• Mon, Jan 6 - 3:10 pm ET

The Relationship Fade: The Best “Non-Breakup” Breakup Ever

Photo: Shutterstock

Photo: Shutterstock

Whether you’re the one who ended the relationship or the one who had to endure the whole “It’s-not-you-it’s-me/let’s-just-be-friends” thing, breakups are tough. Even breakups that are conducted in the most dignified way possible — as in, no tires have been slashed and no stuffed animals heads have been torn off and mailed to the other party — can seriously sting. Who wants to keep rehashing the awkward-at-best breakup conversation? Who wants to see the look of pity on your exes face, or, worse, have to feign one for the person you just dumped? If you hate confrontation of this sort, there’s a new relationship ending technique that you might get on board with. It’s called “the fade”, and it’s the best way to breakup with someone without ever having to have “that talk”.

The relationship fade is essentially when, instead of having that horrible breakup conversation, one simply “fades out” of the person that they have been seeing’s life. Let’s say that you’ve been on a handful of dates with somebody and by date six, you’re just not feeling it so much. You could call that person up and tell them that they are just not your cup of tea anymore, or you could subtly drop out of their life. Say you made plans with that person twice a week, consistently, for three weeks. In a relationship fade, your plans would get further and further spaced out until you’re only making plans in theory. You make plans without any firm dates or times, and there will always be an excuse as to why you can’t firm up your schedule. You’ll definitely go see that improv troop at their next show, once your cousin heads back home from his visit. You’re definitely up for a movie sometime next week once work slows down. Yeah, you can grab coffee once you get over this bad case of the sniffles.

With a fade, you’re telling the person that you’re seeing that you do still enjoy spending time with them and want to continue — even though your physical actions say the complete opposite. The next step is to only communicate with the person via the lowest forms of communication possible. That means completely skipping things like calling and texting and going straight for liking their Instagram photos of cleverly themed cupcakes (because liking personal photos seems too, well, personal) and favoriting tweets that quote movies you kind of like. This is just enough communication to make you not seem like a total douchebag for icing them out, and yet, not enough to make it seem like you actually want to follow through with any of your theoretical plans.

Some people, however, won’t accept the fade right away. Some will assume that because you’re consistently contacting them — even in the most benign, non-committal ways possible — you are actually interested in continuing to date them.  If these actions seem to suggest that they should contact you to firm up said theoretical plans, you can always return to the first step and re-enter the fade cycle. Eventually, they’ll start to miss you less and less, and stop trying.

The benefits of the fade? Well, for one, no one gets their ego bruised — not the person you’re dating, and, most importantly, not you! Because breakups suck, the person who did the dumping is often seen as the “bad” person in the relationship. And who wants to be the bad person in the relationship?

But here’s the major problem with the fade. The fade allows the fader to remain blameless while they confuse the hell out of the person on the other side of the relationship. (Just an FYI, anyone who attempts the fade in a serious relationship isn’t going to get away without blame — if you’re serious with someone and you attempt this when you have a plethora of other options, you are officially awful.) Yes, fading out of someone’s life — especially someone whom you are only seeing casually — seems like a nice way to save you and the person you’re dating from having to endure a potentially awkward and painful conversation. And, in many cases, it is. If you’ve only been out with someone a couple of times, there really isn’t any harm in casually making yourself a little less available — in fact, in that case, it’s probably the more polite route to go down, considering that it’s more awkward to assume that the person has already decided that they want a serious relationship with you.

The trouble with the fade is that many people rely on it to avoid ending something that simply isn’t working out on their end. Because the fader acts as if nothing is wrong, it’s incredibly confusing for the person they are dating — it’s difficult to discern whether the fader is seriously busy (because, hey, that does sometimes happen) or whether they are really just blowing them off. It’s not fair to leave someone hanging because you’re too afraid to look bad in their eyes, or to make them feel uncomfortable. Yes, there are plenty of people who will get the hint — but what about the ones who don’t? Those people are just left wondering whether or not you’re actually still dating while you’ve already emotionally cut all of the ties.

