Breaking up with a person who'll refuse to break up
August 25, 2010 7:36 PM   Subscribe

Breaking up with a boyfriend who seems to be getting increasingly removed from reality, and is almost guaranteed not to accept the breakup? I'm preoccupied with thoughts of how this could get worse.

He and I have been working for many months try to salvage any good relationship out of the long-term romantic relationship we had. He's been better- and worse-behaved at various times. It's time to stop working now -- time to start the process ("process" because I'm 100% sure he'll refuse at first) of fully disengaging. I truly wanted to maintain some relationship, but contact with him has become both incredibly frustrating/draining and increasingly creepy. So I need no more contact.

I have some details below, but if you want to skip them, the most important part is that I'm hoping for advice about 1) the wording and method of conveying "no more contact anymore" and 2) dealing with his virtually inevitable reaction (insistence on not stopping the contact).

Re. method: I have stopped wanting to communicate by phone or in person because of his extraordinary capacity for denial and fantasy. Even in writing he will ignore my most explicit statements if they're not what he wants to hear -- but at least in writing I have proof of what I actually said. I don't know how I should combine phone and email now. (I don't know if an "email breakup" is terrible, or less terrible since we've been breaking up for months and he will just refuse to listen to reality by phone.) It has always mattered so much to me not to hurt him / to minimize the hurt as much as I possibly can. That's why I've kept going so long with the salvaging attempts, which I accept has been a fundamental mistake on my part. :(


1) He's reached the point where he's just inventing stuff -- stuff that can be objectively disproven in many cases, using only our own communications -- about nonexistent promises I've made (and of course then "broken"), lies I've told him, and delusions I'm having (especially the delusion that I've freely and happily chosen the changes in my life including moving to a different city -- he says he sees that I am trapped in a "bad situation" I just don't know how to escape [!]). This is what feels so creepy, his increasing distance from reality.

2) I've been clear that I'm not comfortable having sex with him or spending a night sleeping in bed with him given the state things are in, yet he keeps asking and keeps saying he "knows" I want to spend nights with him. (Our last sex was more than five months ago, and our only meeting in person during the last several months [talking, for most of a daytime] was one month ago.)

3) I've lived in a different city than his for most of the last year; he knows my current address, although he's never visited here. I live in a freestanding house that's not especially secure in any way (and he's a recreational lock-picker like him). He may have some degree of a grudge against the people I now live with for enticing me away from him / away from his city, although so far he seems to be blaming that on me and my 'delusions' rather than on them. I've never known him to be remotely physically violent and I don't have any suggestion at all that he would be, but I'm preoccupied with concerns that he'll come here to insist on talking to me.

4) There are material loose ends, including some of my things still in his apartment. I'm willing to give these things up (I wish I didn't have to, but I accept that if it's for the best). I'm most concerned about how to make these things not an excuse for him to keep contacting me. I've been fortunate enough to have never had a bad breakup before, so I don't have experience with 'breakup rules' for stuff like this.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (22 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
A little bit of background might be a little helpful as well as a throw-away email since you are posting anonymously.

From what you post, it sounds like you need a clean break. This is just what I get from your description of things. What is stopping you from emailing him or calling him (or confronting him face to face) and definitively ending things. Saying, "I can't have any more contact with you at all!" No phone calls, no emails, no visits. If you do, I will pull out a restraining order on you.

Of course, all we get is your side, and you are obviously VERY emotionally close to the situation.

You might also consider seeing a therapist to see if you can work this out. That way someone, IRL, knows what is going on and can give you an objective opinion (the green's great, but it can only do so much).

If you want to try and save this thing, or help him out, you should see a couples therapist. The relationship may be past that though.
posted by TheBones at 7:44 PM on August 25, 2010

Try doing it by phone. Be definitive and don't explain your reasons. If you elaborate on the reasons (which he's presumably aware of by now), that can only make him feel like it's still open to negotiation.

If phone doesn't work, do it by email. This is not "terrible." People like to give rigid rules for what mode of communication you have to use, but that's silly. Different situations call for different methods. Use whatever works.

Then, do not contact him. Delete him from Facebook and anything like it. If he goes to your house, don't let him. If he tries to force his way in, call the police.
posted by jejune at 7:49 PM on August 25, 2010

You need to stop contacting him at all. Frankly, I would say cut off all contact, change your phone number, change your email address, and mail him a letter. You've tried everything else - you're not being horrible, you're protecting yourself.

