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Breaking up when nothing’s wrong


Every romance hits a few dry spells, but if you can’t remember the last time you laughed together or got frisky in a new way, it might be time to reconsider your relationship. Did your weekend getaway fail to inject some energy? Did that last birthday gift fizzle upon reception? Sometimes there’s nothing tangibly “wrong,” but a kite with no wind to keep it aloft isn’t going anywhere but the ground, if you get my drift. Without a concrete, acceptable reason to break up with someone (infidelity, drama, PETA-supporting vegan vs. rodeo-loving carnivore), many couples simply continue to tread water in their dead-end relationships. Other times, one partner’s passive aggressive behavior — such as becoming increasingly distant, or engaging in acts of sabotage — pushes the other into initiating the split. When you sense that your love’s flatlining on the table, it’s time to either bust out the defibrillator or agree to call it a day.

*Dating diagnoses

Some twosomes weren’t meant to last for years or culminate in delightful arguments over stroller foldability on the lower level of Buy Buy Baby. Does your own love life suffer from one of these “Yes, it’s over” symptoms?

1. Depression: Ennui has set in, followed by many romance-free months, joyless outings, and a decline in one or both partners’ personal hygiene and fashion choices.

2. Histrionics exhaustion: Your girl was super-cute and charming at first, but now her yo-yo dieting, social circle freak-outs and nightly bubble bath habit makes envisioning a conjoined future with her now utterly impossible.

3. Instability jitters: Your guy’s up-and-down freelancing career was to be expected right out of college, but after a few years, you’re longing for a steady paycheck, a regular work schedule and the condo life together.

4. Routine boredom: Is this love a pretty package tied up with a big, beige bow? Don’t mistake contentment with settling for less than you deserve.
5. Gapping (in age, income, lifestyle): Being a sugar daddy or sugar mama can be fun for awhile, but any twenty-something’s penchant for all-night clubbing followed by French fry binges can eventually clash with your morning meetings (and cholesterol count).

6. Ambition inequality: She wants a multi-carat ring and career acclaim; he’s cool with living with a roommate… or maybe moving to Santa Monica, but only if he could sell his 1978 set of Topps baseball cards on Craigslist for the right price.

7. Roving eye syndrome: After a flurry of flirty text messages and secret lunches, one of you has enjoyed a first kiss with a new paramour and an affair seems inevitable. Moral issues aside, sometimes it takes getting hot for someone else to realize how chilly your current relationship’s become.

*Is this the Love Boat… or a sinking ship?

Before deciding to move on from a ho-hum relationship, try this “Ultimate Fantasy” scenario: Imagine yourself on a luxurious vacation — whether it’s six months of island-hopping in the South Pacific, helicopter-skiing in the remote Alps, or five-starring it in Paris. You’ll need a companion for the greatest trip of your life. Is it your current flame? An ex that you let slip away? A brewing love interest on the sidelines, maybe? Or some mystery/fantasy person you haven’t even met yet? The answer that first comes into your mind should illuminate the state of your current relationship — especially if it’s stalled and sputtering.

*Breakin’ up is hard to do

Short-term affairs can be ended quickly with one phone call (or two unreturned phone calls), but significant splits are rarely quick and should always be done in person. Even after being prepped for the act by friends and reference books, breakups are hardly clean, linear and controlled, like a PowerPoint presentation (The Good Times Recap, Why It’s Not Working Out, My Reasons, My Condolences, Questions and Comments?). Most begin with the “big talk” before devolving into explanatory emails, emotional texts, and swan-song kisses — then, finally, a true separation. In lieu of a clean-cut split, some couples opt to downshift by taking a break first. This weaning period helps soothe the ache for companionship and helps both parties answer an important question: Is this a case of “absence makes the heart grow fonder,” or is it really “out of sight, out of mind?” Regardless of the answer, during those final throes, don’t mistake that jolt in your pulse from finally doing the right thing with false readings of love’s pulse.

*Just a spoonful of “Honey, we need to talk…”

Breakups are usually hashed out through expressing your feelings while avoiding the specifics: “I’m just not happy,” “I feel trapped,” “I don’t want to keep holding you back.” With no villain or bad behaviors to focus the blame on, it’s best to keep the harsh “You’re not going anywhere and your famous lasagna sucks” statements to yourself. Instead of making accusations, frame your reasons for breaking up around the goals you’ve made for yourself and the relationship’s incompatibility with those goals, such as: “I’m hoping to get married someday and I don’t think we’re headed that way” or “I love your band, but life on the road isn’t for me.” Exes who still work together, helped the other find a new partner, or stay in touch online are proof that even when love can’t go the distance, peaceful goodbyes are possible. In fact, these kinds of breakups bode well for former lovers who can enjoy a genuine, lasting friendship once time has passed and there’s nothing more at stake than a cup of coffee together, figuring out how to avoid similar relationship mistakes in the future by dissecting what went wrong and learning from it.

*It’s all about perspective

Are you wary of pulling the plug because going solo sounds scary and lonely? It takes some healthy self-esteem and a dash of courage to realize that it’s better to be happy and alone than to suffer with perpetual malaise in a relationship where nobody’s thriving. If you believe there’s probably a better partner or relationship out there for you, staying with the wrong person just because it’s easier than initiating a split severely limits your chances of finding what you really want. Potential suitors can spot unhappiness miles away, and that sourpuss look on your face invites only sympathy, not friendly conversation. Plus, when the right one does come along, is dissolving your doomed duo to date someone else an honorable way to end things? There may be a universe of singles dying to ask you out, but don’t expect to attract any worthwhile candidates until after you’ve ended this tepid twosome and extinguished your NO VACANCY light.

(Phineas Mollod traded his J.D. for the editorial life and is often found riding the congested E train with his wife and daughter in New York. Jason Tesauro pushes pen and ink by day and leads the lifestyle seminar series by night, ne'er far from his sweetheart and a Brady Bunch houseful 'o tots in Virginia. Together they are the authors of The Modern Gentleman: A Guide to Essential Manners, Savvy and Vice and The Modern Lover: A Playbook for Suitors, Spouses, and Ringless Carousers.)

By Phineas Mollod and Jason Tesauro

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