A break is a break
March 4, 2009 12:26 PM   Subscribe

How to know if I actually want the relationship back? Relationship of three years currently on break.

Last week, I asked for a break from my SO of three years. It was my first relationship, I'm in my early twenties. I'd always conceived of myself as independent, striking out in a big metropolitan city with a tiny apartment downtown. I never really envisioned being in a relationship for this long, this young.

The main thing that made me question the relationship was the fact that my SO isn't very opinionated, whereas I am. I enjoy lengthy discussions about whatever comes to mind, rather than simply reciting whatever neat thing it is we found on Wikipedia that day.

That said, in other respects this relationship has been amazing. We've talked at length about what the future holds and how we plan on compromising to stay near each other. For the last year or so, the potential for marriage has been on my mind, and every time I envision that tiny apartment, and add the SO to the picture, I feel all warm and fuzzy. My SO is very kind and supportive, and has been my best friend these past years.

I asked for a break because I wasn't sure what I wanted out of a long-term relationship, and life. I've recently gotten really involved with a rather social activity that takes up a lot of my time and introduces me to a lot of new and interesting people. It felt like a completely different world, and the fact that my SO was not at all part of this world was really disorienting. When I was with the club, I almost felt single. I thought I was making the right decision in asking for some space; I have until the beginning of May to think things over.

I read this question, and I see a lot of people pointing out things that indicate that the Asker isn't actually interested in getting back together with their SO and is simply experiencing the natural regret that comes with breaking up, including:

- not indicating desire for the partner
- not jumping at the opportunity to get back together

Since I asked for the break, I've been a bit of a mess. I spent two days just sleeping and moping and going through the motions of talking to people and doing laundry and eating and whatnot. We still talk, and hearing their voice makes me unexpectedly weepy. When people who don't know about things ask me how I am, I feel angry that I'm forced to put on this smiley face and pretend everything is okay. In my mind, May can't come soon enough, and the thought that I might not care anymore by May scares me far, far more than the thought that they might move on. During my periods of lucidity, I wonder what the hell is wrong with me that I'm NOT crying.

I know part of the regret and the second-guessing is a natural process, but surely, some of the above indicate that I do still want to be with them? I don't want to ask to get back together and put them through a whole load of drama unless I'm certain of my decision.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (13 answers total) 14 users marked this as a favorite
Maybe you do want to be with them, that is very possible. You did spend a lot of time with this person, and the "non-opinionated" aspect may seem small, but it probably reflects larger communication issues.

You felt certain enough about the situation to ask for a break, so follow through for a while at least. I would also advise that you don't have to put on a fake front to everyone. If you truly are having a shitty day, and a person asks how you are, then I wouldn't feel bad about saying "Meh, having a shitty day, I'm on a break with my long-time boyfriend."

The only advice I would have is the current communication. If you're still talking to your significant other regularly, its not really that much of a break.

As an example of things actually working out: my girlfriend several years ago decided she wanted a break, some space, all the standard relationship-ending cliches. We only talked maybe 3-4 times over the next few months.

We just celebrated our fourth anniversary last week on a short trip away from our two great kids.
posted by shinynewnick at 12:41 PM on March 4, 2009 [1 favorite]

My boyfriend of 3 1/2 years decided he wanted to live on this own after we had been living together for a couple of years. This was a first serious relationship for both of us. I suggested that we take a break as well, because it seemed he had things he needed to figure out. He had mentioned that he was unhappy and didn't know why...and couldn't rule out that it wasn't me.

After less than two weeks, once I had moved out, he called and said he couldn't do the break thing and ended it.

I think someone mentioned in that other question that if you're uncertain, that's the answer. I think they're right. While he and I might still love one another, he obviously doesn't want to be with me. A part isn't really enough, is it? I mean, if the situation were reversed, would you stay with someone who was on the fence?

I'm not saying you can be sure 100% of the time. We all have doubts or moments of "is this what I really want/who I really want to be with". But ultimately, the answer should be "yes", not "I don't know".

