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Carolyn Hax: The steep price of avoiding a breakup at all costs

(Nick Galifianakis/For The Washington Post)
3 min

Adapted from an online discussion.

Dear Carolyn: I think my boyfriend and I are breaking up. It’s happening gradually, in small steps. Like we had a fight about bills, so now he buys his own groceries, I buy mine, and we ask permission to use each other’s. We also couldn’t get on the same page about our date night, so we’ve stopped doing it.

We have been living together for more than a year, but it’s starting to feel clear to me that we are moving apart, not together. And now I don’t know what to do.

I love him (I think), but he upsets me frequently and seems to care less and less when he does so. I don’t want to be single again, but this slow-motion drift is really painful. How do I know whether I should rip off the Band-Aid?

— Breaking Up

Breaking Up: Wait. Do you want to be with him, as-is, because that’s the only option we come in, or not be single again?

If it’s the latter, then this is a no-brainer. No one’s company will ever feel completely right if you’re not at peace with your own, because you will always feel the lurking threat of need.

Certainly talk to your boyfriend about what you’re noticing and feeling, because that’s what you owe a partner — but understand beforehand that if you go into that conversation with the sole aim of keeping the relationship together, then you’ll be vulnerable to giving away important parts of yourself in the bargain.

If instead you go into it firm on your values and ready to leave if you must, then you’ll be your own best advocate. Being okay with your own company means seeing it as a clear upgrade to cohabiting with someone who “upsets me frequently and seems to care less and less when he does so.”

Dear Carolyn: Besides just being sad, how do you come to terms when you realize someone isn’t the person you had thought they were for your whole long life? I’m talking major issues pertaining to character.

During the past few years, I guess people have decided to stop hiding their racist, sexist, xenophobic, homophobic, fill-in-whatever-other-phobic traits, and now feel as if they deserve to be “respected” for their honesty.

Clearly I no longer consider them people I want to be around — but I am struggling with the fact that apparently I never noticed they were such [jerks].

— Sad

Sad: Our moral arc may bend toward justice, but hoo boy, look where it comes from. Humans excel at finding new and horrific ways to alienate, mistreat and mass-murder each other.

But of course an impressive number of people resist that, too, embracing peace and progress instead.

So this push-pull mind-set is helpful for dealing with other-phobes. Just as we do an amazing job of getting along and absorbing differences that could end our social contracts on the spot, we also don’t need much provocation to turn on each other. Push and pull.

There are good arguments for both letting people suffer the isolating consequences of repugnant views, and not isolating them so they can experience and learn from inclusiveness. I’m still not sure what our mandate is individually, except to resist impulses to treat people unlike us as second-class citizens — please, please.

As for not noticing someone’s phobic tendencies, remember: Having to get along to get by is a powerful incentive to keep our hostilities, our “stuff,” tucked away. Social media and political winds have encouraged people to drag their stuff out on the lawn.