Relationship Limbo: The Breakup That Hasn't Happened Yet


The worst part is the uncertainty. Knowing for sure is brutal, but when it’s still possible you’re mistaken, the not-knowing makes you boil with asylum-grade madness. It literally feels like insanity—not trusting your own mind, wanting so much to be wrong, every raw suspicion like a stubborn paper cut between your fingers that you can’t for one second not feel. When it turns out to be exactly what you feared, you still can’t believe it, but there’s an odd relief. At least now you don’t have to wonder.

The possibility does not escape you that it was this dread itself that caused the very thing you dreaded to happen. A sick joke: whoever is more suspicious that the other person is keeping secrets is always the one who’s worse at holding things back. This time it’s you. The more you try not to give your fears away, the more they seep out of you. Insecurity begets new reasons to be insecure. You sort of watch yourself from a distance, about to say another thing that makes you look needy and weak. You don’t want to say it, but you just can’t stop, and part of you is filing away this moment of embraced victimhood so you can pull the memory up, post-mortem, and regret it again anew.

When you tell your friends you think it’s ending they say everything is fine, you’re worried about nothing. This is what friends do for you. This is what you do for them. When you tell them what seems off, they give you the most unrelentingly sunny way of looking at the situation, barely allowing for the possibility that you’re right. Against your better judgment you allow a temporary reprieve from the aching conviction that something is deeply wrong.

After a while, though, the transgressions become more obvious. Phone calls and texts go unreturned for far too long. It feels deliberate and cruel. You play the game of who can pretend not to care for the longest. You wonder if you’re the only one “playing.” Sex reverts back to the hard-fought culmination it was at the very beginning and you feel thankful every time, like you won a contest. Maybe it’s in one of these ever rarer intimate moments that you realize how wrong it is to feel so grateful. You are not delusional—you finally acknowledge that something is definitely, definitely wrong. You realize you’re supposed to end this, you’re actively being prodded to do so, but still you can’t stop. You physically cannot stop yourself from continuing this thing that is torturing you.

Partly it’s because you don’t like to lose. You don’t want to be the rejected one, marking a notch in the Visitors column of your own personal scorecard. Mostly, though, it’s because you’re in love. You love how this used to be, and refuse to accept that it can’t be that way again. Maybe if you are a perfect person from now on, you can unring the right bells; not so much fuse back together what’s broken as erase the suggestion that anything was ever broken at all.

It’s no use, though, because it’s not up to you. This distance, this elusiveness—these aren’t mistakes. The decision has already been made, and it’s only a matter of time. A question of who will actually say the words. The issue will be forced again and again until you can’t stand it any longer. Until then, you are dangling at somebody else’s whim and living in a present that’s already crystallized into amber.

Once it’s really happening, and you’re actually having the conversation, it’s almost perversely exciting. You want to scream out, “I knew it!” and call other people to tell them you were right. But even though you know you’re right, you won’t let it fully become real until the very last second. No. Because you can’t do it yourself. You can’t do what your pride demands you to do. No. You’d rather surrender that pride. You already have. Not because this staunch resistance to the obvious will reverse the end result, but because it will buy you just a little more time. Even though this is shattered and ruined, even though it’s clearly over, you have dug your heels in and you refuse to leave voluntarily. The script has been written and handed to you, and it’s your turn to speak, but you will never, ever be the one to say the words.

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image – Nick Karvounis