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How to do a breakup

Posted by Meredith Goldstein  July 2, 2013 08:38 AM

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Q: Dear Meredith and the LL readers/commenters,

There have been many discussions on this blog about breakups, but they seem to mostly be along the lines of whether a couple should break up and/or how to get over a breakup. My question is about breakup etiquette.

I have been both the break-up initiator and the one being broken up with, but for this discussion I am more interested in how to "properly" break-up with someone. People say breakups should be done in person, but in some of my past break-ups this almost seemed to cause more harm than good. What if it is a long-distance relationship? Do you have your significant other drive/fly X number of hours to you just to break up with them in person? Or spend X number of hours and dollars to travel to them (in one instance of mine, to another country on another continent) to break it off to then turn around and go home?

People also say you should avoid blindsiding someone with a breakup. How do you really continue a relationship if you behave in a manner that would indicate to your significant other that you aren't happy? Or, if you tell your significant other that you have some doubts but want to see how things progress, how is he/she supposed to deal with that and move on in a constructive manner? Doesn't that kill any confidence or trust in the relationship at that point?

My current situation is that I am going to break up w my boyfriend of eight months. We have known each other for almost six years and he is 100 percent into this relationship -- wants to move in together, get married, and live happily ever after. From the beginning I was more reserved and said I wanted to take things slow and see what developed. There have been good times and bad with us, but for me, I don't see it working out. It isn't what I want, and I feel like I need to end things so we can both move on.

While I believe he knows I am on a different page, I don't think he is expecting me to break up with him (here we go with the blindsiding). Do I wait a couple weeks to pull away a bit, explain that I am not sure what I want (even though I already know this isn't working for me), if only to give him some adjustment time for what is coming? Or do I just have the talk with him now and break it off -- thereby blindsiding him? I know it's not nice to lead someone on when you already know the end is coming, but it's not nice to pull the rug out from underneath a person either. I want to do the "right" thing, but the gray areas keep getting in my way.

Thank you for your help!

– Breaker-Upper in Mass.


A: There's no perfect way to end a relationship. All you can do is be honest as you date. Don't tell someone you love them when you only like them a lot. Don't let someone talk about marriage for 20 minutes if you know that's never going to happen.

And when it's time to do the breakup, make it a discussion. You can say, "After eight months, I'm sure this isn't what I want for the future. I feel awful about that, but I need to be clear. I enjoy your company but I don't want to waste your time." In a dream world he'll respond, "Wow. Thanks for that honesty. Let's break up!"

In the real world, he'll probably fight the breakup and come up with ideas to make things work, but if you continue to explain that you're sure about how you feel, separating will become the only logical option.

I don't believe in pulling the rug out from underneath anyone, but it's hard to see the rug if you're in love, even in the worst relationships. You say he understands that you're not on the same page. That should be enough of a warning.

He'll be upset, and you'll probably feel like you did the breakup wrong. But unless you've been compulsively lying about your feelings for eight months, there is no wrong here. He might be angry and miserable and confused, but that doesn't mean your protocol was off. Breakups are often terrible -- just because they're breakups.

(And for the record, casual long-distance relationships can be ended over the phone. If you're ending a significant long-distance relationship, initiate the breakup discussion over the phone and continue talking in person. The breaker-upper should do the traveling and prepare to pay for an expensive, last-minute ticket home.)

Readers? Is there breakup etiquette? How can she end her relationship without pulling the rug out from under him? Is there a way to prepare someone for this? Help.

– Meredith



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ABOUT LOVE LETTERS: Welcome to Love Letters, the place for love advice (giving and getting). Globe relationship columnist Meredith Goldstein and Boston.com readers are ready to take your letters and tell you what's what. Have a question? Click here to submit or email us at loveletters@boston.com.
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Meredith Goldstein is a Boston Globe columnist who follows relationship trends and entertainment. She offers daily advice on Love Letters — and welcomes your comments. Meredith is also the author of "The Singles," a novel about complicated relationships. Follow Meredith at www.meredithgoldstein.netand on Twitter. Love Letters can be found in the print edition of The Boston Globe every Saturday in the G section.

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