How to Break Up With Someone at the Airport

Feb 15, 2019

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According to Hollywood cliché, airports are just about the most romantic places on Earth, where seemingly doomed romances are rekindled when a star-crossed lover evades hapless TSA agents to profess his or her love to the strains of Coldplay, John Mayer or James Blunt. (Also, please refer to the first scene from “Love, Actually.”)

In reality, of course, airports are about as beneficial to an ailing relationship as penicillin is welcome news to a staph infection. In other words, airports are romance killers.

And that’s a good thing.

Now, we’re not saying you should break up with your significant other right before or after your next vacation, or that you should consider axing a healthy partnership at all. But there are definite advantages to ending a relationship in the same place you’d begin or end a trip, and you should at least consider using your local flight hub as the backdrop for the inevitable tears.

So, if you’re already thinking of ending a relationship, you might want to do it at an airport. Here’s why — and how to pull it off.

(Photo by PeopleImages/Getty Images)
(Photo by PeopleImages/Getty Images)

Destination: Heartbreak

Everyone and their cousin has their own playbook of tips for the proper way to break up with someone, but the good ones essentially boil down to a couple key things: Make it gentle, make it clear and make sure there’s no doubt.

And what about the other tips? Let’s call them “self-interested.” They come down to two basic rules: Know your exits, and make it out in one piece.

The fun thing about airports is they check all the boxes. You can’t help but be clear when you’re competing with flight announcements as you explain that the spark is gone. And only the dimmest bulb would still be unsure where he stands after you hop on a flight to Tahiti while he, your former beau, is headed to the Pittsburgh Airport parking lot. As for being gentle, that’s mostly up to you, but what’s gentler than a face treated with serum from the de rigueur airport Kiehl’s?

If your soon-to-be-ex is the sort who has a tendency to throw fists or sharp objects, there are fewer places with tighter security to clamp down on that nonsense. And exits? Every departure gate is a door to a new future without whats-her-face.

Plus, airports just happen to be a natural setting for the end of romance.

“I imagine it would be fairly common for breakups to happen at airports, because they are the place where long-distance-relationship couples get together, and also where you’re starting or ending vacations together — and I can’t tell you how many breakups occur after vacation,” relationship expert and author, Susan Winter, told TPG. “Traveling is already stressful in that you’re off your schedule. Add the pressure of being yoked to a partner who’s also winded and irritated, and it’s surprising that more people don’t break up at airports when they get back.”

Science is on your side, too. In 2017, researchers at the University of Missouri-St. Louis did an experiment with people who were still heartbroken over recent breakups. They read the subjects’ brain waves as they tried one of three strategies to cope with being dumped: focusing on the ex-partner’s negative qualities, distracting themselves or practicing mindfulness — that is, accepting the hurt they were feeling and not trying to fight it.

Two of the strategies worked, but in different ways. Casting mental shade on an ex had two effects: The subjects felt less in love with their former partner, but they also felt worse, at least in the short term. Still, Sandra Landeslag, the lead researcher and assistant professor of behavioral neuroscience, said there were hints that the strategy showed promise in speeding up the recovery after a breakup.

Distractions also worked. They didn’t reduce the feelings of love for the ex, but the subjects immediately felt better.

Mindfulness, on the other hand? “The mindfulness thing doesn’t seem to do anything,” Landeslag said in a phone interview.

So how does the science tie into an airport breakup? “An airport breakup would definitely be a distraction,” Landeslag said.

And, let’s face it, you’ll be covered in the negative-feelings department, so win-win, right?

(Photo by Simon Josefsson / EyeEm/Getty Images)
(Photo by Simon Josefsson / EyeEm/Getty Images)

Clean Getaway

The classic airport breakup, of course, involves only one of you flying.

“I think it’s easier to drop your partner off at the airport, park the car and do it,” Winter said. “I’ve done this with a female friend who came out to visit me and was so horrific that I knew we couldn’t have a friendship any longer.”

If you’re feeling especially nonconfrontational, then you can even weasel out of the face-to-face and do the deed by voicemail or text after you’ve sent your partner on his or her way.

“You could say a nice goodbye at the airport and send them a voicemail while they’re [on the tarmac],” Winter said. “They’ll be a little shocked, but at least … you won’t get a barrage of angry text messages for a while because they’ll be flying. They can’t reach you for four or five hours. Well, unless they get the Wi-Fi.”

Distractions? Check. Negative feelings? Check. You can drive to your conveniently timed Tinder date confident that you’ve set your freshly minted ex firmly on the path to breakup rehabilitation.

Got cash to spare? Or maybe you’ve wisely saved up your points and miles for just such an occasion? In this case, you can splurge on the premium airport-breakup package: Arrive at the airport with your partner for a shared trip and then reveal you’ll be catching separate flights after all.

“Say you were going home for the holidays to be with your family, and you realize that the relationship is so broken you can’t do this to yourself, to your partner or to your family,” Winter said. “Instead of buying tickets for the both of you, get them tickets to something they love, like a four-night package to Canyon Ranch with treatments and exercise and the whole shebang. It has to be enticing and delicious to make it work. Basically, you’re saying, ‘I can’t give you myself any longer, but I can give you this gift to honor you.'”

Besides the distraction, Landeslag added that there’s one benefit so obvious that you don’t even need to know how to read brain waves to see it.

“Less contact is better, because if you give them hope, that would be bad,” she said. If you buy your ex plane tickets to a completely different city or country than you’re going to, “then they for sure are far, far away, so yeah, that could help.”

It should go without saying, of course, that you’re not going to win any points for sending your newly, miserably single ex to a family or couples resort.

(Photo by Verne Ho/Unsplash)
(Photo by Verne Ho/Unsplash)

Reality Bites

Of course, it’s a privileged person who’s going to send someone they never want to see again on an all-expenses paid vacation. And fate will surely find a way to foil your drop-off-breakup-text-then-ghosting plans. 

So what’s a regular Joe or Jane to do when you just have to end this thing at the airport?

First of all, choose the right spot. Though it’s a truism that you should break up with someone in a public space so they don’t make a scene, the reality is that people react differently, and not everyone’s going to let embarrassment get in the way of a good meltdown.

“Take them to a relatively quiet place, to a restaurant or a bar, and have a conversation where you say, ‘This isn’t working,'” Winter said. “But keep in mind that there are people [who] have a clue about social behavior and those who don’t.”

The biggest no-no?

“Don’t do it when you’re going through the security scanner,” she said. “They’re going to hold up the line and start fighting with you, and everyone’s going to be mad at you. Don’t tell them as you’re boarding the plane together, because now you’ll have a four- or five-hour flight where you’re bickering with each other.”

And keep in mind that, in this day and age, your public breakup could turn into the latest meme, like one couple on the way to Cancun. (By the way, if your breakup goes viral, expect to be Public Enemy No. 1 for a day or two.)

If you’re dumping someone after a trip at your home airport after the return flight, timing is key.

“If you make it to the baggage claim, finalize the relationship there,” Winter said. “That’s the last stop before you exit for public transportation or your car.”

Speaking of which, if your ex was your ride, now you’re taking the bus.

Sadly, the end of a relationship is often hardest on the innocent — that which both parties shared but only one can walk away with. In this case, Winter said it’s the dumper, not the dumpee, who has to make the ultimate sacrifice.

“Oh, give them the neck pillow for heaven’s sake!”

Featured photo by Tetra Images/Getty Images

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