How not to break up with someone

Nathan Adlam
6 min readJul 12, 2019


I don’t think we should be together anymore, I stammered.

The next part was a blur… a mini-blackout, clusterfuck of words, sniffling, and inability to breathe or look her in the eye.

The words came as a surprise to her. Where to begin? I tried to explain the recent episodes that led me to this point.

Some of her responses were things I had heard before. More of her responses were along the lines of I had no idea…

The more I learned, the more questions I had. And the more I learned.

As the uncomfortable conversation continued, I found myself backpedaling. What have I done? Was this really the right choice? In my mind, I knew something wasn’t working with the relationship. And by something wasn’t working I mean… for me. But how it manifested itself, in the form of a break-up, wasn’t looking like the greatest option at that point.

Some biblical-length text messages followed. Another conversation over a couple beers shed light on more previously unknown information. And no closure.

I tried to trust myself that there was a reason I broke up with her. But realizing the magnitude of misunderstanding between us, my feeling was shifting. I was talking to all my friends, unsure of what to do… trust my original instinct or go back and try again with a completely new understanding of all the problems that I didn’t even bother trying to fix.

After the conversation over beer, I felt something I had never felt before. I had experienced all the short-term break-up emotions- mainly the ones associated with someone close to you completely leaving your life. I had also entertained the possibility that since the conversation continued, something could be done to salvage the relationship. My heart was confused, shocked, and numb, yet at peace, knowing that all the deep-seeded problems were bubbling to the surface.

Based on our conversations, the answer became clear. When you do something, and you later find out you didn’t do the thing with a good understanding of it, you try to fix the thing. When you make an IKEA chair and don’t attach the legs properly, you’re going to fall down when you sit on it, no matter how fat you are. And after you fall, you don’t just curse and throw the chair in the garbage. You try to fix it.

Not only was my logical brain shouting this at me, but my emotional brain was on board too. I’m not sure if one of them convinced the other, but with their combined efforts, my resulting feeling was to try again.

What else to do but ask for a re-try.

She needed some time to think about it. She said we could meet again in 3 days. It was Friday.

I kept myself busy all weekend. Beer with friends. Outdoor concert. Exploring the city. I was disappointed but strangely at peace knowing there wasn’t anything I could do at that point. I became increasingly more nervous as Monday approached.

We met outside McDonald’s in the mall. I was nervous. So was she. We took a walk to a nearby neighborhood café. As the conversation went on, the answer wasn’t a solid no. In my mind, I wondered where this was going, and as it continued, I got a feeling we would try again. It took 3 hints for me to completely understand… she agreed we could try again.

*Massive sigh of relief*

A smile crept across my face. Should I kiss you now?

We were back.

So, what did I learn from this whole thing?

This experience caused me to do a self-audit of all the communication in my life. Was I telling people what bothered me? Was I being clear? Was I even trying? If no to any of the above, why not? Was I being passive-aggressive (classic Nathan)? I realized how many ways I wasn’t being clear and completely avoiding confrontation at all costs, because surprise! I don’t like confrontation and my typical method of dealing with problems is just distancing or conveniently removing myself from them. This behavior has happened not only in this relationship, but my relationship with my flatmates, job, etc.

Some people who read this will have no idea why I didn’t/don’t always just speak my mind. For people like me, telling people what bothers me about them is really hard. I’ve always prided myself on never fighting or arguing in relationships, and this whole experience really has me questioning and challenging why that is.

When you don’t tell someone what bothers you, a little Weed starts to sprout. Every time they do something that bothers you and you don’t tell them, that Weed gets a little bit bigger. It starts to cover up the Flowers. You start looking for what’s wrong in the relationship and think oh great, here we go again. You say nothing about what’s bothering you and the Weed keeps growing. You keep pointing at the Weed, telling yourself, what am I going to do with this thing? And before you know it, the Weed has choked off the Flowers and starts to twist around you. You feel like it’s strangling you. You whip out your Passive-Aggressive Flamethrower to try to kill the Weed and you wildly spray fire everywhere around it. When really, all you needed to do is bend down, get a little dirty, put the Weed between your fingers, and pull it out, roots and all.

The Weed doesn’t have to be abuse. It can be a seemingly-harmless joke. It can be a simple comment. It can be something they don’t say.

People can’t always see your Weeds and can’t always tell how you feel. If you don’t tell them how you feel inside, their only cues are the look on your face, body, and your nonverbal communication. And if you’re someone who tries to puff up a bit and be strong when they do something that hurts you, then it’s even worse, because how else can they know? Throw some cultural differences/language barriers in there and you have yourself a recipe for a relationship meltdown.

So for the love of God, please tell your significant other what bothers you about them. If they can’t live with that then break up. But tell them. Even the smallest, seemingly insignificant things. The one thing they do that seems stupid but makes you feel like shit about yourself.

It’s a nice idea to try to appear strong and unaffected by the things your partner says and does. But it is just that… a nice idea. Left un-addressed, these little things that bother you are the screws loosening on your IKEA chair legs. The Weed that ends up strangling you.

When you feel bad, tell them why. It doesn’t have to be anything normal or reasonable. It might sound pathetic or weak to you. You owe it to your partner to tell them why. Because if you can’t share your deepest vulnerabilities with them, how close can you really get? How can you expect to feel close to someone if you don’t share your insecurities? The things you hate most about yourself?

When you share your feelings, you subconsciously empower yourself. You remind yourself that you matter. When you’re someone that generally has lower self-esteem, and you don’t tell someone what’s wrong, or that something bothers you, you let a Weed grow in your Garden. When you share something that’s bothering you, you pluck one Weed from the ground. Picking Weeds can feel like work… you don’t want to burden others with your negative emotions or appear weak in front of them. It can be very hard to start. But once you start, it becomes easier… soon enough, you are a weed-picking machine, a green-thumb Gardener, whose Flowers have been freed from the clutches of the Weeds that have long held them down. You may never have a completely Weed-free Garden, but with some work, you can have one to be proud of.

Don’t forget your gloves. You’re gonna get dirty.



Nathan Adlam

English teacher, engineer, expat… writing about things I am passionate about. Author of Avocado Toast and Other Millennial Insights.