He’s a good guy who loves you, and you love him too. Plus, he’s got the stamp of approval from your friends and family. So on paper, you’ve got a good thing going. But there’s that voice at the back of your head asking: Is this all there is? What if you could be happier?

Portrait of Tammy Strobel

He’s a good guy who loves you, and you love him too. Plus, he’s got the stamp of approval from your friends and family. So on paper, you’ve got a good thing going. But there’s that voice at the back of your head asking: Is this all there is? What if you could be happier? Clara How spoke to three women who made the tough call to walk out on perfectly nice men – with very different outcomes.

My Reading Room

“When I was 18, I had a boyfriend who was really into fishing. It wasn’t my thing, but I soon knew a lot about different types of fish, and spent all my weekends fishing with him. After we broke up, I wondered: Why did I burn all my Sundays hanging out at the fish farm even though I had absolutely no interest in doing so?

That’s the thing about me: When I get together with a guy, I allow myself to get completely absorbed into that person’s world. I try to like all the things he likes, hang out with his friends, and end up putting aside what makes me happy – because I’m consumed with making him happy.

With my last boyfriend, I gave up more than I’d ever had to in life. I met him when I was 22 and finishing university. Before we became a couple, I had always been clear about what my future would be like. I was an overachieving student who majored in finance, so I saw myself working for a bank after I graduated, possibly overseas. Chris* was so different. He worked in the media industry, so I started trying to find out more about his life and how I could be a part of it. When I graduated, we started a media company together – even though at the time, I had three job offers in finance, including one from a firm in Hong Kong. I turned them all down for him. Media didn’t interest me, but I saw this company as part of our future. Concerned friends questioned if I was certain about giving up my plans. “You worked so hard in school, and now you want to give it all up?” they asked. I pushed it to the back of my mind. I could always go back to finance, I told myself. Starting a future with Chris was more important.

At the start of the relationship, I was happy and comfortable. Chris was perfect – he was caring and organised, he helped with the housework, and he cooked our meals. This is it, I thought, he’s the one. Our lives were so entwined. Outside of work, we spent a lot of time with each other. We got two dogs together, and he even asked my dad for permission to marry me.

Two years into the relationship, things started to take on a different complexion. I began to ask myself: Do I really want to marry this man? I loved him, but I strongly felt there was a void in my life that I needed to fill. It got to the point where I would wake up in the morning to find that every day just felt the same.

Still, the thought of leaving terrified me. I wondered what would happen if I didn’t find someone else better suited to me. How would I answer to my parents, who thought Chris and I would get married? After all, there was technically nothing wrong with Chris. These thoughts plagued me so much, I stuck it out for one more year.

The catalyst came one day when Chris was supposed to come home early from work so we could have a movie night together, but eventually was hours late. It was while I was stuck at home waiting for him that it struck me – I didn’t want to spend the rest of my life waiting for him as he pursued his dreams, while mine were indefinitely put on hold. I texted him and told him we had to talk when he got home. Telling him that I loved him but needed a break was the hardest thing I’d ever had to do.

Ultimately, our goals were too different. He needed to travel frequently for work, and I wanted a stable, corporate life. We were holding each other back. So I told him we should aim to be our best selves first. I wanted to get started on my own goals.

At first, my mum didn’t understand why I broke up with Chris. She kept asking me: “Why? He’s such a good man.” But eventually she understood that I was doing it for me. I’m single now, and pursuing potential job opportunities in Hong Kong, which I’m really excited about.

Chris and I are still working out how to move forward with the media company, and I’m grateful that he’s happy for me. Now that I’m chasing my dreams, I see that when I was with Chris, I was only half the person I could be. I know I can never marry someone until I feel I am complete and whole. Rather than living for someone, like I did before, I want to be able to complement him.”


“When I met John*, I thought he was the one. We became a couple after just two dates. Up until that point, I had never met anyone who made me feel so comfortable – I wanted to wake up with him every day. We were together for seven happy years, and there was so much trust and respect between us. John was my best friend – we could talk about anything and everything. It might seem strange, then, that this eventually became the reason I broke up with him. I knew I loved John, but I felt I wasn’t in love with him. Because of that, I couldn’t see how to progress further in the relationship. I was only 25 at the time, so I asked myself: What if there’s someone better for me out there? Because the relationship was stagnating, I started to hang out more with my friends and found myself comparing my relationship with those of the people around me. Even though I knew things couldn’t stay as passionate as they were at the start, I missed having the electricity that other couples seemed to share.

After a year of wrestling with my feelings, I finally came clean. When I told him how I felt, he agreed that we were no longer in love with each other, but that was still okay because for him, it was more important to have a companion he cared about and to come home to. Still, he agreed that if I couldn’t be happy, then it would be better to split up.

Initially, it was liberating to be single again after so many years. I felt I was free to do things on my own terms. But after a year of dating other people, I realised that I had made a mistake. I felt none of the guys I met came close to John, and I missed the connection we’d had. I had left him because I longed for excitement and passion, but now I realised that wasn’t what I needed. That year I spent apart from John showed me that the communication, trust and familiar love I had shared with him was what I really valued. Once I realised this, I asked John if we could try again, but he turned me down. He believed that because I’d left him once, I might do it again. I broke up with him because I wanted it all, but it was a mistake. Now I just feel like I’ve lost my soulmate.

Since then, I’ve become more realistic about love. From the beginning, John wanted a life partner, but I was looking for a lover. Now, I’m looking for a life partner as well, and I’ve started seeing someone who shares my viewpoint. I used to think that passion lasts forever. It took a painful lesson for me to see that what’s more important is a love that can be sustained.”


“Mark* and I have been friends for more than a decade, but we only started dating some years into our friendship, when I was 21. At the start, Mark was just meant to be a rebound guy. I had left a five-year relationship and wanted to have fun; likewise, he wasn’t looking to settle down. But as time passed, it turned into something more serious. With hindsight, it was a good relationship, and we had good times, but it definitely wasn’t amazing. It was just comfortable enough for me to want to stick around.

Being with Mark was easy – we went to the same school, had the same friends, and our families knew and liked each other. Socially, we did many things together and had a routine going. Even his maid helped me with my laundry! So even though I knew I was settling, and things would be better with someone more suited to me, I was reluctant to change our situation. I felt things were so comfortable, and a breakup would only complicate matters – our friends would have to take sides, and I didn’t want to deal with the backlash. Besides, I didn’t have any other romantic prospects, so I didn’t see a need to break up with him.

Mark and I were together for four years, but the tipping point was when the relationship became a long-distance one – I moved away for work, and everything changed. Mark felt the move a lot more keenly than I did, and became very clingy. He texted constantly, asking me where I was, and it became clear to me that I wasn’t missing him as much as I should be. We had a lot of fights, and keeping up the relationship felt like too much effort to make for someone I wasn’t sure about. Eventually, I started seeing somebody else.

I think people tend to gravitate towards comfortable relationships, because it’s nice to have someone who’s there for you, and whom you can trust without question. But now I see that in the future, I also want to be with a person who’s more outgoing and open to trying new things. With Mark, I would suggest new activities like going to a music festival, but he never wanted to go. In my next relationship, I want the same level of comfort I had with Mark, but I also want someone who’s keen on keeping things exciting.

So in the end, it was a blessing that I went overseas. If we had broken up when we were in the same city, with such intertwined lives, our relationship wouldn’t have ended properly – I would have been tempted to go back to him. It was only when I built a life away from him that I realised I wanted more than what he had to offer, and that gave me the courage to walk away.”

*Names have been changed.