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Breaking up (online or Not)

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How to Break-Up (Online or Otherwise)

In the last year, I have watched the fallout from a number of relationships and break-ups take over the bulletin boards. These problems have caused hurt feelings, have ended friendships, and have come to involve dozens of people (through bulletin boards, email, and other electronica) who have no personal stake in the outcome. The emotional devastation these poorly handled situations bring is totally unnecessary, and prompted the following.

The following is not scientific fact: it is based on my own observations, the experiences of my friends (male and female; straight, gay, and bi) and family, and a lot of tired, commercial popular psychology. That doesn't, however, mean that it's bad advice.


1. Do it in person. If this is an online relationship, it may not be possible. That doesn't give you an excuse to send a Dear John/Jane e-mail. Get as close to in-person as you can, given the limitations of space and time. Call on the phone if you must, go over if you can. But NEVER break up with an answering machine, an e-mail account, or a public forum. You and your ex both deserve better: if this relationship ever meant anything to you, it needs closure. If it didn't, you have no right to take that out on them by treating them callously; it's not your ex's fault that you don't love them anymore. You are not "off the hook," you still have to treat them like a real person, with actual feelings.

2. Be honest, and do it before you're so upset that you can't be reasonable. If you're having problems, that doesn't necessarily mean that your partner knows about them or understands what they can do to help. Take the time to let them know what's bothering you. If your partner really cares about you, chances are some compromise can be reached, or they will at least try to address the behaviors that make you crazy. If it's unsalvagable, at least show them enough respect to end things finally, and with dignity. Don't say you want to be "friends" if what you really mean is "drop dead, you jerk." There's a big difference between letting someone down easy and leaving them hanging, emotionally manipulating them to serve your own ego needs. Be clear, concise, and as reasonable and respectful as possible. This isn't easy for anyone, and your ex deserves, at minimum, as much truth as you can give without being brutal and/or hurtful.

3. Your (ex)partner is not a mind-reader, and neither are you. Don't think that they will automatically know what you want or need, or how you would like to handle the break-up. Do you need some time apart before you can face each other and perhaps build a new friendship? Tell them so, it will impact both of your social worlds, who you hang out with, etc. Do you think it's totally unfair and passive-aggressive that she wants to keep the book she gave you for Valentine's Day? Does he insist that you stop being friends with his buddy's girlfriend? They might be doing it for purely sentimental reasons, they might really be evil, but the point is you don't know, so it's unfair to assume that your worst suspicions are accurate. If you cared about and trusted them enough to be in a relationship, give them the benefit of the doubt, even if they've betrayed your trust and you're bitter. This is not easy to do, but it WILL help in the long-run. You will solve nothing by assuming the worst and treating them badly based on those unproven beliefs.

4. Keep private things private. Even if your ex has hurt you immeasurably, that doesn't give you a right to behave badly. If he said things to you in confidence while you were together, don't spread them around. If she was upset about your breakup and sent you an overwrought e-mail, don't forward it to everyone in your address book. This goes double for sex. I don't care if she liked to have sex in front of a full audience at the opera, or if he screamed "Mommy" when he came--it's fair to assume that only the people involved in the actual sex have any right to talk about it. This might be unnecessary if they're particularly open about their sexuality, but if you're going to be wrong, err on the side of caution and respect for privacy. If you had sex in front of a hundred tourists, that doesn't give you the right to send the video to his pastor.

It's a difficult and dangerous world, and anyone who trusts you enough to share themselves with you in the most intimate ways deserves for you to respect that trust. Often people violate this when they feel sexually betrayed, by a cheater or by being dropped for someone else. Being cheated on is emotionally devastating, but it's a different kind of betrayal than spreading someone's secrets to a wide audience, and this is not a fitting response: making public the private sexual events of your relationship can have serious consequences for you both, economic, financial, social, and even legal problems that neither of you deserves. Not to mention, spreading stories about your sexual escapades together makes you look like a braggart at best, and a lying hypocrite at worst.

5. Don't hijack the kids. Any children that you share responsibility for (through birth, marriage, adoption, foster care, etc.) will be attached to you both. Just because you think he's a lying, cheating ass doesn't mean that your children are obligated to think the same, or that they don't still love him. Even if she's the no-good bitch who screwed your boss, she's their mother, and it's unfair to ask them to take your side. They love and need you both. Your break-up will be hard enough on them, don't compound their struggles by asking them to choose between you, or pass judgment on either parent. Because they treated you badly doesn't mean that they're bad for the kids, one has very little to do with the other. If you're really not sure of their judgment or parenting abilities, be an active parent. By all means, make sure that your children spend their time with your ex in a safe, healthy, supportive and supervised environment. But don't interrogate your kids or accuse your ex of misconduct in an attempt to gain emotional leverage; you will only end up looking mean spirited and spiteful. As your children grow up, they'll make their own decisions and pass their own judgments. Be a role model, and provide them with the skills they'll need to make those judgments, but don't try to force them into taking your side in disputes



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