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When Is It OK to Break Up Over Email?

24 July 2009 11 Comments by Justin Dimos

upset-man-laptop-b&wThe act of breaking up with your significant other over email isn’t exactly regarded with the most enthusiasm nowadays. In fact, the breakup email is often seen as cowardly and even insulting, loaded with all the cold professionalism and biting brevity of a resignation letter. It’s as if the heartbroken recipient is a subscriber to a love newsletter, and you’ve decided to inform them that you’ll no longer be providing your service. That’s just extremely bad form, and who can blame the heartbroken for retaliating in some fashion or other?

Truth is, technology is part of our daily lives, and “Dear John” letters sent via email are part of our routine now, as well. Of course, it’s always better to deliver the bad news in person instead of carefully crafting that vague paragraph about how you don’t click anymore, or how you need to take a break from the relationship, or how you need some me-time to figure out exactly what you want (which obviously isn’t the person you’re dating). But is throwing in the romantic towel over a Facebook private message or your gmail account ever a good choice? Hmm … now that’s a good question.

What if you’ve only been on a few dates with the person? Then maybe, sure, why not send a polite but direct email to that casual acquaintance stating that your time together was fun but that you’re looking for something different? But what if you’ve been dating for weeks or even a few months and the other person doesn’t suspect anything is wrong with the way things are progressing? How can we legitimize a breakup email with someone who’s earned the right to a conversation? Plus, have you ever heard a story that begins with he broke up with me over email … and ends with … but we’re still really good friends? At least I haven’t. Odds are you’ll hear a better story about someone buying the best sushi they’ve ever tasted from a gas station freezer. In other words, not good.

However, email might be the right choice to segue into the breakup convo you want to have. What’s wrong with an email that simply states, we need to talk? It could be a convenient prep for the big discussion, deflating some of the heated drama beforehand. Still, though, an email or even a text message that hints at an impending doom could get you in some serious hot water. Think of the rumors about you that could spread around town or over the Internet:

  • He doesn’t have the balls to call it quits to my face.

  • My ex couldn’t even do me the dignity of discussing the breakup like adults.
  • Who would want to date a person who can’t communicate in person but only by Facebook chat?

Let’s not forget about the option to reply either. You press that “Send” button, and you’re essentially inviting that person to respond with the full blast of their emotions, detailing all the situations and reactions that proved exactly how bad a girlfriend or boyfriend you were, be them truthful or distorted. At that point, all you can do is take the abuse and repeat how over the relationship you truly are (if you respond at all, which is yet another even greyer area than sending the email in the first place).

When It Can Be OK to Breakup Over Email

Look, breaking up is always hard to do, especially when you still care about the person with whom you’re cutting ties. But remember that only you know whether an email is appropriate or not (although it helps to get the opinion of a third party). A brief email with a few reasons for the breakup may actually be your best chance to come away relatively unscathed, should you venture down the cyber-path to relationship freedom.

Bear in mind that there are always extenuating circumstances. Maybe your better half cheated on you, and you don’t particularly want to make a scene in a public place. Maybe you cheated on them, and every time you open your mouth to tell them, something completely different comes out. Maybe your band is leaving on tour and you don’t think you can be faithful to a person you’ve only been seeing for two months. (An email breakup from a musician may be sleazy but realistic!) All in all, better judgment and common sense will save you from hurting your partner in the long run, and you may need to use email as a last resort given your situation.

Only one thing’s for certain: in-person breakups are always acceptable when handled with maturity and grace, but most (if not all) emails raise serious questions that may instigate tears, anger, fury, hope and who knows what else. Good or bad choice? Just remember that emails don’t absolve you, and they could cost you more time and emotional stress in the long run. A conversation may last a few hours at most, but at least you walk away clean, whereas pressing “send” may open the doorway to a barrage of responses and rumors that may irrevocably tarnish your dating reputation for months afterwards (if not longer, especially if you travel in similar circles).

Comment below: Have you ever broken up over email?







11 Comments »

  • Molly said:

    It’s been a week. Now, after much reflection, I must admit that the breakup email I received from my boyfriend was true to his nature. The email started off with platitudes…how much he loved, admired and respected me, how great the sex was, and then said that he wanted a “time-out, at a minimum.” He sent the email a few days after he revealed that he had been secretly seeing other women (“innocent” according to him) for the last seven months. He said that he kept quiet because he didn’t want to cause problems.

    At the end of the email, he said that he wanted to be “friends” again. (We were friends for about 7 years before we dated.)

    After the email, I learned that he was on a “time-out” from his last girlfriend when he dated me. (He told that the relationship had ended last year.)

    “Time-outs” are for two year olds. It’s an excuse to keep your options open while you look for something better. “Keeping secrets” is way to avoid conflict, as it breaking-up by email.

    This is one selfish, avoidant, insecure man. There were plenty of warnings that he was a keep-your-options-open man…and capable of breaking up by email, but I didn’t trust my instincts. He assessed me as suspicious, angry, jealous, emotional, over-sensitive, etc. Nothing could be talked out…it was good if I would be a doormat.(I’m in counseling.)

    I thank you for the opportunity to vent through email. (We’ll be friends again…when hell freezes over.)

  • Pauline said:

    In my case, I sent an email after only two dates–not exactly what I consider to be enough time to qualify as “going steady”. The problem was that he was interested in me but I didn’t feel the same way for him. I just wanted to hang out as friends and have fun. I sent the email to clarify my view of the relationship (purely platonic) and to drive home the fact that I didn’t want it to advance beyond that. I admit that I chose the email option because it was less awkward for me than telling him the sad news to his face (why get his hopes up by contacting him in person/by phone only to tell him that painful revelation?). Still, I felt he needed to know the truth instead of having me prolong the illusion and misleading him to think that there was any potential between us.

