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Love Letters

Learning how to let someone down easy

Q. I am 46 and just started to dip my toe back into dating after being widowed 2½ years ago. I was actually expecting guys my age to want younger women, but have had several people ask me out and really be interested in me. That was nice.

My question is about breaking up with people. One person I have been on a few dates with seems overly interested in making me his serious girlfriend, and I am really not ready for that. I just want to have fun and meet many people. I had been married to such a wonderful man who was my best friend for 20 years; I’m not going to jump into a serious relationship out of the gate. My gut says this guy is clingy and needy. I want to let him down nicely. He is not what I am looking for and I have no interest in getting to know him further. What do I say? How do I say it?

Trying to start

Continue reading below

A. There’s no formula for rejection, but I’d go with honesty sans cruelty.

He needs to know that you’re looking for different things. It will sting. It will be awkward. But that’s dating. You’ll be doing him a favor by telling him he’s moving too quickly, because it’s possible that he’s heard that before. Just make sure that you have a few lines in your back pocket to stop him from bargaining. You can say (and repeat), “I’m so sorry this didn’t work out, but I’m sure I’m making the right decision.”

The big question is: phone, e-mail, or in person? Ending things in person is always kind, but if 99 percent of your communication is by phone, it might be a more comfortable medium. Just have an exit strategy — a summary line to put closure on the conversation. As in “Thank you for listening and understanding. I think it’s time for me to go home/hang up.” Sometimes it’s difficult to end these talks.

I’d like to take a moment to talk about the awesomeness of this letter. You’re the object of someone’s affection. You’re finding dates. And in the thick of it all, you’re asking thoughtful questions about how you treat others. I hope you’re taking a moment here and there to celebrate yourself. Because the whole thing is pretty fantastic.

READERS RESPOND

Stick with the “I” statements and that you are just not ready for anything serious and feel you need to move on. Don’t do it via e-mail.

The only advice I could give is that yes it’s important to be honest and firm, just be careful that some people may not take the news well so make sure your guard is up as well. I’ve been really polite and gotten yelled at for it.

The clingy and needy ones can be the hardest to let down, and may take some persistence. The fewer details you give, the easier it will be, and just repeat the basic message as needed.

Column and comments are edited and reprinted from boston.com/loveletters. Meredith Goldstein can be reached at mgoldstein@globe.com.
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