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#388: Please let me go.

Dear Captain Awkward,

I have decided to end my 4-year relationship with my boyfriend. Throughout the last 4 years, despite my best efforts to convince myself, I have never been truly passionate and enthusiastic about this relationship, though we’ve definitely had some good moments. He on the other hand has been extremely invested in it. I have also recently had the opportunity to work abroad for a year, and had the chance to become independent and learn about myself and what I want for my life.

This, coupled with a long distance relationship that gave me the space to think, led to the realisation that, what I always felt to be a niggling sense of something being wrong, was that this relationship is not what I am looking for. I feel bored, unstimulated emotionally and intellectually, burdened, as well as extremely guilty and feeling like I am the worst girlfriend on earth. I feel that I have outgrown this relationship.

This is the first real relationship we’ve both had, and I know that it will not go down well with him at all. In fact he will probably fight tooth and nail to keep it going. This has happened before, on a previous occasion I tried to break up on. What happens is that he tries to convince me that I am in fact wrong about why I want to break up, and the issues I raise are things that “can be solved” and “we just have to work together”. If I were to tell him that, for example, the future I envision for myself is very different from his, he would counter with, “Oh that is not a problem, I can always change myself to suit you.” or “How would you know if you have not tried?”

The last time we went through this rigmarole, his arguments got me so upset and confused that I was unable to stand my ground and became a melting puddle of strong irrational emotions. I also felt compelled to say cruel things that are not really true, such as, “No I never loved you really, I was just convincing myself I did.” in order to not give him the ammunition to counter me with. All that made me so upset and miserable I went right back to him the next day.

So, Captain and Team Awkward, I need some advice on the following fronts:

1) How do I clarify my reasons for wanting to break up to myself, so that I am able to stand my ground and not melt into a puddle of emotions when he tries to counter me with his arguments?
2) Do you have suggestions on how I can get him to stop arguing about why I am wrong and he is right and we should not break up?
3) How can I tell him that sustaining a relationship is mutual, and you cannot just force someone to “work together” with you when they want out?

Thanks!
Please Let Me Go

Dear Please Let Me Go:

Once you make the decision to break up with your boyfriend, the relationship is over. It can be a unilateral thing. You don’t have to get his input, his agreement, or even his opinion. You don’t have to have airtight reasons. “I feel like breaking up with you and want to be done,” is its own reason. It is a great reason! I like how clear your letter is that this is a done deal.

The fact that you’ve tried to break up before and he’s guilted and browbeaten you into staying is actually very liberating information in my opinion. Because not only do you not have to stay with this guy, you are now free from any obligation to try to remain friends or even in touch, and you are also free from the obligation to do this in person.

I know, I know, after four years, you *should* be able to break up in person and etiquette suggests that it’s the right thing to do, but he’s already proven that he won’t go quietly and you know that it’s not a good scene for you. So look, I am waving my advice-columnist Wand of Pardon. Use email if you want to. Or a letter. He will complain no matter what you do, so make it work for you.

So, steps:

1. Before you have the conversation, rescue any stuff you really need or want from his place and write off the rest. Things to care about: Hard drives, computers, really expensive/irreplaceable stuff. Things to let go: T-shirts, cds, tupperware, anything that was less than $100.

2. Take ALL of his stuff (even trivial stuff that you think he won’t care about), put it in a box, and get it ready with a shipping label.  If he wants to get your attention, that random mix CD he made you once will suddenly become hugely important and a reason he NEEDS to see you RIGHT NOW. So put it in the box and get it out of your life.

Then compose an email or have a conversation. If you do this in person, I suggest:

  • A neutral place that is not anyone’s home, like a park bench.
  • Have a person to pick you up right afterwards or a place you need to go so that you can plausibly leave once you’ve delivered the news. You do NOT owe him your time while he endlessly processes of his feelings. You do NOT owe him hearing his case for you to stay.

Script for conversation:

I know this won’t be good news, but I am ending our relationship. I know we talked about this before, and you convinced me to give it another try, but this time I am confident that this is the right decision for me.

(Let him talk, adapt as necessary)

I am sorry, I know this really hurts, but it’s also the right decision for me. There’s nothing you can do or say to change my mind, so let’s agree to wish each other well and make a clean break.

If he wants to stay friends, a good answer is:

I don’t think I can make a good decision about that right now. Let’s take a good 6 months off from talking or spending time with each other and give ourselves time to really heal and move on. We can always see how we feel then.”

However, whatever gets you out of that conversation is the right answer. If you need to say “Sure, of course we’ll be friends” in order to get the hell out of there and then later reconsider that decision, go for it. You get to change your mind!

If you send an email, here’s a possible way to adapt the script:

Dear __,

I know this won’t come as good news, but I’ve decided that it’s time to end our relationship. I know the last time we talked about this you convinced me to give it another shot, but I want to be clear that I’ve thought carefully about this decision, and it is a final one.

I’ll be returning your belongings to your shortly. My plan is to make this a truly clean break, so I won’t be in touch for at least six months while I heal and move on. Thank you for respecting this decision, even though it is a painful and difficult one. I truly wish you well and am grateful for the time we’ve shared together.”

And then you don’t talk to him anymore until or unless YOU feel like it.

A breakup with a person who respects you and is kind and considerate to you doesn’t have to be the end of the world. You get the crying done, exchange the stuff, work out the logistics, talk about neutral stuff, and do the best you can.

With a person who won’t hear you or believe you or who uses every contact as an excuse to manipulate you and beg you to get back together, you may have to get fairly strict – filter emails, block calls/texts, unfollow on social media, do not respond to communications until the person chills out and goes away. It feels cruel, but every unwanted contact you have just keeps him engaged and hopeful and keeps you having unwanted contact. Closure is something for him to find on his own with time. You have closure when you end it.

Let him tell himself any story he wants to about what happened and why. If he wanted you to be more understanding and nicer, he shouldn’t have browbeaten you into sticking around the last time you had this conversation. He can paint you as a heartless jerk, and you can be the heartless jerk who isn’t dating that guy anymore.

Your letter is great. You know exactly what to do. You just needed a pep talk. We got your back.

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249 comments
  1. CL said:

    “If he wants to get your attention, that random mix CD he made you once will suddenly become hugely important and a reason he NEEDS to see you RIGHT NOW.”

    This is so true, and excellent breakup advice. I’ve had someone try to get my attention (and communication from me, after I’d asked for a complete break) by asking for one… thing… at a time. I mailed her stuff to her, and then she managed to think of other things that I had not viewed as “her stuff” (because they were gifts or throwaway items) that she suddenly wanted back. I had to send a second box with everything that could possibly be construed as something she wanted back, and then after I sent it, I blocked her from everything.

    • theLaplaceDemon said:

      I had an ex who desperately needed some stuff that was at my parents’ house (I was no living there at the time), about two years post-break up/one year after breaking off contact. It was all together worth a fair amount of money, so I totally understand that he wanted it back. But, at the time, the idea of seeing this person put me on the edge of a panic attack.

      So first I suggested I mail it all back to him. He vetoed that, saying that he was bouncing around between addresses at the time.

      I said, okay, well, why don’t you contact my mother (he spent tons of time with her while we were dating and had regular contact with her in a professional capacity, so this would not have been that weird).

      He said: I don’t have a car, I can’t get out to her house.

      I said: You have friends with cars, ask one of them to drive you there – it’ll only be an hour of there time, round trip, that’s a pretty reasonable favor to ask for.

      He said: I don’t want to involve other people in something that is between you and me. Do you have any other pointless suggestions?

      I said: Wow, I don’t remember you being such an asshole.

      But, I caved and dropped the stuff off in person. It mostly amounted to me handing him a box, jumping back in my car and driving way. Not as bad as it could of been, but uhg.

      • I would have added, “Can I just ship it to your work?” If he kept insisting I had to drop it off, “Oh, I’m sorry, this is the best I will do. I don’t want to do this in person. If you can’t make other arrangements, it can’t be that valuable.”

        Seriously, he could just call the mother and arrange to have her drop it off instead, if it’s that important. What part of, “I’d prefer to ship it, period,” would not be understood, is HIS problem, not mine. If it’s not important enough for him to meet with halfway, then it’s really not that important except as a method to attempt one last piece of manipulation.

        • theLaplaceDemon said:

          It was a long time ago, and I was not in a place where enforcing boundaries like that seemed like an okay option. I was sharing the story for the sake of sharing it, not to suggest that anyone should emulate my actions.

          • I get that, actually. I had some boundary learning that I had to do (and I still have more to do, but that would be a topic for a whole post on my own blog) before I could get to that point.

      • Rosa said:

        Isn’t it amazing how stuff is super important when it’s YOU doing the work but not at all important when it requires effort from them?

      • Toothpic said:

        That’s sounds exactly like what my former self would do and the habits that I’m slowly getting out of. Once that person said pointless suggestions I probably would have shut down and done whatever it took to get them to not yell at me.

    • Yes, for all the reasons listed, it really is so much better to have it all sorted before it can become a tug of war. The last thing anyone wants is to have the ex calling and threatening to dump everything in a bin in a shopping centre parking lot unless you meet them (happened to my boyfriend) or showing up at your house unannounced to demand stuff back (ditto.)

      This is one of those little things that will save a mountain of grief in the long run.

  2. Joan of Anon said:

    So, I have a slightly intensely angry position on this because very recently a dear friend of mine went through trying to break up with someone who Would Not Be Broken Up With. You know what all people who try to convince you not to break up with them have in common? They are a carpet of dicks and you should break up with them.

    He’s probably going to push you for “why”, and I think you’re anticipating this and that’s one of things that is worrying you. The fact is, if he can’t respect you enough that he thinks he can argue against a decision like this means that you will never be able to come up with a perfect “why”, which will satisfy him and make him shut the hell up and respect you. So give up right now on trying to do that. Though one thing which may work pretty well (and is essentially what my friend used in the end) is “I don’t want to be with you because you are the kind of person who tries to argue with a decision like this”. It will shut down arguing pretty well, or any arguments he comes up with will just strengthen your position.

    Don’t worry about hurting his feelings. This is a dude who has badgered you into being in a relationship you explicitly said you didn’t want for the past however long it is since you tried to break up before. He has stolen your time. He’s a dick. There is no way to break up with him in which you will say the “right” things and do it at the “right” time and in the “right” way because break ups are bad and there is no way to make that bad thing good. So fuck it. Do it the way which is easiest and cleaniest for you. Because the Captain is right, nothing you do will be the right way of doing it from his perspective. So do the right thing from yours.

    Good luck, LW! Your life is going to be awesome and it sounds like this is a really good decision. From my friend’s experience, and my own of getting out of relationships that went on way too long, you will feel super-relieved and revitalised really soon.

    • JenniferP said:

      Will someone please draw me a carpet of dicks? Please? I need to post the cross-stitch samplers that a reader kindly came up with, maybe this can be one of them.

      • Irene said:

        I hate to say it, but the expression “carpet of dicks” (and “bag of dicks” in an earlier thread) really bugs me. I don’t like genitals being used as insults, because I don’t WANT penises to go on symbolizing horrible behavior, any more than vulvas/vaginas (cf. “cunt”). That said, outrageous goofy insults are great and totally needed. I just really prefer velociraptors and such.

        • Fwiw, I have a similar reaction to references of dick textiles. I realize that telling someone to eat a bag of dicks is not the same as telling them to suck one (i.e. implying that sexual acts are somehow degrading) because a bag of dicks is not a thing that really exists in the world (except, perhaps, on Etsy). Even so, I dislike both phrases for more or less the same reason.

          Haven’t spoken up because I figured no one was forcing me to buy a handmade dick carpet, but since I felt relieved when Irene said something, I will chime in.

          • Me too. I feel like a bag of dicks should be something positive…like, “I just went to Good Vibrations and came home with a bag of dicks.” “Huzzah!”

          • Irene said:

            Actually if I heard someone on the street say “a bag of dicks” in a neutral tone, and didn’t catch any further context, I would probably picture a bag of fast food from Dick’s Drive-In (Seattle hamburger joint). Depending how you feel about cheap hamburgers, that could be good or bad :-)

          • monstrosity said:

            I am in that same situation, where genitals as an insult just really bugs me, and comes across as both sex-negative and body-shaming, and sometimes as a reference to assault or coercive sex. I mean, I know that when my lover says “They can suck my dick!” it’s not meant to denigrate me, but if I’m a person who DOES suck his dick, what am I supposed to feel about it?

          • The mention of Etsy made me curious, so I took a look to see if there are actually bags of dicks for sale there. And indeed there are!

          • domestic violets said:

            “References of dick textiles” sounds so precise and refined. I love it. I don’t suppose I could interest you in a tweed covered dick ottoman…

        • meh said:

          I was picturing a carpet of sprawled darth vaders, myself.

        • Lonespark said:

          Yes. I agree with you. There are lots of other great expressions to choose from!

        • tenangrykittens said:

          The references to eating a bag of dicks have been bugging me as well. I’m sure that it wasn’t meant that way, but the phrase “eat a bag of dicks” has overtones to me of suggesting sexual assault as revenge or punishment, and I find it squickful.

        • Virginia said:

          Except that this is the Captain’s advice blog, and part of what we all love about it is her writing style. She’s a super-smart person with a large vocabulary, so if [textile of dangly bits] is what she uses, it’s because that’s her *choice*.

          She works damn hard on this site. Why pick on that phrase, which has no bearing on the advice?

          • Virginia, no one suggested that the advice is bad or that the Captain is a bad person because of this phrase. No one even suggested that she stop using it; although I personally wouldn’t miss it. All we’ve got here is a handful of commenters politely pointing out that eating bags of dicks sounds more ominous than humorous to them. (Which answers the “why” section of your question.) It’s not a nitpick about syntax or style, it’s a question of implication–and I think that’s worth considering. CA may or may not agree, and it is her blog, and she does indeed get the final call. No one disputed that.

          • human said:

            Speaking for myself, I would really prefer this not be a blog where people get criticized for using the wrong language. To me, it detracts from other conversations in a big way and it makes the space less of the warm, friendly, open kind of space that it has been and it makes it into something that feels much less welcoming.

            Then, too, I think “bag of dicks” is funny. I totally recognize that some people don’t. But, sometimes people do say things on here that I think they shouldn’t say. I generally do not comment and tell them they should stop saying those things. I really hope that this doesn’t become that kind of comments section.

          • zweisatz said:

            Point being: some people feel less welcome because of those expressions. They’re not pointing it out to make anything difficult but in an act of selfcare.

          • human said:

            Policing other people’s language is not the only way to do selfcare.

          • JenniferP said:

            I definitely read people’s concerns about this. I don’t want to make people feel crappy or “unwelcome”, but I also think that sometimes it’s funny to say “eat a literal bag of severed dicks” and people can feel how they feel about my cannibalistic sense of humor as a result.

            Future comments: Please address the substance of the OP (difficult breakups). Thank you.

      • hieropants said:

        What, like this?

        • HAHAHAHAHA! Do you mind if I show that picture on my blogge?

        • The Kittehs' Unpaid Help said:

          Now there’s an image!

          The wordplay would be lost but that picture made me think, “Well, I’d rather a Carpet of Dicks than a Rug of Romneys!”

        • Irene said:

          Okay, now that WAS funny. I don’t think it’s very cross-stitchable, though! At least I sure couldn’t do it.

          • I might be able to if you gave me a few years. Unfortunately one of my major flaws is that I tend to pick up projects, work on them for a while, and put them down again – I can’t actually stick to one thing. I have two major cross-stitch projects at the moment that are half done, one of which was meant to be finished back in February and the other is of my heart-bunny who died last November. But when I do finish something, it looks awesome!

        • Alukonis said:

          I just want to say this is awesome.

          That is all.

          At night it murmurs “we are not crooks!”

        • Nerdlinger said:

          That. Is. Amazing.

          +eleventyfive likes

      • Irene said:

        I tried to post a reply before, but it apparently didn’t go through — apologies if this is a repeat. I hate to say it, but the expression “carpet of dicks” (and “bag of dicks” on an earlier post) really bugs me. It bothers me to have genitals used as insults — I don’t WANT penises to be associated with people behaving horribly, any more than vulvas/vaginas. That said, outrageous goofy insults are great and totally needed. I just would rather they involved things like velociraptors and such. I hope this makes sense.

        • JenniferP said:

          Noted.However, I will still use language that bugs some people from time to time if I think it is funny. If that makes people not like me, ok. I also like outrageous insults about velociraptors and evil bees.

    • This is spot on. Finding a good phrase and sticking to it is super important too. One that worked really well for me in this kind of situation was “I don’t have romantic feelings for you anymore.” It’s pretty much a non-starter, you can’t make someone change that.

      It’s going to be tempting to go the route of “this is over because you’re a carpet of dicks” (that is an AWESOME expression btw) especially if he doesn’t respond well to the initial conversation, which it sounds like he won’t. But you’re clearly over the relationship, and your responsibility is to end it as quickly and firmly as you can. If you avoid the “this is over because you did A or because you are always B” then you don’t give him a chance to undo A, or change B. So when he says “I just don’t understand” or “why won’t you give me another chance” or “you still love me don’t you” just keep saying your stock phrase a few times. I do agree with Captain A’s advice about doing it in whatever format you want, but I would also say sometimes a good in-person meeting helps to really hammer the point home that it just isn’t going to happen anymore.

      • Finding a good phrase and sticking to it is actually useful in all sorts of awkward conversations. From dealing with nosy/irritating/pushy co-workers, to people who might ask you about your break-up, or any people trying to get awkward info about your personal life, health, family, friends – a firm, vague phrase, repeated over and over and over, is often useful!

        • Britt said:

          This is one of my go-to responses in those situations and I am forever grateful for the former boss who taught it to me. After two or three times, the vast majority of people will clue in that the conversation isn’t going anywhere, and if they don’t, you’ve given yourself the perfect reason to leave/change the subject/call security/etc.

