Panic disorder and long-distance breakups.
December 21, 2010 2:08 PM   Subscribe

Intense anxiety about breaking up with a needy SO in a long-distance relationship.

I've been in a long-distance relationship for four months. I've decided I don't want to be in it anymore, but I'm afraid of really hurting him. How can I break up with him over the phone as cleanly or thoughtfully as possible?

He lives a plane trip away and I'm stuck here for the holidays and my job. I don't want to wait and try to hide the fact that I'm not in this the same way he is any longer out of fairness to him. Also don't want to let him down when he's expecting me to come visit him. If it were up to me, I would write him a letter, but I know that's not fair. So I need to do this over the phone.

Nothing dramatic happened here. We aren't going to be in the same place for a few years, and after giving it a good try, I don't think we have a strong enough connection to make it work until then.

For some context, I've felt a lot of pressure in this relationship. He's asked me to quit a job I love and move far away to be with him, changed where he says he's going to live in the next year and frequently gets angry at me when I don't call as much as he'd like. Lots of "do you have any idea how much this hurts?!"-type accusations. He is the type to get angry when I say I can't visit [random weekend that is convenient for him], but never offers to visit himself. He can also be extremely nice and caring, though. I end up really confused.

I ended things once before and he freaked out and ended up screaming that breaking up with him is the worst decision I'll ever make repeatedly while I had a massive panic attack.

I KNOW I should have not gotten back together with him. That was stupid. We are ridiculously compatible in a lot of other ways. However, some very real circumstances about our ability to be together in the future have changed since then. I'm perpetually miserable with the distance and just don't think I can do it. We have no idea when we could be in the same place anymore.

How can I do this without getting into these warped conversations and triggering breakdowns in both of us?
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (15 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Given your previous breakup conversation, I would write him an email saying that you gave it a good run, the long-distance thing isn't working, and it's over but you wish him well.
posted by J. Wilson at 2:17 PM on December 21, 2010

Yikes, that sounds like my ex, down to the freakout screamfest I received when I tried breaking up with him the first time. Ultimately I had to do the final breakup via email, which I realize is a bit douchebaggy, but I chose that method because I wanted to avoid the same screamfest from happening again. I just wanted to say my piece without getting interrupted, accused and stomped on over and over. He hated it, he got angry (which I think would have happened regardless), but it worked.

But, if you really do feel compelled to tell him via phone, I think you said it pretty succinctly here:
"We aren't going to be in the same place for a few years, and after giving it a good try, I don't think we have a strong enough connection to make it work."

Add on that you're done trying and you want to go your separate ways just to make sure it's clear to him. If he tries to argue with you or change your mind or tell you you're wrong, just tell him "thanks, but I've made up my mind" over and over. It will get through eventually, I promise.

Oh, and don't worry about whether or not you're going to hurt him by doing this. He sounds like the type of person who will be hurt and accusatory no matter what you do.
posted by joan_holloway at 2:17 PM on December 21, 2010

Have a friend come over and hold your hand while you tell him. Literally.
posted by fshgrl at 2:23 PM on December 21, 2010 [4 favorites]

screaming that breaking up with him is the worst decision I'll ever make

Hmmm, that sounds like an actual threat to your person. If they're going to that much of an asshole about it, then it's perfectly reasonable to break up via email instead of the phone.
posted by Melismata at 2:26 PM on December 21, 2010 [2 favorites]

How can I do this without getting into these warped conversations and triggering breakdowns in both of us?

If there are problems on the phone, tell him you can't talk to him when he does that and ask him not to do it again. If he refuses to stop, or stops and then starts again, tell him "I really can't talk like this and I have to go." Then hang up.
posted by Ironmouth at 2:26 PM on December 21, 2010 [1 favorite]

Let me get this straight. You broke up with him before and he screamed and yelled at you and you had a panic attack, he gets angry when you can't visit, and you want to make sure that you don't hurt him?

Seriously. Fuck this guy.

Okay, your goal is to make it simple and umambiguous. I'd do email, personally, because of the history, but if you have to do it by phone then call him and tell him it's over. Sorry. No, I've made my mind up. No, this is not open to discussion. If he starts flipping out you can either (a) hang up (my preference) or (b) put the phone down and play Wii golf until the loud noises stop. Then say "goodbye" and hang up.

You've been in a relationship for four months. You don't have to make a case for why you should break up beyond the fact that you want to break up (twenty year marriages need more than this. Four month relationships? Not so much). It takes two people to make a relationship work and if one of them (that's you) thinks it isn't working then the relationship isn't working. There is nothing the other person can think to convert it back into a working relationship.

This next step is not normally necessary, but I think it will be in your case. Block his number on your phone and set up your email account to send his emails to the trash compactor.

As to dealing with the aftermath, perhaps talking some things over with a therapist might be a good idea. Friends and family (particularly given the time of year) will be important too. The most important thing, I think, for your own sanity is to make sure YOU DON'T TALK TO HIM. I can't imagine how that would go well for you.
posted by It's Never Lurgi at 2:26 PM on December 21, 2010 [13 favorites]

I ended things once before and he freaked out

Yeah, that's going to happen again. There are no magic words.

Which means.... email is fair game. The small amount of extra discomfort it will introduce is meaningless for him, and it will make all the difference in the world for you.

