What's the best timing for the college breakup?

Should I drop the bomb before graduation or after?


Cary Tennis
April 10, 2006 2:30PM (UTC)

Dear Reader,

A programming note: If you're in San Francisco this Thursday, April 13, please join me, my editor Lori Leibovich and fellow writers Andrew Leonard and Lakshmi Chaudhry in a reading to celebrate the publication of "Maybe Baby," Salon's new collection of essays on the question, To breed or not to breed?

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The reading takes place at 7:30 p.m. at the Marina location of Books Inc., 2251 Chestnut Street, between Scott and Pierce Streets. Look forward to seeing you there.

Now for today's letter.

Dear Cary,

I am a college senior (about eight weeks away from graduating) and I have a girlfriend of two years. We get along fine, but at this point I want to start dating other women. She is my first serious girlfriend and we have had a great relationship, but I want to see what else is out there. I do not intend to continue dating her after graduation, and I find myself interested in other women all the time. What makes the situation more difficult is I know of a number of girls that have expressed interest in me.

However, I don't feel that I can say anything to my girlfriend at this time because it would ruin the end of her senior year. I may be done with the relationship, but it seems completely selfish and unfair to end it at such an inopportune time. At the same time, I don't want to drop the bomb right after graduation because that seems equally heartless. How can I handle this situation?

When to Drop the Bomb?

Dear When?

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The truth is, there's no really convenient time to break somebody's heart. So if you're not ready to settle down yet, I think you should tell her as soon as possible and let her get used to the idea. She'll still have eight weeks to find a date for graduation.

I come from a really different time culturally. So I might tend to underestimate how important the graduation ceremony is in the emotional life of a college senior today. Obviously, if the ceremony looms large in your life, then you want it to go perfectly. I can see how college graduation could symbolize your mastery of life's first major test as an adult, launching you into the world full of potential, prepared for great challenges, with grades, relationship and job prospects all in order. So if you've been ditched by your boyfriend and have no date, it might be pretty awful; what would otherwise be a very sweet and triumphant memory might be quite bittersweet instead.

Given all that, you are showing kindness to think of the timing in the way that you do.

But do me one favor, OK? Whenever you break up with her, think carefully about the words you use. Don't use the same language with her that you used with me. In your letter you say you get along fine, you have a great relationship, but you just want to see what else is out there. Do you hear what I'm talking about? That's so businesslike. And it makes it sound as if for two years she's just been like the warm-up band. You don't want to give her that impression -- unless you really do want to ruin her graduation.

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Instead, tell her that she has made the last two years the best years of your life, but you're afraid you're just too young and inexperienced to settle down yet, and that it wouldn't be fair to either one of you, blah blah blah. Lay it on thick. Make the whole speech. Make it good. You'll both feel better about it when it's over.

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