“How Can I Nicely Dump My Online Boyfriend?”

It’s time again for Shortcuts. For every question, I’ll give my advice in three sentences or less, because sometimes the answer to a person’s question is so obvious and the need to hear it so great, being as clear and frank as possible is simply the best way to go. Today we discuss cyber dating and breaking up.

So I’ve been cyber-dating this really nice guy for a few months. We used to IM every day, but now we only ever email. He’s serious about us, but it really isn’t working for me. I know it’s better to talk to him in person and I would if I could, but I don’t have a phone number or anything. How can I dump him over email, but be nice about it? — Cyberly Yours

Rule of thumb: If you don’t have a phone number for someone, your relationship isn’t “serious,” and therefore does not require an official breakup. Stop returning his emails, and if he asks you why you’ve disappeared just tell him, “I decided I wanted more out of a relationship than a pen pal.”

My ex and have been broken up for 17 months after dating a year. My daughter and I moved from Buffalo, NY to be with him in Arizona after being together for eight months. We loved it there but the problem was that I couldn’t find a job. I busted my butt, but I still couldn’t find one, so I was running out of money and my ex said he’d take care of us. I was’t brought up that way though — I was raised to take care of myself and especially my daughter and I’m 34 years old never dated a man who did everything for me. I always took care of the men I dated.

So while my ex was at work I packed up our stuff and left. I walked out on the man I loved cause I didn’t want to be dependent on him. I’ve regretted everything. I miss and love him so much I don’t know how I could make it right again. He was here a month ago and we hung out and he told me he’s been dating a woman for almost a year now. He said he still cares for me and loves me but he can’t forgive me for leaving without talking to him and I can’t say I blame him. Should I leave it alone and move on or do I hang on? — Miss Independent

Your ex has moved on and so have you. If you care for him, as you say you do, don’t screw up the relationship he’s built with the woman he’s been dating for a year. And next time, don’t be so quick to drag your daughter across the country without a better plan than, “I hope I find a job in this recession before all my money runs out!”

I am 24, in my second year of grad school, and single for the first time in two years. I joined an online dating site because I want to put myself out there and don’t know how else to meet people who aren’t in my grad program (it’s not part of a university or in a college town). While I would love to find my future husband, I am also content to meet some new people and make friends for now. This weekend I got coffee with two guys. I have had a lot of text message conversations with one and we talked for three hours when we met. I am definitely interested in being friends with him, but I don’t know if I would want to be more than friends. I am wondering if we continue to get to know each other and I decide I don’t want to date him, when is the appropriate time to bring it up? I’m not worried that my rejection would crush him and I know it’s quite possible he won’t want to date me either, but I just don’t want to get to a point where it seems like I led him on. I have never dated anybody that I didn’t know as a friend first and I’m not sure what the assumptions are when you meet somebody online. — Cyber Friend

The appropriate time to tell someone you don’t want to be more than friends with him is when you realize you don’t want to be more than friends. Until then, it’s fair to continue going on dates if you haven’t totally ruled out the potential for a romantic relationship. If it’s friends you’re looking for, I’d suggest sticking to sites like Meetup.com., joining a book club (or something similar), or even placing an ad specifying your search for platonic friends, perhaps of the same gender.


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If you have a relationship/dating question I can help answer, you can send me your letters at wendy@dearwendy.com.


  1. I can always count on Wendy for that Friday Dose of Tell It Like It Is. I’m especially with you on LW2!

  2. I heart short cuts. They make me feel so much better about my life. That is all.

  3. Avatar photo Guy Friday says:

    I know I should probably leave LW2 alone, but I’m in a grumpy mood this morning, so I need to say it: you’re an idiot. I’m sorry, but you are. You’re struggling to find a job, and your significant other says “Hey, I’ll help you out while you’re still looking around,” and because no man can ever give you anything (insert finger snaps here), you packed up your stuff and moved back across the country while he was at work?! You couldn’t even wait until he got home to talk to him about it? You just ran away? You’re lucky he’s even speaking to you again, honestly, because if it were me and you called me to hang out, I’d have told you to go f— yourself and hung up on you. And now you want to “hang on”? I mean, honestly, if he just walked out on you, would you even have been asking this question?

