Am I a bad person if I feel ok after a break up? I asked myself that question again and again after I broke up with my enboifriend, not realising that actually I wasn’t ok at all. I’d been expecting to fall apart, to physically ache with the pain of missing them. I wasn’t expecting to feel numb, to feel nothing. I wasn’t expecting to feel relief.
I broke up with them on January 1st 2021.
I hadn’t planned to do it then. I’d been thinking about it for weeks, but I hadn’t planned to break up with them just six days after their girlfriend had proposed to them. I’d been torturing myself with the fact that I might have to break up with them, but I had no idea that I was going to do it then until I was literally typing out the words.
I didn’t cry.
I felt like I couldn’t breathe, but I didn’t cry. Yes, part of my brain was screaming at me that I was ruining the best part of my life, but I felt oddly calm. I told them that I loved them and I loved being their boyfriend. I told them that something didn’t feel right. They asked me if I wanted to take a break, and I told them that I’d only be saying ‘no’ because I was afraid of what we had changing and of me loosing them.
I loved them but I wanted to break up with them, and those feelings felt too big for me to hold.
They knew how ill I was, and I explained that I thought getting better would involve me being more selfish than was fair to them. I told them that I wanted to take a beat and look after myself. They told me they loved me and they wanted me to be happy. They told me to take some time to put myself first. I told them that I wasn’t sure I would ever be as happy again as I was being their boyfriend, but I couldn’t keep being that person for them.
They told me that they needed more from me as a boyfriend than I could give them right now, but I felt so numb that my heart didn’t break. I agreed.
We agreed that we wanted to stay in each other’s lives. We agreed that we’d need new boundaries and to redefine what we were to each other. I told them how much they meant to me. They told me that they needed some space. I still didn’t cry.
January 2nd was the first day in seventeen months when we didn’t talk at all, and I felt relief.
You’re heartless, the lying depression voice in my head said. You’re cruel and you’re broken. Normal people feel things when they break up with the person they love.
In the following days I mostly felt nothing, but it was nothing tinged with guilt. I felt like I should feel something. Surely I was supposed feel something after ending my first ever relationship? I felt guilty that I’d dumped them – that I might have broken their heart – and yet I could still feel kind of ok.
Except I was lying to myself. It did hurt and I was sad and I missed them. I was just drowning my mental illness and I was so depressed it felt like I couldn’t breathe. The numbness was a blanket, protecting me against the sharp edge of pain. I thought about not being their boyfriend any more and I cried. I curled up in a ball and tried to hold myself, missing their arms even though I hadn’t felt them around me for months. I’d made the right choice, but that doesn’t mean it didn’t hurt.
It hurt like hell.
My world didn’t end, though. I didn’t want to kill myself because I’d broken up with them, I just wanted to kill myself. I wanted to self-harm and I wanted to peel my skin off, but I’d have wanted to do those things even if I was still dating them. At least this way I didn’t have to worry that I was worrying them if I told them, or that I was hiding something if I didn’t. I closed my eyes and tried to breathe, and didn’t think about them because I was in too much pain to think about anything.
In a fairytale, the prince saves the princess from the dragon. I’m not the princess: I’m the motherfucking knight who escaped from the tower and went off on his own adventures. But part of me, deep down, wants to be the princess. Part of me wants to be saved, and that scares me. When it comes to my mental illness – to the voice in my head that tells me to kill yourself, bitch every single day – I can’t let anyone else save me.
I have to save myself.
I don’t have to do it along, of course. I’m allowed to have other people alongside me, helping me fight the metaphorical dragon of my depression. I need people to help me. I need to let people into my life and to force myself to be vulnerable with them, even when it feels like I’m setting myself up for more pain. But other people cannot be the reason I choose to keep fighting – that doesn’t work. I have to want to save myself.
In my worst moments, I want to ask other people to save me. I want to ask them to be the reason why I should stay alive. I was scared of doing that with my enboifriend, scared of making them into my everything because that’s not fair on them. It’s not healthy – for me at least – to have another person be my whole world. But trying to be their boyfriend and save myself at the same time was too much. Everything I had was going into keeping myself alive, and our relationship wasn’t working anymore.
When I wrote about not expecting a happy ever after with my enboifriend, a few people felt that I wasn’t allowing myself to be truly vulnerable with them. I think I was. The thing about being in my mid-twenties is that people don’t always trust me to know what I want. Even with my non-monogamous friends, me saying that I don’t think I’ll ever have a nesting partner will be met with the response that I’m young, that I might find someone.
It’s not a question of finding someone. I found someone who I love more than I thought it was possible to love anyone, who taught me more about myself than I ever could have imagined, who changed my fucking life. I found them and I loved them and they loved me. It wasn’t perfect – no relationship ever is – but we were brilliant together. And I still broke up with them.
They think I did the right thing.
We discussed it in the months that followed, and again before we had sex for the first time since breaking up. Something wasn’t right, and me breaking up with them was the right thing to do. Eight months ago I couldn’t imagine ever wanting to have sex with them again, and that lack of desire made me hate myself. Now we sext and send nudes and I want to rip their clothes off and fuck them until they’re begging. I don’t think I’d be in that place with them if we hadn’t broken up. I’m glad that we broke up.
We’re taught that love looks one way, that it’s big and romantic and all-consuming. We’re taught that if it’s real love, the worst thing that can happen is that relationship ending, and that your world will fall apart if it does. We might be better at talking about how we can have sex without love (and love without sex), but we still believe that relationships are failures if they don’t end in a happy ever after. You can love someone and not want to be in a relationship with them. You can walk away from a relationship and remain friends with your partner.
Your version of happy ever after doesn’t have to look like everyone else’s – mine sure as hell doesn’t.
A relationship isn’t a failure because it ends. You’re not a failure. It’s ok if you feel ok – or if you feel nothing -after you break up with someone. You’re not a bad person, I promise. I still have to remind myself of this, remind myself that I didn’t throw away my one shot at happiness. My enboifriend is now my partner, and we still talk almost every day. We’re still a big part of each other’s lives. We still have amazing sex.
We still tell each other I love you, just with a slightly different meaning.
Quinn Rhodes (he/him) is a queer, trans, disabled sex writer with vaginismus. He’s a slut and a sex nerd who writes about his adventures in trying to fuck without fucking up. Quinn can usually be found wearing stomp-on-the-patriarchy boots while falling in love every time he fucks.