Breakup News Flash: You Can’t Date & Then Just Disappear


You people are way ahead of me.

I wrote a long series on commitment-phobia, followed by last month’s column,“He’s Just Not That Into You.” I was figuring the logical follow-up would be to start talking about breaking up – how to do it, how not to do it, how to know it’s time, etc. Then I read your comments to last month’s article, which confirmed that it’s definitely time to start talking about breaking up. More than half of the currently-at-40 comments pertained somehow with difficulties in dealing with the end of a relationship.

And apparently, I need to start at the very beginning. Based on what I’m hearing from all of you, it would appear that many out there in dating land still haven’t seen the first memo:

When you’re ending a relationship with someone, you are obligated to actually break up with that person.

I can’t believe I have to spell this out, much less write an entire column about it. But I’m alarmed at the number of grown adults – many of whom claim the title of “Christian” – who seem to believe it is acceptable to establish a relationship with someone and then to disappear without explanation.  We aren’t just talking a casual date or two and then no follow-up, but rather real relationships that end without actually, formally ending.

Nor is this phenomenon limited to my CatholicMatch readers. I’ve run across numerous articles about it in the past few years. Greg Behrendt’s He’s Just Not That Into You even dedicated a chapter to it, saying, “There’s no mixed message here. He’s made it clear that he’s so not into you that he couldn’t even bother to leave you a Post-it.”

And so apparently I need to explain why this is immature, cruel and very un-Christ-like behavior.

I get it, of course. Everybody gets it: Breaking up is hard. There is probably no more difficult conversation in the world than the one that says, “I have dated you and found that I don’t want you.” Of course it would be a lot easier on the breaker-upper to skip it and go straight to “We’re broken up and not speaking anymore.”

In Fantasy Wonderland World, our feelings about the relationship would be communicated by some sort of osmosis, and we wouldn’t need to have difficult conversations at all.

The selfish route

But we don’t live in Fantasy Wonderland World. Here in reality, we communicate by speaking, and we communicate hard truths by telling them. Those who attempt to avoid this are often, on some level, sensitive souls who hate to cause pain to others. But they’re attempting to avoid pain via a type of if-a-tree-falls-in-the-forest mentality. If I don’t see the pain, then the pain isn’t there.

And that, my friends, is the epitome of selfishness. Because the only pain you have escaped is your own relatively minor discomfort in having a straightforward discussion. The pain that was caused is still there. Only, in leaving without an explanation, it has been magnified tenfold.

A break-up is a defined ending. A mystery, on the other hand, is by definition unfinished. What is the answer? What happened? Was it me? Was it him? Was it her? Is she lying somewhere by the side of the road? Did he wait too long to call me, and how he really wants to but he’s afraid?  It is nearly impossible to get “closure” without some answers.

Of course, the disappear-er often feels justified. “How could I explain? The reason I left was so bad/private/embarrassing that I couldn’t share it.”


And you think it hasn’t already occurred to your former beloved? What, you met someone else?  You’re broke? You’re gay? Addicted? Already married? Trust me, all of this and more has already crossed her mind, plus virtually every other possible explanation. And she has been trying to somehow simultaneously reconcile all of them in her mind. In sharing the one that’s true, you would merely be eliminated all of the others.

Which would be a great mercy.

The other Great Rationalization is that “he knows why I left. I gave lots of subtle hints.” Or “It couldn’t be a surprise. I stopped calling gradually.”

Sorry, but none of this flies, and none of it eases the absolute insult of the ultimate non-verbal message, that he or she wasn’t even worth the hassle of an explanation.

Moving on

What do you do if you are the one left behind?  The temptation is to call, or to march over and demand an explanation, or to somehow make him understand the pain he’s caused. But, according to Greg Behrendt, “100 percent of men polled who have disappeared on a woman said that at the time they were completely aware of what a horrible thing they were doing, and no woman calling them up and talking to them would have changed that.”

Greg, who himself confesses to having disappeared on a woman in his dating days, says the best reaction is to simply leave him behind and move on. “Do you deserve to know what happened?  Yes, but fortunately, I can tell you what happened. You were dating the worst person in the world . . . Nothing he could say will be satisfying to you. But what will be satisfying is if you don’t spend another moment of your energy on him. You picked a lemon. Throw it away. Lemonade is overrated.”

