How do I break up with someone I love?
October 30, 2009 11:21 AM   Subscribe

How do I break up with someone whom I love and am happy with day-to-day?

My boyfriend and I have been together for six years, living together for four (I am 24, he is 31). We love each other and are generally very happy together. But recently I have been thinking about the long-term future of our relationship, and the fact that we are incompatible regarding our views on marriage and children (I want them eventually, he doesn't). Common sense and logic dictates that we should try to end things amicably before this turns into a Big Problem, to give us time to find other people, but it's such a major life change that it's scary for me to think about.

Something that has brought this into focus for me is that in the past few months I've developed a (unprecedented) crush on someone at work. I found myself thinking and dreaming about him a lot and eventually realised I was maybe trying to distract myself from thinking about issues in my own relationship. It was like a lightbulb going on in my head. I was determined to articulate exactly what was bothering me deep down, get it all out in the open instead of my usual letting them fester, and resolve them. (Mostly all issues that have cropped up in the last year as a result of this, fwiw. I bear him no animosity for what he did; but I became depressed, less trusting, more paranoid and insecure. I feel like I'm in a much better place now though.)

I had in mind that we would hash things out once and for all, and if I was still unhappy then that would be that. I could walk away knowing that I'd tried but we couldn't work things out. This was bolstered by my fantasizing about a potential shiny new future with crush-guy (who, actually, I'm quite certain I do like a lot - more than anyone else I've ever met, except for my boyfriend - he's not just a distraction). Well, my boyfriend and I had a big long emotional talk, and the issues were resolved. And a part of me was disappointed.

So now I'm realising that I maybe I don't want to spend the rest of my life with him. And that's a hard thing to admit to myself, because I've spent my whole adult life with him and I felt settled and that my life was Sorted. And it's a scary prospect to give that up, especially considering that I don't really think things with crush-guy will work out as I hope. (I still want to try though, in time when I'm ready.)

I'm coming to the conclusion I do have to break up with my boyfriend and start my life over, because maybe I want more. And long-term, we're not sustainable in any case. But I can't reconcile that with my current day-to-day life with him in which, like I said, we are happy and everything is fine. I haven't explicitly talked to him about this yet, though he does know that it's been on my mind and making me unhappy lately. I just can't really fathom breaking up with him for real. And I don't want to lose him completely - I do love him, and we are really each other's only close friends.

I am just a whirl of confusion. How can I come to terms with breaking up with him - and actually do it - out of the blue, after six years, at a time when we've made it through a difficult year and reconnected to be closer than ever? When we've been really quite happy for the last few months?

How do I know I'm doing the right thing, and this isn't just all heat-of-the-moment blinkered thinking? (Though I have had this on my mind constantly for about 2 months now, and haven't changed my mind.) Am I just throwing this away because it's not Perfect? What if it takes me another six years to even find someone else whom I like? I am kind of a shut-in, and always thought it was a bit of a miracle that I found my boyfriend in the first place. I will be losing my only close friend, and I don't think I can fully imagine what life will be like without him.

Wow, this is incoherent. I'm sorry. Hopefully you can read through the fog and see what I mean. Christ almighty. I try to be rational and analytical about this stuff but it just leads to me being dubious of what I'm feeling at any given time, because I know it might change. Rational doesn't seem to work with emotions. This post started out one way and ended up another, which may be an indication of what my mind is like at the moment.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (28 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
I am just a whirl of confusion. How can I come to terms with breaking up with him - and actually do it - out of the blue, after six years, at a time when we've made it through a difficult year and reconnected to be closer than ever? When we've been really quite happy for the last few months?

I'm assuming it's not going to be "out of the blue" if you mention you main reasons (marriage, kids) for wanting to break up with this man. He knows how you feel, he knows how he feels. If he's changed his mind, he'll let you know. But I don't think he'll be shocked.

By staying with him, you may have lulled him into thinking you've changed your mind, though. I'd dis spell that notion ASAP!

How do I know I'm doing the right thing, and this isn't just all heat-of-the-moment blinkered thinking?

