The Most Important Lesson I Learned From Ending My Long-Term Relationship

Last quarter, my boyfriend of almost four years broke up with me over video-chat during dead week. We were high school sweethearts turned long distance -- he was a year behind me in school and stayed close to home while I chose to go to college over five hours away from our hometown. For years, the situation seemed to work. People would ask us how we dealt with the distance and we would just shrug, “You just learn to make time for each other,” I remember telling a friend. “We Skype, text, talk on the phone, and try to visit each other when we can. Long distance can work if you communicate and trust each other.” 

I had just gotten back from brunch with friends when my boyfriend texted me asking if we could video chat. Thinking he just wanted to say hi and catch up, I immediately said sure, of course we can, but right away when I logged on and saw him, I could tell something was very wrong. For one thing, it was mid-afternoon and he still was in pajamas and hadn't shaved, and he was really quiet. When we finally got a conversation going, it quickly turned into bickering over the most pointless things. Seriously, I think we were arguing about like, the new Avengers movie or something. Eventually, I asked him what was wrong. Then, he said the words that stopped me dead in my tracks: “I don’t know how to say this, but I’ve been thinking about it for a long time and…” No, I thought to myself as he told me he couldn't handle the distance anymore, that he hadn't been happy for a long time. This can’t really be happening. He can’t really be ending our four-year relationship over Skype… 

After the awkward “we can still try and be friends” chat (honestly, doesn’t everyone say this?), I ended the call and immediately sobbed. I cried for over a week straight -- in bed, in the shower, during class, on the phone with my mom, on my friends’ shoulders. Seriously, I don’t think I’ve ever cried that much. I couldn’t eat for three weeks. I put off studying and skipped class. I drank too much and made impulsive decisions I shouldn’t have. I just couldn’t understand what I had done to make him end things, to just give up on us so easily. I had seen him in person just days before the breakup. We’d gone to dinner, had sex, binge-watched The Office, said “I love you” like always. We’d even been planning a summer trip together. I knew we’d been fighting more the past few months and that we’d had our issues, but it never crossed my mind that we were headed towards a breakup. 

Slowly, I started to put myself back together. I stopped crying as much. I started eating again. I finished all of my classes with A’s and B’s. I cut my hair. I spent time catching up with old friends, hanging out with family and even getting to know other guys. Once I’d gotten through the initial shock, I was able to sit down and really think about the break up. I realized I needed to be honest with myself about the relationship and what had happened between us. And what I realized was… I hadn’t been happy in that relationship for a long time. 

When we first started dating back in high school, things seemed perfect, or at least, as close to perfect as a high school relationship could be. We were childhood friends who grew up a block away from each other and crossed paths again when we’d both gotten older and past that awkward braces and acne stage. And for a long time, we had a lot of fun. I went to his games and cheered him on from the stands, he took me to my senior prom, we went on a million dates, got to know each other’s friends and families like our own. I lost my virginity to him and he became the first guy I ever truly fell in love with. 

But when he started college, things gradually became different. I’m not quite sure how to define it exactly, but there was a change in him. He quit sports. He stopped caring about his health. He no longer talked about all of the dreams and goals he’d previously had. He stopped wanting to go on our usual dates or hang out with our old crowd of friends. On more than one occasion, he called me late at night and vented about how unhappy he was in school.

For over a year, I tried everything to help him feel better. I helped him make appointments at his school’s counseling center, I went with him to tour colleges he was considering transferring to, I suggested new activities and campus organizations he might like, I told him over and over how awesome he was, how much I cared about him, how much he was worth, but things never really improved. We eventually fell into a really unhealthy dynamic where I acted more like a therapist or a mom than a girlfriend, and he depended on me way too much. I was always trying to “fix” him and make him happy. And that brings me to the most important lesson I learned from all of this:

Never put someone else above your own well-being. 

I think as women, we’re often conditioned to be the caregivers in our relationships. We’re told that boys take longer than us to mature, that we should be patient and wait for them to grow, that a boy will “become a man” when he meets the right girl. But oftentimes in doing so, we end up casting aside our own needs, desires and ambitions. I was so wrapped up in my relationship that I didn’t realize how much I was sacrificing. I skipped nights out with friends to stay in and Skype with him, went home multiple weekends a quarter to visit him and at one point even considered transferring to be closer to him. It got to the point where I was giving myself panic attacks trying to keep him happy. Additionally, I was so focused on my boyfriend’s happiness that I turned a blind eye to lots of red flags, including that he was DMing and Snapchatting a bunch of other girls. In the back of my mind, I think I knew I deserved more out of a relationship, but I loved him so much that I convinced myself he was worth anything, even my own well-being.

 

To be clear, this isn’t intended to be a piece bashing my ex or blaming him for everything. I was far from a perfect girlfriend and I made my fair share of mistakes as well. I cared for him deeply and still do. But when I look back on my relationship, I see it as a lesson. It’s a reminder that I’ll never allow these things to happen again in any of my future relationships.

I’m not ready to seriously start dating again and I honestly don’t really want a boyfriend for the rest of college. But the next time I’m in a relationship -- whether that’s three months or three years from now -- I know it’ll be with someone who sees me as an equal partner instead of just medicine.