A Beginner's Guide to Breaking It Off: The Phone Call

Even though your unfortunate dumpee is always contactable, keep your head in the 1960s. Nobody wants to be in the supermarket or at a club when they receive the news that the chords of their parachute into lifelong companionship have been severed.

My recent post on dumping someone by text proved to be pretty divisive. It seems that many people prefer a face-to-face break-up or, at the very least, a phone call.

It's a common fallacy that bad news like this is better in person, or coming from a disembodied voice at the end of a telephone. Perhaps it seems more personal, or means more, because it's perceived that tapping in a few digits, then delivering a knockout blow over the phone and waiting distractedly for the stunned reply, in some way takes more effort or is more respectful than sending a carefully worded text (or email if you're feeling jazzy or are Christopher Ewing in Dallas).

While I believe texting the kiss-off can empower the recipient much more than a surprise attack via a voice call - at least then the dumpee can think about crafting a response rather than blurting out hysterical reactions they will almost certainly regret later - I'll give the humble telephone the attention it deserves as a device for despatching paramours.

Pick your time carefully

When guys and gals in the 1960s and 1970s used the phone to chuck their lover under the bus, they had to rely on the landline, that dinosaur of the telecommunication age, to deliver the dismissal. That meant having a vague idea of when their future ex would be home and, if they were kind and considerate (which you really should be unless ending a toxic or abusive relationship), whether they would have anyone around them to comfort them. Now, of course, we have mobile phones - or 'cells' if you're reading this somewhere exciting like Manhattan or, erm, Anchorage - so you can get your dump on any time you like.

Even though your unfortunate dumpee is always contactable, keep your head in the 1960s. Nobody wants to be in the supermarket or at a club when they receive the news that the chords of their parachute into lifelong companionship have been severed. Nor do they want to be in the middle of dinner, arguing with their mum, on the toilet, appearing on reality television (my long overdue sympathies to Kevin Federline there) or at work when the news comes through.

Before you make THE call, you need to find out where they are. So, either send a text (see, even the heartless SMS has a role to play here) to see what they're up to, or give them a short call, before inventing some distraction which means you'll have to phone back later. You do, of course, run the risk of spooking them if you act distracted or sound ready to deploy your weapons of mass rejection right here and now. Keep this text or call fairly light. Save the plummeting anvil for the main event. No need to stress them out unnecessarily before you end it. Kindness is key.

I don't know how to say this...

Well, you really should. Starting off by saying that you're not sure what to say is a total cop-out, because it leaves the recipient in a brief state of frenzy. Are you going to announce a death? Reveal a lottery win? Tell them you have met someone else? Confess to a bank robbery? If you can't find the exact words straight away, do some stalling - and drop a few clues along the way - with a slightly more telling "Look, I've been thinking..." and make sure you say this in a SAD voice and are somewhere quiet, not in the queue for a bar with all your friends.

There'll then be a brief pause while the cogs whirr in your almost-ex's mind. You should struggle on, however, and say things aren't really working out for you and that you think you should both break up. Yes, the 'both' is key here, as you need to make it sound like this would be mutually beneficial.

"I want to break up with you" or "I'm breaking up with you" somehow seem colder than "I think we should break up". While it's you who's ruining everything and casting them back out into the kingdom of the singles, by introducing a 'we', you are giving the dumpee the chance to consider any doubts they have had about you themself. If you can, lead them to think it's the right decision - one that may have even been reached mutually were the discussion to go on much longer.

Hanging up on you

So you've said the words, but what now? Do you just hang up and leave them to their feelings? Do you let them air their emotions - which could range from a barrage of abuse and grievances to heartfelt, uncontrollable pleas to change your mind? It's your call, but bear in mind how emotionally charged the response will be. Do you trust yourself not to go back on it if they manage to convince you with tears and tales of all the good times? If you are going to cut the call short, do it kindly. Maybe even agree to talk it over in more detail some other day.

State your reasons for the break up, sure, but at least sugarcoat it to a degree. Nobody wants to hear that their laugh is too loud or their personal hygiene is akin to that of a wild boar. If things haven't been working out and you haven't felt fully into it or you want to be by yourself, then just say - put the responsibility on yourself, not them. You're walking away from it all, anyway; you may as well take the flack (unless they were really objectionable, of course).

And once the call is over, put the phone down and leave them alone. No late-night texts, no drunken regrets. Step away from rants on Facebook and save your saccharine apologies or sincere wishes for the future. Let them get over you. And you, of course, need to get over it too.

So, y'know, get over it.

If you're really stuck, give this a listen before you call. (Or, if you're just plain mean, play it down the phone.)