help me be a spike lee joint?
July 18, 2011 12:31 PM   Subscribe

How to do the right thing post break-up?

So tonight I broke up with my GF of 2+ years. Very sad about the situation, and I want to know how to be the best former partner possible for her in this situation because I do care about her, her feelings and being a good person. The break-up was mostly mutual, though she said she wanted me to fight for our relationship, after we had been talking about things not really working. I told her it was probably for the best that we break-up, even though it was really hard. I do care for her deeply, but I don't see this working out.

Complicating factors: #1 we work at the same place, albeit in different departments, and don't interact in a work capacity very often at all. #2 I think there is some stuff of mine still at her place (possible including gifts to her she may return to me?) that she may want to return to me, possibly at work. #3 She often comes by my office to say hi, or I see her outside during lunch etc. We've always been super professional at work, just friendly and talkative.

I want to do what's best here, in a respectful and loving manner. Do you have advice for me on the best way to show her respect, honor and caring post break-up? throwaway email: breakingupnice@gmail
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (20 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Lots of people feel this initial impulse to figure out how to be nice in a breakup, but more than anything I think the thing is to give each other sufficient space to shield each other from the worst of your feelings--to set things up in some way so that, when the shock wears off and either of you is sad or lonely or furious or desperate, you can't just throw that shit at each other in unkind ways. Likewise so you don't try to prolong the relationship or cling to it via the usual routine. Together, lovingly create some space and distance. (Harder than it sounds.)

Do the stuff return soon (but maybe give it a week) and set up some boundaries about work visits and phone calls so you can both just have your own experiences and reactions.
posted by liketitanic at 12:40 PM on July 18, 2011 [5 favorites]

(Which is also to say, best intentions at the beginning of a breakup usually don't hold steady. And that is OK and normal.)
posted by liketitanic at 12:45 PM on July 18, 2011

Just give each other space. At this point in the process, neither of you really actually know what's going to work best for you in the long run.

The best way to be respectful and honorable towards her is to just let it be, to listen to her if and when she talks, and maybe find yourself otherwise occupied on nights she asks to hang out just the two of you.

Two years is a long time to become accustomed to one's life being a particular way and breaking out of that is going to be much harder than it seems.
posted by FAMOUS MONSTER at 12:49 PM on July 18, 2011

Don't lead her on. If she decides she wants to give the relationship another try, and you don't, just be straight with her. No "Maybe someday. I don't know" business just to avoid hurting her. Additionally, it's fine to be there for her if she really needs your help, but I would jump into being friends right away. At least one person is never ready for that transition for a while when a relationship comes to an end. You both need as much space as you can manage even with the present circumstances.

Other than that, just let her live her life, and you live yours. You're not indebted to her for now and forever. Neither of you owe each other anything. This relationship just didn't work out and, as long as both of you can be mature adults about this, awareness of this is all that's necessary.
posted by katillathehun at 12:50 PM on July 18, 2011 [3 favorites]

Edit: I would NOT jump into being friends right away.
posted by katillathehun at 12:50 PM on July 18, 2011 [2 favorites]

Do not purposefully contact her. If you see her in passing, maybe say hi or nod or smile, but other than that don't try to get in touch with her.

Regarding the stuff, forget about it unless it's something valuable (your mother's pearl earings, $1,000, etc.). If she wants to give it back to you, great, but let her initiate it and let it be on her terms.

Respect, honor, and caring means giving her space, though it may seem counter-intuitive. No long, heartfelt phone calls or letters. No crying on your shoulder. Just space.
posted by craven_morhead at 12:52 PM on July 18, 2011

If she wants to return your gifts, fine, but please don't expect that. Not saying you do, but just in case...
posted by Decani at 12:52 PM on July 18, 2011 [1 favorite]

1. Don't be friends
2. Don't sleep with her
3. Don't gossip about her
4. Be okay with being the bad guy.

Don't play the role of the comforting white knight. It's time for you to be the black knight and be cruel to be kind.
posted by Nixy at 12:58 PM on July 18, 2011 [25 favorites]

Chiming in. Give her time, space, absolute clarity and best wishes from afar. Be friendly, and later on you might be able to become friends. But not right now.

And gifts are the property of the receiver: do not ask her to return gifts you've given her, nor offer to return gifts she's given you. That would be insulting. Only exceptions in my opinion: engagement rings and family heirlooms.
posted by likeso at 1:00 PM on July 18, 2011

For the love of God, leave her alone. I had a break-up of a relationship of almost three years that went downhill very fast partly because I tried to be attentive and take care of my partner post-breakup. Trying to be friends will make it worse.

Arrange a time and place to exchange stuff, do not do it at either of your apartments or if you do have a friend or two there to hang around. Do it quickly.

Do not seek out any interaction with her. In fact, if she starts trying to interact with you on than the absolute minimum necessary to do your jobs I would tell her that you need some time and space to process the breakup and can't talk or hang out with her right now. Even if this is a lie. The likelihood of you not utterly despising each other a year or two down the road is so much higher if you maintain as little communication as possible right now. Ideally none at all.

If cutting off communication makes you the bad guy, that's OK. It will be better in the long run.
posted by schroedinger at 1:01 PM on July 18, 2011 [3 favorites]

Don't sleep with her. I think it's a really bad idea for you to get physical with her at all, even if she's really sad and it seems like a hug or a cuddle would be a kind thing to do. But especially, don't sleep with her, even (or especially) if she desperately shows up at your house with a bottle of wine and a sexy outfit.
posted by Ashley801 at 1:01 PM on July 18, 2011

Just to be clear: by "be friendly" I meant don't be cold and cut her off abruptly if she initiates a conversation at work. Be kind, but keep it short.
posted by likeso at 1:04 PM on July 18, 2011

Just to build on what Nixy said-if you try to be the comforting White Knight right away, she may misinterpret your behavior as trying to reunite with her. Sometimes being the good guy means not rushing in to make her feel better right away. Giving her space, and yes, allowing to think of you as the bad guy for a while if she needs it is important.

