Emily Postmodern: How To Break Up With Someone Without Being A Jerk

In 1962, breaking up was hard enough and Neil Sedaka only had to worry about running into a former flame out with a new love IRL, not seeing their new romantic vacation selfies on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Vine and Snapchat, all hashtagged #mylove, #lovemybae, #GenderSpecificCrushDayoftheWeek. It’s the same old refrain:social media brings us closer together but makes us feel all alone. Breakups are already a special hell, but breaking up in the internet age is much, much worse.

Modern day breakups don’t just involve deciding who gets custody of the favorite neighborhood coffee spot on Saturday mornings, but also what to do with your joint Tumblr project documenting the misuse of semicolons. Not to mention deciding when is it appropriate to unfriend/unfollow not only your former paramore but their friends and family, balancing your need to protect yourself from seeing things you don’t want to see and your desire to occasionally fall down the hole of bittersweet internet voyeurism and nostalgia. A breakup can be a amicable parting of ways or a devastating heartbreak out of left field and those are just the first two variables that might determine your behavior. Finding the balance between self care after a heartbreak and respecting the feelings of everyone involved is important.

Although not a new concept ,this past summer the internet was all abuzz about ghosting. Brought on perhaps by the gossip that Charlize Theron used the method to end things with Sean Penn (coincidently while promoting her turn as badass Furiousa in Mad Max: Fury Road) media outlets galore weighed in on when it is and isn’t okay to break up with someone by default, without telling them you are no longer interested. The term morphed into use for any social disappearing act including sneaking out of a party without a formal goodbye (but we have covered that already). The general consensus being that it is fine to do if you have only been on a few dates with someone, but if you have been seeing a person for longer than that you should probably have a conversation.  You might even find that letting someone know you aren’t interested in them after only one initial sparkless date relieves the anxiety of ignoring text messages or suddenly becoming too busy to hang out.

The general discomfort with telling someone you aren’t romantically interested in them can pale in comparison to trying to figure out how to tactfully disentangle yourself from an established relationship.  When there is a large betrayal of trust, knowing how to act can feel initially overwhelming, but you’ll probably have no problem returning all their stuff as soon as possible  and breaking off your social ties. You aren’t likely to find yourself both being invited to get drinks with a mutual friend in the near future. In fact, it is the most amicable of break ups that tend to lead to awkward social encounters and gaffes in etiquette. From the seemingly ridiculous (retraining yourself not to double-tap all their Instagram posts) to the the more meaningful (you’re really close to their sister, now what?) the best way to approach these situations is with consideration for both your former partner’s feelings as well as your own.

Are you inviting everyone you know for birthday drinks and want to include the ex but not their new paramore? Or maybe your new love will be there and you don’t want either party to be uncomfortable? I hate to break it to you but someone will probably be uncomfortable. However, if you lead by letting everyone know about the guest list at least no one feels ambushed. Inviting everyone in your Facebook friends list to the afterparty you are throwing for your new girlfriend’s art show?  Maybe stop to think how you would feel if you were on the receiving end of that invite from your ex, especially if you have “stayed friends” strictly on the interwebs. If you really want to invite them reach out on an individual basis and explain yourself. That way they know that you feel like the event is up their alley and you aren’t just including them in a blanket blast without consideration for their feelings.

There is probably no way to politely break up with someone, but leading with behavior that respects the feelings of everyone involved is a pretty good way to start. It can be hard to be considerate when you are hurting and it can be easy to want everyone else to be heartbroken too (and sometimes that is even part of the healing process).  Considering someone else’s feelings can help you reflect on and advocate for your own emotions and find a balance between selfish and selfless behavior.