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. 61

    @ Stacy #51,

    Your post about the book “Commited” shows us that love is as much if not more a decision than a feeling.   Of course few of us realize that because feelings rule the day and evidently, there are an awful lot of us chasing feelings or EMK wouldn’t have so many blogs on that concept.  

  2. 62

    Does it really do any good to argue in terms of absolutes? Of course it’s not all another person’s fault, nor should rejections be taken as completely “impersonal.”   It’s not black and white, but a spectrum.
    In any given interaction, one party may be more sensitive to particular flaws that the other party displays, and the other party’s flaws may be serious problems that SHOULD be corrected – not just tossed off as, “Their rejection of me has everything to do with them and nothing to do with me.”   The whole point of maturing into adulthood is learning how to function in society, and that will rely in part on social cues rather than assuming that one is always right and everyone else is wrong.

  3. 63
    Karl R

    JuJu asked: (#61)
    “when did I ever once mention a former partner in this thread?”
    JuJu said: (#7)
    “when I reject a man, it’s very much personal! It has everything to do with him!”

    Were you excluding former partners from your  initial statement (#7)?

    JuJu said: (#61)
    “Karl doesn’t normally strike me as the type of person who only sees what he wants to see.”

    Seeing your side is easy in these cases. It’s seeing and understanding the other side that’s challenging. I’m trying to point out that there is another point of view, and it’s not as one-sided as it initially appears.

    Suspicious probing questions:
    You didn’t like being repeatedly asked probing questions by a potential date who didn’t believe that you were honest about your age.

    My parents are still waiting for me to come out of the closet that I’m a homosexual. They keep dropping hints that it’s okay for me to tell them the “truth.” They refuse to recognize that I already told them the truth.

    But if I was gay, I would have  also told my parents that I was straight.  And I may have gone further to demonstrate this (bringing around “girlfriends”).

    You and I both know that people lie in their profiles. They put up out-of-date photos. We would like to uncover these deceptions sooner instead of later … and the people who  lie are unlikely to volunteer the information. Instead, they behave just like you did.

    It’s frustrating to deal with someone who doesn’t believe you. It’s also frustrating to deal with person after person who lie to you. And I’m pretty sure both of us have been in situations where we can understand that man’s suspicion.

    I didn’t feel like jumping through hoops to alleviate my parents suspicions. If I ran across that kind of behavior in a potential date, I’d have little interest in seeing them again. But that’s because I would find them frustrating and I don’t feel like exercising the patience to change the situation.

    And that decision has to do with me, not the other person.

    Lousy sex:
    I had one girlfriend who thought she was doing her part in sex if she lay motionless on her back with her legs spread. She always had an orgasm (during foreplay), but I never did.

    I tried suggesting things that would make the experience more enjoyable to me, but she either ignored the suggestions or tried them once and returned to her normal habit.

    Not only was the (infrequent) sex a source of dissatisfaction, but I felt extremely uncomfortable about bringing up the subject. I had no clue how to express my dissatisfaction in a way that conveyed my point without hurting her.

    It’s easy to say that she was the worst sex partner I ever had and I’d never stay in a relationship with someone who is that bad  and who shows  no sign of improvement. It’s a lot harder to admit that my communication skills weren’t up to the challenges of this situation.

    That relationship was doomed for other reasons (that relate to both of us, not just her) and I have no regrets that I ended it. But I’m not going to pretend that it was all her fault.

    Talking about sex before the first date:
    I agree that it’s poor dating strategy for a guy to do this. Many people feel uncomfortable having that kind of conversation that soon. We don’t like people who make us uncomfortable, whether the topic is sex or anything else we’d rather not discuss with a stranger.

    Personally, I’m more comfortable discussing sex than I am discussing my family. I have a contentious relationship with several members of my immediate family, and I’m not comfortable  discussing the details with people who aren’t close friends.

    Just about every woman I’ve ever dated has managed to nail that conversational land mine on the first date (if not beforehand). And since a poor family relationship is a red flag for many people, I end up in a  position where I  have to discuss a fairly sensitive topic on the first date in order to have a chance at a second date. While it may be completely irrational for me to feel this way, I’d really like women to stop bringing up that topic on the first date.

