How to Break up Online

When is it appropriate to end a relationship electronically?

Smart phones with broken heart on screen

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For many years, unwritten online etiquette dictated that breaking up with someone through text, instant message (IM), or other electronic methods was disrespectful, cowardly, and very uncool. But, because we now spend so much time online, there are certain circumstances under which breaking up there is seen as okay.

When Is It Okay to Break up Online?

A face-to-face conversation is preferred, but you should consider breaking up online if your relationship is:

  • Abusive: This reason is one of the best for using an online method to end a relationship. If the potential for physical harm is high, breaking up online could not only protect you, it might save your life.
  • Short-term: If you've only been on a few dates, or have been seeing each other for a few weeks, you don't necessarily owe the other person a face-to-face breakup.
  • Long-distance: While some long-distance relationships can be sustained, others don't work out. If you and the other person have been using the internet to communicate, end the relationship the same way.
  • Formed online: If you met a person in a chat room, social app, or elsewhere online, and the relationship isn't serious, end it using the web-based communication tool of your choice.

There may be additional scenarios in which it's okay to break up online. Generally, the more serious the relationship, the more you should consider breaking up in person, or at least over the phone.

Even though your relationship meets these criteria, others may not see breaking up online as appropriate and this may damage your reputation. If you're sensitive to how you're perceived by others, think carefully before breaking up online.

How to Break up Through IM or Text

If you communicate frequently through IM or text, this method may be the most comfortable way to end the relationship.

  1. Be straightforward about your intentions. In person, you might sugarcoat the situation. Online, be brief in expressing your desire to stop seeing the other person.

  2. Outline your expectations regarding communication moving forward. If you want to be left alone, let them know it.

  3. Be prepared to respond to questions and, possibly, for a follow-up phone call.

  4. Save threatening messages you receive, in case you need to present them to law enforcement.

    Prior to your breakup over IM or text, enable chat history in your client.

How to Break up Through Email

If your reasons for breaking up are more complex, or you have other things to say, email might be a better choice than IM or text.

  1. Express your desire to end the relationship and your reasons why, in addition to anything positive you'd like to say about the time you spent together.

  2. Mention your expectations regarding future communications.

  3. Make suggestions for how any belongings will be retrieved if you left them at each other's homes.

    If possible, retrieve your belongings and return their belongings before you write the email. This way you'll avoid seeing them after the breakup.

  4. Keep email replies, especially any that threaten harm, in case you need to show these emails to law enforcement.

How to Break up Through Video Chat

If you believe you should give someone a face-to-face conversation but don't feel comfortable doing it in person, a video chat might be a good option.

  1. With a face-to-face call, even if it's online, you might feel pressured to ease the blow of a breakup. Be honest about how you feel. Don't make concessions such as friendship if you don't intend to follow through.

    Since you're not in person, surround yourself with written reminders of why you're breaking up or how you want the conversation to go.

  2. If you want to record the conversation for legal reasons, check your state and local laws regarding recording. In some places, you need to have the other person's consent.

  3. Be prepared for technical difficulties and think ahead about how you'll contact the person again (phone? text?) if you get disconnected.

Online Breakup DON'Ts

Here are a few more tips:

  • Never use public sections of Twitter, Facebook, chat rooms, or group IM to end a relationship. Communications should be private.
  • If you plan to keep records of your breakup conversation, don't say or write anything that could incriminate you.
  • If the other person wants to keep communicating, but you don't want to be contacted by them, don't be afraid to use the blocking functions of online applications to prevent the receipt of additional messages, calls, or posts.