I recently had a conversation with a fellow single girlfriend in her mid-30s. Renata had been dating a guy for a couple of months and although she wasn’t particularly confident in their compatibility (“He doesn’t wash his hands after using the bathroom! His nose hair needs some serious work.”) She was nevertheless disgusted by the way he broke up with her: over the phone. “I mean, come on, I went on vacation with his family, his parents! And he doesn’t even have the guts to tell me in person that he doesn’t want to see me anymore?!” Having been broken up with in many awkward and awful ways, I sympathized with her disappointment. We’re all adults here, and if we’ve got to do this breaking up thing, can’t we at least do it with respect and courtesy for both parties involved? And yet…
Unfortunately, I think if he’d broken up with her in person she would have been just as irritated. It wasn’t the means in which this message was delivered: it was the message. Nobody wants to be dumped and no matter by whom and under what circumstances the message is delivered, it still sucks. Renata knew the future with this particular guy was limited, I had talked to her not a week before the break-up and she told me she was contemplating dumping him. The fact is he beat her to the punch. He rejected her. Doing it over the phone, well, that was just the cherry on top.
I’ve been the dumper and the dumpee probably an equal amount of times. As much as I hate being dumped, I think the worse position to be in is to be the dumper. I really, really hate having to hurt someone’s feelings, to “reject” them, to rain on their parade. I’ve avoided the issue, I’ve waited way too long and I’ve bitten the bullet and ripped off the band-aid. I’ve tried many different messages: “it’s not you, it’s me,” “our timing is off,” “I don’t think I’d be a good partner to you, at this time, this place, in this economy.” I’ve tried many different means of delivering the message: phone, text, in person, at lunch, over a drink. And maybe it’s not the case, but I feel like each and every one of those situations, those break-ups, has resulted in the guy going home and calling a friend and saying, “Yeah, she broke up with me! Can you believe it, she didn’t even have the guts to (fill in the blank).” Personally, I have been mortified by a guy breaking up with me while he’s looking me in the eye; I have been humiliated by a guy breaking up with me via text. Phone break-ups have gone both ways – pleading for him not to hang up, not to dump me and slamming the phone down in anger. I have a hard time coming up with the perfect “break-up scenario.” I really don’t think it exists.
As much as people purport that honesty is the best policy, I believe that honesty hurts the most feelings. The break-ups that have scarred me the deepest, crushed my soul the most and sent me running to bed for a week to watch rom-com’s non-stop are the one’s where the guy was honest. “I’m breaking up with you because you’re too fat, not pretty enough, a nag, not intellectually up to par, not the kind of mother I want for my children, etc. etc. etc.” Next time, I wanted to say, in each case, just lie to the poor girl, lie to me.
“You should have been honest with me,” I’ve heard over the years from guys. Really? ‘Cause I bet if I was honest with you, you might feel differently. I may actually relish the opportunity to tell you that I’m breaking up with you because you’re too fat, not good looking enough, not intellectually up to par, not the type of father I want for my children, but I won’t, because I know how it makes me feel to hear those things. I won’t tell you that you’re incredibly, painfully boring, that you have ticks and idiosyncrasies that annoy the shit out of me, that I find you unsophisticated, uninteresting, lazy, tedious, pushy and nosy. Not to mention you’re an alcoholic and unemployed. I won’t tell you that you’re a horrible kisser, that your hair smells unclean and that your dick is tiny. I really don’t think getting this specific helps anybody move on, to other, more successful relationships. What it boils down to is incompatibility – those things that don’t work for me may work just fine for somebody else. Those idiosyncrasies? Another girl may find them cute or charming. Boring? Somebody else may find that slow and steady wins the race. As for the worst kisser ever? Married not a year after he and I went out. The awkward limper? Married, too. The guy with the tiny dick? In a very happy domestic partnership, as we speak. It gives me hope; we are all one man’s trash and another’s treasure.
I would never consider myself skilled at the art of break-up, though I would say I’m fairly practiced. It never gets easier and I never feel less sorry that things didn't work out. I do not believe it is possible to eliminate the hurt or rejection felt by the dumpee; however sometimes it is possible to minimize the pain and resulting baggage. Hopefully, I've been more successful at causing less pain, than more pain. I don't know. What I do know is that both parties should realize that when a break-up happens it’s most often the right thing for both people in the end; in the long run you will be unhappy with the other person because they are unhappy with you. It is not about rejecting a person, it’s about rejecting the combination of “you and me” as a “couple.” Every single guy who ever broke up with me, that I broke up with, every dating situation I’ve been in (which is to say any and all) that resulted in a break-up? I can honestly say, yep, that was the right thing, even if it took me awhile to understand that it was for the best and why. Trust me on this one.