How to Break Up with a Girl
A little while back, in the article on bitter women, JD asked a great question about the proper way to break up:
“[G]irls easily fall in love with me, and I'm not really considerate towards their feelings. Last time I broke up with someone it almost caused everyone to hate me... Obviously that's not something I'd like to happen. So how do you break up? How do you leave women thinking; 'wow, he was awesome, too bad he's moved on'?”
Breaking up is a wrenching affair much of the time, especially for the partner who's trying to hold on while the other lets go. Break ups are rarely mutual... far more often, they're one-sided, with one partner giving the other the boot, while the booted party feels hurt, shocked, injured, and helpless.
Especially if you've had a longer relationship (6+ months or so), you're usually going to be in for a bumpy road, emotionally.
How do you deal with all these emotions, and how do you figure out how to break up with a girl in a way that's fair to both people involved and doesn't leave a lot of smashed, hurt, broken feelings?
Many of your breakup woes are avoided by knowing why you're getting into a relationship in the first place, and being very clear about your reasons so that your girlfriend's expectations match your plans for the relationship. I discussed this extensively in "How to Start a Relationship with a New Girlfriend."
Where emotions get hurt, torn, damaged, and pierced the worst is where expectations went one way, and the actual course the relationship took went another.
This is usually because:
You're uncertain: you were unclear about what you wanted with the relationship because you did not know (i.e., you're romantically inexperienced and just not sure what you want out of a relationship with a girl yet)
You're dishonest: you were unclear about what you wanted with the relationship because you were frightened and weak - you thought if you told her the truth, she would not stay with you, so you misled her and caused her to believe you wanted, say, something more serious than you actually did
You're clear verbally, but uncertain emotionally: you were perfectly clear with her about what to expect with you in your words, but your actions told a different story, and she listened to those (this happens most often when you yourself aren't sure what you want, but you're trying to prevent a girl from getting hurt with indecisive you by tamping down her expectations). In this case, even though you tried to do right by her emotionally, your lack of certainty about what exactly you wanted with her bled through and gave her hope that she could "sway" you or "convince" you
She lives in a dream world: you were perfectlyclear with her about what to expect with you, and your actions matched the expectations you set, but she's crazy / clingy / very inexperienced, and has strongly-held beliefs that all relationships end in fairytales and wedding bells and there's nothing you can possibly say or do to convince her otherwise
Assuming you already have a few relationships under your belt, I suggest looking back over all the bad, emotionally messy breakups you've had and figuring out which of these categories each of them fits into - you're probably going to tease out some trends.
If you aren't very experienced with relationships yet, take a moment and try to visualize being in a relationship where you behave each of these ways and women's expectations and behaviors correspond each way as well, and try to get a bead on what these feel like, and why they resolve the way they resolve.
Who Does the Breaking Up?
In previous articles, I've talked about the predominance of women doing the divorcing (70% of divorces are initiated by women), and how I hadn't seen any research on it, but anecdotally I could tell you that among unmarried couples the statistics were similar.
Here's some research to back up that anecdotal claim, along with a number of other fascinating insights on breaking up:
“Factors that predicted breakups before marriage, investigated as part of a two-year study of dating relationships among college students, included unequal involvement in the relationship (as suggested by exchange theory) and discrepant age, educational aspirations, intelligence, and physical attractiveness (as suggested by filtering models). The timing of breakups was highly related to the school calendar, pointing to the importance of external factors in structuring breakups. The desire to break up was seldom mutual; women were more likely than men to perceive problems in premarital relationships and somewhat more likely to be the ones to precipitate the breakups. Findings are discussed in terms of their relevance for the process of mate selection and their implications for marital breakup. (“The best divorce is the one you get before you get married.”)”