You say you don't have any sign that he's got a propensity towards violence - any man who dismisses things you say as "delusions" is attempting to be controlling, and absolutely has the propensity to take it up a notch.

Him saying that he knows you want to have sex with him, when you've explicitly told him you don't want to? Hell, I'm scared, and I'm not in your situation.

Yes, you have to give up on the things he has or he will drag this out even longer. This is a lesson I never ever learned in relationships and it cost me dearly.

If he was going to be reasonable this wouldn't have dragged on for as long as it has. He interprets your every contact as you wanting to get back together. You see it as being reasonable, he likely sees it as continuing to keep you close to him. Any reasonable reason you offer will be refuted by him.
posted by micawber at 7:56 PM on August 25, 2010 [2 favorites]

I mean: If he goes to your house, don't let him in.
posted by jejune at 7:56 PM on August 25, 2010 [2 favorites]

If you are no longer having sex and barely seeing each other (and not ever having sex when you do), you are already broken up. If he can't see that, then yes, he is displaying a shocking disconnect from reality.

You say you've "been breaking up for months." What exactly does this mean? That you break up with him over the phone but then continue to make attempts to salvage the relationship, take his calls, respond to his emails, and see him when you visit his city? Or that the relationship is obviously (to you) fizzling, although you have yet to state it out loud? Either way, it's time to be much more forceful about your needs.

I'd say call him first and tell him in no uncertain terms that you are breaking up, unilaterally, that you need no input from him, and that you need him not to contact you any more for emotional reasons. Give him NOTHING that he can argue against or try to resolve (i.e. reasons the relationship isn't working, things he's done wrong, etc.). Say only that the relationship is over and that's your final decision. If he doesn't listen to this, send an email and/or letter stating the same, so that you have something in writing for legal reasons. Then, change your email and phone number. It's a hassle, but it may be the only way to keep him from attempting to contact you.

If you're worried about him showing up at your home or work, this advice may be helpful. If you personally gave him your address and no paper trail is going to throw him, you may be out of luck. Install window locks and alarms, and possibly notify the police if you're really worried.

As far as the stuff at his place, I'd say consider it gone unless you're willing to hire a lawyer over any of it.

I'm sorry, and good luck!
posted by hoperaiseshell at 7:59 PM on August 25, 2010 [2 favorites]

I don't have any specific advice per sé, but I *highly* recommend picking up a copy of "The Gift of Fear" by Gavin de Becker (I've recommended it on AskMe before, I think). I always recommend it to people in your situation, and to all my female friends/relatives in general (and often to males as well). My mother actually made all her kids read it (she's a bit paranoid, but that's another anonymous AskMe for another day...). Anyways, there are chapters in dealing with stalkers/delusional people/pissed off exes. I think it might be helpful, if not now then possibly later, and it couldn't hurt to read it.

*Note: I have ZERO connection with the book/author/publisher, I just think it's a very good/helpful book, especially for people in your situation.

Best of luck!
posted by 1000monkeys at 8:00 PM on August 25, 2010 [5 favorites]

The people at domestic violence hotlines are trained in helping people think through a safe method for leaving relationships: 1.800.799.SAFE.

Good luck. The wording and the method you use to tell him are probably not what will make the difference in his reaction.

The book Gift of Fear by Gavin de Becker is often recommended on Metafilter.
posted by salvia at 8:04 PM on August 25, 2010 [2 favorites]

Does he deny the reality of all sorts of things, and things other people say (like his boss), or only things involving you and your relationship? If it's only the latter, it sounds a little like he is not actually distanced from reality himself, but is deliberately trying to gaslight you.

If so, trying to "prove" the reality of anything to him is a waste of time and will never work, because he already knows what the reality is. It's just another way to control you and suck out your time and attention. He has learned that it's a way to keep you going around in circles with him.

So, just don't engage in debating the reality of things with him AT ALL. Break up with him. I think email is totally fine in this case. If he calls you a week later acting like you never broke up at all, telling you you're delusional and it never happened, IGNORE. If he threatens you or tells you he's coming to visit you, tell him you're going to call the police. If he says you're delusional and promised x, y, z, don't reply.

