The Rise of the Unnecessary Breakup Text
"I don't want to go on another date with you," he texted back. A jarring response considering I hadn't asked him out. After three mediocre dates with a man I met on an app, I had a decision to make—accept the sunk cost or give it one more shot.
In this particular instance, there was nothing really wrong with the man and, as is the situation when most risky texts are sent, I was bored and wanted attention. So with some encouragement from my forever-optimistic friends, I composed a text asking how his weekend was.
My plan was to gauge the enthusiasm of his response, or non-response, and then decide whether I propose we hang out again. I thought, "What's the worst that could happen?"
Breaking up what never was
In the past, the worst had been ghosting, the millennial-branded practice (that, noted by Vogue, has been happening way before millennials) of simply not responding. Another negative possibility was a short, cold, usually delayed answer, which would also communicate that he did not want to go on another date.
Instead of either of these, I received the Unnecessary Breakup Text—the text you get from someone you were never really involved with that explicitly states that they don't want to date you.
This text can be the response to a small-talk attempt, or come out of the blue, as it did to Sydney Mason. When she moved to Chicago two years ago, Sydney, 25, downloaded dating apps to meet people and explore her new home.
After dating around for a couple months, she noticed she would receive breakup texts from guys she didn't even know she was dating. In one instance, she said, she sent a "feeler" text to a guy she had gone on three dates with. After noting the lack of interest in his responses, she stopped texting him.
About two weeks after they fell out of contact, she received the Unnecessary Breakup Text. Imagine a more infuriating scene, I challenge you: Someone you have not reached out to in weeks took a few minutes out of their day to compose a text letting you know they don't want to date you.
Is "ghosting" really that bad?
Of course, the alternative to this would be ghosting, something 78 percent of millennials have experienced, according to a survey by Plenty of Fish. To me, ghosting is a more respectful way to exit a person's life when you haven't had the "what are we?" conversation. Ultimately, ghosting communicates the same thing a breakup text does: It was over before it began.
But according to Leah LeFebvre, author of the paper "Phantom Lovers: Ghosting as a Relationship Dissolution Strategy in the Technological Age," most people find ghosting to be anxiety-inducing, and although premature breakup texts may seem blunt, they provide more resolution.
"Certain mediums actually create more ambiguity which creates more long-term suffering," she said. If someone doesn't text you back, you can convince yourself it was a technological error and keep hoping for an interaction that will never happen. However, if somebody explicitly tells you they don't want to see you, you can throw the pity party much earlier.
The lesser of two evils
LeFebvre, who interviewed more than 200 millennials to find out what role technology played in their dating lives, said the top three ways to break up with someone are texting, ghosting and calling, in that order. Often times, there's also a cascading effect where someone will ignore a call, ignore a text and then feel the need to also send a breakup text.
New-Yorker Elena Ivanova, 26, said she prefers the breakup text even if it is premature.
"I guess I would be a bit bitter (about receiving an unnecessary breakup text), but wouldn't let them know," she said. "I would just thank them for being honest and not wasting my time."
A breakup text may also communicate respect, whereas ghosting seems dodgy. Chicago-dweller Andy Herren, 31, said he prefers a breakup text because "it takes balls" to send one.
"I tend to look at the people who ghost in a more negative light," he said.
LeFebvre noted that people between the ages of 19 and 29 have always found it challenging to navigate romance—texting and dating apps just add another layer to the confusion.
Because of cell phones, we are able to be in constant communication with one another. Technology creates this gray zone of "talking" that didn't exist for older generations. Many millennial relationships exist in a state of limbo. You wind up in frequent contact with one another—simply because it is easy to be—but not dating.
This gray area has no ascribed commitment level, so how to get out of it is uncharted territory. Ghosting can be read as cowardice, but texting assumes there was a relationship worth ending.
"It's growing pains and a process," she said. "It's figuring out technology and trying to figure out how to be in a relationship at the same time."