Help me make the Break-Up Talk suck less
April 27, 2007 8:01 PM   Subscribe

I plan on breaking up with my girlfriend in the next few days. (We've been together for about half a year.) Help me avoid mistakes that could make The Talk worse than it has to be. (I realize that it's still going to suck even in a best-case scenario.)

To give some background on this, my girlfriend and I had already been friends for a few years before we started dating. And, post-relationship, I wouldn't mind becoming friends again at some point (though I realize that might take some time). I guess what I'm trying to say is that I don't wan to burn bridges that I don't have to.

(I've read through several past threads on breakups, so I'll try not to repeat things that may have already been asked/answered.)

In one of the break-up threads, anastasiav recommends "No hugging. No kissing. If your (now former) s/o starts to cry, it will be a natural impulse to try and provide comfort. Resist the urge. No pats on the back, no physical contact of any kind."

Is that a hard-and-fast rule? (If it is, that's fine, but I just don't know.) Because I value her as a friend, part of me is/was tempted to bake some cookies for her as a gesture to say that I wouldn't be opposed to eventually becoming friends again. Something now tells me that might be a bad idea , eh?

In another thread, redfoxtail mentions that saying "'We need to talk' hours before the actual talk is not kind. I don't recommend it. The ideal situation is to have the talk as soon as you bring it up at all; have it in private; and be able to leave her alone when you're done."

As it turns out, I think I remember reading the opposite suggestion somewhere else -- that the person doing the breaking-up should call a couple hours ahead of time (I guess so that when The Talk happens it's not so much of a mental jolt?). I can kinda see things from both sides, but I'd be interested in whether the hivemind thinks it's better to mention "we need to talk" ahead of time or not.

And supposing that the general agreement is toward not mentioning "we need to talk" ahead of time, does that mean that I should arrange to meet her ahead of time (and just not tell her what it's about) or that it would be better to arrange the meeting only just before I drive over?

Sorry for writing so much (I didn't realize it'd end up being this long). If you have any questions for me, I can be reached at cm8m0cy02 (at)
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (25 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
If a guy broke up with me and then gave me cookies, I would throw them in his face. I'd say no on the cookies.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 8:15 PM on April 27, 2007 [3 favorites]

No. "We need to talk" must always be followed by The Talk. It's irredeemably cruel, otherwise.

I disagree with the hard-and-fast rule on 'no comfort'. Just know where to draw the line and when to extricate yourself.

Give her some time to be angry at you in person. It's fair to take some--but don't take abuse. And don't make the situation worse by retaliating.

Post-breakup sex, if it occurs, is on the dumpee's schedule. Don't ever mention it.

Be firm, but be kind. Don't go out of your way to give ugle details of why it won't work, but don't do the "it's not you, it's me, later" thing either.

Basically it's all about balance and compassion. Recognize that she's likely to not be expecting this. Yes, it's possible that she has an inkling, but even if she does she doesn't want to have that inkling.

The only way to respond to "But what if we..." is "I'm sorry. No." (unless there really is a 'but if' scenario that would work for you).

Don't draw the whole thing out unnecessarily long. Do give her enough time to process--don't dump and run.

And yeah. Cookies? Awful idea, unless you want to be pelted with them.
posted by dirtynumbangelboy at 8:21 PM on April 27, 2007

TPS said exactly what I was going to say. No mixed messages. Anastasiav and redfoxtail are also right on. Save the being friends for later, start out with being the ex-boyfriend because that's probably what you're going to be for the near future. Lines like "We have to talk" are if there is actually something to talk about. Since you're just going to be breaking up with her, just wait til you're someplace private and tell her.
posted by jessamyn at 8:21 PM on April 27, 2007

You know when you get sick and you know you are going to vomit, but you keep holding it in because you don't want to throw up and dry heave and so you spend like 30 minutes motionless in bed and then walk around curled over ... very slowly ... to the bathroom trying not to move too fast but then you spend a couple minutes vomiting and then you think its over and then you have a couple of dry heaves but at that point you're just going with the flow and you make it back to bed and feel refreshed and wonder why you waited so long to vomit? Vomiting is like breaking up. There's no good way to go about it except not to draw it and just go with the flow.

