Breaking Up From a Non-Relationship Can Still Be Hard -- Here's Why

Young woman writing diary in bed
Young woman writing diary in bed

A few months ago, I ended a non-relationship. Which, I guess, makes it a non-break-up. Lots of "nons" here. But bear with me. I'm actually talking about a thing.

Admittedly, that thing is complicated. These days, with online dating, casual flings, the general disenchantment with monogamy and what have you, defining the actual status of a relationship is like trying to solve a crossword puzzle with hardly any clues. The result often looks a bit wonky -- illegible, to say the least.

Illegible even to ourselves. We lead never-defined non-relationships (a riddle, I know) that cannot be neatly packaged and can never be properly introduced at a party ("This is X. I like him this week?!").

Fun, but a bit tiresome. Yet somehow we tend to avoid the whole definition game like the plague. We don't want to put a label on things.

This is all because non-relationships just seem a lot more fitting in the context of our increasingly wayward lives. And, especially for women, they fit our new roles. Young professional women don't need economic or social support from men anymore. In most cases with young urban women, their emotional support system is so strong, a guy would hardly even fit into it.

We are all so deeply entangled in our various projects, our jobs, our social lives -- where would there even be room for a proper partner?

And why would we commit to it anyway? We are so used to free monthly trials and pay-as-you-go options -- why not apply this same logic to the romantic part of our lives?

We, who use Tinder and Grindr have fully embraced the fact that economic logic works in relationships as well. Whoever criticizes Tinder for its superficial approach doesn't understand that it's actually just efficient. You see a person's profile and decide to investigate further or move on. Quick, painless, easy.

If we want to live efficiently, we cannot have ourselves tied down. We have to keep optimizing -- and how do you optimize your life when you're not prepared to live the change? When you're not prepared to assume that the next hot thing is just around the corner? It's what our bosses keep telling us at the office: If you think you've found a solution to something, you're already losing.

And losing is something we don't want. It might just be the pathological undercurrent of an errant business culture, but it's something we have transferred to dating as well. It works along the lines of: "If we don't call it a relationship, then it can't be a breakup."

I'm beginning to wonder, though. Do non-relationships really hold that promise? Does romance really work that way? Can we just avoid loving so we won't lose?

Because when you spend months with a person, having sex (probably lots, as this is the one definitive characteristic of non-relationships), watching endless hours of '80s movies, feeding each other ice cream, telling bedtime stories -- no matter how little you think of that person as your partner, neither of you is immune to having some feelings. Maybe not "love" (see how I even feel the need to put it in quotes?). But some feelings. How inconvenient.

Feelings, for most people in non-relationships, are the shackles they'd like to ignore. But that's the thing with feelings. You can refuse to name them -- but they are still there. How often can you look into someone's eyes without seeing even a glimpse of recognition? How safe can you feel in someone's arms without feeling just a little bit of mutual affection?

So when a non-relationship ends, it's impossible to keep on pretending that it didn't exist. Because when it ends, we can feel hurt, despite ourselves.

When my non-partner and I ended our non-relationship, I thus suffered from a non-break-up. I certainly refused to feel like it was a break-up, but there I was: Sitting at home with a discomfort in the pit of my stomach; sad, confused, melancholic. Trying to shut the door to feelings that weren't welcome. Only to find that they can just climb in through the window instead. Damn it.

"Well, but it was never gonna last, was it?" my friends said. "I know!" I'd cry back at them. But it lasted long enough for me to feel a loss when it ended. And even though there was no one I could henceforth call my "ex," I felt entitled to a little mourning time.

We might try our best to manage our feelings, but we probably will forever fail at doing so.

Let's start looking at that as a good thing.