How to negotiate LDR breakup with compassion
April 11, 2013 6:15 PM   Subscribe

BreakupFilter: I think it's time for me to end my LDR. I know it's going to hurt my partner, I know I can't prevent that, but I'd like to do this with as much compassion as possible. What does that look like, hive mind?

I'm in a long- distance relationship at the moment with a woman a couple of years my senior. We've been seeing each other for about a year; casual NSA stuff at first that eventually became more serious; we decided to give a proper relationship a shot. We live at opposite ends of the uk, more or less (I in Edinburgh, she in London). We try to see each other at least every couple of weeks - she can only travel at weekends but I'm freelance so I'll often visit her for four or five days at a time.

Recently, because of work pressures, I haven't been able to see her as much as usual. We spent a long Easter weekend together and the plan is for me to get the train down to London on Monday to see her for another few days. We've skyped regularly to try and close the gap but for the last few days my work has taken me pretty much off the high-bandwidth grid, so we've had to stick to email (which I prefer in many ways; I'm a letter-writer at heart and like to consider my words carefully).

The stress of not seeing each other is clearly telling on both of us. She's said several times that me being incommunicado like this will make it hard for her to "get through the week" and I, by contrast, have been having lots of sleepless nights trying to come up with ways to visit her more than once before the end of the month, which I can barely afford. She'd like me to be down with her next weekend but work commitments mean I'll have to return home for Friday, Saturday and some of Sunday. This caused a bit of friction because she wants to have a party on the Sunday to celebrate her birthday (which isn't til next month but falls on a awkward date). She hasn't invited anyone to the party yet - she hasn't even decided what she's doing - and though she doesn't want to stop me from doing my chosen line of work it's clear that my work coinciding with next weekend sorely disappointed her. (To admit my own culpability here: I should have checked with her about that weekend before booking jobs thereon; she'd mentioned the possibility of a party then a couple of months back and I completely forgot).

All the sleepless nights and stress have made me reevaluate what I want right now, and I'm not sure this relationship is right for me anymore. We connect well, have a great time together a have a lot in common, but there seems to be something missing for me, though I don't know what it is. On top of that is the fact that I'm pretty sure I want kids some time in the future and she's adamant that she doesn't. That's a deal breaker for me that I just can't see a way to work around, but it's not the main reason for my feelings.

The more I think about it, the more I churn over it, the more I'm convinced that this relationship isn't going to work for me. Along with that, though there's a huge desire to do the right thing by my girlfriend; it's unfair of me to drag this on whilst I'm having doubts, especially since things are already stressful.

So how do I tackle this? Historically, all my breakups have been in person, and I've always tried hard to be compassionate and make it clear that there's no ill-will, but that nevertheless it's over. How do I do that here? It seems horrible to do it over the phone, but equally horrible to just get the train to London, tell her, and then leave. But I also can't conscience staying down there with her, knowing I have my very strong doubts, and not telling her until I go (and knowing, too, that there's a good chance I'll convince myself that I'm wrong to want to end things, wherein the cycle starts all over again).

Two more added complications: we've just booked two holidays: one to New York next month, one to New Zealand to visit her family in January. It seems really shitty now for me to have gone ahead with these plans whilst doubting everything, but the truth is that I didn't really start thinking through my doubts until after both had been booked. The NYC holiday is booked on my credit card, so I'm not worried about that - the tickets are mostly refundable and the hotel is free to cancel - but the NZ trip was booked on hers and I owe her about £800 for it still... How do I negotiate that on top of the ever-sucky breakup?
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (24 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Call her up and tell her the truth. I think going down there just to break up with her is going to be worse. If she then asks that you come down to talk it out, you can consider that request.

If she asks about the money, tell her you're sending her a check for your share of it. If she doesn't ask, just send her the check.
posted by fingersandtoes at 6:27 PM on April 11, 2013 [4 favorites]

To me, all things you mention are important issues but that you want children and she does not is sufficient to know that nothing will come of this relationship...
posted by Postroad at 6:35 PM on April 11, 2013 [3 favorites]

I agree, if you are having feelings that you don't want to be with her, that's okay. Be genuine. Break it off the way you would want someone to do with you. I agree, if she asks about money figure out a payment plan or send a check. Be polite.

To be honest, figuring out how to pay for a trip seems like much less of a hassle than being on a vacation with someone you're unsure of! Being stuck on vacation with someone while you're having those feelings could be a nightmare.

On top of that is the fact that I'm pretty sure I want kids some time in the future and she's adamant that she doesn't. That's a deal breaker for me that I just can't see a way to work around, but it's not the main reason for my feelings.

I am not sure how serious you ever were with this person. You said it has been fairly causal before becoming romantic, however, if you truly don't want kids, and she truly does, please out of courtesy find someone with matching values.

