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No Reason

The number two thing Daniel Jones has learned editing "this modern love":


Many of the essays and letters I've received about breakups indicate that despite whatever progress men and women have made in actually being able to talk about what's going on in their relationships, many men are still choosing to end relationships with women "for no reason." Time and again I hear about a man withdrawing from a relationship and ceasing all contact "for no reason" that the woman can decipher.

When the tables are turned, however, women seem to have little trouble explaining to men why it's over. Whether the man accepts the explanation, believes it or even hears it is another matter.

Does anyone really want a detailed explanation of why someone's "just not that into you?" I have my doubts. In a long-term thing, sure, one would expect some kind of reason but most breakups have to be of things that haven't been going on for years and years, so what's one really supposed to say? If you don't get a reason, you can always chalk things up to the generally handy all-purpose explanation that the other person is crazy.

February 12, 2006 | Permalink


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This is entirely subjective, of course, but from what I know, women seem to genuinely want to have it all spelled out for them. They want, essentially, the essay long argument, about Why He's Leaving, but in conversation form. And then, being the ones being dumped (which presumes that, generally they weren't ready to end it themselves), they want to be able to argue back that the relationship should keep going. It's not that they want the whole thing spelled out for them, it's that they don't accept that it's a good idea and want to be able to argue on the other's premises.

Men, on the other hand, seem to want to just leave and get it over with. If they've made up their mind, whether for good reasons or bad, they've made it up, period, and the idea of explaining and arguing, etc... is tiresome at best, horrifying at worst. Once you want to leave someone, you want it over and done with, not another couple rounds of back and forth on why things aren't working out.

Posted by: Peter | Feb 12, 2006 2:09:18 PM

It's never a good idea to explain to a woman why you're leaving. Just pack up your stuff and go.

What's the point, really? If go into the reasons why, you're just setting yourself up for one last argument and nobody is going to be any happier for it.

Women often like to explain why they're leaving you because it gives them one last chance to tell you WHAT'S WRONG WITH YOU. Then they can march off into the sunset feeling that they've done their job.

Not that I'm bitter.

Posted by: Chuchundra | Feb 12, 2006 2:25:53 PM

Well, as a girl who's been on both sides of this particular equation, I'd strongly argue that no one should feel compelled to give a detailed "justification" for why they want to end a relationship with someone. One can very well be unhappy with a relationship or know it isn't working and not have a damn clue why, even if the other person is damn near perfect.

On the other hand, I wish guys who've decided they're no longer interested in me would take the tiny smidgeon of effort required to tell me so, rather than just cutting off all contact. Sure, it's not fun to break up with someone, and I know you're conflict averse and don't like talking about your feelings. Just send me a goddamn e-mail telling me "I really don't want to see you anymore," rather than just falling off the face of the earth and leaving me to ponder the possibility of tragic bus accidents or technological glitches far longer than is rational or good for me. Is this really an entirely unreasonable expectation?

Since we're talking about why women expect to receive and give an explanation for a breakup, I'll venture a suggestion. Not all, but a lot, of women are trained in their upbringing to believe it's their responsibility to make relationships work (that's what they see their moms doing), and that success in relationships is some type of judgement on their qualities and desirability as a person. Per the latter, that means that a lot of women, when a guy is breaking off a relationship, interpret that to mean that a) they've failed somehow, and b) there's something wrong with them. And we want to know what it is, just the same way you want to know if you've got spinach stuck in my teeth, not just for the sake of knowing but in order to fix it so that it doesn't derail future relationships and doom one to a sad, solitary life as a crazy cat lady.

Now, I just don't see this with guys. First of all, I don't know a lot of guys who spend a lot of time worrying that they're doomed to a solitary future existence. (A male colleague of mine was shocked to hear me say the other day I didn't know if I'd ever get married.) And, very few, if any of my guy friends seem to take break-ups or brush-offs as indications there's something wrong with them. Sure, a few guys I know will admit a woman broke up with them because of some type of poor behavior on their part (such as working too much, substance abuse, or cheating). But I've never heard a guy say a woman broke up with him because he wasn't attractive/smart/nice/successful enough. (If he thinks that's the case, it instead means the woman's a superficial judgemental bitch).

As far as women explaining break-up causes to men goes, one explanation might be application of the golden rule. But, I think women also feel a lot more pressure from their friends and other people in their lives to justify why they want to end a relationship with a man. As I mentioned above, women are taught it's their responsibility to make relationships work, and we've all seen women we know try to do that even far past the point when everyone else they know knows that the guy is irredeemable. But because a lot of women are taught that guys are supposed to be the pursuers in relationships, the corolary to that, of course, is that women, to some extent, have to settle for what they get. It can be hard as a girl to explain to your female friends why you're not interested in a guy who's "perfectly nice," or why you want to break-up with him. I don't know that many guys get told by their guy friends not to break up with a girl because their guy friends think she's nice. There's just tremendous pressure on a lot of women to be in relationships, so women have to think more about why to end a relationship and justify it to more people, so explaining why to the guy is a piece of cake after that.