This, I believe, is the key to moving on after a disappearance. The incidental reasons for the departure are not nearly as important as this one central fact: to leave you with no explanation reveals a lack of character. You misjudged him or her. You thought this person possessed a certain level of integrity and you were wrong. It would have been nice to know that earlier, but better now than after a walk down the aisle. That’s the truth you need to work through and move past.

And a final word to you disappear-ers and those contemplating it: don’t. Dating isn’t merely about amusing yourself, or looking out for your own comfort, or fulfilling your own goals without regard for the other. It is about intertwining your life – to a certain extent – with that of another person created in the image and likeness of God. And thus it means taking on responsibility for treating that person as His image and likeness, and for looking out for what is best for him or her.

That is just as true at the end of the relationship as it is at the beginning.



  1. Peter-44842 February 19, 2011 Reply

    The key here is in the G. Berhendt quote. People immature enough to do this pretty much know what they are doing, and probably aren’t all that amenable to the obvious admonitions commonly rehashed in online dating forums. If it happened to me I’d be most grateful they showed themselves sooner rather than later.

  2. Patrick-26175 December 26, 2010 Reply

    Excellent points all. I was in a 3 1/2 year relationship with a woman who simply said one day “I will leave the relationship, bye”. That’s about as insulting and bad as not saying anything and disappearing. So, point well taken. I learned I was in a relationship (if you can call it that) with a completely selfish person. Oh well, life goes on. Time to look for better fish in that ocean.

    • Patrick-26175 December 26, 2010 Reply

      I should’ve said this was relayed to me not in person, or even over the phone, but communicated to me via an online chat messenger feature.

  3. Jacqueline-198 October 21, 2010 Reply

    What I can’t understand about the whole break up ‘thing’ is, if a man or woman tells you they love you, why can’t they just be honest with you and themselves, even if it’s difficult and tell you, that the relationship isn’t working or you’re not on the same page relationship wise…I’ve learned, sadly the hard way, that even if they are Catholic/Christian folks (so that I’m not pointing fingers at just one gender) forget what our faith teaches us about kindness, honesty, consideration etc. Frankly, if one isn’t ready to deal with all sorts of consequences that come with a relationship, then they should think twice about entering into a relationship.

  4. GinaMaria-622671 October 19, 2010 Reply

    Thanks for the column Mary Beth, I agree with you, it is sad that this situation has to be publicly addressed, in a Catholic forum, no less. The experience of watching someone abruptly or gradually disappear completely, emotionally, or affectionately is hurtful on a very deep level. John Paul II’s “Love and Responsibility” explains the importance of being unselfish in relationships with one another because we are persons, not objects for use. We should treat each other responsibly, and act accordingly…that is essential to being in a mature relationship. Furthermore, I think what is at the heart of this issue is hurt and forgiveness. Whenever someone has been truly hurt by the selfishness of another, God is providing an opportunity to grow in faith. There are many wounded men and women out there, bleeding from this kind of injury. You can continue to lament in your woundedness, or you can just put a tourniquet on it, stop the bleeding, and start to heal…..and the only way to heal is to forgive. First go to confession, and see for yourself how your own sins wound Christ and others, then see the perfect example of how God forgives your own transgressions. Then, imitate Christ, and forgive whoever hurt you. The pain may linger, but at least you know you’ve risen above it.

  5. Michael-348808 October 19, 2010 Reply

    Thought provoking. Thanks for writing this Mary Beth.

    I suspect that we all struggle to mature emotionally and this may be a reason why we have so much trouble ending relationships respectfully. We may not be fully in touch with our own emotions and so we’re unable to bring ourselves honestly to the situation at hand…in this case ending a relationship.

    I confess I’ve struggled with this, but I’ve found over time that when I sense a realtionship is not going forward, I make the effort to talk with the woman and let her know that things are not working for me. Sometimes it’s very uncomfortable, but other times I’ve been surprised to learn that the woman had similar feelings and was relieved that I said something. It gave us both permission to move on respectfully.

    Sometime back when I was in a funny mood, I decided to start keeping statistics on how I was doing with my dating. Out of those that I asked out, I wanted to determine how many said yes and how many said no…sort of a dating batting average.

