Breaking Up Smart

“You can check out any time you like, but you can never leave.” – The Eagles, “Hotel California”

Perusal of the blogosphere (or a visit to a college campus) makes it clear that whatever structured dating mores existed “back in the day” have long since been blown apart, so much so that young adults today need a full training in how to date. Let’s begin with the end in mind and discuss the most painful part of the scene, the breakup.

The important thing to accept about breakups is that they are a part of dating and mating in a free society. The price of choosing our own partners is that someone may not choose us. Think of it as capitalism’s “creative destruction” applied to interpersonal relations.

(Let’s set some boundaries: this post does not apply to the dissolution of marriage, nor to relationships with serious infractions like infidelity, violence or theft.)

Step 0: Consider whether you really need to nuke it. Are you having problems that can be fixed you haven’t talked over yet, or is the fix not working and you just need to get out? Lots of relationships (marriages, even) benefit tremendously from backing off on the throttle and restating expectations and boundaries. But sometimes you just know you don’t want to be with this person anymore and there’s no sense in prolonging it.

Step 1: It’s OK to be hurt, angry and disappointed. Emotions are normal, and emotions are heated in breakups. It’s OK to have those feelings. What you do with those emotions is the subject of the rest of the post, and is the key factor in living a good life afterwards.

FOR THOSE RECEIVING THE BREAKUP

Get away from the revenge mindset. Breaking up is not an act of violence. Someone breaking up with you has not done anything wrong. You’re not required to show fault; we live in a “no fault breakup” world. A relationship is not a commitment, and they are only required to say “I don’t think we should date anymore” to fulfill their social responsibility. Don’t go Hotel California on them – keying their car, teepeeing their house or calling them a slut to their friends just shows they made the right choice dropping you before you crossed the borderline.

Accept it for what it is and nothing more. It doesn’t mean you are a bad person. It doesn’t mean they are a selfish jerk. It doesn’t mean you are unloveable or a social failure. It doesn’t mean it if you’d done things differently it would have lasted.

Don’t bargain to keep the relationship together. First, it puts you in a supplicating position, which lowers your partner’s respect for you. And a relationship is supposed to be about two people in love or something like it. Do you want to break that down to cajoling and negotiation? Do you want to be with someone who has made up their mind to leave you but flip-flops on your emotional pressure?

Don’t push for “reasons” for the breakup. More often than not, they’ll just cite minor and irrelevant issues in the hopes you’ll be intellectually sated. The fact is that the decision to break up is emotional and intuitive, can’t be listed on a T chart and often plays into a false narrative in your own head. You’re not doing yourself any good telling yourself a story that may not have any basis in reality like “he couldn’t accept my sexuality” or “she dumped me because my job isn’t cool enough for her” or “he just wants to sleep around with hos.” Besides, reasoning for a breakup often provides an excuse for a tit-for-tat redaction of annoying cofactors. “You don’t like my taste in music? Well your wardrobe is ugly, how do you like them apples!”

Take your lessons and then let it go. Neither people nor their relationships are perfect. Think about things you enjoyed, what you might do differently next time, ways you treated your partner well or didn’t, whether you might have been too invested or not invested enough, whether you’ve uncovered any dealmakers or dealbreakers for yourself. Then with self-knowledge in hand, live a better life for having dated them.

FOR THOSE DELIVERING THE BREAKUP

Be kind and firm. Everyone deserves a breakup in polite good faith. Out with it – don’t be wishy washy, don’t make an elaborate production. You can only soften the blow so much; if they can’t take it that’s their problem. If you don’t project confidence and finality in your decision you’re going to invite bargaining and arguing. And if you’re not polite about it, you will invite endless pain and revenge stunts into your life. (To this end, I think it’s advisable to not break up right after a deal-breaking fight but wait a day so that it doesn’t commingle with the emotional charge of the fight itself).

Don’t rationalize. If you don’t want to date somebody anymore, it’s unlikely the reason is the weird sound they make when they’re swallowing or that they wouldn’t go see Swan Lake or the rodeo with you. It takes away from your case; to borrow from Athol Kay, it has to come from an emotional state and not a logical one.

The real problem with rationalizing your breakup is that it leads the other person on. What if you lay out the things you don’t like, and the person “fixes” them and comes back asking for another chance? Now you’ve humiliated them and have to change your story.

