The Civilized Breakup
September 19, 2009 5:14 PM   Subscribe

Being good to each other: The civilized post break-up period. What things did you and your ex do for each other to make things easier?

So we broke up this afternoon. I did the deed. He seems to be taking it well. Next comes finding new apartments, telling friends and family, canceling the bills and mourning.

We were best friends for years before the relationship, and I hope we can go back to it.

So my question is--how to treat each other? Is being kind unkind? How should we tell our parents--should I call his mom? (She loves me and just gave me an expensive birthday gift last week). Are there small kindnesses I won't think of?

I liked Salvia's anecdote, more like that would be good.

Bonus points for dealing with the "Oh god, what did I just do, I take it back I take it back" feeling.
posted by stray to Human Relations (19 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
I should add that we're going to be living together for at least another couple weeks 'till living situations get sorted out, and I will probably see his mom during that time.
posted by stray at 5:17 PM on September 19, 2009

The best way to treat each other well after a break-up is to avoid each other for awhile. Seriously. Each of you should deal with your own respective families. You may be able to be friends later on, but you need to give yourself time to distance yourself from the romantic relationship first.
posted by Diagonalize at 5:19 PM on September 19, 2009

Stay away from each other. One or both of you should stay with a friend somewhere else, and you should not see his mom. Anything else will only prevent both of you from getting on with the business of grieving and getting on with your lives.
posted by decathecting at 5:20 PM on September 19, 2009

Oh, and the best way to deal with feeling like you want to take it back is to avoid putting yourself in a situation where you can take it back, again by not seeing him and by talking to him as little as possible. That's good for you, but it will also be good for him, because you'll avoid jerking him around.
posted by decathecting at 5:22 PM on September 19, 2009

After my ex and I decided to split up, it made me feel a lot better knowing that he had a good place to go to. He found a tiny little studio, which was nice but a little depressing, but after he got a new TV and a nice comforter I was satisfied that he wouldn't be sitting around eating hot dogs for every meal.

Which he had been doing before we got together, and should have been my first clue... but I digress.
posted by Madamina at 5:31 PM on September 19, 2009

Oh, and yeah, avoid each other.
posted by Madamina at 5:32 PM on September 19, 2009

His family is his family and his business. One of the hardest things to do will be to deal with the fact that your status with regards to his family is likely to change. They will need space from you, too.

You need to let him tell his parents. If you can return the gift, with a lovely note of thanks-but-I-can't-take-this, I think that would be a thoughtful gesture.
posted by kathrineg at 5:39 PM on September 19, 2009 [3 favorites]

I'm surprised to find that I disagree with Diagonalize and decathecting and Madamina, but I do.

It sounds like you and your ex are both very clear that the relationship is most definitely over and you agree that moving on as quickly and smoothly as possible is the very best thing for both of you. If that's the case, then both of you are bewildered, sad, hurt, a bit angry, and all the other swirl of emotions that accompany a break-up.

Who knows better than you what all of that feels like to your ex, and vice versa? Especially if you had been friends before moving into a more intimate relationship, you've been "there" for each other for a long time. It would be cruel to both you and your ex to avoid being supportive and empathic of each other.

The same goes, to a lesser extent of course, for his mom and other family members or close friends. It will probably be pretty clear who gets which friends. It sounds like you want to talk with his mom and decide what -- if any -- relationship you and she are going to have now that you and her son have broken up. And if that's what you want to do, and think his mom would appreciate it, then you should definitely have that talk. But remember that your ex's relationship with his mom is ultimately more important than your relationship with her, so let him put whatever spin on the breakup story that he wants.

When my "starter husband" and I went through a divorce, we were very kind to each other. We worked together to separate our belongings and divide our common property. The night before I went to court to finalize the divorce, we cried together on the phone. There was never any thought, on either side, that we would get back together; we just wanted it over. Now I look back on our marriage with some fondness but no regret or animosity. What a liberating feeling!
posted by DrGail at 5:40 PM on September 19, 2009 [2 favorites]

Artie Shaw (many times married musician): call your lawyer and then call a cab.
posted by Postroad at 5:53 PM on September 19, 2009

Good manners and the Golden Rule will go a long way towards making this easier. Treat him and his fam politely; don't do anything to him that you'd not want done to you.

Bonus points for dealing with the "Oh god, what did I just do, I take it back I take it back" feeling.

The one thing I wish I'd known earlier in my life is that mixed feelings about a decision don't mean it's the wrong decision. You cared about him and you still care about him, and your instinct is certainly to spare him difficulty or pain. It's new to you to be the one to cause pain. But as you know, if you take it back you'd just have to do it all over again. And that would suck so much for you both.

Best of luck.
posted by sister nunchaku of love and mercy at 6:02 PM on September 19, 2009 [4 favorites]

Yeah, mainly I'd say leave each other alone to the extent that you can without being Like, Really Mean. His mom will be okay.

Hope everything will go well and smoothly.
posted by Neofelis at 6:04 PM on September 19, 2009

I'm going through this right now, stray. Your break up sounds a bit healthier than mine, but for the most part we've both tried to behave like adults and be kind to each other. I moved out first, took very little because I moved into a shared space, and left her with most of our "stuff" to deal with. At first, we thought she'd keep the house and so this made sense. Right about the time I actually moved, though, she decided to move too.

