Please help me with this break-up letter
November 29, 2009 7:50 AM   Subscribe

Please help me with this break-up letter

I received a relationship-ending e-mail today and hope you might be able to help.

As background, we're both late twenties, teachers (different grades, schools, divisions). We communicated online, by way of a mutual friend, for a month or so and then dated for a month. We seemed to be very comfortable talking, spending time together, and just enjoying sharing time. We did sleep together, which was not an insignificant fact for either of us. I was extremely excited, because I thought that this person was pretty much the ideal of what I've been looking for. She's attractive, intelligent, kind, and on and on.

I'm not really sure what happened. I got sick (H1N1!) and was out for a week, and our communication never really seemed to repair. I tried calling and e-mailing, but we just couldn't get in contact. Tonight I received an explanatory message from her one Facebook. It does bother me that I've gone for nearly a week without hearing from her only to get this.

My only guess as to reasons for the lack of connection she's identified, besides intrinsic aspects of myself that I can't change, is that I was probably a bit over-enthusiastic. I may have tried too hard; she simply blew me away, and it was difficult to maintain that sort-of early-relationship distance that often seems necessary.

Obviously, I still care a lot for her. I do wish there was a way to re-do some of it all, so I'm looking for any advice that might slant that way. Or, of course, people telling me to get over myself/it. Actually, any advice would be appreciated. As for being friends: I want my friends to be happy. Knowing that we want the same thing (long, not short-term) makes it more difficult to (want to) be friends, if that's not just an empty nicety, and watch her find that elsewhere.

I've removed names and changed grammar enough that it should be most anonymous. I'm not super comfortable posting the contents here, but at the same time, none of my friends would really be interested in reading it or giving the kind of advice I'm hoping for.

Apologies for rambling on and thanks for reading.

Here we go:

Hi [X],

I’m really sorry it’s taken me so long to get in touch with you; I’m sure you’ve been wondering what’s going on. I’ve been thinking a lot about you and the time we’ve spent together. I had thought, and hoped, that there was something between us with the potential to be long-term and maybe serious. That’s definitely what I am interested in at this point in my life. But unfortunately I don’t think that potential is there. I decided to send this message instead of calling to talk about it because, frankly, I’m far more articulate in writing than I am over the phone, and I thought it might be easier for both of us.

I hope you’ll indulge me to say a few more things. I have really enjoyed getting to know you and spending time with you. I find you smart and attractive and interesting and – this is kind of a big deal for me – so easy and comfortable to be around. There is definitely a connection between us, I think, but just not quite the kind of connection I am looking for, in terms of a long-term relationship. I know that probably sounds vague. I like your sense of humour, I like the clever way you write a facebook message, I like that you took me bowling and to a blues bar and offered to cook me salmon for dinner and come help out at [the mission]. I think you’re excellent in so many ways and I’m glad you decided to contact me.

Perhaps this is a long shot, but I would really like to be friends. I’m sure you have more than enough friends already, and I know the post-dating friendship thing can be a dicey proposition. But if you find it’s something you’re interested in and willing to try, I hope you’ll let me know. I’d consider myself lucky to have you as a friend in any capacity.

I hope I hear from you. Take care,
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (36 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
My thoughts, which, since it sounds like you still like this lady, may not be what you want to hear:

I decided to send this message instead of calling to talk about it because, frankly, I’m far more articulate in writing than I am over the phone, and I thought it might be easier for both of us.

She's a coward. The real reason to write a letter is to reduce the opportunities for the other party to respond.

Perhaps this is a long shot, but I would really like to be friends. I’m sure you have more than enough friends already, and I know the post-dating friendship thing can be a dicey proposition. But if you find it’s something you’re interested in and willing to try, I hope you’ll let me know. I’d consider myself lucky to have you as a friend in any capacity.

She's selfish. Even in short-term dating situations, it's extremely difficult to transition to immediately being friends. Often, the person doing the dumping wants to try because they like the attention they're getting from the person they're dumping, or they naively think that remaining friends will lessen the blow of the break-up. The really mature, responsible thing for you to do is to tell her that you can't be friends yet, and cut off contact as much as possible for at least a few weeks. Give yourself time to start dating again before you reconnect with her, or else you'll be waiting in the wings, hoping to reconnect.

