Should I tell my ex-girlfriend that the reason I broke up with her was because I had feelings for someone else?
January 27, 2008 7:16 AM   Subscribe

I recently broke up with my girlfriend. The reason I ended it was because I realised that I had been gradually developing strong feelings for one of her close friends (and it’s very possible that her friend had feelings for me). My feelings for her friend were not going away and this was causing me a lot of hurt. I felt that the right thing to do was to break up and walk away from the whole situation. Will the truth allow my ex to move on or will it just upset her unnecessarily?

As tempting as it is to pursue a relationship with her friend I know it would be wrong. Her friend would probably remain loyal to the friendship regardless of how she felt about me anyway. There’s no happy ending here for me, I accept that.

The real problem I face is that I feel very guilty that I didn't tell my girlfriend the real reason why I was breaking up with her. She took the break up very badly and at the time I just wanted to spare her feelings, but now I think about it she's probably a left bit confused and unable to explain exactly what went wrong between us. I'm worried that she blames herself and still wants me back when really she should be wanting to move on.

So if I told her the truth, although it might make her feel worse at first, in the long run maybe it will let her see that us breaking up was definitely for the best. Since nothing actually happened between her friend and I, there's nothing for her to be embarrassed about and there shouldn’t be any bad blood between them.

So have I done the right thing by trying to spare her feelings or should I come clean and tell her the truth?
If the situation was reversed, I think I would want to know the truth.
posted by bluespacemonkey to Human Relations (31 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
So have I done the right thing by trying to spare her feelings or should I come clean and tell her the truth?

What reason did you give her for the breakup? That answer may help people give you a better answer to your main question.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 7:24 AM on January 27, 2008

I think I would leave it alone. There is no point in calling her up and asking, "You wanna know the real reason I broke up with you?" Sparing feelings and being kind is always good in my book. It's a decent way to go about things. She can create her own comforting story as why the relationship ended (depending on the reason you gave.) I could understand if she were doing something unfair or cruel to you. You could absolutely tell her why and hit the road. But, this isn't the case.

I don't think you would be doing her any favors by telling her now. At a certain point in my life I would have been filled with feelings of inadequacy if my boyfriend liked my best friend more than me. What does she have that I don't, and all that jazz.

Leave it. She's in charge of her feelings. She's probably on her way of getting over you. Your guilt isn't a good enough reason to stir up more unpleasant emotions.
posted by LoriFLA at 7:29 AM on January 27, 2008 [2 favorites]

If she contacts you and says she needs to know the reason for the breakup, tell her. Otherwise leave it alone.
posted by orange swan at 7:37 AM on January 27, 2008 [1 favorite]

Leave it alone. You only think you know the "real reason" -- it's quite possible that the attraction to the close friend was a symptom, not the cause.
posted by backupjesus at 7:41 AM on January 27, 2008 [3 favorites]

A quick trawl through AskMefi should convince you that people in relationships that aren't working out often convince themselves that the real problem is that they love a specific other person, whereupon Mefites descend in throngs to say, wisely, that probably that poster should probably be in neither relationship right now, rather than switching from A to B. You appear to have taken this on board anyhow, since you say there's no potential for you and B. So, if you just told your girlfriend that it wasn't working out, that you didn't have the same feelings for her that you once did... consider the possibility that this was the real reason for the breakup, and that inside your head this all became attached to the idea of having feelings for her friend. Unless you told her some blatant fabrication ("I have to leave town forever", "I've realized I'm gay") consider the possibility that you haven't misrepresented the real situation at all.
posted by game warden to the events rhino at 7:41 AM on January 27, 2008 [3 favorites]

Unless something happens between you and her friend, I'd advise not telling her. Losing a boyfriend is bad enough, but she's probably looking to her friends for help and comfort now. Regardless of any feelings of inadequacy such a confession might or might not stir up, do you really want to put her in a position where one of her friendships might also be compromised? Unless she's an Ayn Rand character, there's no way hearing that would not have some effect upon the way she interacts with this friend, and could stir up all kinds of thoughts and suspicions which could be harmful, be they true or not. Just let it go.
posted by the luke parker fiasco at 7:49 AM on January 27, 2008 [2 favorites]

If the situation was reversed, I think I would want to know the truth.

If your g/f left you because she had feelings for one of your friends, had no intention of dating that friend, and told you? You would be be gutted. Don't tell her. And to add to her confusion by adding her friend to the mix? God, no.

It sounds like you're seeking absolution, but your ex is not the person from whom you need to seek this.

You've made your decision, and by not telling your ex the full extent of the story, you've made the right decision. It allows her to deal with what happened and move on. For you to share your burden with her would be unconscionable, in my opinion.
posted by urbanwhaleshark at 7:54 AM on January 27, 2008

As tempting as it is to pursue a relationship with her friend I know it would be wrong.

