Hi, Captain Awkward,
My current boyfriend and I have been seeing each other since January of this year. To cut to the chase, I don’t know how to break up with him. When we first started dating he was exactly what I was looking for, but as time has gone on I now see him as clingy, a little whiny, and not entirely reliable. He did his best to fix the problems I’ve brought up with the relationship before. Now, after telling him a problem I’ve got, he says his piece on the matter and considers the issue resolved, without giving me a chance to respond to his rant. He also still lives with his parents, which alone I wouldn’t have a problem with, but he’s completely under their thumbs and feels he has to justify and explain where he’s going EVERY time he leaves the house, whether it’s to go to school, work, or play tabletop games with me and a group of friends. He’s only spent the night with me in secret, when his parents were away, and after nine months he STILL hasn’t told his parents we’re dating, even though there was a time we were talking about moving in together, and/or getting married. (Admittedly our “engagement” lasted two days, after which I flipped out and told him I couldn’t make a promise like that. He understood, and we went back to normal.) Part of this I can understand, as he was raised as a Jehovah’s Witness, but at the same time there’s a certain point I feel is disrespectful to both me and his parents, and we’re definitely past that. I was tired of being a “secret girlfriend” months ago, but dropped the issue because he’s scared of being kicked out of his house and religion.
While I don’t want to be “with” him any more, I still deeply care for him as a friend. I think we may make better friends than lovers, but I’m not sure how to tell him this without absolutely destroying him. I was his first “serious” girlfriend, and his first sexual partner. I know there’s probably a lot of psychology to that. On top of living under his parents, right now he’s hovering around his manager’s “strike three,” after which he says he’ll up and quit his current job. He’s been searching for second/other employment for months now, and he hasn’t had any luck. He’s going to community college on his own dime, and both his parents and boss harass him for that, too. He’s said the only “good” thing going for him in his life is “us,” which makes me go “I can’t do this to him right now,” and simultaneously raises a red flag because what the HELL kind of response was that?! He’s not what I need or want any more. I’ve grown up since we’ve been together, but I haven’t seen any growth in him. It was great while it lasted, but I feel like I need a partner on equal emotional footing as me, and not the co-dependent victim he’s become.
I’m not upset about breaking up with him. I’m absolutely torn up that it’s going to hurt him. I asked a friend for advice, and what I got was “It’s going to suck. Just do it.” You might tell me the same thing, but hopefully you can help me … I don’t know, soften the blow? I do love him, just not the same way I did before. I figure it never hurts to ask.
Thanks for your time,
Bleeding Heart, not a Heartbreaker
This is a sucky situation, and your compassion is noted.
Your friend is right. You have to sit down with your boyfriend and talk to him.
Some things not to say:
“It’s not you, it’s me.”
“You’ll find someone else!” or “There are plenty of girls who want to be with you” or other patronizing claptrap where you try to put a positive spin on things. Also avoid bad metaphors about having to take the sad pants to Goodwill.
Some things to say:
“I care about you a lot, but the romantic relationship is not working for me, and I need to end it. I know this is not good news, but I also know it’s what I need to do.”
He’ll probably say a lot of stuff. Some of it will be mean, or really pitiful, and all of your kind instincts to jump in and make it better will be on full alert. Resist them. Guilt and pity are not a reason to stay involved with someone. It’s not your fault that his life is hard right now, and you don’t have the power to somehow save him from all the badness. So know that the awkward flailing about is coming, and know that you’ve just got to listen and ride it out. Don’t put pressure on him to stay friends. You guys can work that out later. If he brings it up say “Of course we’ll still be friends,” since that is what you want, but also don’t be afraid to ask for some time away.
Keep it short. Explaining “why” is overrated. It either turns into a “Here is a list of all the reasons I don’t love you anymore” or a hair-splitting argument about why those reasons are not good enough and the person won’t agree to be broken up with until you present an airtight case. “Closure” is overrated. Rather than getting bogged down in explanations, just say “I’m so sorry, but I’ve really thought about this, and it’s the right decision for me.“ Don’t try to sell him on it being the right decision for him, or for both of you. Let him decide that, and save whatever face he can.
You actually help both of you by making it completely about your own needs. You need to be broken up. That need overrides all others, and can’t really be argued with. It lets you acknowledge his sadness and grief without being patronizing.