I should break up with my girlfriend but how do I manage to do that?
November 27, 2009 6:04 PM   Subscribe

RelationshipFilter: I think I should break up with my girlfriend of 4 years but I'm not sure how. This is my second relationship and the first one's break up doesn't really count as experience. I missed Human Relationships 102. Please, help me.

Every time this kind of question appears in AskMeFi the most common answer is 'Just tell her'. And I agree, I should just tell her. But I'm not sure how to do it.

I love her dearly as a friend but I no longer 'love' her romantically and I know she deserves someone who does. Sometimes it almost feels like having a friend with benefits, which sucks because I feel I'm deceiving her. So yeah, I should break up with her.

However, we see each other almost every day as we're classmates and it feels weird to act as a couple one day and the next break up. I think it was much easier to break up with my ex-gf because we didn't see each other as often and I wasn't so confused about what to do.

I don't even know how to start the conversation. For example, if we get together today, should I kiss her to greet her?, avoid doing it (and therefore jump-starting the conversation?)?. And then what? Go somewhere to talk? Just break up in the street? Should I wait until we talk about our relationship (it happens sometimes)?

In other words, I have *no* idea how to do this at all.

Something else (and I'm sorry about the length) that worries me is that she's very emotional and this may affect her in her performance at college so maybe I should wait until the end of the academic year which is more or less a month away. I wouldn't mind waiting (that sounds so wrong) because of that and because I'm scared too still... I don't know what to do.

Throwaway mail: throwawaymail124124@gmail.com
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (17 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
I really hate to say this, because I feel like it's wrong in some way, but you probably would be doing her a favor by waiting until the semester's over to break up with her. But if it's going to cause you more anguish, you have to do what's right for you. Honestly, you might be doing yourself a favor, too, because 1) you won't have to see her in class for the next month, and 2) if she's emotional, and you're caring, there could be drama that would affect your academics as well.
Again, not endorsing dishonesty, but practicality does have its place. If you can't stand feeling like you're misleading her, break up sooner, but if you think it will be an easier, cleaner break if you wait until the school year is up, that might save you both some additional stress.
posted by ishotjr at 6:21 PM on November 27, 2009 [1 favorite]

There's never a good time - there always seemed to be a birthday, a holiday, or a visit to one or the other's family, that made any particular time "not quite right". It's considerate of you to want to limit the fallout for her, but that's really her responsibility to manage; your responsibility ends with truthfulness and consideration. It sounds like you're intending to be both. That's the most you can do for anyone.
You may need to invent a coffee date or similar that affords you some privacy while still allowing each of you to go your own way right afterward. Beyond that, say to her what you've said above, assure her that you won't make things any more difficult than you can avoid due to shared classes, etc., and that you hope you can pick up the friendship again later, when the pain and awkwardness of breaking up have worn off. In other words, be the dear friend as well as saying so, and trust her to take it from there however she needs or wants to.
Dittoing ishotjr about the timing: listen to your heart.
posted by TruncatedTiller at 6:30 PM on November 27, 2009

in medical school, when they tell you how to deliver bad news (i.e. 'you have cancer') there are some basic rules you're taught to follow. i've found them invaluable for all sorts of delicate social interactions:
1. prepare- make sure you tell her in a quiet, private spot, and that you've got plenty of time if there are involved issues you need to talk about. also think about how you want to say things beforehand so you don't end up sounding hurtful.
2. fire a warning shot- the 'i think we need to talk' works here- so she knows that something important is about to be said
3. be clear-i.e. say 'i want to break up. ' don't hem and haw and be vague, it'll be worse in the long run.
good luck!
posted by genmonster at 6:32 PM on November 27, 2009 [25 favorites]

This is pretty much the best breakup advice I've ever seen.

I agree with ishotjr that you should wait until the end of the semester if you can. It'll be kinder to her, but it will also make it easier on both of you if you're not in a situation where you have to see each other ever day.
posted by Emilyisnow at 6:36 PM on November 27, 2009

After I ended my first real high school relationship, I found out through the grapevine that his mom was mad that I didn't wait until after finals. His mom. So, I think waiting is an option with some merit if you're not in too much angst. That said, it's true that there's never really a great time.