There's absolutely no way you can insure you're going to be friends later, leave that language out. Don't be an asshole and get drunk and screw her when you're friends.
posted by geoff. at 8:26 PM on April 27, 2007 [4 favorites]

No cookies, no hugs. Talk to her in private, and keep it brief, to the point, and unambiguous. Let her respond, but don't drag it way out. If things start getting heated, just excuse yourself.

Seriously, feel free to leave if she starts getting abusive or destructively emotional. It took me a while to learn this. You're not her boyfriend any more, you can't help her, and it's not your responsibility.

I wouldn't broadcast that you want to break up beforehand. It's too easy for her to then turn it into a discussion, if she's so inclined. You don't want that. You're not discussing anything. You're informing.
posted by Mr. President Dr. Steve Elvis America at 8:26 PM on April 27, 2007 [1 favorite]

My thoughts from having done this many years ago, in a much longer relationship:

1. Be honest. Don't be harsh, but don't try to coat it in lies to make it "easier".

2. Don't say more than you need to. There may be an urge to keep explaining yourself, to make things seem better, saying it's not you it's me, etc. You could make it more painful or give the person false hope of getting back together.

3. They will probably be mad at you. This is reasonable and understandable. They are being rejected. Attempting to soften the blow will seem condescending.

Good luck, it won't be fun or easy. But trust me, it's better to do it than to spend more time in a relationship you are not truly in.
posted by shinynewnick at 8:30 PM on April 27, 2007

Do Not Tell Your Mutual Friends of your intentions to break up with her.


Don't Never do it this.

Cookies? No.

I guess it really depends on the situation - did she initiate the relationship with you or did you initiate the relationship with her? What was the degree of "seriousness" of the relationship? How long?

I'm assuming that you think that she's completely into you - but, have you considered whether or not she's not into you to the extent that you think?

If there are differences (interests, friends, enemies, outlooks, expectations, &c). it's possible that they may also have second thoughts about the relationship.

Jus throwing out the possibility.

Then again, if the to-be-ex is clingy, low self-esteem, needy, and delusional, there's nothing you can do to make it better.
posted by porpoise at 8:40 PM on April 27, 2007 [1 favorite]

You also want to avoid modifiers like "I think..." (as in "I think we need to spend some time apart" or whatever) because that makes it sound like it's just your opinion. It's much more powerful if you present it as a fact: "We need to spend some time apart."
posted by Ian A.T. at 9:00 PM on April 27, 2007

My ex had a habit of starting the "I'm thinking of breaking up with you" conversations when I was wearing a bathrobe and had not yet showered; I always felt at a distinct disadvantage not having a bit of warning in those circumstances, because I would be distracted during the conversation by a running interior monologue of, "I'm gonna get dumped while looking like this??? Nooooooo!!! Unfair!"

So I think "warning" is good just in the sense of her expecting to spend some time with you, as opposed to springing it on her when, say, she's wearing pajamas and has not yet brushed her teeth because she works for home. Just for example. But I think that's more of a living-together concern; if she knows she's going to interact with you, that's probably all the warning she needs.
posted by occhiblu at 9:04 PM on April 27, 2007

Cookies? I can see her reaction now: I dated anon for 6 months and all I got were these lousy cookies.

My advice is don't sugarcoat it. Telling her she is wonderful and too good for you, you don't deserve her and you are setting her free because you can't give her what she needs is just going to make it worse. She'll know you are lying and won't be able to reach a state of closure because she'll never be satisfied with the reason for the breakup. You are better off just telling her the truth about why you want to break up. It might be painful for her and difficult for you, but telling the truth will leave no room for confusion about whether or not you'll be getting back together.
posted by necessitas at 9:04 PM on April 27, 2007 [1 favorite]

Nthing the suggsestion that

"We're broken up. Cookie?"

