How To Break Up With A Hookup

Whether it’s a fling, hookup, or situationship, there are ways to break up respectfully. Credit: Bob Al-Greene / Mashable

Dating someone new begins with so much promise, doesn’t it? You know their charms but not their off-putting idiosyncrasies — and in the case of a casual relationship, you get all the fun without the responsibility.

Still, at some point, you’ve realized your expectations for this person doesn’t match reality.

Maybe it’s time to break up with your situationship, but — as the name suggests — it’s merely a situation, a nebulous relationship neither of you defined. Even so, that doesn’t mean the person you spent time with shouldn’t be treated with respect.

Whether you refer to it as a situationship or hookup or fling, we asked experts how to end such a relationship courteously but firmly.

What if I don’t know if I want to end things?It’s absolutely reasonable to be on the fence about whether to do this in the first place. With a no-strings-attached fling, you can “have your cake and eat it too,” in a sense.

It’s time to say goodbye, however, the moment the drama outweighs the fun, said Dr. Nikki Coleman(opens in a new tab), licensed psychologist and relationship expert. Sex therapist Dr. Kate Balestrieri(opens in a new tab) echoed this: If you’re uncomfortable around the person you’ve been seeing, or a sense of obligation is the driving force behind continuing to hang out with them, these are signals the situationship has run its course.

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Further, if you’re not feeling valued, loved, or seen in this arrangement — and there’s no hope of that changing — move on, said Dr. Carla Marie Manly(opens in a new tab), clinical psychologist, speaker, and author of Date Smart(opens in a new tab).

Even if this isn’t an exclusive or long-term relationship, you deserve connections that fulfill you regardless. Manly notes that the quality of our relationships affects us over time; value yourself above any hookup and leave it behind.

Should I break up in person?Yes, breaking it off face-to-face is the most respectful way to go about it, said Manly, but if you have any safety concerns — always prioritize those — you can obviously avoid that. If meeting up in person is off the table, you can have a phone call.

Coleman agreed that verbal communication is best, even if it’s by using a voice note or a conversation app like Marco Polo(opens in a new tab), a blend of WhatsApp and FaceTime that allows people to send video messages back and forth. Talking “demonstrates that you took the other person seriously and valued them as a person,” said Coleman. Even if this wasn’t a “serious” relationship, that’s still important.

Talking “demonstrates that you took the other person seriously and valued them as a person” Texting is a last resort, said Manly, but if you do it, send a text you yourself would feel good receiving.

What should I say in a breakup?For Coleman, the conversation is where boundaries are tested. You don’t have to get deep into your emotions or the details. You can say something succinct and factual like, “I’ve enjoyed being with you, but I’m looking for something different at this point,” and leave it at that.

Since the terms of the relationship were vague to begin with, moving on can feel messy, according to Manly. A direct break is best so you both unequivocally know where you stand, even if that wasn’t the case while you were hooking up. She offered words that acknowledged that this was an undefined relationship: “I know we didn’t define our connection, and it seems we’ve been going with the flow. I’ve done a lot of soul-searching and know in my heart that it’s time for me to move on.”

By setting boundaries in your relationships — even the unofficial ones — you set boundaries with yourself. Moving forward, you can find yourself looking for connections that better align with what you want.

Depending on the situationship, both people involved may be indifferent — or one may have been more invested than the other. If you’re breaking up with a hookup that perhaps wanted more (or just wanted it to continue), you can hold space(opens in a new tab), or be present, for their feelings.

Credit: Vicky Leta / Mashable

“When breaking off a situationship with someone whose feelings or sense of pride is likely to be hurt, it’s important to acknowledge their feelings and concerns without getting looped into negative dynamics,” said Manly.

An example she offered if your now-ex-hookup feels rejected is to say, “I see that you are sad. I’m sorry that you’re hurting. Although I know my decision to move forward is what’s best for me, I’m happy to talk with you about your feelings.”

If your hookup is persistent, Coleman advises you to acknowledge that you’re both in different places and that’s okay. Her advice is to be firm in your boundaries, but genuine and compassionate toward the other person as well.

Unless there’s a safety issue, don’t ghost. Be accountable and also respectful to this person.

“We are living in a culture where people and sex and romance becomes so commoditized and dehumanized because of the mechanisms of technology and dating apps,” said Balestrieri. “So I think it’s really important — unless there’s a threat to your safety or somebody who’s not respecting your boundaries — to avoid ghosting.”

What if we hooked up during the COVID pandemic?If you rode out the pandemic or another time of crisis with a hookup and want to end it now, be mindful of the unique connection you share. The experience of going through such a traumatic time together often creates an intense bond, Manly explained, which can make bidding farewell more difficult than it would be if it were an ordinary hookup.

Given this, Coleman said to be aware of timing — but you don’t have to define your actions based on someone else’s timing. If your partner is in a vulnerable place, you should still end the relationship when you need to, but be patient and kind when doing so (which you should be regardless).

You’re well within your right to end any type of relationship, but — especially with quaran-hookups — be cognizant of the time you’ve had together.

Both Manly and Balestrieri said to honor the time you spent and challenges you faced together, and honor the feelings that come up as you end things as well. Acknowledge COVID hardships and how they made you feel, and make space for mourning and grieving.

“Be upfront that the last year-plus has been intense, and we all wanted some comfort and connection; that they provided that in a time when you really needed it,” said Coleman, “but, again, now you’re in a different space.”

To that point, Balestrieri said it’s okay to give yourself permission to move on. In post-vaccine life, you may want to explore dating others or go inward for some self-development.

“People might feel very torn or might feel like it’s scary to leave…a comfortable hookup situation,” she said. “But if it doesn’t feel right, it is not only okay but it’s important to move on so that you can make space for this new period of self-growth.”

This article was originally published in 2021 and republished in 2023.

Anna Iovine is the sex and relationships reporter at Mashable, where she covers topics ranging from dating apps to pelvic pain. Previously, she was a social editor at VICE and freelanced for publications such as Slate and the Columbia Journalism Review. Follow her on Twitter @annaroseiovine(opens in a new tab).

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