On the plus side, it sounds like she was extremely honest with you: she's not feeling it; you don't have enough in common to continue dating. I'd accept this, and move on.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 8:06 AM on November 29, 2009 [11 favorites]

I'm afraid you're going to have to get over it. If there were a trick for convincing people who've decided you're not the one for them, I'd surely share it with you. Alas, no such trick exists.
One the one hand, it was a little cold of her to do it by email. On the other, you'd only been going out for a month. My guess is that it took her a week because she meant to call, but kept chickening out. In any case, the relationship is over, at least as a romance.
You're not obliged to be friends with her. Indeed, that's not even a decision you should make right now. Wait for a little perspective, then decide on the friend thing.
Good luck. Forget her phone number & email address for a while, especially if your breakup recovery program is going to involve drinking.
posted by willpie at 8:08 AM on November 29, 2009 [2 favorites]

What is your question? She got to know you a bit and isn't interested in a relationship. There is nothing wrong with you, but it wasn't a good fit for her for whatever reason. It might have been for you, but it needs to be mutual.
posted by procrastination at 8:09 AM on November 29, 2009

It would be helpful to know the content of her recent Facebook message, because based on what you've told us, it sounds as though she's trying (gently) to break up with you. If that's the case, then sending a preemptory break-up letter just comes off as kind of low and desperate-- you can't fire me, because I quit!

The text itself is sweet (if a little heavy on the lyrical details for something that's purportedly non-romantic in intention), but it doesn't seem as though you're being entirely honest with her. If, as you tell us, you want a do-over of the relationship and don't think you could bear a strictly platonic status, then why on earth would you send a letter asking her to break up and be friends?

On preview, what everyone else said: just move on.
posted by Bardolph at 8:11 AM on November 29, 2009

Although it is upsetting to you right now because it is, after all, a rejection, she has been as considerate of your feelings as possible. I'm sorry it hasn't worked out for you - I can tell by this letter that she has integrity and respect for others. [And writes very carefully and well!] I don't know what you could do to change her feelings. She's been encouraging of you but clear about where she stands too. It sounds like she has something to offer in terms of friendship down the line when you are ready.
posted by honey-barbara at 8:12 AM on November 29, 2009 [1 favorite]

Bardolph, I believe the letter he posted IS the Facebook message that she wrote to him, not what he is writing to her.
posted by ishotjr at 8:14 AM on November 29, 2009 [1 favorite]

In trying to spare your feelings (and alleviate her guilt), she sent you a note that reads "Because of A and B, therefore 7." It's weird to read it, and it's understandable to be confused. It would have been more honest if she had said "It isn't easy to say this but I'm not interested in a relationship with you." It sucks that she didn't have the guts to say it that way, but in any case you should believe what she ultimately gets around to saying--that what you two share is "not quite the kind of connection I am looking for, in terms of a long-term relationship."
posted by Meg_Murry at 8:20 AM on November 29, 2009

Ooh, I should have previewed - I think PhoBWan is a bit harsh on the lady here.

She clearly acknowledges that it may take some time for the OP to consider friendship, and that it might not be right for him. She doesn't list any of his faults and is honest about simply not feeling the long term thing. I dunno what else you'd want. A phone call might be better for some, but she addresses the reasons for writing instead of phoning. It's not a great outcome for the OP but it's a better let down than most.
posted by honey-barbara at 8:21 AM on November 29, 2009 [7 favorites]

On the plus side, it sounds like she was extremely honest with you: she's not feeling it; you don't have enough in common to continue dating. I'd accept this, and move on.

This says it perfectly.

You don't need to make an immediate hard-and-fast decision about being friends with her. It's totally ok to tell her that you need some space to think about things before you can "just be friends." And it's ok to be confused and upset -- just don't convert that confusion and upsetness into being a creepy stalker or an undignified "why don't you looooove me?" kind of guy.
posted by Forktine at 8:21 AM on November 29, 2009

Someone wrote more or less this letter to me a couple of months ago. I really like her: read - was really attracted to her But honestly, there were a lot of tenuous parts of our relationship that I was really freaked out about.

I wrote her back a note, half bitter, half: give me another chance. Of course I never heard from her. Freakily she lives in my neighborhood, and I found in the meantime we have some mutual friends of friends. So I'm sure I'll bump into her awkwardly.

