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


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.

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  1. 21

    “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.”
    True, but may be this is not a good thing. If you think about it, it’s a relatively new phenomena. In the 1960-ies the average age for marriage for men was 22 (!!). So it looks like they were, in fact, marrying their high school sweethearts. Today, we have   crowds of jaded, disillusioned daters well into their 30ies running arround looking for that “perfect fit”, that doesn’t exist. Sorry, we’re humans, not pairs of shoes. I, for one, don’t want to be “tried on” 100 times.

  2. 22
    Karl R

    Stacy said: (#18)
    “I think EVERYTHING in dating is personal.”

    You can choose to interpret everything as being personal. If you do that, you will be badly hurt by the same things I shrug off as “not personal.”

    After getting hurt enough times, most people become scared of getting hurt again. They act in an insecure manner, because they are vigilant for signs that they’re about to get hurt again. Potential partners pick up on this insecurity, and many are turned off by it (even though they would otherwise be interested).

    The only thing you can control in life is the attitude with which you face it. I have pointed out the drawbacks of the attitude you’ve chosen, but you can choose to cling to it … even though it’s causing you pain and hindering your dating success.

    It’s not easy to adopt the “it’s not personal” attitude. I agree with everyone who has said that. It becomes easier if you apply it when you’re the one who is breaking things off. When I broke things off with the woman who was too immature, I acknowledged (to myself) that the real problem was my inability to respect her as an equal. If it’s my limitations that lead me to break up with a woman, than it’s likely that it’s her limitations that led her to break up with me.

    Selena said: (#20)
    “most romantic relationships don’t last.”

    Selena is right. Ideally, we’re just looking for the one that does. It looks quite likely that my current girlfriend and I will be together “til death do us part.”  Nobody is looking at us as a couple and saying, “but Karl was turned down by the majority of women he asked out and dumped by the majority of women that he dated.” They’re saying, “You two are so lucky to have such  a great relationship with each other.”

    We make our luck. And in dating, we make it by having “the courage to fail” (as Evan so eloquently put it a few years ago.”

    Selena said: (#20)
    “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.”

    It’s a lot easier to avoid taking it personally  under those circumstances. Dating became easier when I stopped trying to befriend women before asking them out. I’d ask them out first; if they weren’t interested, then we could be friends.

  3. 23

    You can choose to interpret everything as being personal. If you do that, you will be badly hurt by the same things I shrug off as “not personal.”

    Well, clearly, you can choose to interpret absolutely anything any way you like. You can have someone say to your face: “you’re a horrible person with X, Y, Z negative personality traits, and i am leaving you” and still interpret it as “their inability to respect you the way you are”. You  can choose to be in denial. Hell, some people choose to spend their entire lives being in denial. May be it is a healthier way to deal with things after all – nothing is about me, nothing is personal, nothing is my fault. I guess I am just not wired that way.

  4. 24

    Stacy, how many people do you know who married their high school sweethearts STAYED married to them? The divorce rate for teen marriages is 75%.   I don’t know how old you are, but do you think any of the boys you liked in high school would have been mature enough to be married to you at 18-22?

    If your answer is yes, then why is it you are  not married to one of them?
    Perhaps because you mature enough to be married when you were 18-22?

    I hope you don’t end up having 100 different relationships before finding one that lasts. Should it come to that I can only think how much you must have learned along the way. 😉

  5. 25

    Stacy, how many people do you know who married their high school sweethearts STAYED married to them
    A LOT. In my family, among my patents and grand-parents generations this was a norm. There was only 1 divorce among  9 families.

    I am 29. It is not a norm for my generation anymore. At this point I am in the “marry him” mode, but most of the men age 29-35 are still “looking to hang out and have fun”. I have dated at least 3 men this year alone who I would totally marry, but  I apperently wasn’t good enough for any of them (and yes, I took it personally, because I am very good looking and successful and easy going, and I don’t get what it is what was not good enough for them).