    And even if  I didn’t have any of those conversational land mines in  my life, I would eventually date someone where a fairly normal question on my part opened a very uncomfortable topic for them.

    If a topic of conversation makes me uncomfortable, my discomfort plays a huge role in that. And my discomfort is my responsibility, not the other person’s.

    It’s not mandatory to feel uncomfortable about discussing family, even deeply flawed families. Similarly, it’s not mandatory to feel “unnerved” about discussing sex. (Nor is it mandatory to believe that it’s rude, uncouth  or immature.) Nor is it mandatory to reject every person who brings up an uncomfortable topic. (If it was, I would have rejected every woman I’ve ever dated.)

    If I feel uncomfortable, that’s my trait. If I reject someone for it, that’s my decision. If I feel something is rude or uncouth, there will be people who disagree with me, and it’s my bias that leads me to say that I am right and they are wrong.

    That has a lot to do with me.

    JuJu said: (#61)
    “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.”

    Have you at least backed off from  your earlier assertion (#7)  that it has “everything” to do with the rejected person?

    In some cases, it really has nothing to do with the rejected person. My brother is a bigot. His rejection of every non-white person has to to with him, not them.

    I don’t want kids. My rejection of every woman who wants kids makes sense, it’s a good idea, and I don’t regret it. And while it relates to both of us equally, I’m not about to say they should change at all.

    And even when we get to things that seem obvious (like poor hygiene), things aren’t as black  and white as we imagine. One of my dance partners has smelly armpits. I tolerate it (for the length of a dance) because she’s a really good dancer. I’d probably be turned off in more intimate circumstances.  But she has a long-term boyfriend who either doesn’t notice or doesn’t care. So is her odor the issue, or is it my intolerance of it?

    When a woman rejects me, I usually don’t know the reason. If I don’t know the reason, why should I assume that it’s something personal? Even if the woman thinks I have a flaw, she may be mistaken (i.e. assuming I’m gay) or I may not see it as a flaw (i.e. “too brainy”). And even if it’s something I  may also see  as a flaw, another woman might see it as a non-issue (or even  an asset).

    Helen said: (#63)
    “the other party’s flaws may be serious problems that SHOULD be corrected — not just tossed off”

    I agree. But the odds are staggeringly against anyone discovering that through a rejection.  People are  far more likely to jump to an inaccurate conclusion.

    If you want to discover your flaws, there are more productive ways to go about it than taking rejection personally.

  4. 64

    “You and I both know that people lie in their profiles”

    This is very true.   BUT he thought JuJu was YOUNGER than her profile indicated.    Once past the age of 21, does ANYONE lie to make themselves older?      Especially in the dating world?    I think his inability to trust  something that should be fairly simple to believe is  odd and  after repeated probing questions, I would have decided  to  go no further with him as well.

    And you are right, Karl,  when  I choose to not to get to  know someone better, whether it be  after a initial email,  or a couple of email exchanges, or a  1st phone call, or whenever, it is because I  decided it.      It is sometimes based on something they did or said.   For example, once before we’d ever met a guy demanded I give up my “coffee habit”.   I thought that was pretty funny because my coffee habit is an occasional shot of coffee in my hot chocolate – I can’t stand the taste of coffee.   So no big deal to stop altogether.   BUT if he is making demands after a phone conversation, what will he be like later?     Or the guy who sent me a picture of his package – after our first phone conversation;  didn’t think that was worth pursuing either.

    Sometimes it’s because I’ve started seeing someone else, or  it could be that I’ve hit  a particular trying time and  have to focus my attention there, although in both these cases,  I’d  tell the other person.      

    It just isn’t black and white.

  5. 65

    People, what Karl is (I think) trying to say is that you are all perfectly justified in rejecting others for whatever reasons you choose. However, you should also cop to the fact that the since they are YOUR reasons, they have to do with  YOUR OWN personal  biases, not with the rejected person.   The rejectee has nothing to do with your biases.

