Humans 101

How to Never Break Up

My friendship failures taught me something important about marriage

Photo: Kevin Doncaster/flickr

I have a confession to make: I’m 24 years old and I’ve never had a breakup. I’ve never dated someone only to find out all the stars in their eyes were faded. I’ve never had a romantic relationship end in failure or loss or tears. I’ve never had the nostalgic pangs of “having been in love with someone.”

It’s not because I’m new to romance. I’ve watched my friends struggle with dating, swipe endlessly right, and get their hearts broken. I’ve seen them get engaged, and I’ve seen them at the brink of divorce. I’m always the eager shoulder, comfortable with the wetness of silent tears. And I myself have been married for two years—one of the lucky few to have achieved this status without the dark side of romantic love.

Today, I’m still with my husband, the only person I’ve ever seriously dated or even kissed. There’s a freshness and a resilience to my marriage that hasn’t been there with my other relationships — a bond comparable only to that with my sister. The past years have come with ugly fights but there’s a certainty to knowing you’re not going to be walked out on or that you’re not going to walk. Above all that’s what not having a breakup has taught me — it is possible to just decide not to.

Part of this certainty comes from my lack of experience. I don’t know what breakup language is. I don’t know what signs to look for, how to keep watch on stilted texts or refused hugs. We have gotten through several relationship red flags simply because people are imperfect and we did not know they were red flags.

Of course, this doesn’t mean I’m completely new to heartbreak. If you include friendships and family, I’ve had some pretty nasty scrapes. People I once loved have said and done the unforgivable; I’ve gone back to them, and they’ve done it again. I’ve clung to people who wanted to do the slow fade, sending double texts a dozen times in a row. My friends have had to prevent me from trying to call people far too toxic to be anything but relics of the past.

Perhaps those failures taught me the lessons crucial for romantic success.

1. Don’t focus on blaming people for pain

The first lesson I learned about relationships came young. I had a best friend until I was six, and then one day, I never saw her again. My best recollection is that our parents fought over something to do with jealousy and bad influences. But the lesson I learned was swift and deep: Pain is often no individual’s fault, and even if it is, it’s best to pretend it isn’t. My best friend and I loved each other, but it didn’t work out anyway. I’m sure our parents thought they were doing the right thing too.

A few months ago, I Googled her name, found her on Facebook, and reached out. We exchanged a few catch-up texts, and then she stopped responding. I don’t know if we could be friends now. But I did find out she’s engaged to her high school sweetheart from freshman year. May she’s never had a breakup either, and perhaps we both taught each other something.

2. Overcommunicate

I learned the second thing from my toxic extended family: There’s no harm in reaching out, in making the big gesture. There is harm in dwelling on the past and letting it consume you. There is harm in continuing to feel the pain. There is certainly harm in going back to poison just because you’re thirsty.

But overcommunicating? That’s fine. It only ever costs ego, and that’s barely anything. When I was 10, I talked to my uncles about how their sexism was affecting me. When I was 14, I told one of them he was hurting me. I told him he needed to treat me with respect if we were to have a relationship. Now we don’t have one. I have reached out to my friends to explain why their actions have hurt me or why I miss them or how much effort I’m willing to make to get back in their lives. I have found that it can be easier to say things than not say them.

There’s no harm in reaching out, in making the big gesture.

This works in my marriage, too, by the way. I wrote a whole article about how important and romantic communication is. My husband and I discuss everything from our identities and families to minor things that bother us so they don’t build up to a fight. It bothers him when I push him away from a hug when I’m working. It bothers me when my tea is wrong. We just say what we mean.

And when we fight, ego never keeps us from reconciliation. If I can reach out to people who bullied me for my entire childhood, explaining why our relationship still matters to me, I can tell my husband I love him in the middle of an argument.

3. Learn to move on

The third lesson I learned the hard way is there is such a thing as closure. And it doesn’t come from someone else replacing that hole in your heart. It comes from mending it yourself. For me, it’s often come from the person who put it there in the first place. It’s part of what happens when you reach out. You may realize they’ve changed and you forgive them, or you may realize they haven’t and you don’t and the decisions you made were the right ones. Or perhaps they don’t want a relationship with you, and one day you wake up and accept that it’s their loss and not yours. You realize that you tried your hardest to communicate and they didn’t take you up on it, and there is nothing else you can do now but let go.

And that practice of letting go really helps create a strong relationship. It’s helped me learn to focus on the present and forgive the mistakes my husband and I made long ago, mistakes that have no bearing on our lives today. Closure, like gratitude, is a feeling you learn to achieve more frequently with practice.

With my husband, Nathan, I assume bad days not endings. I assume all problems, no matter how terrible, are eminently fixable. I know how to let go of the things we can’t fix. I don’t know how to break up with anyone, but I do know the deep hurt of loss and regret. I know that love is endless and pain is not. I know that the good days far outweigh the bad. And I want to avoid losing them.

Author’s note: I do not advocate staying with an emotionally or physically abusive spouse or parent, especially if they show no signs of wanting to improve or get therapy—no matter how much you think they love you or you love them.

Author, attorney, dachshund human. President of Dweebs Global.

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