Tactfully breaking off casual dating
July 12, 2009 4:11 PM   Subscribe

How to tactfully break things off with a woman I just started dating?

I’m a late 20s guy with fairly limited dating experience. I’ve been in two long-term relationships thus far (both ended very amicably) and in several short term ones. My short term relationships mostly fizzled out without any formal break up. The few that ended formally, my girlfriend was the one to break it off (“we should just be friends”) but this was after 2-6 months of dating.
After many years of not being able to land a date, I gave up and now seem to be going on dates all the time (women I meet offline and online). Although I am having a good time, I have no idea how to end these casual dating relationships when I am no longer interested. Example: I recently met a girl at my coffee shop (we’re both regulars there). We chatted a couple of times, I asked her out, and went on a date. A week later we had a second date. After both dates, she wrote me a nice email saying how much she enjoyed it and that she was looking forward to seeing me again. She seems like a nice person but after two long conversations with her, I realized that I don’t enjoy being around her. My usual response to a situation like this is to not return the email and hope that she doesn’t contact me again. I would probably also avoid that coffee shop for a little while. But clearly this is not the adult thing to do.
Writing her an email saying “Hey, I’m not interested in dating you anymore” sounds weird and formal (because we are not in a relationship). But then I don’t want to leave her hanging. What is the graceful, adult thing to do here?

PS: I have been on the other side of this too. A few weeks ago I went on a date with someone I met on okc. I wrote her an email and called a few days after the date. We played text tag for a couple of days but then she stopped responding and deleted her profile. So that was the end of that. Is that the way to go? Stop responding and the other person just takes the hint?
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (45 answers total) 21 users marked this as a favorite
You're not married to her, I don't think that a formal divorce is necessary... just stop responding, don't call her, screen her calls... she'll get it...
posted by HuronBob at 4:18 PM on July 12, 2009

My opinion (which is shared by many others, for what that's worth) is that going on one or two dates doesn't require any sort of "break up". I think it's better not to respond. I've been not-responded-to by guys I was hopeful about and I've not-responded to hopeful guys and I think that's cool and infinitely better than the one time I received a DO NOT WANT email after a date. Ooh, that guy I hate. There's no reason to break up with a woman who isn't your girlfriend.
posted by moxiedoll at 4:21 PM on July 12, 2009 [2 favorites]

I feel like the stop responding thing is rough. There was a similar question awhile ago. How do I say "no" without being mean? I think the advice applies to you.
posted by MeetMegan at 4:21 PM on July 12, 2009 [1 favorite]

respond to her e-mail and tell her the truth, lightly. say "hey i just think i'm looking for something a bit different, but it was nice meeting you," as opposed to "you are not enjoyable to be around."

if she doesn't take the hint and keeps pushing it, then ignore her. but don't just ignore her straight off. it's a sight colder to make her wonder, plus your directness will avoid some guilt feelings on your part, if you are prone to it.
posted by sarelicar at 4:22 PM on July 12, 2009 [34 favorites]

I would say that in the age of internet dating, the stop-responding-to-email method of (not breaking up) letting somebody know you're no longer interested in them is rather typical. I'm not saying it's the best method (especially in this case, where you met her not though online dating networks, but in person), but it is certainly common enough for her to get the picture.

How she takes it (whether it you break up with her through non-response, or by email response, or by telling her so in-person) is pretty arbitrary. People take things like this in different ways, some shockingly poorly, some surprisingly well.
posted by jabberjaw at 4:28 PM on July 12, 2009

I agree with sarelicar! Ignoring her straight off is way harsh, even if it's the "norm."
posted by firei at 4:32 PM on July 12, 2009

Ugh, not responding is super harsh, even if you don't owe them anything.

I was actually "dumped" a couple months ago after a couple dates, but the guy wrote me an email...I probably still have it.....I do! Feel free to copy.

"Hey. Thanks for the email. I want to level with you, I like you, but I don't think we'd make a good couple. I'm glad you had a good time on the nights we went out, I had fun too. I just don't think we're really compatible, and it's best to break things off cleanly. Thanks, [His name]."

Sure, it was disappointing to get that email, but it made things clear, it didn't leave me guessing or wondering, and he wasn't a jerk about it.

Now, if you send an email like that but she keeps calling or emailing...then feel free to ignore. But stopping all communication without an explanation isn't only rude, but it leaves her guessing and not really knowing what's going on.
posted by AlisonM at 4:39 PM on July 12, 2009 [97 favorites]

I always try to take them out to dinner, and then break the news after they've enjoyed a decent meal.

