For this post, I would like to suggest a bit of Breakup Etiquette.
When you have decided to break off a relationship (or dating partnership, or “this thing we’re doing,” but for the purposes of writing I need some terminology, so “relationship” will have to suffice), there are certain risks that you need to accept. Now, I’m aware that “all is fair in love and war” and that romantic/sexual/dating relationships are an area where people feel free to behave like horse’s asses to people they initially thought they could love, but when such a partnership comes to an end there are certain rights and responsibilities which need to be kept in mind.
So, when a relationship is no longer worth maintaining, and you have decided to end it, then as the decision-maker, you know what’s about to happen, and that gives you a certain amount of power over your soon-to-be-ex-partner. You know the end is near, and you have the power to decide when, where and how you will break the news. You have time to think about what you will say. You also have time to consider how your (soon to be ex) partner will respond. Of course it’s possible that she could be perfectly calm and well-adjusted, or completely fly off the handle when you were expecting the total opposite, but either way, as the dumped partner, she has the right to her emotions. (She doesn’t have the right to hit you or throw things, but she has every right to be pissed off.)
And during this uncomfortable exchange, when emotions are running high and your now-ex-partner is crying like a toddler and you really just want it to be over, it may be tempting to say certain things just because they seem like the right thing to say at the moment. “Don’t feel bad about this,” or “don’t sweat it,” or, “we can still be friends.”
First of all, anything along the lines of “don’t feel bad about this” should not be said at all. No matter how much it calms you down to hear those words come out of your mouth (or type them into an email) after you’ve just told your partner she’s not funny enough for you or that you really need to be with someone who thinks it’s cute that you’re about as reliable as a hyperactive 10-year-old, your dumped partner is entitled to suffer a minor meltdown on the floor of your living room (or on the other side of the email exchange) when you break the news that all the months she spent trying to bond with you were effectively wasted time.
Then we come to the matter of “we can still be friends.”
By all means, DO tell your dumped partner that you’d like to stay friends with her…IF and ONLY IF you actually mean it.
If you haven’t actually thought the matter through and decided that you and your partner would get along just beautifully as long as there’s no sex in the picture, then saying “we can still be friends” is just MONCO: Mouth Open, Noise Comes Out. Doesn’t mean anything. Does you and your dumped partner no good whatsoever. It’s just one of those things that people say because they don’t have the impulse control to keep quiet.
If you really do hope to maintain a friendship with your ex after the emotional dust settles, then do say so. If that is what you want, there are certain ways to handle the breakup that will show your dumped partner you care enough about her feelings to be a friend to her. (For example, it is probably better to focus on your own emotional ambivalence about the relationship rather than your dumped partner’s wrongdoings and shortcomings, especially if you never attempted to address those wrongdoings and shortcomings while you were dating, but I digress.) No matter how tactfully you handle the breakup, however, your dumped partner might not have any desire to carry on a friendship with you, and that is a preference that you will need to honor. You have the right to break off the relationship at any point, with or without ever attempting to address its problems before your mind is made up and you can’t take it anymore. You are not entitled to a lasting friendship. These are the risks we take when we enter into these relationships. Your guilty conscience is yours to assuage.