Well Being

In Praise of E-Breakups

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Men can be annoying when they’re trying to be polite.

I had been seeing Daniel for a few weeks. We went out for dinner a couple of times, and spent one lovely Saturday afternoon kissing on the lawn in New York's Central Park. He was just my type: a funny, neurotic Jewish guy who grew up in Manhattan. He had fun stories about his parents, his therapist, and his antidepressant medication regimen. I didn’t know him all that well, but I was smitten.

For our fourth date, Daniel asked me to dinner at a restaurant convenient to him. This could only mean one thing: He wanted to bring me back to his place afterward – an invitation to which I would not object. I couldn’t have been more wrong. Before our entrées arrived (but, sadly, after we had ordered them), Daniel told me that we “didn’t click.” He used a Liz Phair line to explain himself: “I’m a complicated communicator,” he said. I had no idea what he was talking about. Grand and empty statements (that work better when accompanied by guitars) were not the way to end our brief courtship. Annoyed, I couldn’t understand why he felt the occasion called for a meal, rather than just a quick drink.

Better yet, I wish he had just emailed me. I know many consider this bad form, but I disagree. If you’ve only been seeing someone for a short time, and you haven’t slept with them (maybe even if you have), it’s kinder to end things with a succinct email rather than drag someone away from the comfort of their sofa and TV for an awkward night out.

An email allows the dumped party to retain her dignity. Had Daniel simply sent me one, I would have been stuck with a lot of questions, but I probably would have kept them to myself. It’s impossible not to react when you’re sitting next to him, and in front of a plate of sautéed skate with lemon butter caper sauce. In that setting, the bruised ego can get the better of you. It has questions whose answers it thinks can heal its stinging wounds. Even worse, the poor thing is convinced that the guy can answer them.

Left alone, the ego’s tantrum goes away soon enough. An email would have given me time to think, breathe, and call some of my trusted girlfriends. I would have had the choice to respond or not. My memories of Daniel would have been fond ones, of some pleasant dates, rather than an evening of humiliation, which blotted out whatever fun we may have had together.

If I could give men some dating advice it would be this: Don’t be enlightened when it isn’t required. Instead, embrace the coward I know lives in each and every one of you. Sometimes your natural gift for evasiveness is warranted; the getting-to-know-you-period is one of those times. But if you give it a couple of chances and it’s not working for you, for whatever reason, cut her loose in an email. Keep it short and amicable. You don’t have to explain yourself. (We especially don’t need to read about how you’re “feeling a little toxic right now.” I've heard that one at least a half-dozen times.) Don’t blame anyone for anything, or hand out too many meaningless compliments. Just end things on clear, friendly terms. It will piss her off to no end, but you’ll be doing her –and all of us – a favor.