There’s no such thing as an easy or kind breakup. By their very definition, breakups are messy and painful, ranging from the emotional equivalent of ripping off a Band-Aid to a Mack truck running you over, backing up, and doing it again. And sometimes being the dumper is just as hard as being dumped. While there are many books out there to usher the dumpee through a breakup, the rules for breaking up with someone remain somewhat unwritten. Below, an attempt to spell them out. Feel free to forward to the jerk who dumped you via text message on your birthday.
Note that some rules (marked with an asterisk) are hard and fast. No matter how low-down and dirty your S.O. may have acted, common decency demands that you follow these guidelines.
The Breakup Don’ts
*Don’t break up using social media. Changing your Facebook relationship status to “single,” or announcing to the Twittersphere that you’re on the market before you inform the person you’re dumping, is deplorable. Even after The Talk, announcing a breakup to the World Wide Web requires some sensitivity—and a little bit of time. A day for every month you were together, or a week for every year, seems fair. Dumpees, on the other hand, can update as soon as they slam the phone down. In the words of Bobby Brown, it’s their prerogative.
*Don’t break up with a Post-it. It might make for a funny episode of Sex and the City, but breaking up using any form of communication that limits your character count is reprehensible. This goes for texting as well, and there’s a special spot in hell for those who do it with txtspk.
Don’t dump someone on (or the day before) a birthday, holiday, or deadline. If this one isn’t self-explanatory, then you’ve got bigger issues.
Don’t dump someone in public. You may think breaking up with someone in a restaurant or coffee shop will prevent a “scene.” It a) won’t and b) will only make the person hate you.
Don’t use the classic lines, even if you mean them. “It’s not you, it’s me” was trite the first time it was uttered; now it’s about as believable as “I’m moving to Antarctica.” Find some other way to say what you mean, without falling back on the old clichés.
Don’t dump someone after a date. It’s sort of a pump fake. The last thing a dumpee wants to be left with is the knowledge that you spent your final date together thinking about how you were going to break his heart.
Don’t pull a disappearing act. Slowly backing away from a relationship and expecting the other person to catch your drift is just cowardly. Grow some balls, face the situation, and let the other person move on.
The Breakup Dos
Do make it short. The more you ramble, the more likely you are to say something you wish you hadn’t. Think about what you’re going to say before you instigate The Talk, and include only the details the dumpee needs to know (i.e., not your growing crush on the barista at your local Starbucks).
Do make it sweet (if he deserves it). If someone’s been a total jerk, no sugar-coating is required. But I learned long ago that you should always sandwich bad news with good. Let him know what you did appreciate about the relationship—but don’t go overboard, or you’ll sound patronizing.
Do break up face to face (if at all possible). It’s about respect and showing someone he’s worth the time it takes to meet in person. There are, however, some instances in which a “Dear John” letter is permissible—even merciful. Short-term, long-distance relationships don’t need to drag out until someone finds an eSaver. And sometimes people express themselves better in writing or need the space and privacy a letter allows. A few years ago, email would never have been an acceptable medium for breaking up, but things change. If you do send your breakup letter over email, however, be prepared for it to be forwarded.
*Do let the dumpee have his say (if he wants it). Whether the breakup is face to face or in writing, the dumpee has a right to be heard. Give him a chance to respond, and don’t stonewall him if or when he does. Listen and respond to the best of your ability. That said, don’t push him to talk if he doesn’t want to.
Do You Really Want to Be Friends with Your New Ex?
“I hope we can be friends.” It’s the first thing many dumpers or dumpees say postbreakup; for the dumpee, it’s that last glimmer of hope; for the dumper, it’s an act of compassion. Next time, ask yourself these questions before you go the friend route:
- Can you envision yourself having coffee or dinner with your ex in the future?
- Can you resist ex sex?
- Would you be able to handle hearing about his new girlfriend? How about attending his wedding?
- Would you still be willing to listen to him complain about his job, family, or back problems?
- Would you be fine if you never saw him again?
- Are you just trying to avoid feeling like a jerk?
If You Really Do …
Don’t rush it. You’re not going to be friends the day after you break up. And you certainly aren’t going to be friends at 2 a.m. the night after you break up, which leads to ex sex. Even if you can have a no-strings-attached walk down memory lane, your ex might not be able to. Try to limit your first platonic interactions to public places, during daylight hours. And sex isn’t the only thing in the relationship that’s going to change: your ex is not going to be your best friend. You can’t talk every day like you used to, and you can’t lean on him for support, at least not yet. You’ll need to take a few big steps away first, both physically and emotionally.
If You Really Don’t …
Opting out of a friendship with your ex does not mean opting out of being polite. If you meet in public, be civil, no matter what. Venting is a natural part of the breakup process. It’s unrealistic to expect both the dumper and the dumpee won’t have a few choice words to spout about their new ex, but be careful whom you vent to. If you have nothing nice to say, say nothing at all, or, if you’re human like the rest of us, bad-mouth him only to your own trusted friends, not to mutual friends, as tempting as it will be. It may feel reassuring to rally allies in the wake of a breakup, but it will only prolong any pain and anger.
The goal of any breakup is to survive the fallout and limit the collateral damage. Follow these guidelines, and you can know you at least acted humanely.