it's over, it's over, it's over... is it?
May 11, 2005 6:16 AM   Subscribe

How do you know your relationship is worth fighting for? Or, how do you know when to call it quits?

We've been dating a year. He's there, I'm here, about 1/2 of it has been long distance. We'd both been having thoughts that the relationship wasn't working that well, but with the distance and stress of finals, I just figured we'd work it out this summer when we'd be together, working in another city.

Then one night a few weeks ago, he pounced and said that we need to talk about our relationship before the summer. It was horrible timing: my own finals had just started, his were a few weeks away, and we had agreed that no relationship talks would happen over the phone. That night we broke up, but we've kind of peeled back to say that "we'll talk about it when I get up there." I'm going to see him soon. The shock of it all has settled down a bit, but I have been crying for most of the past two weeks, and I don't really want that to happen the entire time I'm with him.

I have a feeling that if one of us says that we want to work it out for the summer, the other will go for it, at least to see how it goes. I have no idea if he's going to say that, but I'm trying to figure out what I personally want to happen. So my question to you, dear MeFites, is: how do you know that it's over? If you have to ask that question, does that give you the answer? Or, is the first breakup of a long distance relationship something to work through, if a summer together might help things? This was my first serious relationship - the first one that I really cared deeply about and whether or not it ends. What advice can you give me? We both still really care about each other, but I'm unclear how to go from here. This is absolutely wrenching my heart around, and I think my finals have suffered already - if the relationship can be patched up, maybe it will be worth it. What do you ask yourself to figure out what you really want? I usually have a sense of intuition stronger than magnetic north, but this time I feel like I'm totally floundering.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (25 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
A relationship is worth keeping as long as there is trust "growth" or if it is intact. If you love each other (i.e., the ONE) then the above should be in place and you will work this out and remain together.
posted by Jikido at 6:33 AM on May 11, 2005 [1 favorite]

I think it's worth keeping if there is mutual respect and if (a) you are having fun together and/or (b) your long-term goals and values are aligned. I would specifically exclude any consideration of infatuation, except to the degree it relates to (a).
posted by alms at 6:42 AM on May 11, 2005 [1 favorite]

I should add that by trust I mean to trust each other enough to do the right thing for each other. You each have to do the legwork for yourselves, but loving each other to me means making sure that the other person is doing at least ok. Sometimes things don't work out how you would expect them to, but in the long run you could look back on it as a blessing or a magnificent period of growth.
posted by Jikido at 6:42 AM on May 11, 2005

"Maybe it will be worth it" catches my eye in your question, anonymous. It's very easy to go around and around in circles with questions like this, and I think sometimes you just have to really listen to what your brain is telling you. Saying "maybe it will be worth it" implies pretty strongly to me that for one reason or another you know that it's probably NOT worth it, but are avoiding actually addressing that fact. Whether this is coming from a (completely normal) desire to cause pain to someone you care about, or to spare yourself the pain and humiliation of being dumped (which is what you fear will happen), by being the "dumper" rather than the "dumpee", or whether it's coming from a serious lack of reasonable expectations about how "worth it" this relationship will be to you, I think the bottom line could well be that you know already that this is past its' sell-by date, and you're trying to find a reason to prolong the inevitable, or some way to reassure yourself that it's okay to call it quits (it is). Sorry, what a bummer. But if you're going to break up, do it now, before the summer, that way you won't have this hanging over you any longer than you have to. Few things are more depressing than relationships where neither party can work up the courage to just call it off, when both parties know it's already over.
posted by biscotti at 6:44 AM on May 11, 2005

(I meant to add that it's also great if you want to work on this and see where it takes you, experience is never a waste of time, but I suspect (based only on your question and the way it's worded, of course) that this isn't what you really feel you should do)
posted by biscotti at 6:46 AM on May 11, 2005

I'm a hopeless romantic, so take what I say with a grain of salt, but, well, if you know you love him, you know it's worth it when you're not talking to him.

The best advice I got from a friend was that being in love (the temporary, infatuation kind) was like being in a cult, love was like a herpes infection (and it'll never go away). [Yeah, he has a way with analogies]

His thought was that people like to be in love because it feels good, intense, exciting, magical, but it needs to be fed -- with contact, with sex, with reassurance.

With love, the kind worth basing your life on, there's an ongoing concern with each other's happiness that doesn't go away when you're not talking for a day, for three days. That's not to say it's easy, but it's not like "When I'm with him/on the phone with him, I'm so sure of everything, but when we don't talk, I think it's over."

