Dear Fuck-Up: How do you kindly break up with someone?

Tips for what to do when you know it’s over.

Dear Fuck-Up: How do you kindly break up with someone?

Tips for what to do when you know it’s over.

Brandy Jensen, The Outline’s social media editor, has made a lot of mistakes in her life. Has she learned from them and become a wiser person as a result? Hahaha oh gosh no. But it does leave her uniquely qualified to tell you what not to do — because she’s probably done it.

Dear Fuck-Up,

I am in a relationship with an extraordinarily kind, empathetic, caring, forgiving person. We began hooking up last August and by October, we were dating. I wasn't expecting to get into a relationship with anyone this year, but it happened, and it’s been such an enriching part of my life. It’s been especially nice to have someone who loves and cares for me without making me feel like a burden as I am going through a particularly difficult period of depression.

On paper, everything about our relationship is great. We make an active effort to communicate, we talk about our problems, we support one another, we allow each other plenty of space for independence, etc. Pretty much the only thing that’s wrong in our relationship is my inability to orgasm from sex with them, but that’s been a problem with all of my other partners (we’re non-monogamous) and even with myself, so is almost certainly attributable to my chronic depression/depression medications. And even then, my partner has done their best to understand what I’m dealing with and doesn’t pressure me to have sex or have sex that ends in orgasm.

So why do I feel the urge to end the relationship? These break-up impulses began several months ago, but I had just been writing them off as more symptoms of my depression. After all, it makes sense that I would have a hard time caring about our relationship when I had a hard time even caring about getting out of bed or eating food.

But these feelings have persisted, and now I feel like I’ve talked myself out of being in love with my partner for no good reason. I feel like I’m no longer giving or getting anything from this relationship, which by all accounts is very healthy and good for me.

I’ve fallen out of love with a perfectly good person for reasons I can’t explain. I’ve accepted that. But I feel a responsibility to end things kindly, to make sure I cause the least amount of pain to my partner as possible. I just don't know how to do that. In every other relationship I’ve ever been in, things always ended because there was something wrong.

I guess this is all just a long-winded way of asking: How do I tell someone who has been nothing but good to me that I've fallen out of love with them, kindly?

Breaking Up

Dear Breaking Up,

I’ve said before that most advice-giving is actually a matter of granting permission, so before I get to the logistics of breaking up with someone in as kind a manner as possible, I’d like to give you the permission I think you’re seeking here: You are absolutely allowed to leave this relationship.

Women in particular have a very hard time leaving relationships that “are great on paper” or “don’t have any real problems” for a number of reasons all bound up by the cultural pressure to be selfless and the tyranny of romantic scarcity. It took me a very long time before I realized I could leave a good partner who simply wasn’t right for me. However, you need keep something crucial in mind. You say that there’s nothing wrong with this relationship but, from my perspective, there is a big, glaring, obvious wrongness: the fact that you no longer wish to be in it.

Yes, depression has a way of lying to us and one of the most maddening aspects of living with it is how it erodes our ability to trust our own judgment. Do I really not want to attend this event or is it a sign of depression? Am I not moved by this particular book or am I incapable of being moved? It’s exasperating and disorienting to wonder if your instincts are correct or leading you astray. That being said, if your justification for leaving was something like “I feel like a burden to this good person” or “I don’t think I deserve a good relationship” I would have real concerns about depression being the cause. Realizing that you are no longer fulfilled by it is, I think, a good instinct rooted in the belief that relationships should be fulfilling. Besides, depending on your definition of “several months” you have spent, at minimum, one third of this relationship wanting to leave it! That is both a reason and reason enough.

Now, to the question of how to do this with integrity, which is one I wish more people would ask themselves. The hard truth is there is no way to avoid hurting your partner. It sucks to be dumped and there is absolutely no correct assortment of words that will make it suck less. However, a lot of people make it suck far more than it has to, often under the guise of wanting to be kind.

A helpful thing to keep in mind when breaking up with someone is that you are in possession of information your partner is not — namely, that this relationship is over. Obscuring this information in service to some notion of compassion or letting them down gently is just an alibi for cowardice. Avoid saying things like “I think I need space for a while” or “I just don’t want to be in a relationship right now” since this implies a timeline upon which hurt people can pin their hopes. Similarly, do not spend too much time dwelling on how good the relationship was or how much you adore your soon-to-be-ex, and for the love of God do not ask to be friends right away. I still cringe looking back on the times I’ve been dumped in ways that set me up to try arguing my way back into the relationship.

True kindness is respecting this good person enough to be honest, allowing them the dignity to be hurt about it on their own, and remembering that they deserve the opportunity to find someone who truly wants to be with them. The sooner they realize it’s over, the sooner they can get there.

A Fuck-Up

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