Why Breaking Up Isn’t Always Personal, and How You Can Make Him Want to Stay

young couple separately sitting under a tree, being in conflict

Hi Evan,

I’ve been following your blog and reading “Why He Disappeared — but I’m still a bit confused. I understand what you say about letting go of controlling what a man does, however I don’t agree when you say it has nothing to do with you. It has EVERYTHING to do with you! It’s a personal rejection.

But also you discuss in the book that maybe you did do something on the date that made him not want to see you again? So how does that have nothing to do with you? Can you provide any clarification?

Thanks! I do enjoy your work,  TK

Dear TK,

If you’ve read “Why He Disappeared,” you’re well-aware that I think my wife is a relationship genius. I’d go so far to say that I think just about ANY man could be married to her and be happy; that’s how good a person she is.

I’ve also gone on the record to state that she’s nothing like the woman I expected to marry: she’s older, Catholic, more conservative, less book-smart (not a LOT older, not VERY Catholic, not VERY conservative, and certainly not stupid as some readers like to suggest I’m saying.) But it’s no secret that I spent 35 years looking for a female clone of myself…and consistently failed at the task.

So the entire time I’m dating my wife, I’m mentally dissecting her. This is what we do when we don’t have that “you just know” feeling. We dissect. We find fault.

Trouble existed purely in my head because my girlfriend didn’t live up to this fantasy avatar I created for my future wife.

Maybe I could find someone who can introduce me to new literature and music…

Maybe I could find someone 5 years younger and have more time before having kids….

Maybe I could find someone who shares my Jewish/liberal/atheist point-of-view…

Now, it’s important to emphasize that our relationship was perfect. Any troubles were ones that existed purely in my head because my girlfriend didn’t live up to this fantasy avatar I created for my future wife.

As I contemplated proposing, I thought about what was most important in life — the things I’m always telling my readers: friendship, laughter, values, loyalty, honesty, kindness, generosity, the ability to be loved unconditionally.

When I looked at it this way, it was a no-brainer.

Of COURSE, I’d propose to my girlfriend. She’s the best person in the entire world. She’d push me around in a wheelchair if I got hit by a bus. What else could matter more than that?

Not whether she’s read the new Jonathan Franzen book…

Not whether she agrees with me about what happens when we die…

Not whether she thinks that Obamacare is good or bad…

These are the things that most singles think actually matter, when, in fact, they have very little to do with how you get along on a day-to-day basis.

My point — and I do have one — is this:

If I’d chosen to break up with my girlfriend because I decided I’d rather date someone who was 32 and Jewish instead of 38 and Catholic, does that mean that she’d done something wrong? Does that mean that she should take it “personally?” Does that mean that she should change for the next guy? Does that mean that I’m selfish and evil?

No, no, no, and no.

Dating is a constant process of evaluation. You don’t become exclusive with someone in month 1 because you KNOW you’re going to be together forever. At any point, you can rule someone out for any reason. Whether it’s reasonable or not is another story.

When you’re not smitten and blinded by chemistry, you’re going to objectively evaluate your partner. Worse, you’ll probably dissect him/her. We all do it. “Can I do better? Is this what I really want? Will I be content with this person twenty years down the road?”

After 300 first dates, 5 years of being a dating coach, and a lot of looking in the mirror, I decided that instead of chasing women who were — on paper — more like me, I would be an idiot to give up the amazing relationship I had with my girlfriend. No one had ever made me happier, and if it wasn’t exactly in the packaging I’d imagined, that was okay. I most definitely didn’t fit her image of the ideal man either. Acknowledging this doesn’t bruise our egos. It reinforces our connection. We chose each other over all others. We recognize this every single day.

But if I blew it because of my big ego… if I decided to try to find someone like my wife, except 5 years younger… would that mean that she should take it personally? Or that my wife should rule out all younger men? All Jewish guys? All liberals? Of course not.

As a woman, it’s not your job to try to force him to figure it out. Just make the PRESENT as good as it can be.

