Is Writing a Break Up Letter better than Ghosting?
I’ve always expressed myself best in writing. As a teenager I wrote letters to friends and family when they were moving away or going traveling, because I was no good at saying the right thing on the spot to let them know how much they meant to me.
When I came out at 21 and started dating, I still felt the need to write letters. Though sometimes the letters were addressed to women I was breaking it off with, and sometimes even ones who were breaking it off with me. My letters were also digital, sent by text or messenger. I still have some of their drafts typed up on my phone, in my notes.
After I came out I dated for about 18 months straight, and during that time I never broke up with anyone face-to-face. Mainly because my schedule was so busy with university and working two jobs I didn’t want to schedule a date just to tell someone I didn’t want to see them anymore… Well, that’s what I told myself. I still felt guilty about it.
However, I always wrote that letter and sent it. Often, I’d get a mutual reply or no reply at all, but I never once received a negative response.
I wasn’t aware this habit of messaging a break-up letter was uncommon till I showed one of my friends a draft letter-message I was about to send. This letter was only about 200 words, but that’s practically an essay on messenger. It was for a girl who’d gone to the effort of driving the two hours from her town to my city just to go on a couple of dates with me, and yeah turns out we weren’t a good fit, but I still wanted to phrase things with some gentle appreciation for her effort in mind.
What I didn’t expect was for my friend to start crying after she finished reading.
‘Frick,’ I remember thinking, confused. I asked her what was wrong and if she was okay.
After a moment she placed my phone in her lap and, looking up at the roof of my car, she blinked her eyes. She told me, “If I’d had just one guy message me something like this, I’d be so happy.”
Huh? I asked her what guys did message her — after all, I’d never dated them.
“Usually nothing,” she said. “They just…disappear.”
Thus, I was introduced to ‘ghosting’, a phenomenon where an individual ceases all contact with another person without explanation. Ghosting is most prevalent in the lives of Millenials and Generation Z. As a ‘Zillenial’, I really understood the general reluctance to break up with someone face-to-face, it’s what I was also avoiding after all, but to not even send a message seemed so jerkish. I was saddened to hear how many times my friend had gone through this.
I ended up sending that draft letter-message to other female friends, and I got variations of the same response. The same treatment they’d all experienced, dating men and women alike, though, mostly men. They all expressed to me the closure they would’ve gotten had they received a letter-message like mine, how they’d still be heartbroken but would feel whole, rather than heartbroken and torn to pieces by a ghost, anxiously questioning what they’d done wrong.
After reading my letter, my friends began sending me their draft messages: break up letters, self-closure letters to send to people who’d ghosted or broken up with them, messages to people they wanted to be more than friends with, or be just friends with, and even post-argument letters which attempted to open up healthy discussion. I’d help make little adjustments to these messages here and there, till my friends felt anxiety-free and ready to hit send.
And then, eventually, my friends sent me those drafts less and less as they worked out how to create effective communication on their own, without all the anxiety. It wasn’t preventing them from getting ghosted time-to-time, but it changed how they dealt with it and what kind of communication level they looked for in a partner.
Watching them flourish in this way, I realised how imperative it is to accept that talking and, in fact, even breaking up, is an art and a skill. Millennials and Gen Z were mostly pumped out of school as academic machines ready for critical thinking and debate (one of the reasons we’re so politically and environmentally active), not necessarily as humans ready for emotional relationships and functional adulting. Combine this with globalisation, online dating, increased rates of anxiety, and the whole chill/casual not-committed-to-a-relationship movement, I can see why ghosting is a thing: it’s so easy to simply disappear.
But, if you can’t cope with breaking up face-to-face, there is a healthier alternative. Writing a considerate, empathetic letter-message can go a long way toward making dating a more enjoyable experience and reduce the anxiety around it. Maybe it’ll take a few tries to get it right, but to send something is better than nothing, for everyone involved.
If you liked this story, you may also enjoy reading these other articles of mine: