If you’ve ever found yourself on a date and maybe about halfway through the meal or the hike or the coffee, you realize, "This ain’t it. This person is not for me," you can be grateful for the clarity. Or if you’ve ever had the ringing thought "I do not want to be dating this person that I am currently dating," it can be uncomfortable and even downright unpleasant, but at least its a clear call for what to do next.
I’ve found in these situations, when dating someone and realizing you don’t want to continue seeing that person, the inevitable question arises: how do I break up this dating relationship? How do I bring this relationship to a close with grace and gentleness, hopefully without hurting anyone's feelings?
Sorry love, that may not be possible.
Ending a relationship requires change. Change requires disruption. Disruption usually results in pain of some sort. Avoiding pain is not the goal, especially since you're already uncomfortable enough with the status quo that you don't wish to continue. We’re not seeking to hurt anyone, but some hard conversation is inevitable. The goal is moving yourself as an individual and your partner as an individual into a healthier state.
Jesus taught that the greatest commandment after loving God first is to love your neighbor as yourself (Mark 12:31). What is it to love yourself then? What is it to love your neighbor who happens to be the one you’re dating? The two are inextricably tied—to love your neighbor, you must love yourself.
To love yourself is to honor yourself as you would someone you care for: to honor your sense of self and what you need. You would not criticize or diminish a loved one’s need for something. So why would you do that to yourself? It is a learned and socialized behavior to disregard our selves, our inner knowing, and unhealthy self-disregard has too often been misconstrued by the community of faith as a of dying to one’s self. You are worthy of honoring and care, you are deserving of love, even from yourself. In fact, it’s mandated. To love another is to love you, to love you is to be able to love another.
So, first, you must love yourself. I understand this will chafe against so much inner machinery right now to read these words telling you to love yourself well, but you can love someone else only as wholly as you love yourself.
If something within you lets you know in shouts or in whispers that the person you are dating is not the person you ought to be dating, you love yourself and them well by obeying that knowing. Get out of it. Stop dating that person, with care and respect but decisively and firmly.
Getting out of it does not mean ghosting. Or avoiding. Or dirty deleting. Or ignoring. It’s not pretending you don’t care. It is speaking clearly face to face, with maturity, compassion, and again, clarity with the other person to communicate where you are at and what you need: namely, that it's time to acknowledge how your relationship has already changed. This kind of conversation with a dating partner is about being a grown-up and saying what needs to be said, in truth, with kindness and clarity.
How do you love your neighbor who happens to be the person you no longer want to be dating?
You tell them the truth. In person (safely), have a conversation. DON’T TEXT IT. Be brave, be a grown-up, talk face to face. Clear is kind, as Brene Brown says. You don’t need to list all the reasons why you don’t want to date them—remember, we’re not out here to dole out pain needlessly or be cruel—but you need to tell them with your words, sooner rather than later, that you no longer want to be in this dating relationship. It will hurt. But again, avoiding pain is not the goal here. Loving yourself and loving them well, is.
Being as clear and honest and upfront as soon as possible when in a dating relationship that is not going to go anywhere—this is the goal. Don’t go on the third, fourth, fifteenth date with them if you know on the first or second date (let’s be real, most of us know on the first date if we’re not feeling it) that this person is not someone with whom you want to continue.
Being clear and honest up front will actually make sure there isn’t needless, extended pain. Whereas prolonging a dating relationship that you KNOW is not right and that will inevitably end—THAT will cause more pain than there needed to be. Being clear is being kind. You don’t leave them guessing, wondering about your intentions.
Be honest with yourself about why you’re still hanging on or hanging around when you know it’s not right. Sit with these questions:
To be unclear, waffly, avoidant, or not to say anything altogether, that causes pain, for you as well as for them. The disconnects of not knowing, of living under a misunderstanding, of avoidance, of false hopes, of unclear communication just causes unnecessary pain.
Below is an example and hopefully a helpful guide for having the hard conversation about ending a relationship and moving on once you have made plans and scheduled to talk in person.
Most individuals will accept your response and not try to convince you to change your mind. They may have likely been feeling some of the same tensions. But occasionally, a person might try to convince/guilt/challenge you into staying (that’s a real sign to get out, by the way). Remember your intention. Stick to your goals and outcomes. Hold to your conviction in order to love yourself and love them by changing the relationship.
Yes, that whole exchange might make your insides roil in painful conflict. And the other person might be hurt at that moment. They are allowed to be. Yet, you are allowed to speak your truth. Remember, we are practicing enacting love. Health is the goal, not pain avoidance.
Ending a dating relationship is hard for most humans. It takes risk and bravery to speak with honesty and vulnerability. Yet, that’s what we are invited to do.
"Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ. From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work” (Eph. 4:15-16).
Ending a relationship will hurt. We don’t then take lightly to hurting another. But again, avoiding pain is not the goal. Loving you and loving them well is. And clear is kind. So, be brave and be clear.