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My Best Breakup Lesson

I mentioned a few of my own favorite breakup lessons the other day, but I saved the best one for now. I had to learn the lesson several times, but five years ago, it finally stuck for good, and it’s this: “Don’t waste you time on someone who can’t or won’t give you what you’re looking for.” It’s a simple lesson — one might even say it’s a no-brainer — but it’s one that, based on many of the letters I’ve received over the years, I know doesn’t always come easily, and that was certainly true for me.

Five years ago I was single and doing a little dating here and there. What I really wanted was a serious relationship, but the guy I’d been casually seeing at the time made it clear that was not something he was interested in. At least, not with me. Still, he was a nice guy, and we got along well as friends, and I thought if I gave it enough time, he might come around. I hung in there for, I don’t know, maybe three months or so. We saw each other once a week at the most and pretty much only when it was convenient for him, a routine that was becoming all too common in my relationships (casual or otherwise). I was sick of not being appreciated or wanted or treated the way I thought I deserved to be. But I was the one who was allowing it to happen. Finally, enough was enough.

“I want a guy who’s going to wake up in the morning and go out and get us bagels for breakfast!” I said one evening in a fit of clarity. “I want a boyfriend! Not just dude I hang out with. I want a guy to spend Sunday afternoons with, not just late Friday nights after band practice.” I said all this, of course, on a Friday night after band practice.

It was clear in that moment that what I wanted and what I was getting were two vastly different things — and had been for a really long time — and suddenly, I wasn’t okay with that disparity anymore. Settling for less than what I was looking for made me feel … well, foolish and kind of cheap, like something you might pick up absentmindedly from a sale bin in Walmart. That’s not how I saw myself. So, why was I letting others see and treat me that way? I decided right then that I’d never again date someone who wasn’t interested in pursuing something serious with me, as long as serious was what I wanted. I’d had enough with casual dating. I’d had enough with trying to force guys into wanting what I wanted. From now on, I’d only date the kind of guy who could potentially see a future with me — the kind of guy who’d get us bagels in the morning and spend Sunday afternoon with me and not run away from, gasp, the idea of commitment.

The problem was, I had no idea how long it would take to find a guy like that. I was already 29 and hadn’t found him yet. Would I have to wait until I was 39? 49? Would I maybe be alone forever? That thought was scary, and it made me sad, but I felt in my heart and in my bones I had to stick to my guns. I knew exactly what I wanted — I was able to articulate in a way I hadn’t before — and I was not going to settle for less. Even if I had to wait a long time to find it.

Luckily, I only had to wait a few weeks. In mid-April, Drew and I were introduced by a mutual friend and we set up a blind date for early May when I’d be visiting New York. I’ve told the story of our meeting many times, but the part that bears repeating is this: it worked between us not just because we were right for each other, but because we were clear on what we were looking for and intent on finding it. When you can articulate what it is you want and you decide you won’t settle for anything else, it may not make the search for it any easier — although I do think there’s something to be said for letting the universe know you’re ready — but it does make recognizing it when you’re found it a lot clearer.

So, that’s my best lesson I’m passing on: be clear about what you want and quit wasting your time on those who can’t or won’t give it to you. I understand the temptation to fill your time with someone so you don’t feel so lonely, but that someone is just a distraction. Get rid of the distractions and keep your heart, mind, and life open for the real prize. If you’re lucky, you’ll be rewarded with it that much sooner. It worked for me.

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{ 41 comments… add one }

avatar TheOtherMe February 25, 2011, 12:26 pm

So true Wendy, it’s sometimes a hard step for us to admit to ourselves that we deserve better but as soon as we do, we feel empowered.

My lesson would be : Don’t try to mimic what “seems” to be the key to happiness, make your own, however different it may be from everyone else.

The white picket fence is just not for me.

avatar sarolabelle February 25, 2011, 12:30 pm

I’m sure Drew did not get you bagels in the moring right away though. There was the element of waiting for it, right?