        • delbelcoure said:

          This is also a tried an true parenting technique. After stating what one wants from one’s child, just keep repeating it like a broken record. Indeed, it’s called the broken record technique. It goes like this:
          Mom- It’s time to clean your room.
          Child- Do I have to?
          Mom- Yes. It’s time to clean your room.
          Child – Oh look at this cute thing the cat is doing!
          Mom- It’s time to clean your room.
          Child- I need a snack.
          Mom- It’s time to clean your room.
          Child – Goes to clean room.
          It can work on people of all ages. I just have to be present enough to remember to use it.

          • Rosa said:

            Parenting a toddler made me so much better at customer service and grownup family interactions.

            Before that, with romantic relationships at least, I would ask the person asking why: “Do you really want to know why I don’t want to date you anymore? I mean, really the truth you want your now-ex-girlfriend to say all the things that are wrong with you?” And if they said they really, truly, really, really wanted and needed to know how I could possibly be tired of their whiny asses, I told them. It’s amazingly easy once you get started.

            It got me a reputation as a tremendous bitch, but also I quickly never had to argue with people who thought i should be dating them against my will.

          • zweisatz said:

            Labelling a person a “bitch” because you insisted to know why she doesn’t like you? Classy. m( It’s their fault if they didn’t think twice about their request.

          • Stay Excellent said:

            Feedback can be a good thing, provided you know your partner will do something with it(heaven knows ‘”you’re a terrible listener” was a much-needed eye-opener for me), but LW’s soon-to-be ex would never listen to it anyway. If one needs to ask after a four-year relationship, the possibility of that reason being ‘noggin too far stuck up own backside’ approaches 100%.

          • Rosa said:

            now there’s a chart. “Possibility of complete asshattery” on the y and “number of years you’ve refused to be broken up with” on the x.

            Sometimes, though, the point isn’t to give them helpful feedback, it’s to make them stop asking.

          • mythago said:

            Except that’s the wrong approach for an ex who has colossal boundary issues. The problem here is not that LW’s ex does not understand why she is breaking up with him. The problem is that he does not accept she is breaking up with him, and so giving him reasons is just an opening for her to challenge those reasons. “Because I no longer want to be in this relationship” is a complete argument. “Because you never pick up your stuff” lets him argue about how he sometimes picks up his stuff or yeah but he does all the dishes, so that’s not a good enough reason and they’re not broken up with him, QED.

            This goes double for people who are not specced in Enforcing Rigid Boundaries. (That is not a criticism, LW. One of the effects of long-term relationships with people like your ex is, they erode your ability to see and maintain boundaries.)

        • Ethyl said:

          Oh lord, is it ever. “Thanks, I’ll consider it” made wedding planning SO much easier than trying to argue with every stupid suggestion every tangentially-involved person felt compelled to make.

        • Cynthia said:

          The first thing that is coming to my mind for this LW is “It’s beyond my control” a la Dangerous Liaisons,,,

      • Reading this comment immediately following the subthread on “bag of dicks” above, I initially interpreted “finding a good phrase and sticking to it is super important” as referring to the phrase “bag of dicks,” and then I laughed in an immature and unladylike manner.

    • popesuburban said:

      Roundly seconded. Or thirded, or whatever number it is. With some people, you’re not going to ever get them to stop arguing. The super-cool thing is, though, that you can stop listening. You can just up and walk away from that pile of argument. You can say your peace, then say goodbye. He can try to argue if he wants, but that’s not going to get him much if he’s talking to the air where you are now not standing. So say your piece however you want to, and then declare him dead to you. Walk away, literally or metaphorically, and let him stew.

      • zweisatz said:

        I know it wasn’t intentional, but I like “say your peace”. That’s what you gotta do, LW: say what you need to find your peace and walk away.

        • popesuburban said:

          Yeah, I was thinking “and then peace out,” then I changed where I was going with the sentence, and it ended up that way. The error was driving me nuts but I really like what you made of it. It’s really the core of the whole idea, that one comes to terms and moves on.

    • coraanderson said:

      There is no way to break up with him in which you will say the “right” things and do it at the “right” time and in the “right” way because break ups are bad and there is no way to make that bad thing good.

      So much this. There is no perfect way to tell someone something they really don’t want to hear. Sometimes, though, that can be freeing–if you know he’s going to be upset and argumentative WHATEVER you do, you can stop trying to find the Perfect Phrase and instead just make the break as clearly and cleanly as you can.

      • Sahrafel said:

        Oh god, yes. When I knew I was going to break up with my first boyfriend, I spent so much time trying to figure out the how and when and where (additional complications, long distance relationship, blah blah). It was sort of a bit of an epiphany to me when my sister pointed out to me that there isn’t actually a way that you can break up with someone that avoids hurting their feelings.
        Which seems obvious, I’d just sort of… missed that point, somehow?

        • Toothpic said:

          As someone young and naive breaking up with their first boyfriend last year I still feel like I’m a terrible person somehow… It’s a lot better than it was but reading stuff like this helps a lot. I too wanted to avoid the hurt feelings so I put it off for a while but after we actually broke up it was soo much better for both of us. We had a clean breakup and I only know how he’s doing because he’s friends with my sister.

    • convexed said:

      I love this expression ‘carpet of dicks’. And I think if it helps the LW to stand their ground by framing it for herself as a theft of their time, a dick move of triumph via badgering—great. Whatever mindpositions give you the power to do what you need to do are legitimate.

      These behaviors from the boyfriend are in fact dick-like and I don’t excuse them or him. I do feel some compassion for him in the sense that very few people are mature enough during their first breakup to understand that you can’t convince someone to love you with your logic, nor is it right or decent to try to do so. We get a lot of messages from movies and general social narratives that ‘with enough work’ even troubled relationships can succeed and that we should ‘fight’ to keep someone we love—that we should be willing to adapt, to ‘change to suit’ the other, etc. Lacking the experience or insight to realize these are flawed notions, and pushing/trampling on boundaries in order to fulfill these societal expectations doesn’t necessarily make the boyfriend a carpet of dicks. It makes him like most of us at some point in our lives, either before we learned by doing or before we encountered Captain Awkward—confused kids who haven’t yet learned the rules and skills of engaging difficult situations.

      This is especially true since during the previous breakup attempts the LW wavered, may have engaged him on the ‘reasons things’, resorted to high-drama statements and then felt so bad LW came right back of LW’s own accord. Messages and mixed messages all around.

      It is likely that in a few weeks, months, or years, this guy will cringe when he remembers that awful time he tried to grovel, pontificate, argue, and plead with his partner to stay; that he actually would have so little self-respect and so little awareness that he thought that might work for either one of them.

      Again, I don’t excuse the boyfriends behaviors or want to minimize their negative impact on the LW. I just felt compelled to comment for the first time because something was bugging me about conflating dick behavior with dick character—and, yes, I know, behavior and character do speak to each other.

      I just think it can be too easy for commenters to take an ugly, painful situation in which one party is fucking up badly and decide that party must be a dick. It’s okay for the LW to feel that way, since LW needs to fortify themself to go through with this—-and hell, LW’s been living through this—but for me, I’m uncomfortable getting on the carpet of dicks bandwagon because it feels a little too dicks vs good people dichotomy, and also partly because it might not be relevant whether or not he’s a dick who is stealing time from someone—it’s enough that he’s a boyfriend the LW is over, and for whatever reason he is not accepting the breakup, and that is what we are here to help resolve.

      I mean this comment very respectfully to all, and wish the LW the best.

      • Lilly said:

        “We get a lot of messages from movies and general social narratives that ‘with enough work’ even troubled relationships can succeed and that we should ‘fight’ to keep someone we love—that we should be willing to adapt, to ‘change to suit’ the other, etc.”

        This is very true. During my first breakup (my then-bf was over 10 yrs older than me, I had quit my job to look after him when he was depressed), I was 20, I believed in TEH ONE (or I had internalized it). I did the whole “I can change, I can change” song and dance routine.

        Was I a bag of dicks? Maybe, but not intentionally? I don’t excuse my behaviour either, but it was a terribly messy and very painful situation that at the time I did not know how to deal with, had no precedent for dealing with, plus a culture that said THE ONE and TRUE LOVE and WORK AT IT and ROMANTIC COMEDIES.

        Do I cringe remembering how I behaved? Hell, yeah.

        Was breaking up the right thing to do? Also hell yeah.

        • Yeah, I cringe reading this – I’ve had one breakup where I was a total bag of dicks. Wasn’t intentional… but I was definitely doing the “but we can work it out!” argument thing in a really bad way.

          He held his ground and managed to eventually convince me that while yes, theoretically, we could work it out… that he didn’t want to. It sucked. But I’m probably a better person for it in the end. Best of luck to you, LW, and I hope that eventually he learns something from it. Ideally, without being too much of a dickweed first.

          • hsb said:

            Yep, same thing over here! When my first proper boyfriend broke up with me, I was absolultely devastated, and the loss of the relationship loomed as The Worst Thing In The World (even though the fact that we were both unhappy was no secret, and the breakup no great surprise. Funny how The Worst Thing In The World has a power over you). Turns out, I got over it, but only once all contact was cut off. Prior to that, any time I saw him or spoke to him I would end up in tears with him awkwardly consoling me from a distance. It sucked really badly and was very painful and I cringe looking back on the whole period. I wasn’t being intentionally manipulative when I was hoping that he would take me back, but as convexed pointed out, I was definitely too immature to deal with the breakup in a way that was healthy for us both. I do feel terrible that I put my ex through all of that, and he definitely tried to minimize contact, which I appreciate now. So, yes, I can unfortunately empathise with the boyfriend, but the LW should in no way have to pander to his feelings. The priority is for the LW to look after themselves, and cutting off contact is probably the best way to do so. This will probably be most helpful to the boyfriend as well, though he may not see it as such right now.

        • Oh heck yeah. For me it was a guy I’d been seeing somewhat casually…on his part. On my part I was convinced this was THE ONE (sadly, I also blame a lot of my friends at that point who also invested a lot of time in this being my THE ONE for a multitude of reasons, one to the point she encouraged me to engage in stalker-like behaviors, which I did resist thank goodness, just so she could have the support in her own stalker-like behavior!). Anyway, the real point is that I behaved badly and completely cringe now at how stupid I was trying to logic/harass him into going exclusive/continuing to date non-exclusively/be “friends” with the hope that I would be able to capitalize on our really immense natural chemistry/etc…

          Luckily for me, I eventually found a smidge of sanity left, got better friends, and cut off all contact with the guy.

          Oddly enough, the other girl who was engaging in stalker-like behavior really did end up with her stalkee…once he left his wife. Very odd people.

    • Saira Ali said:

      Yes, yes yes to all of this. The abusive rapey ex-boyfriend pulled that game on me three times. It was only on breakup attempt #3 that I realized that I needed to be “mean” if I was ever going to get out. It was horrible and awful and I felt guilty for months, but I am so glad I went harsh and got out.

      And for me, also, “Because you are the kind of person who tries to debate a decision like this” was what finally shut him up.

  3. I’ve sometimes wondered whether in a case where the person is basically decent–not a stalker, abuser, etc–the following script might help:

    Look, it is non-negotiable that our relationship is ending. I have good memories of our time together. We can end this with kindness and dignity and make our last interactions mutually respectful. Or it can end with recriminations, struggle, and resistance. I would prefer the former, but the choice ultimately is yours. But please know that regardless of that decision, our relationship is over.

    • JenniferP said:

      Sure. Save it for if they try to manipulate/coerce you, but I like it.

  4. piranhas said:

    From your e-mail I understand that you want people to understand your decisions and agree with your point of view before you go through with them. That makes you a very considerate person, but it doesn’t help with people like your boyfriend. It is possible that your boyfriend is unable to see your point of view right now, because he’s so invested with your relationship that breaking up with you would be the worst thing in the world (TM) for him.

    So, my message is: he doesn’t need to acknowledge your point of view. He will eventually, but this is not going to happen by you talking it over, given how he reacted the last time. It’s going to happen if you follow the advice given there. :)

  5. rikibeth said:

    One of the things that helped me maintain the strength to keep from entering in the “why” and “but we can fix this” arguments may seem kinda scary/creepy, but it really helped. I envisioned how John Malkovich as the Vicomte de Valmont broke up with Michelle Pfeiffer as Madame de Tourvel in Dangerous Liaisons. No matter what she said, no matter what anger or tears or pleading she displayed, he would only say “It’s beyond my control.” “I don’t love you any more, it’s beyond my control.” “I have to end it, it’s beyond my control.”

    It was absolutely horrifying in the movie, but remembering that relentless refrain really gave me the courage to stand my ground.

    also, pretending to be John Malkovich is never a bad thing for courage.

    Wishing you luck with it.

    • The Kittehs' Unpaid Help said:

      That sort of gives “Being John Malkovich” a whole new dimension! :)

    • Adelene said:

      I’ve never seen that movie, but that reminds me a bit of how I handled my last breakup – the answer to “why” was “because I need to”, and the answer to everything else was either some variation on “I’m sorry, but I can’t do that for you” or silence. We had a lot of repeats of the conversation that went “but whyyyyy!” “because I need to.” “but I deserve an explanation!!” “I’m sorry, but I can’t give you one” “augh!” *silence*. Mostly that was because I let him know I was leaving about a month before it actually happened, with the idea of giving him a chance to find replacements for the support I’d been giving him, which was probably a mistake even though I feel better about myself for having done it… anyway, long story short, I can vouch for that technique working, and standing up very well over time if you stick to it, if you need it to. (But try not to need it to. :P )

  6. Been there, done that. said:

    I have all the feels for LW. I have been in a similar situation (shorter time scale and what I thought was less serious but apparently to him – not so much.) And it can be really hard. You don’t want to hurt this person, but from what LW has said, your hopefully-soon-ex-bf might need to get a little butthurt to get the message and respect your choice, and back the heck off.
    I hope it all goes well, and he accepts your desicion and moves on, but… If he doesn’t, like CA says – cut off all contact. You’ve gotta do what’s best for you! Make sure not to let him weasel his way back in until you’re sure he’s cooled down and isn’t going to try and lure you back into a relationship if you don’t want one.
    LW sounds firm, so I’m wishing LW all the best! I hope it goes well!

  7. MusicSheep said:

    You don’t have to get him to the point where he agrees to break up with you. As CA said,this can be a unilateral decision. You don’t even have to get him to say goodbye or wish you well or agree to anything. You don’t have to listen to his reasons why you shouldn’t break up. You don’t have to argue with him, even if he wants to argue with you. You want to break up, and that is the best reason of all to do so.

    Prepare yourself for the fact that he is going to be hurt, and let him hurt. You can’t reason with his hurt to make it go away, so accepting the fact that it is going to occur is the only thing you can do about it. Don’t stick around to try and manage it.

    • Anon21 said:

      You can’t reason with his hurt to make it go away, so accepting the fact that it is going to occur is the only thing you can do about it.

      Yeah, I think this is a powerful and true message. For people in basically decent relationships where their partner isn’t an abuser a scumbag, there is sometimes a powerful desire to make the other person okay with the breakup, to make them not hurt by it. (This may be especially true for first relationships/first breakups.) But… that’s not within your control. And it’s actually a little arrogant to think that if you could find the right words, you could convince the other person that this is really what’s best for them, too. (I think the Captain has touched on this before.)

  8. PA said:

    Oh, LW, I feel for you. I was involved with someone who used the “Your feelings are wrong, I defeat them with my Many Words of Logic!” again and again, whenever I had issues in the relationship that I needed addressed. (alternated with “I can’t talk about that mistake I made, it hurts too much” just for variety, I suppose.) I’m not terribly articulate in person, or quick-thinking; I’d write long careful emails, and he’d call or visit and demolish them with Logic, and I’d leave the encounter feeling defeated and not really understanding why.

    Ultimately, inevitably, I started pulling away, because I COULDN’T work stuff out, so then he tried to draw me closer using complaints and guilt. Which worked, but of course it didn’t–not in any genuine sense. We were poly; he started complaining that I preferred one of my secondary partners to him. Well, yeah.

    It was painful (I had a lot tied up in that relationship), but ultimately I got out, and I’m MUCH happier now. You can do it! Write a letter if necessary, so you don’t get smothered in his WORDS WORDS WORDS.

  9. Copcher said:

    Hey LW. First of all, I’m really sorry that you’re going through this. It sucks.

    Second, I wanted to comment on the first question you asked, about clarifying your reasons so that you can stand your ground. I really don’t mean this to be discouraging, but having really clear reasons won’t necessarily help you. If this guy asks for reasons, it’s not because he wants a better understanding. It’s so he can tear them apart. If he wants to, he’ll always be able to find a reason to stay that counteracts your reason to leave (except, maybe, if you use Joan of Anon’s suggestion above: “I don’t want to be with you because you are the kind of person who tries to argue with a decision like this,” but even then, when people are being unreasonable, they can get really creative).

    You don’t need a reason. Have the conversation or send the email. (Also, I don’t fully understand why people disapprove of email or telephone breakups. Getting dumped sucks, and I don’t fully get how the person who has just broken your heart being physically right there would make it better. But anyway.) If you need to, cut him off, block his calls, filter his emails, whatever. Do you need to do to get him out of your life so you can move on on your own.

    • bumblebuzzinbee said:

      I could definitely picture a determined guy responding to “I don’t want to be with you because you are the kind of person who tries to argue with a decision like this” with “don’t you want someone who will fight for our love/one true relationship?”

      I like your point about looking for reasons to tear them apart. He might even look to get a “melting puddle of strong irrational emotions” going again because then he could paint her as a illogical person who doesn’t know what she/he wants and could be safely ignored.

      • Elin I. said:

        “I could definitely picture a determined guy responding to ‘I don’t want to be with you because you are the kind of person who tries to argue with a decision like this’ with ‘don’t you want someone who will fight for our love/one true relationship?'”

        Or the ever-popular “I can change!”

        • Sheelzebub said:

          After I accepted that I’m a selfish, horrible bitch, I answered a similar rejoinder (what about our love) with “I don’t love you and it’s not worth it to me to fight for something that makes me miserable. I am not asking you for your permission nor am I open to negotiations. I am informing you of my decision.”

