A Text Message Is the Best Way to Break Up With Someone (Even When There's Not a Pandemic)
It’s time we start giving the breakup text the respect it deserves
For those of you whose relationships have soured under the strain of the coronavirus pandemic and its ever broadening cohort of related tragedies and catastrophes, I bring you tidings of great convenience. It is now totally permissible — nay, mandatory — not to break up with your significant other in person.
Since the days of the Dear John letter, remote breakups have been condemned as callous and cowardly compared to their in-person counterparts, which are in turn hailed as the only noble way to do a regrettably dark deed.
But in the age of social-distancing, it would be downright irresponsible to make the in-person gesture unless you and your soon-to-be ex partner are quarantined together — in which case, good luck.
While it’s inevitable that an ethical hierarchy will emerge within the subcategory of remote quarantine breakups, presumably crowning the FaceTime breakup the new in-person breakup, I’d like to take this opportunity to vouch for the oft-maligned text message breakup.
To preface, let it be known that there is no good way to break up with someone. It’s a real pick your poison situation, except, lucky you, you’re picking someone else’s poison, and you’re going to be fine. In other words, breaking up with someone isn’t about you. They’re the one drinking the poison; you’re just the messenger. Don’t make it about you.
Breaking up with someone in person is making it about you. Despite its noble reputation, a face-to-face breakup is selfish. You’re not doing it as some grand gesture of dignity and respect for the love you two shared. You’re just doing it to not look like an asshole. Guess what? You’re already the asshole. You’ve already done the worst thing a person can do to another person who’s in love with them: you’ve stopped loving them back. So what’s so noble about announcing that to their face? You get a front row seat to their anguish and humiliation and then get to walk away shining your good guy badge? I don’t think so.
If anything, the in-person breakup always struck me as blatantly cruel, if not sociopathic. Think Warner breaking up with Elle at the restaurant at the beginning of Legally Blonde. Spoiler alert: Warner is not the hero of that movie! He’s a selfish, misogynistic jerk who ends up looking real bad by the end. That, friends, is the kind of person who breaks up with someone to their face.
Take it from me, a person who has been broken up with many times (though I don’t like to brag): an in-person breakup simply adds insult to injury while somehow elevating the break-upper to some kind of moral high ground. So if you really don’t want to be any more of an asshole than you already are, don’t make a show of pretending to grant your poor ex-to-be the “dignity” of an in-person breakup. Just accept that you’re the asshole here and break up with them as quietly and quickly as possible.
Which brings us to the text message breakup. Historically, breaking up over text has fallen rather low on the moral hierarchy of breakups, generally somewhere between a phone call and a DM on a social media platform. But again, as someone who has literally never not been broken up with, I’ve maintained a strong preference for the unfairly maligned breakup text over the years and multiple romantic failures.
For one thing, text messaging is many people’s preferred form of communication anyway. If you’re going to inflict a large amount of pain on someone, you should do it in a familiar, comfortable environment. And no, that does not include taking them to their favorite restaurant.
Breaking up over text also gives the other person time and space to compose whatever kind of response they feel is appropriate. While proponents of the in-person breakup tend to argue that the breakup text is cowardly in that it allows the sender to distance themselves from the fallout, I would argue that breaking up with someone in person actually gives them far less freedom to react. By breaking up with someone in person, your presence ends up inevitably controlling and probably limiting your ex-partner’s response. Over text, however, your newly minted ex has the time and freedom to formulate whatever response will give them the most closure. Obviously none of this applies if you just text them, “We’re done,” and then immediately block them, but I’m giving you the benefit of the doubt here.
Moreover, breaking up with someone in person also strips them of one more excuse to be mad at you and recast you as the villain in your relationship, which is a very important part of getting over a breakup. After all, performative anger over being broken up with via text has only ever been a last-ditch effort for the heartbroken person to save face. If anything, giving them that outlet for their anger is the greatest parting gift you can leave a spurned lover. Now, for at least a few days or hours, they can convince themselves they’re angry at you for not having the balls or whatever to do them the great imaginary honor of breaking up with them in person, instead of just being mad at themselves for failing to earn your love. You already won the breakup. Just let them have this.
While those of us who aren’t currently hunkered down with the object of our rapidly fading affections may now safely consider quarantine a free pass to dump our partners over text, I like to think we’ll carry these lessons with us into the post-coronavirus world — should there be such a thing. If there’s one good thing I’d like to see come out of this pandemic, it’s society’s collective rehabilitation of the breakup text. Meanwhile, if you are a person currently quarantined with the partner you want to break up with and therefore can’t do it over text, just try it anyway and report back. I’m curious.