Dear Wendy Wendy February 25, 2011, 12:31 pm

Not really. It happened pretty quickly. If you have to wait more than three months before someone proves whether they have real potential to give you what you want, it’s time to MOA.

avatar WatersEdge February 25, 2011, 1:08 pm

Guys who want to be your boyfriend don’t waste a lot of time acting like anything other than your boyfriend. With my husband, it was more like 2 weeks. Our fourth date I almost canceled because I had a bad headache, but instead he offered to come over with takeout and a movie and we hung out in sweatpants. He wanted to be my boyfriend, and he acted like it right away. People are pretty up front with what they can and can’t offer you in a relationship. All you have to do is watch how they naturally behave.

Jess Jess of CityGirlsWorld.com February 25, 2011, 1:25 pm

Yeah, I remember my boyfriend offering to help me with moving a new stove into my house when it was our 4th date and I was baffled that he would think to do that. He also made a point really early on to clear a weekend so that we could take a trip. These were early signs to me that he was thinking long-term :-)

avatar WatersEdge February 25, 2011, 1:40 pm

He sounds nice :)

avatar lindsayrae February 25, 2011, 2:24 pm

Agreed. My current boyfriend was the one who initiated the “boyfriend/girlfriend” conversation. We had had maybe five or six dates and he sheepishly asked if he could tell all of his friends that I was his girlfriend. It was cute and unexpected from a guy who is not at all very upfront with his feelings. I was actually the one who was unsure about it all (I was still reeling from a soul-crushing breakup maybe four months earlier). Two years later, we’re still going strong :)

As scary as it is, the “he’s just not that into you” rule rings true – if a guy wants to be with you, he WILL be with you. You can’t force anything.

avatar Callifax February 25, 2011, 3:59 pm

That’s so well put, and I’ve never thought of it that way before: “guys who want to be your boyfriend will act like it right away.”. That’s so true in my experience. My current long term boyfriend, since the first date, wanted to see me all the time and called often and opened up about his feelings. All of my failed attempts a long-term romance were with people who would only want to see me once a week or so, on their time, and were hesitant to put labels on things.

Seems common sense but sometimes you need to put it into words like that. :)

avatar thyme February 25, 2011, 5:34 pm

Bagels are not too much to ask for. I think there should be breakfast involved after the first sleepover, and I think whoever did the primary seducing should do the hosting. That’s probably usually the guy, but not always.

jammy jessielou February 25, 2011, 12:40 pm

I love happy endings. Especially if they involve bagels.

avatar Dennis Hong February 25, 2011, 2:39 pm

I love happy endings, too! *mumble mumble* Especially if they involve massage parlors.

Wait. What now?

Skyblossom Skyblossom February 25, 2011, 1:01 pm

You are so right on this. When you quit wasting your time with guys who don’t want what you want you are emotionally available for the right guy when you meet him. When your mind and heart and wrapped up with someone who will never be your special someone you don’t even notice the great guys who come your way. I decided to not date just to have a date and didn’t go out with anyone for a year and half. I was happy during that year and half. It is liberating to not be messing yourself around emotionally and then when I met my husband I wasn’t buried under emotional garbage and was really free to get together. Just like you, I didn’t know how long I would have to wait but I knew it was worth it and I was happy waiting.

avatar ReginaRey February 25, 2011, 1:08 pm

Wendy, I have a very similar story! I had FINALLY broken up with my on-again, off-again boyfriend of over 2 years, and I fell quickly for a friend of mine. He was totally different than my ex, and I loved that about him. He was a blast to hang out with, and he helped me so much in getting over my ex, but he kept telling me “I don’t want a relationship right now.” I figured if I hung around long enough, he’d change his mind. NOPE. Guys never, ever, change their minds about that. So, I finally just became completely OK with being single and being myself, and not relying on anyone but myself to make me feel good. I really like how you mentioned “letting the universe know you’re ready,” because a month after I stopped dating my rebound guy and just became OK with singledom, I met my current boyfriend. There really is something to be said for slowing down, breathing, and saying “I’m OK with where I am, and I’m OK just being me until the right guy comes along.”

avatar MissDre February 25, 2011, 1:31 pm

Me too!!!! I was dating this guy who I liked a lot, but I wanted to be exclusive and he told me he just wasn’t ready to make that decision! Well, 2.5 months was long enough for me to wait. I told him I thought he was great but that if we weren’t looking for the same things, we should cool it. And then not even 2 weeks later, I met my amazing wonderful fantastic boyfriend who is everything I want and more!

avatar Dennis Hong February 25, 2011, 2:38 pm

…boyfriend who is everything I want and more!

