This is The Playbook, Garage’s relationship column for the thoughtful and introspective man by Romeo Moran. Here, he unpacks—or at least, tries to—the vagaries and messes of romantic connections. Be forewarned, though: this ain’t no place for bro-downs.

Sometimes we find ourselves on the brink of spending our lives with the wrong people, and dealing with that isn’t always easy.

Recently, my best friend found himself in a series of spats with the girl he was seeing. He’d been seeing her for a few months now, somewhat under the radar (for no reason other than they didn’t want to draw attention). Late last year, he found himself breaking up with her then getting back together, breaking up then getting back together—lather, rinse, repeat.

After one of these breakups, he asked me and my girlfriend if it was still worth pursuing her. They’d just gotten into a rather loud argument in public, which ended with her storming off, and he wasn’t having any of that.

We had to tell him no, of course; our boy deserved better than that, than the stress that kind of relationship brings him. Besides, he was in post-grad and he couldn’t afford to get distracted.

But despite our best protests, he ended up getting back together with the girl anyway, a few more times, then finally, seemingly, for good. He just couldn’t give her up, he told us. She promised she’d change, he said.

It was in that moment that I realized I understood him. If you feel it, you feel it.

But what if you don’t feel it?

What if you wake up one morning, whether it’s during a relationship of three months or three years, and realize that you don’t feel it anymore? That maybe—God forbid—you’ve never felt it at all to begin with?

It might hurt to realize, but that feeling—of a void somewhere in the relationship—is a big reason why people cheat. Some find themselves stuck in a place that felt nice in the beginning, but became lacking for one reason or another. If you don’t get out of there quick, things will rot, and you’re likelier to do something stupid. Sometimes, you don’t even realize you were missing anything.

Image via Giphy

But when you do find yourself in that hole, when you’re meeting face-to-face with the nothingness (because it’s not always sadness; sometimes it’s a thing that’s just not there), whether it comes to you on its own or someone else makes you realize it, there’s a decision you’ve got to make.

Can you look at yourself and ask whether you can deal with a present and a future with relatively little love and passion, and all work? Could you figure out a way to reignite that clichéd spark? Or could you at least keep up the act for the rest of your life and not upset the peace?

If the answers are no, and you know the answers are no, then you’ve gotta get out of there before you do something stupid to yourself and your SO. No matter how you do it, it will hurt both of you, especially in the short-term.

Sometimes, no one could understand why this is happening at all; sometimes, they’ve seen it coming from a mile away. Sometimes, it will feel difficult to get through.

But I believe in the long game, and there are only two real possible outcomes we can distill from setting someone—or yourself—free: either you’re both going to figure out that you really love each other, or you’re both going to be happy with your own lives separately.

Actually, you’ll both be happy regardless, because that’s where it’s gonna take you. Maybe not soon, but eventually—and when it does, it’s going to be a beautiful thing.

If there’s anything I’ve ever learned and frustrated me at the same time, it’s that love is never as simple as fiction makes it seem. It’s maddeningly complex, because humans are complex, with so many corners to navigate even when you think you’ve already made it and settled with whom you thought was the one.

But the corollary to all that is, in the face of nuance and things you’ve got to work through in a relationship, the best way to deal is still with honesty.

Not the I-won’t-tell-even-white-lies kind of honesty, but the honesty to your own feelings, your partner’s feelings, and the courage to do right by them, even if there’s pain. Because that pain isn’t gonna be there forever, no matter what you choose. Love means there’s always happiness waiting in a bush somewhere, ready to surprise you.

Writer: Romeo Moran
Art: Pol Aries Zamora