How can I break up with my long time girlfriend and potential fiance?
August 23, 2005 2:30 AM   Subscribe

A few months ago I told my long time girlfriend that I was planning on asking her to marry me in August. I felt pressured in to saying that at the time and I think it's time we go our separate ways. She has been working on the things that bother me and for the past month been altogether great. I am just not ready for marriage (excuse) and I think that in the long run I would not be happy in this relationship. I would feel too controlled, too restricted, and lonely. She is very sensitive and I'm afraid of what she might do if I break up with her, but I have to do something, it's August! She doesn't really have any close friends and is not close to her family. I'm it, really. I love her a lot and care about what happens to her, I just feel like I should probably move on. Any help?

FYI We stopped having sex a few months ago for religious reasons, so that part is taken care of. I just don't know how to breech the topic, because on the surface everything is good, she will be quite surprised if I break things off. She is not a rational person when it comes to conflict.
posted by Tommy_g to Human Relations (41 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Your last sentence says a lot. But, it sounds like you are not being rational, either. Avoiding conflict isn't a rational move, either, in this case. If you truly feel the need to move on, you need to talk to her.

You need to be up front with her about your feelings, or you are, indeed, not ready for marriage. You may have that part exactly right.

Now, to put a more immediate spin on things: You say the last month has been great. Who's to say that 'great' won't improve into 'terrific'? I think you're having cold feet, which is normal. Strill, you need to not string her along, if you really want out, because that's just cruel.

I really hope she doesn't read AskMe, or your goose is cooked anyway.
posted by pjern at 2:49 AM on August 23, 2005

Break. Up. Now.

But you knew that already, didn't you? Frequently, people ask these questions so they can get reassurance that they're doing the right thing. Well, if you break up with her, you are. This comes from one who has been in your situation.

Yeah, I loved her, we had a great time together, and she was ready to say yes if I asked. She was dependent on me, she was clingy and needy, and she didn't have a strong support system. I broke up with her because I just knew it wasn't right. Smartest thing I ever did. She had a really tough time of it for awhile, and then she got better and now we're friends, and she's engaged. It works out in the end. Your girlfriend will survive. It'll suck, but she'll live.

Look. You have a responsibility to her to break up with her if you aren't into it. Otherwise, you're cheating her out of being with someone who can give her what she needs and who will be fully present in the relationship. This is something I never understood when I was in my early 20's, but it's turned into a great lesson. If you love her and value her emotional well-being, then the best thing you can do for her in the long run is break up with her.

While solopsist's thought that perhaps you're just having cold feet is a kind one, this sounds way more like a real break-up to me.
posted by incessant at 3:16 AM on August 23, 2005 [1 favorite]

Just because you told her you would ask her to marry you
in August doesn't mean you have to do it.

I agree with solopsist about the possibility of things improving and you having cold feet. Maybe if you removed
the August proposal deadline you would remove some of
"flight" feelings you are having and you could relax and enjoy how great things are going between you two.

Relationships take work and at times are uncomfortable
and conflicted. If you aren't willing to make the effort your
relationship is doomed as all your relationships will be in
the future.

In any case, she deserves for you to tell her what is going
on and how you are feeling. Don't wait until you have
your bags packed and a new address to talk to her. Do it
posted by bat at 3:19 AM on August 23, 2005

"Going along to get along" and to avoid conflict doesn't help anyone. Yes, she will be terribly hurt, but you need to get on with it so that you are giving her a chance to be with someone that wants to be with her. It isn't going to be easy. Just make sure you don't do it in a note or an e-mail or on the phone. Sit down and talk to her, face-to-face. Don't make up lame excuses. Just tell her exactly like it is. Be honest with how you feel. If you say it's for some reason that isn't REALLY the reason, she will be looking for the workaround. She will try to fix the reasons you explain. Keep focused on expressing your feelings, not blaming it all on her behavior. She will be better able to hear you and less defensive.
posted by abbyladybug at 4:18 AM on August 23, 2005

I would feel too controlled, too restricted, and lonely.

It would be far worse to be married and have children and feel this way. Bite the bullet. Have a hotel to stay at if necessary.
posted by craniac at 4:27 AM on August 23, 2005

That she's working on the things that bother you, without any mention of what about you might bother her, rings a bell for me. Same with how you aren't communicating enough to avoid this kind of "I said I'd marry you because I thought that's what you wanted to hear" thing.
Don't spend your life looking past the girl you're holding for Miss Perfect.
posted by atchafalaya at 4:44 AM on August 23, 2005

You need to act like an adult and be honest with her instead of worrying about having a confrontation. Since you waited until the last possible minute to have an honest discussion, it is going to suck, a lot, for both of you. The longer you hold it off, the worse it will be for both of you.
posted by tastybrains at 4:50 AM on August 23, 2005

If you need you just have to do it in an easier way than breaking up right this minute, tell her first that you just do not feel ready for marriage now in August even you said so before, that will take the pressure and anxiety off you. Then, give it a little time to find a way to separate, hopefully on friendly terms since you do care about her.
posted by keijo at 4:53 AM on August 23, 2005

A recent related thread.
posted by peacay at 5:25 AM on August 23, 2005

I think Keijo might be on to something. Consider the possibility that it's the pressure of the marriage proposal hanging over your head that's part of your desire to flee. See if you can eliminate that, by saying that with the counselling/effort/etc, you think things are better and you want to save it for a time when everyone is more sure, then see if the work you two should both be doing to have a better relationship is actually working. Then, if it's not, break up with her.

But frankly, breaking up with her right when she's expecting a marriage proposal would be freakishly cruel - though not as freakishly cruel as staying with her when there's no hope, so if you really think the basic premise of 'part of the problem is the pressure' is wrong, then you should break up with her now.

How's that for playing both sides of the fence?
posted by jacquilynne at 5:47 AM on August 23, 2005

You must be kind to others, and you seem to have a great deal of empathy.

But, you only have one life. Life is a vapor - you must move on.
posted by The Jesse Helms at 5:49 AM on August 23, 2005

FYI We stopped having sex a few months ago for religious reasons, so that part is taken care of.

She has deep issues. No matter how much you love her, she's unstable and you'll wreck a chunk of your life if you keep her around. I think that keijo's plan is a good one.
posted by Mayor Curley at 6:59 AM on August 23, 2005

Mayor Curley: What the Hell? Don't drag your anti-religious bias into ask, and don't go making reckless accusations.
posted by gd779 at 7:21 AM on August 23, 2005

What the Hell? Don't drag your anti-religious bias into ask, and don't go making reckless accusations.

I am going to say this as calmly as possible-- anyone who stops having sex because s/he found religion is going through profound changes. I will leave it up to you to decide whether those changes are an awakening or a sign of deepening psychosis-- either way, it is a further obstacle to the relationship if one partner has elected to stop having sex.

In fact, you could make a strong argument that this is what the whole situation is about (despite the poster's focus elsewhere)-- sex, or the lack thereof.
posted by Mayor Curley at 7:32 AM on August 23, 2005

Find religion with her, then see how you feel.
posted by brownpau at 7:40 AM on August 23, 2005

Curley, fair enough, but your automatic assumption that it was the woman who originated the conditions, that it was not mutual, and that it was the outcome of recently acquired religious beliefs do indicate some bias on your part as regards the issue. I'm not saying you're wrong about these assumptions, but its not indicated by the post.

Doesn't matter anyway, the advice is the same, except I'd say that any "trial period" of suspending the "ask to marry" date is unnecessary. I want out out out comes shouting out of every line of this post. There's nothing at all to indicate a desire to stick it out further or try to make it work. He's made up his mind. The only problem is, he's been completely uncommunicative of his true feelings while allowing his partner to sustain the fantasy that he wants to spend the rest of his life with her and will in fact seal the deal some time in the next week or so - when in fact if he can marshall up the backbone, he will dump her. He wants to know whether he's an asshole for the way he's handled this (he is), if there's any way to make this less of a bombshell (not really), and if there's any possibility or use in putting it off any longer (absolutely not). Just get it over with so you can both start moving on. There's usually one person who isn't nearly as prepared for the breakup. I've been on both sides of it. Painful as it might be the best thing is to end a relationship with no future as quickly as possible. I'll point out too that there's a possibility that Tommy_g's girlfriend isn't as oblivious to the true situation as he assumes, and that his reticence and procrastination about doing what he clearly wants and ending the relationship likely has more to do with his own fear of making a positive change and moving on than with any psychological fragility of the lady. Man up and let her down as easily as you can in one conversation with no conditions or possibility of reconsideration offered, Tommy_g, no matter how much of a shit it makes you feel like.
posted by nanojath at 7:53 AM on August 23, 2005

the marriage is not about her, it's about YOU and her together.

things will not improve if you marry. the marriage will be as much work (if not more) as your current relationship.

if you feel uneasy now, best is to wait a few months before proposing - and think hard during these months *whether* you still want to propose.

if you no longer want to propose, then break off the relationship now. yes, it will hurt - her and you. yes, you will have second thoughts.

but if you no longer feel you can relate to her, you no longer have a relationship with her.
posted by seawallrunner at 8:19 AM on August 23, 2005

Curley, how do you know the religious reasons weren't his, or both of theirs?
posted by BackwardsCity at 8:29 AM on August 23, 2005

On lack-of-preview, what nanojath said.
posted by BackwardsCity at 8:30 AM on August 23, 2005

Did you say August of this year?
posted by kindall at 8:31 AM on August 23, 2005

Break up with her, and take from the experience this lesson:

Don't bow to pressure to make commitments in a relationship you're not comfortable with. It doesn't do anyone any good.
posted by Zed_Lopez at 8:42 AM on August 23, 2005

Look, you're not that great. Nothing personal- every time I hear the song and dance about "Oh, his/her life is terrible, s/he has no one but me, but I want to gooooooo," it's time for somebody to pull out the perspective stick.