Ultimately, as much as it will suck to hear, it won’t be a tragedy if you have to spell out that you’re no longer interested in pursuing a romantic relationship with the other person. But unless we have some serious reason to distance ourselves from the person we have been seeing (yes, I am aware that there are situations where it’s safer or more reasonable to bow out of a relationship without a major announcement) can we all agree that honesty is the best policy? I mean, at the end of the day, being broken up with is really just a great excuse to eat Flamin’ Hot Cheetos in bed, Katy Perry style. Don’t take that away from people.

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  • Lindsey Conklin

    Ahh so this is called the fade…I have done this before!

  • greena

    what a cop out, just put on your big girl panties and say im not feeling you, this isnt working. yea we’ve all done it because its easy, but you still leave some one feeling crappy. this isnt a “better” alternative. you might feel better, but the person you are dumping/fading still feels like a loser.at least with a break up its clear, its over. this leaves too many mixed signals.

    • Kaitlin Reilly

      Exactly. I get that this works in certain circumstances but it’s a pretty lame thing to do to someone.

  • Sami Jankins

    You’re actually advocating this? How heartless and tacky! Have you just up and forgotten that the other person has feelings? It’s not any better when the person slowly fades away. It’s like mind games when you think things are fine and they are suddenly not. It’s having the rug pulled out from under you. It spills over onto the next person you see… can they really not hang out later this week or are they doing the same thing. It’s childish and pure and utter cowardice. A break up may hurt, but at least it’s truthful and concrete.

    • Kaitlin Reilly

      Haha no, of course I am not advocating it. Unless you’re very casual with someone, I think it’s a pretty selfish way to go about ending things with someone.

  • Alfreda Wells Morrissey

    Had this done to me once. It sucks so much, because while they are fading you are not sure how long to wait before exploring other options. If you are so casual it is acceptable to fade, the other person is probably not that invested anyway. Telling them you’re just not interested won’t really hurt that much, and will save waiting and wondering and possibly passing up other options. It is the same as exploring other options but keeping the person you are not that into waiting in the wings in case you change your mind.

  • CrazyLogic

    I have a better way to break up with someone, my father did this. Works best for really fucking vain people.

    Give them a mirror and say “I have found someone that can satisfy you.”

    (She totally deserved this one. She got herself a haircut and called it his birthday present)

    • Kaitlin Reilly

      That’s so great.

  • Scottie

    One of my best male friends is this incredibly sweet, honest, straight forward guy. He was raised kind of old school, and expects women to have the decency to just be up front with him. Each time he’s been “faded out” by a woman, it’s taken him a VERY long time to realize what was going on. He’s not stupid, he just assumes every one else is as honest as he is
    My point is this: he’s been faded out quite a few times now, and it’s made him paranoid. In the space of five years, it’s turned him from the guy I described above into a jaded, nervous wreck with half the self-confidence he used to have. Now whenever he’s in a relationship that’s gone beyond casual, he gets all tense if he hasn’t seen the woman for a few days, like he’s just wondering if he’s going to get screwed over again. He’s also become convinced that the reason that the women who “faded him out” didn’t just break up with him is that there’s something wrong with him. i get that you’re not advocating the use of this technique beyond the casual, but for you and all my other ladies reading this: I just wanted to highlight what can happen to a guy if this happens to him more than a few times.

    • Kaitlin Reilly

      This has happened to a lot of my friends as well. I think it’s a symptom of our technology-heavy culture, really.

  • Michelle Cleary

    The Fade is the coward’s way out. Grow a pair and be honest with him/her. A logical person will understand that not every relationship is not meant-to-be. I have had this happen too many times with casually dating guys around my age (late 20s) and it seems to be a trend with my generation. Waiting around wondering why they hardly muster a “hello” to you anymore is excruciating and starts making you question what you did wrong. Honesty is always the best policy and it still stands true to this day.