My advice on message is: keep it short and to the point.
posted by salvia at 6:37 PM on November 27, 2009

Miko's answer that Emilyisnow linked to is really good.

I disagree with the people who say that you should wait. I would feel really scummy sleeping with someone who wanted to break up with me. I guess if you can avoid that without questions then it might be okay. If I were the dumpee, I'd want to know as soon as possible. You can always sit in the back of your shared classes.

If you've been apart for the Thanksgiving break, now is a great time to follow Miko's advice because you can tell her that you did a lot of thinking over the time you were away.
posted by TooFewShoes at 7:08 PM on November 27, 2009

In the past, I've waited until after the semester. Worked ok.
posted by Ironmouth at 7:20 PM on November 27, 2009

wait until the end of the semester.
posted by 2legit2quit at 7:34 PM on November 27, 2009

I would wait till after finals are over as well. Breaking up with someone right before finals is a really shitty thing to do.
posted by fshgrl at 8:15 PM on November 27, 2009

So, I was recently in almost exactly this situation. Ex and I were both having mountains and mountains of (separate) personal issues, he was (and is) still a pretty cool person and a friend of mine, we're both students, multi-year relationship (3ish for us), etc etc.

On waiting:
I'm the kind of geek that interprets information as a graph pretty much all the time. Are you familiar with a local minimum? It's when a graphed curve hits a low point in one particular section of the graph.
When ex and I broke up, he was having ridiculous roommate problems as well as a couple other things, and I waited till those issues stabilized a bit and looked like they would figure themselves out -- a local minimum. I knew I couldn't wait until we were each problem-free, but at that time I wasn't going crazy and he wasn't either, so it was the best possible, more or less.
In your situation, a nice deep trough of a minimum on the stress graph would be the end of the semester, but if you find yourself unable to wait that long you might want to check for a shallower and nearer local minimum.

On how to actually do it:
I locked myself into the decision, sort of, by telling a couple close friends and my mother about what I was going to do -- in part, to gauge their reactions, and in part to give myself a group of people who knew what was going on and could push me forward action-wise -- the next time I talked to any of them, they'd probably ask about whether I'd actually broken up with him.
Caution, though: don't go around telling everybody. Keep it to people closer to you than they are to him, and not many people, and only do this very close in time to when you're actually going to take action on the breaking up thing. That way it's less him going "you all knew and didn't tell me?!" and more you going "Holy shit, guys, I need support here."

On location:
I went over to his place and left after the conversation was over -- that way it was quiet and private and he could be by himself if he wanted. This might not have been the best decision, but I'm not sure how I could have done it better. I would not want to be dumped in public due to likely emotional reactions.

On the aftermath:
Well, he and I were on pretty...erratically rocky terms for a few weeks after the breakup, and we had to see each other pretty often for an extracurricular we're both involved in, but things are ok now. He's probably going to read this, too, especially since I mentioned to him I might post an answer here. Ex, please weigh in if anything in here seems incorrect to you.
posted by mismatched at 9:56 PM on November 27, 2009 [2 favorites]

Please take this with a grain of salt, because I know there are people who feel very very strongly the opposite way, but . . .

It has really helped when someone, breaking up with me, has given me specific reasons why they want to break up, or why they weren't into me. Otherwise I can spend forever going over all the things I might have done wrong in my mind.
posted by Ashley801 at 11:27 PM on November 27, 2009 [2 favorites]

Contrary to popular belief, there is no such thing as "I love you, but I'm not in love with you." The "love/in love" distinction usually is just an excuse designed to get you out of talking seriously about what a relationship means. People in serious, lasting long-term relationships often can feel like they hate each other but still have the love that animates and motivates their relationship quite living. That's because love is not a feeling, it is an act of will, and as such talking about it as though it were a feeling – i.e. "I just don't feel like I'm in love anymore" – is silly. You either deeply care about a person, forcibly creating a future in your mind about them, or you don't; but it's not some wind that blows here and there as it will, it's a choice you can make.

