Breaking Up in the Digital Age
Updated: Oct 23, 2019
Breaking up is hard to do…but the digital age gives us so many options (or excuses) to avoid breaking up with someone in person. Ending a relationship in person is painful, awkward and stress-inducing making a digital break-up the easier route to take. But is it always the right route to take?
Meeting is Easy, Ending it is the Hard Part
Now more than ever before, with the plentitude of dating sites and apps, you can meet several people on-line on a daily basis. Naturally, when you cast a wide net there will be many people who are not the right catch for you. And, considering we all present our best selves in the beginning, it can take months or longer, to really get to know someone and discern if they are right for you.
Furthermore, with the ease of meeting people and dating, there is a spectrum of breaking up - nipping something new in the bud before it gets too serious, ending a relationship that has included sex, and ending a long-term relationship in which you said those three, important words; “I love you." The longer the relationship, the harder it is to break up.
Thank You, Next
My general rule of thumb when breaking up with someone is the Golden Rule - to treat them as you would like them to treat you. Unless someone has done something really offensive, it is important to include at least 3 things in your break-up:
Be gracious. Thank them and say something nice about them and the time you spent together; maybe something you particularly enjoyed or learned. If the relationship was a train wreck, you may have to dig a little deeper to find something nice to say.
Be clear that you are breaking up. This is important. You might think you are avoiding hurting someone’s feelings. But there is nothing worse than confusion or a mixed message. It’s not nice and it does not help nor make it easier for that person to get over their potential loss. Being clear will help them to move on and give you a clean conscious so you can move forward and attract someone else better suited to you.
Wish them well and (only if you genuinely mean it) ask them to be friends. Exes can become good friends and be very supportive in life. Just be sure your ex isn’t the overbearing, possessive type, as this can quickly turn into a creepy stalker situation.
The Best Ways to Break it Off
The best way to break up with someone depends on the length of time of your relationship and its intensity. If you have only been casually hanging out or dating for a few months, it’s ok to email or text someone a brief note. Especially if that is the way you have both been communicating. You should be sweet, to the point and you wish them well. For example: “I have really enjoyed our time together, but ultimately, I don’t think we are a match. I wish you all the best in life!”
If you have been dating for more than a few months, or sense that the other person has strong feelings for you, the right thing to do is to have a telephone conversation or even better, to meet in person.
Although potentially hurting the other person’s feelings might seem scary, having a conversation in real time or face-to-face is the right thing to do. Doing so ultimately shows that you care enough to be clear and supportive. This does not have to be a lengthy conversation.
Again, it is important to include the above 3 things (be gracious, be clear, wish them well). It’s ok to say you are sorry that things did not work out and it’s also important to acknowledge their feelings as well as your own.
You don’t have to give a specific reason for the break-up unless you think it will help. If you do give a specific reason, keep it to “I statements” in order to preserve the other person’s ego and feelings. Some examples are; “I don’t feel we have enough common interests”, “I don’t feel we are moving in the same direction”, “I don’t feel supported”, “I don’t feel my needs are being met”. It’s also ok to just say “I don’t feel as though we are a match,” and leave it at that. If someone asks for more information, you can say “it’s a strong feeling I have at this time.”
Location, Location, Location
Its best to break up in a space that affords some comfort and privacy such as the other person’s home or your place. I would only suggest this in a case of a mutual break-up, where your partner already feels things aren’t going quite right. The privacy will also help you both to feel secure in case either of you get emotional.
However, it is crucial to consider a public place if a sense of safety is needed; a restaurant or a busy park would be ideal. Let a friend or family member know you are doing this in advance. Enlist someone to give you support before and after the break-up. If it helps, rehearse what you wish to say to that person, so you don’t forget key points or get flustered.
The Big, Break-Up Don’t
Ghosting means to disappear digitally by not answering calls or texts or blocking the other person on social media. This has become a popular way of ending a relationship in the digital age. This is the worst way to break up with someone. Ghosting does not allow the other person real closure and is a poor reflection on you. It communicates that you are not mature enough to express your thoughts and feelings as well as diminishing the importance of the relationship. Don’t ever Ghost someone. It will come back to haunt you on a Karmic level.
Fading, on the other hand, is acceptable in some circumstances. “Fading” is when either you or the other person slowly stops making contact, gradually disappearing from the other person’s life. Fading can occur naturally when neither of you wishes to continue the relationship. If your relationship fades, you are not obligated to break up officially or contact the other person unless it’s just a one-sided fade. In that case, it’s better to just let the other person know that things just aren’t working out.
When Relationships Go Bad
If you find yourself in an abusive or dangerous relationship (physically, emotionally or sexually), end the relationship immediately and seek help from a mental health professional and support from family and friends. Make sure you are safe because of the potential danger and if necessary, get help in planning a safe escape. If you or someone you know are in a dangerous relationship, please call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-7233 for specific help.
David Strah is a licensed Marriage & Family Therapist (LMFT) and a relationship coach. He has a private practice in Los Angeles. He is also the co-author of Gay Dads:A Celebration of Fatherhood (Penguin Putnam/Tarcher). His website is davidstrah.com and he can be reached at 917-922-2650.