Relationships should have both parts, but it needs to be driven by the second in order to keep going.

The thing to watch out for, of course, is that it doesn't eat your life. Because cults do. They take up all your time because they need to. You can still do finals with a herpes flare-up, it's just uncomfortable.

I can completely empathize. I'm in a long-distance relationship that truly can't handle the strain -- I'm not good at distance, and neither is he. When things get to a breaking point, I actively sit down, away from the phone, away from email and think about a life without him, not in a make myself weepy way, but in a practical way, and I think about how I feel. It helps me to separate the "in love" which comes with great anxiety and intensity, from this feeling that in five years, we're going to be a boring, dorky couple at a MeFi meet-up. And that seems like the greatest thing in the world to me.

Of course, YMMV.
posted by Gucky at 7:09 AM on May 11, 2005 [5 favorites]

There are all sorts of alarms going off there, and I think trying to make the relationship work probably... won't work. Why did he have to call you then, when you agreed not to? Why did you end up breaking up over the phone? My first guess from second-hand experience of long-distance relationships is that he's met someone else.

And your finals had just started, putting this pressure on you at that time seems at least pretty callous. So he's either oblivious/self-centered, expecting a certain response based on your situation, or he was under pressure from someone else. None of these are good either.
posted by dagnyscott at 7:13 AM on May 11, 2005

When I recently ended a long-distance relationship (in which both parties were also in school, I more seriously than he, grad school vs undergrad) it was because I realized it had gotten to the point where it involved more work and pain than emotional involvement or satisfaction. I would have been willing to continue a hard, frustrating long distance relationship if I had been getting more out of it emotionally, but as soon as I realized that I was putting more effort in than was coming back, just because that's the way the relationship was, I ended it. It was really hard to do because I kept thinking "but it might be worth it," like you are, but at a certain point it just becomes unbalanced and ... not worth it, for your own emotional well-being, you know?

It doesn't mean you don't think the other person isn't worth it, I don't think.

However, being there for the summer may complicate your situation; it takes less work when you're in the same place so it's not as awful if it's not perfect.

(Yes, I'm a utilitarianist when it comes to relationships. I try not to be but it just happens that way.)
posted by librarina at 7:26 AM on May 11, 2005 [2 favorites]

i'd say you already know.

Especially if it is your first serious relationship...thank goodness my first half-a-dozen serious relationships things that ever happened to me. [the ending, not the relationships.]
posted by th3ph17 at 7:33 AM on May 11, 2005

Why did he have to call you then, when you agreed not to? Why did you end up breaking up over the phone? ... And your finals had just started, putting this pressure on you at that time seems at least pretty callous. So he's either oblivious/self-centered, expecting a certain response based on your situation, or he was under pressure from someone else.

I completely agree with this. I don't know if he's met someone else, but what you describe sounds like a relationship that doesn't have many more miles in it.
posted by languagehat at 7:34 AM on May 11, 2005

I'm sorry to hear of your problems. But I get the sense from your story that your relationship is over, or well on the way to being over. It's not unheard of for people to patch it up, but if you've already reached this stage it may be extremely difficult, if not impossible, for you to reconcile your differences.

Be strong and consider whether you might be able to walk away. It will be hard but may be the most dignified way to go at this stage.
posted by skylar at 7:38 AM on May 11, 2005

Hi everyone, this is anonymous. Those of you who know me will know who this is, but my other account has my real name on it. Thanks so far for all of the responses. I don't actually think he's met someone - there are any number of reasons we were having issues, but I don't think that's one of them. The conversation happened on horrible days for both of us, and it just escalated. Our relationship had been simmering on low for a few weeks, and neither of us stopped the conversation. The next day, we kind of recoiled, and I don't think it had been either of our intentions to break up that night specifically. Part of me would quit school to see if this can work, but I can't due to visa/being a foreigner, so we'd have to get married in order to see if it would work, and that's not feasible for us right now. I think some of you are right, that I probably know the answer and was looking for encouragement where there really shouldn't be any. Thanks for all of your answers so far, I think I just need to hear that it's the right thing to do at this point in time.
posted by barnone at 7:41 AM on May 11, 2005

somewhat off topic: me and my partner always almost break up during finals and we've been together for years, so assume that the stress of finals is affecting everyone's judgement.

