Clarifying a breakup over email- good or bad idea?
May 4, 2016 12:36 PM   Subscribe

I broke up with my boyfriend of two years two days ago (on Skype, since it was a long distance relationship). I'm horrible at expressing my thoughts and emotions in person/by voice, especially when I'm upset, so the Skype breakup involved a lot of crying and me not being able to answer his questions properly. It was really horrible and I feel terrible. My question is, now that I've had a couple days to calm down and think more clearly--would it be okay to send him a single email that more coherently says everything that I want to say, but didn't get to say?

He's an amazing person who would have done anything to be with me, and I love him very much and really want him to be happy. We had an amazing relationship-- we respected each other, loved each other, talked about everything, had great communication, had fun together.

I broke up with him because I didn't have faith in our future, largely because of huge lifestyle differences. A lot of the lifestyle differences were obscured by the fact that we were long-distance, but when we were in the same place even for shorter times, they were apparent. I could handle them for short periods, but I wouldn't be able to live like that forever. Anyway, I just couldn't continue to be emotionally invested in a relationship which I didn't believe had a future. Also, as I mentioned, it was a long distance relationship. He has been ready to bridge the distance and move to me, but since I just didn't have that confidence in our future together, I couldn't let him do that. But I also wasn't ready to live in a long-distance relationship forever.

On top of it all, I feel very lost and aimless about my own life and my own future right now, and just feel tremendous internal pressure to focus on myself right now-- and I felt that the relationship was hindering my ability to do that. It's hard to articulate why, exactly-- but I guess just feeling 'pressured' to spend my evenings talking to him online (although I enjoyed it), and feeling pressured to coordinate any free time/holidays around visiting each other, contributed. It's hard to explain, because I loved talking to him and being in the same place as him, but at the same time, felt really guilty and persistent unhappiness about not focusing on myself (since there are so many things I want to spend more time on and figure out).

That being said, he is an amazing person. He has never caused me pain and I feel awful that I have caused him so much pain. Also, as awful as I feel, I know he is hurting 10X more, and that makes me tremendously sad. I know that I can't do much to make him feel better, and that it's not my "responsibility" to make him feel better any more, but I just wish I could do anything to minimize his pain. All his previous relationships have ended in a lot of heartbreak, and he has really struggled to stay on track, and that makes me feel even worse - because I'm doing it to him all over again.

I'm a believer in no-contact until both parties are over each other, but I want to write him a letter, just fleshing out my thoughts (more along the lines of "it's not you, it's me"...NOT fleshing out why we're incompatible, but just focusing on my own need to figure stuff out and how it's not fair to string him along right now), and just re-articulating that I really want him to be happy and know that he has the strength to do it. And maybe also saying that I hope we can be friends some day, when this is firmly in the past, whether that's 3 months, 6 months, or years from now-- but that I'm going to leave him alone now.

Would it be a bad idea to write that letter? Again, the main purpose would be to try and minimize his pain even a little bit. Like I said, I am AWFUL at communicating over Skype when I'm upset, so our break up conversation was really incoherent and awful and I doubt it gave him closure (since it didn't even give me closure). I would really like to write this letter, unless I get consensus here that it's a bad idea and won't help and may hurt more. :(

Thanks so much. This is my first break up--and it sucks. :'(
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (22 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Nope, don't email him. If he needs/wants to talk about why/how you dumped him, he can reach out. Otherwise let him deal with his feelings by himself.
posted by flibbertigibbet at 12:39 PM on May 4, 2016 [14 favorites]

No contact unless he asks you for something. You are feeling this way because you're sad the relationship is over, which is fine. Just keep swimming.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 12:46 PM on May 4, 2016 [5 favorites]

I don't think you should be worrying too much about helping him "achieve closure". I'm not sure that a super-good breakup explanation helps one get closure. If closure exists, I think it is more a result of time/emotional distance and perspective than facts.
posted by joelhunt at 12:55 PM on May 4, 2016 [5 favorites]

Don't email him. Use that energy to reach out instead to your friends and family if you're close. Tell your friends that you're feeling sad about the break-up, even though you know it was the right thing, and ask if they have time this weekend to eat ice cream, go for a walk, watch ridiculous movies, etc. Anytime you get lonely and get the urge to reach out to him, rechannel that energy into making your friendships stronger and meeting new people and doing new things.

I understand the urge to write to him, but I think there's usually an impossible goal behind that urge. Namely: you want to reach out to him because he's hurting right now so he can tell you that he's not hurting and he's going to be okay and he forgives you and understands what you've done and why. The hard truth is that the chances of that happening are slim to non-existent.

