My girlfriend of nine years and I broke up—over shorts. Two years later, I am still really sad about it. I wanted some athletic shorts, but she said the ones I wanted were too expensive and worthless because they lacked pockets. I didn’t care; I liked the way they fit.
Later, she saw some cheaper shorts with pockets at Old Navy and told me about them. I bought the shorts I liked. She was furious, and we had a huge argument. She bought me the Old Navy shorts. I kept both pairs, and that pissed her off more.
A few weeks later, she drove up to Sacramento from the Bay Area (where she lived). I was happy to see her. We went to Home Depot to take care of an errand. I was wearing the shorts I’d bought. I asked her to put my wallet and car keys in her purse because I had no pockets. She refused and started yelling at me. Then she got in her car and drove back to the Bay Area. We haven’t talked since.
There is nothing to talk about until one of you is willing to be wrong. Practice that skill with me right now by admitting that athletic shorts did not initiate your breakup. You and your ex-girlfriend were locked in a power struggle that probably began in the first six months of dating but that you both ignored. Living in different cities contributed to your ability to stay in denial about your incompatibility.
Here’s the real reason behind your breakup: Your girlfriend did not trust your decision-making skills and was not truthful about her fears. Instead of talking to you, she opted to try to control your choices so you would spend money according to her wishes. Disagreements about how to handle finances are a valid concern if you are considering marriage or if you are living together. If you are dating (even for nine years), not combining incomes and not planning to do so, the difference in your spending practices is a red flag.
The experience, which had to be one of hundreds, should have alerted you and your ex-girlfriend to the reality that you are not the best partners for each other. Instead of admitting this, your girlfriend parented you by making decisions for you without your consent. Her controlling behavior, and your dramatic response to it, exposed the truth that your relationship was unhealthy. Rather than discuss the underlying power and control issues like mature adults, you argued about the surface issue: shorts. When deeper problems are not confronted directly, the relationship dies. Be glad that it did.
What is the difference between codependency and love? How can I know when I’ve crossed from one to another?
In his book How to be an Adult: A Handbook for Psychological and Spiritual Integration, psychologist David Richo writes, “I know that I have lost my boundaries and become co-dependent when I don’t let go of what doesn’t work and it feels like I can’t let go of what could work.” He adds, “Codependency is unconditional love for someone else that has turned against oneself.”
Contrast that with this idea from Byron Katie’s book I Need Your Love—Is that True? How to Stop Seeking Love, Approval and Affection and Start Finding Them Instead: Love is what we are when we are not seeking love, approval, acceptance and appreciation. I would add that the world contains far more codependency than love, sweet love. That’s because clarity about the difference between the two requires a level of self-awareness that few people are willing to work toward.