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Should I tell the truth or let him down easy?
August 3, 2014 11:44 AM   Subscribe

I'm going to break up with a guy I've been seeing for about a month. Wondering if I should stick to platitudes or tell him the truth, which is that he has some unsavory, borderline misogynistic views.

He and I (28M, 22F) are already exclusive. He wants to be more serious and become boyfriend/girlfriend, and I've decided to turn him down.

I've read Miko's breakup script. I'm trying to decide whether I should just stick purely to the script, or tell the truth about why I am not interested in a relationship.

He's great in some ways, but he has very unsavory attitudes towards dating. He's never directed any of this towards me, but he's vain, cares a lot about appearances, talks about both men and women using the 1-10 scale (for example, stuff like "oh a girl who's a 5 can date a guy who's an 8 because girls have it so much easier"), and once said something incredibly cruel about being "better than" an "ugly fat chick".

He's not a PUA or anything like that--he doesn't play games, respects boundaries, texts me back quickly, constantly tells me how hot and sexy I am, etc. Overall, he has treated me very well. He's one of the few guys I've met who don't have the Madonna/whore complex, and he generally tries to be a good person. I do think he's absorbed a lot of harmful Reddit-type notions about dating and gender (and he is a Redditor), but if I ruled out guys based on this alone, I would be ruling out 90% of the men I know.

BUT. Back in grade school I was very plain. Puberty worked its magic and now I'm conventionally attractive and get a lot of male attention, but I'm always a little sad whenever I realize that I'm with someone who wouldn't give me the time of day if I didn't have my looks. For me personally, I've liked guys who were super hot and guys who were objectively ugly and they were all very attractive in their own ways. Would there be a point in talking to him about this? On the one hand, I have this fantasy that he'll see the error of his ways and come out as a better, more empathetic person. On the other hand, he's already the kind of person who thinks people can be rated between 1 and 10.
posted by placoderm to Human Relations (44 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
Do you want to break up, or do you want to negotiate?
posted by oceanjesse at 11:47 AM on August 3 [9 favorites]

Giving reasons opens it up to negotiation. If you absolutely must provide him feedback, you need to wrap it in disclaimers that you just want to let him know how offputting this is and that a promise to do better or whatever is not going to change anything.

But this is his problem to discover and solve and you telling him is probably just going to reduce your rating, not actually change him.
posted by Lyn Never at 11:50 AM on August 3 [9 favorites]

Although I would similarly leave someone like this OP, I wouldn't tell him.

Here is why:

I have this fantasy that he'll see the error of his ways and come out as a better, more empathetic person

If you tell him, he will just mask and hide this for the next person.

But what about actually developing empathy and not treating people that way?

I suspect most pple develop empathy the way you did, by being on the other side:

Back in grade school I was very plain. Puberty worked its magic and now I'm conventionally attractive and get a lot of male attention

and/or having friend or people you are close to who are of different (insert whatever -color, size,attractiveness) and watching them be judged and go through pain, etc. But you develop empathy through life,not through any lecture.

I think this guy should go on waving his flag because ideally, other people will avoid. There are other people who are like him and let them meet and do whatever.

But in your own life,you can avoid him and avoid others like him.
posted by Wolfster at 11:58 AM on August 3 [12 favorites]

Well, since you've already decided to break up with him, what harm is there in being honest? I don't see why you can't say something blunt like "you know, that joke you made isn't harmless, and it isn't funny, and you know how we all contain multitudes? I personally contain the memory of being plain, and knowing you have that disdain inside you for the person I used to be is incredibly off-putting and makes me not want to be with you." He'll either run for the hills if he can't take this honesty (in which case, breaking up is the right thing for you anyway) or apologize and watch his mouth (even better.)
posted by fingersandtoes at 11:59 AM on August 3 [3 favorites]

I am 100% set on breaking up with him. Also, fingersandtoes, that comment wasn't a joke :( It was in the middle of a passionate rant.
posted by placoderm at 12:02 PM on August 3

If you tell him, he will just mask and hide this for the next person.

I think it's possible for most people to genuinely learn and change, if the right set of circumstances occurs. If you accept this premise, then how else will this adult male be likely to learn this kind of compassion, if the questioner here doesn't talk to him about it?
posted by amtho at 12:04 PM on August 3

Sounds like dumping him is totally the right move.

