Tuesday, October 24, 2006

"It's not you, it's me": How To Break up

My friend Ryan recently called me to ask for relationship advice. There's a girl he's been seeing on and off for the past few months, and although she's smart, funny, sweet and fun to be around, he's not attracted to her and has a hard time viewing her as anything more than a friend. I told him he should get over this, because she's really great, but he insists that he can't.

He wanted to go about breaking up with her by ignoring her calls until she got the picture or just being a huge jerk on their next couple of dates, so that she would break up with him. I told him that it's this kind of thinking that inspires man-hating by women all over the world.

Ryan's dilemma got me thinking about how people never want to take responsibility in relationships, especially when it comes to ending the relationship. They would rather look terrible in the other person's eyes than be honest about their feelings. But the key to any relationship is communication and honesty, and there's no better time to be honest (well, mostly honest) than when you're breaking up.

Tips for breaking up the humane way:

Before you break up with someone, take the necessary time to consider whether it's the right course of action. If you've dated the person for a while, you owe it to them to be honest about any issues you're having in the relationship. It's only fair to wait to break up once you've talked to them multiple times and they refuse to change.

If you have gone out for more than 4-5 dates, you can't break up on the phone or through e-mail. By this point you should have some attachment to the other person (and they to you) and it's only fair to speak to them in person.

Don't break up on or after a date, just call the person and set up a time and place where you can talk.

Choose a location that is casual, and preferably somewhere with a lot of people if you don't know the person very well and think they might lose it. If you would rather do it somewhere private (very important if the relationship has lasted a long time), ask to come over to the other person's house. This way you can leave when you want to, and it's more comfortable for them. Plus, you don't want someone driving home who's emotionally unstable. Hopefully you just want to be friends with this person, not get them killed.

If you don't want to stay friends, don't lie and say you do. If they ask specifically, say that you want some time apart first, and then you'll see if you think it can work.

Don't lie and say you're not ready for a relationship at this time if you are. When you run into your ex with your new girl/boyfriend, you'll really hurt his/her feelings.

When explaining the reason for the breakup, be as honest as you can without saying anything mean. In Ryan's case, I advised him not to tell her that he wasn't attracted to her. Saying this doesn't help anyone. Rephrasing it as, "I'm more interested in you as a friend than as a girlfriend" is much gentler and still truthful.

Make sure you say a lot of positive things about the person before you break the news about why you want to break up. Just be sure you don't go overboard on the compliments. He/she will respond with, "if I'm so amazing, why are you leaving me?"

If you cheated on the person, you should tell them. He/she may find out later and the earlier you fess up, the better. Also, however terrible the reaction is to this news, know that you deserve it. And you won't have to feel so guilty about it anymore.

Stay with the person for as long as they want to talk, but don't get suckered into staying the night and getting back together.

Under no circumstances should you go any further than hugging the person. Stick to your guns and don't let yourself be seduced out of guilt! It will only make things far worse.

Decide what you're going to do with shared belongings right away or you may never see them again. If the person wants some time, wait a week and call them back to work it out over the phone.

Once you've broken up, try not to talk to the person for at least a couple of weeks. Some time apart will give you a fresh outlook on the situation and you can decide whether you want to eventually try to be friends with the person or get back together. If you think you want to get back together right away, give it some time. This is everyone's response to a painful breakup and it's not always the best one.

Make sure you talk to your friends about the relationship once it's ended. Getting out your feelings and hearing things from their perspective, particulary the "we've been waiting for you to dump that loser for months" line, will make you feel better.

Be the bigger person and don't trash your ex to your mutual friends. He/she will hear about it eventually.

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