          • This makes me want to come up with a cross-stitch pattern that says “Selfish, Horrible Bitch!” in ornate script and sparkly thread. Possibly with flowers and rainbows. Maybe after I’ve finished my grading…

          • My weaving teacher has a t-shirt that says in bright pink “I may be a cold heartless bitch, but at least I’m good at it.” Actually, she liked it so much she has two.

          • Nerdlinger said:

            I love this response so much. It reminds me of this one poem that has the line “I’m selfish, because this is the only self I have to love.”

    • piny1 said:

      Yup. The Not Hearing It rebuttal to that one is, “So I’ll stop arguing! Now I’ve stopped arguing! See? Not arguing! Now you have to stay with me FOREVER!”

      You could tell him you’re leaving him because the Virgin Mary appeared to you last night and told you to become a nun and he’d probably offer, Henry VIII-like, to found his own state religion and make you Head Priestess and Queen for Life of the Island Republic of His Loyal Heart.

      The problem isn’t that your reasons are bad or good. The problem is that you have to have reasons. Once you accept that you need to justify your decision to break up with this man, then you’ve lost. Because that makes him the judge and boss of your relationship–and by extension, of you. This isn’t the senate: you don’t need a supermajority on your Buh-Bye Bill. You’re the only one who has to be convinced here. And you are convinced!

      That’s the harsh truth he’ll have to accept, and he will never take your word for it.

      Captain Awkward is right: he’s toxic for you right now, and unloving: don’t give him any more chances to make you sad and ashamed, and go become single so you can eventually fall into love with someone else.

    • AnthroK8 said:

      Well there was the guy who sent me a text message so long it covered three messages. Which, okay, fine. But somehow the middle text, the one where he said “we are now broken up” never arrived. I had to piece together the fact that he’d decided to break up with me from the bracketing text messages. Neither of those was actually particularly clear.

      There were REASONS in them, but no indication what they were REASONS for. In the end, they were OK reasons, of course. Any reason is a good reason if what you want is to be done. But it was a bit disorienting at first to see “we are just so different in that regard” and not know what it was about.

      I am still reduced to fits of giggles occasionally when I think about the fact that I had to text him back and say “so sorry to have to do this. But. Your second of three texts never arrived. Did you break up with me in that one? I can’t tell.” It took a while to get to fits of giggling. For quite a while I was too heart-bruised to laugh. But I got there in the end.

      Which, I realize, is not the same as a perfectly clear phone line or a receipt indicator in an email.

      • Oh god that is funny from outside the situation. I can imagine how awful it would feel at the time though, sending the text thinking “oh god did I say something really stupid or is that actually what’s happening?” and having to wait for the reply….

    • Robin said:

      Don’t tell him “I can’t give you a reason.” Tell him “I won’t give you a reason.” Can’t allows arguing room. Won’t doesn’t. If he pushes it, you repeat “I will not give you a reason.” If he asks why, you say “Because I choose not to.” Repeat ad nauseum ad infinitum.

      /been there
      //it sucked
      ///sooooooo very glad to be out.

  10. A thing you can do, afterwards, if he sends you FEELINGSMAIL that has occasional important details or whatever, is to delegate the Friend Of Steel who will be your go-between. This is not a position to be taken lightly, but this friend could, for instance, read the FEELINGSMAIL and delete all the shit you don’t need to see. This friend can go with you if you need to have the Prisoner Exchange of Stuff in a parking lot at the Home Depot. This friend can drive you to him if you’re going to break up with him in person, and can interrupt after a given amount of time or after you yell a code word or whatever, and sweep you the hell out of there.

    I hate But Whyyyyy? I also refuse to answer the question. Here’s the truth:

    THERE IS NO ANSWER THAT IS SATISFACTORY TO SOMEONE YOU ARE BREAKING UP WITH.

    If he wants to stay with you, there’s nothing you can say to make him agree with “Oh, yeah, I guess we should break up.” So don’t even try. Don’t give him anything to argue with. Be that cold bitch if you have to, be that heartbreaking ice queen from hell, be anything you need to be to get out.

    Compassion for soon-to-be-exes is only for the soon-to-be-ex who takes it well.

    I also strongly agree with the six months of no talking. And no breakup sex, if you can help it. It can be hard to hold the line, I’ve had to do all kinds of things to keep myself from contacting exes, but it’s important not to open the door for me or them. A clean break heals faster and better, in my life.

    If you do, however, feel compelled to answer BUT WHYYYYYYY, try, “Because I’m done.”

    “But what about…?”
    “Doesn’t matter, I’m done.”
    “But I love you!!”
    “I’m sorry, but I’m done.”

    As for clarifying things for yourself — which you can do for yourself and which has absolutely jack and shit to do with him or what you might tell him — you could try writing it down or talking to a therapist. You could just reread this letter you sent to CA, too. You could come up with the name that perfectly encapsulates the way he makes you feel, and call him that whenever you refer to him or think of him (One of my exes could be Mr Terrified Of Confrontation…)

    Whatever it takes to hold the line, so you can start to figure out who you are when you’re not smothered in this relationship.

    • Copcher said:

      “If he wants to stay with you, there’s nothing you can say to make him agree with “Oh, yeah, I guess we should break up.””

      Exaaaaaactly. I really think that refusing to give a reason is the only thing that can consistently work in this kind of breakup. When I dealt with my own But Whyyyyy? ex several years ago, I thought he would finally stop demanding a reason when I said “I’m breaking up because I realized that I just don’t care about this relationship anymore.” Except then he said, “Yeah, that’s how you feel, but that doesn’t answer my question of WHY you feel that way.” So, yeah, I don’t recommend coming up with a solid reason.

      However, if what you want is a reason for yourself, you might find that some time and distance will actually help you with this. Once I finally got rid of the ex I just mentioned, I at first just felt really happy and free to be on my own. Then, I’m not sure exactly when it started, but I started to see a bunch of things that he’d done that had bugged me in a much clearer light, and I had a much easier time articulating to myself why they had bugged me and why, really, we did not belong together. It probably isn’t the most helpful answer at the moment, but for me it just adds to the idea that you don’t need a clear reason to break up with someone. If you want out, you’re allowed to get out.

      • the_apricot said:

        This. I’ve had an experience where I couldn’t come up with a good reason for breaking up; I just knew I could not continue in that relationship. It made breaking up really scary because I felt like I’d become unattracted to a nice guy for no reason and I worried that there was something wrong with me for that. But after I got some distance from the situation I could articulate a number of things that had been bothering me about that relationship. (I never gave him those reasons because it would have been rude to contact him later just to give him an itemized list of why being his girlfriend sucked. I hope I made the right choice and didn’t withhold things he needed to know.)

        • I didn’t give reasons when I left my ex. Actually I was planning to leave while he was out, but he came home early and I basically just sat there crying until the taxi turned up (thank god I’d booked it in advance). But then earlier this year he left a comment on my blog and I was like “whelp, okay, I’m now going to tell you EXACTLY why I never want you to contact me again, in case breaking up with you and leaving the country wasn’t clear enough.” Once I got past the incredibly shaken up part it felt really, really good. But I would never have done it if he hadn’t contacted me first.

    • bluecandles said:

      Yes, holding the line is very important with the arguing type. You don’t need reasons, you don’t need justification. You wanting it to end is enough. If he tries to debate you out of it, just repeat to every one of his points that it’s because you’re done/over it/however you want to phrase it. Don’t waver from the script, just keep repeating that you’re done. I was taught repetition in an assertiveness course & it’s a very useful way to counteract difficult people’s arguments.

      It’s a break up – if one person wants out of the relationship, that’s enough. You’re not tied to him by any legal contract.

    • This friend can go with you if you need to have the Prisoner Exchange of Stuff in a parking lot at the Home Depot.

      I don’t mean to make light of the LW situation and the pain of breaking up, but this reminded me of something that in retrospect is hilarious. My girlfriend and I had broken up after having lived together in my apartment, and she came with her friend who had served in the Army during the first Gulf War. The deal was that I was going to not be home when this occurred. But when I got home, they were still there, and almost done loading her stuff in his car.

      I went upstairs and noticed that she had taken the plastic shower curtain, which for some reason sent me into an uncontrollable rage. So I go running downstairs and start screaming at her: “You fucker! You took the fucken shower curtain! What the fucke is your goddamn motherfucken problem!?!?” And then she starts screaming back at me that I was a goddamn no-good selfish bastard, blah, blah, blah. So we are both jumping up and down and just totally losing our shitte screaming at each other like lunatics.

      So her friend just looks at us both in disgust and says, “I didn’t nearly get my head blown off in combat to listen to you two imbeciles screaming at each other like this.” And then he looks at my girlfriend and goes, “I am getting in the car and leaving with your shitte, so you better get in.”

      She hopped in and that is the last I ever saw or spoke to either of them.

      • TheOtherAlice said:

        That friend sounds like an amazing human being. Actually, those words are probably kind of helpful to LW. As in: go in to this conversation with the simple aim of ‘when we end this conversation, we will be broken up’. Everything else? The reasons, the justifications, the arguments over the shower curtain? So not worth the time it takes to have that fight.

      • neverjaunty said:

        But did you get the shower curtain back?!

    • You and the Captain are both so, so right about this. Excellent advice!

      Also, is anyone else having trouble reading BUUUT WHYYYYYYY without thinking of this?

      Or maybe it’s just me.

      • coraanderson said:

        That is what I think of every. single. time someone says or types those words. Glad I’m not the only one!

      • lightacandle2c said:

        whatever the hell tht just was… thanks for the nightmare :( I did watch it twice and omg he will now haunt my dreams.

        • delbelcoure said:

          It was from the movie Galaxy Quest. It’s a parody of Star Trek.

        • OMG, if this is unfamiliar, PLEASE go watch Galaxy Quest! He was just tortured by the bad guy, so I can see why he looks a little spooky. But I promise it’s sad/silly and not spooky in context!

        • This is poor quality, but here’s the full scene. For what it’s worth, Galaxy Quest is a very funny and silly spoof, but this scene is the saaaaaaddest one in the whole movie. :( Poor Mathesar! BUT WHY

          • lightacandle2c said:

            Hi
            That was really nice of you, thank you. Amazing how just a few seconds of something with no context can seem terrifying (his voice.. )
            , while with context it reallty was just sad. His voice and face can now be removed from my nightmares (hopfully)

  11. Manatee said:

    In terms of standing your ground when you’re jerkbrain is making you feel guilty for upsetting someone, maybe it will help to remind yourself that being firm about your decision and also cutting off contact after you break up with this guy will actually be better for him too. It’s counterintuitive because we’re so socialised to be nice all the time, but a short sharp breakup will ultimately be less painful than a long drawn out one with false hope given just to palliate him in the moment. When you’re the dumpee who still wants to make it work, every text or email or phone call can seem like a potential for reconciliation, or a sign that you really do still love him and so he will likely get over it much quicker if you let him be upset and then leave him to process on his own. It might seem like being mean not to hang around until he’s OK, not to check up on him, or to ignore his messages, but it’s actually kinder to back off.

    Not that it’s your job to ensure that he gets over it, particularly if he gets manipulative, but thinking about it like this might make it easier for you to stand your ground.

  12. MissWhich said:

    LW, I really feel for you. This is an uncomfortable place to be in, especially since, as other commenters have pointed out, you seem to be very sensitive to your soon-to-be-ex’s feelings. Something that might boost your resolve and help you with the guilt-feelings: it is actually ultimately much kinder and more compassionate (to both you and the ex) to hold your ground and make a clean break than to drag it out with talks and justifications. I was in a very similar situation several years ago: I desperately wanted to break up, and my BF didn’t want to. I let him talk me back into a relationship once because I felt so guilty and then indulged his epic phone conversations (in which he would try to manipulate me/ berate me/ make me explain why so that he could counter it/ make me so confused that I would cry from sheer frustration and guilt) when I broke it off again. It literally only ended when I stopped trying to justify the breakup and stopped answering his calls. The kindest thing you can do for yourself and for him is to ignore the “why” issue, say that it is over, and refuse to engage with further “but why” dialog (or any dialog if you don’t feel up to it). I wish I had done this. It would have saved both of us a lot of time and misery.

    • +100 to everyone who’s said some variation of “It’s better for all parties involved to make a clean break.” Clean-break, with at least a few months between the breakup and resuming a friendship, have been my MO for most of my relationships.
      …although, the exes I’m close with now are the ones where we dragged the relationship out to the bitter end and tried to work it out together and talked about breaking up a bunch, BUT! I think it’s a correlation-does-not-imply-causation situation, because for one thing they were people it was actually worth trying to work things out with and we just turned out to be incompatible, and for another thing they actually learned not to treat me like crap after we broke up.

  13. 99% of the time I agree wholeheartedly with Captain’s advice but sometimes her advice on break-ups leaves me feeling uncomfortable.
    Basically, I think the “total freeze out” is cruel. I’m prepared to accept that I’m in the major minority, but do feel that someone who has given you 4 years of their life deserves more than a “never dare contact me again”.
    She justifies it in this case that the chap in question “made” the LW stay the first time she floated the idea of breaking up. But the fact that LW DIDN’T then break up with him says that she wasn’t all that in favour of the idea herself. She’s her own person, and if she’d wanted to break up with him that much, all the begging in the world wouldn’t have convinced her otherwise. So I think that’s a moot point that shouldn’t influence this decision.
    I stand by my comments that a “no explanation freeze” is a frankly nasty way to treat someone who has done nothing wrong other than be “someone the LW is no longer interested in”.

    • MissWhich said:

      I understand your perspective, but I really take issue with your assertion that “if she’d wanted to break up with him that much, all the begging in the world wouldn’t have convinced her otherwise.” This is just not true in many cases. I let emotional manipulation and begging keep me in a toxic relationship for an extra 6 extremely unpleasant months because I was in the (unhealthy) habit of caring for my partner’s emotions and needs more than seeing to my own. Women in particular are conditioned to care for their partners’ needs above their own. It can be HARD to undo this training.

    • liyyspoon said:

      “She justifies it in this case that the chap in question “made” the LW stay the first time she floated the idea of breaking up. But the fact that LW DIDN’T then break up with him says that she wasn’t all that in favour of the idea herself. She’s her own person, and if she’d wanted to break up with him that much, all the begging in the world wouldn’t have convinced her otherwise. So I think that’s a moot point that shouldn’t influence this decision”

      WRONG WRONG WRONG

      I once spent a YEAR with a guy who I kept trying to break up with, but who guilted me, and it left me feeling as if I couldn’t (though I was, obviously, wrong). Your comment shows a distinct lack of understanding about how people are able to manipulate and control others through the use of guilt and the pressue to ‘explain’ feelings. It builds on an idea that things should somehow be rational or logical when in fact lots of our emotional realities are confusing and/or ambivalent.

      Also, way to victim blame.

      Also also, no-one owes anyone ANYTHING, not a super special break-up party, not anything, even after 4 or 14 or 40 years. That doesn’t deny that being left is painful, but you don’t get to control how people leave you if they so choose.

      • zweisatz said:

        Also, way to victim blame.

        +10

    • …if she’d wanted to break up with him that much, all the begging in the world wouldn’t have convinced her otherwise.

      This is not my experience at all. Emotions and desires are hard things to sort out, and they can come into conflict with each other. I often see occasions where people’s desire not to hurt someone wins out over their desire to act in their own best interest. Lots of people are trained from a young age to prioritize other people’s needs and desires over their own. It makes it really hard to get out of a relationship.

      In general, I just think it’s more important to protect yourself than to be polite. And as a pessimistic Awkwardeer, I think the “protect yourself” clause statistically comes into play much more often than more optimistic Awkwardeers might think.

    • JenniferP said:

      In the case of this letter, the LW tried to have an adult, face-to-face conversation and got browbeaten & guilted into staying. So she can try to have another adult face to face conversation, but she should prepare for the fact that this person does not want to take no for an answer and be prepared to freeze him out. It’s far from a moot point, it’s THE point – she said “I am done” and the other person said “no you are not.” That person becomes your adversary when they refuse to believe you and use all their manipulation techniques to try to keep you around.

      I am, for the record, glad to be friends with most of my exes. But sometimes my own emotional health has depended on saying “I am sorry to hurt you, but WE ARE DONE NOW. You must go and take those feelings away.” And sometimes I was the person who could not let go, and I needed someone to say that to me very firmly and completely disengage. Yeah, it SUCKS when you’re on the receiving end of it, but it is survivable.

      As a young woman, I did not learn what a clean break looked like or how to enforce one, and I thought I had to be open to someone’s phone calls/suicide threats/just stopping by to cry on my sofa/try to hook up with me one last time/browbeat me about a book I’d borrowed 3 years ago and accuse me of “theft”/show up on my doorstep to announce that he’d moved cities so “we can be together now!”/spreading terrible rumors/posting private emails publicly on the internet…. just because I wanted to be done dating and he didn’t.

      I am invested in giving people permission to just be totally done when they are done. Not because I love cruelty, but because too often people will not let go and will use very coercive tactics to keep our attention/vaginas/emotional support available and tell us we’re bad people for wanting to be free because women are supposed to value relationships before their own needs. And when you DO like the person it’s even harder – they use your emotions and good intentions as a trap.

      Recommended reading: The Gift of Fear by Gavin de Becker.

      Recommended actions: Try for the kind, adult breakup (though I would avoid giving reasons beyond “my feelings have changed” – not to be cruel, quite the opposite – It means you are taking full blame for the breakup), but with someone who has a track record of not letting to, prepare for the worst.

      We need to stop coercing each other emotionally & socially. Someone who isn’t responding to your messages DOESN’T WANT TO respond to your messages for whatever reason. Send 2 inquiries, then stop until they contact you. If they don’t, there is your closure. It’s cruel and sad, but isn’t it better than pushing/guilting someone into being around you when they obviously don’t want to be? At what cost other people’s attention?

      • This is a really amazing explanation of the theory and practice of personal autonomy and responsibility for one’s own feelings.

      • NessieMonster said:

        Oh God, this: If they don’t respond to your messages then they don’t want to contact you.