You have different life goals. That's not heat of the moment anything, crush or no crush.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 11:31 AM on October 30, 2009 [2 favorites]

Sit with this for a while. It's really unpleasant being in-between, and confused, but eventually you'll come to a conclusion about what to do. You've just got to give yourself time to let things settle in your head.

You don't have to act right now -- you're not going to forget your epiphany. If you should break up, you'll still realize that in a week. If you find that you can't keep going on day-to-day while you've got this going through your head, you'll talk with him. If the thought of leaving him comes to feel unbearable, then that's information too -- you'll have to talk about how to move the relationship in the directions you want.

I'm sorry you're going through this: these periods are really tough. But if you're a thoughtful, caring person, you'll get through it in the way you need to.
posted by wyzewoman at 11:32 AM on October 30, 2009

You can help yourself feel better about breaking it off by reminding yourself that, if he is firmly set against ever formally and legally committing to your relationship, then he must logically be cool with the relationship ending sooner or later - and sooner will be easier than later. Now, he may not actually be cool with that. But that's a good way to help yourself feel better about it. Keep in mind, though, that a lot of the time (but not always) when people say that they are dead set against marriage and children, they're actually trying to put into logical terms what is at its heart an emotional response out of a very rational fear of very big commitments.

And I don't want to lose him completely - I do love him, and we are really each other's only close friends.

You're going to have to come to terms with this. When you break up with someone with whom you have the sort of relationship that you describe, you're going to have to lose them completely for at least some extended period of time in order for the breakup to "take."
posted by The World Famous at 11:35 AM on October 30, 2009 [3 favorites]

And that's a hard thing to admit to myself, because I've spent my whole adult life with him and I felt settled and that my life was Sorted.

It will be harder the longer you wait. Trust me on this.
posted by Halloween Jack at 11:37 AM on October 30, 2009 [6 favorites]

Uh... what he did in that other question was horrible, an absolute violation of trust. And his justifications were a bullshit way of making you doubt your totally justified feelings Saying things along the lines of "I knew you weren't prudish so you'd be cool with it!" puts all the onus on you to "keep being cool" and totally manipulates you. No matter how "resolved" you think that issue was, I'm telling you, non-prudish woman to non-prudish woman, this guy is not a keeper. Please break up with this dude. It's not "Perfect" AT ALL.

How to break up? Maybe you could go on a trip if you can afford one- just get out of your shared space for a few weeks. Stay in a place that makes you feel individual and confident (for me that would be a cute little Craigslist sublet in NYC, for instance), bring really cute clothing, flirt like crazy with everyone you meet, and do some sniffing around to find a new place to stay when you get back. Then come back and get out of there and have some rebound fun with your crush to help keep your mind off your ex. Sorry to break it to you, but a guy who would secretly borrow your camera to take sexually explicit photos of other women behind your back is not a catch. Good luck!
posted by twistofrhyme at 11:38 AM on October 30, 2009 [8 favorites]

I suggest therapy. It helped me a lot when I was going through something similar. Not necessarily couples therapy, but you just hashing out your stresses and emotions with someone who is objective. Even just a few sessions might help you talk through it enough that you feel ready to face it.
posted by aabbbiee at 11:39 AM on October 30, 2009

I went though this very thing almost two years ago. It sucked, but it was the right thing to do.

You guys may be different, but for us the break required a clean break. We haven't spoken since we said goodbye.
posted by crickets at 11:43 AM on October 30, 2009

How is he doing with your relationship to date? Is he content to go on like this forever? I know marriage (and even more-so kids) aren't for everyone, and some folks can be happy just living together, but maybe he doesn't see it lasting either, though it seems like he might be complacent in things as they are (from my reading a lot into the fact he borrowed your camera for (semi)nude photos in your new house).

Maybe he'll find this as a relief - I've known guys who stick with a relationship because it's a safe, known thing, even when they're trying to get action on the side. I'm not saying this is happening, but I am saying that people like stability, even if it's boring, because you can add excitement through other means and come back to stability.