In one case, that led to the girl proposing that we be "friends with benefits"; subsequently we hooked up every six months or so (she wanted more often, but as I'd dumped her because I didn't want to be leading her on if she was hearing the ticking of the mommy-clock, I purposely kept the hook-ups to a minimum, so as not to get in the way of her pursuing a LTR with someone interested in being a daddy.)
posted by orthogonality at 4:47 PM on July 12, 2009

As someone who's been on both sides of this situation many times, I'd rather hear something on the order of "It was fun hanging out with you the other night, but I don't think we really clicked" than nothing.
posted by medeine at 4:48 PM on July 12, 2009 [9 favorites]

I would say, for your own self-esteem, it's a great exercise. You can tactfully tell her you aren't interested in carrying things in a deeper direction. That way you can both move on quickly, you get to feel good about yourself for owning your feelings but not being unkind. And you get to keep your favorite hang out spots, etc. After some experience, I learned it's best to just gently let people know. Good luck!
posted by effluvia at 4:50 PM on July 12, 2009 [3 favorites]

What AlisonM and others like her said.
posted by Silvertree at 4:51 PM on July 12, 2009

I always try to take them out to dinner, and then break the news after they've enjoyed a decent meal.

Seriously? You take a woman out on a date to tell her you don't want to date her? Wow, OP, do not do this.

The responses on this thread are interesting and I'll be keeping track - to me, a dawning realization over a couple of days is definitely preferable to reception of a DO NOT WANT email... but there are others who think that this (to me, more dignified) system is "way harsh"... so maybe it's better to treat this question like a poll and figure out which is more commonly preferred.
posted by moxiedoll at 4:53 PM on July 12, 2009 [2 favorites]

moxiedoll, I think that's the thing. There are ways to tell someone you're not into them without being all "DO NOT WANT." (I know you were exaggerating, but you know.) And unfortunately, a lot of people still imagine a glimmer of hope with no response at all, and I don't think that's really fair.

I prefer to think of it not so much as DO NOT WANT, but as a "thanks, but no thanks."
posted by AlisonM at 5:01 PM on July 12, 2009 [1 favorite]

Sarelicar and AlisonM have it. Something very kind and light, even ambiguous. You don't want to give her a complex. Other twists...

"I had fun on our dates, but I don't think we're a great match. Not your fault."
"Hey, I had fun going out, but I just started seeing someone else now."

Just do NOT start telling her what is "wrong" with her. That's cruel.
posted by rokusan at 5:01 PM on July 12, 2009 [2 favorites]

The usual approach (although a little distasteful for both sides) is to stop returning calls/emails/texts/... This works until you've had three or four serious dates. Then you're stuck doing it in person, or at least on the phone.

A nice email like AlisonM's suggestion is nice, but neither required nor common.
posted by Simon Barclay at 5:01 PM on July 12, 2009

It's normal not to say anything, but it's nice and adult if you do. Besides, how long does it take to fire off an email like that? 2 seconds.
posted by rhizome at 5:08 PM on July 12, 2009 [1 favorite]

Just writing to put in my two cents, which is: write the email. Much nicer, and much more mature than not returning calls, etc.

When did abandoning the simple human politeness of an email or phone call become the "usual approach"?
posted by archofatlas at 5:13 PM on July 12, 2009 [9 favorites]

Stand in front of mirror.
Ask that guy how he'd prefer to learn that someone has decided she's not interested.
Listen carefully to answer.
Do that.
posted by TruncatedTiller at 5:24 PM on July 12, 2009 [5 favorites]

My opinion (which is shared by many others, for what that's worth) is that going on one or two dates doesn't require any sort of "break up". I think it's better not to respond.

I 100% disagree with this. While I agree with others that just going into "radio silence" mode for no apparent reason is a rather *typical* way of breaking things off with someone at that stage, especially in the online dating world, that does not make it a right, tactful, non-crappy, or a non-copout way of breaking things off. If you are dating people that you respect, you at the very least should send an email saying that you are no longer interested in dating them. Something like this gets the message across politely but firmly:

Dear X, I just wanted to be up front and send a quick email to say that I have had a really good time getting to know you and hanging out, but I don't see this as more than friends.

Is that really so hard?
posted by dyslexictraveler at 5:29 PM on July 12, 2009 [6 favorites]

Is that really so hard?

