Dear Rosie & Sherry,

I have been dating a guy for several weeks now. I see him every day or every other day. At first, I was very interested, but now that I have spent more time with him, I have realized that he is not the right one for me.

I am now ready to end it with him, but there's a problem. He is very attached to me! He is much more into this courtship than I am and I feel so bad about that. I need to stop this because it is only wasting our time. But I don't know how to do it.

We dated a month ago and I stopped it, but he still didn't give up. He once told me that nothing would stop him from being with me. He is a bit aggressive. How should I tell him it's over -- in a smart way so that he won't come around again?

I need to end this once and for all. What should I do?

Joline

Dear Joline,

Your letter describes a problem that many people encounter when they want to stop dating someone who still feels a strong attraction. Often, a person in your predicament struggles with three issues.

(1) You don't want to hurt the other person. Because you're aware of his feelings for you, you also understand that a break-up, even at this early stage of courtship, will be painful for him, and you don't want to be the one to cause the pain. So you struggle with the question of how to break the news to him as gently as possible. Depending on how it's worded, an effort to soften the blow may be counterproductive, because it isn't clear enough and may give a mixed message.

(2) Tied to your concern about the pain he will experience is your concern about what his opinion will be of you after the break-up. If you are like many people, you have a natural tendency to want to be liked, and you worry about being viewed in a negative way after you "break" this man's heart. You might also be concerned about what others will think about you when they hear you've broken up with him (such as thinking that you were cruel, or led him on, or gave him false encouragement and then dumped him).

(3) What makes breaking up the hardest is the intensity of his feelings for you. You've stated an obvious concern -- that he might not be able to let go -- that we'll discuss later in this letter.

But we'd also like to mention another issue that you only touched upon -- your guilt at not being able to reciprocate the attraction he has for you. You indicate that you've done what many other people do when they feel guilty about not being able to reciprocate the other person's feelings -- they either keep dating (or break up, and go back to dating) and make an extra effort to draw closer and return the unrequited affection. In addition to feeling guilty, they may think that because the other person feels so strongly, there really is the possibility of a future together, and they only need to discover what's blocking them from feeling the same.

Sometimes, this effort to become more connected to the other person is successful, as whatever troubled them about the relationship becomes resolved.

But in your case, that didn't happen, just as it doesn't happen for many other people in spite of their efforts. That's because you and the person you tried to feel close to aren't right for each other. And continuing to date after making a concerted effort that fails won't change that fact.

Because the man you dated is not right for you, your avoidance of an inevitable break-up is unfair to both of you. He still thinks there's hope, you're anxious about what to do, and neither of you is able to move forward.

We suggest that you break the news to him kindly, but without mincing words. He has to know clearly that it is over. You can say: "I wanted to make this work, but I realize we're not right for each other, and I would like us to stop seeing each other." You need to be firm, not equivocal, and do not cave into any pressure he makes for you to try again.

We have found that most of the time, if you make yourself very clear, the other person will get the message. However, if it appears to you that he doesn't "get it," you have to be little more forceful in what you say next. "I don't want to go out with you anymore because this is not working for me. Please don't call me and please don't make it harder for both of us." You have to be firm in a situation like this. In addition, your break has to be a clean one. No contact, no "let's just be friends."

If you are concerned that he might have difficulty detaching from your relationship even after you make it very clear to him, we recommend quickly getting a third party to intervene. This should be someone whom he respects and who can influence him. The third party should reinforce the fact the relationship is over, empathize with the pain he is feeling, and encourage him to mourn its end and move on in life.

The empathy and emotional support he receives may have a positive effect on his ability to accept and cope with the break-up. In the event that he expresses obsessive thoughts or begins to engage in potentially destructive behavior, this third party should try to encourage him to get help immediately. Usually, at this early stage people are the most receptive to getting the help that will keep their reactions from spiraling out of control.

We hope this helps you navigate the dating maze.

Rosie & Sherry