Dating: The Soft Breakup

Posted on November 9, 2014


David & Andrea shadow


Human beings have always had a hard time finding the “right” person. Back in prehistory, a lot of potential relationships were ruined by the untimely demise of a prospective mate, due to being eaten by large out-of-control mammals. The unsuspecting (and single) ones who survived were often hunted down and captured by singles on the prowl.

After people reach a point in which they were able to live away from hungry mammals and therefore survive a bit longer, arranged marriages were invented.  These arranged marriages assured that everyone would have a mate. They worked, as long as one didn’t care what the mate looked like or what kind of personality they had or if they had any strange habits.

The next leap forward occurred when people decided they wanted to choose their own mates.  This was the first time in history when people were heard to say, “There is nobody interesting to meet in this town.” Worse, if the town were really small, the comment would be “There is nobody I’m not already related to in this town.”

Sometimes, friends would know someone perfect. Sometimes an aunt would have a friend who had a child who would be a great fit.  Sometimes, someone at church would turn out to be The One. Eventually, one way or another, people would get paired off and would spend the next twenty or thirty years  not having to bathe or wear clean clothes in order to attract a mate.

The advent of technology suddenly allowed people to meet and form relationships, without being at the mercy of someone who knew a nice single person.  Better yet, it meant that one didn’t even have to be nice oneself, in order to make someone want to fix them up.  Like our ancestors of prehistory, one was set free in cyberspace to hunt down and capture any  unsuspecting and unprotected single person who came within range.

But meeting someone and forming a relationship with them was a joy that, in many cases, had a relatively short shelf life. Once the relationship really got going, the next hurdle was how to end it.  Again, technology has come to the rescue.

People used to have to do something definite to end a relationship. Many people preferred to do this in person.  In prehistory, one could throw one’s mate onto the path of a charging mammoth.  After the advent of writing, one could write a break up letter. After phones were invented, one could make a break up phone call.  There was always the option of joining the army, or the hope that the other person would do so.

Technology has created what relationship researcher Scott Stanley dubs the “soft breakup.”  This is a breakup that is known to only one member of the two-person relationship.  The other member is left in a quasi-state of communication, something like a flawed Skype connection, in which one party sees the other, who only sees a black box.  They are still in contact, but not in the same way.

Compared with being thrown onto the path of a large mammal or enduring a wall of silence, a friendly text message here and an email there can take the edge off a breakup. “The soft breakup gives us a new way of saying ‘I don’t want to date you, but let’s try to be friends,'” says Galena Rhoades, a clinical psychologist who frequently collaborates with Stanley on research. “Having the option to do a soft breakup might motivate people to get out of a relationship they know is a dead-end.”

The following are some ways to use technology to achieve a successful soft breakup:

1. Make the shift from person-to-person email to including the soon-to-be ex only in group emails.  The best emails for this purpose are massive forwards with jokes and/or warnings about toxic chemicals contained in popular food products.

2. Send the soon-to-be ex a notice that you are having problems with your email and ask them to communicate with you only through Facebook.

3. Submit a Facebook photo update that includes yourself with another person who is the same sex as your soon-to-be-ex.  Include a caption that says “My new friend.”

4. Wish the soon-to-be ex Happy Birthday only on Facebook.  Write something like “Hoping you have the best birthday celebration ever!”

5. Start tweeting about relationship.  Examples: “The only relationship that matters is the one we have with ourselves.”  “We grow by being alone.” “Every relationship contains the seeds of its end”

The bottom line is that there is no way to execute the perfect dump, whether hard or soft.  Just ask anyone who threw their mate onto the path of a charging mammoth and was then consumed himself.