So just be kind to yourself for a while (well, be kind to yourself always) and keep trucking and this will get easier over time.
posted by colfax at 12:57 PM on May 4, 2016 [4 favorites]

If you feel like you were so incoherent you didn't manage to answer the questions he needed an answer to, then maybe you could tell him so and offer to answer any questions he may still have, in writing. But only if he feels it would help him.
posted by Omnomnom at 1:02 PM on May 4, 2016 [7 favorites]

I'll swim against the grain, here, in a sense. It's a good idea. Yes, write that letter. Write it. Write it as many times as you need to, but please: you'll be writing to yourself at this point, until further notice. It's better that way. Until you can come up with some really coherent points that are what you need him to hear in order for you to gain needed closure, err on the side of caution.

colfax has a really strong rationale on why it'll be difficult in her second paragraph. Unfortunately, at this juncture, my strong feelings are, too, that you'll still be motivated by lingering feelings of intimacy, and you'll be craving resolution and validation, regarding how you're feeling versus how he's feeling. It's so tough to achieve that. Looking to find some common ground to answer the lingering questions is out of a beautiful heartfelt place, but some part of it will almost necessarily be jumbled and salt-in-the-wound in the emotional chaos that happens after such an event. Your individualism should take a front seat right now; let yourself process and grieve and take space, so that you are not doing two things at once. You have time, now, indeed.

Now, that aside, I wrote a letter recently to an ex that was one of the most important things I've ever done in my life. Honestly, it freed me from a lot of emotional trauma that I'd been holding myself under, and articulated my need for closure as the reason for having written it. I barely touched on the things that were issues with us, to be frank. Most of it was just out of compassion for what had passed and how much I had valued what we had, and that I was sorry I couldn't have come to a better resolution sooner and adapting to be friends with her. I didn't know how to navigate that. And until you fully let him go, you won't either.

You can't make promises right now about the future, about being friends again, because you can't know now what it will hold. But, out of resilience for yourself as a person, do indeed figure out what's troubling you. And address it. That may mean sending that letter in just a few days, months, or in my case, a few years. It's possible, but you'll have to decide then when that will be.
posted by a good beginning at 1:22 PM on May 4, 2016 [6 favorites]

I think it's great that you've taken the time to think more clearly about why you ended the relationship and how you feel now. Just looking at your question, I think preparing to write this email has been a good way to sort through your feelings. But other than the sense of closure that you get from writing it, what benefit does it get you? It stirs the pot, re-opens a closed conversation, and puts your words in recorded form for him to stew over - basically, it doesn't do any good at all. So yes, absolutely, write this letter, but don't send it.
posted by aimedwander at 1:24 PM on May 4, 2016 [1 favorite]

On the other hand, there are maybe benefits to a letter, in some situations, especially since you said the breakup over skype was weird and emotional. IF you were so upset that you said hurtful things which you didn't mean, then a letter of apology is maybe a good idea. IF there's a chance that the conversation ended with him thinking you were taking a break but maybe getting back together later, then a follow-up to be clear. However, the bottom line is that you wanted to break up with him, and you did, so any letter you send can't call that into question.

You want him to feel better, but you can't apologize for breaking up, because you're not sorry you did it, you do want the relationship to be over. Anything else you apologize for is beside the point, and in fact the nicer you are to him, the sadder he could end up feeling that things are over. Just let it go.
posted by aimedwander at 1:31 PM on May 4, 2016 [2 favorites]

I'm in the camp that you should go ahead and write the letter to yourself.

Everyone hurts in a breakup, but you can talk until the stars turn cold, there's nothing you can tell him that will make it better.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 1:36 PM on May 4, 2016 [1 favorite]

I would be profoundly unhappy if someone broke up with me, then two days later wrote me to explain in further excruciating detail exactly why they had done so.

If he contacts you with questions, respond appropriately. The only thing you can do now for him is stay away.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 1:50 PM on May 4, 2016 [14 favorites]

I think it depends on the way in which you were inarticulate on the Skype call. Did you end up saying something really cruel that you didn't intend to? If so, then I could see a brief email in which you apologize for that and clarify, while still being absolutely clear about the breakup. If not, which seems to be the case based on your description, then let him be.

Right now, you are processing your own emotions, doing your own grieving, and the kindest thing is not to involve him in that process. If you do so, it keeps alive a certain amount of emotional intimacy, which will make it harder for him to really let go and move on from you. While staying no-contact may seem harsh, particularly since you don't feel you handled the breakup well, it is probably the kindest thing you can do.

Don't be too hard on yourself. It is tough to breakup with someone particularly someone who really is terrific but just isn't right for you.
posted by Alluring Mouthbreather at 1:51 PM on May 4, 2016 [2 favorites]

Write the e-mail for yourself, to work through what you would have liked to say, and don't blame yourself for either being upset or for breaking up with someone who is not right for you. But don't send it unless he contacts you for more info.
posted by rpfields at 1:58 PM on May 4, 2016

Also, as awful as I feel, I know he is hurting 10X more, and that makes me tremendously sad.