Is an appallingly bad idea, even though the motives behind it are good. Sugarcoating this message, whether literally or metaphorically, will not help much.
posted by Jon Mitchell at 9:31 PM on April 27, 2007

Having done this before, and then experienced second thoughts afterwards (look up my last Ask MeFi post if you want; it's actually sort of related), I'll pitch in a few thoughts here.

One, your initial feelings that this isn't the right relationship for you are correct. That probably sounds silly and ridiculously obvious to you right now -- otherwise, you wouldn't be contemplating the break-up talk, right? -- but trust me, odds are that after the breakup, at some point (or, more likely, several points), you're going to have these internal chats where you say to yourself, "Oh, hell, did I just make a big mistake?" or "Did I not give it enough of a chance?" or "Well, dammit, we were friends for so long; that obviously means we had something there," or any number of other variations on this theme. And you might contemplate getting back together, and you might even do it. And if you do, within a few weeks or months, you'll be back to where you are now. I've done this. Twice with one girlfriend, twice with the one before her. In the end, I ended up doing one final break-up that, thankfully, I finally stuck to. I'm good friends with both of them now, though it required a period of no contact, whatsoever, first. Whether you can be friends with the person later has a lot to do with how much investment you two had with each other. The two ex-GFs I'm friends with now, I was with for three years and 1.5 years, respectively. I broke up with someone a few months ago with whom I'd been going out for 11 weeks (she was a hell of a documentarian on our burgeoning relationship). I've tried to be friends with her afterwards, but she wants to have nothing to do with me. I can live with that; there was relatively minimal investment. You two weren't "together" that long, but you were friends for years, so I think you can be friends again later, but only after a cold-turkey break, the length of which can vary.

You may have post-breakup sexual relations, but only the dumpee (and not the dumper) gets to make that decision. In one case, the ex-GF decided she wanted to take one last roll in the hay, but (curiously) stopped me from being too tender or affectionate in the sack. The other never tried to do it. In any event, don't ever bring it up or hint at it (other than as a joke where you're intentionally doing a parody of the insensitive jerk ex-BF -- a delicate kind of humor that only seasoned satirists can really carry off well, so maybe you just shouldn't do it, period). If it happens, it happens, but don't hold your breath.

Two, I really, really hope you were joking about the cookies. Enough said.

Three -- and I sort of alluded to this earlier -- steel yourself right now for the fact that you WILL have second thoughts after the breakup. This is pretty normal, and when it happens, you need to remind yourself of the reasons you broke up in the first place. Before you have the breakup talk, it might help to actually write down the reasons you're breaking up with her. Refer to this document later, when you have these (very inevitable) second thoughts. If you two manage to be friends later, I can almost guarantee she will become attractive to you again, and you'll notice a billion things you didn't see before. This is your mind fucking with you.

In short: No advance warning (it drives the dumpee absolutely crazy and is just cruel); no equivocating (I'll second the "no 'I think' comments; just say it outright" sentiment); say as little as you need to to get the point across (the natural reaction from the dumpee is to try and "negotiate"). With my last GF, when I saw her start to cry, I really, really, REALLY was tempted to cave. In a perverse way, it's sort of lucky (for me) that I could then pull out the next big gun, and tell her about how I let a girl kiss me in a club not 24 hours prior. It was a HUGELY ASSHOLE thing to do, but I did it more for my sake, because I did NOT want to give in to the temptation to cave in and try to reconcile on the spot. I knew that if I told her something that would raise her anger, I'd have no shot in hell -- which is what I was going for.

Also, if you do end up being friends later, expect to be reminded of the breakup. At first it'll be tinged with sadness and will be done with the intent of making you feel like shit. But over time it'll become a running joke, as she heals. Granted, everyone's different, but if she really values your friendship -- and if you two have a solid friendship underneath it all (and it seems you do, given your history), have no fear. You will, in all likelihood, end up being friends again later (if after a cold-turkey pause of indefinite length). When you take this pause, you need to have NO communication, and you need to let HER decide when it ends.

