The Unofficial Ex-Boyfriend: Is It Still Considered A Breakup When You’re Not Technically Dating?

September 11, 2012 ‐ By Alissa Henry
"Black woman sad"

Source: Shutterstock

I was single — or “between boyfriends” — for about three years before getting into another serious relationship.

In those years, I went through the hardest breakup of my life. I call it breakup even though he and I were not officially dating. No, I was not his girlfriend on Facebook and he never once called me that in real life.

I knew he wasn’t looking for a relationship when we first started hanging out; but at that time I still thought life was one extended romantic comedy and therefore every emotionally unavailable man was just waiting for a woman like me to come along and change his views on love forever.

I liked him so much and we seemed to have a great time together, so the fact that he was not officially my boyfriend barely fazed me. I wanted to be his girlfriend, but I reasoned that adults never called each other boyfriend and girlfriend anyway. Plus I figured the sky is blue whether you admit it or not and, similarly, the lack of a title did not diminish what we had.

In my mind, we had the potential to have a great relationship and so I believed it was only a matter of time before he revised his unfortunate views on monogamy and we’d live happily ever after. Of course, he’d have to stop being the occasional heartless jerk who kept his phone on silent and disappeared on me at random intervals, but men change.

Except when they don’t.

After a while I got fed up with the rollercoaster of emotions and the undefined place I had in his life. I realized the only constant with him was his refusal to be constant with me. I had assumed we were “talking” (whatever that means) but ironically the conversation never changed to him wanting to be my boyfriend. You see he wasn’t one of those guys who balked at the title, but still treated me like his girlfriend. For him, the lack of a title was license to beatbox on my heart.

So the last time he disappeared on me, I finally let him vanish. A larger part of me than I care to admit hoped he would reappear, begging for forgiveness, and confessing that he realized I was the love of his life. (Do I even need to say that never happened?) While wishing the phone would ring or that he’d show up at my front door, I forced myself to refrain from reaching out to him. As time went on, I was proud that I’d let my head rule my heart for once, but I was also utterly devastated that it was over. He’d never even given me a chance to be his girlfriend and I resented him for that.

I was disappointed that there was no real ending. There was no blowout breakup fight. No closure. There was no sending him to voicemail or ignoring his texts. His family wasn’t vouching for me and telling him to make things right (because I’d never met them). His friends weren’t asking where I was or encouraging him to not let me go. I didn’t even have the satisfaction of changing my Facebook relationship status back to “Single” and being flooded with “you’re better off” comments. Everyone can sympathize with the girl going through a split with her boyfriend, but what about the girl who simply finally got a clue? My heart was breaking over a relationship that — as far as the rest of the world was concerned — never even happened.

During that time, I used to repeat the words of Ashleigh Brilliant: “I feel much better now that I’ve given up hope.” But I didn’t feel better. I felt terrible. I felt worse than I’d ever felt when he’d hurt my feelings during our “relationship”. He’d taken me on the most nauseating ride of my life and, though I knew I needed to be done, that abrupt ending was brutal.

Then I felt silly for being so sad. How do you weep over someone you were never with? How can you miss someone who was never really there? How you can be heartsick over a breakup with someone you were never actually dating?

Looking back, I know exactly how. It was the almost of it all that was so hard to accept. The dream deferred. The being so close. I realized that for our entire pseudo-relationship, I was trapped in a weird limbo between the fantasy that kept me going and the reality that made me crazy.

In actuality, I was probably grieving the loss of what could have been and not necessarily what was. When I consider what actually went down, I should have been happy to see him go. But, I’d created this whole idea in my mind of what could be and was reluctant to let that go.

I wasn’t firmly rooted in reality at any point and that’s how I allowed him to mean so much more to me than his actions deserved. When I was finally able to make peace with the fact that my fantasy with him was never going to come true whether he was in my life or not, I vowed I would never be caught in that limbo with another man again. No more pretending I was cool with an undefined relationship. No more creating scenarios in my mind to bridge gaps in reality. No more mentally creating a future with someone who is barely invested in our present. Breakups are hard whether you’re official or not. But when I was finally done with the guy I wasn’t dating, I opened my life up for a real relationship with a man I could date — officially.

Have you ever been in a serious-to-you but unofficial dating relationship? Have you ever gone through a hard breakup with a guy you weren’t even dating?

Follow Alissa on Twitter @AlissaInPink or check out her blog This Cannot Be My Life 

Photo courtesy of Shutterstock

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  • StoneWheelz

    I know I am answering to an article from 2012.

