Step 1: Enter into a relationship, because the opportunity presents itself, and because all media since birth has informed you that this is the thing to do.
Step 2: Remain fundamentally confused as to the nature, value, or point of love; also hold a bunch of misconceptions about yourself to boot. For instance, in my case I was sure I knew how to do love, i.e. give care and understanding, and take enjoyment where you can; but was pretty sure I couldn’t feel love — the euphoria, the ecstasies, the butterflies, etc.
Step 3: Experience a moment of profound hurt, alienation etc that tells you that you should probably get the hell out of there, but since that thing that happens to other people where their limbic system send heat down to their body which sends the heat back until it’s oscillating back and forth generating more and more heat until their burning with the energy to fight or flight, doesn’t happen to you… freeze instead and put your prefrontal cortex to work trying to rationalise whether to stay or go.
Step 4: Because such a decision when rendered as a rational equation is a very very long process (assembling all the variables for consideration, filtering, then crossing them against each other to see what wins out, etc), be interrupted by the person who hurt or alienated you now doing something wonderful (or kind, helpful, caring etc) because they do of course actually love you, the prior assault was a consequence of them not understanding you or themselves or both. Pause the decision making protocol to continue along with life and the relationship, because apart from anything the brain will prioritise responding to sensory input over internal cognition.
Step 5: Rinse repeat the above loop for months, years, decades; however long it takes to run the ever expanding calculation of: is staying here to endure whatever is hurtful or alienating actually worse than the labour of dissolution plus the stress of the uncertainty combined with the fear of hurting another human being? (remember also that it’s only actively running in between the moments of joy that have you wondering why you were ever thinking of leaving in the first place. The rest of the time it’s on standby, occupying cognitive space, using up a bunch of dopamine you really could be putting to good use elsewhere, working, playing, etc — but you know, it’s fine, you consciously forget it’s even there. Everything is fine, you’re just tired.
Step 6: Become ill in some way; fatigued, lowered immune system leaving you open for infection, dehydrated fascia leading to muscle cramps or joint issues or poor lymph drainage, or best of all: addicted to toxic levels of cortisol since you’re so depressed overall that the only thing that animates your corpus into action in the world is a high stress or scary situation.
Step 7: Quit your job, set your life on fire, or more accurately just sort of watch bleary-eyed as it all starts falling apart because you don’t have the juice (i.e. dopamine) to give a single fuck anymore.
Step 8: Remember you live in late-stage-neoliberal-capitalism and if you don’t work you will either literally starve to death or endure humiliation that feels almost as unpleasant as the former. Find something new to embark on to pay your rent and accidentally discover that the introspective process required to rewrite your CV, or pull a cover letter together, or write a novel (if you’re mad enough or sufficiently burdened by a saviour complex to pick that option; #it’s-me-hi-I’m-the-problem-it’s-me) allows you to go back to that old calculation of stay or go.
Step 9: Pull in a sounding board or two, a friend, a therapist, your mum, a journal, your invented novel characters, whatever. Discover in the course of your dialogue that the point/value of love and the environment in which it truly exists is a relationship in which you can experience being cared for, enjoyed and understood at the same time. Slowly but surely appreciate that for all the trying, and wanting to and effort, the person you are with lacks the capacity to understand you enough for you to feel loved, in that aforementioned tripartite way; and enough for them not to feel like it’s so much fucking work to get you (which in turns makes you feel guilty for being such an incomprehensible animal etc etc).
Step 10: Now having done all that, realise you’re at the starting point of yet another mammoth task; how to say the thing, how to break someone’s heart and also on-purpose set your effortfully constructed life/emotional home on fire.
Step 11: Do it anyway, somehow, as best you can, because luckily when your mind isn’t recursively, exhaustingly, looping the same question/equation around your cortex over and over again, it’s very good and put-one-foot-in-front-of-the-other compulsive direction to your body (PS: that’s why you twitch, fidget, or crack your knuckles btw, but that’s a different topic for a different time).
Step 12: Dismantle your life as you’ve known it for the last however many years; cry; meet up with the person who tried their best to love you in the way you need and deserve, but failed. Have a coffee/beer/cigarette/whatever and tell each other what you’re nonetheless grateful for and what you still hope and wish for them.
Step 13: Tell everyone, perhaps with a handy article, as a way to seal / confirm to yourself that you are actually, definitely, really done.
Step 14: There will be a rush of manic energy once you close the tab as all that relief floods your bloodstream. Find something constructive to do with this if possible… e.g, tend to your wounds, make weird art, go dancing in the park, redecorate your apartment (even if you have to give it up in a few weeks 🥲) etc
Step 15: Go find someone(s) who will simultaneously care for you, enjoy you and understand you.