I've felt apprehensive about writing on this topic and have thus avoided it for a while. Then today I read this article, and realized it was time. I know most of you can relate to this topic; some of you have been on both sides of the experience, and some of you only on one. But see the thing is, I didn't want to write about how to break up with someone, because I didn't want to seem like an asshole.
Hmm … similar to how I never want to break up with someone because I don't want to seem like an asshole.
Breaking someone's heart (or wounding it, if you're in a more casual relationship) really effing sucks. We always focus on how to heal a broken heart after being dumped, but we never acknowledge how crappy it is to be the heartbreaker. This is why I chose to do my masters research in the area. (Ironically, when I was writing the final chapter of my thesis, I got harshly dumped. Karma or timely comparison experience?)
Anyway, ending a relationship — whether it be a casual one or a marriage — is thick with anxiety, guilt, and conflict. And thus, what do we tend to do? Like me with this topic, we avoid. In the form of more serious, long term relationships, we avoid "the talk." We silently remove ourselves from the relationship emotionally. We have unenthusiastic sex (or no sex) then lie awake next to them for the remainder of the night.
In casual relationships, we stop answering text messages or provide short, uninterested answers. We say we're busy for the next couple weeks. We say we're busy forever.
I used to say "I just don't like hurting people." I would then phase people out accordingly or slowly distance myself from them emotionally, which was easier on my conscience but far harder on my exes. I've since realized that sure, I don't like hurting people, but what's really happening is that I don't like guilt and anxiety and conflict, so I ignore or avoid the "problem" to gain the illusion that "it's" (they've) gone away And the reality is that they might go away, but they do so wondering what the heck just happened (and sometimes send a string of angry text messages). .
So before I offer some tips on breaking up with someone, I want to qualify this. I've been on both sides, many times. I've had my heart smashed to bits twice, and I'm pretty sure I've smashed a couple. I've been on the receiving end of a casual relationship ending over text message, Facebook Chat, the "phase-out," and the "I'm gonna drink few glasses of wine while you tell me you're seeing someone more seriously now and we can no longer talk."
I get it. And maybe it's because my current relationship has actually lasted longer than two weeks (I wouldn't be surprised if our friends had a betting pool going) so it won't seem completely insensitive to blog about it, or maybe it's because I feel convicted enough in my research to let the judgment fly, but either way, let's talk about breaking hearts.
Carrie Bradshaw told us that there is a good way to break up with somebody. To their face: no text messages, emails, or post-its. But I disagree, and I think one of the reasons we have so many "phase-outs" is because heartbreakers believe they should probably have the face-to-face conversation but can't tolerate what they might feel if they do. So ease up on your expectations. Just set your goal to actually communicate to your in-the-dark admirer that you're no longer interested.
Thus, the number one tip for breaking up with someone is to actually break up with them. Just. Do It. If you can't do it face to face, do it over text message, email, or Facebook Chat. This is better than a phase out. Communicate. Let's change the culture from the all-or-nothing face-to-face or disappearing act to make space for the means in-between. Your ex will thank you, and you'll appreciate it when you're on the other end in the future.
And, here are some runner-up points to help with the transition:
1. Don't try to blame it on something else or you'll just extend the process.
For example, don't say "I'm not emotionally available" or "You deserve better." Those statement might be true, but they're likely not the reason you want to end things. Try something like, "I'm not totally invested in this, and I don't think it's fair to you to continue stringing you along," or "I've been seeing someone else and I think we're a better fit for each other."
2. Don't keep sleeping with them if you know they want more.
Usually one person wants more.
3. Don't keep liking their Instagram photos and FB statuses, sending them messages ("Thinking of you!"), or texting them.
It will be confusing for them and will delay their healing process.
4. If you feel compelled to do any of the above, ask yourself if you're doing it for them or for you.
I have a really hard time knowing people don't like me, but it's unrealistic to expect that an ex is going to just let a breakup slide off their back and switch to being buds with you. Being rejected hurts, angers, and confuses peeps. The more selfless thing you can do in this situation is be firm with your decision.
5. Remind yourself that feeling anxious, guilty, and conflicted (and anything else) is OK.
It means you care. Don't try to ignore the feelings or tell yourself you shouldn't feel uncomfortable because you're choosing to end it. Be kind to yourself.
6. Be prepared to experience some negative feedback from that person and/or their allies.
Anger is a natural reaction to hurt. Remember you're likely not impermeable to insult, so ensure you have supports as well to debrief any negative feedback you receive.
At the end of it all, it sucks for both parties. Hurting someone sucks, and so does getting hurt. But remember that uncomfortable feelings and difficult experiences are all part of being a human. And, if you feel guilty, it's a good thing — it means you have a conscience.
And remember this: