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. 41

    JuJu (#40) – Your link was funny, but I’d seen it before. In fact, I have a dating story that’s similar to that, though the guy blogged about it instead of leaving incriminating voicemails, and he lied about the money he’d spent (and left out the fact that I’d paid for part of the date, which wasn’t expensive anyway, and had been activities that he’d chosen: a movie that he insisted on–Spiderman 3–and dinner at a casual restaurant where I had water and something cheap to eat.)   At least he didn’t ask for a refund…

  2. 42

    Hey JuJu stop crying! I just read the link…what a story! Sheesh. Yes, I think that’s a great example of someone who’s directly responsible for their own rejection. Scary/funny. Thanks for sharing. 🙂

  3. 43
    Karl R

    JuJu said: (#40)
    “there were a few times, with one that particularly stands out in my memory, when I rejected men because the sex was really bad.”

    I’ve been in that situation before. There are  a few possible reasons for “bad sex”:
    1) The person is too inexperienced to know what to do.
    2) The person doesn’t  understand what you like.
    3) The two of you have incompatable sexual tastes.
    4) The other person doesn’t care whether you enjoy yourself.

    In the first case, you can help the person learn how to be a better lover. If you choose to dump them because you don’t feel like spending the time, that’s on you.

    In the second case, it’s a communication issue. Communication is a two-way street.

    In the third case it’s mutual incompatability. Your turn-on is his turn-off, or vice versa.

    In the fourth case, the person doesn’t care about you. At that point, does it even quailfy as you rejecting him? It sounds more mutual to me.

    JuJu said: (#40)
    “you are gonna reply that some other women might enjoy those same techniques”

    No. But other women might have been more patient about teaching, more communicative of their desires, or more compatable with the men’s tastes.

    Do you have anything else where you’re convinced that it had “everything” to do with the man?

  4. 44


    I checked out the link and it’s pretty hilarious and freaky at the same time. I didn’t listen to the audio since I am at work. But wow! It reminded me of something that I saw either in another email forward or on the internet. But it was about a lady who kept getting asked out by this guy. She wasn’t interested but he kept persisting. Eventually she just gave him her business card. He ended up leaving a bunch of crazy voice messages on her work phone when she wouldn’t call him back. It was pretty funny. 😀

    As for talking about sex on the first date. I don’t care for it, it’s actually a turn off for me. I don’t mind talking about it if I have a certain level of rapport with that person. You don’t really have that when you first talk to someone or on the first date. Plus it just comes off as him  only being  interested in sex. Eventually though if the two of you are interested then yes, go ahead and discuss.

  5. 45

    Karl, did you read my post #35?

  6. 46
    Karl R

    JuJu said: (#35)
    “this one guy kept asking probing questions about my age over the phone,  […] Apparently he thought I looked younger,”

    That was your interpretation of his questions.

    “only instead of coming out complimentary, his reaction was suspicious and accusatory,”

    That was how he sounded to you, not necessarily how he intended to come across. Did you directly address the issue with him?

    Heck, on the phone I miss at least  1 word in 10, then fill it in from context. And a couple changed words can really switch a conversation around.

    “and totally ruined the mood of the conversation for me. Obviously, I didn’t want to meet him after that.”

    You chose not to meet him because the mood of your first and only conversation wasn’t to your tastes.

    You’ve now come up with three examples, and in each of the three cases, I might have chosen not to pursue a relationship with the person if I was in your shoes.

    But I wouldn’t be claiming that it had everything to do with them and nothing to do with me. I’m not obsessively compelled to believe that it was all their fault. I make decisions based on the best information available at the time, and I accept the consequences.  As Selena said (#41) the result is essentially the same (no further dates).

    Except if you recognize your own role in the process, you keep your mind more open to changing it. I initially decided not to date my girlfriend because I thought she was too old for me. She initially decided that she wasn’t interested in a serious relationship because I was too young for her. But both of us (internally) acknowledged that we were making a decision based on the information we had at that time. And we both changed our minds later when we knew each other better.

  7. 47

    Well, Karl, when one comes up with seven different ways to ask the same question, you don’t need to be terribly intuitive to sense that something is up.
    I did address it (later, by e-mail), I don’t remember already how exactly he responded, but it didn’t alleviate the feeling I had.
    Btw, this ties in well with what Evan said recently about trust needing to   be granted automatically – it should be an “innocent until proven guilty” sort of thing.

