Break-Ups in the Modern Era

Posted January 23, 2015

As a culture, we have these potentially subconscious ideas of what break-ups entail. Watch any form of entertainment and you’ll see the same actions being taken, words being said, and marks being hit. We’ve gotten so used to the repetition that the phrase, “It’s not you, it’s me” has even carried over into other areas of our lives.

The proliferation of these ideas as even trickled down to the younger generations. Last week I overheard two middle school girls talking about an impending break-up. Despite the fact that they were, at most, 12 years old, the advice seemed like something thousands of us have been told before: “Just tell him you don’t love him anymore, and then we’ll go get Ben and Jerry’s.”

When a friend of the soon to be dumped boy happened upon the two girls and a minor disagreement began taking shape, the one giving advice kept repeating the same words: “Remember, we’ll get Ben and Jerry’s.” Before long, the girl who would soon break some young boy’s heart said: “We can’t get ice cream; we have class.”

It seemed like a logical way to silence the dairy-craving friend, but it was also a clear indication that we have break-up strategies that aren’t specific to us, but are things we’ve been told and seen before. However, as our culture is continuously evolving, so must our breakups.

A couple of weeks ago, I found myself in a position where I was looking to break things off with a girl I had been seeing for a couple of weeks. We had been on a few dates and, while she was a nice and smart woman, there wasn’t any real spark or passion between us, and I wasn’t confident that it would simply present itself one day.

The decision to no longer see each other romantically seemed right, but I couldn’t for the life of me consider HOW I should do it.

Growing up (well, mainly during high school and college), I always believed that break-ups should happen face-to-face. There was a certain amount of respect you deserved to give somebody after you had been romantically involved, whether it was for a couple of years, months, or weeks. Ending a relationship with somebody while looking them in the eyes seemed to fit whatever vague moral code I had dreamed up for myself.

Also, if we’re being honest, I still carried the bitterness of a 10th grade relationship in which a girl I was seeing, who went to another school, had her friend call me on the phone to end the relationship for her.

“So, do you still like Beth?” he friend had asked.

“Yeah,” I quickly, replied, dumb to what was about to occur.

“Ummmm…” The silence said more than any other words could have.

I found the act cowardly and insensitive. More pointedly, I just thought it was bullshit.

Yet, at 29 years old, as I faced the prospect of telling a girl I had been dating for only a couple weeks that I believed we should part ways, I couldn’t imagine doing it to her face.

It wasn’t simply that technology had made this even less common, it was that we really only saw each other in person when we had planned a date or were meeting up with friends. Without school or a shared profession, there were no impromptu moments of socialization. I would need to call her up and invite her to get coffee or drinks just to tell her I didn’t think we should see each other again.

That somehow seemed more cruel.

The next possibility was speaking to her on the phone. It wasn’t face-to-face, but at least she would hear my voice and know that I wasn’t shying away from actually speaking to her. Neither of us would have time to craft carefully worded responses nor duck the topic at hand. The only issue was: we had never spoken on the phone.

Not once.

Few people my age actually speak on the phone anymore. I called an old college friend months ago, and she admitted that she got “awkward” and “uncomfortable” when she spoke on the phone for something other than work.

So, how would it look for me to call up a woman who I’d never actually spoken on the phone to before, just to tell her I thought we shouldn’t see each other? Again, something about it seemed off. It felt forced.

What I was left with was the one thing I always believed it was too cruel to do: end a romantic involvement via text.

Now, granted, I had only been seeing her a couple of weeks, so it’s not the same as ending an established relationship. However, it’s still something that feel so informal. I was using the same form of communication that we used to litter girls with “You out?” messages when we entered high school; only now, I was using it to try and respectfully and maturely break off involvement. It seemed counter-intuitive.

But the real question is: what choice did I have?

We’ve taken so much communication away from reality that the types of conversations we never thought we’d have via text or phone now seem implausible to have any other way. In adding more methods of communication, we’ve actually limited the ways in which we communicate. We have more choices, but not actually more choice.

I know that people aren’t likely to text less or speak on the phone instead of texting, but it’s important to question why these things feel so awkward to us. Isn’t it concerning that speaking to another person on the phone feels forced now? Isn’t it unnerving that the most logical way to end non-serious romantic involvements is via text?

I guess it’s better than “phasing someone out” with silence and no replies, but I’m not so sure that makes it something we should just accept.

However, the real problem might be that there may be no other option.