Breaking up: yes, hard to do.
August 16, 2010 8:24 AM   Subscribe

How can I do this break-up right?

We are two guys in the US, in our late 20s, together for 2 years. In many ways, the relationship is great: he is a lovely guy, we have lots of fun together, lots in common, good sex, good times. But I have never really been able to imagine this relationship on the long term, and now it is clear to me that we are at the point where I need to do something about it.

Since the beginning, I have felt something missing. Even if he says I am the man for him, he is not such a passionate guy, and doesn't really feel any strong, burning feelings for me. I am the man for him simply because he trusts me, and he won't get bored of me, and we have a good time together. I don't have the feeling that it is something really particular about me that he loves.

Often my incessant optimism and need to feel special in the relationship will run into his indifference. When I look him in the eyes and feel a surge of warmth and love for him, I don't feel this feeling is returned - looking back at me I just see a neutral expression. Even if I have dealt with that missing feeling for two years, I am sure I won't be able to deal with it forever.

I also worry that I don't feel as strongly for him as I could, and I feel that my love for him is more of a protective, loving fondness coupled with a sexual attraction, rather than an admiring, out-and-out passion for something unique about him.

The reason that I haven't done anything about this until now is that day-to-day, the relationship is great, and I was giving it time to develop, and hoping I would start to feel differently. But two years along the line, I still feel very much the same.

At the moment we're not living in the same place. Recently he began to tell me he wants to know what I expect from him in the relationship, that he is thinking on the long term but that I never mention it. I told him that I find it hard to see us together on the long-term. I had said it before, but this was a while ago. Of course, this was hard for him to hear, but after talking for a while he said don't worry, and we can wait and see how it goes.

I don't think it's right to wait and see how it goes. I feel that it is unfair to him, knowing he needs a commitment on the long-term and that I can't give it. Soon his contract will come up, and he'll be looking for work - I don't want him to make that decision based on where I am, if I am not sure about the future of the relationship.

He is coming to see me this weekend, and I intend to basically tell him all this, and that I don't feel right continuing the relationship, and that I want to end it. It's unfortunate that he is coming here, rather than me going to his place, but it's unavoidable.

I am dreading this. I hate the idea that I am hurting him, and I know it will be a really terrible time for both of us afterwards. But I know it's the right thing, in the long run.

I'd like to know your advice on how to make this conversation as fair to him as possible. Have you been through something like this, from either side? What made it easier for you, and what made it needlessly difficult? I will talk to him on the phone a bit this week, so he knows to expect a big conversation. I think I will just tell him when we are alone at my place so he can feel free to react however he wants, and I'll be ready to tell him anything he needs to know. He has friends here he can stay with, in case he doesn't want to stay over.

Very grateful for any advice.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (12 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Just be honest.

I was in a relationship like this for 1.5 years. We basically were best pals (who had sex). I seemed to be the one more interested in keeping it long term... but I knew deep down inside that we weren't the right ones for each other.
I'm guessing maybe your partner knows as well.
We kept it going because, like I mentioned, we were pals and we were "settling".

I personally hate giving up on things - so it came down to him basically just stating the obvious. That we made great friends instead of "soul mates".

I think we both knew it was coming - so it was a little easier when he finally stepped up and had "the talk" which basically was just honesty.

Although it sucked, we both moved on rather quickly and are happy with our current relationships. We keep in touch via email occasionally.

I've always been the one dumped - and in my opinion, what makes it easier is someone being straight-forward, no blame, no cliches. And also no contact for at least a month afterwards. Exes that still tried to keep in contact with me right after they dumped me ended up sending me on a rollercoaster.
posted by KogeLiz at 8:36 AM on August 16, 2010

See Miko's best-ever "let-him/her-down-easy" advice.

"1. There's certainly nothing wrong with you - we are a great match in a lot of ways - you're smart, attractive, fun to be with, etc (list positive qualities)
2. But for whatever reason, I'm not feeling strongly enough about this, and I know that it's important to me to have that strong connection by now
3. You deserve real feeling and enthusiasm and for whatever reason I can't deliver it right now.
4. I don't want to be in your way and prevent you experiencing the fabulous life you will soon be living when you are with someone who is ready for you right now, and knowing that's not me I think its' best to free you up
6. I really really really really struggled with this decision because I like you and don't want to hurt you. I didn't make it lightly but I feel sure it's the right thing.
7. Do you have any questions for me? "
posted by MonkeyToes at 8:42 AM on August 16, 2010 [1 favorite]

Of all the AskMe breakups in recent memory, you're the one I'm least worried about. It sounds like you have a pretty good macroscopic and microscopic view of what isn't working here, but you have enough compassion to recognize the delicacy required to make your exit.

I think you need to tell him pretty early on in the weekend. Get it over with right away. Let him decide if it's a good idea for him to stay with you, or if he should go somewhere else, or whatever.
posted by hermitosis at 8:49 AM on August 16, 2010

If he does stay at yours - DO NOT have sex after you have broken up (or before for that matter). Even if he initiates it, and is persistent. I've been in his shoes and the other party thought it was a romantic way to say goodbye; it made me feel horrible.
posted by cmarie at 9:22 AM on August 16, 2010 [1 favorite]

I also wouldn't recommend sex this weekend. But I'm not going to say it will definitely make him feel horrible. In fact, not doing it if he initiates goodbye sex could very easily feel like a rejection of a different kind. It's a tricky minefield, and honestly I think either way could be the right decision.

