Breakups are horrible. There’s no other way to put it. But keep in mind that what happens in the moments before, during and after you deliver those three little words (“this isn’t working”) will forever determine how you’re remembered by the person left behind. Will you be that great guy she remembers wistfully… or the jerk she can’t believe she ever dated?
Unless there has been some egregious violation of the dating code — i.e., she did something so unforgivable you get a free pass to behave badly in return — most women would ask for just one thing: end it with dignity for the sake of everyone involved. “Dumping someone is never fun, but if you’re clear about why your relationship has to end and you know that it’s time, you owe it to the woman to make the break,” says dating coach David Wygant. “Just be kind, honest within reason, and brief.”
With that in mind, we decided to gather input from women and experts about the best way to let her go; here are their tips for making a clean break:
Don’t just pull a disappearing act on her
Sadly, this is an all too common tactic with men, but listen up: it’s just not cool at all. “My friends and I agree that there’s nothing worse than fading away into oblivion!” says 29-year-old Stacey from Pensacola, FL. “Then the girl is left just wondering and waiting.” Women need some sort of closure, and you owe her some kind of explanation before you decide to vanish from her life.
Consider the timing before breaking the bad news to her
Though it’s not totally your responsibility to see how she survives the breakup, you can help ease the transition by carefully considering when to break the bad news to her. “It’s thoughtful and courteous to be aware of what is going on in her life,” says JoAnn Magdoff, Ph.D., a psychotherapist in New York City. In other words, don’t be an extra-special jerk by delivering the news when she’s already going through a rough patch. If she lost her job yesterday, give her a little time to adjust before having the big talk.
Don’t rely on technology to do the deed
We live in a world of cell phones, BlackBerries and IMs, which means it’s easier than ever to get in touch with each other... but please don’t use it as a way to escape confrontation. “Using technology to break up is a cowardly act — it means you don’t have the nerve to face me,” says Kerry, 37, from Portsmouth, NH. “If you liked me enough to kiss me, spend time with me, and have a romance with me, then I think the very least you can do is honor that connection by ending it in person.”
Give her adequate face time
You may be tempted to deliver the news and then get the heck out of there, but there’s nothing worse than bringing up the subject when you don’t have adequate time to discuss it. Yes, that means you will have to talk to her and you might have to witness some tears, but it’s the right thing to do. “My ex broke up with me by meeting me for coffee, and we had a very open and civilized conversation,” says Gigi, 39, from New York, NY. “Yes, it still hurt... but because of the classy way he handled it, we didn’t lose our friendship, too.”
Choose your breakup location wisely
There’s no reason to break the news behind closed doors — but a bit of privacy can be a good thing. What you shouldn’t do is deliver the news anywhere that she’ll lose her dignity. “If you’re at a party surrounded by friends where everyone will see her if she bursts into tears, that’s not a good call,” says Wygant. “This is between the two of you, not your whole posse.” Wygant also suggests staying away from your favorite haunt or the place where you had your first date (or anywhere that could evoke painful memories). Think neutral, semi-private, and let her save face if she becomes overwhelmed with emotion.
Don’t be cruel in the name of honesty
Women need “reasons” so they can accept the breakup and move on. But there’s one big caveat… don’t be spiteful or hurtful when you give them to her. “Getting broken up with is insulting at some level and just being rejected feels bad enough. So why make the person feel worse?” offers Laurie Puhn, J.D., author of Instant Persuasion: How to Change Your Words to Change Your Life. No woman wants to hear that you’re dumping her because she has bad breath, or that she’s no longer attractive to you, or you’re insanely attracted to her best friend. These kinds of reflections shouldn’t be shared: “You’re no longer entitled to give advice or criticism because you aren’t her boyfriend anymore,” says Puhn. Instead, your reasons for the split should focus on how you two aren’t good matches for each other. Try saying something like, “Both of us are good people, but I don’t think we’re the right fit together romantically.”
Stay strong in your assertion that it’s time to end things
You start to deliver the news; you see her lip start to quiver and you think, Oh no, she’s going to cry. Should you attempt to soften the blow by saying, “Well, there might be a chance for us in the future but right now the timing isn’t good” or “Maybe when things quiet down at work” or “I think I just need a break” (or whatever will quieten her down)? No, no, no! Giving a woman a false sense of hope will not help her heal. “If you know it’s over, spare her the agony of pretending that you might call her sometime when you won’t,” says Magdoff. “If you really aren’t certain about the future, you can say ‘I’m not sure, but please don’t hold your breath…’”
Don’t freak out if she gets emotional afterward
We’re reputed to be the more sensitive gender, remember? So yes, there’s a chance that she might start sobbing or screaming or otherwise emoting (and you need to let her do whatever it is instead of trying to quieten her down). “If she gets hostile or weepy, stay calm and let her get angry or hysterical for a little while; remember, you’ve been thinking about the breakup for weeks, she heard about it 10 seconds ago,” says Puhn. If she gets more and more worked up as the minutes pass, however, take your leave and give her some down time to adjust to this new information. “Before walking away, however, set a specific time to talk later to give her security that you’re willing to explain yourself and listen to what she has to say when she’s calmed down,” Puhn adds.
Don’t use that “It’s not you, it’s me” line on her
Everyone knows that if someone leaves you, it’s because you’re not who this person wants to date — and that’s the bottom line. “Anyone on the receiving end of this line can see through it,” says Magdoff. She suggests that a better phrase to utter might be, “Who you are and what you want are absolutely terrific, but where I am right now is a very different place.”
End things properly with her before you start seeing someone else
Uh, hello? That’s called cheating! And if you intentionally stray in an effort to make her break up with you, you’re a coward and deserve whatever reaction you get. Also, forget about using the “I’ve met someone else” escape clause. Introducing a new love into a breakup discussion only tortures your soon-to-be ex. “After three years together, my boyfriend ended it with me over the phone by saying he’d met another woman on his trip to Europe,” says Jenny, 30, from Seattle, WA. “I spent the next two years wondering, What’s it like for them? Is it different from when he and I were together? Do they order the same kind of takeout? Do they listen to the same music we listened to? Do they laugh as much? Do they laugh more? And what makes her so much more appealing than me?” Get the point? Mentioning another woman really hurts and unnecessarily intensifies the pain.
It’s OK to agree to keep in touch (on special occasions only)
Calling just to check up on her in a week or even a month is not really helpful. It just confuses things and catapults you back into the forefront of her mind. There is one exception here, though… the special occasion. “If it’s her birthday or a holiday and you were very close, then it is sweet to call to wish her well,” says Puhn. However, don’t call to make plans, don’t call to discuss sensitive issues and don’t talk with her for longer than 10 minutes. “Be acquaintances and keep in mind that acquaintances rarely talk more than twice a year,” says Puhn.
One final point — let her know that she mattered to you. Puhn suggests saying something like “I enjoyed being with you, and I value the time we spent together, but we just aren’t right for the long run.” She needs to know that you didn’t consider her ‘a waste of time’ or unimportant. That will help her risk giving her heart to someone else in the future.
Kimberly Dawn Neumann is a New York City-based freelance writer whose work has appeared in Cosmopolitan, Maxim, and Marie Claire. For the other side of the story, read How to break up with a man.