January 07, 2015

How To Break Up

How to break up without inflicting cruel and unusual punishment. 

Very recently, I had the pleasure [read: sarcasm] of breaking up with my (now ex) boyfriend. Although he initially agreed that things weren't working and couldn't go on as they were, somewhere in the middle of what had seemed like a mutual breakup (because we'd both said that even though we didn't work as a couple, we wanted to stay friends), he started fighting to keep the relationship going. After a week of failed negotiations led by him to get the relationship back on the track of happily ever after, he finally snapped, cursed my name, declared me a "crazy bitch" and went dark.

I expected this reaction, honestly. The immature streak in him is part of why I decided to end things. Not that I told him that. No, not even close. I was very careful about how I broke up with him, because being selfish and using a break up as an opportunity to vent about what you perceive to be another person's flaws is not just mean, but can be far more damaging to the breakee than you, the breaker, may realize.

To illustrate this, let me tell you a story...

My worst breakup ever? Easy. It was last year. But it wasn't who I was with, how old I was, how I felt about him, or even hopes that I'd had for my/our future that made it my worst breakup ever. The painful part of the breakup came in two distinct, separate parts.

1 - What I learned about us, and more accurately about him, months and months after the whole painful thing was finally over.

2 - How he actually broke up with me. Multiple times. 

Let us first address reason number one:

What was it, you may wonder, that I learned?

That it was never going to work between us. Ever. And that, that was exactly why he'd chosen to be with me.

It took months of thinking and talking before I finally realized the one fact that I'd never considered to begin with. I'd never considered that he didn't want to be in a relationship at all, because things had been wonderful, until suddenly, one day, they weren't. Suddenly we were fighting, but it wasn't so much us fighting as it was him fighting me. Creating conflicts. Finding problems. Basically fumbling around blind in a dark room frantically looking for the exit. And I didn't understand. This was the room he'd held my hand and wooed me into. So why was he suddenly so desperate to escape as though I'd set a trap and locked him in?

He didn't want the commitment, but he'd had feelings for me he didn't want to ignore, so he straddled the line. And when I say straddled - I mean one toenail in, the rest of his body out.  But he could only straddle for so long before I wanted things legitimized, and then could only appease me for so long before his noncommittal side felt suffocated and trapped.

It confused me, and plagued me so much that I couldn't leave it alone. The main thing that I couldn't understand was that, when we met, I wasn't relationship material, as in there were two or three things about my circumstances that needed to be tidied up before I would be a good partner for anyone, not just him. And despite that, despite the fact that I wasn't the kind of girlfriend anyone would have wanted at the time, that is when he was pursuing me. Telling me how badly he wanted to be with me. But once I shaped up? Everything changed.

Why was that? If he wanted to be with me so desperately when I was a mess, why would he suddenly pull away when I could actually be a good partner? Unless...the fact that I wasn't a good partner was what had attracted him to me all along.

I realized, after many tears and self-destructive musings, that the relationship had been doomed from the outset due to the fact that he was commitment resistant, and had felt comfortable getting close to me because, at the time, I didn't threaten his reluctance to commit. I didn't have my shit together. I couldn't be with him. So he was safe. Had I been available and ready, he wouldn't have gotten close to me in the first place.

Ergo, as he never really wanted a relationship in the first place, the months of falling in love, the year and a half of making up, breaking up, crying and trying was all for naught.

If believing that I had said or done something to change his feelings wasn't bad enough, realizing in retrospect that I had wasted that much time and energy fighting for something that had only begun in the first place because he thought it would never get off the ground?

That was crushing. So there's number one. Now let's talk about the more significant number two.

Number two:

Now remember, this was a man who never wanted to be in a relationship. Contrary to what some may think, that is reason enough to break up! There doesn't have to be some kind of epic, awful reason. Sometimes, "this isn't a good time for me," or, "this isn't working," is the whole truth, nothing but the truth, and that's all there is to it.

But he did something else. Something more. And he did it at least three times over the course of a year. In order to break up with me, he delineated a clear and well thought out list of aspects of my personality that did not work for him or his view of the ideal relationship, and why. He basically picked apart my character and told me I wasn't the kind of woman he wanted to be with.

He started out with five things. Five, clear, specific ideas, the only legitimate one being that he wanted to share the same religion with his eventual wife. When we separated, I cried, and I of course, questioned myself and my worth as a woman. Mostly because the things he'd picked out about me, some character flaws, some quirks, were things that I'd admitted to struggling with during our relationship, when things were good and he was my supportive partner, not my critical opponent. And  even though at the time he'd never expressed doubt, in the end he threw it all back in my face as evidence as to why we shouldn't be a couple.

What's the problem, you might ask? If you break up with someone shouldn't you be able to tell them why?

Yes, of course. Except that here, the reason why was that he just didn't want a commitment. His list of flaws weren't the real reason, just evidence he collected after already making up his mind, meant to support his decision.

