How Do I Break Up Without Hurting Him?

Hi Evan,

I did a search on “why men fall in love with me so quickly” to try to figure out what I’m doing wrong. I found that the question was based on the fact that the girl was “very attractive.” Well, it happens to me all the time and I’m not that attractive! I’ve been told that I’m beautiful and sexy, but I think I’m just an average girl.. Anyway, men – even on the internet – fall in love with me. I know I’m a pleaser. My mother was narcissistic. I’m working on all that. Recently single (10 months,) I vowed that I was going to spend time on my own. I thought I could maybe date and have fun. But this isn’t the case.

I’m kind and tend to be very complimentary. But I’ve been paying close attention to what I say. I compliment women the same way! Women tend to appreciate it…men fall in love with me. It’s difficult for me not to look for the good in people and tell them about it. I rarely tell anyone the bad about themselves… I don’t see the point in hurting people that way! (Most people know their problems and don’t need their noses rubbed in it.) Not too many people see their good points. I know this because I’m like that: I see all the negatives in myself. Anyway, I have difficulty with hurting people, and when they hurt, I hurt too. So breaking up with a guy is a long and painful process. I have to find the nerve and when I do, it’s so gentle that he’s confused about what I’m trying to say!

I recently broke up with a very nice man. There was no spark and I really, truly wanted to remain friends, but he says he loves me and now can’t eat or sleep. My girl friend says that he’s using sympathy to try to change my mind. You’ve no idea how often I cry when I hear his messages! I finally told him that I didn’t feel a spark at the beginning. He said to give it a bit more time. I relented but still no spark. I just feel like I make a mess of things. We only dated for a couple of months. My ex, who I was with for 10 years, same thing. I know if I called him right now, he’d take me back!

I’m very interested in your opinion.

Thank you,  Sue

Dear Sue,

Thousands of women have just read your letter with their jaws dropped.

“TOO MANY MEN fall in love with her? And she’s just an AVERAGE girl?! I don’t understand. The only men I get are arrogant, selfish, commitmentphobic jerkoffs! Where does she live? Where can I find those nice, relationship-oriented men?”

They’re right in your own hometown. I promise.

Men are more about FEELINGS than looks. When men feel good, we stick around.

The difference is that Sue is a master at making men feel good, which is the central premise of “Why He Disappeared.” As I’ve previously stated, men are about FEELINGS more than looks, and if we don’t feel good with you, we’re not sticking around.

So if you’re reading this and you wish you could have Sue’s problem of too many men who fall for her, guess what? You can. Just listen to how Sue does it:

“I rarely tell anyone the bad about themselves…I don’t see the point in hurting people that way! (Most people know their problems and don’t need their noses rubbed in it.) Not too many people see their good points.”

Compliment, don’t criticize. It’s as simple as that.

However, there’s one point with which I happen to disagree with Sue. I think most people focus only on their good qualities and blind themselves to their bad qualities. Which is why so many singles hold out for the perfect mate without realizing how much someone would have to compromise to be with them.

But that’s not what your letter is about, Sue, so let me get back on track.

As I see it, your problem is two-fold and very easy to solve.

Every second you’re spending with the wrong person is a second you’re not looking for the right person.

First of all, you’re telling yourself that you’re hurting a man by breaking up with him. Did it ever occur to you that you’re hurting him a lot worse by NOT breaking up with him? Did it occur to you that by trying to avoid your personal pain of cutting him off, you’re actually causing him MORE personal pain?

I’m sure you’re the nicest person in the world, Sue, but holding onto a dead relationship way past its expiration dead is actually a SELFISH act. It benefits YOU more than it benefits him.

When I was single, if there was one thing I did well, it was breaking up. My philosophy has always been that “every second I’m spending with the wrong woman is a second I’m not looking for the right woman.” As such, I would break most relationships off after 1-3 months. You stayed with a guy for TEN YEARS…just to be NICE?

Breaking up isn’t nearly as complicated as you’re making it, Sue. You sit him down, you tell him that you care about him, but you don’t think you have what it takes to make it in the long run, you let him vent, and you leave. It’s a sad, awkward conversation – I’ve been on both ends – but then it’s done. None of this “I’m being so gentle that he doesn’t know I’m breaking up with him” crap.