Literally, the ONLY way my wife and I could have gotten married is the way we did. She trusted me. Trusted that I was serious about love. Trusted that I wanted a family and didn’t want to waste her time. Trusted that even though I wasn’t “sure” from the beginning, I had my heart in the right place. If she had tried to push me for clarity, or try to change me into her ideal mate, or complain that I should “just know” because she “just knew”… we wouldn’t be happily married right now.

This is why I wrote “Why He Disappeared.” Because there are millions of decent, relationship-oriented men who just don’t know what the future holds.

As a woman, it’s not your job to try to force him to figure it out. If you want a man to love you in the future, all you can do is make the PRESENT as good as it can be.

So if you learn from “Why He Disappeared” how to understand men and be a great date and girlfriend, you’re controlling the only thing you can control: yourself.

You’re letting go of the thing that you can’t control: him.

More importantly, by relaxing and trusting that the right man will WANT to choose you as his wife, you’re creating the ideal atmosphere to find a true, mature love, an atmosphere free of fear and jealousy.

Let me know how it goes for you.

Join our conversation (74 Comments).
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  1. 1
    Katarina Phang

    Great piece, Evan.   It’s good to hear from a man’s perspective what makes him tick when it comes to making him fall in love with a woman and deciding to be with her for the rest of his life.
    I think the greatest gift a woman can give a man is being happy in her own skin, confident, nurturing, trusting and soft.
    Don’t live in your head, just relax and trust…   That’s very enticing for a man.

  2. 2
    Karl R

    TK said: (original post)
    “I don’t agree when you say it has nothing to do with you. It has EVERYTHING to do with you! It’s a personal rejection.”

    Is it? The last woman who broke up with me did so because I didn’t have a car. That’s not about me; it’s about a car.  I’ve never owned a car, yet many women have happily dated me while completely aware of that. How is that personal?

    I broke up with the previous woman because she was too immature for me. Of course, she was also 11 years younger than me. If I had run across someone like her 15 years earlier, we would have been a  very good  match. As she gets older, she’ll become more mature. (That’s what happened to me.) How is the age gap between us supposed to be a flaw inherent to her?

    The previous woman I dated was wrapped up in her career and research. She had little time for dating, and when her work got busy, she’d completely disappear. We both think very highly of each other, but I want more than that out of  a relationship. How is that personal?

    The previous woman broke up with me because she wanted lots of kids and I didn’t want any. We were a great couple, but we had mutually exclusive goals. How is that personal?

    I’m sure some women find me unattractive (though my little sister is the only one who has said so to my face). But there are other women who dated and/or pursued me because they thought I was gorgeous. If a woman finds me unattractive, why would that be about my looks instead of her opinion?

    My current girlfriend finds me attractive. She doesn’t want kids either. We both maintain a life/work balance where we can have a great relationship. She’s significantly older than me, but we’re close to the same maturity level. And she respects that I  inconvenience myself to be more environmentally friendly.

    TK asked: (original post)
    “But also you discuss in the book that maybe you did do something on the date that made him not want to see you again? So how does that have nothing to do with you?”

    I’ve dated women who were raped; women who were in therapy; women with kids; and women who were unemployed. I’ve dated a woman who had been molested by her father; a woman who suffered from chronic depression; a woman who had an STD; and a woman who had previously been a stripper. Odds are very high that you can tell me your darkest secret without me flipping out over it.

    But if you start telling me your deepest, darkest secrets on the first date … we won’t have a second one.

    1. 2.1

      Well said I couldnt agree with you more. Your response Highlights the importance of good reasoning (which i believe Intelligence really is) and more so the power of perception. Another persons reasons can not be watered down so carelessly to being about us. Ive ended relationships if anything for reasons personal to me more so than the men i dated. As for why two of my “ex’s” ended relationships in early stages with me (dating phase) I cant say I know the real reason. But I can say I did not look in the mirror and think it was personal to me.  

    2. 2.2

      thank you Karl for sharing from a man’s opinion and perspective, and I agree with you.

