How bad is breaking up on a birthday?
July 12, 2013 6:38 AM   Subscribe

I need to break up with my long-term partner but there is never a good time to do it. Is it a good idea to break up with him on/near his birthday or better to postpone?

I've been with my partner for 3 years. It's always been an up and down relationship and we've broken up before, but it's always been on the end of a fight and we always get back together. This feels different because it's a calm and considered decision. Lately I am really unhappy: everything he does annoys me and I'm just not interested in being around him. I need to break up with him but he's been out of town pretty constantly lately for work. He also hates his job, so most of our communication is him emailing me about how horrible his job is and he sounds like he's losing it. I realize that isn't my responsibility, but I feel like I can't just dump him when he is so fragile. I also think I need to do it in person. I haven't had the opportunity to do it in person since deciding it should be done.

He'll be around today and this weekend (for the first time this week) but every single day from Friday until Monday will be spent celebrating his birthday. And I am annoyed that I have to spend all this time celebrating his birthday with him and I feel terrible about that. We have family plans, expensive tickets for things, etc.

I was going to wait until after all the celebratory stuff so I wouldn't ruin his birthday. He'll be going out of town again next week though. I really don't know if it's best for me to wait and not wreck all the birthday plans (he is very weird about family things, wants me around for every little thing and gets mad when I'm not and always wants us to seem perfect to his family, so I feel like he will be even more upset if I break up with him prior to those plans). But I also feel bad waiting to break up until after his birthday. I don't even want to spend this time with him and that will probably come across. I know I sound very cold here but I care about him very much and don't want to hurt him and want this to be as kind as considerate as possible. We've been together a long time but do not live together. It's a serious relationship, we've discussed moving in/marriage but I've never felt our relationship was in a good enough place to do this.

When is the best time to break up with him and is there anything I should or shouldn't be doing with this?
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (37 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
I think you should end it now. Nobody gains by you pretending to be happy all weekend long and then dumping him after his birthday.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 6:43 AM on July 12, 2013 [10 favorites]

Break up with him before. If I were he, I would really hate to look back on my birthday weekend knowing that my girlfriend had already broken up with me and I just didn't know it yet. HMMV.
posted by rtha at 6:43 AM on July 12, 2013 [25 favorites]

Oh, man. I'm sorry you're in a sticky situation, but it sounds like you know what needs to be done. I'm always in favor of ripping off the bandaid. Do it now, don't fake it through the birthday.

[I once broke up with someone the day before Valentine's Day. It was fine, and I felt way better once it was done.]
posted by hungrybruno at 6:44 AM on July 12, 2013

Once you decide to break up with a long-term partner, the best time to do it is the first available opportunity you have to see them in person. Sounds like that day is today.

It's his birthday weekend. That sucks. It sucks, but you know what? He'll be in town, around friends and family--he'll have his support network. That's actually about as good as it gets. He will be OK.

Breaking up is always hard, no matter what end of it you're on. The longer you wait the worse it will be. Get it over with before the weekend so his loved ones can dote on him/get him drunk/whatever. I wish you the best of luck.
posted by phunniemee at 6:44 AM on July 12, 2013 [8 favorites]

Do you have a place to stay that is not his/yalls place? That would possibly influence my decision. In general, yes, sooner the better and faking it through the weekend isnt going to help anybody.

Good luck
posted by Jacen at 6:47 AM on July 12, 2013

I don't want to make assumptions about your relationship but also keep in mind that there's a practical difference between plastering a smile on your face and singing Happy Birthday, and having birthday weekend sex you don't really want to have with someone you've already emotionally departed from. It's mega yuck.

So I'll just leave that delightful consideration on the table next to the chorus of people suggesting that if you've decided to go, the time to go is today, when he's back in town.
posted by DarlingBri at 6:47 AM on July 12, 2013 [7 favorites]

When I was in high school, a girl I was dating broke up with me via email, but since this was in the days of dial-up, I didn't receive the email until after we went on another date. Now this was a long time ago, and I am not particularly heartbroken about the end of the relationship, but thinking about that date, and knowing she had already broken up with me in her mind, makes me feel like a total fucking chump.

