feature image via Molly Adams
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I went out a few times with a girl, and we’re not really official. She lives a little far away, so we don’t see each other a lot, and keep in touch via the Internet minimally, and I’m kinda sorta starting to feel like I don’t really like her. Yet I’m not entirely sure how to tell her I don’t want to go out anymore while maintaining a friendship or at least a non-hatred-ship. Any advice?
First, I want to give you a hell yeah for not taking the ghost’s way out of this. I’m not really sure if ghosting (the act of breaking up with a new or casual someone by simply ceasing all response without any explanation) is a new phenomenon, but it certainly seems to be getting more popular. The number of friends who complain to me about the amount of ghosting out there on the dating scene is staggering, and it feels like the amount is only increasing. I’m not sure this points to a fundamental devaluing of other human beings, or the millennial self-centeredness that seems to obsess many older columnists on the internet or in print. I actually think it’s the opposite—no one wants to hurt another person. No one wants to have an awkward conversation that makes them feel like they’re in high school again. And because we’re not in high school, the ghost’s way out becomes the easy way out. You’re not going to see her in fourth period AP English every day, so some would say, well, why bother having a conversation about this?
On top of all that, in my personal queer community, many (though not all) of us have been raised not to insult or disappoint people, especially in romantic relationships. Many of us were assumed to be heterosexual women, and when you’re a heterosexual woman, flat out saying to a man that you’re no longer interested can be dangerous. Many of us were trained to go about it in that avoidance way, or to otherwise “let him down gently.” While you should always consider if you think you might be in danger by breaking up with anyone, and seek local help accordingly, that doesn’t sound like it’s the case here, so I think you should push back on everything we’ve ever learned about breakups. I think we should start to reframe and change how we think about ending romantic relationships and how we functionally end romantic relationships. Unless health or safety is in question, I’m all for no more ghosting. Because it doesn’t make things better — all it does is make the other person feel disposable. Not watcha want.
Instead, let’s think of the breakup conversation not as an insult, or even a bad thing. When you break up with someone you’re just starting to date or are casually dating in a communicative way, it’s actually a plus. Not a minus. The other person isn’t strung along or wasting time pining or wondering what’s up. Instead, they can better use their time — to heal up and move on if they liked you, to date other people, or to pursue their own interests in hobbies. You’ve just saved you both a ton of time. Breakups are great, but they’re never going to pleasant. Clear, kind breakups are better; they mitigate some of what sucks about them.
You also shouldn’t feel bad about wanting to break up. Remember: any reason is a good reason to not want to be with someone. If you go in remembering that break ups this early in relationships are normal and most of the time aren’t actually anyone’s fault, this gets a whole lot easier to do.
So how do you actually, practically have the talk with this person? Here are some tips to help you design that conversation
Method of Communication is Important
Conventional wisdom says don’t break up via text, but you mentioned you communicate most frequently over the internet and that you don’t live close together. I’m going to expand conventional wisdom to this: when you have a break up talk, have it using the method of communication that feels meaningful to you and her both. For me, this has always been face to face. I will never break off a relationship or friendship without being face to face. But I recognize that it’s not the same way for everyone. Some people prefer to have tough conversations via text or g-chat or phone. But if you go that route, make sure you’re choosing your method of communication not because it comforts only you, but because that method of communication works for BOTH of you. Don’t start a breakup conversation over text if you know that person is a face-to-face person. I mean, you can. Do what you want. But mark my words, it won’t go well. If you choose anything other than face-to-face, think really hard about it: are you choosing it because you think face-to-face will feel awkward for you? Or are you taking into account the ways in which y’all communicate best? If it’s the first, don’t do it! As the dumper, you’ve kinda gotta take the responsibility of making choices that will make it easier for the other person to hear what you’re saying, because you’re prepared and most likely they’re not. That might mean feeling uncomfortable while you speak in person. If it’s the second reason, well. Maybe you are two people who should be G-chatting about this.
Go In With a Script
Regardless of communication method, plan first. Practice saying exactly what it is you want to say. There are several accepted breakup scripts that I hate, and only a few that I like/have used. Here are a few options, good for mixing and matching, and I’d encourage people to put their own in the comments! Not all of these work for everyone, so consider them a jumping-off point.
- I’ve really enjoyed spending time with you, and I think we work really well as friends. I’d like to transition our romantic relationship into a friendship.
- I’ve really enjoyed hanging out and you’re really wonderful, but you live very far away from me. I’ve re-assesed how important geographical location is in my relationships and, rather than just disappearing, I wanted to end things on good terms.