It hurts for both of you...for your SO to know that you are uncertain and for you to admit that you are.

Your feelings are going to change a lot between now and May, but I bet they'll swing back and forth. One minute you'll feel indifferent, and suddenly you'll feel like someone punched you in the gut. That's natural.

So I guess my suggestion is that you end it and let a lot of time pass to figure things out for yourself. Sure, maybe you'll change your mind and by then, your SO will have moved on. But you can't stick with this because of hypothetical regret.
posted by patientpatient at 12:42 PM on March 4, 2009 [3 favorites]

Sounds like you're going through a breakup: Going-through-the-motions, feeling resentful of other happier folks, and lots of sleeping and indulgences are the symptoms. Even if you were the instigator of the breakup you are likely to feel these things. You're bound to be conflicted after a breakup where your SO was not a jerk and did nothing really "wrong". However, the reasons you say you asked for the breakup are totally legit and sounds really healthy. Stick with it. And for the love of god -- stop talking to your ex! You broke up (whether for 8 months, 5 years, or forever), so stop tormenting your ex-SO and let him/her get on with their life. Keeping contact after you've asked for a breakup, right after the breakup, is mean and selfish and likely motivated by less-than-altruistic wants on your part. You're doing the right thing by giving your life (as an "independent, striking out in a big metropolitan city with a tiny apartment downtown" kind of person) a chance. Don't go sit on the fence -- there's nothing promising about being a "semi-independent, striking it out with your ex in the back of your head" kind of person.
posted by tamarack at 12:43 PM on March 4, 2009

Grief over the loss of the relationship (which is what you are describing) does not automatically indicate a desire to reunite.

If you were my friend I would advise letting the grieving take its course and then see how you feel.

You are in pain (grief) and you want the pain to stop. Going back will end the grieving but it will not help you understand if you two belong together.
posted by trinity8-director at 12:46 PM on March 4, 2009

You know, I could make an argument that if you love this person and believe you'll be happy with him or her, to go with it, but I can't get past my gut feeling. Which is: you broke up with this person. Temporarily or not, you broke up with this person, and that tells both you and the other person all the two of you really need to know.
posted by orange swan at 12:50 PM on March 4, 2009

I am reading something completely different than everyone else. I am seeing a conflict between being with this person and your own growth/independence (as in the excitement of your new group). We often see them as being mutually exclusive and therefore give up one or the other.

You need to figure out how to navigate and enjoy the new world along with the wonderful relationship you have (if you decide to keep it).

Whomever you choose as a life partner (assuming you desire that) is someone that you are going to have to navigate changes with. Life is long and wonderful and new adventures are going to come up all the time. Some people break up with what they have to get the new. Some people learn to have both.

Enjoy your opinionated self, and allow your SO to enjoy going with the flow. Try that on and see what happens...

Adventure AND warm and fuzzy? How perfect is that?
posted by Vaike at 1:11 PM on March 4, 2009 [3 favorites]

You know, sometimes you leave a person because you're just not ready. In time you may wish the two of you had worked it out, but equally if you stayed together they might come a time when you wish you'd had the chance to grow into yourself, by yourself. We can never know. A strong part of you knows that this person has great qualities, but you need to explore your world to know if those qualities are the ones you'll mesh with in the long term.

It is really hard to let go sometimes, that feeling of fear that you won't care in three months is the terror of becoming someone new - change (especially in ourselves) is hugely disorientating - and your emotions are resisting it. That's ok, you'll get past it. Your brain is trying to reconnect all of those nerve endings that are waving about in the air now you've started the process of detangling yourself from your boyfriend. Let them wave. They'll make new connections in time. Maybe you'll get back together with a new sense of purpose, maybe you'll become fond exes, for now you only need to concentrate on the here and now. Enjoy your club, get involved with yourself. Be who you are.
posted by freya_lamb at 1:12 PM on March 4, 2009 [1 favorite]

Does your SO feel uncomfortable with you having this other social circle where you have a strong sense of your own identity, or does it freak him/her out? Are you uncomfortable with having that separation of your own identity outside of your relationship, or is it him/her that's uncomfortable with it?