I think he probably also is aware you don't want to hurt him and takes advantage of that, too.
posted by Ashley801 at 8:08 PM on August 25, 2010 [2 favorites]

Put this person in the review mirror, NOW.

Everyone here will give you good advice on how to deal with a stalker ex, since that's what it sounds like you are afraid this situation is turning into.

However, it starts with you treating this person as an adult who is responsible for his own actions. A short email explaining you are initiating a clean break and you wish no further contact is the first step.

He has emotionally bullied you into accepting his problems as your own - stop that.

Good luck.

PS - you are really nice to try and be nice. it didn't work out the way you had hoped. create distance and safety for yourself so you can process this relationship and heal:)
posted by jbenben at 8:12 PM on August 25, 2010 [3 favorites]

Yep. Cold turkey. It sounds like he's the sort of person who doesn't listen and doesn't take no for an answer; that means you don't provide him with any opportunity. For that reason a letter rather than a phone call would be better. A phone call will not go well.

Don't explain things; that will just invite him to argue.

You'd probably have more peace of mind if you do change your phone. Make sure your roommates understand that they should not take messages from him (and shouldn't let him in, if it comes to that).
posted by zompist at 8:16 PM on August 25, 2010

The book The Gift of Fear gets recommended a lot around here in answers to questions like this one. Read through some of those, if you haven't already, and read the book.
posted by rtha at 8:24 PM on August 25, 2010

"I've thought about this for a full year now, and it's clear I need to live my own life. That entails you letting go, completely. If you can't do that, right now-- and if you attempt to contact me again-- it will just prove once and for all that you care more about your desires than my needs, and thus I shouldn't have you in my life.

So *thank you* for all the (truly!) *great* experiences we had, and goodbye."

And then cease all communication, and refuse to return any attempts at communication.
posted by darth_tedious at 8:26 PM on August 25, 2010

i think you are past the point of "breakup rules". what salvia suggests is what i would also suggest. these people know all about what you are going through. i have a local women's support service that has helped me through some very serious problems with my ex, to a point. by "to a point", i mean that they can't make my particular problem go away but they have helped me to think about it in tougher terms. the women at this center have resources for me, and they share their stories, and in the end, i came away feeling less helpless and less responsible. they have legal resources as well. you've obviously made yourself clear to this guy. another perspective from a caring and engaged advocate may finally turn things around for you. the point will be for you to feel empowered and done. not responsible anymore.

you talk about claims that he has made that can be "disproven". this says to me that you are keeping a record and also that this information is begging to be shared with a third party. it's time, woman. get some opinions and get your mind straight.

this may seem kind of out-of-left-field, but your long-term peace may improve if you got a dog, and had the resources to train it well and cover its healthcare. the right dog will sense things that you won't, will bark at intruders, will keep you company, etc. i say this because of the house issue. i have the same problem. having a good and faithful dog goes a long way in mitigating feelings of they say quite often on this site, YMMV
posted by lakersfan1222 at 8:32 PM on August 25, 2010 [1 favorite]

to clarify: my situation has gone as far as the courts. and is still in the courts. i'm not saying that you are going to ever go that far, and maybe all that's needed in your case is a list of options, but what was crucial for me is that i changed my thinking about the situation, and my role in the situation, and this is where the women's support services came into play. you can memail me and i can help you find something local. i have no experience with any kind of national association, etc, or the effectiveness or helpfulness of salvia's hotline. if you hit a brick wall, let me or someone know, and we'll find another approach, or another service, or another foundation....whatever.
posted by lakersfan1222 at 8:38 PM on August 25, 2010

What salvia said about the dv hotline. You need to give him a call or email and break up completely--and quickly-- with him. Letting him off easy and trying to remain friends will just give him mixed signals and make you feel like he is in control of when or if the relationship will end. End it now and move away if you have to. Sounds like you may end up with a delusional stalker on your hands (((yikes)))
posted by MsKim at 8:47 PM on August 25, 2010

Here's the thing--this sort of looks like the crazy ex boyfriend stalker post. I totally was expecting that.

