Having the Hard Conversations

Now that I’m dating again, I’ve had to use my standard “I had a great time talking to you, but I don’t feel the connection I’m looking for” rejection line on several men. I know it’s cliche to say, but it hurts me as much as it hurts them. Telling someone to his face that you aren’t interested in a second date, especially when he clearly is, is awkward and uncomfortable. But it’s the right thing to do. Ghosting is weak-minded and I don’t like getting text after text from a guy who is interested in me when I don’t feel the same. Delaying the inevitable “I don’t feel that way about you” message is unfair. We’ve all been at the other end of unreturned text messages, our rational brains telling us the guy isn’t interested and we should move on, but our passionate hearts needing to hear it from him explicitly before we can accept it. That verbal confirmation rarely comes.

The conversation gets harder, but even more important, when you’ve been on more than one or two dates and you’ve had a strong, mutual connection. And guys are totally incompetent at having this talk. (Disclaimer: Girls probably suck at this too, but I can only speak from my experience.) Even the ones who seem emotionally honest for so long, at the end prove themselves incapable of sitting down with someone they’ve shared months or years of intimacy and laughter and memory making with to have a decent, respectful conversation about ending their relationship.

I’ve had three serious breakups post-college. In the first, he and I had drifted apart into just being friends. We were incompatible for many reasons, but we weren’t getting into massive fights. We didn’t hate each other. We were simply co-existing. We should have talked about our relationship long before we did, but eventually I reached a point where I couldn’t take it anymore and told him we needed to split up. I wanted a lover, not a permanent, live-in, platonic friend. That breakup wasn’t so bad, but since then, as I’ve grown older and more experienced and adept at handling my emotions, I’ve found that men have grown more immature and asshole-ish when it comes to terminating relationships.

My second breakup was horrible. We had massive problems for a long time; there was no illusion about that. I tried numerous ways to fix things, but he chose to ignore me or disrespect me or make me feel like shit instead of coming right out and saying he wanted to end things. After a while, I accepted the miserable status quo because I had specific reasons for staying a while longer, which, at the time, seemed logical and worth the tradeoff to me. When I look back now, those reasons seem really stupid and I should have left long before I did. Eventually he did something that pushed me to my limit ahead of my timeline, so I packed my belongings (with the assistance of the county sheriff) and left.

In my most recent breakup, the guy just snapped on me one day, picking a fight over a minor issue, turning into a total jerk, and disappearing for over a week. So, I left him a message letting him know we were over. In the months prior to that day, he had talked about getting married after we finished the book we were coauthoring, went to Spain with me, talked about how he couldn’t wait until we were living in the same city so we could see each other more, flew up to be with me for my birthday, asked me to go visit friends of his on the east coast with him over the summer, and texted and called numerous times a day. He gave no indication of a problem or a change in feelings whatsoever. When we finally talked after he got my message, he said he felt we were only friends and that our relationship hadn’t been what I thought it was. Then he also admitted that he had been leading me on, letting me think we were in this for the long-term. He didn’t apologize for his behavior at all. In fact, he tried to make me feel foolish for not knowing that he hadn’t been as into me as he pretended to be.

In all these cases, I’m the one who had to take action. I’m not claiming I handled each situation as best I could have. But I am wondering why I’m always the one who has to make the break when the guy wants to leave at least as much as, and generally more than, I do. This is absurd. Even the most seeming emotionally open and stable of guys, when it comes down to it, has been too immature to have a difficult, but important, conversation about feelings with someone they claimed to care about.

This lack of basic human decency astounds me, and it gets even worse for others. I know three—count them, three—women whose live-in boyfriends of many years just up and disappeared one day and didn’t resurface for several months. In some cases, they even co-owned the house with the woman.

And those incidents aren’t isolated to my group of friends and acquaintances. Since I started dating again in March 2017, I’ve had numerous guys tell me they ghosted on their exes because their exes were “crazy” and there was “no way” they could have actually had a civil conversation with them about ending the relationship. I call bullshit. I call fucking bullshit. This behavior is too much of a pattern for me to believe them anymore. I used to give guys the benefit of the doubt when they said this because I wasn’t there to see what really happened, and I like to think people are being honest with themselves and with me. And I know there are some crazy bitches out there. But I’m all done believing this and accepting it as an excuse for a lack of integrity.

With every terminated relationship I have, I aim to learn and grow. I look back and try to figure out how I could have been a better partner, but I also look back to see what behaviors of my partner I missed or misinterpreted that should have let me know the relationship wasn’t right any longer or never should have gotten off the ground to begin with. This one is now on my list. The next time the charming guy across the table tells me he vanished on someone because she was “crazy” and he had “no other choice,” I’m not going to smile sympathetically and be non-judgmental and assume I’m getting the truth. I’m just going to get up and leave. Because any way you look at it, breakups are awful, and if you can’t make the smallest effort to make yours slightly less so through a timely and candid conversation with someone who was once closer to you than anyone else on the planet, you’re not a good person.

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