FOR BOTH SIDES

Don’t let them live in your head. Don’t make your next relationship political by dating somebody unlike your ex, or someone like your ex, or facebook stalking them and judging their future partners, or badmouthing them around town. Living well is the best cure, and you owe that to both of you. Don’t become Kelly Clarkson, Taylor Swift or Robert Smith from The Cure, endlessly pimping you relationship pain for attention.

Don’t flaunt yourself to your ex. Have a little grace by not gloating when you bump into them, planting stories with mutual friends or graffiti-ing their facebook wall. It’s easy to get jealous and resentful when it seems like the other person is just moving on without a care, but unless one of you is a sociopath the act of breaking up is emotionally tough for both sides, even when they feel it’s ultimately the right decision. Reopening the power play is a bad idea.

Make new habits. Even if you didn’t date that long, it’s often surprising to find out how much of your life was integrated with your partner’s. You need to replace that with your own habits and restart your lifestyle. If you don’t want to be friends or stay in touch, that’s perfectly acceptable, and don’t let anybody call you bitter or cruel for it.

If your LTR was built around your social circle or vice versa and you are going through the “friend divorce” this is not going to easy, but life will go on – you’ll find new friends (and new partners) if you’re willing to do the legwork.

The general theme here is deal with your pain, accept that it’s over and move on. Life is 10% what happens to you and 90% how you respond to it.

Don’t take my word for it, though…

Three important rules for breaking up
Don’t put off breaking up when you know you want to
Prolonging the situation only makes it worse
Tell him honestly, simply, kindly, but firmly
Don’t make a big production
Don’t make up an elaborate story
This will help you avoid a big tear jerking scene
If you wanna date other people say so
Be prepared for the boy to feel hurt and rejected
Even if you’ve gone together for only a short time,
And haven’t been too serious,
There’s still a feeling of rejection
When someone says she prefers the company of others
To your exclusive company,
But if you’re honest, and direct,
And avoid making a flowery emotional speech when you break the news,
The boy will respect you for your frankness,
And honestly he’ll appreciate the kind of straight forward manner
In which you told him your decision
Unless he’s a real jerk or a cry baby you’ll remain friends

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20 Comments

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20 responses to “Breaking Up Smart

  1. Well done Badger! This is a very promising start! An excellent post.

  2. Chili

    This is my first time on your blog, but I’m glad I’m here. From someone who’s going through a breakup right now, this really helped and was a good characterization of how breakups go, in my experience.

    [Glad it resonates. Funny you say it's realistic - I wrote it with the thought that most breakups are NOT this amiable.]

  3. Wayfinder

    It’s about time you got your own blog! I’ve been hoping you would for months.

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  5. Geoduck

    Great post, Badger. I just found you on HUS. Break-ups are tough, but it’s nice to hear some clear-thinking and objective advice on the subject. I’m going through a break-up now too, but the situation is slightly different. I was really into this person, and thought that we had a genuine connection. As it turns out, he cheated on me so I ended it. Any thoughts?

    [Sorry to hear about your situation. I can see a case for forgiving an adulterer in a long-term deal with a lot of messy consequences for splitting up, but if this was a fairly new relationship, you were head over heels and they just couldn't be bothered with fidelity, they haven't done anything to deserve your goodwill; I don't any reason not to cut sling load and fly on. Also, even though this isn't a "no fault" case there is still some wisdom in "being the bigger (wo)man."]

  6. Glad to see you blogging, Badger. I’ll make this one of my regular stops.

    [Well in that case the pleasure is all mine.]

  7. grerp

    Very good advice, Badger. I hope I never have to use it. :) Nice new pad. Thanks for the linkage!

  8. Geoduck

    Thank you for the finely structured argument. :)
    And good luck with the new blog!

  9. jz

    Solid start, Badger. You write like a consummate adult.

    apropo, badgers, I have impressive cheesehead credentials myself.

  10. Eric

    Feminist culture teaches women to hate men, so it is pointless for men to involve themselves with them in the first place. Breakups—and brutal ones— are inevitable when dating women whose worldview is centred on supremacy over men.

    When women in our culture break up with men, their intent is to demean and denigrate males. (The same reason they involve themselves with men to begin with).

