Breaking Up is Hard to Do
April 26, 2013

Dear Theo,

I'm a twentysomething and have been casually dating a woman for perhaps six weeks now. She's a couple years older, we like each other, and we started having sex after a few dates. But, as these things go, I've decided it's time to stop seeing her. Like most of my peers in these situations, we haven't had a "Defining the Relationship" conversation. We're just "hanging out" or going on dates. How do I end things? Some friends vote that email is the most humane – why drag her out to a drink just to dump her? Others confess they have simply done the "fade out." My impulse is to do it in person, though probably not at the end of dinner-and-a-movie. Help, Theo!

Yours,

COLIN (Confused on latest iPhone niceties)

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Dear COLIN,

In case you're short on time, here's my Twitter-length answer:

Put the device down. Go tell her in person. You owe it to her to say it to her face. Don't be afraid. God will get there first.

And here's the longer theologian-length answer:

Don't think you're so unimportant that your ending this relationship won't hurt her heart. Even if she has been playing it cool, there's a good chance her spirit is invested, because her body certainly was.

And, don't think she's so unimportant that even if she's in the same place you are emotionally and just hasn't beaten you to the punch, you can get away with a fadeout or a text. She deserves the weight and value of a respectful, in-person conversation, in which she gets to hold some of the cards, and be an agent in the breakup:  someone who also gets to say things and do things and not be the one to whom things are said and done.

Technology has given us marvelous new ways to avoid really communicating, or at least to avoid the difficult feelings that come with delivering bad news, or placing demands on people, or confronting them with uncomfortable truths. Don't confuse your unwillingness to feel possible guilt and shame at ending things with a professed desire to "spare her feelings."

God thought bodies were so important that She took one—and became Jesus. Vulnerable, needy, baby Jesus. Wailing, pooping baby Jesus. Jesus who grew up to have crushes, to feel a stir in his loins (heresy? How about: fully human as well as fully divine?), to sleep next to many others on his intimate preaching tours, and—who knows?—perhaps sleep with. He had his heart broken, certainly—when his friends betrayed him, his heart hurt just as if he had been dumped. He was killed, not in a ‘spiritual' way, but in an agonizing physical way.

We are likewise incarnational people—people of carne, meat. Our best joy and our worst suffering is linked to what is happening in our meat. What we do with our bodies matters deeply. I'm not convinced that there is any such thing as truly casual sex. And so when we end a physical relationship, there is all the spirit-stuff to negotiate with ourselves and our sex partner as well. We built this "whatever it is" relationship with our meat, and we need to end it with our meat. If we don't acknowledge this, we are kidding ourselves.

So, how to do the deed? Engage her as a partner in this conversation—again, allowing her the dignity of having a voice and a say in the how of the breakup. Find a time of day and a place that won't be too loaded forevermore. Tell her you'd like to see her, to have an important conversation. That should cue her enough. Before you get there, say a simple prayer: "God, give me courage, help me to be calm and generous, and to find the right words."

Then, start with the positive—what you have appreciated about your time together. Say at least 3 things. Any compliment or praise may be eclipsed by what follows, but when she has time to reflect later, she will be glad for your kindness and warmth.

Then, keep it simple: "I'm not sure this whatever-we've-been-doing is going to work out for the long haul." Then be quiet, and let her say something. The breaker-upper always has the upper hand, but they don't have to prove it by talking and talking and talking while the break-uppee listens, horrified, to a logorrhea of rejection. You know how this is going to end. She knows how this is going to end. Let her have a voice, too. Who knows? You may be able to salvage a nice, meaty friendship.

God be with you, COLIN! And no, even if holograms are the new app on the iPhone 5, that is NOT the same as breaking up in person.

Bless you, and may you be a blessing,

Theo

Who is Theo?

"Dear Theo" is written anonymously by three UCC ministers of different ages and backgrounds - one main writer and two respite writers. We're hoping the questions will span all kinds of topics: from sexuality and relationships to church culture and conflict to mental health, family drama, ethical and moral dilemmas, and everything in between.

Every week will feature a new letter and a new answer. Please write Dear Theo with your questions and problems by sending to deartheo@ucc.org. Letter writers identities will also ALWAYS remain anonymous.

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