Later, after both of you have time, then you may naturally become friends again. That happened between me and one of my exes, but the reason it happened was because we took time apart.

Also regarding the gifts-do not ask for them back and do not offers her back. When I accept a gift from a bf, my assumption isn't "This is mine until we break up" but he is offering it to me to have even if the relationship ends. If he loaned me something, then yes I would return it, but not a gift.

Even if she offers to return an item, make sure that's what she really wants. Ask her if she wants to keep it. She may just want to be sure you're ok if she keeps an item-especially if it's an heirloom or particularly valuable.

If she wants something back (like, say, an heirloom) then be gracious and return it. Honestly, I would be insulted if a bf offered to return gifted items to me,so only do this if she asks for specific gifted items.
posted by miss-lapin at 1:12 PM on July 18, 2011

My brother once said, "You can't both drop someone and catch them." I believe you that the dropping was the right call, but now you have to step back and let someone else catch her.
posted by KathrynT at 2:05 PM on July 18, 2011 [10 favorites]

If she wants to 'see you,' if she wants to 'hang out,' if she wants to 'just talk' that is a definite no. You sound like a compassionate person, but the kind thing to do at this point is not give in to those sorts of sentiments.

By all means, get any discussion about stuff settled sooner rather than later. If it seems like she wants to keep things, don't fight her on it; it's not worth it.

The kindest thing you can do at this point is to not coddle her or engage her too much. You'll only prolong your and her pain that much longer if you do.
posted by Gilbert at 2:12 PM on July 18, 2011

Kudos to you for even thinking of this, and asking! It's an awful time, but it will get better for both of you!

I would echo what everyone has said here (minimal contact, nothing physical, act as colleagues at work, be firm and clear and allow her to set her own timeline for returning stuff, her own boundaries in terms of friendship - don't force contact!), and also tell you this:

Make some effort to keep the details of your newly single life to yourself. If you are both on Facebook, end the relationship but don't do too much purging, deleting photos of the two of you, etc. Don't flirt on others' Facebook walls. Don't get into a new relationship too quickly, too publicly. As a dump-ee, seeing this kind of stuff can be so painful.

If you have mutual friends, be a bit more reserved with them for a while. If she'll be pumping them for details in a moment of weakness, don't give them too much to go on. Likewise, don't grill them about her. And don't check her Facebook wall! You now have no right to know about her life. And deep down, you probably don't want to.

At some point in the future (a month or two, at least) one or both of you may want to meet for coffee or something to talk. That's okay. Continue to be firm.

Remember that just as everyone's relationships are different, so are all breakups. Take our advice and that of your friends, respect certain guidelines (I'd say NO SEX is the most important one!), but try not to beat yourself up too much. Keep your own happiness in mind along with hers.

Good luck!
posted by Isingthebodyelectric at 2:17 PM on July 18, 2011 [2 favorites]

yeah, space, space, and more space. That's the best thing. It doesn't FEEL like the best thing (it feels horrible to ignore someone who has been such a big part of your life), but space is the thing that's required to heal. Your ex-GF will be fine. People survive breakups all the time. Presumably, she has friends and family she can lean on. She really doesn't need anything from you accept the space to heal. And I'd let her approach you about giving the stuff back (unless it's something you really really need).
posted by bananafish at 3:25 PM on July 18, 2011

There's nothing wrong with being friendly and being real friends again, after some time has passed. How long that time is depends on you two - given that you both had the feeling of things not working out, I'd say it's probably going to be sooner than for the kind of breakups we usually think of where one person is desperate to get the other back. That said, a couple of days or weeks of realizing that you can't call, hang out with, or sleep with the person you used to do all of those things with any more sometimes makes people do things they'd regret; so hold on to your memory of what exactly was wrong with the relationship, so that you can dig it out when you get lonely (or when she shows up lonely at your door) and remember why it's better for both of you to be apart. For at least the next few weeks (probably a month or two really, depending on how often you saw each other) I'd find ways to be busy and unavailable and generally not intrusive on her life or on group social events. You don't have to make a big thing out of it; it's not really that big of a deal if you both are at the same party in a few weeks. But don't be calling her 'as a friend' to see if she wants to see that new movie.
posted by Lady Li at 8:32 PM on July 18, 2011

She wants *you* to fight for the relationship? There you go, sport...that should be all you need to know.

Take the high road, never speak ill, remember that "stuff" is just that, stuff, and not worth fighting over. Do your job, move on, and make the end final. You'll be fine.
posted by kjs3 at 9:18 PM on July 18, 2011

Leave her alone. She needs to work through it by herself, and it will only make it harder if you have any contact with her at all. Accept that there is nothing YOU can do to make it easier no matter how much you care about her. That role is now being assumed by her friends and family.

Arrange for a friend to pick up your stuff. Don't talk at work unless you have to. It sucks when you know your ex is avoiding you on purpose, but that's not nearly as bad as thinking your ex is running into you on purpose to try to get back together.

You have the easier emotional road here, but that also means you have more responsibility. Don't drunk dial her at 3 a.m. telling her how much you love her and miss her. Don't send her an email just to check on how she's doing, because she's going to overanalyze it and think you want her back. For the duration of the nasty post-breakup emotional crapstorm, you are not a part of her life except in memory.
posted by petiteviolette at 12:43 AM on July 20, 2011

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