Don't take his calls, but tell him you'll be happy to say anything that needs to be said over email.

Panic attacks are no fun. Take care.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 2:38 PM on December 21, 2010

Now might also be a good time to sign up for Google Voice and have it take over your number. Then, you can shuttle his calls automatically to voicemail (and only have to see a transcript), or use the 'call screening' on everyone so they have to say something that you get to preview before choosing to accept the call.

Add another layer here to protect yourself from his freakout. This, plus email filters, is an automatic way to have a friend help you protect yourself.

If you have a flight booked, call the airline to cancel and you can use that credit towards another trip (usually good for one year). Don't feel obligated to go because you've outlaid the money. Definitely don't give in to any hectoring if he tries to persuade you to wait until you've visited him to make the decision.

Plus, this much drama after four months of long-distance? What a warning sign.
posted by bookdragoness at 2:47 PM on December 21, 2010 [3 favorites]

Uhm, yeah. If this guy pitched a bitch and screamed or threatened you even vaguely, email is totally fair game, and you should isolate yourself via Google Voice to avoid having any realtime interaction. This is especially true in a short-term relationship in which he was frequently angry, emotionally manipulative and overbearing to the point you had a panic attack.

When you email him, you should spend some time on it to minimize his need for questions and to clarify that personal contact isn't going to change things. Within 90 days, I think there ought to be a "no questions asked" policy on ending a relationship. You're barely beyond that, so I don't think you need much of an explanation and yours already sounds very reasonable and it's fair of you to tell him. He's not entitled to more, and you don't need the aggravation of trying to satisfy him, especially when it's clear he won't be satisfied.

Last, don't go back. This is classic abusive behavior of the kind that only gets worse with time and proximity. You are probably very lucky that you never went any further with this. Don't go back. You can do better. It's Never Lurgi was right:

Seriously. Fuck this guy.
posted by Hylas at 3:27 PM on December 21, 2010

You don't owe this guy a damn thing. If email feels too impersonal, snail-mail him a handwritten letter, but don't give him the opportunity to abuse you again in real time.

Cut it off quickly and cleanly and start moving on. Good luck.
posted by Zozo at 3:46 PM on December 21, 2010

Rule of thumb: the people who tell you that breaking up with them is the worst decision you'll ever make are inevitably wrong.

Email. And spam-filter his address. N-thing the Google voice advice. You have no responsibility to this person after he's expected you to bend your life around his decisions, screamed and yelled at you repeatedly, gets angry when you have other commitments in the place where you, you know, live and that's the status quo. Not cool.
posted by Uniformitarianism Now! at 5:10 PM on December 21, 2010 [1 favorite]

I had a situation like this once only I let it drag on for way longer than you. Kudos to you for figuring it out after four months. If you must do it over the phone, then I second the excellent suggestion above to have a good friend with you while you do it. They will help hold you accountable, make sure you don't second guess yourself, and you can roll your eyes at them if it gets annoying. But really, email is enough.

You'll be rattled for a day or two but feel so great and free when it's all done!
posted by fingersandtoes at 6:57 PM on December 21, 2010

The sort of hysterics you are describing are extremely manipulative.

You sound like a caring person who is trying to do your best here. My instinct is, no matter what method you choose, you will handle this about as well as you can. Unfortunately, there is only so much control you have over how this will go. However you decide to do it, I think you can sleep well knowing that you attempted to walk away in the most honorable way possible. Whether or not he will let you without devolving into an abusive asshole is another story.

Just rip off the bandaid and know it will be over soon. Oh, and block him from contacting you via as many channels as you can because it sounds like he's going to harass you for a while.
posted by amycup at 7:42 PM on December 21, 2010

Most guys deserve a well thought out break up as in-person as possible. This guy has shown that he doesn't deserve that kind of respect because he does not respect you.

However you do this, do not fall into the lazy habit of blaming the stars or "it's not you, it's me" logic. Close the door entirely and toss the key: "we are not compatible. You have often treated me with anger, control and disrespect and I sincerely hope that you will learn to treat other women better in the future." A letter is perfectly acceptable in this situation and would not reflect poorly on you at all. He is too immature to have an adult conversation, and the consequence of his actions is that he won't get an adult conversation. This is a time for strength, not softness or humility, because you are doing the right thing.
posted by Skwirl at 8:08 PM on December 21, 2010 [1 favorite]

I was just in a similar situation. I scoured AskMe for relevant posts. Some things that might be helpful for keeping up your emotional strength while breaking up with him:

(Paraphrasing) If you don't feel that you can be yourself in a relationship, then it's not worth having. You shouldn't have to change to be with someone. The rest of the thread is also worth reading.

He is presumably an adult, and should be able to handle being on his own. You are under no obligation to worry about his well being. If he is leading you to think otherwise, then that's manipulative and isn't worth paying attention to. I found this useful in getting perspective.

Also, one of the most vivid images I had that led me to decide to break up with this person was imagining what it would be like if she was ranting about my shortcomings to me (which had already happened a couple times) and we had kids and they were listening.

It hasn't been easy and I'm still fighting the urge to reconnect, but it was the right thing to do. Good luck with this. Hopefully he'll figure out how to treat a woman in the future. Maybe this breakup will start him down that path.
posted by A dead Quaker at 8:41 PM on December 21, 2010

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