“More” being cornrows, right? ;-)

avatar MissDre February 25, 2011, 2:46 pm

LOL! That and all the hair oil from his ‘do-rag left on my pillow :)

Dear Wendy Wendy February 25, 2011, 1:35 pm

Yeah, you guys get it! I also want to say, I appreciate the guys who are honest enough to say that they aren’t looking for a relationship. I see a lot of man-bashing on, ahem, other women websites when guys don’t want the same kind of relationships that women want and I think it’s such bullshit. Don’t blame the guy if he’s being honest. Blame yourself for thinking you can change him or for not listening when he tells the truth.

caitie_didnt caitie_didn't February 25, 2011, 1:56 pm

Amen to that! At least if a guy is honest about not wanting a relationship, I can say “have fun not wanting a relationship with some other girl” and move on. The guys that drive me crazy are the ones that *think* they want a relationship with you, and when you are finally in that relationship, they bail a couple of months in because “commitment just isn’t for them”. Dude, if you are that confused you probably shouldn’t be dating anyone.

avatar AKchic February 25, 2011, 2:06 pm

I can agree with you there. If a guy isn’t going to be honest with you then there really isn’t any point in it. I appreciate honesty. And that does include telling me if he thinks that what I’m wearing looks horrible. I am not going to get mad at a guy for telling me that I look like I’ve gained weight. If he’s noticed, y’can be sure I’ve already noticed it a week or so ago.

Mind games are also a no-go. I took a friend to the bar after her son’s funeral (house fire, he was 2) because she needed the break after being in an ICU for 3 months and I had this guy come up to me and tell me he thought I looked cute, if I’d drop a few pounds and get a boob job, we might have something together. The “insulting compliment” routine. Problem is, I’m 5’3 and was 135lbs and a size 34DD at the time. If my boobs got any bigger, I’d be using them as crutches. Alaskan girls aren’t exactly known for being demure, so I’m sure you can imagine my reaction. He was lucky. I was a semi-regular at the bar and most of my friends go there regularly (we went to school with the owner), so I was stopped from giving him the beating he deserved.

avatar Sonia Aurora February 25, 2011, 1:42 pm

I’ve been with my boyfriend for over 3 years, all long distance. It’s had its rocky moments; for the first year + I was desperate to rush it so we could be in the same place, stemming from the insecurity of my previous relationship where I knew he would never fully commit. It was only after a very hard period of stress that lead to an “unofficial” breakup (unofficial in that neither of us would say it, but we basically stopped talking for 3 months) that I realized some things about the compromises I had been making for myself, and where my boyfriend confessed the pressure he had been feeling from me, on top of from himself. I realized that I had to put myself first, not just for me, but for US, and the last 10 months have been a great growth of self and of our relationship.It looks like this year we’ll be able to line up our ducks to move to the same place, but even if not, the greatest lesson that I took from this is that by doing for myself I’m not hurting us, i’m helping be a better person in the “us”.

avatar Jessica February 25, 2011, 1:42 pm

This rings true for me as well. I spent about 2 years after a tough break up just dating around, finding myself. and i finally decided one day that i was tired of wasting my time! I know what I want. and when I finally did decide that, I met my now boyfriend of two years about a month later! it was intense from the beginning, we both knew what we wanted. and it was eachother.

avatar AKchic February 25, 2011, 1:58 pm

*laugh*

Gee, all I’ve learned from my break-ups are:
1) Stay away from substance users
2) Stay away from those with criminal records, unsteady job histories and multiple DVROs
3) Drop anyone interested in my sisters like a bad habit.

All it took was two marriages and three kids to figure that out. *thumbs up*

avatar Dennis Hong February 25, 2011, 2:18 pm

I know you’re talking mostly about wanting a relationship versus wanting to date casually, but I wanted to play a little Devil’s Advocate to the whole “Don’t waste you time on someone who can’t or won’t give you what you’re looking for” lesson:

On the flip side, I see so many people (and hey, I’m gonna be blunt here, but they’re mostly women) who have a ridiculously specific list of qualities that they absolutely won’t settle for. I can guarantee that these women will never find someone good enough for them.