This is not to say that the feelings you're describing might not have very real, tangible intuitions behind them which you might be able to uncover. It may be, for example, that, in the back of your mind, you've been turning over the fact that she doesn't have the same future places to live in mind, or that she wants kids and you don't. But love is damned serious, so if you're going to break up with her you need to approach the conversation with more than the shoddy "love but not in love" distinction, which is never satisfying to a soon-to-be ex-partner and which never offers any kind of closure. However, if you can tell her clearly and distinctly precisely why you feel as though you two can't make good partners in the future and should head this off at the past, then even if there are initial tears (and there will certainly be) after she cools off she'll see that you're serious about the breakup, that you've thought it through rationally and made the decision coldly, and that there's a way in which you might be right and you two shouldn't be together.

However, I think you should consider deeply the fact that people in really serious and adult relationships don't let emotions rule the connection, but rather look past their emotions, as lovey-dovey or angry-pissy as they may be, and make a decision about what course of action to follow; that is, someone in a serious relationship who's committed to the partnership would probably take the feeling you're feeling, suck it up, swallow it, and forget about it in the knowledge that it's a passing thing and that their partnership is worth more than passing feelings.

You shouldn't hold yourself back from life by clinging to something like this merely out of guilt, but I think you also have something of a duty to be honest with her and honest with yourself. Please, for the love of god, don't break up with her until you can get past the smarmy old "I'm not in romantic love anymore" routine and actually tell her what you want and need, what she wants and needs, and why those two things are different.
posted by koeselitz at 12:16 AM on November 28, 2009 [26 favorites]

I think it would be a kindness to her to wait for the end of semester
posted by 5_13_23_42_69_666 at 1:19 AM on November 28, 2009

Don't let what koeselitz said set the bar too high for you to go through with this. I favorited the comment with gusto, but to get from where you're at to what he's asking for can take a long time. Sometimes a person knows something long before they can explain it. These are two different things: knowing what you want, and being able to clearly and respectfully articulate your desires and how they relate to another person's actions. The first skill relates to the search for a partner, and the second skill relates to making it work when there are differences to iron out. So, I'd say even if you can't attain the clarity he says you need, but your gut says "this isn't working," go ahead and say what you need to say to break up. If it took you three months to get a conscious grasp on the issue, that's just wasting her time. If you were married, I'd say you had an obligation to develop that second skill before you ended it, just in case it yielded a solution, but since you're not, I'd say it's okay to wait and develop it with someone you're into.
posted by salvia at 1:39 AM on November 28, 2009 [3 favorites]

Please wait until the end of the semester, as someone who has been on both the receiving and giving end of a breakup before finals. It's not kind.
posted by derogatorysphinx at 10:11 AM on November 28, 2009

Contrary to popular belief, there is no such thing as "I love you, but I'm not in love with you." The "love/in love" distinction usually is just an excuse designed to get you out of talking seriously about what a relationship means.

Yes there is. It means, "I think you are cool and still have a lot of respect for you, but I no longer have any sexual feelings for you." That is what I have always used this phrase as code for, and always understood it to be code for. There is no good way to say that to a person that is going to make them feel any better about the situation. This isn't a matter of different goals in life or underlying communication issues, it is a matter of being young and wanting to bang other people. I would say that if you have used the phrase to mean anything other than a cooling of sexual feelings, you have been misusing it, but I would bet that is exactly what the OP is feeling right now, and I think it is ok to say that.

OP, wait till the end of the semester only if you can manage to avoid driving her crazy with unhappiness as to why you are so distant, not wanting to touch her, not wanting to spend time together, etc. There's never a "good" time to break up but if you aren't going to be good at hiding it you shouldn't prolong her agony.
posted by ch1x0r at 10:36 AM on November 28, 2009

Wait till the end of the semester.
posted by SkylitDrawl at 3:35 PM on November 28, 2009

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