Now Is the Time To Escape Your Bad Relationship. Here’s How.

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S1: One of the reasons why you’re worried is because you feel like if we’re not sleeping together, we probably won’t be spending as much time together.

S2: Is that is that right? Yeah. And I’m scared. I’m never going to find another friendship that makes me so happy.

S1: Welcome to How to. I’m Charles Duhigg. David Epstein is on a well-deserved vacation this week. And so I’m here to explore a tough question, one that a number of you might be dealing with now that the world is reopening. What do we do with the intense relationships that we developed during the pandemic? The thing is, breaking up can be really hard, especially if it’s someone you just spent the last year quarantining with. That goes for serious relationships, but also, you know, friends with benefits, situations where you might be sleeping together, no strings attached. And this might be a good moment to mention. If you’re listening to this with kids, you might want to hit pause and wait until you’re home alone. The situation that this week’s listener is dealing with is a situation just like that. She’s been casually sleeping with a guy for about a year. They decided to pair up because of the pandemic. And now she wants to go back to just being friends without benefits the way things used to be. But she’s worried it’ll destroy their relationship and maybe she’ll end up alone.

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S2: My name is Sarah and I’m a student of psychology

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S1: is there is also a competitive ballroom dancer. And she’s really serious about dancing. And because of the pandemic, she was assigned just one partner, this guy named

S2: Matthew, my dance partner. And I became incredibly good friends, the kind of friendship that I haven’t found in my life before, a friendship where I felt very much authentically myself.

S1: And at the time, Sarah was overjoyed to find a friend like Matthew.

S2: My very good friends are mostly married with children because I’m in my late 30s and they’re extra cautious, of course, because of the pandemic, as they should be. And we haven’t had opportunities to go walking. And so it’s lonely. I feel incredibly lonely and it’s impossible to meet anybody my

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S3: age right now too.

S1: So Sarah and Matthew started spending a lot of time together and, you know, one thing led to another and.

S2: The type of dance we do is like a tango, so it’s already incredibly intimate. He is almost 10 years younger than I am and is kind of in this world of casual friend I copulation and suggested it. And we began to have sex and become quite intimate. And then we had a conversation about, yeah, like let’s just be pandemic buddies or like friends with benefits, which apparently he’s done before.

S1: And were you were you cool with that? It was that something you were comfortable with when it started?

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S2: I spent quite a bit of time deluding myself, but I was doing it not for my own gratification or satisfaction, but instead because I was so desperately scared that if I had said no, it would compromise the friendship, which is one of the reasons why I do want to get out of this, because that is like such an unhealthy pattern of mine. I also found out that he does want to get married and he does want to have children. And I don’t want to have kids. And it’s. Yeah, so and so.

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S1: Sara wants to stop this friends with benefits stuff with Matthew, but they’re great dance partners. And this friendship is really important to her. And on top of all that, she’s kind of worried that she’s missed a year of finding the person who is right for her romantically.

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S2: At 36, am I going to find someone who wants to marry me without kids? I feel really old and I know that that’s all relative, but I feel. I feel kind of like maybe I passed. My opportunity to meet someone. And being with Matthew isn’t helpful for that. I mean, even with the pandemic, it’s like it’s not exactly encourage. I mean, opportunities.

S1: Sarah’s not alone with this problem, and so that’s why we turn to Logan Yurie for some help there. Logan is a relationship coach and a behavioral scientist at Hinge, a dating app.

S3: Yeah. So, I mean, it’s been an interesting year for dating. There’s going to be people who haven’t had physical touch in a year and are going to conduct their own sexual Rumspringa. But I also think we’re going to have people who sat there alone on their couch and said, I’m sick of watching Gilmore Girls. I really want to find someone and I’m trying to help them strategize and say, yes, maybe you didn’t date over the last year, but what can we do in the next year to really help you get where you want to go?

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S1: And can Logan save Sarah’s friendship with Matthew? It is a friendship with an ex, even a good idea. On today’s show, how to break up with someone, but also how to feel confident that if you do, you’ll find new people to fill that hole in your life. Don’t leave us. Logan, let me just ask, you know, since we are so deep into this pandemic and you are a dating coach, when clients are calling you right now, what kind of problems are they bringing to you?

