Managing the aftermath of leaving one for another
December 17, 2010 12:13 PM   Subscribe

How do I leave my SO for someone else in the least awful way possible?

First things first: I'm not asking for advice about whether or not I should do what I'm thinking about doing. That's something I have to wrestle with on my own. What I am hoping for is to get perspective from people who have been in this position about what happens during and after making a decision like this.

Short version of the story: I've been with my current SO for a little over a year, and we've been steadily making progress towards making this IT for both of us: a life together, marriage, kids, and everything. We're great together, and I think this person would be very surprised for things to end. I would have been too, until a few weeks ago.

I've met someone. I wasn't looking, and in the normal scheme of things, wouldn't give anyone a second look even if I felt some tug of attraction. But this feels different. Edge of the cliff different. And I feel like I might just have to jump off.

I've never in my life imagined doing something like this. It's the exact opposite of the way I live my life.

Nothing has happened. Cheating isn't an option for me, and being with a cheater isn't an option for this other person. But we've talked about what we're feeling and what would happen if the circumstances were different.

If this happens (and it's still a big if), I know there's no way to make it easy on my SO, but I wonder how I can make it less horrible than it could be.

And then there are the friends and family I feel like I'm shocking/disappointing/hurting as well. How do I explain myself to them? How do I accept responsibility and pave the way for them to accept what happens?

I know I'm omitting some details, but I really do want to know about other people's experiences with this rather than advice about my specific situation. Ultimately, that's a decision I have to make for myself.

posted by anonymous to Human Relations (45 answers total) 14 users marked this as a favorite
As far as making it less painful for the other person, I think Miko's advice will help.
posted by sweetkid at 12:17 PM on December 17, 2010 [3 favorites]

Cut the cord on January 5th. Right after the holidays. Do it fast and tell him that you just fell out of love with him. Dont mention the other person. Tell him that you dont want a trial break and want a clean break up. Give him a week to absorb matters in case he needs to talk to you again. After that you wont be talking for at least 6 months if ever.

Good luck.
posted by The1andonly at 12:17 PM on December 17, 2010 [2 favorites]

My suggestion:

1) Break up with SO
2) Wait 6 months
3) Pursue new crush

The 6 month waiting period is the best way for the new crush to not just be a rebound relationship, plus it gives room for the SO to not feel like they were inferior and got left for someone else, and finally it ensures that your feelings for the new crush are in fact valid and not just a manifestation of some desire to leave your current relationship.
posted by I am the Walrus at 12:18 PM on December 17, 2010 [8 favorites]

My advice is always "do it in the right order." Usually I mean break up first, get with the new person second, because that's the pressing problem, but in your case, it's a little more subtle.

What you really need to do is put the new person entirely out of your head. Convince yourself, for the moment, that you'll never be with them - they don't even exist. Then, decide whether or not you want to stay with your current S.O., now that you know what real temptation feels like. That's the only way you can be sure you're doing it for the right reasons.

Because really, this new person may be a creep and drop you as soon as you're not forbidden fruit, or they may get hit by a bus tomorrow, or you may find out they eat babies for breakfast and you don't want to be with them anyway. At that point, though, it's too late to go back to what you have now. So you need to make the decision based solely on what you have now vs. being single, not now vs. new person.
posted by restless_nomad at 12:19 PM on December 17, 2010 [52 favorites]

This is a tough one. There's a good case to be made for not telling the SO why you're leaving him/her, but also a good case for being honest so they doesn't feel like they're going completely crazy trying to figure out what happened.

If you decide to be honest, then this much is clear: you don't need to be TOO honest. Don't give the ex-SO details of how much you're into the new person; about how you met the new person and what you've done with them; don't explain what you found missing in the old relationship; don't engage in discussions about either relationship Just lay out the facts: "I met somebody else and I'm leaving you."

As for friends and family -- just tell them that you fell in love with someone else and that's that. You could add that you didn't actually cheat, though. People are going to look askance at you no matter what -- but if this is true love, who cares? Don't worry too much about what other people think!
posted by yarly at 12:19 PM on December 17, 2010 [4 favorites]

I left my wife, not for somebody else exactly, but I had met someone who changed my view of how I was feeling towards my wife. Nothing happened with the third person in the long run but that's neither here nor there concerning your question.

