Listen, it’s not you, it’s me. I’m just really focused on my career right now. And I’m moving to another country that doesn’t have phones, so we can’t talk to each other any more.
Most breakups involve lies, but few, if any, are as shocking as the whopper an Irish man caught in a sex scandal reportedly used to end a relationship.
Kirk McCambley was 19 when he began an affair with Iris Robinson, the wife of Northern Ireland’s First Minister. Chafing under the woman’s constant attention, Mr. McCambley decided to break it off with Mrs. Robinson (yes, that’s her real name). And how did this young gent end things? He told her he had testicular cancer and could no longer have sex with her, the Irish Independent reported.
The realm of moral failure can sometimes be murky, making judgment difficult, but feigning cancer to get out of a relationship is about as good an example of a bad lie as it gets.
More often than not, however, the messiness of a breakup – its emotional pitch and the heightened sensitivities on all sides – can make it hard to distinguish between the lies that are okay to tell and lies that are offside.
So where should the line be drawn?
“A white lie that is okay to tell is one where what you are really doing is trying to preserve the other person’s feelings. A whopper is where you’re just trying to not even deal with this at all. You’re trying to save yourself,” says Lynn Harris, co-founder of the relationship advice website BreakupGirl.net.
And especially after long relationships, the soon-to-be-ex deserves better, experts say.
“The deeper you are in a relationship, the more explaining you have to do when you want to break up with someone,” says Kimberly Moffit, a Toronto-based psychotherapist and relationship counsellor. White lies are acceptable for partnerships that are only a few months old, she says. “However, if you’ve been dating somebody for six months or a year or two years, you’re going to have to tell the truth.”
That’s easier said than done, Ms. Moffit acknowledges.
“Addressing the real issue actually takes time and effort. We might want to be with someone else or maybe we already are with somebody else, or we don’t think that that person’s the one or we think we can do better than them. But all of these reasons are bound to bring up a lengthy conversation and fighting,” she says. “When we come up with an excuse or a lie, we get out of having to deal with the actual issue.”
But besides being selfish, whoppers often backfire, Ms. Harris says. “You don’t really spare anybody. You come off looking like a loser. Give your ex a little credit and give them a little something to work with.
“It’s best to be as honest as you can when you’re breaking up with somebody,” Ms. Moffit says. Knowing the reason why a relationship ended saves people the agonizing burden of figuring out what went wrong. “Telling the truth will help the person get over you faster.”
Kim Hughes, the dating and relationship expert for the online dating website Lavalife.com, says it’s best to rely on instinct when calling things off.
“Trust your gut, depending on the situation. If it feels like it’s the right thing to do to make a clean break to say, ‘It’s not you, it’s me’ or ‘I’m just too focused on my career,’ then do that, and if that doesn’t feel like the right thing to do, then do whatever does.”
Of course, telling someone the real reasons for breaking up doesn’t mean having to tell them the whole truth, Ms. Harris says. There is a way to be honest without being harsh, thereby minimizing hurt feelings.
Be specific, but make whatever explanation you’re offering as gentle as possible, she advises. Even a little truth allows people to leave the relationship with their dignity intact. Just be aware of the difference between the truth and the brutal truth.
“Give them something concrete, but don’t drop a load of bricks on their head.”
DECODING BREAKUP LIES
All breakup lies carry their own hidden messages. Kimberly Moffit, a Toronto-based psychotherapist and relationship counsellor, decodes some of the most popular deceits.
1. “IT’S NOT YOU, IT’S ME.”
It’s the gold standard of breakup clichés. We all know it’s a lie. But what does it actually mean? Put simply, the person wants out fast. “When we place the blame on ourselves,” Ms. Moffit says, “the outcome of breaking up is non-negotiable: the breakup-ee can argue all they want, but at the end of the day, we can stand our ground.”
2. “I’M TOO FOCUSED ON SCHOOL [OR WORK, OR MY FRIENDS, ETC.]”
Arguably the most insulting of breakup lies. Someone who truly likes you will make time to be with you, regardless of how focused they might be on other areas of their lives. “They’re really saying ‘I’d rather focus on my school or my career or my friends,’” Ms. Moffit says.
3. “YOU’RE TOO GOOD FOR ME.”
A classic strategy to protect the other person’s self-esteem. Really, it’s a veiled way of saying the person isn’t enough of a challenge. “Usually what that means is it they’re too available for them. They want someone that they can chase more,” Ms. Moffit says.