dating

Three women on the moment they broke up with the person they thought they'd marry.

People routinely underestimate the pain of heartbreak.

For some of us, it physically hurts. For others, it comes with all the symptoms of grief – the sadness, the anger, the loneliness.

An experience common to many of us is breaking up with the person we really thought was ‘the one’. Whether we were dumped, or did the dumping, it’s particularly difficult, because it’s an experience you never thought you’d have to deal with. Perhaps you had pictured your entire future with this person, imagined having kids, and assumed you’d grow old together, never having to learn who you were without them.

It’s a profoundly excruciating time, and one that leaves you feeling like no one else has ever, ever been through this.

So we asked four women about the moment they broke up with the person they thought they would marry. What happened? How did it feel? And how did they get over it?

Emma: “I felt like I was going to throw up.”

Emma* had been with her boyfriend for five years when he asked to come over late on a weeknight. They didn’t live together – both still living at home with their families – and while it was normal for him to stay over, it was usually planned in advance.

“I could tell something was wrong, but tried to ignore it,” she says.

When her boyfriend arrived, he seemed rattled. They spoke for about ten minutes before he became visibly distressed. He told her his feelings had changed, and he just couldn’t be with her anymore.

“I felt like I was going to throw up,” she says. “It actually didn’t feel real. I had imagined I would spent the rest of my life with this person, and out of the blue, that was just gone.”

The next few months were some of the toughest Emma has ever had. She’d be okay for a few days, and then be struck with feelings of profound sadness. She hated having to tell everyone, because it meant it was real.

“It was six months before I even thought about dating anyone else, but by that stage, I was actually feeling pretty good,” she says. There were some bad dates – really, really bad ones – but there were some good ones too.

“You think you’ll never find anyone like them [her long-term boyfriend] again, but the truth is, you can. There are lots of good people, and you learn a lot about yourself when you’re dating.”

Two years later, Emma doesn’t feel sad when she thinks about the break up, although remembering that night still makes her feel sick. “In hindsight, it needed to happen,” she says.

Sophia: “I had just had enough.”

Two years into her relationship, Sophia* realised a harsh truth about her partner.

He was never going to commit.

Even when she tried to make plans for the weekend, his response was ambiguous. Talking about the next few years was completely out of the question.

At first, she didn’t mind, because she wasn’t thinking that far ahead, either. But when she started full time work, and was looking at planning her future, she started to get worried.

“I realised that the fact that he wouldn’t commit to anything with me – whether it be holidays or dinners or moving out (we lived in a share house with a few other people) – meant he wasn’t actually prioritising me,” she says.

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“And if he wasn’t prioritising me, it wasn’t going to be a fair relationship.”

She says it was “very, very sad” to end the relationship, but by the time she broke up with him, she was also angry. “I had just had enough,” she says.

“There were definitely times when I wondered if I did the right thing, because we had so many memories together and everyone always said they thought we’d get married, but then I’d think about all those times I was so frustrated and I’d know it was a decision I had to make.”

It’s been a year since she ended the relationship, and just a few months after the break up, Sophia met someone else who is “so different” to her previous partner.

“I never have to doubt anything with him, and I’ve learned that what I had before wasn’t normal or healthy,” she says.

Jess: “I’m still not over it.”

It’s been almost six months since Jess and her boyfriend broke up, and she says “I still think about it every day”.

They had been together since they were 17, and six years into their relationship, he ended it.

When Jess* decided to go overseas for a month with her best friend, her boyfriend suggested that maybe they go on a ‘break’. “When he first said it, it didn’t sound like a big deal,” Jess says.

“I just thought maybe he was worried that if we got to 35, and we’d only ever dated each other, there’d be an issue. I thought maybe he’d kiss like one other person and get it out of his system. I thought maybe I would too. But as soon as I got on the plane I felt really sick about it.”

Jess says it “ruined” her holiday, because she couldn’t stop thinking about what he was doing. He would also take a long time to reply to messages, and was brief when he did.

“When I got home, I really thought he’d say he had been miserable without me and let’s get back together,” she says. “That’s not what happened.”

Instead, he told Jess the break had been “good” for him, and he had met someone else.

“I actually thought he might be joking,” Jess says. “But when I looked at him it was like it wasn’t really him anymore. It was someone else.”

Six months later, he’s still dating the person he met during his ‘break’ with Jess, and she says “I’m still not over it”.

“Should I have said no to the break? Should I have asked questions about why he wanted it? These questions keep running through my head that I could have done something to stop it from happening.”

What Jess has noticed is that she’s having more and more good days, where she doesn’t think about him. But she says, “I keep imagining him saying he wants me back, and what I would do”.

* Names have been changed to protect anonymity. 

What happened when you broke up with a long term partner? How did you cope? Let us know in the comments.

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