In the age of unsolicited Tinder sexts and men who only care about gender equality when they can use it as a reason to not buy you a drink, there is a *lot* of mediocre dick for single women to wade through. It makes sense, then, that when you actually find a guy who treats you with respect and cooks you elaborate brunches for fun, your immediate thought is “I CANNOT LOSE THIS ONE.” But then reality sets in – you’re never compelled to make out with him, texting “I love you” feels like a chore, and your conversations actually lull you to sleep.
Breaking up with an asshole is the most satisfying thing in the world – you have free reign to drag him with your besties over Fireball shots. But dumping a genuinely kind person, even it’s the right thing to do, can be a deeply confusing and super tough decision. I spoke with Linda Esposito, LCSW, on exactly why parting ways with a good boyfriend feels so impossible, and how to tell when it’s time:
1. You feel comfortable in your routine, but not excited about it.
Having a go-to person to chill with on a Friday night or cling to at holiday office parties has its pluses, for sure. “If you stay [with someone] in the absence of attraction, it’s not so much because they’re nice, but because you’re getting something out of the relationship,” says Dr. Esposito. “This could be many things: companionship, avoiding loneliness, perks, and so on.” But it’s also a convenient comfort to keep you from acknowledging how you really feel about a person.
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Shaking up your status quo (especially when there’s no pressing reason) is hard. But if you keep looking at other peoples’ relationships and wishing you felt that same level of passion for your boyfriend, maybe a shake up is exactly what you need.
2. You just don’t want to be the single friend.
If all your BFFs have boyfriends and, as a result, A.) Don’t hang out with you as much as they used to and B.) insist on quadruple dates every time, being single again feels daunting. Who wants to listen to all their friends bond over their humblebraggy relationship struggles while you anxiously down the rest of your mimosa?
“People have a hard time being the only single one in the group,” says Esposito. “The question becomes: Do you value authenticity and honesty over not being alone?” It’s the kind of question that can make you defensive, but it’s worth digging deeper – how much of this relationship is you not wanting to be the odd girl out? Even bigger question – how good are your friends if you feel like you have to have a romantic partner to fit in?
3. You keep thinking about how great his friends and family are as a reason to stay.
If he’s an objectively great guy, chances are his friends and family are wonderful too. People usually choose sides in a breakup, which means, yes, you might not do kayak trips with his cool friends or feel comfortable texting his amazing mom anymore. But staying with someone for their social circle never lasts.
“Your values and boundaries regarding what you want out of a relationship should be guiding factors — you’re not in a romantic relationship with his friends,” says Dr. Esposito. “It’s not kind to string someone along because you don’t want to lose social connections.” Also, depending on a guy for your social life is never good – you want your own impenetrable network of friends.
4. You’re convinced dumping him would make you a bad or selfish person.
Honestly, there is definitely a stigma against women ditching nice men. Note all the rom-coms that end with the female protagonist going for the sweet-natured best friend who’s been waiting for her all along (she always has to date a hot douche or two before she gets it!). Ending a relationship your friends admired or your parents strongly approved of can make you think like you’ll be perceived as the callous villain of your story, not the hero.
But there’s one very important thing to remember: “Your friends and family don’t have to sleep with him or spend a lifetime in an unfulfilling relationship,” says Esposito. They’re basing assumptions off of cute #MCM Instas and polite dinner conversations – they aren’t seeing you struggling to want to have sex with him. Also, no one will hold it against you or actually care that much (if they do, cut them out of your life, for real).
5. You’ve never argued about anything really important.
A big part of why this guy seems so consistently nice could have something to do with how you fight. If you never do, or if fights always end with him just quickly agreeing with you, it could be a sign that your relationship isn’t even as good as you make it out to be.
“If you’ve never experienced conflict in a relationship, you are not acting with authenticity or integrity,” says Dr. Espositio. “Some people are conflict-avoidant and voicing dissension will be a challenge. Acknowledge your discomfort to your partner from the get-go.” If he never brings up issues with you, then for all you know, he could also be secretly dissatisfied in the relationship. Never arguing makes your partnership surface-level pleasant, but not actually honest or open.
6. You’re more worried about hurting him than being happy.
Even if you acknowledge all of the above and are totally ready to break up, there’s still the factor of seeing his face react when you tell him the news (because yes, you MUST do it in person). Causing distress and heartbreak in a guy who’s been there for you through some tough times and is one of the nicest people you know feels legitimately cruel.
“Loyalty can make breaking up more difficult,” says Dr. Esposito. “But at the end of the day, staying with someone you no longer love is not helping either of you.” It is infinitely kinder and better to break up before you spend years together, move into an apartment, or get married. Because one way or another, you will leave. In the words of Cheryl Strayed: “will you do it later or will you do it now?”
7. You keep telling yourself you’ll never find someone as good.
Every one of my recently-single-again friends has groaned at the prospect of sifting through dating apps again. Swiping right on someone and scheduling your rare free time for a date so you can re-open yourself up to a stranger actually sounds less fun than a chemical foot peel.
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And yet. Something in you is saying there is more out there for you, and putting your lukewarm feelings for a nice man on a too-high pedestal only wastes years of your life. And if you really can’t tell if you’re just in a relationship slump or are truly not into him, you can figure it out once and for all. “Make a list of the pros and cons of staying together versus breaking up,” says Esposito. “Include categories for ‘deal-breakers’ and ‘desirable, but not essential.’ Pay special attention to those areas you vow not to compromise. Go with the longer list.”
Write down everything you want, even if you can barely squeeze it in the margins. Now find out how you can come closer to reaching it, even if it means going at it alone.