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S3: Yeah, so, I mean, I think it’s all really scary. And I’m definitely hearing from so many people who feel like they lost a year of their lives and they’re behind and, you know, their dating clock is ticking and all of these things.

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S1: Logan is the author of How to Not Die Alone. And so we asked her to give Sarah a little bit of coaching about what she should do.

S2: Hi, Sarah. Hi, Logan.

S3: I actually feel really honored to be meeting you right now because I feel like we’re meeting at a time where

S2: you

S3: are looking at all of the relationship possibilities and seeing a whole new world unfold for yourself. Why don’t you tell me a little bit more just about your dating history?

S2: My dating history has been pretty much serial monogamy, which has usually been good except in a few of the relationships. I think what is probably the most significant is that for whatever reason, I’ve I’ve had a very low libido my whole life to the point where like for a while I was thinking maybe I’m even like asexual. That was the cause of the end of of one of my relationships. And then with Matthew, like a big thing that dawned on me is maybe my traditional relationship model is not for me. Like maybe I just go into old age dating and I never get married. And what would that be like? And so now my mind is just like blown with all kinds of different options. And I feel overwhelmed and and sad.

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S3: Obviously, that was super helpful. Thanks for sharing that. I thought that you were going to say something like the tango was this ongoing foreplay and that you built up a lot of sexual desire for him and that when you actually consummated the relationship, you know, it was this huge relief. But it sounds like the sexual part actually wasn’t that pleasurable or comfortable for you.

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S2: Yeah, that’s correct. It was it was really just I didn’t want to say no and hurt and hurt what was happening, so.

S3: I feel like there’s definitely a world in which you can say something to him, like I’ve loved what we’ve built together. I feel like I can be my authentic self around you, but I’m not actually that sexual of a person. And I essentially want to go back to where we were before, which is having a really deep emotional bond. But expressing that to you physically isn’t what feels right for me.

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S2: We had discussed because we had an altercation about the sex and he’d he’d gotten quite defensive. He had said, let’s have sex four more times and and that will be the end. Otherwise, we are going to get too entangled in this and it will hurt our dance future. And I was like, yes, right. Like there’s an end. But then the end never really came.

S1: How long ago did you guys have that conversation?

S2: Oh, my God. January.

S1: OK, so. So it’s like three or four months ago.

S2: Yeah. Clearly it is like it was it like flew the coop in the brain for for him and for both of us.

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S1: This brings up a really important thing to think about, which is when you break up with someone, even if you do it in the nicest way possible, it’s pretty likely that they’re going to take it as a personal rejection. And so you have to anticipate that and think about what you want to say. I asked her to pretend she was talking to Matthew into practice, what she would say if he told her that he felt really hurt, that she wanted to stop sleeping with him and just be friends.

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S2: Oh, Matthew, I have never had sex that wasn’t directly linked to love and long term monogamy. And it’s confusing for me, for us to be doing this when, you know, you’ve made it clear that that’s not an option. And I don’t think our lives are going in the same direction. And if we continue to have sex, I feel like love is going to get really entangled and complicated in this for me. And that’s going to hurt our dance relationship and our friendship.

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S1: Logan, what do you think?

S3: Yeah, I think it’s good to think through what it will look like when he takes up a smaller part of your life. But how to make sure that it’s still something that makes you feel good and that you feel like you were part designer of what, the next phases?

S2: Mm hmm. I think, like the heavy hammer of of reality just hit a little bit harder. In a good way, and I guess instead of feeling like I’m left behind or abandoned or bored or sad, I could miraculously conjure some hope that there’s something else out there for me that could be fulfilling.

S1: The first step toward successfully getting over someone is changing the narrative in your head instead of thinking of this as a breakup or a loss. It’s important to remind yourself after a year of having very little control of our own lives. We’re now getting this opportunity to decide what we want to do and to change things for the better.

