In the vast majority of situations, honesty is the best policy. Being open about your thoughts, feelings, and beliefs is usually the right way to go when dealing with other people. This gives you a sense of integrity and authenticity which are important for your mental health.1
That’s important, but it doesn’t help in those few situations where being open and honest is potentially harmful to yourself or others. In this article, I’m going to look at one such situation; where your relationship is over but he’s trying to get you back.
I’m going to examine when it’s ok to act like you don’t care, even though you do, and why you might need to do it. I’m also going to give you some of the best tips on how to make him think you don't care anymore that lets you both move on more easily.
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You’ve probably had the experience of a guy who keeps trying to “win you back” or push his way back into your life after a breakup. Just like wolf-whistling and catcalls in public, there’s often a mismatch between how guys think you should feel about this and how it actually feels. Let’s look at why.
A lot of popular media emphasizes that a guy is supposed to fight for his ex-girlfriend. It’s seen as a way to “prove” that he loves you. In lots of films and TV shows, he’s also forgiven for whatever misdeeds he carried out during the relationship because she’s so swept off her feet by his renewed efforts.2
The trouble is that this isn’t romantic and it certainly isn’t healthy. Big gestures or constantly pestering someone who doesn’t want to date you isn’t “not giving up.” It’s harassment. He’s not “proving his love.” He’s disrespecting your boundaries.
Even if he thinks it’s culturally expected and ok, you don’t need to allow it. In fact, you almost certainly shouldn’t.
Some guys might seem like they’ve been swayed by the cultural messages about winning you back, but there’s actually something more sinister going on. If your relationship was abusive or toxic, there’s a strong chance that he’s pushing at your boundaries because he thinks that he can get you back under his control.
Importantly, he knows that you’re likely to feel the pressure to accept his big gestures or constant requests to “give him another chance.” He’s using cultural expectations to make it harder for you to stand firm and look after yourself rather than giving him what he wants.3
There are also great guys who genuinely do love and respect you and are just heartbroken about your breakup. That’s understandable and your heart goes out to them, but you’re still coming up against the same problem. They’re not respecting your boundaries and it’s making you feel uncomfortable and unhappy.
Irrespective of his motivations, one of the best ways to resist this pressure (and discourage him from putting more pressure on you) is to make him believe that you don’t have any feelings for him at all.
This helps you get the space you need to heal and move on without constant pressure and reminders from someone you might still love… but definitely don’t want to date anymore.
So, what circumstances justify hiding your true feelings and making him think that you don’t care about him? When should you be completely honest, and when is it ok to conceal your emotions?
Here are the main times that it’s acceptable (and possibly even essential) to hide your feelings and act like you don’t care anymore.
Rule number one is that you don’t owe abusive and toxic people anything. All those sayings we have about how you should treat others how you’d like to be treated, give everyone respect, or think the best of people? They go out of the window when we’re talking about someone who is abusive toward their partner.
Abusers use those social rules as a way to manipulate you. They’ll criticize you for not being nice or kind enough, but you’ll eventually realize that they’re not playing by those rules themselves.
He’s not going to be honest or authentic with you. He’s not going to treat you with respect, and he’s certainly not treating you in a way that he wants to be treated by others.
Showing him your conflicted feelings about your breakup is only giving him more power over you, and that’s something you absolutely don’t want or need to do.
Sometimes, we have to end a relationship with someone we’re still deeply in love with. Maybe you’ve realized that you have a fundamental incompatibility, for example, one of you desperately wants to become a parent and the other is vehemently against the idea.
In these instances, you know for a fact that getting back together would be a really bad idea for both of you but there’s something deep in your heart that wishes it was possible. You’re slowly trying to put yourself back together and try to imagine a life that isn’t shared with him.
Each time he tries to win you back, it feels like that emotional wound is being reopened and you’re pushed right back to the start of your healing journey. Neither of you wants to hurt the other, but this constant contact is causing more pain and damage.
Pretending that you’re further along in your healing journey than you are can make it easier for both of you to get the space you need. It’s an act of compassion that will save both of you a lot of pain in the long run.
Some relationships are more of a rollercoaster than others. If you’ve been in a tumultuous relationship, you might have been through the ‘breakup then get back together again’ cycle time after time after time. Pretending that you don’t care anymore is one way to break that cycle.
A tumultuous relationship isn’t healthy for either of you, but you have such strong feelings that you keep getting pulled back together.4 Hiding those feelings and pretending that you’ve moved on is an important way to push him away once and for all.
Hopefully, this lets you both find a happier and more stable relationship with someone new.
If you’re a people-pleaser, you might find it incredibly difficult to break up with someone. You’re worried about breaking their heart and you might have stayed for longer than you should in a not-great relationship because you put their feelings above your own.
Once you’ve broken up with someone, you’d hope that the people-pleasing battle is over. Unfortunately, if he keeps coming back and you keep having to reject him all over again, it can feel like you’ll never be free. Worse yet, you might give in and get back into a relationship you don’t really want.
Giving him clear signs that you’ve moved on (even if you haven't actually got that far yet) can help you find the space you need and reduce the constant pressure to change your mind. It might even give you a chance to stop being such a people-pleaser.
Pretending that you have moved on and you don’t care anymore takes a lot of energy. Be really sure that this is what you want to do before you start.
If you start feeling guilty or wondering why you’re doing it, try looking back at why you made that decision and remind yourself of your positive reasons for acting like you don’t care.
It might sound obvious, but make sure that you tell him explicitly that your relationship is over, you’re moving on, and you want your space for a while. This is a really valuable step because it helps you no matter what his reaction is.
If he listens to you and gives you space, that’s great. You’ve solved the problem with one, slightly awkward, conversation.
