I need to break up with my boyfriend, but I need some advice on how.
October 26, 2008 9:47 AM   Subscribe

How do I break up with my boyfriend?

My boyfriend and I have been together for over five years and living together for four. He is the absolute sweetest boy, and sometimes I can't believe how good he is to me. He is very attached to me, constantly hugging me and stuff. If I'm out all day, he tells me how he missed me once I get back.

Unfortunately, over the past six months, I just don't feel like I'm in love with him anymore and I just don't want to be with him anymore. I hoped it would pass, but it's not looking like it.

He has only had one serious girlfriend before me and I know he was suicidal when she broke up with him.

I've never been dumped myself, so I just want some advice on how to minimize the hurt as much as possible. I don't know what to say, what not to say, what to do, what not to do. I keep hearing that "Let's be friends," is one of the worst things you can say (though I can't understand why apart from the cliché factor), so I guess that's out?

He is having a hard time financially at the moment, and moving out and getting a new apartment can be expensive, so I would like to give him some money. Is that acceptable?

Gah, just some advice, please. I'm feeling nauseous from the guilt here. I care about him so much.
posted by giggleknickers to Human Relations (27 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
Whatever you do, I think it helps to take time to answer his questions. I've only been dumped once but what was so awful about it was that things seemed absolutely great, I had no idea anything was bothering him, and he abruptly dumped me and didn't explain why for weeks. And when he did explain, he was not at all open to clarifying anything even though I wasn't trying to get back with him. Like your boyfriend in his first relationship, I was somewhat suicidal after that break-up. However, I was also 17 -- how old was your boyfriend? -- and first relationships are often especially difficult to get over. I do not think I would react that way now, so unless your boyfriend is prone to depression or something, there is reasonable argument that he would not be suicidal in this circumstance. You know him better, though.

My ex and I were only together two and a half years so I imagine that a relationship as long as yours, and with a reason like "I'm just not in love with you anymore" -- my ex had a lot of negative reasons to break up, which are easier to understand -- he'll probably be lost and confused.

I've been with my husband six years now (we just got married this month) and we're always hugging each other and he told me how much he missed me after I got back from a movie last night. I'm trying to imagine how he might feel, or how I might feel, if one of us fell out of love with the other. The reason "let's be friends" sucks is because the person who is dumped wants to be much more than friends, and being dumped, especially after such a long relationship that seemed great, can be traumatic and life-changing. The last thing many people want to do in that situation is see you all the time and try to pretend they're okay. I don't think either me or my husband would be able to handle seeing each other for a long time if that happened to us.

As for money, I know that if I had broken up with my husband five years ago when we were just dating and living together, it would not have felt weird for me to try to help him financially. You might want to already have the money ready, though. If it becomes this protracted thing after the break-up where you're both trying to hammer out financial issues, I think it will just make him miserable to have to see and communicate with you so much.
posted by Nattie at 10:04 AM on October 26, 2008

Something like this happened to me. I ended up being the one to move out, and I gave him three extra months of rent so that he would have time to find a roommate, or a new place to live. I was moving to a new city anyway, but this seems much easier than saying, "I don't love you, get out". Also, it let's you be in control of the separation of households, rather than waiting for him to do it. Unless you own the place (or it's rent control or something), then that's a different situation.

You have to be honest. But be gentle. I never said "Let's be friends". I did tell him that I had grown and changed, and I was moving in a different direction. Make sure he has support... talk to his friends and family if he won't. But you can't be a hostage to the possibility of how he may deal with the break-up.
posted by kimdog at 10:06 AM on October 26, 2008

It's going to hurt no matter what. The best thing to do is probably sit down and talk about it honestly and forthrightly; don't do anything craven like telling him via text message or e-mail, and don't try to break it to him through his friends (I've seen that done). Trying to cushion the blow often makes it worse—the “Let's Just Be Friends” effect, as you note. The reason for this is pretty much societal. Men have more experience than women with rejection, generally, because in our culture men are expected to be the “hunters.” If you're not very successful with women (speaking from experience here!) the attempts to shoot you down softly begin to seem craven and cloying.