    On the bright side, as women we can control when we have our children. I have decided that I will start having kids when I hit 33 regardless of my relationship status at that time.  This decision was difficult, but in some interesting Carnegie-an way very liberating. I don’t care about “finding the one” anymore. I go on dates  that originate from social interactions, but I could really care less about  what comes out of it.  Not playing “the numbers game” anymore, not being treated like a pair of shoes that is being trided on some endless number of times. I got off this emotional rollercoaster, and  judging by the number of my girlfriends experiencing dating fatigue, this could be  the solution  for many of us.   

  6. 26
    Karl R

    Stacy said: (#24)
    “You can have someone say to your face: ‘you’re a horrible person with X, Y, Z negative personality traits, and i am leaving you'”

    I’ve never had a girlfriend (or an ex) say that I was a horrible person (to my face -or- behind my back). If this is something that’s happening to you repeatedly, either you are a horrible person, or you’ve been dating horrible abusive people.

    Stacy said: (#24)
    “You  can choose to be in denial.”

    I have had some girlfriends (and exes) mention traits of mine which bothered them. In every case, I was already aware of those traits. In most of those cases, the same traits were assets in other relationships.

    The easiest way to not take criticism personally is to already be aware of (and accepting of) your own flaws. Self-awareness is much more powerful than denial.

    When people (strangers)  have said horrible things to my face, it was their problem, and I saw no reason to take it personally. I had a fundamentalist minister tell me that I was going to hell. Why should I believe him? I’m sure God hasn’t delegated that responsibility to him. I’ve had dozens of homophobes scream at me that I was a “faggot.” My sexual preference never changed to match their opinions.

    Again, self-awareness works to my advantage. If I know myself and accept myself, your words can’t hurt me.

  7. 27

    Karl – whatever. Arguing about perceptions makes no sense. I thought it was clear that I used the example as an extreme, to show that you can shrug off pretty much  everuthing, but it doesn’t mean that it wasn’t personal.  Your view makes no sense to me, but we can agree to disagree.    

    1. 27.1

      I think this thread is really old, but I’m confused. You don’t agree (or understand), Stacy, why not letting other people’s preferences, issues or rudeness bother you or get you down is a good way to go?

      I think it’s an important point because in my view not taking things personally is the only way to date prolifically/regularly (especially online) and remain happy, optimistic and with your self esteem intact. Or mostly intact!

      If anyone reading this is new to the site I think it’s essential to understand that. I haven’t been often criticised in dating personally, but I have been ghosted a few times, had men come on strong one minute then back off the next for no apparent reason, cancel dates at the last minute, try to use me as a sex object, turn up 30 minutes late, tell me I’m “too old” ( only two years older than him!) etc etc. If I took those things personally, I’d swear off men and dating altogether.

      How is that better than learning to realise people who act like that have their own issues and move on, not taking it personally?

      It’s certainly not easy to do, but I had to get to a place where I didn’t take these things personally for my own happiness. It also works well in friendships and at work.

      People who take everything personally have a really hard time, and aren’t great to be around, as you’re always on guard trying not to offend them. I had a friend who used to dissect everything I said. It was exhausting!!

  8. 28

    Most of the time your ex won’t give you the exact reasons why he left.   If he did, he’d be giving you the chance to fix them, and it would give you a foothold back into the relationship.   At the time he broke up with you, he didn’t want that.
    In short, you need to identify the root cause(s) of your breakup before moving forward.

