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Why I Ended a Happy Relationship

I loathed the roller coaster

03.30.17
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I knew I loved him when, a few months into our relationship, I told him I had sharp stomach pains and he tenderly suggested I go sit on the toilet and wait. The memory of that day still makes me laugh, because in that moment, I remember feeling loved in a way I hadn’t known possible. And I felt that intense, transformative emotion while perched atop a toilet.

That was the special thing about him: He never made me feel like I had to be someone else. Something about that felt infinite. It still does.

When I ended our relationship six years later, the weight of that infinity crushed me. Worse, it crushed him. Our spirits felt separate in a way they hadn’t since we’d met. It was an unfamiliar kind of pain. More visceral than all of that was the lump of uncertainty that sat in my throat. Because I wasn’t breaking up with him, per se, I was breaking up with the quiet war I’d been waging against myself for years about whether I should. And while I hated the ambiguity of it, in time that uncertainty felt like a decision in its own right.

We were happy. The comfy love, the deep respect, the weird quirks, the shared dreams, the comedic rapport. The memory-bloated cocoon we’d built around ourselves and the familiar rhythm with which we inhabited it. So often I thought I could stay there forever. We were us. We were perfect. Why would I leave? I’d asked myself that question a hundred times. The problem with persuading myself to stay was never that I didn’t have the data points, it was that I had to do it in the first place.

The first seed of doubt was planted a year in. It made a habit of returning every once in a while — weeks, months or maybe a year later — like an old, unwelcome friend. With it came the disorienting maiming of my own perception. Maybe this wasn’t it, maybe we weren’t forever, maybe I wanted something else entirely. The thoughts always hit me like a ton of bricks. Panic-stricken, I took care to fall back in love. Quick.

I loathed that roller coaster. All in one day and not the next, with nothing to blame but my own twisted paradigm shift. It felt like such a waste of energy to experience, each time, a tiny hypothetical heartbreak. I was desperate to make it stop. I reasoned that my doubts were delusional, anxious, a side effect of unrealistic expectations. Quietly I feared, with every fiber of my being, that they were my undeniable truth.

Relationships are hard, I’d mentally counter. Doubts are normal, I’d repeat in my head. If I really don’t want to break up, I’d write in my journal, that must mean I want to stay. And so I would. And we’d cook a cozy dinner, goof around and snuggle into bed like we’d done so many nights before. And I’d mistake the myopia of pain avoidance for the utopia of doing what felt right. I’d convince myself that safety and comfort were the same as fulfillment.

One day, after years of this intermittent cycle, I confessed to my mom I was having the old familiar feelings. It was a hot summer afternoon when I realized, in tears, I was done. Not with him — I still loved him a lot — but with it. The battle. The conflict. The denial of what I was beginning to recognize was my gut screaming for my attention. Suddenly it became stunningly clear that no matter how robust my list of reasons to be with him, none of it mattered if I simply didn’t want to.

It’s easy to misconstrue reluctance to leave as desire to stay. Especially when the source of our itch feels frustratingly nebulous and capable of destroying something precious. It doesn’t help that, as women, we’re constantly fed the notion that we ought to hold on to something good. To listen to everyone but ourselves. Cheryl Strayed of the column Dear Sugar once famously said, “Go because you want to. Because wanting to leave is enough.” Those words had a profound effect on me when I first read them, but what I didn’t understand until much later was the voice saying go wasn’t some mysterious desire I couldn’t help but follow. It was me at my most honest.

When I eventually ended things, I was plagued with a sadness so intense I almost can’t remember it now. It wasn’t long before the answer to my tortured question — Why would I leave? — began to emerge, no longer handcuffed by fear. With healing and distance, our mismatches came into sharper focus. It all made stupid-beautiful sense. Just as I suspected, and as is so often true in life, clarity was waiting on the other side of the hard part.

Photos by Tory Rust; follow her on Instagram @toryrust.

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  • Teresa

    Haley, you have no idea how much this article means to me. I’ve been struggling with whether to break up with my boyfriend. I was actually planning to do it tonight (seriously). For the first time, I have no real concrete reasons to break up. I just don’t want to be with him anymore. So thank you for sharing.

  • Samantha

    Thank you so much for sharing. I have a lot of friends who have gone through this same scenario and I went through it two years ago after a 5.5 year relationship. I had the same exact epiphany as you did with your mom, after sitting in a pancake house in Chicago and my then boyfriend asked me to live with him. Sudden panic crept in and I went home and cried to my mom and said I can’t do this anymore. The doubt ultimately takes over and you keep wondering is there something else out there that I am missing. Please continue to share your experiences because I know many of us have either been there or are in the same boat. 🙂

  • Molly

    I share in appreciating this as the others do. I left a relationship a number of years under the same circumstances. Nothing was wrong, and I loved him, but it just wasn’t right and I struggled for a long time wanting to leave. The relationship was just too hard (even though he insisted that was okay) and poof, one month later, I met someone who was a match and now we’re married, with a child. Trust your gut always.

  • gashgoldvermillion

    I am in the middle of a divorce, after seven years of being together. It was good, the most familiar thing in the world, but I chose to leave. I know this feeling exactly, and I so appreciate you sharing it here – I don’t think we talk about this enough, or that women have enough avenues to leave for “no reason.”

    • Willa Konefał Davis

      Yup. You need a really good reason, otherwise its “you should be grateful” because you found someone who does the bare minimum (or a little more… but ya know.)

    • jenny

      I went through the same thing. Almost 7 years. And one of my biggest struggles were with my friends that told me there must have been something “wrong” with me that I couldn’t appreciate someone who loved me so much. As if his love was enough for the both of us. But the truth is, staying with him without being happy does you both a disservice. Women do need to talk more about it being okay to be alone. That having a man love you is not everything.

      • gashgoldvermillion

        I’m a little mad on your behalf that friends would say that to you! But I totally agree the social pressure of being satisfied with a relationship that isn’t working to save you from the *horror* of single lady life is real.

      • gashgoldvermillion

        And that it is a kindness to him, too, to leave. I try to remember that.

  • Melisa

    I did this, six months ago. I was/am very inlove with a man that is almost to every extent, perfect. But somehow I felt unhappy. I don´t know if I broke up by my own will or because of another man who “adviced” me to do so. After breaking up, I started to date this person only to find out months later he cheated on me. Now I feel I left someone amazing for a scumbag. Still, I did what I had to do, but somehow I want him back. I miss the happiness he gave me and the certainty and security. He would have never hurt me like I´ve been hurt now. Did I do wrong? I don´t know. But it´s what I chose at the moment and I would never judge anyone who makes that decision. It´s one of the hardest a woman has to make.

    • kjrobot

      I can imagine how you feel tormented. Being cheated on is the absolute worst – it’s like a death, but the person who died is you, but you’re still alive…the walking dead. I know from experience.

      Perhaps you feel such warmth to your ex because you are traumatized but what happened next. My only advice is wait. Wait. And if you can afford it, get therapy. Internet hugs!

    • Holly Laine Mascaro

      “I miss the happiness he gave me and the certainty and security. He would have never hurt me like I´ve been hurt now.” SO understandable to feel exactly this way, but I think this is the key — you miss these things but not the person himself. I totally get these feelings but I do think you answered your own question – while this last guy may have been very wrong for you, it doesn’t take away from the other one being wrong for you in a different way. Fully confidant you will find someone who will be that perfect mix of right for you!

  • kjrobot

    You did the right thing. I had a crossroads in my relationship a little over a year ago. But in variance to you, we decided to stay and we are now weirdly happier for it. Rather than make me think you should have stayed, this makes me think you did the right thing because you came to that crossroads and your gut said, “leave”, just as mine said, “work it out and renew”. You gotta go deep down and be very very still to hear it.

    You got balls, girl! I salute you.

  • tmm16

    “That was the special thing about him: He never made me feel like I had to be someone else. Something about that felt infinite. It still does.” – This was just so beautiful and really moved me. I’ve never experienced this. Thanks for sharing 🙂

  • Áine Hegarty

    This is so beautiful! Wow. You are truly brave. Reading a story where faith in the unknown led to a good thing is reassuring.

  • Max

    Beautifully articulate Haley

  • Harling Ross

    I’m goosebumpy haley! your words are so good. “I’d mistake the myopia of pain avoidance for the utopia of doing what felt right.” sklghaslokjglasg !!!!

  • Elizabeth

    Tearing up at my desk over here!

    I’m going through a painfully similar situation with my boyfriend right now, and have been back and forth about breaking up since October. We’ve been together for almost 3 years. I love him immensely, but there’s that voice that I keep tuning out, constantly telling me “this isn’t what you really want.” My heart goes out to you, as cheesy as that sounds, because I feel like I am on this roller coaster that won’t end until I move back to New York (where I am from; I’m living in California now). Glad to know you are doing well and have moved forward.

