Don’t Be A Ghost: How To Break Up Like A Grown-Up

June 20, 2016

There is such a thing as courtesy, you know.

When I first ventured back on the dating scene after a 10-year marriage and a drawn-out toxic relationship, I was nervous. Online dating was a whole new world for me, and when I headed out to a bar to meet my first date, I had no idea what to expect. I told my best girlfriends where I was going to be and when, so they’d have an idea where to start looking if I turned up missing or murdered.

To my surprise and relief, my date not only looked exactly like his profile picture, but was polite, funny and smart. One drink turned into two, then three, and then we were kissing by a fireplace. The next week, we met up again. After more drinks and more kissing, I resolved to shop for new underwear in preparation for the third date.

But that third date wasn’t to be. After the second date, radio silence. My new underwear mocked me from my dresser drawers as I polled my friends about what I’d done wrong.

Their answer? I probably hadn’t done anything. I’d just been ghosted.

These days, even if you haven’t been ghosted yourself, odds are you know someone who has. And married people, don’t get too comfortable: I know a woman who was actually ghosted by her husband. She came home from work one day and he’d moved out. All his things were just gone. She never heard from him again, aside from being served with divorce papers.

Look – I understand the appeal of ghosting. I have a hard time saying no to people and hurting their feelings, too. How great to have a way to break things off with someone without ever having to have an uncomfortable conversation. I get it.

Not long after my own experience being ghosted, I was tempted to pull the Casper routine myself. I’d been juggling a few different guys when I met ‘the one’, or at least one I thought might be the one. In my happy haze of infatuation, I fervently hoped my other dates would just fade away so I wouldn’t have to feel guilty for dumping them, or even have to deal with them at all.

So when one of them texted me a few days later, I panicked. I was sitting with a friend, telling her all about the perfect and amazing new man I was dating, when the text came through. He’d been out of town, he said, but he was back and wanted to see me again.

The problem was, this guy was really nice. He was sweet, generous – completely lovely. I was too new to the dating game, and too softhearted, to want to risk hurting his feelings by telling him I wasn’t interested. I practically threw my phone at my friend, saying frantically “What do I do?!”.

She suggested telling him the truth. This seemed like the worst possible idea in the world to me. What was I supposed to say?

Hey, you’re a really nice guy, but I met someone I like better and I don’t want to see you anymore.

Ugh. How awful. Maybe I could just tell him I’d been exposed to a contagious disease and quarantined.

Or maybe I could just ghost him.

In the end, I decided to be a grown-up. Sort of. I composed a very polite text that said while it had been lovely to get to know him, I’d decided to see someone else exclusively, and wished him all the best. Before sending it, I passed the phone to my friend for approval. But as I was handing it over, I accidentally hit send and immediately freaked out.

He took it in stride and wished me well, but when another one texted to ask if I wanted to go out again, I froze up again. I thought about coming up with a standard reply, similar to what you get when you’re turned down for a job:

Thank you for your interest! We had many qualified applicants for this position and will not be moving forward with your application. We wish you all the best in your future endeavors.

In the end, I just told the truth. It didn’t feel great, but it worked, and everyone survived.

Here’s the thing: telling the truth is the only grown-up way to break things off with someone. The whole, unvarnished truth isn’t necessary – there’s no need to share hurtful details – but the simple truth, told in the kindest way possible, is always the best bet. If you don’t want to see someone anymore, don’t ghost them, just tell them.

Comment: How do you usually break things off?

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