If there’s one thing that’s worse than a relationship that’s over for good, it’s a relationship that keeps hanging on by a string.
You know it isn’t working. You’re not happy. But you just can’t cut the cord.
Every time you think it’s over, he comes back.
And you take him in because it’s him, and you care about him. No matter what, you’ll always have feelings for him.
And there’s a little part of you that always hopes THIS time will be different.
This time, you’ll get along.
This time, he’ll stay.
Why Everything is So Ambiguous These Days
On-off relationships are the way of things these days.
Guys don’t want to break it off with you completely, because that means they can’t pop back into your life and sleep with you again.
Maybe that’s the cynic in me, but one thing is for certain:
We’re losing the taste for hard conversations.
It’s just too hard to break up with someone. It’s much easier to stop contacting them.
If you were never really in a relationship in the first place, you can’t complain, because you never clarified your expectations.
For a lot of guys, this situation works for them.
They never have to ask a girl to be their girlfriend. They can just sleep with her, and hang out with her, and exchange tons of texts with her, and then disappear for a few weeks—because, hey, they’re just “friends.” They don’t owe each other anything.
Young women have been taught that this is all they can expect from guys, because if they bring up the word “commitment,” guys will run a mile. No self-respecting woman wants to be seen as desperate or clingy. We want to be cool and casual and not let any guy get to us.
So we end up with guys who pop into our lives and pop right back out again…
And we keep our mouths shut because we don’t feel like we have the right to ask for more.
A Breakup Doesn’t Mean It’s Over
Even a breakup is no longer what it used to be.
One survey found that about half of us have had an ex come back begging for a second chance. And half of us would be open to giving it another shot.
But maybe trying again is foolish.
Some people say that you should never get back together with an ex, because you broke up with each other for a reason.
Regardless of whether you should or shouldn’t, a lot of people DO get back together, and some even end up married. Nearly a quarter of married couples broke up with each other at least once.
So maybe we should accept that breaking up and getting back together is just how things are done these days.
I mean, look at the data.
Nearly two-thirds of us have gone through an on-off relationship, and a third of us are in one right now.
But on-off relationships may not be the happiest of relationships.
Couples who’ve broken up and gotten back together before are more uncertain about their relationship’s future and less satisfied than couples who haven’t.
How can you trust him this time? You remember what happened. Getting back together hasn’t changed the fact that you still have the same issues. You’re still fundamentally the same people. Why is it going to work out now when it didn’t before?
If you can’t answer those questions, then you might be headed for the same ending as before.
Why On-Off Relationships Are So Hard to Resist
There are many reasons that on-off relationships are so hard to resist.
The first is the appeal of someone you know well and care about.
It takes so much work to get to know someone new and find out if you’re compatible. Your ex, regardless of his faults, is a known quantity. You’ll always have feelings for him, or, at the very least, you remember how much you cared about him once.
The second reason on-off relationships are hard to resist has to do with something called ambiguous loss.
When someone pops in and out of your life, it’s never really over. You can have a big blow-up and break up, but if history is any indication, he’s going to show up again, and you’ll probably let him in.
So you never really feel a sense of closure. Even when it’s over, it’s not really over. When it comes to him, you’re always stuck in limbo.
That is a really painful place to be.
Ambiguous loss is the most stressful kind of loss, according to the family therapist who coined the term, Pauline Boss.
The term originally described the loss of someone who disappears on you and you don’t know if they’ll return, such as being ghosted.
It also describes the loss of someone who’s still with you physically but absent psychologically, as in a loved one with dementia or mental illness.
The key trait of ambiguous loss is a lack of finality or closure. You can’t grieve, because the loss is still open-ended. Your loved one may come back. You just don’t know.
So imagine how you feel when your lost loved one returns and seems to want to be with you again.
It’s such a relief! All that stress of not knowing is gone. You’re finally back on solid footing.
But nothing has changed. He’s still the same guy. The reasons you split up are still there.
What you’re reacting to is the fact that the ambiguity is gone. That’s what’s giving you that feeling of relief.
And it makes the relationship seem better than it really is.
How to Deal with Ambiguity
Ambiguity messes with your head. It stresses you out.
And it denies you the closure you need to grieve the past and prepare your heart for someone new.
So don’t let ambiguity take root in your relationship.
You can come right out and say:
I’m really enjoying being with you. Hey, I’d like to know, what’s your ideal situation?”
And if he asks, “What do you mean? You mean, with us?” you can say:
Sure. Or with your love life in general. What would ‘perfect’ look like to you?”
You listen to what he says, and when he finishes you say:
Tell me more about what’s that like.”
You get as many details as you can, and then when he’s done, you ask:
Is there anything you can imagine that would be even better than that?”
You get his ideal vision, and then you sit with that. You imagine it, and you feel it in your gut, and you ask yourself:
What does his vision tell me about him?
Is there any way I can have what I need in a relationship, if all his wishes come true?
Because here’s the thing:
He deserves to have his ideal relationship. Or his ideal “love situation.”
And so do you.
You both deserve to get what you want.
But to get it, you may have to go your separate ways.
You Need Closure
Saying goodbye is so much harder than ignoring his texts.
It means real closure. It means facing your grief.
But a relationship that was never going anywhere just keeps you stuck in limbo.
The energy you lose to an ambiguous relationship drags you down and closes you off to new love. Men can tell when you’ve reserved part of your heart for someone who may or may not come back.
So say goodbye and mean it.
Or agree to commit to each other fully and mean it.
But don’t stay in that ambiguous middle, where you aren’t sure what you are to each other.
It takes a lot of bravery to have that kind of conversation. It takes so much bravery to find out the truth, even when you suspect it’s not what you want to hear.
But that’s what relationships are built on.
Communication. Courage. Commitment.
And you deserve a relationship that has all three.