I don't think that how horrible it is depends on you at all - you have very little control over this. Your SO may say (I'm simplifying here) "Oh, you're are such a rotter, but hey you gotta do what you gotta do! Good luck!" or he/she may throw things at you, scream, cry, go silent, scream for a long long time. You have no control over that, but you know what feels right for your life so you have to roll with it.

As for friends / family, OK you might be shocking them but if they are true friends they will not be disappointed or hurt, they should support you. If they don't, well that tells you something about them.

Either way you go, you'll survive. It seems one of those situations that is totally unresolvable when you're in the middle of it, but you'll come out the other side eventually. Good luck!
posted by jontyjago at 12:22 PM on December 17, 2010 [3 favorites]

Do it fast and tell him that you just fell out of love with him. Dont mention the other person.

See, the hesitation I have with this approach is that it's going to become obvious that the OP is in a new relationship, which began so quickly that there's no question it began during the relationship or so shortly after as to not make a difference. Then not only will the ex be dealing with sudden, shocking heartbreak, he'll be dealing the next week with the shock of infidelity, combined with the agony of slowly piecing it all together. (And it will feel like infidelity even if it wasn't, technically.) So there's something to be said for just laying it all out on the table at once.
posted by yarly at 12:24 PM on December 17, 2010 [4 favorites]

Right after the holidays.

I politely and strongly disagree. Sounds like you've decided to do it, so you should do it ASAP. Do you really want to leave your current SO with memories of you faking it through the holidays? S/he'd be better off spending them newly single and (hopefully) surrounded by supportive friends and family.

And then there are the friends and family I feel like I'm shocking/disappointing/hurting as well. How do I explain myself to them? How do I accept responsibility and pave the way for them to accept what happens?

If you are, in your heart-of-hearts, sure about your decision, you are not doing anything bad or immoral. Staying with someone you don't love out of obligation, or cheating on them would be the wrong way to deal with this. Of course, that doesn't mean that the truth or the right thing to do will ever let anyone off easy -- in fact, that is the exception to the rule. Your family is your family; they might not support your decision, but they won't leave you over this. Your real, true friends, likewise; we are all fallible human beings and we accept that our friends will sometimes do harsh things because they are the right thing to do. The real ones will stick by you; the ones that don't would have abandoned you at some other junction anyway.
posted by griphus at 12:25 PM on December 17, 2010 [6 favorites]

Ugh. Are you me from the past? My anecdata for what it's worth:

How did I break it to him? I packed a bag ahead of time with a few days worth of clothes and necessities, stashed it in my car, and told him one evening that we had to talk, all serious face so that he'd know this wasn't going to be a happy conversation. And then I told him it wasn't working and that I would totally understand if he wanted to be alone for a few days--I had lined up a place to stay so he could have the apartment. He didn't want that, but depending on your SO's reaction/personality, having an escape plan is probably a good idea if you're cohabitating.

Also remember that this other person may or may not want to be in a relationship with you, regardless of the signals they're sending now (something else that I've been through); it's a possibility, so consider whether this is about this particular person or your relationship in general.
posted by smirkette at 12:25 PM on December 17, 2010 [2 favorites]

Oh yeah, and it was around this time of the year, too. Definitely do it before the holidays if you're going to do it!!!
posted by smirkette at 12:26 PM on December 17, 2010

Recently, a close friend lost her very-long-term boyfriend after he met someone else. My suggestions are based on things he did that hurt her unnecessarily.

Don't tell the boyfriend you're leaving about how special you feel with the New Man, or any other reasons why you're drawn to NM and feel he's right for you. It may seem appropriate to mention these things when BF is asking why you're giving up your relationship -- but it'll do more harm than good. Respond kindly when BF talks about his feelings. Accept responsibilty for hurting him, and tell him how sorry you are. But don't argue or even engage when he talks about your being wrong, unfair, imprudent, etc. Don't put off the break-up. And get all the business done as fast as possible -- moving out, taking away all your stuff, settling finances, telling people you know. Make a clean break. Don't contact him to ask if he's okay, or for any other reason. Don't say anything to mutual acquaintances that they might repeat to him.
posted by wryly at 12:36 PM on December 17, 2010 [18 favorites]

Time. Time is your friend. If it's true love, it's not going to evaporate if you don't hit it RIGHT NOW. If you're feeling a sense of urgency, or scarcity, that's a bad sign. Very, very bad. In fact, I would say that's a sign you're being played in some way. S/he should be very understanding and give you all the time you need to get out of your old relationship, if s/he really loves you on the level you seem to think.

