When it comes to affairs of the heart, we are all beginners. Some of us, however, at least speak with authority. Introducing Shon Faye, author of The Transgender Issue (2021) and the forthcoming Love in Exile (2025), whose advice caught our eye. Contact her at [email protected] for your own chance at enlightenment.
I recently broke up with my girlfriend of 8 months because I realized that, even though I cared for her, I did not love her. This was my first serious relationship in a while, and while I love my friends and family deeply, I have not loved anyone romantically for many years.
Should I be worried? How long does it take you to fall in love with someone? Do you think it’s possible to be sure you even do love them?
I think there are several things going on in your letter which need to be disentangled. The first is the immediate context: that you recently ended a specific relationship with a specific person because you didn’t love her and so felt that continuing the relationship would be unfair to her. I think it’s important to stress here that, to me, this decision displays an admirable degree of integrity on your part and your conduct reflects the care for this woman you say you felt during your time with her. Many guys in your position might have strung her along for longer, idly hoping for a change in their feelings, or kept her around for the comfort and validation of having a girlfriend at all, or persisted with a relationship in order live up to the expectations of friends, family, and society, which can all pressure single people into relationships they may not otherwise choose. For what it’s worth, I think eight months is enough time to know if you’re attaching so deeply to someone that they become a center of gravity in your emotional life. This is sometimes called the “infatuation stage” where the rushy, heady feelings of love are at their most intense—if you didn’t feel them already they weren’t going to magically appear later down the line.
This leads me to my next point, which some readers may find disturbing, but which I want you to keep firmly at the front of your mind from now on: plenty of the people in relationships you see all around you are not actually in love with one another. For real. I promise I’m not just being bitter. That all relationships, merely by their existence, are evidence of romantic love is just a story we tell ourselves and it’s one which produces feelings of shame and exclusion in single people and those who are in loveless relationships alike. It’s as much of a lie as the idea that romantic love is by itself enough to beget a healthy relationship. People are together for a whole host of reasons. Some people are together merely out of habit or out of fear of being alone or because of a commitment to a shared life of house and kids. The love might have departed long ago. These things—love and relationships—are of course connected, but they’re not bound together.