If he doesn’t, you know that you’ve stated your boundaries clearly and can feel justified in being annoyed that he’s ignored what you’ve said you needed.
Being busy takes your mind off your ex. It also allows you to turn down his requests to spend time together without seeming vulnerable.
For example, saying “I can’t see you tonight. It still hurts to spend time with you when we can’t be together” can sound like you’re hoping that you’ll get back together eventually, especially if that’s what he’s hoping to hear.
By contrast, saying “I can’t see you tonight. I’m off to a dance class. And tomorrow I’m hanging out with Emma and Ayesha. Thursday I’m going to a gallery and then I’ve got a long weekend surfing with some of my old college friends” makes it clear that you’re not pining for him.
This is especially important if you have lots of mutual friends. Obviously, there will be times when you want to talk about your feelings and how hurt you are that your relationship has ended, but try to make sure that this never gets back to him.
This is also an important step to help you get over the relationship at a genuine level, rather than just acting like you don’t care. Talk through your feelings fully, but try not to go over the same thoughts and feelings over and over again. This is known as rumination, and it’s not good for your mental health.5
Try writing out your thoughts about your relationship in a journal. This helps you to feel as though you’ve got it out of your mind and onto paper.6 That can help quiet your constant thoughts about him.
Even if a guy respects (or seems to) your emotional boundaries, he might try to push to become physically intimate again. He might say that it’s “just sex” and that he knows that you’re not going to get back together as a couple.
If you’re feeling really lonely after a breakup with someone you still have feelings for, that can sound like a tempting offer, but it’s rarely a good idea. Having sex with someone you still have feelings for is likely to make it harder to maintain those emotional boundaries.
In most cases, you’ll find yourself right back at the start of your healing journey. Worse, you’ve also shown him that your boundaries are malleable. This can make him more likely to keep pushing at them and even leave him confused when they don’t move next time.
As tempting as it may be, it’s best to avoid sex with a recent ex.
Most of us try to reply to people relatively quickly. We answer our phones and we reply to texts from people we care about. But remember that you’re trying to create a sense of distance between you. Even if you still care and want to help him out, it’s helpful to slow down your communication.
This might mean that you stop replying to his texts at certain times. It’s quite common for people to feel more lonely in the evenings and he might be thinking of you while he’s in bed. Try not to reply to messages that come in late at night.
Again, this is all about setting new boundaries that feel appropriate for the kind of relationship you now have; that between exes.
If you’ve been in a relationship with someone for a long time, you’ll probably have gotten used to playing a large role in each other’s lives. You’re used to asking him for advice and support or even just talking choices through with him.
Unfortunately, this sends the message that you’re still part of a unit and that he still matters to you at that deep level. Try to break that pattern by looking elsewhere for your advice and second opinions.
If you’re trying to create emotional distance between you and him, you’re aiming for a clean break. This means that you’re not going to be a part of each other’s lives, at least for a while. Unfortunately, this means that you can’t turn to him for help except in the most extreme emergency.
Reaching out to him for help and support probably feels natural, but it’s pulling you right back into the same patterns you had during your relationship. It’s actually much better for your self-esteem to realize just how much you can achieve by yourself.7
Don’t call him to help fix a bulb in your car. Go to see your mechanic or read the manual and learn to do it yourself. If he offers to help (and he wasn’t abusive while you were dating), be polite but firm. Say “I appreciate the offer but I’ve got it covered.”
If he was abusive while you were dating, skip the part about being polite.
Remember that you’re trying to create the impression that you’re not focused on him and you’re not still hurting deeply about the end of your relationship. Sadly, that means that you will need to try really hard not to break down if you run into him when you’re out somewhere.
Be polite but distant and try to keep the conversation short. Talk about factual things if possible and avoid the risk of getting into a deep conversation about your feelings or why the relationship ended.
Do make sure that you deal with your feelings later, though. Suppressing feelings is bad for your mental and physical health, especially if you try to do it long-term. Have a trusted friend you can call afterward and let that emotion out.
It’s a great scene in a movie when a girl gets her revenge on her ex by flirting with every other guy in a bar while he sits in a corner and seethes. In real life, it’s often a dreadful idea.
Firstly, it’s not a kind thing to do. There’s a huge difference between showing him that you don’t care for healthy, compassionate reasons and rubbing your new-found freedom in his face. If you’re trying to set both of you free, there’s no reason to be deliberately hurtful in the process (again, with an exception if he was abusive).
Secondly, it’s not authentic. If you’re flirting with someone else just so your ex can see, that’s not respectful of yourself or the guy you’re flirting with. You’ll probably end up feeling awkward and maybe a little guilty, especially if he turns out to be really interested in you.
Being dishonest is rarely an ethical choice, but there are times when making him think you don’t care is the right thing to do. This includes if he was abusive (you have no ethical obligations to someone who abuses you) or if it’s in both of your best interests.
The period after a breakup is often highly emotional. Some people hate their exes but other people have much more mixed emotions. That’s normal. You loved this person while you were dating them and they’re still the same person now. It’s ok to still care about them.
Manipulating someone means having control or influence over them. If you’re pretending you don’t care to change their behavior, it is manipulative. That doesn’t mean it’s bad. What matters is what you’re trying to achieve. Trying to protect yourself or others is a good use of manipulation.
Getting over a relationship can be a difficult process, especially if he keeps trying to take things back to the way they were. Use these tips to help you maintain your boundaries and gain the space you need to heal properly.
This minimizes the baggage you take from one relationship to the next and gives you the best possible chance of having a strong, healthy relationship next time around.
Did you enjoy this article? Did it give you ideas to help your healing process go smoothly? Let me know in the comments below and make sure that you share this advice with anyone who might need it.