Yes, Your Almost-Relationship Will Hurt Just Much As A ‘Real’ One


I’ve recently closed the proverbial door on a romantic something-or-other that outwardly seemed fairly casual, but amid dealing with the feelings of finality, I realize it was much more serious than any of the non- labels I artfully attached to it.

Throughout the entire 8 months I spent hanging out with this man, I constantly reminded myself that it was “nothing.” Instead of him being my boyfriend, we were just dating. Instead of intertwining our worlds, we led totally separate lives, save for our time together. Instead of feeling committed to and ownership of this “thing,” I was able to feel unburdened; I had all the freedom to live entirely on my terms.

So why, now that it has ended, do I feel the same sense of sadness that comes from a break-up?
Furthermore, in trying to fool myself into thinking it didn’t matter, was I really trying to avoid a deeper and scarier internal thought: am I afraid of rejection?

Almost as soon as this non-relationship came to an end, my sweet, sweet cousin sent me an article called “Breaking Up From a Non-Relationship Can Still Be Hard — Here’s Why,” by Dr. Gunda Windmüller, that touched on exactly these feelings. Turns out that there are lots of people, specifically women in their twenties, who do this whole “no label” thing.

Cue sighs of relief—I am not a crazy.
But the relief evaporated and I was left with the shock and horror that I am a statistic. I am one of “those” who have drifted into this pool of non-commitment because I deem myself too preoccupied to invest time, energy, and vulnerability. Windmüller says it best:

“We don’t want to put a label on things.

This is all because non-relationships just seem a lot more fitting in the context of our increasingly wayward lives. And, especially for women, they fit our new roles. Young professional women don’t need economic or social support from men anymore.

In most cases with young urban women, their emotional support system is so strong, a guy would hardly even fit into it. We are all so deeply entangled in our various projects, our jobs, our social lives — where would there even be room for a proper partner?”

It is easy to shrug off non-attachment by using an overly active schedule as an excuse. “I’m too busy for a relationship,” I really only need someone to hang out with on weekends,” “I want a boyfriend, but I also want to do exercise 3x a week, train for a half marathon, and become more active in my church.”

I used all of these excuses and more to justify why I couldn’t get in to deep. Why I wasn’t ready or “into titles.”

While this new noncommittal norm might magically work for some, for the majority of people it isn’t possible after the first few weeks or months. After spending hours of quality time with this non-partner, is it really possible to avoid attachment?

As humans we crave connection and we pursue love, while also desperately fearing rejection.

No labels mean no hurt feelings, right?
Dumb fucking logic man….dumb fucking logic.

See, I believed that by saying it was “nothing,” I could avoid some of my own insecurities and doubts about my self-worth. If I made the choice to never commit to it, I would never get rejected.

As Penny Lane, from the movie Almost Famous, says,

“I always tell the girls never take it seriously, if you never take it seriously you never get hurt, if you never get hurt you always have fun, and if you ever get lonely just go to the record store and visit your friends.”

Admitting I was falling for someone meant that I could risk getting my heart broken, which definitely meant the end of the fun. Realizing too late that someone I’ve invested in does not really care about me in return is the thing I fear in life. My track record backs this up- I’m 26 years old and have never let myself get close enough to a guy to have a boyfriend. The risk is too great.

Better never to love than love and get hurt?
HAHAHAHA, oh my gosh, the stupidity of that thought!

I had spent so much time cultivating the “nothingness”, that when I was finally ready for it to be something, he was completely taken aback-Hadn’t I been the one holding back, keeping it casual? To all of a sudden change our norm threw him through a loop- a non-communicative, flighty, avoiding me kind of loop to be specific. Turns out HE was playing the same game I was, only he was entirely not ready or willing to move forward and commit.

Thus started the horrific, laughably typical, downward spiral that ended in our non-breakup.

The not so funny truth is that you can tell yourself what you want to hear over and over, and it will still not be reality. I said over and over that it wasn’t serious, it wasn’t “real,” but now that it’s over, I know it was, label or not.

I miss his presence.

A dozen things a day remind me of a joke, or an instance we shared, or a characteristic he has.

I jumped into the non-commitment pool head first, but didn’t wear my protective floaties, and now I feel like I’m drowning.

If you never take it seriously, you never to get hurt, right?

But while I miss him, I really don’t miss those feelings of unworthiness. Just because I started the non-relationship thinking I wanted it to be meaningless and carefree, doesn’t mean I can’t change my mind. Somewhere along the way I got trapped into listening to the same song on repeat, I couldn’t take back what I’d said from the beginning, but I desperately wanted to change the song.

Loosing self-worth in the pursuit of being loved is no new idea. It happens to people all the time. It took me stepping back and saying to myself, “You cannot let yourself feel this way anymore,” for me to finally start the miserable task of letting go. Ultimately, the guy I was seeing did not find enough joy in making me happy. I think I might have stayed comfortably placed in a box alongside all his other hobbies, only to be taken out, dusted off, and played with when he had left over time, had I not cut ties.

To his credit, I don’t think this was intentional, or malicious. People have different priorities, different agendas, and different passions. I’m going to always give him the benefit of the doubt that he did not mean to hurt me so deeply; to rock my esteem so drastically.

Yet, unintentional heart break hurts just the same.

Moving forward, I don’t think I want to try the non-commitment thing again. I am not made for that kind of blurry and confusing stuff. While relationships are now sold as the things that tie you down, limit your freedom, and take away all the things you love to do, I have come to understand that it does not have to be like that. You can mutually celebrate each other’s personal interests and still find safe, secure, communicative companionship at the end of the day.

From my non-break up I’ve learned that it is ok to ask for commitment from another person because I am worth it and it can be fun to dive in and commit, as long as you and your person are jumping into the same pool together.