The Right (And Wrong) Way To Dump A Guy

The Right (And Wrong) Way To Dump A Guy

Have you decided that this man you’ve been seeing isn’t for you? Do him a favor and read my advice on the best way to break the news.

By Steve Friedman

I met Liliato on a train to a mountain lake, which seemed to portend good things. She was from Iceland and had a very sexy, exotic accent. And—best of all—she gave me her phone number.

On our first date, we had dinner. Salmon, steak, chitchat, much convivial chuckling. Second date, a movie and ice cream, more with the convivial chuckling. Third date, live music, the chuckling, long kiss goodnight, during which time she moaned “mmmm,” which, being a simple man, I thought meant there were would be a date four, five, and so on.

However, I never saw the lovely Liliato again. Why? I wish I knew. It wasn’t through any lack of effort on my part. I called her after our third date to ask her out, but got her answering machine. When she didn’t call back for a few days, I called again, left a message with her roommate. Still, nothing. Had I misinterpreted the “mmmm?” Does it mean, in Icelandic, “Step off, you American slug?” Had her answering machine malfunctioned; had her roommate failed to pass on the message? It’s easy to see now that Liliato’s lack of response meant she didn’t want to hear from me anymore, but I didn’t see that then. If she weren’t interested, I reasoned, couldn’t she do what bipeds with the gift of language tend to do in this great country of ours and just tell me?

So I got up early one morning, rode my bike to a pay phone and called her. She would be home, and caller ID would not show my name.
Some guys will ask, even beg, for another chance. Do it because you want to, not because he wears you down.

She answered the phone in her unmistakable accent.

“Hi,” I said, “Liliato?”

“Who is calling, please?”

“This is Steve Friedman,” I said.

“Liliato is not home,” she said.

So I stopped calling Liliato. I am persistent but not criminal. But I started talking to the men and women I knew about the Icelandic temptress’ actions, asking them shouldn’t women act more decently when they want to stop dating a guy they’ve seen (and perhaps kissed) a few times? Doesn’t a guy deserve something straightforward, honest, and a little more human?

I sure think so, and to that end, let me offer some pointers:

Be honest
“I have had plenty of opportunity to tell men, ‘Thanks, but no thanks,’” says one woman I know. “I have tried the standard ploys, from merely physically distancing myself from the guy to not returning his phone calls and e-mails. Those were almost always messy, usually long and drawn out and uncomfortable. Now I tell the truth: ‘I like you a lot and always will, but I don't see us as a couple.’ It hurts, but at least it’s over fast.”

…But not too honest
Some men will insist on knowing specific details, such as what about them you find unattractive or particular things about your relationship that you found unappealing, perhaps in the hopes that he can change those things and persuade you to try again. Tempting as it might be to answer, don’t. According to the Talmud, the hangman always uses a very soft rope. You’re breaking things off with the guy—that doesn’t mean you need to tell him you never liked his footwear, the way he hogged the television remote, or his mother. There’s no need.

Blame it on chemistry
“One woman handled things really well with me,” says one guy I know. “She was straightforward about it, saying, ‘You're a great guy, but the chemistry is just not there for me.’ I knew what she meant and appreciated her honesty. We’re still friends.”

Don’t take what they say personally
“Some guys will accuse you of being psychologically damaged, afraid of commitment, incapable of love. Remember, they’re all saying one thing: ‘I want to keep seeing you.’ So when they tell you what a horrible person you are, as some guys do, try a nicely-worded exit, like, “Well, I wish you didn’t feel that way, because I think the world of you. I hope in time you’ll remember our time together fondly.”

Be firm
Some guys will ask, possibly even beg, for another chance. If you want to give it another try, by all means do. But don’t do it because he wears you down with his badgering. There’s no need. And it’s only going to make the next breakup harder.

Don’t invent excuses
“I dated this guy I met online,” says a 25-year-old female advertising executive I know, “and it started to form into a quasi-relationship but I realized we were just not right for one another. So I wanted to end it. At the time I was about to start looking for a new apartment and was getting promoted. He told me that it is really stressful to find a new apartment, and that is what gave me the excuse. I called one night and said that it wasn't fair to him that I would be working late and trying to find an apartment and that I wouldn't have the ‘time’ to give to a relationship. I was trying to be nice but this guy was not taking a hint. He kept telling me
Telling a guy you don’t want to see him anymore is painful. But speaking for all men, we can take it.
that he would wait. Finally he said, ‘I think you’re lying—why can't you just tell me the truth?’” Good question.

Don’t get mad because he feels bad
A decade wiser and stronger after my Icelandic temptress experience, I met a clever and charming woman at a party. Five dates later, along with much laughter, shared confidences, some hand holding and a lot of email, she called me to say her ex-fiancé was coming to town... and she can’t see me anymore. I told her I was heartbroken, but that I’d be OK.

“You’re not heartbroken,” she said. “We hardly knew each other.”

Getting dumped was one thing. But getting lectured about my feelings? Thanks, I’ll pass.

The bottom line is, telling a guy you don’t want to see him anymore is painful—I have never been through that experience without feeling at least a bruised ego. But hey, bruised egos heal. Speaking for all men, we can take it. We’d rather take it, given the alternatives.

Steve Friedman is the author of seven books, including Lost on Treasure Island: A Memoir of Longing, Love, and Lousy Choices in New York City. More information at
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