    Of course you leave it alone. Of course you walk away. You didn’t just burn a bridge here; you napalmed it. And you did it in the most cowardly way possible. I just REALLY hope that in your next relationship you recognize that it’s OK to ask for help now and again when times are tough, and that it doesn’t make you less of an independent woman if you get it from someone you’re dating. No one says you can’t pay him back later for the financial help he gave you.

    1. I think, too, that when you move for someone, it makes sense for them to help you if you need it. Especially if you didn’t plan for the change very well, which the LW seemingly did not.

    2. Woo-hoo! I love this. People who care about each other help each other out. I’m sure there would have been a time when he would have needed your help. Would that have made him seem less of a man to you? I bet not. My reply would be different if you weren’t making an effort to find work and take care of yourself and your daughter. That would have been mooching. But times are tough, we need all the help we can get. He was trying to be A Good Guy. I have a friend who explained it really well. When I racked out my shoulder, I couldn’t even dress myself without a lot of pain. Did I ask for help? No. It was my problem and I wanted to deal with it on my own. He saw me struggling to put on my coat. Without saying a word, he came over and put it on for me. I must have given him quite a look, because he said to me, “It doesn’t diminsh you at all in my eyes.” Lesson: when you need help, it’s okay to ask, and if someone offers it, say thank you. It’s okay.

      1. I guess I should clarify that the reason I love this is because it was a hard lesson for me to learn and such a relief when I figured it out. I was up very late last night and am compensation for a lack of sleep, hence the exuberance.

    3. Whoa, I somehow missed the “while he was at work” part until I read this comment. That. is. SUCH a dick move. “Dick move” doesn’t even cover it, but your description was spot-on: “You didn’t just burn a bridge here; you napalmed it. And you did it in the most cowardly way possible.”

      Seriously. This LW needs to leave it alone. There’s no possible way to “hang on” after you already threw everything into a black hole & ran away.

      1. spark_plug says:

        I want to give LW2’s ex boyfriend a round of applause. Not only did he recover so nicely from having someone completely abandon him in 5 months or so.. I mean, I can just imagine how I would feel if I came home and my partner of 8 months had just packed up all her stuff and left.. I would be TRAUMATIZED for ages.. but he’s still able to be nice to LW and maintain his respect for his current partner. What an awesome guy!

    4. kerrycontrary says:

      I can’t even imagine how her daughter feels “Hunny, we’re moving to Arizona even though I’ve only known this man for 8 months”….”Hunny, we’re moving back home and you can’t even say goodbye to your new father-figure”

      1. This made me chuckle. It’s awful what happened, but your description is hilarious.

    5. Co-sign. And if he helps you out now, one day down the road, he might be in a position where he needs help too and then you can pick up the slack for a while. It’ll eventually all even out!

    6. What bugged me (one of the many things about this letter that bugged me) was that she said, “I always took care of the men I dated.”

      So clearly she doesn’t think everybody should have to fend for themselves in a relationship. But somehow it only applies if she gets to be the one on the white horse. I get the feeling this LW has some sort of martyr complex.

    7. Avatar photo Addie Pray says:

      I’m with you, GF. LW2 did a shitty shitty shitty shitty thing! So selfish and inconsiderate and thoughtless and cruel. Can you imagine being abandoned like that – to come home and find your partner GONE? That would SUCK!

    8. Awesome use of the word “napalm” there!

      But seriously, there’s a difference between depending on someone when you’re in a tough spot and just being a moocher. It’s okay to take help from people who love/care about you, even if it might make you feel like a failure or something. But that’s what loved ones are supposed to do: love and take care of you. Everyone needs help now and then. It would be completely different if you were just mooching off of him on purpose and not trying to get a job or take care of yourself or your child. And even if you feel like a failure for needing help, you do not just walk out on someone like that! That is probably one of the worst possible things a person could do when ending a relationship.

    9. I formally nominate this as the comment of the week! Napalm bridge burners!

  4. EricaSwagger says:

    1- I can’t get over the fact that people out there honestly think a relationship can exist via the internet alone. An important dating rule to remember: IF YOU HAVE NEVER MET IN PERSON, HE IS NOT YOUR BOYFRIEND.
    Holy freaking crap.

