Paul Simon once sang that there must be 50 ways to leave your lover.

A 2012 study published in the Journal of Research in Personality has narrowed it down to seven in the digital age. They are:

  1. Avoidance and withdrawal (not answering the phone etc);
  2. Positive tone or self-blame (making your partner feel better about breaking up);
  3. Open confrontation (candidly expressing your feelings and reasons for the break-up);
  4. Cost escalation (deliberately picking fights with your partner so that you drive them away);
  5. Manipulation (telling mutual friends how unhappy you are to bring the situation to a head);
  6. Distant/mediated communication (splitting up with someone via e-mail, text message or Facebook); and
  7. De-escalation (saying you just want a break when you really want to end it).

But, says Ilana Gershon – Professor of Communication and Culture at Indiana University and the author of the 2010 book, The Breakup 2.0: Disconnecting over New Media – the “how” is often used to occlude the “why”.

For example, if a person is dumped via what is generally considered the worst possible way – the text or e-mail – then the dumper’s lack of tact makes them the “bad guy”.

This, said Gershon, allows the dumpee to absolve themselves of guilt and “avoid these often unanswerable questions like why the break-up had happened in the first place and who really was to blame”.

But back to the “how”. According to the 2012 study, the open confrontation style – that is, face to face, is the best. Humans evolved to communicate with faces; a smile or a tear reminds us that although the relationship has come to an end, “I still have value as a person”.

Faceless splitting up denies closure. Not only is the dumper saying “I don’t want you any more”, but also “I don’t care how you feel about it” and that has a huge emotional impact.


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