  6. 66

    Karl, conversations about sex do not make me uncomfortable in the least (in fact I kinda have to censor myself sometimes because I can be completely “shameless” (a meaningless word for me) in what I say, but other people might be uncomfortable with that). Nor can I honestly say that I am particularly offended by them. I just conclude that the man doesn’t have the finesse I want to see in my potential partner, and that’s the end of it.
    I mean, we aren’t talking about sex discussions in general here, but only premature / unwarranted ones.
    BeenThere, the guy thought I used old photos to lure men in. Not that I put a higher age in my profile than I really was at the time.
    Evan, that’s not a frequent problem for me. 🙂 But thanks for the recommendation, I’ll check it out.

  7. 67

    I would say she should try a makeover and try to become more attractive.   A lot of women get implants after a divorce, but that is rather drastic.   She may be hurt, but basically most men aren’t meant to be monogamous and all women need to accept this because LTR is not the goal of most men, and men aren’t afraid of sampling other women before/if they ever want to get married.

  8. 68

    Sorry to trudge up this older blog and even more sorry to keep bringing up a recent situation that I should be over by now but as I am still going through it, this whole idea of rejection being not personal really hits home.   Also, sorry for that run-on sentence…

    As hard as I try on an intellectual level to say that rejection is not personal, I just can’t wrap my head around it.   Especially when you play Sherlock Holmes and try and deduce the reasons why, the answer usually comes back to you, hence, one takes it personally.   I guess it all depends on what one perceives as personal.   To me, physical traits that I can’t change and are rejected for is personal to me, especially since I take care of myself and present myself as the best possible “me” that I can.
    I somehwat recently went out with a beautiful woman.   We hit it off great through e-mail and phone.   We’re very close in age, we’re very close geographically, we’re both divorced and own houses.   Only diffrence is that she has a kid and I don’t.

    We meet up and I was stunned not only by her beauty but the type of person she is and her overall personality as well.   We had so many common interests.   After 40 or so dates, I finally find someone I am actually excited about.   The date goes well (not amazing but flows just fine).   She mentions how much younger I look in person, begins drinking out of my glass of wine which leads me to think she is attracted to me (I know these are small things but I thought I was picking up on some subtleties).   At the end of the date, I go to hug her and she initiates a make out session  which really surprised me.   She then looks me in the eye and says, “I hope to see you again.”   Of course I was  on cloud 9 but the cautious part of me  was saying this is too good to be true…

    Low and behold after one attempt  at calling her for a second date.   I get a text saying that she didn’t want to not respond to me but that she doesn’t want to waste my time.   She wished me good luck in finding the right person and threw in an “XOXO”, which only shapened the blade, albeit unintentional I’m sure.

    Now, I of course agonized over  this and dissected it every which way.    Her and I were generally of the same social structure, we have the same level of professional success (I might be a little higher than she is here), and we both come from somewhat similar backgrounds.   We seemed like a great match, except physically, which is the only way I can deduce this.   The fact that 2 months later, I still see her on Match all the time makes it diffuclt to not feel discarded and rejected as she obviously believes she can do better.    

    Of course I worried that I didn’t have enough money, muscles, or hair (height is not a problem for me) and while some don’t take that personal, it’s hard for me not to and I’ll say why.   I take it personal because it is very difficult to accept that maybe, just maybe I don’t have the ability to attract the type of woman I am most interested in.   She was the exact type of woman I’ve been hoping to find and attract and I couldn’t get past the first date even though I did everything rather well (perfect probably  not).   So, after going on myriad dates and as luck (bad) would have it, the one I am genuinely interested in is not interested in me, just saying “it’s not personal” doesn’t make it any  easier to shrug off.

    Now I know, “you can’t win ’em all”, “you’re not everyones cup of tea”, “this is just what dating is”, ad nauseum.   All these things are correct and accepting these things are probably whatt makes it easier to persevere.   Not “don’t take it personal” because in fact it is personal.   Not in a mean-spirited, malicious type of way,  but it’s still personal.   In effect, the other person is saying, “you don’t turn me on enough to even bother to get to know you.”   I’m not sure how to NOT take that personal.


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