No matter what you do, don’t text. Don’t Facebook message. Don’t use any medium to tell someone your relationship is over that you would use to send a link to something weird you found on the internet. Even if you express yourself better through writing, and even if you have too many things that you need to say that you know won’t come out right in person, the actual news has to be delivered face-to-face. You can follow up with an email if you have to. And even though emails aren’t necessarily the most romantic or personal medium, they are at least a little bit more considered. You have to write it on a keyboard (usually), edit it a few times, and hit send. You have to have that stomach-dropping moment that is just a little too instant when you’re using a messenger. You get to imagine it in a little mailbox, the next best thing to a real one in 2015.
Before you break up, prepare what you’re going to say, make a few notes even if you have to. You’ll obviously mess some things up, and the conversation will inevitably go in a hundred different directions, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t prepare. The more sure you are of what you need to say, the more you will be able to convey before the tears and accusations come (and they will).
But the tears are good, and important, because they mean it’s really the end. Both of you should cry, everyone should cry. And though that feeling will be so ugly and hard to sit through, you owe that much to them – any amount of anger or pain is preferable to a slow, dishonest slip into silence. Take it from someone who forced a breakup when she found out he had already moved on: you want to just deal with those tears up-front, because they will come regardless. The longer you delay that very bad moment, the worse it will be when it inevitably explodes, because you’ll have been living a half-life since the moment you knew you had to do it.
Remember that you owe them something, that you owe them respect, that you owe them honesty. Take them somewhere private enough that they can go through the whole cycle of things – forcing them to scream at you on a crowded subway platform or quiet restaurant is only degrading to the both of you, and punishing them for the crime of no longer having your love. This is why it must be in person – so that they can show you they are angry, and make you feel it, and you don’t get off easily. Doing it from behind a screen makes you a coward, and spares you a few moments of pain at the expense of any kind of dignity the two of you had. Give them yourself, in private, to take the full force of it.
Be firm because you have to. Don’t let the two of you slide into the same horrible routine of almost-breaking up just to reunite by the end of the night because you can’t stand to sleep apart. Cry, but then leave. Have somewhere to be. Don’t drag it out longer than it needs to go, don’t cut that wound again and again until it will never properly heal. Your constant breakups don’t mean that you love harder or more passionately; they mean that you should not be together but don’t have the conviction to actually stay apart. Be the stronger person if you know they can’t, don’t let it devolve into a few relieving moments of physical connection. It’s not worth it, and you’ll regret it two weeks later when you’re breaking up again.
If you loved them, and I’ll bet you did, you owe them this much. You owe them something that they can look at – through anger and tears and cruel barbs – and recognize as real. No matter how hard things will get for those few hours, they will at least be able point to a point in the calendar and say “that’s when they broke up with me.”
Because the ones that will kill you years later, that will leave you filled with an aching, low-fi kind of doubt indefinitely, are the kind that never really happened at all. The relationships that slowly slip out of your grip because they’ve grown apart, or found someone new, or simply woke up one morning and realized they were no longer in love – those are the ones that will ruin you with anxiety. They never really broke up, they just stopped being present, their bodies going through the motions of whatever the relationship was while everything you loved about them is somewhere else, somewhere you can’t get. The ones you have to force to leave because they’re too cowardly to say goodbye, even though they really said it weeks (or months, or years) ago. Those are the ones who will leave you wondering during every natural lull, when couples are tired and absorbed in their own projects and a little distracted for a while. Those are the non-breakups who will turn comfortable silence into a terrifying omen. Those are the people who will make you wonder if, every time they happen to not say “I love you,” it’s because they don’t anymore.
Give them the breakup that is real, so they will know, from then on, that the only time it’s over is when it has actually ended.