A while back, my teenaged son asked me, “Mom? How do you break up with someone?”
Good question. Most people think that the best way is in person. That’s what my boyfriend Gary thought.
He and I had had a strained conversation on a Friday night. I spent Saturday fretting about it, very upset. But then on Sunday he called, sounding buoyant. He wanted to see me the next night.
My worries were for nothing! I thought. We had a date. All was well.
When he arrived at my house, we chatted for a few minutes and then sat on the couch. I noticed that he put himself in the corner, his hands folded in his lap, hardly his usual position in my presence.
“Well aren’t we chaste,” I said, laughing.
But then I saw the look in his eyes and almost didn’t need to hear the words.
I felt like a goose that had been fattened for the kill. I thought something good was going to happen, only to be given the ax. Why didn’t he just tell me on the phone when it was clear that he knew then?
“It didn’t seem right not to do it in person,” he told me.
He’s a classy guy; he clearly thought it was the classy way to go. But it was unintentionally cruel.
I broke up with a boyfriend on the phone and I don’t see a problem with it in the right circumstance. My friends slammed me for it, but I knew that if I’d made plans to see the guy, he’d be looking forward to the date. Was he going to drive half an hour out to my house so I could dump him and send him home? If I told him I was coming to him, he would have guessed what was up anyhow.
Furthermore, he didn’t like talking about emotions. That was why we were breaking up; he couldn’t communicate, falling silent when something bothered him. If we’d met for coffee, he’d have to look at me, say something, or not. That scenario would be torture for him.
I know I did the right thing because later, when he and I were friends, I told him that everyone thought I was a jerk for breaking up with him on the phone. He let out a good, long laugh. “Thank God you did. That would have sucked in person.”
I thought that the next guy I broke up with would want the conversation that an in-person breakup would offer. But rather than doing what Gary did, I dropped a big hint on the phone.
“We need to talk,” I said in a serious tone, the melody of the words bearing a remarkable resemblance to the opening notes of Beethoven’s Fifth. “I’ll come to you, if you want.”
“No,” he said, hangdog. “I’ll come there.”
That worked out pretty well too. At least he had some warning.
I’ve been on the receiving end of some memorable breakups. In high school, my boyfriend met me in the hallway and used notes on a set of index cards as an aid for delivering his breakup speech. The classiest breakup was by a grad student I dated. He’d gone home to Norway for the summer and sent me the nicest Dear John letter from there, saying he wouldn’t be calling when he came back to town. I wasn’t terribly hurt, and it was sure nice knowing, rather than being silently blown off. In that case, a letter was the perfect exit.
Let’s get back to my son’s situation, which was thorny because the next time he’d see the girl was the first day of school—their first day at the high school—and it didn’t seem fair to distress her as she was greeting old friends and meeting her teachers and classmates. I suggested he hold off for a few days, and he agreed he could.
The next week, he met her in front of the school and said what he’d planned. She smiled, nodded…and completely ignored his message.
“Mom, I don’t know what happened, but she’s still my girlfriend.”
A couple of weeks later, she dumped him—via instant message.
While there’s not one breakup technique that’s the panacea, there are some things that are not okay. It is not okay to break up with someone by IM, text message, or e-mail.
Especially do not end a marriage by e-mail. Really, that’s just not nice at all.
Has someone broken up with you in a particularly abysmal way? Or do you have a great breakup story? Tell me your story; I’ll edit it and put it up on a Friday.