There are stages to dating and relationships. First dates are fun and exciting with a low level of commitment. A few dates in and there’s an unspoken promise of interest. A few more dates and you might start talking about where things can go. And after a certain point, you both agree that this is a relationship — and an exclusive one.
And once we’ve agreed it’s a relationship, the rules for ending it are pretty clear. We’re supposed to be gentle and kind, honest and clear, and we’re supposed to do it face-to-face unless we’re afraid of our partner.
But what about before the relationship becomes a relationship? What if we’re somewhere in that space between first date and talking about the future? What if we’re friends who have hooked up?
If we can’t define what this is, how can we end it? How can we tell someone this is over if we don’t even know what this is?
I have four ways you can end a non-relationship based on what’s been happening.
Ghosting is generally seen as a negative thing. And if it’s done when a relationship has been established as one, or when we’ve reached the point where interest is obvious, it is negative. But ghosting does have a time and place.
If you’ve only gone on one or two dates, and don’t run in the same circles, ghosting someone you’ve decided you no longer want to see is appropriate. If there’ve only been a couple of dates and you already know you’re not interested, you don’t owe the person an explanation.
After just a couple of dates, there are no promises made, no expectations about what comes next. If the other person has developed expectations or fantasies around what’s coming, that’s their fault unless you’ve done something to lead them on.
If you’ve decided after a date or two, maybe even three, that you’re not interested in seeing them again, simply remove their contact information from your phone, delete any texts, and let it go.
Most of the time, you might get one or two texts or calls from this person and then they’ll figure it out. They understand you’re not interested and move on.
But some people can be persistent. If you’re truly ghosting them, you wouldn’t reply at all. If you can’t bring yourself to simply ignore them, ghosting may not be for you and you might want to try the next method instead.
The slow fade
The slow fade is a different way of breaking things off. It’s not quite ghosting but it’s also not a direct method of ending things.
With a slow fade, you let their calls go to voicemail and take longer and longer to reply to their texts and return their calls. You keep your responses short and often vague. If asked about getting together again, you don’t agree and often offer an excuse.
By taking longer to respond, keeping communication somewhat abrupt, and not agreeing to another date, the intention is that things eventually just disappear. The other person either gets the hint or gives up. Either way, you never have to come right out and tell them.
The slow fade, if you’re going to do it, is better for those people you’ve only been seeing a short time. It shouldn’t be done to anyone you’ve expressed serious interest in or made any kind of promises about a future.
The slow fade is easier for you because you don’t have to feel bad for ignoring the other person but you also get to avoid the confrontation of being honest. But it can seem kind of cruel to the other person because you’re not simply being honest about not wanting to see them. And they can even feel as if you’re leading them on.
The indirect direct approach
We talk about how breakups should be done face-to-face when possible, but if you’re not officially in a relationship, it’s okay to just make a quick phone call or fire off a short text. This is an indirect direct approach because by doing it over the phone or by text, you avoid having to look them in the eye, but you do offer them the honesty of letting them know you’re not interested.
The key to this approach is being direct and keeping it short. This is best for when you’re not interested in offering an explanation and you just want to basically give them a heads up that you won’t be calling again.
With this method, you would say something like, “Hey, it’s been great getting to know you but I don’t think we’re a good match. I wish you well and hope you find someone you really like.” Or you might say, “You’re a great person, but I’m just not feeling it. I think it’s best we go our separate ways so we can find someone we both really vibe with.”
It doesn’t matter if it’s just that you aren’t attracted or if there’s a specific reason you’re not interested. This method is not about telling them why. It’s purely about conveying the simple fact that you don’t want to pursue another date or a relationship with them.
It’s the kindest way to let someone go because you’re clear about your lack of interest but you’re not going out of your way to hurt them. By doing it over the phone or by text, you also avoid any awkwardness if they might have been feeling it a little more than you were.
The big talk
It’s the four words just about everybody dreads.
We need to talk.
In a relationship, everyone assumes that means a breakup speech is coming. But if this isn’t an actual relationship, do you need a breakup speech? Not really.
But even if you’re not actually in a relationship with this person, if you’ve gone on enough dates, you might want to give them more than just “I’m not feeling it. See ya!”
The key to a big talk is that it’s only necessary if you’ve been dating this person for more than just a few dates. You might not be exclusive, and you might not have even discussed a real future together, but if you’ve been seeing them for more than a couple of months, it implies that you’re attracted, interested, and starting to invest a bit.
If you’re going with the big talk, you need to be clear and direct. You’ll also likely want to offer at least a brief explanation. Before this point, saying you’re just not feeling it is enough. But after enough time has passed, it’s assumed that you wouldn’t still be dating someone if you weren’t feeling it. We all know assuming isn’t good, but let’s face it — we all do it.
So they know that if you’re ending it this way, there’s a reason other than just not feeling it. So be honest. Tell them about the political or religious differences, or that you want one kind of relationship and they want another, or whatever the case may be.
If the reason is something personally hurtful (say, you’ve been to their home and discovered they’re a slob or you don’t like the way they parent their children), you might not want to be as honest. You might simply tell them something like, “I really like you but as we get to know each other better, I feel like we’re just too different for a relationship.”
Which one is best?
Personally, I believe a direct approach is always best. I’m not a huge fan of ghosting or the slow fade. However, I have done both when it felt like they were the best option in a situation.
But I tend to believe that either sending a quick text, making a quick call, or having an honest discussion is the best approach. By doing so, you don’t leave someone hanging. They know it’s not going anywhere. They know you won’t be calling again. And even if they don’t get a specific reason why, you give them the closure of knowing this is it.
Regardless of which approach you choose, keep in mind that the point is not to hurt someone. Even if it’s only been one date, you can still be gentle and kind in letting someone go. If nothing else, ask yourself: if I were in their shoes, how would I want this to be done?
Author’s Note: After several responses to this, I feel the need to be crystal clear as it seems there is not enough clarity from the title or the article itself. This is NOT about ending a relationship. This is about ending things when you are NOT in a relationship. When you have gone on a handful of dates and therefore are in that space between “talking” and contemplating a relationship.
This is for when you’ve gone on a few dates, perhaps between 4–8 and have made no commitments to each other. So if your response to this would be about devastating someone by ending things or saying that after 18 months, the other person will think it’s a relationship regardless of what you’ve said, I am asking you to not only re-read this note but also the entire article so you fully understand its point.
Wendy Miller is a Certified Happiness Coach, freelance writer & meditation teacher. After years of settling for abusive and otherwise toxic relationships, she got fed up. Using meditation and other tools, she got to work on healing herself, setting boundaries, and only engaging in relationships (romantic and otherwise) that bring her joy. She wants to help other single parents find the love & happiness they seek, including and going beyond romantic love. She lives in Florida with her two sons, where she homeschools while solo parenting, while surrounded by what feels like a zooful of animals.
You might also enjoy:
Letting Go of the Relationship That Never Was
How do you get over someone who was never yours in the first place?
Trying to Heal From Divorce? These 8 Tips Might Help
Whether it’s a divorce or a really bad breakup, some endings prove a little harder to get over than others.