This year already, more than a thousand words were added to the English Oxford dictionary. Among them, “to ghost” was defined as abruptly cutting off all contact with someone by no longer accepting or responding to phone calls or messages. A bit like breaking up with someone suddenly.
On a recent Sunday morning in Starbucks, I asked my friend – let’s call her Yoga Mad Woman – about it: “What’s your go-to technique for breakups?” My friend, an intelligent and attractive woman in her early 30s, twisted her mouth and face a little, displaying internal reflection.
‘The truth is, I never break up with people,’ she explained. ‘I just disappear.’
Yoga Mad Woman, someone I had known all my adult life and who had shown consistency and loyalty in friendship, was clearly a complete buffoon with women she engaged with romantically. It was not unusual for her to be in two separate relationships with women she had (falsely) promised monogamy to.
Why do relationship breakups hurt so much?
The logic of this question has always made my brain overheat and boil down to a mush.
The number one rule about breaking up is to actually break up in person. Not telling someone? Just walking away or just to ghost is so annoying. How could you?! Can’t you at least take five minutes to call?
The worst thing about breaking up is finding out an entirely different side of a person you thought you knew well. She recalls one breakup – initiated by her – that left her a little freaked out. After she told her now ex-girlfriend, she became very cold. A week later, she received a package at her home address.
She opened the box and saw all of these receipts. She didn’t understand what they were, so she looked closer. They were receipts from restaurants, theatre and movie tickets, all these things they had done together.
Her partner of six months had been meticulously documenting every penny she had spent on her. Among the wide-ranging pile of assorted receipts, she found that there were some on which he had written, and circled, the relevant sum.
It felt like she was saying, oh, I spent all this money on you. It was a bit single white female-esque creepy. But a breakup can make you see the real person.
The minimum requirement in breakups is to voice the breakup. The alternative doesn’t just seem selfish, it’s unfair. People who are broken up with ‘shouldn’t have to do the emotional labour of putting two and two together and realizing it’.
What is it about letting people know where we are and where we aren’t that makes it so difficult? What is it about ourselves in that space of utterance that so many people would rather be silent or vanish?
Hurting people can seem inevitable in a breakup, but you can do it ‘as compassionately and responsibly as possible’.
It’s a cliché, but it is about communication, letting people know where you are and where you stand, and what you are thinking about, and daring yourself to word those things. That way, a wrong breakup is impossible.
If a person has had enough brain or brain management to tell you they have feelings for you, then they should have enough to tell you they no longer do.
Do not make it to the point where you’re cheating on someone, or feel repulsed by the person.
Do not deny the other person the possibility of meeting someone new if you’re no longer invested.
Do not be the person who picks a public space to shorten, or limit, the interaction.
Give the relationship the respect it deserves, including at the end.
Vanishing. I think it’s the rudest possible way to break something up. It’s unbelievably rude. Just let them know. Or even if you lie, it’s better. You can say something like, ‘I am really busy with work’; ‘I have too much on my plate right now’.
Honesty goes a long way, and wrong or right timing should not be the question. There is always an appropriate time to break up with someone if you don’t like them, or you know something is wrong. It’s always a good time to be honest.
Just do it, basically.
My advice for breakups, and life, is pretty stellar. If you stay open with communication and honest of your needs, then no matter how it evolves, you’ll be fine. So much of love and relationships is about respecting yourself. If you lose yourself, it turns into disaster.