    • Haley Nahman

      HUGGING YOU FROM HERE

      You’ll be so okay

    • Amelia

      I went through the exact same situation last May. I went back and forth about breaking up for about six months before I finally did. You will be absolutely fine I promise!!!

    • Katie Girouard

      Right there with you. I was in an almost three year relationship and had the same exact “go” feelings described in this article since September or so. I finally broke in February and regardless of how painful it was and is, it immediately felt like the right decision. I too am waiting to move back to New York!

  • Nicole

    I appreciate this article, but what about when you’re the one who was broken up with? My ex-boyfriend broke up with me recently after 6 years. We were happy, never had any major fights, made it through a period of long distance, made it through a job-loss–I thought we could make it through anything. A few months before it was over, he said he had some doubts about getting married. But even when we talked about them in a healthy way, and sought therapy to work on our individual issues, he still ended it. While he was ending it, he even said, “I’m not confident I’m making the right decision.” How is it fair to me, or to those of us who were left? To be selfishly dragged on in a happy relationship, thinking everything was OK, when the other person apparently wasn’t? I understand your sentiments here and agree everyone is entitled to do what they feel is right for themselves, but I don’t think it’s right to break someone’s heart after so much investment in the relationship. I think if you start to have doubts, even if you feel happy most of the time, those should be expressed with the person you’re with as soon as you feel them, so that you’re not wasting time loving someone (and having them fall more in love with you) you know is not right.

    • Haley Nahman

      Hi Nicole. I’m so sorry youre going through that. It’s just so….hard. All of it. For what it’s worth, I DID tell him. He was very aware. But the problem with being forthright with that kind of thing is (and what often make me hesitate was): what could either of us do with the information when we were still in love? My guess is your boyfriend kept his concerns to himself because he was scared of hurting you and hoped his doubts would go away so he could just be happy with you. That’s how I felt. I just wanted them to go away so we could be happy. It worked sometimes! But then it would come back.
      By the end he understood why I did it. He got it because he’d known it was happening, which I’m sure helped. But he probably didn’t know the full extent. I don’t have all the answers, but I do know that when love is involved it’s just not that simple. I hope you find the space to heal and find someone who never makes you feel like time was wasted. Even better, I hope more time gives you more clarity as to why it ended, the way it did for me and my ex.

      • Nicole

        Thanks, Haley. It is hard. I agree that he probably didn’t share it with me because he thought it would hurt me, but I wish he had (like you did). Maybe we couldn’t do anything about it, but it would have been nice to at least be aware. I just feel really confused and blind-sighted by it all. I think what’s even harder, from this perspective, is the lack of clarity. When you’re grieving, your mind tries desperately to grasp on to reason or meaning. You want closure to move on. But I think when you’re so committed and in love, it’s really, really hard to be OK with “it just isn’t right” because you don’t feel the same way. Anyway, thank you for your kind words. Everyone keeps saying time will help, and I hope it does, but right now I just feel empty.

        • Haley Nahman

          Ugh I know that so well. Nothing is a good enough answer when you’re in that place. If knowing that “time helped” was the solution to healing, the whole concept would be moot. Hang in there.

          • Nicole

            Thank you, Haley. Really appreciate all of your articles–they’re so real and so necessary.

      • Carley

        How did you go about communicating your doubts in a way that was also “but I don’t want to break up right now?” I’m feeling similar things and want to be open and honest, but also don’t want him to think I’m saying let’s break up. Maybe that’s selfish.

    • April Simerly

      Another way to look at it is, as much as this hurt you…think of how much worse it could have been. He could have gone on telling himself there wasn’t a good enough reason to end it and then fast forward another 5 years. Now you’re married, you have children together, a home, a whole extended family with grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins…but he still feels EXACTLY the same. I know you feel led down the primrose path as it is, but at least he ended it before breaking smaller, more tender hearts than just yours.

      • Nicole

        Thanks, I have thought of that, and a small part of me appreciates it ended now rather than later, when more was invested. It still hurts, though.

    • ohjeez

      I’m in the same situation. Boyfriend unceremoniously dumped me 7 years into a relationship for no reason. This article makes me angry because it’s incredibly selfish. Sure, you do you, I am the biggest proponent of that, but not at the expense of wasting years of someone else’s life. I am about to turn 30. I have fertility issues that will get worse with age. My dad has a heart condition and I would really like him to be around to walk me down the aisle and meet my children. If he had doubts, he should’ve made that clear earlier so I could’ve made MY OWN CHOICE rather than be played with and have to live with the consequences of his unilateral decisions. This “didn’t want to hurt you” excuse is cowardly bullshit. As hard as this is for the one doing the breaking up, it is even harder on the receiving end because you lose so much agency. A huge part of my life was yanked from me. The future I had been envisioning was yanked from me. I had been clear with him about my expectations and plans, and he signaled we were on the same page.

      It’s been a few months; I’m in a much better place and I really don’t need other’s sympathy. That’s not the point of this. But that doesn’t mean that what he did wasn’t completely self-centered and may have destroyed my ability to trust someone completely in the future.

  • lateshift

    So here’s the thing: this is a great (if self-consciously over-written in spots) essay, which makes a solid point — EXCEPT for a few pretty big blind spots…

    The first is the fact that, unless I read over it, we have no idea when this happened. It’s written like sage advice being offered with the wisdom of hindsight. It could also be read as denial and rationalization of the highest order. If this is a decade on, it’s more likely (not definitely, but more likely) to be the former. If this finally ended, say, just last week…well, that would be good to know, because then it could be read as someone trying to convince themselves. Which wouldn’t make it a bad essay, just a very different sort of essay.

    The second is that, if you’ve never read this author before, you have no sense of the person this happened to. And that’s sort of important…at a bare minimum, it would be nice to get a nod to their general age range, since a never-married woman ending the first serious relationship of her early 20s and, say, a divorced woman in her late 30s (whether or not she has or even wants kids) are likely to experience this in very different ways; the emotion and thought process involved in ending a relationship like this one can be VERY different at different stages of your life, even if the final outcome winds up the same.

    The last important missing piece – which, again, is only an oversight if there’s enough time/distance since the breakup to actually warrant the sage tone used throughout the essay — is that there’s virtually no nod to the reality of the actual or potential aftermath: the fact that, yes, for the rest of their life, someone ending a relationship like this one really will involuntarily compare all future boyfriends to this one at some point…they just will, whether they want to or not….and there will be some times, even in the best future relationships, when doing that will bring them a deep pang of regret. No, they won’t necessarily ever find a relationship that measures up to or exceeds this one – meaning that the real calculation that needs to be made is not, “how does this great real-life relationship measure up with the even better one that may exist solely in my imagination?” but “will I be ok if the final alternative to this great relationship winds up being no relationship at all?”

    And: yes, it’s possible that the real issue here could actually lie with the person ending the relationship – that the relationship itself was fine, but they’re totally unaware of emotional blocks in their own life that keep them from truly accepting love when it’s offered too freely, and that this pattern will repeat itself until they gain that self-awareness. Again: that doesn’t mean any or all of those things are true here! But there should be an awareness/acknowledgement of the fact that the writer is aware that they COULD be, or at least that they know their readers might be thinking that.

    iow: it’s not that the underlying point here isn’t sometimes true…I tend to agree with it…but this barely touches on the writer’s awareness of the actual tradeoffs involved, and gives us no context for the decision. And all it would have taken is a line or two. Maybe next time…

    • Haley Nahman

      In case it helps: It happened nine months ago, I’m 27 and I’ve had a handful of serious relationships. I wanted to zero in on the specific emotion of finally listening to my gut, which served me very well and ultimately changed my life. The aftermath I’ll cover another day.

      Thank you for reading and caring, seriously! I could zero in on any part of this and write so much more, it’s so complex, so I get where you’re coming from.

  • Autumn

    I heard a quote somewhere recently (it very well could’ve been Dear Sugar) that goes something like “People always say ‘it’s such a hard decision’ but most of the time people confuse ‘hard’ with ‘painful’ “. Ending your relationship doesn’t sound like it was a hard decision, but a painful one. I totally know the feeling, girl.

    • Sophie

      i love and will remember this

    • so well defined… hard vs painful…

  • Lucie

    Thank you for this article and for all the answers below. I’m in the middle of the same thing right now and don’t know what to do. I’ve been married for eleven years and feel like dying inside. I have the best husband you can wish for, a lovely house and really no problems. Yet, I’ve cried so many times that I sometimes think I have no tears left. I also feel this is entirely my fault and doubt about myself and my character. I’ve alway thought that this is out of boredom and the fact that we, people, are way too happy so we create problems to keep us busy. I hate myself for that and I am so afraid of jeopardizing the good in my life that I am unable to do anything so I stay and keep throwing things in my “happy path” and basically sabotaging my marriage. This article helps a little. At least I know I am not the only one, that I am not ungrateful.