  8. 48

    @ Stacy #22:
    “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.”
    I wasn’t here in the 60s, but from what I understand, many couples stayed together for economic reasons (most wives never worked outside the home) as well as due to the fact that divorce carried a huge social stigma for both parties involved, as did remaining single past a certain age (say 25 for women). Past that age, you’d be a spinster, and your chances of ever finding a husband would be slim to none.
    I also understand that, back then, cheating on one’s spouse was a lot more socially acceptable than it is now.
    I am not sure if I like this model better than what we have now.
    Why do people not stay with their HS/college sweethearts? Because people change. People grow, often in different directions. People’s judgment and ability to assess others, and themselves, and decide what kind of person would be best for them as a life partner, develops with years. A 30yo will certainly have better judgment than a teenager. I’d wager this was the case in the 60s anyway, except now, we’re not forced into marrying early, and not trapped in our marriages for social/economic reasons.
    Using myself as an example, I married a college sweetheart, and I’m here, meaning it did not work. In fact, a very large number of my school/college friends married their HS and college sweethearts. Very few of them are still together. On the contrary, my mom waited till she was 27, in a time and culture where it was unheard of to still be single after 20. My parents have been happily married for 45 years and hopefully will be for many more to come. I’d say it pays to wait until you’re a mature person and know what you want.

  9. 49
    Karl R

    JuJu said: (#48)
    “when one comes up with seven different ways to ask the same question,”

    Seven times? And believed that  your only solution was to get annoyed?

    If a potential date makes a couple comments regarding my age, I start trying to talk her into making a wager over it. Either the person shuts up about it, or  I win money off them … and then they shut up about it.

    And you don’t have to make it remotely sporting. You can set it up so the only way you can lose is if you’re wrong about your age.

    With my current girlfriend,  I  won  the bet and still got a  relationship out of it afterward. (I did make the bet a little more sporting than just about my age.)

    JuJu said: (#35)
    “Obviously, I didn’t want to meet him after that.”

    I’d say that my way worked a lot better than yours.

  10. 50

    I am not sure if I like this model better than what we have now.

    I highly recommend reading “Committed” by Elizabeth Gilbert. She interviews old couples and couples in different cultures, and talks about how it used to be that people would marry someone who “would do”, i.e. was good enough but really just like anyone else, and then they would grow to love and respect each other and learn to compromise.  And now everybody is looking for “the one” and ends up with no one…

  11. 51

    Karl, like I said, he didn’t express disbelief outright, instead he asked questions designed to catch me in an inconsistency. Yes, it was offensive. Although, thankfully, not a common problem for me – normally when people think I look younger, they phrase it as a compliment.
    While I do usually try to lighten the atmosphere to some extent, sometimes it pays to take heed instead.

  12. 52

    So Stacy, why is it that at 29 you haven’t married a high school/college sweetheart since you believe that’s the optimal thing to do?

  13. 53

    Funny, I lived in a different culture for 30 years, and I don’t remember Elizabeth Gilbert interviewing me or any of my friends, or our parents. Too bad, because we have stories to tell. Some are stories of love and respect and learning to compromise – but there are also ones of abuse and misery and rampant infidelity, and, on occasion, murder of one spouse by the other 🙁 It wasn’t all rosy in the good old days.
    Personally, I think there is some (actually, a lot of) common sense in marrying “someone that would do” – you know, rather than waiting for the tall, dark and handsome billionaire. But at the same time, I think that marrying someone because you have to marry a guy, any guy, ASAP, and staying together because you have nowhere else to go, is a recipe for disaster.

  14. 54

    #49 Goldie

    I agree with what you’re saying Goldie.   I think people get married for all kinds of reasons.   I got married because I really wanted to have a family, I’m divorced.   We were not a good match from the beginning, we did the best we could and had 2  great kids.   I was immature and impatient though and not willing to wait for the right person.

    Sure,  there’s a chance that a couple  marry someone and GROW to love each other–seems like a very slim .   That’s a huge chance to take though.

    I also have noticed a lot of men on line who are older, like 40’s and even early 50’s with younger children–those men waited more than likely and that didn’t work out either.

    In the past, women had a lot less choice and our life expentancies were shorter.   It’s a different age and a different time.   We can wish things were different, but that’s suffering over something we have no control over.

    I think the key is to CHOOSE WISELY from the beginning and be patient.

  15. 55

    Stacey, you sound like a smart woman who has thought a lot about relationships.    

    I  also detect a sharp, cynical  edge about you as well.   Some frustration perhaps, or overall negative energy, even masculine energy.

    You mention 3 ‘relationships’ you had in a year (they must be short term to have 3 in one year).   With such short relationships, I maintain there is no way to really know if those men would have  ultimately been a good lifetime partner.   I think it’s common to NOT have relationships work out, so I’m not sure I would be so hard on them in regard to ‘rejecting ‘ you (taking it personally).

    What I would point out though is if your ‘tone’ and overall energy as you’ve presented yourself here is what you’re projecting out in the world, then that could be an issue.   People want to be around other people that are positive and happy and fun and flirty and hopeful.   That’s the way it is…like it or not.

    I don’t really know you, just going by the posts written here.   Of course all of my comments can be dismissed…I do wish you luck and happiness though.

  16. 56

    I had a laugh at the Jonathan Franzen reference. My new boyfriend is very well-read and has encouraged me to read a few novels that aren’t my usual taste (I prefer short stories and essays). I’m terrified that he expects me to be a good “book club” buddy and talk to him about what I’ve read, and then realize I’m not as brainy as he. I hope its not as important to him as I’m worried it is!

