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How Do You Know When It’s Time to Break Up?

Category: Fashion & Style,Lifestyle

My boyfriend is a clumsy, lovable brute who once hiked from Mexico to Canada and breaks more things than he fixes. He fixes a lot. He’s smart but socially awkward, able to name obscure bones in the human body but unable to keep his foot out of his mouth — a grown man with perpetually scraped knees. I have no idea how he manages to injure himself so regularly. Maybe his skin is fragile.

I had known him casually for a few years when I called one day to ask for help with an apparent rodent infestation; I had something living in my walls. It was a long shot, summoning an acquaintance for such a favor, but I felt overwhelmed and he seemed like the kind of guy who could handle it.

Twenty minutes later he appeared at my door in painting overalls and rain boots, carrying traps, gloves, a bucket and some jangly homemade contraption that kept undulating out of his backpack even as he stood still. A bead of sweat dropped from his disheveled hair into the crevice of an earnest grin. He reminded me of a Ghostbuster.

I did not expect him to spend the night, but I was in the throes of third week pneumonia, and as my weary head nestled into the couch, I heard the rodent in the wall directly behind me, chewing. As the warmth drained from my body, I muscled open my eyes, scanning the room for my knight in shining armor.

And there he was, balancing precariously on a chair like a circus elephant, using a fork to pry open a light fixture in the ceiling. He had my favorite hair brush in his hand, about to angle it into some unspeakable hole for non-grooming purposes. His methods were horrifying, but I was grateful for the help and the company. I didn’t ask him to leave.

The trap in the ceiling went off several times during the night, like a pistol fired in an empty chapel, the unholy racket magnified by the oddly magnificent acoustics. Each time, as I lurched forward out of my cough medicine stupor, I felt a warm, comforting hand on my arm.

“Don’t worry,” he would say. “Go back to sleep. I’ll take care of it.”

Later, I would learn that taking care of it required just one utensil, the fork, which he would use to remove the dead mouse and then dip back into my organic peanut butter to apply more bait. Kitchen hygiene would become a regular topic of discussion in the months ahead.

When he cooks on my stove, he chucks aside the burners and chars directly on the gas, to obsidian and beyond, saying it reminds him of camping. One day, I heard what sounded like a murder and found him on the kitchen floor, ripping the handles off a perfectly good pot to “make it smaller.” When I mused about possibly getting rid of a chair, he grabbed it, bent it over his knee and snapped it in half.

My genie suffers from a frustrating condition known as premature wish-granting. That, and a proclivity for collateral damage.

He shredded my broom trying to fish something out from under the refrigerator, put a hole in the wall going after a spider, mangled multiple appliances and hung ridiculously crooked curtain rods, twice. He’s a problem solver, not a perfectionist. My Ikea furniture projects made him livid. He would curse and flail and break at least one vital piece in a fit of rage, but he always managed to improvise and finish the job.

My darling is an open book, a straight shooter. He tried lying a few times about little things and gave himself away with an adorable cheeky-toothed grin, as if it was his first day of kindergarten. I never have to question his love, even in the worst of times.

He’s a prolific chef. Not everything tastes good, but he’s constantly placing giant, steaming bowls of food before me with all the charm and ambiguity of macaroni art. (“What did you make, honey? A smoky porridge? Oh, lasagna. Right. Yes. Of course.”)

They are gifts at the feet of the deity, treating me as if I am his goddess. In the beginning, we played our roles with a bit of tongue in cheek, but at some point the sheer make-believe wore thin, leaving just earnest adoration.

And I adore him. If I’m having a bad day I can just touch his warm skin and feel better. It’s some kind of heavenly temperature. He lets me rake his hair like a Zen garden, ad infinitum. With me, he’s infinitely patient.

He always has time for the scenic route. He took me to the forest to watch shooting stars, the desert to see the super bloom. We bicycled down thrilling back roads in the dead of night and walked the beach in the rain. He would lip sync through long country songs, two inches from my face, so he could cry through his favorite parts while holding my hand. Never mind that I was in the middle of brushing my teeth. The more I foamed at the mouth, the more he wanted to kiss it.

His solutions are simple but brilliant. If I am cranky at the end of a long day, he picks me up, plops me into bed, tucks me in and switches off the lights. Problem solved.

Still, other problems have lingered. There’s a fine line between opposites attract and intractable differences. We have a love story, but love isn’t enough for me, and I do feel uneasy admitting that.

When I was younger, I believed the holy grail of romance was the birth of love. But now I have seen that love is the easy part; love will come again and again, as many times as you allow it. And then what? What about all the other details?

We disagree on how to treat people, where to spend money, what it means to explore the world. I’m a low-key creature who burns sage and collects Craigslist art. He’s an eye-for-an-eye vigilante who keeps a gun. His logical mind is razor-keen; mine is more inclined to imagery and approximation. I think he would be an excellent father, but I can’t imagine us having children together. On the verge of 37, I do think about it.

I broke up with him on Labor Day, right before the full moon. I had woken up crying and realized after a few hours that I wouldn’t be able to stop until I let him go. When my gut takes over, I can turn into a beast. I knew I had to do this but didn’t know how.

How do you break up with someone you like being around but don’t see a future with? I should add that, along with our other differences, he’s much older than I am. We don’t make sense, or at least I can’t make sense of us.

At a loss for how to break up with him, I sought out instructions on wikiHow. I skimmed a few articles and caught the main points. Go to a private place in case he falls apart. Be honest and direct. Keep it brief. One woman says she bakes cookies for her soon-to-be-exes, the Betty Crocker kiss of death. I brought him sweet cherries and his contact lens solution.

I did not tell him why I was coming to his house, but I think he knew. He had figured out early on that he couldn’t read my mind so he learned to read my heart instead. He set up two chairs facing each other and did this perfectly sweet thing where he holds my legs and gazes into my eyes. He listened for a long time before he broke.

His first tear dropped like a pin. “Let’s go to Vegas and get married tonight,” he said. “I’ll drive all night and have you back by morning.”

I said: “Don’t hijack this conversation with a marriage proposal.”

His leaden forearms were leaning into my car window when I backed out of his driveway. As I pushed them away, I felt the sublime warmth of his fragile skin seeping into my body.

He must have sensed my uncertainty, because a few weeks later he showed up to plead his case. I told myself I would only allow him to stay for an hour, but we ended up in each other’s arms and I lost track of time. I still haven’t asked him to leave.

Sometimes I wonder if relationships are like math problems: You add the pros, subtract the cons, run the numbers and round up to the nearest husband. I have never been good at math, but I keep puzzling over this equation, trying to reconcile whether love for us is greater than, or less than, doubt.


Nasreen Yazdani is a comedy writer based in San Diego.

Modern Love can be reached at modernlove@nytimes.com.

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