Its not so bleak as you think .Have you never heard all's fair in love and war. Its not politic nor will it popular but it is not wrong to pursue people, who we may love. Wait until half as much time as you relationship and see. If you really want it take the risk. Yeah, I know you didn't ask.
posted by Rubbstone at 8:01 AM on January 27, 2008

Best answer: Telling her seems potentially hurtful, both to her and to her friend, since it would likely cause problems in their friendship.

I'm worried that she blames herself and still wants me back when really she should be wanting to move on.

Stop trying to manage her feelings. Let it go.
posted by ottereroticist at 8:26 AM on January 27, 2008

I'd say call it a brain fart and get back together if the only reason was the strong feelings for her friend. That stuff happens every day and it only has to destroy things if the parties involve decide it is going to. If you weren't going to do anything, and she wasn't going to do anything, then just let the crush fade.

If said crush was a symptom of larger problems, then tell her the truth--those problems were the source of the breakup.
posted by Ironmouth at 8:32 AM on January 27, 2008

Best answer: I wouldn't tell her. People don't need to know everything and chances are she doesn't want to know everything. Also, you didn't leave her for someone else, you left her because it essentially sounds like you didn't have very strong feelings for her anymore. If she calls you up demanding answers that's one thing. But also remember her friend will have to pay the consequences too, "we didn't do anything" and "I didn't know" sound like lies even if they are true.

Also, if you want to pursue the friend, I'd give it six months and then try to find a convenient way to start hanging out with her again. Sets up a little plausible deniability that the feelings didn't start until then and while the ex is unlikely to ever be thrilled she may not hate you if wait long enough and play your cards right. This sort of thing does actually happen all the time and its usually alright if people separate it with enough time and are respectful.
posted by whoaali at 8:33 AM on January 27, 2008

Don't bother telling her, it won't make either of you feel better about it - unless you're planning to sleep with her friend, in which case she'll figure it out anyway, so don't bother telling her.
posted by Inspector.Gadget at 8:56 AM on January 27, 2008

So have I done the right thing by trying to spare her feelings or should I come clean and tell her the truth?

posted by wearyaswater at 9:05 AM on January 27, 2008 [1 favorite]

don't tell her it's the friend. i don't know what you did tell her, but if she asks for more information, i think it's reasonable to say that you developed strong feelings for "another woman" and leave it at that.

but above posters are right--there's really nothing you can do to soften the blow. it's kind of you to try, but the very best thing you can do is stay out of her life and let her heal.
posted by thinkingwoman at 9:57 AM on January 27, 2008

Best answer: The real problem I face is that I feel very guilty that I didn't tell my girlfriend the real reason why I was breaking up with her.

Seriously? Dude, you've got a very odd sense of righteousness if that's the case. Even though it may seem on one hand like you're acting in her interest by confessing the "real reason" what you're actually doing is acting out of your own self interest.

Just look at your question - it's all right there. You feel guilty. You feel like you've got to do something to get rid of the guilt. So maybe you should confess to your girlfriend that you had a crush on her friend? WTF? You're going to damage a perfectly good friendship between two people because you feel guilty? That's shallow and selfish. Don't do it.

Think about it. If you told your ex the "real" reasons it would very likely damage her friendship. Forever after she is going to be paranoid about loosing a boyfriend to her friend. I repeat, don't do it.

Look, you recognized a bad situation and you took very grown up steps to correct it. In doing so you maybe told a fib or stretched the truth a little bit to spare your ex's feelings and to prevent harm to her friendship.

There is nothing to feel guilty about buddy. You saved yourself, your ex, and her friend a lot of heartache, and you prevented any damage to their friendship. So what's the problem, again?
posted by wfrgms at 10:00 AM on January 27, 2008

What would it accomplish? Do you think it would make her hurt less? It sounds like you're still hoping for a chance with her friend. That's the only benefit ANY OF YOU will get out of it.

Leave it alone. Unless you've talked about this to other people, which hopefully you've kept this whole mess to yourself, there is no reason she should know.
posted by magnoliasouth at 10:07 AM on January 27, 2008

I feel the truth is always in order, if it's asked for.
posted by ncc1701d at 10:28 AM on January 27, 2008

You are doing this for yourself, and it in no way shape or form would benefit your ex for you to tell her that. This is completely selfish, and the best thing you can do for your ex is to get out of her life so she can move on. Also if you care about her feelings and her relationships with her friends you will leave her friend alone.
posted by BobbyDigital at 10:37 AM on January 27, 2008

If the situation was reversed, I think I would want to know the truth.

