“You can check out any time you like, but you can never leave.” – The Eagles, “Hotel California”
Perusal of the blogosphere (or a visit to a college campus) makes it clear that whatever structured dating mores existed “back in the day” have long since been blown apart, so much so that young adults today need a full training in how to date. Let’s begin with the end in mind and discuss the most painful part of the scene, the breakup.
The important thing to accept about breakups is that they are a part of dating and mating in a free society. The price of choosing our own partners is that someone may not choose us. Think of it as capitalism’s “creative destruction” applied to interpersonal relations.
(Let’s set some boundaries: this post does not apply to the dissolution of marriage, nor to relationships with serious infractions like infidelity, violence or theft.)
Step 0: Consider whether you really need to nuke it. Are you having problems that can be fixed you haven’t talked over yet, or is the fix not working and you just need to get out? Lots of relationships (marriages, even) benefit tremendously from backing off on the throttle and restating expectations and boundaries. But sometimes you just know you don’t want to be with this person anymore and there’s no sense in prolonging it.
Step 1: It’s OK to be hurt, angry and disappointed. Emotions are normal, and emotions are heated in breakups. It’s OK to have those feelings. What you do with those emotions is the subject of the rest of the post, and is the key factor in living a good life afterwards.
FOR THOSE RECEIVING THE BREAKUP
Get away from the revenge mindset. Breaking up is not an act of violence. Someone breaking up with you has not done anything wrong. You’re not required to show fault; we live in a “no fault breakup” world. A relationship is not a commitment, and they are only required to say “I don’t think we should date anymore” to fulfill their social responsibility. Don’t go Hotel California on them – keying their car, teepeeing their house or calling them a slut to their friends just shows they made the right choice dropping you before you crossed the borderline.
Accept it for what it is and nothing more. It doesn’t mean you are a bad person. It doesn’t mean they are a selfish jerk. It doesn’t mean you are unloveable or a social failure. It doesn’t mean it if you’d done things differently it would have lasted.
Don’t bargain to keep the relationship together. First, it puts you in a supplicating position, which lowers your partner’s respect for you. And a relationship is supposed to be about two people in love or something like it. Do you want to break that down to cajoling and negotiation? Do you want to be with someone who has made up their mind to leave you but flip-flops on your emotional pressure?
Don’t push for “reasons” for the breakup. More often than not, they’ll just cite minor and irrelevant issues in the hopes you’ll be intellectually sated. The fact is that the decision to break up is emotional and intuitive, can’t be listed on a T chart and often plays into a false narrative in your own head. You’re not doing yourself any good telling yourself a story that may not have any basis in reality like “he couldn’t accept my sexuality” or “she dumped me because my job isn’t cool enough for her” or “he just wants to sleep around with hos.” Besides, reasoning for a breakup often provides an excuse for a tit-for-tat redaction of annoying cofactors. “You don’t like my taste in music? Well your wardrobe is ugly, how do you like them apples!”
Take your lessons and then let it go. Neither people nor their relationships are perfect. Think about things you enjoyed, what you might do differently next time, ways you treated your partner well or didn’t, whether you might have been too invested or not invested enough, whether you’ve uncovered any dealmakers or dealbreakers for yourself. Then with self-knowledge in hand, live a better life for having dated them.
FOR THOSE DELIVERING THE BREAKUP
Be kind and firm. Everyone deserves a breakup in polite good faith. Out with it – don’t be wishy washy, don’t make an elaborate production. You can only soften the blow so much; if they can’t take it that’s their problem. If you don’t project confidence and finality in your decision you’re going to invite bargaining and arguing. And if you’re not polite about it, you will invite endless pain and revenge stunts into your life. (To this end, I think it’s advisable to not break up right after a deal-breaking fight but wait a day so that it doesn’t commingle with the emotional charge of the fight itself).
Don’t rationalize. If you don’t want to date somebody anymore, it’s unlikely the reason is the weird sound they make when they’re swallowing or that they wouldn’t go see Swan Lake or the rodeo with you. It takes away from your case; to borrow from Athol Kay, it has to come from an emotional state and not a logical one.
The real problem with rationalizing your breakup is that it leads the other person on. What if you lay out the things you don’t like, and the person “fixes” them and comes back asking for another chance? Now you’ve humiliated them and have to change your story.
FOR BOTH SIDES
Don’t let them live in your head. Don’t make your next relationship political by dating somebody unlike your ex, or someone like your ex, or facebook stalking them and judging their future partners, or badmouthing them around town. Living well is the best cure, and you owe that to both of you. Don’t become Kelly Clarkson, Taylor Swift or Robert Smith from The Cure, endlessly pimping you relationship pain for attention.
Don’t flaunt yourself to your ex. Have a little grace by not gloating when you bump into them, planting stories with mutual friends or graffiti-ing their facebook wall. It’s easy to get jealous and resentful when it seems like the other person is just moving on without a care, but unless one of you is a sociopath the act of breaking up is emotionally tough for both sides, even when they feel it’s ultimately the right decision. Reopening the power play is a bad idea.
Make new habits. Even if you didn’t date that long, it’s often surprising to find out how much of your life was integrated with your partner’s. You need to replace that with your own habits and restart your lifestyle. If you don’t want to be friends or stay in touch, that’s perfectly acceptable, and don’t let anybody call you bitter or cruel for it.
If your LTR was built around your social circle or vice versa and you are going through the “friend divorce” this is not going to easy, but life will go on – you’ll find new friends (and new partners) if you’re willing to do the legwork.
The general theme here is deal with your pain, accept that it’s over and move on. Life is 10% what happens to you and 90% how you respond to it.
Don’t take my word for it, though…
Three important rules for breaking up
Don’t put off breaking up when you know you want to
Prolonging the situation only makes it worse
Tell him honestly, simply, kindly, but firmly
Don’t make a big production
Don’t make up an elaborate story
This will help you avoid a big tear jerking scene
If you wanna date other people say so
Be prepared for the boy to feel hurt and rejected
Even if you’ve gone together for only a short time,
And haven’t been too serious,
There’s still a feeling of rejection
When someone says she prefers the company of others
To your exclusive company,
But if you’re honest, and direct,
And avoid making a flowery emotional speech when you break the news,
The boy will respect you for your frankness,
And honestly he’ll appreciate the kind of straight forward manner
In which you told him your decision
Unless he’s a real jerk or a cry baby you’ll remain friends