Posted by: flippantangel | Feb 12, 2006 2:44:09 PM

The logical corollary is of course never having to explain why a relationship begins or continues, and "No reason, I just like you" may in practice prove inadequate.

Posted by: bob mcmanus | Feb 12, 2006 2:56:32 PM

Anyone want to explore correlations between gender and the length of an individual's response to this post?

Posted by: SomeCallMeTim | Feb 12, 2006 4:26:52 PM

ROTFLMAO. touche (dunno how to make accent things here). Topic also happens to hit a nerve at this particular moment.

Posted by: flippantangel | Feb 12, 2006 4:29:29 PM

Theory 1: Maybe it's because often, the reason for the breakup reflect poorly on the man, and he knows it. Not many men will have the courage to say "I deserve a prettier girlfriend than you" or "I hate it when we're at a party and everyone realizes you're smarter than I am" or "My last girlfriend had better sexual technique than you, and that's now my expectation" or "I'm just tired of you the way a dog gets tired of one toy and wants another" or "I feel threatened because you make more money than I do".

Theory 2 (basically Peter's theory): Men are more averse to / afraid of verbal fights than women and don't see the upside of having that final conversation even if they have a reason that seems more "legitimate".

Posted by: applecor | Feb 12, 2006 5:43:00 PM

You know what the five words a man hates most? "Let's talk about out relationship". Because it's always painful and often quckly veers into "things the man has been doing wrong". It's like crossing a mine field while Irish step dancing. You feel stupid and eventually there's going to be a serious hurting.

If you're in a relationship, you play along with this sort of thing because want the relationship to continue and grow. This is usually because the sex is pretty good. But when the relationship is done and you're not getting any more sex, why take the pain?

Posted by: Chuchundra | Feb 12, 2006 6:05:15 PM

I'm a bit baffled by everyone's desire to break the dynamic down differently by gender. I think it works about the same both ways.


Basically, if you're breaking up with someone, you're already making them feel bad, and so you ought to go out of your way a bit to make them feel a little better with a few kind words about what you liked about them.

Infrequently, when I've had the sense that the break-ee was genuinely interested in improving their game, I've been willing to offer a critique. But generally, it's not a social situation that calls out for truth-telling, and most civilized folks recognize that.

Posted by: Petey | Feb 13, 2006 12:05:58 AM

"On the other hand, I wish guys who've decided they're no longer interested in me would take the tiny smidgeon of effort required to tell me so, rather than just cutting off all contact. ... Is this really an entirely unreasonable expectation?"

It all depends. If this is someone you've been out with twice, then yes, it is an unreasonable expectation. If you've been married for seven years, then no, it's not unreasonable to expect an email.

Posted by: Petey | Feb 13, 2006 12:09:02 AM

Maybe it's about what each sex tends to think the other deserves.

Typical men think that women deserve not to have their egoes wounded by a laundry list of things the man finds inadequate about them, and deserve to be able to move on without risking endless and unfounded self-criticism for her "faults," which he might have to mention to break up "reasonably," and typical women think that men deserve an honest explanation for their motivations in dumping the guy, and an critique of their way of doing things that could help them make relationships last longer in the future and avoid the future emotional pain of being dumped.

At least, it appeals to me because it has all parties being well-intentioned and honorable in their behavior, which is a neat just-so story, if not a solid reflection of reality.

Posted by: Julian Elson | Feb 13, 2006 6:03:45 AM

So you're saying that I should have just told her that while I thought she wasn't that attractive she was fun to hang out with. But in the end I found her to lack confidence, that she didn't like doing new things, or things she wasn't good at and this was too annoying to overlook the fact that she wasn't attractive enough.

I don't think I could have said that. Matt, your political commentary sucks but you always come up with interesting social stuff.

Posted by: Anonymous | Feb 13, 2006 10:06:05 AM

Anonymous, did you just break up with Matt?

Posted by: Matt Weiner | Feb 13, 2006 11:00:40 AM

Girlfriend Stops Reading David Foster Wallace Breakup Letter At Page 20

Posted by: joe o | Feb 13, 2006 1:45:50 PM

Anonymous is absolutely right - the reasons for a breakup are generally not that nice, and so why would you go out of your way to hurt the person even more.

I mean, really, does a girl actually want to hear "you're only average looking, and you don't put out enough, and I just think I can do a lot better than you"??? Please. Yeah, we men could come up with some neo-sensitive BS to make her feel better if we really had to. But you are asking us to either have to say those painful things (which are painful to say as well as to hear) or put in the effort to make up a good story. But what's the point? We're breaking up anyway.

Posted by: Al | Feb 13, 2006 2:38:17 PM

About 98% of guy-induced break ups are because the guy wants to have or is already having sex with someone else. Guys say 'no reason' when this is, in fact, the reason.

Posted by: Nat | Feb 13, 2006 3:42:57 PM

Whatever you end up telling her, you want to make sure its not too bad in case you decide 4 weeks later that the sex was better than you thought at the time.

