What’s the best way to break up in the age of online dating?
In our Love App-tually series, Mashable shines a light into the foggy world of online dating.
Last year, I mutually ghosted (or “co-ghosted”) two people, broke up with nine other people, and received one certifiably unhinged breakup message.
Looking at those stats, you’d think I’d have the breakup formula down. Unfortunately, you’d be wrong. Each time I have to end something, it feels like I have never done it in my entire life.
Like most of us, I hate hurting people’s feelings, and I never know the right way to break up with someone while minimizing pain. Should I tell someone I barely know that I don’t want to get to know anything else about them? Is ghosting after one date actually the kind thing to do?
In my search for the best way to break up with someone in the age of online dating, I spoke with a dating coach, asked everyone on my Instagram stories how they’d want to be broken up with, and then asked my Tinder matches to break up with me.
I chose Tinder specifically because it doesn’t require multiple prompts like Hinge does, and it allows men to message me first, unlike Bumble. I’m queer, so my gender preferences are set to everyone; my age preferences are 27 to 37; and I live in Brooklyn.
Credit: Screenshot/ Tinder
The Tinder results were exactly what you’d expect. A ton of people ignored my bio and messaged me “hey.” A few sent over some cute, themed pick-up lines in lieu of an actual response — one guy messaged, “[I] haven’t ever had an app break up, do you want to be my first?” And I got a bunch of morbid joke answers, like “murder suicide.”
Because God saw an opportunity, three people I’ve already met and broken up with in 2021 reached out to me about my prompt. One said they would like to be broken up with a short and clear text. Another, who I’m still friends with, responded to the story with “not like I was,” implying my four paragraph text didn’t quite hit. And a third texted me, saying she simply would like to be ghosted so she wouldn’t have to face the far worse fate of not being liked.
Here’s a breakdown of how, precisely, to break up with someone you met on the apps.
You went on one date and didn’t hook up
If you meet someone on the apps, go on one date, and don’t have sex, pretty much everyone agrees: You don’t have to follow up.
“After one date, if they don’t message you, if there’s no follow up by either party after a first date, what’s implied is we just weren’t feeling it enough to want to continue,” dating coach Hayley Quinn told Mashable. “And I think after one date, especially in 2022, no one should have built up that high [of an] expectation about where this could possibly lead.”
Ghosting only qualifies as ghosting when someone is expecting further communication. But if neither person messages, it’s unnecessary to follow up and explain why you don’t want to see them again. In fact, it’s kind of rude.
“I prefer to be ghosted if I met you on an app. If I get ghosted, I will say, ‘Oh they could have at least told me that they didn’t want to see me anymore or explained,'” Mo, a lesbian from Brooklyn who I went on one date with but met offline, told me. Like other daters I spoke to for this piece, Mo requested the use of their first name only.
“However, when people have explained that they don’t want to see me, I always feel hurt and spiral and feel like I’m gonna die alone… If they ghost me, I’ll never know why, and I don’t have to feel true rejection,” Mo said.
That said, if your date is following up with you — telling you they had a lovely time, asking to see you again, things like that — it’s probably best if you send them a quick text saying you aren’t interested. Just look at what happened to West Elm Caleb when he ghosted people.
“If the other person contacts you and expresses an interest in wanting to see you again, that’s where it’s not cool to just not respond,” Quinn said. “It will feel like the path of least resistance, but no one likes it when they [are] ghosted. It’s actually better to be clear and kind.”
You do not have to explain the details of why the two of you didn’t match, but you could say something like this: “It was great getting to know you, but I wasn’t feeling that level of connection to move forward.”
So, if you go on a single date with someone from the apps, you can either do a mutual ghost, or respond to their outreach with a quick breakup text.
I, too, would prefer to be ghosted
Credit: Screenshot / TikTok @islandoflesbos_
If you’ve hooked up
Quinn said that after physical intimacy, it’s best to shoot your partner a message if you don’t intend on seeing them again. This goes for any hookup, she said, from one date to a few weeks. Because even if physical contact isn’t a big deal for you, that may not be the case for your date.
“For a lot of people, they’ll feel an upswing in emotional connection, vulnerability, and expectations when a physical line has been crossed, even if you are dating on a nonexclusive basis,” Quinn said.
All of this is incredibly personal, though. In Mo’s case, they’d far rather be ghosted if they had gone on under three dates and hooked up with someone.