I have also had long distance relationships previously [two at least] where the "What are our Summer plans?" conversation was really what made us realize that we shouldn't be spending the Summer together.

Long distance relationships are tough for exactly the reasons Gucky describes, people need reassurances and contact in whatever way that happens. Again I am looking at finals as a big factor here. Maybe you haven't been able to be "there" enough and have assumed you'd make up for it when you two were together, maybe you guys get along better when things are going well than when things get tough, maybe everyone is a little skittish and you need some face time to figure it out. In both the relationships I mentioned above, we broke up but definitely dragged it out a bit longer to see how we interacted in person. I'm not sure that was the best thing to do but it felt right at the time.

Breaking up over the phone sucks, but once those words are out there, you can't both go on acting like it was meant to be without some work happening on your parts. You don't break up "by accident" without it being a sign of something wrong, whether it's something fixable or not is another question. My answer to "how do you know when to fight for it?" is to get selfish for a bit [AFTER finals, I know waiting is wretched, but it beats hasty bad decision making] and think about what you really want and work towards that. If, after lots of discussion and talking and listening, you're still not getting it from your partner [I got a lot of "I'm working on it" assurances which were fine for the first six months, less so for the last six months] and you feel that you've been giving as much support as you feel comfortable giving, then take a step back.

It's easy to get back together, so don't worry terribly that you're forever burning bridges by taking some time for yourself, or letting him take time for himself if he needs it. At the end of the day, pay as much attention to how he acts and what he does than to whatever words he is saying. If you're not getting what you need and you don't feel that this is the normal ebb and flow of a relationship, then you need to think how to do that and one option is moving on.
posted by jessamyn at 7:44 AM on May 11, 2005 [1 favorite]

anon-I would not be as pessimistic as dagnyscott is, although I do wonder why he violated what seems as if it were an important agreement you all had made. Perhaps he simply could not handle his anxiety. Regardless, I think it's worth taking this time to ask yourself what it is you hope to get out of this relationship at this time. A fun summer? Try to work it out. The relief of not breaking up? Not good enough. A future life partner? Try to work it out. Another couple of months before the inevitable? Probably not worth it. Your question is more about the future of your relationship, and less about whether it is over at this minute. It need not be, but this should be a time to assess where it is going. Without that assessment you won't be able to work on it anyway.

That said, you also need to factor in the problems you were having that lead to this point. You don't say a lot about them, focussing instead on the chronology of this recent set of phone conversations. Perhaps the questions about the future of the relationship can be answered in part by considering the problems you already needed to work out.

You can't marry everyone you date.

On preview-Good luck.
posted by OmieWise at 7:48 AM on May 11, 2005 [1 favorite]

Obviously we're not privvy to the actual back and forth of those telephone conversations. It may be anything from pre-exam stress on both your parts to the final bell tolling.
I note that your bf ended it and then it was later rescinded - the question I would be asking is, was it by your emotion/leading/beseeching that your bf agreed that it wasn't the end?? --- or was it him apologetically ranging around that question? If it was your doing, then I suspect that he's already made his intentions known the first time and because he cares for you, withdrew from the cliff face under duress.
But if your bf told you that the earlier phonecall was a mistake or the like, then maybe you can assess things when you see him. If it's this latter circumstance then I'd quit talking on the phone while you're in the middle of exams and go see him when you can. Otherwise......bad timing. Order in tissues and chocolate and good luck with the exams.
posted by peacay at 7:56 AM on May 11, 2005

I agree with th3ph17. If you're asking these questions, it sounds like you already know what you have to do. It's a scary thing, realizing that. And summoning the courage to go through with it is hard.

When young, and confronted with the choice between certainty and uncertainty, choose the latter. It makes life so much more interesting. Moving on will introduce you to new relationships and experiences you can't even imagine now. It could set your life off in a whole new direction. And in all likelihood, in a few years, when you've learned more about yourself then you once thought possible, you'll look back on the decision to end your first 'big one' as one of the best choices you ever made.
posted by nyterrant at 8:01 AM on May 11, 2005 [4 favorites]

OmieWise, thanks for those questions. Those are good, concrete things for me to think about and ask him about. I'm fairly sure I won't make a decision about this until I get up there in about 24 hours, because this whole mess got started because of not being able to read each other on the phone, and neither of us like the phone thing that much. It's true that we'd have a great summer. It's the beyond the end of August that seems to be the question now, I suppose. And peacay - we both just agreed that the conversation happened for a reason (ie: there are things in the relationship that were not working) but that the result (breaking up) wasn't a good idea right now. Chocolate and tissues definitely fuelled the last two weeks though :-) Thanks for all of your answers, really, it's nice to have an outside opinion(s) and even though you don't have the whole story, many of you are right on the mark.
posted by barnone at 8:02 AM on May 11, 2005

OmieWise is indeed wise: you can't marry everyone you date. Statistically, most of your relationships aren't going to work out. It's not that love never conquers all or that things never change for the better in situations like these, but this probably isn't the time it's going to for you.