Take your time. Take it slow with the new person. You've known them for two weeks. TWO WEEKS. I've adored people I just met, or hated them, and then a few months later find out something about them that completely changes my opinion.

That's the most important factor here. If new flame is giggling about your stuffy old ex a week after you break up, they're not nice and they're not worth it. If they're worth it, they will understand the need to wait, and won't pressure you.
posted by Nixy at 12:37 PM on December 17, 2010 [12 favorites]

Do what wryly suggested to the letter.
posted by Silvertree at 12:38 PM on December 17, 2010

Do it fast and tell him that you just fell out of love with him. Dont mention the other person.

Unless he asks, "Is there someone else?" In which case, DO NOT FUCKING LIE.

I know this is universally going to be awful for him, but at least try to have a little respect.

Frankly I'm with yarly that you might as well lay it all out, because he's probably not stupid. And unless your new dude lives across the country and doesn't know anyone else you know, he's going to find out.
posted by Sara C. at 12:45 PM on December 17, 2010 [1 favorite]

This is about you, not about your current partner or the person you hope will be your next partner.

I mean this both as a statement of policy (wryly is spot-on about how to approach this), and as a statement of fact. You're not forced to leave your current partner because you met your soulmate or any nonsense like that--you're choosing to leave your current partner because you met someone whom you believe can give you something you're missing in your current relationship.

So own your own choices; that's the best way to minimize the being a jerk thing. Trying to justify your choice to your current partner is the best way to maximize the being a jerk thing.
posted by Sidhedevil at 12:46 PM on December 17, 2010 [12 favorites]

I've been on the receiving end of this.!
Do what you need to do, but be honest, because you at least owe that to them, besides they will figure it out while moping and drinking heavily.
Do it before the holidays and just get it out of the way.

Also, I wanna chime in about the new guy. I was interested in a girl, and she dropped her bf to try to get with me. I knew her exbf and while I wasn't friends with the guy I didn't want to be that douche bag to ruin a relationship. I ended up telling her that if she could just drop a guy like that and tell him none the less about wanting to be with me, that it just wasn't going to work. No class.

Best of luck, do what you do, everyone gets burned at least once.
posted by handbanana at 12:46 PM on December 17, 2010 [1 favorite]

The new person really should have nothing to do with your decision.

I like what jontyjago said about meeting someone who changed his view of his marriage. That doesn't have to be a "someone" that triggers the change in perspective, it can also be a series of life experiences, or whatever. If you are honest with yourself, this didn't just come out of the blue, now did it?

- I think you mention your changed (clarified, really?) viewpoint in the break-up. You define what that viewpoint is so that it's clear to your SO, and clearly incompatible with the direction you guys were heading.

- I won't go into specifics, but bringing up a third party in the break-up conversation or as a factor in the break-up process is really hurtful and distracting to the healing process for everyone - including friends and family.

- I actually think it is OK to date someone else whenever you feel ready, whatever the time frame, as long as you've processed the break-up. Especially if you've been thinking it hasn't been quite "right" between you and the SO for a while, I don't see a reason to hold yourself back or keep to artificial timetables. When you're ready to move on, you're ready.
posted by jbenben at 12:50 PM on December 17, 2010

If this happens (and it's still a big if)

Oh, are you waiting until you see if New Magic Person really wants you, too?

That's being a jerk. End your current relationship, no matter what happens with New Magic Person.

It's not OK to be looking over the shoulder of the person you're with for someone better.
posted by Sidhedevil at 12:51 PM on December 17, 2010 [34 favorites]

If this happens (and it's still a big if), I know there's no way to make it easy on my SO, but I wonder how I can make it less horrible than it could be.

It sounds like you're trying to manage the other person. Don't do that. They're entitled to their feelings and reactions, even if it's negative twoards you.

Otherwise, do it now or as ASAP. You're already going to be hurting the other person deeply, going through the motions isn't going to help you or them. If you're going to jump, then dammit jump, like tonight or this weekend.

Make yourself available to them, to answer any questions. This doesn't mean you have to physically put up with their shit or deal with them calling you names, but let them know you're there if they have questions. I personally would tolerate a screaming fit or two if I were in your shoes, something that would give them a chance to really vent, but not much more than that.