Perhaps you could try to write out your thoughts and what you'd say on those thoughts, and put that paper away for a few days. I'm sure you'll keep thinking about things, but then you can come back and see how those things sound. Telling someone you're leaving them on the peak of an emotional trip can be bad, because your emotions can override your logical thoughts, and make a clean break-up messy.
posted by filthy light thief at 12:05 PM on October 30, 2009

Careful with the work relationship...can be an instant change you seek and may lead to difficulties if you work with the guy but the relationship ends.
If you really want marriage and children, then tell your present love that that is what you want and that you do not want to put it off year after year. This may sound like putting the squeeze on
him but at least it will help each of you to make a decision that seems but lingering in the background.
posted by Postroad at 12:23 PM on October 30, 2009

"I really want to get married and have kids."
"I don't, sorry."
"Yeah, I know. I just wanted you to know why I was packing. Sorry."

The sooner you get it over with, the more of your life you'll have left.
posted by rokusan at 12:33 PM on October 30, 2009 [20 favorites]

You know how to do it--you just say the things you said in your question here.

What you don't know how to do is how to do it without it hurting either of you. That's because that's impossible.
posted by Sidhedevil at 12:42 PM on October 30, 2009 [5 favorites]

Am I just throwing this away because it's not Perfect?

Agree with others here.

You're in a relationship with a guy who doesn't want to have children, when you clearly do. This isn't like having incompatible views on interior design. This is an issue where there is no compromise.

Even coworker crush aside, you need to break if off it you are serious about having kids.
posted by thisperon at 12:50 PM on October 30, 2009

Wanting children and getting married is something major that two people have to agree on (the third is money). If you both dont agree break up. Its not worth it.
posted by majortom1981 at 12:50 PM on October 30, 2009 [1 favorite]

Something that has brought this into focus for me is that in the past few months I've developed a (unprecedented) crush on someone at work. I found myself thinking and dreaming about him a lot and eventually realised I was maybe trying to distract myself from thinking about issues in my own relationship.

I will say this: usually we do not distract ourselves with other sides of the same issue. Nor do we distract ourselves with pleasant things when we want to avoid thinking about something bad. We usually distract ourselves with something that is also bad which is not the same thing as what we are avoiding.

That says to me that there might be a possibility that something else is going on which you are avoided that has nothing to do with the relationship or the crush. That thing might be work related, simply because these thoughts are related to a guy at work. Something like that would be the kind of distraction that would be likely to occur. I'd take a week and write down what happened to you and what you were thinking about just before you had the crush thoughts.

Turning to the situation that you are involved in, have you let your bf know that a lack of marriage and kids is a deal-breaker for you? Like to the point that you might leave? Because you really do need to have a difficult conversation about it.

Moving on to the crush, you don't know that guy yet. He's a cipher, not yet a reality. I'd hold off on really seeing him as an alternative until you've worked out what is going on with your bf. Because you do owe him a bit of a chance to make sure that he's not willing to compromise on the kids and marriage issue first. The bf is real, don't drop him until you've gotten the information you need from him to make your decisions. Better that any later regrets be his.

However, if he isn't, you are going to lose him, likely for a long time. And if he comes back after he's gotten over being dumped, he's not going to be the same for you. These are the breaks. We can't have our cake and eat it too.
posted by Ironmouth at 1:35 PM on October 30, 2009

First: ignore your crush, and ignore any other (potential) love interests, until you deal with your current relationship. Otherwise you might find you've made a decision to end this one based on assumptions about your future that aren't true, and that typically ends badly.

Now then: let him know you want to have a talk with him, and tell him you've been thinking about your relationship, and that you're torn. Tell him you're happy, overall and day-to-day, and that's why you've stayed together for so long even though you know he doesn't want kids and, someday, you do. Then tell him you think it's time to have the last conversation on that subject, to see if he's changed his mind, because you haven't, and you've finally realized it's a deal-breaker for you.