  3. 3

    Hi Evan,
    I took your advice   a while back and just  chilled out (which is hard for me because I am a naturally controlling person as it is) and just had a good time while waiting for my boyfriend to come around……..and he did!!! It took several months and a lot of patience. He was a commitment-phob and made it clear from the beginning that he didn’t want anything serious and just wanted to have fun. I went back and forth on staying with him but I could see that under this big front he was putting up he was a good hearted guy. Not to mention a good dad which I think is very telling of who a person really is. So now we have been together for 1 year and have a place together and he tells me he loves me several times a day. I never thought the  “L” word would come out of this guy! And better yet, I let him be the first to say it which is totally out of character for me! We have even talked about marriage (wow). Thank you so much for all the great advice! I really think I have found the “one”. I love your blogs. Many a times I have found myself ready to freak out at my boyfriend over trust issues of my own, and many a times your blog has stopped me from doing that by seeing things from a mans perspective. Im sure my boyfriend would thank you for that too, lol. Peace!! 😉

  4. 4

    This is great advise.. but hard to practice 😉 Hard to not take it personally when feelings are involved. Best way for me to handle it is to think of it if the situation was turned around.

  5. 5

    This blog entry and the last newsletter I received from Evan both had to do with Trust and controlling/knowing the future.   Evan, as usual, gave great advice in this blog and in that newsletter.   It made me thing about two things though, which is related to his answer here and in the newsletter:

    1.   It is in women’s nature to want to know the unknown and the future.   That’s why many of us like astrology and such, it attempts to ‘predict the future’.   Once we starting dating a man, we often want to know “is he the one”?   Going from meeting him to be married to him our heads in a month–freaking the poor men out!   So this tends to be something we have to tame in ourselves, give up control over knowing the future and be PRESENT in the moment.   Yoga does a great job of training to be present.   PATIENCE also comes to mind-difficult to be patient.

    I’m not saying is every woman’s issue, but I bet many of us can totally relate to this concept–afterall, this is what the myth about Bluebeard is all about!

    2.   Trust, Evan brings it up here again.   I was dating a man who was doing everything the man in the newsletter was saying, he treated me like gold and I felt like a queen with him.   But still, in the beginning, I doubted him.   He sensed this and one day he said, “Trust me”.   That blew me away.   He was so right, I wasn’t trusting him or his actions–what else did   he need to do to show me what he felt for me?   This was a huge lesson for me.   From then on, I relaxed, let go and trusted him.   It was one of the greatest feelings to be in that position.   It is also the most vulnerable to be.   That’s what love is all about I guess!

    Just a couple of thoughts…

  6. 6

    I think Evans advice on this one is completely solid.   But I still understand exactly what the writer means when she declares, “it’s got EVERYTHING to do with you,” and how difficult it is to NOT see it as personal rejection.  Because it feels personal, it feels bad, and it feels all about you — something you either did or didn’t do, something you were too much of or not enough of — the possibilities are endless.  Truthfully, when  I’ve been in that miserable place, the last thing I want is  to hear  someone telling me, “It’s not about you. It’s him.”   It’s almost an insult, because your sadness and hurt feels so legitimate.    I don’t like to suffer any more than anyone else, but when I feel hurt, I  want the pain  acknowledged. Feelings and emotions are utterly human but they’re not  reality — you can feel rejected without being a “reject.”    You can feel loss when someone you love leaves you,  but that doesn’t mean you’re a loser.   The most comforting thing a very grounded friend  said to me once when I was a wreck  after  a breakup was simply, “His loss.”    That helped me more than all the rationalizations, the parsing, the  venting, the attempts at making it make sense.   When I looked at it that way, it still seemed personal but  left my sense of value intact.    Whether my ex ever   felt any great  loss, I’ll never know, and it didn’t matter.   It also helps to remember that whether in or outside of an intimate relationship, you’re still you.   You’re the most constant thing in your life, and if someone chooses to let you go,  their loss.   You just can’t win ’em all.  

  7. 7

    Yeah, I also didn’t understand the taking it personally bit initially. All I could think was, when I reject a man, it’s very much personal! It has everything to do with him! Even saying that *he* shouldn’t take it personally more often than not would feel strange and unjustified.