  9. 29

    Karl, I was thinking more along the lines of social graces. I mean, nothing is objective, of course, but this is probably as universal as it gets. (I mean decorum – not to be confused with pointless etiquette, like the proper placing of multiple forks next to a plate.)
    If I wrote down five concrete examples of this from my experience, my post would have been the length of a treatise :-D, but I can actually give you many by only citing one: do you know how many men think it’s perfectly all right to ask sex-related questions (or start sex-related discussions) in the first phone conversation, before they ever meet the woman? And that’s considering that I personally filter my potential dates pretty thoroughly!
    I actually recall Evan saying a few years back that sometimes “just be yourself” is the worst advice, and he went on to say something like, “Yeah, just tell that to the guy who thinks it’s completely appropriate to ask a woman on the first date if she likes anal sex.”
    Some of the examples I heard from my various friends and acquaintances (not related to sexual behavior, just social graces in general) were downright unnerving, and usually made me think that I am unlikely to find myself in a similar situation, since, like I said, I do filter pretty effectively (and I would like to think that in such cases I would have invariably sensed that something was seriously off with this person).
    Somebody forwarded me this the other day, and I’ve been itching to post it on this blog, but it didn’t seem relevant to any of the recent topics – well, now it is! I guarantee you will all enjoy this immensely ;-): http://shankman.com/how-not-to-act-on-j-date/ None of my personal examples even come close, thank god :-o. but in a case like this it really is hard not to proclaim the guy’s conduct – an objective problem.
    Btw, it’s interesting to observe the impression you have of me. 🙂 In reality, I never once rejected anyone purely on the basis of his looks – it was always a combination of attributes. Seriously, never once in my life was I faced with the dilemma, “Gosh, he is such an amazing guy, I only wish I were physically attracted!”

  10. 30
    student driver

    You have a great writing voice and I look forward to reading more of your posts in the future. It is interesting, as I continue on my own self discovery through dating, especially now that I am dating men, versus women, how spot on some of your advice is. I don’t have the years of back ground practice dating with men. I was a lesbian, dating men is completely foreign to me, the way they think, completely foreign. Thank you for translating a bit of it.

  11. 31
    Karl R

    JuJu said: (#30)
    “do you know how many men think it’s perfectly all right to ask sex-related questions (or start sex-related discussions) in the first phone conversation, before they ever meet the woman?”

    Do you know how many women do?

    I don’t phone screen like you do (and neither do the women I’ve dated), but based on my experience, around 20% of educated, professional women will bring up the topic of sex in some manner on or before  the first date (I always let the woman be the one to introduce sex as a topic.) There may have been additional women who would have been comfortable bringing up the subject with other men, just not me. In the crowd that I hung out with in my early 20s, it was over 80% (maybe close to 100%), but they weren’t educated professionals.

    While I wouldn’t recommend talking about sex that early in a relationship (purely as a datting strategy), it’s clearly acceptable within some segments of society. But if a man is interested in educated, professional women, not so much.

    I’d say we’re already past the point where it has everything to do with the man, but I’ll take it a little further. Have you (or any of the other women who think men shouldn’t bring up sex before meeting in person) ever had sex with a man on the first date? Do you (and any like minded women) think it’s a good idea to discuss sex (i.e. protection, etc.) with your partner before engaging in it? If you answered yes to both questions, explain to me how your aversion to discussing the subject is rational under those circumstances.

    Furthermore, why do you think discussing sex early on is a social taboo? If the relationship becomes long-tem, you intend to eventually have sex. Sex is an important aspect of a relationship. I suspect you intend to discuss sex. What is it about the timing of these discussions that is so imprtant?

    I had two girlfriends get upset with themselves because they had sex with me earlier than they intended. When I asked why this bothered them, they answered, “I didn’t want you to think I was that kind of girl.”

    Obviously they were that kind of girl, I was that kind of guy, and I was in no position to draw judgments about their sexual behavior. So when you have a problem with these men, is it because you have hang ups about discussing sex in general, or is it because you have  a hang up about coming across as “that kind of girl?”

    If it was purely that the questions were too personal for that point in the relationship, you could simply do as I have and say, “It’s a bit soon for answering that personal of a question. When we know each other better I’ll answer it.” Instead, you see it as a reason to reject the men.

