By Raphael Niu (23A01A)
Your resident Aunties and Uncles are back with our Ask Aunt Agony and Uncle Upset column, this time as a collaboration between Raffles Press and Peer Helpers’ Programme (PHP)! Ever wanted to rant about that someone you just can’t stand? Overwhelmed with too many feelings? Submit your confessions to https://tinyurl.com/riadvice and we’ll give them our best shot. This column will be published at the end of every month.
I feel like my girlfriend and I are not very compatible, and I’m not sure if a breakup is right: she hasn’t done anything wrong, we haven’t fought, and I don’t want to break her heart…Brooding Boyfriend
Dear Brooding Boyfriend,
We all enter relationships hoping for a happily-ever-after, but the unfortunate reality is that few relationships, if any, are that smooth sailing. For many lovers, there will come a time—after days of banal conversation or an explosive fight—when the prospect of leaving flashes across their minds.
Your confession is a tricky one to answer because it conflates two questions into one:
- Are my girlfriend and I incompatible to the extent that I should break up with her?
- Even if we are very incompatible, is it fair for me to break up with her even if she hasn’t done anything to “deserve” it?
While these are ultimately deeply personal questions only you can answer, it is perhaps helpful to examine the role compatibility plays in a relationship, before considering whether or not to bring the relationship to a close and how to end things amicably should you choose to do so.
The way we talk about love reflects our incessant desire for absolute compatibility: we want to find our “soulmate”, our “one true love”, and “the perfect one”. However, because we are all imperfect people, we are setting ourselves up for failure if we only accept a partner who is perfectly attractive, perfectly kind and perfectly witty. Thus, compatibility exists in degrees: as my friend Emily (23A01C) puts it, finding a partner is about finding someone who is compatible enough.
Many incompatibilities can be overcome with compromise and communication. If your partner is a bad texter, 30-minute calls before bed can be a good solution. Disagreements over physical intimacy and displays of affection can be managed with honest discussions about boundaries. If the incompatibilities between you and your partner are minor, you could still have a fulfilling relationship—it might be best to try to work through them before giving up the relationship altogether.
However, other incompatibilities can be deal-breakers that could indicate future conflict. While specific deal-breakers vary from person to person, they generally point to significant divergences in your core values: different expectations of loyalty, different attitudes toward money, or even different religious beliefs for the very pious. These incompatibilities warrant more concern—you might want to have an honest conversation with your partner to determine if these differences can be bridged.
Moreover, it is illuminating to think about not just what incompatibilities you see but why you see them. More often than not, the heart “sees” through rose-tinted lenses: we see our love interest not as the flawed and complex individual they are, but as the “perfect one” we want them to be. It is only when the exhilarating high of infatuation fades that we begin to see their imperfections—this is why many couples only discover that they are incompatible months into the relationship.
This could mean that you are now clearly seeing the flaws of your partner that were always there, uncovering inherent incompatibilities that could spark conflict. But it could also mean that your feeling of incompatibility stems from a sudden change in perspective: they might now seem flawed and incompatible with you because they don’t live up to your previous, romanticised image of them.
Hence, doubts about compatibility are normal and even inevitable, but they don’t always have to lead to a breakup. Before you consider something as serious as a breakup, try to identify whether these incompatibilities can be overcome and how grounded they are in reality.
Perhaps you decide (only after some rumination, of course) that these incompatibilities are too significant for you and your partner to forge a happy and healthy relationship. Is that a good enough reason to break up with your partner even when they haven’t “done anything wrong”?
To me, the answer is quite clear: it is more than enough. A romantic relationship is not a binding contract: it is a voluntary union of two people that have decided this particular kind of affection and intimacy will make them happy. Hence, if the relationship has brought and will bring you more distress than contentment, you are more than entitled to leave.
Additionally, ending the relationship might even be the kinder option. If you are frustrated, tired or apathetic every time you see your partner, it is overwhelmingly likely they will feel unhappy in the relationship too. Although a breakup could be painful for your partner in the short term, it sets them free to find greater happiness in the future by finding a more compatible partner.
How then do you break up in the gentlest possible way? Here are some tips:
Do it soon, but at an appropriate time. By waiting longer, you will only lead your partner on and make the eventual breakup more painful for both of you. However, that does not mean you should initiate the breakup immediately. If your partner is in a difficult place emotionally or about to take an important exam, it might be more prudent to wait until the stressful period passes.
Avoid doing it over text. While it is tempting to hold such a difficult conversation over text, it can make the breakup even more painful for your partner—it could deny them the proper closure or the feeling of respect they need. Breaking up in-person or over video call might be more uncomfortable for you, but it is often the kinder way to break someone’s heart.
Be as honest as you can be without shattering their self-esteem. While a truthful, sincere explanation of your decision to break up could be helpful for both of you to find closure and move on, you should remember that your partner is at their most vulnerable—filled with self-doubt, hurt or hopelessness. Hence, it would be good to mention reasons for the breakup only if they do not strike at your partner’s insecurities. Other reasons, such as finding your partner too clingy or unambitious, would be better left unsaid.
Ultimately, it is okay if you choose to work through your incompatibilities with your partner, and it is also okay if you decide a breakup is the best course of action: both can be done in love.
I wish both you and your girlfriend happiness.
Aunt Agony and Uncle Upset
If you need anyone to talk to about any issues you might be facing, do drop by My Rest Space near Marymount gate and talk to one of our peer helpers! We’re open on Tuesday from 2.30 – 4.30 p.m, Wednesday 11.00 a.m. – 3.00 p.m., Thursday 2.30 – 4.30 p.m. and Friday 1.30 – 4.30 p.m. If you would like to meet a peer helper on a regular basis, do email us a request at firstname.lastname@example.org or fill in our request form at our website https://rafflespeerhelpers.wordpress.com!