I think it’s all about happy mediums (happy media?): Decide what qualities you absolutely cannot do without and, damn it, just let the other things go. Otherwise, you’re just setting yourself up for one dissatisfying relationship after another.

avatar MissDre February 25, 2011, 2:34 pm

I said I’d NEVER date a guy with cornrows but look at me now! My man has braids and he’s treated me better and made me happier than anyone else I’ve ever been with! I even started out thinking I’d have to work on him to cut his hair, but now I couldn’t image him any other way :) Some ladies (not all) need to lighten up :)

avatar Dennis Hong February 25, 2011, 2:36 pm

Yeah, pretty much the only *cough cough* firm requirement I hold on to these days for the women I date is:

“Must not have penis.”

avatar neuroticbeagle February 25, 2011, 4:05 pm

Out of curiosity, is it must not have a penis currently, must not have a penis permanetly, or must not have a penis ever?

avatar Dennis Hong February 25, 2011, 5:15 pm

Oh no. Must… reevaluate… standards.

Gee, thanks a lot, beagle. :-p

sobriquet sobriquet February 25, 2011, 2:56 pm

I’ve never been one to have a long list of “deal breakers” (hell, my boyfriend was unemployed when I met him!), but I realize that many women do.

The problem is that, if you have a long list of specific qualities, I imagine it can be difficult to simply find a man you even like. So after you finally find that guy, you’re in denial of the way he’s treating you because it’s just so hard to find someone that has the qualities you’re looking for.

It’s a “deal breaker” if he doesn’t look a certain way or have a certain job, but it’s not a deal breaker if he just wants a casual relationship when you want a serious one? Mind boggling.

avatar MissDre February 25, 2011, 3:03 pm

I know a girl a bit like that… she wants a boyfriend but she makes a face at every guy that even looks her way. He’s gotta be lawyer or a doctor or the head of a big corporation and have a private limo, and he has to dress a certain way, and he has to go to the gym on a regular basis and have a ripped body, but he has to want to get married and have kids too! And if she even glances at someone she may be interested in, she makes a list of all the things she’ll have to fix…

Needless to say she has been single for many years and hasn’t even gone on any dates!

sobriquet sobriquet February 25, 2011, 2:58 pm

Well said, Wendy! The three month mark is so telling. If he’s not getting you bagels on Sunday morning after three months, it’s time to reevaluate.

avatar camille905 February 25, 2011, 3:36 pm

I totally agree! I just recently got to a place where I can kick them to the curb if they don’t want what I want- a serious relationship that could lead to marriage and kids. And it’s really freeing feeling.

avatar Painted_lady February 25, 2011, 3:43 pm

See, I know so many women who are – as Wendy beautifully put it a few days ago – willing to settle for “crumbs” in a relationship. Nonspecific to the situation in that letter, we’re more than happy to stick around with a guy who repeatedly says he doesn’t want the things we want, we insist having some fun is fine when what we really want is monogamy and commitment, and while obviously it isn’t all women and it isn’t specific only to women, but so many women have this tendency. Is it because we’re socialized to doubt our own agency, or because we’re terrified to be reduced to that stereotype that all women are after is marriage and financial stability, or because we’re so afraid that whatever neglectful or sometimes just plain not-into-commitment guy is our LAST CHANCE EVER? I’ve fallen prey to it, and I’m not blaming the men or the women, I’m simply curious as to why this is so common.

avatar Red_Lady February 25, 2011, 9:53 pm

Actually, I believe it was ArtsyGirl that started the “crumbs of a relationship”

avatar Painted_lady February 27, 2011, 1:37 pm

Whoops! You’re right – sorry ArtsyGirl.

avatar Lindsay February 26, 2011, 1:33 am

I can relate to this SO MUCH. My first real relationship (well, “real” in theory) was almost identical to your story, including the whole band practice thing. My other relationships have been similar. I had recently decided that I was only going to have the kind of relationships I want — a serious one with a guy who likes me like I like him and who is kind, respectful and considerate. Since then, I’ve had to back off from a guy who seemed OK but who didn’t really have things together. As you said, it makes me nervous because I wonder how long I’ll have to wait before a “good” one shows up. But you just have to have faith, be patient and realize that you’re doing something really good for yourself.

avatar PFG-SCR February 26, 2011, 3:32 pm

I really like this article, Wendy!