- I’m ready to break off our romantic relationship. You haven’t done anything wrong or weird or bad, but I don’t think we have very much in common. I want you to find someone who shares interests and relates to you, because I think that person is out there and they’re gonna be very lucky to meet you.
- I’d like to break up. And it sucks. There’s no good way to tell someone that. But there are bad ways to do tell someone that, and I think not telling you at all is possibly the worst way. So, knowing that I’d like to break up, how would you like to progress from here?
- I think we should stop seeing each other romantically. I thought I was ready to dive into dating, but I’m just not feeling dating at all right now.
- I think we should stop seeing each other. Saying so really sucks, but I don’t think our relationship is super healthy, and I don’t wish an unhealthy relationship on you or me. So let’s toast each other’s future happiness and say goodbye.
Some of these sound really blunt and harsh. Well, yeah. If we’ve been trained to not say exactly what we want, need and mean in breakups, they will sound harsh. I’m arguing that we, as a community, be the change we wish to see in the breakup world and collectively agree that breaking up is sad and harsh and is still the best option when it needs to happen. The name of the game is to be straightforward, but not mean. Also do speak in your own voice. If you’re not as blunt as I am*, do phrase things in a way that feels natural to you. But definitely still plan it ahead of time. Say it over and over again so even if you’re nervous, your body will remember how to get lips around words.
*I’m super blunt. Once I broke things off with someone by saying they seemed really fun, but that I didn’t like the way they were treating me sometimes and I just got out of a relationship where I was getting treated like shit and I didn’t need to date someone who wasn’t excited to be around me. Those might not have been my exact words but, uh. Yeah, that’s pretty much what I said. Best decision ever. We ran into each other years later, updated each other on our lives, and went about our businesses fairly unawkwardly, considering how awkward a situation it is to run into someone you dated in NEW YORK CITY this place should be big enough to avoid that but it’s not.
If You Say Something, Mean It
Friend, I provided a few scripts up there that mention wanting to be friends because you did mention wanting to be friends. But I have to wonder—you say you don’t like the person, and you say that really what’s important is that no one hates each other. I’m not sure you want to be friends with her—being friends means you’ll hang out, you’ll talk to each other, you’ll each dedicate time and space to the other. Friendship is special—it’s never just friends. I hate it when people say that. It’s Friends! with an exclamation point. Friendship is not a levels thing—it’s not a place you are before romance. It is its own wonderful thing. Friendship is meaningful and it is work and it is amazing and rewarding. Are you looking for that with her?
If you are not, DON’T SAY YOU WANT TO BE FRIENDS WITH HER! Avoid jumping to the “let’s be friends!” script just because it’s nicer than the others. Because that’s just as hurtful. It’s another kind of stringing someone along. If you say you want to be friends and then ghost, it’s really no different. So no matter what words you choose, be sure they are honest words. If you say you’re not feeling dating right now, make sure that’s the real reason. If you go with something more accepted (“it’s not you, it’s me!”) make sure it’s actually true. Otherwise it’ll sound hollow, and that’s one of the things that makes breakups suck.
And If You’re Getting Dumped?
Okay asker-friend, this advice isn’t really for you—but other people will read this and they might be thinking, yeah, being okay with being blunt and saying what you mean is fine and all when you’re the dumper. But what about the dumpee!!?? AREN’T YOU CONSIDERING MY FEELINGS, ALI??
First, I’d argue yes, I am. Repeat after me: I do not want to be with a person who does not want to be with me. Say it as many times as necessary to get it into your bones. If a person breaks it off with you, well. They’ve saved you from dedicating parts of your heart, your time and space and energy, to someone who isn’t returning you the favor. Before responding or reacting, take a deep breath and remember that. Be thankful you didn’t spend a year or five with this person.
And then you get to feel as sad or as angry as you feel! Everyone gets to feel sad during a break up, dumper and dumpee alike. But you do have to behave in emotionally responsible ways. Try not to be mean because you feel hurt—that’s the number one rule of the new breakup. Don’t be mean. Be honest.
Now because you’re going into a breakup conversation unprepared, you get to say things like, “my first instinct is to respond with x, but I need a few minutes to process what I’m hearing.” You get to ask for time to process, for things to be repeated if you didn’t quite get them the first time. You get to say, “this is making me angry but I don’t want to be mean to you, so I’m going to walk around the block until I can say what I mean without being mean.” These are all ways you can respond to getting dumped. But through it all, keep the most important thing in mind: you do not want to be with a person who does not want to be with you.
Alrighty, asker-friend. You can do this. Take stock of what you want out of this breakup, make your script and do the thing. And as for everyone else, let’s breakup better, breakup kindly, and breakup when we need to. Cheers to breakups!