There’s no phrase in the English language that invokes more fear than when someone says “We have to talk.” Everyone who has ever been in a relationship knows instinctively that any conversation that starts with that phrase will never end well. It almost inevitably is followed by the classic “It’s not you, it’s me”, and the equally dreaded “We can still be friends.”
As bad as being dumped can feel… being the dump-er can be as bad.
Ending a relationship, especially a long-term one, can be incredibly difficult. Nobody relishes being the person to cause someone – someone you’ve shared an emotional connection with, someone who has shared months, if not years of your lives together – pain. It’s only natural to want to avoid the awkwardness and heart break as much as possible. We all know the little dodges to try to make things easier; trying to couch the split in passive phrases, avoiding face-to-face confrontations, even hoping to force our significant other to be the one to pull the trigger instead.
All of these just serve to make things worse.
If you’re going to break up with someone, they deserve the dignity of being dumped properly.
You’re going to have to follow the rules and break up with them like a man.
It’s inevitable that relationships come to an end. Whether you’ve come to the realization that she’s not right for you or circumstances have changed and you’re no longer compatible, you owe it to her to end things with a minimum of fuss and drama. You can’t avoid hurting her; scientists and psychologists have discovered that breakups are literally physically painful. They trigger the same areas of the brain that respond to cocaine and nicotine withdrawal. But by following these rules you can keep the pain to a minimum and at least provide her with the respect she’s due.
Face To Face Is The Only Way
If you’re going to break up with someone, you break up with them to their face. No exceptions. If you’ve been dating for longer than two weeks and/or bodily fluids have been exchanged, you owe them an in-person explanation. Not over the phone. Not via e-mail. Certainly not by text… what kind of inhuman monster are you? Did you run out of puppies to drown?
Look, I get it. It’s only natural to want to avoid the conflict inherent in a breakup; nobody enjoys watching people in pain, especially pain that you are the direct cause of. You may even have convinced yourself that it’s somehow less cruel than a face-to-face confrontation, that somehow that level of extra level of distance will somehow cushion the blow and make it easier on both of you.
Let’s be honest: you’re being a goddamned coward. Breaking up with her by remote isn’t about her comfort, it’s about yours. If you had any honest feelings for her, you owe it to her to break up with her to her face?
Because the first rule of a break up is to do as little damage as possible. Humans are built for face-to-face communication; our facial expressions and body language carry volumes of information that text or even vocal inflection don’t convey. In a face-to-face break up, the little things – the look of pain and sympathy in your own eyes, the subtle reach across the table, the slump of shoulders – will display your own emotional distress and convey to her a very simple but necessary message: that you cared for her and that she has value as a person.
Do you know what you’re saying when you dump somebody via electronic proxy? You’re telling her “You matter so little that I couldn’t even be bothered to show up in person.” The implied insult on top of the injury can be devastating; you may as well pour carbolic acid on top of an open wound while you’re at it.
Own The Breakup
Let’s say that over the years your feelings have changed. You know that the end of the relationship is coming… but you just can’t bring yourself to pull the trigger and end things. So you start applying relationship jiu-jitsu. You become distant, passive-aggressive even. You close yourself off emotionally. You flirt with other women in front of her. You’ve become so obnoxious and unbearable that ultimately she is the one to break up with you.
Mission accomplished, right? Time to meet up with the boys, grab some drinks at the bar and congratulate yourself on a job well done. After all, no harm, no foul, right?
Whether you fear confrontation, you just can’t stand to be the one to hurt her or you fear being “the bad guy” in the break-up, weaseling your way into being the dumpee instead of the dumper is the mark of the lowest of the low. Hand in your man-card because you’re clearly not worthy of the title.