That's from "Breakups
Before Marriage: The End of 103 Affairs", a 1976 study of
university romances by Charles T. Hill, Zick Rubin, and Letitia Anne
Normally I'd bold the important / interesting points, but the entire abstract here is fascinating. In bullet form, the findings from the study are:
- Breakups occur due to differences in:
- Involvement (one partner more committed than the other)
- Age (one partner much older or younger than the other)
- Aspirations (one partner aspiring to greater education than the other)
- Intelligence (one partner more intelligent than the other)
- Physical attractiveness (one partner better looking than the
- Breakups are influenced by external factors (like being separated physically)
- Breakups are usually not mutual
- Women see many more relationship problems than men do
- Women are more likely to commence a breakup than men are
Another intriguing bit of research, "Loving and leaving: Sex differences in romantic attachments", from the same trio of researchers, this one published in the journal Sex Roles in 1986:
“We propose a two-part generalization about sex differences in entering into and giving up romantic attachments: (1) Men tend to fall in love more readily than women; (2) women tend to fall out of love more readily than men. Evidence in support of these generalizations is derived from a longitudinal study of 231 college student dating couples. The data suggest that women are more cautious than men about entering into romantic relationships, more likely to compare these relationships to alternatives, more likely to end a relationship that seems ill fated, and better able to cope with rejection. We consider several possible explanations of these sex differences from the standpoints of psychoanalytic theory, the social and economic context of mate selection, and the socialization of men and women in the management of their own emotions. To evaluate these (and any other) explanations, further research might profitably investigate whether and to what degree these sex differences are found in other segments of the population.”
Research confirmation that:
- Men fall in love more easily than women
- Women fall out of love more easily than men
- Women cope with breakups better than men do, and move on faster
Thus, calling back what we discussed in "I Don’t Chase 'Em, I Replace 'Em", illustrated here:
Thus, it's usually the women doing the breaking up, and usually the men who are hanging on, sobbing, begging to get their girlfriends back... while the girl herself is out partying, letting her hair down, sleeping with new men, and dating new men.
Usually. But sometimes, particularly if you only know how to break up with a girl in a way that sends her into a furious rage, she's going to hate your guts, smear your name, and rain holy hell down upon your reputation... and, possibly, peace of mind.
There's also the case where the girl doesn't get over you quickly - and this, while in the minority, certainly still happens, and if you're irresponsible in how you break up with women, you can cause a lot of hurt.
The research I've listed above is really just to give a little force behind a usually hazy, gray-area subject rife with anecdote and speculation, so that you're not just having to rely on one man's conjecture here. But for me, this is all old news.
All the phenomena discussed in the research above are things I've been aware of for some time, and things I've done a fair bit of thinking on. Why do relationships play out this way?
Part of it is scarcity / abundance: most men in relationships very naturally slip into a position of declining alternative options, while most women in relationships retain their options for a good long time; when entering into a relationship, men and women are frequently in a similar place option-wise - either party can go out and find someone new in a snap if need be. However, once a settled, committed monogamous relationship begins, the man stops approaching new women, and his pipeline of women gradually dwindles and dries up. His woman, on the other hand, continues being approached by new men, and her pipeline remains nearly as active as it was when she was single.
This gradual unbalancing of options leads to an imbalance of need in the relationship, where the man soon needs the relationship more than the woman does. And when it comes to calmly, rationally assessing pros and cons of anything, the person who needs the thing less wins the day.
It's my belief that that is a large part of why more women than men do the breaking up, why more women than men look at their relationships with skeptical and more discerning eyes, and why more women than men get over their relationships quickly.
The other part of the equation is women's shorter window for finding commitment and reproducing; a woman's clock is ticking, and her ability to reproduce is limited, with her mate choices declining in quality as she ages. While things get better for a man as he gets older - older men can date younger women more easily at older ages, provided those older men are exceptional and not ordinary - an older, single woman must increasingly settle for younger men who won't commit, or older men who don't have a committed partner for a reason (they're undesirable; they're untamable; they're commitment phobes; they have relationship problems that make them ill-suited to commitment).
So, women are more critical of their relationships, more willing to jump ship, and move on more rapidly than men on average because:
They have more options, and are less afraid of not being able to replace their current partner with a satisfactory new one, and
Time presses more firmly against women than it does men, giving them greater urgency in their mate search than men have, and necessitating a more cut-throat attitude toward relationships than more romantic, but less time-crunched, men
However... there is a special case.
That is the AMAZING man that a woman THINKS she can tame... but fails to.
That's the man who, like our reader JD, a woman falls in love with... and who, though he may care for her, rarely becomes as emotionally involved in the relationship as she does.
