The most common breakup line of all time. Here’s what “It’s not you, it’s me” really means.
I’m amazed sometimes at how willing people are to be open about their love life online. It’s not even really that direct all the time – it’s usually through the form of resharing existing posts or those Insta-poem things, tagging friends in memes about how they reject every girl or guy, or sometimes even writing long comments about the state of their marriage or relationship (sometimes even tagging their husband/wife/partner in their negative comments… yikes). I think all someone would need to become an expert in human psychology would be to sit online and watch their own news feed or tags and see all the different quirks of the human experience come rushing in.
And when it comes to breakups that you may hear about online, see in person, experience yourself, or enact with others, there is only one line that stands head and shoulders above the rest:
“It’s not you, it’s me“.
This line has been one of the most topical lines ever. George Costanza famously coined on Seinfeld, “You can’t use that routine on me… I invented ‘it’s not you it’s me’!!”. If you’re reading this, you’ve either heard it a million times, or used it a million times.
So what does it really mean? One of my favourite things to write about are those big statements we commonly use in relationships. And now it’s time to turn to this one. Here’s what “it’s not you, it’s me” really means.
When it’s not me, it’s you
I think the unfair side of this line is when it’s used even though it isn’t true. Most people have worked out when they’re using this line to cover a truer statement they could make about why they want to terminate or prevent the relationship, and most people have been able to work out if they’re on the receiving end of this line that it may not actually be the entire picture. The entire picture may be something like one or more of the following:
“I don’t find you attractive”
Plain and simple, but too rude to say… right? How do you tell someone you think you can do better physically? If they were taller, had longer hair, had better abs or a bigger cup size, maybe you’d be more open and have stronger feelings either way. The double edged sword of physical attraction.
Or perhaps their personality is a major turnoff. They’re too domineering, or too quiet, or too loud.
You know, the stuff that is important to you (for whatever reason) that this person doesn’t have. But you can’t tell them that… can you? You don’t want to hurt the person, but you don’t want to end up with someone like that.
“I don’t see compatibility”
You’ve gotta be compatible with a person, right? Perhaps they’ve spent enough time with you to work out that they don’t think you are. This one is always a tragedy when one person thinks there is compatibility when the other person doesn’t.
I think compatibility is something that be developed. One of my friends who is a psychologist and an author was saying that couples who have two out of the four Myers Briggs Personality dimensions the same are 30% more likely to stay together. He said couples who have three out of four the same are another 30% more likely on top of that. Then he said, “My wife and I… have none in common”. And yet they’re still together decades later.
I guess this one really comes down to agreement. If you’re willing to build compatibility, you’ll have it, but if you’re not, you won’t.
Or you could be heading completely different directions in life. If one or both of you is unwilling to compromise or adapt some of those things, then the show’s over.
“I’m interested in someone else”
This is the worst. The heart is deceitful above all things. It’s especially hard for people who are interested in people who aren’t interested in them… and then the person they’re interested may also be interested in someone who isn’t interested in them. One of my friends called this her “Looking Left” theory. Everyone’s looking left at another person next to them. All it would take is someone who’s looking left to look right, and you’d have a match.
Alas, life doesn’t always work out like this. Everyone wanting someone they can’t/don’t/won’t have.
And the heart can change over time. You definitely will develop feelings for someone else at some point in your life. We can fall in love, and fall out of it. It’s what we’ll commit to that will make or break us.
“I enjoyed the attention, but don’t want to commit”
Speaking of commitment.
It happens many times where a person enjoys the attention and affection someone else provides. It could be their considerate nature, it could be the physical acts of kindness the person carries out, it could be the listening ear or the love being sent their way…
But when asked to return the favour, the recipient may lock up. Now their lucrative arrangement is in jeopardy. And instead of locking it in and getting to enjoy such an arrangement on a more permanent basis, they submit to their (let’s call it what it is) selfishness, and withhold from the other person.