(I'm sorry to be responding so much but) No, it's not hard, but I don't know if it's best. I feel like going on a couple of dates with someone makes them an acquaintance. Would it be insane for me to email all of my male acquaintances and inform them in no uncertain terms that I have no interest in dating them? I think it would. Would it be insane to email all of my half-assed friends with whom I engage in "oh yes we should have a drink sometime, sure!" and tell them in no uncertain terms that I don't desire to get to know them better and won't be making the time to spend time with them anytime soon? I think so. I don't see how dating is any different - not asking me out again doesn't hurt my feelings. Telling me you would never want to date me would hurt my feelings very much.
posted by moxiedoll at 5:37 PM on July 12, 2009 [2 favorites]

nthing writing the email.

saves the "maybe he's just busy", "He probably has a lot going on with work", "OMG, is he ok???" thoughts.

I received a "DO NOT WANT" email just a week ago. It blew, but so much better than wondering WTF?

kudos to you for wanting to be a better man.
posted by FlamingBore at 5:42 PM on July 12, 2009 [2 favorites]

I hate the no-response treatment. And I also think that dating people is different from other sorts of casual acquaintances, as the people I am acquainted with in a group situation have a significantly different context than that of dating someone, which generally has the goal of either getting into a relationship or not. I also tend not to make specific plans with casual acquaintances, but just see them at random things that I am also attending.

Since you're both regulars at the coffee shop, I bet you're going to see her again unless you change your habits. So let her know. Ignoring the emails of someone you see around somewhat frequently is . . . awkward.
posted by that girl at 5:57 PM on July 12, 2009

While I think a lot of people just cease contact and expect people to take the hint, I think it is much nicer to send a brief but kind email like the ones described above. Mostly because you never know how interested someone might be in you, and wondering what happened is maddening when you really like someone. While I would understand if someone disappeared, I would always think well of someone who took a minute to let me know what was up and didn't leave me hanging.
posted by katemcd at 6:03 PM on July 12, 2009 [1 favorite]

Cutting people off and not responding is really rude. It's become so commonplace that I stopped getting upset about it when it happened to me, but I always really appreciated guys who told me nicely that it wasn't working for them, and I emailed them back to say thanks for letting me know and to wish them well.

It's always best to keep the number of people who think you are an asshole as small as possible, even if you think you'll never see them again. It's a finite world. That woman you ignored and avoided may become your next door neighbour, best friend's wife, mortgage officer, or boss some day.
posted by orange swan at 6:10 PM on July 12, 2009 [10 favorites]

As you can tell from the spectrum of responses (not responding vs respond kindly), there is no one way to go about doing it. This is because we are all very different people, and we all have different preferences.

Personally, I would prefer no contact. It's gentle, it lets me down kindly, and it gets the message across. If a guy that I had fun on a date with were to send me an email saying "Thanks but no thanks," or "It was fun, but I don't think we're a great match," I'll probably overthink and overanalyze every word, every punctuation, and even the time and date of the email. But that's just me. On the other hand, other people would prefer these types of emails. So, no right or wrong answer here.

So my initial advice is that you should think about what type of girl she seems to be and go with your gut.

However, this advice only applies if she hasn't texted you or called you or emailed you ... which she has. Dude, you need to reply to her because she deserves a response (after sticking her neck out there and basically telling you that she likes your company).
posted by moiraine at 6:13 PM on July 12, 2009

You don't HAVE to give her an explanation and you can just fade out, but it'd be so much better if you emailed back or even called her and said "hey look, you're a cool girl and I had a good time when we hung out, but we didn't seem to click so I just wanted to say this instead of fading out and leaving you wondering." SO much nicer. This way the second she hears/reads this she'll know not to think about you anymore and not to expect anything from you. If you fade out she'll have a week or two of "oh well maybe he's been busy, or lost his cell phone, let me call him again" and this waiting and wondering SUCKS.
posted by KateHasQuestions at 6:18 PM on July 12, 2009 [3 favorites]

Another voice exhorting you to let her know gently but directly, as mentioned several times above. KateHasQuestions is totally right: waiting and wondering really does suck.
posted by chihiro at 6:30 PM on July 12, 2009

Further dates are a waste of your time, right? Naturally you want to avoid that.

Keeping her wondering and waiting until she "figures it out" on her own is you wasting her time.

Don't initiate a rejection. Just respond the next time she contacts you, using one of the many suggested kind forms above.
posted by rokusan at 6:57 PM on July 12, 2009 [1 favorite]

Count me in the camp of people who would prefer "radio silence" from someone if it's 3 or fewer dates. Then again, if I'm interested in someone I tend to be fairly explicit about that, and tell them (in an un-pressured manner) to let me know if they would like to see me again. Then again, I am still single, so perhaps this is not the best way to go about securing future dates.
posted by unknowncommand at 6:59 PM on July 12, 2009

Dear X, I just wanted to be up front and send a quick email to say that I have had a really good time getting to know you and hanging out, but I don't see this as more than friends.

