A little over three years ago, my girlfriend and I decided our relationship was not going the way we had hoped. After some discussion and a few drinks, we decided upon a solution: we would have a breakup party.
We planned it for four months in the future, when our lease was up, and in the interim we both figured out what our new lives, post-party, would look like. Lives in which neither one of us would need to sacrifice or put things off for the good of the relationship.
We figured the breakup party concept should work in theory, but we were uncertain as to whether it would work in practice. Whether something so non-traditional could be successful in real life.
Turns out it could. And it did.
We had a bunch of friends over, drank, danced, and played Twister. At midnight, we changed our Facebook statuses to ‘Single.’
Both of our lives changed after that. And in both cases, it was for the better.
I should tell you now that a breakup party can be considered incredibly socially unacceptable.
My ex and I, despite having been artsy twenty-somethings living the liberal land of Los Angeles, had no shortage of pushback from people who heard about what we were doing.
A relationship — many detractors informed us — should be about holding on to the bitter end. You grit your teeth and make it work, regardless of how difficult that might be sometimes.
I understand the sentiment behind those concerns, but I also disagree. To say one must give up so much for a relationship that may or may not be optimal is a gross overstep, and even more so to make it an absolute. What about horrible relationships? Should one stay in it to win it? Fight the good fight to maintain the mediocre status quo?
Most people would say no, and what I’m asking is a slight twist on the same question: what if the relationship isn’t horrible, but isn’t everything you want? What if — rather than holding on to something headed downhill — you ended it?
To me, the arguments for doing so are myriad and strong.
Ending a relationship before things get excruciatingly bad makes it more likely you and your partner will continue your friendship long term. It may be difficult at first, but it beats the hell out of clinging to your dying relationship until you can’t stand each other.
Having a party also sets a great precedent for the renewed friendship you’re starting with the person you love . It says to the world, “I want this person in my life, and though the nature of our relationship is evolving, we still matter to each other.” It also tells your friends loud and clear they needn’t choose sides.
Breakup parties tend to go best if both people have something to look forward to — and plan for — afterward. A new goal. A new direction to walk in.
‘Living the dream’ once meant something very different than it does today. For a very long time it entailed a loving partner, 2.5 kids, a white picket fence, a minivan, a dog, and a trampoline out back. The economy, society, and our personal expectations for ourselves have changed a whole lot, and for many people this dream simply doesn’t hold the same appeal it once did.
Look around and you’ll find people breaking molds and trying new things. Folks doing business in ways it’s never done before. Building things that have never been conceived of. Communicating in ways that would have science fiction writers from 50 years ago at a loss for words.
Relationships are changing, too. There’s still a place for the traditional ‘date, marry, have kids’ model, of course, but there are many other options available that we’re just now starting to talk about in mainstream conversation. Sometimes the order in which we do things is rearranged. Sometimes there are steps added or taken away. Sometimes there are more people involved, and sometimes there’s no desire for a relationship at all.
To me, a breakup party represents something fundamental about how relationships are evolving: the idea that we needn’t adhere to tradition for tradition’s sake. That by breaking away we aren’t declaring war on everything else out there, but rather giving ourselves the opportunity to sample all available options before settling on one (if we ever decide to do so). That a person is defined not by the labels slapped on them by society, but by how they treat others, especially those they care or have cared about greatly.
Since I first wrote about breakup parties over three years ago, I’ve received hundreds of emails from people who have had their own, and all (including a few dozen divorce parties) worked out wonderfully.
That being said, I can’t emphasize enough that this is just one option out of many. If you’re not getting what you want out of life, or if your relationship has hit its peak and is spiraling downward, there are many different paths you can take, and all are equally viable if done correctly.
I like the breakup party in particular, though, because it’s a fond farewell with the same attributes of a healthy relationship: it’s fun, participatory, and memorable for all the right reasons.