    The first thing younger men need to be taught is that, regardless of how he feels towards a certain female, that she has no feelings for him whatsoever; and never will. Her relationship interests start and stop with whatever immediate use she has for him; afterwards, he becomes expendable.

    [I don't agree with this. Toxic women exist but there are plenty of American women with honest intentions towards their mates.]

    The second thing younger men need to understand is that our culture does not have the number of divorces, abortions, broken homes and broken men because men are somehow not living up to their supposed responsibilities. These conditions exist because American gender-relations are inherently anti-male; and he is deluding himself believing that matters will turn out differently in his case.

    [I can't disagree with this; American law and culture put a lot of men at the mercy of a woman's choices.]

    Both are good points to remember for any man dealing with a break-up: nothing he could have done differently would have mattered to have saved the relationship. Seeking women–real ones—from a non-feminist culture or avoiding relationships altogether are the best alternatives for today’s men.

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  12. Hi Badger,
    Just thought I’d drop in on ya and see what all the hubbub’s all about. Looks like you got a nice operation going on here. Congrats!

    As to the discussion, I’ve always been hankering to ask folks: why does it seem that the more working class folks seem to figure all this stuff out, at least the actual meeting and greeting part anyway, sans the need for all the flowcharts, movies, novels, how to guides, seminars, blogs and the like? You can see my more fleshed out notes here: http://obsidianraw.bravejournal.com/entry/60350

    Of course, and given your recent “Hamster’s Razor” post, the responses I got to this burning question, now having been presented in at least two busy internet forums, you won’t be surprised to learn that they were rather tepid, at best. Methinks I’m onto something here.

    What do you think?

    Holla back

    The Obsidian

  13. Eric

    “Toxic women exist but there are plenty of American women with honest intentions towards their mates.”

    Badger, I almost feel tempted to ask for proof of this statement. I’ve gone through breakups and helped many (too many) men through the same situation. What I’ve seen is that the overwhelming majority of these breakups are initiated or instigated by the women. And most men are completely devastated, not only by the suddenness of the breakup, but by the ruthlessness and callousness women display towards them during this time. I’ve come to believe, after seeing it often enough, that women in our culture are psychologically incapable of bonding emotionally with other people, especially men.

    The cavalier attitude most women have towards ending a relationship only shows their utter lack of empathy or remorse. I can’t make myself believe that they feel anything upon a relationship’s termination; in fact, in many cases, they’re involved in a new relationship even before the old one has finished.

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  15. collegeslacker

    This may yet be the best break up advice I have ever seen or heard, for real.

    My ex and I may have collectively violated every single one of these tips the numerous times we semi-broke up all the years we were together. When the final break up came, we, through experience with all that, unintentionally followed nearly all of your points and everything was fine afterward.

    Good work.

    [Thanks for the compliment.]

  16. Sweet As

    took just one day to get to the beginning, each one a gem! Thanks!

    I was considered a “bitch on wheels” to a lot of boys and girls in university. I was really good at breaking up. I always did it before there was a relationship, though.

    I don’t know what it was about me, but I didn’t overvalue myself. I had come to a point at 19/20 where I decided that if I was to be an “old maid” — that it would be ok. I grant you, it could easily collapse into the fish/bicycle fallacy, but at the same time, I was really liberated.

    I’d spent a lonely ages 15 to 20 — I wasn’t truly ready to date (issues, I was working on them), and I was also defining for myself what I wanted. In terms of “game” it was really that I wanted to be valued — not a prize, trophy, piece of meat, or baby machine, but a human being. I saw women and men devaluing each other in these various “relationships” in my teen years, and I was very lonely in my own process. I just felt unlikeable.

    So, at 19/20, I just decided to let it go. Didn’t have to get married, it would be ok. I would be fine. This freed me up — a lot. Instead of spending time looking for boyfriends to validate myself, I just learned about myself. I did all kinds of cool things that I loved to do. I didn’t focus on my looks — i chose a style that i liked (which was a bit of Grace-Kelly-meets-dancer) and just dressed that way all the time for myself. I just sort of got comfortable in who I was/am.

    I learned that whatever “looks” i have, my stronger traits are internal. I’m intelligent, determined, persevering, and compassionate. I’m loyal to a fault, the underside of which is that if you hurt me bad enough, you no longer exist once I walk away. And I am strong willed. I realized that I am a powerful force.