Sometimes people can grow from feedback. Every time (starting with the first time!) he brought up that rating system you could have said, "Eww, that's so weird, you can't rate people from 1-10! What are you talking about!" And when he made the "ugly fat chick" comment you could have said, "Dude, you're an asshole."

But that's in the context of a relationship with someone he likes and respects, whose feedback he might be open to. NOT in the context of a breakup.

I think you could say, "This doesn't really seem like we're a good fit. I feel like you care too much about appearance, you talk about rating women on a scale of 1-10, and you have made really negative comments about people who are ugly or fat. I just don't want to be with someone who talks like that."

He'll get defensive and argue with you that they were just jokes, but the comment will linger with him, I guarantee it.
posted by amaire at 12:09 PM on August 3 [59 favorites]

Well, since you've already decided to break up with him, what harm is there in being honest?

I agree. If you're not up for negotiating, I don't believe telling the truth will get you stuck in a negotiation. I would say, "Someday I might get sick. I might get pregnant. Hopefully, I will get old. I can't be with someone who will leave me or resent me if that happens."
posted by DestinationUnknown at 12:10 PM on August 3 [14 favorites]

You've only been dating a month, so miko's script would be inappropriate, I think (I know I would not appreciate being on the receiving end of such a heavy speech after only a month).

Keep it simple, direct, and non-sugarcoated. "Now that we've spent some time getting to know each other, I realize that this isn't a good fit for the long-term. I've thought this through carefully, and it is best that we go our separate ways." (Or something along those lines.) Then sit back, let him air his thoughts, and exit.

Nothing more is owed, other than using respectful language during the talk, and allowing him to respond authentically. (If he becomes verbally abusive or refuses to accept the boundary, you can cut the conversation short.)

I'm of mixed mind about getting into the reasons why you are leaving. If fighting that battle is part of your identity and value system, then it's fine to engage him on it, without expectation of him changing his thinking or behavior. But it's strictly optional. It's not your job as a woman to "raise up" men -- it's just your job to set boundaries for yourself, advocate on your behalf for relationships that are in your best interest, and leave problematic relationships as quickly and cleanly as possible.

It's only been a month. There's no need to "go big" on this one.
posted by nacho fries at 12:12 PM on August 3 [5 favorites]

Sure, why not say something? But if his main vice is being vain, you're probably not going to change him. He is attracted to what he's attracted to, as are you (although being insulting of others appearances the way that he was is highly insensitive). However, just because you can look past physical appearance doesn't mean he can or should. His use of a number scale to rate physical attraction seems no different than you calling someone objectively ugly/hot.
posted by tomtheblackbear at 12:15 PM on August 3 [1 favorite]

I say tell him, and I like amaire's very straightforward script. No matter how he reacts in the moment, I agree that he will think about it later -- whether his thought is "I knew she was a crazy bitch" or "maybe this is something I need to work on" (or both, at different times).

tomtheblackbear: this is not about being vain or being attracted to certain types of people; it's about respecting other people, and treating women as human beings. I think this is something you can learn, if someone you care about calls you out on it and you're not in a bubble of people who agree it's acceptable to denigrate and judge other people based on their appearance.
posted by chickenmagazine at 12:21 PM on August 3 [4 favorites]

I agree fully with amaire and find that script perfectly acceptable. You're not saying he's fundamentally a bad person (or forever alone), you're telling him he is exhibiting behaviors that prevent mature romantic intimacy between human beings. You're saying "I can't date you because you think of dating as a rating system, and that drives away people looking for real connections, such as me."

His use of a number scale to rate physical attraction seems no different than you calling someone objectively ugly/hot.

If he is rating people on a 1-10 scale in order to put them down and/or to make stupid comments about how women are so damn lucky in love (because they can score hotties), then it is different indeed. He sounds vain and immature, and from personal experience if the OP tried to rationalize her own perception of reality to be equivalent to his vanity, she would probably end up very unhappy and dissatisfied.