Anyway for me the takeaway was:
There's nothing I can do about it. She told me straight. Actually, she wasn't even nice about it.
The bitter note might have given me some satisfaction, BUT also might bite me in the ass at some point. I don't know. Sometimes I do feel like expressing myself, and getting the last word has a certain pleasure. But it can bite you in the ass, and/or make you look like a dope.
I ended up feeling pretty crappy.

But here's the kicker: a few weeks later I went on a date with a girl (ah...the internet...there are so many out there). We clicked fairly quickly. There's not craziness drama which is a really weird feeling for me. I just really like being around her and it appears the feeling is similar. We've quickly met each other's parents, planning on spending Christmas with each other.'s early here but I'm quite excited.

I think the final takeaway for me is that if the other girl had strung me along, I would not have met this lovely person. AND if she'd strung me along long term I might find myself in some sort of bizzaro drama filled nightmare because I think, in retrospect, that she was kind of nuts.

Hard to put that attitude on at the time it's happening but it's very possible bordering on highly probable that in a couple of years you will have a hard time remebering this girls name.
posted by sully75 at 8:26 AM on November 29, 2009 [4 favorites]

I think there's not much advice to be given. She ended the relationship. Get out your ice cream, or alcohol, or sappy movies, or whatever else helps you through a break-up, and soldier through this one.

As far as being friends goes, feel free to answer her message with something vague, like, "Thank you for your note. I'm very sorry our relationship couldn't work out. Perhaps we can be friendly in the future, after I've had some space." Don't feel like you have to be best buddies immediately.
posted by christinetheslp at 8:27 AM on November 29, 2009 [14 favorites]

Did you meet through a dating site? Perhaps she's been seeing different people, and has decided to see someone else exclusively. But she sounds like she really does like you, and if it is a case of having decided on someone else, and the other person turns out not to be all that, maybe she'll wish she hadn't been so hasty.

I'd tell her that the friends thing is great in theory, but would definitely feel awkward for you, but you enjoyed your time together very much... and that if sometime in the future she changes her mind about a romantic salmon dinner, she should definitely call you.
posted by taz at 8:36 AM on November 29, 2009 [1 favorite]

Don't respond, don't be friends. You're too in to her to be around her right now. Don't let the complimentary tone of the e-mail fool you, she's just trying to let you down easy. All that "connection" stuff should be taken with a boulder of salt. Just stay away and move on.
posted by spaltavian at 8:41 AM on November 29, 2009 [1 favorite]

Oooh, thanks for clarifying, ishotjr, and apologies for that post above, OP-- I mistakenly read "help me with this breakup letter" as "help me [edit] this breakup letter [I wrote]".
posted by Bardolph at 8:42 AM on November 29, 2009

Ooh, I should have previewed - I think PhoBWan is a bit harsh on the lady here.

Eh. Maybe. I think a facebook break-up should be reserved for 16-year-olds who don't know better, particularly as OP has been home sick with the flu and is therefore guaranteed to be available for a telephone conversation. I als think that the niceness of the letter is potentially problematic; I get the impression that the girl doesn't want to come out looking like the bad guy, but in this situation it's nigh-on impossible. The important message that the dude needs to hear is that she's ending it, not that he'd make a terrific friend in the long term because they had so much fun together. Sometimes, I think it's cruel to be (at least overly) kind; break-ups are one of these times.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 8:43 AM on November 29, 2009 [1 favorite]

Wow, good thing I previewed. I totally misunderstood your post. Here is the one thing I wrote that is still relevant:

"If I got a breakup letter, no matter how well written and how much sense it made, I would be pretty damn annoyed."

Anyway, she was kind of roundabout in saying she wasn't feeling it but I guess that's acceptable for a breakup letter. You can decide for yourself whether you want to hold it against her for not feeling it.
posted by ropeladder at 8:47 AM on November 29, 2009

Oooh, thanks for clarifying, ishotjr, and apologies for that post above, OP-- I mistakenly read "help me with this breakup letter" as "help me [edit] this breakup letter [I wrote]".

Took me a couple of readings to be sure of it, myself.

