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“A dating couple should break up when additional costs of dating are greater than the additional benefits of dating.” – My Economics Textbook (Micro-Economics For Life: Smart Choices for You)

I came across this line when doing my economics homework just now and I found it quite amusing and rather simplified. I do admit that it’s a fair general rule: you break up when the negatives outweigh the positives. But which important costs/benefits should be considered? What are the triggers? Is that really all it comes down to?

  1. You do not feel that your partner is helping you grow and learn. You see no more potential in the relationship. You either feel like they’re holding you back, or they’re leading you in a negative direction. There is nothing worse than a stagnant relationship. This pertains to intellectual growth (knowledge, information, etc.) as well as character development (emotions, abilities, etc.). (I.e. If they discourage you from pursuing what you want.)
    However, for example, if you feel that you would rather spend more time with them than take an extra dance class, then you are personally recognizing that the benefit of their company outweighs the benefit of dance. And that is fine.
  2. Conversations become difficult and feel obligatory. This does not mean that every moment must be filled with conversation; it’s very important to be comfortable with silence. Likewise, conversations may be less frequent when schedules are more packed, and that’s okay. It is only when there is no desire to talk to each other, despite having time (when the marginal cost of time and effort outweigh the marginal benefits of conversation).
  3. Distance becomes easier. You’re supposed to want to be with your partner when possible. This does not mean that you should want to be with them in every class/at work or when you’re spending time with family and friends; it does not mean you should not do things alone, for yourself. But in the idle moments (i.e. at night, before sleep), there should be that feeling of “I wish you were here”. It’s when mental/emotional distance appears (i.e. you don’t feel comfortable confiding in each other) that there’s a problem.
  4. When spending time together, you wish to be somewhere else/with someone else. When time together loses priority and loses pleasure, you give up (time, effort) more than you get (happiness, comfort). Costs are greater than benefits.
  5. No sex drive. No longing to be with them.
  6. The thought of no longer seeing them does not make you incredibly upset.
  7. You are more in love with the memories and the idea of a relationship rather than the person in front of you. This can be tricky to decipher but a useful question to ask yourself is “will I miss their imperfections?” or “will I miss the little odd quirks that set our relationship apart, even the traits that are sometimes annoying?” It’s easy to miss having someone be there as a comfort blanket, but it’s different when you miss the faults.
  8. More than half of these aforementioned symptoms continue over an extended period. There will be slow stages in the relationship when both are bored and/or grumpy. The definition of “extended period” will vary according to every couple; a long term relationship might consider it worth working through a month or two of difficult times, whereas a short term relationship might only give it a couple weeks.
  9. After the break up (or a break), the dominant feeling is relief. Obviously, it’s going to hurt no matter what side of the split you’re on. It’s going to hurt to let go of something that once meant so much. But if you made the right decision, you will know. There may be intense sadness, but there should not be regret.

So while I do mainly agree with my economics textbook, it’s definitely not an automatic or easy rule when making a decision because:

  • If you’ve truly loved someone and simply feel that it’s no longer the best timing or fit, you will always love them regardless. There’s no clear cut way to know when to let go of something special when it will always feel special no matter what.
  • Relationships fluctuate. There will be times when you have to give more than you get (i.e. if your partner is sick or injured, it’s fair to put in more time and effort, provided they do the same for you when roles are reversed). There will be weeks when you are so overwhelmed by outside factors that all the above symptoms feel prevalent. There will be times when costs do feel like they outweigh benefits, but as long as they generally don’t or if you can see a future when they don’t, then it’s still worth trying.