Break up with him before his birthday.
posted by Elementary Penguin at 6:47 AM on July 12, 2013 [11 favorites]

It sucks to break up with someone on their birthday, and I know, because it happened to me. So if you have a choice, I'd say pick any other day. That said, I don't know how much deference a weekend-long birthday celebration deserves. If possible I'd say go ahead and break up with him before the birthday and let him celebrate / commiserate with his friends. I don't think spending the whole weekend celebrating someone you're just not that into any more would really work for anyone.
posted by Gelatin at 6:51 AM on July 12, 2013

I think now. It's super-hard and since there's no good way, just do it, if it were to be done let it be done quickly.

Don't get into a honking fight or anything, just say, "I'm sorry, but it's not working for me any more and I want to break up." He's not going to be a happy camper, but that was going to happen anyway.

Don't engage in any, "why now?" or "on my Birthday?" Conversations. "I'm sorry, that's the way I feel."

You might send him a text to kind of clue him in before you do it:

We've not had a lot of time together recently, and I wanted to be sure that we had a few minutes to talk tonight before things get started.

You may be pleasantly surprised, he may want to break up too, and felt locked in this weekend because of your plans. You never know.

Don't blame, don't give reasons, don't allude to past break ups and how this one is different. Be fast, be succinct and be final.

I'm really hoping you have your own place and can just dump him and bounce.

As for the tickets and whatnot, oh well. He can take a friend or a cousin or something.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 6:59 AM on July 12, 2013 [2 favorites]

Break up with him now. I've been on your side of a similar situation, and it sucked for both him and me. He knew something was up, he knew I wasn't happy. I tried to be "normal" but I was distant and detached. It sucked for me because every time he touched me I had a "Ugh" feeling. It was seriously just awful.

Break up with him now. Yes, it is his birthday and that is a bit brutal, but he will have support and people around him to help him. Maybe all the birthday stuff will help him get through quickly.
posted by PuppetMcSockerson at 7:00 AM on July 12, 2013 [2 favorites]

I'll add another vote for doing it right away. I've done the "wait until it's a good time" thing and it can easily turn into a situation where you find yourself always waiting and never acting. Plus, if something happens in your life while you are in this waiting period, it can fool you into wanting to stay in the relationship for the comfort it provides.
posted by orme at 7:11 AM on July 12, 2013 [1 favorite]

I was going to wait until after all the celebratory stuff so I wouldn't ruin his birthday.

Most likely, his birthday isn't going to be happy as it is, given the vibe that Something Is Up. Seconding the advice so far to do it before.

Also, staying in the picture until after expensive-ticket things are done may be seen (rightly or wrongly) as opportunistic. Let him use those tickets on someone who really wants to be there.
posted by Capt. Renault at 7:11 AM on July 12, 2013 [1 favorite]

There are no good options here, so I vote for breaking up with him as soon as possible. That seems like the least bad option. It does suck that you will be breaking up with him on or immediately prior to his birthday, but I don't think faking it for the whole birthday weekend will work for you or him given your account of how you feel.

You want to me kind and considerate, but nothing you can do will make this feel okay right now. Just be firm and clear.

I was once left on Valentine's Day. At the time, that added some drama to the situation. In the long run, however, the date didn't matter. She was right to leave our disfunctional relationship and we are both much happier.
posted by Area Man at 7:13 AM on July 12, 2013

Break up now. I know what you're thinking, but you won't be doing him a kindness by delaying for his (four-day!) birthday. It's going to suck for him no matter what, and you might as well get it over with. He will likely know something up, and he will certainly look back and realize you were already broken up during his birthday.