Just let him hate you for a little while and get it out of his system. It's natural.

Furthermore, don't give him money unless he has absolutely no options like friends or parents to turn to. It would seem condescending, like a pay-off.
posted by sonic meat machine at 10:06 AM on October 26, 2008

I just don't feel like I'm in love with him anymore and I just don't want to be with him anymore.

"I like you. I'm just not in love with you anymore, and I don't want to be with you anymore. So we need to figure out how to move on."

Really. It's so much better to be clear. For his own sanity, draw a kind but firm line.
posted by rokusan at 10:10 AM on October 26, 2008 [7 favorites]

There's nothing you can do to minimize the hurt, if he's going to take it the way you suspect. Break up with him firmly but kindly, giving him honest reasons, and then cut off contact - because anything less will give him hope (even the faintest amount of hope) and that will make it that much more drawn out and painful for him.

That nauseating guilt? That stays with you as well, for much longer than you would expect.
posted by frobozz at 10:10 AM on October 26, 2008

I second the idea that giving money would seem almost like a pay off, especially if you expect him to move.

If you're the one who wants out and is doing the breaking up, why do you expect him to move out anyway?

That said, be straightforward. There's a difference between straightforward and cruel and straightforward and caring. Make sure it's the latter. It's going to hurt, probably like nothing else he's felt before. But people are remarkably resilient.
posted by cmgonzalez at 10:18 AM on October 26, 2008

Guy here. Been the dumpie and the dumper more than a few times - some times deeply entangled, long term relationships.

over the past six months, I just don't feel like I'm in love with him anymore and I just don't want to be with him anymore. I hoped it would pass, but it's not looking like it.

Whatever you do and however you do it, the above is exactly what you have to communicate to him. And what you're articulating isn't out of the ordinary and it's completely fair for you to feel this way. Remember that.

Two points of caution though:

he was suicidal when she broke up with him

He is having a hard time financially at the moment

You're in a very delicate situation here. For one, this guy is primed to go off the deep end when you dump him. That shouldn't stop you - all guys go off the deep end over a girl at some point in our lives. If it wasn't you, it'd be the next girlfriend. Two, you have to understand that this is going to be a drawn out process, and you need to emotionally prepare yourself for that.

Because it's a process, you need to plan it out in phases. Step one is to plan for the logistics of the breakup. Will he move out, or will you? Who get's the TV, the cat, etc. It sounds like you've already thought about this some, that's good. Keep thinking about it, write your plans down, thinking about contingencies. What if he can't find a place? What if you disagree about who gets what?

Step two is to have "the talk" and that's perhaps the most difficult process, and the one which it sounds like you're struggling with.

Perhaps the best way to articulate this break up is to say simply: "I need space. I need time away from this relationship." As you talk to him try to minimize language like, "I'll always love you. I'll always want you in my life..." words like that tend to burn into guy's brains and he will tend to hear that more than the part about being apart. In other words, stay on message.

I'll tell you a secret: sometimes guys are simple, ego driven animals. We take breakups personally because we worry it reflects poorly on our manhood, our sense of value. Not every break up is like this - but myself and every guy I know has had a woman walk out on them and felt like completely worthless sacks of shits because of it at least once... It sounds like your soon-to-be ex is in exactly this situation. It sounds like he relies heavily on you to ground him, to round him out, to give meaning to his identity. That's not a good thing - relationships like that can be soul sucking and tiresome to maintain. He needs to be on his own, to grow up a little - you may not realize it, but what you're doing is good for him in the long run. Keep that in mind.

Beware that he won't go quietly. He will try ever tactic, every guilt trip, every trick to get you to stay. He will profess his love for you endlessly, he will want to "work it out," he'll try to wear you down, to get you re-examine your choice. Whether you go through with it or not, should be your own choice - don't let his antics influence you. It sounds like you've thought about this a lot and came to a good decision. Remember that.

getting a new apartment can be expensive, so I would like to give him some money. Is that acceptable?