I mean, that's it, really. Just be honest and straightforward, and give him a chance to understand that you're not unhappy with him but with the basic, fundamental split in where you want to go with your lives. Then either stay together and start moving towards getting married and having those kids, or move on and don't go back -- but know that he may need some time to think about this himself before he can answer the basic question. Give him that time, but set its length (say, we'll talk about this in a week, and go from there.)
posted by davejay at 1:42 PM on October 30, 2009 [2 favorites]

The answer is easy: You want kids and he doesn't and it's not negotiable. You've given him 6 years to change his mind.

Since you've asked for our opinion.... I find your boyfriend a little creepy. The photography thing doesn't sit well with me, and does not seem like the whole story. The suave way he handled it suggests he doesn't have much of a conscience. If I'm right that he was 25 and you 18 when the relationship started, I find that a little disturbing as well. Now that you're nearly that age, go to your local high school, look at the senior boys, and ask yourself if you could seriously date one of them and what the relationship would be like. Then think about the kind of person your age that would.
posted by xammerboy at 3:47 PM on October 30, 2009 [8 favorites]


Your boyfriend has a fetish he was hiding from you. Being involved in organized groups of models and photographers who engage in fetish photography is fairly sophisticated and dedicated for a 25 or 26 year old. Not unheard of, mind you, but I point this out to highlight that your boyfriend was not a casual participant. It takes guts and dedicated desire to pursue something like that. Plus, he invited strangers into your home. Most fetishy folks are OK, but still.

Of more concern is that your bf shows a prediliction towards compartmentalizing his life and having secrets. And not small secrets, but secrets that require time and money to pursue. Secrets that involve a certain level of risk. Secrets that may put him (or you, or your possessions) into jeopardy somewhere down the line.

This is beside the point of your question, but I wanted to give you some background on that aspect of his life. I think it would be a totally different thing if you were a willing participant with him (Yay Kink!) But the fact that part of his photography fetish involves total secrecy (and therefore, risk) doesn't speak well of him in relation to you.


Nthing everyone above -- it's a good thing if you choose to bring this chapter of your life to a close.

You've grown up since you first got together. It's not uncommon for people to grow apart at any age, but very understandable in your 20's.

Get out there and find a partner who's life goals are compatible with yours!

You will be smarter and wiser as a result of this experience. You're doing it right. Also, crush guy probably won't amount to much (there's every possibility he's already fulfilled his role, yes?) but go on and have fun with him when you are free from your current relationship.

Good Luck.
posted by jbenben at 4:47 PM on October 30, 2009

I'm responding more to your prior post than this one, but ... holy smokes. He photographed naked women, in your home, repeatedly, and hid it from you?

Yeah, I'm sure it was just a hobby. What other secret hobbies are you going to learn about over the coming years? Were there other folders on his computer that you didn't look in? Is there stuff he's moved from his computer to another medium? If someone is willing to go to the effort of hiding something like that, who knows what else they're hiding?

Just because you're older than 18, doesn't mean you're not naive any more.

Get the hell out of there. Crush guy is irrelevant at the moment, other than perhaps being a wake-up call.

And stop feeling guilty for stuff like "dragging him away" from his home town. It's not your fault he's unhappy where he is now. Let him go home and live with his parents and take photos of "models", since that seems to be what makes him happy.

You go out and learn to be yourself for a while, while you're in your prime.

Sorry to be blunt, but this kind of thing just makes me mad.
posted by Diag at 5:59 PM on October 30, 2009 [3 favorites]

Definitely time to move on, though I don't necessarily think that crush guy is out of the question. Totally just a personal anecdote, but I had a lot of similar questions when I dated a guy who I just wasn't happy with, but thought I needed to put more "work" into the relationship, and worried so much that I'd be throwing something good away just because it wasn't perfect. And I had a Crush Guy at work, and thought "well maybe it's just that the grass looks greener over there, and I should take the hard road and stay with boyfriend because love is hard work." Long story short, Crush Guy At Work and I have been married for 4.5 years. Sometimes these crushes are distractions or wake up calls, but hey, sometimes when the chemistry explodes it would be a damn shame to ignore it.
posted by banjo_and_the_pork at 6:16 PM on October 30, 2009

Recently I've been through a similar experience as you described, in some sense. I've been with my now-ex for 4.5 years, and he's the best guy&person (still) I know. We've been in an almost perfect relationship in many senses, as one of my closest friend once put it, he fulfilled every aspect of my need - emotional, social, intellectual, cultural, physical, of soul (if exists), and I think I did, too. But 'we' could not see the future in a positive way since we've been staying away from each other on the opposite side of the globe for a very long time and there was little hope that we could get back together someday, not even within months or a year. It took a long time to realize the situation and some more time to accept the inevitable truth.