    Very well written..!! Thank you.

    – A boy who took it in stride and grew up to be a man

  • Lynda

    I had a huge bust up with my partner and he left me, i was so frustrated and i email Dr. Stanley and he said he could help, I must admit, I was very, very skeptical as didn’t really believe he would be back after all he said, but it was just a few days when he phoned and asked to come over to talk, we talked and talked and the silly misunderstanding was all forgiven and we are back together now for good, all thanks to, I would highly recommend his services, they do really, really work. Lynda.

  • Feeling Foolish & Played

    Thank You! Currently going thru the same type of break up and im a lil upset with myself for being so hurt. esp since i know we didnt actually have a future. I wonder if i would feel the same had i walked away b4 he.

  • Anonymous

    This article cannot describe me anymore… Even though deep down I knew he was just f***ing with my heart I let him be and lived in denial, never wanting to confront the situation, too scared to hear what I didn’t want to hear. Finally, I had the courage to block him out of my life. Now he says he regrets leading me on, for doing what he did to me…. Well he can go f**k himself because I’m waiting for karma to bite him. It’s funny how some guys live in a delusional world thinking just because a girl is into him makes her not good enough for him. If he thinks he will get a supermodel he better start looking at himself in the mirror

  • kelsey

    This is exactly how I feel right now. I don’t even know what to do. Part of me wants to ask him what we are and part of me wants to just say i want space. Although I need space to get over him, I can’t seem to stop talking to him.

  • ZaZa

    Girl, girl, GIRL! You literally just spoke my life with every word in this article.
    I too, have vowed the same… No more will I hold on to the “amazing chemistry” we had.. because in the end… chemistry doesn’t mean a thing if they are not ready or do not want the same things as you do…

    Well written!

  • Aura

    This is me… for 2 years… it was torture. I still think about who I really am and why I let it go on for so long. I mean, there has to be something wrong with me right? In the end, I realize I just want love, happiness etc. and at the time I was willing to overlook all kinds of short comings and make all sorts of excuses to hold on to the closet thing I had to a relationship. Biggest waste of my time and I’ve made the vow to and just today had to be sure I kept that promise to myself. I almost accepted an offer from a guy I started dating to be “friends”, that’s what prompted me to search for articles and inspire me to remain strong and do whats right for me!

  • Gianna

    I let this happen to me for a full year and a half before I woke up and saw what was really going on. After a year and a half of him flip-flopping from wanting to make things work one day to being completely apathetic towards me the next, I finally realized I deserved someone who was more enthusiastic about being with me, and less on the fence. After a year and a half, I expected more closure than a breakup through an email, but who says we’re ever guaranteed closure?

  • Makayla

    There was this buy we couldn’t go a day without talking. one day it stopped I was heartbroken I wanted to cry every time I saw him. I tried talking to him but he ignoreed me. I see him every day and it hurts so bad.

  • Pityme89

    Well I have been
    in the same situation this past year…it was hard for me to accept that he didn’t
    want a relationship even though he clearly stated it before…he treated me
    like his girl, we went out on dates, and spend the night together, talked for
    endless hours….confide in each other…it was like he was my best friend and
    lover…we barely ever argued…and he did meet my family…although we were
    close…I was romantically involved with him. Now after he told me he loved me
    but isn’t in love with me…it kicked in finally! So, I’m the process of not
    communicating with him as much. It is really hard considering how close we are.
    Good thing is I relocated to another city, so it quite easier to deal with it. Sad
    part is nothing I did changed his mind about making us official. He still tries
    to text me and i have to keep reminding him that I’m moving on and he is not
    making the process any easier by texting me. It truly sucks…but hopefully
    I’ll get over it soon…best advice to anyone going through this …keep busy. Talk
    to other guys but don’t jump into another relationship right after the process,
    spend time with your girls, and meet new people. I plan on having fun and
    working on improving me. Never again will I subject myself to that type of
    thing…it was not worth it in the long run.

  • Enn

    Thank you for this article. It really hit home for me. Unfortunately, in my case, my search for closure put me in a situation I now regret. However, perhaps this situation was really what I needed to truly see this man for who he was.

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  • pintsizediva

    Omg…this story is the closure I needed. I have been with a guy for the last 7 months and he always pulls disappearing acts, at the current moment I havent seen him in 3weeks. Im just glad to know someone feels what Im going through.

  • Nia

    Story of my life. HONESTLY!
    Thank you for this article. I needed this.

