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The Value of Endings

A relationship -- whether it's professional or romantic -- should end as gracefully and carefully as it began. In the age of Facebook, that's not always the case.


I have heard so many horror stories in the past few weeks: stories about folks who have lost their jobs, some because of bad performance, plenty more because of a bad economy. Then there are the stories I've been hearing about couples who have parted ways for a bevy of reasons. In many of those instances, the cutoff has been brutal, mean-spirited, thoughtless, even venomous.

It's so curious to me. Whenever people begin a relationship, they typically take the extra effort to present themselves in the best possible way. They spend a few extra minutes in front of the mirror, ensuring that the way they look is just right. They often rehearse the lines they intend to use in order to start off the relationship in a positive manner. They prepare, strategize and focus on how the engagement will begin.

This is true for love as much as it is for working relationships. Everyone spends time attending to how things start.

If only the same were true about how relationships end. In the age of social media, people don't even bother to say good-bye in person these days. A text message, e-mail, tweet or Facebook announcement has come to serve as a formal "This is over" message to someone who moments before meant the world to you. It's almost as if the effort to end the relationship face-to-face is too much trouble for some people.

I have heard some tragic stories recently. One came from a woman who believed in her gut that she was going to lose her job but hadn't heard a thing. So she took the vacation that had been due her for some time, and while enjoying her time off, she got a FedEx letter telling her not to bother coming back to work. Moments later, her termination was lighting up the Internet because other staffers already knew about it.

And then there's a man I like a lot but who behaves badly when it comes to relationships. He told me that he was just out of a relationship that had lasted nearly a year. And you guessed it: He dumped his girlfriend via text. His defense was that they texted each other all the time. I'm sure she didn't appreciate the coldness of his approach.

That scenario is not too far from the recent Sprint commercial that's been making the rounds in cyberspace, in which a woman dumps her boyfriend via text and e-mail and updates her Facebook status to "single" -- all while she's sitting across from her beau in a restaurant. That this type of messaging has reached commercial status proves that plenty of people are compelled to behave this way. The ad series is on fire right now.

Why? People feel more comfortable being rude and/or dismissive when they can do so with some measure of anonymity. Not having to say to someone's face the harsh words that mean good-bye or spell disapproval has given a breadth of people permission to be outrageously obnoxious.

Wouldn't you prefer to have your boss speak to you respectfully, acknowledge what you did well for the company, as well as what you didn't do so well -- and send you off with a severance package and sense of well-being that would help you transition smoothly to your next gig? Wouldn't you appreciate a lover or spouse who took the time to explain to you why you he or she was ready to move on? Wouldn't you want to know this in a gentle way rather than through a curse-out, a text message or silence?

I believe that endings are possibly even more important than beginnings, because they occur after reality permeates the bond, long after the glow of the honeymoon period fades. Endings evolve after a relationship has moved from shiny and new to weathered and bare. Endings emerge thanks to friction, discomfort, boredom, lack of resources and disappointment. Essentially, endings, whether in the form of a breakup or a layoff, are about rejection.