But most of all, don't chicken out. You have to make this a clean break. There are some conflicting messages in your post -- that he doesn't feel passionately enough but that he expects more from the relationship than you -- I actually understand what I think you mean by this, but it is quite possible that he will not. Though you should honestly answer any questions he asks after you end it, you need to phrase the entire "asking of questions" portion in such a way that he does not see it as a debate he can win and that if he does, he can talk you out of your decision.

Good luck and don't forget to take care of yourself after the fact.
posted by MCMikeNamara at 9:31 AM on August 16, 2010

I think you'll probably break up with him, so take what I'm about to say with a grain of salt, I guess, but it really sounds to me like there hasn't been much communication about your feelings/styles of affection, and it's really unclear from your post whether he doesn't actually feel burning desire for you, or whether you've just interpreted the situation that way based on his reticence and perhaps your own insecurities. As someone married to a man who was certainly a stoic early in our relationship, and who is a bit of one now, I know that my husband would have been incredibly hurt at such a break-up--and that really it would have been my loss if I'd dumped him because he wasn't effusive about the very real love he genuinely feels for me.

It really just sounds like you're preemptively withdrawing from the relationship based on quite a few assumptions, and I think it might be worth having a conversation about these feelings before the actual break-up, if the relationship is really as good as you say.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 10:06 AM on August 16, 2010 [3 favorites]

There is no right way -
It is gonig to be messy, emotional, and painful.
Accept that - buck up, and mentally get ready for it.
posted by Flood at 11:12 AM on August 16, 2010

I would try not to linger doing a post mortem of the relationship too much (you sound so analytical!) and get him a hotel room for the rest of his stay if you have some money.

In future I don't think you should put someone in a relationship in the position where they are waiting on your approval - they probably don't feel like they can fully commit until you say it is okay, so it becomes a vicious loop. I think you think too much and over-analyze things.
posted by meepmeow at 11:18 AM on August 16, 2010

Adding my own experience to PhoB's: I'm a pretty passionate, expressive person with my husband. He, on the other hand, is not expressive of his emotions at all. Add to that two very different ways of expressing and reading affection (I am physically and verbally demonstrative, whereas he does concrete stuff for me and us), and you have a great big misunderstanding just waiting to happen. More and more over the years, I assumed that I fervently loved him, and that he was quite fond of me, felt strongly attached, even. That was never a comfortable feeling, but when we went through a difficult period in our lives, it was downright depressing. Thinking he didn't hold a lot of love for me wore away at the love and affection I had for him.

When it came to a head, I discovered otherwise, and could kick myself for all the signs I missed. He's probably one of the most sensitive, (silently) emotional people I know. We're working on really understanding and practicing each other's expressions of love.

If you're really not feeling it for this guy, yeah, let the relationship go. But if you have a great relationship otherwise, and you haven't specifically talked about these issues with him, it might be worth some joint effort.
posted by moira at 11:37 AM on August 16, 2010 [4 favorites]

Be honest without making the breakup about anything that's wrong with HIM. Dumping him will be hard enough on him, and since he hasn't done anything wrong, this isn't his fault. I'm not saying it's your fault either. In fact, I respect your decision very much. Just keep in mind that your decision is about you and your needs - and there is nothing wrong with that. But since the breakup isn't his fault, you need to take the 'blame' for the relationship's end.

Best of luck.
posted by 2oh1 at 11:55 AM on August 16, 2010

Your words resonated with me:

Since the beginning, I have felt something missing. Even if he says I am the man for him, he is not such a passionate guy, and doesn't really feel any strong, burning feelings for me...I also worry that I don't feel as strongly for him as I could, and I feel that my love for him is more of a protective, loving fondness coupled with a sexual attraction, rather than an admiring, out-and-out passion for something unique about him.

I think I understand what you mean, and I sympathize because it's very difficult and subtle to explain and express. I might guess that you know he loves you, but you don't think he understands you. And even with the best of intentions, sometimes that's not always possible between two people, and only you know if you can live without that feeling of being understood or not. For the record I don't think you're being too analytical; quite the contrary.

Be honest but not too honest; when you explain this to him, be sure to focus on the part where you feel something is off with your emotions, and do not approach it as "I feel that you don't understand or love me" because (especially if it is true, ironically!) he will probably try to argue, and no good can come of it.

The other thing I would suggest is to do everything you can to really give him fair warning, which it sounds like you plan to do-things will go quite differently depending on whether or not he really "knows deep down" that there is something off already. When you call him, do not let him get too excited or hopeful about the visit, and have the break up talk early on.

Re: the sex- My suggestion would be to absolutely and completely abstain from initiating anything. But depending on how well he takes the breakup, it may be okay to reciprocate some "goodbye" physical affection. Certainly do not outright reject any physical advances from him without compassion and delicacy.
posted by Nixy at 12:21 PM on August 16, 2010

Read the chapters in this book on Assertiveness Skills and Relationships. They're short and you'll find exactly what you're looking for, and it will help you avoid getting into a situation like this in the future where you're surprising your partner with this information.
posted by jardinier at 1:08 PM on August 16, 2010 [1 favorite]

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