Tuesday, September 18, 2012

The Online Breakup – What’s the Etiquette?

Imagine receiving an email or a text message from someone you have been dating for a few weeks telling you that they are too busy to continue seeing you or that life had just become too complicated for them to be able to maintain a relationship? How would that make you feel?

You may be thinking this would never happen to you. Oddly enough however, this happens all the time and at an increasingly alarming rate! This way of communicating important personal matters is now considered by some people to be perfectly acceptable. I am here to tell you that it is not only unacceptable; it is also disrespectful, cowardly, and insensitive.

There was a recent article in the Washington Post about this matter and was quickly followed up by a radio interview with me in Toronto. My point of view proffers face-to-face discussions on any concerns of personal significance. Hiding behind the anonymous wall of the Internet is how many people have found escape from life’s challenging moments. I can recall any number of times when sticking my head in the sand and hoping the problems of the day would disappear would have been a convenient and painless (albeit temporary) way to handle unpleasantness. However, we all eventually come to realize that this is not a good permanent solution. One simply cannot achieve the same closure relying on such an impersonal approach.

Relationships cover a full spectrum of emotional connections. Some are very casual and don’t involve any real commitment from one person to another except perhaps civility. Others involve a lifetime commitment where a blending of souls occurs and lives become inseparably entwined. Somewhere in this broad spectrum fall all of the relationships we form throughout our lives. For most of us, life is not always a bowl of cherries. Difficult relationships are likely to evolve, especially within families.

Whenever any of us become emotionally involved with someone, we deepen our connection with that person. It is important to be aware of our interpersonal connections and to value them. After all, without the interaction with friends, we would not thrive or even be humane, kindly or civil. Friendships often become more complex both in business and personally. These more evolved and involved relationships can last a lifetime and when properly nurtured, help to enrich our lives.

Sometimes you may sense or know there was some real danger involved in ending a relationship. Not all break ups end peacefully. Be sure to bring a friend along if you have concerns for your safety. Should drugs, alcohol, or violence be part of the equation, use common sense and seek help. There are resources available to everyone. Calling 911 is sometimes a very sensible place to begin. If you are in a bad relationship, get out of it. This principle applies to domestic relationships as well as professional. Safety is always number one!

For a variety of reasons, friendships can and do change over time. Everything does. Knowing where we stand with one another gives us security in our daily lives. Not knowing where we stand leads to anxiety and self-doubt, sometimes even fear and anger. If you need to end a relationship, be sure to give careful consideration to how the other person will feel. Because both parties have likely invested trust and vulnerability into this friendship, it is disrespectful not to consider how both parties will feel if it needs to change or end. This does not mean taking responsibility for another’s feelings, but rather just acknowledging them.

As convenient as the Internet has become for most of us, breaking up a romantic relationship is in such an impersonal way is likely to be hurtful. Life continually provides challenges, and relationship breakups are just one example. Face the music though and find some time to sit down with your partner and explain how you feel and why you need a change.

Take the responsibility and own it, especially if you are initiating a break up of any kind. No one would ever suggest that there will be no pain and discomfort involved. Of course there will be. But when a relationship must be severed, full closure is essential. Only then can you really move on with your life. This may not happen instantly, but it likely won’t happen at all if done with a text message or email.