    • Haley Nahman

      Hey Lucie. <3 <3 <3 I can't know exactly where you are, but I can speak to some of the feelings I had that sounded similar. I used to cry a lot too, and eventually I realized that didn't feel normal and okay, regardless of what people say about doubts being normal. For me, deciding to finally honor those feelings and give myself distance from the relationship, ultimately opened up my mind to where they were coming from and helped me see more clearly. And then — this was surprising — they didn't feel as no-big-deal-whatever as I thought. In fact they seemed important. And now I look back on my tender self that cried a lot and wish I could comfort myself by saying: "It's okay if you want to go! It's totally okay!!!!"

      Maybe your fears are nothing. But it also might be true that you'll never be able to truly observe them/get rid of them unless you give yourself the space to explore them in a place that's not so locked up in fear. Maybe that means being more open about them to others or giving yourself some time and space to think on them away from your typical rhythm. Or maybe it looks like something else. All I can say is, don't be so quick to assume your feelings are wrong. And know that no matter what you'll be okay. And that you're not alone!

      • Lucie

        Thank you for the words. I feel like I am a rookie at life.

        • Kelsey Moody

          we all are! echoing Haley, you’re not alone in those feelings!

  • Lucy Hargrove

    You can’t know how much I needed this. Thank you, Haley.

    • Haley Nahman

      <3

  • Bea

    I went through something similar with my first bf. We stayed together for 7 years until he broke things off. We had a good relationship and we loved each other but the thought of marrying or spending the rest of my life with him, freaked me out. I kept putting marriage off for years and finally he broke up with me. I didn’t know how to end the relationship, I doubted if I was even ‘entitled’ to break a good relationship. I wish I would have read this when I was 25. Beautifully written <3

  • This was so, so, so important to read. And it’s a perspective that is all too real but not communicated nearly enough.

  • Shuchi

    Haley, you say everything I think but can’t verbalize…I want to be your friend!!

    • Haley Nahman

      <3!!!

  • Amelia

    This made me cry. I had just seen my ex boyfriend yesterday, who was in town from London (we were together for three wonderful years before I broke things off last May due to visa issues- he lived in the UK and I would have had to marry him to bring him here, which I wasn’t ready to do).

    Thank you so much for this- I needed to read this right now.

    • Haley Nahman

      Hug

  • Charlotta Hellichius

    This goes right into my soul. I even copied Cheryl Strayed’s quote and will have it on hand always. You’re a magical writer <3

  • Amanda

    Oh dear. Oh dear oh dear oh dear.

    This hit very close to home for me.

    • Haley Nahman

      I’m sorry 🙁 So many of us can relate!!!

  • jennyv

    Haley, I teared up reading this. I went through the same thing with a 6 1/2 year relationship with a wonderful man who I loved and love so much. And it was so difficult to leave because the “why” of it was something I couldn’t put into words. It was just what my heart told me I had to do for so long. And I stayed in a lot of ways because I didn’t want to hurt him, when staying with him and being unhappy wasn’t what was best for either of us. Also, when you leave a relationship that others see as “perfect,” with the reason something you can’t explain, people don’t understand it. So you’re fighting that too, all of the people who are trying to offer what’s best for you by telling you to go back, stick it out. In the end, leaving was so incredibly painful. But it ultimately brought me an incredible happiness that I never had before. I guess that’s what life’s all about.

    • Amelia

      “Also, when you leave a relationship that others see as “perfect,” with the reason something you can’t explain, people don’t understand it. ” THIS. Grappled with this for so long.

    • Haley Nahman

      Wonderfully put

  • tiabarbara

    this is exactly what happened in my last relationship… only we didn’t have 6 years under our belt. we were trying to have a long and mature relationship, across countries, after really only knowing each other for a year. the longer it dragged out the more i realised that loving him was only part of it, and not nearly enough. he came to visit me in Australia and i started to realise just how different we were. that was the nail in the coffin for me. no matter how many times i had the conversation, the result was always the same; i just needed to go. sometimes i think about him and i feel a lingering sadness, but i also feel the freedom i didn’t have before and that’s more than enough to remind me that i made the right choice.

  • Imaiya Ravichandran

    you know what’s amazing? after reading this, i was left feeling like i’d just finished a heavy 2000+ word essay. you covered so much, so many nuanced emotions, that i was almost winded (exhausted?) by the end– in the best way possible, if that makes sense.
    and then i scrolled up and realized the essay in fact quite short– under 900 words.
    that, to me, is a very special talent.

  • Jennifer

    Beautifully written, thanks for sharing Haley. It just makes me sad to think that “love” isn’t enough. I know love varies from relationship to relationship, and ultimately people do what they want, but I can’t help to think of the generations before us, where our grandparents stayed married until their passings. Is it just a generational wishy-washy thing that millennials are known for? Things are never enough for us anymore. We want cooler jobs every couple years, go in and out of friendships on a monthly basis as well as romantic ones, everything is so fast-paced these days with so many “choices” but sometimes I think its just a dilution of quality and appreciation. I dunno. This article made me sad, but thankful for what I have as well.

    • gashgoldvermillion

      The generations before us also had greater social pressures to stay married/in ltrs, limited access to divorce, higher participation in organized religion (a known factor in relationship longevity) and limited rights and access for women. I understand this issue is abstract and has both sadness and love tied into it, but I really take issue with the idea that millennials are somehow inherently less able to be satisfied by love.

    • For generations before our parents, marriage was mich more of an institution, something that you did to create stability and security, than it was of love. Love comes in many forms, and on it’s own it is never “enough.” Relationships are hard work and a decision of commitment. But if than commitment feels wrong, even though everything looks perfect, then that makes it so much harder.

  • Krusty the Kat

    Haley, thank you for your honesty. I went through an experience very similar to yours. It was so, so scary to contemplate what was on the other side of the breakup, and it took me 3.5 years to end it after the first time I realized it should be over. Of course hindsight is 20/20, but even now, remembering those months just prior to actually breaking up makes me feel physically sick.

    It was painful, because cutting out this person who was a huge presence in my life was always going to be painful. But it was also uncomfortable. In this circumstance, you are essentially announcing to the world and your friends and family: “I know we look fine and in love, and we are. But I want more, and I think I can do better than this.”

    It’s a bold statement for a woman to make. I look forward to the day when it’s not.

    • Haley Nahman

      So incredibly with you. Very well said.

  • Colie

    Brutal. I want to argue with you, because my own mind is constantly arguing with me about this very same issue, but it’s too much and too tenuous to even find words for. As everyone has said, thank you for writing about this. It’s really brave. And thank you, thank you, for not ending it with, “And then I found this other guy and everything is perfect.” Relationships are not rewards for good behavior/decisions, or guaranteed to us by divine right, and the fear of being without one should not be a fear at all, nonetheless a trap. Anyway, really thank you really.

  • Sasha

    This hit very close to home. My girlfriend has had unwelcome desires of getting out of our relationship on-and-off for about a year. It recently came to a head in December and, while we have been working really hard at it (both seeing our own therapists), and things really do seem like they’re getting better, I can’t shake the thought that these feelings of hers will never really go away. We’re so compatible in so many ways it’s heartbreaking to think that it’s insurmountable.

    • Haley Nahman

      So sorry you’re in the thick of it! I know you’ll get through whatever the solution is and be okay.

  • Sabletoothtigre

    Damn, reading this felt like the weeks of expensive therapy that I would’ve loved to have hash this out for me but found in this piece instead. Thank you.

    • Haley Nahman

      Hahaha, my pleasure really

  • b.e.g.

    Since we don’t know the reasons for the breakup, other than it just didn’t feel right, I hope you do find a good relationship that fulfills the missing something that this one didn’t. And I hope that you don’t live to regret this breakup if ten years down the road you find that he really was the one, but the timing wasn’t right. Your story reminded me of my first bad breakup. My first husband broke my heart, and I thought I would never love again the same way. I was mistaken, I forgot him, forgot completely the deep pain, sort of like “did I ever really love him that much?” – seriously, nothing, no regrets. In fact I feel like I was saved from a much worse fate, so thank you, first husband, for all the pain, and for leaving. I don’t miss you.

    • Haley Nahman

      Such a good story and I’m sure a not uncommon one! Loving again feels so impossible from a place of heartbreak, but it’s never proven true for me, and I’m confident it won’t this time either.

      • b.e.g.

        Yup. I agree. Many fish in the sea. Not only that, but we humans have an incredible ability to heal. Healing takes many forms. And only you know it in your gut. You left him because you knew it in your gut. We must trust our instincts because sometimes that’s all we have to go on. I know many women my age that never left that relationship they knew in their gut wasn’t right. And they are miserable now. Plus, much easier to heal when there are no children in the mix.

  • Lil

    I really appreciate this article. My ex broke up with me recently for the same reason that you did. At the time, I couldn’t understand him. I was so hurt and felt so betrayed. We had a great relationship. The type that looks so perfect on paper. I remember all him being able to say was, “I don’t know how to put it into words, but I absolutely hate that I’m doing this to you.”

