The Silent Treatment: The Coward's Way Out

As for your being "turned off" by her tears, a study in the January 24, 2011, issue of Science magazine (behind a firewall) found that

Emotional tears are thought to be uniquely human and have puzzled biologists and psychologists for many years. Using a double-blind study comparing female emotional tears with control saline, Gelstein et al. (p. 226, published online 6 January) investigated whether human tears may convey a chemosignal. Even though the tears could not be smelled, tears nevertheless decreased the sexual appeal of women's faces. Female tears also lowered sexual arousal and reduced testosterone levels in men. A subsequent brain-imaging study highlighted differences in functional activation in the brain. Emotional tears thus seem to contain chemo-sensory signals related to socio-sexual behavior.

Once you understand that, you may want to re-think ending your relationship because her weeping was a "turn-off."  All that means is that you're a man.

If, after careful consideration of what you may lose -- forever -- by ending this relationship, you decide that you want to break it off, here's my advice.


First, if you’re wondering why it’s so important to do this in a loving way, it may help if you imagine how she’ll feel about you afterward. Do you want to leave her with such feelings of anger and hurt that she’ll think, “What a total bastard he is"?

If your answer is, "I don't care what she thinks," no need to read further.  Just continue the silent treatment. There's no hope for you.

If you do care, would you prefer that when she hears your name in the future, or reflects on you, she thinks, “What a great guy he is.  He treated me with great sensitivity and kindness and I'll always think highly of him and be ready to help him in any way I can”?

I trust that your preference would be the second response. To achieve that, you'll have to be gentle and non-accusative.  That is, you can't blame her for being who and what she is.  That includes blaming her for loving you.  For most women, loving a man feels like a natural part of love-making. The recent studies of brain scans demonstrate that by experiencing love-making and climax with you, her loving you is part of basic female biology and neurology. This is the woman, after all, with whom you’ve shared a bed.  You've fallen asleep embracing her and awakened to her smile. You've already subjected her to a three-month silent treatment.  I, for one, see no reason to add insult to injury.

I suggest meeting her in public rather than where either of you lives. Perhaps there’s a restaurant you’ve frequented together that you both like, and where she’ll feel comfortable.  On the other hand, you should prepare her in advance so that she doesn’t anticipate that this will be just another in a series of enjoyable dinners with you.  And to say something as unclear as, “I have something important to discuss with you” could have the unintentionally callous effect of making her feel that a marriage proposal or a suggestion that you live together is in the offing.  It’s better to say something like, “I have some difficult news I want to tell you when we’re together,” or “I want to see you to discuss a painful subject.”

If she’s at all curious, she’ll ask if your health is all right or whether a member of your family has died, and you’ll reassure her on those grounds, but under no circumstances should you make clear in advance that this will be a goodbye dinner.  That must be done in person.  If she responds, “So, we’ve come to the end?” Say, “I want to talk to you in person, I don’t want to discuss anything further on the phone (or via email, texting or 'chats.')"

As difficult as it may be for you, you'll inflict less pain on her if you take full responsibility, placing the entire burden for the break-up on one of your flaws.  You could say something like, “From the beginning, I’ve thought of you as a great person, a smart, fun, sexy woman.  I've been attracted to you from the day we met.  I've always felt a real bond with you. But we’ve talked about our goals, and I know you want a relationship with me that you can depend on, and I’ve come to realize that I can’t give you the caring relationship you rightly want and you highly deserve."

If that doesn’t fit you or your circumstances, then discuss a different flaw of yours that, you will tell her, has already begun to  gnaw away at the relationship, and will ultimately destroy it.  You might say something about how loving and loyal she’s been but that you cannot in good conscience accept her love and loyalty when you know, in your heart and mind, that you aren't going to be as caring as she deserves.  In fact, you could say that if you were selfish, and didn’t care about her feelings, you would continue seeing her, but that you possess not only a sexual organ but also a conscience. Above all,

Your goal -- if you decide to break it off -- is to extricate yourself from the relationship without leaving her distraught or feeling that she played her cards all wrong.  Perhaps she did. She apparently loved you and let you know it, despite your lack of love for her. But why inflict additional pain on her if you can end it without causing more anguish by forcing her to re-play each minute you were together in an effort to discover what she should've done differently?  That’s consigning her to the torment of the damned. I would think that she's had ample opportunity to re-examine all that transpired between you and that she wishes she hadn't wept in your presence.


She may well ask, “Can we still be friends?”  The answer to that depends on whether you want to be friends.  If you don’t, I wouldn’t slam the door in her face by saying, “No, we can’t.”  I’d suggest a softer landing, such as, “I’ll always value your friendship.  But for the next few months, I think we should go our separate ways because I’m afraid that if we’re together, we’ll -- or I’ll -- continue to behave as I have with you.  I think I need to take some more time off and then, afterward, I’d like to be friends and stay in touch.”

Resist the temptation, especially if she hasn't asked, to ask her whether you can still be friends.  You may think you're offering this option in a spirit of generosity, but it won't be received in that way.  You may be telling yourself "I believe it's the gentlemanly thing to do."  No, it isn't.  You're just trying to reassure yourself that she won't go away furious at you.

This is self-protection masquerading as civility.

What you're trying to do by asking if you can still be friends is to keep the break-up from being messy.  But by definition it is messy.  Even exquisitely-performed surgery is bloody.

In the fullness of time, she may contact you or you may contact her in an attempt to create a friendship from the shards of this break-up, but to request it immediately is selfish.  It will not reassure her that you still harbor affection and respect for her.  She will feel it as an unfair imposition -- that you want it both ways.  You want the reassurance that she'll continue to be there for you, and the freedom to abandon her as your lover.   That's being a jerk, not a mensch.

If you eventually contact her before she contacts you, and she fails to respond, give up.  Don't continue your pursuit of a "friendship."  If she doesn't respond, bow out.  If you want to get back together romantically and she doesn't respond, bow out. This is precisely why you shouldn't act precipitously now, because if you do, you may be burning a bridge to one of the few people on the planet whose loyal affection and warmth you know you can count on.

If you can, emphasize that you’re sad, too.  Say that this was a very special time in your life and that you’ll always think warmly of her.  Leave her with at least a shred of self-respect.  Make sure she understands that you’ve thought long and hard about this and that you're convinced this will be best in the long run, although very painful for both of you in the short run.


Don't even think about having sex with her first and then telling her that it's over.  For that degree of pure, unadulterated selfishness there should be a special, everlastingly flame-licked sector in Hell designated for men who indulge in a farewell act of intercourse when they know it's the final one and their partner doesn't.  This is nothing but exploitation.  I mention this because you wrote to me, "I find it very hard to be a good person."  Helpful hint for future reference: good people don't exploit others just because they can.  Especially women who love them.


Before you do any of this, make certain that your reaction to her tears and to your summer of silence don't lead you to make an irrevocably self-wounding or self-destructive mistake.  You may live to regret cutting off a woman who's been part of your life in such a loving way for so long. Ask yourself whether you're ready to say adieu or whether, deep in your heart, you might feel this way instead:

Don't do something you'll regret forever and will never be able to undo.  It could well turn out that, when you meet her to break it off, you'll feel like this.

If you do, pull back from the precipice and recognize how lucky you are.

– Belladonna Rogers

Do you have questions?  Belladonna Rogers has answers.  Send your questions or comments about politics, personal matters, or anything else that’s on your mind and Belladonna will answer as many as possible.  The names and email addresses of all advice-seekers will remain anonymous and confidential.  Send your questions or comments to: [email protected]