Getting dumped is the shittiest of the shit. After all, someone you really like, or possibly even love, has just told you that the last thing they want to keep looking at is your dumb face. Or maybe you already can't stand the fucker — it still sucks when they beat you to the finish line. And this is why it's no surprise whatsoever to any dumpee that no one cares WHY they just got dumped, all they can think about is HOW you did it — at least initially. Hey, this is the one time the messenger deserves to get shot, amirite?
This is what an associate prof of communication and culture at Indiana University in Bloomington found through research about breakup methods among the wily American undergrads of today. With a swoon-worthy paper title that kinda makes me wish I were in college again for a sec called "Everytime We Type Goodbye: Heartbreak American Style," Ilana Gershon found through interviewing 77 people about their breakups that:
…when American college students tell their breakup stories, they consist of a string of conversations, and people always describe when anyone switched media to continue the conversations.
"The medium used for the conversation mattered enough to be almost always mentioned," Gershon said. "People would invariably mark when a different medium was used, explaining when communication shifted from voicemail to texting to Facebook and then to phone."
In the annals of your ability to break up like a non-asshole whose severance methods won't be discussed with a complete stranger for the sake of science, just keep in mind, breaker-uppers — and you know exactly who you are, ya fucks — that your dumpee is silently, perhaps even unconsciously noting exactly how you did the deed. That you ended the affair that, sure, had some problems, but was almost about to turn a corner, with a fuckin' smiling turd emoji + a thumbs down.
It is important to note that in countries like Japan and Britain, dumpees seem to care less about delivery methods, and more about the extent to which the breaker-upper was able to justify the relationship's end.
Character was the emphasis overseas, not the method. "The American undergraduates I interviewed were not discussing their breakups in terms of the right balance of dependence, or even the kind of people who might break up," Gershon added.
"The closest an interviewee came to describing herself as a particular type of person was a woman who decided not to show anyone else the text breakup message her ex had sent her. Even this example shows that U.S. undergraduates were using the 'how' of the breakup as the narrative frame to explore what an end of the relationship might mean for them."
But I would like to add a big fat asterisk right here and mention that the WAY you dump someone IS a reflection of character. These things are intertwined. The nicest, most considerate break-up text message of all time is still a big digital fuck you from the same person who made you listen to all their shitty punk records for the last eight months.
Mostly, though, people in Gershon's study who'd been dumped in documented-with-media ways felt they had a smoking gun: Hard proof of the other person's awfulness, which could be used to solicit commiserating, pity, sympathy and all the other things any human needs in spades after being dumped, particularly so unceremoniously.
That's right: The social media dump-off is evidence to be forever whipped out and used to mock your insensitivity for years to come, or at least as long as you have that phone/account.
And though I think it's interesting to see the way we move from in-person talking to screen-conveying in a lot of different aspects of our lives, it's also important to note that breakup stories have always come with battle scars in one form or another that we like to show off.
None of this can be discussed without invoking the Sex and the City episode "The Post-It Always Sticks Twice."
That's the one where Carrie is dating Berger, played by Ron Livingston, who I think was the best SATC BF. I always wanted them to work out (on TV), but he was insecure and weird and hung up and couldn’t get over all his inferiority issues. So it was doomed, but wishing for ill-suited people to work out is what watching TV is for. Needless to say, after it seemed like it was going well-ish again, Carrie woke up the next day to find a post-it note stuck to her computer that said "I'm sorry, I can't. Don't hate me."
Carrie spends the episode obsessing over the "how" of the breakup and not the "why" and later lays it all on his friends in a relatably awkward attempt to get some closure however vicariously possible, when they run into them at Bed, the hot new NYC hang.
In Gershon's research, this sense of needing proper closure came up a lot, because duh. We need it. The second worst thing about getting dumped aside from getting dumped is that you are instantly robbed of exactly what would help the most (you think): deciphering what went wrong. Entire films and novels are devoted to figuring out what the fuck went wrong! You're stuck working this cold case like a detective for the relationship, long after its corpse has been cremated. And your best lead, the one motherfucker with some motherfuckin' answers, doesn't have to talk to your ass!
But all that angsty angst serves a purpose, Gershon says: the focus on the how acts as a buffer against having to think about the why just yet, especially when the why is so often unanswerable anyway. Or it's answerable — we all got reasons — but none of it ever really satisfies up front, does it?
So I have to ask: Is there REALLY a better way to get dumped? We typically say that face to face is preferable because ending things this way, allegedly, if nothing else, shows you possess compassion, or an ability to take some criticism, or at least the courage to deliver a message to a face and not a screen. But maybe it just shows you have a mean streak, if you actually want to see the pain inflicted by the breakup. Or it could all come down to a misguided sense of obligation: Etiquette has taught you there is a "nicer" way to be a dick.
Case in point: My friend was moving overseas to be with her British boyfriend, who applauded her taking out loans, saving up money, packing up her shit, and getting on a plane, only to tell her upon her arrival, her life in tow, that he'd fallen in love with someone else. Six months earlier. Woooo, so much sightseeing. to. still. do.
So much for preferable methods of dissolution. (For the record, she has the greatest attitude about it EVER).
But therein lies the rub: no matter how much we'd like to think there's a better breakup — and yes, I do believe there are gentler ways to tell someone to fuck off, sure — nothing's really gonna take the sting out. You're still being told to take your things and go. Don't look back. Don't call. Don't write. Whatever we had was great, but not so great that I am not at this moment ditching it for this other chick who happens to likes shitty punk as much as me.
The how matters. The why matters. But in the end, it's the getting over it and getting on with your life that matters the most.