    1. SweetPeaG says:

      I can really only let this pass if she is a kid. I have created a scenario in my head that is acceptable. Because otherwise, I just can’t fathom it. And it makes me feel better than imagining this to be a grown woman (which makes me sort of sad)…

      This LW is a 14 year old girl. She can’t drive yet. Her parents forbid her to date until she’s 16 or something. She met a cute boy online and they used to IM all the time. She stumbled upon Dear Wendy and thought she’d write in because she’s never broken up with a boy before and wants to know the best way.

      1. Haha, yeah, I had an “online boyfriend” when I was 15 or so. I think he was maybe a little older than me, which is kind of sadder for him. And eventually he just stopped responding to me. I just assume he got bored.

      2. Me too. I think it was a symptom of growing up in the 90s when the internet was a crazy new thing.

      3. ele4phant says:

        Yes, I very well think this could be the case.

        And if so, the poor girl doesn’t deserve to be flamed. Simply informed that if you haven’t met someone in person, they are not your boyfriend.

        But if she’s a grown woman, c’mon now. Seriously, stop acting like a 14 year old.

    2. brendapie says:

      It happens but I have a hard time considering it a relationship. It’s possible the LW isn’t a kid but the majority of the online relationships I’ve read about involve teenagers or people in or just out of college who can’t afford to meet in person or don’t have parental permission to do so.

      I found http://www.reddit.com/r/wemetonline while browsing Reddit and it does give some insight to this world.

  5. It seems a little rude to just stop responding to someone you’ve been communicating with for months, regardless of your relationship (or lack thereof). I don’t think it would hurt to tell him straight-out that you aren’t interested in continuing, instead of waiting for him to ask after being ignored.

  6. sarolabelle says:

    I’ve used the i don’t want a pen pal a lot. It works.

  7. Thanks, LW1! Going by your definitions, me & Bradley Cooper are practically engaged! Seriously though, if you’re already cooling off (as the move from IMing to email only suggests) and you couldn’t even contact him in person if you wanted to (no phone number?!?) I say just let it be.

    LW2- this is a WTF? WWS situation anyway, but the fact that you dragged your daughter ACROSS THE COUNTRY at the drop of a hat, AND THEN removed her from her home AGAIN simply because you couldn’t have a conversation with your boyfriend about your situation…it boggles the mind. How about focusing on providing a loving, stable environment for your daughter instead of whimsically chasing boys around the country?

    I think I need more coffee.

  8. What I find interesting with LW2 is that she had probably made up this magical scenario in her head about how her new life would be with her LDR boyfriend once they were together, and at the first sign of struggle, she just up and left with no words. It’s incredibly selfish and immature, and that it’s taken you this long to realize you screwed that one up all by yourself is not a great sign. I get that you haven’t had an easy life, and tended to go for loser leeches as life partners, and maybe the first time you were with a decent guy, a guy who would support you while you’re getting on your feet in this new life together, you just had no clue what to do so you just left. Not cool. But understandable, I guess, with what I know of your background.

  9. For LW3, I think you need to not mix making friends and making boyfriends. It’s just simpler that way. Go out and join some clubs and volunteer for causes you like, and you’ll make friends who have friends and some of them will be boys and you might date them. But when you meet someone where the implied expected relationship is a romantic one, it’s difficult to turn that into a friendship. I mean, give it a shot, but I would think this would take way more effort than meeting someone through groups or volunteer work.

    1. This is so true. I’ve dabbled in on-line dating. I meet some guys who would be cool friends, but who I wouldn’t want to date. When the expectation is dating though, it’s hard to dial that back. What do you say . . .

      “Hey, you’re a cool guy, but I don’t want to kiss you. Gross! Can we be friends?”

      LW3, separate making friends and dating.

      1. Yeah, I just met a guy last night that I’d like to hang out with again as friends, but I’m not sure if that’s in the cards. I guess if he asks me out on a datey-date I’ll just tell him that I’m feeling a more of a friend vibe, and take it from there.

        I mean, it sucks because with online dating you can pretty easily weed out the people you KNOW you won’t get along with, and then end up meeting fun, like-minded individuals who are usually well-matched to you in many ways. So I think it’s normal for friendy-feelings to develop even if you don’t feel that magic lovey spark.

