I’m sure people have been breaking up via fadeout for hundreds of years: letters gone unreturned, trains showing up without their anticipated traveler, rotary phones ringing and ringing without answer. Put that way, it sounds kind of like an Alfred Hitchcock movie, but the 21st century fadeout is not a sexy noir film. It’s just a depressing, lazy way to dump someone: by slowly contacting them less and less until poof, you’re gone. You’ve faded out.
The other night I was having a drink with coworkers and discussion turned to the dissolution of one of my serious relationships. (We work at a dating website, what do you expect?) I explained that my boyfriend and I were long distance, and he decided he wanted to move from Boston to New York and move in with me. I realized I wasn’t ready for something that serious because every time I thought about moving boxes, or apartment hunting, or some other detail that should have excited me, I’d start feeling like I was on a verge of a panic attack.
“I just freaked out,” I said.
“So you did the fadeout?” my coworker asked, and I was surprised that he assumed that just because I was feeling anxious, I would end a serious relationship by disappearing.
“No, I called him and broke up with him!” I said. “You can’t fadeout someone who’s about to move in with you!”
But even if we were less serious, I would not do the fadeout, because the fadeout is the dumping technique of cowards and eighteen year olds. Indeed, one of my main dating tenets is that I never fade out. If I don’t want to hang out with someone anymore, I tell them. I don’t just stop texting them back – though I absolutely understand the impulse. It’s so easy, so painless (for you). Just ignore them and they’ll go away!
As a result of this rule, I have sent more than my fair share of awkward “You’re great but I just don’t think we click/I’m not looking for anything serious/I’ve started seeing someone else” texts. It’s uncomfortable sometimes, but I’d rather give whoever I’m ditching the small dignity of actually knowing I’m ditching them, rather than wondering why I’ve been tweeting all day but not texting them back.
In all likelihood, my hatred of the fadeout is because I was once faded out myself. After a long-term relationship, I rebounded with a coworker I’d been flirting with all summer. We hung out for a few months, drinking a lot of pumpkin beer on his deck, and then he started getting shifty about returning texts, and whenever I asked what he was doing later, he was always busy.
We still worked together, and he’d still flirt with me during shifts, but when I started to realize what was happening, I asked flat-out when we were going to hang out. “Soon!” he said, and changed the subject. After the third unreturned text in a row, I decided not to text him again until he texted me first. Surprise! He never texted me again, and a week or two later I found out at a party that he’d started seeing another coworker. (Restaurants: really as incestuous as everyone tells you they are.) It was open knowledge the two of them liked each other, and she had finally moved out of her uber-religious parent’s house, so it made sense. I wasn’t even really angry: who was I to stand in the way of these two consummating their forbidden love after all this time? I just didn’t understand why he didn’t tell me: simply saying “Hey, it’s been fun but I’ve started dating [coworker]” would have saved us both weeks of awkwardness and confusion.
I haven’t been faded out since, probably because I’ve been sending all those “I’m moving out of the country” texts before the mediocre dude I’ve been hanging out with gets a chance to fade me out. (I’ve only ever said that once, and I was moving out of the country. Never use international relocation as an excuse to dump someone, because you are guaranteed to run into them in the grocery store next week).
I think it’s time for all of us to take a stand against the fade out. Cutting the ties cleanly is easier for both parties involved. If you’re ending things, there’s no wincing when they text you again, or, wait, did they just poke you on Facebook? People still do that? God, when are they going to get the picture? MAYBE WHEN YOU TELL THEM.
And if you’re the one being set free, instead of that period of confusion where you’re thinking maybe they’re just really busy, or their phone’s broken, you get a hopefully kind message that it’s been swell, kid, but it’s time we go our separate ways.
We can all do better, for ourselves and each other, than using silence as a breakup tactic. Be an adult. Don’t fade out.