S3: I just want to acknowledge that there is this human tendency towards loss aversion and that the loss of something, we experience it as twice as painful as sort of the gain of the equivalent thing. Right. So if you lost 100 dollars, you’d have to gain 200 dollars to sort of overcome that emotion. And so right now, all you can see is what you’re losing. But what’s going to happen is you’ll climb this mountain of a breakup and it will be awkward and it’ll be painful and you’ll regret it. But on the other side of that is what you can build instead and you just can’t see it yet.

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S1: But to get to the other side of that mountain, you need a plan, specifically a breakup plan. Logan says the first step in developing this plan is figuring out exactly why you want to end this relationship.

S3: And so the first step is recording your reasons for wanting the breakup. And a big reason to do that is that after breakups, when you’re alone, people often regret doing it and they slide backwards and they regress. But I actually would write a letter to yourself about why this is not the right relationship for you. The second thing is giving yourself a deadline and saying, I know I’m going to have this conversation with Matthew by a certain date. And so for you, what do you feel like that date could be?

S2: Oh, probably the sooner the better. Like maybe this weekend.

S1: OK, so you’ve written down why you’re breaking up and you’ve given yourself a deadline. Next, tell someone what you’re going to do.

S3: So who’s your accountability partner going to be? The person who’s going to hold you to doing the breakup on Sunday.

S2: Are you willing for it to be you?

S3: Yeah, I get I get a lot of emails about a lot of things there. I’m happy to be this person for.

S2: OK, yes.

S3: OK. All right. So my accountability partner is Logan. I promise to. And now you have to put something on the line if you don’t meet your deadline. And the example I give in the book is this is a real one. My accountability partner is Seth. I promise to publicly post my last three porn searches if I don’t meet my deadline.

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S2: OK, my accountability partner is Logan and I promise to not submit my final paper and therefore potentially fail my course if I don’t do this on Sunday.

S3: Great. OK, that’s that seems like a good one.

S1: Yeah, Logan’s next step is preparing what you’re going to say, like you should make an outline or a script of exactly what you’re going to say, because, you know, this is a really emotional conversation, right? It’s easy to say the wrong thing or to not be clear enough. So you had the conversation. You’re broken up, but you are not done yet because you’re going to have to go home to an empty house. Which brings us to the next step.

S3: Make an immediate post breakup plan for yourself. So where are you going to go after this conversation on Sunday when you’re probably going to feel a little raw?

S2: I’m going to a friend’s birthday party.

S3: OK, great. And then what are some activities that you really enjoy doing that help affirm who you are, things that maybe you didn’t do when you were with this person? What are a couple of things you’ll do during those first few days?

S1: Like is there is there any reward that you’re getting from your relationship that once it’s gone, we need to find another way to give it to you?

S2: Yeah, I didn’t really put two and two together until just now. But I think one thing that I’ve really gotten from the sexual aspect is, you know, when I go over to dance practice, I put on makeup and I like look through my wardrobe and I select something that’s like pretty. And and I think that that’s that’s huge for me to just feel attractive, you know. And so maybe, you know, just getting really dressed up and going grocery shopping.

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S1: I think that’s a great I love it.

S3: I think it’s great.

S1: And so Sarah has her break up, but she’s still looking for ways to meet other people to share her life with us when we come back. Logan has some suggestions about how to make that happen to.

S3: Really, how do we help you meet the people that are going to be your chosen family for the next phase?

S1: Stick around. We’re back with our expert Loganberry and Sarah, who originally wrote to us at How to add Slate Dotcom, which, you know, if you have a problem, romantic or otherwise, you can do the same thing and email us any time. Sarah’s next goal is to find a person or even a group of people who she can really bond with and rely on. And Logan’s familiar with having to build a community because there was this period just recently where she really needed one herself. It all started with how she met her husband.