When it’s not you, it is actually me
The other reality around this statement is when someone is using this line, and it is actually completely true. It really isn’t about the person being broken up with, rejected, whatever – it really is about the person who is using this line. When this is the case, here are a few reasons I’ve heard underneath what the person is really saying.
“I’m too busy”
I’ve written about this one in greater detail before, as it affects a lot more than just our love lives – check out What I’m Too Busy Really Means.
“I have no room in my life for another person”
One of my female mentors observed that the younger generation of today seems to struggle with the idea of having career and relationship at the same time. With being able to date at the same time as studying at university or college. For some reason, we live our lives with love and career in a state of conflict, in such a way that previous generations didn’t struggle with before.
It’s increasingly common to hear people say that there isn’t any space in their life for a relationship. I think it’s sad that we make space for lots of activity, but have become unable to share the journey with someone else.
So many people are loaded up with activity and forward motion and ambition and dreams, but desperately alone because no one knows or is actively involved.
As the old African proverb goes – “If you want to go quickly, go alone. If you want to go far, go together”.
“I’m just working on myself right now”
This one is pretty common when someone has been through bad relationships in the past, or is currently dealing with some bigger issue in their lives – whether it be an addiction, a health concern, or some other extenuating circumstance.
But I wonder how perfect you have to be before you’ll involve someone else? Because there is a possibility you may never actually get better than you are right now. Or perhaps you may even get worse. Perhaps the real issue is whether or not you’ll allow someone else to come along on the journey with you through whatever it is you’re trying to overcome by yourself.
Two are better than one. Where one is weak, another can be strong. Isn’t that the point of relationships? Help for the journey. A safe place to rest your head. A listening ear and a supportive heart. And yet we’ll say no so we can try to carry the load all by ourselves.
“I’m not ready for a relationship right now”
Oh boy. This one is actually a much bigger issue than I can write about here. I have already written about this one quite a bit at What I’m Not Ready For A Relationship Really Means.
“I don’t think I deserve you”
This is often the sinister reality behind this statement. When someone devalues or belittles themselves so much that they don’t actually believe they deserve to be happy. You’ll see this happen a lot when a man or a woman will break up with someone wonderful, but then the next 2 weeks you see them with someone else who definitely isn’t right for them. Many movies explore this sense of self-loathing or undervaluing yourself, such as Something Borrowed and Where The Heart Is.
And try as hard as the person saying this might to convince this person otherwise (since they are trying to foster a deeper relationship with this person… that should speak enough as it is), it falls to the self-esteem of the individual using this line to be vulnerable and real enough to allow someone to love them for who they are.
Saying what you mean
What a devastating web we weave when we fail to say what we really mean. I wonder how many times a person has to hear “it’s not you, it’s me”, before they start to wonder if it really is them? Or perhaps it is, but the indirect approach isn’t helping them alleviate their blindspots.
Or perhaps there are many of out there who really do continually fail to address things in our own lives, and this poor person keeps finding all of them. And when another person enters our lives, or makes an attempt, they start to press all the buttons in our heart that remind us of the challenges we have within ourselves.
Whatever the case is, I think honesty always wins. Saying where you really are. Speaking the truth in love. Being open to the voices of love in our lives.
When done right, I firmly believe that love can be a taste of heaven. And yet we will throw up so many barricades or wrestle with many setbacks in this area.
I love seeing those barricades removed in people’s hearts. It’s one of the reasons why I love to write about these sort of things. You may have even the tone is more towards people coming together than it is about us breaking it off. The human heart was made for intimacy. Heck, the human race can’t even advance unless people are intimate – we would die out overnight.
So I hope in your life, you find the truth. Not just a commonly used expression, but the reality of what may be holding another back, or holding yourself back. An ability to recognize something worth pursuing, or of something that you may need to leave alone. Maybe it’s not just you and it’s not just me, but it’s all of us, together, trying to find our place in this world.
How about you? Have you used or heard this line before? Are there any other possible meanings