Carolyn Hax: Breaking up is hard to do

Carolyn Hax
Columnist March 17, 2012

Adapted from a recent online discussion.

Hi, Carolyn:

Carolyn Hax started her advice column in 1997, after five years as a copy editor and news editor in Style and none as a therapist. The column includes cartoons by "relationship cartoonist" Nick Galifianakis -- Carolyn's ex-husband -- and appears in over 200 newspapers. View Archive

I asked you about this last week, and sadly, not much has changed on my end. I need to break up with my live-in boyfriend because I don’t see a future together. We have different ambitions, interests, backgrounds, etc., and — I hate this part — I’m not in love with him.

I don’t know how to do it, though. Do I sit him down in our own home and tell him to move out? (He can’t afford the rent alone, and I can.) Do I pick a fight? Do I do it after [an upcoming event]? Before? I’ve never broken up with someone I lived with. I don’t want to hurt him, because he is the nicest and kindest guy — just not the one for me. Thanks.

Breaking Up


Since you wrote to me last week, too, you’ve read this column at least once, so you probably know I’m more likely to burn my shoe collection than to suggest contriving an argument so you can break up with someone you don’t love anymore.

You sit down with him as soon as possible and say he’s a wonderful person, but you’ve come to believe you aren’t wonderful together — “different ambitions, interests, backgrounds, etc.” You let him ask the questions he needs to ask, then decide together who stays or moves where.

That’s all another way of saying, please don’t “tell” him to move out, or pick a fight, or string him along till a more convenient time. Just treat him with the frankness and decency you hope others would show with you.

It’s going to be awful for a while, but then it won’t be anymore.

Re: Breaking Up:

Carolyn, this made me think of a question I’ve always meant to ask: Would it be fair to say the single most important aspect to breaking up with someone in the frank and decent way you propose is to fully accept your own responsibility for a decision that may be awful for them? That is, you don’t try to dodge the underlying fact that what you’re doing may not be in their best interest — or even fair to them (at least over the short run).

Hence, you don’t suddenly create a fight to give you an excuse, don’t say they’ll be better off with someone else, don’t do so over the phone or text or Post-it note — which cuts off their chance to ask the questions they need to ask — don’t drag things on long past an expiration date, and such. Is this a fair way to look at it?

Anonymous

Yes, and I’m wishing that’s how I’d written it. I don’t think the phone breakup is the worst possible thing to do, though. For long-distance relationships, for breaking up with someone violent or who would want the privacy, and for any other scenarios where the in-person conversation isn’t practical, a phone call is entirely defensible. In general, though, I get a lot of questions that are just long ways of asking, “How do I dump someone without causing pain?” — and the answer is, you can’t. You can avoid gratuitous pain, that’s it.

Write to Carolyn Hax, Style, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20071, or tellme@washpost.com. Subscribe at www.facebook.com/carolynhax.

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