To go or to stay? Why do we hold on to relationships that don’t make us happy??
In an episode of the television series "Louie" Sits the hero, played by comedian Louis C.K., with his girlfriend in the restaurant. Louie ordered a plate of ice cream as his main course. "Something you have", says his girlfriend. "No", says Louie. "But." "I am just tired." The girlfriend thinks about it. Suddenly she shouts, more surprised than frightened: "You want to break up!" "I do not want to separate." Louie pushes the spoon into his ice cream. "Please don’t eat the ice cream now." Louie lowers the spoon. "Why can’t you just say you want to break up?" "But I don’t want to break up." "You just can’t say it. I have an idea. I say now: ‘We should split up.And then you just don’t say anything for 17 seconds." "But I don’t want to …" "We should break up." Silence. Louie squeezes the ice cream spoon between his fingers. "Okay. Well done. We are finished." "Me . " The girlfriend who is now the ex-girlfriend gets up and leaves. Louie eats his ice cream.
When I saw the scene for the first time, I was relieved. So there are others out there like me. People who are too cowardly, too stupid, too shy, too polite, too slow, too anything to break up. Separation muffle. We prefer to let fate take its course. We are leaves in the wind and have to trust that the wind will already slam us on the road against some windshield that fits. And if it doesn’t work out, it works out somehow. Anything is better than having to say these words: "It can’t go on. I don’t love you anymore. We have to separate." Staying is better than leaving for us breakup-phobes.
The big question: to leave or to stay?
To go or to stay? That’s the big question we ask ourselves at some point in most relationships. Is this the love of our lives, and we get through it all? Or is it really enough with that other person there in our apartment and in our lives who has been getting on our nerves for too long now?
We have to decide then. And those who shirk the decision still make the decision. He stays. That’s how I always felt.
Restart If you don’t like it – do it again!
Why have I always had such a panic? As if a breakup today is still the end of the world. Yet it has long been an everyday catastrophe like wisdom tooth surgery or dismissal. Does everything really hurt, and sometimes it can even throw you off track. But it’s part of the routine, it’s all scheduled in the average life. No panic. Have (almost) all survived. By the time we’re 30, we’ve already had an average of 3.6 breakups, according to a study. 3.6 Ends of the world that weren’t end of the world after all. That we survived after all. We are richer than other generations, at least in terms of experience: people who were 30 at the beginning of the eighties had on average not even two breakups behind them.
Today we live serially monogamous. We are separation serial offenders. And separation series victims. In any case, most people know both. I know only one side so far. I have never broken up. I’ve been dumped, stood up, had stories run out; but I’ve never said, "That’s it now." At least never with success, but more on that in a moment.
About the book "Separate!"
To go or to stay? As long as we don’t live in an extreme situation that could be dangerous to us psychologically or even physically, no one can take the answer to the question from us. Me neither. But maybe I can learn to finally consider both answers. Stay. And leave. And then next time I can make a real decision.
Offspring or not? When the desire to have a child is not reciprocated by the partner
A call in Switzerland, in beautiful Zurich, to the writer Thomas Meyer. Meyer, born 74, has just written a book. A real pamphlet. "Separate!" is the title. The message: four out of five relationships must be dissolved immediately. Says Meyer. And he doesn’t seem to tolerate contradiction. But I love her? No argument for him. "One has nothing to do with the other", he writes in his book. "Love cannot be stopped by problems, but it cannot solve them either. It can be compared to the sun that rose over Stalingrad and bathed the carnage in warming light again and again, but without diminishing it in any way." Whew. So were the relationships I was in Stalingrad? Encircled, with no supplies? Four out of five, the odds are against. Actually, I should always have separated, shouldn’t I, Mr. Meyer?? "Yes, there’s a good chance that you and your ex simply weren’t right for each other. And it would have been right then if you had decided to leave the woman. For your incompatibility would never have changed." If he didn’t have that lovely Swiss accent, you’d be angry with him now.
Meyer sees it this way: For a relationship to work, two things have to come together at once. And love is not necessarily part of it. But, first of all: you have to fit together. And secondly, you have to handle things realistically. "When two people are right for each other, they can still screw it up by making exaggerated claims." Meyer has broken up several times in the recent past: "I’ve seen time and time again that my partner had the expectation that I would be fully responsive to her at every moment, available and react in exactly the way that felt good to her." At some point, he no longer felt valued in these relationships. No longer safe. No longer respected.
