Why we should start saying “congrats” to our newly single friends—not “I’m sorry”
I had broken it off with my almost-boyfriend, and I was a mess. I knew it was technically my decision, I knew I would be better off, and I knew that, if I really wanted to, I could probably rekindle our situationship. But I was still a mess.
We had ended things once already, but that only lasted a week before we were back “on.” So, this time, I decided to tell everyone I knew that we’d broken up in hopes of holding myself accountable. That’s how I found myself in my Twitter DMs, messaging someone who is at best described as an “internet friend,” and at worst described as a non-creepy Twitter rando, unlike the majority of men in my DMs.
He also has the same profession as the guy I had broken things off with, so it felt relevant (at least in my mind) to tell him that I had stopped dating the poker player I’d been seeing. But instead of saying the usual, “I’m sorry to hear that” (or even a variation of “You can do so much better”) he said, “Congrats. Congrats because if everything was going right, it wouldn’t have ended.”
It was a simple, general thing to say, and yet it meant the world to me.
He was right, you know. If everything was going right, the relationship wouldn’t have ended. I was happy that I stood my ground on the issues that led to our demise. And, to be honest, while “I’m sorry” is the default statement to say when someone tells you about their breakup, I honestly find it somewhat offensive.
The staunch feminist in me is probably overanalyzing it, but as a woman, someone saying “I’m sorry” makes me feel like they’re assuming my ultimate goal is to be in a relationship. “I’m sorry” echoes the message that women get from our culture—a culture in which all women are assumed to desire marriage (and generally, kids) above all else. Even the women who claim they don’t want these things are told, “You’ll change your mind eventually.” Or worse, they’re assumed to have “problems.”
Why should you be sorry for someone who is single? Being single can be just as amazing as being in a relationship, and many times being single can be even better. Like going on a solo trip to Thailand or embarking on a meditation journey, being single is a beautiful time to find yourself and prioritize yourself, something that many of us (especially women) don’t do in relationships.
Okay, I’m getting off track here—but seriously, stop saying “I’m sorry” to your friend who just became newly single without first assessing the situation and her feelings about the whole thing. Maybe the breakup was just what she needed, even if she doesn’t know it yet. Maybe she was dating a manipulative dude who made her think that she would never find anyone else to love her, and she finally broke free of his grasp. To me, that calls for a “congrats” instead.
Sure, ending a relationship is (at least a little) painful for almost everyone, so saying “sorry” can make sense in that aspect. But someone going through a breakup is probably already feeling shitty about themselves for one reason or another; instead of treating them like a victim, why not validate their decision (even if it wasn’t their decision to make) in a way that doesn’t rely on unhelpful trash-talking about their now ex-partner?
When I talked to some of my Instagram followers for their thoughts on being told, “Congrats,” after a breakup, they had mixed feelings.
“I’ve always liked [being told congrats] actually; it’s optimistic about the future,” said Jahn, 24— which is exactly how I see it.
Matthew, 28, said hearing “congrats,” “put things into perspective” for him, because he found out a lot of people didn’t like his ex. Many people assumed that friends used the term “congrats” because of their toxic relationship or “crazy” ex (which I mean, if the shoe fits, then wear it).
Others found it downright rude.
“I’m sure it’s more of a case by case basis given the context of the breakup, but I didn’t appreciate people saying it to me,” says Mataya, 26. “My friends said that to me when my ex dumped me because they never liked her to begin with and thought I was better off without her. Meanwhile, I was just upset and wanted people to take my feelings seriously instead of seeming so dismissive of how sad I was. They probably thought they were putting a positive spin on it or something, but I was not into it.”
Mataya brings up a good point. If said in the wrong context, “Congrats” can sound a lot like the aforementioned “Your ex was trash.” And as much as we want to say “I told you so” when we hated their ex from the start, it’s not very helpful when your friend is brokenhearted. You also definitely should not say “congrats” in any sort of sarcastic tone, for obvious reasons.
If not preceded or followed with an additional caring statement, “congrats” can feel a little too celebratory for a relationship’s end. It’s kind of like another classic misguided attempt to console someone post-breakup: suggesting a night out at the bars when the only thing they want to do is curl up on the couch and cry.
Rachel, 34, had a better idea.
“[The] best thing to say [is], ‘I’m sorry’ and ‘congratulations,’” she suggests. “Both are true no matter what side [of the breakup you were on].”
And she’s right. Part of the reason I enjoyed the sentiment from my Twitter “friend” was because he’d followed his “congratulations” with words of encouragement. If he had said it without an additional statement, it probably would have seemed more careless and insensitive.
I spoke to my therapist about the idea, and my therapist explained, “[Saying some form of ‘congrats’] could be helpful because you’re validating that person and saying congratulations, you’re free, you don’t have to think about anyone else.” Who doesn’t like getting validated?
At the end of the day, you know what your friend needs to hear while mourning a relationship’s end. And even if you don’t, you don’t have to default to “I’m sorry” just because it seems like the right thing to say. When combined with a positive statement or reassurance that it’s okay to be upset, saying “congrats” can remind your friend that the end of one relationship means a beautiful beginning for something new—even if that something new isn’t a “better” partner.
And definitely never assume that anyone—women in particular—are facing a loss after a breakup. Whether they know it or not yet, chances are that it was a blessing in disguise. So, congrats.