Hello world. My name's Stephen LaConte, and this is Hey Stephen — a cozy little corner of BuzzFeed where readers like you can DM me for advice.
Today, we've got this woman, who was preparing to break up with her boyfriend...and then his best friend died unexpectedly. Can she still dump him? Here's what she wrote to me, via Instagram:
Your boyfriend has experienced a tragic loss, and you owe him respect, compassion, and support as he processes his grief. But one thing you do not owe him is a lifelong romantic relationship.
You say that this relationship is not right for you, that you're unhappy most of the time, and that you believe any future with this man would be a bleak one. Those are all valid reasons to leave. Meanwhile, your only reason to stay would be to avoid causing your boyfriend more pain in a difficult time. While that's an important thing to consider, I think it can only inform how and when you break up with him, not if you should.
So, let's talk about the how and the when here. Based on everything you've described, I think it makes sense to give your boyfriend a bit of time to process this unexpected loss before broaching the topic of a split. A few more weeks or months would be a relatively short period of time in the grand scheme of your years-long relationship, and would go a long way in helping you end things as gracefully as possible with a partner who has stood by your side in your own dark times.
(This advice, by the way, assumes that delaying the breakup for a short period would not cause you harm. Your DM describes a general feeling that your relationship has run its course, and while that feeling needs to be addressed, it does not necessarily need to happen urgently, especially in the wake of a tragedy. If, however, there are more serious problems in the relationship, like mental or physical abuse, please ignore this advice and get out now.)
But let's assume, based on your DM, that hanging on a bit longer would be a safe and relatively comfortable option for you. If so, I think that's a solid path to take. Use that time to prepare yourself for the changes ahead, and to help your partner through his grief however you can. Be wary of becoming his only support in that time, though — this will be a delicate balancing act of being there for him, while also gently guiding him to the family and friends who can be beside him for the long haul. Help him build a support system of which you are one part, but not the whole. That support system should ideally include a therapist, too.
Ultimately, the exact timeline for when to break up can only be determined by you. The ideal would be to give your boyfriend an opportunity to process this loss, and to let some of the initial shock subside, before moving forward with the breakup. But you cannot and should not have to wait until he's "done" grieving, whatever that would even look like. Grief is a lifelong journey, and life must go on, even while we navigate it.
All of this is to say: You do not need to stay in this relationship for as long as your boyfriend is struggling with the loss of his friend. And frankly, if this relationship has soured for you, it's quite possible it's soured for him, too. Maybe getting out of it will be a step forward in his healing, not backward. I certainly hope so. You both deserve a happy, healthy relationship, and it sounds like neither of you will have that so long as you are with each other.
So when it feels right and reasonable to break up, break up. Do it with as much empathy, tact, and care as you possibly can, of course, but do it. Your partner's happiness and wellbeing matter — but yours matter, too. Good luck. I'm rooting for both of you.
That's all the advice I'm giving today, folks, but if you've got any words of wisdom for our DMer, share them in the comments. I'll be reading...
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Check out the full archive of advice columns at Hey Stephen.
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