I mean, he might freak the fuck out and double down, but you can't control that.
posted by stoneandstar at 12:22 PM on August 3 [2 favorites]

If you want break up, break up. I don't see why you need to give him the life lecture--he's not going to hear it with an open mind, because you just dumped him. Seems self-righteous to school him.
posted by Ideefixe at 12:25 PM on August 3 [2 favorites]

Yeah, I agree with the others above that it's okay to be honest and straightforward about your reasons. It won't necessarily be any easier for him if you were to just say, "I'm just not that into you" without telling him why; at least if you're honest he has a chance to work on himself and perhaps have a better shot at finding a relationship with someone else in the future.

I'm not saying you owe him this honesty, just that if you feel like explaining your reasons, it wouldn't be cruel to do so, and in fact may give him more closure than if you were to just be vauge about not being into him.
posted by Asparagus at 12:28 PM on August 3 [1 favorite]'re telling him he is exhibiting behaviors that prevent mature romantic intimacy between human beings.

When you described his attitude I had to double check to see which one of you was the 22 year old in this relationship. 28 is past the acceptable age to be the young insecure man other commenters are excusing this guy as, who doesn't understand human interaction and is using degrading Redditor attraction phenomenology like the "2/10 would not bang" out of naivete. Most men in his peer group are old enough to know better. He does not, or doesn't want to, and frankly that probably has a lot to do with why he's dating someone so much younger than he is. You're better than this. Go after that 10% of men who don't despise women, or hunt out some new friends where that number isn't quite so dire.
posted by moonlight on vermont at 12:32 PM on August 3 [7 favorites]

I would tell him (he needs to know what he's doing wrong so he can fix it), but I would be careful to talk about it from a specifically "this is what I personally feel about your behaviour" perspective rather than giving him advice about how to treat women in general in the future, or analyzing him. It'll be both more respectful on your part and harder for him to argue with.
posted by orange swan at 12:37 PM on August 3 [1 favorite]

There are many breakup situations where sharing the underlying reason is at best unnecessary and at worst cruel - generally when the reason is out of that person's control, or harmless, or completely subjective. Jerky behavior is not one of those things, and I think it can sometimes be useful to gently call someone out for being mean-spirited.

If you decide to share this feedback with him, make it brief and simple; don't lecture him or go into a list of reasons. I like amaire's approach, with one change: instead of "I don't want to be with someone who talks like that," I'd say "I don't want to be with someone who thinks like that" or "who feels that way about women."

I think he does sound like the kind of person who could improve on this, but it's not your responsibility to fix him or to wait around while he gets better.
posted by Metroid Baby at 12:47 PM on August 3 [3 favorites]

Thank you everyone so far for the answers. There are a lot of different opinions and they've given me a lot to think about. I just want to clarify something--of course I think people should date people they find physically attractive. No one's obligated to look past physical appearance if they don't want to.

But here's the full context of what he said: he was telling me how bad the online dating market is, and how women never ask men out. He was saying how no woman ever messaged him first "except this one ugly fat chick and I mean, I know I'm not a 10 but I'm at least better than that, right?" This is the exact wording. I've been running it over in my head for days.

I've dated and known some very vain guys, and none of them ever spoke this cruelly. If they were asked out by a girl they weren't attracted to, they would say something like "It's too bad, but I'm just not attracted to her." I never got this sense of, how dare she think she's hot enough for me, I'm better than her.
posted by placoderm at 12:48 PM on August 3 [13 favorites]

Girl, run.
posted by moonlight on vermont at 12:48 PM on August 3 [17 favorites]

with your update I'm understanding that your question is more like "is it worth explaining to this guy why this comment was so problematic" and less about "do I owe him an explanation"? I still think you lose nothing by telling him -- in fact, once you are done with him, I think you'll feel like you lost an opportunity to speak up for decency if you don't tell him why you're dumping him.
posted by fingersandtoes at 12:52 PM on August 3

Personally, I'd avoid explaining these particular reasons for breaking up simply because I would not want details of a breakup to appear on Reddit. I don't want to give ammunition to a man who is known to post on a site famous for allowing misogynistic talk. There's a possibility that he will relay what happens to other folks who harbor the same attitudes while in search of commiseration or discussion, and some of those people are known to stalk women online. Before you do anything, double check that your online presence is completely locked down.
posted by theraflu at 1:03 PM on August 3 [11 favorites]

You don't need to justify breaking up with him. You're completely allowed to break up with him for whatever reasons you might have; it just so happens that your reasons are really good.

