The Psychological Mindf*ck Of Leaving Someone You Still Love

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upset woman

Over several years of intense and profoundly extensive dating, I learned a few valuable life skills.

  1. Order a big sandwich, eat half, and let your date not only pick up your dinner tab but also lunch the next day.
  2. Have a friend who knows where you are in case you have a feeling things might get weird or dangerous, and have them call about 45 minutes into your date so you can grab your sandwich and run if you need to.
  3. Always have an exit strategy for a bad relationship.
  4. Always have an exit strategy for a bad relationship with somebody you love.

This last one is the hardest. It's easy to tell yourself that you know how to get out of a situation that's overtly dangerous or untenable. It's easy to plan a "f*ck off fund," the hidden stash of cash that will get you away from your home and to a safe location with a cushion, in case your emotionally unstable partner starts hitting you.

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It's a good idea to have a f*ck off fund no matter what. But it's getting out of those relationships where you're so in love  that the idea of walking away causes you physical pain  that's difficult.

It's impossible not to get tied up in the happy memories, even in the happy moments. It's impossible not to tell yourself, "This will get better" when you know in your heart that it won't. When you know there's no real future for your relationship.

Maybe you want kids and they don't. Maybe you want to travel and they want to settle down. Maybe you're a liberal democratic socialist, and somewhere deep down you know they're probably voting for Trump. Maybe you know that the future you want for yourself simply doesn't work with them in it.

We tell ourselves, "If I love them, I can make anything work," but it's not true. It's rarely ever true. But we want it to be. We want it so bad that it makes us cry, and not tears of joy. Tears of frustration and sadness. Tears of misery. Tears of hopelessness.

My first fiancé and I were too young, and we knew it, but we were going to make it work. We were going to live in a trailer and he was going to work whatever job he could get while I painted and wrote. We'd get pregnant right away, have a big family, have a giant garden, and grow most of our own food. We'd make it work.

Only, in the back of my head, I always knew this was a bad idea. I knew I wanted to go to college, I knew I wanted to have more experiences than marrying right out of high school. I knew I wanted more. But he was so happy, and I loved him so much, that I wanted to make it work.

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But I had to walk away. I broke his heart and my own, and spent the next few years wondering constantly, "What if? What if? What if?" But it wasn't long before I knew "what if" was never going to be good enough.

I went to college, I spent a few years in national community service. I dated enough to learn which places had the biggest sandwiches. I had fun and I had exit strategies and I had bad relationships and I had good ones. And I never would have had any of it if I hadn't walked away from somebody I loved, because I knew in my heart it was bad for me.

Sometimes, love isn't enough. Sometimes, hope isn't enough. Sometimes, what matters most is knowing that you're stifling your potential for joy and fulfillment, and there's something you can do about it.

Sometimes, the best thing you can do is the hardest thing. The simplest thing. Saying four simple words: "I love you. Goodbye." And then try your hardest not to look back as you walk away.

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Lea Grover is a writer and speaker living on Chicago's south side.