    So, this helped me become discerning. IF i was going to give up my awesome singlehood for marriage and babies, it had to be with the right man.

    In irony, so long as I was “needy” for a man, I couldn’t get a date. Within one month of giving up neediness, I was dating 3 men a day 6 days a week (started out at 7 days, but man, that was depleting). I did this for one month. During that month I met my husband.

    I was not dating 5 or 6 guys. I was literally seeing 3 different guys each day. My husband was the only guy that I saw more than twice. Each person whom I saw, I would know within the first 20 minutes whether or not it would work out based on his language. Most of the date included a statement by the young man that he wouldn’t want me to “worry my pretty head” about politics, or that I should not do X (something innocuous like read books). These young men were not interested in me — they were interested in women that they were interested in and wanted me to mold into that. And that is a recipe for disaster as far as I was concerned.

    See, I’d watched my friends be cameleons, and it always ended badly (and stupidly).

    So, at the end of the date — which, btw, I usually went dutch *unless* he insisted which I believed was a mark of etiquette and manners, and as such, I never ordered anything fancy or expensive *ever* on a date — I would thank him for the date. I would tell him that I thought he was a really nice young man, and that he had many wonderful things to offer the right woman. I would then state: I am not that woman. I would wish him luck, and that was that.

    Women told me that I was a hard, cold bitch. But, even if there was a spark of attraction, it wasn’t enough if he wasn’t accepting of me — as a human being.

    The other guy who was the other second date (my husband being the guy who got to the fourth date and obviously, beyond!) was Randy. Great on paper in many ways — accepted to a good vet school, looking at large animal vet, family ran a large family dairy company (multiple dairies), he would be the vet for the company. He had a good family, promising income, and was a nice guy. He was also attractive and had good solid family values.

    After the second date, I cut him loose. The first date was spent talking about what he wanted for his life — a line of questioning I always started with — and he actually said “and what about you.” I told him about my primary aspirations, having my own yoga studio, and having a family with good solid values built on honesty. I’m hard core on honesty (personal integrity/self-honesty being step one). He definitely fit this bill, as did my husband (though without the wealth built in).

    On the second date, he told me about his recent ex. He talked endlessly about how great she was, and how she was a stripper. He talked about how his family didn’t like her because she wasn’t “classy” to them. He talked about why they broke up, and what he really liked about her. Then, he just talked on and on about how he really wanted to get back together with her. I asked him — does she want to be with you? And the answer was yes, but he was upset with upsetting his family.

    I told him that etiquette and manners can be learned. If they have the same core values, and that means that he values how she has run her sexual life (and, he confessed that he loved her prior job and her experience, that he highly valued it because it made her “great in bed” — and that he wanted to contain it within their relationship). So, I recommended that they get back together.

    Some months later, they were back together, and he asked me to give her etiquette and deportment (also called comportment) lessons, as well as style advice. I did note that she lacked a lot of sophistication, and that these things could be taught. It turns out that she invited several of her friends, and in addition to teaching yoga for any number of values that yoga brings, I also took them shopping and taught them how to discover a classic style that can work in any occasion, how to walk, how to talk, and how to behave in upscale situations. I earned $700. :D Which is big money when you are 20. LOL

    Then, he reintroduced her to his family. They knew she was the “old girlfriend” but they noted that she was completely different. To quote a more modern song (from 2004), “you want a lady on the street and a freak in the bed.” There’s some truth to it. She needed to be a lady for the family, for the community in which he was taking her. But she could still be the flashy-trashy-vibrant-sexy that he wanted behind closed doors. To my knowledge (via facebook), they are married and have two children and all is well.

    Best thing I did was let him go. I knew I would have fit his family, and possibly learned what he would need sexually, but ultimately, he was in love with someone else. So, you cut him loose, you know?

    And besides, I got my husband. Who, sure, in recent days has been “too beta” and in the past I needed that. Now, we both seek balance in ourselves and in our relationship, so we are learning *lots* of awesome new things from you guys. It’s helpful.

    And now, I’m thinking of adding etiquette and comportment to my workshop series. Women here need it. Particularly young ones. I just have to find a controversial way of selling it to attract the most gals. I’m sure I’ll come up with something. :D After all, I’m determined (stubborn).

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