Death by Text: The Pathology of a Bad Breakup

For Joel”¦

I had a pretty shite weekend. I broke my toe and spent a goodly amount of time in bed, pain meds made my tummy sour so I couldn’t eat the soup my honey concocted for me, and I was too drowsy to even enjoy a full episode of Downton Abbey on DVD. The weekend was an all around blergh. Maybe blergh +.

But as lame as my weekend was, my friend Joel had one fit for the books. His boyfriend broke up with him. On his birthday. Via text message.

I’m pretty sure there hasn’t been a more WTF breakup since Berger left Carrie a Post-It.

I’ve heard many people (perhaps the fellas especially), argue that breakups are upsetting no matter what so why bother trying to pull one off with care and tact, but does anyone who says that actually believe that? If you asked most heartbreakers if they want their soon-to-be ex-significant other to feel disrespected and insignificant would they genuinely answer, “yes”? My guess is that not all of these people are complete turd piles, so why do they convince themselves that a text/phone/Facebook/Post-It breakup is okay? I propose that they succumb to this faulty thinking because they wrongly assume that the pain of losing the relationship is what makes a breakup bad, when it’s actually discourtesy that results in a breakup’s badness. Not being loved/liked will probably always result in hurt, but it will not always result in resentment. Avoiding resentment is the key to avoiding a bad breakup.

I have been broken up with before. Yeah, I know. There are people out there who didn’t want all of this (I’m gesturing at myself and my bodaciousness). And in my experience, a dumping by someone, even someone for whom I had deep feelings, didn’t make me angry or resentful if it was done honestly, respectfully, and timely. On the other hand, even some knucklehead I had only minimally requisite feelings for could tick me right off with a rude-ace drive-by dumping.

The key to a decent breakup is courtesy.

I provided an example of a terrible breakup by sharing my friend Joel’s experience. But let me contrast the birthday text breakup from Heck with another friend’s breakup. My girlfriend Jen pulled off the world’s most painless relationship severance (yeah, I know that’s weird phrasing, but I’m just tired of typing “breakup”) several months ago, I’m still in awe.

Jen had plans to meet with a guy she’d been dating who she just wasn’t interested in. She showed up to the restaurant early and instead of getting a table, went to the bar. When Jen’s date got there, she asked him to sit for a drink instead of going to a table, and said, right off the bat, “Tim, you’re a great guy, with a lot to offer, and I mean that sincerely. But you and I don’t seem to be a match, and I don’t think we should continue to date.” I’m told Tim just sort of blinked for a moment, so she continued, “I wanted to do this over a pre-dinner drink so that you wouldn’t go home tonight feeling bad about having just bought dinner for a woman who broke up with you. If you’d still like to share a meal, I’d like to treat.” After a short while, Tim said, “No, I think I’ll just go home.” Jen asked him if he had any questions and he replied, “Nope, I think we’re good. Thanks for being direct.” “No problem,” said Jen. And I might be editorializing here, but I think they even shook hands”¦ or high fived. Maybe that’s just how I picture it. In any case, Jen then called some friends and had dinner with us instead. Done. Tim might have really liked Jen and left feeling pretty low about the relationship ending, but there’s no way he could think that Jen didn’t value his time or feelings, she showed him that she did through her actions.

Actions that definitely show you don’t value a person’s time or feelings, on the other hand, include:

Face-to-Face Avoidance. Meeting in person acknowledges the importance of the relationship (whether vastly important, or just, hey, we spent some time together and maybe it wasn’t major, but we’ll each take something away from this). It also gives the dumpee the opportunity to respond to the breakup or ask questions. And even though a Q&A might sound exhausting to the dumper, it’s only fair to make room for it. Avoiding a face-to-face in order to escape the time suck of a big drawn out thing really just signals that you value your own time and energy but not the other person’s. Meeting in person also raises the likelihood that the dumper’s tone will remain appropriately sensitive. It’s so much harder to be a dick in person than it is via phone or email. Meatspace is the best friend of any good breakup. That said, once you’ve done this initial in-person breakup, there’s no obligation to meet with the dumpee in person ever again, no matter how much “closure” the other party may desire. Which brings me to the next bad breakup move”¦

The Backslide. It is very, very, extremely important in a decent breakup that the dumping be one and done. Except for extraordinarily rare cases where the dumper actually realizes s/he’s made a huge mistake and wants to win the dumpee back in grand romantic movie fashion so that the pair may enjoy a lifetime partnership, the dumper should NOT call the dumpee after the breakup (especially while sauced). The dumper should also not: try to be friends with the dumpee (at least not right away), go to the dumpee’s favorite haunts (even if the dumper also reeeeally likes that bar), text the dumpee, email the dumpee, Facebook the dumpee, or do any other thing that could result in post-breakup smooshing, or even false hope on the dumpee’s part of a smoosh (or even a cuddle). Backsliding might be fun for the dumper who is now more bored as a singleton than s/he imagined s/he’d be, and also craving the validation that the dumpee provided, but it is THE MOST SELFISH and dickish thing a dumper can do. It actively prevents the other party from moving on.  And it is guaranteed to result in the world’s worse breakup down the line. If you need further explanation of why this is bad, please review Put a Bullet in It. Stay out of the dumpee’s way, even if the dumpee doesn’t realize that’s what s/he actually needs and wants. It’s the respectful choice.

