Hopefully, for your sake, you got introduced to heartbreak in your teens. In many ways, having your heart stomped on and cleaved in two is better during a period of your life in which it's socially acceptable to cry while writing in a diary, because a) it prepares you for adult break-ups, and b) you're less likely to go on a booze-n-gear binge and spend a solid week coming down after you get dumped in year 10.
There's a difference, though, between that immediate kind of heartbreak and the slow-burning one you experience in your twenties and onwards until you die. This isn't the kind you have the emotional intelligence to experience at secondary school; it's a particular kind of grown-up heartbreak – the one that happens when the spitting fires of your early romance have burned down, through coals to ash; when your lives rub up against each other so the edges you both have run smooth; until you are just furniture in each other's lives, not sources of joy. Even now, reading this, you might be thinking, 'Nope, haven't had this, doesn't apply,' in which case you're one of those promise ring Christians who ends up married forever to the first boy they kissed in sixth form, or: it's waiting for you out there.
This road to a break-up is long and lonely, filled with a melange of individually unpleasant and almost thrillingly upsetting events. Today we're going to walk you through some of them. If you recognise any of the signs then you might want to prepare yourself for the impending death of your relationship. Though, you probably already know it's coming, don't you.
THE ARGUMENTS ARE MORE FREQUENT AND POINTLESS
Fighting is a pretty natural part of relationships. There are always outliers: those weird straight-backed unblinking married couples who've "never had a row", who when you meet them – at weddings or jolly garden parties or at your mum's open house Christmas soiree, hands tangled together, faces curiously similar – always freak you out in a way you can't quite put a finger on, as if they bond over extremely rancid dogging, or something; as if they can only love one another when they are murdering crows.
But there's a near imperceptible shift between fighting over something ("You won't commit! You never clean the litter tray unless I ask you to do it! You keep moaning about us being too poor but you keep buying coke!") and fighting over nothing ("WHY HAVE YOU ORDERED FROM THAT CHINESE YOU KNOW IT'S THE SHIT ONE. WHO STACKS A DISHWASHER LIKE THAT. WHY AND HOW DID YOU FILL THE SKY+ BOX WITH 60 EPISODES OF CASH IN THE ATTIC."). Increasingly these blazing altercations emerge from the way they drink from a Lucozade bottle or laugh or fucking use that really-quite-everyday word in the wrong context repeatedly, and then, ah, yes. The realisation that they haven't actually "done" anything. They merely are.
THE SEX MAKES YOU WANT TO BE SICK
When you realise you've only been able to get off during sex by thinking about being dicked by someone else for the entire duration, it's already too late. Their body has lost all sexuality to you. But not in a comforting let's-grow-old-together-our-bond-transcends-bodies way; more that it feels like a foreign object that makes no sense any more. You will notice yourself becoming more detached from the experience, enforcing a kissing ban like Julia Roberts in Pretty Woman, not because it could encourage intimacy, but because the most natural PG show of affection is somehow too offensive. Only genitals touching is passable now. It's just genitals on genitals from here on out. Any position that involves you facing away from your partner, like doggy, becomes a staple. Oral will see you through these times, but god forbid they glance up and make eye contact with you.
Luckily, sex often happens at night, so you'll have plenty of time to stare at the wall in the dark, thinking about what it all means. Sex – the only free joy we're given in this cheerless life – turning bad is usually the first sign everything is going to shit, and considering it's the most visceral – physical, mental, emotional – you won't be able to just ignore it and hope it goes away!
YOU START TO NOT CARE ABOUT THEIR THOUGHTS OR FEELINGS
Fun visualisation exercise:
i_._ Imagine your partner by a window, with creaking wooden floorboards between them, white glaring light streaming in from a mild but bright summer's day, the specks of dust that float around us through the air picked out in white and light grey. You have just text them calling them a "cunt" or a "fucking cunt" again, and they are weeping. Weeping and weeping and weeping. You. You have made them feel like this. Face so red it is orange. Face slick with tears. Too far gone now – all illusions of dignity abandoned now, so they are crying openly – too far gone to hide it, so they are just crying onto their T-shirt, tears pendulously dripping off their cheeks, wailing, the room smells like salt. You did this. How do you feel?
ii_._ A bus revs away. You know that sound, don't you, of one loud vehicle amongst the quiet suburban sounds of traffic. You can, just about, hear children playing in the distance, a large red ball being thrown between them. Your significant other lies dead and blue-faced in the road, single trickle of blood out of their mouths, limbs a fragmented heap. They tried to catch the bus and ran into the bus instead. They are dead now. Eyes still open, but glassy. Zoom in. Zoom in on the face you once beheld and whispered "I love you" into. How do you feel?
