A couple weeks ago, I was in a long-term relationship with “Tim,” let’s call him. However, after I moved for college a few years back, the distance eventually caught up and my feelings for him slowly faded this year. However, since Tim suffers from severe depression and is very sensitive, I was nervous about breaking the “bad news.” I just couldn’t stand to see him go through another breakdown, (especially after the recent death of his father).
So, I made up the excuse of being very busy with my dentistry courses, and essentially just not having enough time for a relationship. Therefore, it was a very smooth breakup, as he didn’t think I loved him any less. I thought it was over, until he continued sending “I love you” and “Can’t wait until we’re over this break” messages. He thinks we’ll be back together once classes finish up. He’s also been talking about visiting me this summer, so I don’t have a lot of time.
This is giving me so much anxiety because I can’t just say “Sorry, I don’t love you anymore,” you know? But I also can’t keep going on like this, it isn’t fair to either. I haven’t been saying “I love you” back, etc., or regularly responding, but he doesn’t understand. However, Tim did mention that if I happened to meet someone else, to let him know, and recently I did become good friends with a colleague and have a little crush/am interested. I think it’d be strange to mention though, since Tim’s messages are so lovey dovey…
If you were in my shoes, what would you do?
Update: Right after I sent that, Tim messaged me about how he has taken a few weeks off of work in the summertime to come visit. Now I feel even more terrible. I definitely won’t do this again. Do you have any suggestions or advice about what to say to him now that he has already taken time off to come see me?
-Mrs. Bad News Bearer
Dear “Mrs. Bad News Bearer,”
Oh man… Brutal… I know how you feel, girl. It absolutely, 100%, sucks when you have to tell someone who’s convinced that you’re their “One,” and who’s been nothing but good to you, that you’d kinda, sorta, rather eat a dirt sandwich than continue your relationship with them. Sigh… Nonetheless, it’s a dirty job and somebody’s got to do it. So, unless your mom, his best friend, or Simon Cowell owes you a favor, it looks like that person will have to be you. (Just kidding, it was always you, >serious face<.)
Alright, to begin with, the old saying, “honesty is the best policy” definitely applies to letting someone know you’re ready to move on from your relationship. However, how specific you need to be depends on how much time you two have spent together.
If it’s a fairly new relationship I’ve always found it best to keep things general, (unless you want a debate, or to inflict unnecessary pain on the person, of course). Things like “I’ve realized I’m not in the right mental space for a relationship right now,” “I’ve decided to focus my time and energy on someone I feel more of a connection with,” or “I don’t feel enough chemistry to continue seeing each other,” will suffice. I would then follow that first explanatory sentence with an expression of gratitude for the time they spent getting to know me, and let them know that I appreciated our time together.
On the other hand, if it was a long-term relationship, and you’re past the “getting to know each other” phase, in my opinion, the person is entitled to a little more of an explanation as to “what went wrong.” If only to assure them that you had good intentions and weren’t just stringing them along for sport, (which could land you as the victim on a male-version of the show “Snapped,” by the way.)
Consequently, in a relationship like yours, where you two have been together for years, you’ll want to get specific, yet concise, during your “we need to talk” talk. In short sentences, (in an effort to avoid drama), let him know: “Sorry I haven’t been upfront with you. I care about you and wanted to spare your feelings. However, I’ve realized it’s more important for me to be honest with you… So, first, I want to say that I appreciate you taking time off work and trying to bridge the distance gap to maintain our relationship. However, after I moved and got settled into my new career path I realized that I’m also wanting to meet new people and explore new romantic connections… Thank you for all the wonderful experiences we’ve shared together. I’ll always treasure them.”
If you’re open to being friends, let him know that someday, perhaps after a year or two when you both have rebounded emotionally, you can reconnect and have a friendship together, but avoid the temptation to dive into one right away. Fresh wounds need time to heal, and in the case of relationships, that includes space.
Now, after you’ve said your piece, be prepared for any and all reactions. Everyone handles “rejection” differently; and in my experience, about 50% of wolves respond kindly, and the other 50%, sourly. No one will feel good at this moment, (as it’s a sucky conversation to have), but it helps things if you stay general when answering any of his questions. And unless you want a debate or to stay together, never give in to any “Please let me know what I did wrong” requests. Even if he asks them under the guise of self-improvement. Trust me, it’s an argument trap. Focus on the fact that your decision to move on is based on your needs and desires. His perfect match is out there, same as yours.
At the end of the day, it’s important to remember that everyone is allowed to change his or her mind about who they want to be with, at any time, no matter how painful that decision may be to another. And being honest and kind with each other during that process is the best we can all hope for. So, keep “keepin’ it real,” and in time both of your hearts will heal. (Yeah, that was meant to rhyme.) Best of luck!
Note: As this column is designed to be a judgement-free zone, only those who have been, (or know someone who has been), in a similar situation are invited to comment; especially if the question is unorthodox or hard for one to relate to. And for even more relevant insight, those seeking answers are always encouraged to go within.