The goddamn ironic thing of it all is . . . if she does come back to you and agree to be your friend, some part of your brain WILL tell you, in a lonely moment after you've gone on a few lousy dates with others, that she really must be an angel to stick with you even after a breakup, and maybe you didn't give her a proper chance. Then you'll be the sad asshole who, like me, posted an Ask MeFi question like the one I posted a week ago.

So, yeah . . . take everything I just said with a grain of salt . . . and good luck.

(Meeting a new girl tomorrow. Maybe this will be the first one I go out with with where I'm NOT comparing her to the ex all evening. I hope.)
posted by CommonSense at 9:41 PM on April 27, 2007 [19 favorites]

Avoid cliches: let's be friends, it's not you - it's me, there's plenty of fish in the sea.
Cauterize and get out: look, I don't love you, that's not going to change, it's over, goodbye.
Think in advance: later is too late to say, oh, btw, that book I lent you, can I have it back?
posted by b33j at 10:19 PM on April 27, 2007 [1 favorite]

Maybe find a way to make sure her friends are available to her in case she wants some comfort afterwards.
posted by amtho at 10:42 PM on April 27, 2007

some hints on kind timing: do it on a friday evening. it'll give her a few days to regroup before she has to deal with work/school (women don't compartmentalize as well as men). and do it early in the evening. it will give her time to hail her friends for support that night if she needs it.

i would avoid saying "we need to talk" earlier in the day. she'll know exactly what it means, and she'll just spend the entire afternoon dreading it. chances are, if you have been wanting to break up for a while, she'll already sense that something's wrong. spare her the further worry.

some people say to break up in a public place. i feel this is only a good idea if the partner is abusive and needs the social pressure to behave themselves afterwards. assuming she is not abusive, have the talk somewhere private (it can be in a park or something, just not in a cafe where everyone can see her if she cries--she'll be very embarrassed) where you can walk away and end the conversation.

listen to her. apologize for causing her pain. reassure her that she's a great person. let her emote for a while, but control the conversation and leave when you start rehashing things. be firm. don't mention being friends in the future--that will happen or it won't, but it's not something you can agree to do beforehand. if you have a lot of mutual friends or work together, take the bullet and be the one to lie low for a while. if there's another woman in your life, keep her away from the ex for a good while (the new gal will probably be uncomfortable around her, anyway).

cookies are a bad idea, but if she's really broken up, making sure she gets home okay would be a reasonably gentlemanly thing to do. expect your offer to be refused, but make it. don't call to check on her. just give her space.
posted by thinkingwoman at 11:20 PM on April 27, 2007 [1 favorite]

women don't compartmentalize as well as men

Sez who? Last time this particular macho dude got dumped it ruined my work life for a month because I couldn't type after punching the elevator wall too hard in frustration. I know women who are much tougher about such things.

Face it. She's going to hate you. You're going to hate her. If you ever were in love, there's no way to make ending it easy. If it was a casual thing for either of you and the other was mistaken, the one who was mistaken is really going to hurt.

But you know what? I'll bet she already knows and is expecting it. She probably already has plans on the other side.
posted by spitbull at 6:19 AM on April 28, 2007

OK, I just figured that somebody had to speak for the cookies here.

In most cases, yeah, bad idea. But I've been in several relationships, even somewhat long ones, which ended in simple conversations, perhaps a bit of mutual relief, and then back immediately to the business of being friends. And cookies can fit right in with that.

Now, I did intuit ahead of time which cases would be simple like that. Probably the case that you are asking the question here implies that you don't think this one will be simple. But don't assume out of hand that it's going to go badly. If there will be space for you to be kind and a good friend, you should take it.
posted by wyzewoman at 6:48 AM on April 28, 2007 [1 favorite]

I'm all for the band-aid approach. Just rip it off and be done with it. You may be friends down the road, but don't bank on it.

