The Hook Up: On Breaking Your Own Heart


My girlfriend and I have been together for several years. We are long distance (I’m in the US, she’s in Europe), but our respective schedules were such that we used to manage things pretty well by visiting each other fairly regularly. I say “used to,” though, because, here’s the thing: I no longer want to be in this relationship. And my girlfriend knows it. You’d think this would lead to an easy solution, namely, that we’d break up. I’ve actually ended things a number of times already, but each time, I have zero will-power, and she talks me into staying.

This has been by far my most serious relationship (first serious relationship, really, and my first relationship with a woman), but I’m really a bit of a commitment-phobe. I value my independence, and am not at all good at being lovey-dovey and comforting. My girlfriend is the opposite. As she says, she’s all “heart,” and I’m all “head.” From her perspective, though, I’m basically just emotionally stunted. On top of that, there’s the long-distance; on top of that, there’s a significant age difference; on top of that, I’m very close with my family, my mom in particular, and she never really took well to my girlfriend.

So, we come to this point where I’m ready to end things. My girlfriend is not. We have plenty of things that we’ve fought about, but she’s never really done anything wrong; I just fell out of love. In spite of all the above issues, we did use to be really great together, and though I can barely understand why, my girlfriend is still totally in love with me. I never cheated on her, but when I get frustrated, I lash out, and when I lash out, I get really bitchy. For multiple reasons, let’s just say that I’m definitely not winning any ‘girlfriend of the year’ awards, and I actually have ended up hating myself a lot of the time. Clearly, this is not a healthy relationship, for either of us.

I then find out that she’s sick. Seriously sick. I don’t know exactly what’s wrong, because she refuses to tell me (she thinks that I’ll feel too manipulated if I know), but I’ve basically come to the conclusion that it’s cancer, or something like that. I think it’s treatable (she’s getting treatments, at least), but I don’t know any details. She knows that I want out, but she’s not ready to let me go, and she says that even just talking with me and having us be together helps her deal with her “mystery illness,” as I’ve come to call it. Now my sense of guilt has risen to a whole new level, but I still don’t want this relationship. More than anything, now, I just feel resentment, and I can’t help feeling like I have to just suck it up and be there for her. Help? I really don’t know what to do.

Anna says: I broke up with my first serious girlfriend in the most inconvenient way imaginable. It was 3 a.m. Her parents were visiting us in Chicago. We were in bed. As I laid there, unable to sleep, I was consumed with one unshakable thought. “This can’t go on.” Each time the voice in my head said that, I countered it with something else. But I love her, I told myself. She’s the sweetest person imaginable. She gets me. We’re best friends. We’ve been together for almost three years, and doesn’t that mean anything? But still the voice persisted to the point where, at 3 a.m., I could no longer stand the internal arguing and broke down in tears. This woke my girlfriend and we proceeded to have the kind of painful conversation that people breaking up have, and she tried to leave, but it was the middle of the night, so she couldn’t get away from me, and I couldn’t do anything to console her, so I just kept apologizing until it was light out and we were exhausted from crying and not sleeping, but the voice in my head had finally been silenced, and I felt something like relief, something like the peculiar anguish that comes from crushing your own heart in order to ultimately save it.

You already know what you need to do. You said so several times in your letter. You want out of this relationship. You have many viable reasons for wanting to break up with your girlfriend — the ocean that separates you, the fighting, the fact that she doesn’t trust you enough to talk about her “illness,” etc. But at the end of the day, you don’t need any of those reasons to justify breaking up with her. You only need the desire to walk away. The voice that keeps telling you to get out is the voice you need to listen to. It’s not a pleasant truth to deal with, but the truth seldom is. That voice inside you cuts through all those other side-voices whispering things about guilt and being rational and responsibility.

As an aside, guilt should never be what keeps you with someone. You know this, I’m certain. It’s unfair to everyone involved, and it’s not sustainable. If anything, staying with someone out of guilt breeds resentment (it’s already started happening to you), and resentment never got anyone anywhere, except maybe Scott Baio, who got a reality TV show out of the deal. Oh, and Charlie Sheen. Both of whom are incredible role models of humanity, obviously. You see where this is going?