    Reading about your perspective really helps with the moving on process so thank you 🙂

    • Haley Nahman

      What an interesting different perspective! I’m so happy to hear that. Heart goes out to you as you heal.

  • Kirsty

    This is the most serendipitous piece of content to have ever come across my inbox. I literally broke up with my boyfriend last week after experiencing the exact same thing, back-and-forthing for four years and with no sounding board for my experience outside my own head. Although it’s two-thousand-freakin-seventeen, I still often feel like, as a woman, all you’re expected to do is find a nice man – find comfort and security – and call it fulfilment. In fact, call it winning the cosmic lottery. Thank you for articulating so beautifully the complications and ambivalences of feeling, and for making me feel just that fraction more visible.

    • “…making me feel just that fraction more visible.”

      Reading you, SEEING you, & celebrating your leap of the roller coaster to land on higher ground.

    • Haley Nahman

      So well said. Honored to have helped in some small way.

    • Mary Kate Kloeblen

      Kirsty – you could not have put this in a better way! As women, we do have these insurmountable pressures to settle for comfort and security in a relationship. I went through a similar situation very recently and I know that had it not been for said pressures, I would’ve had the courage to end things sooner. However, now that my relationship is over I have a strong sense of empowerment and peace within myself. While your breakup is fresh and difficult, please know that following your gut takes true courage and you will be all the more powerful for it.

  • Mari

    But relationships ARE hard, doubts ARE normal. I don’t understand what went wrong there.

    Last week a friend of mine sent me a text about how we have unreal expectations of romantic love and perfect complementarity. This is a dear friend of mine who started dating her boyfriend around the same time I started seeing mine, about 4 years ago, and she’s been a solid shoulder for me to cry on/complain about relationship troubles and vice versa.

    We’ve been through ups and downs but in the end I always find myself believing that it’s very easy to feed a harmful and very human predispostion to be unsatisfied.

    I am not saying this is the case here, of course not. It’s just that this article left me feeling somewhere between confused, hopeful, naive and resigned???

    • Imaiya Ravichandran

      i so feel u on this. this article sent me into a tailspin about what it means to be in a happy relationship, if its even possible, does love exist, what’s the meaning of life, etc. (kind of funny considering its been like 3 years since i’ve had a boyfriend, not likely to have one anytime soon but anyway…)

      so i was thinking aloud about all this with a friend of mine, who has been ostensibly happy in her relationship for the past 6 years. i asked her if she was happy, and she said yes. i asked her if she’d ever thought about leaving her boyfriend and she said sometimes. i asked if she ever would, she said no. i asked her why.

      she gave me a couple of reasons, none very revelatory, but ones i should have seen coming, i suppose (i love him!– why tho?– because we know everything about each other! –is that reason enough?) anyway she finally landed on this: I think it’s the right decision [to stay] because nothing tells me it’s not.

      so is that what it all boils down to? i stay because i have no reason to do otherwise? hmm; the romantic in me kinda wishes there was something more to it. but for now, that answer is what makes most sense.

      • Haley Nahman

        Don’t tailspin!! I feel you!! It’s so tough and complicated — that’s why I waffled and struggled with it for so many years!

        The way it’s been described to me, very wisely, is: If you have to constantly ask if yourself if you’re settling, the answer is probably yes. Even if all evidence is to the contrary. And I don’t mean settling for the person, I mean settling for something that doesn’t make you think: “YES. This is what I want 100% — even when times are hard or boring — YES. Because I am ALL the fuck in.”

        And that’s possible! I hear about it all the time (people who, even during tough times, don’t have a voice that says “go”). That’s not where I could ever consistently stay, and once I finally got out, I saw more flaws in us as a match than I was willing to admit when we were in it.

        Does that make sense? That’s what I meant by the gut feeling not being some random mysterious force that never explains itself. It usually does explain itself, only later. You know what I mean?

        • Imaiya Ravichandran

          i think so!! its like, your gut knows the answer before you do…but eventually, you will too? ah!! this is all so enlightening yet overwhelming. i feel like i need to watch a dumb Matthew McConaughey rom com to come down from this.

          • Haley Nahman

            I think so. Or rather: sometimes our minds protect us from our scariest, most honest thoughts because they’re too painful to think. And so instead all we hear is our gut, a little pit in our stomach that knows the truth even if we can’t see it yet. You get it. And omg please go watch a rom com. I NEED TO ALSOoooOOOooOOOoo

          • Anni

            I think part of it is how you also feel when your partner is sick / being a idiot / in a fight with you. It’s when you get really heated, but you never think “I would be better off without” you. My partner is the absolute worst when he’s sick and on a day to day basis he is bi-polar so there are great highs and terrible lows but even though it really frustrates me at times and I’m like “GRRR I HATE THIS UNCHANGEABLE THING ABOUT YOU”, I never have second thoughts about like “it would be so much easier if I was with someone else”.

          • I really like this point. I’ve been with my boyfriend for 5 years and I thought ‘uh oh’ a few times during the article because I do get doubts sometimes. But when I think about being with someone else I don’t think it would be easier/better. And no matter how mad I am at him, I can’t bring myself to be mean or negative.

          • ivd

            as someone going through a very REAL and painful first heartbreak, i am tortured by my own thoughts of knowing he was no good for me but missing the thing (us) I probably just created in my head. As a avid journal writer, I found myself for my entire relationship avoiding writing, probably to not have to face my truth. But I did from time to time write phone memos, just quick feelings I wrote down. Now when I look back at them, the answers are all there. I would write things like “he will never love me because he doesn’t know how to love” or “when will i cut it off, its not going to get better and ill keep being disappointed.” Yet when I finally got the strength to walk away, it was heart-wrenching, and I just couldn’t understand how it could hurt so much. I wanted him so badly, I wanted him to be this person so much, and sometimes I saw him!!! But then I read back to old notes and realize, even the good times we’re laced with these little thoughts I wrote down where I felt so lonely and sad and disrespected and unimportant. And in trying to understand how I could have written these things, but in seeing him feel totally different, my dad said: “your head knew all along, your heart just wouldn’t let you see it.” Love really does disconnect the head and heart, and I’m slowly, and sometimes painfully, starting to connect them as I look back at my love lost and move forward.

        • Aimee

          If you have to constantly ask yourself if you’re settling, the answer is probably yes. Even if all evidence is to the contrary. And I don’t mean settling for the person, I mean settling for something that doesn’t make you think: “YES. This is what I want 100% — even when times are hard or boring — YES. Because I am ALL the fuck in.”

        • Ell

          Haley, you are so right, and I wish commenters would stop questioning your decision. Only you can know whether a relationship is right for you. I went through a similar process–a breakup after a six year relationship that felt extremely comfortable and loving, but also left me with constant doubt from very early on–and it was incredibly difficult. I often wondered whether those conflicted feelings were par for the course in any relationship. I am now two years into a new relationship and I don’t have that nagging doubt! The breakup, as awful as it was, taught me to trust my gut, and to respect others when they do the same.

    • Jeanie

      I hope I don’t come off as boasting. These things are ultimately up to the individual. You know your life better than I do, but I think while relationships are often hard, the one you decide to stick with for life shouldn’t be. It takes consciousness and EFFORT, yes, but it shouldn’t be hard.

      I say that because I’ve been in the same place as the author here. Thing were pretty good. He didn’t really do anything wrong. I still felt a lot for him at the time. It was painful and I was shattered with guilt (guilt that opened me up to abuse,) but then I got really lucky and met my now husband, and in the 8 years we’ve been together so far, it has never felt hard. It’s surprisingly easy. There’s small sacrifices I make, but they are the same ones he makes. Maybe if the relationship is hard because of outside circumstances, like if there’s a chronic illness, and that makes life difficult, that’s worth hardship. But that’s external.

      My mom is on the side of staying forever because she thinks love is eternal even if it’s bitter, but it ended up hurting her kids a lot. That’s why I would never stay in a hard relationship. To leave comes with loneliness and uncertainty and guilt, but it’s really worked out for me. I would not have imagined a relationship like me and my husband’s can exist. Everything else in life feels so hard and impossible, but me and him is stupidly easy. My sister and her husband has been together even longer, and they seem very in love too even though their life has been hard in many ways. I just want people to know what’s possible. The painful love is a lie.

      P.S. Finding love also doesn’t mean everything is happily ever after either! There’s a lot of other stuff to life that can make you feel lonely or unwanted (career, friends, family, body image, race, gender, etc.) So, don’t put that pressure on your relationship.