Aspersion. Not every dumpee is going to be as stable as Tim from Jen’s best-ever-breakup. Some people act in anger, even when they don’t legitimately have anything to be angry about. This is understandable behavior when coming from a wounded bird. If you do a totally nice breakup and you still get your ass chewed, turn the other (ass)cheek! Don’t ever say mean things. First of all, there’s no point. The relationship is done now, why make the dumpee feel bad about some trait that you no longer have to worry about? Second, calling names and pointing out flaws is the surest way to make it to the top of the most-hated ex list – and I don’t think you want to be there. Third, you actually care about other people’s feelings, right? So why would you try to cause hurt”¦ even if it would be kind of satisfying to say, “Yeah?! Well your breath always smells like a turd wrapped in burnt hair!”

Gossip. I don’t even really need to describe why this is bad, do I? The dumper could pull off the world’s cleanest, nicest breakup, but trashing the dumpee to other people after the fact will undo any goodwill (or breakup karma) that was initially built. I know that dumpers want to vent too, but it’s best to do it with a therapist, attorney, clergy or some other person obligated to keep strict confidences.

The Faux Nice Guy. Oh, ho, ho, this is the breakup gone awry that I most often hear about from guys. It always starts with, “I didn’t want to be a jerk, so”¦” and is followed by some action that only a jerk would do. The thing that’s odd about this one is that truly nice people pull The Faux Nice Guy all the time, and it’s because they’re being chickenshit. Here’s an example: “I didn’t want to be a jerk, so I went to her cousin’s wedding in St. Louis with her and appeared in all of the family photos and met her Mee-Maw and Paw-Paw, even though I can no longer tolerate the idea of spending one more week as her boyfriend.” I can appreciate that the prospective dumper doesn’t want to ruin the prospective dumpee’s good time at the cousin’s wedding. But never, EVER go meet the family if you know the relationship’s days are numbered. Don’t do it. I don’t care if the prospective dumpee bought you a plane ticket. The other party will only feel worse once they know the dumper was just going through the motions and will also probably feel taken advantage of for whatever planning and expense was involved. A real nice guy would decline, even if it means looking like a punk in the short-term.

The Dragout. Speaking of cousins, The Faux Nice Guy and The Dragout are first cousins. Nice guys/gals tend to take a little too long to break things off because they really don’t want to hurt other people’s feelings. This is noble in concept, but in practice, it’s a disaster.  Remember Jen? She didn’t even want to drag things out into dinner, because she genuinely respected Tim’s time. The sooner Tim knew he was dumped, the sooner he could start getting over it. Rip that soiled bandage right off! There’s no reason to drag these things out. Think of that old adage that your Mee-Maw and Paw-Paw love, “Why put off for tomorrow what you can do today.” Oh, and definitely don’t hold off on breaking up with someone just because you need to borrow her/his car. Unconscionable. Take a cab.

High Holy Day Breakups. There is one exception, and only one, to The Dragout and The Faux Nice Guy, do not breakup with folks on: a) their birthday; b) a major holiday; or c) the worst day of their life. Basically, don’t forever taint a special day with the memory of something terrible or make an already horrible day when the person’s self-protection mechanisms are shot even worse. In this ONE case, put the breakup off until tomorrow. You’re granted a ONE-day extension in this case,and this case alone. That said, you can avoid this pickle by planning ahead. Did you really just decide this weekend, Joel’s ex-boyfriend, that you wanted to break up with him? Or could you have done this a few days before his birthday? Hmm? Respect special days. Dumping on a birthday, Holy Day, or Valentine’s Day is just rude.  Also, don’t breakup with a person at their favorite place. Why does this happen so often?! Throw in a “let’s go somewhere else” if you feel a dumping coming on while at the dumpee’s favorite bar, restaurant, or park.

Avoid these, and you’ll likely avoid anger (the real kind, the kind that lasts) and resentment. And if you can manage that, you’ll significantly lessen your chances of causes a truly terrible, shameful breakup.

Okay, I think that’s it (cue NBC’s “The More You Know” jingle).

Oh, wait, can I add a p.s.? Thinking about past breakups has me grateful to have the kind of mate who would not only never attempt a text/phone/Facebook/Post-It/email/tin cans connected with yarn/Morse Code/semaphore/note in the locker breakup, but who also makes soup for his laday when she’s down and out. You are a gem, Mr. Blonde. A giant, square-headed, precious gem.

3 replies on “Death by Text: The Pathology of a Bad Breakup”

At what point in a relationship does parting ways actual count as a breakup? I went on three dates with a dude that was ooooooooook but not like an instant love match. I decided I’d rather go down a different path (with a married couple, woot) instead of continuing to see that guy because he was starting to get a little clingy. Like, called me in the middle of his work day just to say “hi” after the 2nd date. I ended up sending him a text message instead of doing it face to face because honestly…I’d only seen his face three times.

So really, what constitutes a “relationship” worthy of a face to face breakup?

Congrats on the married couple!

I don’t know. If it was a few dates it’s just dates I think? IDK, For me it’s a break up if it’s at the point where I’d list them by name in a relationship status (whether I do or not actually go through with it depends on the other person’s comfort with their name being listed. I would still have a listing for the status just not with their name.) on facebook. Generally I don’t even list a name along side the it’s complicated if I don’t think there’s something where ending it is breakup ish. But then, I use it’s complicated to list relationships where we are something but I’m not sure it has enough romantic potential for actually dating so. (as seen in my current facebook profile.)

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