Just as with avoiding a face-to-face break up, all you have done is shirked the responsibility of the break-up in the name of convenience. Not only is this incredibly insulting to your significant other, it can be profoundly damaging to her emotionally. All you have done is convinced her that all the time you had spent together was a lie. In one swift dick move, you have poisoned all of the fond memories she had of the two of you; now she can’t trust her own feelings and intuition. After all, you’ve just proven that you weren’t the person she thought you were and that the relationship wasn’t what she felt it to be.
If you’re breaking up with someone, you owe it to them and to yourself to stand up and own the fact that this is your doing. You need to be willing to take responsibility for the fact that you are the one taking these actions and that you have enough respect for her to be up front about it.
You Owe Her An Honest Explanation.
There are few things worse in a break up than uncertainty. Breakups are bad enough; leaving her feeling uncertain and confused as to why you broke up is worse. Break ups fade, but the lack of an explanation can haunt people for years afterwards, doing untold damage to their psyche. Couching things in passive terms and using weasel words will only make things worse.”It’s not you, it’s me,” is possibly one of the most insulting things that you can tell a person; even if it is true, it’s going to sound like a tossed-off cliché and come across as though you have no respect for her or her intelligence.
Instead, you need to be honest: you’re simply not in love with her anymore. You don’t think that the two of you work. Ultimately: She’s not the one you’re looking for anymore and it’s not fair to her to drag things out any further. Keep it short, keep it simple and keep it about you. Even if you’re breaking up because of her flaws, you want to allow her to keep her dignity. If you’re breaking up because she’s lousy in bed or because you’d rather be seeing the cute girl at the bar, you don’t need to tell her that, just that you are unsatisfied and you don’t see things changing. The last thing you want to do is shred her self-esteem any more than you already have. You’re hurting her enough as it is; any more than is absolutely necessary is just cruel.
You don’t want to list a point-by-point reasoning as to why you’re breaking up; all this will do is start an argument about who is right and who is wrong. You can’t logic someone into wanting to date you, and you certainly can’t debate them into breaking up with you.
Take It Like A Man
It’s going to be volatile. She’s going to scream. She’s going to yell at you. She’s going to call you every name in the book. She’s going to malign your skills in bed, insult your taste in everything, stab at every single one of your insecurities, imply that she’d rather sleep with your best friend and tell you that you’ve got the tiniest penis she’s ever seen.
And you’re going to stand there and take all of it. Quietly. With a look of sympathy and regret.
Why? Because there’s nothing you can say that’s going to make it any better. You’re going to have to stand there and bear that torrent of abuse without trying to defend yourself or zinging her right back because frankly, she’s earned it. You’re breaking her heart; she’s got the right to vent at you. It lets her salvage her self-esteem as she’s trying to collect the pieces of her shattered dreams.
The only exception to this rule is if she starts to become violent. Allowing her to salvage her dignity is one thing; doing so at the expense of your personal safety is another. If she’s about to actually hurt you, get the hell out.
A Clean Break Heals Fastest
You don’t do her any favors by stringing things out. Once you’ve made the decision to break up with her, you want to make it as clean and as quick as possible. This means that you can’t cushion the blow. There’s no implying that this break up is temporary. There’s definitely no saying “We can still be friends.” Any hope of a future reconciliation – whether stated or implied – just prolongs the pain of the breakup and makes it even harder for both of you to move on. Even if you genuinely want to be friends, all you will end up doing is hurting her in the long run and sabotaging any chances of her finding another relationship… one that will actually work this time.
It’s admirable that you would want to try to maintain a friendship… but for now, neither of you is in a position to do so. The pain is too immediate, the wounds are too raw and neither of you have had any time to heal nor any perspective on where things went wrong.
You need a clean break. Just as when you’re the dumpee, this means cutting all ties. Delete her number from your phone, unfollow her on Twitter, de-friend her on Facebook and take her off your blog roll. There’s no point in making things harder for either of you with constant reminders of what went wrong. Leave her her dignity and let her have time to heal. If you’re going to still be friends, you can be friends later, when time has worked it’s magic and the pain has faded.