When to End a Break?

Yesterday I had two queries from 20-somethings on whether to break up with a boyfriend or not. One was jokingly flipping a coin to decide. The other one is on a “break” and trying to decide whether to cut the tie. Of course there is no one size fits all answer. The idea of this blog is to provide the collective experiences of 40-something women on how their decisions played out…. to help 20-somethings make their own decisions. It’s not about the “answer”.  Listening to other people’s stories about similar situations can help you figure out what’s right for you. So…here are a few perspectives I’ve gained on the “taking a break situation” from women I’ve interviewed. If any 40-something has an experience or advice they would like to share please weigh in!

20-something question: In her early 20s, she does not see getting married until her late 20s. On a “break” from 3 year long relationship she describes as very close with strong love and friendship. While she can envision “forever” with this guy she feels they’re both limited in relationship experience and emotional independence.  Both in graduate school, they live in different states and have been on this mutually agreed to break for 9 months . During this time she has dated, had fun, and grown while he has not so much.  Her question:  “Do I risk losing him and breaking his heart by setting us both loose and eradicate the vague term “on a break”?  If I don’t, am I selfishly stringing him along?  Is this wrong?  What happens if I meet someone else and fall in love?”

A few things come to my mind. Of course couples can start out young and grow together, but it sounds like they are on very different speeds. If he does not want to grow or date now, where will he be by his  late 20’s?  Will they catch up to each other? SPend some time thinking about how much of the love is about mutual respect for each other’s ambitions and opinions. Friendship is key but you also need to be really interested in the other person. As one 40-something related:

“Beyond being your friend, I would say you have to really like them as a person. You just have to just think they are neat and interesting. Not interesting like intellectual per se. It’s whatever makes them interesting but if they’re not interesting to you, you’re going to get tired of them in the long run.”

I also hear a lot that the worst reason to not break up with someone is fear of hurting their feelings — in the long run you will only hurt each other. Think about what  you really fear – hurting him? Falling in love with someone else? Being alone?

I was reading a story last night from a woman in a similar situation. She dated a guy from 15 to 27. She was going off to graduate school and felt a chasm in their lifestyle goals and ambitions.

I didn’t have the respect I needed for his craft. To be the most supportive of him and to be supported. I was so out there as far as knowing what I wanted to do. And I did wonder what else was out there. I was empowered by that. I wanted to know, ‘am I settling?’ Two years after getting out of that I was thinking ‘what did I do?’ Getting older. Meeting guys.  I wondered if anyone would ever love me unconditionally like he did. But I look back now and I would have always wondered ’what if?’. And I know he would have always wondered too. I don’t think I would have evolved or matured. Of course anything is possible. But I think my likelihood of being happy and satisfied and peaceful later in life is very much about having made that decision.”

In the end she didn’t regret her decision. In her heart she knew they were on different paths. On the other hand, I’ve heard stories of people who broke and came back together.  This woman’s issue was not so much with the relationship as it was within herself:

“I knew that there was something very special about him but then we broke up because I had some issues. All these things went on in my head that were just about where I was at in my life. At first I did tons of dating which was great. After that I went through a period of just being alone. My two years of dating and then taking time to figure out who I was allowed me to see him much differently than I had in the past. Had I not had that period of time I know I wouldn’t be married to my now husband because I would’ve missed that opportunity.  So I don’t know if a 20 year old can make that happen.  It’s usually the “growing” we do when we are stuck with ourselves for a long period of time (vs. filling every moment with friends, activities, work, etc) that creates the clarity as to what you want out of life and who you want in your life — in terms of specific people or just general characteristics”

I took a break from a relationship in my late 20s. I was inspired by a friend who had done it. She “broke” for  6 months, sowed some oats and realized she was indeed ready to marry her long-term boyfriend. It didn’t quite turn out that way for me. I initiated the break and within 2 months found my answer. I was questioning the wrong things in the relationship. I was caught up in defining the relationship based on other people’s standards. The old, just because he didn’t buy me flowers everyday doesn’t mean he didn’t love me. He did a lot of very special things for me and would do anything for me. But he was not ready to take me back…blindsided by my move, he couldn’t trust me. I look back and realize it wasn’t right but it just goes to show that you do need to be prepared for that possibility.

These are just a few stories. 40-something women please share your own perspective on “breaks”.

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