S3: I hosted an alumni lunch at Google where we both work, and he came and I said, I am trying to learn the coding language. Ah. And he said, I just dropped out of a PhD program where I wrote, Ah, every day I’ll tutor you. And then for a year he tutored me, but I wasn’t interested. And I was chasing this guy I met at Burning Man who was very not interested in me. And I actually went to a dating coach myself and she was like, how do you want the person you’re with to make you feel? And I said, Desired, competent, attractive, appreciated. And this Burning Man guy was not giving me any of that. But this guy at work was

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S1: over time, their friendship got closer and morphed into this great relationship. And then he was diagnosed with bone cancer. They got married just a few days before doctors amputated his leg right below the knee. And he started a round of really, really strong chemotherapy.

S3: And it was just so isolating during the pandemic. And I felt so alone and he couldn’t really have visitors in the hospital. I was just really challenging. And this opportunity came our way to move into this 14 person commune in Oakland that are very close friends had started. And we ended up moving in there and it felt like the lights turning on. After a long time being in the dark,

S1: the commune provided what Logan calls other significant others.

S3: And these are people in our life who fulfill discrete roles that we need, that our partners either cannot or are not interested in fulfilling. And so I have somebody in the house who I talk to about corporate politics because Scott’s not interested in that. I have a friend who I do daily exercise with the more friends and community members that a couple has to reach out to to fill these OZO roles. The happier the couple is, the more successful they are in their relationship, even the more sex that they have, because they’re really not putting all of the pressure on one person to wear all these different hats. And it lets the relationship sort of breathe and play the role that it’s most comfortable playing.

S1: So how can Sarah meet the people who would play these other significant others in her life?

S3: There’s this expression. Your vibe attracts your tribe. And I do think that there is a tribe waiting for you. You just have to figure out where they hang out and you actually have to approach them and begin to build this new community that you’re really craving. And so you put on your makeup because that makes you feel good. And you buy tickets and you go to this event and you say, I’m not going to leave this event until I have one person’s phone number and not a romantic partner, but somebody who I can go to the next event with.

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S1: What do you think about that, Sarah?

S2: I think what really makes it have OK for me is this idea of not leaving until I get someone’s phone number, because going to the event has never been a problem. But actually starting a conversation with someone has.

S1: OK, so here’s the rule for rebuilding your life. After a breakup, focus on finding friends and making friends is like dating. You’re only going to get better at it if you actually put yourself out there.

S2: I think a big issue that I have is I have like a really high friend expectations, like they have to be fun and they have to be smart and they have to have free time and you know what I mean? And so when it comes to making a new friend, in my mind, I was already kind of like, well, what’s the likelihood? Like, I could meet a neighbor, but they’re probably going to be mildly annoying or, you know, I mean, how do I how do I lower my expectations and yet still feel so fulfilled and not be like a nut job about it?

S3: Trust me, this is something that I’ve struggled with a lot. I maybe I have a friend who’s my yoga buddy and she’s really great to do yoga with. But actually when I ask her for advice, she just centers herself and I don’t really feel hurt. And so she’s going to be my yoga friend and I have this other friend that I can have deep conversations with, but she’s actually not that reliable. So I’m never going to make a plan with her that involves going to an activity at a specific time. And I think if you can just be more realistic about the fact that nobody’s perfect, including you, and that you can have friends that fulfill different roles in your life, I think you’ll take the pressure off themselves and take the pressure off of you to find this perfect friend.

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S2: Awesome. Yes, great advice.

S3: And one other thing, Sarah, that I’ll add is to make a friend, you have to be a friend. And so how can you show up for these people? How can you add value to their lives? How can you be selfless? How can you be generous and kind? And so it’s the same advice I’d give to somebody in dating, which is in order to choose the right person, you also have to be somebody worth choosing. And so what are all the ways that you can really be the friend you want to have?

S2: Yeah, and I think I think that’s like when you had said your vibe attracts your tribe, that I think that really landed for me in terms of like I’m the one that can be playful for others and I’m the one that can uplift others. And I’m the one that can, you know, make someone laugh when they’re not feeling great, like which is something I’ve always sought out. But I can be that person, too.