If your SO is totally down to be in a relationship with you and let you do your own thing, and you guys love eachother and have good communication, well man, that's a really good, rare thing.

Are you worried that if you maintain that independence that you will stray? If so, then maybe you want to end it. If it's a self-identity thing, and your SO is strong and independent enough to let you remain the same, I'd say you don't really want to break up, maybe you just want to better define the relationship and the time you and your SO spend together.

A lot of posters here say "well you wanted to take a break, obviously you want to break up." Hogwash. It sounds to me like you're a healthy and strong person who understands how to be happy in a myriad of different lifestyles and circumstances. The plus side to this is that you can handle what life throws at you quite well. The down side is that you might feel a little uncomfortable shaping your own world, because lots of things are workable and make you happy. This is not a bad thing, but it can be difficult to navigate when it comes to making decisions.

A very wise person once told me when I was fretting about making a choice between two equally AWESOME possibilities (a good, but frustrating conundrum to have). When you come to a fork in the road, it's the easy, clear-cut decisions that matter the most. If you are weighing two very similar options, and the pros and cons seem about equal, it really doesn't matter what you choose, what matters is that you move ahead and do not fret and tie yourself into knots, worrying.

This advice was extremely powerful for me. It helped me to realize that making a decision was just the first part of dealing with the things that life was going to be throwing at me. I can't see the future, but I can feel confident in my decision making abilities, and I can have my eyes open and know that even if this road doesn't take me where I think it will, I have the ability to address what I do run into. Since that time, I've had to make many difficult decisions. Using this frame of mind has made it much easier for me to be kind to myself when things I did not anticipate get in my way. I could never know what would have happened if I made the other choice, but I don't kick myself for it -- I just keep moving ahead.

I suggest you give it a little bit more time, and keep taking stock. Make lists if you must -- mental or otherwise, to help you keep track of how you feel about the situation on a daily basis. Looking at this as a process -- realizing that you will probably never feel totally certain about either decision -- will probably be very helpful for you. Be honest whatever you do decide. Your SO isn't a non-sentient being or a pet without his/her own ability to understand the risks of the situation either. If you're open about your misgivings if you do decide to give it another shot, your SO will be aware of the risks as well. Your SO may balk, and decide he/she wants to be with someone who is more certain about them -- or they may appreciate your honesty because your SO too is a complicated person who doesn't know exactly what they want all of the time.

The trick here is to do the due diligence (which I believe you are already doing) to know that when you do make a decision, you were as fair and clear-headed about it as possible and you made the right decision for yourself and those you care about at that time. This is where you are now. You will be somewhere else later. This may be a final decision or it may not. All you can do is work with the information you have and trust yourself!

Good luck to you, most of all, I think your self-awareness, desire to be fair and kind, and your ability to think about your future as well as the way you feel in a given moment will take you very far!
posted by pazazygeek at 1:31 PM on March 4, 2009 [5 favorites]

I've recently gotten really involved with a rather social activity that takes up a lot of my time and introduces me to a lot of new and interesting people. It felt like a completely different world, and the fact that my SO was not at all part of this world was really disorienting.

I guess my question would be "Did you ask them to be a part of this world?"
If "yes", then my gut feeling would be that you are reacting to him not wanting to be a part of that part of your life. While we don't need our SO to be attached at the wrist and ankle, I believe that there should be an underlying solid support beneath it. The feeling that no matter what you're out doing and making happen (thus satisfying your Mary Tyler Moore Toss Your Beret In The Air Fantasy) that he has your back. I assumed you invited him to be involved in this and he declined. That's a big issue here.