Not that I think you'll do this, anonymous, but definitely don't offer to be friends unless you really want to be. In this case, you don't enjoy the woman's company, so you wouldn't suggest the friend route.

This thread brought back memories of an anecdote I read in the token "guy column" in a woman's magazine many years ago, back when I actually enjoyed the occasional woman's mag. The guy wrote that one of his friends had abruptly cut off a woman after five dates — just didn't return her calls. She sent him the plush bunny he'd bought her at fair they'd gone to... minus its ears. His friends called it "Bunny Van Gogh". I find that woman's course of action dysfunctional, of course (if hilariously so), but the guy really had been a dick to treat her like that. It's smart strategy to never give someone you've dated any reason to be that angry or hurt. Even if the person is too much of an adult to let you know or to demonstrate it by mutilating toys, just play nice. It costs you nothing and it might mean more than you realize to the person.

Imagining the guy's expression/reaction when he opened that FedEx package makes me laugh hysterically even though I've known that story for nearly twenty years.
posted by orange swan at 7:47 PM on July 12, 2009

He's been on two dates with her. Two dates. That's nothing. Personally, if a girl didn't like me after two dates, I'd rather not hear back from her. The "I just want to be friends" bit is ridiculous and tiresome, as is the "I'm so busy" routine. Who needs it?

Then again, it sounds like the women in this thread would rather you write the email, so I'd just go with that. Maybe women are more sensitive about this sort of thing?

posted by Afroblanco at 8:18 PM on July 12, 2009

Send the e-mail but don't say, "I don't see this as any more than friends." Send the exact e-mail AlisonM suggested. It is kind but says everything you're wanting to say.
posted by SkylitDrawl at 8:52 PM on July 12, 2009

"Didn't click" is the catch-all excuse. Use it.

(Also, I'd like to not date Ortho, if just for a free dinner.)
posted by klangklangston at 11:00 PM on July 12, 2009

Nthing the advice to email her back and let her know what's up. She clearly thinks things are going decently; if you fade off the face of the planet, she's left with at least a week or so, probably more, of having this on her mind as unfinished business. Some girls might shrug it off, but for those of us who tend to over think things, it means wondering and considering possibilities and waiting and talking it over with friends, and ultimately being left dissatisfied. Did you do something to turn him off? Is he just busy, and this is how he does things? Are you going to run into him at your mutual coffee shop in a few weeks and have an awkward encounter or will he act like nothing happened? And then there's the crappy feeling when you realize after the fact, after you've made contact that he's ignored, that you were pursuing a guy who was not interested. No one needs that embarrassment. Ending things cleanly, even when there's not much to end, is almost always a good call in my opinion.
posted by MadamM at 11:33 PM on July 12, 2009 [1 favorite]

Seriously? You take a woman out on a date to tell her you don't want to date her?

Yes, to show her she's not "wrong", to not be ambiguous, to let her ask any questions she might have or at least have a good dinner to soften the blow. It's cruel to leave people twisting in the wind, especially if it's just because you and they are going in different directions.
posted by orthogonality at 11:41 PM on July 12, 2009 [2 favorites]

When did abandoning the simple human politeness of an email or phone call become the "usual approach"?

Seriously. It's like the dating world exists in some realm where the rules of basic etiquette do not apply.

I once read some advice here along the lines of this: you really can't know whether she's someone who'd prefer that you break it off bluntly or someone who'd rather you just disappear. So the best rule of thumb is to be honest, communicative, and tactful. I think you already know the right thing to do (and frankly, most of the time when people fade out because they "think the other person would prefer it," they're really just trying to avoid the confrontation.).
posted by granted at 11:55 PM on July 12, 2009 [1 favorite]

There's an amusing scene from Six Feet Under, where Rico the mortician, very inexperienced in dating and recently separated from his childhood-sweetheart wife, is seeing a girl who for no reason apparent to him, suddenly becomes uncontactable. Increasingly concerned (he is a person whose daily life is filled with death and its consequences), he keeps looking for her and eventually shows up at her apartment block and convinces the superintendent to let him in, in case she's died of a drug overdose or choking alone or something. (Every couple of days Rico meets the relatives of people that something like that has happened to, of course it affects his thinking.) She is fine, she's washing dishes in her sink or something, and she's annoyed and he is embarrassed that he didn't "get the hint" of her not returning his calls. Not returning calls isn't a "hint". It's the absence of a hint, and it's open to any interpretation that the non-recipient of the non-returned calls cares to put on it, including that you have died alone in your apartment and are currently being eaten by your cat.