As the person leaving, you should vacant the house/apartment/sleep on the couch etc. Do not sleep with them. Do not have sex with them. Do not call them honey or sweetheart. Do not do couple like things. You're breaking up with them, so don't confuse them. Make the break clear and complete.

Be honest about why you're leaving, i.e. there's someone else. They're going to find out eventually, so it better be from you.

Recognize that they may hate you forever and that's their right. That doesn't mean you have to put up with abuse from them, but you need to understand and make some sort of peace with the fact that you're breaking someone's heart and either a said or implied promise. You will not and should not be their favorite person in the world after this. Do not think or expect you two will be friends, ever. You might be, in time, but just don't expect it.

That said, remember to be good to yourself and forgive yourself if you need to. Your intentions sound honorable, i.e. you're doing what's best for you, while minimizing hurt to others. You'd didn't look for this, but now that's it's here, you can't turn away from it. So be careful in packing your parachute, say what you need to say and then jump.

Good luck.
posted by nomadicink at 12:52 PM on December 17, 2010 [2 favorites]

Cut it off sharply. Let him or her know the truth and walk away. Don't keep calling him or her, don't try to be their friend, commit completely to the new and don't try and have your cake (his or her friendship or love) and eat it too. You've made your bed lie in it and don't try to get freebies off him or her.
posted by Ironmouth at 12:54 PM on December 17, 2010 [2 favorites]

How do I leave my SO for someone else in the least awful way possible?

There are so many questions like this here and I wonder why those haven't already answered your question. Nonetheless, what stands out is what you are like, what you would/would not do. It is more helpful to mention what your SO is like. How much truth can he handle and how to say it right. Whether you imagined this happening is, really, besides the point.

And then there are the friends and family I feel like I'm shocking/disappointing/hurting as well. How do I explain myself to them? How do I accept responsibility and pave the way for them to accept what happens?

This is so full of guilt- and you haven't even done anything yet. You really have to first believe that whatever choice you make is the way to go. The rest will follow naturally. You will have the courage to take things on as they come up and stand by your actions. How others react is something you can't control. Some people will be happy for you and others will not, but that's also true for so many other things in life. Good luck!
posted by xm at 12:56 PM on December 17, 2010

I just want to clarify that by giving it time, I mean both before and after breaking up, but mostly after. Yes, you should break up as soon as you're sure it's inevitable. However, I like that I am the Walrus suggests waiting six months. I think waiting some amount of time is appropriate, not necessarily that long. At least a month, say. I would say that the urgency you're feeling is probably just urgency to have sex, correct? Because you mention "no technical cheating." So, break up soon but not immediately, give the breakup time to sort itself out (moving his/her stuff out will take a couple weeks, taking his/her angry calls) and then actually date new person before just beginning to sleep with them all drunk with NRE. That's the classy way to do this.
posted by Nixy at 12:57 PM on December 17, 2010

When my last ex met someone else it was really clear to me even though I'm sure he felt that he was hiding it. And this was sort of how you describe your situation. He wasn't cheating on me he was just clearly interested in someone else at a point where our relationship felt that maybe it had run its course. And maybe we could have set that aside and worked it out but neither of us wanted to and we went our separate ways. And it was okay. So here's my advice based on going through something similar. A lot of it agrees with what other people have said

1. Do this quickly and have a plan to not be in the house if your SO wants you to be away. Any headaches or hassles involved in you moving out or staying elsewhere are your problem to deal with and should not be part of this discussion. The toughest part of this sort of breakup is having to play the heavy and then not having your former-SO around to console you about how tough things are for you, etc. You sound level-headed about that and I think that's a good approach moving forward.

2. I know a year feels like forever but in the scheme of things, it's not. You can make a break and move on, both of you. While I'd counsel being tactful [i.e. do not talk about the other person unless specifically asked about and if you are asked be very clear you are not being intimate with them - add to this DON'T BE INTIMATE WITH THEM] you also feel what you feel. While it's not a great situation that this is happening, it's endurable and defensible. Different people have different ethical feelings about this sort of thing, but a general "Don't cheat. If you're not married, breaking up is okay." approach will work for most people.

3. Family will deal and they will move on. Again, take the responsibility for the situation and save the "this is really hard for me too!" conversations for close trusted friends and leave most people out of it. You don't have to give them a timeline of when you met this other person, but again be tactful and if you do start dating them [and I'd also suggest a month or two cool off period] don't drag them immediately to family stuff and/or things your now-ex will be at. People will take a while to adjust and the more you can understand it's a little awkward for people who liked your SO and also got behind your family/kids plan, the better things will go.