Yet, she fights for him, works for him, chases after him, harder and harder, with more and more effort, falling ever more in love with him as she does so.
And if he breaks up with her... if he severs that connection... if he prevents her from having what she so desperately wants, and makes her take a self-esteem hit for feeling like she has been judged unworthy by him of his commitment... she can easily be left very hurt and emotionally bereft.
That is, if he doesn't know how to break up with a girl the right way.
If he isn't able to wind things down with her in a way that doesn't make her feel like she's been slighted, maligned, and side-swiped.
But if he wants to avoid this happening, he can learn to do so - and do it.
“It’s not you... it's me.”
This most pathetic, contrived, and clichéd of all breakup lines nevertheless is coming from the correct path: the path of shifting the fault of the breakup onto your shoulders.
However, it does make a mistake I view as the cardinal sin of breakups, when used by a man: it doesn't give the girl a choice.
And when you rob people of choice, you incur some pretty nasty emotions as a result.
What I think of as "The Choice" is really only tenable if you're in
a relationship with a girl who's an awesome, amazing girl you wouldn't
mind having on in some
capacity of your choosing.
If you want to completely sever ties with a woman, it must occur generally after she's done something clearly intolerable in a relationship (like cheating on you, insulting you publicly, or another big relationship no-no that makes it clear she isn't suited for a continuing relationship with you).
If a woman hasn't committed an unpardonable offense against you, and you nevertheless aren't willing to keep her on in any capacity, then she's not going to understand why you bothered to date her as long as you have, and why you've now changed your mind (and neither will I, for that matter - why were you dating a woman you aren't crazy about?). She's going to wonder if it was just a game to you, if you were toying with her, or merely wasting her time. If that's the case, I can't really give you good advice here; I've never dealt with this situation, nor do I much understand it. All I can say is... good luck?
But let's say you're with an all-around great girl, who hasn't done anything awful and unpardonable against you, but whom you nevertheless can't remain in a monogamous long-term relationship with any longer, either because:
You're looking for a girl to settle down with and you know she's not it, or
The itch to meet, date, and sleep with new women has grown too great, and you cannot or do not want to put it off any longer
In both of these cases, you can present a girl with a choice: she can break up with you, or she can accept new terms.
In the first case - the "I want to settle down, just not with you" case - you present that to her this way:
“Angie, I'm just feeling more and more like that magic - that SPARK - whatever that is, it isn't there. I don't know what it is that's missing, and I don't think we can fix it. I don't want to stay in a relationship that doesn't have that; if you like, we can take a month and see if there's anything we can change that brings it back, but if at the end of that month it hasn't returned, we need to part ways. Or, if you feel the same way I do, and you don't really know what we could change and are thinking we may just not be long-term compatible, we can end things now. It's your choice.”
Doing things this way gives a girlfriend a choice of which option she wants:
She can try to figure out a way to make you happy, or
She can break up with you
Chances are, she's not going to be able to turn things around (you've already made up your mind), so even if you give it a month more it will still end in a breakup. However, this way she'll have had a chance to turn things around - she just wasn't able to; and, it won't have been a big, sudden, out-of-nowhere blow, but rather a more generous, "Hey, I don't think I can stay in this relationship... but here's a chance to see if you can change my mind if you want to."
It also respects her by not giving her a demand of, "You need to fix this"; instead, it says, "I need this to be fixed for this relationship to continue; if you think you can do that, wonderful, and I'm happy to give you the chance; if you don't think you can, we can end it now and not spend more of each other's time on a relationship that isn't working out."
Finally, this robs YOU of a lot of the pressure, and it robs her of the ability to get angry at you for breaking up, because you aren't having to make a hard choice here; instead, you're telling her there's a problem that you cannot tolerate, and making the choice hers about whether she wants to address that problem or whether she wants to end things.
If she chooses to try to save things: you must hold her to the one-month deadline. Circle a date on the calendar and agree with her that that day is "decision day": you're either going to decide that the magic is back and the relationship is amazing and on-fire and it is THE relationship for you... or you're going to decide that something is still missing for you, and end it for both of you.