    • Joanne

      I totally agree with you, the whole time I wondered “but what was wrong?”, appart from the fact that the sparks and butterflies of the first years of the relationship were gone (which is normal), I don’t see the problem. The problem is just that we always want more, and settling means giving up on an infinity of other possibilities, other lives… so you break up and then you can’t stand being single for too long (a year max) and you find someone else, and you have the sparks and the butterflies and the magic again and oh that’s gone again after a few months or a few years, and you break up and repeat and repeat and repeat until you’re too old to have the choice of skipping from a relation to another one and you finally settle down. City love life in the 21st century my dudes!
      I’m already tired.

  • Ana P

    Haley this is so beautiful!! Striking a chord. I feel this way a lot, and it’s so nice to hear from someone that’s weathered the storm and is happily on the other side! (Still don’t know what I aught to do but it’ll come with time I’m sure)

    • Haley Nahman

      I’m sure, too!

  • gdimu

    The same thing happened to me, we broke up just 2 months ago. When I read the title of the article I thought I was going to cry my heart out, but after reading it and surviving the read, I realized mora than ever that we made the right choice.

    • Haley Nahman

      <3<3<3

  • Responding as an unabashed feminist. Responding with the utmost respect for whether or not the f-word is appropriate for/to you. What you have shared here is too well-written for any to dare reduce to their assumption or agenda. However, I read this articulate meditation as radically feminist. Yes, radical. Feminism is oft framed politically. I am equally interested, if not more so, in ‘existential’ feminism. I define feminism: simply, no more or less, than full gender equality. However, inherent in that equality is the potential for our (man, woman, non-binary) autonomous evolution. Equal is one thing; expansion is another. Growth has no measure or bar and thus, remains uncharted territory by those who ‘settle’. Only expansion can tap our potential and expansion requires courageous risk. That gut feeling with which you wrestled? Perhaps that impulse was a desire that has now become a demand. Welcome your autonomous evolution. What makes you radical is first, the vulnerability to accept all consequences of existing in the unknown, second, choosing that unknown over comfort or basic contentment, and third, believing in the unknown and trusting yourself enough to pursue your optimal possibility. You are a radical woman because you have allowed yourself to be inspired by none other than your own instinct. Thank you for following your heart in a way that defies how society comprehends woman doing so. You did more than chose yourself. You chose the woman you sincerely sense you are destined to become.

  • Like a lot of people in this thread, I’m identifying with this beautifully written article A LOT. Been with my boyfriend for four years and I still love him very much. He’s so kind, so generous. My family and friends adore him which make “doubt” an even dirtier and guilt-inducing word.

    Even so, I’m occasionally struck with pangs of doubt that twist my stomach into a knot. I’ve tended to ignore these pangs, so reading this article was an icy splash of water to the face. It was the right time for me to read this, terrifying as it is. Thank you so much for giving me so much to think about.

    And you’re so right. Settling for fear of never getting anything better is a sexist social construct encouraging women to prize relationships over love. I’m sure you’re right that coming out on the other side of a break up lets you see all the incompatibilities that get blurred while you’re in it, but what if you come out the other side and don’t see them?? Ah! It’s scary!

    • Haley Nahman

      Trust yourself! I know that’s such a vague notion, but I really truly believe in it!

  • Responding as an unabashed feminist. Responding with the utmost respect of whether or not the f-word is appropriate for/to you. What you have shared here is too well-written for any to dare reduce to their assumption or agenda. However, I read this articulate meditation as radically feminist. Yes, radical. Feminism is oft framed politically. I am equally interested, if not more so, in ‘existential’ feminism. I define feminism: simply, no more or less, than full gender equality. However, inherent in that equality is the potential for our (man, woman, non-binary) autonomous evolution. Equal is one thing; expansion is another. Growth has no measure or bar and thus, remains uncharted territory by those who ‘settle’. Only expansion can tap our potential and expansion requires courageous risk. That gut feeling with which you wrestled? Perhaps that impulse was a desire that has now become a demand. Welcome to your autonomous evolution. What makes you radical is first, the vulnerability to accept all consequences of existing in the unknown, second, choosing that unknown over comfort or basic contentment, and third, believing in the unknown and trusting yourself enough to pursue your optimal possibility. You are a rebel because you have allowed yourself to be inspired by none other than your own instinct. Thank you for following your heart in a way that defies how society comprehends women doing so. You did more than choose yourself. You chose the woman you sincerely suspect you are destined to become.

    • Willa Konefał Davis

      This was a really wonderful comment 🙂

      • Aw shucks, fellow rebel. Much appreciated. What is most wonderful to me about this entire thread is the diverse level of support for a woman following her gut against the conventional grain. So much social and political focus, as well there should be, on ‘following the womb’. When we all insist, though, upon raising the gut instinct to the status/focus it deserves? Thanks again for reading and rooting for gut: that seat of our wisdom and unfaltering guide.

    • Haley Nahman

      Thank YOU so much for writing this!

    • Drew Wells

      This comment is so helpful. I’ve written it down and put it up on my wall.

  • Lana

    Thank you so much for this article! I broke up with my boyfriend of a year and a half yesterday for this same reason. He was so kind, loving and we had something that made sense. I really loved him. But 6 months ago, I started waking up with intense chest pain (I went to the Er and doctor to check it out) and questioning whether it was “right”. It was one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do. I’ve never felt so sick in my life but today, I woke up and felt a weird sense of calm. Anyways, I think it’s so important to listen to your gut and while I’m heartbroken, I know it was the right thing for me.

    • Judy

      Wow – the exact same thing happened to me. I went through a few months of on-and-off again anxiety and questioning (also questioning whether I was crazy because he’s a wonderful person). I started experiencing the same unrelenting chest pain and went to the ER, etc. etc. I know now that it was stress related but super frightening. I’m still with him though. This article was hard to read.

      • Lana

        Its weird how visceral your emotions can be! I started seeing a therapist and it really helped. Don’t feel like you need to rush to make a decision. Enjoy the good things that you have but if ultimately this relationship isn’t the one, you’ll get through it. Go with your feelings and take it day by day.

  • THANK YOU. So perfectly said. I have felt everything you’ve felt, and also made that excrutiating decision to leave, and have never regretted it 🙂 Yay clarity. Beautifully written.

    • Haley Nahman

      Yay clarity!

  • Alex

    Wow. Thank you so much for writing this and thank you to all the women chiming in on the comments. I had no idea that this was such a common experience. I’ve wrestled with this a lot and share many of the sentiments here. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you for bringing this up

    • Haley Nahman

      SAME! I felt so alone when I was in it, I wished I had known how many people were going through the same thing. We need to start a club or something!

  • Hannah

    This hit me so hard, Haley. I also feel so trapped in this spot–because I know that I am loved and content, but I also know that it isn’t okay to feel ‘trapped’ by someone you supposedly want to be with forever. When you’re in a long term relationship during your early 20s it is so easy to get caught up in the idealization of being single *or* being married that it’s hard to recognize where your desires really come from. I wish I had your courage. I wish I had your clarity.

    • Haley Nahman

      I felt like that for so long. Trust the process and, more than anything, just stay open to your feelings. You’ll find clarity.

  • Hannah Anderson

    I’m so glad I stubbled across this. As cringey as this may sound, I feel like this is a sign. For months now i’ve been doubting whether to end my four (on and off) year relationship with my partner who treats me absolutely wonderfully. He adores me, he spoils me, he does everything I could ask for, yet I just can’t love him back.

    I’ve gone through stages of thinking something is wrong with me and if it’s normal to not want to be with someone who loves you so unconditionally. So, I thank you for this. Not only has it encouraged me to stand by my doubts but it’s also enlightened my trust that I’m not the only woman feeling like this.

    Bless you.

    • Haley Nahman

      Thinking of you from afar!!

  • roma

    What if you had stayed and it would have gone away, and you would have looked back at the pain and uncertainty, glad you didn’t walk out? That happened to me. I started by relationship around the same age as you, and throughout my early to late twenties I was devoured by doubts. But he was perfect, we were very happy together. Then things changed, I think it was sudden but it might have been more gradual. I had suddenly zero doubts. I changed with the situation. And I was happy, just happy. We got married, and sometimes I think of what my life would have been if I had left him. But I am glad I don’t have to find out.

    • Sophie

      this can of course happen but if whats making one stay is mainly the hope and need for something to change its not good… and can so many times just never happen

    • Haley Nahman

      I am so so happy for you! All the more reason for us to just talk more about this happening. Because clearly relationship doubts remain this sort of secret thing and all of us are going it alone and dont know what it can/should/might look like in the future. Yours is a totally worthy anecdote and one worth sharing here!

      “What if you had stayed and it would have gone away, and you would have looked back at the pain and uncertainty, glad you didn’t walk out?”

      For me, this happened many times. We had long stretches of blissful, doubt-free happiness. But the hint to me was that my feelings ALWAYS came back. They never left for good. And that was ultimately the truth I had to listen to.

