In love with best friend, need a break
July 26, 2011 6:07 AM   Subscribe

What is the kindest way to have "the talk" about needing a break from a friendship? Text, phone, IM, email, or face to face? The reason I need this break is because I am in love with him but he's not over his ex, and I've recently realized all this, and discovered it's too painful to keep hearing about her. We've been sleeping together, too, and I thought I would be able to keep it casual but I was wrong.

I've read this thread and decided on a break. But how to I initiate this break?

He's constantly texting and IM-ing me. That's our main form of communication. Also, he'll FB-chat me. Sometimes he'll call. We see each other once or twice a week. We've spent whole weekends together at times. This has been going on for a couple months with no strings in the context of a deep friendship. But for the last couple weeks, he's been talking about his ex a lot. I didn't realize he still felt so strongly for her. I've distanced myself and haven't seen him since he started talking about how much he missed her, but he has pursued. I decided to talk to him again, but he started bringing her up again and it's very painful. We've only had electronic communication for the last week, but it gets really deep.

I need a break. There's someone else more appropriate for me I want to focus on, but even if there weren't, this situation would be excruciating. It's going to hurt my friend. Our friendship is important to both of us and I think he thinks we're on the same page. And we used to be, until one day I just felt differently and never really went back to the way I had been.

Since IM-ing is such a huge part of our friendship, should I tell him about needing a break online? Should I write a letter? Should I say it face to face? And if so, how?

What I really need is an equivalent of the famous Miko breakup speech for this situation. Anyone care to help me with the medium AND the message?
posted by sucky_poppet to Human Relations (22 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
The reason I need this break is because I am in love with him but he's not over his ex, and I've recently realized all this, and discovered it's too painful to keep hearing about her. We've been sleeping together, too, and I thought I would be able to keep it casual but I was wrong.

Wait, does he know all this? Either way, I think all you need to say is exactly this. I think any reasonable person would understand. If you guys normally have your deep conversations on IM, then I think IM would be fine.
posted by Ashley801 at 6:10 AM on July 26, 2011 [2 favorites]

For him, the kindest way is definitely face-to-face. For you, the easiest route to stay resolute and go through with this? Probably email.

And yes, tell him what you've told us here. You'll be doing you both a favor.
posted by misha at 6:42 AM on July 26, 2011

Not to thread-sit, but I wanted to add that one issue with face-to-face is that I'll probably cry.
posted by sucky_poppet at 6:58 AM on July 26, 2011

Face-to-face is often not the kindest thing to the other person, since they're forced to react on the spot and have no option of dealing with it on their own. Do whatever you're most comfortable with. If you don't know him well enough to know what he'd react best to, then we certainly don't.
posted by John Cohen at 7:03 AM on July 26, 2011 [1 favorite]

Do it by phone. The face-to-face breakup thing might have applied in like, 1989, but times have changed with texting and facebook. If he tries to bully you into a face-to-face meetup, insist that he leave you alone for both your sakes.
posted by Nixy at 7:05 AM on July 26, 2011

Define, to yourself, what you mean by a break. No contact? Only small contact? For how long?

What I really need is an equivalent of the famous Miko breakup speech for this situation.

How about this, in a letter or email:

1. There's certainly nothing wrong with you - we are a great friends in a lot of ways - you're smart, attractive, fun to be with, etc (list positive qualities)

2. Because you're so awesome, I'm developed strong feelings for you, feelings I didn't ask for or expect, but nonetheless have happened.

3. You're still missing your ex, which is fine and understandable, but I find it painful to hear about constantly, now that I've developed these feelings for you. Us sleeping together hasn't helped that.

4. I don't blame you and I'm not mad at you, but I am emotionally exhausted and torn. I need space to get my own feelings under control and to move on from that particular emotional state.

5. I really really really really struggled with this decision because I don't want to hurt you or our friendship, which is valuable to me. I didn't make it lightly but I feel sure it's the right thing.

6. So I need a break from our friendship. What I mean is (whatever you decide the break means). I'm not thrilled about this either and don't do this to hurt you, but rather to stop myself from hurting and gain a bit of sanity.

