Is It Ever OK To Break Up With Someone Online?

Today, more people than ever are sparking relationships digitally. A 2019 Pew Research Center study showed that 30% of Americans said they’d used an online dating site or app, and that was before the pandemic forced the world to push even more interactions online. In 2021, there were 323.9 million dating app users worldwide, way up from 198.6 million six years earlier.

The benefits of online dating are endless. The sea is much larger when you aren’t confined to your small social circle or geographic area. And for many, chatting online can take away some of the pressure of interacting in person. But eventually, whether a relationship exists online or in person, many people realize they aren’t compatible. If you’ve only met in person twice, for example, is it okay to break up via text or Zoom?

HuffPost spoke with three relationship experts about when it’s appropriate to end a relationship virtually and how to do it with care.

When It’s Okay To Break Up Online

Breaking up virtually should be the last resort, said Carmelia Ray, a celebrity matchmaker and online dating expert, but it depends “on how long you’ve been in the relationship and if you care how you leave the other person. Because sometimes, when people are done, they’re done ― and they no longer have consideration for the other person. Is that nice for the other person? No. But does it work for the person breaking up who no longer cares? Yes.”

Normally, when a serious relationship is “at a breakup point, there was writing on the wall,” said Ray. “There would have been arguments, there would have been less communication.” Maybe you stopped discussing visits or making plans completely. No matter your preferred method of communication, you don’t want to lead anyone on.

If you aren’t able to see your significant other in person for a prolonged period of time because of finances or lack of opportunity, breaking up with them through whichever method is quickest can be the most considerate because you don’t want them hanging onto hope when they could be moving on.

“Someone could end a relationship via text in a way that’s really thoughtless and inconsiderate and hurtful. Or they could end it over text in a way that’s really caring and really thoughtful and really considerate.”

– Jesse Kahn, a psychotherapist

Keeping the illusion you’ll be traveling to see a long-distance significant other in the future “might mislead someone into thinking things are good when they’re not, and that could be really painful and make it even more complicated,” said Jesse Kahn, a psychotherapist and the founder, director, and sex therapist at The Gender & Sexuality Therapy Center in New York City.

Traveling for a breakup could also put you or your significant other in a bad situation. “They’re taking a flight to you, and they’re stuck in either your apartment or in your city,” said Kahn. “Maybe they don’t have money to get their own hotel. Maybe they don’t have friends or community there. Maybe they don’t have the funds to rebook a flight and just turn around.”

Sometimes an in-person breakup can be more damaging than a virtual breakup, Kahn said. “There’s probably no perfect way to break up with someone and each person will have their own preferences and needs. All you can do is come to it with a level of empathy, compassion, care, respect and value of your time and your relationship.”

“Someone could end a relationship via text in a way that’s really thoughtless and inconsiderate and hurtful. Or they could end it over text in a way that’s really caring and really thoughtful and really considerate,” Kahn added. “It’s perhaps more about what you say, and what you do and don’t say and how you phrase it, rather than the method in which you’re communicating.”

What To Say

No matter if the relationship is long-distance or you are meeting locally for a date, it is considerate to tell your significant other that you plan to break up before they meet up or talk with you, even though that can be scary. It gives them power over their decision and values their consent over how they spend their time, said Kahn.

He recommends saying something like, “I care about you, and I value your time and respect you in this way. So I want you to know that I’m coming into this hang out together [to break up], and that might mean you don’t want to hang out with me and that’s okay. I want you to have that option.”

If you do break up virtually, it’s best to explain why you chose that method, along with the specific reasons you are breaking up, said Ray.

“I would communicate with them: ‘I’d love to go [see you in person]. It’s not my intention to do virtually,’ and then maybe offer the olive branch [and say], ‘If you’d like to come here and have a final discussion, I’m more than happy to give you the time and respect to do it in person.’”

If finances are the issue, and they want to have a final in-person discussion, you can offer to help them find a place to stay, pay half of the ticket or visit them when you have money, Ray said. She recommends stating that you are doing all you can to respect them and not hurt them, while giving the message that “I think that the best thing to do right now, for both of us, is to focus on moving forward.”

If You Make A Mistake

If you chose the wrong method to break up with your ex and hurt them, it’s okay to apologize for it.

But before you take that step, Kahn said it’s important to ask yourself some questions: “Who is this apology for? Why am I doing this? Is this going to help them? Is this gonna hurt them? Is this going to help me? Is this going to hurt me? Are we in touch? Is this going to put us in touch? What are the implications of that?”

If you come to the conclusion that apologizing is the right move, Kahn recommends explaining that hurting them wasn’t your intention, but you reflected on the situation and realized you did hurt them. Then state, “I’m so sorry for how I did that. That was thoughtless of me or inconsiderate of me.”

You can offer to make amends, asking if there is anything you can do to make the situation better, says Ray. “Maybe that’s the time to get on a plane and do it in person.”

Open Yourself Up To Learn

After any breakup, you want to look for what you can learn from the experience, said James Harris, a psychotherapist and founder of Men to Heal. “You might then decide, ‘Oh, I need more than just a conversation, I need in person interaction [in future relationships].’”

To make breaking up easier if future relationships fall apart, Ray suggested starting the romance with a discussion about what you each want from the relationship and “really outline the ground rules of what your expectations are for this relationship to thrive.”

Discuss what is an acceptable gap between conversations. Talk through a timeline for if you plan to move closer or see each other more in person. Promise not to hide feelings from one another. “That way, when somebody is no longer meeting those agreed-upon expectations, those are real signs that they’ve already breached the agreement of your relationship.”

And remember, breaking up is never easy, so you should prepare a self-care plan for after, said Harris. “There’s gonna be an adjustment period because you might be used to having those discussions or those virtual meetings. You’re gonna miss that person. So don’t be afraid to grieve.”