A friend of mine has a go-to strategy for breaking up with someone who's not a bad person, just not the person for her: baked goods. On the day she's calling it quits with a man, she spends hours in the kitchen whipping up the treats he loves the most. "I think it's much sweeter to break up with their favorite," she says. "They can think of me with every single bite."
While her approach may literally offer the spoonful of sugar that makes the bitter pill of a breakup easier to swallow, it's not always practical--or desirable--to show up with a platter of the scratch-made macaroons that his mama always made to show she loved him, just as you're breaking the news of how much you don't.
Even though calling things off with a decent person who hasn't done you wrong can be exponentially harder than the dramatic dumping of a dirty rotten scoundrel, there are things you can do to ease the blow and make things a little less painful--for both of you.
How to Stage It
First, remember that a nice man who has treated you well deserves and has earned your respect and consideration, which is why you must offer him the courtesy of a face-to-face. No fair taking the coward's way out with e-mail, texts, social media, or even a phone call. You're the one who's going to break his heart (or at least wound his ego), so step up and offer him the courtesy and common decency of doing it in person.
Give him a "signal" of what's coming with the universal indicator that the ax is about to fall: "Can we talk?" Yes, it tips your hand, but it at least lets him know where things are headed so he's not blindsided, and can gird his metaphorical loins.
And do not punk out, as one friend of mine tried to do, by staging the event in a public place to avoid a scene. (EXCEPTION: If you have any reason at all to believe he may turn violent, then absolutely stay in a public place.) Just as you would want to be somewhere safe and private for the emotional meltdown that can follow an unanticipated dumping, give him the courtesy of dropping the hammer somewhere private and comfortable. It's a cheap trick to break up in a crowd or somewhere like a parking lot (as my friend proposed doing), and offers no solace or privacy to the dumpee.
One note: This place should not be your home, car, workplace, or any other location where you have to stay and are counting on him to leave. As you'll see below, a strategic exit is key in this sort of breakup.
What to Say
"You are a wonderful guy and there's so much about dating you that I enjoy. But..." (insert appropriate tactfully euphemistic reason here):
"...we want different things" (he wants to keep having sex with you, and the idea is starting to make you shudder)
"...we just aren't in the same place" (he's ready to get married, and you know he is. Not. The one.)
"...we don't have enough in common long-term" (you are in law school, and he's sparking up doobs on the sofa between bar shifts)
Whatever the real reason, candycoat it. Nothing is to be gained by pointing fingers at this stage, and any specifics you offer only give him fodder to promise to change if only you'll give things another chance.
Finish it up gently, but definitively: "As difficult as it is, I realize that a future isn't in the cards for the two of us, and it's better to end things now, before it's harder on both of us to do it down the line."
Things to Avoid Saying at All Costs:
1. Telling him any specifics about what's wrong with him.
2. Putting it on him--"You're not happy" or "You deserve more" etc. That only gives him the opportunity to convince you it's okay with him, and there's no need to break up over it.
3. Anything open-ended or hopeful--"We'll talk more later," or "I still want you in my life," etc. If you have to chop off a leg, it's kinder to cut than saw.
How to Exit Stage Left
Say your piece (keep it relatively brief--literally like five minutes), and be sure to hear him out if he has things to say (remember he deserves that respect), but when it starts to go in circles or things get too heated or he's begging you to reconsider, it's time to go. Kindly tell him that this is exactly the reason you made this hard decision--because the differences in what you want mean you are constantly hurting someone you care about--and that it's best if you leave now. It's hard to do that without adding something mitigating ("But I'll call you," "But we can talk later," "But I do love you," etc.), but do it--just say you're going to go. It's kinder than dragging things out or offering any false hope.
Note: If you're at his place and things aren't too horrific, take time to quickly gather your things. It's so much easier to break off clean rather than having to rip off the scab before it's had a chance to heal by coming back for them later.
In the immediate aftermath, DO NOT call him. DO NOT answer when he calls and have lengthy discussions about the breakup or your relationship or how he's coping. Give your phone to a friend if you must. These rules also apply to texting and email and Facebook posts and tweets and Instagrams and the day you see his profile back up on the online dating site where you met. None of that, now.
DO NOT mitigate with "I love you's" or "One day we can be friends." Maybe you can be pals once the hurt dies down, but saying it too soon offers him false hope, and that's cruel. Sever the limb cleanly. It seems awful at first, but it's the kindest and most humane way.
These types of breakup are the worst. You will feel like dirt. Call a friend afterward and have some wine and calm down, and I promise, within a few days that awful feeling will lessen and you'll begin to feel relieved to have ended a relationship you knew wasn't going anywhere--and to have done it as kindly and respectfully as a nice guy deserves.
Phoebe Fox is the author of The Breakup Doctor and Bedside Manners, part of the Breakup Doctor series (from Henery Press). You can find her at www.phoebefoxauthor.com, and have news and relationship advice delivered right to your in-box here. You can also find her on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.