You met over the summer and the sparks flew. But now summer’s coming to a close, it’s time to get back to the real world — and you’d like to go solo. How can you exit, stage left, with grace and compassion?
Well, first let’s acknowledge that using the blunt end of the stick may not be the best way to go when you might be breaking another person’s heart. “I met a nice guy at a church retreat last summer,” recalls Sarah Harwell of Nashville, TN. “We met a few times over the summer after that, too. But he ditched me after Labor Day, saying it was just a summer romance. I felt totally used.”
The rules of disengagement
Instead of telling the brutal truth — “it was ‘just’ a summer fling” — there are kinder, gentler ways of saying “see you” in September. First, review these standard rules of disengagement offered by marriage and family therapist Dr. Karen Gail Lewis
1. Be clear, but don’t be mean.
2. Think about what you want to say in advance — maybe even write it down and say it out loud to see how it sounds before you actually go through with it.
3. Don’t beat around the bush or make excuses for your decision.
4. Figure out what you can learn about yourself: Why were you with this person, and why do you need to end things?
Here’s how Brenda Della Casa, author of Cinderella Was A Liar
, puts it: “Be mindful of the other person’s feelings and don’t do anything you would not want done to you.”
With those basic principles in mind, here are a few suggestions for saying farewell to your summer sweetie:
1. Plan your exit carefully.
Think about where you’re going to break up with him or her and try to avoid public humiliation by doing it in a very public place. “The woman I was dating last summer broke up with me at the beginning of a Labor Day party,” remembers Dan Collins of Puyallup, WA. “When I asked her why she chose to do it at a party, she said it was because there were plenty of single ladies there, so I could meet someone new. And I think she honestly thought she was doing me a favor!” Instead, consider a park bench or a somewhat secluded table at a café. You want a place where someone can have a bit of privacy to discuss the situation and regain composure... but not so much privacy that there’s an opportunity to start a yelling match.
2. Write the ending to your own love story.
Samara O’Shea, author of For The Love of Letters
, suggests ending your fling on the right note — literally
— by writing a goodbye letter. “Focus on how great the person is, but then say that because of the distance, you don’t think it’ll last past the season,” she suggests. “If distance isn’t a factor, tell him or her what a great time you had but that you just don’t see things going any further than they already have.”
3. Make the breakup reasoning all about you.
Della Casa suggests trying an alternate perspective: talk about your
needs instead of making it about what the other person lacks. “While a date’s miserly ways or miniature figurine obsession might be deal-breakers for you, this is who your date is as a person. Someone out there will appreciate and love this individual for those exact reasons. Let your date know with all due appreciation and respect that you feel you need time alone to figure things out, want to focus on another aspect of your life — school, career, etc. — or that you would be better suited with someone with whom you feel a different kind of connection.” In other words, don’t blame the other party, but don’t blame yourself, either. You want to make it clear that things are over now; that’s the way it is, and there’s no work to be done by either of you to salvage the relationship any further.
Here’s the cool thing — these rules apply no matter what time of year you’re breaking up with someone. Just remember the Golden Rule and try to do unto others as you would have them do unto you. If you act in that spirit, chances are good that you’ll deliver the kindest cut possible while severing any romantic ties.
Margot Carmichael Lester is the North Carolina-based author of The Real Life Guide to Life After College and Be A Better Writer