Almost nothing worse can happen in a fairly good relationship than not being on the same page about children, which are a life long commitment and happen to outlast most relationships. You already said it is a deal breaker, so maybe that is part of what you tell her. "I want to respect your boundaries when it comes to children and we just don't match up on that."

I think you should call. Don't email, text or Skype unless she wants to Skype after hearing the news. In person can be better but it sounds like it would be a big trip just to break it off with someone.
posted by Crystalinne at 6:35 PM on April 11, 2013 [1 favorite]

Remind yourself that if you don't think it's right for you, then it's kinder to call her and let her know what's going on with you rather than drag it out. The best thing would have been to talk about your doubts the whole time, but it sounds like it's too late for that. You just need to give her the money for the NZ tickets.
posted by transient at 6:40 PM on April 11, 2013 [3 favorites]

Figure out whether your stress is making you feel "trapped" in the relationship, or if the relationship has just run its course. Are you happy when you are interacting with them? A common response to stress is to try to find scapegoats for the stress. Will ending the relationship make you feel better?

I would sit down and have a real conversation that isn't an argument or a blame session, and figure out what each other's priorities are, and what the impediments to that are.

If you must break up, do it as face to face as possible. The best way to do it is to sort of make a speech that articulates your feelings until the other person sort of agrees with you.
posted by gjc at 6:45 PM on April 11, 2013 [1 favorite]

Please do this in person. I've been broken up long distance and man does it suck hardcore. I've been in an LDR where I got broken up with in person, and it sucked, but it didn't have that added "fuck you" of being an over-the-phone breakup.
posted by DoubleLune at 6:51 PM on April 11, 2013

I know somebody who traveled to see her LDR and then he broke up with her. Do not go see her just to break up with her--then someone's paid to see you and where are you going to go after the's just awkward and sucks. Don't do it. Yes, she won't get to see you one last time and that sucks, but the alternative is even worse.
posted by jenfullmoon at 7:11 PM on April 11, 2013 [2 favorites]

Break up in person. After you do it, leave, and stay at a hotel or a friend's.
Pay her back for the travel money in cash.
posted by Miko at 7:13 PM on April 11, 2013 [3 favorites]

Things you need to do for an LDR breakup:

1) You can break up over the phone, but know that she's going to think it's because of the distance and that if only you'd said it in person it wouldn't have happened.
2) If you break up over the phone: make yourself available, via phone, for as many talks as she needs over the next week, because you /can't/ have that multiple-hour in-person breakup talk.
3) If she booked a trip for you to the tune of 800, send her a check or cash for 800. Do not make her ask, and do not go through with travelling together afterwards.
posted by corb at 7:29 PM on April 11, 2013 [2 favorites]

I know somebody who traveled to see her LDR and then he broke up with her. Do not go see her just to break up with her--then someone's paid to see you and where are you going to go after the's just awkward and sucks.

If he goes to see her, she won't be paying anything and she wont be stuck in a different city having just been broken up with.
posted by nooneyouknow at 7:48 PM on April 11, 2013

sounds like a tough situation and good on you for wanting to be so compassionate. i think i would break up by phone unless you really want to take the train down, stay for a few hours, and then take the train back in one very long day unless you have other friends you could stay with. she might really appreciate if you did that altho i think the phone is fine considering the distance.

as for the travel expenses i'd just handle it like you would with anyone else where a trip gets cancelled. if you can't both get full refunds then just pay whatever your portion is that is nonrefundable.
posted by wildflower at 7:54 PM on April 11, 2013

I think, as the person who's doing the breaking up, that you should cover all of the non-refundable portion of the trip, yours and hers included. I just think it's a nice gesture because she made those plans to be with you.
And I think it's fair to do it over the phone. Even if it were you making the trip down, she's probably looking forward to the visit and excited to see you and being dumped would be a huge let down.
posted by greta simone at 8:04 PM on April 11, 2013 [6 favorites]

Huh, I came here to say the opposite of DoubleLune. I got broken up with in person in an LDR, and I really wished she had done it over the phone.
posted by Ragged Richard at 8:14 PM on April 11, 2013 [4 favorites]

It does not really matter how you do it- in person or over the phone- because the other person may not share your thoughts on this anyway. You will try to be compassionate but you will be the jerk, so there, that's how its going to be anyway. What you can control, is when you do it. Do it ASAP, do it swiftly, and for the love of God, don't spew out the "I like you.. blah blah....there is no ill will...blah blah....(ending with) I'd love to remain friends ...blah blah". Look at it this way: you have doubts and she should have the opportunity to get rid of you as soon as humanely possible. That is what counts.

Don't talk about the money. Don't go there at all, if you can. Send her the money within a week. Don't wait and do it in a month or so when she is trying to heal.

