Adapted from recent online discussions.
DEAR CAROLYN: I’m about to break up with my fiancé of five years. I’m nervous, but I have friends supporting me and I’m pretty sure I can handle it.
Everyone knows my fiancé, and people frequently profess how great they think he is. How am I going to explain to everyone I know that I’m scrapping the relationship and life plan I’ve been working toward for five years, without going into the gory details? I have the uncomfortable feeling that if I did share the gory details, I’d get a lot of minimizing and apologism that I really don’t want to have to deal with.
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— Breaking Up Is Hard to Do
DEAR BREAKING UP IS HARD TO DO: “Yes, he is great — we just weren’t as great for each other as we may have seemed.” That validates your fiancé and others’ opinions of him, and also drives home the point that no one on the outside can ever know what goes on between two people.
And then slam the door shut on any further discussion. It’s no one’s business but yours — and exceedingly painful business, no doubt. Hang in there.
CAROLYN: I’m sure at least some of my family genuinely like him; he and my father have a lot in common and get on very well, enough that I’m mildly worried they’ll remain friends/in contact. He lives on a different continent, which means it won’t be MUCH contact regardless, but also means I have to explain to everyone I’ve ever met why I’m no longer intending to move out of the country.
— Breaking Up, again
DEAR BREAKING UP, AGAIN: No, actually, you don’t: “Nope, not moving — radical change of plan! How about those Nats?” If anyone presses further, the next step is your best “I’m humoring your clueless self” smile, and “It’s a long story … ” and for the terminally clueless, “ … one I’d rather not tell.”
You really, really, really don’t have to explain yourself to third parties. Really.
HI CAROLYN: Getting married in three weeks. My future mother-in-law had a dress made for me in another country. So, so sweet.
However — it doesn’t fit, and I look like a sausage in it. I took it to a dressmaker. She said she’d have to take it apart and remake it in order for it to fit, and can’t guarantee it will look good. I don’t want to go through all of that trouble with a million other things to do.
I also don’t want to hurt my mother-in-law’s feelings. This is a great time to exercise some honesty, but I’m having a hard time gathering my (spine) to do so. Can you give me a quick phrase that I could approach her with, to let her know I’ve decided to use my backup dress, without ragging on the handmade dress?
— Back Off, Please?
DEAR BACK OFF, PLEASE?: Just say it doesn’t fit, and the dressmaker you consulted wasn’t optimistic. Say you’ve dreaded telling her because you think the dress and gesture were both beautiful.
The dukes-up tone of your signature, by the way, doesn’t come through in your letter — so please also make sure it doesn’t sneak in anywhere else.