4. Be always gracious about your ex. Be understanding of their hurt feelings and family's weirdnesses as you move forward making your choices. My ex took care to just sort of vanish for a long time [and he never did get together with the other woman which became a funny story he told me MUCH later] and that was probably for the best. Have some sort of plan for regular contact to tie up loose ends instead of randomly re-appearing in their life to take their name off the car insurance or pick something up at the house. We had coffee together every other week just to swap mail and be clear that we weren't enemies and I think it was helpful.

Best of luck.
posted by jessamyn at 12:59 PM on December 17, 2010 [8 favorites]

They may say try want to know about the other person but they do not. Keep your new relationship low-key and definitely don't post pics on Facebook where mutual friends can see them. In fact, I suggest disappearing from them entirely.

Your ex will be staying up nights sobbing, better that they not have someone to compare themselves to while they're doing so.

When you tell people, don't mention the new person, just say that you are splitting up. They might want to tell people it was mutual or whatever. Let them have privacy if they want it. It would suck to have everyone know that you were left for another person.
posted by the young rope-rider at 1:11 PM on December 17, 2010 [1 favorite]

You've been with the current guy for less than a year and are planning marriage and kids but then you meet a new guy and within two weeks are planning life with him? I think that you need to take a deep breath and slow way down for a minute.
posted by fshgrl at 1:16 PM on December 17, 2010 [33 favorites]

Oh and for first person perspective? It was completely horrible, it's harder to trust people even though technically there was no cheating (I suspected chemistry and was told I was being jealous) and the subsequent failure of their relationship made me even more miserable. It seemed like a huge waste and made me think significantly less of my ex. I rarely- to - never mention anything negative about him but he went from someone I admired to someone whom I do not consider capable of dealing with emotions in a mature and rational way. Not a lot of respect left.
posted by the young rope-rider at 1:17 PM on December 17, 2010 [1 favorite]

I've been on both sides of this scenario in my long life. In any relationship, and it sounds like you have had a good one with your SO, there are times when another person gets under the radar exactly like you have described. But it never turns out in reality as it does in imagination. At least it never did for me. I ended up with a bunch of unnecessary drama and wasted some good years I could have been building a life.

If there are new aspects of your personality that the new person brings out, work on those things. There's no reason you cannot grow and change with your SO. You will encounter many attractive and alluring others in your life who will make you feel this way. But those feelings fade and then what have you got?

I don't mean to be so negative. I do regret giving in to some impulses in my youth, but I'm pretty happy now that I've been building a solid marriage with one man for more than 30 years. Whenever someone else caught my imagination, I left him there!
posted by lazydog at 1:19 PM on December 17, 2010 [6 favorites]

Echoing above posters: Do not be surprised if the Bright, Shiny, New Person doesn't want you once you're freed up. Voice of experience here; a woman coming on to me, hard, and my SO and I were flailing, and I knew it had to end, and I didn't want capital L Love from BSNP but rather was seeking warm, comforting arms. BSNP was waving her warm, comforting arms about, madly, but the instant myself and SO split the blanket the BSNP was gone like a flash. Just a data point...
posted by dancestoblue at 1:24 PM on December 17, 2010

S/he should be very understanding and give you all the time you need to get out of your old relationship, if s/he really loves you on the level you seem to think.

uhh . . . whaaat? that's totally having your cake and eating it too. if you want to be with person B, end it with person A. you've only been together a year, its not like you're married! He shouldn't have to wait for you while you agonize over whether your boyfriend is The One or not.

but yeah. you've only been together for a year. you had good, exciting, The One feelings for a while when it was new and exciting. Now you're into someone else. That seems like a good indication that A is probably not The One. Person B might not be either, but since A isn't, why not give it a go?

I personally wouldn't want to know about the other person. I'd rather it just be "this isn't working out for me" and that way at least if they end up with someone shortly thereafter, I wouldn't know FOR SURE that I got dumped for that person. it would help me feel less shitty about the whole thing, I guess.
posted by GastrocNemesis at 1:32 PM on December 17, 2010 [1 favorite]

I was in this situation. I will tell you what I did and how it played out:

We were separated by geography and an ocean for 2 months, had been together 2 years, and were just about to move in together. I loved him, he loved me, I loved his family. I met someone else, fell in love quickly, and was pretty certain the new guy was the one for me.