If "no" then WHY NOT? Why did you not invite him to be involved, or decline to be involved, or be involved just a little bit, or give you a "Go get 'em tiger!"? Why did you hold back? Did you assume he would not want to play? Did you do a pre-emptive strike as opposed to a post-mortem?

Hey, I'm single and unattached, so I certainly don't have all the answers.
Just maybe a few questions that might help you.

- Bill

PS. I just realized I'm assuming sexes here. Sorry if I'm incorrect.
posted by willmize at 1:51 PM on March 4, 2009

It is really confusing. But I think a lot of people feel like they're trying to read the tarot cards to discern whether the universe declares This Person Is Right or instead This Person Is Not Right. It's not like that. It's a decision. There are advantages and disadvantages. The path taken and the path not taken. You have to live with the consequences and your own evaluation about whether you were fair to yourself and the other person. It's not even a permanent decision: you can not know and choose to stay together to see how things develop over time if you do that in a fair and honest way.

I'm thinking along the same lines as Vaike above. Whether or not you stay with this person, I'd shift from thinking about whether or not the other person is right for you toward thinking about how you can pursue your own growth and adventures while being with someone else and supporting their growth and adventures. (I just commented similarly here.)

So, if you stay together, I'd start trying to figure out this "conversations" issue and why it matters to you and finding ways to enlist them in improving your conversations as a couple, and I'd talk to them about your discomfort around feeling single when you're with that club or about your desire to have them be part of that world. I'm a huge proponent of therapy and counseling as a great way to learn how to have these conversations, if you can find a way to pay for it.
posted by salvia at 2:26 PM on March 4, 2009 [4 favorites]

From your SO's perspective, she or he deserves someone who knows they want to be with them rather than someone who simply isn't sure that they don't. There's a world of unsureness when you're with someone who can't make that distinction. Don't go back until you can.
posted by katyjack at 8:51 AM on March 5, 2009 [1 favorite]

Hey, have you tried dating other people and seeing if all you do is compare New Person to SO? Kissing someone else, maybe? If that makes you ill, then yeah, go back to SO.

Talking is nothing; comfortable silences are part of good relationships and you are young and picking trivialities because of your age/relationship inexperience.

Having your own separate lives, friends, interests: all extremely important in successful long-term relationships. YOUR IDENTITY IS NOT SO'S BOYFRIEND/GIRLFRIEND; YOU ARE [YOUR NAME].

I can tell you this; if you cannot have a productive life without your SO, you cannot have a good life WITH your SO long-term. Maybe you don't need to move on, maybe you just need to get to know yourself better? That would explain the whole "not crying" and other things you've mentioned.

Maybe you crave the need for your own identity and can't fathom doing that while with SO, which is indicative of the two of you being on unequal ground in the relationship. Perhaps the best thing would be to work out a time period (3-6 months, maybe?) where you agree not to date, either of you, but work on yourselves and set a deadline to decide whether or not your relationship deserves try #2.

You're young; so is SO, I assume. Live your life. There is no ONE person or ONE opportunity for happiness. Be yourself, but be respectful to each other no matter what you decide... if SO cannot be respectful of the break or emotionally blackmails you back into it, that is NOT what you want. Good luck!
posted by Unicorn on the cob at 4:01 PM on March 5, 2009

The reasons you've listed here for breaking up with your SO seem arbitrary to me, but i'm guessing there is more to your relationship than a few paragraphs of text. If you're breaking up with them because they are quiet or they don't like some interest of yours, well, that's kind of stupid. It is easy to find people that are not quiet, or who like whatever activity you're interested in, but it's quite hard to find someone who makes you happy. And sadly that's one detail you've neglected to mention in this question. Does your SO make you happy?

My wife and I have very few interests in common, but we're both supportive of one another so our different interests aren't really an issue. When I want to watch a crazy art house film, or talk about cameras, or go listen to jungle music, I can find friends to do all those things. But none of those friends could replace my wife. By any stretch.
posted by chunking express at 11:30 AM on March 6, 2009 [2 favorites]

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