The phrase "rules of war" is ironic. How does something as chaotic as war have rules? Love is like war in many ways, and the most chaotic part of love is the breakup (opens in new tab). You wrestle with yourself over how the breakup happens (opens in new tab), and then you have to deal with the aftermath (opens in new tab). The scary thing is that everyone has their own opinions about behavior throughout a breakup. And, of course, the length of the relationship may dictate the breakup rules.
So, are there any rules we can establish? I've put together elements of a breakup that we need to iron out:
Question: What's the best mode of communication for breaking up — e-mail, text, phone, face-to-face?
Rule: I know people who have been broken up with via text or instant messenger. You have to do it face-to-face if you're in a serious relationship. Taking the easy way out is pretty lame (opens in new tab). Beware of any written communication because it can be used against you, although e-mail is a nice way to leave a "receipt/record" of breakup.
Question: Is it acceptable to break up while the other person is going through a difficult time in their life?
Rule: I once thought it was rude to ride out a tough time with someone while planning to break up with them. Why lead someone on? But I recently heard a story about a girl who had lots of bad things going on and also lost her grandmother. On top of this, her boyfriend broke up with her. I now think that you should ride out a tough time with your significant other, even if you plan to break up (opens in new tab). Stick around for a bit if breaking up will rub salt in fresh wounds. It's a tough balance, though, if this time goes on too long.
Question: Do you always have to "officially" break up with someone?
Rule: My sister once found out that her boyfriend was actually her ex from his new girlfriend. Then there are the Houdinis who disappear (opens in new tab). Some people don't think it's necessary to inform the other person that they are breaking up. But you must tell someone you're not interested, or want to break up, if you've been hanging out for at least a few weeks.
Question: How long am I allowed to be confused?
Rule: Two weeks is more than enough time to be confused. Do you plan to live out your entire relationship in this confused state? That's not fair to you or your significant other. Sometimes a breakup is necessary to clear up that confusion, even though you might lose them by the time you try to come back (opens in new tab).
Question: What's the policy for reclaiming personal items?
Rule: Try to get it done in one visit, as it could get more awkward if you continue to visit to pick up stuff. High-value and sentimental items should always be returned to their rightful owner. And, if it's too soon to see each other, you can have friends help out as delivery people. The sooner you can reclaim stuff, the better. Don't allow someone time to get attached to your property.
Question: Her friend is hot. Can I go out with her now?
Rule: Really? Try to have some class, and move on. There are plenty of fish in the sea. You can't date someone who your ex knows, let alone one of her friends (opens in new tab). As far as I'm concerned, this is against the rules — even if the ex pretends she doesn't care. Maybe it's OK if you didn't get too serious with the original significant other.
Question: I'm still friends with her friends and family. Is it cool if we stay in touch?
Rule: My sister's ex still talks to my mom. I'd describe my sister's feelings as "slightly annoyed" over this. Generally, it's important to leave someone's friends and family to them and take some time away.After a while, maybe you can be friends with everyone again (opens in new tab).
Question: I'm breaking up with her, but I have feelings for her. Can I tell her I have feelings for her?
Rule: No, no, no! People try to smooth it out by saying something like: "I love you, I'm just not in love with you anymore." Avoid using the word "love" (opens in new tab) while breaking up unless you're saying, "I'm in love with somebody else." It's not fair to send mixed signals (opens in new tab). Make the break, and don't talk about how "difficult" it is to break up. If it was that difficult, would you really be breaking up?
What kinds of questions do you have about the "rules for breaking up," and what would your answers be for mine? Do you have any experiences where these rules came in to play?
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