Me too. In fact, I've been in a situation kind of sort of like spacemonkey's gf, and I'm glad that my now-ex was honest with me. It's much, much less hurtful to know that the person who's breaking your heart at least still respects you enough to tell you the truth.
posted by hattifattener at 10:40 AM on January 27, 2008

No. It will likely make her resent her friend, no matter how strong the friendship. I had a similar situation and I never could stop comparing myself to the friend in question. You've already let it end your relationship, don't let it end a friendship too.
posted by melissam at 10:55 AM on January 27, 2008

Ech. Don't tell her and maintain your resolve not to go for the friend. Having been in a similar situation (we broke up, he went after my very good friend, then lied to me about it, along with a bunch of other crap), I can tell you that it only made me rather paranoid to have any guy I liked around the friend that my ex went for. I'm always of the opinion that once people break up, they need to disappear from each other's lives for at least a little while. It gives everybody time to think, heal, reflect and move on without falling into the painful trap of trying to be friends right away while on the inside trying to sort out all the post-breakup feelings. It might work for some people, just nobody I know so far. So no. Don't tell her. The relationship is over, anything done now seems like ripping off a band-aid in the slowest possible manner.
posted by Bibliogeek at 11:02 AM on January 27, 2008

You picked a great answer for your best answer. Let it go, indeed.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 11:18 AM on January 27, 2008 [1 favorite]

Breaking up sucks. Breaking up because your boyfriend thinks your friend is hotter/better/more lovable than you? All you'll do is mess up the friendship and give your GF a complex. It's not a case of 'well the damage has already been done so why not give her the full truth.' People can always get more damaged, even after the fact, so let her go with a bruised heart instead of a shattered one. (er, not to be melodramatic or anything...)
posted by np312 at 11:37 AM on January 27, 2008

What TPS said. But one other thing worth thinking about. Someone once told me something that I've since found to be true in just about all the relationships that I know about, including my own:

"The one that gets you out is not the one you stay with."

Meaning that very often when you break up with someone because you're interested in somebody else, what you really wanted was to break up, but you couldn't do it until lust/passion/desire/attraction for another made you confront the fact that you weren't satisfied in the relationship and gave you the impetus to do it. Once that happens, the attractor relationship turns out to be pretty wrong and doesn't happen or doesn't last.

In other words, consider the possibility that you broke up not because of this other but because you wanted to break up. In which case the proximate cause, her friend, is not relevant to your ex and is of no value to her.
posted by George_Spiggott at 11:42 AM on January 27, 2008 [1 favorite]

So logic being: I really hurt her in the first place. Now, she seems to be recovering. Oh noes! We can't have that! I need to hurt her again AND permanently damage a close relationship, so this way I can haz drama and feels importance!

Meh. Don't bother the girl, and get over yourself.
posted by medea42 at 12:25 PM on January 27, 2008

A guy I loved with all my heart and had dated for two years dumped me, stating some weird reason. It upset me and screwed me up and left me a mess. We got back together for a little bit a few months later, but it didn't work.

One of my best friends later told me that he had actually dumped me in the hopes of sleeping with her. When it didn't work out, he came back to me. (I know him enough to realize that makes a whole lot more sense.)

Did this make me feel better? Give me some sense of closure? No. It made a strained friendship more strained, killed my sense of self worth, ruined any (imagined) depth that was left in the relationship we did have together for all that time.

Tell a therapist. Tell an anonymous blog. Tell a friend who you know can keep his damn mouth shut if you really must. But confessing infidelity, particularly this ego-rotting emotion-only kind, does her no good.
posted by Gucky at 1:05 PM on January 27, 2008

You could also say something like "I was starting to feel attracted to other people, and that made me realize I wasn't fully in the relationship anymore and it wasn't right to continue it." (But then if she says "what other people?" you're back where you started.)
posted by salvia at 2:12 PM on January 27, 2008

Leave it alone.
posted by caitlinb at 2:17 PM on January 27, 2008

Even if this situation didn't have the added element of potential friendship-wrecking, there is no point in telling her deeper reasons why you two broke up. It will short-circuit the learning process that she is going through—analyzing the relationship, taking responsibility for what led her to the current state of things, looking for where the missed flags were, feeling sad that it's inexplicably over, learning to let go—by giving her a reason to be angry and hate you* and then writing the whole situation off. This is one of those cases where less is more.

*The newfound anger and hate now becomes a substitute or a setback to looking inward and growing from the experience.
posted by iamkimiam at 7:21 PM on January 27, 2008 [2 favorites]

As tempting as it is to pursue a relationship with her friend I know it would be wrong. Her friend would probably remain loyal to the friendship regardless of how she felt about me anyway. There’s no happy ending here for me, I accept that.

Ah, callow youth! Trust me, life is long and full of surprises. Don't stir anything up now, let it be, but someday ... who knows! Happy ending city!
posted by thinkpiece at 3:11 PM on January 28, 2008

While honesty is nice & all, I'm not convinced that anybody is better off knowing that their partner broke it off because they fancied somebody else.

The relationship is over, that's bad enough. It only makes it worse for her to have to visualise you having transferred your affections onto somebody else. As things happen, she'll probably have some of those kinds of jealous thoughts anyway; confirming them explains your actions well enough, but in an unnecessarily painful way.

Just my 2c from having been in the jilted one's position, as I guess most of us have been at least once or twice.
posted by UbuRoivas at 4:53 PM on January 28, 2008

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