Oh, and were my bf to break up with me, the cookies would be shoved where the sun don't shine.
posted by desjardins at 7:10 AM on April 28, 2007

There is nothing more horrifying and cold-sweat-inducing to me than someone saying one of these three things in passing:

1. I need to see you in my office.

2. I need to tell you something.

3. We need to talk.
posted by loiseau at 7:48 AM on April 28, 2007 [7 favorites]

I came in to say what wyzewoman said - I broke up with my boyfriend last year, and it was mutual (though still devestating) and we are friendly and cookies would have been received okay. But this was the end result of a lot of conversations where we both pretty much knew it was going to happen because awesome though we are individually, we weren't working out well together :) But, as she also says, if that was the case you'd know it.
posted by jacalata at 7:51 AM on April 28, 2007

Might it help if you go in with the mentality that "we thought we were compatible, but hey, it turns out we're not, and it has nothing to do with either of our worth as a person." Remind yourself that she deserves someone whose quirks will mesh well with her own, and let these sentiments inform what you say and do. It's only human to want to take a breakup personally, and I think that's where most of the hurt comes from. If you can focus on the relationship rather than the people in it (and don't beat yourself up if not, it's tricky and not always possible), it will probably be less painful in the long run.

And FWIW, the one time I was broken up with, I had actually planned on breaking up with him, too. The conversation went something like: "I think we should break up." "Really? Me too. Wow, that's a relief." We weren't really friends afterwards, but there were no hard feelings either. So if might not be the disaster you're expecting.

Cookies: nah.

"We need to talk" beforehand: no, but do make plans in advance to avoid the situation occhiblu describes.

Touching: not if it would feel forced or could lead to breakup sex.

Be strong. Good luck.
posted by AV at 7:54 AM on April 28, 2007 [1 favorite]

Whatever you do, don't hint that there are problems and chicken out of actually breaking up when she asks if you plan to. The nastiest break up I ever had came when this one particular louse left the country, fooled around with someone, came home acting weird and denied anything was wrong.

At the moment I asked if something was up, I would have been fine walking away from the relationship had he said yes. He vehemently insisted all was well, and blindsided me soon after with the break up that was obviously on his mind all along. This made me distrust everything he'd ever said to me, and I felt disgusted to have been involved with him at all.

If you've been a relatively decent boyfriend, don't spoil it by being an ass when you end it. It sounds like you won't be. Good luck.
posted by Scram at 2:39 PM on April 28, 2007

And don't let them drink before or during the break up. Trust me on this.
posted by kisch mokusch at 7:08 PM on April 28, 2007

Cookies sound like a bad idea (wouldn't a breakup make you nauseous?), but I did hear about a good post-breakup gift. It was 6 months later, and this one roommate went back to her hometown for Christmas, and her recent ex- gave her a smooth, flat rock -- a piece of slate. He had given her a clean slate. It meant "all our fights are forgiven and we're both fresh and ready to start something new." Since she was in the same head space, she was really grateful and felt extra peace of mind about moving on from what they had shared.
posted by salvia at 7:53 PM on April 28, 2007

This is a really good question. I applaud you for trying to be sensitive about it. Echoing what the other posters have said: No cookies, break the news to her at a good time, don't give her advance notice and have it hanging over her head, if there's post-breakup affection, let her initiate it (and you would probably be both better off with NO post-breakup affection.

I think writing a note can sometimes be a good thing. Not in lieu of an actual conversation, but something to hand to her as you leave so she can read and re-read the note. That way, she doesn't get any false premonitions. (No matter how articulate you try to be, most the time people approach breakup conversations with all sorts of qualifiers ... "maybe we should spend some time apart", "this isn't what I need right now," etc. Make it unequivocal but kind in the note, so there's no room for second-guessing and so you aren't tempted to reneg.

Good luck.
posted by Happydaz at 11:53 AM on April 29, 2007

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