Also, not to call your girlfriend a liar or anything, but this whole “mystery illness” thing sounds super sketch to me. It sounds like she’s trying to manipulate you into staying with her. Why would she refuse to disclose details if this was something potentially life-threatening? Hell, even if it wasn’t life-threatening, why would she be intentionally vague about her health? Maybe I’m totally wrong and being an insensitive jerkchicken, but I would seriously question such a strange (and dare I say convenient) issue to disclose when someone is contemplating breaking up with you.

For a long time I tried to stifle the voice that told me to leave my first girlfriend. I was (and still am) a die-hard romantic. I wanted our love to be enough. I wanted to not want to break up with her. I wanted to be virtuous and idealistic and in the end all it did was make us both miserable.

Be the bigger person and end it. You both deserve to be with people who don’t have one foot out the door.

If you need help cultivating willpower, read this.

If you need more on why you should break your own heart, read Dear Sugar.

I was reading one of your columns about an on again off again relationship that they both knew wasn’t good for one another. I’m in the same boat, sort of. My ex and I have been apart for about a month now. We decided we would ween each other off one another slowly. The plan was to take things away one at a time, as in kissing, cuddling etc. We took kissing away first. This lasted for about a week and she gave in and we have been kissing, cuddling, everything couples do, except we aren’t together. She likes to remind me of that when she goes and hangs out with her friends and I get jealous. She says I don’t have a right to be jealous because we are just best friends. She said I need to get used to her talking to other people. She also said it’s about time we stop spending all of our time together.

But why is she still kissing me and calling me all the time like we are together? We act like a couple, but she reminds me we are just best friends. She also says she loves me and misses me all the time. I feel like we are together, until she goes and hangs out with people that I don’t have a right of knowing who exactly, according to her. She stays at my house almost every night. Then asks me to stay the night with her at her house the other nights. I have a feeling she is using me when it best suits her. But for some reason I don’t care. I love her and I still want to be with her. When we broke up, at first I wanted to win her back. I tried so hard to be perfect and to show her why we were together for two years. Then later she reminded me we are best friends and she doesn’t want me to have false hope of us being together again, and that we can’t be together because we just didn’t work.

One minute I feel like I don’t need her or want her anymore. That she is right I need to move on. Then the next all I want is to be hers again. She sends me mixed signals, but then later apologizes and says she doesn’t want to do that to me. I’m so confused on what I should do. I love this girl so much. I know she loves me too. I don’t know if I should just see what happens or try and get her back. It hurts when she tells me she is talking to other people. I’ve tried to talk to other people as well, but I don’t want them like I want her. I need some guidance. I really don’t know what to do. — Complicated Mess

Anna says: If I had a dime for every mixed message a girl sent me, I’d be Scrooge McDuck rich. I would swim in my gigantic gold vault of sadness and think, “Oh, if only money could love you back!” Your letter makes me sad because it’s so easy to answer and so difficult to actually do. So here’s the sweet and lowdown. You need to get out. I know her behavior is telling you, “There’s still hope! We kiss and cuddle and spend lots of time together!” But her actual words are what you need to listen to. Y’all aren’t together. She doesn’t want to be with you. She wants the trappings of familiarity and relationship-ness that you provide, without the actual commitment. It’s bullshit and you shouldn’t stand for it. Cut this girl out of your life. I mean it. Everything. You need a clean break and a fresh start if you’re going to get over her. Don’t try to “win her back.” Believe her when she says you are friends and nothing more. I know this sounds harsh, and this took me a really long time to learn (some would argue I’m still learning it) but it boils down to this: No matter how much you love someone, no matter how much you wish and hope and show them how amazing you are, you can’t convince someone to love you back.

Also, god, why do we queer women need to break up in the slowest way possible? It takes us two dates to move in and 17 years to end things. (I admit I’m totally guilty of this too. One time my girlfriend and I moved into separate apartments after we’d been living together and STILL didn’t break up for several more months). You can’t just take away elements of a relationship (kissing, cuddling, etc.) and hope that the legit break up will follow. It won’t work. It’s like quitting smoking or drinking or gambling, in that it’s all or nothing.

It’s time for you to quit this girl. She’s acting with her best interest in mind, and you need to do the same.

Hailing from the rough-and-tumble deserts of southern Arizona, where one doesn’t have to bother with such trivialities as “coats” or “daylight savings time,” Anna Pulley is a freelance writer living in San Francisco. Find her at and on Twitter @annapulley. Send her your Hook Up questions at

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