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How To Break Up With Somebody Over The Internet

Because sometimes there's no other way.

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What are the rules for breaking up over the Internet?

Let’s just state for the record something that you know that I know that you know: you don’t ever break up with someone on the Internet if you can help it. Right? We’re on the same page? We’re talking about a star-crossed-lovers-type scenario, in which you’re not just, like, across the street from each other with mean parents but are literally hundreds or thousands of miles apart from each another, such that in-person meetings are impossible. RIGHT?

OK, I’m really glad that’s settled. Otherwise, I’d have to come by your house and kidnap you and tie you to a moldy raft and place you in the shark-iest area of the ocean, and that just raises all sorts of logistical issues that I’d rather avoid. You have to break up with your boyfriend or girlfriend online, which I’m sure you feel REALLY BADLY about, so I’m sorry about that. The good news is that the chance you’ll have a drink thrown in your face is next to none, unless there’s been some technological development someone wants to tell me about. The bad news is that there is no good way to do this.

Skype might seem like the most logical next step down from in-person communication, and that’s probably what you should use if you’ve been seeing this person for a significant amount of time (say, over three months or so). Your bf/gf is going to want to hear your voice say these things, and that is fair. It’s going to be really awkward when there are Internet connection issues and when you accidentally talk over each other because there’s a lapse. You will just have to deal with these things as they come. It is, however imperfect, the “best” way to end something that has been at all serious. That said: if you haven’t been dating this person all that long, or if this person has been truly and honestly cruel to you and does not deserve to hear your voice, then you should send an email. Emails, at least, allow you the time and quiet to say everything you need to say. A final note: never in one trillion light-years are you to use Facebook, texting, Twitter, or a public Tumblr post to end your relationship. But you knew that already, didn’t you? Don’t make me open my rafting supply closet.

Sometimes when I’m emailing someone I’ll end up sending a few in quick succession, sort of like chat, because I’ll forget something and decide to just send another email right away. Is this A BIG DEAL, or just kind of slightly annoying?

On a scale of Internet-related abuses ranging from 1-10, I would rate the email instant message a 4. Now, I suppose I should tell you that I don’t rate anything lower than a 4, because I don’t want any of your bad habits to seem like they’re not SO bad that you needn’t stop them immediately. You might be asking, “Then why don’t you just make the scale from 4-10?” Don’t be ridiculous. Who ever heard of a 4-10 scale? I don’t have time for these questions.

You’re being annoying, yes, but it’s not a BIG DEAL. It’s sort of like iPhone users who send series of one- or two-word separate texts to their iPhone-less friends: you seriously need to stop it because otherwise I will never talk to you again, but I’m not THAT mad.

Anyway, this is the sort of thing that happens when we care more about instant communication than we do well-thought-out communication. Before you press “send” on your emails and your text messages, think about whether or not you’ve said everything you wanted to say. Sometimes you’re going to forget something, and that’s ok as long as you keep these addendum messages to a minimum. Be thorough! For example, have you told this person that you love him/her? Write that in. Haha ahhhh wait, take it out, take it out! No. OK. Just send it.

I have a Facebook friendship with someone I used to kind of have a thing with, but we seem to have reached an unspoken agreement that nothing more is going to happen. What should that kind of Facebook friendship look like? Does continued commenting and “liking” show an interest you don't really have? I’m not sure if he still thinks I’m into him, or if he’s into me.

Let me tell you a story: one time I liked a young man and he sort of liked me, and then we both pretty much reached an unspoken agreement that nothing was going to happen, only I was not actually involved in that decision-making process and he just quietly got a different girlfriend. So anyway, the next time I saw him at school, I asked for the notes I had lent him in a somewhat severe tone of voice, and then when I had them in my hand I just WALKED AWAY! Without a word! It was rude(-ish), but what choice did I have? I wanted to show him that I no longer cared for his aliveness, by being visibly haughty and flustered in his presence.

This is how small children (and some twenty-somethings) handle interactions with former crushes/significant others. Genuine, grown adults would probably do something different, like understand that simple acts of kindness toward, and connection with, other human beings do not NECESSARILY mean that they are in love with those other human beings. Then again, I used to feel that genuine, grown adults would not use Facebook. I used to feel that we’d all leave it once we graduated college. And yet.

Commenting on someone’s posts and “liking” their statuses shows an interest, of some kind, in another human being. Whether or not you’re comfortable with that is up to you, and up to the degree to which you’re okay with this guy thinking you might kind of still be into him. There must be worse things than having someone you don’t like think you like him/her, but I can think of literally none. This is certainly not territory in which you could be fairly accused of leading him on, but it’s probably not helping matters, right? It’s stupid, but it’s safer to err on the side of indifference. All’s fair in love and Facebook, because both are terrible.

FWD: Halp! is a weekly advice column on how to behave like a person when using technology. Would you like said advice? Email your questions to Katie.

Katie Heaney is a writer and volunteer text message analyst living in Minneapolis. She thinks you should have good manners, even on the internet.

Illustration by Cara Vandermey