Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Ready to Break Up? Read This

This article is currently published on's online dating and relationship advice magazine,

If you’re about to declare your independence, here are six ways to deliver the news (at least one of them will suit your situation.)

By Amy Spencer

Just as the old song says, breaking up is hard to do. So hard that some people keep dating months and years longer than they want to, just to avoid having to deliver the news. And that simply shouldn’t be the case. But sometimes it’s hard to know how to make the break.

Here, we take a look at six of the most common breakup techniques—what’s good about each, what’s bad, when to deploy each method and when not to. Take a look at these routes to Splitsville, and see which one suits your situation...and remember, do your best to always be kind and have good breakup karma.

1. The “We need to talk” talk
If you and your significant other have ever referred to one another as “boyfriend” or “girlfriend,” sitting down for a face-to-face, level-headed conversation is usually considered the best, most considerate tactic.

Pros: The “We need to talk” phrase is so notoriously linked to doom, so if you can spit that much out, you have a running start toward the end. You also get credit for being mature and fair, which keeps the door open for a friendship in the future, and doesn’t mar your reputation—which is vital if the two of you run in a similar group of friends.

Cons: You may have to endure extreme anxiety in the hours or weeks leading up to having the conversation. And though you may start the talk calmly, you have no control over what happens next. “After I explained to my girlfriend that our relationship was over, I made the mistake of suggesting we go for a walk to keep talking about it,” says Jason McIntyre, 28. “What started out as a silent walk by the water turned into a loud argument and her calling me names in front of a huge group of people.”

Tip: Prepare a bulletproof answer to the “But why?” question that will come up again and again. Your best bet: Reveal an issue you have that they can’t solve. It may be better for both of you if he or she walks away saying, “It’s true, the jerk does have serious mother issues...”

2. The un-love letter
On Sex and the City, Berger dumped Carrie with a Post-it. But there are a lot more sophisticated ways to get the bad news across—everything from a bona fide pen-to-paper “Dear John” letter to e-mail, voicemail, and text-messaging.

Pros: This is the right tactic for people who really can’t handle confrontations. If you’re going to hurt someone’s feelings, it’s a lot less painful for you if you can avoid seeing the look on their face that comes with it... and possibly the tears or words that follow. Also, if it is hard for you to get your feelings out in a conversation, a letter allows you to do so without getting sidetracked.

Cons: You will be called cowardly, cold-hearted and 4,000 other unprintable things by the other party involved. You deny them the opportunity to ask questions, process the situation with you, and have that all-important “closure.” “A guy I was dating for a year and a half stopped calling me back, then let himself into my apartment with his set of keys and left me sunflowers, the keys, and a breakup note that said nothing but to have a good time on a trip I was taking,” recalls one woman. “I was so taken aback. What a coward!”

Tip: The more words you write, the better. If you’re actually contemplating doing this to end a long-term relationship, you can somewhat save face by writing a page for every year you were together. Often, it’s not a letter or email itself that pisses someone off—it’s a short, flip letter.

3. The vanishing act
If you’re living in a place where you can get lost in the crowd, then literally doing so is one way to opt out.

Pros: This break-up tactic has two qualities that make it attractive to some: It requires less than zero effort, and it’s somewhat non-committal. Because there’s never a definitive breakup, some people can get away with contacting their ex weeks or months later to say hi or even restart things. If they run into their former sweetie accidentally, they say, “Hey, whatever happened with us, anyway?”

Cons: This break-up method is usually used when a relationship was just budding and no real connections had been forged. But to pull this stunt further along the love timeline is insanely disrespectful of your former sweetie’s emotions, not to mention time and energy. Here’s why: The person who gets dumped this way will take some time to catch on, and during that time, will be working quite hard to track you down. (It’s not uncommon for the dumpee in this situation to believe that something bad has befallen the dumper.) “I was dating a guy for three months when he disappeared, and I was a wreck because I thought something horrible had happened to him,” explains Jennifer Schwarz, 32. “I figured out he was just fine, thanks, when I went by his apartment and discovered he'd moved out. What a waste of my worrying!”

Tip: If the person you’re dumping knows where you live, where you work, or what Starbucks you go to in the morning, be prepared for an eventual awkward, angry confrontation.

4. The time-out tactic
When you want to cool off a relationship instead of ending it cold, the “let’s take a break” technique can work well.

Pros: If you are leaning towards breaking up but aren’t 100-percent ready to call it quits, this method can clarify where things stand. If you do know you want out, then this is a way to let someone down easy... you are telling them that the situation isn’t working and you’re trying to get some perspective. This can give the dumpee a chance to get used to his or her upcoming shift back to single status.

Cons: This can be emotional torture for both of you. Obviously, the person getting offloaded will be hurt and confused, but dragging it out can also be confusing to your own psyche. “I told a woman I was dating for six years that I wanted a break, but after a few weeks, I missed her and asked to get back together,” explains Sam Syed, 40. “Two weeks after she took me back, she dumped me! It was an emotional rollercoaster I wish we could have avoided.”

Tip: Don’t suggest seeing other people. It will be a lot less messy if you make this about taking time to think on your own, without adding other people—and jealousy—into it.

5. The ex-factor
Sometimes it feels much easier to bow out of a relationship if you say you can’t resist the gravitational pull of an old amour.

Pros: It may sting a little less on the dumpee’s end to hear this excuse versus being told “You’re just not it for me.” “I always say I’m getting back with my ex because I think it’s better for women to hear; it’s like a pre-existing condition,” says Todd Bush, 36. “I’m telling them I didn’t find someone better, but that I’m caught up in the feelings I had for someone before.”

Cons: If you’re not really going back to an ex, then you could get caught, which is embarrassing for both of you.

Tip: Make sure your mutual friends have your story straight—and the fewer details they have, the fewer they have to screw up. You wouldn’t want one saying to the person you just broke up with: “What are you talking about? His ex got married to someone else last year!”

6. The send-a-messenger method
This tactic involves sending someone else to do your dirty work, so you don’t have to deal with it yourself. Hey, subpoena messengers work for our judicial system...

Pros: Turning what could be an emotional moment into a business transaction can keep the dumpee’s reaction rather restrained. In fact, I was recently blown off via a man’s best friend: What started out as a “vanishing act” turned into a “send-a-messenger” method using the “ex-factor” excuse. “By the way,” the friend told me, “Tom wanted me to tell you he’s sorry, but he started seeing this girl he used to go out with.” I must admit, I was so befuddled by who was doing what to whom, it worked brilliantly.

Cons: Frankly, it’s a little fourth-grade. And you certainly had better not be using this on anyone who’s more than a casual date or yours. And, hey, you’re going to owe that friend you’ve sent, big-time.

Tip: Empower your messenger to offer a good eye-rolling and “I don’t know what his/her problem is” to soften the blow.

Amy Spencer is a freelance writer who covers relationships and lifestyle stories for Glamour, Maxim, Real Simple and other publications. While she admits to having used a few of the tactics explained here, it only dawned on her while writing this that, sadly, she’s been on the receiving end of even more.

You can also link directly to this article on, where you will find plenty more of my dating advice: Ready to Break Up?


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