        My Ex (who was the subject of a letter here a looong time ago) has messaged me on FB, texted me, and more recently ‘liked’ the fact that I am finally FB official with regards to my current relationship. I resorted to blocking him, even though I unfriended him months and months ago because he cannot take the fucking hint. I tried to break up with him in person originally, but like the LW got brow-beaten into ‘staying’. Eventually I dumped him by phone. It was not pleasant and I was still subjected to a good hour of But Whyyyyyyy?!!Eleventy!

        LW, whatever your soon-to-be-ex says, he will be fine sooner or later. There is no magic pill to stop him from arguing with you so I’d recommend not doing it in person. The line someone up-thread recommended: “I’m done here” sounds like it’ll be worth using. Tkae care

      • Thanks for this. This is something I have also struggled with for years, in both friendships and romantic relationships. I think that sometimes, cutting someone off and walking away with no further contact, and after little to no explanation, is a level of abandonment that is pretty cruel. I also think that sometimes, cruelty is unfortunate but necessary for self-protection and self-preservation. It took being both the cuttee and the cutter to fully appreciate that.

        I mean, I think a couple of my ex-partners and ex-friends were fucking assholes for the way they ended our relationships. I feel justified in that opinion, too. But I also think they did what they felt they needed to do (in one or two cases, with the unfortunate limitations on decency imposed by having an overall assholic character).When I was the mean cutting-off one, I understood and fully accepted that I was going to be the bad guy, because I realized I just HAD to be. For myself.

        I think I’m also someone who actually has generally benefited from receicing painful breakup closure-truths, over the unsatisfying no-reason abandonment feeling. I felt better able to recover in a mentally healthy way after the former. But I have also come to understand exactly what your general advice-policy states: that while it might be helpful for me, it’s not something anyone owes me. So I’ve come to appreciate it when I get it and am more understanding when I don’t (after the requisite ranting-and-railing period, which of course must be spent cut off from the breaker-upper at all costs).

        • JenniferP said:

          I mean, ideally:

          1. You both know that there are problems before there is a breakup and you’ve talked about them and tried to work on them, so it’s not coming as a complete surprise.

          2. So the reason, when it comes, is “that thing is still making me unhappy” or “my feelings have changed and I want to break up.”

          3. The breakupee might ask “Is there any chance you’d change your mind if we’d work on x and y?” or “Is there anything I can do?” Or expressing surprise, hurt feelings, asking questions, whatever. You get to be sad, and you get to be visibly sad.

          4. You both hash it out and decide one way or another as kindly as possible.

          5. You take a big break from each other and then maybe resume a friendship or at least a waving acquaintanceship.

          But it requires the breakup-ee BELIEVING the breakupper and working from the assumption that “we are 99% broken up now.” When the person doesn’t believe you and uses all their will to cling and manipulate, you sometimes have to be really firm.

          I think it’s good when people initiating breakups are clear about “I don’t feel that way about you anymore” or “I’ve decided this” rather than trying to look for objective reasons. Own it!

          • Totally! And in retrospect, the only times I can think of where a breakup “reason” was especially helpful to me emotionally was when the ex was leaving me for someone else. The more basic “I don’t want to be with you anymore” reason is never satisfying. But satisfaction is not what it’s ever about, anyway.

          • coruskate said:

            All the way through this thread, I’ve been thinking, “and THIS is why people do wait until they’ve met someone else to leave.” Everyone likes to criticise, and judge how dreadful that is– but again, in our cultural narrative, meeting a Truer Love is the one unarguable reason for breaking up. There’s Culturally Appropriate Drama for that scenario too, but it so rarely takes the form of “you should stay with me.”

          • neverjaunty said:

            I would disagree with “99% broken up now” – that 1% is all the window an emotional abuser needs. “We are broken up now, but would you reconsider?” could be OK, if the person asking is both willing to take a flat ‘no’ and willing to listen. I mean, there’s a difference between refusing to accept a breakup and “wow, you’re right, I didn’t realize my drinking problem had gotten to that point.”

          • daffodil said:

            I think one key here is that even in the kind, adult breakup you take a big old break anyway. 6 months isn’t a magic number, but it is nicely on the border between too short and seemingly forever. In my last adult breakup, my ex suggested 3 months of no contact, and I believe we both needed it. Cutting off contact might seem cruel, but it can be a considerate way of helping the dump-ee move on.

        • MamaCheshire said:

          I found reasons helpful, as well, when they existed.

          The reason for the kindest and easiest breakup I ever went through, back in undergrad:

          “This isn’t working. I feel like I’m kissing my sister.”

          I expressed my sad-yet-resigned agreement, and we met up for lunch in the dining hall, content that we’d given the dating thing a try but it just hadn’t really worked for us. And we’re still decently good friends.

          Other reasons that were sensible and useful:

          “Because I love you to little tiny pieces but we will KILL each other if we attempt to cohabitate!”

          “Because I want to be with someone I can get married to soon and I know that’s not what you’re looking for from me.”

          “Because I have literally no idea WHEN or HOW we’ll ever see each other again.” (15 year old summer camp romance, yay.)

          “Because I know you still Have Feelings for someone else and they may be mutual, and I know you’re OK with dating multiple people and you’ve been honest, but I’m really not sure I can handle it.”

          “Because [description of incompatible sexual quirks redacted].”

          Sometimes even when I got reasons unhelpful-in-themselves, they helped me get over the relationship faster. Like, OK if this person thinks THAT then they’re not someone I need to be involved with. Or something.

          • Adelene said:

            You’re pretty clearly the kind of person who can be trusted to be respectful of reasons, though. Lots of people can’t be, and LW’s soon-to-be-ex has shown that he’s one of the ones who can’t, and it’s a whole different ballgame in that case.

          • neverjaunty said:

            Yep. But those are all “why is the relationship over?” questions, not “prove to me our relationship should be over” questions. Biiiiiig difference.

          • unlurking said:

            >OK if this person thinks THAT then they’re not someone I need to be involved with.

            This really helped me today. Thank you.

        • Sorry I ended our friendship over internet comments RIGHT NOW

          • THANK GOODNESS FINALLY

        • Noir said:

          While I fully concur with the Captain’s advice and the general consensus in this thread, I have to disagree on the fact that nobody owes anybody an explanation. Don’t get me wrong, the Captain’s advice is 100% correct: LW’s only priority is to her safety and well-being, and if the only way to ensure this is by being firm and giving little in the way of reasons for breaking up, she is certainly under no obligation to do otherwise. However, I feel most of the discussion about whether or not the breakupper should give reasons centers around the issue of cruelty and sparing the breakup-ee’s feelings. I don’t think it’s a matter of cruelty, as I don’t think that under any circumstances it should be the breakupper’s job to minimize hurt feelings, and I believe that is in line with what I understood the Captain’s advice to be elsewhere, that people cannot control how other people react to what they say/who they are/etc… However, the breakup-ee is a person, and (to borrow another bit of general advice from the Captain) as a person they do have the right to ask why their partner decided to break up with them and expect an answer beyond “we are done”. That is not to say that they must receive a SATISFACTORY reason; quite the contrary. I think people are only owed the courtesy of being told why they are being broken up with, satisfactory or not, and cruel or not. Nor does this mean that they get to keep harassing their partner until they receive one. Again, the breakupper’s personal safety and well-being trumps all other concerns, and that may entail conducting the breakup over email without giving any reasons at all.
          That said, LW’s letter does spell out clearly several reasons why she decided the relationship is over, which may not be satisfactory to her soon-to-be-ex, but they need not be. As such, she can stand her ground because the reasons are clear to her, and it’s not her job to sugar-coat them for him in an attempt to minimize his hurt feelings. I feel though that, as another human being, he does have the right to ask why she decided to end it and expect more than “we are done; I don’t owe you an explanation”. I would add that the length of the relationship is not a consideration here, that it’s not that she owes him an explanation BECAUSE they’ve been together for 4 years, but because he is another person. It would hold true whether they were together 4 months or 40 years.

          • Ethyl said:

            I still think that these kinds of considerations are only for people who are reasonable, caring, and respectful of the break-upper as a person. The LW’s partner already proved himself to be someone who disregards her boundaries, consent, and autonomy by arguing with her about whether her reasons for breaking up were good enough, and badgering and confusing her into staying in a relationship she was trying to end. That alone is enough to disqualify him from any “nice” breakup. Nice isn’t going to work with him. Strong boundaries and zero contact will, eventually.

            And also, I’m sorry, but I am just highly uncomfortable with the idea that anyone ever has the “right” to demand anything from anyone, especially because ideas like this are often used to silence and bully members of oppressed groups.

          • Noir said:

            I wasn’t implying that the breakup needs to be “nice” or that the LW needs to allow her partner to argue her reasons for deciding to end it. Her reasons are perfectly valid based solely on the fact that they are hers and have led her to the decision to breakup with her partner, regardless of how satisfactory he finds them to be. I was only saying that it is perfectly reasonable for someone to ask why they are being broken up with and get more than “we are done”. As I said earlier this is still not a license to badger and harass the breakupper for the perfect logical reason that will convince all parties involved.
            I guess as I was reading this thread I felt that the discussion was implying that even asking for a reason why one is being broken up with and expecting an answer (as hurtful and cruel as that may be) is somehow beyond unreasonable and would be crossing the line, and that is the point I disagree with. Does that mean that they have the right to “demand” answers until they are satisfied? No not at all. But I feel if I am being broken up with, I am well within my right to ask for a reason why, as this decision affects both parties and not just the breakupper. I would however only ask once or at most twice and if no reason was forthcoming I would wish them well and move on with my life. And I do realize not all people would behave this way, and again for the well-being of the breakupper it may be warranted to simply leave it as “we are done” and offer no more.
            My point wasn’t that people get to “demand” whatever they want from others, in the sense that they are allowed to argue with and harass others until they are satisfied. Nobody has the right to do that. But what people have the right to in my opinion is to understand why something is happening to them that will affect them, and no more. They may not like it and they may disagree with it, that’s their problem to work out.
            I may have misunderstood the discussion, but I just wanted to offer my opinion that it is not unreasonable to ask why and expect an answer. Anything beyond that IS unreasonable, but not this.

          • Vicki said:

            I think the disjunct here is that some of us are thinking that if A breaks up with B, A may have already stated a lot of the reasons, during the relationship. Someone asks for X, Y, and Z, says they’re important, maybe even says Z is a deal-breaker, and doesn’t get them. If they then break up with the other person, what reason are they going to give beyond “For all the reasons I told you I was dissatisfied over the last months”?

            In the specific case of LW, she did tell her soon-to-be-ex why she was breaking up with him, and his response was to insist that her reasons aren’t good enough. Someone in that context isn’t entitled to another chance to argue that the reasons aren’t good enough; even from the viewpoint of someone asking in the hope that he’ll treat people better from now on, this person clearly won’t. He isn’t going to change how he behaves; at most he will come up with a better line of bull about why those things aren’t really flaws, or aren’t important, or he deserves another chance.

          • Ethyl said:

            You can feel however you want, and you can demand and ask why to people breaking up with you. That does not make them obligated to answer you.

          • Beth said:

            Half of your statement is right. The person being broken up with has a right to ask why they are being broken up with. That is true. But the second half, the “expect an answer” part, is wrong. The asking is an action that person takes, and it is completely in that person’s control. The getting an answer from the other person is an action the other person takes, and therefore is and must be in the control of the person taking that action. Does that make sense?

            Let me try again. LW has a right to break up with BF. BF has a right to ask why. LW has a right to give or not give an answer. BF doesn’t have a right to force an answer out of LW. Basically, neither person has the right to force the other person to do anything, and each person has a right to say as much as they feel like saying.

          • Noir said:

            I feel perhaps that we’re arguing semantics at this point, but I don’t equate “expecting an answer” with “taking any action or forcing anybody to give me one”. All I am asserting is that it is reasonable for someone who is being broken up with to ask why and expect to hear a reason. IF no reason is forthcoming, IT ENDS HERE. Anything beyond that will certainly be unreasonable. It does not equate to other people being obligated to answer the question. And I am also not referring to “butttt whyyyy” conversations; those are certainly not worth the hassle of dealing with.
            I guess I just felt that most of the discussion focused on giving reasons so as to be nice/considerate/letting someone down easy etc… In my view it is not about being nice or considerate. It is about informing another human being (not opening the door for them to argue) of why something is happening to them; cruel or not and regardless of how valid or satisfactory the reasons are to them. That’s immaterial. I guess Beth said it best: “Basically, neither person has the right to force the other person to do anything, and each person has a right to say as much as they feel like saying.”

          • SarahTheEntwife said:

            I disagree. Sometimes there is a single overriding reason for a breakup, but in my experience, more often it’s just “this isn’t working anymore”. I understand the internal voice of “but whyyyy??”, but really, does there need to be an answer other than “this person doesn’t want to date me”? If it was something you could change, surely they would have told you.

    • Copcher said:

      I completely disagree with this. To say that the LW’s first attempt to break up with this guy didn’t work because the LW didn’t really want to break up sounds incredibly victim-blamey to me. Manipulation is a very effective way to keep people in relationships that they really really don’t want to be in. It is completely unfair to give the LW the responsibility to provide an explanation that satisfies this dude, especially when he has shown that he won’t be satisfied by any explanation. From the letter: “What happens is that he tries to convince me that I am in fact wrong about why I want to break up, and the issues I raise are things that “can be solved” and “we just have to work together”.” That is not someone looking to be satisfied by an explanation. It’s someone trying to poke holes in an explanation.

      Maybe he hasn’t done anything wrong (although I think manipulating someone into staying in a relationship they aren’t happy with is pretty wrong), and it sucks that nice people sometimes gets dumped. But people have to be allowed to look after themselves, and if what LW needs is time away from this guy after they break up, any need that he has for friendship or closure on a satisfactory explanation doesn’t get to trump that.

    • Britt said:

      Nope, sorry to dogpile, but nope. That’s fine for you if you think that the clean break (which is what it is, not a “freeze out”) is cruel, but it is in fact what for MANY MANY people is the best way to have a low drama break-up that is the easiest to get through for EVERYONE. The break-ups that have been the most exhausting and emotionally draining and difficult for me have been the ones where I DIDN’T cut things off entirely, because it turned into weeks or months of little niggling things that reopened the wound I was trying to heal.

    • Joan of Anon said:

      Just no.

      “Someone who has given you four years of their life” has done so freely, out of choice, knowing it was possible for any number of things to cause it to end under any number of circumstances. When you get into a relationship, you should do it with the knowledge that one day this person may never want to speak to you again and that they have that right. They don’t owe you anything because you chose to be in a relationship with them.

      And what would an explanation really do? I spoke about my friend in my previous comment who has recently been through similar, and he was petrified of the “why” question because the answers are, quite frankly, horrible. He wasn’t attracted to his boyfriend any more. He didn’t like that his boyfriend was really sarcastic. He didn’t like that his boyfriend didn’t care about things that were very important to him. He didn’t enjoy spending time with him. He was intellectually stimulated by conversation with him. Do you think it would be less cruel to break up with someone and tell them honestly why? Because sometimes the honest answer is something like “I love you but we want different futures” and sometimes the answer is “I don’t like you”, and you know someone is also going to want to know *why* you don’t like them, and answering that is, in my opinion, much more cruel than leaving someone to make up whatever reason will eventually comfort them, or letting someone hate you for callously leaving them with no explanation.

      When I broke up with my ex, you know what my real reasons were? “I hate our sex life, and while I thought you were funny and intelligent when I was 19, now I’m older and it turns out I’ve progressed as a person and you haven’t – I don’t think you’re funny and intelligent any more.”

      A clean break with no explanation other than “I don’t want this any more” is much, much kinder than going into reasons.

      And having weeks and weeks of FEELINGSCOFFEE and deep conversation about where it all went wrong? Also cruel. I’ve never done those myself, but again, for my friend, it was weeks of being guilted, of being touched inappropriately, of angling for fuckbuddies and questioned over the details of why. It sucked for him, because I saw him crying after every one of these meetings, and while I don’t have a lot of sympathy for his ex, I honestly think it was worse for him too. Because a clean break is a solid no, and you can start moving on even if you are incredibly angry. But FEELINGSCOFFEE, especially to someone who won’t take being broken up with without an explanation (as though any explanation is going to make it feel better) is dwelling and looking for hope and keeping you emotionally entwined with this person – this person who doesn’t love you any more. Being in love with someone and rejected by them is horrible, and feelingscoffee is hourly meetings of reminders of the fact that you love this person and they don’t love you. And no words will ever, ever be enough to offer closure.

      I don’t think LW boyfriend really deserves much consideration for his feelings because he hasn’t shown any for hers, but even if he was a perfectly nice guy who had done nothing wrong, cutting of contact would still be the best way to handle this break up. It is far, far kinder to let someone think you’re a heartless asshole and let them hate you, then to try to be nice and draw out a painful process while they search for answers which will never, ever help and may well be incredibly horrible to hear.

      • “A clean break with no explanation other than “I don’t want this any more” is much, much kinder than going into reasons.”

        This I actually do disagree with–not because it’s wrong all of the time, but because it’s wrong some of the time, and it 100% depends on the specifics: the person’s personality, the feelings involved, what the reasons actually are, etc. What IS true is that you have no idea of knowing what is best for another person, and it’s not up to you to try to figure it out. You do what you need to do to take care of yourself; trust the other adult to do what’s best for themselves. Your examples are very specific examples of how a particular breakup type can go wrong, but I think the lesson to take away from them is that the breaker-upper needs to do what’s best for themselves, and they can’t know what is best for someone else and shouldn’t try to guess at that.

        • (Without actively being an abusive jerk by enumerating the other person’s perceived character flaws, that is.)

        • hsb said:

          +1

    • This perspective doesn’t really take into account the way girls and women are socialised to put their needs aside to cater to other people. Women are constantly told that their feelings are wrong, they’re irrational and hysterical and over-reacting – so how is it ever a surprise that not every single woman in the world can stand up to someone they have a lot of emotional history with when they’re being browbeaten and argued with and guilted out? It’s sort of like the neo-liberal view that everyone is on an equal power base to negotiate, ignoring the huge difference between, for example, a representative of a major company who’s doing job interviews and an unemployed person who desperately needs a job so they can afford to live. (Social policy student, exams soon, I have political concepts on the mind.)

