How do I let someone down easy?
April 14, 2008 12:49 PM   Subscribe

BreakupFilter: How do I let someone down easy? How would you prefer to be told that someone just isn't that into you?

I've seen a lot of questions about dealing with being dumped, but haven't noticed much advice from the other perspective.

The quick background: I've been seeing a guy for a few months; on paper, we look like a good match--we have a lot of the same interests--and all my friends who have met him adore him, but I've come to realize I just don't enjoy spending time with him. It's not something I'm going to "get over," as my friends's just clear to me we're not going to work out.

One point of concern for me is that he's the type that gets very attached very quickly, so while I'd like to end it before he makes any surprise plans for us, I also don't want to hurt him.

Bonus complication: he's been out of town for work for a bit, so how can I express that I am interested in how his trip went while also making it clear that I'm no longer interested romantically?
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (23 answers total) 61 users marked this as a favorite
How would you prefer to be told that someone just isn't that into you?

Briefly, unequivocally, and in person. Be as clear as possible. "It just isn't working out" is a good starting point.

so how can I express that I am interested in how his trip went while also making it clear that I'm no longer interested romantically?

"How was your trip? Listen, can we meet in person sometime soon?" Then you break up with him.
posted by flibbertigibbet at 12:53 PM on April 14, 2008 [1 favorite]

Bonus complication: he's been out of town for work for a bit, so how can I express that I am interested in how his trip went while also making it clear that I'm no longer interested romantically?

You don't. Sorry, you should just let that go for now.
posted by grouse at 12:53 PM on April 14, 2008 [2 favorites]

"I realized while you were out of town that I am happier being alone right now. It's not you, it's me."
posted by poppo at 12:54 PM on April 14, 2008 [1 favorite]

And yeah, listen to grouse. You can try, but it won't work that much. Damn hitting 'post' too soon.
posted by flibbertigibbet at 12:54 PM on April 14, 2008

so how can I express that I am interested in how his trip went while also making it clear that I'm no longer interested romantically?

Don't do that, that's not kind.

In short, once you say you're not into him, however you do it, then whatever interactions you have after that are sort of in his court. He may be fine with it and want to tell you about his trip (doubting that, but maybe) However, if his feelings are hurt, you saying "but I really care about SOME things about you" is really not what he wants to hear. You'll probably hurt him. You need to break up with him anyhow if it's inevitable. "Not feelin' it" or some variant is probably the best way to go there.
posted by jessamyn at 12:58 PM on April 14, 2008 [5 favorites]

"While you were gone I had a chance to think about where this might be headed..."

I was once on the receiving end of a similar "just not that into you" one-sided breakup, and to this day I still say it was the best breakup I ever had. The guy handled it nobly and masterfully and he should give lessons in how to do it. He emphasized a few points which helped it go down easier:

1. There's certainly nothing wrong with you - we are a great match in a lot of ways - you're smart, attractive, fun to be with, etc (list positive qualities)
2. But for whatever reason, I'm not feeling strongly enough about this, and I know that it's important to me to have that strong connection by now
3. You deserve real feeling and enthusiasm and for whatever reason I can't deliver it right now.
4. I don't want to be in your way and prevent you experiencing the fabulous life you will soon be living when you are with someone who is ready for you right now, and knowing that's not me I think its' best to free you up
6. I really really really really struggled with this decision because I like you and don't want to hurt you. I didn't make it lightly but I feel sure it's the right thing.
7. Do you have any questions for me?

It's basically "it's not you, it's me," but with lots of cushioning. The trick seems to be: make it clear that the decision isn't negotiable and you're not wishy-washy on it, but also make it clear that there's nothing wrong with them and there's a lot of really great stuff about them. So it's more "it's not you, it's not me, it's just not a fit, and I was able to see that more clearly when I had a few days away to think about us."
posted by Miko at 1:02 PM on April 14, 2008 [1522 favorites]

Don't drag it out. Do it quickly, cleanly, and honestly - don't make up excuses for what you feel. Don't leave any room for ambiguous interpretations of your intentions that could be misconstrued as "Well maybe someday..." Leave the "let's be friends" part for a few months from now, when he's had time to heal from the romantic breakup, even if you are genuinely interested in his friendship. You can even state that explicitly - if he asks if you can be friends, tell him it would be best to wait until you've both had time to get through the emotional upheaval.
posted by louche mustachio at 1:02 PM on April 14, 2008 [1 favorite]

first of all, tell him in person. you can be direct, honest, and still be kind.
posted by violetk at 1:05 PM on April 14, 2008

Oh, yeah, from the other comments I see that I've made some assumptions. Yes, absolutely do this in person. When he gets back from the trip, ask about the trip briefly, say "that sounds nice," then ask when you can get together. Ask to go to his house, or somewhere private that's not your house, and don't let him make any big plans like dinner or renting movies or anything. Understand that he might not know what's coming and he might be excited to see you, and that moment where you say "can we talk seriously about something?" is going to be a downer, but it has to be. Then make your speech about how you were thinking while he was away. And give him a chance to respond. You shouldn't change your mind but you can listen. Spend enough time that he doesn't feel swiftly dumped, but don't spend so long a time that things get weird or tempting. Then give him a hug and leave.
posted by Miko at 1:08 PM on April 14, 2008 [2 favorites]

bombs are best dropped accurately. this requires in-person aiming.

this means don't hem and haw and tell him straight--I don't want to see you romantically any more.
posted by Ironmouth at 1:12 PM on April 14, 2008

Echoing to simply tell him you're simply not into him anymore. Don't go into detail. I did that when dumping somebody it wasn't the best idea ever.
Don't lead on that you have something important to say, lest you want him badgering you all day.
posted by jmd82 at 1:15 PM on April 14, 2008

Be quiet. Be direct. Be honest.