As soon as I realized new guy was the one for me, I called old guy, was vague on the specifics, and told him we couldn't move in together. And that I was very sorry, bit it was over. I didn't tell him there was someone else because I really had loved him and thought that the "someone else" part would make him feel like he'd done something wrong or couldn't compete or something. I called him because I thought waiting until I could tell him in person meant allowing him to live and believe in a lie for a month. And that was a month he should be spending trying to get on with his life and getting over me.

I'm glad I told him as soon as I knew. I still think that finding out that it has really been over for weeks and no one bothered to tell you sucks.

I wish I had told him there was someone else. He didn't understand what had happened and would try to reach out and connect with me for a few months. I think if I had told him there was someone else, he really would have understood and could have gone on to the "she's such a horrible disloyal person" part of things.

I wrote a letter to his mom, because she had been very good to me and I wanted to close out things with his family as best I could. I'm not sure that was a good move, but I wasn't sure what else to do. [It didn't help though, for years I was afraid to go to the town where they lived, petrified they would exact revenge for what I did to their son].

I married the new guy and we've been together 13 years. But I am still sort of haunted by what I did to old guy. And I often fantasize about reaching out to him, apologizing for what I had to have put him through, and telling him that I really did love him, he didn't do anything wrong, that I look back fondly on our time together and wish him well. Most people tell me that doing that would be selfish and not helpful, so I haven't.

Also, I learned that there really isn't a good way to break up with someone who can't see it coming. So there's nothing really wrong with doing it in the way that is easiest for you. It will always suck. Try to have empathy, but be clear and clean and move on.
posted by Mozzie at 1:56 PM on December 17, 2010 [6 favorites]

Things people have done to friends of mine when leaving them for other women, which sucked:
-refusing to GTFO (don't ask if you can stay until you find a new place, on the couch or whatever - you have just weakened the other person. Asking if you can stay makes them think they can change things, or they feel unable to say no. Get out of there, take your stuff with you. Immediately.)
-taking all of the money you two have saved up for wedding/house/whatever
-letting them find out via facebook picture of you and new girl
-telling your current SO that you are breaking up with them because they are bad in bed, not because you are with new girl.
-lying to them if they ask if you have met someone else.

I've only ever done what you are thinking about doing when I was a teenager; I totally agree with everyone's advice that you should want to end your current relationship for other reasons as well. I did, the new person was just incentive. I didn't hook up with them for a few months. It was never mentioned as the reason for my breakup.

It is going to suck no matter what.

If you are worried they might be a danger to themselves, maybe notify their family/friend who can come over and be them?
posted by Acer_saccharum at 2:24 PM on December 17, 2010 [1 favorite]

You've only been with this person for a year.

1) Break up with your SO. Now.

2) Get with your new boy/girlfriend.

Your current boy/girlfriend will deal. A year is nothing.
posted by sid at 2:34 PM on December 17, 2010 [5 favorites]

As someone who DTMFA in July, and is still hurt by seeing him around town with his new girlfriend, whom he apparently got together with immediately after the dumping... please, be gracious and respectful of your soon-to-be-ex.

Your current SO is going to be hurt anyway. Don't make it worse for them by telling them that you've got a better offer, or by parading your new SO in front of them.
posted by malibustacey9999 at 2:41 PM on December 17, 2010

When I was on the receiving end of this I knew already that my SO had met someone else — it was obvious. It happened to me twice. Once the guy lied about it and once he told the truth. The lying was way way way way worse.
posted by aunt_winnifred at 3:10 PM on December 17, 2010

Just hop on the bus, gus
Make a new plan, stan

Don't ever think it. You can not control your soon to be ex's emotional response.
If it is over, it is over.
posted by Flood at 3:23 PM on December 17, 2010 [1 favorite]

Rip the band-aid the fuck off. Immediately. "I met someone else, and while I didn't cheat, I realized that I'm not in love with you anymore."
posted by J. Wilson at 4:12 PM on December 17, 2010

From a MeFite who wants to remain anonymous:
I appreciate this question, because when I did this, there wasn't any advice I could find. It is very tricky. Like you, I've never cheated on someone and wouldn't, but I did end up falling in love with someone who wasn't my boyfriend and leaving him for this new person. Here is my advice. Sorry for the length, but hopefully it's useful:

- Resolve not to feel like a horrible person about this. I was afraid I was doomed from karmic retribution. No. You may "pay for it" in the feelings that naturally arise, but those don't mean that the relationship itself is necessarily wrong. As I told people my story, I heard several stories like "that's how my cousin met her husband."

