Sunday, July 13, 2008

Directness in dumping.

Three weeks ago, my friend Melody broke up with the guy she was dating, "Fernando". She told him that she doesn't want a relationship right now. "You're such a wonderful guy and you deserve a woman devoted to you," she said. "I can't give you what you want, because I value my freedom too much right now. So I'm going to let you go find what you really need."

This sounds almost believable (especially to the lovelorn Fernando).

Except that Melody then entered into a relationship the following week with a different guy. Now she's all lovey-dovey with New Guy.

Of course, when I ask why she didn't want to keep dating Fernando, it's a different story. (details altered for privacy) He was too picky, and often criticizing the way she did things.

Why didn't she give this information to him, I ask? Then he can either:
a). treat his next girlfriend differently, or
b). make sure his next girlfriend is fine with his demanding nature

I propose that we all be honest with the people we dump. Instead of the baloney of "we drifted apart" or "we don't have enough in common", let's say what the real reason is. "You got too boring" or "You get angry too easily" or "You got too fat" or whatever.

Part of the problem is that some reasons are taboo. If a guy says, "I'm dumping you because you got too fat," he's considered a jerk. But if he didn't want to date her in the first place due to fatness, that'a acceptable.

I think both should be acceptable.


functional soft tissue exam said...

Let's face it: the underlying cause for dumping is simply a loss of attraction. The dumper will rationalize all kinds of stuff into her (Yes, women are especially prone to this behavior. Men usually know that the girl just is not doing it for him anymore) decision. I very much doubt that it would help the dumpee to tell him the fruits of cognitive dissonance that have nothing to do with the real reason.

Anonymous said...

But if someone asks you out, it's considered rude to say "sorry, I don't date fatties". Instead you beg off with some polite nothing which is understood to mean "not interested", or you just never respond.

People may have reasons but they may not be the right ones. Consider those studies on pheromones and attraction -- but who ever talks about breaking up with someone because they smell wrong? Your "directness" approach leads to people saying "I'm breaking up with you because you get angry" and then she says "I can fix that!" and then she *does* and then she *still* gets dumped because the real issue is the guy just isn't into her any more.

Someone once said she was breaking up with me because she "wanted to have sex again". Hello, what am I, chopped liver? But the point is, yes, I was chopped liver to her, no longer an attractive person, for reasons that she may or may not have had a grasp on.

Point is, introspection is hard and most people do it badly and the results are often tortured and weird because they're trying to align with a whole bunch of internal and external narratives about who you are and what you are trying to do. I think those messy speculations may be best saved for the friends, not the dump-ee.

In those cases where if the person *did* fix the problem, the relationship would continue, usually they are given a chance to do so. Normally by the dumping point it's too late. So you have to say "not only do you leave the toilet seat up, but in doing so you have permanently destroyed my love for you, and nothing can win that back". And then you get recriminations about how not enough warning was given. "I know you complained, but I didn't think it was that serious." "Exactly! You never take me seriously!" Blah blah blah. These are zero bit rate conversations.

So, I think your friend's problem is not that she didn't give a right reason, but that she gave too many wrong reasons.

Now, if you want to talk about the years-later "closure" conversations...

Jeremy said...

I am someone who is well-known among his friends for his directness, but I think saying, "You got too fat," is just piling on. The other person is already going to be pretty bummed because no one likes to be rejected so it's probably better to find some softer words. Maybe something like, "You don't like to work out as much as I do." You don't want to burn any bridges and getting fat is usually a reversible process. If you draw a line in the sand then you'll force your mutual friends to choose and they might choose the dumpee out of sympathy.

If I were Fernando, I'd be pretty cheesed off since your friend misled him. What she really meant is, "I don't want to be in a relationship with you," but she tried to sugar-coat it, "It's not you; it's me." It's a common misconception that "It's not you; it's me" helps the dumpee cope. As someone who was the dumpee earlier this year, I can definitely relate and there aren't any words the dumper can say to help you feel better; only time helps. If he's such a wonderful guy then why is she leaving him? If she was able to quickly enter a new relationship that means she shut it down long before she dumped Fernando so he was a lame-duck.

I'm not even sure why the dumper has to provide any reasons at all. What if she just said, "I no longer want to date you?" If there isn't anything the dumper can say that will help, then maybe saying nothing is the best. The end result is going to be the same no matter what the dumper says.

If you do give a reason, the key is to use softer, honest words, but to make sure the meaning is still clear: "It is you" or "I'm looking for something you cannot provide." The softer words also need to imply a clean break so that the dumpee doesn't keep his hopes up for reconciliation.

[Now I have Abba's "Fernando" stuck in my head.]

Pedro said...

Hope you have changed names, becaus "Fernando" would not be happy reading this xDDD

Anonymous said...

Totally agree, but being honest I've found that people take it much harder and hate you momentarily or even permanently.