I'm going to go against the trend of what I suspect will be a lot of people telling you not to do this and say that, yes, it is an acceptable arrangement.

Think about it like this: he's going to probably not take the break up well, and then on top of it he is going to have growing financial stresses with moving. Also, even though you're not married, you are living together, and he has come to rely on your income for security.

If you do this though, you have to set some very firm boundaries. I wouldn't just give him a lump sum. I would offer to - depending upon how much you can afford - to pay for his moving expenses, help with a deposit for an apartment, or maybe pay the first month's rent. What you're looking for an opportunity where you can pay a one-time expense, and you want to avoid a situation where you're paying for his moving van one day, his electric bill the next, and so on. You also want to avoid any notion that you're going to continue to be a financial fall back for him. When you right the check, tell him firmly, "I'm doing this because I care about you and I want to get off to the right start at your new place, but this is the ONLY time I will ever give you money. Don't ever ask."

All in all I give you credit for trying to make the best of this. I think it's good that you're end the relationship as best as possible. It is a process. Hang in there!
posted by wfrgms at 10:22 AM on October 26, 2008 [5 favorites]

And honestly, saying "Let's be friends" is not the worst thing you can say. If you truly care about each other and you'd like to remain friends with him, give it a go. Often it will take some time before you can be fully comfortable in that friendship, but it's a wonderful thing. If people don't work out together but care and know each other, they can make great friends.

Personally, I prefer to stay friends with my exes whenever possible. No it does not give me false hope of anything. We've all long moved on.

Cutting off all contact is the cruelest way of doing things.
posted by cmgonzalez at 10:23 AM on October 26, 2008 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Wow, thank you, everyone.

To clarify, I'm sure both of us will be moving out to smaller apartments, because neither of us can afford to suddenly be paying twice as much rent.

When people say that giving him money will look like a pay-off, does that mean that it will hurt more for him or just that it will make me look bad? I don't care about looking bad if it makes it easier for him.
posted by giggleknickers at 10:29 AM on October 26, 2008

It's more that it will seem hurtful. You're telling him something that will change everything and then trying to give him money might be taken as salt in the wounds. Your gesture isn't a bad one in itself, as you're trying to take care of him. Two things: it might come off to him as a guilt payment. And for a guy, with the whole provider mentality that they often feel, it could add insult to injury.
posted by cmgonzalez at 10:34 AM on October 26, 2008

When people say that giving him money will look like a pay-off, does that mean that it will hurt more for him or just that it will make me look bad?

Let's be clear: it is a pay off, but that doesn't mean it's a bad choice. As far as looking bad, who's going to know? And who cares?

The whole point of helping him financially is that you're trying to give him a soft-landing. You should be clear with that intention whenever you bring the subject up. What this allows is for you to completely remove financial commitments from the equation. He won't be able to say that if you leave him he'll be out on the street... it's really covering all bases and it's extremely generous of you.

One last thing that I meant to mention in my previous post: you shouldn't commit yourself financially to him beyond a single check or payment. That means, don't co-sign a lease for his new apartment or anything else. You want this to be a one time thing and if he flakes out and looses his apartment, they will come after you.
posted by wfrgms at 10:47 AM on October 26, 2008

When people say that giving him money will look like a pay-off, does that mean that it will hurt more for him or just that it will make me look bad? I don't care about looking bad if it makes it easier for him.

At a guess I think people are saying it would make both of you look bad, but I think it's a good and useful thing to do nevertheless (and I don't agree it makes either of you look bad.) Just don't make it a loan, because that would continue your relationship.

It's been mentioned before, but it's worth saying again: after you break up KEEP AWAY. Any "just friends" contact WILL make it harder for him to move on. (Been there, on both sides.)

Good luck. The sun and the stars will still shine.
posted by anadem at 10:57 AM on October 26, 2008

Unfortunately, over the past six months, I just don't feel like I'm in love with him anymore and I just don't want to be with him anymore.

Keep in mind that you've been living with this idea for six months. He's about to be blindsided and might be justifiably angry and confused. Being able to answer his questions and taking the time to do so is highly recommended and also the decent thing to do.

