One of the basic facts about relationships is that at one time or another, everyone is faced with the task of telling an interested party that the interest is not returned. If the interaction is early on, such as after a first date, it is relatively easy to let someone down easy. But if the two people have dated for some time and one party does not reciprocate the strong feelings of the other party, the task can be much harder.
The first thing you must realize is that no matter how you end the connection, the other party will be hurt. Along with the hurt, there may be some anger, possibly some denial, and some pleading for another chance to make things work. What you are hoping to do is keep that hurt to a minimum, cool any anger, and be kind but firm about putting any more effort into something that is not working. This will take some careful thought on your part.
Stay away from tired cliches that always seem to signal that rejection is on the horizon. When you start the conversation with “We need to talk” or “I have something to tell you,” there is a good chance that the other person will immediately think, “He/she is about to break up with me”. The defenses go up and it becomes much harder to keep the conversation on an adult level.
In order to let someone down easy, it is important to be very direct at the onset. Bluntly state that you want to end the relationship. Trying to soften the blow before it is delivered only prolongs the agony. Once you have made it clear that the relationship is over, the two of you can tie up loose ends and talk through what both of you are feeling.
Once you have firmly stated “I don’t want to see you anymore,” then follow up by pointing out two or three attributes of the individual and note that you think he or she is a great person who will make a great love interest for someone else. Make it clear that both of you deserve to find someone who will be able to fully commit to a relationship and will share the same level of attraction and interest. Convey the idea that while this may be somewhat difficult now, it will make it possible for both of you to move on and find what you are looking for.
As you let someone down easy, make sure to look him or her in the eye. Failure to make eye contact can give the impression that you are not fully certain about the breakup. If the other party looks you in the eye and sees that you are serious and will not be swayed, there is less chance of any displays that both of you would regret later on. It is also easier to talk with someone when the party is focusing his or her attention fully on you.
At all times, keep your voice even and within a normal speaking range. This is especially important if the other party becomes agitated at the idea of breaking up. It is impossible to let someone down easy if you participate in the hysterics by raising your voice. Allow the other party a few moments to vent and then continue.
If appropriate, you may want to point out one or two key elements that make the two of you incompatible. When you let someone down easy, it is important to provide a specific reason. Make it clear those traits are not necessarily bad and that many other people would find them to be assets. However, they are not what you are looking for.
Don’t soften the good-byes by offering to still be friends, or indicating that any future contact will take place. You do not want the other party to nurture any false hope that the two of you could get back together in the future. Be kind, but be firm. In the long run, both of you will benefit from the quick and clean break.