What She Wants

Breakup Etiquette: How to End a Relationship Gracefully

Our resident Truly Rich Lady lists the rules every heartbreaker needs to follow.

Do you want to ask our resident TRL a question? E-mail C.C. Coo at [email protected].  

Dear Truly Rich Lady:

How do you break up with someone face to face without him losing face? I don’t want to stay in a relationship just because I know he will feel bad if I leave him. I also don’t want to just disappear on him.


Looking for an Exit

Dear Looking for an Exit,

Breaking up with someone is always painful because no matter how you do it, feelings get trampled upon. Whenever a relationship ends, someone will somehow be hurt in the process. That's life. Boo-hoo. I once had to switch hairstylists because mine couldn’t execute an updated version of the ’90s Princess Di Bob. I just marched into the salon and told my longtime stylist that I would be sitting in Trina’s chair from that day forward. It was awkward (we couldn’t look each other in the eye for months), but I got what I wanted. Likewise, for you, this is something you must do right now: Take action.

Just do it.
Though I think that breakups should be as well-planned as other key relationship events like proposals, you should just do it. Skip the bombastic show with on-cue fireworks and an Asscher-cut diamond ring swimming at the bottom of a Champagne flute (or in this case, dramatically flinging back the aforementioned ring). Forget the Last Good Time, which involves a seven-course dinner followed by a prepared statement on Why We Should Discontinue Our Partnership.


A simple and private meeting does the job. No need to worry about the details, which will only make you postpone the matter. There are no other details to pore over anyway other than the action itself, which is to break up right now. Staying together when your feelings have changed is a being false to yourself. Prolonging a dying relationship is cruel. And you know what they say about lying and cruelty? They make you look old.

Be clear.
I once told my Friend Turned Designer that I could not possibly sport her hand-painted bags, (which were frankly ugly) because I was practicing minimalism. Well, she made a special minimalist version (which was still hideous) just for me!

When you break up with someone, there’s no room for vagueness because this may lead your soon-to-be ex into thinking that there is still hope for reconciliation. I will now use a selection of movie quotes as examples. Please feel free to test your film knowledge by guessing which movies these are from:

“A relationship, I think, is like a shark. You know? It has to constantly move forward or it dies. And I think what we got on our hands is a dead shark.”

“If I want to be a senator, I need to marry a Jackie, not a Marilyn.”

“Where I’m going, you can’t follow. What I’ve got to do, you can’t be any part of.”

I suggest not using any of these. The first two are just confusing: What if Intellectual Partner thinks you are engaging him in a debate about animal welfare? What if Beautiful Thing insists that she can become a Jackie to make you love her again? What if they just don’t get it? And the third one can be messy because it requires an explanation. I mean, where are you going where he can’t follow? Are you becoming a secret agent, moving permanently abroad, or worse, dying? These are bad ideas.

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This one I actually like: “I have to leave you now. I’m going to that corner there and turn. You must stay in the car and drive away. Promise not to watch me go beyond the corner. Just drive away and leave me as I leave you.” So romantic! Anyway, this would be better if it was more concise, as in, “I have to leave you.” The most effective way to deliver the message is to say it plainly, civilly, without raising your voice. “Let’s break up.” And then walk away and turn the corner. 

Be a little nice.
In all my serious relationships, which I can count on just one hand, I have only been on the receiving end of a breakup once. But that one time hurt very much. It was like finding out my parents were planning to leave the beach house to my youngest sister (unfair!) or a phantom hand reaching into my rib cage and squeezing my heart again and again.

As much as I am telling you to break up in an efficient manner, there is also a need to be kind, especially during the most uncomfortable part of the program: The Many Questions, which usually includes “Why are you doing this to me?” “What happened?” and “What can I do to make this work?” Do not use the following movie quotes:

“Because. When I watch you eat. When I see you asleep. When I look at you lately, I just want to smash your face in.”


“I feel dead inside for you.”

“Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn.”

My Legendary Ex took forever and a day to tell me why he decided to throw me to the curb. Late at night, over the phone, which he only answered after 57 tries, he sputtered:  “I just don’t love you anymore.” Yes, that hurt (like getting hit by a ton of bricks), but there was no vitriol there. It was only the truth, which was actually cathartic. After a while, what he said made it abundantly clear that things were done.

Now, ghost him.
My millennial intern tells me that "ghosting" is the withdrawal of all communication to rid yourself of a partner. I think that it’s just rude, but doing it after a breakup may be a good idea. When done, distance yourself from your ex, avoid any and all phone calls and take a break from social media. It might even be a good idea to go on vacation to Kenya, where you can catch the Great Migration (happening in July), an exciting distraction from what just happened. There, you will only see wildebeest, and leopards and lions and rhinos and elephants. Never your crying ex. Just laughing hyenas. Let me know what happens. And don’t forget to send me a postcard.

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C.C. Coo
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