    So instead of giving me five personal examples, you limited it to one. (Presumably the one you thought presented the most obvious case for having “everything” to do with the guy.) Do you want to try again with another personal example?

    I’m sure you could search the internet for four more examples where it has everything to do with the man. But that represents the most extreme examples out of hundreds of millions … not the experience that the average person is going to have.

    JuJu said: (#30)
    “Btw, it’s interesting to observe the impression you have of me.”

    As I stated, those were “generic examples.” I chose them  because they were common to many women. Therefore, I thought there was a decent possibility they applied to you as well.

    However, the one example you gave spoke volumes. Not so much that you rejected men for it, but that you were so utterly convinced that it had “everything” to do with them, and nothing to do with you.

  12. 32

    I am actually going to side with Stacy on this point, and put an idea on the table that may not jive well in a PC sense: I think women are more sensitive to rejection than men. Or, at least, men show more of an attitude of not being affected by rejection; I don’t know what they actually feel inside.
    My hub and I have been married for over a decade. After all this time, I am still amazed at how, if anyone slights him or if something negative happened at work, he doesn’t take it personally. He oftentimes blames the other party. My male colleagues are exactly the same way. My girlfriends and I, on the other hand, rarely discuss a problem in our lives without wondering how WE contributed to the problem: “Was it something I said?” “Was I wrong to have done X?”
    Now, why is that? Is it because we think about more sides of an issue, or because we’re just exposing what we really think; compared with men, who only show the side that relates to the other person doing wrong?
    But I can relate to the point Stacy brought up of people who may indeed be horrible, yet seem unable to internalize any criticism of their nature and always assume it’s the other person who must be in the wrong – even after they get rejected or criticized for the same thing time after time.   I know a few of these folks; some are even friends.   And the “rejection” in question isn’t always romantic in nature.   Some people always blame others; some always blame themselves.   Most of us fall in between.

  13. 33

    Karl, no, it’s not because of some hangup I have. I am not in the least prudish, nor do I believe in double standards. The question is not only too personal to come from a complete stranger (and yes, the way you suggested is how I answer all overly personal questions at that stage, not just sex-related ones), it’s simply premature from someone I’ve never seen and don’t know whether will be attracted to when we meet in person. It’s a really preposterous thing to ask, if you think about it.
    But generally, I prefer my men with a bit more class and a higher maturity level.
    I *did* have sex on the first date in the past, although not often, but I wouldn’t do that now. Not because I am afraid of what the man will think about me, but because I want to reach a certain level of emotional intimacy before having sex. I know myself well enough by now to know that otherwise I will feel like I am playing a role, and that’s not an enjoyable feeling.
    And what, no response to the link I posted?
    I don’t need to search the internet for examples, but honestly, my own would be too long and involved, most likely not exactly entertaining, and I am not even sure when I will have that kind of time.

  14. 34

    Okay, thought of a short one: this one guy kept asking probing questions about my age over the phone, even though my correct age was in my profile, and the photos in it were 1-3 months old. Apparently he thought I looked younger, only instead of coming out complimentary, his reaction was suspicious and accusatory, and totally ruined the mood of the conversation for me. Obviously, I didn’t want to meet him after that.

  15. 35

    To JuJu #30, if I were to experience a man who I had never met asking me sex-related questions or starting sex-related discussions in our initial phone call or in emails, I would feel uncomfortable, and would very likely not agree to meet. There is a place and time for everything. This kind of reminds me of a lunch date I had years ago where the guy asked me what my sexual fantasies were in our first few minutes together. It wasn’t exactly the kind of conversation I thought we’d have. 😉 He became history because I thought it showed extreme disrespect.

  16. 36
    Karl R

    JuJu said: (#34)
    “But generally, I prefer my men with a bit more class and a higher maturity level.”

    That has to do with you, not him.

    Your preference for class (and interpretation as to what that means), your preference for a certain maturity level (and interpretation as to what that means).