    What I came to find out was that there were not two responses, but actually three: yes, no and “yes” but really no (about 33% each). The “yes” but really no was the approach some women took where they figured they just say yes but really had no intention of getting together and would subsequently never return an email or phone call. I was very surprised by this deceptiveness.

    I want to say that most women I’ve asked out have been pretty repectful (2/3rds, anyway). But I think this goes back to the theme of the article which for me was: be appropriately honest even if it’s difficult. The collateral damage caused by not being appropriately honest is much worse than the discomfort of an honest conversation.

  6. James-194907 October 19, 2010 Reply

    If you are going to break up with someone have the decency and courage and Christian values to face them. Don’t, text, tweet, email, send a messenger or make a phone call. It is spineless and cruel.

  7. Diane-607714 October 18, 2010 Reply

    I really appreciate your article! Unfortunately so much of what you have said is true and really needs to be said. I was engaged to a man, wearing a ring on my finger (!!!), who just walked away and eventually months later sent me a letter in the mail to tell me things would not work out but he would like to be friends.
    While many of us are not perfect, I for one will say that I do have the expectation that at least if I meet a Christian and Catholic that hopefully I can expect a little more Christian behavior.

    • James-194907 October 19, 2010 Reply

      Thanks Diane,

      I had been with my wonderful K–s and then got a phone call from 244 miles away saying she had to end it and gave me no reason. I was and still am very hurt and have trouble with trusting women.I had given her a Promise ring and we were looking into taking a FOCUS exam with our parish. Then “boom” gone. No explanation. Take care…..and take care Mary Beth,. Once again you hit the ball out of the park on this one. God Bless.

  8. Patrick-606389 October 18, 2010 Reply

    There are so many rants and lectures about all the ils that men do to women — my head will soon explode. Women are so notorious for disappearing, lieing, cheating, etc. Now most of the women I have known have been pretty swell. But I have listened to so many horror stories, several men actually in tears, scared even at the bizarre behavior of women. I have been coaching and teaching long enough and women do not have the corner of the market on being left high handed.

    They apparently, did not poll men, who disappeared because the their only out was to disappear. I have never been married, and I don’t recall disappearing on any woman except my mom, she was always always hugging on me – miss those hugs now mom, God rest your soul.

    Certainly, anyone desiring to break-up with another person should say in no uncertain terms, hopefully with a level of kindness so as not to induce shock. But one wondershow many women actually need a brick dropped on their heads to hear what’s being communicated. In relationships, it often takes me two bricks to get the message — well sometimes more than that.Sometimes, the person breaking is not avoiding their own pain — they don’t want to deal with the pain of the other person.

    Here’s a solution: When someone disappears on you. simply write them a letter.
    Dear Sally,

    I hope this letter finds you well. If you are so incapacitated so as to be unable to get in touch, I understand. I have called, written you numerous times and even have gone so far as to check in with our mutual friends. I do this because our time together has been wonderful. Full of laughter, joy, respect, love, intelligence and so many other heart and soul inspiring moments, I was hoping and believing that God was binding us for special friendship in which we would serve each other Him and others. We saw each other through good and bad times. And I miss our union and I care for you immensely, however, I must be in a relationship in which the communication is interactive. Since that interaction has ceased I cannot muster the will to further our relationship. Please don’t call or email. If you feel you need to respond, send me a letter. I wish you all the best. Christ be with you.


    so and so

    (And if you feel you must vent)

    PS: I am officially terminating our relationship. You blew it. You . . .#@%**@* I am sending your stuff back via UPS to your former irl friends house.

    • Theresa-258186 October 18, 2010 Reply

      Oh, my gosh, Patrick! That was almost as hilarious as Mary Beth’s original article, which was almost as good as Greg Behrendt’s book! … I have the opposite problem. I take too much responsibility for the potential feelings of the other person. I can’t even say yes to a date without considering whether or not I might eventually hurt him if I don’t like him as much as he likes me. I’m trying to just leave that in God’s hands, follow the man’s lead, be open and honest along the way, and not continue the relationship beyond the point where I realize I don’t want to marry this person. No using someone for companionship, no avoiding the hard conversations, no insults, only respect. Um, treating others as I’d want to be treated? Yeah, that works.

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