I'm trying to break up with my girlfriend of six years, and she doesn't seem to be getting the hint that I don't want to be in the relationship anymore. We're not having sex, I don't go home, but still she's not getting it. I do not want to be mean, but I've stayed a long time trying to work it out, and now I'm just not there emotionally or physically. I started seeing a young lady. Nothing has happened yet, but it's getting there. Any advice on how to make it more plain? —R.C.
Oh, I don't know. Maybe you could actually, like, say something? Has verbal communication become a revolutionary idea?
What you're doing is perhaps one of the meanest things you can do to a person, short of abuse. You've been with her for six entire years, and likely because you're afraid of confrontation, you're treating her poorly by withholding sex, staying out all night and cheating.
If you've been with her this long, you live in the same home with her and you haven't put a ring on it, clearly she's the patient type, and she probably thinks this is some phase you're going through that you can mature out of. That's even more likely if you behaved like a better, more responsible man before things went south.
I've been on the other side of this. There was the high school sweetheart who dragged things out, claimed he was out of town for a couple of weeks (he wasn't), then hit me with the news on my birthday to say it was a wrap. Click. There was a guy I dated for a while who didn't answer his phone for days; finally answered, swearing that he'd lost it; and then texted me on Christmas Eve to say, "I don't think things are working out. Sorry."
My favorite is the guy who, after a long conversation during which we agreed to work on the relationship and talk about it more face-to-face the following day, didn't show up as planned. That next day was Thanksgiving. I never did get an official ending from him.
In all three instances I was livid, not because the relationship ended or because of the ironic special occasions that each guy chose to make his feelings — or lack of such — known, but because it was such a winding road toward being straight up, and it showed a disrespect for the relationship when it was good. The ending ruined the fond memories of the beginning and middle.
Still, in some twisted sense, I understand why some men take on your passive-aggressive stance. You don't stay with someone for years because you don't care. In fact, you do — a lot. The breakup doesn't mean you don't like your partner; it means you don't want to be in the relationship anymore.
Somehow, you reason that by forcing your partner to break up with you, you're off the hook or can get around being the bad guy. Unfortunately, you still are — even more so — not because you don't want to be in the relationship but because of the very improper way you go about dissolving it.
You have dragged out this ending long enough. Immediately, I want you to find another place to live, then do the right thing by respecting the relationship and having a face-to-face conversation with your girlfriend. Tell her plainly, "I don't want to be in this relationship anymore."
I know this is what you were trying to avoid with all the ducking games, hoping that she'd pick up on your lack of interest and do your dirty work for you. However, it's time to put on your long pants and speak up.
Be forewarned: This will likely be a scene of some sort, one that you probably could have lessened by communicating your lagging interest in the relationship earlier (stringing her along just made a bad situation worse).
Despite popular myth, not all women flip out when a man breaks up with them; but the type of woman who continues to stick by a man even though he's staying out all night, avoiding sex and cheating (she knows you are — trust) is usually one who puts a high premium on having a relationship or on not being alone. She is likely to take the breakup, even if she saw it coming, as a personal failure.
Add to that, she will finally get confirmation from you that it's over after she's likely deluded herself into thinking that you want to be there despite your actions. I tell you from experience: That will hurt worse than your leaving.
Since you've clearly moved on and, in some sense, still care because you wanted to avoid being "mean," resist the urge to patch things up when she reacts. No need to drag the relationship out further to stop the drama and, really, invite more.
Also, when she asks, "Why?" avoid listing the flaws you perceive in her. You don't have any intention of working things out, and what you may loathe, someone else may love. There's also no sense in kicking her while she's down.
Demetria L. Lucas is a contributing editor to The Root, and the author of A Belle in Brooklyn: The Go-to Girl for Advice on Living Your Best Single Life. She answers your dating and relationship questions on The Root each week. Feel free to ask anything at firstname.lastname@example.org.