I recently went on a couple of dates with this guy, Gavin*. My feelings had begun to wane, but we already had plans to eat takeout at my apartment for our third date. Not entirely sure of what to do while in this romantic grey area, I figured I would just let him down gently in person that evening. With a smug sense of pride about not ghosting or slow fading Gavin, I let him know that he was great, but that I wasn’t “feeling it” anymore. We aren’t even together, I thought. Breaking things off should be a piece of cake!
Well, not so much. My pride rapidly devolved into terror as Gavin sat in stunned silence for what felt like minutes before accusing me of leading him on and subsequently struggling to decide whether or not he should leave my apartment. To make matters worse, the video for “Smooth” by Carlos Santana and Rob Thomas was playing in the background. It’s a long story, really, but the bottom line is that I found myself gazing deeply into Rob Thomas’ baby blues and asking myself, Could I have gone about this in a better way?
Desperate to never experience another evening like this, I took to the internet and asked my fellow daters where they stand on this issue. How do you go about ending something that, as far as you’re concerned, hasn’t even started? From thorough market research has emerged this foolproof guide to breaking up with someone you aren’t actually dating. You can thank me later (or you can thank me now; I constantly crave affirmation).
We only have so much time on this earth — don’t waste it by leading someone on. I know that procrastinating is standard MO for many aspects of life (school assignments, doing laundry, finding psychological and emotional fulfillment, etc.), but in this case, you have to rip off the proverbial Band-Aid. The person you are sort-of seeing cannot get on with their life if you continue to string them along. And for those who favor narcissism over empathy, you will not be able to move on either. Do everyone a favor, and get it over with.
Own your words and actions. Don’t try to place the burden of breaking up on the other person. “One time I was hanging out with this guy and he decided to freestyle rap for me over some homemade beats,” says Kate, 25. “I awkwardly praised him and he then said ‘I feel like you don’t like me.’ I did like him, so I reassured him of this several times until he admitted, ‘Okay, I just don’t like you.’” If you are the one who does not want to see someone anymore, just say so. Nobody can read minds (that we know of). And trust me, most people would rather hear the words “I’m not interested in you” than hear you freestyle rap over some homemade beats.
Be (mostly) unapologetic.
“I made plans to go on a third date with a guy but just wasn’t feeling it, so I decided to call him before our date to tell him this. I found myself apologizing about 18 times,” recalls Jenna, 25. “Before I hung up, he said, ‘Let me know if you ever change your mind.’” Jenna is a genuine and kind person, but someone can show empathy without repeatedly apologizing for their feelings, which only serves to create false hope. If you feel so badly about ending things, why are you doing it? Deep down, do you still like them? Could things maybe work out between you one day if they just play their cards right?
“Really, what [you’re] doing is ‘rejecting’ another person,” says intuitive dating coach and author, Nikki Novo. “And rejection can feel really personal, [even] when it’s not. Rejection is simply another person expressing their preferences. You want to take responsibility for why this is not currently working out for you.”
You need not apologize for feeling the way you feel. Keeping to a singular, “Sorry if you don’t feel the same, but…” can ensure that your date will not be left wistfully wondering if you two might someday have a future together.
Send a text.
Yes, you read that correctly. It’s 2019 and texting is not quite as impersonal as it once was — especially if you have only been on a few dates. “If they [took you on] intense dates where you went to expensive events, etc., then maybe [end things] in person,” says Lindsey Metselaar, host of We Met at Acme, a podcast about millennial dating in New York City. In more casual situations, she says it is definitely “OK to text, as long as it’s a nice text.” Being a true professional, she even has this canned non-breakup breakup text that you are welcome to use at your leisure: “Hey! I had a really nice time with you and you’re clearly a great person. I’m feeling more of a friend vibe between us. I hope that’s okay to say and wish you all the best in the future.”
Don’t have an interest in maintaining a friendly relationship? That’s also fine. You can keep it to a short and sweet “You are a great person, but I’m just not feeling a connection.” Should the person ask for more of an explanation, Novo advocates saying whatever you feel comfortable sharing. You can choose whether or not you mention, say, that they don’t pay enough attention to your cats or have exceedingly questionable tribal tattoos. At the end of the day, it’s your call.
But if you do do it in person, location is everything.
If you insist on facing this person IRL, choose a location that is easy to exit (aka, don’t do it in your living room like I did) and does not lend an opportunity to compromise your sobriety. “I ended things with a woman after we each enjoyed three margaritas,” recounts Dennis, 28. “We had not paid yet, and she spent the remaining time trying to convince me that we were compatible. It was unbearably awkward.” Avoid this breakup blunder by meeting up at a neutral location — like a Starbucks… that is inside of a grocery store… on the other side of town. This way, you can pay in advance and then easily go your separate ways before things start to get drawn out. Plus, you can pick up some pizza rolls while you’re there. Two birds, folks.
Whatever you do, don’t ghost.
“Avoiding the discomfort of conversation is not a mature way of communicating and [shows] a lack of emotional intelligence,” says Amy Chan, relationship expert and founder of Renew Breakup Bootcamp. “At some point in time, if you want a healthy relationship, you’re going to need to learn how to deal with confrontation. You might as well practice while you’re in the field.” If you can’t break up with someone you aren’t even dating, how will you ever be able to end a real relationship?
But sometimes explaining that ghosting is not fair to the ghostee is lost on people. So perhaps consider that ghosting someone could negatively affect you. “I went on two dates with this guy and he got very clingy,” says Diego*, 24. “I figured ghosting would be easier than saying ‘I never want to see you again.’ But a few months later I ran into him at a bar and he asked, ‘What happened to us?’” It turns out that ghosting isn’t always a way to avoid confrontation — it just postpones it. And it is karmic law that when you inevitably and unexpectedly run into your ghostee, it will be in the least ideal situation possible. So unless you want to cross paths with someone when you are hungover and picking up antifungal cream for your athlete’s foot at CVS, I recommend being straight with them from the get-go.
Basically, be straightforward, get it over with, and whatever you do, do not involve Carlos Santana. He did not ask to be a part of this.
*Names have been changed to protect innocent daters everywhere.