When I tell people about my unofficial breakups with unofficial partners, I feel undeserving of my hurt. I’m the one who is overreacting because it wasn’t serious or an official relationship, so who I am to mourn their loss?
In a way, it’s my fault, because I fall in love too fast. Sometimes the rush of chemistry just makes you fall in love, and how can you explain societal labels to all those love chemicals?
Like most with a beating heart, I don’t like breakups, so I avoid dating guys if I don’t see a future with them. And when I do find the occasional guy I could see myself with, he doesn’t feel the same way. I’ve heard anything from, “I’ve just got out of a serious relationship, and I’m not ready to date,” to having them disappear with no explanation. On one occasion, a guy told me he didn’t want a girlfriend. Later I discovered he had a new girlfriend, rendering his excuse void, and leaving me taking it personally.
But here’s the thing: they might not want to date me officially, but that doesn’t stop them from sticking around. And I stick around in the hopes that they will change their minds about exclusivity, which never works out.
When it ends, I go through all of the emotions of a real breakup. But I feel undeserving of those emotions because I had trouble sealing the deal with the men I saw a potential future with.
How do I earn the title to get a decent breakup? How do I earn the right to grieve?
Confused, and in search of answers from a guy, I once went into the office of my co-worker Robin, who was dating a woman two years older. At work, he always talked about her.
I asked Robin how he asked his girlfriend to go out with him. “I didn’t. I avoided the question as much as possible until she asked me a few months later if we were dating,” Robin said.
I mentioned my similar situation to which he replied, “Guys do that. He’s going to avoid it for as long as he can.”
Robin’s answer brought comfort, but it made me reminisce about the middle school days.
My middle school boyfriends knew better than to try any funny business without an Official Title. Before they held my hand or could walk me home, they had to ask me one very important question: do you want to be my girlfriend?
We would kiss a few days later. Those were different times, of course. This was the era of landlines and passing paper notes without the teacher noticing. We saw each other every day in the classroom, so there was no such thing as ghosting. These fourteen-year-old boys actually had the courage to break up in person. They did it over recess or after school, and sometimes they would send a friend to do it, watching from afar.
After the middle school days came the high school days, and I got scooped up in my junior year by the guy who would later become my husband. We got married right after high school. When that marriage ended, I parachuted into a love battlefield.
In this new world, everything happened backward. Guys would kiss me after the first date or sometimes during. After kissing, they granted themselves permission to touch my butt, placing a hand on my ass all night before they even felt inclined to hold my hand.
Newly single, I discovered consensual, casual sex between adults is awesome. Sex was expected, if not on the first date then on the second, but not past the third. I found myself at a crossroads between wanting to explore my sexuality and wondering if having sex with a guy too quickly made me un-dateable material.
The first time I had sex with a guy on the first date and he stopped talking to me, I acted cool, but it made an impact. I couldn’t make sense that anyone would put that much effort into hurting me. He acted romantic and pulled all the stunts. What had I ever done to him to make him want to make me feel worthless?
I dwelled on that experience for several months. I shelved my disappointment next to the jar of ‘I told you so,’ and ‘what were you expecting’ and I let them fester.
And with all bad experiences, time brings awareness and acceptance.
On the dates that followed, I considered it a personal triumph if a guy still replied to me after sex. The challenge with those guys had become to obtain an official title. I would always let it slide because I thought it was too soon. I didn’t want to be needy or pressure someone into being with me. Months would go by with countless dinners, romantic nights and great sex, but still no title.
“How can you be dumped when you weren’t his girlfriend?” Is the most popular question after one of my non-relationships ends, making me feel undeserving of pain and other people’s compassion.
I set out to ask the public opinion. I would explain the situation exactly how it happened. In one scenario I told people my boyfriend left me for someone else while I was on vacation. To another group, I said it was some guy I was seeing unofficially. When I used the word boyfriend people were more compassionate.
When the guy is not officially my boyfriend, I am always bombarded with several questions. Were you exclusive or allowed to see other people? Did you ever make it official?
My reply is usually the same, a mix of desperate explanations and embarrassment. I feel embarrassed because I wasn’t good enough to become exclusive. And I wonder if people are thinking the same thing.
I always have to explain why the relationship seemed real enough to me, and I didn’t expect it to end that way.
I can’t be expected to suddenly forget all the great moments I spent with someone and not be sad those moments will never come back. Yet, there’s always a touch of blame and guilt for falling hard and falling in love with the wrong person.
After my last unofficial breakup, I took a five-month hiatus from dating. During those months, I developed a take it or leave it attitude. If I never wanted to feel the pain of an unofficial breakup, it was time I expressed what I expected and wanted.
On my next first date, months later, I told him I wasn’t looking for just a hookup. He said he wasn’t either, thinking we were both on the same page, it seemed like the perfect time to end the date. I thanked him for the lovely evening and told him it was time I went home.
It was too soon to tell if he was just telling me what I wanted to hear, but I was proud and confident for saying it out loud not fearing if I would see him again. I knew if he was interested I would hear from him soon. I wasn’t going to shut the door on romance, but I would let it in with a word of caution.
Mayra is a freelance writer based in Chicago. She has an appetite for adventure, travel and live music. She hopes to always be a hopeless romantic.