    The question is only “preposterous” if you believe it is. The subsection of society you belong to generally believes it is, and you have chosen to conform to that belief. You made a choice, even if you don’t recognize it.

    JuJu said: (#34)
    “I want to reach a certain level of emotional intimacy before having sex. I know myself well enough by now to know that otherwise I will feel like I am playing a role, and that’s not an enjoyable feeling.”

    You feel like you’re playing a role. You don’t enjoy that feeling. All of these things tie directly back to you.

    I’m not saying you’re unreasonable for feeling that way. But I am saying that your decision to break things off has as much to do with you as it does with him.

    JuJu said: (#34)
    “I am not in the least prudish, nor do I believe in double standards.”

    Have you ever heard the statement from guys that they’re looking for “A lady in public, but a freak in the bed.”

    Many men (maybe a majority) want a woman who conforms to societal standards in public, and therefore doesn’t embarrass them socially. These men also want a woman who is a lot of fun, because she ignores the same societal standards in private.

    If you’re looking for someone who acts like a gentleman in public, but who is a fun-loving sex animal in bed, that is a double-standard … regardless of whether you believe in double standards.

    JuJu said: (#34)
    “And what, no response to the link I posted?”

    I already did, but I’ll paraphrase it:

    You can find multiple  examples where it has everything to do with the other person if you search the internet (or otherwise expose yourself to the hundreds of millions of experiences that people have). That’s not the typical experience that you or I will have.

    Tying this all back together:
    There is one trait that is absolutely essential for every partner in every successful relationship. It’s the ability to accept your partner just the way they are. When you reject someone, you demonstrate that you lack this essential trait for them (and they lack this trait if they reject you).

    With that in mind, when someone rejects me, they’ve simply told me that they lack the trait which is highest on my list. Odds are extremely high that the trait they couldn’t accept is one that I’m aware of and okay with.

    Why would I take that personally?

    Despite your inability to come up with a personal example, there are two categories of people where the rejection has “everything” to do with them. The first would be the extremely rare individuals who have traits that nobody would accept (like the man in your link).

    The far more common  people (which I’ve run across on this forum multiple times)  are the ones who have such picky standards that they can’t accept any of the people who would accept them.

  17. 37

    Count me with the other ladies who also eliminates men because thery asked sex questions before we’ve met.    If they are asking, I conclude they have issues with boundaries.    

  18. 38

    They are asking . . . Sorry.   I hate goofs.

  19. 39

    Karl, I did provide a personal example – you must have overlooked it.
    Obviously my point about the man from JDate wasn’t how to research the internet for examples, but that I have a hard time imagining a woman who would indeed be okay with that sort of behavior. In fact, I am amazed he was ever able to hold down a job and now has a successful business, since this can’t be an isolated example of his poor social skills. Something of that magnitude is bound to permeate every facet of one’s life.
    By “double standards” I meant different standards for men and for women. If a man thinks any less of me for having sex with him “too soon”, it would say much more about him than it would about me. What you are describing is merely the difference in one’s behavior depending on the context. Anyone with any judgment will know what’s appropriate depending on the circumstances they find themselves in.
    Moving away from manners, there were a few times, with one that particularly stands out in my memory, when I rejected men because the sex was really bad. Of course, you are gonna reply that some other women might enjoy those same techniques – yeah, uh huh, I am certain of that. 😛
    Btw, fellow commenters, I am absolutely heartbroken that no one checked out the link I posted above, which I only posted here for *YOUR* amusement. 🙁 I am stepping away to cry now. 😀

  20. 40

    If some guy brought sex into discussion on our first meeting (let alone before meeting) I’d think him uncouth, immature, disrespectful. I would be thinking, (though likely  wouldn’t say) “What are you 13? Horny little bastard.” And no, I’ve never had sex on the first date.

    Is this  personal to me, not him? Maybe, but the result is the same: total turn-off and no second date.

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