So…he said we’re on a break…

…what does that mean?

This is the question I was faced with at work when a friend arrived one morning straight out of an argument with her long-term boyfriend. Her boyfriend had called a two-week no-talking break so he could “figure himself out” and whatever.

My answer? At the time, I hope I said something a little nicer, but what I really think is that breaks are what people ask for when they don’t yet have the courage to come out with the truth…whether it’s to break up with you or  stay with you or tell you they’re gay and have been using you to make their parents less judgmental at thanksgiving dinner.

What exactly is a break, anyway? You’re together, but you’re not speaking to one another? You’re allowed to talk, but only on the phone, and only on Thursdays? And who sets the timeline? How does a person know that they’ll have themselves “figured out” in a couple of weeks?

The truth is that nobody knows how long it will take for the heart to come around. Anyone who tells you that they’ll have the answers for you by a set date is not being entirely truthful, whether intentionally or otherwise.

This isn’t to say that people who call for “breaks” are necessarily evil or scum of the earth. I truly believe that for the most part, these are people who’ve never had to break a heart before, especially of someone who they genuinely care about. In all likelihood, they’re just having a really hard time accepting the identity of the heartbreaker. The heartbroken gets more street cred. They can relate with the songwriters and poets, or Tom Hanks from Sleepless in Seattle. What exactly comes to mind when the term “heartbreaker” comes up? John Mayer. Jude Law. Jon Gosselin. It’s really a downhill slope. No wonder people have a hard time with just cutting it clean.

But.

In the end, a proper relationship is not a day in school or a shift at work. You don’t get to clock in and clock out when you need to take a walk or eat a sandwich, or in this case, solve an existential crisis. In order for anyone to know whether a relationship is for keeps, they have to stick around through the occasional roadblock. Conversely, in order for someone to truly have space, and give space, you need to make a clean cut from the relationship. You don’t do either of those by going on a two-week break, hiding your relationship status on Facebook, and changing your ringtone to “Perfectly Lonely”. A break offers a lot of comfort and promise in the beginning, that everything will go back to normal, and that things will be much clearer in the end…but it’s just a recipe for confusion, heartache, and worst case scenario, burnt bridges.

So there it is. A “break” is for getting coffee at 10:30 a.m. at the office. It isn’t for working on relationship issues – especially if your goal is to stay together. The next time anyone tells you they want to go on a break, no matter how genuine they look (and probably are), give them a hug and say goodbye for real. If they never come back to you, at least you wouldn’t have lost any time holding out for them. On the flipside, if they do come back, the return will be that much sweeter.

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