“How are you doing?” I ask her.
“I’m okay,” she says. And after a pause, she adds, “Considering.”
I nod. “Breakups are never easy,” I commiserate.
“Especially when you never saw it happening.”
“Well, it’s tough to know going in how things will pan out.”
“That’s just the thing…” she says.
I sit up straighter, waiting.
“I’ve made mistakes in the past. You know me. I’m terrible at partner selection,” she says.
“You said that, not me.”
She laughs. “It’s true and you know it.”
“Okay,” I say. “Fair. You haven’t always… picked people I personally like. Or who I think will be good to you.”
“I’ve dated a bunch of jerks.”
“…okay, yeah, that might be another way to say that.”
“Charitable as always,” she says.
“But you know this time,” she says. “It was different. My ex, he’s a good guy.”
I nod. “Yeah. He is.” I’ve known them both for a while.
“So here I am, I picked a good person this time. And what good did it do? We still broke up.”
I sit for a moment, very carefully considering what I want to say back. Finally, I have it. “Well, you definitely picked a good person, but that doesn’t mean you picked someone who was right for you.”
There’s a Difference Between Someone Being a Good Person and Their Being Right for You to Date
It can be very confusing when we reach the end of a relationship with someone we actually like and admire. Someone we’ve felt deep affection for. Someone we possibly even love.
But romantic compatibility can be a truly fussy thing — it’s not so simple or clear cut of a question as “Is this a good person or not?”
The question of whether someone is good for us to date is so much different and complicated than that and hinges upon any number of other issues. What these are exactly will differ depending on the person asking them (and conflicting answers on many of these won’t be dealbreakers to everyone), but here are a few common ones:
Do we want (most of) the same things?
Do we have the same values?
Are we sexually compatible?
Do we agree on how serious we want our relationship to be?
Do we view love and relationships in a compatible way?
Are basic needs of mine satisfied and/or do they encourage me in a supportive way to fulfill them elsewhere?
It’s not the happiest reality, but good people can vary on their individual values and what they want or need in relationships.
However, we have an overly simplistic cultural script for breakups. As I wrote previously:
When it comes to breakups, there’s not much in the way of education. It’s like a lot of our cultural scripts surrounding relationships. We view breakups in such simplistic terms.
Relationships continue until something happens. Someone has to screw up. And at that point, they become the bad guy. The other person then has the option to forgive them for their misdeeds. Or break up with them.
This is actually the only approved way to break up with someone. If you break up with a person who hasn’t done anything wrong, then you’re the bad guy for breaking up with them. This is because in the larger cultural narrative every breakup is viewed as a bad thing.
There are a number of break-up-able offenses. And depending who you ask, some might make the list and others not. But one that’s guaranteed? Cheating. If your partner cheats on you, you can break up with them, and no one will bat an eyelash. Bonus: Your ex is an insta social pariah. No awkward 20-second interactions near the crudités at social gatherings. The tribe has spoken. Out goes the torch.
And sadly, not only does this overly simplistic notion of breakups make it harder for us to accurately understand why any given relationship fails, but the consequent lack of clarity can also make it more difficult to move on.