Kaitlin Hogan talks about her 2016 breakup with a superlative phrase one rarely hears: “It was the best breakup I’ve ever had.”
This attitude about breakups is uncommon, so much so that you may be wondering if it is a figment of someone’s imagination. It is, in fact, possible and real, but it’s hard to find. And it’s even harder to actually pull off (regardless of whether you’re the one doing the breaking up or being broken up with). But it’s all about being direct.
Kaitlin felt like her six-month relationship wasn’t really going anywhere, so she asked her boyfriend at the time to meet her at a bar and came clean.
“I asked him straight out if he saw us together for a long time,” she says. “He skirted around the question but ultimately agreed that he didn’t.”
The couple talked things out for an hour before wrapping it up, calling it off, and moving on with their separate lives. When Kaitlin looks back on the breakup, she understands it went so well because she actively decided to give her partner the respect of ending it before things got bad.
“We exchanged a closure text a few days later, and he said he was happy we ended it when we did and that we had time in each other’s lives,” she says. “I’m still impressed with it.”
Breakup expert (yes, that’s a real job!) Donna Barnes says the best way to pull this off is to be direct, like Kaitlin was. Just be aware that breakups can be messy. They’re never easy. And even when they’re mature and respectful, they still hurt.
Greg Behrendt and Amiira Ruotola-Behrendt, coauthors of “It’s Called A Breakup Because It’s Broken,” say that breakups hurt so bad because any way you dice it, they’re personal.
“If someone’s breaking up with you they’re basically saying, ‘I don’t want you,’” Ruotola-Behrendt says. It’s not surprising that breakups are rarely dealt with in a mature manner, because the person doing the breaking up is afraid of the response they’re going to get, which, in turn, makes it harder for the one getting broken up with to respond maturely.
“Breakups shape the parts of us that we are least proud of: our envy and our self-worth,” says Behrendt. “They put us in a position of being petulant. Rarely does somebody come in and go, ‘You know what, I really do love you but what you’re saying makes a lot of sense. I want to thank you for your frankness and, quite honestly, your ability to think through this. I would have stayed with you, so thank you.’”
Instead, most people struggle to accept their breakups, says Barnes. “While you’re pining for someone and figuring out how to get them back, you keep yourself in a lot more pain.”
Meghan*, a teacher in Chicago, recalls her five-year relationship ending when she got out of the shower and her then boyfriend sprung the news on her like he’d been holding it in for months.
“He told me he didn’t think we should be together anymore while I was still in a towel, with my hair wet and my rosacea glowing bright red on my face,” she says. “He could have at least waited 10 more minutes.”
Nonetheless, the breakup would’ve hurt no matter how he broke the news, she admits. Maybe closure would’ve come sooner and maybe she wouldn’t have felt so angry, but at the end of the day, it would have been still been painful.
That said, when delivering the bad news, you should at least try to be mature. This doesn’t, however, ensure the other party will react the way you want them to, warns Behrendt.
The best way to attempt maturity though, is to be compassionate but firm, Barnes says. Try saying something like, “We are not right for each other. It’s been great. I think you’re a wonderful person but we are not right together.”
Repeating yourself (while staying calm) will make sure the other person is more likely to hear you and get the picture. But being so direct can be tricky, especially when you care about someone. And few relationships are free of caring for the other person. Yet backward as it may sound, being the “bad guy” is actually what makes you the good guy.
“Frequently the other person will say, ‘Oh but we are great together,’” Barnes says. “But you need to say, ‘No, I don’t think we are.’”
Breakups are going to hurt, whether you’re the instigator or the recipient. But you can soften the blow — to yourself and the other person — with a little respect and perspective. You might not have the best breakup or even a positive experience, but you will get through it.