  • Gabi

    Sheesh! it seems i’m not the only one. I’m currently in a pseudo-relationship with a guy who I thought (and honestly, continue to think) is worth it. Things with us started out he was doing him and I was doing me then, of course, I caught feelings while he was still in the phase of “I don’t want to be in a relationship.”

    As all us women do, I waited and waited and continue to wait for that to change. In every aspect we are in fact in a relationship! (Speak all the time, know each others friends and family, including parents, make plans for the future, speak of our future children and wedding albeit in a joking manner) There’s just no title. We’ve even recently become monogamous and agreed to be exclusive. Yet and still, there’s no official title or proclamation of real commitment.

    It would seem as though I got what I wanted but I feel like to him there’s still a difference between a relationship and what we’re doing. At this point, I’m wondering if I should stick around or if I’m still clinging to a dream from which I need to be awakened? Thoughts?

    • Sarah

      I know you all posted this a year ago, but I felt I had something to add. This article made me feel so much better and stop crying because my unofficial ex boyfriend just ended things with me, saying he has interest in another girl he wants to date. We were in an official relationship together for 5 months, then we broke up for 3 months and one night as we were hanging out as friends, he kissed me and things took off from there but he said he wasn’t sure what he wanted. I still loved him, so I suggested we try being unofficial (as we are both Psychology majors and going on to do our Masters soon and will undoubtedly have to move to find work and be separated and therefore, it is difficult for either one of us to commit), but I realize now it was a desperate attempt to be with him. We’re best friends and agreed that we wouldn’t let being unofficial come between our great friendship but we obviously knew some romantic feelings were still there. Last night he told me about this other girl, and asked me what is going to happen when we find someone else we want to commit to. I didn’t know what to say because this whole time I was fooled into thinking the only reason he wasn’t committing fully to me was because of where we were in constructing our lives. It’s clear now that although he loves me (and we had sex), he wasn’t in love with me and he is perfectly able to devote himself with a title if it’s with the right girl. I’m still hurting over this, but we’re going to keep our friendship strong (as we promised each other) and I can breathe easier knowing that we tried, it didn’t work, and now I know what to look for in the next guy—sincerity and commitment.

      To answer your question, it is going to be unbearable to rip yourself away from him when your feelings of love run deep, but no guy will commit and go beyond what is expected of him if he doesn’t have to, so maybe you should think about moving on, or making him chase you. The fact is he’s not putting you first as a priority in his life. What happens if you end up getting pregnant and he runs? He may say he’s prepared for all those things, but any guy seriously committed will make a point of placing a title on it. Best of luck to you xo

  • Nimmy

    Thank you for this, you literally just spoke to a situation that I am still “healing” from. I vow to never allow myself to get into something so unclear again! Everyday I am getting better.

  • Semi

    Been there .. Done that .. Bought the T-Shirt.. But experience is the best teacher and as hard as it was to finally let go.. I did!!

  • JRock

    Wow I was so there even have the t-shirt with skid marks on my heart lol! Thanks I needed to hear my crazed dilemma.

  • cmr23464

    This website is like the open book of alot of things I felt you could only find discussing with friends, but interestingly enough to find that someone has written and others have admitted is refreshing. Refreshing to the idea that women are too dumb to realize that they are being “played”.
    Many of the comments spoke of telephone calls, dates, and I think many people often think of the role Lela Rochon played in Waiting To Exhale. But for me, it was meeting someone in a brand new city (Atlanta) and actually just being friends and lovers. Then it led to seeing him everyday at my place, studying at my place, sharing personal information, meeting members of his family and coming from someone that wasn’t even trying to buy me or just disappearing.
    I was sold on the facts of “I’m trying to finish school”, “I help my single mom”. It led me to believe I found a hardworking, 20-something-year-old, respectable black man with no kids. After close to a year of this, I shared that I’d like to move forward in a relationship and he shared that he was moving in with someone in NC.
    I let it go, it wasn’t the hardest “breakup” ever. But males in my life questioned “How did you not know?” and “How come he didn’t want to commit?” and “Why can’t you just be friends?”. I found this puzzling because my question was “How did he find time to see anyone else?” and “How could this be my fault?”.
    I’m sure there were “signs” when I look back on it, but when a man is conniving to a woman, it’s not so easy to see that a scheme is being served. The only real support I received was from my closest male friend that said “Just because he was screwing around on you, doesn’t mean that he didn’t care about you.” And by support I mean not labeling me foolish for wanting a relationship or for not putting up with it.