I agree with everyone who says that Miko's script isn't necessary. Amaire's script is much more in line with what I would say. But theraflu's caveat is extremely good -- if you think there's the slightest chance he could use this against you in some public way that could turn ugly, then just end it pleasantly but without going any further than "I don't think we're a good fit; I wish you the best; bye."
posted by scody at 1:12 PM on August 3 [6 favorites]

I agree that there's no harm in broaching the subject as sort of parting advice. And yes, from firsthand experience, I can say you may regret not mentioning it at least.

You say he respects your boundaries, so it's not like an invitation to stalk you or anything. Just frame it as dating advice. A lot of women, even conventionally attractive ones, are very much put off by objectifying language like that, so it's advice that could improve his future prospects.

Appearances change over time, and even day to day, and women tend to be more conscious of that than men are. We also tend to give ourselves a little more credit for having value beyond our appearance.

When men put so much value on appearance alone, they're not just turning off women whose appearance they're criticizing.
posted by ernielundquist at 1:14 PM on August 3

You will stay with him if he changes his ways. How do you enforce this contract?

Your statement about his attraction to you is insightful, and I believe you ought to pay attention to it: he wouldn't give you the time of day if you were not conventionally attractive. You seem to be able to see through a person's outer layer, a talent that is more rare than you may realize. You can't tweak his idea of beauty to fit yours, and his outlook informs other areas that will impact your view of him.

After saying all that: don't try to give him a rundown on his faults. Just tell him you've decided that you two are a bad fit, and let it go at that.
posted by mule98J at 1:15 PM on August 3

The problem is not that he uses a rating system or even that he was offhandedly cruel about a woman's looks. It's that he has deep, profound insecurity ("at least I'm better than that, right?") and a hurtful, maladaptive way of coping with it ("women have it easy," "she was an ugly, fat chick"). That part of him hasn't been directed at you yet, because it has only been a month, but if you continue to date him, it will be. When he feels hurt or insecure (which invariably happens in relationships) he will have the same attitude toward you that he does toward every other woman. This is not something you can change, and it's not worth bringing up when you break up because you can't change it.
posted by pocketfullofrye at 1:16 PM on August 3 [31 favorites]

Given your update, I will amend my earlier comment to strongly suggest that you do not get into "constructive criticism" with him. He has already shown enough signs of narcissistic entitlement and thinly-veiled deeply-felt derision/disgust toward women that I would not be surprised if he flies into a hateful rage, either on the spot or after the fact.

I have had men I rejected go to ridiculous lengths online to try to humiliate me because they felt that they "deserved" my affection. It's a horrible experience, and not worth the risk.

You really don't know this guy all that well, so tread with care. The fact that he said those nasty things to you during the earliest phase of dating when theoretically he should have been *on his best behavior* suggests that you probably only saw the tip of the iceberg...who knows what lies beneath, once he feels rejected.

Oy vey, please be careful.
posted by nacho fries at 1:35 PM on August 3 [19 favorites]

Did you speak up in the moment, right when you heard him say these things? If so, you don't need to repeat yourself in the breakup talk.

If you didn't speak up in the moment, was there a reason you didn't? Were you just too shocked to put words together, or maybe feeling like it wouldn't be safe to say what you really think to him? If so, then maybe you will encounter similar feelings if you try to address it in the breakup talk. Only address it if you feel like you can manage your safety, including emotional safety.

If you would like permission not to tell him why his comments are gross and off-putting, you have official internet-stranger permission not to tell him. The standards of human decency are not a secret, and he can educate himself if he is ever so inclined.
posted by Bentobox Humperdinck at 1:48 PM on August 3 [6 favorites]

Confirmation bias will likely work against your aims. From my experience with the Reddit-reading population (don't ask), I am pretty sure that whatever you tell this guy -- and especially if you expose your vulnerabilities -- he'll spin it as "used to be a _____; can't take the heat; probably a ____", and then comfort himself with Bill Burr videos.

Would go with Amaire's suggestion, if anything.
posted by cotton dress sock at 1:52 PM on August 3 [1 favorite]

You don't know him that well. You're incompatible. He is not the type of person you're looking to date. That's really all there is to this.