How do I know this? Within a few months, the reasons changed. Every single one. As I started to grow and mature, work on certain weaknesses that I had already been in the process of developing, he started to lose the evidence in his case! If he had really broken up with me for the "original five" reasons, and they had all changed, then the obstacles to us being together would have been gone. But after getting back together and breaking up again, I was confronted with - you guessed it - a new list! New reasons why he just couldn't see it working out. A new list of traits. A new list of flaws. These much more superficial and circumstantial than the last.

At this point I started to realize that these lists couldn't be legitimate. That, as one of my favorite bloggers often puts it,  the goal posts were moving, and I would never win. Even if I met all the criteria on the list, it wouldn't change anything, because he just didn't want to be with me...


I remember the thoughts turning over in my head and coming to a screeching halt when they hit that wall of realization. He didn't want to be with me. And that was okay. It hurt, but that was his right. He didn't have to stay in the relationship. He wasn't obligated to serve out a sentence. If he didn't want it, he didn't want it. Whether there was something about me he just couldn't put his finger on, or he just wasn't in a commitment ready place, the simple truth was that he just didn't want it. Period.

The Lesson:
He could have ended things without picking apart my personality. But he didn't, because it was easier to claim that over and over he'd been all in, but over and over I'd done something to change his mind, then it was to admit that he'd been reacting to his feelings in the short term, even though looking at the long term had eventually made him panic time and time again because truthfully, he just wasn't ready to commit at this point in his life.

Not only was I hurt from the loss of a lover and friend, but I was left with a tremendous feeling of unworthiness and self-doubt after being fed the message over and over that if I didn't have certain character flaws, I'd be a more desirable partner. The result was that even after I recovered from the loss of the relationship, it took twice as long to recover myself and get back to a place of emotional security. 

Basically: You are not someone else's judge, jury or executioner. You are not their moral compass. You do not determine good, bad, right or wrong for another person. You can only determine what is right or wrong, good or bad for YOU. So if you're breaking up with someone, keep to the facts, and keep to your own feelings. Don't make it about them. It will be hard enough on them as it is without you getting cruel and unusual. 

So, how then do you do it? How do you break up with someone without hurting them unnecessarily?

1 - Get your thoughts and feelings straight before having the talk. Be clear and concise, as opposed to confusing and ambiguous. Otherwise there is the perception that there is room for argument or negotiation.

2 - Stick to the facts. Anything that is not a fact should be left out of the conversation. Facts cannot be disputed or interpreted liberally, and this will help the other party receive clear and concise messages without any room for confusion or doubt.

3 - Resist the urge to tell the breakee all about themselves. This is not a roast! This is not your opportunity to vent, let off steam or become your ex's therapist. First, recognize that your own perception of their character is biased by your own feelings and that you have no right to assess them and report your findings. You aren't objective nor are you an authority on relationships or personality! (And even if you are...they aren't paying you...so save that for your clients...)

4 - Don't be pulled into an argument via justifications, negotiations or a play-by-play review of the relationship. Your decision to end the relationship is not up for discussion. This can be particularly difficult, as the other party may say things to or about you that aren't accurate, or are just plain hurtful to try and galvanize a response. Remain calm and hold tightly to rules 2 & 3.

5 - Be prepared for an unfavorable outcome. We've all been dumped by someone before, sometimes by someone we love. Everyone reacts differently to being broken up with and experiencing heartbreak. And not all of us experience it gracefully.

Me? I prefer to excuse myself to the bathroom so I can get a quick dry sob in and pull myself together, pay the check, and cry in the car on the way home, stopping for some wine and chocolate on the way. But everyone is different. Be ready for those not so pleasant differences.

As I said, an immature, spiteful streak in my ex is part of why I chose to end the relationship. I had to be prepared for the possibility of a messy end. I met in a public place to have the talk, and after a very angry, disrespectful series of emails and texts from him, I declined to come by his apartment and pick up my remaining items, opting that he throw them out instead. (Ps: If a relationship is on the rocks, subtly get your shit OUT OF THERE!) Still, even after he lashed out and said hurtful things to me, I still had to stand by rules 2 & 3. Understand that people in pain will lash out. Do not seek revenge or use elaborating on reasons for breaking up as revenge. They're already in pain. That, and when the smoke clears you can still respect yourself for how you handled things.

6. Have a support system in place. Breaking up is hard on both parties, not just the breakee. It doesn't feel good to hurt someone's feelings, and particularly if a breakup is not mutual or amicable, the process can be extremely painful and stressful. Resisting tearing away at your ex means you may have to be prepared to bear some inappropriate and/or disrespectful remarks while simultaneously biting your tongue. This can cause frustration and a need for closure.
Talk to your friends for support. That is your opportunity to vent! Psychoanalyze the relationship. Roast, roast, roast away! Say what you need to say, just make sure you aren't saying it to or at the expense of the person you're breaking up with.

I hope this helps a little. At the end of the day, there is never a good time to break up, and it's always going to suck. But at least be considerate when doing so, be respectful, and most importantly, be responsible for the truth about your own feelings and your decision.

x's and many o's,


Ps: Today's source helped a lot when I was going through my worst breakup ever. In fact, NL's entire blog helps. A lot! So I recommend you cheek it out, and I've included a link to the post that helped me make peace with my ex's several lists.



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