She got along fine without you, before you came into her life, and chances are, she will get along fine without you once you leave her life. Very few people's lives end, literally, or figuratively, after a breakup. They mourn, they move on. Are you going to hurt her? Yes, of course you are. It always hurts when somebody says "I don't want you anymore." And yes, it's going to be uncomfortable for you- there is no good, painfree way of saying "I don't want you anymore."

But heck, perhaps if you dump her, she'll be relieved that she can just be herself again. Maybe she'll quit feeling guilty (and quit overcompensating) about finding that guy in the corner pew attractive. You just don't know- and you don't want to know; you're *done*.

So just do it. Be a gentleman, break the ties, and really leave when you say you're going to. No lingering, no being friends, just go.
posted by headspace at 8:52 AM on August 23, 2005

Break up with her as you clearly want to do, and never never half-ask someone to marry you again. That was an odd thing to do anyway. You realize that promising to ask someone to marry is the same thing as asking them to marry, right? In fact, you are breaking off an engagement, not that it changes what you should do, but it is the emotional truth.
posted by Invoke at 9:04 AM on August 23, 2005

I broke up with a very emotional someone who I thought would be crushed by the break-up after putting it off for way too long. Turns out, a few years later she's fine, and married to someone else. I'm in a healthier relationship.
posted by callmejay at 9:16 AM on August 23, 2005

Tommy_g's question was how he should break up, not should he break up. Most people have tried to answer the latter.

To answer the former: Tell her exactly what you said in this question: You love her, you care about her, but you don't see yourself being married to her.
posted by pardonyou? at 9:58 AM on August 23, 2005

Best answer: Good advice:

I think keijo's idea of first telling her you're not ready for marriage is an excellent start. I bet you if you start with that you'll have an avenue to let all your concerns pour out, and after that it's a simple matter of letting her know that you don't think those concerns are going to change. It won't be fun, but it'll be done, and you'll both be able to better apply your time, friendship and love in the appropriate directions.

Bad advice:

The subversive side of furtive says that you should make her want to break up with you. The sugar-frosted side that always wins says to get the flower shop down the street to send a bouquet of flowers with a card (that you provide, dear god don't dictate it over the phone) that details what you wrote above on ink. The part about "I am just not ready for marriage and I think that in the long run I would not be happy in this relationship." should do the trick.

She can take out her anger on the flowers, which she will happily objectify as you, but your feelings will be out there in black and white. Discuss it with her after, just don't back down.

Super bonus hint: Yellow roses symbolize friendship.
posted by furtive at 10:12 AM on August 23, 2005

She is very sensitive and I'm afraid of what she might do if I break up with her[snip] She doesn't really have any close friends and is not close to her family

I said it in a similar thread of the sort ThePinkSuperhero mentions and I'll say it again here: if she is, in fact, that fragile and unaccustomed to coping with shock and grief you're not doing her any favors trying to keep her from any. You know why has no coping methods? Because an endless series of other people like you, possibly starting with her parents, have shielded her from every opportunity to grow some skills and thicker skin.

Or maybe you're assuming something the way callmejay did and she'll deal just fine. Either way the pain of being dumped by someone who doesn't want her is a lot less than the daily extended misery of a life with someone who doesn't want her.
posted by phearlez at 10:17 AM on August 23, 2005

Response by poster: Well, if it helps at all, we are both LDS and grew up in religious families. So the decision for abstainance was mutual and justified in both of our minds. I am a very non confrontational person, as most of you have already noticed, and this has been the source of many problems in my life. As far as my girlfriend, I do love her, she is smart, very attractive, and a year older than I am (she is 25, I am 24). On the outside everything is great. However, the more I change to avoid her emotional bouts, the more imprisoned I feel. Does this help fill in any blanks? I really appreciate all of your advice, by the way, and I know I deserve all of your chastisement.
posted by Tommy_g at 1:04 PM on August 23, 2005

Tell her exactly what you said in this question: You love her, you care about her, but you don't see yourself being married to her.

Gotta disagree. Give her no false hope to cling to. Don't send her flowers, don't tell her you're not ready for marriage, don't mix the message at all. The message isn't anything to do with you. The message is, to paraphrase Aliens, "Forget me; I'm gone."

A "We need to talk" followed by "I'm sorry, but it's over. It's just not working. Goodbye." should do the trick.