Instead of trying to teach him why he's not the right guy for you, tell him kindly but in no uncertain terms that you aren't really interested in seeing him anymore, because you don't think you're compatible. Don't go into it further.

It is not your job to teach someone - especially someone you've only known for a month (a month is not that long) - how they should behave or act. He is too old for this nonsense. He should figure that out in his own due time. It's not your responsibility.

Also, this? I do think he's absorbed a lot of harmful Reddit-type notions about dating and gender (and he is a Redditor), but if I ruled out guys based on this alone, I would be ruling out 90% of the men I know.
You might consider getting to know some different men to date. A lot of men aren't like this in the slightest.
posted by sockermom at 1:53 PM on August 3 [11 favorites]

Don't tell him. He knows he's wrong and he'll only change when he wants to.

He'll be angry when you break up and this would only add ammunition to the matter. If he has compromising photos of you, try and delete them and change your phone, email, and social media passwords before you break up. (Even if you never gave them to him.) And be prepared for really terrible comments to be directed at you during the breakup. Betcha he's going to feel that you aren't good enough to dump him.
posted by Ik ben afgesneden at 2:14 PM on August 3

Similar context, I was honest. What I got in return was six hours of defensiveness and bullshit.

He and his friends made a couple jokes about gays I wasn't comfortable with. So I later told him that he and his friends made me uncomfortable. Not interested.

Hours and hours of excuses, defenses, etc. He kept calling back over and over with new excuses - I only continued to talk to him because I thought he'd see the light or something?

Unfortunately, I'd probably do it all over again. I would also tell your guy the truth as well.

I do it because that's what I can live with. Maybe it'll help, maybe it won't. That's on them.
posted by crankyrogalsky at 4:21 PM on August 3 [5 favorites]

Feel free to tell him but don't expect change. People who believe in objective beauty standards are often quite rigid about it. I was with my wife fourteen years and she believed in 1-10 rankings the entire time.
posted by ead at 6:02 PM on August 3

It's not your job to help him be a better person. If you want to try, be prepared for it to be a thankless and fruitless task. The most likely result of you telling him why you're breaking up with him is him telling all his friends that you're a stuck up bitch who can't take a joke, and he thought you were ok at first but it turned out you were crazy just like his other exes. If you're ok with that, knock yourself out. Otherwise, I recommend a breakup script that's more like "it's been a fun month, but I'm just not feeling it. Bye!" If he tries to argue, just keep falling back on "eh, I just don't feel that spark, you know?" and the like. And then leave. He'll still tell his friends how much you suck, but it'll probably be less specific.
posted by hades at 6:22 PM on August 3

I've been in a similar situation before. This guy I was dating was insecure and he said some nasty things about other people. I called him out on it for me, not because I really thought I could change him. Ultimately, I think your decision about whether to be honest about this comes down to whether you'd regret not saying anything.

I really hate it when dudes like this think that they know what it's like to date as a woman. It's slim pickings out there but they all think that they're God's gift.
posted by kinddieserzeit at 12:24 AM on August 4

I'd talk to him about his nasty attitudes, because he's a person and deserves the chance to grow I'm not sure about combining it with the breakup talk.

I wish young men would read this thread and think about it.
posted by theora55 at 4:47 AM on August 4 [1 favorite]

Final Update: Hi everyone, thanks so much for all your input. I didn't raise the issue because once I saw him, I felt a rush of affection for him and decided not to also load him with criticisms about his personality. He really is a great guy, and he means well, but he's just like...unable to understand anything I say.

Actually, later on, in an unrelated conversation, we did end up having an argument about whether women are justified in being scared of strangers. He said he didn't "believe in stranger danger". And I was furious, because it's not some abstract theoretical thing that women "believe" in; women take those precautions because of actual experiences. I told him one of my own, but his response was, "I'm not a bad guy, why should I have to be punished for the behavior of other guys?" At that point I just threw my hands up.
posted by placoderm at 8:03 AM on August 4 [6 favorites]

A really great guy who genuinely means well would actually try to cultivate an understanding as to why half of humanity feels more fear than the other half.
posted by scody at 9:16 AM on August 4 [7 favorites]

"I'm not a bad guy, why should I have to be punished for the behavior of other guys?"

