I know what you're thinking. What kind of horrible human coward writes a break-up letter!? My friend Paul gave me this lecture once--though he gave it the nicest way possible. You see Paul is a great guy. He is a thoughtful, dignified person and would only break up with a woman over coffee while holding her hand tightly the entire time. When I explained to him that I know men (and women, too, I'm sure) who don't bother with the break-up--they just don't saying anything at all and disappear completely--he looked at me in great confusion. In the case of someone who planned on walking away with no final words, a break-up letter is actually an act of valiance.
Let's face it -- there really is no good way to break up with someone. Even if you do it the considerate, Paul-like way the other person will still be devastated. Some methods, however, are better than others, and I think a letter falls in the middle. Here are a few ways to break-up with someone listed from the most appropriate to the most inconsiderate:
1. In person
2. Over the phone
3. Via breakup letter or e-mail
4. Via text
5. By not telling the person but going so far as to change your relationship status on MySpace or Facebook. (If you don't believe this really happens, read this write-up by my friend and fellow blogger Christine Hassler).
6. Saying nothing and disappearing into the sunset
The break-up letter, as with every other type of letter, has a long history. I recommend Hell Hath No Fury: Women's Letters from the End of the Affair edited by Anna Holmes. This is an absorbing collection of break-up letters--the oldest was written around 10 B.C. and the most recent in 2002 (according to this book, even marriages have ended via letter). If you choose to write a break-up letter you are joining millions of people--alive, dead, well-known and unknown. I've written break-up letters on behalf of other people and a few for myself. The ones I write for myself are usually written early on when I've only been seeing someone a short time, and the relationship hasn't gotten serious enough for us to have a sit-down break-up. In any case, here are some insights and approaches to the almighty break-up letter:
The Last Word - I DON'T recommend a break-up letter be the final word, especially if you're ending a long relationship. I think it should be a starting point. Say the things that are the most difficult to say in the letter and then open the door to meet for further discussion. The other person might choose not to meet you or they might like some face- to-face closure--it's kind to give them the choice. If you can't, however, see them again after writing the note then be clear about that. Don't end with a promising, "I'll call you later," and never following through.
Getting Started - If you've been pondering the break-up for a while and know that it's affected your behavior, consider starting with an explanation: "My attitude lately has been aloof at best and rude at worst. I'm sorry I've waited so long to explain myself." Otherwise you can get right to the point and let it be known that this isn't easy: "I'm not sure where to begin," or "I'm sorry not to do this in person but it's easier for me to put my thoughts on paper."
Call Yourself a Coward - The recipient is going to call you one anyway, you might as well put it out there that you know what you're doing. You can say something like, "Admittedly, this is a coward's call," or "I'm sure my unwillingness to do this in person disappoints you. It disappoints me too."
Unless You're Not Being One - If writing the letter is not an act of avoidance but a last resort to get through to someone then make that clear: "I would like to discuss this with you but you've gotten in the nasty habit of not listening to anything I say."
Walk the Line - The toughest part about writing a break-up letter is being honest but not too honest. Saying, "I met someone with a better body," is heartless. Then again so is suggesting, "Maybe we can try again when work isn't so busy," when you know being busy has nothing to do with why you're ending things. It gives the other person hope and keeps them from moving on. Say something kind yet more permanent, "I've enjoyed our time together, but don't see this going any further than it already has. My feelings aren't where they need to be for us to continue."
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