      The fact that the LW didn’t break up with him says that he succeeded in confusing her and twisting her words. It doesn’t say a damn thing about whether she really wanted to be with him.

    • piny said:

      This specific situation is about someone who has tried to conscientiously break up with her boyfriend–more than just once, so far as I can tell. Every time, he has shut her down. And his insistence on arguing her points is nothing but proof that he doesn’t understand breaking up as a concept: it’s not a debate; it’s a unilateral decision. He also seems very unkind, from the letter. I disagree that she owes him an in-person breakup, and I really don’t think it would be any more productive than any of the other discussions they’ve had.

      And it’s not her fault she was guilted into staying; it doesn’t prove anything about her real desires.

      But in general: I see a lot of comments below about being on the LW’s side of this. I was recently on the other side. A close friend of fifteen years cut me off. And she did it without saying anything at all. After, oh, six or seven months or so, I realized that she wasn’t just busy or something. (We live far apart, and don’t talk all that often, and are both busy.)

      I don’t think I deserved that. I think it was mean to drag it out for half a year, when we hadn’t fought or anything else. And I feel especially bad about spending so much time dismissing my worries as homesick paranoia (like, really–was I supposed to go, “So and so didn’t answer my email about that lady who gave birth in Tim Horton’s–I guess she never wants to speak to me again!”) when, whoops, I was right: she was not responding to the odd comment on Facebook AT me.

      HOWEVER. It was not that bad! Really! I miss my friend, I still feel bewildered and upset, and I wish I knew what had happened, but life goes on. And if I’m honest, almost all of my sad feelings are grief, not injury over the ungracious finish. It is what it is.

      So, speaking as someone who got frozen out, I think the LW should worry more about herself. And if it isn’t in you to courteously ditch someone forever, for whatever reason, best to get it over with and let them move on too.

      • Yup–I’ve recently been on the receiving end of this with an ex/friend, too. And I think the complete freeze-out without saying a word is completely lacking in courtesy, and it made me feel bewildered and angry–but I also know that sometimes you just can’t be courteous. Courtesy is nice and considerate, but not obligatory.

        • ironblossom2 said:

          Agreed. A couple years ago I was “bffs” with someone who all of a sudden just froze me out. I went through heck trying to figure out what I had done/what was wrong with me that this person who was going to be in my life forever and be my maid of honor and vice versa suddenly stopped talking to me.

          About 8 months later she sent me a happy birthday email and said “Sorry I dropped you like that, I couldn’t stand seeing you knowing you knew about my affair.” That would have been nice to know at the time, I honestly would probably be a different person if I hadn’t gone through that. I don’t know if it was good or bad that I did. But she couldn’t deal at that time and nothing I could have said or done would change how she felt.

          I’m still sad, and a little bit mad at her about it. But it doesn’t matter. We’re not friends and my feelings are irrelevant to her. Just as LW’s BF’s feelings need to be irrelevant to her.

    • cassandrakitty said:

      You know, in different circumstances I might agree with you. In general I lean towards wanting to handle breakups (either romantic or with friends) in a kind, hand-holding sort of way, and the only way I’d ever do the clean break is if someone had in some way harmed me or was making it clear that they were going to if I didn’t cut things off, or if I already knew that they would refuse to accept my decision if I presented it in a kind, are-you-doing-OK sort of way.

      The last scenario is what we have going on in this letter. The LW has tried the kind, compassionate, are-you-doing-OK breakup and her soon to be ex refused to accept her decision. The fact that she then stayed doesn’t indicate that she secretly wanted to stay, it indicates that she caved in to the pressure/manipulation that he engaged in when she tried to break up with him nicely, So in this particular scenario, the clean break is the only option left. If it’s unkind, it’s an unkindness that the soon to be ex forced by refusing to accept her decision the first time.

    • Just jumping in with another “Oh HELL NO” in regards to this.

      Others have covered many many reasons why “But the fact that LW DIDN’T then break up with him says that she wasn’t all that in favour of the idea herself.” is a WRONG THING OF WRONGNESS, so I want to add an additional perspective.

      In many families, the offspring fall into predictable dynamics. These have been framed in various ways but you’ve probably heard terms such as ‘scapegoat’, ‘hero’, ‘comic’ and ‘lost child’ in regards to family dynamics. I was the “lost child” (though I prefer the term “coper”) to my brother’s “scapegoat”. The upshot was a dynamic where I believed that my brother had needs and I did not, that my brother was allowed to ask for help and I was not, that anything I did to express my own needs or feelings was Drama and Troublemaking and Creating An Unnecessary Fuss and Distracting From Brother’s Real Needs.

      So when I went and got into a decade’s worth of dysfunctional relationships, I believed quite sincerely that my job in life was to suppress my own needs in favour of those of my partner. It was incredibly easy for the men who got into relationships with me to keep me there even when I wanted to get away, because I was completely unable to speak up for myself, and when I did it was also incredibly easy for them to make me believe that I never really wanted to make such a fuss.

      It has taken a crapload of therapy to recognise and deal with all that, and I *still* have issues speaking up for myself in a healthy and timely manner.

      So don’t be so quick to judge the LW. This may be part of a long pattern for her which is totally not her fault.

    • So you’ve never had a long term relationship break up, then. I would recommend waiting until you’ve had that experience to opine, and also waiting for a few months after it ends, so that you have perspective. Every single person I know who has ended a long term relationshp and dragged it out regretted it. Every. Single. One.

      • ironblossom2 said:

        100% My very best breakup was back in high school. My boyfriend had been irritating me all day anyway (yeah, this was one of those super-intense, super-short teen deals) and wanted to go on a long FEEINGSWALK where we talked all about what he was feeling, what I was feeling, etc…

        *Light dawning on me* “oh, so we’re breaking up?”
        Him “ummm….yeah, are you okay? How do you feel?”
        Me “Um, okay, well, seeya!”
        Him “what…..!?!?”
        Me *leaving*

        As contrasted to my other relationship in high school where we were friends(!) and would be for(!) ever(!) and got back together numerous times(!) and really really loved each other(!) just couldn’t stand each other(!) and ended when he got drunk, said many very mean (sexual) things about me to my friends who were NOT his friends, got kicked out of their party and ended up throwing beer bottles at me because it was “funny” to watch me run from the broken glass and projectiles.

        Team no dragging out!!!

    • Sheelzebub said:

      “She justifies it in this case that the chap in question “made” the LW stay the first time she floated the idea of breaking up. But the fact that LW DIDN’T then break up with him says that she wasn’t all that in favour of the idea herself.”

      Wow. Talk about being nasty and cruel–way to ignore EVERY SINGLE THING the LW included in her letter to the Captain.

      I know I should be nice but FFS, the LW’s boyfriend badgered and manipulated and nagged her into staying. She was left in tears and feeling like shit because he cornered her and threw a massive fucking shit fit and guilt trip upon her, and to pretend that THAT shit isn’t at all nasty, and that she freely chose to stay in a relationship that made her miserable is willfully ignorant on YOUR part. Not to mention, nasty and cruel.

      She didn’t take four years of his life–he gave them quite willingly and basically coerced the last amount of time from her when he knew full well she wanted to leave. And being together for many years doesn’t actually obligate anyone to stay in contact once the relationship ends. I have been dumped by long term boyfriends and got the same shit you’re dishing out–our history together meant that I was supposed to allow contact I did not want.

      It does not mean that. Had this guy shown a shred of respect for her desires, had he expressed sadness but accepted her decision, they could have possibly been friends fter taking a period to adjust However, he’s showing her through his past actions that further contact will only lead to more manipulative bullshit on his part.

      And you know what? People like YOU made it that much harder when I tried to get out of an emotionally abusive relationship. Abusers pull the same shit this jackhole did, and I got the same moralizing and finger-wagging bullshit from people like you telling me how selfish and mean I was for wanting no contact from someone who would not let go. Go fuck yourself.

      • paragua said:

        just. so. great.

    • neverjaunty said:

      I think perhaps you are mistakenly responding to a different LW/advice entirely?

      Because this is not actually a situation where the LW’s ex has “done nothing wrong” other than fall out of grace with the LW. This is a situation where the ex has actually done something wrong, which is to refuse to accept that LW has a choice about being in the relationship. Ex is arguing and manipulating and wearing LW down.

      There is a world of difference between “I am sad we are broken up. Can you tell me why the relationship ended? If there is anything I could fix that would change your mind, I would like to hear that” and “You are not permitted to leave me until you have presented reasons that I deem acceptable.”

      You do understand the difference, right?

    • meh said:

      Yeah, someone has freely given you years of their life. They have also freely taken the years of your that you gave them. I’d say the scales are even there, and uneven if, as LW, the person has tried to end it and been browbeaten into staying. The fact that it has been a long time doesn’t mean that anyone “deserves” to have the other person put in even more time.

      Instead of thinking of the time the party being left has put in, think about the time the party leaving has given away already. Might help you get past this idea of people being owed things in a breakup.

    • Thank you for being so clearly the voice of the LW’s jerkbrain and all the terrible societal messages that the LW and the rest of us get bombarded with so that the rest of the Awkwardeers could respond with specific arguments. And I hope that in the future you can take care of yourself if something like this happens to you and your own jerkbrain starts making noises about how you should stay in a place you don’t want to be because you don’t want to be a nasty or cruel person.

    • Elsajeni said:

      I think the reason you’ve noticed that pattern in the Captain’s advice on breakups — that she will often advise a letter-writer to do the breaking-up in very clear terms, and not to offer reasons and explanations, and to cut off contact entirely and immediately — is because people who write in to advice columns asking how to handle a breakup are often not in situations where the breakup is going to be calm, amicable, and happy and they’ll be friends right away. They’re more likely to be in situations where they know the breakup is going to be adversarial and no fun at all, and the Captain’s advice is designed to get the writer through that shittiness as quickly and thoroughly as possible so they can stop worrying about it and get on with taking care of themselves.

      It’s true that it is hurtful for someone to cut contact with you and refuse to explain. But the thing is, if you’re breaking up with someone, there’s generally no way to do it that isn’t going to hurt them. So sometimes you just have to choose the way that protects you the best, even if it does upset the other person.

      • Vicki said:

        Yes, this.

        The person who can straightforwardly say “we knew going into this that I want kids and you absolutely don’t, so it’s time to end it so I can find someone to have kids with” and get a “you’re right, I’ll miss you” instead of “but I might change my mind!” or “No, not yet!” or argument about whether to have kids isn’t writing to Captain Awkward. Neither is the one who expects that acceptance if they say “I’m sorry, but this isn’t working anymore. I’m breaking up with you” without giving that sort of factual reason.

    • twomoogles said:

      I think it’s somewhat cruel to end a relationship without ever indicating there’s an issue. If one person is feeling like the relationship is awesome, the other person is totally in love (and saying it!), making future-type statements and so on right up to the day they say ‘nope sorry I’m done now’ I think that’s…pretty harsh. It also scares the hell out of me when I hear stories like this because it makes me paranoid, but that’s neither here nor there.

      It’s also not what’s happening here at all, IMO. In this situation, we have someone who *has* expressed her unhappiness, has in fact *tried* to break up with the person before, so it’s not as though this would be coming as a totally out of the blue shocker!

      I don’t think every person who tries to get back with an ex is being an emotionally abusive fuckwit. But when the ex *is* trying to get back and the answer is *no chance* it is crueler to both parties to drag it out.

      • Ethyl said:

        FWIW, twomoogles, I think a lot of times those stories (the ones that go “I had no idea, zie just broke up with me out of nowhere!”) are uh, fudged a little bit by the broken up with person. It’s been my experience, where friends have gotten dumped “out of nowhere,” that there were some pretty clear indications that the other party wasn’t happy in the relationship, and friend either ignored them at the time (yay denial!), and/or glossed over them in retrospect (to make themselves look better). You sound like a caring person, so I’m hopeful that you would not necessarily ignore signs your relationship is in trouble :)

      • Without ever indicating there’s an issue, sure. It’s fine to end a relationship without reiterating the issue you’ve previously brought up.

        No one seems to me to be talking about letting something fester and then ending the relationship when the other person doesn’t take the initiative to discuss it or deal with it, or being extremely subtle about indicating there’s an issue and ending the relationship in frustration when the other person doesn’t pick up on it. XBF knew about the problems — if nothing else, the last breakup attempt should have been a huge clue. That discharges her obligations to tell him there’s a problem.

        And if it’s not something he could fix if only he knew about it, she may as well just rip off the bandage. “I now realize I was never really into this relationship” isn’t something that can easily (or, probably, at all) be fixed.

    • It’s not cruel. LW tried to give the guy an explanation and he didn’t listen. And break-ups are often cruel to the recipient, by their nature.

      “If LW wanted to break up with him, it would happen” comes off as “why are you not applying your logic circuits to this, meat creature?”

      • DWM said:

        I cannot wait to use “meat creature” at work tomorrow!

    • DWM said:

      Nope. Not cruel at all. What *is* cruel is forcing someone to stay or do something against their will or guilting them into it. You are free to talk to all your exes as much as you want but you are not free to impose your fee fees on someone else.

  14. dualityheart said:

    I had an ex who would not let go in high school. He was depressive and creepy and would go on about how we would not need birth control once we started having sex because he would be fine with just having ENDLESS BABIES (luckily for me, my teen self was smart enough to use his religiosity to convince him that we could not have sex until marriage (not that I wanted to marry him, but yeah twas high school and I was lonely and insecure).

    This also included massive drama where he would threaten to kill himself every evening when we spoke on the phone to keep me on the phone with him long after I needed to go do other things.

    So eventually I got to the point where I knew I had to break up with Toxic Dude and I knew for sure he would not take it well. So I broke up with him at the end of the day at school in a public place. He cried. I told him flatly that I was done. He threatened to kill himself. I told him flatly that his decisions were his choice and that he should get professional help, but it was not my problem. He kept saying “but why?” And I simply kept saying that I no longer wished to be with him, that I would no longer be speaking to him and then left.

    He tried calling me, waiting to talk with me, etc. I ignored him. He stopped coming to school for awhile. I just went about my business. He cornered me at one point and tried to guilt me about how he had been crying in bed the whole past week and could not eat. I simply looked at him, told him that he was free to make choices like that, but that I would never get back together with him.

    Luckily for me, his family moved away a few months later.

    Years later, he tried to contact me via social networking and wanted to be friends. I told him that, no, I did not want to be friends and blocked him. He made a mule account and sent a couple harassing emails that I ignored and blocked and finally he gave up.

    I knew that this was the right choice. You are never under the obligation to deal with someone else’s abuse or personal issues in the hope that it will make them stop and be reasonable and happy. An ungracious soon to be ex will be ungracious no matter what. No one should ever feel obligated to an unwanted relationship. If someone is willing to make you miserable just so they can avoid having to be single, they do not love you. They do not truly care for your wellbeing. So you are free to not feel guilt for wanting to be free of such a person.

    • hypatia said:

      Teen!dualityheart sounds like someone I’d have liked to be friends with in high school.

  15. unagi said:

    I feel for you LW, I too had a first relationship that I had to break sloppily after 4 years of being browbeaten about what could my reasons possibly be? Alas, my reasons were mostly negative, feeling the lack of things I clearly hadn’t had yet since this was my first relationship. So I was totally inarticulate about all this. This doesn’t mean that I didn’t feel strongly that I wanted my life to be better than it was at the time, and it turned out this was totally right. And it was also a time of being away for school that helped me clarify my feelings. So kudos to you for making that decision and taking control.

    I’d like to second CA’s always excellent advice, and lay it on a bit thicker about being careful about the process. What happened to me was that none of my friends liked him, and I managed with great difficulty to convince my mother not to give him my new address. But he did show up everywhere and try to wheedle/intimidate them into telling him where I was “so he could get a satisfactory explanation, as I so cruelly left him hanging”. I eventually came to see his behavior as really abusive, and found out that he’d gone on to beat his wife etc. so I was really happy that he hadn’t been able to find me, in fact I’ve never felt safe about him since. Fast forward several decades. I read the excellent “why does he do this?” by Lundy Bancroft, and really clarify to myself how this whole relationship went (like no respect for my autonomy or my feelings, as exemplified by his not accepting that I wanted to leave). But the thing that gave me the willies is that I went through the list of ‘danger signals’, things that might make you think that physical safety might be in question during a breakup if you have 2 or 3 present. And in fact I didn’t have 2 or 3 in that relationship, I had 16. SIXTEEN. I was really lucky that my friends supported me, he had access to guns..

    So LW, I don’t want to scare you, but I’d like you to be safe. Please consider reading that book, to clarify things in your mind, maybe you don’t have that much to worry about but it’s best to know. Pay attention to his advice on leaving a relationship safely. Keep in mind that an abusive person often first hits you for real when they perceive that you’re really determined to leave them. Scope out your friends, especially common friends, to make sure they have your back. Family too. Consider suspending temporarily contact with people that won’t respect your decision to disappear from his life. And don’t think you need a black eye to call your local domestic violence hotline, it’s perfectly OK to call them for practical advice to prevent anything happening to you if you have any inkling that it could go badly.

    Courage! It’ll be over soon, and your life will be so much better..

  16. Jennifer said:

    Honestly I think the best thing to do is to tell him you absolutely do not love him anymore. If you say anything other than that he’s going to be thinking in the back of his head that he still might be able to change your mind or that you’re not sure of yourself. By telling him you do not love him anymore is a clear end to the relationship. How can you stay with someone who doesn’t love you?

    One thing that concerns me is the possibility of this turning violent. It sounds like he’s an unstable control freak who can’t stand to have things not go his way. He seems manipulative and just reading about how he tricked you into staying with him really pisses me off – and I don’t even know you!

    I’ve known men like this and seriously like Jennifer said, DO THIS IN A NEUTRAL PLACE, LIKE A PUBLIC PARK. Then, definitely have someone waiting for you in your car (where they can see you) or have them be there ready to pick you up. That way if he gets handsy or whatever you have someone to have your back.

    Good luck and be safe.

    • neverjaunty said:

      “But I love you!”

      “But if I changed [thing] you would love me again, right?”