“Imagine sleeping with someone and then having them say, ‘I don’t like you,'” Mo told me. “Like that seems worse than them just not texting me back anymore.”
They said they don’t want “written confirmation” that their date doesn’t like them and, honestly, neither do I. That alone feels like a good rule of thumb. Check in with yourself and ask: How would I want to be treated in this situation if the roles were reversed?
“It’s the kind thing to do. Treat others how you want to be treated,” Mo said. “Ghost others the way you want to be ghosted.”
Tinder user Ronald agrees that a “vaguely mutual ghost” is a pretty good way to end things. His ideal way of being broken up with, however, is some version of, “Hey! You’re great but I’m just not feeling it. All the best!”
If you’ve gone on fewer than five dates
Virtually every person who responded to my Instagram story said they’d prefer to be broken up with over text (instead of in-person) if they’d gone on fewer than five dates — and everyone has their own tactic for doing that. One friend said she liked to pretend she’d “met someone else” to soften the blow. Another said a short text is ideal, but that he doesn’t need a “let’s be friends” or any kind of drawn-out explanation.
Quinn echoed that if you’ve been on fewer than five dates and haven’t hooked up yet, a text should be fine.
A Tinder user, Gerard, told me that any kind of message is ideal. “Just shoot me a text to end it,” he said. “I was just ghosted after three dates and a sleepover and it’s very dehumanizing.”
That’s pretty much what Jess, a Tinder match, said she does. “I think I would probably just be honest, either at the end of the date or over a text message, depending on what makes more sense in the moment. Something along the lines of, ‘it was nice to meet you. I don’t think I’m feeling chemistry, but you seem like a nice person and I wish you luck in your dating journey!'”
If you’ve been seeing each other for months, but are still nonexclusive
If it’s been more than five dates, you can still send a text — but offer to meet up in person or chat on the phone.
“Even if you’ve got the get-out clause of non-exclusivity, I think it might not feel emotionally true to a person to just cut things off,” Quinn said. “So I think at that point, big person pants have got to go on and you’ve got to try to at least offer the person to have a phone call because you also don’t want that breakup to be a monologue. It should be a dialogue between you, and you have to be prepared and ready to also hear their perception and experiences.”
Zay, another Tinder responder, agreed that “the best way to breakup with someone via the apps is to just shoot them a text if you had 1-4 dates. Otherwise you should call them or do it in person.”
If you’re exclusive
Come on, now. If you’re in an exclusive relationship with someone, it doesn’t really matter how you’ve met. Be respectful, and break up in person if you can.
Tinder user Max told me that he “would reserve breaking up in person for real relationships where an extensive conversation is expected. I’d be annoyed if someone made plans to see me only to break up with me. It’s the dating equivalent of the meeting that could have been an email.”
What about a breakup template?
Personally, I have one of my friends help draft my breakup texts, and we use pretty much the same Mad Libs lines on everyone. Something like this: “I want to be as transparent as possible, and while I’ve been having a lot of fun hanging out and getting to know you, I’m not sure I see this going anywhere further.”
One person on Tinder who preferred to be anonymous also uses a formula, and sent me his breakup template. It’s a true work of uncomfortable art.
It appears he searched his notes app for the word “sexy,” which tells me a lot.
I wouldn’t recommend this strategy — something about being called “sexy” in a breakup text gives me such a rush of violent cringe that makes me want to delete the apps entirely. There isn’t anything inherently wrong with a go-to breakup strategy, though. Quinn said that there is a “pretty standard formula” for a breakup message in the early stages of dating. And, for that, a template is helpful. But once you start venturing out into longer-term relationships, toss the template away.
“For those later stages of dating, people will always respond best to something that’s personal to them,” Quinn said. “So whilst it might feel more comfortable to you to sort of shield yourself behind a stock breakup message, if you can make it personal, it will resonate better with the other person and it’ll be better communication from you as well.”
Overall, it really boils down to what Tinder responder Ben told me: The apps are “just a means to meet people, you break up with them the same as you would a relationship that started anywhere else.”
While that seems like sound advice, no matter how you meet someone, preparing to break up can still cause anxiety. In the best case scenario, a dating app match will lead to a longterm relationship. But in the absence of that, I’ll stick to hoping and praying that we both mutually ghost.