The Best Way To End A Casual Relationship (And The Worst Way)
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 master's research in the area.
How to end a casual relationship the wrong way.
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? 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) and 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 of 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).
How to end a casual relationship the right way.
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 "phaseouts" 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 No. 1 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 phaseout or ghosting. 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:
Don't try to blame it on something else.
Trying to blame it on something else just extends the process. For example, don't say, "I'm not emotionally available" or "You deserve better." Those statements 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."
Don't keep sleeping with them if you know they want more.
Usually one person wants more.
Don't keep texting or interacting on social media.
Stop liking their Instagram photos and FB statuses, sending them messages ("Thinking of you!"), and texting them. It will be confusing for them and will delay their healing process.
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.
Remind yourself that it's OK to feel bad about this.
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.
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 supporters 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:
- You are entitled to your feelings.
- You are allowed to change your mind.
- You are allowed to be selfish.
- You're allowed to break up with someone over text message or Facebook Chat.
- You are not a bad person.
Megan Bruneau, M.A., is a therapist, executive coach, and wellness writer based in New York City. She received her bachelor of arts in psychology and family studies from the University of British Columbia and a masters of arts in counselling psychology from Simon Fraser University. She is a registered clinical counselor (RCC) in British Columbia, but now works with clients in New York and globally via remote work. Drawing inspiration from her own experiences, Bruneau has contributed to The Huffington Post, Forbes, and Thrillist and has appears on Good Morning America and New York 1 Morning News. She is also the host of the podcast Better Because of It.