- At the same time, really think about what's going on for you before doing this. The intensity of your attraction to this new person means it comes from somewhere deep in you, somewhere deeper than "he is a great person." So it needs some serious scrutiny. Are those deep instincts of yours healthy or (in my case) unhealthy (as someone who tends to like Bad Boys). Other possible pitfalls? You could be escaping something with Person #1. You could be projecting what you most want onto an unknown canvass. As you think this through carefully, those are things I'd think about. Anyway, back to the How To.

- Realize that breakups are a process, not an event, and create space for the breakup to happen. The period immediately after I broke up with Person #1 and began dating Person #2 was the most drama-filled of my entire life, because I started spending time with #2 thinking that I'd "broken up" with #1, but the break-up had really just begun. I know this goes against every AskMe break-up thread ever, but in my experience, every break-up has had some follow-up communication, and the same with my friends. And even if you break up and never contact him again, you will have many feelings to process.

In my case, after the break-up, though I had asked Person #2 for space while going through this, he kept calling with urgent voice mails. He was in the throes of first love and afraid I would reunite with #1. So, I didn't sufficiently defend my attempt to create a DMZ. Ultimately, I spent lots of time with #2 while still going through the breakup with #1. That was a bad idea. Here are a few reasons why.

First, breakups are usually hard and can feel really bad. That's not necessarily a weight that Person #2 can help carry. But if you're suddenly being all intimate with them, they can tell when you suddenly feel sad, and you might want to share your feelings. You don't want your new relationship freighted with feelings like "oh my god, we just devastated someone."

Second, will #2 feel afraid or jealous, or consider it cheating, if you meet with #1? I had very little contact with #1, but the little that I did have raised big concerns for this #2.

Third, you have no relationship history with #2. You'll be figuring out things like time together vs. time with friends, right at the moment when you'll most want someone to lean on and a comfortable routine.

Worse, you'll have no practice working issues out together. Discussions on this topic will not feel low stakes ("why do you look sad? do you still miss #1??"). Ideally, every couple's first disagreement would be about the toothpaste cap.

Last, this is all happening while you have crazy new-relationship excitement/panic. I'm not a high drama person normally, but we were both full of feelings like "do they love me as much as I love them?!? Oh my god, they don't!!"

As you can see, this is a lot to handle while also dealing with guilt, sadness, and moving out. It doesn't give you a lot of emotional space to be real with #1 and with yourself. I'd prepare to ask for time to honor whatever emotions might arise, and really stand up for your need for that time.

- Consider being honest with #1 that you fell in love with someone new. To my #1, it was actually a relief to hear, "it's not you, it's actually that this crazy thing has happened to me. I fell for someone else, and I cannot continue with you now because of that."

In my case, when things fell apart with #2, I actually ended up back again with #1. In my view, this was partially because we didn't finish breaking up really, but even more because I hadn't scorched the earth there; I'd just... had to visit another continent for awhile.

- Be open and real with your loved ones. The only people who really judged me were random people who didn't know me well. (Don't tell any officemates.) Everyone worried about #1, of course; I did too.

What helped most was that I was largely at peace with the decision. My family and close friends understood me when I said what you said, "I didn't expect this or plan for this, but I've fallen incredibly in love and feel like I might be missing the chance of a lifetime if I don't check it out." I come from a family where people act proper no matter what, and here I was, being a creature of pure emotions. I was surprised at how understanding people were.

So, in conclusion:
- inquire into this intense new feeling, maybe talk to your friends about it
- break up with #1 as cleanly and kindly as possible
- try to stop the conversational post-processing relatively quickly
- schedule a break time knowing that you'll still have internal processing to do
- make sure #2 is on-board for either an emotional roller coaster or a long wait
- take lots of time alone with yourself even after getting together with #2
- be honest and open with your loved ones (not defensive)
- expect mega drama during the transition if you don't create space (e.g., don't do it during finals)
- realize that breakups are hard and new relationships are scary
- keep your expectations for emotional support from #2 about the breakup very, very low
- accept yourself for wanting this

Best of luck. If jessamyn is willing to be a go-between, I'm happy to have her share my username with you privately, if you'd like to memail me.
posted by jessamyn at 5:56 PM on December 17, 2010 [9 favorites]

Be way more than fair about any financial issues.
posted by theora55 at 8:31 PM on December 17, 2010 [1 favorite]

Do it. Explain nothing. If pressed, say "I don't have an excuse. You can hate me. That's it."

