How do you tell them it's over?
Is there any "right" way to break up with someone?
For me, it's probably right up there with the most unpleasant things you can do. I'd happily undergo a root canal without anaesthesia before I told someone that I "just wasn't that into them". If it's clear that they're feeling more or less the same way, it's not such a big deal, but when one party is quite keen and the other wants out, there's no easy way to break the bad news.
In high school, there was less beating around the bush. "You're dumped," would generally suffice, or perhaps he'd tell his best mate instead and the news would trickle down through your classmates until word finally got back to you, the now-ex-girlfriend.
Worse perhaps was a practice that sadly, some don't outgrow as teenagers. The confrontation-averse would choose to simply ignore the problem - the problem being the unwanted boyfriend or girlfriend - until the said problem finally stopped making unreturned phone calls and texts and got the message that the relationship was over. It's probably my least favourite version of a breakup, and one that I've never subjected anyone else to. If you're going to end it with someone, tell them straight out, and don't make the poor sod go through that undignified, soul-destroying process of checking their phone every five minutes for the message or call that will never come.
I remember seeing a guy when I was about 18 or 19. It was a brief relationship but I was totally infatuated, and then, a few weeks in, he stopped returning my calls. Regrettably, I went to his house to see him, clinging to the delusional hope that perhaps he'd lost his phone. He wasn't home but his Mum sat me down and told me what Dean couldn't - he wasn't really ready for new girlfriend. I got dumped by Dean's Mum.
To his credit, Dean followed up his Mum's intervention with a very nice handwritten apology letter and a bunch of flowers - Lois' suggestion, I'm sure, but it softened the blow all the same. When he started dating someone else a couple of weeks later, I realised that Lois had fed me a load of BS. Not ready for a new girlfriend, pffft. Dean just wasn't that into me.
Would I have preferred to have been told the truth? Probably not. I don't think it would have made me feel any better about myself, and I think that sometimes a little white lie - "I'm not really over my ex"; "I think I just need to focus on me for a while" is infinitely kinder than telling someone the truth - that they have bad breath, that you met someone better-looking, or that their skills in the bedroom are not up to scratch.
A friend of mine, Tara, told me about a recent experience she'd had with a guy she'd been on a few dates with. They didn't sleep together, but when they finally kissed she didn't feel any chemistry. A shame, given that he was perfect on paper, she said. Dropping Tara home at the end of their last date, he'd asked when he was going to see her again. "Ummmm..." she said. "I'll have a look in the diary and get back to you." Tara knew there wouldn't be a next time, but didn't have the guts to say that to his face. The next day, she wrote him an email telling him that although she thought he was great, she wasn't really "feeling it".
His response surprised her. "Thanks for letting me know," he said, "but um, sh*t way to do it."
Tara conceded that cutting it off via email wasn't the most courageous thing she'd done, but at the same time wondered if, after just four dates, she owed him anything more than that? "It's not like we were officially going out or anything," she told me. "And at least it was an email, that's better than a text message, right?"
I told Tara I'd done much worse, breaking up with a long-term boyfriend via email after several face-to-face attempts to end it always resulted in him talking me into staying. In email, I figured he had it in writing, and could re-read it to confirm what he had trouble hearing. It also gave me the opportunity to be far more eloquent than I would have been in person, and more comprehensible, without the snotty crying fits that accompanied my efforts to do it while looking at his sad face.
We met up again afterwards to talk it through properly, but in that situation, I felt that the email was a necessary prelude to the tête-à-tête.
What do you think? Is email - or even text - ever an acceptable way to break up with someone? How honest should we be when telling the dumped why we're not staying around?
- Sydney Morning Herald