    2. Yeah, I’ve known people who’ve made friends from online dating, but I think for the most part, people on there want to date, not make friends. I’ve seen several profiles before where people explicitly say that if you’re simply looking for friends not to contact them.

  10. I confess to feeling sympathy for LW2 despite my normal position that unannounced flight should be reserved strictly for abuse situations. You see, I also was raised to avoid total dependency situations. There should have been a better way, but I know I might have ended up feeling a compelling despair to do what LW2 did.

    LW3 sounds younger than 24, but it could simply be a relative lack of recent social experience. The dating protocols have certainly changed with texting.

    As for LW1:

    1. 6Napkinburger says:

      Dude, I’m 28 and I had this issue the other day. It’s hard/awkward when you’re looking to meet new people AND looking to date if you meet someone who is interested in dating you but you legit want to be friends (not “remain” friends, but become friends). Do you go hang out? Do you tell them? The timing part is the most difficult (though Wendy is totally right). It has less to do with age and more to do with being new to a place/world and being a tad out of practice. Chances are, you were incredibly straightforward with your ex about things but now there is more at stake and you have to be more “coy” (aka diplomatic so as not to alienate him, his friends, others, etc.).

      Isn’t this something you could imagine asking a friend over brunch, no matter what age you are, just to make sure you’re doing it right? I feel like we’re sometimes too quick to dismiss a lot of LWs as immature when the questions are just for advice on a topic that they’ve been mulling over but aren’t sure if they’ve made the right call.

      1. Good points, all. Maybe I’m just shallow. I tend to put myself out there doing things I enjoy, that I exult in, and link up with others who share my passions. So far, so wonderfully good.

      2. 6Napkinburger says:


        I detect a bit of sarcasm in that “maybe i’m just shallow.” From what you describe, that’s great and it’s a great way to meet people. But I’m not sure how that relates… so while you are linking up with others who share your passion, you never maybe sorta sense that someone is interested in you romantically and you’re not sure at first? you never realize you aren’t into them and you’re not sure when/how to tell them that and not mess up the wonderfully good dynamic you are able to exult in /without alienating them/while not being a bitch?

        I don’t get the hostility in the response. I just don’t think being slightly unsure of the best way to proceed in disparate attraction situations is immature… if anything, i think it is universal.

      3. No sarcasm or hostility was intended, nor was I criticizing. Maybe I have just been lucky, but all I have ever done is what I said and things have seemed to develop naturally. Maybe another way to put it is that I avoid overthinking social situations. I have found that if I am enjoying what I am doing, potential partners have not been a problem. My relationships have all seemed to have begun with shared interests and activities and some progressed and became more than that, and others did not. Meeting potential partners when BOTH of us are engaged in activities for which we share a passion has worked better for me than what some of my friends do, which is go places or do things mainly in hope of meeting a potential mate. I gave up on that approach after a couple bad experiences but – honestly – YMMV.

    2. LW2 doesn’t avoid total dependency situations, though. She craves them, as long as she’s on the other side (see: “I always took care of the men I dated.”). It seems to me like she’s a weapons-grade control freak who’s not curerently capable of being in a normal, healthy, give-and-take relationship. Too bad for her daughter.

  11. Avatar photo lemongrass says:

    Does it irritate anybody else when someone says “If I dump him, he will be CRUSHED!”? It always makes me think, what makes you such a special cookie that no one will ever get over you?

    1. If you’re referring to LW3, she did say she’s *not* worried he’ll be crushed or anything.

      1. Avatar photo lemongrass says:

        Ha, thanks. I should really wait until I’ve finished my coffee before reading DW.

  12. Avatar photo Addie Pray says:

    LW1 – here’s how you do it, you close your laptop and go outside!

    1. Avatar photo lemongrass says:

      It’s too bright out there.

      1. Avatar photo Addie Pray says:

        just like my future!

        bada bing!

      2. Avatar photo Addie Pray says:

        ^ that actually was lame, fine ^

      3. It wasn’t lame!! I’m here for you AP…

        Not only is it a catchy tune but it reminds me of Head of the Class… which just dated me to the entire DW community but I’m willing to accept that 😉

      4. Avatar photo lemongrass says:

        I like it. But I’m also high on sharpie fumes right now. Labelling all my home canned goods and now I’m pretty sure my baby has an extra ear.