  8. 8

    Getting dumped or losing out on a dating prospect isn’t a rejection of you, it’s a rejection of the combination of the two people, ie a relationship. In other words, he or she is rejecting your partnership, not you personally. This is what I tell myself, because when you take the sex and attraction out of the equation, we can usually find a way to have a friend relationship.
    I see it much like sales. When you make a cold call and get rejected, the person on the other end isn’t rejecting you as a person. He might think you’re perfectly likeable. What he’s rejecting is your pitch or proposition. That’s it. If you can keep that in mind, you’ll be alright.

  9. 9

    @ Lance #8 – I see it rather as a job search process (maybe because I’d turn down any cold call, lol) You may be an amazing specialist, but not a good fit for a certain job, and that’s not a judgement on you – it just means that, if you take that job, you’re not going to like it or have a good time. Likewise, you may turn down a seemingly good job if you think it’s not going to be a good fit for you.
    Or, you can take a job that looks good on paper (location, pay, benefits) and hate it.
    First dates are a lot like job interviews. Except most people are much better at their job interviews than at their first dates, for whatever reason.
    @ Karl #2 – apologize for being personal as well as OT, but I am so intrigued, I’m all but losing sleep over this. You already said you’re not in NYC or any other metro area with good public transportation. Without a car, how do you get around? I’d love to not depend on my car so much, and my 17yo thinks the same way, but where we live, pretty much the only thing you can do without a car is walk your dog – that’s if you’re lucky and your street has sidewalks. (You still need a car to take that dog to the vet, though.) The closest job I’ve ever had was ten miles away from where I lived. (I also had one that was 65 miles one way.) I just don’t understand how to get around needing to have a car, unless you’re someplace like NYC.
    Of course, your answer may turn out being “on my Harley, of course” 🙂

  10. 10
    Karl R

    JuJu said: (#7)
    “when I reject a man, it’s very much personal! It has everything to do with him! Even saying that *he* shouldn’t take it personally more often than not would feel strange and unjustified.”

    I’d like to challenge that justification of yours. Would you mind giving us  a few  examples (maybe five)  of reasons you’ve rejected men (real examples, not hypothetical)? I would like a chance to examine those reasons to see if they have everything to do with him”.

    To give a couple generic examples:

    1) If you reject a man because you don’t find him attractive, is that actually about him? It’s about what traits you find attractive/unattrctive. It’s also about how much emphasis you place on physical appearance (as opposed to traits like personality or values).

    If you reject him because other people find him unattractive, that says even more about you. It indicates that you believe his appearance will affect how others perceive you. It also says you value other people’s opinion of you and the status you could gain/lose by having an attractive/unattractive boyfriend.

    2) If you reject a man because he lacks self-confidence, is it really about that trait? Based on my own experiences, I gained the same dating benefits of having self-confidence just by learning to fake it.

    At that time I really admired one of my “more confident” friends. He was the type that women threw themselves at. One day his wife told me that he had self-esteem issues. She mentioned it in the same matter-of-fact way that she would state that he was left-handed. She wasn’t bothered by the fact that his self-confidence was faked.

    Based on my observations since then, if someone has self-confidence but doesn’t outwardly display it, they gain none of the dating benefits. If they lack self-confidence but convincingly fake it, they gain all of the dating benefits. Truly having self-confidence just allowed  me to expend less thought and effort when  I outwardly displayed it.

    When the facade is more important than the substance behind it, it’s not about the man.

    I invite you to come up with examples that you feel have everything to do with the man.

  11. 11
    Terri H

    These blogs and the comments have fast become the highlight of my week! I’m learning all the time…Karl, keep posting and it would be great if we could get more guys giving feedback too (Evan / Karl  – can you prompt your friends on here?!)
    I’ll be honest – I take it very personally if I like a guy and he doesnt follow up…..I agonise if its the way I was dressed / not attractive enough / something irritating about me…although logically I know its all about chemistry. I recently turned down a second date with a guy because he was very short and physically he just didnt do it for me – harsh,  and if he knew how could he not take that personally?

