How to Break Up (Without Being a Jerk About It)

Illustrations by Martin Tognola 

Can you completely sidestep hurt feelings? Probably not. But there are ways to survive the heartbreak, minimize the awkwardness, and keep the drama in check—no matter what side of the split you’re on.

Let’s face it: Your first big breakup is never fun. Neither is the second one, or the one after that . . . or any of the other breakups you’ll probably endure before you meet “the one.” If you’re the dumper, you dread hurting someone else—and maybe feel guilty for potentially messing with the dynamics of your friend group too. 

And if you’re the one getting dumped? Aside from the feeling that your heart just plummeted into your stomach at 100 miles per hour, your confidence can also take a hit, which sets off a range of other emotions (insert sad/angry/confused emoji here).

But as strange as it sounds, breakups can actually be a good thing. They refine an essential life skill: how to handle—or hand out—rejection with grace and respect. 

“Breaking up can teach you how to give and take bad news,” explains psychologist Gary Lewandowski, who adds that how you handle a breakup may affect your reputation too. “If people hear that you dumped someone in a mean way, or that you reacted to a breakup horribly, they might not want to date you in the future.”

To help you break up better, we took some sticky splitting-up scenarios to a panel of experts. Turn the page for their very best advice on figuring out what your feelings mean—and the best way to (eventually) move on. 

 When you’re . . . FEELING BURNED 

 The Breakup:  Ray texted Sara to say he didn’t want to go out anymore. Sara went from heartbroken to fuming—and now, as revenge, she’s thinking of telling Ray’s friends the not-so-nice things he said about them.

The Breakdown: Ray definitely botched the breakup (Via text? Come on, Ray!), but spreading Ray’s secrets will just make Sara look like a jerk.

The Next Move:Revenge seems like a good idea when you’re feeling hurt, but studies show that getting back at an ex (boyfriend, bestie, boss—ex-anything) never feels as good as you’d think. All it does is trigger a fresh wave of drama! If Sara really wants to heal, she should spend time with friends and focus on activities she enjoys. That doesn’t mean she can’t also cry and rewatch The Fault in Our Stars 100 times—but playing some soccer and starting a YouTube channel with her sister are more likely to help her feel like herself again.

 When you’re . . . DREADING THE DUMPING 

The Breakup:  Jessie’s boyfriend, Austin, has been annoying her lately, and she’s feeling over it. Instead of sitting him down for an awkward convo, though, she’s just pulling back—and hoping he gets the hint. 

The Breakdown: Jessie’s got a classic case of dump-dread. And while it’s normal to feel stressed about hurting Austin’s feelings, she should know that he’ll feel even more spurned by being slowly iced out.

The Next Move:  Whether you date someone for days or decades, you owe them a respectful breakup. That means doing it in person—not via text, not through a friend, and not by ignoring them. You don’t need to give a long explanation, just treat them the way you’d like to be treated. Say, “Hey, this isn’t working, and I think we’d be better as friends.” And no matter how they respond, be kind—someday you’ll be on the other side.

 When you’re . . . BROKEN-UP BUDS 

 The Breakup:  Alex’s girlfriend, Claire, dumped him, and he’s been feeling down since. They share the same friends, so it’s hard to escape her—she’s in his algebra class, at his lunch table, and in every Snapchat story ever.

 The Breakdown:  This one is about boundaries: Plenty of exes go back to being friends, but not before both parties make peace with the split. Having Claire front and center doesn’t give Alex a chance to do that.

 The Next Move:  If you’re Alex, you don’t need to steer clear of your squad—they’re your friends too! But don’t ask anyone to pick sides, either; it’s not worth tearing your crew apart when all you need is space. Get it by accepting more responsibility in your favorite (ex-free) club, tapping into friends in different groups, or working on your homework in the library during lunch. Without a constant reminder of that initial heartbreak, the sick-ish feeling will subside—probably within a week or two.

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