      5. Sharpie fumes are the best…

      6. Avatar photo lemongrass says:

        My glass of water tastes like sharpie now.

      7. Remember those flavor smelling markers from the 90’s? God, I used to get so HIGH off cherry red.

      8. Avatar photo lemongrass says:

        What a terrible idea that was. No wonder sniffing glue is so popular.

  13. Avatar photo MackenzieLee says:

    I was with Wendy until the posting ads for friends part. Does that really happen? If so I never want to be in the real world

    1. Avatar photo Addie Pray says:

      It really happens. Right now you are in college and currently studying abroad — basically, this is the BEST life will ever get for you. SIMPLY THE BEST. In less than 2 years, you may find yourself in a new city where you know no one, at a entry-level job, working, like, every day, for the forseeable future, no end in sight. .. Do you know how depressing that shit is going to be when it all sinks in? And on top of that, you know no one, except the middle-aged married people in your office – sucks monkey balls! And strangers don’t just come up to you on the sidewalk or on the bus and become *friends*, you know? So, yea, you sign up for meetups and shit and you go to a few and… ever so slowly you start to cultivate new friends. Until BAM, you are 30 and *finally* you feel like you have a network of friends and you are happy. Everyhing will feel better again when you hit 30, don’t worry. You’re welcome!

      1. Avatar photo MaterialsGirl says:

        or you make friends on the internet and then take a chance and meet up with them, then tell everyone you “met at yoga.”

      2. preach. dw peeps are my favorite.

      3. OR you turn 30 and move to a new place and have to start all over. OR you turn 30 and all your friends get married and have babies and can never hang out so you have to widen your network. Stupid 30.

      4. Avatar photo Addie Pray says:

        But see, I figure then you’re more preoccupied with finding a lover b/c, let’s face it, YOU’RE RUNNING OUT OF TIME … plus, your sex drive is ABOUT TO KILL YOU!

      5. exactly, to both. if you’re 30 and married and move to a new town, everybody says things like but you have your mr. jlyfsh. and then slowly you and mr. jlyfsh go crazy because you need more friends and meetup saves the day!


        *hides under desk*

      7. Or you’re lucky and you’re an introvert, and your 2 or 3 close friends are enough! 🙂 Frankly I find it frustrating because my husband has this big circle of friends and they’re always wanting to do stuff. I like them and all, but I don’t even spend that much time with my own friends! I guess that’s the opposite problem though, so I’ll shut up now. 🙂

    2. It does really happen. My husband moved out to Albuquerque a few months before I could move out there with him. He made his OkCupid profile explicitly for finding friends. Two of our friend groups came from people he met through OKC.

  14. I feel like LW2 was watching too many romances movies and reading too many Jane Austen novels. Really? Just gonna walk out of there for no reason other than your pride and let your bf resent that it was because of your lack of money (ok I bs’ed that last bit because who knows if he resented her after, but I wanted him to because OMG PLOT TO PRIDE AND PREJUDICE!).

    Ahem, anyway. Leaving a situation that provides a level of security for your daughter just because you don’t want to be “that girl” is not ok. You let your pride get in the way Elizabeth Bennet! (ok, I’ll stop) Should you refuse food stamps or welfare if you can’t provide for your daughter too? All for the sake of not being “that girl”? No! Having a kid means giving up your pride about these things. Keeping your daughter safe and happy is always the priority over some false sense of indignation about accepting help. I’m not saying this in a “go back in time and change things oh wait you can’t k thanx bye” type of way, but in the future, stop letting your image of yourself get in the way of what your daughter needs. Oh and DO NOT break up your ex and his new girlfriend.

    You know those people that make things WAY more complicated than they have to be and talk way too much about stuff they don’t need to so they don’t have to talk about the stuff they don’t want to? That’s LW3 to me. That whoooooole paragraph made me wanna flick my eyelid. Really, that much thought into whether you’ll give a guy a slice of your naughty pumpkin pie?? (October themed sexual innuendo! Can I just say how happy I am about fall? Today is the first day its really cloudy and I need a sweater! LA has finally stopped being balls evaporatingly hot!)