7. Do you have any questions for me?
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 7:13 AM on July 26, 2011 [31 favorites]

I think you should go face to face, because if you feel strongly for him, and he's not totally aware of that, it's sort of in your best interest to get that across to him. Perhaps he'll realize he's being a bit of an ass and get his shit together?
posted by sully75 at 7:19 AM on July 26, 2011

Brandon Blatcher's letter is beautiful, and exactly what an honest communication about why you are changing your relationship should look like.

The only thing I'd add, is that it's okay if you don't know now how long you're going to need, and to say that. Feelings are funny things, and often you can't know. But it's not like you're stringing him along: he can make the decision about whether he wants to resume a closer relationship with you if and when you feel you're in a better space. Right now, you take care of you, and let the rest (how he responds to it) take care of itself.
posted by anitanita at 7:28 AM on July 26, 2011

Email. Because there has been so much contact in that way and it will give you space.

The way you choose to unfold this story was pretty telling, talk about burying the lede!

Hon. You've been sleeping with this fellow and having deep intimate communication? Yeah. That's a real Relationship.

If you really think this guy is unaware, great. But to me, either on purpose or not, it sounds like he's using you. Even if he truly cares for you, to be sleeping with you in any context and be yammering on about his ex to you is grossly insensitive.

Something is off here. You seem to blame yourself for not being able to maintain boundaries, but the boundaries and your goals are false premises and unenforceable to begin with. A fool's game, truly.

I'm so sorry.

From the level of contact you describe, be prepared to block this guy at least temporarily on all social media. He depends on you for support WAY WAY too much for a FWB situation, you've taken away his sustenance, I predict he won't go away easily. He won't respect your need for space and safety.

Bs circumspect when he shows back up again. Sadly, this sounds like deep down he's pretty selfish and it's all about him. Be on your guard, even if you don't believe me or I prove to be wrong.

Guys who respect you don't talk to you about other women they pine for. Sorry.
posted by jbenben at 7:38 AM on July 26, 2011 [11 favorites]


I meant to say "Guys who respect you don't sleep with you and then yammer about other women."

It's the physical + emotional intimacy that defines this exchange. If he is looking to you for emotional support regarding his ex on top of everything else you are already sharing (and he is, by your admission) then he's doing it wrong.
posted by jbenben at 7:46 AM on July 26, 2011 [1 favorite]

Phone, if at all possible.

I just ended a situation where at about six months I suddenly realized we were not even reading from the same book, let alone on the same page. I officially ended it via email even though the conversation began on text (not my choice). I felt kind of at odds about this all and wish I would have taken it to the phone, but she is even less phone oriented than I am.
posted by FlamingBore at 7:55 AM on July 26, 2011

Ugh - this is one of those situations that just sucks, all around. I'm so sorry! I've sort of been there/done that before with a guy that I had this *amazing* connection with -- unfortunately we worked together and he had an on-again-off-again girlfriend that he actually wanted my advice in dealing with -- believe me when I say that my pillow was wet with tears almost every goddamned night.

I'm a hopeless romantic - and maybe after awhile apart he'll realize how much he truly DOES care for you -- ask yourself now, and repeatedly: is that what you're hoping for, here? Or are you honestly going to be able to let him go and mourn this and move on?

I would try to do this not in person - but if you IM or text, be prepared for him to call you immediately, even beg to come over -- if *he* does not want to lose what you currently have, he may go overboard with the "why are you doing this?" badgering. You're going to end up crying, regardless, and probably having a very painful conversation... but you are ABSOLUTELY RIGHT in telling him that it's just too painful for you and that you need some breathing room.

You'll miss him - I still miss mine, and it's been five years since I last saw him (in a bar, kissing another girl...) He'll almost certainly miss you, too - but it sounds like this is a rough, rough situation... you're doing what you need to do for you, instead of continuing to put your needs last. Be proud of that, at least!!
posted by polly_dactyl at 8:07 AM on July 26, 2011 [1 favorite]

First, I don't really think this is a friendship. He is acting like a boyfriend, while labeling it something else. I think you should handle this like you would a break up with any other boyfriend. Sleeping with you and then pining after his ex-girlfriend is not respectful of you even if he insists on calling your relationship a friendship.

