My ex and I had been together for two years when I broke up with him.
Instead of driving two hours to do it face-to-face, I sent him a Google Doc.
I cheated us both from experiencing a proper breakup.
Last summer, I sat cross-legged on my living-room floor at 11:30 p.m. with a laptop propped up on my knees. With tired eyes, I scrolled through a single-spaced, two-page Google document — barely pausing to read the words I had memorized.
"I understand you may be angry."
"We need to figure out who we are without each other."
I had typed the words displayed on the screen days before, but the past three nights had ended the same — I'd minimize the browser, slam my laptop shut, and resolve to put off the next step until the morning. But tonight wouldn't end that way — I navigated to the corner of the screen, clicked on "share link," and sent my boyfriend of two years a link to my breakup letter.
I broke up with my boyfriend after we graduated from college
What led me to end an otherwise healthy relationship in such an impersonal way was that we had just graduated from college and no longer lived within five minutes of each other. It seemed impractical to drive two hours to northern New Jersey, break it off with him, and then drive back home. Plus, I was an anxious driver. Did anyone want an already nervous person behind the wheel, doubled down with grief? It'd be a liability. So, to put it simply, I broke up with him in a Google Doc for the greater good of humankind.
In other words — I was a coward and couldn't bear witness to his pain, knowing that I was the cause.
My reasons for ending the relationship were more valid than my breakup method. I was moving to New York and about to start an intensive graduate program. I was 22 years old with life stretched out before me — I craved individuality and romanticized the loneliness that often characterizes early adulthood.
He said he wanted to be friends
After receiving what I now refer to as the "Virtual Dear John Letter," his response was as stoic as any soldier. He called me and said he wasn't angry. He had felt I was pulling away and had braced himself for this moment. He wanted to remain friends.
A few months later, I saw him at a bar for the first time since before I shared the Google Doc. We'd both matured since the last time we spoke — I'd realized the injustice of how I'd ended our relationship, and he did, too. What started as me asking him how he'd been turned into an explosive moment — his usually calm facade evaporated as he yelled, "I can't believe you broke up with me in a Google Doc, Laura." The only response I could muster was to agree.
A few days later, I typed into Google "Worst ways to break up with someone." I spent hours scouring through Reddit, paying close attention to the responses of my fellow Gen Zers — horror stories of tears over FaceTime, online cheating allegations, and more crowded into my head. A common thread was "ghosting" — lovers disappearing without so much as a shared Google Doc.
Break up the right way
A 2020 survey by the Pew Research Center found that one in five adults agree it's sometimes or always acceptable to break up with a casual partner via text or another online method, with adults under 50 being the leading proponents.
As a child of the internet age, many formative moments in my life have happened through my phone or computer screen. On the surface, I realize now that's how I justified my cowardly decision. This is the digital age — breakups can be digital, too.
They can — but they shouldn't be if you can help it. I cheated my ex out of the respect he deserved, and I cheated myself, too. By not having the courage to face my partner and end our relationship, I didn't allow myself to fully feel the loss of someone important to me.
My ex has since moved to New York, and I see him infrequently. I'm grateful he hasn't diminished our relationship to the negative way I chose to end it.
Recently, I've been seeing someone new. We met in New York, but he's since moved to a different city. He sends me letters in the mail, and we've agreed that Google Docs are off the table.
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