The Myth That “Non-Relationship” Break Ups Don’t Hurt

Dating, getting married, getting divorced, getting back into the dating game, and breaking up has been quite the wild ride. Word to Wind in the Willows. I feel like Mr. Toad—except I’m not going to hell at the end of the ride (I don’t think).

After the last major debacle, I read a bunch of books, blogs, spoke with relatives, consulted 140 character sages and thumbed my nose at the caveman advice written by thrice married and twice divorced Steve Harvey.  I’ve gotten great advice, good advice, not so good advice and downright atrocious advice. The one idea that inevitably falls into the latter category, along with most of Harvey’s advice, is the idea that “non-relationship” break ups are somehow less of a blow to the ego than “relationship” break ups.

The “relationship break up” is self-explanatory. But for clarity purposes, it’s the severing of an official relationship of the “tell me you love me again, we go together” variety (Hi Rihanna).

The “non-relationship break up” is a little trickier, but before I elaborate on what that is, a word from Aubrey Graham:

We live in a generation of not being in love, and not being together. But we sure make it feel like we’re together…”


Blame it on the idea that being friends with benefits is hot in the streets or something else, but the YMCB representer is correct. As it pertains to my generation, we develop bonds of an emotional and/or sexual nature sans titles. I’m not quite sure if this is a matter of convenience a matter of habit or the (false) belief that titles accompany feelings (more on that later). One thing that I know for sure…

The idea that there’s no hurt/discomfort/anxiety when these situations come to an end is a load of horse manure.

Listen, unless you’re a total sociopath or enjoy wasting massive amounts of time with people you don’t like (and why would anyone of sound mind want to do that?) catching feelings or developing some sort of “like” for an object of your affection is all but impossible.

I was watching Love Jones the other day and find this to be a perfect illustration of my point. Hailed as one of the quintessential depictions of young, black love on screen, Darius and Nina are the epitome of the “non-relationship” break up. The lead characters CLEARLY had lots in common, spent lots of time together and had some degree of attraction. When Nina asked Darius how he’d feel if she went to visit her ex-fiance, the young (foolish) man said it was cool because they were just “kicking it.”

Obviously, just “kicking it” didn’t stop Nina from feeling played when she saw Mr. Lovehall at the bookstore with a woman not named Nina, nor did it stop Darius from trying to chase down a moving train. But I digress.

I know folks who have been in unofficial “non-relationships” that—at least to one party—was as real as a relationship with a title. Some of these situations lasted several months to several years (if you went to college, chances are you know one or more people that fit the latter). And if you’ve been a friend to somebody in one of these, you may have helped sweep up the pieces of a shattered heart.

The bottom line is this: the severing of a relationship with somebody you’re close to is often discomforting. Not putting a title on it just means it doesn’t go in the “break up” column on your stat sheet.

I’m neither a sociopath nor one to waste time. I never excelled at circus acts so juggling anything—let alone multiple interests—was a skill I failed to master in my college elective classes. As such, I find myself typically drawn to one person at a time in all of my other side of 20s wisdom. I’ve fallen for the concept that taking time out to get to know somebody—with or without a title—is some sort of radical idea.

This makes break ups—of the “relationship” or the “non-relationship” tribe—equally… disconcerting. Relationships are messy, but then again, so are “non-relationships” that lack boundaries. And when the latter gets boundaries they tend to look like (you guessed it) relationships.

I rebounded from a divorce and bounced back better than ever. Letting go of somebody you vowed to spend a slow forever with—regardless of how toxic the situation became—was the lowest of the low. There is no hurt worse than a divorce; that doesn’t mean that losing somebody you like is painless. It just means we survive and move on.

And given that fact, does it really matter if you gave somebody a title and it didn’t work or you just “messed around,” played the role and it fell apart. The magic 8 ball says “not likely.” What I do know is that a little bit of effort in these “non-relationship” situations can go a long way. The worst that could happen is that you’re wrong. At best, you end up with somebody pretty cool.

When you’ve got feelings involved, the lack of a title doesn’t ease the pain when they walk out of your life. That’s like saying colliding with a semi-truck is better if the driver has insurance.

Both analogies are pure nonsense and you’re still in a wreck at the end of the day.

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One thought on “The Myth That “Non-Relationship” Break Ups Don’t Hurt

  1. Heh. You have some great points here. I’ve been on the sweeping up end of multiple friend’s NR breakups, and it always mystified me how they could be patient enough *not* to define it as *something*.

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