There are very few events that make this kind of delay a good idea, I think. His mom's funeral. Arguing in the Supreme Court. Give those events a wide berth. But a birthday? No.
posted by J. Wilson at 7:14 AM on July 12, 2013 [3 favorites]

My sister had a long time ex who broke up with her right before Valentine's Day and while she was sort of pissed anyhow because she hadn't seen it coming she was also like "Wow, at least now I can spend Valentine's Day either alone or with friends and not with someone thinking about dumping me"

Similarly, a long time ago, someone broke up with my after I'd taken a long expensive trip with them that my family had chipped in for. Like pretty much right after. I knew things weren't going well and I was thinking maybe the trip would help us get our mojo back. Instead it was sort of ... bumpy and after the fact I felt sort of taken advantage of as well as annoyed that I couldn't have used that trip time on my own to get my OWN mojo back.

So this is just to say that I agree with other people. It sucks either way you do it, but there is some kindness, in my opinion, getting things over with when you know they're going to be over.
posted by jessamyn at 7:14 AM on July 12, 2013 [1 favorite]

I was broken up with (officially) on the day after my birthday, but I think the circumstances are a bit different.

We had dated for about 4 years and had both seen the end coming from a mile away. The actual break up conversation was sad, but heartfelt and well intended. We both knew it was the right decision to make. When I asked why he waited until after my birthday, he said that he didn't want to ruin the day (which was sweet, in it's own way). But this was basically a no-fault breakup and a mutual decision, so YMMV. We also lived together, which made it a thousand times harder.

In your case, I would probably do it ASAP, since it seems like he probably doesn't expect it and you'd feel like a fraud to pretend everything was okay for his birthday week.
posted by Flamingo at 7:19 AM on July 12, 2013

In two of my past long term relationships, I've broken up with my exes either on, or the day before our 3 year anniversary. It sucked, but it was the right thing to do. Keep it short and simple. I'd avoid mentioning or offering sympathy for the timing. You don't want to get sucked down that rabbit hole.
posted by Gonestarfishing at 7:26 AM on July 12, 2013 [2 favorites]

Do you think he has any inkling that this is coming? Would it be completely unexpected for him?

If he is aware that the relationship is not going well and is rocky... I think you should break up right away. There would be less pain and it would be easier to accept.

An out of the blue shock where he doesn't have any idea that relationship is in trouble might not be a good thing to do. You are saying that you have been together for 3 years, you care for him and he has been very busy and having problems on his job. In this scenario, a band-aid rip might be too painful cause the ties would be deeper, at least for him.

And don't diss breaking up through a letter. It would give you a good way to explain your self. It would give him time to think about it. And both of your would be less likely to say or do things in the heat of the moment. Might even allow you to part on amicable terms.

Make him aware that you are unhappy and are evaluating the relationship through mail or phone .. that gives him an opportunity to see if he (or even you) really cares enough to try a change in decision. Then you can break up easily when you meet in person. It will also give him a choice in deciding whether he wants you with him on his birthday or not.
posted by TheLittlePrince at 7:30 AM on July 12, 2013

Stop reading this and do it right now. As soon as possible. Over the phone if necessary. You don't need to do it in person. If you keep dragging it out because of various excuses (need to wait till you see each other in person, need to wait till you're nowhere near his birthday, etc.), you could go on forever without doing it. There's always a birthday or holiday or special occasion coming up soon.
posted by John Cohen at 7:33 AM on July 12, 2013 [1 favorite]

I got dumped about a week before my birthday and right before a big fancy trip to NYC with my sister. It ruined the trip -- I was sobbing into my sister's lap the entire weekend instead of enjoying myself. It colored my birthday -- I spent the weekend smarting because I'd figured he'd had plans with his "other" girlfriend instead for that weekend -- and this was a big fat serious relationship, too.

I mean, if it's gonna end, it's gonna end. It sucks to think about why he timed it like he did. On the other hand, I think of the "good times" I had doing things with him when I know he must have been thinking of / wanting to / planning to dump me, and those aren't happy memories anymore. So if you do it now, like others said, he'll have friends and family around to buy him drinks. And then neither you nor anyone else will have to recall the time that you faked a smile doing every little thing with him for four entire days of IT'S MY BIRTHDAY! -- which frankly, sounds worse for you than anyone, ugh.