There is so many personalities and so many possible combinations. Sometimes people can't be direct because of who they are or their inability to hurt someone else's feelings. sometimes people can't accept rejection from others because of their personality. Now multiply, and its messy anyway you try to handle it.

Relationships are hard, and now my head hurts like I swam in cold water.


writer said...

This probably won't make you feel any better, but when I stop reading peoples' blogs, I tell them that it's because I've found that they've become too boring.

I'll tell you that if/when I stop reading your blog.

Small steps.

Niniane said...

re: Pedro.

Naturally I changed names. Why do you think "Fernando" was in quotes in the first sentence? :)

Robert Konigsberg said...

Unfortunately, one of life's cruel lessons is that you often don't find out the real reasons why you have been rejected. Whether it be a romantic relationship, platonic relationship, job interview, business, gender-based or racial glass ceiling, et cetera.

Sometimes it's cruelty, but most of the time it's to protect the dumper. I can respect that. Some people say that you accept behavior in other people that you want to have people accept in you. Does that mean I want to be given the ability to break off fairly new social relationships with people without having to give the real reasons? Sure - particularly to people that I just don't like.

Why should an exception be required to the emotionally charged social custom of dating? To help the dumped person? I don't think so. I think a person who dumps is allowed to fear that the reasons for being dumped might turn in to a checklist for winning the person back. If people like Melody are willing to put themselves in that position, then fine.

Case in point: In 2000, I was dumped by a woman who gave me three reasons; the third was "I'm just not that attracted to you." Now, maybe she meant it, maybe not. Either way, it was something I probably couldn't fix. Sadly, the directness made me want her more, but I didn't pursue her.

It's acceptable that the person take the criticism The person ending the relationship should do what (s)he needs to be able to sleep at night, and I hope that means not being excessively cruel.

Clearly, I'm giving my opinion that is largely based on American relationship and dating customs. Is it different elsewhere?

All this aside, what I find admirable is what this says about your notions of your obligation to be honest.

Anonymous said...

Let's examine a common scenario: you're with someone you don't really like, your relationship based entirely by laziness, convenience, and inertia. Single life becomes more exciting for some reason (you lose weight, your self-esteem improves, your overbearing mother dies), and you have two options:

1. Lie to your current squeeze, for whom you basically have no respect: "it's not you, it's me"; "I'm not ready for a relationship"; etc.

2. Tell the truth (e.g. "you're fat and I'm ashamed to be seen with you"), possibly upset someone you've persuaded yourself you care for, and then lie to future prospects when your ex tells everyone what a douche-bag you are: "I was young and stupid"; "I've learned the value of respect"; "I think I'm ready for kids".

The choice is of course clear.

Anonymous said...

If Melody and Fernando travel in small social circles, have mutual friends or on Facebook for that matter, the fact that Melody is dating someone new within a week will get back to Fernando pretty quickly... and Melody's intentions of trying to be easy on Fernando will be for naught.

I'm sure it would be just as comfortable as Peter meeting Sarah Marshall in Hawaii in "Forgetting Sarah Marshall"...Maybe Melody is really is a nightmare like Sarah Marshall... all the better for Fernando to be rid of Melody sooner rather than later.

Niniane said...

How is Sarah Marshall a nightmare? I thought she was within the bounds of normalcy. Perhaps wishy-washy and inconsiderate, but not a "nightmare".

ArC said...

"Melody's intentions of trying to be easy on Fernando will be for naught."

Yeah, I think if you seriously want to lie to protect someone's feelings, you should _commit_ to the lie.

Juan Pablo said...

Hi! I totally agree with you, it would make things easier. How to say it is a different matter, I think, but always saying the truth.

Anonymous said...

Hasn't this "truth" theme come out before? Better to just cut to the chase. After all, your perception of the "truth" may just be your subconscious cleverly avoiding your own real issues. It would be most honest to stick with what you want and not your reasoning of how you got there:

"I'm sorry, but this relationship isn't working for me, and I want to break up with you."

Or in this particular case, "I'm sorry, but I've met someone else that I want to date, and I want to break up with you."

Anonymous said...

Niniane - maybe nightmare is not the right world, but Sarah Marshall cheated on Peter for a year behind his back!

Niniane said...

Oh yeah, I forgot about the cheating. That's bad.

Bob said...

I have been contemplating this posting a bit today.

I think that in a non emotional world, providing feedback during a breakup would be a good thing. But in the human world where emotions abound, honest feedback can be a hurtful thing. However, what I may deem as hurtful might not be to someone else. So can that really be used as an excuse?

If I know a certain piece of feedback will cause someone more pain than the breakup itself, then I think that piece of information should be left out. After all, why twist the knife after its been thrust in. Otherwise feedback could be used by the other person in a future relationship.

So, I think this boils down to using your instincts and conscience (although some people may not have much of this) when breaking up. If you know something will cause someone extra pain, just leave it out.

I might be biased in my thoughts though. Thinking back, I think I was the dumpee more than the dumper.

Anonymous said...

How you dispose of each other is the least of your problems.

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