And once out, stay out.
posted by xm at 8:36 PM on April 11, 2013 [2 favorites]

I think you have an obligation to do it in person. Do what Miko said. Don't make her ask you for the money, and don't give it in a way (cheque) that requires her to take a step (depositing the cheque) to get it. Give her cash. Don't make the kids issue too big a part of this either -- that might leave her wondering if changing her mind would win you back. If you don't want that, don't leave that door open.
posted by Susan PG at 8:40 PM on April 11, 2013

Corb wrote the answer that I would have written myself. I got dropped over the phone and the availability for followup calls over the next week helped me process it. I don't think the phone approach seems as much of a snub if the relationship is ending without fighting and acrimony. One of the important parameters was that it was clear the calls were not going to go on indefinitely, and that it was not a second chance.

Postscript, two months later I received the best post breakup note ever. It was good to know how she was able to move on with some things that she had been wanting to do; it honored the relationship and acknowledged both loss and the ways we grew. Sometimes the life-timing of the relationship isn't right, but you can always end it classy.
posted by cgk at 8:56 PM on April 11, 2013 [2 favorites]

I think you should do it in person, but try to prepare her so that she doesn't anticipate a nice, regular visit only to be crushed by a surprise break-up. Do it as soon as you get there, and have a place to stay for the rest of your time in town.

I think I read that advice on this site somewhere, and it always struck me as compassionate and sensible.
posted by sundaydriver at 9:39 PM on April 11, 2013 [1 favorite]

Here's another option; do it over the phone, tell her you'll be sending $ to cover the cost of the trip and tell her if she'd like to see you in person to get closure, ask questions etc you can arrange to make a trip down (staying elsewhere). That way, she doesn't get excited to see you in person, only to get broken up with but the ball is in her court as to whether she needs the final visit to process it or not.
posted by Jubey at 9:46 PM on April 11, 2013 [3 favorites]

as for the travel expenses i'd just handle it like you would with anyone else where a trip gets cancelled. if you can't both get full refunds then just pay whatever your portion is that is nonrefundable.

oops. i didn't think that through. i agree with geta simone: pay for whatever is nonrefundable not just your part since you are breaking the plans. that would be the gentlemanly thing to do.
posted by wildflower at 12:45 AM on April 12, 2013

Agreeing with everyone saying that you shouldn't do it in person, unless she already knows that you're coming to see her for a relationship ending talk.

I was in an LDR and dumped over Skype and it was absolutely fine (well, not at the time, obviously). I can't even imagine how much it would have sucked to know that my partner was coming to visit me, getting all excited and making plans, just to have him turn up and say "this isn't working". Don't do that to her.
posted by fight or flight at 2:53 AM on April 12, 2013 [8 favorites]

You are allowed to break up and you can do it over the phone. It's so much better than acting as though nothing's wrong until you get off the train and break the bad news to her. Then what? You're stuck there for a weekend? Yuk!

You don't have to enumerate all the reasons it's not working, it just isn't working and that's enough.

As for the trips, certainly cancel and absorb any of the costs associated with cancellation. It probably won't be all of the £800, but if there is a cancellation fee, (for her and for you) agree to pay that.

Trust me, if you could just pay someone that sum and have it all over and done, you'd do it in a heartbeat, wouldn't you?

Break ups suck, but if it's inevitable, best to do it now.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 6:24 AM on April 12, 2013 [2 favorites]

Showing up and springing it on her with no advance warning would be painful. I would have a phone conversation about your doubts/desire to break up, then offer to show up to process it. That way she doesn't excitedly anticipate your arrival only to be left speechless and stunned. Offering to show up to talk about it will give her time to process and a chance for her to express herself as well, which would be fair.
posted by Vaike at 4:08 PM on April 12, 2013

I think Vaike's solution is an excellent one - still be available to talk in person, but give her some warning. She may not want you to come at all (I probably wouldn't) but it is important that you indicate you are willing to give her your time if she would prefer that.

There's one true thing about breakups: they're not easy. You can do it kindly, but most breakups contain a measure of pain. The band-aid has to come off. I applaud your putting a lot of thought into it, but don't obsess too much over the details of how and when, because it's not a perfectable thing. Just do it soon, now that you've made a decision, and as kindly as you can frame it.
posted by Miko at 4:33 PM on April 12, 2013 [1 favorite]

I don't think you should make yourself available to hash it out in person. What's to work out or process with this? You have opposing life goals re: kids. Something is emotionally missing for you in the relationship. Your schedules aren't compatible. None of those things are likely to change, and each one alone is a solid reason for ending a relationship. I feel like this idea that you should offer to visit so that she can attain closure is a bit presumptions and makes it more complicated if you're trying to make a clean break.

I do agree that you should not dwell to much on the how and when, because there's really no good, easy way to break up with someone who doesn't want to be broken up with. Doing it speedily and decisively is the compassionate thing to do. I also agree that you should pay her at least your share of the trip to Australia without her having to prompt you, if it's not refundable.
posted by sm1tten at 4:56 PM on April 12, 2013 [2 favorites]

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