You don't owe it to him to meet in person. I would be inclined to email him with something along the lines of stating that your relationship with him is no longer working for you and that you have to disengage. As others have said, he will most likely beg to maintain the "friendship." You're going to have to be tough. Be prepared to block his messages.

You also might want to do some of the break up rituals typically suggested - get a massage, change hairstyles, buy new clothes, go on a trip, etc.
posted by parakeetdog at 8:29 AM on July 26, 2011 [5 favorites]

See him in person. That's not firm advice, it's just how I'd do it.

Tell him what you told us: You're starting to develop feelings for him and you see that he's not over his ex. Tell him that you don't want to make your problems into his problems and that you need to kind of scale back interactions for a little while to sort your head out. There really isn't much more to it than that; everything else is logistics.

You might be able to gauge a lot from the way he reacts to this. If he really does think you're both on the same page then he might not think there's any reason not to talk about his ex, even though he might be similarly upset if the situations were reversed. That is a thing people do, especially in FWB relationships, and I don't think it makes him a terrible person or anything. A question to ask yourself is: Do you think he'd be acting differently if he knew how you felt?

Basically he needs to know where your head's at, and only then can you start making decisions about what to do next. A shot of perspective might change the way he's handling things. It might not, as well, but these are the risks you take.

However, what's most important is that you stick to whatever decision you make. The FWB situation you're in right now can't continue in its current form, so don't let it.

So if you need to take a break, just tell him, and tell him why, and be firm, and then - above all - be kind to yourself.

Good luck.
posted by FAMOUS MONSTER at 9:22 AM on July 26, 2011 [1 favorite]

I'm going to vote for: do it however you can stand to do it. If you are going to sob hysterically if you do it in person, then don't do it in person. If you'd do that over the phone, then don't do it over the phone. Screw this "the person needs to see and hear your voice while being dumped" crap. If the only way you can get out the words is over e-mail, then by god, do it over e-mail. Whatever you need to do in order to get the words out. I tend to think texting "U + ME equals OVA" is kinda crude, but if that's the only way you can stand to dump him, then dump him over text! You're the dumper and you're going to be "the asshole" anyway*, so picking a slightly less offensive manner of delivering bad news isn't going to be a big drastic deal in the end. And at least you're TELLING him instead of just cutting him off out of the blue and hoping he gets the hint, which a lot of people do and that pisses me off far more than an e-mail dump.

You need to drop an anvil on the dude, not have A Conversation about it where he tries to whine and wheedle you out of not doing it. That makes it harder. And in person or on the phone or IM are all mediums that encourage discussion, which you probably don't want or need in this case.

And then after that's established, delete him from your contacts (or write down his contact info, stash it somewhere you don't look much and hide it) so that you won't be tempted to talk to him. You need space, because nobody ever gets over anybody without going cold turkey as far as I can tell.

* though really, if the dude is using you for sex and friendship while whining over an ex, he's kind of the asshole here, isn't he?
posted by jenfullmoon at 9:46 AM on July 26, 2011 [2 favorites]

Here's a little more info, and thanks for all the great replies so far. There are pros and cons to each medium, but the message will be what Brandon Blatcher said. Thank you. I hope you get as many favorites as Miko for that.

In IM, my friend tends to be tangential and wall-of-text-y. Also, he has a history of misunderstandings with people over SMS and IM. However, if I cry, he won't have to know.

Face to face might be hard for several reasons. Crying, him trying to comfort me, us falling into bed, and the heartbreaking act of having to walk away. Yet it would definitely be the most honest and courageous.

Phone won't work. I'm not a phone person at all. I hate not being able to see someone's eyes when I'm talking to them.

He hasn't been talking about his ex the whole time we've been friends, btw. He just started a week or so ago with the hardcore pining, and they've been broken up for 8 months and were only together for 5 months. I guess he's seen her a lot on FB because they have mutual friends and he's been triggered.

