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Heavy Meddle: Broken Up About Breaking Up

A young woman struggles with her decision to split up with a man preoccupied by work hassles. (Sebastian Pichler/ Unsplash)
A young woman struggles with her decision to split up with a man preoccupied by work hassles. (Sebastian Pichler/ Unsplash)
This article is more than 4 years old.

Welcome Meddleheads, to the column where your crazy meets my crazy! Please send your questions. You can use this form, or send them via email. Not only will you immediately feel much better, you’ll also get some advice.

Hugs,
Steve

Dear Steve,

I’m a 20-year-old woman. I've been with my boyfriend for over two years. We decided to separate yesterday because we agreed that he wasn’t treating me fairly.

After he started a new job a few months ago, his behavior became unpredictable. Sometimes he wouldn’t want to talk because of mental, physical fatigue, having to deal with people all day, he said. We wouldn't meet because he we busy (we live about 20 miles from each other). Eventually, he became unresponsive. I knew he was very busy and I don't need conversations every day. So I used to drop him affectionate messages, which would also go unanswered. He admitted later that he was so crazed at work that it seemed like nothing mattered.

last month, things started to go from bad to worse and I finally told him that I deserved better.

In addition to being overworked and conflicted about his job, he's not on good terms with his friends. Overall, he's terribly unhappy. Until recently, things with me were relatively good. He told me I was keeping him sane. But last month, things started to go from bad to worse and I finally told him that I deserved better.

Another issue is that both of us will go our separate ways for studies or work in another six months. We recognize that long distance relationships are a challenge in the best of times. Since things between us are already strained, we decided it would be better to call it quits now instead of postponing inevitable heartbreak.

It makes me feel like our love, which was so comfortable for so long, wasn't strong enough. I think we've made the right decision, but part of me is still hoping for a reconciliation. I’m not able to resolve my feelings. Your perspective would be much appreciated.

Signed,
A Bit Broken

PHOTO

Dear Broken,

My sense is that you want me to ratify your decision to break up with this guy. Okay. I hereby ratify your decision to break up with this guy. Why? Because your letter portrays the relationship as emotionally abusive. Your boyfriend sounds like a mess, frankly. He’s overworked and depressed and on bad terms with his friends. All of which might be manageable if he was able to articulate these struggles to you in a direct way — and able to love and support you. Just because someone is struggling is no reason to pull the romantic ripcord.

Unfortunately, his behavior, as you describe it, has been inconsiderate, bordering on cruel.

If you had spent even a little time talking about the quality of love and affection that this guy provides you, I would understand your ambivalence. But the word you choose to sum up his love is “comfortable,” which neither squares with what you described above, nor speaks to the depth of passion in your relationship. The rest of the letter sounds like a case you’re building for ending things.

the avoidance of disruption and loneliness isn’t a solid foundation for love. It’s the foundation of co-dependence.

Unless I’m missing something, what you’re really afraid of here is losing the stability of being involved with this guy.

But the avoidance of disruption and loneliness isn’t a solid foundation for love. It’s the foundation of co-dependence.

In short: your instincts here are right on the money. A healthy romantic love is built on communication and mutual support. Your partner shouldn’t have to be perfect. But he should treat you with respect and affection, at the bare minimum. A relationship should, on the balance, bring you happiness and hope, not distress and doubt.

I’d strongly advise you not to backslide here, even and especially if you’re feeling lonely. It can sometimes feel good to reclaim “lost love.” There’s lots of delicious drama. But all it does in the end is foreclose the possibility of your finding a partner who is actually emotionally available to you, which is what you deserve.

You met this guy at 18 and were with him for more than two years. That’s a good, long time. You gave it a shot. And in a basic sense, he was not only your lover but your teacher. The lesson he offered was that you happen to be worth more than he could offer.

Please keep that in mind.

Onward, together,
Steve

Author's note: Ah, young love. How hard it is at age 20 to demand what we deserve! I hope this young woman can do so. But I wonder how many readers have some version of this same story, in which you stuck around for too long. Give a shout in the comments section below. And by all means send a letter to Heavy Meddle, too. You can use this form, or send your questions via email. I may not have a helpful response, but the act of writing the letter itself might provide some clarity. — S.A.

Steve Almond is the author of the book "Against Football." He is the co-host, with Cheryl Strayed, of the WBUR podcast, Dear Sugar.

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