Unprovoked nuclear attack. Incest. Cheating at Scrabble. Breaking up via text message. In the minds of many, that latter act is the greatest of all crimes—but is that fair? Is it ever justified to textually end things? Yes!
A caveat, please: if you're in a relationship with someone you have or would call your boyfriend or girlfriend, it is not acceptable to break up over text message, email, IM, Twitter DM, Facebook status, or any other digital, virtual missive. Your relationship is likely ending in a more hurtful and poignant way that can ever be captured in typed words. You'll both be better off exposed to the quirks and nuances of IRL interaction.
But there are a lot of relationships that aren't serious. And in spite of the text-breakup's stigma as the chickenshit way out, the medium has become the way we talk all the time. We're not calling each other, we're texting each other. Is that watering down and generally cheapening the average human exchange? Maybe. Probably! But we're living in an age when it's OK to send a text to buy drugs, receive newborn baby photos, and blanket your friends and family with good news. So if it's good enough for the good, surely it's good enough for some of the bad. Here are the types of relationships you can press send to end:
Odds are, by definition, you're not going to have a second night with a one night stand. But if you swap numbers, get in touch, and then decide against a repeat rendezvous, texting is a fine way to do it. It's not like things started with a lot of mutual respect anyway.
You've had dinner a few times. Maybe you've even "had intercourse." But things aren't working out, and you don't feel like talking it over. There's nothing to talk about. You just lost interest. That's fine! You can handle it via text, but be prepared for a back and forth. It may take more than 160 characters to explain that it's over. But you've got unlimited texting, right?
Like the one night stand, there's nothing sacred here. You can probably just let this fizzle out on its own with some old fashioned call screening. But it's nice and direct to type the words, "I don't want to do this anymore." Maybe it'll sting at first, but you'll both just find someone else to desperately fill your respective emotional voids.
You're both busy, you're in different time zones, and frankly, you're both tired of the whole thing. You go through the routines because it's easier to continue than have the conflict. You both know the relationship is headed toward the love sewer. You can't be bothered to even Skype about it. Put a bullet in this thing with an SMS—you'd talk it out in person if you could. You might have had a good relationship in person, too.
You can get away with these things, if done properly. But don't ruin the ethical breakup text for the rest of us. Don't abuse the medium. Temper the shock of letting someone down electronically by letting them down easy. Be brief, but be kind.
Original illustration by Robert Grossman.
User Manual is Gizmodo's guide to etiquette. It appears as if by magic every Friday.