Welcome to the Ex Games: a content series about love lost. Whether it’s the realization things need to end, the act of rejection, the reality of being single, or the resurrection that is moving on, the Ex Games has every stage of a breakup covered.
And to really bring these stories to life, we’ve launched the Ex Games podcast, where we delve into the two sides of a break-up story with a new couple each week, and aim to end up somewhere near the truth. Because when it comes to affairs of the heart, everyone plays, but does anyone win? Let’s find out.
Years ago, a boyfriend told me a story about a co-worker who, when hired, made sure to announce to everyone in the office that she had problems with her teeth that required frequent trips to the dentist.
Months later, when she began to regularly call out sick, it was so well established that she had problem teeth that her absences were tolerated by everyone, including management. There were no write-ups or threats of dismissal. So crafty was her campaign, that nobody noticed as she quietly found a new job during said sick days, and moved on.
When telling me this story, my (now) ex referred to her behavior as “laying the foundation,” which I immediately recognized as the all-too-human tendency to try to avoid confrontation and be as indirect about your intentions as possible.
In essence, you are gas-lighting people in a very subtle way, so that when the times comes for you to do something sh*tty, they already expect what is coming. It wasn’t until years later, after I had broken up with said ex, that I realized throughout my dating history, almost every guy who had broken up with me had “laid the foundation” for the breakup in the days, if not weeks, before he actually pulled the trigger.
In an examination of my dating, three very notable examples of this type of behavior comes to mind. Although not exhaustive by any means, let’s call this my “greatest hits” of foundation-layers.
Ex #1: The “I’m Still Not Over My Ex” Hints
I was in my early 20s when I met the first guy I can recall doing this. We met through a mutual friend whom I had dated briefly and had been seeing each other steadily for a few months when the indirect breakup started.
It’s hard to pinpoint an actual day or conversation, but I do remember that as we rounded the three-month mark, he started to talk about his ex-girlfriend a lot. What at first seemed like him opening up and making himself vulnerable to me, soon became a series of diatribes about how badly she had f*cked him up and how he wasn’t sure he was really ready for another relationship.
In a move that surprised no one but me, he broke things off shortly after our last conversation about his ex, reiterating that he just wasn’t sure if he could love again. Several years later, he went on to date and become engaged to one of my (now ex) friends, although I hear they ended things when he told her he wasn’t really sure if he had fully recovered from his ex-induced trauma.
Ex #2: The “I Can’t Imagine Not Being Friends With You” Line
I would like to say that as I gained more experience with dating, I started to recognize the subtle ways that breakups start, but I was already well into my dating history when the next memorable foundation-layer came along.
Guy number two was one of the first guys I met on a dating app after ending a long-term relationship. We started out slow, seeing each other just once a week, which worked for me because I wasn’t really committed to being committed again.
We had just built up to seeing each other on a more frequent basis when we had the conversation that signaled the beginning of the end.
We had been dive-bar hopping, a favorite activity of ours, when, after many drinks, he told me that if we ever broke up, he hoped that we could still stay friends because he couldn’t imagine not being friends with someone as smart and fun as me.
At the time, rather than being alarmed, I was actually flattered and thought, “This guy thinks I’m awesome!” The embarrassment came later when I sobered up and realized what he was actually saying was “I just want to be friends…”
After that night, he started the slow fade away. I’m fairly certain we all recognize the slow fade – texts become less frequent and dates get canceled until one of you actually has the nerve to say something.
By the time I actually asked him what was going on, I had already pieced together his oh-so subtle clues and wasn’t surprised when he ended it.
Ex #3: The Subtle “We May Be On Different Paths” Discussion
The worst indirect breakup I ever experienced happened, not because I was blindsided, but because I willfully refused to see the warning signs. With guy number three, I fell instantly and I fell hard.
Because I was so sure that he was everything I wanted, it never occurred to me that he might feel differently.
So, when fairly early on, he mentioned that we were “on different paths” in our lives, I ignored it and pushed on. He then began a series of tactics that I now think of as the “combination move”– not only did he do the slow fade, but, when we did talk, conversations about his ex became frequent, and in one epic text confessed that, like guy #2, he couldn’t imagine me not being in his life were we to ever break up.
At that point, I asked him directly if it was over and his response was somewhere in the neighborhood of “I’m not sure.” Pleased that it wasn’t over, I still continued to see him until the third time he canceled a date and I finally had to face the reality of the situation.
In hindsight, it’s clear to me that in the preceding weeks, he had been laying out all the reasons we shouldn’t be together, hoping that I would come to the same conclusion that he had and end things for him.
But, because I was kind of pissed off at that point, and decided to take a moral stance against his passive-aggressive breakup, I refused and made him do his own dirty work.
I will admit here that I am not innocent in all this. In my dating life, I too, have been guilty of “laying the foundation” of a breakup through indirect comments and the much-despised slow fade.
I get it, nobody wants to hurt another person – unless you are a complete sociopath – but dropping subtle hints is almost always guaranteed to backfire because, unless that other person is ready to break up as well, they aren’t going to pick up what you are throwing down.
Also, let’s be totally real here, it’s not as much about you not wanting to hurt them as it is about you not wanting to be the assh*le in the situation.
The reality of the situation is that none of guys who broke up with me in this manner are bad guys, but I do think that they owed me the courtesy of being direct and upfront when they were ready to end things.
Now let’s see if when the time come for me to break up with the next one, I can avoid “laying the foundation” and just be upfront. Ya know, because I’m not a total assh*le.
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