Editor’s Note: AoM has previously discussed how to break-up with someone like a man.  But what if a woman breaks up with you? Today my good friend Michael Etzkorn gives some much-needed advice on how to deal with this unfortunate turn of events.
Breaking up is hard, whether it is mutual or one party does the dirty work. Any serious relationship that ends will leave one or both people heartbroken. My fiancé and I were together for nearly four years when we ended it; it had been a long-distance relationship for some time, and we couldn’t agree on what we both wanted and needed in our marriage. Our break-up was very civil and mature, but that is not to say that it was painless. Fortunately, heartache is bearable if you can man up. Almost all of this advice is a composite of good advice from friends and first-hand experience.
Leading Up to Breaking Up
There is always a period of time leading up to the break-up where at least one self-aware person in the relationship will notice that there is trouble in paradise. Whether it’s a short relationship or one spanning many years, there’s always a road to break-up. It can take a matter of hours or it can take months. If you’ve ever heard the term “the suspense is killing me,” then you’ll understand that this is the hardest part of any break-up. Here are some tips on handling this phase:
- Don’t behave differently, unless they ask you to. Trying to make changes without knowing exactly what the problem is will make things more awkward.
- Don’t break up with them just to avoid being dumped. It’s cowardly, and you might regret ending something you could have saved.
- Don’t pretend the relationship is over and start seeing other people. If you want to end it, end it. If they end it, it is over. Until then, you still have obligations.
- Talk to her. This might end things more quickly, but that’s a good thing. If it’s going to happen, better it happen sooner so that you can start getting better.
The Actual Break-up
This is where things get ugly. This is also when you want to ask questions. You want to ask them now, because you’ll want time away from them after the break-up. You’ll also want to find out exactly what it is they are thinking in case it really is something you can fix. Ask questions like:
- What can we do to make this work?
- What can I do to make things better?
- Why are you ending this?
- Is there someone else?
- What can I do to make future relationships work better?
The key to the break-up is dignity. Being a pathetic, sobbing wretch is not going to win her back. Neither is being a furious, profanity-spewing juggernaut. Hold your head up, have respect for her and have respect for yourself. Be reasonable when you try to find out what you can do to save the relationship; you shouldn’t give in to demands or options that you don’t want to live with. There have been several times I’ve offered to save the relationship by promising something I really wasn’t comfortable with, but it doesn’t fix the relationship; it simply shifts the awkwardness around. You might still be with her at the end of it, but at what cost? Do both of you a favor: remember your dignity.
People will try to give you a formula like “a week for every month,” but the truth is that you’ll be better when you are better. This is when you might cry your eyes out or hit the gym or find a friend with a punching bag in his garage. Remember that it’s over. Here are a few things to keep in mind in the meantime.
- Be reasonable. Don’t join the army on a whim or shave your head. Do not do anything dangerous or stupid. I promise that you won’t win her back scratching obscene language into her car door. You definitely will not win her back by putting the moves on her best friend or by starting a fistfight with the fellow you think she is dating now.
- Your friends and family are there for you. Don’t be afraid to let them know you could use a pick-me-up, like some company at a movie or a camping trip or just to hang out while you grade papers or fact-check a journal article.
- Stay busy! You don’t have to stay so busy you don’t think about it, but working out or working on a project will give you a sense of purpose that will make things more bearable. This is the time for that project you’ve been meaning to do for years.
- Avoid her. Don’t listen when people tell you that you should not be afraid to be around her. Take all the time you need to get your feet back under you. When you’re ready to see her, you will know. Until then, put her pictures and love letters away. You wouldn’t expose an open wound to the elements, would you?
- Don’t go looking for pity. You should know the difference between having a bad moment and spending eight weeks with the same depressing Facebook status. You will not feel better; you will only bring down the friends who actually care about your plight.
- Do not stalk your ex! Stay away from her Facebook or other social media pages. It’s tempting, but what you need to do is build yourself up again. Trying to keep this person in your life by hanging out by her house or checking her e-mail or logging on to their social networking site is not just unhealthy, it’s an invasion of privacy.
Your life will go on. Things will get better. It will take a long time, in all likelihood, and it will take some work. Above everything else, remember your respect for the other person and your respect for yourself. Keep your head up high and roll with the punches.