I know there are dramatic exceptions to this, but there is almost never a situation where a boyfriend is more important than school. Doing poorly on your finals will not tip the universe in your favor, nor will it prove the depth of your feelings for him. Failing out or quitting school, visa issues aside, aren't going to force him to be with you. Usually once the dumping starts, it continues, and he can still dump you when your visa's expiring and you've got nowhere to go.

I assume you're in college because you want to be, and if my partner gave up something that was important and fulfilling to him/her in order to...hang around me and not do those important and fulfilling things?...that's not a quality I want in a partner.

It hurts like hell and this is an awful time, but take the next few weeks just to take care of your own business and kindly thank him to keep his drama to himself until your business is done. If everything's bound to turn bright and sunny again in the end anyway, taking the time to look after yourself right now isn't going to ruin that.
posted by Lyn Never at 8:18 AM on May 11, 2005 [2 favorites]

I recently went through a horriffic break-up, in a relationship that probably should have ended months earlier. I'm *extremely* glad, however, that we chose to drag it out a bit, because I walked away certain that I had done everything humanly possible to try to turn it around into a healthy, fulfilling relationship.

Right now, the fact that we failed matters less to me than that I tried (he didn't, hence the break-up).

So if you guys are actually talking and not just pretending there's not a problem, don't automatically feel bad about dragging things out longer. It may make things work out, which would be great, but even if it doesn't, it may give you more insight about yourself and closure on the relationship. (Again, that's assuming you're doing good things like talking openly, working honestly to see the situation objectively, etc., and not just sniping at each other for another few months.)
posted by occhiblu at 8:31 AM on May 11, 2005

You've got a bunch of really wonderful advice here, but I just wanted to say that my two cents is about identical to what biscotti said. You're in a tough situation, and I wish you the best of luck. And remember (even this is so effing cheesy), it really is a learning experience, however it works out. The work you are doing right now is a valuable and beneficial thing.
posted by Specklet at 10:58 AM on May 11, 2005

A wise older woman once told me that she always advises young people to ask themselves this question regarding love or the possibility thereof: Can you pass one day without speaking to him and not having once wondered where he was and how he was doing?

If the answer is 'No,' it seems likely that you are trying to mold the relationship into something that it is not. I've always been a believer in that "When you've met the right one, you'll just know" sort of philosophy.
posted by crapulent at 11:01 AM on May 11, 2005 [4 favorites]

And I know it's over - still I cling
I don't know where else I can go
Over and over and over and over
Over and over, la ...
I know it's over
And it never really began
But in my heart it was so real

posted by ori at 11:38 AM on May 11, 2005

Part of me would quit school to see if this can work

As someone who was in a position where I almost did this, let me say that quitting school to make a long distance relationship (esp. one that already isn't so stable) work is in almost all circumstances an incredibly bad idea. I am eternally grateful that I did not follow that direction of my life.
posted by advil at 1:46 PM on May 11, 2005

We'll it's not my first degree, so it's not like I'd forsake all future employment options. And I'm not that young anymore, and he's not exactly my first boyfriend, just the first relationship that I care enough to really take care of it. But yeah, I know: don't quit school for a guy, and listen to your gut. Thanks everyone, you've helped me clarify my intentions, and we'll see how it goes this weekend.

In the meantime, I'll continue to replay The Smiths (like the song above :-) and le tigre. And part of the problem is that of course we talk to each other all the time, wonder how the other one is doing, and in general care a great deal about one another. The writing's on the wall though, and I think in the end it will be okay either way. Right now, though, I can only hope that the visit ends well. If you have any post-tramautic breakup advice, I might need that too. Or maybe that's another thread...
posted by barnone at 2:48 PM on May 11, 2005

If you do decide to end it, just remember, you were okay before you met him, so you will be okay again.
posted by biscotti at 3:52 PM on May 11, 2005 [2 favorites]

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