He says I’m the love of his life and I don’t know how to leave him

Ask Roe: ‘I have tried to break up so often, but he is not letting the relationship go’

Just go: some modes of leaving are selfish, but leaving itself is not. Photograph: E+/Getty

Just go: some modes of leaving are selfish, but leaving itself is not. Photograph: E+/Getty

 

Dear Roe,

I’m 25 years old and started a relationship with a guy who I liked and loved four years ago. But over the years my feelings for him have changed because of his actions and attitude; I have lost interest. He has sensed that my feelings have changed, and I have tried to break up with him so many times, but he is not letting me or the relationship go. He’s saying that I’m the love of his life, but I’m not happy and I don’t want to continue. I can’t tell him that I don’t love him, as that would kill him. I don’t know how to leave without hurting him.

Leave him. Leave him now. Leave him, and know that it’s okay.

Most relationships end. That’s just the maths of it. The problem with society’s view of relationships is that we have come to see them in terms only of success and failure: we think that unless it lasts until death a relationship has failed, or has been a waste of time, or meant nothing.

No relationship means nothing. There’s always something to be learnt. And sometimes the lesson is simply this: you get to leave if you need to.

Leaving is sometimes what we need to do to survive, when staying would mean being constantly unhappy, being suffocated, being tormented by a pull in your gut

It sounds selfish, I know. It sounds selfish because we all know people who have left selfishly. We know the people who left at the first sight of the necessary work of relationships; we know the people who walked out on their responsibilities and left their partners to pick up the pieces; we know the people who were too cowardly to admit they wanted to leave and instead chose to cheat or withdraw or act cruelly – a way of leaving by pushing your partner out of the door.

These modes of leaving are selfish. But leaving itself is not selfish. Leaving is sometimes what we need to do to survive, when staying would mean being constantly unhappy, being suffocated, being tormented by a pull in your gut and a voice in your head telling you that this is not the right relationship for you.

And this is not the right relationship for you – either of you. Because healthy relationships aren’t based on one person forcing the other to stay when their insides are screaming “Go!”

You need to understand that, too. You need to reclaim your agency and your grasp on what a loving relationship really is. A healthy relationship is one where the love moves freely in both directions; it is not coercive or one-sided. A healthy relationship is where both people know the truth about their relationship and are happy with it, or are willing to work on it together. Neither you nor your partner has that. So leave, for both your sakes.

And while you are reclaiming your agency, reclaiming your right to leave, surrender some ego. You will not kill someone by leaving them. Partners who tell you that they would die without you are either overly dramatic or overly dependent. Partners who threaten that they will kill themselves if you leave are abusive, ill or both, and should be treated as such. If this is what your partner is doing, tell his family or friends, so that he has a support system, tell your friends and family, so that you have a support system, and leave, doing whatever you need to do to feel safe.

But I think you are just scared of hurting your partner. You might. But staying is hurting you both, because it’s preventing both of you from being free to experience new forms of love, love that will meet you where you are right now, not keep you stuck where you no longer belong. Leaving is a kindness you both need, even though you may not feel the benefits for a while.

There’s a world of possibilities and fulfilment and freedom waiting for both of you beyond this relationship. Listen to your gut. Leave

As for how to leave someone who is trying to make you stay, you change the choice you’re presenting them with.

Have one more conversation – just one – and tell them that you’re leaving, that this is non-negotiable, they cannot make you stay. But offer them the choice to join you in giving your relationship a respectful ending. Tell them what good memories you’ll cherish, what you learned about yourself, and what lessons you’re taking with you as you moving forward.

Congratulate both of you for being brave, because that’s what your love was. It was entering a relationship knowing there were no guarantees, knowing there was the chance of getting hurt, and looking at each other saying, “Yes. You. You are worth the risk.” It was staying as long as it made sense to both of you. It was leaving respectfully when it no longer did.

If he cannot meet you at that respectful place, that is his choice. But you will have done all you can do, all you need to do.

There’s a world of possibilities and fulfilment and freedom waiting for both of you beyond this relationship. Listen to your gut. Leave. Run towards it.

Ready. Set. Go.

Roe McDermott is a writer and Fulbright scholar with an MA in sexuality studies from San Francisco State University. She is researching a PhD in gendered and sexual citizenship at the Open University and Oxford

If you have a problem or query you would like her to answer, you can submit it anonymously at irishtimes.com/dearroe

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