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Hey Man: How To Break Up With Someone Responsibly While In Lockdown

Rhys Thomas discusses break-ups – and how to know if you should do them.
February 16, 2021, 9:00am
How do I break up with someone without hurting them?
Photo: VICE
‘Hey Man’ is a personal advice column about guys, by guys. Need help? Email HeyMan@vice.com.

Hey man, 

I think my relationship is at its end but I don’t know how to break up with her. There’s no reason for it, I just don’t want to be with her anymore. For some reason, I can’t bring myself to do it. How can I do it without hurting her? Especially at the moment while we’re in lockdown. 

Hey man, 

Cheers for writing in, men suck at break-ups. Often we write the final chapter of a relationship in one of two ways: We announce our feelings suddenly, as though some otherworldly intervention shifted our mindset overnight – like a massive argument causes us to just shout, “Fuck this, we’re breaking up”. Or, we suffer in silence and let the relationship grind us both down until the partner does the heavy lifting we were too afraid to do.

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I spoke at length with Peter Saddington, a relationship counsellor and therapist at Relate. He says that “often, the fear of upsetting or hurting the other person” makes men are bad at having emotionally sensitive conversations. It might sound simple – and I’m sure it’ll incense anyone who has been on the receiving end of a break-up from a guy – but let’s dig deeper into why us men are so bad in emotionally intense situations. In essence, we use “fear” as an excuse, as though we’re doing good by keeping our partner happy, but we of course we aren’t. Silently allowing someone to live a false reality is incredibly damaging. 

Saddington says: “In society, men feel an expectation to look after or provide for their partner. When stepping away from that role, there's a worry of how will the other person manage if I'm not there to provide for or look after this person.” Here, our instincts are flawed. The person was likely doing fine before meeting you, and will be fine without you too. 

The first step is to be sure that breaking up is the solution. “You need to be precise about what isn't working,” Saddington says. “If the issues are personal to you – things like intimacy, sharing or jealousy – they will repeat in the next relationship. They cannot be solved through a break-up.”

From there, it’s vital to have already spoken to your partner about your concerns with the relationship. The worst thing you can do is call for a break-up out of the blue. They might not even have realised there’s a problem, which can cause emotional baggage for them in future relationships. Also, if you have mentioned the problem before now, it’ll likely be less of a shock to them when you start the conversation. 

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“If you haven't actually tried to address the problem at all, then the breaking up aspect is going to be more jarring, much more painful and much more difficult,” says Saddington. 

In short, the kindest way to break up with someone is to ensure that there’s clarity and closure. This is why you need to be sure, and you have to have tried to raise the issue in the past.

So, how do you do it? In person during the pandemic, you can say it from a few meters away while on a walk. Tell them what's going on for you. The problem is you don’t want to be in a relationship, after all, so you must make sure they can see they're not being blamed for the break-up, and that there’s nothing they could have done. 

The “it’s not you, it’s me” cliche is slammed frequently enough for guys to know it’s a bad move. The nuance is you have to communicate how the relationship isn’t working for you, not what’s wrong with you, personally. These steps will ensure your partner knows it is out of their hands, it wasn’t their fault, and it’s a persistent issue you have given a fighting chance. You have no guarantee they won’t be upset or angry (and it’s your responsibility to graciously understand any emotions they have and to answer any questions), but these steps will ensure they hurt less. 

Lockdown complicates matters. If you’re living together, obviously, it’s a lot harder. If you don’t live together, there’s still the fact that support networks are reduced and that we know there’s enough shit in the world without a break-up to deal with. Lockdown shouldn’t stop you from doing what you need to do. It just means you have to be more responsible with how you manage it. 

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Good luck, man. 

Hey man.

I’m having problems understanding my sexuality. I’m 28 and have identified as straight since I can remember, but recently I have been asking myself - am I asexual?

The majority of the problems in my relationships in the past have revolved around my inability to enjoy sex all the time, but I had always attributed that to erectile dysfunction. I find it hard to relate to the stereotype that men always want sex or want to talk about women sexually. The thought of a one-night stand or ending up at someone’s house after a date fills me with anxiety because I know I don’t want to be there for the same reason. (Not that this is happening anytime soon!) This obviously makes dating really hard because I’m still very interested in romantic relationships.

Hey man,

Almost everyone has reassessed their sexuality at some point, but not many mention it. When it comes to sexual orientation, remember it’s personal to you. It’s a word, a label, an identity you can use to empower who you are. Asexuality is a spectrum, and how you interpret your own asexuality is personal – nobody can tell you whether you are or aren’t asexual. You can decide whether you want to use the word asexual (or another on its spectrum, such as demisexual) to make conversations around sex and your identity easier for you. 

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An asexual is someone who doesn’t see sex to be essential to a relationship. Perhaps it’s just of lower priority, there are specific circumstances needed, or it simply doesn’t appeal. Finding a community of people who define as asexual can help you decide if you have shared experiences and whether it’s a term you’d like to adopt. I've spoken to three asexual men about their experiences to provide a starting point.

All three men mentioned that heteronormative and traditional ideas of masculinity made them feel different. These customs are why many people default to straight and discover their true selves later in life. In each case, finding a community helped them to redefine their own form of masculinity. “That was certainly my experience. I was very confused. Having a label really did help. It's almost an explanation.” Michael says. 

Michael is part of the project team at AVEN – the world's largest online asexual community. Founded in 2001, it’s been at the forefront of offering education on asexuaility. Michael, who identified as asexual in the 90s, wanted to highlight that  “asexuality is a spectrum. Some asexuals don't mind having sex at all, others are completely repulsed by the idea and would never have sex, many are between the two. These words are just to help us make sense of ourselves.”

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That said, feeling uncomfortable around the potential of sex was something each of the men spoke about. 

Liam said: “I never really understood the idea of sex for pleasure, that confusion was always there. I have a few good friends who are asexual and they’ve helped me understand myself. I also looked into organisations like AVEN, (the asexuality visibility and education network). It took me several years to identify”.  

Andrew, meanwhile, recalls occasions where he’d “be walking home with someone and they’d hint at staying over” before Andrew felt anxious about how to make up an excuse for this. “Since coming out, I could just say I'm asexual and it isn't really my thing,” he says.

Andrew was asexual but now identifies as demisexual, which is within the umbrella term of “grey sexuality” Michael tells me.

Erectile dysfunction played a part in this change for Andrew. “For lack of a better term, I can't get up unless I'm fully committed and fully comfortable with the person that it's happening with,” he says. “With a previous partner, after we talked about it and I was comfortable, that aspect of the relationship worked.”

Michael identifies as both asexual and aromantic (people identify as hetero-romantic bi-romantic, etc.), whereas Liam and Andrew are asexual and demisexual respectively, but like you, are still very interested in romantic relationships. Liam is in a relationship with another asexual person.

Asexuality has a large spectrum of orientations. The importance of the terminology is to use it if it helps you. Whether it’s just an easy way to say you don’t want to have sex, or that you need more time to get to that part of a relationship, the words are there to be used, and seeking out like-minded people and communities can help you feel confident in expressing who you truly are. 

Good luck, man. 

@_rhysthomas_