To sum up:

A. Breaking up is like gravity: swift and without explanation. The second you’re positive it’s not right is the second you should do it. You’re selfish if you let a man fall deeply for you when you know you’re going to eventually break his heart.

B. The way to make a man fall in love with you is to adore the hell out of him and shut up about the things you don’t like. It doesn’t do either party any good to offer unsolicited and unwanted criticism.

C. Chasing “a spark” is often a losing strategy. But that’s another conversation for another day.

Thanks for teaching us a few important lessons, Sue.

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Comments:

  1. 1
    starthrower68

    There is no way to break up with someone without it hurting them; none of us like rejection.  It’s less painful to rip the bandage off quickly than to do it slowly. 

  2. 2
    Goldie

    As someone who’s a lot like Sue (I had a therapist tell me that my biggest problem is not being able to say no to people, and trying to be nice to everyone), may I add something for her benefit? Telling herself “every second I’m spending with the wrong man is a second I’m not looking for the right man” isn’t going to help Sue at all. One, she’s not even looking for the right man at the moment, and two, this will just make her feel mean and selfish – “OMG, how can I dump poor Jim/Bob/Paul just so I can go on looking for the right man?” Along these lines. In my opinion, a better philosophy for someone like Sue would be – “every second Jim/Bob/Paul is spending with me is a second he is not looking for the right woman”.Way more altruistic. Now, by letting Jim/Bob/Paul go, Sue is doing him a favor. (Which, in fact, she really is.) Now if I could apply this wisdom in my own life when I need it :)
     
    By the way, I enjoy reading about the spark on here. It’s my dog’s name :) Why, just this morning, I was out chasing the Spark. You’re right, it’s a losing strategy :)

  3. 3
    Diana

    When it comes to breaking up for good, it’s always best to be direct and clear, so there can be no misunderstandings or false hopes. And to not continue contact, unless you’re truly able to maintain a platonic friendship.
     
    Sue’s pleaser personality is good in one regard [all the men love her {who doesn't love a pleaser}], and detrimental in another [she's likely trampling over her own, deeper feelings]. Psychologically, there’s a reason for this, but that’s another blog. ;)
     
    I lived for many years with a pleaser. I have pleaser tendencies like Sue as well. In the end, the pleaser couldn’t bring himself to hurt me, but, unknown to me, he was also suffering, and so he chose to flee, rather than deal with whatever his thoughts and feelings were. Of course, this was insanely ironic, given that his fleeing caused the worst pain of them all for me, and others.
     
    I think it’s wonderful to make people feel good, but also realize that people are responsible and accountable for their own thoughts and feelings, and that’s a burden you do not want to carry.

  4. 4
    Diana

    And yes, that includes me, too. :)

  5. 5
    Luxe

    I agree, there is no way around from hurting someone when you are breaking up with them. That is what comes with the territory of dating. You go in dating to know that you will potentially be hurt and you could potentially hurt someone else.

    Make it quick. Be strong and be firm. As long as you don’t start criticizing (which you won’t have to worry about) and you are being considerate, then that’s all you can do. And by considerate, I mean you’re not trying to break up with him over email or something like that. I doubt you would do that though Sue ;)

  6. 6
    Karl R

    Sue said: (original post)
    “I have difficulty with hurting people, and when they hurt, I hurt too. So breaking up with a guy is a long and painful process.”

    Breakups are painful. They don’t have to be long. Your goal is to make it a short and painful process. That’s one way to minimize the pain.

    The longer you take to work up your nerve for the breakup, the more time he has to get attached to you. The more attached he is, the more painful it is. Another way to minimize the pain is to break up sooner instead of later.

    Pain is part of dating. If someone’s not willing to get hurt, they have no business dating. If you’re not willing to be the source of someone else’s pain, then you have no business dating either.

    Sue said: (original post)
    “He said to give it a bit more time. I relented but still no spark. I just feel like I make a mess of things.”