The weirdest thing is that he started this after he and I started to get really close. After he told me he loved me (as a friend). After he made several comments in which he compared me to her and I came out favorably, in terms of the way I treat him. After several marathon sex sessions.

Overall, I come out as a superior friend to him compared to her, but he was more attracted to her, and idealizes her, although she had several issues which were dealbreakers -- issues I DON'T have.

But I have really been OK with the FWB thing up until recently, so there's no reason for him to realize he's hurting me. I haven't acted hurt in front of him (mainly because most of his pining is in text/IM form and he can't see me).

As I mentioned, there's someone else for me now, someone more appropriate that, if I could move on, I could develop a healthy, sustainable relationship with. He knows about the person, and I wonder if I should say this in the convo.
posted by sucky_poppet at 10:09 AM on July 26, 2011

Yes, definitely mention your new beau. It fits with the theme of "it's not you, it's me" and is likely to make him less knee-jerky defensive and wheedling. You could even pull in the FWB thing, like "well, I thought you knew it would end eventually, because we were always honest about it being just FWB." Anything that makes the outcome of him demanding to see you and work things out less likely is good, because he probably knows he has an advantage in person.
posted by Nixy at 10:15 AM on July 26, 2011 [1 favorite]

sucky_poppet: "There's someone else more appropriate for me I want to focus on"

This seems like the path to me. I don't have personal experience with it, but I thought it was cool (even agreed upon) in a casual relationship to break it off if one of the parties gets involved with someone else? Something like this:

"Hey, I really like this new guy, and want to give it a shot with him. He and I will be spending a lot more time together, so I need to back off our relationship for a little while while he and I get to know each other better."
posted by I am the Walrus at 10:23 AM on July 26, 2011 [3 favorites]

Face to face might be hard for several reasons. Crying, him trying to comfort me, us falling into bed, and the heartbreaking act of having to walk away. Yet it would definitely be the most honest and courageous.

Well, don't do it in the bedroom.
posted by oneirodynia at 10:42 AM on July 26, 2011 [4 favorites]

Email him. Tell him FWB is no longer working for you and you met someone else you want to pursue. You value your friendship (if that part is true) but need space from the friendship for a while to step back and process things.
posted by J. Wilson at 5:52 PM on July 26, 2011

The weirdest thing is that he started this after he and I started to get really close.
Of course he did. He started this talk about the ex as a way to sabotage you getting close because he's afraid of getting close, and he's afraid of getting close because he's afraid of intimacy. Maybe you are too, I don't know. I guess a sexual relationship can only last so long before emotional intimacy creeps in or one of you wants emotional intimacy.

Anyway, if you want to break up in person, do it in a public place, have a friend nearby so that you know you'll have her support and you'll have someone to accompany you home.
posted by foxjacket at 8:25 PM on July 27, 2011

Update: I had the talk with him in person. I didn't cry. We were up talking til dawn. He told me he reallywas over his ex. He also said I am his closest friend in town. We're both on the same page about that. When I told him I loved him, he said he loved me too, and that he was glad I loved him, and wished he had more to offer me. But he said that in general, he's just not oriented toward a partnership-based life and prefers to remain unattached. He's always been like that and with the recent ex, he would have made an exception for her in limited terms but he ultimately decided it wouldn't work and it was his decision. And he said that he understood if I didn't want to be sexual with him anymore, but that he would be there for me for anything else I might want or need. He was very sweet about it and affectionate. But rather than take his kindness and demonstrativeness as a "mixed message" that could cause all kinds of agonized yearnings, I'm choosing to see it as friendship-based. He is very affectionate with his friends and freely says he loves them, both guys and girls. I just feel at peace now that I've been honest with myself and with him and there's no more elephant in the room. I ended up concluding that I don't really need space from him after all right now and today, I'm doing pretty well with the acceptance of the situation as it is, and making sure I take care of myself. Thanks, everyone.
posted by sucky_poppet at 9:41 AM on July 29, 2011 [1 favorite]

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