While Facebook message is kind of a weird venue for breaking up with someone, her letter is very nice and gentle. My guess is just that things didn't "click" for her in the same way they did for you. No fault of your own, she is just looking for something different in some way. Sully75's answer is awesome, and a great way to frame this break-up is that you are now free to find someone you click with better and who will feel the same way about you as you do for her.
posted by ishotjr at 8:47 AM on November 29, 2009

2nding spaltavian. You obviously have way more emotional investment in the relationship than she does, and that's a recipe for disaster. Resist all temptation to keep this person as a friend.
posted by mpls2 at 8:58 AM on November 29, 2009 [1 favorite]

Myself, on something like this, as short term but where I've got my hopes all burning high, I'd prefer a note rather than a phone call to tell me to buzz off. Different I guess if it's a longer-term thing, but a note would let me lick my wounds and not have to respond 'in the moment' and off-balance maybe.

In any case, this thing is over. She ended it well I thought, but she ended it, no wiggle room, which I also like. Friends? Not just now, likely never, not for me -- I've got boatloads of friends, wouldn't need nor want the reminder of the sting of it.

A short reply, wave her goodbye, let it be.
posted by dancestoblue at 9:09 AM on November 29, 2009 [1 favorite]

You should just move on. I actually think her letter isn't too bad, aside from the fact that it was done on facebook.

There's a whole list of possible explanations, she wasn't that interested, she met someone else, etc. But they don't really matter that much.

I also don't think being friends is a good idea.
posted by E-Boogie at 9:11 AM on November 29, 2009

Hey, lucky guy, at least you got an honest and kind break-up letter. You go right ahead and put that in the W column because it's pretty rare. She's not into you. You gotta just get over it. Write her back and say thanks for the nice letter, and mean it. Then get over it and see other people.
posted by Optimus Chyme at 9:23 AM on November 29, 2009 [8 favorites]

Yeah for whatever it's worth, I'm not so convinced that an in person breakup is all that great. Particularly for a short-term relationship. It's not like I really want to hang out with the person afterwards. Also...I tend to be able to out logic anyone, and I know that if I hang with the person, I have a fairly good chance of convincing them to try again. Which is stupid but a bad habit on my part. I'm totally ok with the email thing. Chances are I'm not going to like them for a while anyway, so it's a good excuse to be annoyed at them, which is a good start to feeling better about the situation.

I mean...take it to the other alternative? Would you rather they take you on a romantic date, you are having an awesome time and then they drop the bomb on you? I'll take cold and impersonal, thank you.
posted by sully75 at 9:32 AM on November 29, 2009 [1 favorite]

"Dear xx, I am sorry the feelings were not mutual. I wish you the best in your future relationships. Sincerely, anonymous."
posted by water bear at 9:35 AM on November 29, 2009 [3 favorites]

I was talking to a woman recently who told me that she considers it conventional wisdom that men don't want to be broken up with face-to-face or over the phone --- that a message or letter is easier on us because we don't have to maintain our composure in the face of the kick in the nuts that the break-up gives us.

I thought that was an interesting thought. I sort of see the merit in it. So, I wouldn't hold the breakup-by-Facebook-message against her. She may have intended it to be easier on you.
posted by jayder at 9:41 AM on November 29, 2009 [1 favorite]

It sounds like she genuinely likes you as a person, and you are someone she would love to have as a friend, but that chemistry necessary to put the two of you in long-term romantic relationship land isn't there for her. I actually think it was a very carefully thought out, kind, and gentle as could be break-up letter. Everyone has their own personal preferences about important things like this being on the phone, via email, or in person, but since this was a relatively brief relationship, I think skipping the face-to-face is within the bounds of good etiquette, especially since this was a private message between two adults (and not say, a public status update).

As for your response, I think christinetheslp stated it perfectly & gave you some excellent advice on how to deal with this to boot, "'Thank you for your note. I'm very sorry our relationship couldn't work out. Perhaps we can be friendly in the future, after I've had some space.' Don't feel like you have to be best buddies immediately." I'm sorry this happened to you, because all breakups suck, but take your time to lick your wounds, and don't worry about closing any friendship doors until you've had some time to reflect and process. Good luck.
posted by katemcd at 10:00 AM on November 29, 2009

Don't you just love PhoBWanKenobi? :)

In addition to what she said, how about being you own best friend? You can take time to respond, choose not to respond and choose not to be friends too, if thats what you eventually decide. All without guilt or bitterness. And best of all, you don't have to decide before going to bed tonight.
posted by xm at 10:02 AM on November 29, 2009

I'm not really sure what happened.

