Romance (or lack thereof) is often simpler than most of us want it to be. Your gut is usually right. When you're over a relationship, you're over it — and I think that deep down, everyone knows when that moment has come. But it's hard to walk away from the time and energy invested without knowing you gave it a fair shot. How do you know enough is enough? I asked a few friends, who all gave variations on the same reasons they knew their last relationship was doomed: They weren't having any sex, someone was always mad, they had nothing in common, they didn't feel liked as a person by their partner, etc.
But another thing these former couples had in common? Despite the miserable-sounding nature of their relationships, they stayed in them for years.
Now, it's easy to get snarky about this. "OF COURSE that relationship was not going to last. OMG, let it go already." But I felt a pang of shame listening to these stories and realizing that in my own longest relationship, we'd said just about everything short of "I don't like your personality" to each other. It was small comments about how fastidious I was, especially about things like sunscreen reapplication and getting enough sleep, or how irresponsible he was for wasting money on stuff — like bottled water at the beach, which he was supposed to pack. (His one job!) ... And oh wow, I just realized what an anxious nightmare I am to date. But setting that aside, it's clear to me that even the small-seeming, niggling complaints were actually tied to larger issues. He wanted someone carefree. I wanted someone I could relax with. This made us sad and angry a lot.
But it didn't stop us from dating for almost three years.
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So how do you know if friction in your relationship is a case of opposites attracting — which is the kind of friction that creates sparks — or if you're just ending up chafed? Can people adjust to each other's quirks? Or is there a way to know it's just never going to be right? Here are a few signs that things are not looking super good.
1. You Can't Stop Flirting With Other People
Now granted, this could be a symptom of not being ready for a relationship, period. But if you're normally cool being faithful and/or monogamous, and you suddenly find yourself bopping along to this Hozier song, notice that. Especially if your thoughts are less of the carnal variety ("Oooh, I'd like to make out with that person") and more, "I wonder what it would be like to have breakfast with them and talk about movies without fighting."
2. You Feel Like Your Natural Self Is All Kinds Of Wrong
Sometimes, I find myself preparing for a future that's not going to happen. "One day, when I'm no longer an anxious person, I'll ..." "One day, when I no longer have to poop ever ..." "One day, when I'm thin enough to wear the kind of crop tops that show your stomach even when you're sitting down ..." So on and so forth. This is a stupid but harmless thought process outside of the context of a relationship. But having your partner expect certain things from you that fall into the "never gonna happen, that ain't me" realm can make you miserable. If you're shy and feeling pressure to be a social butterfly at his work parties, or if you're loud and funny and she's mortified by it, a harmonious union is about as realistic as believing you'll never again hit the snooze button.
3. You Feel Like You Need A Stiff Drink To Have Sex
Or maybe you're having sex, but you're not kissing or cuddling outside of the bedroom. Sometimes you can overcome the "don't touch me" impulse to have an angry (and dare I say, hot) boink session, but that doesn't fix the fact that the affection is not there. And it's probably not there due to a lot of resentment over the other stuff that isn't getting better (different temperaments, different values, different ideas of what a relationship should look like).
4. Constant, Low Level Friction
And not the sexual kind. Relationships are never all roses, but if they're 80 percent difficult — draining, irritating, tense — and you're explaining yourself more than you're feeling heard, you might want to reassess things.
5. Picking Fights Is Your Chief Means Of Communication
It's an easy pattern to get into if you don't feel safe enough in a relationship to talk about vulnerable stuff: You pick a fight, you blurt out what you need to say, you retreat to your corners, you do some tense negotiation/hostage exchanges, and finally, you make up. It's exhausting, though, and not terribly constructive.
6. Your Pictures of The Future Look Very Different
They're on a five-year track for two kids and a mortgage. You have dreams of backpacking solo through Eurasia.
7. Everyone Around You Is Sick Of The Drama
If your friends are never sure whether to assume that the two of you are together this week, or they seem uncomfortable being around you two (ie. two people who are subtly unhappy with each other), they might be onto something.
8. You're Not The Version Of Your Self You Like The Best
Do you feel more *~*you*~* around besties than your partner? Again, try thinking about how long you intend on keeping this up for, and whether becoming this relationship alter ego for real is what you want (because that has a way of happening).
9. You Feel More Weighted Down Than Supported
You know the difference.
10. Even When Things Are Good ... They're ...
Eh. You're faking it until you make it, and making it hasn't quite happened yet.
11. How You Feel About Getting Some Alone Time, TBH:
If you're walking on eggshells with your partner, being by yourself is sweet unbridled freedom.
12. You're Constantly Frustrated For No Apparent Reason
Let's face it: You don't care that much about the toilet seat position or the fact they that forgot to pick up ice cream. What you're yelling on the inside when you're irritated with your partner is "WHY DON'T YOU MEET MY EXPECTATIONS AND NEEDS?!"
13. The Icks Have Set In
You thought this person was attractive at one point. But now, one bad haircut is seriously turning you off.
14. You Don't Feel Like Trying
You don't feel like trying anymore, and you can't stop fantasizing about your freedom. That's probably the clearest sign of all to let it go.
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