Is There a Right Time or Way to Break Up a Relationship?

a broken glass jar of salsa that's been dropped on the pavement, a blurry line of cars is visible in the photo's background
Image by Mark Turnauckas / CC BY

Today’s piece is a guest blog post from Fluffy, an academic in-training, who is studying organizational behavior in hopes of making the world a better place.

They previously contributed two articles to Poly.Land:

  1.  “I Was Treated as a Disease Vector: Why There Are So Few Gay Men in Pansexual Polyamory”
  2. “Being Single Sucks, But We Don’t Want to Hear About It”

Fluffy’s regular blog is Eclectic Discourse (where pith goes to die; in-depth looks at awkward topics).

And check out what they wrote this time around for Poly.Land:

Once I Broke Up with a Keyboard Character

I remember the moment I stopped using the asterisk. It was bitter. Unhappy. Harmful. It was the worst breakup I’ve ever had, worse than any relationship I said goodbye to something I felt was a piece of me, still doomed to see it sometimes whenever I was in trans circles. Feeling a spark of hope, love, inclusion each time I saw it. I said goodbye to that feeling. Resolved to ignore it. It still hurts to see it again, like an old lover who still travels in the same circles I do. We look at each other. We’ve seen each other naked, both physically and emotionally. It’s hard to look each other in the eye now that we don’t anymore. It leaves a pall over my day whenever we cross paths.

The “Right Time”

There’s this recurring myth that there is a “right time” to break up with other people. There is no right time. We search for the perfect moment where it won’t hurt or cause any harm. Where everyone will come out of the experience better. Where everyone will understand and feel at peace.

This comes from a natural urge to find blame or fault outside of ourselves. To ensure that we are not creating a situation that hurts another human being.

The Outburst

We lay in bed together, the reality of spent pleasure heavy on our senses. Over the taste of him I manage to stutter out “this isn’t working, is it? We don’t work together, do we?”

I still credit myself with breaking him with my brokenness.

There Is No Right Time

Breaking up just sucks. It will always suck. There’s not a universal and gentle way to break up. Similarly, there is not even a personal way to break up that isn’t jarring. Especially if the person being broken up with doesn’t see it coming.

The Ghost

I check my phone. It’s the fifth missed call I’ve had from him since I told him I couldn’t continue to be with him, even long distance. Since I told him that I couldn’t bear to be the reason he couldn’t achieve his dreams of ministry in a church I didn’t belong to, and that wouldn’t allow gay priests. I know he’s not taking it well; a mutual friend describes for me the emotional turmoil it’s putting him through.

Finding Blame

It’s an easy recrimination to blame the other person for the “timing” of a breakup. We forget that they are experiencing the same thing. We depersonalize, assume that they don’t feel as deeply or as hurt by the decision they’ve come to. I’ve been broken up with rarely; I tend to do the breaking. Even so, it’s always hurt more than being broken up with.

The Friends (No, Really)

I see him across the room as I enter. He smiles warmly. I smile back. We make our way to each other and embrace. He’s warm, comfortable, familiar.

“It’s good to see you.”

“It’s good to see you, too.”

We haven’t been together in years but the depth of love and affection either stays constant or grows. It never diminishes.

Planning

Do we always break up in person, even if that means withholding that plan for an extended period of time? Do we break up over text, to give the other person the privacy of their own reactions? Do we just ghost on them, disappearing into the ether? Do we ask a person early on how they prefer to be broken up with? Who really has a preference? Why does the preference of the person initiating it not matter?

The Nuclear Fallout

“Yeah J’s not really feeling it.” I stare at my phone, confused. I had asked R, J’s other partner who I was also dating how he was. I’d noticed he was standoffish the last time the three of us went on a date.

R was perplexed when I broke up with them a few days later. He tried to stay in contact with me but I knew they were a package deal. He, apparently, didn’t. I eventually blocked him from contacting me.

Sometimes It’s Necessary

There is no right way or time to break up in a relationship. Each relationship includes multiple people, each of whom has preferences, different ways of understanding love and affection, and different needs.

In a perfect world we would never break up. We would never need to. De-escalation would be enough; the relationship could remain intact, while no longer remaining prone to the pitfalls it had before. We could stay friends, with or without benefits.

But sometimes we do need to break up.

And how you do it will likely hurt no matter what you do.

The Ice Box

“I love you!” he said. We’d been dating less than a week.

It didn’t last much longer. We still talked, but I cooled my responses. Now we’re friends, and good ones at that. Sometimes he’ll give a sheepish grin and say, “God, I was an idiot back then.”

We make better friends than we ever would have lovers or partners.

Entitlement vs. Appreciation

We’re not entitled to closure, regardless of opinions to the contrary. Whether you’re being broken up with by someone else or trying to craft the perfect method for your soon-to-not-be sweetie, it is easy to forget that closure is something to be thankful for, and not something that always exists. Sometimes it is such a slippery thing there is no hope to hold onto it.

If you’re attempting to mitigate harm to another, the golden rule doesn’t apply. What works for you and your sense of closure won’t for someone else. And sometimes? Sometimes it will stop the other person from finding closure, too.

Scorched Earth

And like that I never heard from her again. I never saw her presence online. Mutual friends and acquaintances either disappeared or similarly saw neither hide nor hair of her either.

It hurt. To know that I’d never talk to her again. To know that the only way she could protect herself was to cut off all contact with me and others (many of which I met through her in the first place). To know that it had hurt so badly.

Sometimes an ending is just bad.

 

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