Then, when that day comes around, decide.
And decide calmly, rationally, and yet with an eye to your emotions...
because if you chicken out and decide not to break up when you are not
happy, she will feel ten times more betrayed and hurt by you if you end
up saying the magic is back and then go on to break up with her for the
magic not being there again later on down the road.
If you're not looking for a settled, committed relationship, but instead are looking for the opposite - freedom to date whomever you want - you must rather give her a very different sort of choice:
“Kate, we've had a really amazing relationship together, and I really care for you. But I've reached a point where I've started to want to be with other women more and more; the need for this has just grown and grown within me, and I cannot contain it and don't WANT to contain it. And I don't want to lie to you and go behind your back and do things with other women and you end up getting hurt and feeling betrayed and probably being left with baggage that affects your future relationships; I don't want to damage you. I don't think I can be the kind of boyfriend you need anymore; I need to be with other women, and I don't think you could be happy with a partner who isn't exclusive to you.”
Then let her respond.
Her response is either going to be:
- "Then I guess we should break up",
- "So what are you saying we should do?", or
- "It's fine; I love you. I just don't want to know."
If it's the first, you tell her you understand, and go into a normal breakup talk (I'll discuss this below).
If it's the second, you don't want to be the one to suggest something here ("Well, we COULD stay together, but you'd have to be comfortable with me being with other girls"), because if you suggest first, then instead of you stating what you need, it becomes a negotiation, where you say, "I'd like this," and she says, "Well, I'm going to need these terms and conditions," and then you get into haggling - not what you want here. Instead, just say, "Well, I think the best thing for you is going to be if we part ways."
If it's the third, you must make certain that this is really what she wants, and that she can tolerate a relationship like this. That means you ask her things like, "Won't you get hurt in a relationship like this?" "Won't you be happier with someone else who can promise you exclusivity?" "I'm afraid it will rip you apart if you're at home by yourself and start imagining me with another woman." This is to prompt her either to reassure you that no, she's going to be too busy to worry about these things, or for her to realize that she didn't fully think through everything that's involved, it IS going to eat her up from the inside out, and it's better for her sanity to simply just end things then and there.
How to Break Up with a Girl
There are three (3) parts to a considerate, solid breakup:
- The choice
- The rationale
- The sendoff
The choice we just talked about, so I won't go over that again, except to say that this is necessary for avoiding her feeling like you have just unilaterally meted out judgment on the relationship without including her whatsoever (which is really only acceptable if she's done something very bad against you... then, no choice needed - just break up).
Now let's have a look at the other two.
Male or female, when someone you care about is breaking up with you, your emotions are going to go through a frenzy - and the main consideration is this:
“Am I being broken up with because I'm not good enough? Am I being left for someone better?”
This strikes at the very heart of an individual's self-identity, which relates to the need to believe that one's own genes are of superior stock and at least on par with anyone else's; the damage here comes from the thought of, "Has someone who knows me inside and out judged me genetically inferior?"
The purpose of giving her sound rationale for the breakup is to make it clear to her that you are NOT breaking up with her because you judge her inferior, or are in search of something "better." This protects her from being sent hard into auto-rejection as an act of supreme ego defense, and prevents her from being left hating your guts.
This has two keys:
Explaining very clearly why you are becoming increasingly unfit for a relationship
Explaining why it's bad for her to remain in a relationship with you - the long-term costs in unhappiness, wasted time, emotional damage, and emotional baggage she'll carry with her into future relationships
This makes it clear to her
that holding onto a relationship with you is probably something she
does not want, unless she's
willing to make the concessions presented to her as a choice above...
which she's probably not going to want to make, because these don't
exactly match her idea of a desirable, satisfying relationship.
Put to words, that looks like this:
“Rebecca, the magic just isn't there for me, and I think this relationship crumbles sooner or later at some point over the long haul when the magic isn't there. I don't want to hurt you, and I don't want to waste your time, and the longer we stay in a relationship that isn't perfect for us, the greater the damage will be and the more of your time I'm going to waste down the line.”
... or like that example we used earlier of letting a girl know when you've got an itch to meet other women that's simply too strong to resist, and you don't want to hurt her, lie to her, or leave her with emotional baggage.
