2019-10-22

You Don't Need A Reason To Break Up With Someone (So Don't Wait For One)

I answer a lot of questions on Quora. One of the major topics of my answers is romantic relationships. It's not that I'm an expert player or a really great Don Juan, and that's not generally the kind of question people are asking about, anyway. No, people are asking a different sort of relationship question on Quora.

What seems to stump people is what I would describe as "the basics of common decency." In short, how to be nice to your romantic partner. This is apparently a mystery to some people.

A good example is a question I answered yesterday. A woman wanted to know if she should issue an ultimatum to her boyfriend: Include me in your social media life, or I'm dumping you! There are two components to this issue, and both of which are completely incomprehensible.

In the first place, the woman's boyfriend was a real piece of work. They'd been together for three years, and in three years, the man had kept his girlfriend blocked on social media. Blocked. He never posted anything about her on social media, and he kept her blocked, while for three years she begged him to unblock her and to post a photo of her from time to time. In a Quora comment to me, the woman explained why she thought he was doing this. I won't include that information here, because it's not necessary to include her speculation when the facts alone are bizarre enough and incomprehensible enough to tell the story.

People, if you're keeping your significant others blocked on social media for three years, you're headed for a break-up.

But that's just one incomprehensible component to this situation. The other is the woman's response to the situation. She thought it was time to issue an ultimatum. I probably don't need to explain here why ultimatums are a bad way to conduct oneself in interpersonal conflict. They're aggressive, threatening, and manipulative. But, for three years, this woman was blocked from her own partner's social media and her response to this was to ride it out, ride it out, ride it out, and then finally issue an ultimatum! This is wrong.

What I think is going on in the woman's situation is something that seems common in romantic relationships. People don't break up for the right reasons, even when it's right to break up.

The right reasons to break up are: "Your values are incompatible with mine," or "Our relationship does not make me happy," or "Our lives are on two different and incompatible trajectories." Note that there is not much to explain here. If you ask your partner, "Why are you breaking up with me?" and they answer simply, "This relationship does not provide me with the kind of happiness I'm looking for in a relationship" then the conversation is over. You could try to follow up with, "But why??" You won't get a useful answer, though, because there is no useful answer. One partner's life goals aren't aligned with the relationship, that's why.

It doesn't mean that one person in the relationship is "bad" or did something wrong. It doesn't mean that there was a bunch of conflict in the relationship that couldn't be resolved (although there might have been). We don't need any more specific a reason to break up than the simple fact that we have other ideas about what constitutes a satisfactory relationship and other preferences in a relationship. This doesn't have to be "justified" with evidence or a catalog of unacceptable behaviors. We can walk away from a relationship for any reason at all. No one needs to be told what they did wrong; they might not have done anything wrong. It doesn't matter.

In this woman's case, however, the man had indeed done something wrong. It was bizarre, suspicious, and emotionally closed that her boyfriend blocked her on social media. The woman should have walked away from that relationship early on. Somehow, she got it into her head that if she just resolved the social media conflict, the rest of the relationship would have been fine. But that couldn't have been true. In the end, the two of them wanted different things out of a relationship.

And so, the woman didn't need to issue her boyfriend an ultimatum. She didn't need to take to Quora to find out "what to do." She didn't need a specific reason or a final cataclysm to justify her break-up. She just needed to break up with the guy. For all I know, he might be a great guy with a very quirky way of managing his social media. That doesn't matter at all if his girlfriend wants something else out of the relationship. It's no offense, it's just a difference in relationship needs. Au revoir.

Imagine how much time this woman could have saved -- and how many years of fond memories she could have had -- had she simply trained herself to recognize early on that her relationship wasn't giving her what she wanted. Imagine how much happier she could have been if she had simply allowed herself to break up with a man for the simple reason that the relationship wasn't doin' it for her, whatever "it" was. She wouldn't have needed to construct a narrative about his social media habits, and she wouldn't have felt the need to design a break-up rule and rig an ultimatum to illustrate the breaking of the rule, to justify a final break-up.

What a waste of three years.

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