      “But that can’t be true. You must still love me because you like spending time with me and you are having FEELINGSCOFFEE with me and besides, remember that time we went to the park and…..”

      If she tells him she does not love him, that is a “because”. It is saying “I need a reason to break up with you; the reason is I don’t love you.” And that is buying right back into his worldview: that she does not have the right to break up with him unless he says so.

      I get what you’re saying, and it’s true that an emotionally healthy, sensible person would not want to maintain a relationship with somebody who no longer loves them. If LW’s ex were emotionally healthy and sensible he would not be harassing her like this.

      • Jennifer said:

        I’m just speaking from my own experience. I’ve been in a situation where I didn’t understand why someone wanted to leave me because in my mind everything was great, but then when he told me he didn’t love me anymore, it all made sense suddenly and even though I was heart broken I was able to move on. Knowing he didn’t love me was closure. Also, I have had to do that for two separate situations. By telling the guys I wasn’t in love with them, they were able to realize, “hey, this is really not going to work,” or “hey, this is really over.” I’m not saying it’s going to work, but it’s worth it to give it a shot. Honesty is always the best policy.

        Ultimately she doesn’t owe him any explanation. She should just leave and never talk to him again, but I think knowing that a person isn’t in love with you is the first step towards learning to let go.

      • Rhoda said:

        Yes. I’ve been in a relationship with someone who does not see my refusal to say I love you as a reason to break up. He told me “I tell you I love you every day. A lesser man would have given up by now”. He fails to realise that he is the lesser man.

    • highlyeccentric said:

      I second this. If necessary, agree that you never loved him. He will accuse you of this, so you might as well agree to it.

      • Shiny said:

        But she did that last time:

        I also felt compelled to say cruel things that are not really true, such as, “No I never loved you really, I was just convincing myself I did.” in order to not give him the ammunition to counter me with.

        If he wants to pressure her into staying even if she doesn’t want to, it’s not going to help.

  17. Heidi said:

    I had the EXACT same experience. I was in a 3 1/2 year relationship that never quite felt right. I tried to break up and he made me feel like I was just wrong and we stayed together, but then I went abroad and it was just so clear that I didn’t want to be in it. And you know what? He made it hell to break up with him. So, here’s some things to expect. Expect him to try to contact you a lot. Expect him to throw the “what happens when you realize you want me and I’ve moved on, won’t you regret that then?” line at you. Expect some mutual friends to take his side. But you know what? There will also be people (this helped me feel better) who will say “I never did see why you were together” and not mean it meanly, just matter of factly. They agree with your decision. Expect some attempt to “stay friends” which will actually mean a way to stay in constant contact.

    Do yourself the favor I didn’t do right off. Tell your ex that you need a specific amount of no contact time. And then ignore him. It will help you both. It was when I started not answering his 3 phone calls a day that he finally started to date again. And it will give you peace from the guilt he’s trying to give you.

    You’re doing the right thing.

    • Nightsail said:

      “what happens when you realize you want me and I’ve moved on, won’t you regret that then?”

      A few things come to mind as potential comebacks to this question…

      “Yeah, I totally will. In fact, the world will probably end when that happens, the Earth will fall into the sun and we’ll all die in a fiery inferno. Dude. I’m going to be responsible for a MAJOR EVENT!”

      “Yeah, I totally will. I regretted throwing out that pizza last week too. I mean, I know it was three weeks old, but that was hawaiian pizza. I love hawaiian pizza! What if it was still edible? I should’ve smelled it first!” And then quickly perk up again with a smile, attention on something elsewhere that clearly isn’t him. “Oh hey look, (shiny object)!”

      “Yeah, and then I’ll wake up and swear off eating so much yogurt just before bed.”

      “Yeah, but I find I can get the same fulfillment as being with you by (playing a video game/watching a movie/other activity). I’m sure I’ll be fine.”

      “Yeah, and that’s what inspires a lot of songs these days, so you’ll probably hear me on the radio. Thanks in advance for making me millions!”

      “Yeah, but luckily for me, it doesn’t sound like you’re interested in moving on, so that’s nothing I’ll ever have to worry about. Except… now Twilight comes to mind and I’m completely skeeved out. Ew. I need to go wash the creepy off now. Excuse me.”

      Perhaps more sensibly,

      “If that happens, then maybe, but you know what? I’ll have no one to blame but myself for ending this despite your protests, and I’m completely prepared to act like an adult and accept that.”

      Good on you for getting out of a suck situation, though — and LW? I wish you the best in doing likewise!

  18. duck-billed placelot said:

    THE PHONE use the phone, oh, seriously, use the phone.

    This guy is obviously going to try to pull the same crap; it worked last time! So this time, you will take that information (he will manipulate me) and use it to inform the logistics of your break up. I suggest you call him with a very good friend in the room, actually. Someone that, when you say you want to break up with him, asks about your feelings or offers her sympathy. Avoid anyone who says anything about the length of your relationship, how you two are so cute together, how this will complicate your social circle, etc, etc. Having a friend in the room will help, and s/he can intervene if you start to get overwhelmed. Also, at the first hint of “No, you can’t”, a phone allows you to say, “Yes, I already have, goodbye.”

    Which, really is how you should answer any of his manipulations: we’re already broken up.

    • I fully concur with the Captain’s advice to do this however you find it most comfortable and easiest, but I will second a phone call suggestion. One advantage is that you can write down your scripts or notes and just keep repeating them. Another is it can feel like you’re doing the [unnecessary] courtesy of a real-time conversation instead of a letter, which might make you sit better with it. And the ultimate advantage is, of course, that you can hang up; just be sure you actually do that. While he’s talking if necessary. You can have a specific time you “need to go”, and then you just. hang. up. And it’s over.

      • If I want to hang up on someone, just to make sure they don’t assume or pretend to assume it was a line cut off, I give them one warning. “If you keeping doing [x] I will have to hang up.” and then “I’m hanging up.” Then if the phone rings when you’ve ended the call, ignore it. They know it wasn’t a line fault. (If they keep ringing, wait until a break and take the phone off the hook – or if there isn’t a break, open and close the call, then take it off the hook straight after. Assuming it’s a landline, that is.)

        • Another couple of good tricks for repetitive nuisance calls to landlines:
          – Just pick up the phone, put it down next to a source of music or something, and go out for a couple of hours. Not only can they then not call you, but depending on the type of phone they’re calling from they might not be able to free their line from the call either until you come back to hang up later on.
          – Pick up the phone then use some sort of device (whistle or something electronic) to send an ear-piercing screech down it.
          – If you have an answering machine, let the call go through to the point where the caller starts recording, then pick up the receiver and hold it right up to the speaker. The resulting feedback is even better than a whistle.

          These were bits of advice given to my family when my dad’s first post-divorce girlfriend started harassing my mum over the problems girlfriend was having with dad (which made sense… to her… somehow). The answering machine feedback trick was our favourite.

          • Not only can they then not call you, but depending on the type of phone they’re calling from they might not be able to free their line from the call either until you come back to hang up later on.

            Heh, heh. *slighly-evil-but-not-really-because-they-asked-for-it laugh*

          • Lilly said:

            These are nice tricks for upsetting a nuisance caller but maybe not so safe for dealing with a stalker?

            The advice in Gavin de Becker’s Gift of Fear is to let the stalker call through to an answering machine, and leave whatever messages etc, while the person being stalked has another phone number that they can use, so they are not bothered by the calling. Eventually the nuisance caller will likely give up as they are not getting a reaction from their victim.

            Upsetting the nuisance caller could put the person being called at risk by making the caller escalate his actions.

        • If it’s a cell phone, put it on airplane mode. It sucks that you’ll have to essentially go without your phone until they give up, but hopefully it won’t last too long.

  19. Min said:

    Oh god. I so understand the need to have “reasons” – as if “I am unhappy and don’t want this any more” somehow doesn’t count! It took me two failed breakups to finally cut things off with my ex-husband; both times I was guilted back into staying because my reasons weren’t good enough… it felt like the bit in a horror movie where the heroine *thinks* she’s got away but then it turns out that the monster is STILL ALIVE! I wish this blog had been in existence back then, it would have saved me from a miserable and wasted year and a half.

    No-one has the right to judge whether or not your reasons are worthy enough. Not your ex, not your family, not your friends. And “I want out!” is all you need. You shouldn’t be worrying about justifying that to anyone.

  20. LW, you gave the perfect reason in the letter. The very best reason in the WORLD. You do not want to be in this relationship any longer. You don’t need to clarify anything else to yourself (though of course it may help to do so) because that’s the only thing that really matters. You do not want to be in a relationship with him.

  21. Lots of good responses here. Also a lot of assumptions about how the boyfriend is being purposefully manipulative. LW, you might be reading those assumptions and feeling guilty. “No, he’s not trying to control me on purpose! He’s just hurt and scared and believes that he can genuinely fix our relationship with his magical logic! Now I feel bad for making him look like such a bad person.”

    If that’s your reaction, please don’t let it guilt you into giving the relationship another chance. Your boyfriend may well have the best of intentions. Unfortunately, those intentions don’t change the effects of his actions. You’re allowed to break up with him — and to protect yourself from his counterattacks — even if he’s a good guy deep down.

    • I don’t think most people have said anything about intent either way. Intent isn’t really material–whether he decided “I will manipulate her!” or not, the effect is manipulation, so that’s exactly what this is.

    • letternext said:

      This is a really good comment. LW, you do whatever you need to do to get some stability and happiness back in your life. It’s pretty understandable and common to feel guilty, especially at the end of your first relationship, but if you do start to feel that way imagine yourself in the same relationship 1 year, 2 years or 5 years from now and ask yourself if you’d be willing [or even able] to put up with it for that long? You already know you don’t want to be in this relationship, you don’t have to sacrifice your life to make someone else happy. The fact that YOU are not happy [or even comfortable] would make it impossible for you to “make” him happy anyway and either way, you would be deeply unhappy yourself and not have the basic stability you need to be happy.

      I wish I had some practical advice but it’s all been covered really well by the Captain and crew, one thing I did think though, was when I was in a similar position and I tried to get some of my gear, mostly textbooks and clothes [that I could've written off but would have made study/work difficult] back from my partner before I’d had The Conversation with him, which I planned to do over the phone, he knew immediately that something had changed and began the guilting and manipulating me then. I’m not sure what I could have done differently, so maybe it’s just something to think about. If it’s important to have The Conversation over the phone/email [which you DON'T need to feel guilty about] or in a neutral place [which is good safety advice], and you suspect he will use your belongings to extend contact and give him more chances to logic you out of your decision, is there a safe way you can get your irreplaceable gear back from him, ie take someone with you, have someone waiting in a car, call a cab to pick you up 10 minutes after you arrive etc?

      Anyway good luck LW, I really hope things turn out well for you!

  22. Trooper6 said:

    Dear LW,

    Here is my story…More of a cautionary tale…I hope it helps.

    I don’t think I’ve ever been set up by friends for a date, I usually find dates on my own. But this one time it happened. This woman, C. All our mutual friends thought I’d be perfect for her and just what she needed. (This should have been a red flag). Anyway, we start dating. Everything is great for about a month. Then it gets a bit more serious, and trouble starts. She sits me down and says to me,
    C: “I have a serious thing to tell you, but I’m afraid that if I tell you you’ll break up with me like all those other jerk dudes have done.”
    Trooper: “of course won’t break up with you!”

    She then explains that she is a survivor of sexual assault. We have the big conversation and I am supportive. Then she starts treating me really poorly. She spends most of her time insulting men and me…saying things like, “I think the world would be a better place if all men were dead.” That sort of thing. She didn’t want her family to know we were dating because even though she was bisexual, she had come out to them lesbian so I had to litterally hide in her closet whether mom would stop by. She would out me as trans to everyone else she told about our relationship so that people wouldn’t think she was dating a “real” man. She was regularly emotionally abusive and belittling. She coerced me to do things sexually I wasn’t comfortable with. I saw all this, but didn’t know what to do,since I’d promised not to break up with her. So I asked the council of a few of our mutual friends. They told me I shouldn’t break up with her because it wassohealing for her to date me. So I didn’t. But I got more and more miserable.

    Eventually it became too much and I told her that we had to break up. Her response was that I wasn’t allowed to break up with her, because doing so would take away her agency, which is what rapists do. Not wanting to be a rapist by breaking up with her, I stayed. I didn’t want to hurt her, I didn’t want to be a jerk, I didn’t want to break my promise not to break up with her, I was afraid of all the fallout of our mutual friends…all that stuff. So I stayed, and continued to stoically suffer totally messed up things. And it was really bad for me. The only way I was able to get out of the relationship was by convincing her to go back to college to finish her degree. And that the best college for her was quite far away. So she broke up with me and I was free. But it messed me up…and I was really wrong for handling it the way I did.

    I should not have let her badger me into not breaking up with her.
    Once it became clear than when I articulated my reasons for wanting to end it–which was about how she was belittling my experiences–and she shut me down and belittled my experiences, that I really didn’t owe her anymore talking and trying to justify myself.
    I shouldn’t have worried so much about not hurting a person who was hurting me, when my hurting her would have been caused by trying to stop the abuse.
    I shouldn’t have worried so much about our mutual friends.

    I should have said, “C, I don’t want to date you anymore, and I’m not going to date you anymore. I’ve tried to work through this with you before and it isn’t working, and I’m not doing it anymore. I wish you the best, but I’m done and I’m not changing my mind. I need space to process, so don’t contact me for at least 6 months.”

    I really should’ve said that. There was nothing worse for me than to know I was done with the relationship, that this relationship was toxic to me, and to. Still be in that relationship…giving my energy away to a person who was not only respecting me, but who was not healthy for me. I deserved better than that. You deserve better than that.

    Break up. You no longer have to justify yourself. You don’t have to explain. You don’t even have to have a dialogue. Monologue that break-up and get out.

    • How awful. So sorry you had to deal with that.

      • rosi5 said:

        +1

    • neverjaunty said:

      YOU were not wrong. SHE was wrong. You were being emotionally abused, and Team Her was pretending to be Team You. (You shouldn’t break up with her because it was good for her, no matter whether it was good for you? WHAT. THE. FUCKING. FUCK.) Yes, it was a bad situation, but you were not ‘wrong’ for failing to immediately extricate yourself from the relationship, vault over her emotional abuse and skilfully evade her using your own good-person-ness and kindness against you.

      • trooper6 said:

        Thanks neverjaunty, it is hard to deal with being in abusive relationship and so easy to think that somehow I did something or didn’t do something…and I want the LW to know that a partner coercing you into not breaking up with them is abusive. And you are not obligated to be nice to someone who is coercing and badgering you.

        • neverjaunty said:

          Yes yes. And I apologize if I came across as “You are a bad person for thinking you are a bad person!”

          • trooper6 said:

            Not at all! Jedi-hugs all around!

    • secretrebel said:

      That sounds awful. someone gaslighted me in a similar way once so I can relate.

      In the end if dating someone makes you miserable you should break up. That applies whatever their history and even if they are a really lovely wonderful person. Relationships shouldn’t make you unhappy all the time. If they do they are made of evil bees.

      • Trooper6 said:

        And I’ve seen enough B Horror Movies to know that evil bees are always a problem…also evil ants…and giant animals. And apparently teenagers from outer space.

    • mintylime said:

      Holy fuck, she claimed you were denying her agency … to deny your fucking agency? That’s some special cognitive dissonance there.

  23. I hire and train people to work with small children, people who are often very inexperienced. One of the hardest things to teach them is that giving a misbehaving child a consequence–even a serious one, like calling home–is not cruel. It can often be a very positive, educational experience, because some people just need to cross the line to find it.

    Might it help you to reframe a seemingly cruel, unilateral breakup as a potentially educational experience for this guy? The moral being: YOU CANNOT ARGUE SOMEONE OUT OF LEAVING YOU. It won’t stop him from fighting you, but maybe it would help you feel less paralyzed and guilty about it?

  24. MmMarple said:

    + 100 to all the excellent advice. This is eerily similar to my last boyfriend so I want to add a little warning: from the reaction he’s had that you’ve described I would be very, very aware that this could turn into a stalking situation. That’s what happened with mine – not only did it take three seperate tries to break up with him (the final one over an email) he did everything you’ve described. Asked for an ESSAY on where and why we went wrong, completely denied my request to break up, said I was confused and that we could work it out.
    It took four YEARS before he finally stopped trying to contact me.
    Made much worse by my guilt for his hurt and my inexperience with relationships.
    Absolutely go with a full burn – I wouldn’t even see him face to face again. He’s already made it clear that he has no intention of letting go and if you are face to face with him it’s far too easy to get sucked into an endless loop of an argument (and in a worse case scenerio with him getting angry or violent).
    Good luck, stay firm, stay away from any contact with him and find support.

    • lightacandle2c said:

      “Asked for an ESSAY on where and why we went wrong..” O.M.G.. I think you must have been going out with my ex. He said he wanted to make sure I understood all the things I did wrong and how I was going to change. IN Writing! And he gave me a time frame!!! That was when I realized I had to get away right then and there.

      • Was there a minimum word limit? Did he want references and citations? I must know!

        (in the sense where I don’t really must, just having a “wow, abusive people are seriously ridiculous sometimes in their scariness” moment)

        • I’m beginning to think that “Come up with something so ridiculously weird and out there and generally outrageous that the other person will be unable to process that no, really, that just happened” is a deliberate and very effective abuse tactic.

    • miss_chevious said:

      OMG, you had breakup homework? That is horrible and I am sorry you had to deal with that asshattery, but also, it made me laugh. Breakup Homework! I didn’t even know that was a thing!

  25. Something that may help to keep in mind:

    Not only is making a clean, quick, unambiguous break good for your own mental health and safety, it’s also a mercy for your ex. Being stuck with someone who won’t accept that you’re breaking up is terrible–and so is knowing deep down that your partner doesn’t really want to be with you! “How can I make you love me again?” is almost as painful to say as it is to hear.

    Letting him know that it’s over, right now, no negotiation, may help him get past denial/anger/bargaining into completing his grieving and moving on.

    You don’t need to be responsible for all his feelings, but even if you were, the answer would be the same–the best thing for both of you is to make a clean break.