And then, it's over. You're not her buddy, you're not her friend, you're the evil ex for a good long whileor maybe forever. But better to be the evil ex boyfriend than the evil ex husband or evil long-distance father or evil nasty should-get-a-divorce-but-won't husband.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 1:27 PM on August 23, 2005

Read How to Dump a Guy: A Coward's Manual.

What ROU_Xenophobe said.

Advice on long-term relationships from a friend of my wife's: decide whether you want to marry the other person (*) after a year or so. If you decide after only a few months, you may not be giving the other person a fair chance. If you're not sure you want to spend the rest of your life with this person after two or three years, you're probably not ever going to be any more certain.

(*) Substitute "make a long-term commitment" if you don't believe in marriage.
posted by russilwvong at 1:34 PM on August 23, 2005

Let her go so that she can find someone who loves her.
posted by puddinghead at 3:01 PM on August 23, 2005

However, the more I change to avoid her emotional bouts, the more imprisoned I feel.

This is the crux of the matter. Why do you change? Why do you avoid her emotional bouts? Seems to me she is the one that needs to change.
And seems to me you are taking the easy way out and have
been doing so all along by not confronting her with your
unhappiness with her behavior and your situation.

Since you seem to find communication so difficult with her
my advice is to let her go so she can find someone who genuinely loves her (like puddinghead said) rather than someone (you) who keeps his feelings a secret from her.
posted by bat at 3:26 PM on August 23, 2005

Do not send her flowers and a break up card. She is going to see the flowers and think it is part of your promised proposal.
posted by onlyconnect at 3:32 PM on August 23, 2005

I completely agree with onlyconnect. Sending flowers is the worst possible thing to do if she's expecting a proposal. Yellow roses notwithstanding, doing something like that is downright cruel.
posted by gokart4xmas at 4:32 PM on August 23, 2005

It sounds like your girlfriend could use counseling/therapy. She isn't an emotionally stable person, and that's going to keep her from having an emotionally healthy relationship with anyone, much less you.

Couples therapy might be a good idea, actually. I'm a little confused by your post -- do you want to be out of the relationship, do you just want to not propose, or are you not sure? -- but if you're feeling torn, it would make things clearer for you. It would help both of you deal with the underlying issues: her emotional problems, your avoidance -- which will come up again and again in the future, no matter who you're with, if you don't deal with them now.

And if in the end you do decide the relationship is over, your girlfriend will already have a therapist to turn to for help, so you won't have to worry about her as much. (On a practical note, the therapist can also probably help you break the news to her.)
posted by Jaie at 4:40 PM on August 23, 2005

Please for the love of god I hope you chose my answer because of the Good Advice portion, and not the CLEARLY LABELED bad advice portion. Best wishes.
posted by furtive at 7:04 PM on August 23, 2005

Yes, do not send flowers with an attached breakup note. One guy dumped me during a phone call and then instructed me to "have a good one" before hanging up. I felt a distinct desire to slap him. Break up with her, and do it as cleanly and kindly as possible, but don't try to manage her emotions for her.
posted by orange swan at 5:53 AM on August 24, 2005

Response by poster: Any last advice? I'll check one more time tonight and and let everyone know how it goes.
posted by Tommy_g at 7:07 AM on August 24, 2005

Response by poster: And yes Furtive, I noticed the good vs. bad advice.
posted by Tommy_g at 7:08 AM on August 24, 2005

I come at this from the girl's perspective, having been dumped by my (now ex-) boyfriend 3 years ago. Our relationship had been plagued by bad, if not completely absent, communication. All it took was him saying "I'm unhappy in this relationship" for me to realize that I was, too. It still took about 4 months of complex negotiations for us to realize that we just weren't meant to be together, but with a lot of therapy and some independent thinking, I decided to move out. There was a lot of crying, a lot of sneaking around, angry words and pain during that time, but we both came out otherwise unscathed. I can honestly say that it was just the thing I needed to kick my butt into gear-- to take better care of myself, be more independent, and be more open and communicative with people I care about.

The one thing I would caution you about is that, no matter how clean a break you think you may have made, she is still relating to you after you go. You have had at least a few months to stew on this, she is only now starting the grieving process. If you say or decide you want to be friends-- make some effort to do that, but make it clear that it's not compulsory. If you find it too difficult to be friends with her, say so. "Listen, I know I said I wanted to stay friends, but we're both emotional wrecks right now, and I think I'd be better off keeping my distance for now. Maybe in the future I will feel differently, but right now I need to be on my own..." etc. This is the one thing that I'm bitter about from my ex-- he said he wanted to stay friends, but just couldn't bring himself to say that it was too difficult or whatever, and so instead he was passive-aggressive until the point he just stopped talking to me (without any explanation).

Good luck to you and your girlfriend.
posted by sarahnade at 3:21 PM on August 24, 2005

So how did it go, Tommy_g?
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 4:57 PM on August 28, 2005 [1 favorite]

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