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Is There Ever a 'Good' Way to Break Up with Someone?

Here is one blueprint so you don't fuck it up next time.

by Beth McColl
22 September 2017, 9:11pm

Ilustración: Michael Dockery.

A break-up is like a dentist appointment – even when it's going good, you still have someone you won't see again for months rooting around for answers while you struggle to breathe and feel a bit sick. The "good" way to end a relationship is still horrible, but at least it's honest and straightforward. It leaves the future clear for rebuilding your totally destroyed sense of self.

I heard my fair share of horror stories while researching this piece. The most brutal of the bunch included being dumped right before asking for a ride to the airport, after a family funeral, in the shower directly after having sex and at a party before taking someone else home. One girl got dumped via a SoundCloud rap. But there were good ways, too. There were stories about kind and honest conversations, crying, mutual respect, ample time given for the dumpee to say their piece, but not so much time that they felt like they could convince the dumper to reconsider.

My own most memorable break-up was right before Miguel took to the stage at Wireless Festival in 2016. The guy in question chose Snapchat messenger to break the news. The indignity was way worse than the knowing we'd never see each other again, but then Miguel appeared, dressed all in white, like an angel or a beautiful Bichon Frise. I cried behind my mirrored sunglasses as he played "Sure Thing", turned off my phone for "Hollywood Dreams", and by the time he closed out his set with "Adorn" I knew I'd be alright in the end.

But sometimes Miguel won't be available to guide your recently heartbroken ex through misery. Here's everything I've found out about how to carry off a good break-up without the help of an alternative R&B and funk sensation.


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Don't Ghost

In a poll of almost 4,000 people I did on Twitter, more than 42 percent said that ghosting in a non-threatening situation is never acceptable. 35 percent said it was fine, but only before you'd made it "official". The rest – a whole 890 people (criminals) – answered that it's OK to ghost whenever. We're going to ignore them and say that you need to override the flighty, panicked, ghosty impulse and try not to vanish on someone with whom you've shared good and respectful times. A short and to the point conversation is the quick Band-Aid tug that saves weeks of ignored text messages, confusion, self-doubt and existential agony. So state your reason, say you know how shitty it feels, but that this decision is the right one for you. Serve all that misery up at once. A horrid trifle of sorts.

Don't Lie

I've been tempted to lie before – not to save my own skin, but because I wanted them to really believe it wasn't their shortcomings that had brought us here. I'd blame my illness, my lack of emotional availability, my allergies, whatever. I thought that if I took the rap they wouldn't have to hurt. It turns out this is some bullshit. Break-ups suck, and this self-sacrificing dishonesty is the same as giving them a good old fashioned, "It's not you, it's me." So don't embellish the truth to try to make it hurt less. It's like my grandma always says: "You can't put a potato in a wedding dress and call it your wife." Don't pretend you're moving to Yemen. Don't say you're getting back with your ex when you're obviously not. And definitely don't bat out the classic: you need to work on yourself before you can love someone else.

Don't Tell Too Much of the Truth

Yeah, whatever – I know what I just said, but you don't have to have a great or brilliant reason for wanting to break-up. It's not "science" or Dragon's Den. But giving them an itemised list of all the reasons why you aren't compatible does no good, and will just make your newest ex feel like a hoover being returned to the shop. They don't need to know that you were looking for a cordless vacuum that would travel effortlessly from hard floor to carpet, and that although you tried to find their upright design and steam-cleaning function attractive, you just couldn't fake it. Trust that the universe has someone else lined up who loves a steam cleaning function and then leave their world without crushing it.

Photo: Chris Bethell

Make It a Clean Break

The simple truth to a good break-up with someone who didn't treat you badly but wasn't the one for you is this: do what you can to leave them in the best possible position to feel heard, understood and ready to move on. So don't linger in the doorway, and resist the urge to backtrack or throw them a delicious but ultimately deceitful bone. Be clear and say the uncomfortable but true thing: I can't continue this relationship with you. Do it as soon as you're sure it's what you want. Take inspiration from an anonymous contributor who broke up with her boyfriend by simply pointing at herself and then at him, and saying, "This… yeah… I don't wanna."

In Person Is Usually Best

Unless you live a truly outrageous distance apart (e.g. there are more than 82 Burger Kings between you) a phone dump isn't fine. As for text dumping: just, no. For a start you have zero idea what the other person is doing. One now happily married guy told me this story: "My dog had been ill for a little while when we decided to have him put down. I was waiting in a room, I'd just filled out some forms and my sister was on the way. Anyway, they came to get me, so I could be there when they did it. And just as I stood up to go, my phone vibrated with a text from my girlfriend, telling me she 'couldn't do this any more'." Another woman found out that her fiancee was leaving her via a voicemail: "I listened to it about nine times in a row. What he said wasn't unreasonable, and if he'd told me that in person, or even over the phone, sure. But fucking voicemail?"

So arrange a time where you can talk face-to-face – somewhere neutral and somewhere you won't be disturbed. And leave as little time as possible between the arranging and the meeting, so as to minimise the time spent agonising on both sides.

Don't Do It On a Picnic

I had no idea this was a thing, but four different people told me stories about getting taken on a picnic and dumped. Maybe it's one serial picnic dumper, I don't know. But don't do this. Thank you.

Give It Time Before Attempting to Be Friends

I understand the desire to seamlessly transition from shagging and holding hands to being pals. It feels mature and enlightened and like something Gwyneth Paltrow would do. But it's actually not those things. It's actually stupid. So cut it out. Give the two of you time to be apart and come to terms with not being one another's person any more. You can revisit friendship later, when the pain is small and harmless and looking at their face IRL makes you feel the same as when you look at everyone else's face, AKA not a lot. You can catch up, share memes, make something healthy and new and truthful.

So that's how you do it. That's how you make the best out of a gory mess of a break-up: you rise to the occasion. You don't cower and debate and change your phone number. You sit and you open your mouth and you tell them what they need to know to understand the situation, but no more than that. Then you close your mouth. You listen. You nod. You leave. You feel bad. You worry about them. But then you get a hot dog. You open your mouth again. Everyone is fine.

@imteddybless

More on relationships:

How To Deal With a Break-up In Your Twenties

What Young People Fear the Most