He perceived the situation before I did. And I think he could do it because this staying-away situation was emotionally much harder for him than it was me. For me, a turning point that I could clearly see where our relationship stands and that it's time for a change was when I was attracted to a guy. At first I was concerned that it was a 'heat-of-the-moment blinkered thinking' as you put it correctly, but later I realized that it's rather the other way around. I saw this guy a year ahead, and at that time I felt the instant attraction as well, but I did not give a serious consideration at all. And now that I had a hunch of doomed relationship, I began to be affected by this attraction. Maybe our body is cleverer than our consciousness.

Reading your post, it seems to me that you're trying to be rational, fair, making decision with as honest & alerted mind as possible. If you regard yourself as possessing a healthy ego, believe in yourself. If you think you've thought enough, and you find it right somehow, I dare say that's what your smarter-than-yourself mind is indicating.
posted by epgirl at 7:15 PM on October 30, 2009

I know it is hard to end a long-term happy relationship but you were probably pretty mature at 18 and have naturally matured even more on the past six years. Do you think he has matured or stayed more or less the same person he was when you met?

If you stay, you will be compromising two things that are very important to you, commitment in the form of marriage and children. Eventually, as you see your friends maturing in their relationships and moving towards marriage and children it will fester and cause resentment and probably break you up anyway. I think our society has so few "good breakup" examples it is hard to know if you are doing the right thing because it feels like you are the only person that has ever done this. The story of "my first love - forever and ever" is so much easier to follow because we all know the script.

I went through the exact feelings at the end of my six year relationship when I was 24, it was hard to let go because I felt I had already invested so much of my life and identity in the relationship. In hindsight, I wish we had broken up earlier - we both knew it was the best thing for both of us. I am now very happily married to my soulmate (ten years) and have the children I wanted. Write you own story - first love is rarely forever, despite what the fairytales tell us.
posted by saucysault at 3:20 AM on October 31, 2009 [1 favorite]

Do you think you could clarify why you don't have any friends apart from your boyfriend? I think this is a major part of the problem - if you had a good support network I think you'd find the strength to leave this guy (which is definitely what I think you should do).

The time from age 18-24 is prime friend-making time as everyone's high-school friends leave town and move on and so everyone at that age is pretty much looking out for a new social group. I have a sneaking suspicion that you don't have friends because your boyfriend is controlling and manipulative and has kept you from away from other people.

He picked you out when you were still a child and he has "groomed you" into the perfect girlfriend for him - one who is so submissive that she won't even leave him when she catches him photographing other women naked in her house with her camera!

I also suspect that he doesn't have friends because he's a weird, secretive loner type who other adults find off-putting. I say this as someone who has casually known a few men who seek out young women for erotic photography via ads in the newspaper and such - none of the men that I've known could have been considered good guys. As twistofrhyme so rightly puts it, he is not a good catch.

You sound like a really smart young woman who hasn't had a chance to grow up in a normal way, make friends your own age, date different people until you find out what you're looking for, be on your own and independent so you know you can take care of yourself, etc. You can do all these things! But I'm sure that the first step is to get away from this guy. Be strong.
posted by hazyjane at 3:29 AM on October 31, 2009 [4 favorites]

Reading this question, and the previous question you linked to, the only thing I can think is:

Five years from now, after you've dumped this guy and re-equilibrated into your new and far more wonderful life, you are going to marvel that you ever put up with this for so long.

Yes, you're contemplating a big change, and yes, it's scary. No, you don't know what'll happen one week, one month, one year from now. But it will be worth it to get away from this guy for good.