iii. The springs are creaking in that unmistakeable way. Work was quiet so you left early – you walked home, as it was such a placid day, headphones in and listening to music, one perfect hour of bliss where you didn't check or read your text messages, just wandered along the big road out by near you, occasionally fluttering your hand through hedges and gardens, idly picking small stems of leaves from bushes – and now you're home, and a little clammy from the walk and maybe you need a shower, but you climb the stairs and— hold on, that spring sound. Sur-sqick sur sqick sur sqick. Is that—? Burst into your bedroom: your partner – your boyfriend or girlfriend, it doesn't matter – is having passionate naked sex with someone else's penis. And not that sex you two have these days – that lights off, is-it-over-yet no-oral intercourse. No. Like: they have their hands tied together and a gag in their mouth. There are flavoured lube sachets everywhere. The person having sex with them has a perfect, muscular body. At the exact moment you step into the room your partner is stroking their chest with a large pink feather. Like, this isn't just sex: this is that kind of luxury sex you haven't had since the hotel on the last night in Barcelona, summer 2013. How do you feel?
Mainly As: good! Good.
Mainly Bs: bad. Bad.
YOU LITERALLY CANNOT THINK OF A SINGLE THING TO SAY TO THEM
Ever had a sad brunch? A sad brunch is a brunch that is sad. You would think this is impossible – you live for brunch; brunch is the best meal of the week – but then you lift your eyes across the table and see the person you tell yourself you are in love with and: nothing. "So what's—" you say, picking up the salt mill, tipping it almost but not quite enough so that the crystals inside it tip and skid but don't actually make their way onto the table, "What's… what did your mum say?" and they say "hmm" and you say, "What was your mum saying? On the phone the other day. Didn't your mum call?" And they say "oh" and "yes" and "yeah", and then a pause, and one of you exhales all of the air out of their body, making a sound like the wind whistling through the hollow void where your heart once was, and they say: "Oh, nothing. No she was just talking about the dog." And then you sit in silence for five minutes until the food turns up, at which point you will say, "Oh, food." The food has saved you both, and you only realise when the bill arrives that it didn't even cross your mind to Instagram it. When brunch is sad you know it's over. Avoid the sad brunch.
THINKING ABOUT THE FUTURE IS JUST SOMETHING YOU AVOID
You booked a holiday with them, you idiot, and now it's looming ominously over your year like the first anniversary of a close family member's death. You start mentally scoping out which single adequate mate would be free to take their space, if it came to it; the deposit money you saved from your miserly salary that would be pissed down the drain if you cancel it altogether. Is it... bad to wait six months until after Tenerife to end it? I mean, probably, because that's half a year of your life and half a year closer to 30.
If you haven't booked, neither of you will bring it up because then you are, for better or worse, committed to spending two weeks solidly together covered in sun cream, which might give the sheen-like illusion of things being back to normal – it's hard to stay too mad at each other when you're in a piazza in Rome drinking a small strong lager and watching the dusky sun come down as you wait for a plate of spaghetti and mussels – but quickly shatters on the second-to-last night when one of you can't find their sunglasses and it descends into a two-hour screaming row and one of you slamming your hotel door, going for a big furious foreign walk, then coming back timidly 45 minutes later and having to borrow a keycard from reception to get back into your room. Then you share the flight home in silence.
Basically, don't dare speak about going away together in case you break the delicate china remains of your relationship.
WHEN SOMETHING GOOD HAPPENS YOU DON'T TELL THEM FIRST ANY MORE
An underrated service provided by a relationship is having someone who is obliged to receive your excitable call when you get a pay rise or your sister is getting married or you've just seen a cute bichon frise in the street, because let's face it: no one else in your life likes you enough to provide that level of emotional support. Slowly you find yourself texting anyone else – a best mate; mum you're not that close to; that reasonably attractive person you're only platonically G-chatting with – first when anything major happens. The same goes for if something awful happens. See, what's happening here is you're subconsciously preparing yourself for life after you make the inevitable break, when you're the only person who likes and hates yourself the most.
AGAIN, HUGGING OR TOUCHING THEIR LEGS MAKES YOU FEEL AN ALL OVER BODY SHUDDER
Remember that time you came home and saw them in the kitchen just on a tail end of a cry – their aunt is ill, or something; you're not sure on the details, really; you've been out eight nights on the trot – and you felt that little jolt of tenderness you used to feel for them and leaned in and gave them a hug, and it sort of felt natural and also very much did not, and they had a little snivel on your shoulder for a second and you held them and thought: this is literally just like holding a load of crying meat.
YOU FANTASISE ABOUT LIFE ON YOUR OWN OR A LIFE WITH LITERALLY ANYONE ELSE
'Hmm,' you think, dreaming of a lazy Sunday morning to yourself, where you can go for that jog you keep promising yourself you'll do, drink a £4 coffee while staring at the canal, wander to a pub for the early kick off and a burger, meet those friends you haven't seen for ages because your partner says they hate them. God, wouldn't it be good if you lived alone? You could adopt a dog. Or: move to New York for a bit. Or: you've been meaning to try veganism, haven't you? Cook more food for yourself, not the same "I only like bolognese, omelettes and takeaway curry" diet they insist you have. You could be so free. You could buy flowers and fill the front room with them. Get around to watching Twin Peaks, which you both watched one episode of and they didn't like it. Buy an old record player and fill your life with music, and not those shitty Soundcloud mixes they keep playing off their fucking laptop speakers. God: wouldn't it be good if they… no, don't think it. But wouldn't it be good if they just… died?