I love hearing how two people met and fell in love, but I didn’t join the Frisky until after you were married. I’ll have to go and read some of your back articles to read the details!

avatar evanscr05 February 28, 2011, 7:48 am

I have several lessons that I’ve learned:

1) Never date someone more than once. Whether you ended it, or they did, the first time, there was a reason it didn’t work out. Apologies for what happened are great, but fundamentally, people don’t change, and those same issues from before will pop up again.

2) Relationships are all about compromise, from both people. If you are ever asked to make significant compromises for someone, and they are unwilling, or unable, to recognize that and/or make some compromises, as well, don’t do it. Trust your gut. An ex was military and wanted me to uproot my whole life on the east coast to move to Hawaii with him. But he would never introduce me to his friends or family, so what would I have out there? It was always about his needs, and never mine. It never would have worked because I didn’t love him enough to make that kind of leap of faith.

3) If you have to be someone other than who you are when you are with someone, it’s not the right relationship for you. Once I met my fiance, I realized just how easy a good relationship should be. I have always been completely me, warts and all, and he never fails to tell me how much he loves me and how beautiful I am to him. He’s always been himself, too, and no matter his flaws, he’s perfect to me. Be true to yourself, always. Facades are hard to maintain.

avatar FollowHer February 28, 2011, 12:34 pm

Wendy, I think you give the best advice on relationships on the web! I would advice any young girls or confused women to read this piece you’ve written!

Let me give an example. When I’m on a “first” date, after talking for a while, when I think we can say or feel comfortable enough to ask, in my opinion, a pretty basic or even harmless question that I always ask on my first dates.

Do you think you’re ready for a serious relationship? Do you know what you want in a relationship? Now, depending on my dates’ answer, if I think she either don’t know what I’m talking about or we both have the same ideas of what we want in a relationship, will determine if I will ask her for a “second” date or not. For me, I’ll be just that brutal!

avatar HmC February 28, 2011, 2:54 pm

Great article Wendy- a simple concept articulated beautifully.

Four years ago, I went through a devastating break up with a boyfriend of eight years. I acted out in all sorts of destructive ways for years following that break up… I desperately tried to get him back, I drank and partied too much, and I dated all the wrong types of guys. I told myself I was looking for a real relationship, but I didn’t act like it. After finally reaching my breaking point of unhealthy behavior and bad connections, I started focusing on my career and family and finding happiness within myself. I know that sounds cheesy, but I can’t put it any other way. I knew I wanted a relationship, but I wanted it to be for the right reasons and in addition to an otherwise happy life. I stopped dating a very nice friend who I knew from the beginning would never turn into a real relationship.

I finally made peace with my life as a single girl, and a few months after that I met a wonderful guy. And I didn’t rush anything, because I genuinely believed that if we were a good match, and the timing was right for both of us, things would work themselves out. And they did.

Anyway, I just discovered this web site, and Wendy I think your writing is great! You’re a sharp and interesting woman, without being a man hater. Love it.

avatar HmC February 28, 2011, 3:47 pm

p.s. And now I’m happier than I’ve ever been, even with my ex of eight years, because I started my current relationship happy, knowing who I was, and knowing what I wanted.

avatar phoenix28 March 4, 2011, 1:14 pm

I just read this and I wanted to say THANK YOU so much Wendy!! I know I’ve been guilty of settling for crumbs before and I’ve really started to believe that people will treat me exactly the way I will let them treat me. For so long I’ve put up with crumbs because I thought I was not good enough to get the whole deal, NO MORE!

If anything, reading this article now has affirmed that I am indeed on the right path to finding someone who treats me with respect and gives me what I need, simply because I refuse to disrespect myself by settling for less.

Thank you again!

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