    So now you have to break up with him a second time, and cause twice the pain. It was a mistake, but I don’t think it was big enough to call it “a mess.”

    When you break up with someone, be decisive.

    If you say, “I’m not sure I want to date you,” they hear, “but I might change my mind.”

    If you say, “I’m not interested in a relationship right now,” they hear, “but I might be later on.”

    When he said, “Give it a bit more time,” the proper response is, “I already did.” It’s quick; it’s decisive; it’s final.

    Sue said: (original post)
    “I’ve been paying close attention to what I say. I compliment women the same way! Women tend to appreciate it…men fall in love with me.”

    Listen to how straight men compliment other men. That’s the way to compliment men without them getting the wrong idea.

    Men tend to compliment other men on their accomplishments, not on who they are. Instead of saying, “You are a wonderful speaker,” we’re more likely to say, “That was a wonderful speech.”

    Whatever you do, don’t compliment a man’s looks unless you want him to think you’re attracted to him.

  7. 7
    Goldie

    This may or may not be OT. I have a question to all re: not breaking up over email, text, phone & such. For a woman, are there ever any situations where it is not safe to break up with a man face-to-face and in person? And are there ways to predict a situation like this?
     
    What I mean here, a guy may have anger problems, a guy may not be used to rejection, a guy may lose it. And let’s face it, it’s pretty rare for a woman to physically overpower an angry guy. Not to scare anyone, but we used to live next to a family where the owner and his daughter were shot to death by the daughter’s ex-boyfriend :( that she’d met on a dating site and then broke up with him. It happened three years ago and was all over the news. I was home when it happened – talked to the cops, hid from the reporters, had my front yard yellow-taped – so I assure you it’s a real story, not an urban legend.

    1. 7.1
      Cat

      Goldie, my ex got a roommate after we broke up who was shot and killed in front of his girlfriend by her estranged husband, who also then committed suicide, in my ex’s front yard in a quiet, “safe” family neighborhood. Tragically, these things do happen and, as you said, are not urban legends!

      As far as safety goes, somewhere public like a Starbucks is a good place to go. Less likely to have a scene as well! This book has useful tips about predicting dangerous behavior and evaluating whether someone will use violence, as well as how to deal with stalkers or men who just won’t let go. It’s a “must read” for all women, as far as I’m concerned: The Gift of Fear by Gavin de Becker.

  8. 8
    Goldie

    @ Diane #3: “Sue’s pleaser personality is good in one regard [all the men love her {who doesn't love a pleaser}], and detrimental in another [she's likely trampling over her own, deeper feelings].”
     
    As a bit of a pleaser myself, I really hope this does not imply that Sue compliments the men merely in order to be liked, or that she somehow lies to herself (and to these men) when she compliments them. From her letter, it appears to me that she really, honestly sees the good qualities in every person. I totally get this. My personal motto, since my late teens/early 20s, has been R.Waldo Emerson’s quote: “In my walks, every man I meet is my superior in some way, and in that I learn from him.” Very true, and works great in life, work, friendship etc. Works with my own children, even.
     
    Problem with applying the same principle to dating is that, while every man I meet is, in fact, my superior and potential mentor in some way, only one can be my BF/SO. When I compliment a guy I meet on a dating site the way I would anyone else, the message he gets is that I have singled him out and don’t want to be with anyone else but him. All sorts of miscommunications and hurt feelings ensue.
     
    Not sure yet how to get around this problem. If Sue finds out before I do, can she please let me know :)
     
    Apologize for the multiple comments – this post struck a chord with me. I promise I’m done for today :D

  9. 9
    Diana

    Hi Goldie ~ no, it only implies what you want it to. ;) I didn’t sense from Sue’s letter that she compliments men in order to be liked; thus, hiding her true feelings which might be different.
     
    In reading through this again, I think there are two things at work here. First, there’s her naturally kind and good manner, which brings out the compliments and thinking well of others, etc., and then there’s her trying to be a pleaser, as she referred to herself, and that she’s working on that. Maybe Sue is overly sensitive to other people’s feelings, to the point of crippling her, like the comment about how often she cries when she hears the messages of a man she broke up with twice, and dated for a mere two months. I sense her heart is being partially governed by fear, and learning to let go will set both her and her suitors free.