Respect the other person
An old story comes to mind. The one with the plate. An ex-girlfriend thought I always put the plate too far away from me at dinner. In restaurants, canteens, bistros, she pushed plates closer to me. It drove me crazy. At some point I was so fed up that when she pushed the plate towards me again, I just got up from the table and left. But I’ve always come back. Should have broken up?
"This is a good example of the question of respect. If you explain to your partner why such behavior is disrespectful, and he continues to do it, it means: he doesn’t appreciate my feelings." And then to separate? Just because of plate pushing? That can’t be a reason for separation! "But we do. Not for the plate, but for the respect." At least, Meyer says, I should have given an ultimatum. Say one last time in no uncertain terms: "This bothers me. That hurts me. Please stop it. Or we’ll have to end it." An ultimatum. That only works if you’re willing to put your threat into practice. What I never was. Mr. Meyer, I agree with you: I should have separated more often. But how can we??
All crazy! Do we have an educational mission for people we leave??
I have tried again and again. Only: that strange feeling when you say it, and the silence afterwards, or the talking afterwards, you have to endure it all. It feels as if you are somewhere in space and have just pushed the only other astronaut into the black void. Breaking up was like high-performance sports for me: How long can you hold the tension?? I could never do it long enough and saved myself into reconciliation.
These are all excuses, Meyer says. "Someone told me the other day, ‘I don’t have the strength to break up now.Of course you don’t have the strength, you’re wasting it on excuses like that! One is just too cowardly." Did you find it difficult to separate, Mr. Meyer? "As hard as anyone. It’s brusque, it’s thuggish, it has something of a murder about it. The relationship lives, and afterwards it is dead. It’s a step of destruction." Second call, in Lutherstadt Wittenberg, to Lutheran pastor Kathrin Oxen, 45. As a pastor, she took care of the concerns of the parishioners for many years. A big theme in the conversations: Relationships. Marriages. To go or to stay? Kathrin Oxen brought a special expertise to the table: She is divorced herself.
Relationship problems are similar for everyone
The pastor gets around a lot in German families. She is at golden weddings, which give courage, because the couple says: "We had hard times too. But we got through. Now we’re glad we still have each other." And she’s at golden weddings that don’t give courage because she knows: they hate each other. One lives upstairs in the house, the other downstairs.
"One knows with the time the sticking points", says Oxen. "In super-individualized society, everyone always thinks they’re special. Yet they are much more alike than they think. Also in terms of their relationship problems." You’re nothing special anymore, but at least you’re not alone with your problems.
What does Oxen say when she sits at home with people who are like me so far? Thinking of separation, but in the mind everything is mixed up, a back and forth, no final decisions in sight? "You’re welcome to whine all over my ears then.", says Oxen. "But at some point, during the second or third conversation, I have to ask: Are you now wishfully unhappy?? Or wishful unhappy?" That’s a good question. Another good question from Ms. Oxen: How did you actually put up with it for so long?
What do you have to gain? Dissatisfied in the relationship? Does the job annoy you? Dare to change something!
"That’s where you get people’s resources. Of what they still have. My wife has many qualities that annoy me, but she is a really good conversationalist.’ Or, ‘He’s a good father, and I love him for that.’.’ And then you have to figure it out together: Is what’s left enough?" How did I put up with it for so long?? What always came to mind in response is also what comes to mind for the people Oxen talks to: memories. The vacation. The one night. "Good resource. If a couple had a good initial story and the place was on fire, it helps in the lean times." Is there a lesson Oxen has learned from her own breakup, after nine years of marriage? "Ask yourself the question: can you imagine growing old with this person? Or do you look forward to it with concern?" Oxen and Meyer pretty much agree on one thing: You can’t put things off for too long. But I always wait a long time. I don’t like to decide, I prefer to ponder: what is the right decision for my relationship? What is a relationship anyway?? Why do I have to choose?
Maybe it helps if I at least take my musings seriously. I am writing an email to Patricia Marino, professor of philosophy at the University of Waterloo in Canada and one of the authors of the Oxford Handbook of Philosophy of Love, of the standard work for all philosophical questions about love.
Mrs. Marino, why is it so hard for me to separate?
This, she explains, has to do with the great paradox that links love and separation. "Most people assume that we should value differently in love than we do in other areas of life." , she writes. "If you have a TV and it doesn’t work so well anymore, buy a new, better one. But if that’s how you feel about the person you love, then it’s a contradiction." Every breakup seems like an exchange: the old love for the hope of a new one, one that works better. "But seeing love as a commodity that can be exchanged and valued doesn’t fit into our image." If you break up, you have to endure having your ideal of love shaken for a brief moment each time.