Breakup Etiquette

Woman with a Headache

by Randall S. Frederick

Q: I’m at a place in life where I just want to date. I’m not really looking for a relationship; I just want to go out, get better at dating, grow as a person, that kind of thing. But the down side is that the more I go out, the more I have to break up. Lately, I’ve noticed that what keeps happening is guys want an explanation. I feel like I’m honest and up front about my intentions. I keep telling them “I’m not really interested in this going anywhere. I just want to have fun,” but when it’s time to end it, they want an explanation, to share how they are feeling, what they are thinking and that kind of thing, you know? At what point is it okay to say, “Listen, we went out twice. We don’t need to have a ‘breakup’ talk because we were never dating in the first place! We went out twice.”


(long groan)

(still groaning)

(yep, still groaning)

Ugh. That sucks so bad. Oh my gosh. So bad.

Okay, so right off the bat I want to propose something I call “The Five Minute Rule.” I give five minutes to a break-up for every date I went out on with someone. One date = five minutes. I’ll spend five minutes telling them, “Hey, I had/didn’t have fun and we can/can’t be friends, but there’s no need to do this again.” Two dates = ten minutes. We went out on six dates? I’ll pack in for half an hour.

Listening to their side is the mature thing to do, as far as giving them an explanation and hearing their response or version of things. Anything beyond that is too much to ask of someone. If it begins to sound like they are “making their case” for why we shouldn’t break up, I’ll put a cap on it. We’re not there to negotiate – I’ve already decided to end things. Hearing someone else’s side shouldn’t be about trying to change my mind.

Now – red flag here – you say this keeps happening. I want to come back to that. But, skipping ahead, you make an interesting distinction there at the end between dating and going out. I can’t help but wonder what those two things mean for you, personally?

For me, “going out” is a nebulous stage. I’m seeing other people, I’m expecting you are too. We’re not official and we’re not dating each other – we’re just casually “going out.”

Dating, on the other hand, is a stage (even if this means you are “dating” from the first time you go out/go on a date because you’ve known each other for a while previously) where you are not seeing other people. “Going out on a date” might be an early stage of the relationship where nothing is really established, but any time you start using words like “date”, it’s assumed you’re exclusively seeing this one person.

It doesn’t sound like you’re dating anyone. You’re just going out. Which is great! I whole-heartedly support you making the conscious decision to grow as a person, learn your strengths and weaknesses by going out with lots of people. Buuuuttt… anytime someone asks you out on a date, there is a subliminal contract. “I am only seeing/going out with you.” That’s what dating is – it’s exclusive. And so it sounds to me, just reading over your question again, like something is getting lost in translation and maybe that’s why this “keeps happening.” If you are saying “I just want to date” to them, that might be where they are getting hung up. They’re expecting something more from you. And if you feel you’ve adequately told them up front this is a temporary thing and they’re still trying to lock you down? Well, sounds like they need to hit the curb anyway because they weren’t listening to you!

My fear is that the guys you are seeing are exploiting that undefined place of learning. You are learning about yourself – what you want in a relationship, how to be a fun person, the emotional depths of “going out” and “dating” someone – and, in the meantime, you are not sure about yourself or those parts of yourself you’re trying to develop. That’s not a bad thing, so I don’t want to miscommunicate that the undeveloped parts of your life are bad. But without 100% confidence in this area of your life, and now you’re putting this part of your life out there, it leaves you open to predatory behavior. Just be aware of this. When the person you are out with sees a weak/tender area and lunges for it, they could use that to make you feel guilty and indebted to them. Point blank, that’s abusive at worst and emotionally immature at best.

What you should be learning from all of this is that people are people. They don’t like to feel rejected. Because of that, their worst side comes out in those final moments – and what’s worse, they’re not okay with just the breakup itself. It sounds like they want to meet up for a debrief afterwards. Gross. They want to make you their own personal emotional buffet – they keep coming back to nibble and claw a little bit more. Disgusting.

I’m a firm believer that whatever needs to be said in a breakup should be said during the breakup. Not a week later. You can’t allow anger and hurt to grow for a week, give it time to grow tentacles, and not expect some weeds to have sprouted. Once you’re had the talk, that’s it. It’s over. We don’t need a sequel. That they “keep” doing this shows me

  1. you’re definitely falling into a dating pattern/type of emotionally unhealthy guys,
  2. you are allowing the last guy to make you feel bad which sets you up to listen/suffer the abuse and manipulation of the next guy, and
  3. you feel responsible for something beyond your control.

As long as you are able to see these things happening and learn not only about yourself, but something about the human psyche, you are achieving your goal of learning how to date better and exploring yourself. But do not allow someone to hurt and manipulate you. That’s not fair for anyone.

Finally, speaking broadly, if you are telling guys from Day One, “Hey, I’m seeing other people,” they are wired to feel competitive. This creates a false intimacy and heightened feelings. The mind reaches an aroused state, which can be dangerous. That is, when the brain feels threatened or subjected to competition (with other men or, as it happens, by you), their aggression is channeled towards the “source” of that challenge – namely, you. I think, on some level, women feel this same sense of competition as well. For me, it has turned nasty at times. A woman I was seeing once called me at work to tell me I needed to “Stop playing and get rid of that [other] bitch.”

In an aroused state (remember, arousal is not just sexual arousal, it can be an emotional arousal as well and can be either positive or negative), we feel things more intensely. This is why I do not tell women that I am seeing someone else. It makes “our” moment about “someone else” and tilts things, creating this sense of “act now – quantities are limited!” that makes dating (or going out) much harder than it has to be.

I hope this helps someone(?)!

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