Or, you know, run. A guy I work with is going through a terrible, terrible break-up. The kind of break-up bad enough that you bring your friends to get your Nintendo Switch from your ex's house (but not so bad that you leave it there-come on, it's $300). I knew it was coming. Not because I'm brilliant at guessing break-ups-though I did call Fergie and Josh Duhamel and Channing Tatum and Jenna Dewan.
In this case, anyone who knew this guy knew it was coming. The first time he went out on a date with his ex, he came into work and told us that she was-and he said this very reluctantly, the way you admit to your dentist that you only floss once a week-"kind of mean." Mean! Mean. If you're going to have only one deal breaker in a relationship, it should be "mean."
He laughed it off, qualifying the meanness: "Not mean to me, but like, she was kind of rude to her mom on the phone." Realizing that this sounded worse, he smiled sheepishly and shrugged his shoulders. I filled in the rest of the sentence for him: "But she's hot, right?" He nodded. He continued his defense of her.
She's one of the top fitness teachers in L.A. (no one cares, buddy). She hadn't eaten in a while so she was hungry (not a real excuse for being mean). Anyway, he went on another date with her and she was really nice. "It must have been just that one time."
To the surprise of no one outside of that relationship, it was not just that one time. She was a mean person. She was entitled and critical of my coworker and frequently outright rude to people. We all encouraged him to break up with her. He wouldn't. I wanted to shake him.
Everyone in the office shared looks when he talked about her. Towards the end, he couldn't even defend himself, and he openly admitted that it was dumb to stay. But again, she was hot and nice sometimes, and remember, it had been four whole months.
And then it all exploded. They broke up. They fought before breaking up. They fought after. They got back together immediately (put a marker down on your Bad Relationship Bingo for that one). They broke up again. It was somehow worse than before. A week later he came into work and explained the whole ordeal without much emotion. He berated himself for not having left earlier. He'd known. We'd known. We'd told him. He'd agreed. But men suck at knowing when to break up.
I should add, before anyone gets too riled up by that claim, that everyone sucks at knowing when to break up. I will maintain until the day I die that it's far worse to be the person doing the breaking up than it is to be broken up with. It's a specific, excruciating horror and it rarely comes with the sympathy, friend support, and ice cream that being dumped holds.
Somewhat fortunately for women, we're often primed on when and why to break up with someone. That's because for most of history, women have been defined by their relationships to men: Bad relationships were easy to get into and almost impossible to leave, which meant that as soon as we moved into an era of choice and romantic love rather than being the property of your partner, we made sure to create a lot of lot of language telling women how to avoid, change or leave bad relationships.
For men in bad relationships, there isn't much out there. The narrative is "stick with it until something better comes along," even if the partner in question is abusive.
There is no point in a relationship that is either too soon or too late to end things. You aren't in too deep, no matter how long it has been, and no matter how many big steps you've taken together or pieces of furniture you co-own.
Honestly, the only reason I said you shouldn't leave at the altar is that it's a cliché. (Shoutout to an Italian couple I heard about, who were 99 and 96, and when the husband found out about his wife's affair in the 1940s, he divorced her.) Until you two are married with kids, you can leave at any time. You can leave even if you've only been dating for a month.
It's very easy to convince yourself that you haven't given someone a "fair chance," but you probably have. Firstly, "a fair chance" is an arbitrary benchmark that no one can help you define, and also: You are not required to give anyone more of your time. It's perfectly fine for a small moment to be a deal breaker, especially if that small moment points to the fact that this person is cruel or manipulative or disingenuous.
None of this is to say that you should jump ship as soon as things get hard. It's fine if things get hard, they just shouldn't get bad. As the saying goes, the grass isn't greener on the other side, it's greener where you water it. If you feel bored or restless in a relationship with a person you once loved, you might just need to work on the relationship. If you feel like the person you're dating isn't kind to you or other people, you need to leave.
"Mean" isn't worth working on. "Cruel" isn't going to see the light and become a better partner. Jealous, accusatory, and volatile are fine to walk away from, in case you're waiting for some divine sign of permission. You can address and fix behaviors, but you can't change who people are.
And now, for the last bit of wisdom that I have. Like all good wisdom, it comes from my mother: If there were a good choice, you would have made it. If there were a simple, easy, painless choice which hurt no one, you would have already picked that option.
Sophia Benoit is a writer
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