    • Skydancing said:

      “Letting him know that it’s over, right now, no negotiation, may help him get past denial/anger/bargaining into completing his grieving and moving on.” and “…the best thing for both of you is to make a clean break.”

      Very much agree with this – and from the point of view of the one who was broken up with. When my fiance told me “I’m sorry but I can’t do this anymore”, it was unexpected and heartbreaking, and in the moment I couldn’t say anything but a couple of tear-soaked “Why?”‘s. Had he stayed longer to talk or to comfort me, or had he not made a clean break, I can too easily see my then-self being the person who would spill feelings and reasons and endless “But whyyyy?”‘s over every interaction (shudder). Yes, the breakup hurt, but without the constant salt-in-the-wound of seeing him I think the wound healed faster. He did me a favour by ending the relationship as firmly and cleanly as he did.

  26. Juuuuulia said:

    Just for the record: the proper response to “this is a problem that can be solved if we work together” is “No, it is not, because I am no longer willing to work together.”

    • Megay said:

      I really like this…..wish I’d thought of it three years ago when I was coerced into thinking I shouldn’t break up with someone!

  27. lily said:

    Definitely, definitely do it. Break up. Hear no arguments, be as hard as you need to be.

    I feel like I could have written this letter a few years ago. This is exactly, word for word, how I felt then, but I was never able to follow through. I’ve been in the relationship for seven years, and I’ve tried to break up with him quite a few times over the course of it. It’s not that I don’t care for him; rather, that he frequently does things that are probably emotional abuse (I mean… I know they are intellectually, but it’s hard to admit that emotionally, since I find myself making excuses for his behavior). Every time I tried, he would break down, freak out, threaten violence against himself, tell me how much I meant to him, promise he would be better, and I just couldn’t hold out. When the pain of the latest transgression faded, it would feel like maybe I had overreacted… until the next time it happened.

    As part of that pattern of trying to forgive and move on, I ignored those little feelings of sadness and got married to him. Been married for two years. But things didn’t improve. And now I’m in the uncomfortable position of being completely financially dependent on him. I’m a full-time student, with a large amount of debt, who will graduate into a profession that requires several years of unpaid internships and sporadic contract work before I could be even close to paying my own bills.

    Things would probably be better if we were friends, not partners. All of the bad scary things that happened were sexual. I think that was a big part of what kept me with him. Everything was OK in the day-to-day, and that made it easier to forget the bad bits. A few months ago, after a few serious breakdowns, I ended the physical part of our relationship. I realized that it had come to a point where I was lying to myself about what I wanted and how I felt, because I was afraid of what my family would say and how I could possibly support myself without him. He didn’t accept it easily. It wasn’t until I threatened to take my things and sleep on a friend’s couch for the rest of the semester that he agreed to stop pressuring me into unwanted intimacy.

    And… that’s as far as I’ve managed to get. I feel hopelessly entangled. I’m afraid that I’m going to have to spend many more years in this situation, married in the eyes of the world (but certainly not mine) and waiting for a chance to get away.

    You know you’re done. End it and have your life. No argument necessary! It’ll only get harder the longer you wait.

    • zweisatz said:

      Oh lily that’s a really tough and shitty situation. There are some letters in the archives that match you situation, if you’d like to read something. (Sorry, if I’m telling you nothing new.)

      Anyway, all the best to you and you are standing up for yourself really well in ending physical intimacy!

    • I hate hate hate the social welfare system that forces people to stay in abusive or toxic relationships because they can’t afford to leave. One of the main reasons why if I could take over the world I’d raise taxes and institute a universal living allowance at the level required to survive. Also the other problem with a lot of welfare systems – benefits that won’t let you study on them, or work jobs that don’t pay you but are effectively necessary training, etc. I wasn’t allowed to study on the sickness benefit, even one paper, because apparently if you can study you can work even though they’re very different things especially if you’re studying extramurally and don’t have to be relied on at a specific, predetermined time. I really hope you can find a way to get out earlier than you think and that it won’t be too horribly awful until then.

    • PCSDevil said:

      Oh, I’m so sorry. :-( I was in a situation similar to yours about ten years ago and all I can say is that whatever it takes to get out will be worth it. How far are you from graduating? Can you get a part-time job and your own bank account? Even if you can’t get away yet, you can start making a plan. That friend’s couch might not be so bad, especially if you can offer your friend a little money and some free housework in exchange for an extended crash. You say you’re afraid of what your family would say; do you trust any of them enough to let them know how sad you are? Can you ask any of them to help you get what you need?

      Even if you can’t get help from them, you can start making a plan to get away. I know how hopeless this all seems because this relationship seems endless, but it is not. There is a horizon, and you’ll be able to see it as soon as you make a plan. It might even be closer than you think.

      lily, someone in exactly your situation once wrote, “You know you’re done. End it and have your life. No argument necessary! It’ll only get harder the longer you wait.” This was great advice when you gave it to the LW. It’s true for you, too. Recruit yourself onto Team You and hatch an escape plan. Conspire with yourself to get yourself out of this mess. You can do it. Go. Start. Run.

    • Lilly said:

      Lily, do you have a therapist or someone you can talk to about this? It sounds like you are in a very scary situation and it could really help. I am not sure but I think that somewhere on this site, there is a post about how to get access to low cost therapy, maybe that could help you?

      Do you have any friends you can talk to? Maybe even one person you can safely confide in even part of this?

      If you feel unsafe at all, maybe there is a women’s shelter you can go to? Please trust your instincts on this.

      I think you are very brave to set a boundary with your partner about the physical stuff. This sounds like a great first step, to me. I know from personal experience how easy it is to get entangled into this sort of relationship, like yours my ex-partner was a very good manipulator. He did a good job at isolating me from my friends and there was also creepy, scary physical stuff that crept in, like putting his hands around my throat during sex and putting a pillow over my face. I got out before this got worse.

      Anyway, I got out. You can get out, too. It’s hard but you can do it.

    • neverjaunty said:

      lily, it sucks but there ARE ways out. Yes, financially it will be tough, but even in shitty economic times there are loans and forgiveness programs and debt relief and, if it comes to that, bankruptcy and repayment plans that will be a MILLION times better than letting him hold you prisoner because you have bills.

      Call a domestic violence hotline (local,national, doesn’t matter, they are not going to hang on up on you, they are there to point you in the right direction). Please don’t say oh, I’m not being ABUSED abused so it’s not that bad…..you are in a situation where you are trapped with someone who makes it difficult for you to leave, and that’s exactly what they have resources for.

    • Rosa said:

      Just want to second all the “it’s hard but you can do it.”

      If you can’t do it now, you’ll be able to do it eventually; and no matter how stuck you feel you’ve got a cheering section here.

    • Nerdlinger said:

      Oh Lily. My heart hurts for you – I had a friend in a similar situation and she only ended up getting out because they ended up having a child and she realized how bad it would be to raise her daughter in that environment. Good on you that you’re aware of the situation and have started to enforce your boundaries! Despite all, it sounds like you have a light somewhere at the end of all of this. Jedi hugs.

  28. mskayo said:

    One of the problems with attempting a “kind” breakup is that it involves a lot of reassurances to the effect that “no really, you’re a totally awesome person,” that undercut the definiteness of the “I am done.” Which only encourages them in thinking they can talk you around because you don’t really mean it. Which is ultimately harder on both of you, because they have to deal with multiple rejections, often of escalating bluntness/meanness as you become more desperate to go.

    No matter how much you still care about someone, you need to convey that you are not telling them you’re thinking about breaking up with them, you’re doing it. Something like “you have to understand, my heart has already left this relationship. What you see here is just the body sticking around to do you the courtesy of letting you know it’s gone.”

    • LilyR said:

      Thank you! This is always the scene running through my head when someone fights a breakup…

  29. Manatee said:

    Just want to add that even if the breakup talk does not go according to plan, and even if it happens the same as last time and you do get talked into agreeing to try again in that incredibly difficult and emotional moment, that does not have to be the end of the issue. You have not missed your chance to leave. You can still send an email afterwards saying, ‘no, actually we are broken up now’. Good luck.

    • PCSDevil said:

      You could even do that now. “Last time, you talked me out of it, but I’ve had a chance to reflect, and you were wrong about my being wrong. We are broken up now, for all the reasons I’ve already given you. My decision is final.” Boom. Done.

  30. solecism said:

    It sounds like maybe you and your boyfriend do not live together. That’s a good thing because it gives you some physical distance and a home that can be a safe space, assuming he does not have access to it. If he has a key to your place, I strongly advise getting the locks changed. There is lots of advice available in the archives here about developing escape plans and ensuring your safety.

    Like you, I tried breaking up with him after our first year of dating, but I didn’t have the heart to make it stick. It was my first serious relationship, and really the first time I’d tried to dump someone. And the naked pain on his face and his crying were too much for me. So we stayed together, moved across the country, moved in together, and then bought a house together.

    In my case, my ex was an alcoholic and emotionally abusive, with a dollop of sexual coercion. Plus so much hate and anger at the world and so much bigotry all the time. At one point, he agreed to quit drinking but refused to get help in the process. I think he sincerely tried, but the detox was too much (plus I suspected he was self-medicating for other issues), and he started drinking on the sly. When I discovered that, I left him temporarily. I was in the middle of my graduate research and already under a lot of stress. I started sleeping in the lab. But he started calling mutual friends for support, and one of them convinced me to give him another try. So I went back and stayed for a few more years.

    The Captain frowns on secret tests, with good reason. There were a couple of times I had them. I was using them as justification to myself to leave. Because of course, there needs to be a good objective reason. If he does this asshole thing that I expect him to do, then that’s it, that’s proof that I need to leave. And each time, he’d manage to not do it, so I would try to make it work again. Totally the wrong way to approach the situation.

    In the last year or so, I started regularly saying “it’s when I leave, not if” as long as he continued drinking. I even held out the promise of marriage if he’d dry out (it was a safe bet). I can’t say it was any particular crisis point that made me finally decide to quit and make it stick this time. Again with the tears and the pain and the heartbreak. We were at home at the time. But he believed me and didn’t try to tell me I was wrong or to argue with me. I was actually amazed that he accepted that I had made up my mind. He promptly called the realtor to put the house on the market.

    He did pound me ceaselessly with the “But whyyyyy?” I may have tried to explain the first night. I had certainly tried to have these conversations before I gave up on the relationship, but he simply was unable to hear me, to listen, to understand. When I would tell him my pain and my feelings, he would simply contradict me and tell me I was wrong and X is how I should feel. I had given him plenty of explanations for what was wrong and why I was unhappy, but as far as he was concerned, I was the problem, I was the one with the bad attitude poisoning a beautiful thing. So no, no explanation would have made any difference. Lots of experience had already proved that.

    Given that we had a house together, the breakup process was long and kinda ugly. I had thought at first that we could live together as we sorted things out. More fool me. He hammered on me for hours every night when we were both home wanting to know “whyyyyy.” So during that first week, I just packed the items that were incontrovertibly mine and that I didn’t want to lose (mostly books). I also looked for a room to rent, using my campus number and email as contact information for landlords. Plus, I opened a separate checking account and transferred money out of our joint account. When I had packed up all of the essential items that I didn’t want to lose and had found a place I could afford, I waited until he was at work, rented a small truck, and with the help of 1-2 friends moved out. I did not give him my address or phone number.

    This was a scary step, because he had been financially supporting me, and I didn’t know whether I would be able to support myself on my own with only sporadic employment at that point. And I couldn’t afford the cost of the rented room as well as my share of the mortgage, so he ended up having to carry the mortgage on his own after I moved out. And he did what he could to reduce my financial resources. He destroyed a quarterly check and denied ever receiving it, so I had to pay to have it reissued. Plus, when he discovered that I had transferred money out of the joint account, he transferred the rest, while I had a credit card payment en route, so that ended up coming out of my very limited funds. I was able to get a small unsecured loan from the credit union to cover my expenses to during this transition period, plus I expected to use it to buy some barely functional car because I expected him to hold onto that. As it turns out, I got the car at the last because he couldn’t figure out how to take it with him while he was driving a moving truck out of state.

    I was very fortunate that jobs materialized so that I could support myself, though my solo income that first year was well below the poverty line. But my living expenses were incredibly low, and I had essential medical care via Planned Parenthood and the Well Woman program, which Planned Parenthood staff told me about and helped me apply for.

    The long painful part was the 3 months that the house was on the market and we divided up the remaining household. We agreed that I would go over there only when he was home; on average, it was once a week for a couple hours. We sorted through tons of stuff, from canned goods to linens, figuring out what to keep and what to recycle or donate. As time went on, he got more hostile and resentful about the whole thing: “I feel like you come over here only to get stuff, so maybe I won’t do this anymore.” Well, duh, of course the only reason I am slogging through week after week is to put everything in order. Plus we started fighting about the sale of the house and our respective shares (this was just before the housing crash, just as the market was slowing down). I ended up consulting a lawyer, and it got really tense, but we finally sorted it out and got the house sold.

    The day we closed on the house, I organized mutual friends to help him load the moving truck, and I helped too. During the 3 months as we disentangled our lives, I occasionally complied with demands for sex. I did whatever it took to survive the process and walk away. I took it as a given that he would walk away with all of the valuable furniture,tools, and other material assets. I was sad to see a few items go, but it was worth it to be done with him. And those material possessions were not worth fighting over, really, after I had taken what I knew I couldn’t live without.

    When he moved out of state, I finally shared my address and phone number and made sure I had his, since I needed to mail his share of the escrow refund. I had to fight with the insurance company over that, since they insisted on issuing a single check with both our names on it. Once he had my contact information, he sent me hate mail and harrassing phone calls, but luckily those died down very quickly. He also phone harrassed close friends of mine after secretly copying their contact information from my address book, though I think that too has died away. After a year, I moved, thus he no longer had a way to contact me directly. However, he continued to call mutual friends fishing for information. As far as I know, 7 years later he is still fixated on me. But from what I can tell, most (all?) of our mutual friends have allowed the connection with him to lapse (repeated drunk calls at late hours tend to have that effect). The last one that I know about confessed this to me maybe a year ago. And I never ask. So far, no one has passed along my contact information, and I continue to protect access to it. I expect to do so indefinitely.

    During the process of breaking up and separating households, there were a few times I softened and thought about relenting. Luckily, each time, he’d do something very assholeish, and my resolve would return. To avoid this risk, I recommend writing down a list (only for yourself) of all the things that have caused you pain and unhappiness in this relationship. Sometimes you really need this reminder, and having it in writing helps. Refer to it as needed. Share it with a trusted friend who can remind you verbally when needed.

    Second, consider bringing a friend as support for any ongoing interactions you may need to have. Ideally, this is someone only you know, not a mutual friend who ends up stuck in the middle. This person can help you to keep firm and follow through, act as a witness, and offer emotional support when you need it. As suggested above, for any of these interactions, have a set time limit decided in advance (even if only by you) and a way to end the interaction definitively, best is some external demand–someone arriving to pick you up, a phone call, a follow-up appointment, whatever.

    Third, take care of yourself during this process. Make sure to do things that are healing and spend time with friends or in places that are healing. Be gentle and forgiving of yourself. Remember the good times. Recognize the pain. Accept the internal conflict. Wallow in all of those feelings so that you can come through on the other side. Do whatever you need to protect yourself: changing locks, blocking on social media, avoiding shared venues/activities for a little while.

    Fourth, take care of him only in the sense of cutting off further contact as soon as feasible and recognizing that his pain and suffering are real and valid (and not your problem). Give him the space to be angry, hurt, bitter, whatever. Don’t try to fix that. Any effort on your part is going to be salt in the wound or considered an invitation to resume the relationship.

    Fifth, have a script prepared for communicating with mutual friends. Be prepared for those who are concerned or curious or hostile. Think about how/if you want to communicate the breakup to your social circles. If it helps, have a trusted friend act as point person to handle inquiries if this is too painful. Some of those repeated nonanswers advocated for dealing with the ex will also be needed with some “friends.”

    When we sold the house, I told him we could be friends, because that was the pattern I knew. A wise friend advised me to cut the cord. She was right, and I did, and it was a good decision. There’s a temptation to be a good person, to be amicable. But that just keeps the wounds open and the suffering prolonged. It keeps you mired in self-doubt and uncertainty and discomfort and rehashing the past again and again.

    I was an emotional wreck, crying uncontrollably at work in the weeks before and after the breakup. I thought I was broken, so broken. When I moved out, I wanted to just hermit up for awhile. The thought of dating was terrifying. I was scared and had no direction. My work was very casual and seasonal, and I had no strong tie to the current location. I didn’t know if I should move to be closer to family, or move out of state to be near close friends (but also closer to the ex!) or stay where I was since I did have a job. Everything was wide open, and I felt like I had no idea where to go or what to do now. It was an awful feeling. And yet, I finally started smiling again. I became downright giddy. I looked forward to the summer and seeing more people and seeing whether they treated me any different now that I was single. And I rapidly proceeded to seduce my current partner. That too was scary. Always before, I had experienced dry spells ranging from months to years between sexual liaisons. So to have no down time between relationships was new to me. Plus, for the first time I was taking the initiative. It was worth it, but all scary, uncharted territory for me. With the added jerkbrain bonus rundown for experiencing this in my 30s, instead of in high school, or maybe college, like normal people.

    What I learned from this whole experience was that not following through that first time one year in was ultimately more cruel and hurtful than if I had stopped it definitively at that time. Do I regret the additional 6 years? In a lot of ways, no, because I learned a lot about myself, about my boundaries and needs and the worst that I could become in terrible circumstances. I worried that *I* was the abuser, that’s how bad it got. I finally learned to speak up, assert myself, communicate and keep trying to communicate. I also benefited financially from the additional time. We sold that house at quite a profit, and it allowed me to pay off my student lines, buy health insurance, and set up an IRA. I learned that I could be a homeowner and that it wasn’t as impossible as I thought, and that I could do it again. By being in such a dysfunctional relationship, I had more of an idea of what a healthy relationship should look like. Having lived through abuse makes me more compassionate and understanding and also more able to recognize red flags and call that shit out sooner.