  • I think I went the opposite way. Relationships weren’t a big topic till mid-twenties and I was notorious for claiming I’d never get married. Didn’t look the (marriage material) part often, either. Even though the society I grew up in was quite liberal and women were not seen or preferred as lovely, quiet, smiling dolls, I still didn’t like the loss of freedom or changes in behavior I would have to go through.
    Until I met my (now) husband. 😀
    I guess the change he introduced into my life wasn’t that big: I still get to decide individually about things that are important to me, we both read books and talk about them so I am not considered a threat because of my “learned ways” 🙂 and dividing household chores is not a problem. Plus, as it is only my husband I really want, I was lucky none of us really wants to have children, even though we both like them: I don’t particularly care for splitting up my time and my devotion among many people deserving it…

  • Username

    Wowwww. 6 years.

  • orchid64

    The element that is generally missing from these situations is the lack of a partner who helps you grow as a person. A happy relationship isn’t only about being “buddies” who hang out and do things together enjoyably. It’s about being with someone who makes you want to be a better person and challenges you in ways that reshape you into the person you want to be (as opposed to those who shape you into who they want you to be – which is toxic). While people can and should end relationships that aren’t fulfilling to them, they have a responsibility to take care of the other partys well-being by making the reasons clear. To do this, you need to have a high enough level of self-awareness to explain what is wrong. Otherwise, the person who is broken up with is left feeling inadequate for inexplicable reasons and retains a sense of insecurity and not feeling “good enough” even when he/she operated with love and kindness. This is a responsibility we take on when we enter relationships that few seem to recognize or take seriously.

  • Holly Laine Mascaro

    Wow, SO feel this and it’s so refreshing to actually see someone else share. Had same experience after relationship for same amount of time. It’s very difficult to end something with someone who is an extremely nice person who has done nothing really wrong, it’s just not the right fit anymore. I remember at one point one of my best friends said to me, during many tortuous circular conversations trying to convince myself that I wasn’t feeling what I was feeling, “He is a really good partner though.” Which I believed and held on to but then when I repeated it to my aunt, she was like, “A good PARTNER?! You don’t just stay with someone just because they’re objectively a good partner, we aren’t cowboys!! I’m not with your uncle because he’s a good partner, I’m with him all these years because I’m crazy about him.”

    • Haley Nahman

      Love when someone comes in with that kind of advice!!!! Isn’t that so refreshing?!

      For me the words that always got me were when people in my family would say “Stuff gets hard and even I sometimes wonder what a different partner might be like, but honestly, at the end of the day, I know to my core that I want to be with this person. And will do whatever I have to to fight for that.”

      And I was like, damn, I want that “at the end of the day” feeling. I knew I didn’t have it.

  • Kate

    I have been married for almost six years and “together” with my husband for almost eight. I am twenty-seven years old.

    I started shaking as I read this article because I, too, have had countless periods of doubt, where I felt compelled to just pack up and leave – even though my husband is, generally speaking, wonderful. Every time I think of how much leaving would hurt him I choke up, so here I am. Your quote about reluctance to leave vs. desire to stay really got to me, and I’m still completely at a loss at how to navigate that dichotomy.

    Best of luck to you. You’ve given me a lot of thinking to do.

    • Haley Nahman

      I really feel for you. So so so much.

      Advice I got that stuck with me: You have to make the decision for yourself. And ultimately, when I did, it served us both in ways I didn’t realize it would. My decision hurt him a lot, yes, but after we both healed, it was remarkable to see him (from afar) discover a new and exuberant kind of freedom and happiness. Breakups seem so impossible just before and after they happen. But the healing process is so remarkable (and usually faster if you do the hard work at the beginning), human resilience always surprises me.

      I understand completely where you are. And who knows what the right decision is for you, my only advice would be to truly listen to yourself, respect your feelings and honor your truth. I can’t think of a better way to spend your one life here on earth, no matter how hard.

      Thinking of you!

  • Kate

    I share a similar personal experience and went through this decision a year ago. A perspective to add: it’s not about having unrealistic expectations about love, it’s about knowing how you *need* to be loved. You can be in a happy relationship without being fulfilled. The case for me was that, while nothing was *wrong*, but it ultimately wasn’t the type of love and commitment that I needed.

    • Haley Nahman

      Totally

  • Kelsey

    Thank you so much for this article. It’s the first that I’ve read that articulates the feelings I had about my breakup with my boyfriend of 5 years. You don’t know how much you’ve helped me (and clearly others) with this. Thank you.

    • Haley Nahman

      Thank you Kelsey, I’m so so glad

  • Sophie

    really good read. so good!

  • Amelia Diamond

    halezzz <3 "Our spirits felt separate in a way they hadn’t since we’d met and that was an unfamiliar kind of pain" oh man oh man

  • Amelia

    This article made me feel so much less alone in what I’m experiencing with this and so well articulates all of the complex feelings involved.
    Thank you for this!

    • Haley Nahman

      Makes me realize none of us are talking enough about our relationship doubts. We are not alone!

  • Carley

    Ugh. Just ugh. All of this. “And I’d mistake the myopia of pain avoidance for the utopia of doing what felt right. I’d convince myself that safety and comfort were the same as fulfillment.”

  • Alice

    “Clarity was waiting on the other side of the hard part.”

    You captured it all in this sentence. A really beautiful piece, Haley!

  • Sophie Bergquist

    Thank you thank you for so eloquently voicing my hectic internal dialog.. Today, one week after the end of a three year relationship with my first love/best friend/boyfriend, your words are giving me the strength to know that I made the right decision. You’ve reminded me that the dreadful nauseous feeling that had the habit of visiting me every once in a while for the past 6 months was my gut knowing before I did that I had begun to confuse comfort and security with love and belonging.

    I’ve kept this open on my phone and reflected back on it multiple times in the past week when the urge to talk to him was so overwhelmingly strong. From this point forward, “reluctance to leave is not desire to stay” is my mantra when self-doubt begins to creep in yet again. Hoping for clarity on the other side of the hard part!!

    • Haley Nahman

      100% yes to it being a “dreadful nauseous feeling.” Ugh ugh ugh.

      Rooting for you!

  • Anne

    Thanks Haley, for sharing your personal experience and for creating a space to discuss this predicament. You’re experience spoke right to me.

    Like many of the posts, I to ended a 8+ year relationship about 2 years ago. The relationship I ended was my first, and only, romantic relationship I’ve experienced. I was very happy and content with our relationship for about the first five years of the relationship. Doubt and confusion started though after I began graduate school where I connected with a classmate of mine and found myself both physically and mentally attracted to him. I admitted these feelings/fears almost immediately with my (then) boyfriend and the dialogue remained open. Nothing romantic ever happened between myself and my new grad school friend (I remain friends with him and his wife) but these intense emotions/feelings made me reflect on my own relationship and made me question if my current boyfriend was the “right one”. I also started obsessing about having had only one serious relationship. I always (and still do) thought of myself as a strong, independent woman … and somehow that equated that I should have at least a few relationships under my belt? I know this is not an essential qualifier for everyone, but somehow felt necessary for myself. I spent a few years (years!) fighting with my feelings. There were highs and lows during this time with my Ex but ultimately I ended the relationship. I don’t regret taking those 3 years trying to figure out what to do but the breakup was still absolutely horrible. Realizing I needed to walk away was one of the most physically painful experiences in my life. And now, almost two years later, I don’t have a happy ending to share, like some of these posts ( = meeting “the one”). What I can share is that there are moments where I feel really good about my decision to end this relationship – that I honored my truth – and there are moments where I freak out, wondering if I’ll be alone forever or settle for a future relationship that doesn’t feel “worth fighting for” or come crawling back to my first Love.

    Ugh! Owning your truth and trusting yourself is hard!

    • Haley Nahman

      Yes it is! Hang in there I think you’ll be happy you did!!

  • Nat

    This story just hit home for me. I just broke up with my boyfriend of 6 years, I was having the same inner fights with myself..do I stay or do I leave. I finally got the courage to end things. Now I’m on trying to figure out myself without him and what makes me happy without him and let me say this has been hard..waiting for the day that I am satisfied with the choice I made. Thank you for this article.

    • Haley Nahman

      Good luck <3

  • Ana Luisa Alves

    What if the reason your unhappy isn’t him, but something else in your life and your just trying to blame the easiest thing? I’m talking about job expectations, for example.

    • Haley Nahman

      That was something I considered many times (in face I tried to convince myself to stay using that as an excuse many times — “Our relationship is just an easy target for a more general anxiety, it has nothing to do with us”) but ultimately I realized that wasn’t true. Both because I just KNEW and because when those other life circumstances changed, I still felt the same concerns.

  • marleigh

    wow. i felt a lump in my throat while reading this because i just went through this a month ago and have still been feeling so sad about it. thank you. i’m not alone.

    • Haley Nahman

      You so arent!

  • Maxinne Mboweni

    wow i needed this article.

