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Why You Should Quit Your On-Again Off-Again Relationship

For years, I’ve watched shows with roller coaster relationships of on-again, off-again couples. Ross and Rachel, Carrie and Big, Robin and Ted. The theme is always the same, there’s someone you’re meant to be with and in the end it always works out.

They always manage to date and then stay friends and date again. It’s an endless cycle until the final dramatic scene where they end up together.

But real life isn’t like that. In fact, we cause ourselves a lot of unnecessary drama and pain because we can’t quit our exes for good.

I know.

For years I kept crawling back to mine. Some of them for hookups. Some because I believed in the old tale that “this time around will be different.”

Take Robbie for example. I met Robbie and his three male roommates at a bar in New York City. We all quickly became good friends. Robbie had just gotten out of a long-term relationship. So while I was busy falling for him, he was busy trying to heal his own broken heart.

After months of casual flirting, Robbie confessed that he just wanted to be my friend. We were touchy, affectionate. But I accepted that we were JUST friends. So, I was surprised when months later Robbie called and said, “When I see beautiful women, I only want to talk to you. Just you. I think we should give dating a try.” It couldn’t have been written more beautifully by a TV writer.

We went on our first date a few days later. Like most relationships, ours started with enthusiasm. We dated for six months, short-term for most people but a lifetime for me.

When we broke up, I cried for days. We avoided each other for a few weeks, our mutual friends forced to divide their time between us. Even more than the loss of our relationship, I was deeply saddened by the loss of our friendship.

We decided to try to be just friends again.

I’m friends with plenty of my exes. With Robbie it was different. We quickly fell back into old routines. He’d call just to chat. His hand would linger a little too long on my arm. Despite myself, I was always glad to see his name pop up on my phone.

Plus, I knew that maybe, just maybe, we would get back together.

I wanted him to call and say, “I made a mistake. We should be together.”

I was so delusional from too many years of romantic movies and TV that I was desperately hoping for some sort of romantic gesture. That one day I’d show up and he’d be sitting on my stoop with flowers.

But that’s not real life.

In real life, he started dating someone four months later. Even though I didn’t have the right to be angry, I was furious. It was the beginning of a string of countless awkward encounters. Thanks to our mutual friend group, I saw him frequently. I learned how easy it is to avoid someone in the same room.

Despite everything, when he broke up with his girlfriend, I STILL thought we might get back together. (Pathetic, I know!) We started hanging out again, as friends. We fell back into our same patterns AGAIN. For the millionth time. But this time, we never started officially dating again. We got stuck in a weird-limbo. A gray zone. We weren’t together but we weren’t totally single either.

The truth was, he didn’t want to get back together. Not really. And honestly, deep down, neither did I. We broke up because we didn’t make sense together. That wasn’t going to change. I was attracted to the story of us rather than the reality of us. I liked the drama and the tension. The possibility of us winding up back together. Of him being the Ross to my Rachel.

In the gray zone, he’d hang out with me all day and then flirt wildly with other women at night. I couldn’t be jealous because “it’s not like we’re together.” I quickly tired of watching him try to sleep with other women, pretending like I didn’t care. I had to realize that our story was over. Truly over. Breakups happen because relationships aren’t working. We’re taught to think that maybe it’s the timing. We blame our breakups on outside variables (he’s stressed at work, her apartment situation isn’t good). We believe, erroneously, that if all of those things “get fixed” so will our relationship. I had to realize that Robbie wasn’t Ross, he was Chandler. I’m Phoebe. There is no happy ending there.

So the next time you’re thinking of calling your ex. The next time you think, “But it’s different this time.” or “It’s complicated.” Do yourself a favor and give that relationship a good, hard look. Write down all of things you liked about being with that person and all of the things you didn’t like. Because here’s a wonderful reality, happiness doesn’t have to come with a complicated backstory.

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