    But I regret the different life I would have had without those additional 6 years. I would have moved in with a college friend who was already in graduate school here and strengthened that relationship (she offered when she found out I was coming here). I would have a more diverse social circle in middle age without the bigot limiting my options. I would probably have gotten involved with my current partner that much sooner. Hell, the cancer diagnosis might have been avoided or at least delayed, without the 6 years of toxic home life keeping my cortisol levels high and doubtless interfering with my immune function. My life would have followed a completely different trajectory in terms of friendships, jobs, and personal and professional development. Those are opportunities missed, and I’ll always wonder about them.

    You’re doing the right thing. Have a plan in place and as many resources and support as you need to get you through this and reinforce this decision when you need it.

    • Sarah in Tokyo said:

      *WILD FUKKIN’ APPLAUSE*

    • hypatia said:

      Thank you so, so much for this.

  31. FromTheBackSeat said:

    I realize a few people here have argued the “you don’t owe anyone anything” position when it comes to how you should proceed with ending things with your boyfriend, and ultimately it should come down to what you feel comfortable with doing, but personally I think that you may feel better about it (and from a social-acceptance position be better) to do end this in person. In the end you may feel better about doing it this way vs by the cold hand of an email.

    However, given your soon-to-be-ex’s propensity to argue and/or try to convince you that you are “wrong” or “things can be worked out” I offer this combination alternative. Set up a time and place to meet with him (a park is seriously the best place – public but not crowded that it can be awkward) and time it so that you arrive after he does. Tell him that you have been doing a lot of soul searching and you’ve decided that you cannot be in a relationship with him any more and then hand him a letter in a sealed envelope and say that it outlines in better detail why you have ended things. You have articulated already in your letter here some very good ones, that things don’t feel right in your relationship, that the future you see for yourself now is very different from the one he sees and that you and he are on separate paths. Use the writing of the letter to be your catharsis for making yourself feel better and clarify to yourself about why you are ending things (I find writing things out then re-reading them help organize my thoughts on a complicated situation – and it gives you the time to articulate them in a coherent fashion). Once you’ve given him the letter, then you can end with whatever (brief) closing comment you feel necessary and then exit the situation. At no time do you need to answer questions or have a full out conversation. Keep what you have to say to the barest of minimums so that he doesn’t get much time to butt in and be firm and not let him. I would recommend not going to the meeting alone and that the distance from where you meet to your ride is no more than a few yards (and use a car, not a taxi or transit – the time waiting for either will give him the opportunity to badger). Have whoever goes with you in the car ready to go as soon as you get in. I realize some people may argue that that is a lot of effort, but I think for you it will help you with your closure to say the words to him directly that you have ended the relationship.

    As for the returning of belongings, if you don’t live together then have them all ready to go where possible. If they can be dropped off at a mutual friend’s house or parent’s place during a time when you know he won’t be around would be the best to minimize any later counter arguments. If those aren’t an option and you have to face him one last time, don’t do so alone and if possible have that other person be someone whom he either a) really respects and isn’t likely to be argumentative around or b) someone who he is very intimidated by. If you live together, then as the Captain mentioned get all your small things prepped to go and take them with you the day you break things off. For the larger, big-ticket items (couches, tv, ect) then either make arrangements to get them later or cut your losses.

    I would suggest that 6 months is not long enough to prohibit contact. I would recommend a year at the least. However there is nothing stopping you from leaving the “no-contact” clause open to being indefinitely either. But that is up to you and what you feel will be a long enough time for him to work through his own feelings about the break-up and move on.

    I wish you good luck LW. It truly sucks to break up, especially when it is someone who is so invested in the relationship. The thing to remember is that your happiness is just as important as his is, and that moving on is what will make you feel better about yourself.

  32. FromTheBackSeat said:

    I’d also like to suggest that if you want to end things in person but don’t want to have to face the Spanish Inquisition over “WHY” that you can explain to him your feelings on why you are ending the relationship in a letter that you hand to him. You’ve already expressed some very good ones (things feel off, your vision of your future is different from his and no amount of him “changing” is going to make your paths be the same). This allows you the ability to say “(blank), I’m breaking up with you. It is the right thing for me and my reasons are outlined in this letter. I’m sorry that this hurts but it is for the best for both of us” in person then exit the situation and not have to debate at length all your reasons. I think you may find a bit of catharsis in both the writing of the letter and telling him face-to-face that the relationship is over.

    I highly recommend doing it in a park, preferably someplace close to parking so that you can completely remove yourself from the encounter quickly (if you don’t have a car, find someone who can drive you). Also don’t go alone. Having some moral support waiting in the wings after things are done are good for you and also may give him second thoughts of pursuit.

    Also I would offer that the ‘no-contact’ provision be longer than a 6 months. My sense is that he will likely need more time than that to completely work through his feelings on the break-up. I would suggest at least a year if you think there is the possibility (and if you want) of renewing a friendship or if that isn’t likely then cutting things off altogether.

    I wish you luck in whatever avenue you choose to end this relationship. Know that you are doing the right thing for you and for him, because it isn’t fair to him either to be with someone who doesn’t share feelings for him as he does for you. In the end you’ll find happiness in moving forward with your life.

    • FromTheBackSeat said:

      So “this” above is a condensed version of the long-winded one above – thought I’d not posted the first time as it didn’t show up. Sorry for the double read…. :S

  33. ReanaZ said:

    Man, this was a super timely post for me… and not even for an intimate relationship. I’m in the process of leaving my job (love my boss, but everything else there is a total hot mess of badness), and all my interactions with my boss that I love are like a bad break-up. Like, the lines people are reporting back from bad break-ups have been said, the manipulation, the invalidation of my feelings and insistence that everything not backed up 100% WITH INFALLIBLE LOGIC is totally invalid, etc. Ugh. I know it’s not the same as an intimate-partner break-up, but having been through similar break-ups, damn if it doesn’t feel almost the same. And I have to keep spending 8+ hours a day there after the “break-up.” (And I work in a non-profit, so everyone is deeply emotionally invested in the work… plus all the “WHAT ABOUT THE CHILDREN?” mission-based-guilt.)

    So not to hijack with my feelings, but just wanted to say thanks. This post was really validating for me that I’m handling things more or less well, even though all the gaslighting makes me feel like I am not some days. Le sigh.

    But I do feel like having been through shitty breakups like this have made it easier to name and handle that crappy things at work, so…. very tiny future silver-lining, LW?

    And thanks again to the Awkward Army for the validation. =)

    • Beth said:

      And this, in turn, was clarifying and validating for me; thank you! I’m facing the prospect of doing the exact same thing (mission-based guilt and all!) but, sadly, not immediately. The longer I stay in this toxic, anxiety-ridden, soul-killing job – that SHOULD be wonderful and awesome, in a career field that I adore – the more my boss reminds me of my ex-husband in the year before our divorce. Gaslighting, shifting goalposts, suspiciously timed panic attacks and illnesses. Super-supportive “you’re so talented, this organization is too small for you, you should move on!” comments and offers of professional development opportunities randomly alternating with But You’re Indispensable guilt-trips and completely unrealistic and unreasonable demands. Mindbending stuff, seriously.

      I’m looking for work in another city and hope to leave in the spring. The emotional separation has already begun, but the logistics of “breaking up” seem to take forever with no end in sight. And I have to keep things decent enough to be colleague-civil with these people afterward. The prospect of the turmoil that will inevitably surround leaving is daunting enough to idly entertain the idea of just staying, which is actually kind of horrifying and makes me that much more determined to get out.

      It can be done. It will be better when it’s over. Good luck!

  34. PCSDevil said:

    Just a word about getting your stuff back: I once accompanied my BFF to her ex-fiancee’s house to retrieve some things. He had never been violent with her, but the recognition that it had just been a matter of time was one reason she decided to dump him, and he kept a lot of weapons in the house. Before we got to his house, we made a plan: I would wait in the car while she went up to the door. We agreed that she would not go inside the house willingly; if I saw her go in, it was because he had a weapon of some kind. She would not have to signal me in any way–going inside was a sign to me that she was in danger and that I was to get help immediately. Fortunately, it did not come to that, but we were ready.

  35. I want to underscore, don’t give a reason for the breakup beyond “the relationship is over.” Otherwise you’re inviting an argument.

    Really, the only thing I find worrisome about BF’s behavior the first time is that it looks to me like LW said “I am breaking up with you because X” and BF argued with the “because” part. That, to me, says that even if there were a concrete reason, LW would be well-advised to stick with “the relationship is over”; all the more so when it’s “this is not what I’m looking for” (an entirely valid reason, but harder to provide evidence for than, e.g., “you’re terrible at managing money”)

    • s/only thing/main thing. Wow, that’s fucked up, obviously I didn’t mean what I typed up there.

  36. Katie said:

    If you have never heard “Nothing Better” by “The Postal Service”, it might be worth a listen. “I’ve made charts and graphs that should finally make it clear, prepared a lecture on why I have to leave.” It might be more funny later, though.

    Read more: THE POSTAL SERVICE – NOTHING BETTER LYRICS

    • My immediate thought was actually “50 ways to leave your lover” — Just hop on the bus, Gus, don’t need to discuss much! Just make a new plan, Stan, and get yourself free.

    • YES. Ha I just came back here from YouTube, I had to look that song up because it suddenly clicked, like AHA! THAT’s why LW388’s situation felt oddly familiar!

      LW, if you don’t know this song, hold out for the second verse with the female lyrics – it provides a bit of a twist. :)

  37. My first breakup, I was the -ee. He took me out to a wonderful dinner and I had a great time and I thought things were finally going to get better and then wham. I was not graceful enough to get my own ass out of there and he didn’t kick me out, so I went with him back to his dorm room and we had some ack FEELINGSTALK. Fortunately, only one evening, as I recall. There were more FEELINGS later, but mostly I stopped talking to him for a long time and it was okay. Now we’re friendly, but oh man that memory is pretty embarrassing.

    Everyone has to learn how to handle it themselves and nobody starts out being graceful at breakups!

    When I broke up with one gentleman, years later, he was super-focused on figuring out when my feelings had started to turn. It was August, right? Like he could go back to that moment and do something different, maybe. I gave a few vague answers, but that was the time when I was most about “Because I Am Done”. I knew I couldn’t articulate the Problem in a way he would understand, much less accept. It was either be That Bitch Who Won’t Answer, or That Feminist Bitch Who Says Those Bullshit Feminist Things. And how do you tell a full-grown man he’s got some serious mommy issues?

    Another reason I don’t like to Give Reasons is that the thing that drives me absolutely bonkers and makes me leave may be the thing that his next girlfriend finds most adorable and brings them together forever. If he’s gonna change, he ought to be changing for his own reasons, not because his ex said some shit to him once, you know? I’m leaving, I am signing off of any responsibility to encourage him to grow in a way I want.

    I hold to that because I want my own exes to give me the same respect. I will grow and change on my own agenda, and once we are broken up, they do not get to decide what is Best For Me or anything like that. They don’t get to tell me what’s wrong with me. I have had to tell an ex to shove off on that point specifically, when we were trying to be Friends after; he had an offhand comment about something being good for me so I should do it more and I was like OH HELL NO. Even though it was good for me and that’s why I was doing it, his judgment of my life was not welcome anymore.

    That’s the thing about exes. It’s the blessing and the curse.

    • zweisatz said:

      I’m leaving, I am signing off of any responsibility to encourage him to grow in a way I want.

      I really like this perspective. Even if your ex will have problems with their partner(s) because of the exact same thing: $thing is still not your responsibility.

    • Jenna said:

      To my ex:
      It wasn’t my responsibility to fix you during the relationship, and it isn’t my responsibility to fix you, give you pointers or advice, or tell you what is wrong with you now that we ARE BROKEN UP. Just. No.

  38. Alaina said:

    I had the exact same problem at one point (though with a shorter relationship) and it ended up being that the only thing I could say was ‘This is over, if you don’t like it, too bad’. It sounds mean but my ex (and yours too, I think) can’t respect that you made a choice then you don’t have to worry about how they feel.

  39. Muse's Muse said:

    You don’t owe anyone anything. You don’t owe him your time or attention, much like a woman riding the subway doesn’t owe the guy who asks, “What are you reading?” a conversation. You don’t owe him for the last four years. You don’t even owe him an explanation for why you want to break up. You are no longer interested in this relationship. End of story. His feelings don’t over-rule yours.

    Break up with him however you choose, though I will caution you to either do it from a distance (preferably after you move) or in public, if you choose to do it face-to-face. I have had two friends who were traumatized and/or injured when they tried to “minimize the hurt/damage” by breaking up with their unstable boyfriends in private.

    Just remember that any choice he makes is his choice, not a result of your actions. You’re not trying to hurt him. You’re just trying to help yourself. Please let us know how it goes.

    • DWM said:

      THIS! I told a man, just last week, who demanded that I explain myself to him that he was not *entitled* to an explanation from me or anyone else on the planet.

      • Muse's Muse said:

        The funny thing is that one really doesn’t even have to have a good reason to end a relationship, particularly if that relationship doesn’t involve marriage/permanent commitment. You don’t have to have a reason to stop dating someone. Maybe they don’t interest you anymore. Maybe they chew their food in an annoying way. Maybe they’re that guy that repeats all the funny lines in the movie as if you didn’t hear the actors say them. Or maybe you just don’t care to see them any more because the relationship isn’t going anywhere.

        Once someone has emotionally checked out of a relationship, it’s at least half-over anyway. Forcing that someone to stay isn’t going to make anyone happy.

  40. J. Preposterice said:

    Oh my dog, the breakup that won’t take. I was engaged to this guy once, and I tried to break up with him, and he refused to let the breakup happen, and it was confusing and agonizing and I managed to get him to agree that we were no longer engaged and could date other people, and then he wanted to have an anniversary dinner and I was all “no?” and he browbeat me into THAT and gave me an expensive gift which I refused and he pressured me into taking as I kept trying to break up with him FOR REAL AIEEEE.

    It was horrible. It was a bad relationship for lots of reasons but I still occasionally have nightmares about not being able to get away from him, even though it was…a long time ago, now.

    All of which is to say: fuck that guy. He gets to get a boot in the rear on account of not being a good enough person to accept that you get to decide if you are dating him or not.

  41. Explanations never work on people like this anyway, but we can dream.

  42. Yan said:

    I was in a relationship where the third breakup was the one that stuck. Once he talked me out of making it stick. Then I talked him into giving it another go. Then he called and said he was done. And I said okay. He tried to talk about it, but since he’d called me at work in the middle of the day and wasn’t managing to say anything useful, I hung up on him.

    Being done and it being over is valid, but think through your relationship and what you want to leave it with and make sure that is part of how you end things with this guy. I know the ex from above regrets how he broke things off with me because he tried to discuss it with me again 4 months later, and there was nothing to talk about. If you can be clear and concise and kind, whether over the phone or in person, sometimes it’s easier to take the good that came out of that relationship with you into the future.

  43. Thacky said:

    Just another anecdote re ‘clean break’ vs ‘closure’. My ex and I parted in the ‘perfect’ way – we agreed it was over (he brought it up, I agreed with relief).

    About 12 months later he asked to meet me to get some closure….and I agreed reluctantly.

    After some rambling, and a suggestion from him we try again, I told him how I’d really felt in the final stages of our relationship – and he was angry to hear things that were so negative, and painful.

    So I told him, in so many words, to fuck off – that he couldn’t ask me to tell him how I felt about stuff I would rather not recall and then be pissed off when he didn’t like the answer.

    Well, he could, obviously, but it wasn’t reasonable. That was over 20 years ago and I still remember the feeling of liberation when I stopped pulling my punches. He would have been better leaving the clean break alone.

  44. LW said:

    LW here. It’s over and done with now (on the phone). His reaction was exactly as expected (but not threatening, mostly despair and what-went-wrong-what-can-I-do-can-I-have-another-chance-please, and I know I would have lost it at some point, if I hadn’t been clear about what to do.Thanks Team Awkward for the great advice and everyone else for your comments. They really really helped bolster my resolve. :)

    • mskayo said:

      Yay — congrats on doing that very difficult thing, successfully.

    • Ethyl said:

      ::throws confetti:: Good for you! You sound like a great person with a lot going for you, and I hope the future is good to you.

    • sometimeswhy said:

      Congratulations. I’m glad your resolve was sufficiently bolstered to get it done with the finality you wanted and I hope that you’re okay in the aftermath.

    • *more confetti*

      Thanks for the update. At least those of us who have been rooting for you can get closure. :D

    • J. Preposterice said:

      congrats, LW.

    • Katie said:

      So many congratulations! That’s wonderful!

  45. thpbblttt said:

    Everyone here has covered this in an amazing way. I wish every strength to you, LW!

    The one thing I want to add is that in my experience, even when I DESPERATELY wanted to break up w/my first partner, there was still this voice in my head that kept whining: “you could be making a huge mistake! Breakup-ee is so amazing in x, y, and z ways!” And when breakup-ee was like, “But I loooooooove you! Whyyyyyy??” I not only felt like I was being a huge bitch to HIM, I also worried that I was making the wrong decision for ME.

    I just wanted to explicitly state that – that the reason manipulative behavior really gets our claws into us is that we are rarely 1000% sure in our decisions, and the manipulator grabs onto that tiny speck of uncertainty and runs with it. It’s one of the reasons victim blaming is so insidious: victim blaming takes the normal complexity of human emotion and turns it into the reason that victims “allow” things to happen to them. Because even if 99% of you said “no,” that 1% of “maybe” is supposed to exonerate the person who hurt you/manipulated you/etc. And, just to beat a dead horse to death, that reasoning is bullshit. You get to have mixed feelings. Everyone has them. You don’t have to be a monument of stony resolve in order to make a decision.

    In other words, I commend everyone’s resolve in all these breakup! It’s beautiful and amazing and deserves a million standing ovations. But I also want to acknowledge that it’s ok to have mixed feelings going into this, not only about your partner’s feelings, but about your own. You get to breakup with someone before your start hating them. You get to break up with someone even if they’re a “good person” or a “great catch.” You get to break up with someone. Period.

  46. thpbblttt said:

    oh, just saw this update – congrats LW!

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