To thine own self, my dear. As a person who was dumped near my birthday, I absolve you and give you permission to do it.
posted by mibo at 7:52 AM on July 12, 2013 [2 favorites]

My rule of thumb is delay if the other person has a temporary, externally imposed event that will be heavily influenced by his state of mind and cannot be rescheduled save for the most extreme of circumstances, which a breakup does not qualify. Examples include a final (or bar) exam, a court date, a thesis defense, etc. In those cases, where they only have one shot at presenting their case and it has far reaching consequences, I think it's okay to delay until the event is over, but no later.

All other cases, rip the bandaid off as stated above. Birthday celebrations fall firmly into the second category, in my opinion.
posted by Zelos at 8:27 AM on July 12, 2013 [9 favorites]

Trying to schedule a breakup tends to be a bad idea. Do it before the birthday and he'll be sad, because he was just broken up with. Do it after the birthday and he'll be sad, because he'll realize he spent his birthday with someone who was going to dump him.

So instead, just do it now. You'll both need to start getting over things so you might as well let that start as soon as possible.
posted by FAMOUS MONSTER at 9:51 AM on July 12, 2013 [1 favorite]

I left my last long term relationship right before the holidays (Thanksgiving was THAT week, followed by my bday then Christmas and New Year's.)

I knew that I could not go through the holidays with his family buying me stuff and me pretending to have a good time, with the knowledge that I was planning to leave their son.

Do it now. It seems heartless, but really, it's a good thing. Nip it in the bud.
posted by sio42 at 10:01 AM on July 12, 2013

If you break up with him before his birthday, he will be surrounded by hopefully supportive friends right in the aftermath. That doesn't seem like a bad thing.
posted by small_ruminant at 10:20 AM on July 12, 2013 [2 favorites]

I got dumped like a week before my birthday. I survived to have more, much better birthdays. Do it now.
posted by peacrow at 10:27 AM on July 12, 2013 [1 favorite]

I have photos of me with an absolutely miserable boyfriend "celebrating" my birthday with the most pathetic, hangdog expression in his entire body. He broke up with me a few days later. Let me tell you, he did me no favors on that birthday.

I have a painful memory of wanting to break up with a different boyfriend and deciding to wait until after the holidays, and just not being able to pull it off, and breaking up with him at 11 p.m. on New Year's Eve. Let me tell you, I did him no favors on that holiday.

Break up with him now, with a thoughtful letter instead of in person, so you can write out clearly what you're doing, and he has a chance to do some mental processing before facing his whole family. And then let his friends and family hold his hand and help him through this.
posted by Capri at 11:00 AM on July 12, 2013 [2 favorites]

Either way, it's going to be bad and count as a "birthday dump." I don't know if it makes any difference to wait or not wait.
posted by jenfullmoon at 11:19 AM on July 12, 2013

Break up with him now. He'll be surrounded with people this weekend he can commiserate with and with whom to distract himself. I was broken up with right before a big vacation (which I was taking with my friends, not him) and that trip turned out to be a great way to refresh and get my mind off of him. I think it would have been worse if he had waited to break up until after I returned.

Frankly, it sounds very narcissistic for an adult to have a 4-day birthday extravaganza.
posted by parakeetdog at 11:25 AM on July 12, 2013 [3 favorites]

Funny... my daughter has done all sorts of stuff that I don't approve of. The one thing that I thought was just cruel and immature was breaking up with her boyfriend (with whom I am still friends) on his birthday. Petty, vindictive - I can't think of enough adjectives. No... Do it before, do it the day after. Don't stain his day.
posted by brownrd at 11:44 AM on July 12, 2013

If you've been together that long, my advice would be to wait a week.

Years ago, I was in a relationship with an unhappy woman. I kept putting off breaking up because I didn't want to make a bad day for her worse. I mentioned this to a friend who said "Great. So, you're going to wait for her to have a good day and when she finally does, you're going to take that away from her. That's messed up."

