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?
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.
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:
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.