How To End That On-Again, Off-Again Relationship — For Good

Illustrated by Sydney Hass.
Fall has officially fallen. School’s back in session, work is back in full gear, and it’s no longer okay to skip out for a drink at 2 p.m. on a Friday. And, that new sense of seriousness may have you thinking your on-again, off-again summer fling needs to be off, full-stop.
After all, Drake and Rihanna haven't been spotted together in over a month. Michelle Rodriguez’s summer-long boating smoochfest with Zac Efron is over, and Avril Lavigne and Chad Kroeger are consciously uncoupling.
We can’t tell you if it’s time for you to do the same. But, if you decide it is, here’s how to pull the plug gracefully — or at least with minimal damage.
1 of 10
Illustrated by Sydney Hass.
Save The Date
When you know it’s time to end things, set a time. It’s important that you do it actively — otherwise, you run the risk of passively sabotaging the relationship to avoid one messy conversation.

Jennifer DeSarro, a Miami-based marriage counselor, strongly recommends being forthright. “I've found that people feel guilty about wanting to be out of a relationship, so many times they do things to sabotage it, instead of having the self respect and understanding that they don't have to stay in it if it's not working for them,” she says.

“Remember,” she adds, “You’re allowed to break up.”
2 of 10
Illustrated by Sydney Hass.
No Texts, Calls, Or Post-Its
This shouldn’t need to be said, but as Gabi Conti, co-host of the dating podcast You Up? reminds us, always break up face-to-face.

“No text messages, voicemails, or post-its, please,” she says. But, you knew that already, right? Because, you’ve seen the Sex and the City episode — and you’re not a monster.

There may be a few rare exceptions to this rule: If you’ve been on fewer than three dates, do whatever you want; if your relationship is long-distance, a phone call is OK. But, generally, have the talk! It sounds like a cliché, but that whole "closure" thing is really important.
3 of 10
Illustrated by Sydney Hass.
Behind Closed Doors
Conventional wisdom says to break up in public to avoid a scene — but that’s actually pretty selfish. The only reason you’re picking a restaurant over your partner's living room is so you don’t have to watch a major breakdown; you’re hoping that person's fear of a spectacle will make him or her restrain those emotions. Both those things benefit the dumper, not the dumpee.

TV writer Kerri Doherty put it like this: “They shouldn’t have to react to a breakup in public, or have to get on the fucking train to ride home.” Once, Doherty dumped someone in his living room, and then she walked home crying. “But, I figured, since I was the dumper, I deserved the shittier hand.”

The ideal time is probably a Saturday afternoon. No one has real obligations later, and if drowning sorrows feels like the best thing to do, a Sunday-morning hangover isn’t the worst.
4 of 10
Illustrated by Sydney Hass.
Practice Makes Perfect
It seems contrived, but practice what you’re doing to say before you get there. Think through the actual sentences. Maybe even make some notes. (Though, of course, don’t read from them. You’re not running for student body president.)

Be super clear and firm about what splitting up means. Say the awkward-but-explicit lines: “I want to break up,” “I don’t think we should talk for a while,” and “Don't text me sad emoticons.” These sentences are shitty, but you need to leave no ambiguity about the immediate aftermath of the split.

Jillian Emma, an S.F.-based relationship writer, recounted what could happen if you’re not clear. “My first breakup with an ex had to be repeated one month later, because he was treating me like we were on a break,” she says. “It took like, four break-up talks.” Eventually, Emma had to come right out with it: “My words were 'We broke up. I don't want to hang out with you alone.'"

Conti agrees: Be clear. Then, cutting all lines of communication is best. “If you don't, you'll be dealing with a confusing gray period that really fucks with your dignity and emotions,” she says.
5 of 10
Illustrated by Sydney Hass.
If You Don’t Have Anything Nice To Say…
Tell the truth, but tell it as nicely as possible.

Raychel Robbins, a professional matchmaker for the online-dating service Tawkify, says the dumper should remember to have empathy, while still telling the truth.

“Although honesty is the best policy, it's important to remember to always be kind,” Robbins advises. “If this is someone you cared for enough to be in a relationship with, then they deserve kindness and respect while you end it, too.”

Wherever possible, avoid sweeping “You always…” statements. People have a tendency to remember things said during breakups, so try not to add anything that person is going to worry about for life.
6 of 10
Illustrated by Sydney Hass.
There Is No “Why”
The breakup is not the time for accusations and insults. If you’re upset that your partner didn’t do the dishes when he or she promised to, or if you have a chip on your shoulder because he or she didn't introduce you around at a party, keep it to yourself. These are tiny nails in an already-sealed coffin.

“Whether their heart shatters or just ends up with a few surface cracks is up to you,” Robbins says. “Meanness, bluntness, and/or anger aren't the answers to an amicable parting of ways. If you treat someone's heart tenderly during the breakup, then they should be able to heal more easily.”

In other words, this isn’t the time to “fix” somebody. Save whatever thoughts you have on how this person could be a better boyfriend or girlfriend for two years from now, when you guys are buddies.
7 of 10
Illustrated by Sydney Hass.
Be The Bad Guy
Try not to get upset if your now-ex bashes you to friends or subtweets you using passive-aggressive Facebook memes. Try to just back up, and don't worry if you’re the bad guy for a bit — unless it gets excessive or extends past a third of the time you were together. (So, if you dated for three months, your ex is allowed one month of badmouthing before you have to ask him or her to please not do that anymore.)

After that, DeSarro says, “If the person is soooooo wounded that they want to trash their former partner, that's a very individual decision. And, then, they get to deal with whatever consequences they may feel in the future.” For example, regretting airing that dirty laundry on social media.
8 of 10
Illustrated by Sydney Hass.
Me Time
Let yourself feel. Even if you're doing the breaking up, you're allowed to be sad.

Give yourself some private time, either at your place or somewhere else comforting. Spend the next few hours alone. Read a book or take a nap. Do some self-care. You’re also going through an emotional upheaval, and you’ll need to take care of yourself.

“Take some time to remember the good,” Conti says. But, don’t let that convince you to rekindle. Reflect on the reasons you broke up, and stick to your guns. “Recycling, while great for the environment, is terrible for dating,” she says.
9 of 10
Illustrated by Sydney Hass.
Leave The Fallen Behind
Don't ask for your stuff back until your ex offers. If this hasn't happened after one month, then you can ask via a non-emergency method of communication, like e-mail. Don’t call to ask and put your ex on the spot. If he or she wants that stuff back before the month is up, then you can offer to make an exchange.

If you know someone is your ex's friend first, or that a certain restaurant or bar is your ex's favorite place, avoid those people/places for at least a few months. This could also be a good chance for you to get back to the people and places you enjoyed before this relationship.
10 of 10
Illustrated by Sydney Hass.
Get Your Digital House In Order
If you need to, you are allowed to unfollow your ex on all social media. Your ex might even choose to do this first. Sure, it's particularly public and painful, but DeSarro says self-care is important — even if you’re the dumper. You can always add that person back in time if the two of you work out a way to be friends.

But, your next two weeks will be much happier if you don’t casually come across your ex's pics on Instagram.

And, one more tip for the road: Conti says to “save your ex in your phone as ‘Not My Boyfriend’ or ‘Not My Girlfriend,’ so you never forget.” And, you never will.

More from Sex & Relationships


R29 Original Series