  • Tata

    Wow! it was as if this was my life she was writing about.. I made a complete break changed my number blocked him on FB I was determined to break his hold on me!

  • Sodapop

    I just recently ended my pseudo relationship (as in on Sunday we ended it) and while the ending was not similiar to yours, there WAS a big blowout – I still feel as if there is no closure. I am emotionally shattered. Your article gives me hope that I too can break free of this and open myself up to someone who I can “officially” date. Thank you for sharing your story and thank you for helping me see a light at the end of my self induced tunnel.

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  • MW

    i have definitely have gone through this before. Sadly though i haven’t yet been able to let go. I still think about that guy and just when i start to forget about him he comes right back asking to “chill”. I tell him no of course but i still cant get rid of my feelings for him. *sigh*

  • Dani

    Wow, I know exactly what that’s like, Love that I’m not the only one to go through this… Except my “not quite ex-boyfriend” went crazy when I stepped back and stopped chasing (after not having seen or heard from him in months) He told me all the things I’d been dying to hear, and when that didn’t work, he threatened me and threatened to hurt himself… I stayed strong… Then I met the man of my dreams… I’ve never looked back :)

  • girlyes

    I honestly have been so embarrassed to admit that this happened to me. I totally felt this way but felt ashamed because we were never together. It was seriously the hardest ” break up” of my life. I really appreciate this article.

    • King bey

      Honey we have ALL been here… Those serial flirts that make every woman they come
      In contact with think they are feeling them and they doing the same thing to Jane sue and Sally down the street And all of us think we in to something… Come to find out, he either married, in a serious relationship or a hoe.. Mostly the latter in our generation.

  • Smarterthanthis

    I am so glad for this article, I was about to walk into the abyss of the pseudo-relationship.

  • slp2011

    I have a friend who has been living this situation for FOUR years now. She and her partner act like a couple in every way, they even break up and make up. The problem is, he is ‘too scared’ to make it official because he has been hurt in his past. Nah, boo boo. If a man truly wants to be with you, he will acknowledge you as his girlfriend. If not, he wants to play the field and have someone to fall back on when he’s lonely. He is using you.

    Ladies, please don’t do this to yourself. If he’s taking too long to make his mind up, do it for him and LEAVE. Time waits for no one.

  • Danielle

    From one journalist to another, this was a beautifully written article!! It hits on many points, and it also subtly emphasizes the fact that feelings can be attributed to a situation regardless of title. This is where the conflict arises, when the title of the “relationship” doesn’t reflect the depth of feelings and then the actions also show it. I loved how empowering this article is but telling readers to “not mentally create a future with someone who is not invested in the present” and how sometimes “fantasy keeps us going, but reality makes us crazy”. When men keep us in limbo, they maintain the “upper hand” in the “relationship and we as women have the power to stop it…by not allowing the limbo to ever happen in the first place. But for various reasons (our feelings for the guy, desperation, fear of loneliness, etc.) we let the limbo continue and act like it’s something different than what it is.

  • clove8canela

    Absolutely. And when it was finally over I was terribly sad, heartbroken, disappointed….all that. I think it came more from the realization that we were finally over, and somewhere deep down inside that he felt I wasn’t good enough for him (because we were never “official”) when he really wasn’t good enough for me.

    Anyway, during that time I came across a quote from Erykah Badu that said “Cry. Tears bring joy.” I needed that at the time and I’m so glad I had that experience, because like you I’ll never have it again.

  • JustShe

    You just told my whole story!!! I am almost over the dream deferred. I’m at the place were I won’t curse him out when I see him,(because you know your going to run into them one day when you least expect it) but I pray that he finds what he is looking for and that he doesn’t do this to anyone else. It taught me that I have to stop falling in love with the what ifs and see if what I am presently getting is worthy of my love, compassion and want. I had to heal me, cause while we can be mad at them for their part, we must take ownership in the part that we played into our own heartache. I knew that he would hurt me, because he did it before I just thought it would be different this time. I was so wrong and I want to say I wasted 6 months of my life, but I grew from the experience. I’m wiser and now I know what not to do next time.

  • Raven

    Story of my life.

