Several years back, I found myself grappling with a rather common conundrum. After casually dating the same guy for several months, I decided I wasn’t invested enough in the relationship to pursue it any further. But since we never decided it was exclusive, put a label on things, or defined the relationship in any way whatsoever, I had no clue what the protocol was. If you, too, are wondering how to end things with someone you weren’t "officially" dating, then know this: There’s no one-size-fits-all formula because how you approach it will depend on such factors as how long you’ve been dating, how serious things were getting, etc. However, experts say there are certain tried-and-true guidelines you should stick to when breaking off an undefined relationship.
According to Maria Sullivan, dating expert and VP of Dating.com, and Susan Trombetti, matchmaker and CEO of Exclusive Matchmaking, it makes sense why it might feel awk AF to call it quits on something that was never made official, especially if you generally avoid or put off confrontation.
“Everyone hates uncomfortable conversations,” says Trombetti. “And if you're someone that hates to hurt anyone's feelings or doesn't like to disappoint, it never feels good.”
That’s why it can be pretty tempting to dodge the conversation entirely. But as much as you may prefer to "Irish exit" your almost bae, experts agree the one thing you shouldn’t do is neglect to formally end things, no matter how casual your relationship was.
“You shouldn’t just let things fizzle out or ghost someone, because it makes the process of moving on a lot harder,” explains Sullivan. “It leaves a lot of questions unanswered and often people will begin to blame themselves for why things didn’t work out when it might have just been bad timing.”
Trombetti advises following the golden rule: Treat others the way you want to be treated. If you’ve ever had someone leave you hanging, you probably know it doesn’t feel so great. So, just as you would likely want the person you’re casually dating to be upfront with you, it’s advisable to provide your unofficial boo with the same level of honesty.
Of course, if the person you were dating has mistreated you or made you feel unsafe in any way, then you have absolutely no obligation to meet up with them in person or even call them on the phone. Your top priority should be to break it off in whatever way makes you feel comfortable and secure.
Otherwise, both experts concur that the best way to handle this situation is in person, or at the very least, with a phone call — particularly if you’ve spent a significant amount of time together. A text may suffice if you’ve only been on a few dates, but if you’ve been seeing each other for months, it’s best to call them up or make a plan to meet. A phone call allows the person you’ve been dating to hear your voice, which is a huge advantage over text because tone can play a major role in how they react to your decision. It also shows them that you care enough to engage in a two-way conversation and give them a chance to say what's on their mind. On the other hand, if you decide to meet in person, you’ll want to be mindful of when and where you meet. In general, it’s best to choose a location where you can have a private conversation, which means a bar or a restaurant are probably a no-go. You can meet up at their apartment, or even offer to take a walk.
When I broke it off with my aforementioned not-quite-boyfriend, I asked him to meet me at a local park. I later found out that since this was an unusual place for us to link up, this tipped him off that something might be up, and he actually came prepared for the possibility that we might be ending things. I cut to the chase pretty quickly and simply told him, “I think you have a lot to offer, and I feel really lucky that you reminded me how I deserve to be treated by someone I’m dating. But I’m having trouble seeing a future here, and given that my life is about to get really hectic, I think it’s best if we go our separate ways.” To my relief, he took it super well — so well, in fact, that shortly after that, he supported my crowdfunding campaign for the album I was recording, and when we ran into each other a couple months later, we were able to exchange pleasantries with barely any awkwardness.
I can’t tell you exactly how to go about breaking up with someone you weren’t official with because only you know what feels right given your unique romantic circumstances. But I will say this: wherever, whenever or however you opt to end things, it’s worth having a plan for what you’ll say. If you decide ahead of time how exactly you’ll bring it up, you’re less likely to back out of breaking it off at the last minute. For example, Trombetti suggests saying something along the lines of, “I’m so glad I got to know you, but I just don’t feel like we’re right for each other” or, “I’ve had a lot of fun with you, but I just don’t see this continuing.” Starting with something positive may help to soften the blow, and following up with a super direct statement ensures that you don’t leave any room for confusion about the fact that the relationship is over.
“You should be prepared for the other person to be disappointed, and maybe even questioning why you made this decision,” Trombetti tells Elite Daily. “Don't go off script and engage. You don’t need to get into the nitty-gritty such as ‘I am just not that attracted to you’ or ‘I find you to be a bit of a jerk.’ If you weren’t official, you don’t owe them those explanations — and let's face it, your reasons are usually never going to sit well with them. It's best to be kind, brief, and honest.”
So, here's a recap. It’s best to end things either over the phone or in-person, depending on what feels right for your specific situation. Always have a plan for exactly what you’re going to say, and consider starting on a positive note, but ending on a clear-cut statement that you don’t wish to continue the relationship. Never feel like you need to over-explain yourself or justify your decision. While it may not be easy to break it off with someone you were never official with, it’s ultimately good dating karma. Remember: Having an honest convo is the best way to get closure, which is something you both deserve, even if your relationship wasn’t ever fully defined.