Find a new place to live. In another city if necessary. Enroll in school if you haven't gone already. Make a clean break and don't look back. Don't let him call, visit, email.

You know intellectually that you won't have the future you want with him. You know viscerally that you didn't even have the *past* you thought you had with him. I almost never say this, but: DTMFA. And good luck.
posted by Sublimity at 12:14 PM on October 31, 2009 [3 favorites]

I'm curious if crush-guy wants kids.

Something to consider. You may break up and lose a really good relationship and never meet someone who wants kids.

Not trying to be a naysayer, but it's something to think about.

I left the love of my life in the heat of the moment and have lived to regret it since. Some things you just can't go back and redo.
posted by VC Drake at 3:28 PM on October 31, 2009

Well boyfriend guy DOESN'T want kids. So she's really got nothing to lose in taking her chances. Whether or not things work out with crush-guy, her odds of meeting a guy who wants kids are much better outside her current relationship than inside it. Besides, you should read her previous question. Current boyfriend is NOT a "really good relationship".... I think you're projecting.
posted by twistofrhyme at 3:44 PM on October 31, 2009

Given the past, I'm surprised you're still there. You want kids, he doesn't; he likes secretly taking pictures of nude and suggestive women and you had to find out on your own.

It seems fairly clear to me. Gently tell him you're leaving and don't look back.

I know that sounds blunt and all, but believe me. I was married for over 20 years to someone and when I finally did leave, I just hated myself. The freedom, the weight off my shoulders, the waste of my life... it was just unbelievable. Had I done it all those years before, I could have been as happy as I am now. It's just sickening when I look back. I wasted too much time hoping a broken relationship would mend.

Good luck to you. I really wish you the best and hope you find what you're looking for.
posted by magnoliasouth at 12:10 AM on November 1, 2009

Sorry you are in such a tough spot. You know what jumped out at me when I read your question? You don't actually sound that happy at all. When daily living is relatively pleasant, and there are not any major crises or fights in your day-to-day, it may seem good on the surface, but that doesn't necessarily mean your happy. You sound conflicted, dissatisfied, restless, and uncertain, all which is understandable, but doesn't equal happy, in my book.

The thing is, you have some very major issues to point to as your rationale for leaving. The two of you have drastically different goals about children and marriage, and that is an understandable dealbreaker for most people. Then there's the whole naked women photography issue. Many people would have walked after that, as well. You were betrayed and it still doesn't sound like he was entirely forthcoming even in the end, so I would think trusting him would be incredibly hard, if not impossible. I know you worked hard to get past that, but I suspect the hurt and betrayal probably still lingers, and justifiably so. I tend to think the crush on the co-worker is a red herring, but it does indicate that the idea of other people is appealing to you. I wouldn't pursue this until you are definitely out of your current relationship, and I would go very slowly, perhaps starting out getting to know him as a good friend first. You can mention the first two to your partner as your rationale for breaking-up, but leave the co-worker crush out of it. It's not the real reason you're moving on, and it would only make things harder.

You sound like you have a good head on your shoulders. Six years is a huge chunk of your life, and it is hard to walk away from that. It is okay to acknowledge that parts of this relationship have been wonderful, and those things will always be so, even when you have concluded this is not the relationship for you. Lastly, and this will probably make you roll your eyes, 24 sounds really young to me, but I also know it depends on the 24 year old. You sound like a smart, capable, and mature young woman. Even so, while 24 doesn't indicate much about your emotional age, it is your actual age, and in reality, 24 as a concrete number means you have a huge stretch of adulthood ahead of you that you've only begun to traverse. That doesn't necessarily make walking away from this relationship any easier or less scarier, but you have ample opportunity to make the life you want with a partner who wants the same things, and I hope you don't settle for less.
posted by katemcd at 4:54 AM on November 1, 2009

There is a moment in every relationship where one person realizes it's over.
That moment just happened.
There is no going back ever.
You absolutely have to end this.
It's over, you know it. Now he needs to know it.
posted by French Fry at 10:48 AM on November 2, 2009

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