I think my most heart-wrenching breakup happened in early high school. The irony is that I have no memory of the guy's name but, nonetheless, he was my boyfriend. In those days, having a high school boyfriend didn't mean what it does now. Kisses were just quick pecks, and there might be some hand-holding or an arm put around you at the movies. That was it. There was no sex.
The night before my 15th birthday, my best friend called me up and said, "There's something I have to tell you." I figured she was going to divulge something about the gift she was getting me, but instead, she said that she and my boyfriend were going steady and that he had given her his ring. "Ha ha. Very funny," I thought, but then I realized she wasn't kidding. I was devastated and began crying my brains out. There had been no hint from either one of them, and I had never even seen them together. Of course, that was the end of our friendship.
I told my parents about it, but you know how parents are. "It's just puppy love. It's no big deal," they said. But it was totally devastating to me. It was rejection, stealing, betrayal, and 15 other things I can't even think to mention. I didn't want to go to school the next day - birthday or not - because I just did not want to face all that. But my mother got out a very fancy outfit that I would normally not be permitted to wear to school because it was too dressy, and said, "Tomorrow you're going to school. You're going to wear this nice outfit and your new shoes. You're going to fix yourself up and walk around with your shoulders back and head held high. You're going to give the impression that neither one of them matters to you."
I cogitated about this for the rest of the evening - "Can I do this? Can I really walk around like it doesn't matter and not cry?" - and the next morning, I got all spiffed up, put on a little pink lipstick, and went off to school. Evidently by this time, the news had ricocheted around the class and everybody knew about what had gone down. All sorts of people were coming over to me offering support and saying how terrible it was. It went a long way in making me feel better.
When you're a teenager, breaking up is especially hard to do. High school dating is more about having an identity than simply being attracted to another person. It's really important at that age to have serious peer acceptance. Your mother thinking that you're the bees' knees is just not enough anymore. You get attached to somebody because it's a status symbol.
I want to discuss how teenage breakups should be handled on both ends - if you're the dumper, and if you're the dumpee.
Now, there are school programs that have been implemented to teach kids how to deal with breakups. I think they are absurd. I don't believe there should be school programs about anything except science, math, English, history, computers, etc. In my opinion, schools shouldn't be dealing with emotional things like bullying and breakups. It should be handled in the home like when I was a kid; the vice principal called your parents, you got your butt hauled off, and there were serious consequences if you misbehaved. Period, end of sentence. Public schools today care too much about social engineering, which is just another reason why I support homeschooling.
In addition to the school programs, there are forums like the Boston Public Health Commission's Break-Up Summit for teens which are equally ridiculous. According to a USA Today report, "Counselors at the forum urged teenagers to communicate with partners about relationship boundaries, together defining whether they were 'just texting,' casually 'hooking up,' 'friends with benefits,' or in a monogamous relationship." Is this really what we're teaching teenagers?: "Sit there and think about whether you're screwing with no meaning, screwing with no meaning, or screwing with no meaning." It's insane. We've escalated things to pseudo-adult behavior.
If you're a teenager or a parent of a teenager, here are some better breakup rules:
- Don't tell your friends before you break up. Don't feed the gossip machine and embarrass the other person.
- Don't post it on Facebook. Setting your Facebook status to "Single" is not the way to tell your boyfriend or girlfriend that you're done. Do not be cold and callous. I don't care if it was just puppy love - they are still a human being who deserves respect and compassion. Remember, you once cared about them very much.
- Don't do it via text or email. About one-third of teenagers said they'd either broken up with or been dumped by somebody via text. Show some humanity and don't text.
When breaking up with someone, the first thing you need to do is be clear about why you're ending the relationship. Maybe you've been arguing with them all the time, or you realize that this person is not as much fun as you thought and you don't really enjoy spending time with them. Perhaps you've developed feelings for someone else, or you can't be hindered by a serious relationship right now because you've got places to go, things to do, and people to see.
You really need to think through why you're doing this because you will be asked, and you have to give an answer without being mean and without beating yourself up. Be honest with them, but don't be cruel. And just because the other person doesn't accept it, that doesn't mean you can't like somebody else or want to spend your time doing something else.
In addition, treat the other person with respect, and break up with them in person. Yes, they're going to feel hurt, disappointed, sad, rejected, and heartbroken, but don't back down. Stick to your guns and remember that it's not a negotiation. You're going into the conversation to let the boyfriend or girlfriend know that you're leaving the relationship. Respectfully say what you have to say, and then politely listen to what they have to say. If you're getting out of a relationship because it's abusive, you better have people around you, including someone with police experience or an Army Ranger.
Here's how to start things off:
- Make sure you're in private.
- Tell your boyfriend or girlfriend that you want to talk about something important.
- Start by mentioning something you like or value about them.
- Say what's not working (your reason for the breakup). Whatever it is, you can do it in one sentence:
- "I'm not ready to have a serious boyfriend right now."
- "You cheated on me, and I can't accept that."
- "We're arguing more than we're having fun."
- "It just doesn't feel right anymore."
- "There's someone else."
- Follow it up with:
- "I want to break up."
- Saying, "I want to stay friendly," is probably better than, "I want to stay friends." It's very hard to be friends with someone who is still thinking about you day and night, and you're already on to somebody else.
- Tell them it pains you that it hurts them.
- "It's not the way I wanted things to be. I hoped things would work out, but it is the way it is."
- End by saying something positive.
- "I'm always going to have good memories about..."
- "I know you're going to be OK."
- "I'll always be glad I got to know you."
- "I know there's somebody out there who will be happy to have a chance to go out with you."
- The final part: spend some time listening to what they have to say. Of course, if they start getting out of hand, you can excuse yourself and leave.
Now, on the flip side, what if you're the one being dumped?
When someone breaks up with you, it hurts. It feels like your heart has sprung a leak. It's reasonable to feel sad, and it's OK to cry. Sometimes people don't want to feel the pain, and they turn it into rage and get mean. Don't do that. It doesn't help you get better. It only makes you look bad and it hurts other people. There is simply no upside to getting enraged.
You need to remember that you have a lot of other relationships in your life. You have friends, family, teammates, and many others who care about you, and they can help you feel like yourself again. When I went through my breakup in high school, I had some of the most random folks suddenly being very kind to me because they didn't think my best friend did a nice thing.
Another thing you can do is spend some time thinking about what you gained from the relationship, good or bad. Did you become a better person? Did you become nicer? Did you become worse? Did you become a doormat? Did you become a bully? Did you become a whiner? Did you become a good support system? Think about what you got out of that relationship. Ask yourself questions like, "What did I do wrong?," "What could I do better in my next relationship?," and "What had nothing to do with me?"
Finally, if you're the parent of a teenager, you have to remember that as much as you'd like to protect your kids from all pain, you can't and you shouldn't. Most teenagers are going to experience a lot of breakups, but being consistent in your love and support for them will help.