  • Thanks for this piece Haley. It briefly made me doubt my current relationship, but then it reminded me of two other experiences: 1) my high school relationship, where I was with the kindest guy, and I loved him a lot, but he didn’t challenge me or helped me grow, so he was great to be with, but in many ways we weren’t a good fit. 2) my last job. I kept talking myself out of quitting or even looking for a different job because I had great conditions, but the work bored the shit out of me. I kept getting anxiety attacks and intense crying on my way out the door – thank god for our work from home option. When I quit last year I felt instantly happier and everyday I’m so happy I’m not going doing that work anymore.

    Sometimes it is so hard to listen to that gut feeling when “everything looks great” and there isn’t an obvious thing wrong.

  • Emily Hutchings

    i am very much not ready to take this advice to heart for my own situation, but i’m saving this & the dear sugar article you referenced for later to read again when i’m closer to where you are. thank you. it’s comforting to know that i am not the actual first human to be feeling this split back-and-forth in/out way. i’m interested to know how you feel further into the future- not to doubt your decision, just to know the emotions that follow from something like this. thank you again. <3

  • Jeanie

    I’ve been in the place you’ve described here too. Looking back, breaking up was one of the best decisions I have ever made. I regret how much guilt I felt when I made the choice to break up. If you feel guilty too, please don’t be. You deserve to make your choice.

  • beccamu

    “Go because you want to. Because wanting to leave is enough.” This applies so much to other aspects of life as well: jobs, cities, schools, etc. I’m moving across country next month. I’m scared and starting to feel, like you did, like my “. . .reluctance to leave [is a] desire to stay”. Thank you so much for sharing your bravery and boldness to go forth into what you want, not what feels safe.

    • Haley Nahman

      Good luck!!!

      • beccamu

        thanks haley 🙂

  • emily

    I definitely have these thoughts too but I can never tell if it’s just my general anxiety about stuff projecting/my general pessimism or if there’s something there. On one hand, I’m super unhappy with work lately which I know is seeping into every aspect of my life and I know I’m someone that is, if I’m being quite honest, always unsatisfied with things. And there are definitely some things that I really dislike about our relationship/about him. But at the same time I just crave being with him and feel like I have this gut feeling that we’ll stay together forever, although sometimes doubt seeps through and taints that too.

  • Molly D

    One of my favorite things you’ve ever written. So brave for saying what so many are afraid to say (let alone do). Cannot wait to read a book of your essays someday!!!

    • Haley Nahman

      AH love you for this

  • Nic M

    Fantastic article Haley! I totally understand. It’s enough. Your intuition is enough. It never shouts, so we can normally talk over it or reason around it, but its with us permanently, and denying ourselves will never lead to fulfilment, no matter how right the situation can seem externally. We have to live with ourselves and for ourselves. That is the first and ultimate love.

    For everyone who is struggling with the fact that Haley’s relationship seemed like a great relationship and maybe our culture suffers from myopia towards happiness – I think the true story here is not about whether or not the relationship was amazing or not, but actually: Unless we recognise and live by our own intuition, listening truly to our quite little selves, how can we expect to fulfil ourselves and then, anyone else? We can’t negate ourselves out of convenience. The self doesn’t go away, it just gets buried temporarily.

    YAY! Such an incredible lesson Haley!

    • Haley Nahman

      You put this better than I did and it actually was a really nice reminder for me. Thank you!!

  • robert

    It’s what is not written here that makes what you have written so intense. It’s a little piece of love, ineffable feeling, put on paper. It’s a try to dive into it. But words are poor and you have to suggest, rather than write.
    http://www.vivaguides.com/

  • olga

    I’ve never related with anything this much! My boyfriend is like yours was, loving and kind, funny and respectful, and I always want to leave him. I can’t explain to myself why though. I have this periods of feeling so happy like I’m on the top of the world and this sad lonely moments I want to escape so bad. Maybe I want too much? I feel like I would never find someone as loving and as good as him, not to say I couldn’t ever break his heart. It’s like there’s something wrong with me, I have something next to ideal and I still feel trapped and find myself daydreaming of being single, casually scrolling the dating apps. And I hate dating apps. Well, not the apps but the process of finding potencial partner there. Anyway, thank you for this. I hope one day I will be brave enough to break up or stop the rollercoaster in that moment I feel happy.

    • Haley Nahman

      Ah I feel this so hard. Wishing you calm and clarity!!

  • Vicky Pereira

    Reading this article and all of the comments has me at a crossroads of being oddly at peace and terrifyingly guilty. I met and fell instantly in love with my first and only boyfriend at the age of 22, after graduating from university and leaving my secure and happy life and moving back to my hometown. A place I was never happy. Looking back, I wasn’t happy with myself for the entirety of my relationship and I placed the blame externally on him. He was amazing to me. Gave me my first orgasm without anything in return. Encouraged me to do whatever I wanted in my life. Took care of me when I was sick, motivated me to leave behind the toxic friends and situations in my life…. And yet after the initial intense infatuation had settled down I could not stop the thought of “this can’t be it for me” from clouding my mind. It came often: while cooking dinner, on long drives together, during sex… I was with him physically but somewhere else mentally. We moved in together after two months, had an intense and whirlwind romance for 9 months, and tried to remain friends for another 7. It was the best and most painful experience and though at times I wish it had never happened, I am so grateful for that experience for I now know what love feels like, and what I can give and receive again. I will never forget our first Christmas together, after being together for just over two months, I excused myself to the washroom and cried… Wishing for things to change.
    I do know that I gave up all of myself to try and impress him, to try and be someone he wanted, and in the end this broke me. At the end of our relationship I had quit my job and hadn’t left our studio apartment for weeks on end. I would lay in bed and he would watch me, try to motivate me to do something… Anything… And yet I would get angry. All of this is still so raw to me because in the moment HE was the problem, looking back it was not either of us but the moments in time we were together. I am flooded with guilt so often because I think “if only I could have gotten over my issues we could have had the best life”; however, in reality I was not happy. I am now single and working hard to keep myself whole and not depend on any man or any outside opinions to validate me. I am healing, everyday. Some days are hard (like today where my guilt is through the roof), but I know in the end that if I had stayed I would not have made the strides to where I am now. I wish him nothing but love and success and happiness and I love him dearly. You are all goddesses and we all deserve to listen to our intuitions.

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  • Camille

    I was feeling exactly like that during the first year of my relationship with my now-fiancee. For me it had more to do with homophobia and the fact I never imagined two girls could have a happily ever after. I decided to break up with her, and as I was telling her that I had the earth-shattering revelation that I didn’t want to live without her. So I told her in a rush “I was breaking up with you but I really don’t want to !”She took it in stride and we have been together for six years now. The doubts never came back. Eventually I came out to my family, and same-sex marriage was legalized in my country. We are going to be married soon.

  • Mohammed Abdalrazaq

    Some girl did exactly what you are describing in your article to me.
    It’s so hard, I’m dying from pain, and I really can’t understand.
    If I were you, I would really apologise for that man, because I’m sure that he will never be the same.
    I’m writing this with tears.
    Why would you do this to him? Why would she do that to me?

  • Dillon

    Thank you Haley. Reading this gave me that last push of courage to end things with my partner two days ago. I felt since the beginning something wasn’t right between us. I cared (and still do) about him so, so deeply and tried so much to bury those doubts and convince myself it’d be ok in time. Problem is I couldn’t live with knowing I couldn’t give myself 100% to him. He loved me unconditionally and I loved him conditionally. I couldn’t accept him fully and never felt the head over heels feeling. I told myself I was expecting too much and that since it was my first serious relationship I was projecting fear. But ultimately I had to listen to my gut.

    Now I’m in sadness wondering if I made a mistake. I know deep down that I was unhappy and that I always knew he wasn’t right, but my fear is that I couldn’t accept him because there’s something wrong with me. And that I may have tossed away this amazing, special person because of a “grass is greener” mindset. My mind is torturing me with guilt for breaking his heart. Did you feel this way? And does it get better?

    Thank you

    • Haley Nahman

      Yes I felt that way! Omg YES! And 100% it gets better.

      I don’t know much about your situation but it sounds like you made the right decision. Ride it out and see how you feel in a few months. I think you’ll be really surprised.

      Hang in there! And let me know how you’re doing!

      • Dillon

        Thank you. It’s amazing how just hearing you experienced something similar is so comforting. It’s so hard because now I only remember the great things about him (the things I was aware of in the relationship, but still felt weren’t enough for me to love him fully and deeply). I just really hope this doubt of “did I break this person’s heart and create all this sadness for something that may have just been an internal issue with my expectations?” goes away.

        Ultimately, I don’t feel that was the case, and I suppose the only way to know that for certain is to explore relationships and myself more. But my mind is running wild. I love him and want him to be ok and the fact that I made him feel so terrible and heartbroken is hard to forgive myself for. Things happen for a reason though.

