How to Break up When You’re Terrible at Breaking Up
Step 1: Start Stewing
Start stewing as early as possible. Don’t spoil the honeymoon by telling your partner about all the things you foresee getting in the way. Keep quiet and sit on all your doubts, dissatisfactions, and fears for as long as you can. Relationships take work, you know. Work that only you can do. By doing nothing.
Start dropping hints that you’re having doubts a couple months in. Make sure to articulate your commitment to the relationship at the same time that you undermine that commitment for yourself and your partner by calmly disclosing that you’re feeling a great deal of anxiety about said commitment. Make travel plans.
Break up, for five minutes at a bus stop in a city far away from where you live. Cry a lot and hold each other and let several buses go by while you figure out what to do with the information that you don’t want to be in this relationship. It doesn’t feel right. Eventually take it back, and get on the bus. It still doesn’t feel right. Hold hands at the art museum. Eat the turkey sandwiches your partner’s grandma packed for you by the lake. Try to make it feel right.
For a while, forget it ever happened. Fall into a routine. Process your gnawing desire to flee with your therapist and in emails to friends who live far away. Buy plane tickets to the East Coast for Christmas. Agree to the rule laid down right after you click Confirm. No breaking up, he says. No breaking up, you say.
Don’t break up. Your mother loves him. Quietly resent her for it. It’s true, she did not make a point of voicing her approval when you brought home a woman. Maybe you really want to be with a woman. Notice how lonely she seems, how desperate to be loved, the way she needs to be by the man she lives with. When you get home, talk with your therapist about how it disgusts you, to see her like that.
Eventually, something will happen. A hard, uncontrollable thing that you didn’t do. Not a betrayal, but an injury. Not an excuse, but a chance. Don’t pick up when he calls you later that day. Don’t argue when he suggests, in an email that you read while sitting in class, that you call it quits. Tell all your friends. It’s over. It’s real.
Get drunk. Make new plans. Hold yourself tight as you fall asleep but don’t be satisfied. Still don’t make up your mind. You should have done it yourself. He didn’t mean it. It’s not over. Call him up.
Go to therapy. Try seeing other people. Get sick for weeks.
One day, unexpectedly, just fucking do it. Do it in a text message or on a walk in the woods or in the library, in an explosion that turns every head away from every laptop and tells them all you won’t hear another fucking word about Hegel. Stay in bed for a week. Pretend it isn’t real. Then drop out of school. Feel your heart burst into a wave of possibilities. You’ve got to get out of this fucking town. Move to Cleveland or Philadelphia or Berlin. Get a spot in a warehouse, dye your hair and go on tour again with a project that’s like nothing you’ve ever done before or thought yourself capable of. Settle into a new life, one that’s all yours, one small step forward from where you were before. Find a new home, get a job, get comfortable, then fall in love with another arrogant intellectual. Start stewing.