The XX Factor

Isn’t an “Unhealthy” Break-Up a Healthy Teen Ritual?

Photo by CRISTINA QUICLER/AFP/Getty Images

Aren’t teenage relationships almost supposed to end badly? Without boyfriends who break up with us the night before prom, or by leaving a note on our car, by email, while we’re on crutches, or in the classic not-calling-you-for-weeks-because-he’s-in-jail move (not that any of those ever happened to anyone here at Slate), how would anyone learn what it feels like to dumped in the classic fashion of movies and bad chick lit? What would we commiserate with our girlfriends over? Even more importantly, how better to be convinced that you’re well and thoroughly better off without a particular partner than to be dumped by discovering that your now-ex has changed his or her relationship status on Facebook?

If the Boston Public Health Commission has its way, that last unfortunate method of conveying that you’ve moved on will become a thing of the past for local teens. “Face It, Don’t Facebook It” was the motto of the conference on “healthy breakups” described in the New York Times Magazine, and its goal was to ensure that the young people of Boston (not just the young women, either) don’t have to experience any of the memorable humiliations described above. It’s not clear to me how the facilitators lured the young participants to the day-long meeting (although a cotton candy stand was mentioned), but what is clear is that the teens had a far healthier—or at least more realistic—vision of what it meant to break up than the adults. Meet, advised the adult leading “Breakups 101,” and “come to an agreement or mutual understanding.” “A skeptical 19-year-old nearly leapt out of her chair in protest,” writes Benoit Denizet-Lewis. ” ‘So, you’re telling me that you’re crying at night, you’re not sleeping, you’re eating all this food to make you feel better, and you’re supposed to just come to an agreement?’ ” Sounds like a girl who really understands how to get a breakup right to me (and reminds me that I really miss “Breakup Girl“).

Am I mocking the angst that comes of a teenage relationship gone badly awry? I am. Because no matter how seriously one party was taking the whole thing, any relationship that ends via Facebook (or, OK, the night before prom) deserves nothing but mockery, and the sooner even the injured party sees that, the better. Conferences on the “minutia of Facebook breakup etiquette” only add unnecessary gravitas to a rite-of-passage learning experience—not to mention suggesting that ordinary loutish behavior deserves to be the subject of discussion rather than condemnation. The best way to keep teens from getting dumped via Facebook is to teach them how not to date jerks (of both sexes). And until there’s a conference for that, experience remains the only way to learn.