    1. 11.1

      Terri (#11): Evan has a list of recommended books to read. A good one in this instance is Why He Didn’t Call You Back. Evan’s review:
      “Rachel Greenwald interviews 1000 men and learns that 85% of the time, it’s not just “chemistry” that prevents him from calling you back. It’s something you actually did on the date. Knowledge is power, and, by reading this book, you’ll immediately learn what you’ve inadvertently been doing wrong, and how to course-correct on your next date.”
      Of course, if you don’t have Evan’s ebook, Why He Disappeared that’s really a great help. And don’t forget to sign up for his free newsletter! I’ve learned some interesting points there, and you’ll be the first to know when he has a special offer.

  12. 12
    Christie Hartman

    I agree, Evan. In my 2nd book, I have an entire chapter devoted to this topic. Most rejections happen because there’s a lack of chemistry, compatibility, or both. Yes, rejection sucks. It FEELS personal to be rejected. Human beings love to take everything personally. We think everything is about us, and that our perceived inadequacies are as important to everyone else as they are to us. I once dated the coolest guy, but felt no chemistry at all with him. When I said no to another date, he asked if it had to do with his receding hairline. I hadn’t even noticed it! He was great, just not my type.
    Unless you’re making one of the fundamental dating mistakes, you have to see rejection for what it is and stop taking it so personally.

  13. 13

    It feels good to be trusted and have fun. No one can deny that. But  for me, trust is earned, not automatically given. I don’t trust every man I go out with because if I did, I would get taken advantage of! Men often don’t discrimate between respecting or using women often in the dating world.   

    I know for msyelf, and I think many women feel the same, we want to know we aren’t being used just for fun. So when guys say stuff  like “lets just have fun and see where it goes!” That’s great for him but where does it leave you as a woman? Fun is great but it doesn’t really put the woman in a safe spot. Why do conversations about the relationship have to equal something negative? Why can’t a relationship be fun? Why does a woman have to throw all her needs to the wayside so the guy can feel like he is having the time of his life. commitment free,  and she has to just trust he isn’t using her just for a good time in the back seat trusting and hoping he is being a good guy.

  14. 14
    Karl R

    Terri H asked: (#11)
    “I recently turned down a second date with a guy because he was very short and physically he just didnt do it for me — harsh,  and if he knew how could he not take that personally?”

    Read some of the comments for this blog post:

    lady anonymous is insecure about her weight; she feels small and dainty when she stands next to a tall broad man.

    Jaya feels like a mommy when she cuddles a short man but feels feminine with a tall man.

    Jessica feels big and heavy next to a small guy and lacks the self confidence to not care about how other people perceives her.

    LAnie feels creeped out if a man’s eyes are at the level of her breasts

    Cam isn’t sure she could get used to gazing down into a shorter man’s eyes.

    And that particular list goes on for a few hundred more posts.

    If the woman feels insecure about her height/weight, that’s not about the man. We crack jokes about men using sports cars to “compensate for something.” If you’re with a taller man to feel dainty and feminine, you’re doing the same thing. Is it the short man’s fault if a woman cares what other people think about their height difference? If a woman can’t adapt to something as simple as shifting her gaze down instead of up, what was the man supposed to do about it?  And if a woman is that easily creeped out … guess what level my eyes are at if I’m sitting and the woman’s standing.

    If the woman is comfortable with her size, her femininity, her sexuality and confident in herself, then none of those things will make a difference. It’s my responsibility to be comfortable with and confident in myself. If I’m not, I can’t blame that on the other person.

    The observation that “he just didn’t do it” for you is rather vague. I’ve had a few times where women in my social circle weren’t interested in me. Later on I got to observe what kind of men “did it” for them (for example, big & dumb). I might have been more offended if they thought I was their kind of guy.

    Goldie asked: (#9)
    “Without a car, how do you get around?”

    I live in a large metro area that has a substandard mass-transit system. But the system is concentrated around the center, so I’ve always lived and worked in that area (since moving here).  I also walk a lot. My apartment is 2 miles from my office, and I’ve walked to & from numerous times.  (Unfortunately my girlfriend’s house is 7 miles further out, so that option will be disappearing.) Most of the places I want to go are along the main streets going into and out of the center. That puts them on the major bus lines.

