The dramatic new haircut is often the first telltale sign (personally, I went for a bleached, choppy bob). Then you’re removing the cute, coupley profile photo and replacing it with a not-so-subtle thirst trap. You tweet a screenshot of the song you’re listening to but, shockingly, your phone wallpaper isn’t a vibey pic of the other person anymore.
You don’t put out a statement of separation à la Gwyneth Paltrow and Chris Martin; you just chuck hints here and there, pretending you haven’t given it any thought.
My relationship only lasted a year and a half but it left nothing to be desired. We laughed, so hard, every day. We sang in silly voices. He had a knack for doing uncanny impressions of public figures, which I’d unsuccessfully try to copy before he meticulously corrected me.
The differences between us became cavernous, after a while. But it started with the little things. He liked Lord of the Rings; I was always asking him to get into true crime. He stayed up until midnight to listen to Beyoncé’s new album with me; I told him I’d rather die than go to a Genesis concert with him. He hated cheese; I was constantly craving warm camembert. Now, I’m unashamed to admit I’d take him back in a second, even if it meant I’d have to give up each of these things – and more – for the rest of my life.
It probably seems like a massive paradox. Our breakup was as amicable as it could be (I’m still always reassuring him we’ve had the 'best breakup ever') but the most painful so far. We agreed we were too similar– incompatibly so, in fact. Each of my worst traits was also his, which often resulted in loud, screaming rows with household objects flying and f-bombs dropping.
I'll never forget one time, on my birthday, when he turned his nose up at my outfit, which I'd just spent three hours putting together. He couldn't see why I was upset and we bickered and bickered until finally I shouted at him: "Get out of my house!" As he turned on his heel, got in his car and drove away, I felt my body crumple on the doorstep.
"Two live wires," friends always called us. Eventually, we just burned each other out. Our breakup happened exactly like our getting together: it just did.
Despite our history of monumental clashes, there was no thunderstorm, epic music or shouting when we split. The conversation flowed like tap water draining into a basin, circling around and around before finally falling down the plughole. Then, as best pals, we went out, ate crab sandwiches and filled the car up with petrol.
I didn’t want to call my parents, remove "in a relationship" from my Facebook profile or delete all our Instagram photos together. There’s nothing I’d have hated more. I cherish every last second I spent with this person – even the painful ones – and there was no way I felt ready to wipe him from my life with the tap of a phone screen. I don’t think I'll ever be ready for that.
My first move was to text my group chat: "Single now. Who wants a kiss?"
Even the text was a symptom of a vulnerability I didn’t want the world seeing on social media. This man is still present on each of my platforms (except Twitter…he hates Twitter). Why would I want to flaunt the fact that I’m newly single, back on the market and ready for Hot Girl Autumn?
So, like every secret attention-seeker my age, I soft-launched my own breakup. I’d seen people talking about it on TikTok a lot – the hashtag #SoftLaunchBreakup has over 60,000 views altogether. Creator Louis Hanson even made a 'how to' video dedicated to it. Steps included riddling your Instagram with thirst traps, vague quotes and screenshots of relatable songs on Spotify.
I (jokingly) chose to tweet: "Getting a haircut tomorrow eve to soft-launch my breakup, can we all agree to pay attention to me when this happens pls?" I followed this up with: "Or was THIS actually the soft-launch… u will never know."
Deep down, each word was carefully curated, each sentence settled on after minutes of excruciating thought. How do I pretend not to care about something when it’s hurting me so much?
I was satisfied when the likes started to roll in. But nowhere near as chuffed as when I’d announced my relationship to the world. The two feelings are incomparable. One was heart-filling and made my cheeks warm and glowing with happiness; the other made me feel only slightly less empty, a cheap plaster over a crack in my heart.
Relationship psychologist Mairead Molloy believes the breakup soft-launch will become more and more prevalent among younger women, especially as a result of how online and social media-focused they are. It acts as a way of buffering the pain, which is relived when we have to explain to different friends why things didn't work out. Why not just slowly, subtly phase out all memory? "I think, for the foreseeable future, people will turn to soft-launching in order to deal with their breakups," she told me. "But when you’re posting about a breakup online, you have to ask yourself why you’re doing it."
Mairead emphasises that the mental health of everyone involved in the relationship is integral to announcing a breakup on social media. "If you're just doing something quick to let people know your relationship status has changed, the news should pass as quickly as you post about it. But if you're not in the right headspace, hold off until you are.
"And who knows, by the time you're ready to announce it, you may have moved on and don't need to say anything at all."
Soft-launching a breakup isn’t something to rejoice in. People tell you they’re sorry, rather than being happy for you. They ask you whether you’re okay, to which you have to say, "Getting there," instead of, "I’ve been crying on and off for the last three days." It feels sombre, sad and a weak substitution for a cuddle from the one you love. In many ways it's just a coping mechanism – because when everyone knows, it feels so much more final.
We all have our reasons for processing things the way we do. At the very least, soft-launching a breakup is less cringey than a celeb-style statement. At best, it's a self-fulfilling and subtle way of letting your hottest followers know you’re available for a smooch sometime soon.