Dumping someone sucks almost as much as it does getting dumped. If you’re a kind and compassionate person, it hurts you almost as much as it does the person you’re breaking it off with. Because of this, many of us stay with someone longer than we’d like — often years.
NOTE: This article was originally written in the summer of 2007 when I had just started dating again after my divorce. It drew some very angry responses from people who apparently had just been dumped. In resurrecting this website from the mothballs, I still see the truth in what I’ve written here, and please know my intention is to help anyone who is going through this emotional turmoil.
Here’s the thing. You’re not really doing that person a favor. Staying in your relationship merely to keep him or her happy, in the long run, is only going to hurt them more. The longer you are together, the more attached to you they become, and the longer it will take them to get over the trauma and move on with their life.
So you find yourself having doubts. He or she seems serious about you. Maybe marriage has been discussed. You may have even thought it a good idea. Then something happens, and you wonder if you’re making a mistake.
Stop immediately. Think it through. Discuss it with trusted friends or family. If you have sane parents (lucky you!) discuss it with them — they’ve been through it. Maybe bring it up with a counselor or psychologist, if you have that resource.
Can you see yourself with this person five years from now? Can you see yourself having children with him or her? Do you think you’ll be happy?
Stop the relationship immediately. Don’t let it linger. You owe it to him or her, as much as you do to yourself. The sooner you break it off, the sooner they’ll get over it, and the quicker they’ll get back into their search for their own special person.
There is no easy way to break it off. Being you’ve read this far, you obviously care enough about this person to want to let them down easy. Unfortunately the chances are if he or she is already attached to you, there is no way to let them down easy. Research (and my own personal experience) shows the best way to do it is suddenly and absolutely.
Think of it like peeling off an adhesive bandage that’s stuck tight and is going to hurt when you remove it. Peeling it slowly may hurt a bit less, but it still hurts and you’re prolonging the pain. Pull it off quickly and it hurts a bit more up front, but then at least it’s over with, the pain fades faster, and you can then move on to other things.
There’s no real way to say what would work best in your situation, but generally speaking you should consider writing it out in a letter. Outline in simple terms why you want to break it off, and explain it’s just as much for their sake as it is for your own, and that there’s no room for negotiations.
Hand the letter to them and stand there while it’s read. Say you’re sorry. Fend off any attempts to change your mind. They’re going to go through denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and then acceptance. No telling how long this will take (weeks if not months) but right up front you’ll be dealing with their denial, and possibly the anger and bargaining.
If you’re the tender-hearted sort (being that you’re bothering to read this, you probably are) this is where you’ll be in the most danger of caving in. If so, you need to make a quick escape. Either that, or opt to do the less honorable thing and don’t deliver the letter in person.
Here is where I’m going to disagree with most of the “expert” advice out there on this subject. The goal is to break off the relationship, right? You’re doing it as much for him or her as you are for yourself, right? So what is the point of doing the “honorable” thing of actually facing the person as you’re breaking off the relationship if that gives them more a chance of overcoming your resolve?
Really, think about it, the more a jerk you are about it, the more likely you are to succeed. The better you succeed the better for you both. I’m not saying you should be mean to them or damage their self-esteem. I’m saying you should consider handling it in such a way that they (and their friends) may label you as a coward.
Consider this scenario: you try to break it off in person. She cries, and you can’t stand seeing her cry. So you cave in, and try to make it work. Months later you come to the same conclusion, and so try it again, this time by simply leaving a letter. She shows up on your doorstep, sobbing, miserable, and you cave in again. Finally much later you still come to the same conclusion and in desperation break off the relationship in a much-less-than-honorable way. End result: you’ve wasted a good chunk of her life (and yours) because of misplaced good intentions.
What would have been a better way? Buy a plane ticket, change the locks on your doors, change your phone number, and then slide a compassionate but final goodbye letter under her door before leaving town for a week or two. This would give her time to go through the denial and be deep into the anger by the time you return. If she’s successfully transferred into the anger stage, she won’t want to see you again. Later, during the bargaining phase, you will have some distance and hopefully built up your resolve enough to resist it.
Is this cowardly? Maybe. Is it the right way to do it? Probably not. Is it the best thing for the both of you? That’s up to you, but I’ve made my argument. If you’re strong enough to not give in on the first time, then wonderful. If you are, though, why are you reading this article? Just go do it.
There’s nothing wrong with being tender-hearted. It means you’re compassionate. Unfortunately there are times when you have to save yourself from your own compassion, and this is one of those times.
It sucks when you have to hurt someone. Just like it sucks when you get hurt. But you have to be true to yourself, and that’s the final word.
So you find yourself on the other side of this.
Let yourself grieve. It’s going to have to come out, so you might as well get it all out at once. You have to go through those stages of denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and then acceptance.
Accept that it happened. That person, for some reason or another, decided that you two were not a good match after all. Unless there’s a major misunderstanding involved, you just have to trust that person is right. For a permanent relationship to work, you both have to know it’s right, not just one of you. So, it was not meant to be.
Even if it feels like it, this is not the end of the world. It is a bitter thing to do — accepting that there must be life after this person. But there is.
You need to resolve immediately to move on.
Lean on your friends for a while. Not too much, but enough to help you cope. If you find you’re overwhelming your friends, talk to a therapist (they’re paid to listen).
Avoid alcohol. It makes everything worse. Trust me on this.
You may find you’ve lost interest in everything. You may also find that since you’ve displaced all your original dreams with the ones you shared with this person, you end up with none. This can be the hardest part. If you can’t resurrect your old dreams, start casting about for new ones.
Resolve to continue moving on. You’ve already tried telling yourself to do it immediately. Keep telling yourself that.
Also keep in mind that the past does not exist. No time machine will ever take you back. The past is gone. You have only now, and you have to stay in the here and now. The things you do now will shape your future. You have to start now in making your future brighter.
That being said, you’re probably in a state of mind where you don’t care at all about the future. You don’t care at all about anything. So, start searching for things you enjoy doing, even small things — and as long as they’re not harmful, then revel in doing them. Do things that give you pleasure.
Stop dwelling on what happened. Dwell instead on now, and what you’re going to do tomorrow.
Continue moving on. Put yourself out there. It doesn’t matter that your confidence is shattered … fake it. Everyone else is faking it too.
Move slowly with your next relationship, unless you find someone who is temporary and agrees to be temporary. If you find that person, get wild with them. Be safe, but have fun.
Whenever a horrid upwelling of sadness hits you — and it will — immediately remind yourself that it will soon pass. You’re going to get through this okay. You will reach a point where you can look back on this with relief that it’s over. Every day moves you closer to that point.
Continue to not dwell on the past. Continue to move forward.
You’re going to be okay.
Trust me, you will.