When you can clearly communicate the harm that staying in a relationship with you presents to a woman, the question stops being, "Am I not good enough for him?" and starts becoming, "Oh. Maybe HE is not good enough for ME!"
This protects her from any threats to ego or self-identity; it also places her in a far more rational position, where she's unlikely to beg to maintain the relationship. Maintain what? What she'll get will be a shade of what she wants; either a relationship with you devoid of "magic", where you're just there and don't really want to be there, or a relationship with you where you sleep with other girls.
She looks at the facts, and says to herself, "Well... thank God I found out NOW before any more time got wasted and before this relationship started messing with my head!"
And at that point, she's happy to leave - and happy to leave on as close to "mutual" terms as you can get things with a girl who was crazy about you.
Once you've presented a choice, given rationale, and explained the negative consequences to her of remaining in a relationship with you, unless she's so attached to you that she's going to do anything you ask to remain in a relationship (and if that's the case, make sure you explain the risks of complying with what you want, and the effects this is likely to have on her - you're essentially talking her out of dating you, rather than outright unilaterally breaking up with her), she's going to agree that, in light of how you're feeling now, it's probably best for the two of you to part ways.
At this point, you want to reassure her that you'll always be her friend, and that it's been an amazing relationship for you and it's hard for you to go... but it wouldn't be fair to her for you to selfishly try to drag things out when you knew you couldn't give her what she wanted and needed.
Hit those points in your farewell:
- You'll always be her friend
- It's been a great relationship, and you're glad you had it
- You'd be selfish to continue keeping her in a relationship where you couldn't give her what she wants and needs
... then, say goodbye.
And do not contact her. Don't call her, write her, or text her.
Give her some time to get over you, and don't give her reason to hope you're going to come back and change your mind.
Create as much separation as possible, and start dating and sleeping with other women immediately, so that you don't get sucked back in, either.
Breaking Up and Parting Ways
Breaking up this way moves a breakup from a unilateral decision into being a mutual one, and the reason it shifts from unilateral (one-sided) into mutual (both in agreement) is because you are properly communicating with her... something that most people never do.
You're communicating to her:
Why you're unsuited for her in an ongoing relationship, and what's changed (you're no longer feeling the magic, or the itch to be with other women has grown too strong)
That there is a choice for her... she can hang onto you... but probably not in a way that she wants
That the reason you're parting ways is because your attitude has changed, and you will be bad for her in a relationship and cause her harm by trying to pretend nothing has changed when it very much has
That even though you are parting ways, this is still not easy for you, you will miss her, you do care about her, and she can always call on you in a bind
Do this properly, and you avoid most of the hurt, most of the heartache, and all of the bad-mouthing that breakups normally entail for most men.
You also leave the door more or less open to getting back together again later - every girlfriend I've had has worked to get me back after breakups like this on multiple occasions each - although I quit taking back ex-girlfriends years ago, and recommend you do the same... once it's over, it's over, and like we talked about in "The Ultimate Guide on How to Get a Girl Back", she's always going to feel like she's settling by coming back to you things didn't work out the first time around (and you'll feel like you're settling, too).
Breaking up doesn't have to be traumatic, and if you communicate with a girlfriend you're parting ways with properly, you can easily make it a calm, rational decision where she realizes a relationship with you would've been bad, and both of you are able to exit without feeling slighted, insulted, or forced into this.
Forget the cold, one-sided, hurtful, and confusing, "I'm breaking up with you," nonsense that most couples engage in. That's for piss poor communicators with zero consideration for their partners.
If you want to part ways in a way that's fair to both you and her, then tell her why you can't be with her anymore, why she wouldn't want to be with you when you are that way, give her the option to accept you that way anyway (she usually won't, if you explain it properly enough), and bid her adieu in a nice, nostalgic, romantic way.
Let her go with romance, style, and communication, and she will not resent you, nor hate you, nor dismiss you, nor feel the need to throw you under the bus socially in order to protect her reputation.
You can end relationships that must end with grace and consideration, and keep both parties' emotions and egos in check.
It just takes a little more care and a little more thoughtfulness than most people put into their splits, is all.
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