Stop having sex with him and stop sleeping in the same bed. As the one deviating the breakup, you should take the couch. Try to spend less time in the apartment when he's there. Living together after breaking up is extremely hard and to be avoided at all costs. However, if it has to happen, try to minimize the time spent together in the apartment, it can be painful.

Does he have a mon-fri job? If so, tell him on fri evening, so he'll have time to pull himself together over the weekend. Adjust as needed for his schedule.

If possible, have a place to stay for a day or two at first so he can have time come to terms with this on his on.

Do not, under any circumstances, say "let's be friends." At best say, "After we've sorted out our living situation, we shouldn't contact each other for each least six months, minimum."

Your post doesn't say if you guys talked about this, but in the future it would probably be better if you told the SO how you were feeling six months ago. Being blindsided (however innocently) hurts.

Giving him money is kind, but it's probably going to hurt him and his self esteem. That's ok, make the offer. Being homeless will hurt his self esteem more.

Him being suicidal: To be brutally honest, that is a choice he will have to make and whatever happens it is not your fault. Maybe look into cheap counseling and suggest it to him at some point, but again, that's his choice. The best you can say is that this doesn't make him a terrible person and it doesn't mean someone won't be in love with him in the future.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 11:08 AM on October 26, 2008 [3 favorites]

You have been living together for four years, and presumably you have been splitting expenses up until now in a manner that seemed equitable to you both. So there's an unspoken contract of sorts. As the breaker-upper, you have time to prepare for financially-emotionally-resourcewise. He will need time too, to adapt to that change financially-emotionally-resourcewise.

So if you are moving out you might still need to cover your part of the rent for a month or two, not as a favor to him, but as a way of ending your financial arrangement in a fair way. If you can both think of it in those terms then you might not feel so much guilt, and he might not feel as pathetic.
posted by headnsouth at 11:10 AM on October 26, 2008

Miko has posted a great comment on this exact subject.
posted by triggerfinger at 11:34 AM on October 26, 2008

In my experience, if you care about him you should probably give him the chance to decide for himself if he wants you to help him financially or not. Show him respect and let him decide what he's comfortable with. Let him keep his pride and and feel some control. His ego is already going to be annihilated and his self esteem will be wounded, so don't just tell him how you want to handle things. You are both experiencing this breakup, let him hold onto some masculine dignity and do some decision making of his own.

Like I said, your mileage may vary but that's just something I've kinda learned over the years. Kind of a golden rule thing too, since that's how I'd want to be treated.
posted by miss lynnster at 12:13 PM on October 26, 2008

Maybe you two should talk about it together, first. It seems like you've been in the relationship for a while, and yet you've kept this really big thing from him. Can you at least discuss it first, instead of just calling everything off? Five years might not be that long, but it's been a while. It seems like this is the sort of decision that you don't just spring on someone. You talk about it, maybe you talk to someone else about it, together, and you give it another month and then start sorting out your belongings and making the move.
posted by redsparkler at 12:19 PM on October 26, 2008 [1 favorite]

wfrgms has some very good friends, but i'd warn you to try and choose your words carefully. a friend's ex once said "I need time away from this relationship" (almost verbatim in fact), and my friend purposely still hasn't gotten over the relationship in the hopes that he'll come running back one day. "time off" or "time away" means that one day it won't be "off" or "away." be as clear and gentle as you have in your original post. i personally thought you put it in an honest and clear way that wasn't particularly mean.

re: remaining friends. i'd say it's doable, but don't push it. let him seek you out. he needs time to get used to life without you, otherwise you'll just become this great female friend that serves as an emotional replacement for you-the-SO. cut off contact for a few months. let him deal with his feelings. even if he's seemingly recovered by dating other girls, make sure they're not just meaningless rebounds where he's simply trying to fill a void. (hey, i've seen it happen.) in other words, don't automatically assume he's 100% over you just because he starts dating others. As the dumper, you kind of have no say as to whether or not you guys get to be friends in the future. Ideally over time both will value the relationship for what it is and he'll seek you out.

