When I was dating my way through New York as a bright-eyed twentysomething, I was ghosted a lot. It happened so often, I had a boilerplate email I sent out afterward, one I shared with other spurned girlfriends and always pulled out with a heavy sigh to tailor for the latest dude — sort of a Mad Libs for assholes.
“I’m judging by your radio silence that you don’t want to continue hanging out,” it read. “That's fine, but I wish you would've forgone the slow fade and just told me, especially after a couple of months/sleeping together. Just for future reference, rarely will a girl freak out if you just break up with her. It’s actually the more respectful thing to do.”
I closed by wishing the dude well and inevitably got a quick response (ah, so he wasn’t in a full-body cast or a bubble-boy situation!) in which he apologized and explained that he’d been really busy and had meant to get back to me and blah blah blah. I got to pat myself on the back knowing I’d taken the high road and called him on his shit. But TBH, I didn’t exactly do the hard work of breaking up with him, either. I hung around and watched him disappear, then came back and demanded the last word with a little flash of sass. I get it. We’re all bad at this.
It’s funny: As the median age of first marriage creeps higher and higher (implying, of course, more years or even decades of dating people with whom you’ll eventually split), we all get plenty of practice at ending relationships. And yet, if the endless articles about ghosting and millennial dating habits are true (each of these is its own article — ugh how awful), we’re worse at it than ever. For Christ’s sake, there’s now a service that’ll end your relationship for you, like a demented Seamless for the heart. Lord help us all.
But wait, you think. Breaking up always sucks. There’s no way to do it so that it won’t hurt and it’s not the role of the dumper to help the dumpee heal and move on. Which, okay, true.
“Rejection does just suck,” says Joanne Davila, PhD, a professor of psychology at Stony Brook University and the author of The Thinking Girl's Guide to the Right Guy: How Knowing Yourself Can Help You Navigate Dating, Hookups, and Love. “It’s absolutely the case that no matter how it’s done, it’s gonna suck for everybody, so we have to take that as an accepted reality.”
But there is a spectrum of breakup approaches, from respectful to shitty. If you do it in the most humane way possible, you’re setting your ex up for a difficult, but manageable and psychologically healthy, road to recovery. And unless he or she is a complete monster, that should be your goal as a human and denizen of the planet.
So what is the kindest way to end things, according to experts and research? Let’s review. Bear these principles in mind and you can actually go about your day feeling like a high-road-taking badass…not someone hiding behind belated emails and passive-aggressive accusations. Brava.