  10. 10
    Ebisu

    If ever there was a rigged letter, then this is it, Sorry, Evan, I’ve been reading your pages for years for tips, but this pushes it.

    Changing subject, I’ve now found my mate through face-to-face means, after 2 years of no luck on the internet. He’s the sweetest, gentlest guy I could have dreamed of, and yet still “a man”, and takes control at all the times I expect him to. He was hesitant to commit, because he had me on a pedastel, as he admitted in a heart to heart, but once I revealed my own vulnerabilities, and he realised I was only human too, with as many doubts as him, he felt free to commit to me to a long-term relationship, and then things were in full swing. I love him all the more for the conversation we had about our vulnerabilities, and how eventually it strengthened us.

    Feel free to use as an example in your writings………..

    Happily in love, now
    J

    1. 10.1
      Cat

      Congrats J (#11) on being in love and having it returned. As we all know, that’s no small feat! You mention Evan should use you as an example. Is there something you learned from him that means he should refer to you?

      BTW, you’re wrong that any letters are “rigged.” Evan is far too busy to start making up letters, nor does he need to! He only chooses four a month from the dozens upon dozens of letters he receives every week. He does edit for length. He makes up a title to match the letter–but that’s all he invents: the title. Nothing’s rigged. Sorry to disappoint you! :) But that would be a fun contest: make up a letter for Evan to answer! Who’s in?

  11. 11
    JuJu

    I don’t know if the letter is rigged (it’s just easier sometimes to take things at face value :-)), but I did think one thing: not to belittle Sue’s romantic accomplishments, but two men do not a pattern make. :-|
     
    The letter seems to be making a bigger problem of what is going on than it actually is.

  12. 12
    Ruby

    I don’t think this letter is rigged, but I wonder about the conclusions being drawn here. Are men falling for Sue because she’s so complimentary, or because she’s so elusive? She admits to spending 10 YEARS with a man with whom she felt no spark. Maybe she’s nice, “easy” and pleasant, but doesn’t criticize or get upset because she’s just not into these men all that much. Might we say that she is dating men and with-holding commitment? And that this with-holding makes the men desire her even more?

  13. 13
    Joe

    If you break up with a guy, do it quickly, and DON’T LIE.  Don’t say, “Oh, I’m not ready to date,” or “I need to spend some time figuring out what I want.”  If he finds out later that you started dating someone else shortly after, he’ll feel hurt worse than if you’d just told him the truth that you just weren’t into him.

  14. 14
    JerseyGirl

    I am going to agree with what JuJu and Ruby are saying. She spent 10 years with the same man. I think the writer of the letter could very well be over-stating her situation and represents herself has this kind, gentle soul with a little tendency towards narcissism.

  15. 15
    Selena

    I think sometimes people stay in relationships out of inertia. It may not be as fullfilling as they wish, but since it really isn’t *bad* there isn’t high incentive to end it and move on. That was my impression reading of Sue’s 10 yr. relationship.

  16. 16
    Selena

    And Joe, your advice in #15 is excellent. It should also apply to both women AND men. :)

  17. 17
    Goldie

    #14-15, well of course she’s withholding commitment. She just got out of a ten-year marriage for crying out loud. Of course she’s not ready to date seriously, and needs time to figure out what she wants. That’s normal behavior. I would worry a lot more if a person got out of one LTR and immediately said they were ready for another.
     
    Problem is, I cannot tell from the letter if she’s being upfront about it with the guys she dates. Maybe they want a serious relationship and think she wants one too. Of course, from my experience, people do not react too well when you tell them you’re taking it easy and still trying to figure out what’ll work for you. I get it that no one wants to be someone else’s guinea pig, but what are we to do when we’re really not ready for a long-term, but still feel we need to get out there, meet different kinds of people, and figure out how this whole dating thing works? I’m still looking for answers myself.
     
