By Ty Wenger
Fifteen years ago, I found myself in a romantic pickle: Cheryl, a woman I had been dating for about three months, was nearing her 25th birthday. The birthday gift in any three-month-old relationship is a dicey one, and I deliberated over it for weeks. Too big too soon and it could look like I was trying too hard. Too little and I might appear indifferent. Too romantic and I'd run the risk of setting the bar too high.
And so it was with great enthusiasm that I finally unveiled the gift...
But is there really a way to make a clean and honest break? Is it ever OK to lie when ending a romantic relationship? Can you IM him or her that it's over, or do you have to do it in person? Is it really possible to be friends with your ex after a breakup?
"The nature of how to handle a breakup has to do with how you experience a relationship," says New York City-based psychoanalyst and psychotherapist Janice Lieberman, PhD, who specializes in relationship issues.
For starters, she says, not every relationship deserves a dramatic breakup. There are no hard and fast rules about what constitutes a relationship. "There are people who think they have a relationship with two dates and people who don't think they are in a relationship after 20 dates," she says. "If you have gone on one or two or three dates, not calling is breaking up, but after some kind of romantic and sexual encounters, it is a courtesy to call," Lieberman tells WebMD.
"Sometimes it's easier not to call, and there are people who will just run away," she admits.
The explosion of Internet dating has also muddied the waters in terms of when an actual breakup is necessary, she says.
"People have Internet relations for a long time and then elevate to phone calls. Sometimes it takes a long time for a face-to-face encounter. This can be problematic, because people get very involved with each other and then when they finally meet, there are so many other cues that indicate they're not suited for one another," she says.
The warning signs that a breakup is imminent have also changed thanks to Internet dating, Lieberman says.
"People will go out with someone they met on Jdate.com or match.com, and then you can see if they are surfing the Net and looking for someone else," she says. This is far less subtle than, say, acting cold on a date or not calling when you said you would.