    I think the LW3 is nervous about online dating and instead of just…saying that…she went into this whole thing about this guy texted her but then they had coffee but what if she doesn’t want to let him see her cornucopia (Wheeee!) but then will there be another coffee date and flirting versus talking and friendship not friendship sadness but new friend etc etc etc etc etc etc etc etc. Go with the flow. Guys are used to not getting called again or not getting sezy time. They will recover. Stop over-analyzing and let your feelings do the thinking! Much like Ichibod Crane did when he….wait, what did he do? Something with a pumpkin head? or was he the pumpkin head? I feel like there was a horse.

    1. you make my life happy.

      1. Avatar photo Addie Pray says:


    2. Hahaha wow, I think “cornucopia” deserves to be an official euphemism 🙂

    3. “a slice of your naughty pumpkin pie”

      Ha hA hA Ha Ha… first I went to smashing pumpkins, and now I’m singing Warrant’s Cherry Pie in my head and it’s all your fault!

  15. LW2 was a moron.

    #1 she moved her child across country with no real plan. Uprooting a child can be traumatic.
    #2 she had too much pride to accept help from the person she supposedly “loved”. To the point that she ran out of money and ended a (by all accounts) good relationship instead of accepting the help he was offering (multiple times).
    #3 instead of communicating, she up and left the state, the relationship, and her common sense. Uprooting her child a second time, spending more money she really didn’t have in order to move back across country again.

    You should have been communicating with your boyfriend, not packing. He was offering to help you. You’d rather be with a deadbeat that you can support (so you can be the one feeling needed/dominant financially) in the relationship than be in a real give and take relationship. Get some therapy so you can figure out what is wrong with you that you feel the drive to constantly nurture bad relationships and run from decent ones.

  16. LW3: I met several of my friends through dating sites (but, alas, no actual boyfriends). What would happen is we would go on one or two dates and wouldn’t feel that “click” so I’d just say that I’d like to keep hanging out as friends but end any romantic possibilities. Several years later, I’m still friends with these guys. As long as you’re up front and honest about it, there’s no problem. The worst he could say is that he doesn’t want to be just friends and then you move on and find someone else. It’s the same with any guy no matter where you meet, whether on dating sites or in a bar somewhere.

  17. Avatar photo Colloquielle says:

    I don’t agree with Wendy’s answer AT ALL. One should NOT just disappear to end a long-distance relationship. It’s rude. It’s insensitive. It’s completely disrespectful. It’s not something you would EVER say to someone in a regular relationship with the same “I want this to be casual, but he thinks we’re serious” problem. The guy deserves the closure of knowing that the relationship has ended as soon as possible.

    I met my current boyfriend online. Okay, we do technically know each others’ numbers. But, due to time zones and work/school schedules, the only time we are available to contact each other for significant periods of time is when everyone on his end is asleep. So, we either text or use the Internet to keep from waking people up. And we use email semi-regularly, since we’re both working towards creative careers, we can’t exactly use Facebook for twelve pages of concept sketches or ideas. We have only actually spoken a few times in the duration of our relationship. But our relationship is quite committed and we have plans to meet in person, even if it will take a year or so due to completing degrees and finding a job which will allow me to travel across the country.

    Long-distance relationships are not the type I would recommend for most people. It tends to default to stress, and what person wants that? I don’t, and I am in one. It also tends to require a certain level of independence, determination, patience, and optimism, which I struggle with sometimes. I definitely would not recommend that it remain a permanent thing. The average length of time before long distance relationships end in success is about 3-4 years, based on other people I’ve talked to who have had successful relationships, and my own best-case scenario. And hell, I wouldn’t recommend it to people without a steady job or the willingness to do what it takes to take plane trips or move.

    The average person who is used to regular in-person relationships tends to start a long-distance one thinking that it’s just the same thing without the other person next to you. They fail because they don’t know what they’re getting into, how to succeed. And sometimes they just can’t handle the combined stress on emotions and finances. But it’s not impossible for a long-distance relationship to end in a successful regular relationship. So, I don’t like it when people are automatically dismissive.

  18. How Can I Nicely Dump My Online Boyfriend?”…

    Change your online handle and if e-mail is also being used, direct his to the spam folder…

    Nice</b? and easy…

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