The Better Way to Break Up
While taxiing home after a successful girls’ night, my good friend recounted her latest dating dilemma. It boils down to this: they went out, had a great time, and a week later, he hasn’t been in touch. Maybe this guy likes to take things slow. Maybe he lost his phone. Maybe not.
Rejection is an unfortunate rule of the dating game—particularly when it comes to online dating. You’re happily messaging StudMuffin123 until you muster the nerve to ask him out for coffee and…no response. On the flip side, you power through a first date with a guy who really loves to talk about himself. You nod at all of the appropriate places, really make an effort to get a word in edgewise and resist the urge to beeline when he orders another beer. At the end of the night, he tries to set up Round Two, and there is an awkward silence until finally you mumble, “I have your number.”
It’s not easy to say, “I’m just not that into you.” Which could explain why people either don’t initiate a break-up when they should, or otherwise do it badly. Arguably, there is no wrong way to break up with someone, so long as the deed is done. I beg to differ. Whether declining a second date, winding down a summer romance, or ending a long term relationship, there is a better way to break-up. This means fewer hard feelings, more self-respect, and most importantly, more energy—for both parties—to get back out there and find that match.
Most of us could stand to brush up on our dumping etiquette. Here are a few tips to get you started:
Be kind. It goes without saying—almost. A break-up is the perfect time to lay out how you really feel about his/her obsession with Mumford and Sons. Right? Wrong. There is no need to dish out personal attacks that could be summarized with a quick and classy, “I’m just not that into you.” Not only will this preserve your ex’s self-esteem, but also you’ll feel good about taking the high road.
Be constructive. If you must criticize, then do it constructively.
Be clear. Have you ever tried to break up with someone, and then find yourself still in the relationship a week later? I have. Although it doesn’t help to be overly harsh, the break-up might not even take effect if you’re too nice. Use “I” statements to tap into the break-up sweet spot, for instance, this model from the University of Tennessee Family & Consumer Sciences:
- I feel…(insert feeling word)
- When…(tell what caused the feeling)
- I would like…(tell what you want to happen instead)
Example: “I feel unhappy in this relationship, and I would like to call it quits.” Not much room for misinterpretation.
Face your fears. I was not impressed when a boyfriend of six months decided to end things over the phone. While the text/email/phone call break-up is efficient, it is also cowardly. Particularly for relationships longer than two months, man (or woman) up and break it off in person. Giving the dumpee an opportunity to express her displeasure/sadness/rage is really just common courtesy.
Exception: If the relationship is early days (i.e. you’ve had five dates or less), by all means text/email/phone in your feelings rather than pulling a disappearing act.
Be timely. If you know at three months that it’s just not working, then break it off at three months. There is nothing noble about wasting someone’s time.
Give space. If you’ve just broken somebody’s heart, then help them heal by removing yourself from the picture. If you live in the same neighborhood, then go to the other coffee shop—not the one you know to be her favorite. If you frequent the same social circles, then don’t force people to pick sides. If you work in the same place, then don’t linger by your ex’s desk. You get the idea.
Give back…his speakers, her iPod charger, his sweater, her spare key without protest if your ex comes looking for any of these items. If not? Rock your ex-boyfriend jeans, and don’t look back.