You seem to be wanting some definitive reason as to why she's not into you. The truth is that you don't know. Her ex boyfriend could have popped into town and they restarted. She could have decided to join the peace corps and break things off now. She could have decided to become a lesbian. She could have really high standards and the fact that you part your hair on the right, instead of the left is something she can't live with.

The truth is you'll probably never know exactly why unless you want to push it. I think it's ok to send back a note asking if there was anything specific that she didn't like, but only if it's genuine curiosity and/or a more concrete answer will help you move on. Some people will view this as weak, so that's something to be aware of since you two move in similar professional circles, but if that's the sort of ending you desire, then so be it. If nothing else, it's a date point to consider in future relationships, especially if it's a reoccurring problem for you.

PhoBWanKenobi is probably right, she probably is being a cowardly by sending a nice, but extremely vague letter that says "You're awesome but go away, I'm not into you but don't really want to go into why, m'kay? Let's be friends and move on so I don't have to deal with you as a person who've I've hurt, that would be great, thanks!"
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 10:14 AM on November 29, 2009 [4 favorites]

I think most of the advice here is spot-on (and this post was so reminiscent of a recent experience that I almost needed to go lie down after reading it). But I'd add one thing:

The problem with the FB/e-mail breakup is that it denies you the opportunity to say what you need to say. By that, I do not mean the chance to beg someone to take you back, which we all know basically never, ever, ever works.

I think it's okay to ask questions (assuming you really want the answers, and go in realizing having them won't change the situation). But mostly, I'd encourage you to include in your reply whatever else you feel you didn't have the chance to say, which I think will help you with closure as you move further away from the situation. You don't have a right to badger someone for reasons or to change their minds (and you don't sound like you want to do either of those things). But you're entitled to a closing conversation if you want one, and shouldn't feel bad about asking for that if you think it will help you.

Good luck.
posted by j-dawg at 10:36 AM on November 29, 2009

I decided to send this message instead of calling to talk about it because, frankly, I’m far more articulate in writing than I am over the phone, and I thought it might be easier for both of us.

I, um, actually identify with this. There's a good reason I'm a writer— I'm the worst communicator ever when speaking under pressure. I need an delete key, for real. No matter how many talking points, how much rehearsal, or how many times I've talked it through with others, I still start blabbering like a dog with a mouthful of Anbesol.

I start saying the wrong things, which either leads to:
a.) hurting the other unintentially (which hurts me too, and creates a *facepalm* moment.)
b.) don't end up making my point clearly, and concede to keep seeing the guy, when I really don't want to. Which leads to future and later pain. Ugh.

In short, I don't think it is *necessarily* cowardice to send a message. But through Facebook is kind of strange and impersonal...
posted by functionequalsform at 10:37 AM on November 29, 2009

I'm gonna go ahead and guess that she started dating someone else in the interim (or found someone else that she wants to date more).

Lack of connection can also be code for "the sex/physical attraction wasn't great" so if there's anything you can work on about that, go ahead, it might help in future relationships.

I don't see you two being friends, really, but she wants no fighting or hard feelings because you're nice and you have mutual friends, so just say something banal like "well, it was fun spending time with you! I'll see you around. Hope you had a good Thanksgiving."
posted by kathrineg at 11:13 AM on November 29, 2009

Seconding the above - I express my feelings WAY better in written form than in conversation. Maybe that makes me a coward...but I never feel I've said exactly what I want to say as articulately as I want to say it during difficult relationship conversations. It's possible she feels similarly. Though I agree that doing it via Facebook is lame. I'm assuming you both have email addresses.

As for the rest of it - She thinks you're great on paper but just isn't feeling it. That's unfortunate for you, but you can't make someone be into you. You shouldn't blame yourself. A week of limited communication wouldn't have changed her mind about things if she really, really liked you. As for being friends... you're better off not. If you'd been friends for many years, I'd understand the desire to maintain it and not lose someone who's been a big part of your life. But it's been two months. Tell her you appreciate her honesty, let it go, and move on. She has.
posted by blackcatcuriouser at 11:18 AM on November 29, 2009 [2 favorites]

Oh honey. I just got almost exactly the same e-mail (is there a template online somewhere?) on Friday. Similar situation.