Wait for the birthday festivities to be over. Do it then. You've been together for three years, so clearly, it's not like there's any rush. There's no need to ruin his big day (ok, he's stretching it into 4, but still)
posted by 2oh1 at 1:27 PM on July 12, 2013 [2 favorites]

Break up with him now, but if he starts getting upset about breaking plans and looking bad in front of his family, you can be nice and offer to play along with whatever front he wants to put up for them. That way he'll have the luxury of telling them about the breakup at his own pace, rather than being forced into making all of his family birthday plans a rehashing of how he got dumped. Or he'll have the option of bringing another friend or something. In short: Do it now, but don't be a dick about it.
posted by booknerd at 1:33 PM on July 12, 2013 [1 favorite]

Nobody is that good an actor. Unless he is a piece of 2x6 lumber, he's going to know something's up over the course of that week. Don't make him fake smiles to his family or whoever for a week, knowing that something's wrong but not knowing what.
Do the both of you a favor and end it now.
posted by blueberry at 2:29 PM on July 12, 2013 [1 favorite]

If you break up with him before his birthday he may say, "What? It's my birthday! How could you do this?" If you break up with him after, his reaction might be, "You mean you pretended things were fine just until after my birthday!?" But you wouldn't actually be doing anything wrong either way. Just don't expect him to see it that way.

Decide for yourself which timing is better, or flip a coin. I do agree with other comments that before telling him, you should figure out where you're going to live. In the meantime, don't fight with him. It's over, so there's no point in criticising, complaining, or trying to settle any disagreements. If he brings something up, just say that you don't want to talk about it right now.
posted by wryly at 3:04 PM on July 12, 2013

My brother's girlfriend broke up with him just before his 21st birthday. That sucked, and it actually ended up being the first time I tried alcohol because my brother bought so much in his effort to "drink away the pain."

This is an anecdote, and not advice. But if your boyfriend is turning 21...
posted by tacodave at 4:17 PM on July 12, 2013

I would say, don't dump him on his ACTUAL birthday. That would suck. But sticking together and celebrating a whole birthday weekend, when you really want to split up, isn't really doing him any favors. Then he'll just look back at the weekend and think about how you were faking being happy the whole time.
posted by Ursula Hitler at 5:23 PM on July 12, 2013

Lately I am really unhappy: everything he does annoys me and I'm just not interested in being around him...I realize that isn't my responsibility, but I feel like I can't just dump him when he is so fragile. I also think I need to do it in person.

Make living arrangements quickly, then call him immediately after. Say this: "I'm really unhappy, and I've realized it is time for me to move on. I would have rather done this in person, but you've been out of town, and I decided it would be better to do it now so you have time to get used to it before your birthday plans. I've made arrangements to stay somewhere else, and I'll let you know when [trusted mutual friend or somesuch] and I will come by to pick up my things. I hope things get better for you at work, and I hope your birthday week kicks off a really good period of happiness for you."
posted by davejay at 6:45 PM on July 12, 2013 [2 favorites]

His birthday is THIS weekend, as in right now?

Apparently, I'm in the minority. I don't really celebrate holidays, but birthdays, to me, are like Christmas, New Year's and winning a small lottery rolled into one. If someone broke up with me on my birthday, I would not only think he was a horrible person, but I would be forever reminded that I'd been such a poor judge of character that I was in a relationship for the better part of a year with someone who knew me so little (or cared so little) about causing me distress. Dump me on Christmas. Dump me on Valentine's. But dump me on my birthday and it will literally be the only thing I will ever remember about you. (And campers, I'm not young or at all dramatic. I'm approaching the half-century mark. I've been around the block.)

From what you say, things in his life have sucked for a while, and with a job situation like that, everything in his life is about satisfying others/the work. His birthday may be the only thing towards which he's looked forward in a while and that is about him. If he were unkind to you or a jerk, I'd say do whatever you want, but you've said you care for him. If that's really true, I say, be a good *friend*. Be quite, distant, have a headache, have a cold, if you must, but in your shoes, I'd try to be a good person and be remembered for something other than trying to ruin the one good thing that's about him and nobody else right now.
posted by The Wrong Kind of Cheese at 8:39 PM on July 12, 2013

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