YOU DON'T ACTUALLY CARE ABOUT MAKING UP AFTER FIGHTS THAT MUCH
Used to be you made up after fights by begging, crying, buying flowers and giving them a double session of mouth stuff, but now you just say your cursory "fine, sorry" and get on with watching old Apprentice series three episodes on YouTube. Ooh, that Hopkins!
I mean, as signs that your relationship are dying go, capital-C cheating is a pretty good meter read that things aren't the best they could be. Like: if you go out, get drunk and fully shag someone else, it's quite hard to move on from that. But little-c cheating counts, too, and it's more insidious, so you don't notice you're doing it: you're texting that work colleague after hours, you're in a lengthy Facebook chat chain with someone you sort of fancy, you're following your ex on Instagram again. You haven't done anything, technically – you would pass the Big Three lie detector questions on The Jeremy Kyle Show, and the foundations of any strong relationship are built on that – but something has slithered into a little in-between plane of your consciousness: you could cheat, couldn't you, if you wanted to? You have the apparatus there. You have someone who is borderline backup material. The engine is started and the lights are turned on. You just need to touch the accelerator pedal and ruin your life with one small press of your foot.
YOU END UP DOING QUASI-ROMANTIC ACTIVITIES WITH YOUR MATES INSTEAD OF YOUR PARTNER SO MORE NEW EXPERIENCES DON'T END UP IN THE BIN
Out on one of your sullen walks you both breeze past the new restaurant that's opened in the neighbourhood. "Looks nice," one of you says, and the other says "hmm". Olden days, those good old days – when your junk was on fire, when you craved their body and their company, when you needed them, always, at all times; when you couldn't spend a day without them, without that tender face, that soft just-right touch – you would have said, "We should go there." Maybe you still do – you talk about it, later, in maybe-we-should-go terms, knowing you won't but the idea is there – it's floated – until when, six weeks later, you still haven't been and end up there with your mates after beers. The chicken, you report back later at home, was "fine", so the two of you resolve never to actually go there together – but more likely you see a nice new sourdough pizza place and immediately think of two or three friends you would rather go there with instead, so you text the group and get it all locked in for this Wednesday before you've even walked home in silence. Think about it like this: going for a meal with your partner, now, at this busted stage of the relationship, is another experience that's going to be in the bank of evenings you don't think about any more. It's just a waste of money.
YOU ARE BASICALLY ONLY STAYING WITH THEM BECAUSE YOU LIVE TOGETHER AND YOU STILL HAVE EIGHT MONTHS LEFT ON YOUR CONTRACT
Listen, I am sympathetic to this because we all, don't we, live lives in a constant thrall to the whims and behests of our landlords, and we're all scared of emailing them off-CC to ask what the penalties might be, possibly, maybe, for terminating the contract early, if we had to, if we absolutely had to. But that's not enough reason to stay together. Moving in is a big step for most couples – it is, really, that half-step between "going out" and "legitimately being married forever". But if it goes wrong the excitement of that first couples trip to IKEA to buy three cabinets you still haven't assembled yet and an aloe plant for the bathroom has faded, and now all the two of you have left is a particular spot on the sofa you both like and two separate morning routines that interlock without ever connecting, and they keep getting back from work really late and always seem to be texting someone just slightly out of your eye-line, and you've been sleeping a couple nights at your sister's lately anyway, and you're counting the days down – only eight more paydays until you can look for somewhere else! Only 203 more days of this hell! – but really, truly, if the administrative fear of having to return keys and get your deposit back and find somewhere else to live is the only bond still keeping you together, best to sever it now*.
* Unless you have a really good deal on your rent. I'm serious. If you're paying less than £600 a month in London then it's worth you keeping your sham of a relationship alive for a little bit longer, probably.
THE VERY END, OR: VACILLATING BETWEEN 'HORRIBLE SILENCE' AND 'CAN WE HAVE A CHAT?' BREAK-UP TALK
If you can envisage your pleading spouse begging to be loved in your mind's eye, and can shake it away with giving close to nought shits, then you're mere minutes away from a call or a text delivering the crushing final blow. At this point of peak sociopathy you'd rather field conversation from an inebriated, guffawing city trader on a packed train than answer a text from your partner. And you couldn't give two shits either way. This happens because you feel like they are trapping you into conversations you don't want to be a part of, like being left with the middle-mate while your real friend goes for a piss. Nothing in common, nothing worth saying, no need to interact, just sitting in the thick silence. When you do talk it ends up being one of those: "Can we have a... chat?" scenarios in which you almost break up but half-heartedly resolve to make an effort. Back to the silence. Back to the chat. On and on and on until: The End.
...Until you next get locked into a two-year relationship and it happens all over again!
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