S1: This leads to our last step for building a life after a breakup. Get to know yourself, figure out what you really need and what you can give to other people and ask yourself, are you getting in your own way when it comes to friends or to dating? Logan actually has a framework to help you figure out if you’re undermining yourself,

S3: the framework is called the three dating tendencies, and each one suffers from unrealistic expectations and the romanticism has unrealistic expectations of relationships. They think that when you find the right person, it’s going to be effortless. And so the issue with the romanticism is that when they do find someone and it hits that inevitable rough patch, they think, well, must not be my person or else it would be so easy. And then the maximizer has unrealistic expectations of their partner. And this is the person who always wonders, how could I find someone better? And then the third type is the hesitate. And this is the person who has unrealistic expectations of themselves. And so they don’t even put themselves out there because they think, oh, I’m not lovable yet. I’m not ready to date. I’ll be ready to date when I lose 10 pounds when I have a more impressive job. And so for the hesitation is really about how can they overcome some of this fear and how can they actually get out there and start dating again?

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S1: Do any of those sound like you, sir?

S2: Yeah, I think a combination probably of the of the maximizer and the haves and the and the Hostetter. Was that the last one?

S3: Yeah. On this call, it definitely sounded like you had a lot of the hesitation qualities.

S1: So looking how do we use that knowledge to help ourselves?

S3: Yeah, so for the hesitates, it’s really don’t wait date, you know, we could do the same process that we did around the breakup where you say, I want to start dating within three weeks, here’s my accountability partner, and then do what you need to do to get those dates. And it might be downloading the apps. It might be going to an event. It might be asking friends for an introduction, but really understanding that the sooner you can get out there, the sooner you’ll start learning what kind of person you want to be with and the sooner you’ll get better at the skill of dating.

S2: Yeah. Oh, my gosh. It just takes so much time today. Yeah, that sounds insane, but I’ll get out there.

S3: I think the answer here is to date, like a scientist and really experiment, one thing that’s an advantage about not being focused on having kids is you don’t really have this fertility deadline and you you do have some time. And I think if you focus on experimentation versus I’m 36 and I should already know this, then you’ll really allow yourself to be surprised.

S2: OK, I think that’s great advice. Yeah.

S1: Thank you. So, Sarah, you had reached out to us because you you weren’t certain how to end this this friend with benefits relationship. Do you feel like we’ve we’ve helped you solve that problem?

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S2: Definitely. I feel like through the conversation, I’ve discovered that the issue with ending things with Matthew is probably 10 percent of of what I was struggling with. And what I was really struggling with was the fear of the empty void left in his wake. And and now it’s kind of I love missions and challenges. So now it’s kind of, you know, like you are via the tracks. Your tribe try to get a phone number. I think I just need, like maybe a margarita and a lot more bravery. That’s kind of going to be my M.O. for a while.

S1: Thank you so much to Sarah for sharing your story with us, and thank you to Logan Loganberry for her fantastic advice. You should definitely check out her book, How to Not Die Alone. And a quick update from Sarah.

S2: Hi, this is Sarah giving you my update. So I did follow through on the weekend as we had discussed and talked it through with my dance partner. I was really surprised, actually, by how effortless it was for me to do. And I think really it’s because the time we took on that call was the foundation that I needed the prep work to understand. It really wasn’t about what I was losing with him, but rather that I had a whole new world to explore. So I’m just really grateful for your advice and for your time. Thank you so much.

S1: And Sarah, I’m so glad we could help. And if you like this episode, you should definitely check out another one titled How to Fall Out of Love, which is about a woman who is head over heels for her best friend, who is not at all interested in a romantic relationship with her. So she learns how to trick her brain into moving on. And if you’d like to support her, too, I hope you’ll consider signing up for Slate. Plus, it’s only one dollar for the first month and you’ll get zero ads on all Slate podcasts, including this one to sign up. Go to Slate dotcom slash. How to plus. How does executive producer is Terracom, Rachel Allen and Rosemarie Bellson produce the show? Our theme music is by Hanesbrands and remixed by Marc Jacob, our technical director. David Epstein, who will be here next week, is right now probably hanging out with his other significant podcasts. Just kidding. We’re totally exclusive. I’m Charles Duhigg. Thanks for listening.