Breaking Up Over Phone or Email


It’s amazing what people will do to avoid breaking up in person and having an honest conversation about their feelings. For example, there is even a reality show coming up on the Oxygen Network, called Breaking Up With Shannen Doherty where Shannen does the dirty work for you!

But there has to be some middle ground between having an awkward face-to-face conversation and involving Brenda from 90210 in your personal life- right?

The truth is, in some situations, you can get away with breaking up over the phone or email without being a complete asshole. Once I broke up with someone by text message and felt completely justified- but that was a special case. If it’s at all serious of course you have to break up in person. If it’s fairly casual, your conscience will tell you if a face-to-face conversation is called for but here are some guidelines.

You absolutely have to break up in person if:

-you were introduced by a mutual friend. This is a manners thing. You need to be extra careful because you don’t want to offend the friend who made the introduction.

-you have had sex more than once. Again- manners thing. Whether it was casual or not you should be nicest to the people who you have had sex with.

But online dating has changed everything and if a mini-relationship was born over IM, why shouldn’t it die the same way? Email can be even better because it can be composed at leisure and you don’t have to worry about an overly emotional real-time reaction.

Let me give you a case study from my own life. I went out with drinks with… let’s call him Joe. I felt odd about him, the conversation was stilted and he started acting strangely the more he drank. He was inappropriately affectionate and at one point tried to playfully bite my arm- which really creeped me out. I escaped quickly and went home. The next day I had an email from Joe saying that he had a great time and wanted to get together again. I responded with something along the lines of “It was really nice meeting you. You are a great guy but I don’t think we are a very good match. Best of luck finding someone you are more compatible with.” I had an almost instant email from Matt saying “Yeah, I was thinking the same exact thing.” Even though my email was polite and neutral I was scared to send it. But it was totally the right thing to do. After one bad date an in person breakup is certainly not required.

A phone conversation is a little trickier, but you can use similar strategies. A phone breakup is more appropriate if you have gone on a couple of dates- or if he calls to ask you out and you aren’t interested.

When ending a short term fling, honesty is not the best policy. You barely know each other so why not make it as painless as possible? Here are a few tips that will work in person, on the phone or email.

-Compliment them. If you can’t think of something specific, “You’re a great guy/girl” will do.

-Do not say “It’s not you, it’s me.” Seriously. Even if it’s true.

-Blame the dynamic between you- anything but the other person. It’s much easier to hear “I just don’t think you and I had the right chemistry” than something personal like “Your lazy eye creeped me out”

-End by sincerely (or fake sincerely) wishing them well. Like my grandmother said, “There’s a lid for every pot.” Even that creepy biting guy with the lazy eye.

I live in downtown New York City and work in television.  View profile

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