...and listen to Jessamyn. Sorry, but you no longer get to pick whether you'll be in his life any more. That's his decision now, and you need to be adult enough to honor that by not trying to complicate matters for him. He's probably going to be confused as it is, having you expressing further interest is just going to make things even more confusing for him.
posted by aramaic at 1:55 PM on April 14, 2008 [1 favorite]

Another vote for "swiftly." If you don't live together or have kids together, a breakup should be like pulling off a bandaid.

"I'm sorry, I just don't see this relationship going anywhere."
posted by desjardins at 2:03 PM on April 14, 2008 [1 favorite]

OTOH, the comment 517 linked has a good point about preserving the other party's self-esteem. I was dumped with a "gentle lie" about an ex-girlfriend who came back to town, and it never occurred to me until reading that comment that it could have been a lie. Unless there is something stunningly wrong with someone that they need to know about (i.e., they're a drug addict and should get help), a gentle lie of "it's me, not you" is good for all parties concerned.
posted by desjardins at 2:08 PM on April 14, 2008

I have to disagree with the "gentle lie" theory. You don't have to be responsible for someone else's feelings or reactions. If you have handled it sensitively and truthfully, then what they do with it is up to them. Wondering whether or not to take someone at face value causes enough grief and confusion. I, for one, would also prefer the uncomfortable honesty over listening to a tale of feelings for someone else and sitting there wondering "Is he lying to me? Does he think I'm stupid enough to buy this? Doesn't he have the balls to tell it like it is? So I'm not even worth talking to like a peer?"

Clearly some people have preferred the fake story, but it can't be everyone, so go carefully if you take that out. The idea that it's gentler, somehow, strikes me as odd. People have to deal with their feelings and at some point in life you can philosophically recognize that two people won't always hit it off exactly the same way at exactly the same time and it's really not that big a deal. No one can make you feel like shit. How people choose to feel after a breakup is a lot up to them - it just seems to me that being honest will be easier on both of you and avoid suspicion and mixed messages.
posted by Miko at 2:52 PM on April 14, 2008 [5 favorites]

I generally like Miko's answers but if I were on the receiving end of a breakup, I would not want to hear "you deserve better", which is one of the underlying messages I see in that comment. I got that once. It made me think "but I don't want 'better', I want you!".

To put it another way, there are two messages you can pick from.
1. I don't want to be with you.
2. You don't want to be with me.

Both are going to hurt, but the first is direct and the second can be confusing as hell and in the long run probably worse. (Of course you would not phrase it so bluntly, but that's the message.)
posted by PercussivePaul at 3:09 PM on April 14, 2008 [5 favorites]

you deserve better

Yeah, but only where "better" means "someone who can be as enthusiastic about you as you are about them," not just "better" as in "better looking, cooler, whatever." That strikes me as insincere, too, and avoids the basic issue: that they're just not excited enough to be with you and there's not really anything to be done about it.

I don't want 'better', I want you!".

I thought those exact things too, but later I realized that it was better that it didn't work out that way. Which is what usually happens. And it's okay to feel hurt for a little while in the face of reality. We all do sometimes. It passes. People can handle it.
posted by Miko at 3:17 PM on April 14, 2008 [1 favorite]

As far as whether to go the 'gentle-lie' route or to be absolutely honest, lot's of people have opinions about which one is better, but it seems to me that it really depends on the person you're breaking up with. Some people may respond better to one method, some may respond better to the other. Some may respond better to a third or a fourth method (though I can't think of one off the top of my head). Presumably, you know your partner better than any of us, so you are most qualified to determine which method to use to 'cushion the blow' best. All I can really say is that you seem to be doing everything right, namely, you've identified that it won't work out, resolved to break up with him, and resolved to try to do it in the manner that hurts him the least.
posted by notswedish at 4:33 PM on April 14, 2008

Just tell him.

He will be hurt. There is no way around that. Being dumped just hurts.

He probably won't have seen it coming, either.

What you must not do is attempt to comfort him afterwards. All that will do is give him false hope and keep him miserable for much, much longer. Any comfort he gets to help him through post-breakup needs to come from his other friends. Ideally, you'd maintain a total non-contact period for at least a couple months. First the dumping, then the grieving, then (if both parties are willing) the long term friendship.

Dump him, hurt him, move on, and learn from this.
posted by flabdablet at 5:11 PM on April 14, 2008

I think the gentle lie is cool as long as it makes it clear that you are just not that into them. "I met someone else I'm more into" might work; anything that makes it sound like there are circumstances beyond your control (ie. "too busy with work") that are requiring you to split up with them against your will is not as kind in the long run. Because it kind of keeps their hopes up.
posted by SoftRain at 5:13 PM on April 14, 2008 [1 favorite]

Rip the bandaid off.

I agree completely with flabdablet. There is no good way to do this -- dumpings always hurt, and being "gentle" or trying to "let him down easy" will not work. The best you can do is avoid being unnecessarily unkind.

But the general operative notions are quick, matter-of-fact, and then no lingering contact afterward.
posted by paultopia at 6:07 PM on April 14, 2008

Miko's answers, as usual, rock. The only time I did not follow the advice here on breaking up in person it seriously sucked. I simply didn't have the ovaries to confront someone who meant a lot to me so I ***ed it up by e-mail. I still feel bad about this.

Please don't express interest in the trip, even though I know you are interested in how the person did, it just gives them a false sense of hope that things will go back to normal.
posted by Wilder at 12:45 PM on April 15, 2008 [1 favorite]

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