Dear Dr. Alasko: I consider myself a kind person, but I've never figured out a way to tell someone I've been dating that I'm no longer interested. Usually I try to get the message across by not answering the phone, etc., but that doesn't feel very good. My friends tell me that it's too cruel to come right out and tell the person that I don't want to see them again. What's the best way that's not hurtful to stop dating someone?
Dear Reader: Grappling with this question is common, and mishandling it causes of a lot of unnecessary pain. Enough pain that I would like to see us undertake a thorough overhaul of the unwritten rules about what to do when we feel little or no emotional connection when dating and we need to stop.
First ask yourself this: by what method would you prefer learning that someone you're dating wants to stop seeing you? Would you rather be told directly, or prefer to figure it out by living through a series of avoidance behaviors by your former date?
I believe that asking yourself that will reveal that it's dishonest and deceptive to not tell a person directly that dating them isn’t working for you.
Not only that, but it’ll also likely reveal that getting a message through hints such as unreturned calls is crueler because it forces a person to struggle with an unknown. If B. waits days to hear from you, do you suppose B. is thinking happy and expectant thoughts, or worrying about what’s going on? Obviously, the person on the receiving end of the "hints" is not enjoying a positive experience.
One way to avoid some of this needless pain is to settle on some basic guidelines concerning dating and plan your approach before you start. Here are some suggested guidelines for you to share with anyone new you begin dating, before any misunderstandings can arise:
1) From the first date, each of us has both the right and the responsibility to stop the relationship if either of us feels that it's not working.
2) Explanation or justification is not necessary. Neither of us has to explain or justify a decision to stop. Nor will we meaninglessly compliment each other to alleviate your own anxiety, as in "You're really a great person, but …"
3) To hint at no longer wanting to date by being "busy" is dishonest and disrespectful; instead, if either of us wants to stop, we’ll the other person directly, which is both respectful and caring.
4) We will communicate with each other the way we ourselves would like to be treated — no double standards.
And yes, it takes courage to talk to someone in person and say, "I'm sorry but I don't think we're a good match, and I don't want to continue seeing you." And while it may seem "kinder" to avoid saying these words, don't lie to yourself that you're being evasive in order to avoid hurting the other person. Being evasive and deceptive is simply taking the slippery way out.
Keep in mind that dating, which is the just the initial segment in establishing relationships, shares the same ultimate goal all relationship-forming does: to fully embrace the responsibilities that come with growing up and becoming an adult who does the right thing, even when it might be personally painful.