    #10 Diana, good points, I agree. Maybe Sue (and the rest of us with this problem) could benefit from a few hours of good therapy :) I’m serious, BTW.
     
    #9 Cat, I ordered The Gift Of Fear yesterday, it was just a few bucks used on Amazon. Thanks for the tip! I read Protecting The Gift when my kids were young and it helped, but it’s mostly about parenting, so doesn’t apply to dating much.

  18. 18
    Steve

    Sue;
     
    There is no good way to break up with a person.    It is always going to be disappointing at the least or hurtful.   You can choose to do it in a “less bad”  way.      Sooner is always better.  Like Evan wrote, that frees them and you to go find the right person sooner.   The feelings also run less deep the sooner it happens.
     
    Giving an honest and complete reason ( feedback ) is often a thankless task.
     
    It feels hurtful to tell someone.   They can get upset.   They may want to debate you about your perceptions, rather than listen to the valuable feedback.  .
     
    I agree with Evan that it can be helpful to the other person.   People are often unaware of their shortcomings.    Sometimes, some people need to get feedback about the same issue several times before it sinks in.
     
    Granted, they will no longer be in your life, you will get no benefit from dispensing the advice and it can be a thankless task.
     
     
    At least you know you gave them helpful information.
     

  19. 19
    Ruby

    Goldie #18 I wasn’t saying that Sue should or shouldn’t be avoiding commitment. My point was that we can’t assume that, as Evan said, men fall for her because she’s nice and uncritical. Perhaps it’s more because she’s holding back and elusive (even in her 10-year relationship – she didn’t say she was married). So she’s always the one who loves less. Although as Juju mentioned, “two men do not a pattern make”. If all she needs to do is figure out what she wants and heal from her last relationship, then she needs to be upfront with the men she’s dating. If she was upfront with them from the get-go, instead of trying to accommodate men she doesn’t even care that much about, it would probably solve a lot of her problem.

  20. 20
    Luxe

    @7 Goldie

    I very do well believe that a break up to lead up to physical violence. I honestly think that breaking up via phone, email, text etc instead of face to face will probably have the same results. If a person goes balistic.. they’ll go baslistic no matter what way you break up with them. Difference might be whether they physically harm you now or come back to do it later, unfortunately.

    I don’t know about the whole men fall in love with her for not being critical and nice. I’m pretty nice and not critical, I don’t have guys falling in love with me left and right though, :D Maybe she attracts needy men? And then that is how she gets in these situations where she feels guilty enough to be drawn back in.

  21. 21
    JuJu

    Steve, #20, how is “I am not attracted to you” – useful information? :-|

  22. 22
    The Seductress

    “I have difficulty with hurting people, and when they hurt, I hurt too. So breaking up with a guy is a long and painful process. I have to find the nerve and when I do, it’s so gentle that he’s confused about what I’m trying to say!”

    Sue, I think the problem here is that because you are admittedly a pleaser and hate to hurt people, you can’t stand the thought of these men not seeing you that way anymore upon breakup. If they are hurt or angry by your actions, you no longer smell the like the rose you are used to smelling like in their eyes.
    I don’t think you take this long, drawn out process of breaking up in order to make it easier on the man, you do it to make it easier on YOU. You want to go off into the distance with them still thinking lovely, positive, admiring thoughts of you and that won’t happen if they are hurt or angry by a swift, clean break and no communication. They WILL go away and you won’t get to hear how broken they are over the loss of you. And, they may go away angry and you can’t stand that either. This sounds harsh, but I’m convinced you get fed by this behavior or you wouldn’t repeat it. 
    If you attempt to break up gently, you are hoping to slip-slide out of the relationship with them accepting it but still loving and thinking nothing but fabulous thoughts of you. AND you get to see and hear about this process because of the messages, re-hashed talks, his begging you to stay.
    And of course they are confused because you are doing this on purpose.
    If you want to be kind to these men. Break it off clean. Give reasons that are solid and unfixable and don’t do the phone calls, extended communication, repeated discussions that make you feel good on some level and only make the man feel worse.
    Tihs isn’t good for you or these men. You need to be strong so you can find the right man and not waste your or the wrong man’s time on this so-called ‘benevolence’.
    Again, I know it sounds harsh and I apologize for that but a ‘pleaser’ personality is usually more about the payoff for the pleaser….

