Repairing Relationships

Building intimacy and joy into your relationships

Should Anyone Ever Break Up Through a Text?

Why so many avoid a face-to-face encounter.

Fifty ways to leave your lover
You just slip out the back, Jack
Make a new plan, Stan
You don't need to be coy, Roy
Just get yourself free
Hop on the bus, Gus
You don't need to discuss much
Just drop off the key, Lee
And get yourself free — Paul Simon

 

Breaking up was very expensive for Louis J. Billittier Jr. Apparently he and his fiancee Christa M. Clark had an argument (in person) about their prenuptial agreement which caused him to sour on the upcoming marriage. But when he texted Clark to break up, their relationship became national news.

A New York Supreme Court judge determined that when Louis texted his fiancee that their relationship was over and told her over a subsequent text that she could see his $53,000 engagement ring as a parting gift—he called it a "parting ring"—it was indeed legally considered a gift which he could not recoup even thought he later changed his mind about allowing her to keep it. The texts Billittier sent were the key evidence in the case.

The story blew up in the blogosphere, not so much because of the ruling on the ring, but because of the manner in which Billittier broke off the engagement. Writing on CafeMom, Michele Zipp channeled millions of outraged observers by noting, "I'm stuck on the fact how anybody could break up with someone over text, particularly your fiancee who you apparently loved so dearly, you were going to marry."

But it actually could have been much worse: Singer Olivia Newton John's longtime lover faked his death in a boating accident to get out of their relationship. Actor Jake Gyllenhaal pulled a no-show at singer Taylor Swift's 25th birthday party to signal his breakup with her, inspiring an album of songs of heartbreak. And many other men who have found themselves similarly over-committed to someone they no longer even like have simply stopped calling and/or made themselves scarce.

These mirage men have created an image of Prince Charming and know that their months or even years of deception are going to come crashing down on them as hard as Bernie Madoff's Ponzi scheme. The easiest way out seems to be to avoid an ugly scene, so that is what they do, in the fashion Paul Simon glamorized in his famous song.

Ending an engagement by text is tacky, but we must give Billittier some credit, if we believe that some type—any type—of closure if preferable to not calling and/or disappearing until it is painfully obvious the relationship is over. Billittier at least did that. But many women fail to understand why anyone would so fear a face-to-face encounter to end a romance.

The reason for that is that men and women are very different.

For many men the physical presence of a woman can be intoxicating. Her sparkling eyes, her smile, the curve in her calf—women can have a powerful pull on men. One reason some men avoid a face-to-face breakup is that they fear they may be overcome by their erstwhile partner's appearance and lose their nerve.

Texting or writing a letter, while not always welcome, does have some advantages: It saves the embarrassment of an awkward or even violent scene. It gives the unsuspecting partner time to digest what might be shocking news before a personal encounter can be arranged. And it gives the man a tool to confront the truth about the relationship.

Confrontation is the hardest thing for men who create relationships out of deception to face. They may have spent the entire romance, or most of it, pretending to be a Prince Charming, using physical attraction, approval-seeking, and superficial congruencies to weave a web of lies. Through the written word—though a brief text may not be ideal—such a man can calmly and clearly state the reasons for ending the dating, live-in or even engaged relationship. Often the partner will have had no idea her dream lover really felt that way.

Finding out the truth about a partner before the wedding is, of course, best in the long run. Writing to end a relationship can allow a man to avoid the fear and mind games of "letting someone down easy," emotionally withdrawing to force a partner to end things herself, or simply disappearing.

Anything that gets us to the truth is ultimately a good thing—even, sometimes, a tacky text.

J.R. Bruns, M.D., is co-author of The Tiger Woods Syndrome, a book about repairing relationships.

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