  • SYL

    Just been there… By the grace of God got out of the situation when I found out I was the other woman by the real gf after a year of being led on & holding on imagining this “distance” or “coldness” would change… Now I know why he was ‘cold’… funny how life works. I was very hurt as this was someone I cared deeply for, and knew for a long time as a friend before we became lovers or whatever our situation was… When I found he didn’t respect me enough to give me his all and had me dangling like a fool was a hard pill to swallow but once I did, it was enough to tell him “go **** himself” and move on. To all of you out there, just remember that we all deserve happiness and never allow anyone to make you feel you need to stick with something that is unsavory to make it work. Walk away, there are what 7 billion people on Earth… We may think he’s the one, but guarantee any guy treating you like this isn’t. And more than likely if he’s like this he has something else going on, which is usually the case. Walk away and allow someone better to come into your life for good. And not just someone better, you’ll see that once you walk away from this mess, your life will attract so much good into it. Trust me, even though this hurts as it happened very recently, I’m truly excited and blessed to be able to see that life will be so much better without this situation holding me down and allowing me to dig into negative energy. Let it go, just let it go. Its not worth it. <3

  • Allie

    Glad to see i’m not the only one here who went through this, but unlike the situation above i chose to end things for good when given the option, it’s like why would i continue to play myself? and by then i was completely aware of what i wanted and where i was at in my life and it’s one of the best things i could’ve ever done for myself

  • Marieca

    I am going through the ‘breakup phase’ of this same situation right now. I’m sitting here in tears bc of my almost…

    • Cass

      I feel your pain. I went thru the “break up” almost 3 weeks ago with a guy i was with for a year and w/o a title! it hurts just like the other real relationships I went thru. I’ll admit some days I have small setbacks but over time it does get better overall. I’ll be sad and crying one minute then I pray or analyze the situation for what it really was and then I feel better. Just keep your head up and keep telling yourself it will get better because it really will! : )

  • Nope

    Hell, a lot of men have ‘broken up’ with women they didn’t even know they went with in the first place. Got women mad at us and we have no idea why.

    • King bey

      If u treat every Woman u meet like a Girlfirend… Then dont call her anymore I have some Idea that u know why… Stop people in their tracks that are falling for u and stop trying to get what u need out of the situation and bounce…. It’s not that hard to be a decent human being, or is it??

      • Chicky_PhD

        Exactly!! I’m so tired of these “men” (i.e., boys) making excuses for their poor behavior and refusing to be accountable for the games they play. OF COURSE, women will be “upset” or “mad” when someone has been treating “like” a girlfriend and abruptly stops (i.e., disappears, stops calling, messing with someone else). If men don’t like dealing with “crazy” women or women that “get upset” for “no reason”, perhaps men should start being more forthright in how they deal with women. Of course, that may not happen when dealing with boys…and not MEN. If you don’t want a girlfriend, SAY THAT and, most importantly, don’t give mixed messages! I have never met a man who stated that he did not want a relationship with me. I have, however, dealt with several men — or boys– who I believe ACTED like they wanted a relationship to keep me around for their own selfish needs. It took me wising up and moving on, despite the mixed signals and lies they would tell. Smh at some “boys”.

        • MissT

          I agree with you totally. I had to just throw my hands up in the air, this dude pretended to want a relationship, he just didn’t know what he wanted. I had to let him go, its nothing worse than investing in someone who has no investment in you! He was emotional unavailable and a big liar with a hidden agenda and passive aggressive all in the same shell. Just to much for me to handle so I let it go. I did the NO CONTACT and it has truly worked for me. #freeatlast

          • Chicky_PhD

            LoL! That sounds EXACTLY like the “boy” I recently stopped dealing with. It was going nowhere but he definitely did all of what you just mentioned. SMH.

  • ep

    ALL. OF. THIS! i just dismissed my “almost-relationship.” never again will i play myself like that. what is sad is that i knew the reality of it, but he was all i had so i said why not? the only thing i am grateful for is not having sex w/ him.

  • lisa

    this article was like a virtual b*tch slap. im living this situation right now, thanks for the wake up call

  • ThisChick

    This reminds me of Tamia’s song Almost. I think it is very possible for it to feel like a breakup even though there was not official title. Been in that situation before but I finally learned that if there is no type of commitment what is to keep that person from just up and moving on. Not saying people don’t do that even when they are official but its just you want someone to want you back and feel secure.

  • Kenedy

    Wow…Im so glad that you guys have defined this concept…i certainly was in a “non-relationship” & when we broke up, it pissed me the hell off & i was mad @ the fact that i was pissed off or even cared

  • QuestionMark

    LMAO, I love this one.. I have been sitting here pondering since the “end” as to what I am actually mourning over… Awaits comments