Relationship Tips

Does a Breakup Have to Be the First Step of ‘Finding Yourself’?

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Photo: Getty Images/Jordan Siemans
As a person who writes about sex and relationships for the internet, I tend to get a lot of questions to my inbox from young women (and some men) looking for advice. A few weeks ago, one such email landed in my inbox; it was from a woman who had ended things with her boyfriend just a few months ago. “I ended our relationship because we’d been together since we were 18. I’m 23, and I thought that I should experience single life,” she wrote.

She went on to share that while the first month was fun, after awhile, her decision filled her with regret. “I made a mistake. Why did I think I needed to be single? How do I get my ex back?”

While I’m definitely unclear about her second question, since getting an ex back is a nuanced, hardly scientific skill that's unique to every situation, she's not the first person I’ve heard of who had dumped a partner for no other reason than believing she should be single. There’s a stigma in some communities and environments around the fairy tale sich of two high school sweethearts going the distance. Many believe that if you met your partner young and have been dating for a while, it's beneficial to take some time off to experience life as a single person and “find yourself.” (Cue to Ross Geller lamenting "we were on a break!" broken-record-style on Friends.)

“Oftentimes, we think we ‘should’ do something because a friend, family member, or book suggests it. When we follow the advice of others, we can end up making rash decisions that leave us unhappier in the long run.” —Laurel House, relationship coach

While there are some situations when this course of action is a smart one, Laurel House, dating and relationship coach, says it's often employed as a crutch. “Sometimes coupled individuals use ‘I think I should be single for a while’ as their excuse to break up because they are in a dull relationship that otherwise has nothing ‘wrong,’” she says, adding that many often feel they need an excuse to break up. But in reality, if the spark has extinguished, or either partner is just feeling flat-out bored, no excuse is necessary, and being direct is the best course of action.

But deciphering whether or not you need to be single isn't always so straightforward. This is especially true if you feel pressure from outside sources. “Oftentimes, we think we ‘should’ do something because a friend, family member, or book suggests it,” House says. “When we follow the advice of others, instead of the true intuitive wisdom of ourselves, we can end up making rash decisions that leave us unhappier in the long run.”

A lot of these “should” ideas come from the thought that we can’t grow as individuals when we’re in a relationship.

A lot of these “should” ideas come from the thought that we can’t grow as individuals when we’re in a relationship. But certain partners, House says, can tap into different parts of our personality. For example, some may bring out our bookish sides, while others may open us up to more sexual exploration. “There’s no reason you can’t explore like this with your partner,” she says. In fact, a strong relationship is the perfect foundation for tapping into different facets of your personality, as you can experiment with someone you trust. Also keep in mind that the responsibility is on you to pick up new hobbies and interests and knowledge if that's what you desire. It's not necessarily your partner holding you back from breaking through your routine comfort zone.

So, being open and forthcoming with your partner is what's key—and House acknowledges that this can be difficult. “What you might not realize is that if you simply communicate and share these feelings with your partner, you might find that they, too, have this yearning to explore,” she says. Open communication is a hallmark of a strong relationship, so let your partner know that you’d like to experiment with new experiences and ideas and see what they say.

If you feel unsupported for whatever reason, then make a decision as to whether or not you want to jump (relation)ship. But if your plus-one is down for the exploratory mission? Well, then, you just unlocked a whole new level to your union.

If you decide your breakup should stick, here's how to heal when the relationship was casual. And what to expect if you see a hypnotist to help you get over your ex.

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