The first two months of 22-year-old Harshit Prajapati’s relationship when he was 18 felt straight out of a romance novel — from going on regular dates and having profound conversations to finding ways to make each other feel special, it felt like he had met his soul mate.
All that changed when he had to move to a different city for higher studies. Conversations between him and his partner began to feel like WhatsApp status updates: brief and lacking in intimacy.
“There was an overarching feeling that we might not be able to sustain the relationship because of the distance,” Prajapati, a fashion student, told VICE. “I did try to talk to my partner to understand what could be done to make the relationship work.”
He was reassured by his partner that there was nothing to worry about and that everything was hunky-dory. But each time Prajapati suggested making travel plans, doing outdoor activities together or finding ways to keep the relationship alive, while his partner would nod, he would do nothing towards making actual plans.
Gradually, this took a toll on Prajapati. It didn’t help that he had mostly superficial friends, who were unwilling to have a real conversation. “I would just sit in my bed, watch a series, and do my work in the dark. It affected my self-image as I started wondering if I was enough.”
In hindsight, Prajapati’s partner was “quiet quitting” their relationship or when one or both partners do just the bare minimum to ensure that the relationship stays afloat without breaking up with each other. Also referred to as “quiet dumping,” the concept is similar to quiet quitting one’s job where one does just what one is paid to do – nothing more and nothing less – to avoid job burnout.
The idea of quiet quitting in relationships is reportedly attributed to TikTok comedy creator Daniel Hentschel in his now-viral satirical video. “Quiet quitting in a relationship, or ‘quiet dumping,’ is when your partner chooses only to do the bare minimum required to date you without you breaking up with them… they’ve totally lost interest, but they don’t want to be the one to break it off. They are showing up every day for you, but they’re not really showing up,” Hentschel says in the clip.
According to psychiatrist Era Dutta, when a romantic partner quiet-quits a relationship, it can feel like living with their ghost or a disinterested roommate: unable to derive any joy from being together and simply existing (with each other) for the sake of it. “If you’re in an unfulfilling relationship and [have been] quietly dumped, you will question yourself and wonder who is to blame. This stifles your personal growth and adversely affects your mental health in a society where there is still a reluctance to sign up for couple’s therapy.”
Unlike quiet quitting at work, the reasons an individual might choose to quiet quit their romantic relationship may not always be immediately apparent. It’s important also to point out that unlike ghosting in which one partner suddenly stops communicating and literally disappears, quiet quitting is the “act of leaving without leaving.”
“For any relationship to last, there needs to be acceptance and growth,” said Nahid Dave, a psychotherapist and psychiatrist. “The initial weeks or months in a [romantic] relationship are full of dopamine kicks each time you meet or touch your partner [until] things plateau. When that happens, you feel bored and detached, and might end up quiet quitting, even subconsciously, [and you might] not always understand the reasons behind why.”
Dave added that in a digital world where just video calls and chats tend to suffice and where the need to be physically present is no longer the prerequisite for building connection, it’s becoming even harder to identify when one’s partner is doing the bare minimum.
In the case of Somya, a 28-year-old PhD scholar who preferred not to share her real name because she didn’t want her family to know about her relationship, her reasons for quiet dumping her partner were rooted in their having different career ambitions as well as her slowly losing the enthusiasm for the relationship.
“This never meant my love towards my partner faded; it just became stagnant,” she said. “I started to modify my ambitions, believing that at some point I’d have to be with him. But even though he was supportive I felt suffocated. His insecurities about being away from me and [being less educated] than I am would surface.”
To further complicate matters, Somya’s mental health and self-esteem rapidly dropped when she got stuck in her hometown of Raipur, the capital city of India’s Chhattisgarh state, during the COVID-19 lockdown. She stopped putting effort into the relationship and chose instead to focus on herself, but wasn’t courageous enough to tell her partner that she wasn’t feeling the excitement of being together that she once did.
“The quiet quitting happened unintentionally, but once I started feeling happy and bettering myself, I [began to] devote less time to the relationship,” she said. “I didn’t want it to end from my side, so I distanced myself from him thinking he would tire of me and leave. But by that time it had become a six-year relationship and we were both used to being in it. The fear of not finding a good, understanding partner made both of us drag out the relationship until we broke up for good.”
According to counselling psychotherapist Deepak Kashyap, it’s important to note that the root of quiet quitting has more to do with feeling unfulfilled and disengaged within the relationship and less to do with facing any kind of abuse.
“In the Indian context, it might also be the lack of financial independence that keeps people together,” he said, adding that this is especially true of women. “Do you think our mothers and aunts would still [choose] to be with their husbands if they were financially independent? Often, we end up believing that our partner is the best we can get and do the bare minimum required to sustain a relationship.”
Kashyap cautioned that the reasons for quiet-quitting a relationship may not always be thought through and one can get influenced by the often unrealistic ideals of what a healthy relationship should look like, thanks to pop culture.
“Our life and our relationships don’t have to be exciting every single day. So, expecting returns and investment from our relationships every single day is not healthy,” he explained. “Even though, as human beings, we always do a cost-benefit analysis, we must realise that our partners are not products.”
He added that not a lot of people are having “hot sex” every day after three or four years into the relationship and that this should be normalised. However, if you’re aware of the reasons for the relationship not working out and are still doing nothing about it, then that’s on you.
Regardless of which side of the relationship you find yourself on, Dave suggested avoiding blame games. “Don’t point fingers and instead tell your partner that it’s happening to us and not me because there is no checklist for an ideal relationship,” she said. “Write down your expectations vs. reality, categorise your thoughts into feelings and facts, and introspect on what’s not working. Do you have proof and precedents to back your thoughts or are you imagining things?”
She added that our brains more easily adapt to the reality of someone passing away because there is closure in death. We struggle with letting go of someone who keeps us hanging on, as the hope of being able to one day sit down and work things out or return to the way things once were is still alive.