Breakups are agonizing. For both the heartbreaker and the heartbroken, the let's-not-do-this-anymore conversation is always awkward and very often painful, particularly for the person getting dumped. Bradley Laborman knows this because he has probably been through more breakups than anyone else. That's because he runs the website iDUMP4U, which lets users hire a relationship hit man i.e., Laborman to do their dirty work for them. For $10, Laborman will make the breakup call, which he records for posterity and for YouTube. That's right, customers can choose to broadcast these calls for their entertainment (or revenge) value. Sound terrible? It kind of is.
But people do use the service. At $10 for a standard breakup, $25 for ending an engagement and $50 for demanding a divorce, iDUMP4U isn't turning a profit yet, but Laborman says he was surprised at how quickly business picked up after he launched the site in September 2009. Originally starting it as a joke, Laborman so far has conducted more than 200 breakups, for almost every reason imaginable, from cheating partners to lazy lovers. And if last year's requests are any indication, Laborman's numbers are about to get a boost. The phenomenon known as the Turkey Dump in which college freshmen break up with their hometown loves over the Thanksgiving holiday provided Laborman with a lot of extra business last year. "Last year I had a lot of Turkey Dumps," he says. "I also had people who didn't want to buy a Christmas present [for their partner]. This time of year is the busiest."
Although Laborman may be the most extreme, he is not the only provider of third-party dumping services. There's BreakUpEmail.com, which asks users to fill out various details their name, partner's name, reason for breaking up and then produces a breakup e-mail to send to their soon-to-be-single sweetheart. The site gets up to 5,000 visits a day, and its creator, Chris (who asks that we do not include his last name out of concern that moonlighting as a breakup facilitator might negatively impact his day job as a humanitarian-aid worker), says he has gotten thank-you e-mails from two types of people: those who find the site funny and those who actually use it.
And, of course, there's an app for breaking up. Erase Ur X can be used to create a form e-mail sent from your iPhone that breaks the news to your soon-to-be-ex. After that, the app does what creator Cory Wiles calls the hardest part of the breakup deleting the now-ex's number from your phone. (If you aren't actually conducting the breakup yourself, that probably is the hardest part.)
For those of us who can still remember the time when breaking up over the phone, rather than in person, was thought to be in poor taste, services like these may seem an unimaginably impersonal way to end what should be your most intimate relationship. But for those who began their dating career in the age of texting, Twitter and Facebook, relationships have a whole new communication system. And so do breakups.
"We are so used to having standardized etiquette, and in some ways we are still waiting for that to emerge [online]," says Ilana Gershon, an assistant professor at Indiana University and the author of The Breakup 2.0: Disconnecting over New Media. "But no one has set out the rules of what's acceptable and what's not." So for a society that once lived by Emily Post's code of conduct, we now find ourselves navigating the social scene sans guidelines, and what may seem like horrific behavior to some is (borderline) acceptable to others.
Ironically, Erase Ur X's Wiles and the other guys who run third-party dumping services admit that they'd never want to be broken up with by their own companies. BreakUpEmail.com's Chris says he's never broken up with anyone over e-mail, which may explain why he's still friends with most of his ex-girlfriends (one of them even gave him advice on developing the site). And iDUMP4U's Laborman says he'd prefer a face-to-face breakup to any other method.
Yet each defends their services as having a practical role for today's relationships. Wiles says that social networking has changed our ideas about privacy. "It used to be that breakups were private," he says. "This is just the new trend, a natural progression."
Laborman contends that with all the ambiguity that new media can bring to a relationship it's not officially over until your Facebook relationship status says it's over, right? using a third-party dumping service can let your partner know how serious you are about the breakup, and therefore improve your communication.
"Or," he counters, "it's the perfect way to burn a bridge."