Having to pack up and get rid of "our stuff," has been really painful for her. She wants me to be there helping her pack up the rest of the stuff and I'm refusing to do it. I know that it would be emotionally toxic for me to spend that much time with her trying to work as the kind of team we used to be. I've had to create all sorts of boundaries for myself to keep from falling into the "okay, let's try again" trap. And this is one of them.

So yeah, boundaries, first and foremost. Figure out what you can handle emotionally, draw your lines in the sand, and stick to them.

Remember that there's a "business" to breaking up, specifically if you're living together and have to split up house. Try to treat each other fairly.
posted by dchrssyr at 6:12 PM on September 19, 2009

Every time you have second thoughts, go back to the mindset you had when you finally made the decision of breaking up. For some reason we tend to think of the the great aspects of the relationship when we break up, but just find the trigger (something specific, like if you had a huge fight about your wearing a pair of pink shoes, make your mind go to THAT pair of shoes).
posted by Tarumba at 6:24 PM on September 19, 2009

Begging your pardon, DrGail, but I must again come down on the side of staying apart. My former husband and I still live a block apart and work in the same building, and we're "friends" and all, but he Lots of "I know how you feel" and "you should do this," and all that. We had exactly the relationship you describe, and our judge even praised us for being so nice to each other in the divorce hearing. But even though I'm happy that he's in my life, particularly because he does know me and my history, there was a lot of him using me for rides and us trading stuff again and again. We found that it was hard to figure out where the sense of obligation/not-being-mean ended and where the friendship began.

I had a not-rebound after him, and I'm still not 100% over this not-rebound specifically because I don't know how to create that boundary of not understanding and not having someone in my life. I'm very happy with my current partner; I know that the not-rebound was, completely wrong for me. But because of my experiences with my ex-husband and others, I still find myself obsessing over why the not-rebound and I can't be friends, because, gee, isn't that the way it's supposed to be?

No, it's not. Maybe you can be friendly eventually, but you need to settle into your own life before that happens.
posted by Madamina at 6:32 PM on September 19, 2009

The one thing I wish I'd known earlier in my life is that mixed feelings about a decision don't mean it's the wrong decision.

This, a thousand times.

It's tough, because we think a break-up should be severe and very final and you can just think "boooo, what a terrible person" and move on; unfortunately, that's rarely not the case. What has helped me is to celebrate the good times that we had and the good aspects of my ex's personality, but keep it in perspective, and in context of the whole. For example, I'll remember fondly weekend trips we took, but then remember that we really couldn't afford that trip but I was talked into it anyway, and that it was an illustration of how incompatible our financial beliefs were. It's not rewriting the past or denying the good times, just helping you to remember that it was part of a big, complicated whole.
posted by sarahsynonymous at 6:35 PM on September 19, 2009 [4 favorites]

(Ugh, "rarely," not "rarely not.")
posted by sarahsynonymous at 6:37 PM on September 19, 2009

Avoid each other as much as is possible. As the deed-doer, a lot of the responsibility for logistics falls upon you - leave stuff like calling his mom to him and maybe let him know he can tell her that you'd be willing to return the gift, but horribly painful stuff like dividing up the record collection, taking the pictures out of the frames and packing your clothes is your job. Avoiding each other will minimize both opportunities for acrimony and opportunities for second-guessing yourself.

Last time I broke up with a girl, it was before the move-in-together phase, thank god. Once logistics and property were settled (well, mostly - she's still got some of my CDs, I've still got some of her socks) we made a point of avoiding one another for a couple months. Then we went and got hotdogs. After the awkwardness passed, we started having fun. That long run of buffer time allowed us to privately move past the pain and begin anew in a friendship that was A) genuinely caring and affectionate and B) stands zero chance of ever flaring back up into a romance.

So, if friendship is your mutual goal coming out of this, the first steps are firm boundaries and a longish period of zero contact.

Good luck to you both.
posted by EatTheWeak at 7:05 PM on September 19, 2009

Since you're the one who broke up with him, he'll likely be the one feeling somewhat blindsided, and it's going to take him longer to get up to speed with the whole being-broken-up thing that it's going to take you. You're going to see him hurting, and you're going to want to help him stop.

You can't do that.

It's not that you shouldn't do that; it's that you can't do that. He's going to need to rely on other people for that, and you're going to need to let him.

This will be hard.

But as long as both of you are determined to remember that these things happen, and that just because you can't be partners doesn't mean you should lose each other as friends, then you most likely will end up solid friends, given time.

Being friends with your ex(es) is, in my opinion, excellent policy if your ex(es) are good people. Be prepared for your next partner to be a little weird about it though - many, many people take quite a long time to understand that an ex isn't automatically a threat to the new partnership.
posted by flabdablet at 5:20 AM on September 20, 2009 [1 favorite]

I would suggest moving out immediately, as soon as you can get your gear together. Get him to stay over in a motel for a couple of nights if necessary. If you think that is not possible, have somewhere to go in an emergency lined up in your mind, with a list of what you should take. Put vital documents into your purse now.

Do not expect his mom or family to want to stay friends. Moms in particular can be very hurt by rejection of their sons, even if the son manages to stay friends with the ex. Given time, you may be able to pick up again.
posted by Idcoytco at 10:47 AM on September 20, 2009

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