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posted: 11/12/2012 12:59 PM

Time to be honest with smitten boyfriend

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Q. I'm 16 and in my first relationship. We've been dating just over a month. At first I really liked him, but the more I'm getting to know him, I kind of want out. He's a good guy, just not the guy for me. My family is in love with him so I haven't really talked to them about it.

The thing is, I don't know how to break up with someone. He's graduating this year and keeps talking about our future when he goes to college, and I don't want to crush him. I haven't really given any warning signs, so as far as he knows I'm perfectly happy. So if I break up with him now, he would be confused and hurt!

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This may seem a bit melodramatic, since it is my first relationship and all, but I seriously don't know what to do.

-- Young and Clueless

A. If it's any consolation, most breakups are melodramatic -- and the ones that aren't often become melodramatic when one party gets upset that the other party isn't upset enough. This can apply at 32 and in your nth relationship.

That said, you can do a lot to minimize the misery of the breakup -- most of it (she said unhelpfully) well before you want to break up.

Choosing carefully is one such disaster-prevention measure. Not every choice will be a winner and, cheez, you're 16. But you can try to avoid people who are explosive or punitive -- and not commit to people you don't know well yet. Non-abusive partners allow you to make the inevitable relationship mistakes without steep emotional prices.

I can't say it enough: The most important question to ask before getting in is whether the person will make it hard for you to get out. If yes, say no.

The next breakup softener is to confide in people who want what's best for you vs. themselves. Your family's disappointment is their problem, not yours, and if they agree with that, then do talk to them. Having someone to confide in outside a relationship can keep you from feeling stuck. Again, true at 16, 36, 60.

The most important element of a good breakup, though? Honesty throughout the relationship.

Consider your dilemma: Your boyfriend stands to be blindsided because "as far as he knows I'm perfectly happy." It is so important not to feign contentment when your doubts are piling up. Don't be a pouting weenie, either, of course; the middle ground is expansive.

So when a boyfriend waxes poetic and you're still in prose -- or vice versa -- don't just look at the floor. Say where you are and why; if you don't know why, then admit you don't know.

It's tough to do, feels awkward and often heartless, and tanks whatever date you're on at the time, it shows respect and keeps expectations grounded. And, if it leads to a breakup, then you needn't agonize about what to say or when; it'll just be the next step in a running, honest exchange that behooves you both.

It's late with your boyfriend, but start anyway: "I haven't been fair to you. When you've talked about next year, I haven't admitted that I'm not ready for that."

Responsibility taken, truth told, conversation started.

• Email Carolyn at tellmewashpost.com, follow her on Facebook at www.facebook.com/carolyn.hax or chat with her online at noon Eastern time each Friday at www.washingtonpost.com.

2012 The Washington Post

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