‘Fizzing’ Is the Non-Breakup Breakup That’s Confusing Millennials

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Nothing was wrong with my relationship, per se. We had fun together. The sex was above average. I thought we were seeing where things went naturally, without any pressure to make anything “official.” I liked him, and from what I gathered (and what he said directly), he liked me, too.

Then after dating for about two and a half months, seeing each other at least once a week, neither of us texted. Two weeks of non-communication later, I figured it was over. I wasn’t sad. I wasn’t angry. Maybe I was a little confused, since I figured he’d text. I was always the one to initiate texting, and yes, maybe I was playing a little bit of a “game”—seeing if he would text first. But his lack of communication made it clear: He wasn’t feeling it as much as I thought he was. Evidently, I wasn’t either, otherwise I would have sucked it up and texted him first.

As the god-awful saying goes: That’s the way the cookie crumbles.

This isn’t the first time I’ve experience what I’m coining as “fizzing.” Fizzing is not the same as ghosting, where one party is left to torture themselves with the question of what they did wrong. Fizzing is when you happily date someone for a couple of months, and things peter out without a formal breakup conversation. (FYI: The word “fizzing” comes from the relationship “fizzling out.”)

What makes fizzing so interesting, and well, confusing, is that in these scenarios, you’ve been dating long enough that a conversation feels warranted. After going on a dozen dates over the course of three months, texting multiple times a week, and boning on the regular, you would think that something, anything, needs to be said.

“While [fizzing] usually implies that one or both people have found someone else that they like better, it can also be where one person is hurt but is playing games,” says Caroline Madden, PhD, licensed marriage and family therapist. For example, it could be that one person is waiting to see if the other person will text first.

I get why fizzing is appealing. Sometimes you’re in a relationship where nothing is wrong—you’re having fun—but you’d rather be doing other things (or people). And it can be tough to break up with someone simply because you aren’t really feeling it. You end up having to convince the other person you’re making the right decision, even if nothing was bad about the relationship.

“Often, the other person wants a list of reasons, and then instead of accepting them, they plead that these are things that they can change about themselves,” Madden explains.

That’s why my friend and colleague Philip Ellis told me he doesn’t actually mind fizzing.

“On the surface, letting communication simply flatline seems lazy and slightly cowardly, but it’s also a reflection of the low-stakes emotional investment that both people have staked in the brief dalliance,” he says. “When you’ve only been seeing each other for a short time, and the texts and phone calls have already begun to peter out, it seems dramatic and slightly narcissistic to pick up the phone and tell somebody what they already know. There’s no need to deliver a killing blow to something that is already dying of natural causes.”

Man texting at the cafe

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While fizzing might not offer the same sense of resolution as having The Talk, in a way, the sheer mutual lack of communication from both sides can be its own form of closure.

“It implies that you’ve both read the cues of the situation and come to the same wordless verdict,” Philip adds.

While I love and respect Philip, I couldn’t help but think that while he may be over the relationship, the people he’s dating might not feel the same way, even if they don’t say anything. Some folks, fearing outright rejection, may prefer to hide their true feelings instead opting for a “non-talk” to spare their ego.

Gail Saltz, MD, an associate professor of psychiatry at the NY Presbyterian Hospital Weill-Cornell School of Medicine, has some insight that backs up my theory.

“Rarely do both people have exactly the same feelings about what has happened, what is happening and what not speaking means,” she says. That’s why Saltz believes it’s better to have some sort of closure conversation. If you’ve been dating someone for two or so months, you most likely have some feeling for the person. She argues that leaving them not knowing why you ended things is more painful.

“Avoidance denies closure, [and] keeps either of you from learning about yourselves and from possibly finding out there was something that could have been repaired and made the relationship worth keeping,” Saltz says, adding that the difficult conversation is a sign of “emotional maturity.”

Wow, I feel attacked.

At least it doesn’t have to be a long drawn out or soul baring conversation, Saltz says.

“Speaking about why you are choosing to end things, what did not work, and what you appreciate about the other person is actually helpful to both of you in the present and in the future.”

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