        • Haley Nahman

          I promise these feelings are normal. Stay strong bb girl

  • Eliza

    Hey Haley, I read your piece, and it’s so incredible too see my own feelings reflected on this. Thanks for writing it.

    I’m just going through this right now. My now ex bf and I started dating 7 years ago, and we’ve been living together for almost 6 and a half years.

    My feelings of “something it not right” started around year 2, and just as you, I’ll always feel panicky and guilty and tried to fall in love again with him. Then, a few years ago around our 5 anniversary, things started to devolve. He became more busy with work and personal projects, so on top of my doubts (at this point I just ruled them out as me being “depressive” or too “ungrateful”) I started feeling abandoned by him, like I was fighting for attention all the time. I talked to him several times about my feelings, how I was feeling taked for granted, and we tried therapy, talking more, having date nights, etc.

    After almost 2 years of “trying”, I decided to break up a few weeks ago, after realising that our goals, and our priorities weren’t the same anymore.

    It was the hardest decision I ever made, but even though I’m extremely sad, I also feel at peace

    He’s an amazing guy, I do love him and respect him. He’s moving out this weekend, and it breaks my heart every time I think about it, but I know that I made the right decision.

    I think when you’re in a long term relationship in your 20s this things often happen because, of course people change, your goals change and there’s nothing wrong with that, it part of growing up. Right now I’m just grateful that I got to spend 7 years with this amazing person who have taught me so much.

    • Haley Nahman

      This was beautiful thanks for sharing

  • Alex

    Hailey, thank you so much for this article. It really made me realize and understand the emotions I was feeling. It’s hard to end a relationship with someone that is perfectly wonderful but we have to realize they deserve someone who will love them 100%. I just ended the relationship and I’m scared for the hard times ahead but I know he’s going to be happier in the future.

    • Haley Nahman

      Thinking of you <3

  • Liz K

    This article is such a good read, the best I’ve found when typing “should i break up with my bf” agh I hate that I feel tempted to google that! hah… but this really opened my eyes to my current situation. I’ve been dealing with these rollercoaster feelings for around 9 months now (we’re 11 months in a relationship), so not a good ratio of time haha. But he loves me so much, and I love him alot too….but I can’t get over doubts. They come in waves.. We took a break but then I decided to commit and I felt good for about a month, but now I’m experiencing those doubts again. I can’t really think of any legitimate reasons as to why we don’t work. Our relationship is so easy; we laugh, get along good, have great talks, he’s romantic, we have fun together… but I always have doubts of superficial things (he’s not tall enough blah blah), or just an overwhelming gut feeling that I feel. especially when I think of spending forever with him. It then ruins my mood, and little habits of his tick me off.. and I start thinking about guys in my past that were never resolved and i wish i could pursue- when I’m currently in a loving relationship!! I feel so guilty all the time… for not loving him the way he loves me or deserves. for always doubting; but then I don’t want to leave him cause I do love him, and it’s a really good relationship in every other way. And a fear of making the wrong decision.. so overall thank you for this article, it definitely hit home and the decision I’m currently struggling with.

  • Alexandra

    I know I’m a bit late to the party here but am desperately in need of advice. I’m 18 years old and have been with my partner for two years. He’s the kindest most lovely person I’ve ever met but for the past 4 months I have these deep continuous doubts. I feel like he just isn’t right for me. I feel like at such a young age, I should be single. I just feel like I’m settling at such a young age when I should be focusing on myself and having fun. Surely if I am having these feelings, that’s enough to know I shouldn’t be in this relationship? He unconditionally loves me and I know he has no doubts, so am I just tourturing the both of us? It’s not like I have deep unhappiness, I am happy with him but it doesn’t feel right? I’m just so conflicted and any advice would be so helpful:))

  • kate

    I am going through a breakup and this article helped so much. Thank you for sharing this, your writing is always fantastic!

  • Hannah

    Hi, I just read your post…I too had doubts about my relationship. It was really hard for me. I tried breaking up with him twice but he always tell me whatever reason I gave him it’s not valid enough to break up and as I still love him and a softie, I decided to give this relationship another chance. Yes, he is a great guy and a good, loving boyfriend but yet at the back of my mind, I don’t know whether I should marry him or not. When we are together, I feel that we can make it through together but when I am alone, I feel that maybe he is not the one for me. These days I keep thinking whether is there any other guy outside for me? What if there is someone else out there? Am I thinking too much? But I keep telling myself don’t think so much about it. I do know that if I leave him, he will become very heartbroken as I am his very first serious girlfriend that he ever love. I don’t know why I still can’t let go of my expectations of him and yet he doesn’t expect anything from me at all. When he told me that, I felt bad for having so much expectation on him and yet he still love me deeply. I can only think of his love for me but I don’t know whether can I love him as much as he love me. Sometimes I think to myself, if I really do leave him, am I making the right decision? Will I regret? I did tell him about all the above but he told me he loves me very very much and will do anything to keep our relationship together. I’m a softie and whatever he says and do will soften my heart. We have been together for four years and I guess that’s why I don’t have the courage to walk away from this relationship. Please advise if I am wrong having this thoughts.

    • Alex

      I had the pretty much exact same experience happen to me. You’re having those doubts for a reason and you shouldn’t ignore them. It will drive you crazy until you address the problem. I had the same back and forth and broke up with my boyfriend even though I still love him. It was one of the hardest things i have ever had to do but I knew it was the right decision. After the break up the doubts disappeared. It’s hard to make the call.

  • sara_math

    I needed this

  • allie nanasi

    This was exactly what I needed to read. After battling feelings of loss and sadness upon ending my relationship, reading this made me realize what I should have realized all along: “none of it mattered if I simply didn’t want to.” I can now acknowledge that the courage it took to walk away from something that once made me feel safe, is the same reason I will never settle for anything my heart is not entirely in. I feel so inspired and uplifted by the honesty and strength you displayed by following your heart, even though you knew it wouldn’t be easy. Thank you so much for sharing your story, because it made me see things outside of the rose tinted lens I was looking through, and everything is looking better from a clear point of view already.

  • Marin

    This article hit me right in the heart.
    I have been having doubts since the very beginning of my relationship with him. I thought that this roller coaster will eventually stop. I thought at that time that I just had to give him a chance, I have to open up to him and let him in.
    Now, we are great, I love him and he loves me even more. But the longer our relationship goes on, the more I feel like I am being split into two. One side that loves him and cares for him. The relationship feels safe, comfy and we have so much fun. I know that I can be completely myself, at my worst and best, and he will still adore me.

    Then there is this other side that I loath. A side full of doubts and this constant nagging and painful feeling. And the voice saying: ‘Is this really what I want?’. I hate myself for it and it is tearing me apart.

    I think these doubts got stronger when I noticed that my family started to care for him, and that I started to like his family too. The fear of disappointing them grew stronger since then.
    I feel now as if the desire to stay, the desire to leave and as well as the fear of staying and the fear of leaving are all equally strong. I have no idea what to do and it frustrates me so much. Even after talking to him about my doubts, I found myself not wanting to break up but still torn as the battle inside myself still lingers.

    After reading this article one thing came clear to me: it is not a good sign and I know that which ever decision I make, they are both equally painful. Do I break up and risk to never find such a great person anymore, or do I stay and keep fighting this internal battle?

  • Justin Peters

    I was once in love with someone else man, i felt guity but i got shake the feeling. It turns out that he was also in love with me but he was married i confused i didn’t know what to do until i encountered NAKO DAKO, he helped me through some juju stuff to get him and now we are happily married with a baby girl. If you are in the situation and you want the man to leave his current girlfriend or wife then NAKO is your guy. contact him you wouldn’t regret it.

  • Steve

    Incredible insight. So I’m a guy going through the same thing with my girlfriend. We were together for 4 years and 4 months and almost everything Haley described I had felt. From the first time the voice started about a year in to the comfortable love and trying your best to appreciate what you have and ignore the grass is greener mental mentality.

    A few questions for Haley: did you make the right decision in leaving? What can you attribute the voice saying go to? Was it a lack of initial chemistry (overall relationship compatibility but lacking that fundamental connection)? Was is compatibility differences you accepted but eventually became too much for long term relationship happiness?

    I want so badly to hear your reflections on everything since you decided to leave… as someone who is going through exactly what you described, I am in the midst of that intense guilty sadness and questioning whether I made the right call. My mind says I did.. that if we got back together I would just continue the cycle of going through the motions and being half bored all the time but on the other hand she wants nothing but for this to work and I’m afraid I’m making a huge mistake if I’m walking away from someone who completely unconditionally loved me. Are we monsters? Thanks again Haley

  • Steve

    So curious to hear about your reflection phase… It’s clear that you loved each other but love isn’t all it takes for a lifetime commitment.

    What was the cause of the roller coaster? Lack of respect? Fear of commitment? Boredom? Lack of chemistry? Lack of compatibility? a HSP with a non-HSP?

    Sooo curious to hear more