for next week?” Or even while spending time together, if I feel overwhelmed I know I can say, “I’m feeling really overstimulated, can we spend some time just hanging out on our phones or watching a movie so I can calm down?”
These people love me, yes — but they also respect me and my limits. I can’t give all of myself all of the time. Love is a wonderful, joyful part of life and it can definitely make life better, but it’s not “all you need.”
The point of life is not to find a partner to spend your life with
I love to love and be loved. It is a huge part of who I am as a person. But it’s not my one and only purpose.
This is tough, right? The vast majority of media shows us people coupling as a major plot point and even resolution for a happily ever after. But this makes us believe that we need a partner to be fulfilled and nothing is further from the truth.
A partner can be part of a fulfilling life but is not the reason for your fulfillment.
I was describing some upcoming dates with a coworker recently and she said, “Oh, maybe this guy’s the one.” I said, “There is no ‘the one.’” It took the wind out of her sails, but I didn’t mean anything negative about believing there’s a “one” for you — just that there’s no “one” for me.
Firstly, I’m polyamorous, so reserving a space for my most special partner is inherently not cool, and secondly, I’m twice divorced and well over the idea that another human is a necessary factor in my happiness.
I absolutely adore dating, relationships, and love. I love to love and be loved. It is a huge part of who I am as a person. But it’s not my one and only purpose.
Additionally, the idea that a lifelong romantic relationship is the number one priority leaves out asexual and aromantic people who really may not even care about a long-term love story. It also reduces the importance of friendships, which should hold just as much value in society as romantic relationships.
Friendship is intimate and committed and passionate in ways similar and different from romantic relationships, but Western society places romance on a pedestal over an interwoven network of friends.
Why is there no term for breaking up with a friend?
You get to have boundaries and limits, and no one is entitled to your time except the people you decide to share your time with.
Friendships are valid relationships just like romantic relationships are. Friends should be able to live together, raise their kids together, spend quality time together, without it being weird that they’re doing these things platonically. Our heteronormative monogamy culture makes it seem like we’re not whole until we’ve settled down in a one-man-one-woman long-term relationship with children.
And when a friendship ends, we should be able to grieve it like the loss of any other loving relationship. Breaking up with a friend sucks. But just like love isn’t all you need in a romantic relationship, it’s not all you need in a friend relationship either.
Here are some reasons that I, and friends of mine, have ended friendships:
- A friend made a disrespectful (homophobic, transphobic, fatphobic, sexist, racist, ableist, etc.) comment and refused to apologize or be educated
- A friend made judgmental comments about someone’s weight and activity level
- A friend was a bad tipper
- A friend was named as an abuser
- A friend repeatedly tried to sell MLM products after being told no
- A friend voted for Donald Trump
- A friend just generally gave off an uncomfortable or unsafe vibe
- A friend made excuses for someone’s racist “sense of humor”
- A friend became an emotional vampire and refused to grow, go to therapy, or otherwise deal with their issues
- A friend constantly one-upped and pointed out how they did everything better
- A friend was dismissive about a health condition or disability
You get to have boundaries and limits, and no one is entitled to your time except the people you decide to share your time with. You have a reasonable expectations that your friends are respectful (of you and other people), and it is okay to distance yourself or end a friendship if your boundaries are violated.
Regardless of the nature of the relationship, you reserve the right to change or end it to protect yourself. Ending a relationship is not a failure.