Ending a Casual Relationship by Failing to Respond to a Text Is the Best Way to Break Up

The XX Factor
What Women Really Think
Oct. 2 2013 10:13 AM

In Defense of the Slow Fade: The Elegant Way to Break Up

woman_texting
No bubble? You know what that means.

Photo by Diego Cervo/Shutterstock

At xoJane, Victoria Carter has mounted a campaign against the slow fade, a defining phenomenon of romance in the age of the text. Here’s how it works: You go out with someone anywhere from once to a handful of times. Over text message, you exchange some niceties, share links to topical Web videos, or draw up vague future plans. Then, your romantic prospect’s chat bubble suddenly stops popping up on your phone. You never hear from him again.

The fade, Carter says, is a source of soul-sucking frustration for the modern dater. “When you disappear into the ether without any indication why, all I can do is come up with a million and a half reasons why you’re not into me,” Carter writes. “I’m not a god damned mind reader.” The fade “is cowardly and at its root, dishonest.” If only the uninterested party would clarify its position in an explicit text, “I will feel validated that you had enough deference for whatever we had (even if it was just one night) to know that it needed to be ended in a mature and thoughtful manner.”

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As someone who has been in the position of both the fader and the faded, I respectfully disagree. No matter which side of the phone I am suddenly not texting from, I prefer the unanswered text to the explicit breakup missive. To be clear, if the relationship has advanced to a mutually understood level of seriousness or exclusivity, you better put your fingers to work. And to be fair, the slow fade is not the optimal avoidance method. It’s not kind to string people along after you’ve made up your mind, and it’s rude to ditch on concrete plans. Better to stage a quick dissolve: If you go out with someone a few times and are just not feeling it, the clear, elegant solution is to just never text them. Ever. Again. (It’s worth noting that the quick dissolve is not simply a convenience of the digital age—it also works at parties.)

For all the ambiguity attributed to the fade/dissolve, no digitally literate dater is legitimately confused by an unanswered text. “We all know when it’s happening,” Carter admits. That’s why, she says, the fade is “also known as: ‘Bitch get a clue, it’s not happening.’ ” The idea that a direct message is necessary to cement a relationship’s end is yet another obfuscation. When it comes to modern digital relationships, the rhythm of the exchange tells us as much as its literal content, and it doesn’t take any specialized skill to read between the lines. If you’re initiating all the texts in the relationship, the recipient just isn’t that into you; if you’re not getting any texts back, the recipient isn’t into you at all. 

Is the fade a fundamentally selfish act? Perhaps. But when it comes to auditioning potential romantic partners, we’re all acting out of our own self-interest. Our exploratory dalliance only persists as long as our interests align. If you feel that you personally benefit from explicitly breaking off a casual relationship, go ahead and bloviate on that QWERTY. (Though keep in mind that some people are hideously offended by the explicit relationship-ender.) And if you believe it’s in your best interest to receive an explanatory text buzzing up on your screen that says “I don’t like you anymore,” then by all means, take the initiative to ask the fader what’s up. And yet, critics of the fade are rarely as forthcoming as they expect their text partners to be. As Carter notes, “You don’t want to follow up with a ‘What happened to you?’ because that might seem desperate.” If you’re too shy to be straight with your fader, how can you expect him or her to be straight with you? Faders: Also not mind readers.

So what did happen to that guy, anyway? Does it matter? He could be too busy, afraid of commitment, lost in a K-hole, or dead. Those are his personal issues, and they’ve got nothing to do with you. All you have to know is that it’s not happening, and it’s nothing personal. Or it is intensely personal, in which case: Do you really want him to spell it out for you? The vast majority of explanatory breakup texts are just more lies shot out into the cloud in an effort to protect us all from the statistical reality: Few casual flings materialize into lasting romantic relationships, and there’s no particular reason why that’s the case.

No text message is going to definitively resolve those “million and a half” reasons why your crush might not have been into it, and maybe that’s for the best. If you’re searching for personal insight from someone with whom you spent a couple of evenings out of the 30,000 you’ve got on this Earth, I’m afraid you’ve got the wrong number.

Amanda Hess Amanda Hess

Amanda Hess is a Slate staff writer. 

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