I think that people find it easier to deal with something so irrational that they can't argue than with something reasonable.
posted by oreofuchi at 10:24 PM on December 17, 2010 [1 favorite]

"But this feels different. Edge of the cliff different. And I feel like I might just have to jump off."

Hello, welcome to limerence. Please be aware that it DOES eventually wears off, and carefully consider whether you should be making major decisions while in the grips of what psychologists consider to be akin to a temporary form of insanity that functions on the brain very similarly to a cocaine addiction.

Having a better metacognitive understanding of what is going on in your brain right now can really help in situations like these, so here is some good further reading on the condition:
posted by Jacqueline at 1:17 AM on December 18, 2010 [3 favorites]

"In my case, when things fell apart with #2, I actually ended up back again with #1."

This (and almost the entirety of the rest of the anonymous commenter's post) was also my experience after my crazy trip down limerence lane, and I am *so* glad that's how things worked out in the end. So yeah, definitely don't scorch the earth if/when you break things off with #1.
posted by Jacqueline at 1:32 AM on December 18, 2010

Well the fact that you're not married and have only been together for a year makes the grand scheme of things less terrible than they could be. Not that a year of dating is anything to sneeze at, but hopefully it will be less messy and long-run detrimental than, say, serving someone with divorce papers by a process server after 30 years of marriage (which my dad did to my mom).
posted by radioamy at 6:18 AM on December 18, 2010

I agree with those who say that your emotions here about you, not about your current BF, so be fully aware of that when delivering the break-up message. You are "falling off the edge of a cliff," not "intentionally deciding to leave behind the solid high ground because it chewed with its mouth open." I'd be honest with him about what's going on (but nonspecific).
posted by salvia at 11:01 AM on December 18, 2010

wow, i can't believe so many people are suggesting not to tell the old person about the new person. this has been a learning moment for me.

i've been on both sides of this situation. when i was the dumpER, the only thing that allowed me to sleep at night was knowing that i was being honest with myself and with the other person, and not lying. when i was the dumpEE, i was lied to for awhile, and i felt completely embarrassed, ashamed, confused and bewildered about why i was dumped, because i didn't know about the other person. nothing made sense, my world was irrational. when i finally found out about the other person (your SO will ALWAYS find out about them eventually) i felt doubly betrayed because i wasn't even shown the respect of having all the information. i was creating a new reality out of many lies. that's not fair, and i wasted a LOT of time wondering 'what's wrong with me?'

you don't need to go into huge details about the other person, but if you find yourself omitting important information when you talk to your SO, and creating little holes of untruth that you try to squeeze yourself out of, you're creating extra heartache for you and for them. the truth is easier to give and easier to take than we give it credit for, and you have the added bonus of respecting the other person, even when handing out tough information.
posted by andreapandrea at 8:14 PM on December 19, 2010

I was dumped for someone my boyfriend had dated before me (who I'd never heard about!), and I didn't find out for at least a year and a half*. It's absolutely amazing, since we had many friends in common, but everyone assumed someone else had told me about the new/old partner.

I felt like such a moron. Also. . . I remember sobbing on a friend, asking "why doesn't anyone ever want to be with me?" If he'd *told* me "there's someone else I want to be with", I would have understood things better, and I would have been less humiliated a year and a half later when it turned out everyone but me knew about his fiancee'.

My boyfriend actually referred to a previous girlfriend during the breakup, but not the girl between her and me, the one he ended up marrying. Now I wonder how much of his cooling-off towards me was really picking-up with the other.

My point: tell your SO you've met someone. The problem is that the choice is not between this and some other truth -- the choice is between this and a non-truth, and reality tends to find a way to win. I share the opinion that it's not *really* about the Shiny New Person, but the SNP is there, nonetheless.

*This was eleven years ago and I'm feeling much better now.
posted by endless_forms at 12:12 PM on December 20, 2010

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