There’s really no “good” way to break up. My best breakup was also my first. It happened my senior year of college: I was graduating; she wasn’t. I was moving to California; she wasn’t. For months, we knew it would end, and when it did, we enjoyed a candle-lit dinner and swapped breakup gifts, complete with wrapping paper. As breakups go, it was flawless. But the niceties can only count for so much — in the end, it did nothing to dull the hurt.
Some men, however, have mastered the art of making breakups as awful as possible. Here are ten of them.
1. The Waffler. He can’t make up his mind, Hamlet-ing his way through weeks of kinda-sorta breakups. He’s in! He’s out! He’s back! He’s gone!
What he’s thinking: “To date or not to date? Is the problem my fear of commitment, or that I don’t like her enough? How is it even possible to untwine those two variables? Maybe we should give it another month. No, that’s not fair. I shouldn’t string her along. Let’s end it now. But … the holidays are right around the corner. Only a monster dumps someone before Christmas. I’ll wait. And yet … if I do it immediately after Christmas, she’ll have wasted money on gifts, and that’s not cool, so I have to wait until … late January? But then it’s almost Valentine’s … “
2. The Paternalist. He says: “I’m into you. You’re great. But … I know I’m bad news. So, for your sake, I think we should break up.” This is infuriating. It’s insulting. It has the whiff of misogyny. Why does he get to make a unilateral decision on your behalf?
What he’s thinking: (1) He really is worried about hurting you — that’s not a lie — but he fails to appreciate that you consent to the risk, because, well, you’re old enough to drive a car. (2) He knows he’s offering up total bullshit, but he lacks the guts to say the obvious. (“He’s just not that … ”) There’s no way to know whether it’s No. 1 or No. 2. Then again, does it really matter?
3. The Dodge. The coward who breaks up via text, phone, or email. In certain rare contexts, as others have argued, this has merit. And it’s permissible in the early phase of courtship. But once you’re actually in a relationship? Breakups have a certain code of ethics: Once there’s emotional skin in the game, it’s the Dumper’s responsibility to give the Dumpee a tête-à-tête for as long as the Dumpee would like, look them in the eye, then answer any and all questions, like a General before the Senate’s Armed Services Committee.
What he’s thinking: “Breakup, what breakup? With who? Oh, her? Right, forgotten about that one. LOL!”
4. The Mope. You broke up with him and he Just. Can’t. Deal. He’s crying in public. He’s blowing up your phone. What happened to this guy? Whatever sexual desire you had for him is plummeting, and while, yes, this does give you a pinch of guilt, it has the happy benefit of validating your decision.
What he’s thinking: “WWWAHHHHHHAHAAAAA!!!!!”
5. The Ambush. The two of you were happy. Committed. Stable. One weekend you’re picking pumpkins at your aunt’s house, and then, BOOM! — he just calls it off. Perhaps, in hindsight, the signs were there, but you never saw it coming.
What he’s thinking: He’s wrestled with his doubts for months, but instead of trusting you with the truth of his ambivalence, he put on his Boyfriend Game Face. Then the doubts won. Once that happens, this logic kicks in: “Why prolong the inevitable? Better to be firm. Decisive.” (A plea to all the world’s ambushers, male and female: DO NOT DO THIS.)
6. The Denier. Refuses to believe you dumped him. Just doesn’t get it. There’s a seven-to-one ratio of His Texts to Your Texts. He still asks you out. Still thinks of your friends as his friends. He treats your breakup like the tea party treats climate change.
What he’s thinking: I know she has some “doubts,” but we’ll get through this.
7. The Cheat. There’s rarely, if ever, a solid reason to cheat. (Quaint? Simple minded? Maybe. Even so, this is my old-school philosophy: If the relationship fails to satisfy, the proper course of action is a breakup, not a betrayal.) But! There’s a silver lining. If the guy cheats, suddenly you have the moral high ground. You can dump his ass without parsing every pro and con, second-guessing your motives, or justifying your decision. He crossed a line and that’s that.
What he’s thinking: Irrelevant.
8. The Buddy. Whether he’s the Dumper or the Dumpee, it’s his new mission in life to be super, SUPER nice to you. Maybe he’s deodorizing his guilt. Maybe he’s overcompensating. Maybe he’s just that cheery. But whatever the root reason … it’s not helping. It results in coffee dates, too many texts, and sad little echoes of the romance.
What he’s thinking: Also irrelevant. The Buddy makes it harder — for both of you — to turn the page.
9. The Blunt. Gives it to you straight. This is hard, so most people never do it, which is unfortunate, as it’s one of the only ways to give closure. Short-term pain, long-term respect.
What he’s thinking: I’d want her to be straight with me, so why shouldn’t I do the same? (True, this archetype, like most, can apply to both genders.)
10. The Fade. Cadence matters. The frequency of texts, calls, and dates is a stat that doesn’t lie. He used to ping you hourly, then daily, then weekly, and after a while you realize, Oh, okay, I guess this is a breakup. What a chicken-shit.
What he’s thinking: Sometimes this is exactly as sketchy as it looks. Sometimes, though, he had no desire to split, life got in the way, and the weight of inertia just gradually, almost unintentionally, tugged the two of you apart. By the time both of you realize what happened, it feels too late. And for all intents and purposes, it is.
Jeff Wilser is the author of The Maxims of Manhood. @jeffwilser.