Posted by: Anonymous | Feb 13, 2006 5:57:42 PM

It all depends. If this is someone you've been out with twice, then yes, it is an unreasonable expectation.

Oh, dear, Petey, I think I may have gone on two dates with you once.

In general I'd agree (I'd say having sex with someone, other than a first date/one night stand, puts things in the deserve an e-mail category. If you're living together, an e-mail is probably unnecessary, unless you leave all your stuff behind.) And, if the other person tries to reinitiate contact without having been told you're not interested, it's just polite to give them a "thanks, but no thanks" response.

I mean, really, does a girl actually want to hear "you're only average looking, and you don't put out enough, and I just think I can do a lot better than you"???

Well, in case anyone hasn't noticed, I'm far too wierd to speak for the rest of my gender in this regard, but I'd rather be told the above, 'cause I guarantee you the alternative explanations my overactive imagination can concoct would be a hella lot worse.

Although, considering my preferences, I'd be pretty shocked to hear the second complaint leveled at me.

Posted by: flippantangel | Feb 13, 2006 6:18:18 PM

sorry about that

Posted by: flippantangel | Feb 13, 2006 6:19:50 PM

sorry about that again.

Posted by: flippantangel | Feb 13, 2006 6:21:01 PM

I think in general, a reason is a kind thing to do, but I really think it just comes down to the fact that men tend to wrap things up and just "be done" with them more quickly than women. If they are breaking up-they just want to be done. Women want closure, they want to discuss it, see if it can be over come.

Posted by: Narnia Nerd | Feb 13, 2006 6:50:04 PM

I think this generalization about breakups might be related to another generalization I've heard many times...

That what women try to do in relationships is find a man and turn him into a perfect man, while men never have any illusion that they can do that, so they look for the superficially perfect person with the most bearable flaws.

So, when a woman breaks up with a man, she's much more likely to say "It didn't work because of this, this and this. These are the things about you that I hoped would get better, but they never did. Because I'm a nice person, I'll let you know now, so maybe you can make yourself into a great person."

Whereas a man just thinks "I thought she was the best person available, but in fact there are better people available. Too bad she has this, this and this problem. Hopefully there are other men who won't mind them as much as I do." He sees no reason to tell the woman this, because what good does it do to make her self-conscious about things she can't change?

Unless he wants to be a real bastard about it and make her feel bad about things she can't change.

Anyway, the point is that women want to explain how the relationship could have been perfect, and what factors prevented that from happening. Men see it all as inevitable.

Posted by: Cryptic Ned | Feb 13, 2006 7:22:42 PM

To put it a different way, I think the difference is that a man generally thinks, "I'm breaking up with you because you're you, and I'm me. I've tried to imagine how we could stay together, and it doesn't make sense." Whereas a woman thinks, "I'm breaking up with you because you did these things that I didn't want you to do. I wish we could stay together, but after you disappointed me that night it was never the same."

Posted by: Cryptic Ned | Feb 13, 2006 7:30:34 PM

So, when I guy gets broken up with, does he think that it's because a.) there's something wrong with who he is, b.) there's something wrong with sometime he did, c.) there's something wrong with the woman?

I'd assume the answer is almost always c.

Whereas, when a woman get's broken up with, she almost always concludes it's because of a.) there's something wrong with her.

Cryptic Ned suggests this is actually also what the guy thinks, so maybe she's right. But unlike Cryptic Ned and his hypothetical guy, I think most women do think they can, or at least should, or very well are obligated to, fix whatever the supposed problem with them is.

Why do you think so many women are on diets?

(The vast majority of women I know, when a guy breaks up with them and they are given no reason, conclude it's because they're too fat and go on a diet. If the real reason guys are breaking up with them is because they don't put out enough, wouldn't it be much more efficient for everyone if the women knew that? I mean, the women weren't fat to begin with, the diets are just going to make them have a lower libido, and the guys aren't getting laid with any greater frequency because their exes went on a diet. Further, to the extent that the guys' potential dating pool is also going on diets because men broke up with them, and this is lowering their average libidos, the guy's likelihood of improving his situation with the next gal is also decreased, unless, of course he already has her lined up.)

And I really must stop commenting on this thread, as it's only further solidifying my status as a prematurely bitter harridan.

Posted by: flippantangel | Feb 13, 2006 10:01:49 PM

So, when I guy gets broken up with, does he think that it's because a.) there's something wrong with who he is, b.) there's something wrong with sometime he did, c.) there's something wrong with the woman?

I'd assume the answer is almost always c.

But usually the woman does give an explanation of why she broke up with him. If he chooses to ignore that and think "She's crazy! It's not about me being an boorish lummox, it's about her being crazy.", then there's nothing she can do to convince him.

Whenever Person A breaks up with Person B, it's because of some perceived problem in Person B. If Person B is a woman, she's less likely to actually be told what the problem is. Generally, instead of assuming that it was her fatness, she should assume it was some element of her personality which isn't actually a problem but just didn't meld with Person A's personality.

Posted by: Cryptic Ned | Feb 13, 2006 10:37:28 PM

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