Hooking Up and Breaking Up in the 21st Century

“All we’re saying is there really is no good way to break up with someone, is there?”

“It’s funny you should mention that, Billy, because actually there is. You can have the guts and the courtesy to tell a woman to her face that you no longer want to see her. Call me crazy, but I think that you can make a point of ending your relationship in a manner that doesn’t include an email, a doorman or a missing person’s report. I think you could all get over your fear of looking like the bad guy and actually have the uncomfortable break-up conversation because here’s what: Avoiding that is what makes you the bad guy. And just so you know, Alan…”

“Andrew…”

“Uh huh. Most women are not angry, irrational psychos. We just want an ending to a relationship that is thoughtful and decent and honors what we had together. So my point, Billy, is this: There is a good way to break up with someone, and it doesn’t include a Post-it!”

So said Carrie Bradshaw to Berger’s smarmy friends in the episode of Sex and the City that aired last night on the Sony Channel in Bangkok — and who can argue? I can’t think of a more cowardly get-out-of-love-free card that one can pull out than a Post-it. But, I wondered, as I watched Sarah Jessica Parker give the comedic performance of a lifetime (or at least the entire series), how would Carrie have felt if Berger had put it in an email instead.

Perhaps not as bad? Part of what made the Post-it sting so much was the deception involved. Berger came by bearing pink carnations and professing a burning desire to work things out. Even worse, he left in the middle of the night. No matter what Dido sings (in her song “Don’t Believe in Love”), going to bed with arms around you and waking up on your own can be the most depressing thing in the world.

But getting back to the break-up email, a few hours after I watched SATC, I caught a preview of Steve Harvey’s upcoming daytime talk show in which he addressed the idea of the dreaded dumping by text, or by email. Here’s what he had to say:

Another excellent point, but one that overlooks the very nature of 21st-century romance, much of which often takes place online, if not in separate cities, countries and, occasionally, continents, regardless of how you meet. I’ve been there. And in case I’d forgotten what it’s like, I recently was reminded while having a Facebook chat with Sebastián, a friend with occasional benefits in Buenos Aires. While we were discussing our chronic singledom (his, unlike mine, being not entirely by choice), he dropped the following comment:

“Sabes el tiempo que hace que no leo: Queres ser mi novio? O te gustaria ponerte de novio conmigo?”

Wow! I couldn’t believe the implication of what I was reading. If he can’t remember the last time he’s read an invitation to go steady, that must mean he only reads invitations to go steady.

I sought confirmation.

Affirmative.

So does that mean he’s never had a relationship where he and the other guy decided that they were boyfriends while in the same room?

Exactly.

I was shocked. Though I’ve always tried to avoid that awkward let’s-be-exclusive conversation (being the commitment-phobe that I am), I’ve always managed to have them face-to-face. Of course, I’m from the generation where we had to actually call up people we liked on the phone and ask them out. At 30, my friend is from the era of impersonal communication — and dating. He’s always been able to take the easy way out.

Not that I occasionally haven’t. I won’t lie: I’ve broken up with guys by text and by email, and I’ve been dumped by email. In all four situations, there was no face-to-face option at the time. Either we were in different cities, or one of us was refusing to see the other in person.

I’ve always been firmly against putting off for tomorrow what you can do today. Why wait until I return from my vacation in Rio to tell me that we’re through when you can send me a “Dear Jeremy” email? I’ll cry a little, but afterwards, I’ll be able to enjoy my vacation without saving myself for a guy back home who doesn’t even want me anymore.

So you won’t see me or answer my phone calls? Well, rather than putting off the inevitable until you decide you’re ready to talk (and with the line “I break up with him before he dumps me” from Missy “Misdemeanor” Elliott’s “The Rain” playing in my head), here’s a text message saving us both the trouble. Considering that I caught him later that evening with another guy, I’d say I made the right decision.

I should have left him a voice mail, though. I would have stuttered, stumbled over my words, probably said all the wrong things, but it would have been a more courageous out. Being a journalist, writing will always be my communication method of choice, but I wish my long-distance dumping had all been done by phone call instead of by email.

The Post-it break-up, though, is an entirely different ballgame, one I would never even think to play, because to leave someone a Post-it, you must have been in their physical space. So there’s absolutely no reason why you couldn’t just tell him or her how you feel in person. Yes, there might be tears, angry words, flying pots and pans or mirrors (the recent projectile of choice of a Thai friend whose German beau gave him the boot), but that’s how love goes. It’s a battlefield, remember?

But then again, wounds heal. Post-its are forever. Or they can be. Carrie’s got her out of getting arrested for smoking a joint in public. So she may not have learned anything from the relationship, but at least some good came of that Post-it. If only all break-up emails and texts served us so well.

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Filed under Bangkok, Buenos Aires, relationships, Television

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