    I’ve since read many online comments that say it’s always bad form to be breaking up by email but does it really apply to my situation? I don’t believe so. Had our relationship gone on for a year or more, then yes, I think it would be more appropriate to break up in person (unless there’s a safety issue in question, i.e. he’ll likely abuse me over being rejected). No matter how you slice it, break-ups are always hard.

  • Angel said:

    Absolutely inexcuseable in a long term relationship. It shows the person breaking up to be an absolute immature, insecure, coward… or just narcissistic and cold hearted. As you can tell, I am still a bit angered at this moment. I had an on/off relationship with my children’s father for 18 years. He cheated throughout our relationship when we lived in the same place and we separated for 10 years, but it was never truly off all the time. Foolish of me to think, he would grow up and mature one day and we’d be able to sustain a loving relationship. Then one day I found a text from a woman inviting him for the night. I left him and he begged, pleaded and groveled to change and how he was going to fight for his family and be the loving and kind man I do deserve. Ladies, it never happened. He moved back into the house for another few months of torment. I saw us going down the path to destruction and tried to get him to go to counseling, or do family vacations or just talk to me but it didn’t happen. All he cared about was sex and not us. No fixing, no intimate relationship, no family connection, nothing again, sorry sick of porn sex. So here comes the email about how we don’t fulfill each other and he’s moving out in an email. Just as rude as he is. Get the hell out of my life you bastard. I will be fine but I hope your kids aren’t scathed from your ignorance. So is it ever good to break up in a significant relationship, No.

  • Erica said:

    I had started seeing a guy in July, neither one of us were looking for a serious relationship. We went out once or twice a week for 3 months and had a nice time each date, usually dinner and long conversations afterwards. Then one week, I heard from him but nothing about going out, so I suggesting getting together the following week … I knew his schedule was pretty packed. By the following week I knew something was up and then there it was THE EMAIL. You’re great, but I haven’t developed the feelings I thought I would by this point. While in an email, I was offended but that’s honest enough & I’m an adult. It was PS that ticked me off: I regret doing this via email and there’s no need to meet to discuss, it won’t make either of us feel any better.

    Honestly, the email dumping didn’t bother me it was the PS.

    It was cowardly to do it this way & believe I deserved at least the courtesy of a face to face after 3 months.

  • kinpatsu said:

    I dumped a guy via email after about six weeks together, but it was because he was a cop who would drink WAY too much and then become verbally abusive–and who always carried his (loaded) gun with him even when off-duty. I didn’t feel like having him anywhere near me with that potentially lethal combination.

  • Marge said:

    My boyfriend of 9 years broke up with me via email. He sent the email at 2:17pm that afternoon, but he picked me up from work at 5:00pm and never said anything about the email. When he dropped me off at home I opened my email and to my total surprise there it was. I could not believe he could sit in a car with me for that long and not have the decency to tell me he sent me a “Dear John” email. I am livid. I felt I was owed more than that after 9 years with him. He doesn’t see it that way.

  • princess said:

    For a man to send a break up e-mail, says alot about his cowardness. I think he just doesn’t want to deal with an argument. He has some deep issues that you might not be aware of. More so of emotional stress. He is confused in his life. If you really want him back, the best advice is to leave him alone. Do NOT contact him at all! Also, hang out with your girls, and take a little time out before you start dating again. I wouldn’t wait more than 3 months for your ex to come back. If 3 months pass by and you hear nothing from him, then I would move on completely. I am sure he has started talking to other girls already. He prob had a back up plan. If he cant find anything better than you, he will come back running. Again, that would be a selfish trait in him.. I personally think he is a pretty selfish guy that insulted you be writing a break up email. He has a lot to learn what life is all about. You need to focus on your self. My advice.. go to the salon, get your hair done.. your facial. get a massage. look pretty and feel pretty.. because you are a PRINCESS!!!!

  • Still Hurt said:

    I totally understand Marge. I was with someone for 7 years and he blindsided me with a break up e-mail. We were together on Friday and on Monday I get the e-mail. HUH??? I had no idea. I still can’t believe it (it’s been 3 weeks). I also believe it is cowardly but he doesn’t think so. We have spoken once and I agree with Princess. Leave him alone. It’s hard but move on. He is the one with the problem.

  • John said:

    Well I’m on the other end of this conversation. I actually wrote my Girlfriend a letter(which I haven’t sent) where I described the issues in our relationship, and why I feel the way that I do. When it comes to other people’s feelings I’m a sucker/push-over, I’ve broken up with my girlfriend times before but I would get with her a few moments after simply because I couldn’t bare to see her cry. I never want to be the bad guy who broke someones heart because my heart was broken by someone that I loved and I wouldn’t wish the same on another let alone be the one breaking it. I figured that after 6 months of dating and countless arguing I could simply write her an email and not have to see her in person as to avoid seeing her cry. The issue now is that Its not of me to just send an email and hope for the best, I’m going to print my email and just read it in front of her. This way I’ll be able to say everything that was on my mind but at the same time give her the respect that she deserves and say it to her face. My best option for the future is just to stay single so no one gets hurt. Wish me luck.

  • Nicole Runnels said:

    I do not believe that it’s right to break up with someone over an e-mail. I think it’s very hurtful to do so.

  • Pia Amodeo said:

    You might have impeccable writing skills! You make some valid points with which I agree and I think this is actually excellent reading material. Thank you.