    Transfers are one of the most time-consuming parts of mass-transit rides, so I’ll arrange my trips to minimize the number of transfers. All the route maps and schedules are online, so I’ll use that to figure out how (and when) to get from one spot to another.

    I have a couple friends  near my girlfriend’s neighborhood who use bicycles to get around. Given the area you’re in, that may be  a reasonable option. A good bike will average 20 mph. At that rate, you can cover  10 miles in  30 minutes.

  15. 15

    @Goldie #9: Well said. If first dates are job interviews, what’s the job for? Sex and intimacy, the way I see it. It’s a hell of a way to get those things.
    @Terri: Every rejection is a break in the palace, that’s the PUA motto. I reject dates because the chicks are overweight, not hot, or lame. But I don’t say it to their faces and I don’t expect them to think it’s because they’re ugly. It’s okay to say that the chemistry wasn’t right or you had something else going on.

  16. 16

    I DID that. And he DID marry me within a couple years. And within a year of being married, he met someone else, changed his mind and LEFT me.   I didn’t change who I was, how I did anything, but suddenly, I wasn’t what he wanted.  
    So now what? It’s kind of hard not to take it personally.

    1. 16.1

      Gabrielle, don’t take it personally! the guy didn’t know himself nor his own mind well enough, ….that’s on him! Nothing to do with you my dear.

  17. 17

    I am so glad this topic came up. I don’t know Evan, may be we all have different definitions of “personal”, but if someone breaks up with me because he’s rather date someone 5 years younger and Jewish, i think it IS personal. I think EVERYTHING in dating is personal. Dating is not business, where you may fire someone because the company is downsizing, but it is “nothing personal”.    Dating – it is all personal thing.

  18. 18

    “I know for msyelf, and I think many women feel the same, we want to know we aren’t being used just for fun. So when guys say stuff  like “lets just have fun and see where it goes!”
    This is a good point,  and i tend to think that “The Rules”  and dating books inspired by  Pat Allen’s thinking deal with it well. The key idea is to  not get invested emotionally, which also includes not having sex.

    Personally, if I see a guy is lukewarm about me, i make myself less and less available  (for example I would only see him on Monday nights) and if nothing changes I remove that person from my life permanently.

  19. 19

    Well, most romantic relationships don’t last. If they did we would all be long happily married to the person we crushed on when we were 13.   Dating is pretty much trying each other on for size to see how you fit. Sometimes you realize you are a bad fit the first week. With others it might take a few months. Which is worse though, to accept that you aren’t a good fit for whatever reason, or to prolong the uncomfortableness of trying to make something fit that just doesn’t?

    Not taking rejection personally is a tidy intellectual concept, but may not translate well emotionally when you are into someone who apparently is not so into you.   Once a guy I  was dating  broke it off by telling me, “I would rather hurt you a little now, than alot later on.” Disappointed as I was, I admired him for saying that. We weren’t right for each other and he knew it and he wasn’t going to keep it going knowing I might become more attached.

    So I think a more realistic way to look at rejection is that it’s better to have it happen before you get even more emotionally invested.   Before you’ve put in  alot more time and effort trying to make something fit that just doesn’t.   And if you look back at some of your dating relationships that ended before you wanted them to…you can probably  see some examples of having “dodged a bullet” yourself.

  20. 20

    #13 Jerseygirl

    Good post!   A woman doesn’t need to throw all her needs away for a man to have fun.   Relationships need to be win/win.   Women have their own unique needs, there is nothing wrong with that.   Women instinctively seek safety and security, there is nothing wrong with that.  

    Where this becomes an issue is where on the dating/relationship timeline this need for safety and security is being requested.  

    So fun and flirty at the beginning of a new relationship…avoid heavy things until he proves himself to be truly interested and commitment ready.   Date others while going through this stage–truly, it helps tremendously to not get so invested in one man.   Look at what he does, not what he says and accept that reality.   All of these tactics, along with the suggestions in posts   here about how to look at dating in general, makes that rejection a bit easier to deal with.

    Rejection is God’s protection.

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