Ask Dr. Nerdlove by Harris O'Malley

How Do I Know When It’s Time To Break Up?

DEAR DR. NERDLOVE: I have been dating my boyfriend for 10 months now. Recently, I have been questioning if I should break up with him or not.

My boyfriend is a year older than me and graduated college last year. I am currently a senior in college and moving onto my second semester. Next year he will be going to vet school and I will move back home to live with my parents to save money so we will have to do long distance for a year minimum. My boyfriend did not go to the same college as me, so our friend groups are completely different.

As we have been dating, I have noticed my friends have stopped inviting me out. It is partially my fault since I have put my boyfriend first. I have found it extremely difficult to balance my friends with my boyfriend. He is introverted so when we go out, he’s not as social as me and I feel that I have to stay be his side. He is an extremely nice guy and always puts me first. I fear breaking up with him because I am afraid l will not find someone as nice as him. I also fear that I am losing my friends for a relationship that might not even work out. I have tried to breakup with him before, but I broke down and couldn’t do it.

When we first started dating, I hated spending time apart from him and now I don’t mind it. I feel that I am keeping him around more because I am scared of being alone.

However, when I go out with my friends and not him, I have a great time and often think about being with other people. I am very conflicted and do not know what to do. My friends want me to breakup with him because they say they don’t see me anymore. But I don’t want to just listen to their advice, because they are biased, because they do not like how he is not part of our friend group.


Torn and Twisted

DEAR TORN AND TWISTED: So there’s a few issues buried in this.

First is the fact that your friends aren’t crazy about your boyfriend and how that’s affecting how you feel. While it’s good for our partners to fit in with our friends — especially if they’re going to be around for a while — it’s not the most important thing to consider. Your friends not liking someone can be a significant warning sign… but it can also be a false alarm. If they see, for example, that your partner treats you poorly and they’re worried about you, that’s one thing. If they don’t like him because they don’t approve of the guy or think you’d be a better match with someone else… well, that’s a different matter entirely.

And while people often feel like they need all of their social circles to be this large, overlapping Venn Diagram, having friendships and social circles that are strictly your own is actually important to the health, success and longevity of the relationship. One of the biggest mistakes that couples often make is relying solely on one another for their social and emotional needs, which ends up putting an absurd amount of stress on their partners and the relationship as a whole.

Now it’s understandable that your friends are upset that you’ve been spending more time with your partner than with them; they care for you want don’t like feeling like you’re being “taken away” by your new beau. At the same time, however, it’s pretty much a cliche for people to get caught up in the thrill of the new when they’re with a new partner. All that dopamine and oxytocin ricochetting through your brain means that you’re literally drugged by being in their presence; you’re getting high from being around them and you want to keep that good feeling going. Then as the novelty wears off, the hedonic adaptation kicks in and our brains quit producing quite as much dopamine… you start being a little less twitterpated and remembering that oh yeah, it’s been a bit since you’ve hung out with the squad, huh?

In an ideal world, we don’t get SO caught up that we neglect our friends… but when you’re young, it’s hard to keep a level head when you’re dealing with that New Relationship smell.

Next is the question of whether you would ever find someone else as great as him and honestly? Yes. Yes you would. If you were to break up with him, you would unquestionably meet someone new and awesome. Not because your boyfriend isn’t great or treats you like a queen — I’m sure he does — but because he’s not the only guy out there. To quote Tim Minchin:

Your love is one in a million

(One in a million)

You couldn’t buy it at any price

(Can’t buy love)

But of the nine-point-nine-nine-nine-hundred-thousand other possible loves

Statistically, some of them would be equally nice

Letting a fear of being alone keep you in a relationship is a mistake; it’s better to be alone because you’re alone than it is to be alone because you’re with the wrong person. And while breaking up with him — if that’s what you decide to do — would suck, it wouldn’t be the end of the world. As I’m always telling my male readers: as amazing as this person is, there will be others out there who are just as amazing.

But to be perfectly frank, it doesn’t really sound like breaking up is in the cards or something that actually needs to happen. Your biggest conflict here — such as it is — is that he’s going on to grad school and you’ve still got at least half a semester to go in your undergrad program. That’s not exactly an insurmountable problem. Yeah, you would have to do the long-distance thing… but it’s not like this is the 1910s and Johnny is going off to the wars.  It’ll take some work, sure… but all relationships do. Plus, there’s the fact that, while it may seem like forever right now, a year is really not that long in the scheme of things, especially when that time apart doesn’t also mean that you’re going to be completely incommunicado. You’re in a position where it’s not an incredible trial to stay in contact or see one another at regularly scheduled intervals, and having a distinct end date — one year — makes it that much easier to grit your teeth and power through it.

It sounds to me like the decision to break up is more based on “well, what if we can’t see each other every day?” rather than any real internal or external conflict that would make staying together untenable.

While I’m personally not crazy about LDRs, there’s really no reason why one wouldn’t work for you, especially one that’s relatively short term. If you care for each other and you’re willing to put in the effort to get past the difficulties that come with long-distance relationships, I don’t see any reason not to keep things going.

And honestly… if you do decide to break up for the time you’re going to be apart, there’s no reason you can’t circle back around to one another and get back together when you’re able to live in the same city again. If you’re right for one another now, there’s no reason the two of you wouldn’t be right for each other a year from now.

Ultimately, it’s up to you and whether you decide this relationship is worth the effort it’ll take.

Good luck.

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