re: the financial help. if treated and presented the wrong way, i'd personally be pretty offended. (e.g, "Who are you to think that you're better off than me and that I need the charity?") He loves you now, but he might not be so keen on the idea after you break it off with him. To make it seem less of a "I still care for you deeply and I want you to be well" charity case, you can always present it in a less personal way ("I'm sorry I broke the lease agreements/sprung this on you, and it only makes sense as a previous roommate to pay for my share of the rent for the next x months & moving expenses").
posted by mittenedsex at 12:20 PM on October 26, 2008

I don't think a "pay off" is a bad thing. It's a good signal that you really do care about his well being, but that you're also willing to make a sacrifice to get him out of your life (or at least house). Of course he shouldn't accept it, but that's a totally different conversation.

There's a lot of good advice here. Don't blind side him, be honest. Take charge and make what you want to happen happen. It will hurt no mater what, just make sure it's from the sadness of parting, not from anger, resentment, or betrayal.
posted by Ookseer at 12:22 PM on October 26, 2008

I think giving him the money would be a nice thing to do.
posted by Maisie Jay at 1:38 PM on October 26, 2008

The thing about this method of breaking up is that (for the dumpee) it goes from one minute being part of a team of two people who love and trust each other to the next minute being something close to adversaries, and wondering if you can trust anything this person ever said to you.

If my bf came to me after living together for four years and said, 'oh, hey, I've known for six months that I'm not in love with you any more, I have everything completely worked out about how to split up and here's some money to get you through', I would be devastated and humiliated. I'd feel like the past six months of my life (at least) were a sham.

If you and your bf are friends and can really talk to each other, and IF you don't actually have a time-frame for the break-up, then I suggest you just tell him that you've been thinking about your future lately and you've come to realize that you don't see yourself married to him or living with him in the long term. He will ask if you still love him, and you should use whatever words make sense but are honest. Give him as much information as you have about the situation, and then start talking about it together.

Yes, he will be hurt. But you will be treating him with dignity and respect and shaping this next phase of your lives together, instead of you becoming a dictator about how his life is going to go. He will feel like you are still his ally, even if you don't love him any longer.

The key is to not let things go to a dramatic place (don't rise to his bait), and to not be impatient with him. Let him see that you are sad about it, too.
Once he understands that you *wanted* to feel deep love for him but that try as you might it hasn't worked and that you are sad about things, too, he will understand that things just are what they are.

It sounds like you really care about him and want the best for him, including to minimize his pain. I think that doing it this way might cut out the sense of abandonment and betrayal that so many people get when they are dumped. I also think that talking to him about giving him some money is a very nice gesture on your part. He may or may not want it, but offering is great.
posted by Brody's chum at 2:57 PM on October 26, 2008 [5 favorites]

On the money issue, I think the best way to handle it would be to leave money for your half of the rent for the next two or three months. He could then either use that entire time to recover a bit before finding a new place, or he could leave that place early and use it for a security deposit at the next spot. (Just make sure he knows you don't want it back if he leaves early.)
posted by salvia at 10:18 PM on October 26, 2008

From experience, I can definitely tell you what you shouldn't do (dump him after 9 years when wildly drunk at a ritzy restaurant in Paris before taking a sleeper train for a week on the romantic island of Capri)!

However, what you should do...

My advice would be to explain to him calmly and rationally what's been going on for you, how you feel, that you have made the decision to move on and why you've reached that decision.

Things will get incredibly emotional. The thing to remember in that situation is that you mustn't react badly to any negativity that arises.

Even though you're not in love with him any longer, I hope you still have love for him. So keep hold of that when you're talking with him, even if things get heated.

