Notes for your exit interview.

If you’re about to break up with your partner, and you’re reading this the night before you’re going to tell them it’s over, then here are some tips or guidelines as to how you should conduct that fateful conversation. Unless you are a sadist, no-one particularly enjoys the exit interview, that time when you look into the eyes of someone who cares deeply about you and sever all ties. Of course, you may want to inflict pain upon them for all the terrible wrongs they have done you during your relationship, in which case my advice is irrelevant: I have written this only for those who retain some significant amount of compassion for their doomed lover, and who therefore want to make the breakup as painless for them as possible.

Obviously, the news that you’re leaving them is going to hurt. At the same time, there are degrees of agony, and if tomorrow will be a car crash for their emotions then you have the choice to pass them an airbag. Because you are going to break them tomorrow – the only question is how much. You’ve presumably already chosen the venue. Here’s hoping it’s a coffee shop at a neutral location, safely in the middle of town and close to transport links for your speedy and relieved escape immediately afterwards. If you’ve selected a restaurant, that may not work so well if you’re aiming for urgency and discretion – people tend to eavesdrop when hunched over their meals, it’s just one of those things, and your partner, oblivious to their fate, may order food, which will string the whole miserable experience out.

Wherever you do go, make sure that you sit near the door, or in the corner nearest the street, so as to avoid too much scrutiny. And when you begin to speak, to utter the spell that will release you, please remember two things. The first is that your partner will probably have no idea what is coming. Only the very smartest animals can sense the day when they are being summoned to the slaughterhouse. As a result, there will be a moment when they slow the chewing of their food or the sipping of their coffee and sit up with wide, terrified eyes, a moment when they realise, my God, this is the exit interview, this is actually happening. When that moment comes, and it will, keep your tone as level as you can. You have come this far with conviction; do not fail yourself now.

The second thing you must remember is that, during the course of your once-joyous and now-terminal romance, your partner solemnly gave you possession of a series of weapons. At the time, your partner was not aware that these were weapons. Instead, they were your partner’s greatest fears, their most vulnerable truths. Each of those fears and truths is now a nuclear warhead that you can aim at their self-esteem. When you sit there tomorrow morning, with this silently-seething array of nukes for which your partner had the good grace to hand you the launch codes, there may be a moment when you are tempted to use them. Perhaps one of them, perhaps all of them. Who knows – when your chest is rumbling with emotion, maybe even the thrill of imminent freedom, you may find it cathartic to set off these detonations deep in your partner’s heart. But please be careful. The news that you are leaving them will, of itself, be sufficiently devastating. Any additional bombs that you explode run the risk of being gratuitous and therefore cruel.

That being said, say what you feel you must. Please know, though, that whatever you say to them tomorrow will stay with them for months or years afterwards, like radiation. And know that your mark is already on them. For far longer than they will like, your partner will think they see you walking by in the street, reminded of your gait by a stranger; they will pick up their phone to text you a joke, before remembering that they no longer store your number; they will wander down a supermarket aisle, and then stop themselves, realising they only came this way to collect that food you loved. And every now and then, when they pause the frenzy of tasks they’ve taken on to stop thinking about you – at a traffic light, maybe, waiting for the green to beckon them across – their eyes will fill uncontrollably at the loss of you. Or maybe it won’t be there, in public: maybe they’ll make it back to their home, under merciful cover of night, and shudder with tears against a pillow that they hold unusually close.

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