Not sure I can offer a whole ton of advice here, but I just sent an e-mail back that essentially said, thanks for being honest and not stringing me along, I'm going to take some time for myself for now but maybe we can reconnect in awhile.

My friends helped me through this weekend and I plan to keep myself busy for the next few weeks. Hopefully I'll have some perspective after then.

Good luck slogging through this, from someone who's also smarting.
posted by AV at 4:47 PM on November 29, 2009 [1 favorite]

Anon meMailed me to show me what he emailed to his former ladyfriend; he gave me permission to repost it here:

Thanks for the note. I'd already inferred the gist in the meantime, if not the details.

On reflection, I realize that having been so interested in you so quickly was probably not optimal. I thought we had a lot in common, especially in terms of attitudes and beliefs, so I probably came across a bit eager and tried a bit too hard; it's unfortunate that that is the side of me you saw first. Nevertheless, no-one wants to argue with another person about how they feel and I'm not looking to change anyone's mind, so I'll leave the explanations at that.

As for being friends: it's not something I'm interested in, at least for the time being. I really enjoyed the time we spent together. Perhaps, if we had wanted different sorts of relationships, then I might be able to think my way around reticence. Given that we're both looking for a long-term relationship, I don't think I'll be able to parse the emotional grammar of trying to be happy and hopeful for you, while being hurt that you've opted to find such somewhere else.

Good luck with your teaching and everything else,

posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 4:56 PM on November 29, 2009 [5 favorites]

Just a thought. This concern you have about having been "too eager" seems to me to be coming entirely from you -- nothing in the letter supports it. (She even said that she, too, had hoped for something serious.) So, I wouldn't stress it. It reminds me of a time when someone said something to me like "you really don't want to keep hanging out? I could LEARN to cook" when I'd never mentioned cooking once ever, based instead on some assumption he had about what his dream partner would value or what women in general value.

In fact, I don't think you can take this to mean that you did anything wrong that you could redo. Her letter would probably sound different, in that case. This sentence points to something rather ineffable: "There is definitely a connection between us, I think, but just not quite the kind of connection I am looking for, in terms of a long-term relationship." She wants someone who is more like "the funny guy" than "the cool guy" (or vice versa: more cool and less funny), or is more "earthy" or more "artistic," or more about nurturing her or who does less nurturing, or whatever. So, it's likely not to be anything very specific, and it's not worth worrying about because you really won't figure it out (you'll probably guess wrong, in fact).

The issue is probably all about her, and what she grew up with, and what balances her out, and which facets of her personality are the ones she wants to share with a partner. She's smart enough to be clear about that AND smart enough to know that she wants you to be you rather than trying to change to be the random person that she's looking for (and that this wouldn't work in any case).

[Cheesy paragraph ahead] The good news is that a big part of what you liked about being with her -- the vision of the long-term future that you are dreaming of -- stays with you, so it's only a matter of time until you can move into that future with someone who digs you just the way you are. In other words, the toughest part about [raising a family and every year, taking a month off to go spend on the east-coast beaches] is knowing that you really want to [raise a family and every year, take a month off to go spend on the east-coast beaches]. That vision of life belongs to you, and you can reclaim it as yours and hang onto it until you find someone else who digs that same vision or with whom you create another vision that's equally as wonderful.
posted by salvia at 7:17 PM on November 29, 2009

Maybe the sex wasn't that good for her and this is her nice way of avoiding telling you. Regardless of a reason, accept it and move on.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 10:54 PM on November 29, 2009

as someone in a year, 5 month+ relationship who got this email recently (even worse actually a "i want a break, will try again at christmas" and then no response for a month) one thing to tell you: keep on keepin' on.

oh yea, and glad you didnt burn the bridge (never know whats gonna happen in the future, just dont hold off hope)

to quote one of my fav lyrics - "the past is only the future with the lights on"

best of luck anon...
posted by knockoutking at 5:34 PM on November 30, 2009

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