Good luck.
posted by Lleyam at 10:49 AM on October 27, 2008

I take it that there is nothing to "fix" here, i.e. you hate that he stays out late with his friends or ignores you in favor of videogames or yells obscenities at you when you fight. If there's nothing he can do to change your mind, he is going to get hit like a mack truck. I made the HUGE mistake of holding onto six months of resentments and then announcing I was going to leave. I didn't have my reasons clear in my head, so what came out of my mouth was vague and hurtful to him because he didn't have any clue it was coming and didn't have anything to grab onto. In my case, there were concrete things that we could change to salvage the relationship, and now we're married. Five years is a huge investment. If he needs to quit his job or change his personal hygiene or be better in bed, just tell him. I honestly don't know what "falling out of love" means, and it's likely he won't either.

He is going to ask you Why? a million times until he feels satisfied, and it's possible he never will. If you have to, make something up along the lines of "It's not you, it's me." If there's nothing he can change, then don't make it about him at all. But don't go on and on trying to reassure him he's really a wonderful guy because it will just make it worse for him. He'll think you're lying, because if he was really so great, why are you leaving? Take the fall for this out of the goodness of your heart. Don't worry about looking bad because it's inevitable. Don't drag it out - rip off the bandaid as cleanly as you can so he can start the healing process.

Re: the money - I think you should say something along the lines of "I know it's going to be rough on you to move out so I am going to help you with the first month's rent and [other specific thing you decide]. Once you find a place let me know and I will write you a check."
posted by desjardins at 3:06 PM on October 27, 2008 [1 favorite]

If he needs to quit his job or change his personal hygiene or be better in bed, just tell him.

Forgot to add the obvious: If he can change them, HE WILL. From your description I'm 100% certain he's that kind of guy. But only tell him these things if you're certain it would change your opinion. Otherwise you're just leading him on, and once he [changes X] you'll find something else he needs to do before you can "fall in love" with him again.
posted by desjardins at 3:09 PM on October 27, 2008 [1 favorite]

I had a partner who'd had similar depression on breaking up with a girlfriend.
He also had a number of other things going on in his life that meant I was really worried he'll fall apart if I pulled out my 'supporting strut'.

In a word, I put off breaking up with him far, far, far too long.

On the good side - I left him in about as good shape as possible. So, I achieved that overly co-dependent objective.

He was at the most stable point in his health he'd been for years, he was getting fun, social, exercise several times a week (I'm not kidding - I kept encouraging him to take things like dancing lessons etc), he was getting more social contact with friends who were HIS friends, not mine.
On moving out - he went to a better, sunnier, more hypo-allergenic, cheaper flat, where he was living with 3 friends.

I can't quite summarise the ways in which I went overboard.
But, emotionally -
I'd talked with him about my reservations in the relationships over a length of time. Nothing came out of the blue.
In the last 6 months, I started talking about all the things he'd been doing better before he met me, and his good social contacts outside me. I pointed out the ways that I was probably being codependent, and that I was sorry for doing that. I started talking about the future in terms of, he deserved to be with someone who had similar future goals. I started diverging more. I'd point out the ways in which I wasn't that suited for him, and how other people might be.
This is weird to mention, because I can see how it could all have been done badly. I think I managed well. It was about me, and huh, that crazy personality habit I have - it doesn't really go with your personality habit does it?
By the end, he was at peace, and content that we'd come to the natural end of the relationship (actually, way, way past it), and that there'd be someone out there better for him, and that we could be friends. Because it was true. The more I opened myself up to believing it was ok to feel that way, the more obvious it was.

I realised that I hadn't been letting myself *feel* ok about how I was feeling for a long, long time (lo, length of unsuitable relationship).

Not saying that this is similar to your relationship, but - both an example that yes, you can let someone down gently, and a warning - don't drag it out too long.
If it's not good for you, let him know - it will help him deal, but any drag in the length actually just means you're letting someone be with you when they know it's not working for you. It's bad for *their* self-esteem. And it *will* have been coming out in small ways.
posted by Elysum at 1:15 AM on October 28, 2008 [1 favorite]

For the record "Let's Just Be Friends" tends to hurt because it can quite easily be interpreted as "I used to think you were good enough to be intimate with me and share secrets, but now I think you're pretty much just like someone I know on Facebook. Oh, also, theres nothing you can do about it. Kthxbye!"
posted by softlord at 6:02 AM on October 28, 2008 [1 favorite]

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