But looking at what you say, I don't see that at all. You act as if you are broken up with him, but you call him a boyfriend, and you ask how to break up with him,

and in the next sentence you say you've been breaking up for months. I've never taken more than 10 minutes to break up with anyone. You speak of the house not being secure, and call him a recreational lock picker, while stating he hasn't visited you for months. You're also not clear on whether it is a romantic relationship or not. You are not sleeping with him and haven't seen him in person for a long time, but call him your "boyfriend." You talk of efforts to continue salvaging something when he's made it clear that he wants a romantic relationship with you.

Nor is there any details about the things you say he is divorced from reality about other than him thinking you still want him. Its all cloaked in a haze of no facts.

Most importantly, you display a curious lack of agency about the whole thing, as if he's supposed to get that you want to break up with him without you saying it out loud.

In short, I get the distinct impression that you are stringing him along.

My gut says you're pulling the classic "be a pain in the ass until bf/gf breaks up with me."

There is only one way to break up with someone. You say you don't want to date them. You tell them not to contact you. Curiously, you've never done this. Just break up. It aint easy, but you owe it to him. No beating around the bush. Tell him you are breaking up with him, tell him you can't hang out or talk while both of you are getting over him, and never call him again.
posted by Ironmouth at 8:51 PM on August 25, 2010 [27 favorites]

WORD, ironmouth. thank you.
posted by lakersfan1222 at 9:02 PM on August 25, 2010

There is only one way to break up with someone. You say you don't want to date them. You tell them not to contact you. Curiously, you've never done this. Just break up. It aint easy, but you owe it to him. No beating around the bush. Tell him you are breaking up with him, tell him you can't hang out or talk while both of you are getting over him, and never call him again


And leave whatever you have at his place there - breaking all contact means breaking all contact. If you are truly afraid of him then getting your stuff really isn't that important. I left an apartment of stuff behind when I ran from my (truly) delusional ex and really, that stuff can be replaced, and even if you think it can't, it's not worth being hurt/killed over.
posted by patheral at 9:28 PM on August 25, 2010

the most important part is that I'm hoping for advice about 1) the wording and method of conveying "no more contact anymore" and 2) dealing with his virtually inevitable reaction (insistence on not stopping the contact).

1) You write an email that says "This relationship is over. Please do not contact me."

2) You change your phone number and email.

I'm not being snarky, I'm serious. This is how you end things with someone you're not even having a romantic relationship with in the first place, particularly if they are delusional. I can't think of any worthwhile reason to drag this out as you have been.
posted by oneirodynia at 10:09 PM on August 25, 2010 [2 favorites]

Just a thought, since his view of things is so unrealistic: there's nothing you can do so that this is done the "right" way from his perspective. You could craft the most complete and perfect communication to him, and deliver it perfectly by the ideal means, and he'll just go on inventing stuff.

So stop worrying about any of that. Just cut it off, cold turkey. Write him a nice letter, brief and simple: "I've given this a lot of thought, and I cannot continue to have a relationship with you. Please don't write back, or call, or contact me in any way -- it's better for me to end this cold-turkey, and if you can't do the same, I'm the one person on the planet who cannot help you through it. All best, [you]."

When he calls, don't answer the phone. When he emails, delete it unopened. De-friend him on Facebook. Delete his number from your phone. If he sends mail, throw it away unopened. Move on with your life. If he shows up at your door, don't answer, and if he persists, get a restraining order.
posted by davejay at 10:40 PM on August 25, 2010

Having broken up with someone with questionable emotional stability long-distance, I recommend either calling him or emailing and, as others have said, just end it. If he continues to contact you by phone or otherwise, make it very explicitly clear to him that you will get the law involved and lock his ass up if he gets anywhere near you. My ex wouldn't stop calling and finally told me he was getting in his car to drive from MA to TX to convince me to take him back and it was only after I told him I would call the cops if I saw him that he stopped contacting me.

Break-ups aren't nice or considerate, especially at the stage you're at. It sounds like he is emotionally manipulative and therefore your behavior is all fucked up. You have got to drop that bullshit and just be absolutely straight. I've been there, and it sucks, but you just have to do what you have to do.
posted by threeturtles at 11:49 PM on August 25, 2010

He "knows" you want to spend nights with him? That just sounds downright frightening. I really think you need to get out of that situation ASAP. Communicate very clearly that things are over and that this will be the last communication. Then install some deadbolts or hotel room style chain locks.
posted by cirrostratus at 9:14 AM on August 26, 2010

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