  17. 57
    Karl R

    Now that you’ve spent  a bit of  effort (#7, 30, 34, 35, 40, 48 and 52)  justifying your belief that it always has “everything” to do with your partner (and nothing to do with you)…

    … are you aware that I (and others) see it as a major red flag when someone heaps all the blame for failed relationships on their partners?

    Like all red flags, it bears some investigation before drawing conclusions, but blaming others is an indicator of immaturity, an inability to recognize one’s own flaws,  an  inability to recognize the role one plays in creating/exacerbating conflicts, poor conflict resolution, an  inability to see things from others’ point of view and egocentrism.

    When a date starts talking about her former breakups, I’ll listen very carefully to see whether she starts playing the blame game. If she does, I’ll  be a sympathetic  audience in order to  subtly  encourage her to keep talking along those lines. If this is a recurring pattern in her relationships, I come to one conclusion: If I pursue her, this pattern will repeat itself with me.

    And even in that circumstance, it’s still not personal. That’s just not the kind of relationship I’m interested in getting involved in.

  18. 58

    Karl (#58)

    “… are you aware that I (and others) see it as a major red flag when someone heaps all the blame for failed relationships on their partners?”

    Juju is clearly not talking about “relationships” or breakups. She’s mentioned rejecting men she met online through phone  pre-screening before a first date, something that Evan highly recommends to both women AND men in his comprehensive Finding the One Online series. (He even includes very specific examples of using pre-screening himself when he was single and why it’s so important to be successful in dating. Considering that he’s now happily married, it works!)

    You and JuJu clearly have a difference of opinion, as she pointed out earlier, and perhaps can agree to disagree. I don’t see much point in continuing to hammer at her with your own opinion of her experiences, which you were not a part of or privy to outside of her comments here. I have no idea why she seems to feel the need to justify her choices to you.

    I have to agree with Juju: if you have a bad conversation with a stranger that makes you uncomfortable or uneasy, you’re not obligated to meet him afterwards for a first date. There’s a reason they call it “women’s intuition,” not “people’s intuition.”

    I also agree with Karl that people should try not to take rejection so personally. However, I think that’s not something that comes easily and has to be worked at.

    In addition, Karl, just because a man wants to have sex with you doesn’t mean it’s not a turn off (to many women- not all) to hear the details in the first conversation, just as it’s a turn off to (most – not all) men if a woman makes the first date all about her desperate need for marriage and babies and security because that’s what she eventually wants! (Not that every woman wants that…) Sigh. You get the point. I’ve had several men tell me about their vasectomies before the first date because too many of their previous first dates talked only about the babies they wanted! See? Turn off! Guys want to be seen as more than a sperm donor and women want to be seen as more than sex objects…

    If dating were easy, this blog wouldn’t exist!


  19. 59
    Karl R

    Cat said: (#59)
    “I don’t see much point in continuing to hammer at her with your own opinion of her experiences,”

    It’s not the experiences I’m trying to hammer at. It’s the mindset … something I apply across all experiences.

    My point goes back to what I said earlier (#23). It is hard to adopt the attitude that it’s not personal when someone rejects you. It’s much easier if you’ve already adopted the mindset that it’s not personal when you reject them.

    Let’s say sex comes up during the first phone conversation and it’s a turn-off. Fine! I don’t bother vilifying the potential date. I’m no longer interested in having a date with the person, so I don’t. It’s about me, not them.

    When the situation is reversed, I don’t torture myself by trying to determine what flaw the other person saw in me. It’s about her, not me.

    The best way to learn good dating strategies (like not bringing up sex too soon) is by learning good dating strategies outside of the context of your dates.

    If you try to dissect your own dates for what you did wrong, you’ll end up like Christie Hartman’s example (#15), drawing a conclusing based entirely upon your own insecurities, not the reality of the situation.

  20. 60

    Indeed, Karl, when did I ever once mention a former partner in this thread? 😐
    Although I do understand the point about not taking rejection personally (albeit more so on an intellectual level rather than emotional, I have to add), where I disagree with you is the blanket dismissal of the proposition that the rejected person’s behavior may have something to do with it. I can also say that a woman’s neediness is not a problem in and of itself, but only a problem in the given man’s perception, except that things don’t work that way in reality, and said woman would do well to work on this issue before pursing a romantic relationship.
    To respond to your latest criticism: I don’t recall feeling much of a regret over not giving someone a chance, but I did regret many times ignoring the various red flags that were definitely there from the start, only I chose to be magnanimous and forgiving instead of “intolerant” and   “judgmental”. In each of those cases the little things I noticed here and there only signified much bigger personality problems.
    Cat, it’s not the need to justify anything – I was merely surprised by how much of what I said he misinterpreted. Karl doesn’t normally strike me as the type of person who only sees what he wants to see.

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