March 25, 2019

What to Say (And Not Say) During A Friend’s Break-up


By Lindsay Meck

We launched Onward: A Post-Breakup Concierge Service on Valentine’s Day in NYC after observing too many overwhelming urban uncouplings (our own included).  Managing the administrative lift of a quick housing relocation (the move, the apartment search, the utility changes) and reorienting your life post-breakup could be easier and less socially stigmatizing. You shouldn’t be made to feel like a failure when a partnership dissolves. Instead, it can be a powerful opportunity to move onward.    

But it may not feel that way immediately.  In many situations, a breakup can conjure strong feelings of loss: of one’s sense of self, identity and community, as well as the termination of future plans or aspirations. Being both in the business of breakups and having been on the receiving end of a lot of empathy over the past few years (the passing of both of my parents), I appreciate that it can be really hard for even the most well-intentioned folks to engage in discussions about loss.

After reading the viral Crowdsource NY Times piece, “What to Say and What Not To Say To Someone Who’s Grieving,” I realized our community could use a similar refresher on breakup support etiquette. We aren’t trained to talk about emotional pain, and if we haven’t experienced it ourselves, we may be inadvertently clumsy in our attempts to demonstrate care.

What can you say to someone going through a breakup or separation? Of course there is no “one-size-fits-all” as no two relationships or breakups are the same, not to mention your own relationship with the affected party may have its own nuance. But taking a cue from our friends at the Times, “May the following pointers be your guide, brought to you by people who’ve been on the receiving end.”

Rule 1: Avoid Disparaging The Ex

It can be easy to launch into a “What a jerk – we never liked them anyway!” (insert your preferred expletive) as a friend seeing another pal going through a rough uncoupling. However, tread lightly. What may seem like supportive bashing may be internalized as a personal failing (“You guys never told me how much you didn’t like them! What else are you keeping from me?” or “Wow, I’m embarrassed I was with a monster for so long.”) It also may create friendship rifts if there are reconciliations with said ex.

Instead, focus on listening and ask them questions. What are they feeling? What do they need help with? Join them for a distracting activity – a night out, a yoga class, a movie, and make the priority self-care rather than exacting vengeance.

Rule 2: Same Goes for “You Really Dodged A Bullet”

“At least you didn’t marry them/have kids with them/move in together” may seem like a supportive sentiment, but may not sit well with someone worrying whether they may ever find a partner with compatible life goals. “At least” has a surprising way of minimizing what follows, however well-intentioned.

Rule 3: Ask Before You Set Up

Not everyone emerging from a breakup wants to meet your third cousin for a drink. Or your single coworker. Or your Mom’s friend’s son. Everyone has a different timeline for when and if they want to get back out there. Sometimes they’d prefer to test the waters with a complete stranger versus someone who might have some continued connection with them if it doesn’t gel. Match with permission only and respect their process. Not everyone wants to be partnered up and in fact, may want some breathing room to embrace their new life.

What You Can Do: Engage and Don’t Ignore

Audience dependent, but I’m a big fan of the activity invitation (not to be misconstrued as a pity gesture, hopefully). Meals, movies, events – getting out and feeling active. When going through a breakup, you may effectively be eliminating your main activity partner, so reestablishing your zest and your routines with a good friend can be therapeutic. Frequent check-ins seem obvious but can be quite helpful. All this to say, Don’t treat their breakup like the elephant in the room. It is a significant life transition that they are dealing with, and while it will get better, it may feel pretty crummy to keep it to themselves.

Lindsay is the Co-Founder/CEO of Onward: A Post-Breakup Concierge Service. Know someone in NYC going through a breakup who could benefit from their relocation and life relaunch services? Hit up Lindsay.

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