  23. 23
    Joe

    @ Selena #18: Yes!

    @ Juju #23: If you’re being truly honest that you’re not attracted to the person, it tells him/her that s/he should not hold out any hope.  A reasonable person will move on; obviously with someone unreasonable it won’t matter what you say.

  24. 24
    Selena

    I don’t think you need to inform someone of their shortcomings when you break up with them. If it’s a short term relationship all you need to say is it isn’t working out for you and wish them the best.

    In a long term relationship they already know you are breaking up with them because of their shortcomings. ;)

  25. 25
    Karl R

    Steve said: (#20)
    “Giving an honest and complete reason ( feedback ) is often a thankless task.”
    “At least you know you gave them helpful information.”

    I disagree. If you give them a complete and honest reason, you’re most likely being a complete and unmitigated jerk.

    It’s painful to get dumped. Do you really want your ex-girlfriend to add to that pain by giving you a complete laundry list of every fault that she noticed during the months that you were dating?

    What makes you think the information is helpful? I’m aware of most of my flaws; more than someone else will notice unless they’re exceptionally astute. If the person is remotely self-aware, you’re going to be telling them information that they already know. How “helpful” is that?

    You’re right about it being a thankless task. How thankful are you when an insensitive jerk decides to “help” you by telling you everything that’s wrong with you?

    I’ll give the person one reason for the breakup. Preferably a dealbreaker reason that they also agree is true. (i.e. You want kids and I don’t.) Sometimes I have to get creative with the reason in order to be honest without being hurtful. I dated one woman who too immature for my tastes. My explanation to her: “Our age difference puts us at different stages in life, and I don’t see this relationship going anywhere in the long run because of that.”

    If my exes want my feedback on how they can improve, they can ask me for it. I’m not going to offer unsolicited advice.

  26. 26
    Selena

    Seductress #27

    That was a very insightful take on the situation.

  27. 27
    JuJu

    Another thing in regards to Steve’s and Karl’s posts:
    the faults we see in people are not objective. Other people might actually like those same qualities.
     
    I personally have been criticized for some traits I happen to value in both myself and others.

  28. 28
    JuJu

    Thought of something else: I generally enjoy reading advice columns, but Carolyn Hax in particular sometimes just amazes me with her clarity of thought.
     
    One pearl of wisdom from her, pertaining specifically to the difficulty of  breaking up with a person, was, “Tell him why you two don’t work as a couple, not why he doesn’t work as an individual.”

  29. 29
    Diana

    To The Seductress, #27, I like your insightful observation. If I may, I think Sue is deeply insecure, and the positive vibes, etc. that she receives from other people counter balance the way she sees herself in such a negative light. As long as the good times roll, then maybe she doesn’t have to deal as much with what’s really going on.
     
    I use to suffer from being a pleaser, but it honestly wasn’t out of a desire to be liked; more out of guilt and feeling responsible for others. It takes a lot of strength and conviction to be able to know yourself and to listen to your own voice for a change.
     
    I wondered, too, about the possible neediness of the men. I know that men love to have their egos stroked, and don’t like to hear criticism [who does], but I think I’ve also read that when a woman comes off as “too” complimentary, etc., that’s kind of a turn off, if he’s confident and secure. I’m sure Evan will correct me. ;)
     
    And for the record, no. I don’t wish I had Sue’s problem of too many men falling in love with me. I only want the “right” one to fall in love with me. :) The other sounds like too much work.

  30. 30
    The Seductress

    Diana, #31

    Yes, I agree that the inner conflict Sue has is insecurity. And you are right, it isn’t as simple as wanting to be liked. Guilt, and feeling responsible for others are probably in there too.

    But what is the payoff for an insecure person who pleases, swims in guilt over a break-up and feels the weight of another’s feelings on their shoulders?

    It’s that their insecurity gets soothed by feeling benevolent, liked, needed, important or whatever other buzz word is her particular drug.

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