Dear Auntie Sparknotes,
Can we talk break-ups? Not concerning me, per say, but my boyfriend. We've been dating for almost a year now, having survived the transition from high school to college. Yet lately there has been a little worm niggling at me - I don't know why he and and his girlfriend of four years broke up the summer before our senior year.
Now this never bothered me until recently, when he told me that he had major problems with his family during that summer (think police and family therapy), and at the beginning of the school year he left the sports team that they were both on (a sport he was passionate about). I'm worried about what happened to make my ridiculously sweet, mellow boy so upset.
While I feel like knowing what happened will help me understand him and that summer much better, I don't want to jeopardize the trust and understanding that we have now. Should I ask him about the break-up, or let it be? If yes, how should I approach him about it?
Hoo boy. Admittedly, I already want to punch myself in the face for starting with such a cop-out answer as this... but Sparkler, it's got to be said: if your relationship is truly built on a solid foundation of love, trust, and understanding, you don't need any help from me. Love means being able to ask these questions without fear of punishment—and to answer them without fear of judgment.
Which is why, while you're stressing and strategizing over the best way to talk to your boyfriend, I'm wondering why you didn't take the obvious opportunity, when he was already talking about the events in question, to simply say, "Was that why you and [exgirlfriend's name here] broke up?"
...Or, for that matter, why you'd have to ask at all. From the sound of it, what your boyfriend experienced that summer was nothing less than a life-shattering catastrophe—and the relationship with his now-ex was nothing more than one more casualty of the same explosion that blew everything to smithereens. How did you end up stuck on the breakup, of all things, when your boyfriend has told you so much more important information about what happened to him that summer? You've got a really big picture of a really bad time; why the worry over this one eensy detail?
And look, don't get me wrong: there's nothing wrong with being curious about a person's past, particularly a person so close to you. And you want to know why they broke up, then there's nothing wrong with asking. But if and when you do, it should be with the sensitivity and respect that you'd broach any unhappy topic—which means, among other things, being really and truly honest with yourself about what you hope your question will accomplish.
Because believe it or not, there's just not much to learn from poking the ashes of an SO's past relationships. Even if you learn to your satisfaction why that relationship ended—even if it was something more than just another side effect of family stress—it won't tell you anything about who he is now, or who you are together, or how he feels when he looks back on that terrible summer. It only tells you who he was, in a moment long past, in a relationship that no longer exists. It tells you why a dead thing died, and nothing else. And if understanding him, and his past, is truly what matters to you, then I'll bet you can think of a better question to ask—and a deeper conversation to have—than that one.
Have you ever worried over how to ask your SO a tough question? Tell us in the comments! And to get advice from Auntie, email her at email@example.com.