While you should never do it to them, on the other hand, don't take it that personally when they do it to you. You have a lot to offer; don't waste your time and effort pursuing people who don't have the simple grace or self-confidence or non-apathy to even return a phone call. You should be seeing people who actually want to see you, to the point where they will go to some (albeit slight) effort to make that happen.
posted by aeschenkarnos at 11:58 PM on July 12, 2009 [2 favorites]

I feel like going on a couple of dates with someone makes them an acquaintance.

Huh. I always felt like going on a couple of dates with someone made them a person I'd been on a couple of dates with to see if we'd have a good time and possibly keep on dating. I think after a few dates both people should have a decent idea of whether they feel like calling it quits or making it a little more serious, or even just maintaining the status quo.

In my opinion, just ignoring someone to make them go away -- no matter who they are or what the situation -- may seem like the best solution for them, but I think it's actually just the best solution for the person doing the ignoring. It's essentially passive-aggressive and expresses a certain amount of cowardice. I mean, let's face it, either way they're going to figure out that you aren't interested any more, but if you just ignore them, you don't have to be around when it happens. Lame. Man (or woman) up and be pleasant, truthful and straightforward, so that they can get over it (which may take weeks or no time at all or somewhere in between) and move on with complete certainty about where you stand. I mean, you liked this person enough to have a second date -- surely they deserve that tiny little basic building block of decency?
posted by davejay at 12:37 AM on July 13, 2009 [1 favorite]

I've been on a fair few dates recently, and have had a fair few rejections. I have to weigh in on the side of "You are cool but I just don't feel that we work" direct answer. Yeah it sucks and it stings but it is done with, right there. I am taking this thread to heart in what I need to do when someone doesn't fit what I am looking for either.

The absolute WORST rejection I have got was a guy who did both. 2 weeks after a date and no contact he texted me with "you are cool but I just don't see a future for us". Thanks dude, figured that out about 13 days ago. Added an extra sting to something I hadn't been that bothered about.
posted by arha at 4:58 AM on July 13, 2009 [1 favorite]

As a mental exercise... why not imagine how you would handle it if by some magical means you had a stroke of one-time-only precognition by which you found that at some point in the future this woman would turn out to be your new boss/close friend's sister/parole hearing judge? Aside from continuing to date her (magic rules won't allow!), how would you treat the situation?

Framing the idea that way may make it easier to imagine the better way to handle it. Personally, I'd go white-lie route, and say something along the lines of the timing sucks, but I've started seeing someone I used to date, blah blah or something equally geared to leading the person away from worries like "Was it my breath? Did I talk too much? Was I just boring?"
posted by taz at 5:54 AM on July 13, 2009 [1 favorite]

What sarelicar and AlisonM said. Sending even a short message in reply is much more adult and it also lets the other person clear their head/move on/whatever much faster.
posted by Kurichina at 9:47 AM on July 13, 2009 [1 favorite]

Maybe women are more sensitive about this sort of thing?

in the thread linked above, the consensus is that women prefer the 'fade out' but men prefer to be told directly. So I think it's not a gender thing.

I generally prefer honesty, but it can sometimes be unnecessary (and so a little mean). The answers given in this thread are fine responses, but you don't need to call after every first date to tell someone you won't be seeing them again. However, if they are trying to contact you it makes sense to respond - it's only if you think you are both on the same page after getting together that it may not need to be made explicit.
posted by mdn at 10:40 AM on July 13, 2009

I did a lot of dating after my divorce a few years back. I both gave and got emails to the effect of, "Thanks for an enjoyable evening, but I just don't think we're a good match. Best of luck!"

Easy and polite and informative. No more need be said.
posted by Guy_Inamonkeysuit at 11:10 AM on July 13, 2009 [1 favorite]

Replying is obviously the adult thing to do. "I had a great date, but don't feel we are compatible for the long term" or something to that effect. If someone asks why... um, first I would be surprised they were asking. I guess I would say that I would prefer not get into it, that they're a great person, but just not for me personally. It's me, not you ;-)

Just avoiding the situation is a really bad idea, as you appear to have already realized. The person that gets hurt from that is you by having to avoid phone calls and places. You may have lost the opportunity to have a friend as well.

By the way, by writing to you and saying she had a great time, she's basically asking if you did as well... She's really asking you to tell her if this has a chance or not.
posted by xammerboy at 11:36 AM on July 13, 2009 [1 favorite]

Yes, this might be a gender thing, but, most people still prefer employers who have the courtesy to call and say, "no thank you, all the best" after one interview, so why not call and say, "no thank you, all the best" after two dates?

Start with integrity, end with integrity, I say. Not because it's required, but because it's respectful.
posted by anitanita at 1:11 AM on July 14, 2009 [2 favorites]

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