You don't know this. You're projecting. And you can't really create a richter scale of suffering anyway.

the main purpose would be to try and minimize his pain even a little bit

That's not your job. Also: Probably not going to work. More contact from you will make things worse. He needs to move on, not get sucked into your drama.

I . . . feel tremendous internal pressure to focus on myself right now

Then focus on yourself right now! Focus on getting your needs met, attending to your pain, figuring your life out. Leave him alone.
posted by Gray Skies at 2:53 PM on May 4, 2016 [1 favorite]

Unless you're writing to tell him that you've changed your mind and want to date again, there's nothing you could say that's going to make him feel better. Further contact from you is just going to hurt more. Leave the poor guy alone.
posted by Jubey at 3:12 PM on May 4, 2016 [3 favorites]

Ironically, a good beginning has the path to a good end. BTDT, it worked for me, and though ymmv it is a no-loss exercise with a lot of potential for your healing and moving on.

I don't think of it as 'closure' (whatever that is), rather as processing my own feelings and getting them out.

Importantly it is for you, not him, so don't sent it.
posted by GeeEmm at 3:14 PM on May 4, 2016

NO. As the break-up-er, I think it is your responsibility to allow the break-up-ee to control contact at this point -- at least up to the point where he is becoming stalker-y or obsessive -- obviously you can choose no-contact at whatever point you need to, but if it's a question of who should actively reach out for explanations or friendship, I think the person who was broken up with gets to do that. If he asks you for further explanation, sure, give it. But I think we all often overestimate the comfort/closure that a "good" explanation will give us. I was once broken up with over what I can guarantee you was a really good "it's me, not you" reason, which I completely believed was the truth and not something he was saying just to be nice -- and yet, it it still sucked and really hurt and I needed some time to be pissed at him even though over time I can now recognize it was the correct decision (for both of us). So as the person who caused this type of pain for someone else, I think it's your responsibility to let him deal with that how he needs to deal with that, and if he needs distance/space and no contact and thinking you're the worst person in the world so he can get over you, allow him to have that.
posted by rainbowbrite at 3:26 PM on May 4, 2016

You sound kind and thoughtful. I'm the type who likes a lot of info when major things change in my life. A kind and thoughtful letter would make me feel better; that's not true for everyone. I think you know the guy best and can best assess whether a letter would help him. Either way, if writing the letter will help you, you should write it. You can decide not to send it, or sit on it for a few days and decide then.
posted by pseudostrabismus at 4:09 PM on May 4, 2016 [13 favorites]

Write the email and sit on it for at least two weeks. If he reaches out in the meantime, you'll have clarified your feelings and be better able to discuss them. If not, with some hindsight you can better evaluate whether this burning need to communicate your feelings to him are in either of your best interests.

Some people will have a burning desire to know why a breakup happened. Some people will take it as a slap in the face if you dump you feelings on them; they would rather just move on. Don't reach out to him until you've taken the time to really process things.
posted by fox problems at 5:08 PM on May 4, 2016

2nd pseudostrabismus - I say write it, and (maybe) send it.
posted by cotton dress sock at 5:08 PM on May 4, 2016

3rd vote for pseudostrabismus. I think I wouldn't mind a letter, but I would want to receive it right away, NOT a week or several days later when I'm starting to feel slightly better. Also make the subject line & first few lines something really obvious so that it doesn't seem like an email that is going to be an attempt to get back together. You don't want to mislead him when he sees he has a message from you. So sorry for the both of you. First breakups are really hard.
posted by areaperson at 5:30 PM on May 4, 2016 [2 favorites]

(I'm female, male ex, mid 20s, 4.5 year relationship in case those demographics are important.) My ex dumped me in a really emotional way that took me by shock. It was the right decision in retrospect (like, years of retrospect) but it sucked as these things do. He sent me a letter a couple of weeks after the break up and I really appreciated it. He made it clear from the outset what the purpose of the letter was (saying in a much more polite way something that essentially translated as "I am not trying to lead you on or get you back or say I'm confused I'm just trying to explain the breakup in a bit more detail"), better explained what was going on for him in regards to the break up, and also did the "it's not you it's me" complete with a bit of "this is what I like about you and you deserve to find what you want" (very idiosyncratic description of my strengths, not just generic stuff). I am a HUGE "talk it out" person though. Huge. Paradise for me might be talking things out endlessly. I also have some self doubts and self esteem issues when it comes to relationships and I found that having that letter in writing did help me understand a bit more and stop feeling quite as "no one will ever love me" pathetic. I can completely see how another person in my situation could have found the letter patronising, evoking false hope, etc., but I appreciated it- I've kept it in a box in the attic somewhere as a momento of something I'm glad happened.
posted by hotcoroner at 4:16 AM on May 5, 2016 [2 favorites]

Letter? Sure. Email? Nope. It's easy for him to toss the letter if he's bummed out. Emails are a lot more demanding.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 7:34 AM on May 5, 2016 [1 favorite]

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