The holidays are here, and you’re beginning to realize you want to stop seeing the person you’ve been dating. But there’s one thing you’re not so clear on. Can you break up this close to the season without being forever branded a turkey... or a Scrooge? Our experts tell you how.
But first, let’s talk about why breaking up at the holidays is so problematic. “Everything about the holidays reminds us of family, love and ritual,” explains Dr. Kathleen Hall, founder and CEO of Atlanta’s Stress Institute. “We see emotional movies. We go to the mall and see lovers holding hands. We go to restaurants and see couples kissing and eating together. Holidays are a sensual time of smells, food, music, lights and decorations. It is a time that we naturally want to share with another person.”
So not being with another person is sort of rubbing salt into the wound. Plus, there’s just the idea that the holidays are supposed to be full of joy and cheer. There’s not much of that going around if you’re in the middle of a breakup. But that doesn’t mean you should put off the inevitable. After all, if you don’t break up “during the holidays,” then you’re probably not going to want to break up just before Valentine’s Day, either. And that’s a good two or three months on. So do it now. But do it with the spirit of the season.
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Stringing someone along isn’t fair to either of you
The key is to remember that you’re doing the right thing. If you don’t want to date someone, stringing him or her along is just plain unfair. Even stringing the person along under the guise of not ruining the holidays is unfair.
“It is a sign that you are willing to acknowledge who you are in the moment and what you want for yourself,” says New York psychiatrist Dr. Edward Ratush. “And that could be very different from who you were when the relationship started. It’s also important to remember that “we are not responsible or in control over whether or not someone else will feel that their holidays are ruined,” Dr. Ratush counsels. “That’s up to the individual. You can break up with one person before the holidays who’ll use that to torture him- or herself all through Valentine’s Day, while another may book a singles-only vacation as a way of self-soothing.”
Find a kind way to phrase your reasons for splitting up now
No matter how wrong the relationship is, nobody wants to be a Scrooge. You can reduce the negative impact by channeling the spirit of the season: Do unto others as you would hope to be treated yourself. “Being attuned to the other’s feelings… and using kindness and non-blaming are advisable,” says Dr. Patricia Covalt, the Denver-based author of What Smart Couples Know: The Secret To A Happy Relationship. “Own the breakup.” In other words, be honest about why you’re breaking up — but make it all about you. Say something like “I feel...” or “I need...” instead of “You didn’t do blah blah blah.” And you might as well say you’re sorry about the timing.
Location is key when delivering your message
Definitely do not break up with someone right after you two make pie crust together, or under the mistletoe, or at intermission of a holiday concert. (That’s just tacky.) Dr. Hall suggests breaking it off at a coffee shop. “There is noise and music to muffle the conversation,” she says. “You drink caffeine to give you courage and energy to say what you must. You can get in and out and get the dastardly deed done quickly.” Obviously, you don’t want to be cruel and rush out before your former sweetie has time to react and ask you any questions, but don’t drag things out and over-explain, either — it won’t help your case. The news you’re delivering may well be painful to hear, but if you handle it clearly, calmly and without assigning blame, you should be able to end things with grace — even during the holiday season.
North Carolina freelancer Margot Carmichael Lester also writes for Monster.com and The L.A. Business Journal.