Yeah, I've heard my boyfriend say this. And he's not wrong; that does suck. But when he has said something like that, it's always followed by, "But I understand that women can't tell that I'm not a bad guy, and I'd rather deal with it than be afraid of people on the street like you have to be. I'm really lucky that this is the problem I have to deal with, and I wish our society taught men to treat women better and actually punished violent offenders so that you didn't have to be afraid walking in a parking garage or down the street. I just hate thinking about you being afraid like that."
posted by sockermom at 9:20 AM on August 4

If he's that vocally stubborn about his unwillingness to feel empathy for the women in his life – not just you, but also his mother, his sisters, his friends – then consider whether he's worth keeping in your life. You'll have a hard enough time getting by in this world without the added anchor of a loved one keeping up the harmful narrative that you shouldn't feel the way you feel about your own experiences.
posted by theraflu at 9:41 AM on August 4 [4 favorites]

He's one of the few guys I've met who don't have the Madonna/whore complex

I do think he's absorbed a lot of harmful Reddit-type notions about dating and gender (and he is a Redditor), but if I ruled out guys based on this alone, I would be ruling out 90% of the men I know.

You're totally hanging out with the wrong crowd :-) 90% of people don't have notions like that. I would drop it like it's hot the second I heard that "fat ugly chicks" or 1-10 thing. Complaining about the online dating market is something that you are allowed to do privately, inside your brain, or with your [same gender] best friend. Everything else is whining about it. You made the right move to end it. Just remember that this is not the pool of men you are forced to pick from :-)
posted by mermily at 11:10 AM on August 4 [2 favorites]

You have found a deal-breaker, and kudos to you for breaking it off early. If he's showing you enough of these tendencies to merit a breakup now, there's probably more unpleasantness that would manifest once your newness has worn off/your perceived value as a hot and sexy lady has worn off. The only reason this guy hasn't directed his nastiness at you yet is that you currently hold a "pass" which he has given you. He can and probably will revoke that pass if your perceived hotness rating diminishes for any reason, (the reason might not even be physical. Maybe you'll bore him/disagree with him/lose your newness/be too busy or him/call him out on his entitled behavior/fail to correctly stroke his ego, etc.).

If you're honest with him, he'll either try to negotiate/promise to do better, or he'll tell you why you're wrong about his behavior being objectionable in the first place.

Do make make it clear to him that you're not interested now--and won't be interested in future--in a relationship with him. Otherwise, you'll end up having the same kind of conversation again every time he decides he wants to try to get back into your pants/your life. If you think you need to include these attitudes of his in your explanation, then do, and be prepared to shut the conversation down if he persists.
posted by Flipping_Hades_Terwilliger at 12:49 PM on August 4

Actually, later on, in an unrelated conversation, we did end up having an argument about whether women are justified in being scared of strangers. He said he didn't "believe in stranger danger". And I was furious, because it's not some abstract theoretical thing that women "believe" in; women take those precautions because of actual experiences. I told him one of my own, but his response was, "I'm not a bad guy, why should I have to be punished for the behavior of other guys?" At that point I just threw my hands up.

Your instincts about this dude were very good instincts.
posted by Flipping_Hades_Terwilliger at 12:54 PM on August 4 [1 favorite]

These things seem to go together with this type of man: a deep insecurity about women, a misogynistic streak they're totally blind to, and a dismissive attitude and feeling of personal affront regarding the very legitimate fears women must negotiate regarding men. There's also a sense of entitlement in there, too. At the tail end (and I do mean tail end) of the bell curve this kind of thinking is what inspired Elliot Rodgers to gun down some women.

I don't think it's worth it telling him the hard truth if you think there's any chance he's going to make it public online. That said, I agree that if this kind of frank discussion is part of who you are, of your identity, then follow your instincts.

What I wish is that some great compassionate, intelligent soul would write a book about this especially for this type of guy to give him the kind of guidance he obviously never got from his parents because then you could recommend the book to him.

It's really great that you figured this out a month in.
posted by lillian.elmtree at 2:38 PM on August 4 [3 favorites]

He's dumb; good for you to realize so soon it wasn't going to work out.
posted by stoneandstar at 10:49 PM on August 7

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