This week in Advancement, Jason Hartley challenges the long-held notion that breaking up over email is heartless. We’ll all be “ex-ting” in the future—and all be the better for it.
This was a slow week in the Advanced world. If only Lou Reed or the Pixies had rescued those Chilean miners I would have been in good shape, but the only musician to save someone’s life was T.I. I’m not ready to declare him Advanced, so I’m going to use this week’s column to discuss something that I believe in that is only slightly related to Advancement. Something that could save even more lives than all the Atlanta rappers put together: bringing the breakup into the 21st century.
Email has been around for what now seems like forever–I’ve been using it since the early 1990s thanks to my high-tech supernerd brother–but though it has had a large impact on our daily lives, it has not reached its full potential, and I’m not talking about more targeted ads. I’m talking about something truly revolutionary, something that will improve productivity, reduce alcoholism, free up nice one-bedroom apartments in Brooklyn, and generally save everyone a lot of trouble. I’m talking about breaking up via email.
Before you disagree with me, listen to my argument because it is a little more complicated than it first appears. To get to the point where the email breakup is a net positive, some major things will have to change. As it is, anything less than a face-to-face confrontation is considered an insult, making the heartbreak worse for the breakupee. But this is only because society has declared that this must be so. If the Advanced Genius Theory has taught me anything it is to challenge things that everyone believes without actually thinking about it. And the more I think I about it, the whole face-to-face thing is extremely overrated and maybe even downright stupid.
Almost anyone who has been in a long-term relationship knows how difficult it is to confront their partner when they realize that it is time to split. It is so difficult that we procrastinate, sometimes for years. In the meantime, we drink to avoid our feelings and, worse, take up a perfectly good apartment that some happy couple would enjoy. Plus we are cold and distant to our partner because we convince ourselves that this is less painful than just ending the relationship. When it becomes impossible to ignore we finally break it off. Only we don’t. We try to, but it’s hard to hurt someone face to face, so we cave in and give it another shot. And usually another, and sometimes another. This benefits no one.
Now imagine if the situation were reversed and breaking up with someone in person is considered cruel. If you really think about it, this is no more arbitrary than the way it is. Regardless, let’s assume it’s possible. You realize you don’t want to be with someone anymore, so you send a short email telling your partner that you no longer want to be in the relationship. The breakupee is of course saddened, but rather than talking to you, they go to a friend to trash you, cry, or whatever they want. This is much healthier than the usual breakup scenario, where the breakupper usually is the source of immediate solace, which is crazy because they are the one causing the pain. When you get laid off, you don’t expect your boss to spend one last night with you. You go to people who still care about you.
Now, as I said, this proposal is complicated. There would have to be rules to the e-breakup, especially regarding the content of the email. It has to be brief, because otherwise you will just say a bunch of stuff you don’t mean because you’re trying to make the breakupee feel better, which only makes them think that you still care about them, resulting in more pain. Also, the breakupee should be able to reply and the breakupper is required to read it, but is forbidden to answer it. This way there is closure for the injured party.
The only way this all works is if everyone agrees that it is okay. Otherwise the truly decent people will still breakup face-to-face or expect to be told face to face that their relationships have ended. There would have to be some kind of campaigns aimed at children who have not yet formed expectations about the proper way to break someone’s heart. This is tricky for my generation, of course, because we have been brainwashed pretty thoroughly. So maybe we skip email altogether and move on to texting. After all, if the hysterical news reports about teen sexting are even close to true, there is a generation who already buy into electronic intimacy, so why wouldn’t they also end a relationship by text? Just call it ex-ting, and it’s bound to catch on.
Advancement was created to help people fight against the pressure to deny who they really are. If you love Phil Collins, you shouldn’t feel ashamed about that. In the same way, you shouldn’t feel ashamed that you don’t want to hurt someone face to face. Maybe it builds “character” to be overcome this reluctance, but only in the sense that it makes it easier for you to hurt people. Is that the kind of character you want to build? I’m not advocating running away from difficult situations, but I also don’t believe in punishing people for being human.