3 min

Breaking up the (chosen) family

That’s it. I hate to get all Miss Manners on your asses, but I’ve been seeing some spectacularly bad breakup behaviour in the past few weeks and it needs to stop.

There seems to be the sense out there that breakups are supposed to be fantastically horrible so what’s the point in trying to make them any less painful, right? Well, no, not unless you’re looking to rid yourself of a whole lot more than just your ailing romantic relationship.

While even the most amicable of endings can bring sadness, anger and resentment, a bad breakup can devastate not just the individuals involved, but the social circles they have inhabited together. In the case of longer-term relationships, it can mean rupturing the chosen family that the couple (or triad or whatever) has built up together over the years.

This might suck for regular folk but it’s even worse for homos or other close-knit communities. The queer scene in Toronto is just too small to be busting things up all willy nilly. Even if you’re expecting never to see your embittered ex out at the bars you can be sure that you’ll be seeing people who have heard all about it and avoid you accordingly.

Moreover, when straight folk break up it doesn’t generally send them into a crisis of questioning their sexuality. Sure, from time to time there’ll be a joke from a straight woman about how her most recent experience has turned her off men forever or how much easier things would be if she were a lesbian (dream on, sister), but how often do they really mean it?

On the other hand, if someone already has a lot of internalized homophobia or is feeling pressure from family to “go straight,” a bad bout of heartbreak can be enough to send them over the edge. I guess the thinking goes that if you’re going to be unhappy you might as well at least have some of that societal approval stuff to ease the way.

So, in the interests of not causing any more damage than is necessary, here are three simple don’ts for breakups. (For those of you who have already made a bloody mess of things, clip this out and save it for next time ’cause there will inevitably be a next time.)

First off, don’t wait until you’re in love with someone else to end your relationship. Lots of folks drift along in a relationship, knowing full well that they are unhappy but unwilling to do anything about it until they have someone else to go to. While I think we’ve all been guilty of this one from time to time, it isn’t fair to the person you’re leaving nor it is fair to the person you’re leaving them for. Call it inertia. Call it cowardice. Call it what you will. Just don’t do it.

Secondly, don’t soft sell the situation. It can be hard to hurt the one you’ve loved, but pretending that it’s something other than it is will only make things worse. Be blunt and give them the space to be hurt. You may hope to keep your ex in your life as a friend or even as a fuckbuddy, but don’t expect too much too soon.

Lastly — and you would think that this would go without saying, but apparently not — never break up with anyone electronically. Not by e-mail, not by instant message, not by text message and not by any of the various social networking sites out there. I’ve seen so much of this lately I swear I’m going to start a Facebook group about it; something along the lines of People For The Ethical Use Of Electronic Communication.

If you don’t have the guts to end a relationship with someone to their face the very least you can do is write them a letter. By hand.

While I’m hardly one to advocate being friends with your exes, I feel it’s safe to say that showing a little compassion and, dare I say, class during a breakup will ensure that you don’t drag the rest of your friends down with you.